Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-x

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Foreword

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pp. xi-xii

Playing classic rock masterpieces on the radio isn’t enough for Carter Alan, one of America’s top rock jocks. Carter wants to get into it, go deeper, and write the stories behind—as well as in front of and around —the music. His new book, The Decibel Diaries, is the latest in a series of acutely observed volumes that take his readers into the secret spaces of rock music, those guarded backstage areas where only the professionals are allowed access....

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Introduction

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pp. xiii-xviii

My sister always got home before me. She was three grades ahead, and rode an earlier school bus. By the time I crawled in the front door of our rural farmhouse in eastern Pennsylvania, I would always hear her stereo blasting upstairs. Sometimes Mom yelled at her to turn it down, but she never did, just closing her door instead. You could feel the rhythm of that Ringo Starr backbeat thumping through the walls. Like every other teenager in America in 1964, she was a hopeless Beatles...

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1 | First Ride: James Gang

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pp. 1-6

Look up the word “geek” in any dictionary. If there’s a picture next to the definition, then it’s a photo of me in 1970. As a ninth-grader wrapped in tortoiseshell glasses under short, (very) straight hair, living out in the boonies of Pennsylvania farm country, and going to school ten miles away in town, my chances at dating any of the female population at Emmaus High were nil. But, with all that downtime hanging around, whether I wanted it or not, I had plenty of time to concentrate on hobbies. A lot of...

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2 | Don’t Be Denied: Neil Young & the Stray Gators

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pp. 7-12

What could go wrong? All I had to do was stick my thumb out for a 250-mile jaunt up Florida’s east coast, then bang a left into Orlando. For millions of people, that destination meant one thing: shaking mitts with Mickey Mouse at the recently opened Disney World. I had a different goal, if not exactly a way to get there: nothing less than a concert from one of rock music’s great eccentrics, Neil Young. In 1973 he was riding high on the hippy cred of Buffalo...

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3 | Balance of Power: Traffic and Free

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pp. 13-20

You would have thought we’d learned our lesson. Two weeks earlier, hitchhiking to see Neil Young in Orlando, my buddy Phil and I had been held up at knifepoint, then picked up by the state police and tossed in the cooler for two days. Believe it or not, we actually did get one phone call: “Hi, Mom! I’m in jail.” Silence. “For hitchhiking!!” She promptly put Dad on. After delivering an obligatory army-sergeant dressing down, he actually laughed, told me to be more careful, and volunteered to send the bail money. “Thanks...

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4 | “I’ve Been Downhearted, Baby . . .”: B. B. King

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pp. 21-26

A quick visit from college brought me home to rural Pennsylvania for a few days, rubbing elbows once again with my close friends from the earliest days. With the edge of winter just departed, there wasn’t much to do but catch up and walk outside in the pleasantly lukewarm April air. But the delight in observing the budding trees and farmers bouncing about on their tractors as they seeded in crops soon faded, motivating us to seek excitement in the nearby city of Allentown. Like prospectors digging through the mountains for months, then riding into Boomtown to cash in a few...

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5 | The Four-Day Ring: Deep Purple

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pp. 27-32

As a teenager, I was always right. After being introduced to rock by the matchless ingenuity of the Beatles, I thought my early forays outside of the Liverpool womb were pretty good. It was just my timing that sucked. Once I heard “White Room” with that wild Eric Clapton wah-wah guitar solo at the end, I was impressed enough to go out and buy the first Cream album I could find, which happened to be Best of Cream. I spent hours listening to it while trying in vain to figure out what the pictures of the assorted vegetables on the cover meant. I still don’t know, by the way; I think it must have been a quick pick by...

