CULTURAL WORKINGS

Welcome to THE CULTURAL WORKER, a blog dedicated to arts of the people ranging from the radical avant garde and free jazz to dissident folk forms and popular arts . The Cultural Worker celebrates revolutionary creativity and features a variety of essays, reviews, fiction, reportage, poetry and musings through the internet pen of this writer, musician and cultural organizer. Scroll straight down and you'll also find an extensive historical Photo Exhibit of cultural workers in action, followed by a series of Radical Arts Links. The features herein will be unabashedly partisan---make no mistake about that. The concept of the cultural worker as a force of fearless creativity, of social change, indeed as an artistic arm of radicalism, has always been left-wing when applied with any degree of honesty at all. No revolutionary act can be truly complete in the absence of art, no progressive campaign can retain its message sans the daring drumbeat of invention, no act of dissent can stand so strong as that which counts the writers, musicians, painters, dancers, actors, photographers, film and performance artists within its ranks. Here's to the history and legacy of cultural work in the throes of the good fight...
john pietaro

Sunday, January 26, 2014

GRAMMY 2014 REPORT----RINGO AND THE SHADOW BACK-UP DRUMMER

 
OKay so this is the FIRST time I have watched the Grammy Awards in many years. I felt I needed to tune in as Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were going to be on, their first time on stage together since the Beatles broke up. I may be a jazz and new music musician but I will always, always be a serious Beatles fan. But this Beatle-survivor reunion was only one aspect of the show...
 
Well to start right off, I am once again sickened by the Grammys absolutely ignoring the entire Jazz and Classical categories. How in hell can this be "music's greatest night" when only popular music---pop, R&B and rock--are represented? This is bad enough, though some of the performances were not bad. But then there's Chicago with Robin Thicke (I am not familiar with him, only his father!), whose sine-wave voice did nothing for the good songs by a band that can still kick out jazz-rock between all of their MOR light fare. Still it was good to see them. And Stevie Wonder, one of the great talents of R and B and pop music, a guy who could command the entire Grammy stage by himself in the '70s, here sharing the spotlight and airspace with a young rapper and Nile Rogers. Glad to see Stevie Wonder and Nile Rogers but why the need to water down a Stevie Wonder gig?? And when the great composer Ennio Morricone got a precursory award, his face was obscured on the screen. Later, Lou Reed got only a mention, not even one of his songs presented, no Velvet Underground salute. Nothing.

All right now for the serious disappointment: Paul McCartney and his band come out for a piece and the big deal, of course, is Ringo Starr coming out to join him. As soon as I got over the initial momentary thrill I realized that Ringo is of course not the only drummer. Macca's very talented drummer Abe Laboriel Jr was back there in the shadows while a spot was on Ringo drumming along with him! Laboriel took all of the fills; Mr Starkey played a simple 4/4 underneath. The truth is that no one has seen Ringo play drums without a back-up drummer in many years, so I shouldn't have been disappointed. But I was. Here is this historic moment, these two playing together for the first time since Let It Be in 1970, and Ringo took the easy way out. I may get a lot of gruff from other percussionists for this but just being in a legendary band does NOT make someone a great instrumentalist. Here's the reality: Ringo recorded some very nice Beatle parts in those years but they were largely simple, though well-executed. It has been established that more often than not, Paul and John to a lesser dsegree would commandeer the black pearl Ludwigs and offer Ringo coaching on how they wanted him to play for their songs:
Ringo admitted this in many interviews, clarifying that it was rough being in a band with three guys who could play drums. Especially McCartney who actually proved his own skills playing drums on "The Ballad of John and Yoko" and his own 'Band on the Run' album. By and large, Ringo was there and the rock, even if his role was background. He had a few moments of drumming strength (certainly "Rain" comes to mind) otherwise he played some very nice, beat-driven parts in those great songs. He was support to the two singer-songwriters who changed the face of popular music as we know it. And his drumming worked beautifully in that role and it inspired millions to play. If you saw the film Let It Be you know he handled his job quite well through 1970. Bernard Purdie used to say that he actually did all the Beatles studio work, subbing for Ringo on records every session, and while I don't believe that is true, it is odd that Ringo basically stopped playing shortly thereafter.

He played with no back-up on an early John Lennon album but had Jim Keltner drumming along with him on his own solo records. And in '71 when George Harrison organized The Concert for Bangladesh, Ringo was the drummer--but then so was Keltner! They double-drummed each song that night. Ringo, in interviews, said he loved playing with Keltner, commenting that they were thunder and lightning. OKay, so that's cool but then later when Ringo toured with his own All-Star band he had Sheila E on drums. Ringo would sit down at his own drumkit  next to Sheila's just for "Boys" and maybe one other, otherwise his sparkle kit sat idle. All of this wouldn't be an issue until tonight. Here was Ringo's chance to get back into the driver's seat and really dig into a song with his old band-mate, a guy he'd made history with. Sadly, as a drummer, Ringo seems to simply refers to the sentiment in his solo hit from the 70s, "All I've got is a photograph to remind me..." He was never much of a singer so the fact that Ringo would basically walk away from his actual role in rock history is beyond me. Did he just get lazy and stay away from the drums so long that there was no returning? Why would he trivialize what he did by letting his chops and groove simply fade away? Oh well, my ignoring of the Grammys for so long may have been a good move after all. Next year I am scheduling an anti-Grammy gig--all of my expansive jazz comrades are invited! LOL and I will not ask any other percussionist to join me!

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