Round VIII - My Continuing Adventures As A San Francisco Rock Journalist


January 2002 - This month:


RYAN ADAMS - live at The Fillmore and a review of his new CD "Gold"!!


An interview w/ "Q" - QUINCY JONES by Ben Fong-Torres, (former senior editor of Rolling Stone Magazine) - on stage at the Marin JCC.


BOZ SCAGGS - live at The Warfield Theater and a review of his new CD "Dig"!!


NATALIE MERCHANT - live at The Paramount Theater and a review of her new CD, "Motherland"!!


With my usual flair (flare?) for mixing it all up with my life, past, present and future (hint to readers: notice the title of my little column, which was my illustrious publisher's idea??) Seasons Greetings, my loyal readers, fans and grievous opponents of my humble little column! Those were some letters my illustrious publisher printed right next to it last month, huh? And while I was in Nashville, to (cowboy) boot! My new friend Ben Fong-Torres told me it took him years to get "really vile hate mail" when he was at Rolling Stone and said "way to go, girlfriend!" My buddy Rich Appel at Sony Music NY told me now I've "truly arrived" and he smells a book deal. Thanks, guys - keep those vile cards and letters (and e-mails!) comin'!! You really know how to make a girl feel special!! I vow to continue my quest to utilize the most informative, innovative and entertaining ways and means to cover the things I see fit to print! And I intend to drop as many @##$$$%! names as possible along the way! I encourage all comments and you may e-mail me at


Nashville was a blast. I am happy to report: a) not only did I have no trouble getting my guitar on any of the flights coming or going, I actually had a guardian angel seated next to me on one of them, who kept a lookout and yelled at people to be careful putting their stuff in the overhead! She even gave me her card, which read: "Janet K. Mack - Encourager. Mentor, Friend'. God bless Janet Mack! Here's a tip: try boarding when they first announce passengers who have special needs or small children. Worked like a charm every time. b) Going back to Nashville (where I lived for 5 years) after I've now lived in my beautiful hometown of San Francisco for a whole year brought me to one conclusion: "What the hell was I thinking??" I am just not a small town girl, and certainly not a Southern one. I did, however, get to attend a beautiful wedding between two people who truly love each other, (who I'd taken to BORGO when they came to SF a few months ago, before they got engaged!) record, play and hear some great music and see a bunch of dear friends. Played music for the cute old folks at a nursing home I used to entertain at once a month. At The Sutler, a club my old roommate Kim Webber books, I even ran into the guys from one of my favorite bands, Joe Marc's Brother, who I compared to a local SF band I recently reviewed, The Clarkes, and they were thrilled to see their name in The SF Herald! Passed out copies to everyone I saw.


Took a walk on my old route and this man watering his lawn called out, (heavy Southern accent) "Well, hello there, haven't seen you for awhile!" The important stuff, the real stuff - and these days, the stuff that matters, matters a lot more. Pay attention, hang onto it, make a difference whenever possible, and I hope you have people you care about to spend the holidays with. No matter what, be good to yourself - and that's an order, damn it! See ya in 2002! Now let the music play.


Gold Goes For the "Gold" (and some of the hype) - Ryan Adams live at The Fillmore, SF, November 14, 2001 and a review of his new CD, "Gold"


Hype. The media. Celebrity endorsement. It can make or break a new artist, and it isn't often generated by their true talent or passion. It's generally "'bout da benjamins, baby, ($100 bills)", as Quincy Jones says, and the worst thing a truly talented, passionate young artist can do is buy into the hype and forget the real reasons that drove them to do it in the first place. I was intrigued by twenty-six year old Ryan Adams, (not to be confused with Canadian born Bryan Adams) this prolific upstart from the South, and former frontman for the cult alt-country band Whiskeytown, for several reasons. Last year when I lived in Nashville, my chick singer/songwriter roommate was coming home bleary eyed, captivated, dazed and confused, after hanging out several times with this new kid in town who referred to himself as "damaged goods". I even picked her up once at the house he and his bandmates had rented in East Nashville. That house, his condition, and so much more is well documented in dozens of press releases and interviews, because Ryan Adams is a wide open book, like the ones written by dark and deep authors like Sylvia Plath (a song title on "Gold") and Edgar Allan Poe he claims as his many influences.