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6 | The Call of the Wild: Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes

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pp. 33-38

I grew up right off Route 29, a two-lane spike through eastern Pennsylvania woodlands and miles of farmland, skirting the eastern edge of Amish country and swinging south from Allentown toward Pottstown. Not much ever goes on there, other than the steady transformation of those fertile fields into acres of subdivisions, housing the white-collar workers that slowly supplant the farmers and feed their numbers into a growing local commute or a daily round-trip to Philadelphia fifty miles distant. If you lived in that area and were a farm boy, nothing hurt more than to see those grand old Pennsylvania barns fall into neglect, eventually...

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7 | Setting Sail in a Topographic Ocean: Yes

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pp. 39-44

After I’d headed to my usual table in the school cafeteria, probably loaded down with some government-surplus pasta product—spaghetti or mac and cheese —the excited chatter from my friends got my attention. A few of them had seen a band named Yes at Kutztown University the night before. I’d heard of the group because its single “Roundabout” was all over the radio and seen the Fragile album in the stores. Recurring statements like “They were amazing!” and “I’ve never seen anything like them!” didn’t help to pin down what the show was like, but all the enthusiasm stirred my interest. On blind faith I bought a copy of Fragile and immediately discovered that the...

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8 | Truly Slow . . . Hand: Eric Clapton

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pp. 45-50

Eric Clapton had occupied so many of my formative hours of listening through a piece-of-crap plastic record player, reading LP sleeves, and cramming rock and roll into my teenage/young adult skull, that when he finally walked out onstage I just stared in disbelief. After being weaned on Top 40 singles, the first albums I bought were Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour. But, intrigued by the fabulous wah-wah guitar solo I’d heard on the radio on a song called “White Room,” I grabbed Cream’s Greatest Hits on blind faith (no pun intended), and received Wheels of Fire as a present from my (way-cool) parents. The...

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9 | “Tin Soldiers and Nixon Coming”: CSNY/Santana

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pp. 51-56

Protected in the womb of college life, with no more responsibility than getting good grades to justify my parents’ great expense, I reached out of my comfort zone and took a summer job to earn spending money for the upcoming school year. But, three days into working as a seasonal laborer for Pennsylvania Power & Light, I was astonished when the union took a strike vote and walked off the job. In a supreme moment of amnesia, I considered crossing the picket line for a shot at the exorbitant wages P, P & L was offering to maintain operations, totally overlooking my father’s prominent history as a former...

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10 | Touring in the Material World: George Harrison

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pp. 57-62

I couldn’t believe it: there he stood on - stage in the flesh, greeting the adulation from the crowd of 15,500 rapturous souls at a completely soldout Boston Garden. Decked out in white longsleeve shirt with those ohsoseventies plaid pants and hair shorn just above the shoulders, George Harrison cut a very different figure from the mystical monk-in-rubber-boots (or stoned gardener) look he’d presented on the cover of All Things Must Pass. He paused in the spotlights with guitar hanging off the...

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11 | The Best Stuff in Town: The Rolling Stones

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pp. 63-68

During the sixties British Invasion, if the Beatles were the biggest band on the planet, the Rolling Stones had to be the baddest, although you’d always end up debating those Kinks fanatics to say that. You were never too far away from a jangly Stones single blaring out of the radio, and in that regard, the band took its place next to pop acts like the Monkees and Tommy James & the Shondells. But when my sister took off for Vassar, temporarily abandoning a booty of albums including Let It Bleed, that’s when I discovered the Stones’ higher calling. Leaving the 45-rpm adapter behind, I took...

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12 | Tear Gas and Toilet Paper: The Great American Music Fair

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pp. 69-74

The empty champagne bottle arched high in the air, somersaulting slowly as it traveled on its path. The longhair behind me who had thrown it darted back into the ragged mass of shouters and fist pumpers who taunted the two policemen in their cruiser beyond the sturdy chain-link fence. As the car inched forward, the bottle with its thick green glass sailed in a perfect arc, impacting with a thud directly on the front windshield. I fully expected the heavy missile to shatter the glass in an explosion of fragments certain to injure the occupants, but amazingly it bounced off to the side and burst apart on the asphalt. As if a call to arms had...

