Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Led Zeppelin

 It started with a babysitter. In 1969, my parents went out of town and left me and my brother with one of my father’s graduate students. I was almost 11. She was fun and attractive and quickly figured out that we were young rockers. One night she had to go to her house to feed her dog. She took us along. I remember she cut up a couple of hot dogs for her German Shepherd, and then went over to her record collection and pulled out something she was excited about. “Have you heard this yet?” She brandished an LP with a black and white photo of the Hindenburg going down. I knew all about the Hindenburg because of an LP called I Can Hear It Now, a compilation of news clips that included that famous breathless reporter describing the giant airship bursting into flames and crashing in 1937. I was immediately intrigued. She put it on, and like much great music, it scared me. It was heavy with intense guitar and the singer actually seemed to be screaming. It was very different than most of the stuff I was hearing on the radio. Within a few weeks my brother had procured his own copy of Led Zeppelin I. We listened obsessively. This stuff was earthy and exotic at the same time. The music actually matched that incredible image on the cover-especially the side A closer “Dazed and Confused” which defined heavy to my ears. It was the sound of “gee-wiz” popular music crashing and burning on the ground.

Not too long after, Led Zeppelin II was released. Amazingly it had that same image of the burning Zeppelin on the cover again. This time with a sepia-toned photo of the band dressed as World War flying aces superimposed over it. I couldn’t believe their audacity and their confidence. When I heard the single “Whole Lotta Love” on the radio, I just about shit. It once again pushed the boundaries of heavy-with the most punishing opening riff of all time, and a multi-part epic that covers so much ground it feels like you’ve traveled the world in 5 and a half minutes. Led Zeppelin II perfectly describes the end of the 60’s and beginning of the 70’s to me. It has the color and mystery of much of the best stuff of the 60’s but it takes a giant, thudding step forward to a new heaviosity. Years later, when I owned a record store, I learned about and actually got a copy of the rare “Sterling RL.” copy of the album. With recording engineer Robert Ludwig’s initials carved into the trail-off wax, this version of the album is cut much louder than a normal record. It is a profound listening experience.

I can only think of one or two other bands that changed the way Zep did musically. Like The Beatles, every one of their subsequent albums was completely different that the others, and they always seemed to break some new sonic ground. Led Zeppelin III had one of the greatest covers of all time, Houses of the Holy felt like an invocation to a witches ritual, IV contained anthem after anthem, and Physical Graffiti was so full of amazing songs and different styles you just couldn’t believe it was one band doing all this. It still seems like some huge career-spanning best-of instead of just another album in their catalog.

Then there is the photo. Early on in the store, I had a great customer named Steve “Jellyroll” Morton. A true fan and a great guitar player in his own right, he was a big part of the early store. One day he came into the store with a photo. He said, “Did you know Zeppelin played their first American show in Denver?” I didn’t. They had been the opening act for Spirit at Denver auditorium in 1968. Jellyroll had gone to see Spirit, but stuck his camera up over his head and randomly taken a shot of the opening act. The photo was amazing! Jimmy Page onstage playing his psychedelically hand-painted strat with a violin bow. Wow! This could not be cooler. I begged Jellyroll to make me a copy. He finally relented and I proudly hung it up in the store. As it turned out the psychedelically painted strat was stolen from Page shortly after the Denver show. Somehow it got back to Page that we had this picture and he wanted a copy. I contacted Jellyroll and Page was given a copy of this amazing photo when Plant and Page played at Fiddler’s Green. A number of years later, a guy from England called me out of the blue and had also heard about the photo. He wanted it because it showed a rare amplifier in the background. I made him a copy too. Another great piece of Denver rock and roll history. Thanks, Jellyroll!

Jimmy Page at Led Zeppelin's first American show-Denver Auditorium 1968-
with the fated Stratocaster 

And then there was the time I had a whole convention’s worth of record store owners in my living room sometime in the early 2000’s. At just the right moment, when everybody was lit up just bright enough, I slipped in disc 2 of The Led Zeppelin DVD set (possibly the greatest selection of live performances ever assembled of any band) and cued up The Ocean from Madison Square Garden lou-ow-d. A room full of 30, 40 and 50 something hipsters all dropped their jaws and collectively reveled in a moment of pure rock and roll bliss. It was great and to a person everyone came up to me and said some variation of “OMG, I forgot how great Zep was.” It never fails.

Paul Epstein

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Who

Tommy Artwork autographed
 by Daltrey
It all happened between 1969 and 1971 for me. Tommy, Woodstock, Live at Leeds, Meaty, Beaty Big And Bouncy and Who’s Next. What a 3 three year run for any band. Starting with Tommy-the first rock opera. Big, bold, pretentious, full of incredible music. As an eleven-year-old I wasn’t sure what it all meant, but it sure seemed like Pete Townshend was the most ambitious, thoughtful guy in rock. Seeing Woodstock in the theatre was a formative experience in a number of ways, but The Who proved to be the most electrifying part of the movie for me. Townshend’s true-believer energy was just off the hook, John Entwhistle’s stoic reserve and lightning bass runs were the definition of cool, Keith Moon’s manic energy was thrilling and Roger Daltrey’s washboard stomach, golden locks and crystal blue eyes were all things I would never have, but badly wanted. Their music was thrilling and energetic, their lyrics were thought-provoking and searching and physically they were unbeatable. They were the distilled, idealized perfection of the pre-teen “me.” The scared me that I was, and the brash me that I wanted to be.

