Tommy James of the Shondells was our very first interview on Icon Fetch. Now, 209 shows later, he returns with an extensive talk about the stories behind some of his biggest hits: The unbelievable tale of his rise to fame with “Hanky Panky,” the party classic “Mony Mony,” the bubblegum confection of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” the psychedelic “Crimson & Clover,” the anti-war “Sweet Cherry Wine,” and the heavenly “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” He also updates on his book Me the Mob and the Music and how it’s going to be turned into a major motion picture.
Marshall Crenshaw had an MTV hit with “Someday Someway.” That slice of retro-pop came from his self-titled debut, released in 1982 to critical acclaim. Since then, he’s released ten studio albums and built up a cult following for his unique melodic songwriting. Crenshaw has also dabbled in Hollywood, penning songs for soundtracks, as well as making cameo appearances in such films as La Bamba, where he played Buddy Holly. Icon Fetch talks to the power pop pioneer about his roots starring in Beatlemania!. the influence of John Lennon, as well as upcoming new material.
December 8, 1980 – The Day John Lennon Died – Keith Elliot Greenberg (Backbeat Books) Book review
There are certain dates that, if you lived through them, are etched in your memory – Lennon’s murder is one of those instances. On the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s death, December 8, 1980 offers a unique angle, focusing on that final day of his life. You might ask how you can write a book on just one day? Greenberg tackles this by introducing each character that plays a role in Lennon’s final hours, and then gives a back story to each one.
So, you get background on Lennon, his wife, Yoko Ono, his killer Mark David Chapman, his record label president David Geffen and others. One aspect that Greenberg focuses on is Lennon’s love of New York City; it’s true, the singer could have chosen any place on the planet to live, yet he became enamored with the Big Apple. The author interviews ordinary people for their recollections as well, helping to paint a more complete picture of what the city was like thirty years ago. He also tracks down lesser known figures, like a fellow fan that had waited outside the Dakota and talked with Chapman just hours before the muder; the police officer who drove Lennon to the hospital after being fatally shot; the doctor who operated on him, and the disc jockey who first broke the news to the world.
Several realizations come from the book: first, for a man who, just a few months earlier, was changing diapers and cooking dinner, this final day of his life must’ve seemed extremely hectic, with an extensive RKO interview, a photo shoot, and a recording session. You also realize how different a time that was media-wise: before 24 hour news channels, cellphones and online social networking, the news of Lennon’s murder traveled extremely slow. Many people found out by watching Monday Night Football. Not surprisingly, you also get a clearer idea of how much of a nutbag Chapman truly was. And, for those who are scoffing at the added security measures at airports these days? Greenberg reveals that Chapman managed to take his gun and bullets back and forth from his home in Hawaii to New York at least three times, simply by concealing them in his suitcase. This is as close as you can get to understanding how that fateful day unfolded. –Tony Peters
Starting Over – The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy – Ken Sharp (Gallery Books) Book review
Imagine taking five years off from your job. Then, imagine having to return to work and pick up where you left off – it wouldn’t be easy, right? Now imagine the whole world watching you. Those were the circumstances surrounding John Lennon’s return to the studio in the summer of 1980, after spending the last half of the 1970’s raising his young son.
In Starting Over – The Making of Double Fantasy, Ken Sharp profiles the sessions that would lead to Lennon’s final studio album released during his lifetime. He manages to track down just about everyone who was involved in the project: from Lennon’s partner Yoko Ono, to producer Jack Douglas, and every member of the studio band, to engineers, and label personnel, Sharp attempts to paint a complete picture of what it was like in the studio.
While we consider Lennon one of the greatest musicians of all-time, several of the interviews reveal just how little confidence the singer had in his own abilities, especially early on. Every person in the studio was told to keep quiet about the sessions and was sworn to secrecy. Another highlight of the book is the story behind the sessions which involved the members of Cheap Trick. The two songs laid down were ultimately deemed too abrasive and were replaced by more slick renditions by the in-house band.
In a unique approach, the author does very little editorializing; instead letting the people involved with the album speak for themselves. As you might expect with three decades removed from the project, each and every person has nothing but fond memories of the time in the studio with Lennon. In fact, that may be the one flaw in the book; there’s really nothing bad said about anyone, including the usually polarizing Ono, which I find a little hard to believe.
Nevertheless, what is revealed was how focused the singer was – especially once he began to see positive results and regained his confidence. Curiously, the book reveals that the sessions were well documented on video, yet the tapes have now gone missing. Also, Douglas had a hidden tape machine rolling at all times; capturing the between song banter – yet, nothing of this sort has surfaced either. While Double Fantasy was not Lennon’s finest work, it would be his last, and this book offers excellent insight into it’s creation. –Tony Peters
Lennon Tribute Week concludes with Pianist David Lanz, who has just released “Liverpool – Re-imagining the Beatles.” Hardly a straight covers album, the nine songs on the set instead take certain elements of each Fab Four song and expound on it with piano, cello and flute. The result is a collection that is both fresh and familiar. Lanz talks with Icon Fetch about choosing songs from the vast Beatles’ library and coming up with unique arrangements for each track. He also talks about his recent visit to Liverpool, where he toured the childhood homes of both Lennon and McCartney.
Thursday night marked the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. We pay tribute to one of the most influential musicians in the history of music through a special 2-hour edition of Icon Fetch. The show will feature live calls from listeners and recorded interviews with a wide array of musicians who were affected by Lennon’s talent. Among the guests are May Pang, who was Lennon’s girlfriend during the year and a half “Lost Weekend;” Delbert McClinton, who taught Lennon how to play the harmonica in the early days of the Beatles; and Tommy James, Gary Wright and Wally Bryson of the Raspberries, who all had a chance to meet Lennon during his lifetime.