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13 | An Afro and a Fine Skylark: Fleetwood Mac

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pp. 75-80

When I say my college town in New Hampshire cleared out in the summer, I mean it. The two-thousand-odd students and faculty bolted from their homes as if Martian tripods had arrived over the nearby hills, leaving tiny Henniker deflated and quiet, probably the way the locals preferred it. But if you stayed there for the summer, like I did in 1975, eventually you’d be recognized as a village regular. With my temporary “townie” status in hand, I passed the time sweltering in a...

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14 | Sweatin’ Bullets: Lynyrd Skynyrd

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pp. 81-86

It’s eerie to think about seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd just a year and a half before the day the music died. Here was a band on its terrible road of fate, destined to board a two-engine commercial prop plane in October ’77 that the members had already decided to get rid of because it gave them the creeps. A couple of weeks earlier, the same thirty-yearold bird had been examined by Aerosmith’s flight crew and rejected because neither the aircraft nor pilots appeared safe. JoJo Billingsly, one...

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15 | Six-String Outlaws: The Eagles

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pp. 87-92

From the first time I first heard “Take it Easy” on the radio, I was never really fond of the Eagles. Raised on a diet of Led Zeppelin, the Who, Cream, and Black Sabbath, my appetite leaned toward meat and potatoes rather than the over-easy, cheesy omelet of country and soft rock this L.A.-based band served up. Years later, I can listen to those first four albums, chock full of their blockbuster hits, and appreciate the truly skilled musicianship and songwriting craft that went into them, but in 1976 the only country strains I’d allowed into my vernacular were pretty much limited to Neil Young’s Harvest or...

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16 | A New Architecture: Talking Heads

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pp. 93-98

Even before 1977 my musical emotions were under attack. The progressive rock and seventies mainstream bands I’d enjoyed for years seemed to be stuck in a rut, or maybe I was the one in the rut. But, now that I’d moved to Boston, an entirely different circle of friends introduced me to a fresh range of possibilities in music. The style taking hold in the nightclubs of the city had been labeled punk rock, a black-leather niche of culture that I’d hardly suspected, except for former dalliances with...

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17 | Crosstown Traffic: The Cars

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pp. 99-104

“Hey! You guys suck over there! Punk rock is for loseahhs!” The group of portentously drunk, apparently former wrestlers hung on to each other, laughing and pitching about on the sidewalk in front of the disco club. They gestured rudely across Kenmore Square toward a few of us as we talked, our leather jackets insulating us from the coolness of an early September night just after last call. “Didn’t you hear me?” one of them taunted, his powder-blue leisure suit filled ominously with muscles...

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18 | Sound and Vision: David Bowie

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pp. 105-110

I had moved ninety miles south from the calm seclusion of a one-intersection New Hampshire town into the blur of Boston city life, ostensibly to break into the music business. But, while sitting in bed at night, listening to the railroad cars couple with bangs and screeches in Allston’s marshaling yard, I was just thankful that I could keep pace with the rent. I had a minimum-wage record-store job in Harvard Square that barely covered the bills, but most importantly I had scored a volunteer position as a morning DJ at...

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19 | “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!”: Ramones

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pp. 111-116

Punk rock showed up in a rusty old Plymouth in New York City and did a “drive-by” on the music scene, the Ramones emptying a machine gun into mainstream rock’s swanky hotel bar loaded with the rich and pompous. Sporting uniforms of holed blue jeans and scuffed leather jackets, the band members stumbled on the radical idea of deconstructing songs into two-minute bursts of energy, then assembling them into an album shorter than the average length of an early Beatles concert: thirty-five minutes. I remember working at my college radio station in the spring of ’76 when Ramones first arrived in a package from Sire Records. The stark black-and-white cover...

