King Koncert: Memoirs of an American Rocker
by Tim Van Schmidt
January 28, 1975- Phoenix Civic Plaza. Genesis.
Thanks to a reputation for theatrical performances- particularly using costuming and epic story-songs- Genesis joined Pink Floyd as one of the art rock cult bands that appealed most to the more avant garde fringe of the American rock audience. I was a fan of the band’s album Foxtrot, especially the long suite-like tune “Supper’s Ready.” Though I had not yet been able to see the band live, I did send a poem, some paper, a pen and a self-addressed stamped envelope to the group when they played a date I was not allowed to go to- on a school night- in Seattle. A reply came back, everybody but vocalist Peter Gabriel jotting down encouraging words like “Keep up the good work, old chap.” Drummer Phil Collins wrote one message, then added another explaining that Gabriel couldn’t be there for “the signing” and that if I wanted to write to the band, he assured me that they would write back, and he included their address in England. I was impressed. I didn’t write because, all of a sudden, I didn’t have anything meaningful to say, but just getting the invitation was exciting.
Genesis was popular among my musician friends in Phoenix, so there was no question that we would go see the show at the PhoenixCivicPlaza, a newer facility in the downtown area. Since Phil Collins had encouraged me, I tried to get in touch with the band with the idea of conducting an interview with Collins. I would worry about where I might publish the interview later. I didn’t get the interview, but the road manager left two tickets at the door for me. I was on the rock and roll guest list, though I had already bought a ticket as a fan. Genesis was crammed onto a fairly small stage for the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tour. The performance consisted mainly of a reading of the entire new album. It was dark and heady music, illustrated by Gabriel’s playacting and video imagery. The story was some kind of twisted urban tale of a character named Rael, dressed entirely in black, moving through his own Dante’s Inferno fantasy. At one point it appeared there were two figures playing Rael- Gabriel and someone else- on different parts of the stage. It was an intense, surreal and unnerving musical journey. This would be Gabriel’s last tour with Genesis before striking off on a solo career.
February 5, 1975- Tucson Community Center Arena. Carmen, Jethro Tull.
Jethro Tull’s 1975 tour dropped mastermind Ian Anderson’s epic on-stage theatrics in favor of bawdy bits of neo-Elizabethan humor, including slapstick comedy in animal suits. Anderson had turned away from the massive operatic ambitions of A Passion Play and returned to a shorter song format, the result being a 1974 hit, “Bungle in the Jungle.” The band’s new album was Minstrel in the Gallery, supporting the Renaissance Faire flavor to the show. With tennis balls falling out of a zebra’s butt on stage, the laughs were just as important as the music. Electric flamenco-rock group Carmen opened the show, complete with Latin rhythms and clacking heels.
Around this time, my brother in Tucson outfitted himself with a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a Moog synthesizer. This was an old style model that used dozens of patch cords to make the electronic effects happen. By this time, I was writing my own songs on a regular basis and we would record stuff whenever I visited Tucson. My brother added synthesizer parts to my singing and playing while learning firsthand about producing our own recordings- a brave new world of musical discovery. He also got me to perform on my guitar at his church- the whole congregation politely listening while my fingers froze. At least I didn’t break a string.
March 8, 1975- Gammage Auditorium. Andres Segovia.
Again, thanks to student fees, I was able to get free tickets to hear classical guitar master Andres Segovia, playing the “Fine Art Series” at Gammage Auditorium. Friends and I had seats in the upper balcony, but we could hear every note thanks to Frank Lloyd Wright’s fine design. I remember hearing the many notes and the complexity of the arrangements while watching Segovia’s hands, which appeared immobile. The program stated: “It is not enough to say that Andres Segovia is the greatest guitarist in the world; he is the artist who has expanded our understanding of the guitar.” It went on to chronicle his career, debuting as a soloist at age 14 and making his first American appearance in 1928. The program also reminded that “because of the special acoustical qualities of the Hall, coughing in the Auditorium is very disturbing to those attending concerts and plays. Please feel free to request a cough lozenge from an usher, if necessary.” The music for this concert ranged from Handel, Bach and Albeniz compositions to a piece written in four parts by Heitor Villa-Lobos, dedicated to Andres Segovia.
Carol Pyne, of the State Press, described the 81-year-old guitarist’s performance in glowing detail. Though she noted that Segovia was walking slow, he still “executed perfectly all of the things music teachers tell you over the years and you never really hear anyone do, consistently.” For Pyne, Segovia looked like “a placid, grandfatherly person,” who held his guitar “reverently, caressingly.” According to Pyne, Segovia’s execution of harmonics was excellent and that the five pieces by Bach “showed his ability to handle overlapping contrapuntal melodies, giving each a separate direction and emphasis.” Pyne concluded that Segovia’s “technical quality and expressiveness were uniformly fantastic.” His skill resulted in passionate applause and Segovia played two encores.
After the show, my friend and I went to the Howard Johnson’s restaurant across the street and found Segovia and his guitar handler having dinner. We asked for autographs and noticed that his supper consisted of spaghetti and a can of Coors beer. He silently signed our programs, nodded, then returned to his food.
March 9, 1975- Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum. Foghat, Rod Stewart and the Faces.
By 1975, rock vocalist Rod Stewart had created a unique dual career. While still maintaining ties to the Faces, a band he joined after leaving the Jeff Beck Group, Stewart was also in charge of a successful solo franchise. In fact, thanks to solo hits from his hugely successful album, Every Picture Tells A Story, including the song “Maggie May” and the Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” his solo work eclipsed the hit power Stewart established with the Faces with tunes like “Stay With Me.” That Stewart didn’t particularly need the Faces anymore may be the reason that their show together in Phoenix was sloppy.
In retrospect, the band should have been good- with Ron Wood on guitar, Ian McLagan on keyboards, Kenney Jones on drums and Tetsu Yamauchi on bass. Unfortunately, all that came through was ragged, careless music presented with a freewheeling, jocular attitude appropriate more for old drinking buddies getting together, than for a band trying to rock an audience. Fittingly, the group would dissolve only months afterwards- Wood and McLagan working with the Rolling Stones. Jones would later replace Keith Moon in the Who. But this band was breaking up for a reason. Foghat’s contribution to this evening was also negligible: a standard blues-rock package.
March 17, 1975- Tucson Community Center Exhibition Hall. Peter Frampton, Robin Trower.