They followed up Woodstock with Live at Leeds a live set just as incendiary as Woodstock but all housed in an incredible gatefold sleeve filled with pictures, posters and paperwork-a pirate’s ransom of clues to who these guys were. I obsessed over that album like few others. The poster and pictures adorned my walls, I memorized every detail of the contracts and memos, and the songs lived on my turntable non-stop. Their version of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” was a pounding masterpiece. Shit, the whole album rocked like nothing I’d ever heard. The long, jammed-out “My Generation” that anchored side two covered so much ground. I wanted to see this band live (it wouldn’t happen until Keith Moon’s final tour in 1975-but well worth the wait).

When The Who By Numbers was released in 1975, Budget Tapes and Records on Colorado Boulevard ran a promotion whereby you could color in a copy of the cover and enter it into a contest. For some reason, I never turned it in, and kept it all these years. Years later, when I got a promotional poster that advertised the very same promotion, I framed it along with my colored-in entry.

For my 12th birthday, my brother gave me Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy, a collection of their early singles, and again the wonderful music within was more than matched by the incredible cover. Showing a group of English youth hanging out on a grimy stoop with the adult Who wistfully looking at them out a window, you turned it over and they had morphed into the adult band on the stoop, looking cooler than you can imagine, with the kids now looking out the window. It spoke to both the youth and the young man in me. It remains one of my favorite album covers.

Pete Townshend at Denver’s Mammoth Gardens (now the Fillmore) 1969.
Photo by the great Denver rock photographer Dan Fong

The final piece of my obsession came into view as four English millionaires pissed on a stone monolith on the cover of their masterpiece Who’s Next. It still remains one of the most mature and far-reaching albums of the era. When they sang “Black ash from the foundry/hangs like a hood, But the air is perfumed by the burning fire wood” on Love Ain’t For Keeping I understood that rock lyrics could reach for more than a teenage crush-this was poetry.

Pete Townshend in Chicago 1969-Giant reproduction hanging in Twist and Shout-also taken by Dan Fong

Pete Townshend remains the gold-standard of thoughtful rock stars. He has publicly struggled with the meaning of rock and roll to a functioning adult. He continued to search, but never quite matched that magic period at the dawn of a new decade when he and his band flew the flag for rock music that spoke to the brain as much as the hips.

Paul Epstein

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Pink Floyd

Just holding an LP by Pink Floyd immediately takes me to a very special place. From my first experience with them, they have been the exemplars of what mysterious, art-rock looks like. In 1970 our local PBS station (now known as Rocky Mountain PBS) aired “An Hour with Pink Floyd,” which was recorded at KQED studios in San Francisco on April 30, 1970. Because it was on PBS it inherently had our parents blessing. Little did they know! The show featured the band playing six songs ripped from the beating heart of their super-psychedelic post-Barrett period. My 12-year old mind was blown. Atom Heart Mother confused, Grantchester Meadows and Green Is the Colour soothed and Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun and Careful with That Axe Eugene terrified me. Much of the music I hold dearest started out scaring me. It’s true, my first reaction to Bitches Brew, The Shape of Jazz to Come, Live Dead and Electric Ladyland was fear. These records pushed the limit of traditional song and imagery into more adult realms. This wasn’t verse, chorus, verse. This was staring at yourself in the mirror until you had to look away. Yeah-that’s for me! After seeing An Hour with Pink Floyd I went with my brother to Underground Records at 724 S. Pearl St. and purchased Ummagumma. 18 years later, I would buy Underground Records at a tax auction and turn it into Twist and Shout. I was again, thrilled and scared by this album. The cover was awesome, especially the back cover where two members of the band’s road crew stood in the middle of a country road surrounded by all the band’s gear artfully displayed in a giant V. I was so sold on this band!

My next major experience with the band came when the movie Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii was shown at midnight at The Vogue Theatre on South Pearl Street. Once again, I was both excited and terrified by the futuristic music the band was creating. Once again, I went to Underground Records and headed straight for the Pink Floyd section. This time, I was greeted by a strange album with minimal information. It just said Pink Floyd Fillmore West. My brother told me it was a bootleg and encouraged me to get it. I saved my allowance over the next few months, and when I finally had 15 bucks saved up, we went back and I got it. We breathlessly listened to it.  The album gave no clue what songs the band played at the concert, but we were excited when the program was very similar the PBS special. On the back of the album, you can see the home-made setlist I typed up on my father’s Royal typewriter. (the same one on which he wrote 10 novels). I was so psyched. This was going to be my band.

I continued to follow Pink Floyd, buying every one of their new albums the day it came out, and eventually finding all their older ones. I also got heavily into Syd Barrett and his two incredible solo albums. His descent into madness stuck with me throughout my young life and remains a poignant touchstone to the reality that art and madness often walk a parallel path. When Wish You Were Here came out I was 18 and the messages of alienation and societal oppression could not have been more timely for me. Again, the artwork was so memorable. Instead of covering the album in clear plastic shrink-wrap, this album had a custom blue shrink, so you had to buy the album to see all the artwork.

Animals promotional item. Last week I mentioned Corey over at Furthur Frames.
This piece might represent the apex of his work for me. It’s hard to see in the picture but the display is
3 dimensional and the pig in the bottom half is hanging in there and can swing freely.

And, ultimately, this is what is so great about Pink Floyd. Every move they made was intelligent, beautiful, calculated. They are the ultimate art-rock band.

Paul Epstein