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20 | “There Should Be More Dancing!”: The Police

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pp. 117-122

The room reeked of the fifties, with equipment held over from the Eisenhower administration and a stubborn layer of Korean War–era dust in the places the cleaning people couldn’t, or didn’t want to, reach. Despite the rising temperature of another late August day, the heating system in the basement of the Walker Memorial Building, a venerable concrete-and-steel warhorse on MIT’s campus, hadn’t gone on summer break like most of the student population. The hot, dry air...

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21 | “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A”: The Clash

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pp. 123-128

Suppose we borrowed Dr. Who’s Tardis and traveled back to 1979 to look around, maybe buy some ridiculously inexpensive concert tickets to a historic show or two, then bring back a couple of eight-tracks just to prove to the kids that the bulky plastic things really existed. Somehow in our haste to leave the past, however, an iPod bounced out of our time machine just as we shimmered out of that existence and flashed back to the future (oh, yeah, a power cord fell out too, or else my scenario wouldn’t last more than a couple of days). Within...

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22 | An Interesting Table Guest: John Cougar & the Zone

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pp. 129-134

I got my first big break in radio in June 1979, when I was hired at WBCN-FM to be a weekend DJ. At the time I was, arguably, still learning how to do it. Perched on top of the Prudential Tower with the streets of Boston stretched out below, the station had been a fixture in the city for over a decade, playing rock music and sponsoring new talent as it arrived on the scene. That’s how my path crossed with an unknown singersongwriter out of Seymour, Indiana, named John Cougar. These were early days for both of us; soon he’d dump the despised “Cougar” moniker foisted on him by an early manager, and begin using the Mellencamp surname under which he’d eventually enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, collecting enough gold and platinum to sink a Lake Michigan ferry along the way. Raised in Indiana’s open farm country, he’d had more time and space than any...

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23 | Even the Losers Get Lucky (Third Time): Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

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pp. 135-140

My buddy Clint and I waited for an inbound trolley, staring hopefully down the empty rails divided by crushed stone, wooden ties, and pizza joint litter. Fragments of glass glittered in the bright streetlight glare of a cold November night that forced us to shuffle about to keep warm. A Green Line train, if it ever came, would take us down the center of Commonwealth Avenue past the classrooms at Boston University, then plunge under Kenmore Square where we had witnessed many a punk-rock show at the already-legendary Rat. Heading downtown under the streets of Back Bay, we’d exit at Park Street, walk upstairs, and pop out in front of the...

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24 | Before the Purple Reign: Prince

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pp. 141-146

My friend Jimmy and his pals had impeccable musical taste and intuitively seemed to know the coolest new bands and what underground happenings were essential to attend. As a joke I guess, they once maneuvered me into their favorite hangout, Buddies, a prime gay bar in Boston’s Back Bay, just to see how I’d react. No big deal, except for all the times my ass was grabbed. My scheming friends got a huge laugh out of that, but they affectionately hovered nearby, ready to dive in for the rescue if things became...

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25 | “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”: AC/DC

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pp. 147-152

I always loved AC/DC, from even before I received an assignment from the tiny Boston music publication Pop Top to write about the group’s catalogue. That was 1978 and AC/DC already had four albums out in the United States. I got paid the four records. You can’t put food on the table with wages like that, but I didn’t care; the band’s no-nonsense approach energized me then as much as it does gazillions around the world now. As far as the beat went, I never thought there was much difference between AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top” and a disco behemoth like the Bee Gees “Night Fever.” Both grooved forward inexorably in a steady, unchanging pulse that dragged dancers irresistibly to the floor, the only difference, perhaps, being in whether they wore polyester double-breasted suits and evening...

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26 | Rollin’ on the River: U2

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pp. 153-158

It seems scarcely believable now, but there was a time before the members of U2 were superstars. Of course, you could say the same about the Beatles and the Stones or any of the boldface names in the pages of rock history. So, protean stories of a band barely old enough to play in U.S. bars, balancing Big Macs and fries on orange plastic trays, sleeping on top of each other in vans or changing out of wet stage clothes in a grimy club’s beer-keg storage area seem somehow fictitious....