One of the disappointments of turning on to Procol Harum in the mid-1970s was not being able to see the band with guitarist Robin Trower. On the Procol album, Broken Barricades, Trower had contributed an atmospheric tune called “Song for a Dreamer,” a piece full of guitar effects. It was well known that Trower was highly influenced by Jimi Hendrix, and in a musical world that was no longer emphasizing psychedelic guitar stylings, that made him a perfect candidate for guitar hero worship. Following his tenure in Procol Harum, the power trio Trower formed with bassist James Dewar then became an outlet for his guitar sound experimentation, the album Bridge of Sighs combining heavy rock grooves with thick, convoluted guitar tones.
In Tucson, Trower’s raw, loud music created a wall of sound that provided a new kind of satisfaction- electricity that blasted away everything in its path without regard to hit songs. The group’s sound was a unified ball of fire with Trower’s lead guitar lines twisting around inside the mix. Opening the show was Peter Frampton. This was a welcome surprise after seeing Frampton with ELO in Santa Monica. Frampton, with his clean guitar tone, melodic songs and warm stage presence was nearly the exact opposite of Trower, who was grungy, dark and exotic.
March 20, 1975- Tucson Community Center Music Hall. New Riders of the Purple Sage.
As long as I was visiting in Tucson, it seemed to make sense to go see the New Riders. However, two things stood in the way of a memorable occasion. One was that the show was held in a formal concert setting. The other was that no members of the Grateful Dead were there to spark things up. The first time I had seen the New Riders, they were opening for the Grateful Dead at the Hollywood Bowl in 1972. Later that year, I saw them play with Hot Tuna at the Hollywood Palladium, and the Dead’s Bob Weir joined them on stage for the encore. I was spoiled.
The New Riders had developed a comfortable take on the country rock sound, but they were unlike the Dead in that they did not stray far from the song format into instrumental exploration. Though songs like “Panama Red” were familiar, there was not much more- like intense jamming- to draw me to the music. The band, featuring John “Marmaduke” Dawson and David Nelson on guitars and vocals, no longer included Dave Torbert on bass. They played some songs, played some more songs and then were done. The staid community center environment had something to do with restraining both the band and the audience, though I remember that drinks were available. The gin and tonics certainly helped.
March 23, 1975- Tempe Stadium. Honk, Elvin Bishop, Beach Boys.
A windy, unpleasant day challenged the sunny music of the Beach Boys at Tempe Stadium. The souvenir I took away from this show was damage to my ears. I ended up getting caught in a position in front of the speakers and truly tweaked my hearing- I could feel a distinct trickle inside my left ear canal. Gusts of wind stripped the sound away from the performance and the sound engineers evidently were trying to compensate by turning up the volume. When the wind suddenly dropped down, the volume was literally earsplitting. As far as the Beach Boys were concerned, the sound problems were negligible- the songs were so familiar, it really didn’t matter how much of the real sound came through.
While I had certainly been exposed to the Beach Boys’ hits, as everybody else in pop music America had been, the early stuff, the fun, fun, fun, surfer, cars and girls stuff was not particularly nostalgic for me. Those songs seemed to predate my musical adolescence in much the same way that Fifties rock and roll did. I was more interested in the later work, especially the albums Surf’s Up and Holland and the song “Sail On Sailor.” But the old Beach Boys hits had reinvigorated the band thanks to the success of their collections Endless Summer and Spirit of America and this show aimed to cash in.
Mike Tulumello, of the State Press, noted that “their hair is longer, their faces are fuzzier and their voices contain a bit of gravel, but the Beach Boys are still alive and kicking.” Tulumello reported that the two-hour, two-encore concert attracted a crowd of 10,000 and that Mike Love, Al Jardine and the Wilson Brothers were “triumphant.” The set list included “California Girls,” “I Get Around,” “Sloop John B,” “Barbara Ann” and “Good Vibrations,” with closing tune “Fun, Fun, Fun.” For Tulumello, the concert “wasn’t as refreshing as a day at the beach- but for someone stuck in Tempe over spring break- it wasn’t a bad substitute.” Honk, playing an upbeat jazz-blues music, opened. Elvin Bishop played before the Beach Boys, his funky blues-rock fitting in much more with this show than when I saw him with Roy Wood at the Celebrity in 1974. Thankfully, this would be my last trip to Tempe Stadium.
March 26, 1975- Balcony Hall. Evening Stage, Al Stewart.
When Al Stewart released his album Past, Present and Future in 1974, he was a rare artist indeed. His folk rock music had the air of intellectualism thanks to lyrics that approached subjects other than relationships and his unusually frail and nearly conversational vocals seemed to underscore this. Though that album landed him on American radio and his follow-up, Modern Times, was doing well, it was considered a rare thing to get to see Stewart in concert. I gathered a few friends and we went to the late show on his opening night of a four-night stand at Balcony Hall, an attractive, cozy club with two levels located in Scottsdale. While we watched the live show, it was being broadcast on local radio. The morning after, I came back to my dorm room after a class and found a cassette pushed under my door with a cryptic “Surprise!” written on the label. The tape was compliments of a friend who had recorded part of the show off the radio and was passing it on to me.
The tape would show that Stewart’s music was primarily a lighter, pop-oriented rock, strong on the flow of words in the tradition of English Tin Pan Alley-type songwriters. Stewart was introduced as being “very, very popular in Europe and rapidly becoming so here.” His vocals were thin and nasal, affected by a kind of a lisp, and were at times drowned out by the power of his band. The keyboardist laid in atmospheric support and a lead guitarist ripped off fiery, loud solos and accents, usually at the expense of the boss. The sound mix, however, was clean, everybody but Stewart staying away from effects or distortion. Stewart’s acoustic guitar would benefit from effects. The song “Soho Needless to Say,” ended with a jazzy feel while “Not the One” would continue Stewart’s outpouring of words. Stewart remarked that Kilgore Trout, a character in a Kurt Vonnegut story, inspired “Not the One.” The song revealed Stewart’s power of description and an imagistic approach to lyric writing- not just filling in a melody, but directed at painting a picture.
The live version of Stewart’s great suite-like masterpiece, “Nostradamus,” took the next step beyond. This song measured up some weighty issues: the sweep of time, history and the predictions of a 16th century “prophet.” Stewart explained that the lyrics to the song came from translations of the Nostradamus book The Centuries and that he “took the lines from the book and made them rhyme.” The performance began with an easy acoustic buildup, the lead guitar adding some atmospheric spice, the music swelling to a sudden stop, then rebuilding on a new theme. By then the whole band was in on the arrangement. Then came an open tuning acoustic guitar solo. This was a style that I myself was using to jam on my guitar- to tune to an open tuning, then play using only a few strings to pick out a lead line while using the others for drones. The sound had a harmonic quality that was easy to play on top of. Stewart created a Middle Eastern feel with his combination of picking and strumming then built this up to a rousing flourish to which the crowd reacted with passion. Then the band reentered to help take the song to the end. It was a smooth, distinctive performance with lots of instrumental space set off by the lyrical musings of Nostradamus.