A self-proclaimed walking wounded wild child, hard drinking and even harder loving young Ryan has made great use of his obsession with his failed relationships by wearing his ripped up heart firmly on his sleeve, in almost every song he writes, and a large part of every piece of press I've read. The ultimate tortured artist, with all the trimmings: hair that looks like it's never been introduced to a comb, framing a baby face with a perfect scowl/pout combo, he's a publicist's dream. Or worst nightmare, since his first solo album , "Heartbreaker" was devoted entirely to his break-up with a publicist girlfriend in NY, as well as the first rockin' single off "Gold", "New York, New York", which skyrocketed him to national attention after September 11. (She should sue for royalties!) Could there be a more completely twisted turn of events to lead a break-up song to become almost a national anthem?? Which brings me to the most important and obvious part: the music. Did this kid actually have the goods to deliver?? Elton John has called him "the best songwriter of this generation" and has joined him on stage recently at several gigs. Heady stuff for an up 'n comer like Kid Ryan. Like Dave Matthews discovering and signing David Gray, that "Babylon" guy. (Where were dudes Elton and Dave for unsung singer/songwriter heroes of mine like Jeffrey Gaines and Jude Cole and Radney Foster ?? Hell, where were they for yours truly???) I had to draw my own conclusions...


I was still waiting to receive the CD from Ryan's record company, so I went to the show with only that song as an idea of what to expect. Opening the show that night was a guy I knew from Nashville, Paul Burch, a very traditional country singer/songwriter in the vein of Merle Haggard and George Jones. He delivered a pleasing solo set that was surprisingly well received for a SF rock audience. The place was packed, who were all these 20/30 something fans?? A couple girls said they were there because they had heard Ryan's song on the TV show "Felicity" and were so excited because an actor from the show, Scott Speedman was in the house! Scary. This guy who works at Amoeba Records said he was a Whiskeytown fan who had seen a drunken Ryan throw a monitor off the stage right here at The Fillmore four or five years ago. Bad Ryan! Nothing like that happened on this night, and the very tight band alternately rocked the house, or let plaid flannel shirt clad Ryan rock us gently with his sensitive acoustic stuff, which seemed to really be more his forte as a performer. Guitarist Brad Rice, (who simulates Keith Richards both visually and musically to an such an uncanny degree, it's bizarre) and the band went into a few too many extended blues and Zeppelin-esque jams that I found self-indulgent and boring, even though they were all stellar players.


I was there for the songs, man - and beyond hearing "Stones, Stones, Stones" on the up-tempo rockers, and liking a ballad called "When The Stars Go Blue", the sound wasn't that great and it was hard to tell. So I enjoyed myself and hung out after for a bit with "The Brads" : Rice and drummer Pemberton, very nice guys I knew from Nashville, and reserved judgement till I could listen to the CD. Here's the good news and the bad : it is pretty derivative. But if you're gonna be derivative, take from the greats and that's what young Ryan has obviously done. And after repeated listens, the songs do grow on you. His delivery, vocal quality, and songwriting evoke at turns, Bob Dylan, like on the harmonica fueled "Firecracker", with raspy splashes of Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes, evident on "The Rescue Blues". At his most poignant and touching, he's a dead ringer for Neil Young on the so sad "Harder Now That It's Over" (co-written with Chris Stills, Stephen's son), buts lets his voice break in a way that you believe that's his pain. This is the Ryan I get the most. Arrangements lean toward lots of The Band throughout, and even more of Rolling Stones, particularly on tracks like "Tina Toledo's Street Walkin' Blues", so much so it sounds like a Stones cover! There are some great lines, not every one, but enough, like "I hold you close in the back of my mind/Feels so good but damn it makes me hurt/And I'm too scared to know how I feel about you now" from "La Cienaga Just Smiled". No wonder that's the one Elton John jumped on stage to play on. "Nobody Girl" is a great revenge song. And that irresistibly catchy-as-hell "New York, New York" - it's undeniable from the opening acoustic guitar intro. Media blitz notwithstanding, my now better educated take is: 26 year old Ryan Adams is a work-in-progress. But a really promising one, if he can keep his wild-haired head straight, which will be interesting to follow... Like Sting said, "I'll Be Watching You", Ryan... "


BFT & Mr. Jones (they had a thing goin' on )- an interview with Quincy Jones by Ben Fong-Torres Live on stage at the Marin JCC, November 15, 2001