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27 | Showtime: The J. Geils Band

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pp. 159-164

The curtains surrounding three sides of the stage came tumbling down again. “Please, no more,” I shouted ineffectively as the throng around me bellowed. The mighty J. Geils Band, hometown heroes on a headlining world tour, had rocked the Boston Garden and now kept pounding out the encores. After a couple of hours of dancing nonstop, my back a sweaty mess and my arms too weakened to return the 100 percent I still wanted to give, the band had won. They’d defeated me. I’d been beaten into an exhausted twenty-something pulp. Still, folks around me spelled each other, voices and hands rising while...

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28 | Sabbath vs. Ozzy: Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne

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pp. 165-170

Ronnie James Dio regarded me from the couch, considering the question I had just asked. In that brief moment I couldn’t help but be amazed that a man of his size (five feet, four inches) possessed a profound, operatic-level voice that could thrill an entire stadium audience. Considered one of the most powerful and expressive singers in hard rock, his manner in person was conversely soft-spoken and respectful, yet with a commanding presence. Two of his bandmates in the current version of Black Sabbath, original bassist Tony “Geezer” Butler and recently added drummer Vinnie Appice, skulked about, picking at an inviting room service array of breakfast pastries, juice, and coffee. It was March 1982 and I’d been sent...

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29 | Who’s Last . . . but, Not Really: The Who

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pp. 171-176

I strolled down the long incline, following the rubber and oil spoor of a thousand tractor-trailers that had backed down this concrete slope and into the bowels of the Capitol Center. A small gaggle of hopefuls stood behind me in the early-afternoon sun, loitering lonely amid the naked expanse of 20,000 parking spaces. I’d been standing with them for an hour, collecting stories from folks who had traveled from nearby places like Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, and some others like me who had journeyed much farther. I worked at a prominent Boston radio...

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30 | In a Hard Place: Aerosmith

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pp. 177-182

It seems odd, nearly perverse, to dwell on this particular show. Aerosmith played better every other time I saw them, so why bring up this troubled period in the band’s history? Joe Perry had left to form his own solo group in 1979, and Brad Whitford quit in disgust two years later as Aerosmith, crippled by drug and alcohol abuse, scuffled in the studio to finish its latest album. Two new players were slotted in as replacements and eventually that record would get done, but it would take an eternity and a king’s ransom: over two years and $1.5 million to finish it. Rock in a Hard Place, Aerosmith’s ninth release, came out...

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31 | “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll”: Joan Jett

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pp. 183-188

She sounded very young on the phone, her voice shaking as she asked a question. Marina, from Brookline, had phoned the radio station to get on the air with Joan Jett, who at the moment was celebrating the night of her twenty-fifth birthday by doing an interview while sharing in the two bottles of Moët & Chandon parked happily next to the turntables. It was September 22, 1983, and Jett and her band the Blackhearts were due to warm up for ZZ Top outside of Boston in a few days, so she and her manager Kenny Laguna were out trumpeting the recent release of...

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32 | Till the Fat Lady Sings: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

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pp. 189-194

They always said, “You gotta see Bruce live; then you’ll understand.” My friends were early birds: bigtime fans who urgently wanted to share their discovery of the rock-and-roll poet from Asbury Park. But somehow, over the years, Bruce Springsteen had been everywhere that I wasn’t. I hadn’t been in Cambridge in ’74 when Jon Landau saw God onstage (although hundreds of people I’ve met over the years insist that they were in the Harvard Square Theater that night). I missed the tours to support Springsteen’s...

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33 | The Global Jukebox: Live Aid

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pp. 195-200

Bob Geldof was a cranky bastard, I could tell you that. The singer for the Boomtown Rats should have been in a great mood when I’d met him backstage after the band played Boston’s Orpheum Theater in February 1981. After all, his group’s Mondo Bongo album was getting played on local radio, and the concert had sold nicely. But no: I had to interview him for Boston Rock magazine and he fought me the whole way even though, as a fan, I lobbed him softball after softball. No one ever said that interviews are always supposed to be pleasant; rooting out a subject’s inner thoughts could lead to some uncomfortably probing questions. It was obvious, though, that Geldof’s gloom had been cemented...