Next was another song Stewart had written about a Kurt Vonnegut book, The Sirens of Titan, and it was back to the bouncy light rock and flow of words. The feeling, though, was that this was a literate performer and that the material had enough depth to attract those interested in progressive music. Of course, we didn’t know just how rare it would be to see Stewart. The day after we saw him play, Stewart cancelled the rest of his run at Balcony Hall because of throat problems.
April 4, 1975- Celebrity Theatre. Leo Kottke, Jesse Colin Young.
Seeing Jesse Colin Young open for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at Tempe Stadium had been like not seeing him play at all. So going to the Celebrity for a late show one night was like seeing a brand new concert attraction. After a successful run with the Youngbloods, Young had established himself as a solo act, with albums such as Song For Juli and Songbird. On stage, Young appeared with a full band and replicated his sound- supple impassioned vocals supported by tempered rock arrangements- with confidence and strength. Young’s voice could even be described as sweet. The music mix, including flute, helped increase the musical tension when Young would build up to the climax of the faster, louder songs, and would step back during the quieter, more sensitive numbers.
The most effective song of the evening was the song “High on a Ridgetop” from the Youngbloods’ last album. All the glossy dramatic elements of Young’s focused solo works were there, but also the kind of rebellious, independent attitude the Youngbloods fostered, combining an ode to nature with a protest against city life. It was odd seeing Leo Kottke open the show. I had seen him previously as a headliner at Gammage Auditorium. At the Celebrity- a more relaxed and intimate environment- Kottke was much more talkative and sang more, exhibiting much more of his characteristic humor while maintaining an easy rapport with the crowd.
April 5, 1975- ASU Music Theatre. Hans Olsen, Dana Gillespie.
ASU was like just about any other university in the nation. Free or inexpensive live music and other events were plentiful on campus. One memorable concert on the lawn outside the student center at this time featured a popular regional favorite, the Bob Meighan Band, mining the same folk rock/country rock ground that Loggins and Messina were making popular. On another occasion, I would hear Jane Fonda speak, introducing a film she made titled Meet the Enemy. A sexy ad in the State Press attracted me to check out another show, featuring rocker Dana Gillespie in a lecture hall in the music building- the same lecture hall in which I took my Music Appreciation class. I had no idea who Gillespie was but the image in the paper- Gillespie leaning over, picking up a black cat, with black stockings, garters, high heels and lacey understuff in full view- was temptation enough.
In an article in the State Press, writer Doug Shaffer revealed that Gillespie had some pedigree. In fact, Gillespie was born a Baroness, a defunct Austrian title. She was the winner of the British ski championship from ages 13-18. Also, David Bowie was a friend and helped produce a track on her album that he wrote for her about Andy Warhol. The Bowie connection also extended to Gillespie’s management- Mainman, the same as Bowie. Gillespie had also sung Mary Magdelene’s part in the London production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Shaffer also reported Gillespie’s ribald stage patter, noting that this outspoken performer “established a joking S-M relationship with her six man band, dealing with the chick-up-front division by lampooning it.” Gillespie told the audience that if the band members didn’t behave, “I’ll have to put them through an hour’s bondage. There’s a good large room back there for the chaining.” The sex-talk continued throughout the set, with references to “little rubber knickers” and “beating your meat.” She commented on how glad she was that the guitar had a curve in the top so that she could “kind of fit.” Local bluesman, Hans Olsen, opened. Olsen had a distinctive image- with a black patch covering one eye- and was well known throughout the Phoenix area as an opening act. His blues were raw and impassioned.
April 11, 1975- Symphony Hall. Eleventh House w/ Larry Coryell, Return to Forever with Chick Corea.
The connecting lifeline between jazz and rock was the aggressive use of electric instruments and intense musicianship. Jazz rock fusion, then, attracted both jazz enthusiasts and rock audiences, oftentimes with a high percentage of musicians in the crowd. By 1975, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever group had become a leading fusion force and their show at Symphony Hall in Phoenix was a supercharged, buoyant event. It was strong on blinding instrumental play, and short on anything else but the music- no artificial stage antics, no egocentric vocalist, just straight musical business. Between Corea on keyboards and synthesizer, Stanley Clarke on bass, Al DiMeola on guitar and Lenny White on drums, there were very few moments at Symphony Hall that did not ignite with instrumental virtuosity. The most memorable moment of the evening for me was when the four musicians began trading licks in a round robin kind of competition, each round getting faster and faster, testing the limits of their skill and creativity.
Clarke, in particular, had created a distinctive playing style that I would see affect younger musicians directly. There was a young black man in the dorm who practiced his instrument to Clarke records, plucking the strings and popping the notes just like Clarke. In fact, I broke up a fistfight out in the hallway one day between the bass player and one of his neighbors. Evidently, the neighbor didn’t appreciate the music.
The extra bonus of the concert at Symphony Hall was the opportunity to see Larry Coryell, one of the early explorers of fusion. At the same time that I was investigating the work of John McLaughlin, I had also been introduced to Coryell’s music, particularly the album Barefoot Boy, a long, meditative jazz jam in the studio. Coryell’s guitar tone was big and fuzzy. At Symphony Hall, Coryell was playing with his new band Eleventh House, producing hard, electric fusion. Whereas Return to Forever still maintained a melodic element to their music- at times even pop oriented- Coryell’s band concentrated more on blasting volume and thick band arrangements- a well-tuned engine without the muffler.
April 17, 1975- Gammage Auditorium. PDQ Bach.
While rock and roll invited and inspired chaos, classical music was the exact opposite, encouraging stillness, calmness and a highly internal way of listening to and enjoying music. Professor Peter Schickele, however, took a truly irreverent view of classical music. He expressed it humorously at Gammage with crazy patter in between pieces, telling wacky stories about a fictional character, PDQ Bach, and his adventures as a neglected “genius” composer. Appearing with the ASU Symphony, Schickele mercilessly prodded and poked at the orchestra, purposely using the conductor as his unwitting comic foil. He ran down the aisles yelling his head off and rolled around at the piano bench like a drunkard, wild-eyed and purposely unkempt. The stuffed shirts in the audience, not used to such commotion in the concert hall, laughed nervously.
April 19, 1975- Tucson Community Center. Pink Floyd.