Watching some of the well dressed "brothahs 'n sistahs" arrive was just the beginning of the fun the night Quincy Jones, graced the stage of the Marin County Jewish Community Center to promote his new book, "Q: The Autobiography Of Quincy Jones". Greeting the "Q-man" with a standing ovation the moment he stepped out, this multi-ethnic audience was treated to an informative and entertaining evening of engaging conversation, music history, laughter and a few surprises between the ultimate Renaissance Man of 20th Century American Popular Music and the consummate Question Man of American pop journalism. From playing/arranging music for icons like Count Basie and Frank Sinatra, to producing the world's biggest selling album to date, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and the "hey now, you're an all-star " charity extravaganza event, "We Are The World", Grammy winning, Emmy and Oscar nominated and ground-breaking Quincy Jones, 68, has a resume so impressive in so many facets of the entertainment industry that I would have to massively name-drop in my next 75 columns to fit it all in (it took 45 pages in his book just to list them)! Ben Fong-Torres, former senior editor of Rolling Stone, film character (he was portrayed in "Almost Famous" - the movie), author, journalist and broadcaster, (whew!) used his well-honed trademark skills of fined-tuned knowledge and off-the-cuff humor to push and pull all the right buttons to get the "Q-man" goin'. Not that he needed any help. Look up "charming" in the dictionary and you will see "Q". (The man has seven children with five different women, all of whom he supposedly remains close to and they to each other - the man obviously knows a thing or two about pushing and pulling the right buttons! The vibe was one of total mutual admiration and easy camaraderie with Quincy interjecting things like "Rolling Stone wouldn't have happened without Ben!"


Mr. Jones said the book world confounds him and he got "sucked into it", realizing five years of his life had passed before he could do anything else. When asked if Oprah had made it one of her " book club selections", he replied, "Oprah is my baby sister, we're way too close." It's the stories of his childhood - "revisiting his traumatic past" that have taken him to another level where he now truly experiences joy and understands the depth to which music saved his life. Born in Chicago, his carpenter dad moved his large, poverty-stricken family to Seattle, after his mother was placed in a mental institution when Quincy was only 6. He could have ended up a troubled street kid, but a neighbor, Lucy, introduced him to music. He touched a piano for the first time and said, "This is my mother." When he was 12, bands like Count Basie's and Ella Fitzgerald's came through town, and by age 13, he was playing 4 or 5 gigs a day/night, mostly horns! In 1951, at 18, he joined Lionel Hampton's European touring band and chuckled, " There were jazz groupies, man - it did not start in rock 'n roll!" (We believe you, "Q"!) Mr. Jones believes artists like Miles Davis, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald will be the Brahms and Beethovens of this century. He talked about the conditions in the USA in the South during the 50's and 60's. "It was horrible! Black stars on the stage would have to eat in the kitchen. Until 1964, when I worked with Sinatra in Vegas and we were treated like kings!" He calls Frank Sinatra, for whom he arranged "Fly Me To The Moon" "the genius of feeling and sensation ." It was Frank Sinatra who christened him "Q" and he now wears a ring that his daughter, Tina gave to him. About Sinatra, Quincy quipped, "He either loved you or he'd roll over you with a Mack truck!"


Ben Fong-Torres referred to "Q" as a "Door Breaker-Downer" and brought up the fact that Quincy Jones was the first African American VP at Mercury (or any major label!) Records. Ben then played a bit of Lesley Gore's "It's My Party", who "Q" discovered and produced, while "Q" gleefully rocked out to in his chair. Fun fact: on the way home, Ben Fong-Torres and his lovely wife Dianne stopped by a Johnny Rockets for some chili and fries, and the second they walked through the door, "It's My Party" came on the juke box, right on "Q", as Ben tells it. Music in film has always been a passion for him since he was a kid, and it was no accident Quincy ended up as executive producer on films such as "The Color Purple" and "The Wiz". Ben cued up "Q"'s groovy, swingin' instrumental hit, "Soul Bossa Nova", which Mike Myers tracked down for "Austin Powers - the Spy Who Shagged Me". "Q" seemed genuinely surprised and very pleased and wriggled around in his chair again in time to the music. Shagalicious, baby! As if a 4 CD Box set he executive produced to accompany his book wasn't sufficient for the moment, "Q" is now in the process of collaborating on a Broadway musical with lyricist Leslie Bricusse about the life of Sammy Davis Jr. "Q" ended the evening by explaining his theory of "reverse evolution", in which one would start with the end of his life, move backward through a nursing home, working, marriage and family, going to school, playing with his friends and being a little kid, being back in his mother's womb, and ending it all as a great big orgasm!!! It was good for us, "Q", was it good for you?... Corrections: last month a couple factual errors were printed regarding Mr. Fong-Torres' karaoke world which you can check out here. Many apologies for forgetting the hyphen between "Fong" and "Torres" ! It shan't happen again!