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34 | Your Mascara is Running: Mötley Crüe

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pp. 201-206

The prevailing musical winds of the mideighties were scented with a peculiar mix of sweat, leather, and a lot of hairspray. “Summer Jam ’84,” headlined by Cheap Trick, had drawn a huge mass of spirited fans to the parched midJuly earth of Kingston Fairgrounds in New Hampshire. Although the Chicago band’s star had faded somewhat with its arena-filling days behind it, the group served as an excellent dessert to an entrée of Twisted Sister and Ratt, heavy metal “hair bands” that had been unknown just a year earlier, but now burned up the sales charts. This new wave of...

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35 | Live . . . and Alive: Stevie Ray Vaughan

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pp. 207-212

Stevie Ray Vaughan had a reputation —not only as one of the finest guitarists on the planet, but also for being a complete asshole. People I talked to mentioned how he was always messed up and difficult to deal with. I heard stories of wild drinking and snorting, marathons of sleeplessness during which he’d blister through a couple of gigs then crash for a day. In a cocaine trail of “eight balls” and a highway littered by Crown Royal bottles, the Vaughan tours went around and around the world, usually racking up over two hundred shows a year, and he’d throttle you if you got in the way. Now, there he was onstage behind the curtain, just twenty or thirty feet away, fiddling around on his guitar and obviously...

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36 | Which One is Pink?: Roger Waters and Pink Floyd

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pp. 213-220

Roger Waters stepped into the small control room dressed in a black, loose-fitting sport coat with matching pants, dark shirt, and black hair flecked with distinguishing gray. The narrow face framed by a pair of mirrored sunglasses returned no smile, only a polite, but perfunctory acknowledgment. As he seated himself, two workers buzzed about, hastily fitting the star with a microphone. The lighting in the room was dim: would the iconic singer-songwriter-bassist of the legendary Pink Floyd remove his shades? Absolutely not. They remained, perched on his nose as immobile and resolute orbs of reflection. I found myself wondering if they ever came off....

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37 | Meanwhile, Back in the Jungle . . .: Guns N’ Roses

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pp. 221-226

The whole “hair band” ride through the eighties had been a hoot. Gathering at metal hotspots in Boston like the Channel and Narcissus, the scene makers had met nightly amid the perfumed stink of L’Oréal and Paul Mitchell. The fabulous bouffants bobbed and banged to the hard-rock cheese churned out by an endless succession of pop-metal groups. The problem was, as the decade wore on, the names changed weekly, but the song remained the same: the music, the stage moves, the faux attitude, the makeup, and the f@#!in’ use of the Fword every time a lead singer couldn’t f@#!in’ think of something to say—which happened all the f@#!in’ time! Somewhere in ’86, I’d had enough: the band was Europe, and...

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38 | “Tear Down the Wall!": Roger Waters

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pp. 227-234

From my vantage point on the stainless steel bleachers set up against this section of the Berlin Wall, I could see a block of ugly apartments bordering the site on the eastern side. For almost forty years these yellowing structures and their anxious inhabitants had witnessed the beats of a thousand sentries patrolling slowly past, the sound of guard dogs suddenly barking or even the dismaying bursts of gunfire. More than a generation had been spent cowering behind those drawn window shades with anxiety and fear accepted as basic facts of life. But all semblance of that past had been shed as hundreds of partygoers shouted and danced on those...