Thanks to a string of albums- including Umma Gumma– that challenged just what kind of sounds could make up “rock” music, Pink Floyd had become the favorite cult band of progressive rock fans and young musicians alike. However, the Dark Side of the Moon record changed all of that and turned Pink Floyd into a high-powered arena act. Friends in Phoenix had introduced me to the early records and had told me stories about seeing the band’s shows at weird venues such as the Big Surf facility in Phoenix, a swimming attraction that rolled continuously with artificial waves. The black poster with sprays of colored light emitting from a pyramid-shaped prism hanging in the ASU student center was all I needed to see to know that my time to experience Floyd in concert had arrived. Even though a note above the poster pleaded for students to leave the poster posted, I had to take it back to my dorm room.
Unfortunately, the 1974 George Harrison debacle had warned everyone that just because ASU announced a show, didn’t mean that it would happen. Of course, there were staging problems- ASU had built an inadequate stage for the show and the band told them that if they didn’t fix it in a hurry, the show would be cancelled. Meanwhile, Floyd was scheduled for a show in Tucson, so a friend and I did the only reasonable thing- we went to Tucson to see the show with my brother. Besides watching the girl slumped in a seat in front of us wake up and throw up all over herself, the show was impressive with its stage tricks- a big mirror ball sparkling during “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and films synched to a complete reading of Dark Side of the Moon.
At only twenty-five cents each, copies of the official tour program were irresistible and I had to snap up a couple of the “super all-action official music programme for boys and girls!” printed like a comic book. On the cover, alien travelers wondered aloud about creative intelligence on Earth. Inside, four short stories depicted the band members in fantasy roles- bassist Roger Waters as a triumphant soccer player overcoming nasty skullduggery, drummer Nick Mason as a ship captain taking on a German U-boat, guitarist David Gilmour as a motorcyclist and keyboardist Richard Wright as a playboy. Also included were a Pink Floyd trivia quiz and a “personal information” chart. Gilmour reported that the color of his eyes was red. Mason noted that he had “muscles of steel beneath slim frame.” Waters listed “human beings” for personal likes and “inhuman beings” for personal dislikes. Wright admitted that his favorite food was boiled eggs, his favorite film was Cool Hand Luke and he wondered “who ever…thought…of…padding…out…this programme…with…very…silly…questions.” The program also included lyrics to the new songs “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Raving and Drooling” and “Gotta Be Crazy.” It listed the additional musicians, including vocalists Vanatta Field and Carlena Williams as well as original Dark Side saxophonist Dick Parry. The back cover illustrated how to make the “Pink Floyd Lucky Pyramid sign” but warned that it was “not recommended for people with warts, eczema, psoriasis or athlete’s foot.”
April 20, 1975- ASU Activities Center. Pink Floyd.
The next day, the staging problems had been worked out and the ASU show was on. Before the show, a bunch of us went into the ActivitiesCenter to check out the stage set-up. Looking over, we noticed there was a shaft of light illuminating a small section of seats. A friend joked that Syd Barrett, former mastermind of the group, would be sitting there. That evening it was the same show, a better venue and much better seats- just to stage left enough to be able to see the big round video screen and nearly feel the crashing jetfighter zip past. The most memorable moment was the encore of the song “Echoes” from the Meddle album. While the band played around with the moody, syrupy music, “snow” came dropping down through a deep green light while blasts of stage smoke shot into the air. It felt primordial. After the show, we waited out by the back ramp and saw the band drive off in their limos.
In the New Times, the area’s independent, progressive newspaper, Donald Arthur Rennie detailed some of the evening’s special effects, especially the device I thought was a mirror ball, used on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” According to Rennie, the “mirror ball” was really “a pinwheel-like mosaic of mirrors.” When spotlights hit the rotating mirrors, the arena “was bathed in bundles of reflected light. It was like being transported into the Milky Way; the dimension of time was absent.” Accompanying the Dark Side portion of the show was a film “projected from the rear of a 50-foot diameter screen.” Rennie noted the use of a stainless steel airplane that crashed into padding during the explosions in the song “Time.” For “Echoes,” Rennie reported that liquid nitrogen was released, “creating a dense fog on which the band seemed to float.”
Writer Greg Smith of the State Press reported that the Pink Floyd show had been a financial success, declaring that it “made more money than any other concert in Phoenix this year.” 9,000 tickets were sold and the show grossed “about $75,000.” The next most profitable show, according to Smith, had been the Beach Boys at Tempe Stadium in March, which grossed about $65,000. He also noted some controversy over counterfeit tickets.
Smith also described the “parabolic mirror” device and detailed the images projected on the screen during the Dark Side segment: “Scenes of an operating room…hundreds of yellow clock dials were projected moving in time to the music…scenes of a human eye and aerial views of canyon landscapes.” Smith included other information including the fact that Floyd toured with 32 tons of equipment and that Nick Mason’s 15-piece drum set included six drums arrayed behind him.
In a separate article, Smith related a difficult interview with Roger Waters, who admitted, under some prodding, that “the new album” would be released in June after tapes were mixed in studios in Los Angeles. Waters also mentioned that the group was set to perform five shows in LA before ending its tour. Smith also got Waters to talk about the band’s history and how he met drummer Nick Mason and keyboard player Rick Wright in architecture school in England. Waters said they “quit because school was jargon- it’s bullshit. They treated you like children…they were still in charge.” The group of people that I went to the concert with included my future wife, Jonie, whom I knew from mutual classes.
May 10, 1975- ASU Student Center. Carlos Santana w/ Urmilla Santana.
Despite already having tickets to see Weather Report- a jazz fusion band I had not yet seen- and Billy Cobham at the Celebrity, I opted to check out a solo acoustic performance by Carlos Santana at the ASU student center. Santana was hitting the college circuit to promote the teachings of Sri Chinmoy, a spiritual influence on Santana and guitarist John McLaughlin. The event was being held in a small ballroom on the second floor- the same place I had seen politician Ted Kennedy speak- and a crowd of maybe 45 people showed up thanks to low key promotion. Though well known as an electric player, this performance was dedicated to the crisp sound of Santana’s acoustic guitar playing. While Santana fired off lightning quick runs, underscored by sparkling sustain, his wife Urmilla added simple chording on a harmonium.
As we entered the ballroom before the show, we were given dittoed sheets with Chinmoy’s comments on music and “God the Musician.” I couldn’t help myself and immediately approached the great guitarist for an autograph, who hesitated a moment then signed the material: “Devadip Carlos Santana.” “Devadip” was a name given to Santana by Chinmoy himself. Another friend approached and asked for an autograph and Santana again hesitated then refused and said that wasn’t what it was supposed to be about. What it was about was tuning into the crystalline beauty of music created from a deep sense of purpose. After the short concert, Santana hung around by the stage, so my friend and I approached again. Santana was peeling an orange and as my friend came near, the one who he had refused to give an autograph to, Santana held out the orange in a gesture of sharing. My friend took a piece, truly fruit from a master.
