Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Unwrapped: Meeting Ernie Cefalu

What do I want for Christmas after surviving my midsummer stroke? Not much, because every day is a celebration. But I love this time of year. The decorations, the music, the food, the family and gatherings. I am thrilled to be here for another one. So, as far as presents do go, I got family approval for my selection and guess what: Christmas came a week early for me. And Santa looks an awful lot like graphic design titan Ernie Cefalu.

The name doesn't ring a bell? His work will. You - music fan - cannot matriculate through Rock 'N Roll High School without knowing Mr. Cefalu and his cadre of artisans who made up Pacific Eye & Ear. Their iconic work in the 1970s adorned album covers for the likes of Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath & Grand Funk Railroad. As PE&E's Creative Director, Ernie hired and collaborated with some of the most celebrated artists, illustrators and designers in the history of rock and roll, not on the music, but the beautiful sleeves that contained, that held, that cradled the vinyl. Ernie, himself, is the artistic mind behind memorable images for "Jesus Christ Superstar" and the Rolling Stones.

Why all this hullabaloo? Why this build up? Well, today friends, we were fortunate enough to host Mr. Cefalu in our home. He delivered to me a first of its kind. More on that in a moment.

You all know I am stupid for the Bee Gees. Well, he and one of his chief collaborators, the world-famous illustrator Drew Struzan, composed the cover for the Bee Gees' "Main Course." Ernie created the iconic and heraldic Bee Gees logo. Drew's contribution was the Girl in the Spoon and Ribbon. Through Ernie's website, I started an amazing correspondence with Ernie which led to me ordering a print of a composite of their original artistic elements that made up the LP cover and the results are stunning. My print of "Main Course" is 1/100; signed by both Ernie and Drew! It brings the vibrancy of the album's audio and visual components to life. I love staring at an album cover while the LP is playing. I can't wait to crank up the stereo on Boxing Day. It's gonna be on, friends!

I was simply thrilled to meet Ernie, to hear a few of his stories and yes! to receive the work. In short order, this piece will be adorning my home in a prominent place with stories galore. I will do some Jive Talkin' by request.

If you are a fan of rock and roll and you don't know about Ernie and Drew's contributions to the craft of cover art; you owe it to yourself to do some research, starting with Ernie's website Album art is a lost art, but I hope and suspect that as vinyl experiences its resurgence a new generation will come to appreciate Ernie's work.

Ernie is one of the coolest cats I've ever met. I can't wait to chat with him again and expand my collection of Cefalus. Here are a few snaps of Ernie's visit and the Main Course.

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Shouldn't It Really Be The Tamla Sound?

Hey friends,

I've been doing a huge reorganizing project, especially with a holiday visit from my Mom approaching. That meant relocating my record collection because the carpet is being steam-cleaned today. I admit, I am one of those people who will stop and reminisce over an album, remembering where it was purchased, when I last listened to it, admiring the artwork - even when it is not on the turntable.

So, going through my vinyl last night, I was surprised by how few of my favorite Motown artists actually recorded on the "Motown" label. I think we assume that if singers are associated with the Sound of Young America and Detroit in the 1960s that the artist was indeed on Motown. True to an extent, but the imprint of their 45s and LPs may not have been "Motown." I love my music trivia, so here it comes.

Sure, there are the usual suspects like Diana Ross & the Supremes and the Four Tops. But only two of my favorite Motor City acts actually released their music with Motown labels: David Ruffin and Michael Jackson & The Jackson 5. The rest of my faves were on Tamla: Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. The influential What's Going On and Make It Happen first appeared on the Tamla label. If your copies say Motown, they are not original pressings.

(LP Cover Photos © Tamla/Motown)

What about the Temptations ("David Ruffin & the Temptations"), you ask? They were on Gordy. Of course, Tamla and Gordy were both Berry Gordy enterprises and part of the Motown family. All that great music came out of Hitsville, USA - even the Clash had to recognize. It wasn't until the 1980's, long after the label left Detroit for L.A., that most of their wax was pressed with Motown labels.

Perhaps you are wondering, who were the other major Tamla acts? Try the Isley Brothers, Barrett Strong, The Marvelettes, Thelma Houston, Eddie Kendricks and everyone else's favorite: Stevie Wonder.