"Dig a Little Deeper" - Boz Scaggs live at The Warfield Theater, November 16, 2001, and a review of his new CD, "Dig".

I don't know what is more disappointing: hearing some brand new media darling, wide-spread critical or fan favorite and just not quite "getting it", or waiting years for an artist you've adored to finally put out something new you can sink your teeth into, and it lets you down. This is about the latter, and I do want to stress that I am an avid admirer of Boz Scaggs for many years and I respect his right to put out the music that moves him. Sorry, Boz - it's a subjective business we're in and I love and care about what I do, both as a "journalist" and as a "songwriter, musician, and artist" too much to do anything but tell it like I hear it. And most of what I've heard on his first pop CD in seven years just didn't move me. Not the way I wanted it to, and not in the way every song off albums like "Middle Man" and "Silk Degrees" did all those years ago. The velvet voice is still there, just as silky smooth, some of the arrangements are nice, but many of the songs aren't.


I had a similar reaction to another favorite of mine, Don Henley, when he put out "Inside Story" last year after an eleven year absence. I found a lot of the songs on that record really mediocre, but a few of the songs, like the single "Everything's Different Now" still got to me the way he always could, just enough to piss me off that he didn't go the distance with the rest of it. And speaking, of Henley, I must point out that his longtime collaborator/producer Danny Kortchmar was on board on both these projects and it shows, for good (classic) and bad (dated) reason. But where Don Henley is still the master of irony, and can make use of it with updated quirky production techniques they're dabbling in, Boz Scaggs strength lies in his sincere delivery and songs like the annoying "Get On The Natch" and "You're Not" (which sounds like a Don Henley song that Boz Scaggs just put his vocal on) just end up sounding contrived and kind of silly.


The single and opening track, "Payday", well, jeez, Boz, I know you've just gotta have a better song in you than this watered down MOR blues/rock thing. "Call That Love" is kinda cool, but doesn't anybody else think it sounds exactly like Steely Dan's "S how Biz Kids"?? Even some of the mellow ballads, like, "Sarah" and "Desire" (which sounds like a slowed down "Lowdown") make nice background music, but just don't have any of the emotional impact of songs like "Look What You've Done To Me", "You Can Have Me Anytime", and "It's Over". Notable exceptions: the easy, groovin' "Miss Riddle" and "I Just Go", which are Boz at his timeless best (for this record, anyway). "King Of El Paso" (the best song on the CD) and "Vanishing Point", showcase Boz's ability to tell a story about a character with the perfect musical funky/mellow musical backdrop. The last song, "Thanks To You", did move me, mostly for the lovely sentiment and beautiful artistry of the lyric, which made me hope to find someone in this lifetime (or the next, given my track record!) who'd want to write a song like this about me: "Where moving over to make room once seemed impossible/it's not impossible/That one-handed applause/That unspoken word/That treefall in the forrest/someone finally heard/Thanks to you" And if he sounded like Boz Scaggs, that'd be even cooler. Write more songs like this, Boz...


As far as the live show, I pretty much had the same reaction. The crowd were 40/50 somethings there to relive the good old days and when Boz and his stellar backing band, (particularly his bass player) got to the older stuff like "Lido Shuffle" and "Breakdown Dead Ahead" the audience got excited and when he played "Look What You've Done To Me" they slow danced in front of the stage like it was their high school prom. The background singers came across a bit over-animated with their big, choreographed moves in comparison to the way laid back vibe of Boz and the band, but the girls definitely could sing and Boz gave them lots of room to strut their stuff. He sang and played very well, but for the most part, seemed pretty subdued. Response to the new stuff was polite. High point of the evening: a flame haired, impeccably dressed Bonnie Raitt, stepping out onto the floor in front of the stage by herself to bust a few moves with the rest of the crowd to "King Of El Paso". Then she returned to her seat never to be seen again. It must have been Bonnie's favorite new song, too. Great minds think alike...


Merchants of Natalie - Natalie Merchant Live at the Paramount Theater, Oakland, November 26, 2001 and a review of her new CD, "Motherland"