May 25, 1975- Celebrity Theatre. Frank Zappa and the Mothers w/ Captain Beefheart.
Frank Zappa’s late show at the Celebrity began at 11:00 PM and was the usual riotous affair. This time, however, Zappa’s band included not only the Fowler Brothers and George Duke, but also Captain Beefheart, who sat on the edge of the stage and added occasional harmonica and vocal parts. The highlight, of course, was a version of “Willie the Pimp” from the Hot Rats album, a hit with my buddies and me not only because of Beefheart’s wild man vocal delivery, but also because of Zappa’s long guitar meanderings. Zappa was known for challenging musical arrangements (played by crack musicians) and off-color lyrics that challenged taste, but also as a master guitarist, achieving a fuzzy, piercing tone with the instrument and applying it to cascading scales, up and down, some of them exotic indeed.
Afterwards, we hung around the stage and got the Fowler Brothers’ autographs. Then we met Beefheart out in the parking lot. He was walking around in circles, evidently working off some steam. As we asked for his autograph, he told us that he was upset because Zappa didn’t let him “blow” very much during the show. He also told us that he was looking to form a new band. Later, we realized we should have volunteered to be Beefheart’s band. He might have even considered it.
July 5, 1975- Rhinelander High School Auditorium. Two Generations of Brubeck.
I spent a month or so in northern Wisconsin, squiring my grandmother around as her chauffeur and gofer while staying at the family “cottage” on beautiful, mellow LakeThompson outside Rhinelander. I happened to be in Rhinelander at the same time that Dave Brubeck and his various sons were also in the area. Brubeck had been persuaded to be the Grand Marshall of a local parade and to give a concert at the local high school for what was being called Hodag Holidays. The “hodag” was a mythical creature the town had adopted as its mascot.
Brubeck and clan, billed as Two Generations of Brubeck, were playing their own version of fusion jazz- melding the sounds of electric instruments with acoustic ones while taking every opportunity to trade solo work. The band included Brubeck’s sons Dan on drums, Chris on bass and Darius on keyboards. The music was an assortment of new compositions by both the younger members of the group and the elder, as well as some tasty selections from Brubeck’s already historic career. Like those early compositions, the emphasis here was on balancing melodic lines with soloing, though the newer material had a decided funk edge to it. The crowd-pleaser, of course, was a spirited version of “Take Five.” One of the back up musicians stood out in particular- Peter “Madcat” Ruth on harmonica. Afterwards, there was a reception at the local HolidayInn- admission was your ticket stub. I spent the evening drinking beers and collecting autographs from everybody but the eldest Brubeck.
July 9, 1975- Inglewood Forum. Rolling Stones.
I don’t remember how I ended up with an LA Times in northern Wisconsin, but while paging through the “Calendar” section (shades of earlier years) I focused on a ticket agency ad offering tickets for the upcoming Rolling Stones dates. Ticket agencies were brokers who bought and sold event tickets for concerts and sporting events- always at a profit. I had always considered it a kind of legalized ticket scalping, but stopped questioning when the desire to buy was kindled. The concerts coincided with my own travel dates and so I called the airlines to check out the possibilities. Incredibly, it didn’t cost any more to reroute my flight from Chicago to Seattle through LA, so I called the ticket agency, confirmed they had tickets, then sent an incredible sum- $35 per ticket- for tickets to two nights in a row. I had never paid so much for tickets before, but knew that the Rolling Stones would be worth it. I made reservations at a hotel right across the street from the Forum, packed up a bottle of Black Velvet and flew to LA, where the hotel shuttle picked me up. Though I did not particularly feel rich, I had truly joined the jet set of rock and roll.
Since I last saw the Stones in 1972, they had lost guitarist Mick Taylor. After experiencing the sloppy work of Rod Stewart and the Faces in Phoenix, it was not particularly good news to me that guitarist Ron Wood had been tapped to fill in for Taylor on this tour. The disappointment, however, was balanced by the further news that Billy Preston was also set to join the Stones, playing keyboards and adding vocals. After witnessing the magic Preston had created with George Harrison the year before, I felt that this could only be positive news, though there was no feeling at all that the Stones needed help. This tour- also including percussionist Ollie Brown- featured the famous “star stage” which opened like a big, slow flower. I strolled over to the Forum and was in my seat- behind the stage- on time. Then I spent the next hour watching the rest of the crowd file in while musicians entertained down around the stage and walked around the arena in a conga line. At one point, a spotlight trained itself on a familiar figure- Ringo Starr- just reaching his seat, flanked by bodyguards. When the moment finally came for the show to start, the star/flower opened, Mick Jagger hanging onto one petal.
In the Herald-Examiner, Robert Kemnitz described the decorations that night: “It suggested a cross between a Chinese restaurant and the twinkling bushes of Disneyland: Oriental banners, fish kites and an elaborate string of blue lights.” He also gave details of the opening festivities, including the movements of a “Chinese dragon” and roving steel bands. Kemnitz reported that it was “well after nine” when the Stones launched into “Honky Tonk Women.” Other tunes in the set included “Get Off My Cloud,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Brown Sugar,” “Midnight Rambler,” “Street Fighting Man” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” According to Kemnitz, the star stage weighed twenty-five tons and was bordered in neon.
Despite the glitter, the party-like atmosphere and the staging, Kemnitz also dared to question whether the Stones were delivering the goods on this, their sixth American tour: “It was great rock ‘n’ roll by any standards except Stones’ standards.” Though skeptical, Kemnitz ultimately couldn’t resist Jagger’s sense of showmanship. After the Stones performed “Angie” and “Wild Horses,” Billy Preston performed two tunes. During one of those songs, Jagger swung out over the heads of the audience on a rope. Kemnitz called it “an exciting bit of rock ‘theater,’” something the band had attempted only once before- in New York City. Ultimately, Kemnitz awarded the Stones a victory for turning even “sinister” rock and roll, such as their song, “Sympathy for the Devil,” into a “celebration.”
LA Times writer Robert Hilburn also questioned the effectiveness of the new Stones show. The headline for his review asked: “Are the Stones Gathering Moss?” Hilburn also saw that “their only challenger…is their own past” but, like Kemnitz, lost his thread when he got down to the business of describing the action near the end of the show. Jagger had already doused himself with water when he picked up a second bucket. Jagger found a new target among the celebrities standing at the side of the stage and “hurled the water at them- hitting (gulp) stylish Bianca and funky chic Liza with a Z square in the face.”
