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Levon Helm

Levon Helm

From Down in the Delta to the Birth of The Band and Beyond
edition:Hardcover
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Music Lessons
Excerpt

 

Little girl asked if I could show her Mary Had a Little Lamb.

 

No problem.

 

Really?

 

Really, select a note any note.

 

She pressed F. We started ma/ry/had (F, D# C#), she worked it a few times.

 

She said I like to make things up.

 

That’s a sign of a composer. Let’s make something up.

 

Really?

 

Really.

 

We played a little improvisation then changed her mind returned to Mary Had a Little Lamb. Kept attacking the notes vertically with her fingers and wrist in the same line like a knife stabbing. Asked her to try balancing a miniature plate on her hand which made her hands horizontal with the keys more pianistic but this was also a little exhausting. Took a break and made small talk, she has a lot to say. Wishes she could speak French but her school won’t allow it until she’s in grade 6. She said her parents both speak other languages and when she was younger in daycare she could count to 30 in Chinese.

 

Could I hear you count in Chinese?

 

I don’t remember anymore. You know what else? My parents were going to take me to China one time but they changed their mind at the airport so we didn’t go.

 

Really?

 

Really.

 

Did you know the black notes on the piano are a scale that is used in a lot of Chinese music?

 

Really?

 

Really. Let’s make something up on the black notes, play anything just black notes and I’ll back you up.

 

Really?

 

Really.

 

Proceeded to make something slow, melodic and pentatonic. Her mother noticed from the kitchen and walked into the room listening and beaming that her daughter was doing this.

 

I said to the mother I heard you guys almost went to China. She looked at her daughter and then me,

 

We’ve never been to China. I don’t know why she makes things up like that.

 

Should I or shouldn’t I tell her? Kid’s a composer just practising making it up.

 

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Anthem: Rush in the ’70s
Excerpt

 

Both Milla [Alex’s mom] and Mary [Geddy’s mom] were against their two angels going rock ‘n’ roll. But who was to blame for the boys catching the bug? Fortunately for familial relations, Mary didn’t blame Alex and Milla didn’t blame Geddy.

 

“I liked Geddy,” laughs Milla. “To tell you about Geddy, I remember talking to his mom, and his grandmother was a sweet lady. And she used to call me and say, ‘Is my Geddy there? Well you know what? He’s going with shiksa now.’ He was… you know, he’s dating a shiksa, a Christian girl—Nancy was shiksa. So she would get so upset. And I would say to Geddy, ‘Your grandma is calling you to go home.’ But his mother, once we were talking, and she said, ‘You know, Milla, you know what happened? One morning I came to the room, and I saw this blonde long hair, and I said, ‘Geddy, you brought a girl into my house?’ She thought Geddy brought a girl to sleep over, but it was Alex actually . So we had fun with them. And then we started going to concerts that they had in Toronto together.”

 

“Geddy brought Alex home one day,” laughs Mary, corroborating the tale. “And he seemed to me like a nice, intelligent boy, quiet, not like a wild animal. And I liked him right away. And I still like him. Good sense of humour like Geddy, and they got along very well. The rest is history, you know, because there was lots of things going on, from that first day they me, to the stage. He used to work in a gas station, Alex, and many times he used to sleep over at our house, and I remember one day I was going to tell something to Geddy, early morning, and I walk into his room, and I see blond hair on the floor, somebody covered up with blonde hair. And I’m thinking--it’s a girl? And I close the door carefully, and I think, wow, Geddy let this girl sleep on the floor. And I’m going to work, and after about an hour later I call Geddy, he’s up, and I said, ‘Geddy, how can you let this girl sleep on the floor in your bedroom?’ ‘Mum, it’s not a girl. If it was a girl, she wouldn’t be sleeping on the floor.’ It was Alex! You see, Geddy loved his bed. He could never go to a sleepover. His bed was his everything.”

 

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Ted Templeman
Excerpt

 

What gave me pause about “Jump” was my instinctive sense of what defined the Van Halen sound. When I produce an artist, I get a feel for what will likely work -- and not work -- on an album, especially when you’ve done five with them.

 

To me, Van Halen wasn’t a pop group. Yes, they’d done “Dance the Night Away” and “Pretty Woman,” but that was as far afield from their raucous, primitive nature that I wanted them to go. “Jump” was way too pop to my ears. I wanted them to stay edgy and raw.

 

As I tried to explain to Ed and the guys, it wasn’t that I was “anti-keyboards.” Remember, I was completely fucking knocked out when Ed played me the piano riff for “Cradle” at Sunset Sound. Ed had played keyboards on “Dancing in the Street.” I know it sounds like an odd comparison, but the “Jump” riff didn’t sound like Ed’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love” riff. That’s the stomping, powerful sound that I thought they should have kept pursuing. Even though Diver Down served its purposes, it was too pop for me. I liked the Fair Warning stuff better. I thought these guys should stay right in that pocket, and not go pop. To me, Van Halen doing “Jump” seemed analogous to Keith Richards pushing for the Stones to record something sappy like “You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” by Herman’s Hermits right after they’d done “Brown Sugar.”

 

The other point I tried to get across that day was about Ed’s guitar playing. I think Ed recalls this debate as Dave and I wanting to keep him locked into “guitar hero” mode for the sake of his image. I can’t speak for Dave, but that wasn’t where I was coming from. His image had nothing to do with my view. Here’s the thing. Ed’s a guitar genius. No one has ever played or ever will play the way that he did on electric guitar. You immediately knew it was him playing something, and he had profound things to say on the instrument. Guys tried to copy him, and none of them came close. He was like Charlie Parker or Errol Garner. Ed’s right in there with jazz guys like that; they are generational talents. But, to me, any competent keyboardist could have played that keyboard riff. You can’t say the same about anything he plays on guitar.

 

But Ed, to his credit, told me I was wrong about “Jump” not working for Van Halen. He said, “Ted, I’ve been listening to a lot of classical music and playing keyboards and this is what I came up with. I really like it.” He didn’t say it, but I also knew that Donn had been encouraging him to stretch out musically, to follow his muse, and write on keyboards.

 

I could see Ed had a big personal investment in the song, and had worked hard on it. So I said, “Okay, fine. It’s a start. That doesn’t really float my boat, but let’s see where we can go with it.” Again, this was Ed’s taste versus mine. He wanted to work on it, so I was game. What I didn’t say was: Let’s not do the song.

 

I left, went home, and went to bed. Then around three in the morning, the phone rang. I let it go to the answering machine, but the volume on it was up, so I could hear the message after the beep.

 

“Hey Ted!”

 

Ed and Al.

 

“Wake up! We’re still here. We’ve got something great for you to hear.”

 

They held the phone up. I could hear “Jump” playing.

 

They sounded jazzed, so I called right back. Ed said he’d come and get me at my place in Century City. 

 

If I'm not mistaken, Ed did in fact pick me up and took me up there to hear it.      

 

It turned out that Dave and Mike had gone home too, but Ed, Alex, and Donn had stayed up all night. They’d recorded basic tracks for three songs from 1984: “Jump,” “I’ll Wait,” and “Drop Dead Legs.”

 

Donn rolled tape on the newest version of “Jump.” He played it a few times. As I listened, it really put the hooks into me. He and Al had the riff and groove nailed down tight. It killed me. The keyboard parts Ed had down -- it wasn’t a complete song yet -- were very close to what ended up on 1984.

 

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Policy as Practice

Policy as Practice

A Guide for Music Educators
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
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