Natalie Merchant has always hit me the same way Dave Matthews did. Click here and go to my columnist link to read my extensive review of Dave). Pleasant, distinctive voice, decent, sometimes interesting songs, (I did like "Carnival" off 1995's "Tigerlily") non-descript appearance, but for years I could never really understand what all of the fuss was about, even during her 10,000 Maniac days. She just feels rather one dimensional to me, as a singer and the times I've seen her perform on TV. And she didn't seem to have much of a sense of humor, based on the interviews I'd heard and read. Lighten up, girl! But I know people just go bonkers over her, my illustrious publisher of this little newsrag being one of them, so I decided to check out Nat's scene. I listened to her new CD, "Motherland" which I found pleasant, in a dark sort of way. There is some interesting Middle Eastern flavor and genuine energy on the opening track, "This House Is On Fire", which has been getting a lot of attention since September 11 for obvious reasons, as is the title track, "Motherland" , a lovely waltz. Natalie now claims it's about "the death of nostalgia and dreams". For a departure, she tries to get bluesy on a little ditty called "Put The Law On You", but it comes off a little white, no offense. "Henry Darger" sounds like a traditional musical theater piece ala Les Miserables and she could probably write a whole show like this. Look out, Broadway!!


She sends out a positive message to teens, the down and out, and troubled among us to ignore what we've been taught and shown by the world and "love ourselves a little more" in "Tell Yourself" and the catchy single "Just Can't Last", but many of the songs on this CD are poster children for cynicism, particularly in the arena of romantic relationships. Yeah, it's rough out there, Natalie, I can relate. On "Build A Levee" she warns about the danger of getting hung up on the wrong guy," You'll fall under an evil spell just looking at his beautiful face/Gotta build yourself a levee deep inside". (Mine's currently under construction.) But if it's a real deal confessional you're hankering for, look no further than the closer, "I'm Not Gonna Beg", a simple piano ballad that Natalie would like to hear Aretha Franklin cover "just once" : "I'm not gonna beg you for nothing/I'm not gonna beg you for your love". Yeah, baby. Me neither...


The die-hard Natalie Merchant fans at the Paramount Theater definitely seemed to get what they came for at her sold out show on November 26. After another weird, surreal experience at World Beat (a bizarre Korean restaurant down the street that we first went to back in February, when I covered Don Henley's show), I was ready to take a trip to the "Motherland". The crowd went nuts the moment Ms. Merchant appeared, dressed in her trademark dark sweater and long skirt, her long black hair in a bun and a few extra pounds gracing her already somewhat Rubinesque figure. She embarked upon a lengthy set, with a generous helping of songs off the new album, interspersed with many songs from both her four previous solo and six 10,000 Maniacs records, like "Gold Rush Brides", "Life Is Sweet", "Hey Jack Kerouac", "River", "Carnival", and the hit single off her last CD, "Kind and Generous". Each note she sung and move she made was met with thunderous approval from the audience of several 100 Natalie Merchant maniacs. In attendance, sporting a Britney Spears T-shirt (??), my pal (and Boz Scaggs tablemate at The Warfield)) Jim Harrington, congenial music critic for the Oakland Tribune. Great stuff, Jim!

At first, Natalie didn't pay much attention to the audience at all. Her voice clear and strong throughout, she twirled around in her own little world from one side of the stage to the other, giving one the feeling of sitting in on a rehearsal, which I guess is her deal. But half way through, she began to loosen up, taking off her sweater to reveal a womanly figure and literally let her long, black hair down and shook it all around, like a tribal ritual of awakening. The crowd went bananas, rushing the stage and dancing in the aisles. She began to really get into her dance moves and seemed to be having a good time, while her solid band played on and on. Then Natalie started to talk - boy, did she talk - uncharacteristically, I'm told, and went into a story about recently seeing the Rolling Stones movie "Gimme Shelter" for the first time and putting on a fake Brit accent to make fun of Mick Jagger's silly dialogue. The girl does have a bit of a sense of humor after all, by George! I mean, Mick. She and the band launched into a joyous cover of "Mother's Little Helper", which I doubt is a theme this "Queen of the Motherland" delves into much. Scored some points for the uninitiated like yours truly, who needed a little break in the uh, action at that point in the festivities.


I still remain a bit confused by the intensity of the ardor of her legion of fans, but certainly impressed by it. My favorite moment of the night came at the same spot it did on her new CD: the end. For her last encore, she sat down at the piano and played a solo version of "I'm Not Gonna Beg", so pure and beautiful it made you want to reach out and take someone's hand, even if you weren't sure you should. Worth a try sometimes. Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Kwanza, American, Chinese and every other kind of New Year, and every other possible reason to eat, drink (responsibly) and be whatever the hell you wanna be!!!! Check out and read Ben Fong-Torres' oh-so-generous accolades about your Golden Girl! And stay tuned to "K-Fun and a chat with Ben at Yet Wah's Karaoke Night" and so much more in 2002!! XOXOXO's 2 U ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! "Life During Wartime" - live it!! Farewell, George - say hey to John and my dad for me...



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