Hilburn reported that the set list was 23 songs long, including “Tumbling Dice,” “Rip This Joint,” “All Down the Line” and “If You Can’t Rock Me.” According to Hilburn, the show also included a balloon “in the shape of a phallus.” He also noted the rope swinging bit: “Seeing a star of Jagger’s magnitude even take a slight risk is a bit startling.”
The end of the show was a celebration, as Kemnitz suggested. As “Sympathy for the Devil” was churning away, the musicians who had entertained at the beginning of the show came ascending out of a trap door in the middle of the stage. Their cacophony of percussion sounds and just the mounting number of them helped end the show as it had begun- as a party.
On the way out after the show, I scored a tour program that someone had bought but left behind. The program detailed the planning and marketing of the tour, including a press conference that “saw the Stones rolling down Fifth Avenue on a flat-bed truck playing “Brown Sugar” while surprised New Yorkers abandoned their lunch-hour plans and dashed from apartments and offices for a glimpse at the world’s number one rock ‘n roll band.” It included photos of each musician, a picture of a billboard announcing the tour and shots from the rehearsals. Ron Wood’s listing said “courtesy of Faces” and featured a picture of Rod Stewart and the Faces. A full-page map of the tour had lines drawn between the international stops. The back cover featured a logo of a hawk/jetliner swooping in to grab a piece of America. Jet set indeed.
July 10, 1975- Inglewood Forum. Rolling Stones.
The next day, I spent time lounging in my room, watching television and checking out the horse races at Hollywood Park that were just visible from my hotel room window. I strolled around down by the hotel pool and watched the frolicking girls in their little bikinis. I had a brief conversation with one of them and was made privy to the information that the Stones, or at least the Stones’ crew, were staying in the hotel on the fifth floor. I took a walk in the surrounding neighborhood, visited a record store, then returned to the hotel. On my way back up to my room, I punched in floor five just to see what would happen. When the door opened, two large guys with serious looks and their arms folded over their chests greeted me. I didn’t pursue it, mumbling something about being on the wrong floor, then went back to my room for a few drinks and a nap.
That night’s show held few musical surprises after seeing the previous night’s show, but the feeling of familiarity and the luxury of just being there again resulted in a special kind of pleasure. Everything else in the world had dropped away and all that was left was rock and roll. Towards the end of the set, I decided to take a walk. Incredibly, the aisles were completely clear all the way around the stage. I noticed that there weren’t even any ushers in sight, so I moved along the railing, took up a position just above stage left and rocked to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” undisturbed by other fans or staff. The next morning I was back on the airplane and back to reality.
July 25, 1975- Seattle Center Coliseum. Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Jethro Tull.
In Seattle- or, as Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson called it, “Seat-tle”- the Sensational Alex Harvey Band had the tough job of warming up the crowd at the Coliseum. The band’s bombastic hard rock underscored Harvey’s arrogant, swaggering stage presence with some intensity. But the group was evidently unknown in northwest America and their act was met with catcalls. After several fumbled attempts at achieving a groove, the band was literally booed off the stage.
Jethro Tull, however, was met with thunderous applause. Having seen Tull’s show earlier in the year in Tucson, I knew what to expect, from the song order to the animal suits and stage antics. It was all completely the same in Seattle. The difference was the venue- bigger and brighter- but the show went like clockwork. My parents had moved from Bremerton back to southern California, but my oldest brother had set down roots in the Seattle area, helping me to maintain a connection to the area.
September 4, 1975- Celebrity Theatre. Baron Stewart, Loggins and Messina.
Back in Tempe, the fall semester was in gear and so were concert plans. Loggins and Messina’s late show at the Celebrity was a homecoming celebration indeed. Shortly after I had seen guitarist Jim Messina in Poco in 1970, he had left the band and eventually formed a union with pop songwriter Kenny Loggins. The pair created a country rock that softened the twang in Poco’s music and found pop hit success as a result. The most memorable moment of the night for me was an intense version of “Angry Eyes,” the band totally synched in to the rhythm while the accusing lyrics and delivery bit down hard on the melody, finally moving into a long, exploratory jam section.
September 25, 1975- Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Toots and the Maytalls, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Eagles.
Since I had seen them open for Procol Harum back in Santa Monica in 1972, the Eagles had come on strong as a radio hit band. Their country-flavored rock was even closer to rock and pop than Loggins and Messina and the music sported distinctive hook songwriting. The band was successful at releasing both rockers and ballads. Though memorable, their radio presence got kind of annoying. Therefore, I can’t say I was an Eagles fan. The country rock genre seemed limited to me- songs with only limited instrumental possibilities; a vocal music covering well-worn territory. However, the song “One of These Nights” was hot at the time and the Eagles had become a musical power I could literally not ignore. The band’s live show, predictably, covered most of the hit material.
The same story was true for Linda Ronstadt. Early in 1973, as an opener for Neil Young, Ronstadt’s vocal power was strong but the material had been limited. By 1975, she had scored with hits like “You’re No Good” and “When Will I Be Loved” on both the pop and country charts. Ronstadt, hailing from Tucson, was nearly a local musician, and came on stage at Phoenix Stadium with much more confidence than at the Forum. Adding Jackson Browne to the bill- also a writer with some country influence, but leaning more towards the singer-songwriter side- turned this show into a kind of Western region-style pop festival. It should have been a great concert.
Nearly everything about this show, however, was set against having a good time. I should have read the ad more closely. It said: “Attendance limited to 25,000 for your comfort.” I must have been out of my mind to think that any concert in Phoenix could be “comfortable” with 25,000 other people. 24,000 people attended the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert at Tempe Stadium in 1973 and it had not been a “comfortable” experience. Sure enough, Phoenix Stadium was packed, squares of blankets everywhere. I had taken a date who wasn’t very interested in much of anything, our location was far from the stage, the ground was uncomfortable and the sound was nearly nonexistent. Still, from the far distance, I did hear my first strains of real Jamaican reggae music thanks to Toots and the Maytalls. I remember hearing the insistent thump and Toots wailing on top- a strange new sound. It was also notable that JD Souther made a guest appearance with Jackson Browne.
September 26, 1975- Celebrity Theatre. Donovan.