Other artists include Grammy winners Shelby Lynne and David Lanz; rockers Dwight Twilley and Donnie Iris; melodic songwriters Marshall Crenshaw and Jason Falkner; and underground veterans Peter Case and Steve Wynn. Several authors who have written recent books about the singer, including Robert Rodriguez, Ken Sharp and Keith Elliot Greenberg, will also weigh in with their thoughts.
John Lennon Tribute Week continues as we talk with Keith Elliot Greenberg, author of “December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died” (Backbeat Books). Greenberg digs deep into that day, chronicling not only what Lennon was doing, but also what the other Beatles did during that day. In addition, he profiles each person who played a role in that day, from the photographer and journalist who were in his Dakota apartment in the morning, to the producer who was working in the studio in the afternoon, to policemen, doctors and others who were all directly involved. He also gives an extensive background of Mark David Chapman, who would ultimately murder Lennon outside his apartment.
John Lennon Tribute Week kicks off with author Ken Sharp, who has just penned “Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy” (MTV books). Sharp talks with a wide array of people who were involved with Lennon’s comeback album, including Yoko Ono, David Geffen, the session musicians, the producer, engineer and photographer. All of them paint an interesting picture of what would end up being the singer’s final studio album released during his lifetime. We also talk to Sharp about his own infectious music.
John Lennon / Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy Stripped Down (Capitol) – CD review –
In 1998, on the John Lennon rarities collection Anthology, we got a glimpse of what might have been: an alternate version of “I’m Losing You” from the Double Fantasy sessions featuring Cheap Trick. It’s a blistering rendition; the hardest rock he’d done since “Cold Turkey” in 1969. But, Yoko Ono was worried: Lennon had taken five years off from the music business to be a stay at home dad. Was his audience still there?
She wanted him to make a more “adult oriented” record. So, that version was shelved, and in turn, we ended up with the rather slick, middle-of-the-road released version of Double Fantasy. Now, 30 years later, perhaps the guys in Cheap Trick had it right all along. Capitol records has just put out a series of John Lennon reissues to celebrate what would’ve been his 70th birthday; the centerpiece of this campaign being “Double Fantasy – Stripped Down.” The idea here is to remove some of the overdubbed instruments and vocals and let John, himself, shine a little more on his own.
Apparently, during these original recording sessions, Lennon was really unsure of himself; he hated the sound of his own voice and insisted on double-tracking the vocals. Essentially, this means that he sang the song once, rewound the tape and sang over it again. You can certainly hide imperfections that way. That is the first thing you notice here: only one Lennon vocal is used for each song. At times, there are cracks in his voice, but it’s real and much more personal. However, in order to make his voice more prominent, sometimes key elements of the songs were removed. Take, for example, the first track “(Just Like) Starting Over,” which takes out the doo wop background singing, which certainly adds more focus to Lennon’s voice. But, the whole point of that song was a Fifties revival type thing, and without the additional oldies-style vocals, it doesn’t make any sense.
“I’m Losing You” is not the Cheap Trick version, and is missing a key lead guitar element, while “Watching the Wheels” lacks the lead piano line. The result is that many of these “stripped” versions simply sound unfinished. But, there are some treats here, especially in the banter either at the beginning or end of takes. He dedicates “Starting Over” to ‘Gene and Eddie and Elvis…and Buddy,’ while at the end of “Cleanup Time” he adlibs ‘it’s Christmas time again.’ ”I’m Losing You” is notable for John going into hysterics at the end, screaming ‘Baby please don’t go,’ while “Beautiful Boy” features a prominent calliope ending that was obscured by ocean sound effects on the original.
“Dear Yoko” has the added bonus of different random banter from Lennon at the end, which is reminiscent of the goofy Beatles Christmas records. Finally, the song that most benefits from the process is “Woman,” which removes all the instruments save for an acoustic guitar, Lennon’s vocal, bass and drums. It is a startling revelation; stark and beautiful.
The main problem with Double Fantasy – Stripped Down is the same issue that plagued the original album: it’s impossible to listen to all the way through, because every other track is a Yoko Ono song (apparently it was her idea). I’m not going to revert to Yoko bashing, except to say that the lady flat out can’t sing. I’m sure she influenced a ton of people yadda yadda yadda, but the avant-garde nature of her songs just doesn’t fit with the rest of the album. All of Lennon’s songs (save for the caustic “I’m Losing You”) are full of warmth and deal with the contentment of family, while Ono’s tracks are downright icy in nature. The one positive here is that several of her songs now have Lennon’s voice turned way up, so these have become duets, especially on the bittersweet final track “Hard Times Are Over,” where Lennon clowns around on the instrumental passages and can be heard uttering a line from “Happiness is a Warm Gun” on the coda.
Is this interesting? Sure, it’s worth it for any fan of the original record to check out. However, because it’s missing crucial parts from several songs, it does not replace the original album. Furthermore, just like other archival releases from the Beatles, such as the Anthology series and Let it Be…Naked, Double Fantasy – Stripped Down is good for a couple of listens and then you’ll probably tuck it away. But, it does show Lennon in a little more of a human light. And, it’s about as close as we’ll ever get.
Delbert McClinton has been playing his own mix of blues, country and rock n’ roll for almost 50 years with no sign of slowing down. His latest release, Acquired Taste, was a gritty collection of songs and another triumph. He talks with Icon Fetch about where he still gets inspiration for his songs (he co-wrote almost every song on the album), plus his upcoming Sandy Beaches 17, a cruise vacation that he started that’s in it’s, that’s right, seventeenth year. In addition, he sets to rest the rumor that he taught a young John Lennon how to play harmonica. Click below for the Delbert McClinton interview.