And notable Gordy singers beyond the Tempts? No slouches here, either. How about Martha & The Vandellas, Tammi Terrell, DeBarge, Teena Marie and Rick James!? The slogan for Gordy was "It's What's in the Grooves that Count!" You didn't need to tell Teena twice.

Dig out your 45s (or Google the pictures) and check the labels. Have fun quizzing your friends and talking about the Tamla Sound. They'll have no idea what the hell Tamla is.

Peace and Music.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Christmas Sale For Ya!

Merry Christmas, Music Lovers!

For the next three weeks and through Boxing Day (Dec. 26th), I am offering my two complete solo albums at the cost of $5 each. That's A Talent For Loving and On The Rebound for only $5 a pop. Now is your chance to pick up either or both for yourself or as an excellent gift for like-minded friends and family. Let's find out how.

1) For high quality digital downloads go to CDBaby.

2) For physical CDs, message me directly. I will personally mail them to you. S&H is $1 for the first CD; and caps at $2 for domestic/USA orders for as many copies as you wish. Payment via Paypal, etc. Autographs on request.

Thanks for your support! Now, let's dance!


Monday, December 02, 2013

Norman’s Rockwell Top 10 Lists for 2013

It’s time for my annual rundown of my favorites for the calendar year of 2013. Mind you, this is not for art’s sake, but the music that moved me most - although sometimes that happens. 

Top 10 Albums:

1. David Bowie - The Next Day
This album was heralded by the most amazing vacuum of hype ever. The single “Where Are We Now?” arrived in the wee hours of Bowie's 66th birthday in January with not a hint of warning. That the LP turned out to be his most completely compelling work since Scary Monsters was his greatest birthday gift to us his fans. Couple this with the absorbing David Bowie Is staged at the V&A this year and my hibernating Bowie fascination was reawakened to an extraordinary degree. If you get anywhere near this installation as it tours the globe, drop what you are doing and get tickets. On my flights to and from the UK for my tour I listened to The Next Day back-to-back-to-back. Highlights: “Valentine’s Day” (not a love song, mind you); “The Stars (Are Out Tonight);” “The Next Day;” “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die.” Aw shoot, the whole album is superlative. I will get tickets to the 2014 Grammy Awards hedging my bet that Bowie will be nominated in marquee categories and compelled to appear and perform. What an amazing year for listeners as a result of his renaissance. Cheers, Mr. Jones.

2. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
3. Local Natives - Hummingbird
4. Paul McCartney - New
5. Elton John - The Diving Board
6. Har Mar Superstar - Bye Bye 17
7. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
8. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
9. Franz Ferdinand - Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action
10. Arctic Monkeys - AM

Top 10 Singles:

1. Daft Punk - “Get Lucky”
This is how great singles should work and worm their way into your mind, heart and feet. Insinuating themselves into your soul. That one of my heroes, Nile Rodgers was involved was the icing; but the cake was delicious. Disco has never left the building as far as I am concerned. It was fun watching the young’uns get excited about a sound I used to roller skate to in 1979. I particularly enjoyed hearing the mashups and remixes and edits that DJs forged on YouTube with the TV spots forcing Daft Punk to release the official version early - the antithesis of the Bowie strategy; but equally effective. How could I not love “Get Lucky” when the real version was unleashed? So much so that I did a well-received acoustic cover during my May tour of the UK. I was due to perform another version of “Get Lucky” in August and it was the last band performance I rehearsed between my stroke and hospitalization. I certainly got lucky.

2. David Bowie - The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
3. Local Natives - Breakers
4. Flyte - Over And Out  
5. Yoko Ono - Bad Dancer
6. Boy George - King of Everything
7. Classixx - All You’re Waiting For (Feat. Nancy Whang)
8. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
9. Har Mar Superstar - Lady, You Shot Me
10. Paul McCartney - New 

If you haven’t heard some of these LPs or singles, I highly recommend all of them. This was certainly a singles-driven year. I could have listed another 5 or 10 “honorable mention” or “tied for 10th place” records in that category (including tracks by Hanson, Justin Timberlake, Haim, Tom Odell, Math & Science, Jake Bugg and CHVRCHES). A really good year for music... and I didn’t include my own releases. 

Let’s hope 2014 brings us plenty of presents, too.

Peace & Music!