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39 | Getting Back — Paul McCartney

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pp. 235-240

The laser beams split off from behind the drum kit, brilliant light sabers waving starkly in the billowing smoke onstage, then invisible higher in the air before dancing in crazy lime-green patterns on the clouds hanging over the stadium. I had looked straight up from my floor seat to witness that magical mystery sight, tearing away, only briefly, from watching Paul McCartney and his superb backing band, including his wife Linda, time-travel along memory after memory. It was a good thirty-song set, a long time to be standing up, craning the neck to catch all the words, every note, and each move of the most famous musician in the world. After all, who was more famous in 1990? Madonna? Guns N’ Roses? Please. Perhaps Michael Jackson could qualify for the title, but, simply put, he wasn’t a Beatle. He hadn’t been a...

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40 | Exile on Monroe Drive: The Black Crowes

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pp. 241-246

Skunk and Doyle, Chris Robinson’s two British bulldogs, eagerly competed to draw the attention of their master, bursting through the door and hovering close by, sniveling and snorting wetly on the porch as I sat with the Black Crowes’ singer. A cassette recorder rested on the table between us, taping a conversation that I planned to return to Boston and use a few days later on my radio show. I’d been driven to Robinson’s home in the forested and affluent Buckhead section of Atlanta, where the...

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41 | A Wylde Night: The Allman Brothers Band

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pp. 247-252

The look was priceless—the best inside glance I’d ever seen anybody give onstage. I was lucky to catch it too since I sat halfway up the hill only a few feet from the mixing console; a great location for sound, but certainly not close enough to see the whites of the players’ eyes. But, after someone handed over a pair of binoculars, I dialed in tightly for a piece of the action and arrived in focus just at the moment. Once again, the Allman Brothers Band had returned to Great Woods, the summertime concert shed south of Boston that the group first visited on its twentieth-anniversary reunion tour of 1989. Now four years later, that temporary remarriage of the archetypal classic southern rock band had become a permanent...

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42 | “This Guitar Is Brand New, and I Decided I Don’t Like It”: Nirvana

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pp. 253-258

Kurt Cobain wasn’t really an important part of my world. But, as an unwitting and unwilling talisman for his own generation, he connected with the disaffected just as rock and roll’s heroes had succored followers in the past. If you thought that you were a loser, well, then maybe you had a chaperone to show you that, perhaps, you were in good company. You’d head out to a club to see that guiding light perform, and damn if there weren’t a whole bunch of others there that felt just the same as you. Those feelings of low esteem could vanish in the pit, the energy expelling the emptiness, at least for a little while. So, amid the power chords, feedback, and Cobain’s stark-naked words, Nirvana was certainly a band worth respect, even if its leader...

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43 | Digging in the Garden: Pearl Jam

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pp. 259-264

In 1991, a rain-lashed, force-10 squall of dense rhythm and electric energy rolled in from the northwest, its howling guitar distortion overwhelming the fashionable fragments of an eighties rock scene still preening in front of the mirror. Rarely do cataclysmic cultural forces change the landscape in an instant, but this was one of those: the final “perfect storm” of the twentieth century. Within mere weeks, the hair bands that had clogged MTV and filled “sheds” on the summer tour circuit could barely compete with the regulars vamping it up at local karaoke bars coast to coast....

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44 | The Ocean: Bush, Goo Goo Dolls, and No Doubt

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pp. 265-270

The final decade of the century ticked away and a young twenty-year-old kid jammed in the front row at a Rolling Stones show in 1975 had reached forty. Many of his fellow travelers were now married with children and absorbed in lifelong careers. They’d disappeared into their homes and their commutes, standing at school-bus stops and shuttling kids in minivans. Serving the day, they steadily lost their nocturnal rock-and-roll instincts until the old way of life had vanished. But, as the veterans rotated out, fresh replacements arrived at the front every night, yearning to experience the latest and the greatest shows on earth. Twenty years on, the audience was still out there, an...

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45 | Cliff Notes from Upstate: Phish

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pp. 271-276

“Forget it, man. Rock festivals are nothing but a pain in the ass.”
“Not this one,” David interrupted. “This will be mellow, plus you know the band and you can get us backstage. Maybe we can even camp back there!” My friend and I were talking about the upcoming Phish concert in upstate New York, the Vermont band’s first full-blown, self-produced music festival. We both loved the four quirky but exceptionally gifted musicians whose versatility seemed to know no bounds, able to carve out a progressive jazz piece or funk groove...

