In the music industry, fame can be fleeting but true success is measured by the lasting impact the musician’s art has on the listener/consumer. For example, let’s look back at the year 2000. There were a lot of big worldwide hits that year by well-known artists (U2, Bon Jovi, Madonna, Britney Spears, etc.) and some long-forgotten artists as well (Darude, BBMak, Wheatus, MxPx). While many of the hits from that year are still fondly remembered, an equal amount of chart-climbers have been tossed aside like an old stick of bubble gum – chewed up and spit out once they were out of flavor. However, there are singles released in ’00 that were not only lovingly embraced by music fans but also inspired a new generation of musicians. A few of those – including “Babylon” – were released by British singer/songwriter David Gray. The success of his WHITE LADDER album took many by surprise yet it was far from an overnight success…
Forty years ago, a Rock artist’s longevity was not something that was guaranteed. The first Rock ‘n’ Roll boom of the ‘50s had been swallowed by the late ‘50s/early ‘60s teen idols. Then those heart throbs were dethroned by the British Invasion. That joyful racket was overcome by the Summer Of Love/Hippy scene of 1967. And so on… Like any industry, the new kids were constantly replacing the old guard, who would then reluctantly slip into the shadows and wait for nostalgia to make them momentarily relevant again. The four Beatles (among others) made it work but a lot of their contemporaries had been left behind, lost in a time warp and destined to play the oldies circuit for the rest of their careers. By 1979, artists and the industry were more understanding when it came to making hit records and extending an artist’s career. However, the Punk movement was initially viewed as a novelty by the bigwigs and while the industry capitalized on Punk’s commercial appeal, they certainly didn’t expect any of the artists to last beyond a two or three-year window, just like any other musical movement that came along since the days of Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. Over time, we have learned that nearly every artist from every genre was capable of something much more than their “15 minutes of fame”. As for the unruly Punk kids, Bob Mould was going to break the mold (semi-pun intended)…
It has been written many times elsewhere, but it must be said again: Robert Pollard is the most prolific artist in the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll. When you look back on bands like The Beatles, who put out two albums and a handful of singles per year in their early days, Pollard makes them look like slackers. While his main band, Guided By Voices, and all of his other projects may not have had the cultural impact that the Fab Four had, Robert has still made a huge impact on the Alternative and Indie music scenes. Not only has he influenced a new generation of singer/songwriters, he’s also inspired them to create music as art and music as expression. And while he may not have intended to be a DIY pioneer, he has certainly become one. I guess that is what happens when you’ve been making music on your own terms for four decades. While Pollard & Co. have been releasing music since the ‘80s, they don’t belong to any decade – the albums remain timeless.
Amy Ray is best known as one-half of Indigo Girls, the Grammy-winning Folk duo she formed with Emily Saliers. Formed in 1985, the duo released an EP before signing with Epic Records and becoming one of the most popular Folk-Rock duos of all time. Although they have remained active for over three decades, Amy would use her downtime between projects to follow her own path. Beginning with her 2001 solo debut, STAG, Amy has pursued a slightly different path than that of Indigo Girls. Her voice may be instantly identifiable but her solo releases tend to travel down different musical paths that eventually converge onto the same road that she travels down with Indigo Girls. HOLLER, her 2018 album, is no exception…
The YouTube stars of today don’t understand the meaning of ‘paying your dues.’ Before American Idol and YouTube became the springboards for success, the artists of yesteryear rehearsed, played nightly in smelly clubs, and drove from city to city in a rickety van to build their audience. They wrote songs from the heart. They lived those songs before they even laid them down on tape. And the chance of them getting a record deal and achieving any level of success was slim to none. For many of them, sharing their music and baring their soul was the reason they created music. Fame was just a reward for their hard work. However, hard work doesn’t guarantee success without a little bit of luck thrown into the mix. Then again, there’s a long list of talented artists that never caught a break and have sadly faded into obscurity. Country/Americana singer/songwriter Blaze Foley spent many decades in in that sea of obscurity but now, nearly three decades after his death, this underground legend is finally getting the attention he has deserved since his humble beginnings in the mid- ‘70s.
Forty years since the release of his debut album, ALIVE ON ARRIVAL, Steve Forbert remains one of the most honest and warm singer/songwriters in Folk, Rock and Americana. Unfairly declared ‘the new Dylan’ for a brief moment in the ‘70s thanks to that debut, Forbert proved himself to be more than just a guy strumming an acoustic guitar at the front of the stage. His hit single “Romeo’s Tune” (1979) became a Top 40 hit thanks to Forbert’s earnest performance, great songwriting and that incessant piano riff. But Forbert was not one to crank out formulaic Pop or Folk – he was always moving forward while still paying tribute to his past. With more than two dozen studio, live, and fan-club albums in his back pocket, Steve Forbert still remains a songwriter that finds inspiration in the every day. His Mississippi soul may have moved to New Jersey but this is one cat that understands and connects with every inch of America.
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: THE MAGIC TREE is about to be released. How are you feeling about the way it turned out and the reaction you’ve had to it so far?
STEVE FORBERT: I feel pretty good about it. We got the cat ears and legs and tail and whiskers – I think we got the cat in the bag. It’s hard to do.
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: FLOW STATE is finally being released. How are you feeling about the project and the reaction you’ve had to it so far?
TASH SULTANA: Thank fuck it’s done ‘cos it was an ordeal. Like, making an album is hard work – I thought I’d just get in there and record songs I wanted to, and it’d be done, but it’s hard work. I can’t believe I can actually hold it in my hands now. The love is a bit surreal.
Scottish singer/songwriter Chris Rainbow (1946-2015) is one of those artists that appeals to different groups of music fans depending on which projects they are more familiar with. His vocal work with The Alan Parsons Project has earned respect from legions of APP fans, his UK hit singles attracted attention in the ‘70s and his production work is highly respected. However, Beach Boys and vocal harmony fans have long held him in high esteem for his often-overlooked album output. 1979’s WHITE TRAILS was his final studio vocal release and shows that he was poised to bridge the gap between the wonders of his previous albums (1975’s HOME OF THE BRAVE and ‘78’s LOOKING OVER MY SHOULDER) and the promise of the ‘80s (i.e.: Electronic Music). Unfortunately, he turned his attention away from solo material and WHITE TRAILS remains his final foray as a front man.
It has been three years since the release of his last album BRAND NEW but singer/songwriter Ben Rector hasn’t been resting on his laurels. From writing and recording new material to the birth of his daughter in July of 2017, Ben has been busier than ever. Working with producers John Fields (Goo Goo Dolls, All Time Low) and Tony Hoffer (Beck, Air, M83), Ben has been inspired by all the positive changes in his professional and personal life and is now sharing his thoughts with the world. Although MAGIC is his seventh album, he approaches the material with a fresh, new outlook. In many ways, this album feels like Rector has re-energized and refocused his talents and now it is time to move forward and embrace the future.