The previous year, mellow singer-songwriter Donovan had succeeded in making a live comeback with stage trappings from his 7-TEASE operetta. His return visit to the Celebrity shed the props and formal aspect of the presentation and featured Donovan for what he had started out as, before becoming a hippie culture figure- a folksinger, or “minstrel,” as the program called him. Between songs, Donovan was conversational with the crowd and his songs acted as friendly signposts to the larger experience of just spending some time with the singer. Most memorable on this occasion was an innocent sing along to “There is A Mountain.” An ad in the program for a hair salon told what was really in fashion at the time: “Daltry looks…Bowie cuts.”
October 3- ASU Activities Center, 1975. Elton John
Another artist dominating the radio airwaves in 1975 was Elton John and while the constant rotation of his songs was as annoying as that of the Eagles, I was more sympathetic to John’s music, which had plenty of melodic and instrumental substance. My personal favorite records by John had included Madman Across the Water, a record that mixed pop sounds with some deeper, more introspective material. The album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road also had an epic, Beatlesesque quality to it. John was also known as an exciting performer, kicking his piano bench around and wearing gaudy costumes and custom-made glasses. His show at the ActivitiesCenter did not disappoint as far as both music and spectacle went and rivaled the Rolling Stones for the most exciting show on the road.
The State Press treated John like royalty in a full two-page spread offering varying viewpoints of the concert. Writer Anite Mabante, for example, concluded that “Tempe was treated to a performance by an artist at his peak.”
Writer Jim Boardman gave a detailed description of the opening of the concert: “A sole spotlight focused on a short figure sporting a blue derby, clad in white overalls and a baby blue sequined shirt, and the crowd went nuts.” According to Boardman, the set list included “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and Rod Stewart’s “Country Comfort.” The second half of the 3-½ hour concert started with “Bennie and the Jets” and John encored with “Saturday Night” and “Pinball Wizard.” Boardman also described John’s onstage antics, “leaping upon his chromed and carpeted baby grand, hurling his piano bench off-stage (four times.)” According to Boardman, the band also included three vocalists, dressed in service attendants outfits, who were joined by a special guest, tennis pro Billie Jean King, and vocalist Kiki Dee. Boardman also noted that during one number, John played all the instruments on the stage then returned to the piano to end the tune “in a near prone position.”
State Press writer Jeff Lettow reported that the song “Gotta Get a Meal Ticket” became “a 15-minute showcase for lead guitarist Davey Johnstone.” According to Lettow, the song “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fightin’” “enabled all members of the band to show off their stuff, with special mention going to percussionist Ray Cooper, who knocked the audience out of their seats with a monstrous gong.” Lettow also reported more songs on the set list: “Island Girl” from the “yet to be released Rock of the Westies,” “Your Song,” “I Need You to Turn To,” “Border Song,” “Rocket Man” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” Lettow also noted that Billie Jean King joined the backup vocalists for “Philadelphia Freedom.”
October 4, 1975- Celebrity Theater. Shawn Phillips.
By now, Shawn Phillips was well known to his audience and besides supplying good doses of progressive folk rock, he also became friendly and conversational with fans in between tunes. For example, Phillips was preparing to segue into an acoustic number at another show at the Celebrity, when he untied his long hair to redo it. Someone in the audience asked him “Why do you tie your hair back, Shawn?” He chuckled and his reply was simple: “So it doesn’t get caught in the guitar strings.”
The program for this evening claimed that Phillips’ latest releases, Furthermore and Do You Wonder, continued “his musical progress from folk to folk-rock and now into his own particular brand of pop.” After the show, friends and I waited by the stage door and were rewarded when Phillips and the band- including keyboardist Peter Robinson and guitarist Mike Miller- came walking out. No limo, no guards, no crowd- just a bunch of guys. Phillips greeted us warmly and we collected autographs. During our brief encounter, Phillips asked our sincere opinion about the evening’s sound. He was concerned, but we assured him everything was fine.
October 26, 1975- Celebrity Theatre. Danny O’Keefe, Leo Kottke.
The Celebrity program for this acoustic double bill declared that guitarist Leo Kottke’s “recognition in the industry has grown to respect, and though some can’t stand him for his acute lack of glitter, his keen wit and smilin’ mug and sizzling, tasty guitar work are all his faithful require.” The wit on stage was reflected by his long, often humorous stream-of-consciousness stories in between songs. It was also reflected in vocal material such as the bittersweet song “Pamela Brown”- the ironic ballad of a man reflecting on how life would have been different if he had actually gotten the woman of his dreams. The comfortable way Kottke now handled an audience completed his transformation from a guitar-playing phenomenon into a singer-songwriter/performer. The instrumental guitar pieces still worked to produce a trademark sound, but the Leo Kottke personality was now just as important as the guitar work.
Opening the show was another singer-songwriter with a distinctive voice- Danny O’Keefe. O’Keefe credibly expressed regret and melancholy in his hit song, “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,” as well as sparked up a little acoustic rock and roll with his strong, seasoned tenor. His recent release at the time was So Long, Harry Truman.
October 30, 1975- Celebrity Theatre. Gentle Giant, Strawbs.
Interest in the English folk-rock band the Strawbs was spurred on by the common knowledge that Yes super-keyboardist Rick Wakeman had once been in the band. But clearly, the Strawbs’ central character was Dave Cousins. His earthy vocals gave the music a folk authenticity while the group’s song structures bordered on progressive rock. The Celebrity program identified the new Strawbs album, Nomadness, and listed the touring band members as Dave Cousins, Chas Cronk, Dave Lamber and Rod Coombes.
New to the scene was the opening band Gentle Giant, making their first appearance at the Celebrity. Like Genesis, the band was well known among my musician friends in Phoenix and their music was complex, time signatures and musical moods constantly changing. The latest album release was Free Hand but predecessors Octopus and In A Glass House were favorite import album selections. The Celebrity listed the band members as Derek Shulman (wind instruments,) Ray Shulman (bass and violin,) Kerry Minnear (multi-keyboards,) John Weathers (drums, percussion) and Gary Green (guitars.) The most memorable part of their set was a version of the song “So Sincere” which mixed madrigalesque vocal interplay with a herky jerky instrumental arrangement, finally giving way to a drum solo underscored by white lights strung in patterns around the band’s equipment. The lights blinked and shifted to the beat of the drums, adding a simple but powerful special effect.
November 3, 1975- Gammage Auditorium. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
I had been hearing about a new artist named Bruce Springsteen from friends who had seen him perform at the Celebrity just before I moved to Tempe for school. I now lived in an apartment near campus, so when it was announced that Springsteen was scheduled to play three nights at Gammage Auditorium- yes, the same place I had heard Andres Segovia’s delicate guitar work and Ricardo Montalban’s dramatic acting- I bought tickets to two of the three nights.
