Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rickenbacker-Full Circle

I joined my first band in 8th Grade, supposedly to play bass. There were two other guitar players, along with a very talented drummer. – One guitarist had just gotten a Farfisa keyboard and wanted to play that, which was fine with the rest of us, as it was great to have a keyboard in the band. The other guitarist, having lots of money and not a lot of rhythm, got a Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, and couldn’t play it. So, he wound up as the bass player and I got to play a Rickenbacker 12-string, during the heyday of Roger McGuinn and that distinctive 12-string sound of the Byrds, the Turtles, and so many of the 60's groups. My fingers and ears never again felt comfortable with just 6 strings.

Eventually the band members went separate ways,and I said a lingering goodbye to the Rickenbacker. From that time on, I've always been a 12-string player. Over the years (with the famous Manny's and Bronen's music stores nearby in New York), I acquired a multitude of 12-string guitars, some later sold, and some being keepers to this day. These included a Vox Teardrop, Hagstrom electric, Guild acoustic (still a favorite!), Yamaha electric, Ovation Adamis, and at least 5 others that have come and gone. But I never had a Rickenbacker --- until today. I came across an offer I couldn't refuse, so here it is. It feels just like it did back in 8thgrade, with that same great sound, except I hope I can play it a bit better now.

...Bill Pere

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sept 11 Reflections

Sept 11, 2010: Having spent so much time in lower Manhattan as a child, it hit home especially hard as I watched 9/11/01 unfold on TV that morning. A week or so later, I started to write a song about it, and after a day or two, I had parts of a verse and chorus set to music, some assorted images, and pieces of other lines. To this day, it remains unfinished, as I came to find it had more meaning being left in fragments.

A short time later, Kay wrote her 9/11 reflection, "Because the Sky Fell Down", a wonderfully crafted song that captured much of what many of us wanted to say,woven in her own unique and artful way. I find it moving every time she performs it. It was recorded in Nashville and released in 2005

As the next several post-9/11 years unfolded, I wrote "I Am Erica" (using deliberate white space and oronym techniques to morph it into "I America"), released July 4 2008 on the "American Sampler" compilation and soon to be re-released on a 30 year retrospective album.

The songs we write, as well as those written by many of my colleagues, speak of the importance of tolerance by all people, for all people, of all beliefs, for all beliefs. Any type of extremism can only fan the flames of intolerance, and we've seen enough fire to last more than 3,000 lifetimes.

Music and songs can reach people in a powerful way, but still nine years later, it seems the lesson has not yet been learned, the message not yet heard. The music of the 1960's hadtremendous influence on the social and political issues of those turbulent times. In this 21st century world of internet sound-bytes, the voices singing out on the important issues of our day are drowned out by pop, glitter, spandex, and pyrotechnics. Perhaps it is time to turn up the volume.

…Bill Pere

Monday, August 30, 2010

Remembering George David Weiss

The music world is a bit more silent with the passing of George David Weiss this week. One of all-time great hit composers ("What a Wonderful World", "Can't Help Falling in Love", "Lion Sleeps Tonight", and so many more), he was truly one of the best. He was a personal friend and mentor to me for many years. I first met George in 1980 in New Haven where he and Sheila Davis came up from NYC to teach us how to critique songs. Over the years, I had regular dinner conversations with George before his 15 appearances with CSA (we'd often meet at Friendly's) and we corresponded many times by letter (yes, the handwritten kind). In 1994 he wrote a personal endorsement for me recommending that I be appointed as Connecticut State Troubadour, which I was that year. He always commented on how much he appreciated the songwriting articles I wrote, which he said "finally made it all understandable" for him. He will be missed.

Here is his full Obituary:

George David Weiss, who authored such signature pop songs as Elvis Presley's “Can't Help Falling in Love" and Louis Armstrong's “What a Wonderful World," died Aug. 23 of natural causes in Oldwick, N.J. He was 89.
Weiss served as President of the Songwriers Guild of America for many years. He studied at the Juilliard School of Music before working as an arranger for the bands of Stan Kenton and Vincent Lopez.

His early stage efforts included the music for Sammy Davis Jr.'s 1956 Broadway vehicle “Mr. Wonderful." His later legit shows included “First Impressions" and “Maggie Flynn."

In 1961, Weiss co-authored “Can't Help Falling in Love," an adaptation of the French standard “Plaisir d'Amour," with producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore. Included on the soundtrack for Presley's film “Blue Hawaii," it rose to No. 2 on the national charts; Presley used it in later years as a closer for his live shows.

Weiss, Peretti and Creatore also collaborated on an adaptation of South African musician Solomon Linda's “Mbube." The Americanized version, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight," became a hit in successive versions by the Tokens, England's Karl Denver and Robert John.

Penned with producer-writer Bob Thiele, “What a Wonderful World" was not a success for Armstrong on its initial single release in 1968. However, it reached the top 40 in 1988 after it was used in the pic “Good Morning Vietnam," and became a standard thanks to constant employment in films, TV and advertising.

Weiss' other well-known compositions included “Lullabye of Birdland" (written with jazz pianist George Shearing), “Wheel of Fortune" (a 1952 smash for Kay Starr) and “Stay With Me" (a memorable vehicle for R&B singer Lorraine Ellison, penned with producer-writer Jerry Ragavoy).

His other screen credits included the Disney cartoon features “Melody Time" and “Fun and Fancy Free," Presley's “Wild in the Country," “Gidget Goes to Rome" and “Murder Inc."