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46 | A Cheap Golden Jubilee: Joe Perry with Cheap Trick

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pp. 277-282

Long before his fiftieth birthday, Joe Perry had come to terms with the drugs and the downward spiral; he’d turned away toward the light of his wife, Billie, his family, and making great music. Perry had survived many storms, and he had a lot to be thankful for, so his fiftieth would be no trifling commemoration. If you were Joe Perry, you’d merit a birthday party to wow even yourself. Why not ask your favorite band to play, and who would say no to that request? Why not throw the bash in your own restaurant south of Boston—heck, you already paid the taxes on the joint, so why not use it? Then, perhaps you could invite a couple of...

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47 | U2 Reclaims its Mojo (or) Fighting the Bono Mono: U2

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pp. 283-288

From the pit looking forward at the stage, I could see Adam Clayton on his bass measuring out the stout, booming chords that wrapped like a boa constrictor around an unshakably steady thump from drummer Larry Mullen Jr. But the main event was occurring behind me and to the left, out on the catwalk that completely encircled the hundreds of fans bouncing up and down to one of U2’s loudest and most powerful rockers. “Until the End of the World,” the twisted tale of Judas rationalizing his betrayal of Jesus, raged from the dozens of speakers in Boston’s Fleet Center as Bono and the Edge battled on the narrow walkway with microphone parrying against lead guitar, each...

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48 | Side by Side, They Walk the Night: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

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pp. 289-294

He could be her father, I thought as I watched Robert Plant, a couple of months shy of sixty, standing alongside the stunning Alison Krauss, twenty-three years his junior. Maybe he was! Had the formidably voiced superstar kept track of the oats he sowed back in the wild days of his youth when the mighty Zeppelin scoured the earth? Perish the thought, I scolded myself. Krauss came from an upright Illinois background far removed from the bluesman born in Bromley, England. However, Zeppelin was playing throughout the United States in 1970 when such a tryst could have occurred, so . . . I scrutinized the pair onstage at Boston’s Bank of America Pavilion, the latest name for a venue that was actually a semipermanent tent...

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49 | Power Hitter: Jack White

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pp. 295-300

There was no joy in Mudville. The Red Sox season had less than two weeks to go, and the team had firmly secured last place in the AL East, this after winning the World Series just a year earlier. From first to worst! With no possibility of the team making the play-offs, what was a Bostonian to do? There would, of course, be next season to start fresh, but before bidding this one good riddance I joined 7,500 others in a Fenway Park pilgrimage to celebrate a different American pastime—rock and roll. After taking a few practice swings in the batter’s box, Jack White was next up in the cycle, and so far his impressive stats made a home run over the Green Monster a distinct possibility. Could he save the season? After a dazzling and meteoric rise through his farm-team years in the White Stripes and side projects like Raconteurs and Dead Weather, White’s role as a solo slugger had fully...

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50 | Life after the Fast Lane: Joe Walsh

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pp. 301-306

Joe Walsh walked onstage at the Orpheum Theater, a place he’d played a couple of times in the past forty-five years, as a prodigal son returning with humility and a longing for forgiveness. The musician had wandered long and hard in the wilderness, escaping that popular and well-worn track running right off the cliff only at the very last moment. As enamored fans, we’d ignored the perils of his path, idolizing the rock-star myth, and wondering how difficult a journey could it be when you took a Lear jet to work or drove around in that Maserati that did 185. We didn’t see the signs that Joe Walsh had become a walking disaster, or as he described in a new song, careening wildly from moment to moment while living his life like a “Wrecking Ball.” There was no damning video clip or cellphone shot that captured the star in some grand faux pas, an extreme close-up replayed over and over...

Acknowledgments

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pp. 307-308

List of Sources

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pp. 309-332