The Born to Run album had just been released to a hot reception and the stage show at Gammage was confident and energetic. Guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt cut a colorful figure on stage while Springsteen and sax player Clarence Clemons mugged around and purposefully posed together for the audience just like the album cover. Springsteen had a kind of scruffy street poet image underscored by songs that turned urban life into the stuff of epic tales. The music, however, was flashy, precise and decidedly influenced by R & B. The show started with Springsteen standing all alone in the spotlight singing “Thunder Road.” The dramatic climax of the concert was the song “Jungleland,” Springsteen howling with passion into the night. Spread out across the entire Gammage stage, Springsteen and his group were big and powerful.
In the State Press, writer Bill Frakes described Springsteen’s music as a “strange brand of city-street folk music incorporating bits and pieces of many different musical styles into a solid, raunchy rowdy sound.” Frakes also felt the irony of having this popular new artist play the staid confines of Gammage: “One might have expected to see the ghost of Frank Lloyd Wright come swooping down from the sound booth.” Frakes was particularly impressed with the contributions of piano player Roy Bittan, who “outdid the other musicians.” Frakes also had praise for Clemons, dressed in a “dazzling” white suit, whose playing he described as “New York City soul.”
November 6, 1975- Gammage Auditorium. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
One of the other elements that helped make Springsteen and the E Street Band a success was attitude. There was a feeling that these guys were just wild enough to break some rules, smiling and joking all the while. Having a rock and roll band play in Gammage was breaking the rules to begin with and Springsteen and band made sure that the third night of their three-night stand was raucous indeed.
For an encore, the group was playing “Twist and Shout” and as the crowd was jumping and dancing, I noticed that the ushers were abuzz, grouped together to one side and pointing to the balcony. I looked behind me and up and saw that the balcony itself was buckling and bouncing in time to the music. My seat for the first night had been under the balcony, but my seat was well clear this time, so I watched the balcony move up and down for some time, then turned back to watch the rest of the show. That last night produced damage to the balcony supports and caused rock and roll to be banned from the theater. I would play air guitar to the songs on Born to Run for weeks afterward, loving the dramatic feel of electric power and the ray of hope that romance and freedom were really possible, especially if you rocked and rolled.
November 15, 1975- Celebrity Theatre. Steve Goodman, John Prine.
When singer-songwriter John Prine burst onto the music scene in 1971 with his self-titled debut album, he was greeted with an enthusiastic buzz that called him the “new Bob Dylan.” Springsteen had also been given that tag, but Prine seemed to be closer to the truth. He truly did work in the singer-songwriter, acoustic-based genre (while Springsteen was more oriented toward big band rock and R & B) and his songs were full of intelligent lyrical play.
Live on stage, Prine came on with a rumpled look and a craggy voice. But the songs, particularly “Dear Abby,” kept a wry caustic humor up front. Most memorable of the songs he performed, however, were those that expressed a heart wrenching melancholy. “Hello in There” did what no one else in rock was willing to do- stand up and not only recognize the country’s senior population, but encourage listeners to offer a helping hand. So much in American society was being made of the youth culture that older citizens were being ignored. This song was a wake-up call to all the hipsters that the world consisted of people of all ages. The other tune was the sad story of a broken and beaten Vietnam vet being further destroyed by heroin, “Sam Stone.” When the laughs died down and the crowd settled back to listen, these songs created the opposite of the roaring crowd at the Springsteen shows- a kind of meaningful hesitation that said that the point of the songs had gotten through.
Opening the show was Steve Goodman, another singer-songwriter, who, like Prine, had developed his initial career in Chicago. Goodman had become widely known as the writer of Arlo Guthrie’s popular hit record, “The City of New Orleans.” Goodman performed the tune at the Celebrity but with just a little different rhythm pattern than Guthrie’s version. His latest album release at this time was Jessie’s Jig and Other Favorites and his music was sweeter and more refined than Prine’s. Still, Goodman also had a sense of humor, which came out in the song “Chicken Cordon Blues.” By the end of the concert, Prine brought Goodman back on stage and the pair literally played back to back as the stage revolved.
November 22, 1975- Celebrity Theatre. Leonard Cohen.
The Celebrity program claimed that Leonard Cohen’s “position as a unique and powerful poet-songwriter and compelling performer is solid.” I had heard the song “Suzanne” and knew about some books of poetry but did not realize just what a master of the dark mood Cohen was. His deep, sonorous voice took up a kind of lulling drone, almost as if he were intoning the words rather than singing them. Back-up singers emphasized and responded to the rising and falling of Cohen’s vocals. There was energy to the music, but also a subdued coolness. It was a perfect date concert- a sit down civilized affair- and my date was my future wife, Jonie, who was back in Tempe for a visit after transferring to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. This would be my last visit to the Celebrity.
December 1, 1975- Gammage Auditorium. George Carlin.
At Gammage, George Carlin seemed less of a counter culture spokesman and more of a social commentator. The subtle difference perhaps had to do with the surroundings. Gammage was back to being staid, refined and quiet after the chaos of the Bruce Springsteen run. But Carlin too seemed more reserved. His observations were just as wise, but he commanded the stage with a much greater sense of control and even calmness. The madcap explosion of energy I saw at the Long Beach Arena in 1973 was now a well-developed, more mature personality. However, Carlin was still willing to challenge hypocrisies with a delightfully barbed twist of logic.
At this time there was a controversy on campus about an upcoming appearance at Gammage by Lt. William Calley, the soldier accused of leading the famous Mai Lai massacre. The student group presenting the event was charging a dollar for tickets but protesters were upset that the student organization appeared to be supporting an accused murderer. I had picked up a ticket and was interested in what the man had to say. I thought I was supporting the student organization, not the speaker. The picket lines heated up, however, and I didn’t go to the event. That made the Carlin show my last concert visit to Gammage, truly one of the most beautiful venues I have experienced.
My time in Tempe was now at an end. This last semester, however, would provide a new turning point for me. As part of my class load for the fall semester, I had enrolled in a creative writing class. When I got to the first meeting, the instructor, Norman Dubie, explained that he was a poet and that he really only did poetry in his class. If that didn’t suit us, we were welcome to transfer out. I had been writing poetry for several years as part of my own kind of adolescent therapy program, but I had never met a real poet before. The class was inspirational to me and by the end of the semester I had organized a formal student reading in the beautiful recital hall in the music building. Not only that, but some press releases I sent out to the local media resulted in the taping of a one hour radio program dedicated to my student readers. The program aired on the day I left Tempe. It literally ended as I got into the car and hit the road.