Category: Randall Roberts

Songwriters: Pen an ode to West Hollywood, win $5,000 in prizes

One of the hardest parts of writing a lyric is finding a good topic, one that resonates through its universal appeal while descibing something -- or somewhere -- specific. It's what connects Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind," Bruce Springsteen's "Greetings from Asbury Park," the Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA": each captures a setting and fills it with emotion. The West Hollywood Marketing and Visitors Bureau seems to understand this, and is offering $5,000 in cash and prizes to the songwriter who pens the best ode to West Hollywood.

Many Angelenos have a good sense of West Hollywood, and therefore have an advantage when writing a lyric about the city, which is located between Hollywood proper and Beverly Hills, has a population of about 35,000 people and is home to the Sunset Strip.

Those lyricists outside of Southern California, however, might need a little coaching. Yes, they could write about the city's large gay population, which makes it one of the most out-and-open cities in the country. They could write about the allure and danger of the Sunset Strip -- except that Axl Rose and company already took care of that on "Welcome to the Jungle." Or another standby, the ritzy restaurants and hotels that line Sunset Boulevard between Fairfax and Doheny (pronounced "do-HAY-nee").

Continue reading »

Maxwell cancels summer tour, including two Staples Center dates

First John Mayer was forced to lay off touring to protect his voice, then the same thing happened to Adele. Now R&B singer Maxwell, who was getting set to commence a six-date run called the "MaxwellTwoNight" tour, has announced that he must cancel it, including both stops at the Staples Center on July 20-21. His doctors have advised that he take a complete vocal rest after developing vocal cord edema and a vocal cord hemorrhage.

The singer wrote in a statement that he had no choice but to cancel. "I know this sucks but after many months of recording I've temporarily damaged my voice. I've had issues before during other tours, but was able to power through. I've been strongly advised to rest and undergo treatment. I look forward to hopefully seeing you next on our full fledged tour, when the sequel to the "Blacksummer's Night" trilogy is released. My deepest apologies to those who made the effort to try and see the show. Love and Thanks, M."

In addition to the dates at Staples Center, Maxwell is canceling two dates in Atlanta (July 27-28) and two dates in Newark, N.J., on Aug. 3-4.


Ice-T gets back to hip-hop roots in "The Art of Rap"

Liz Phair on new record: "I'm going to get this one right"

Green Day cancels Burbank show it never officially announced

-- Randall Roberts
Twitter: @liledit

Photo: Maxwell performs during Clive Davis' annual Pre-Grammy Gala in 2010 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times.

Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart christen 'Who Shot Rock & Roll' opening

The opening of the "Who Shot Rock & Roll" photo exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography included Ann and Nancy Wilson, founders of Heart, stepping onto a stage to perform a short set of classicsThey stare out from the frames like the moment was still alive and breathing, the best images at the "Who Shot Rock & Roll" show, which celebrated its opening at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City on Thursday night.

David Bowie circa early 1970s, in glorious starman costume and shot by Gloria Stevens, standing in front of an orange curtain in a hotel room, young and alien. Henry Rollins, Greg Ginn and the rest of Black Flag, caught by L.A. punk chronicler Ed Culver in 1980 causing a slam-dance frenzy during an early show. There was Janis Joplin in the late 60s, caught beautifully by Los Angeles chronicler Henry Diltz; and the four Ramones leaning against a brick wall, shot by Roberta Bayley and one of the great portraits in rock. 

But one series of images was real: Ann and Nancy Wilson, founders of Heart, stepping onto a stage to perform a short set of classics while surprised and giddy fans watched wide-eyed in the crowd. The pair did songs to sing along to, including "Barracuda," "Dog & Butterfly," "Crazy on You," and "Even It Up." Touring in support of their all-encompassing new four-CD box set, "Strange Euphoria," the sisters, both playing acoustic guitars with a third musician adding more strum, brought sound to a show whose impact lies in photographers' abilities to represent sonics via a single, striking, silent moment.

PHOTOS: 'Who Shot Rock and Roll'


At the media preview on Wednesday afternoon, a woman gazing at some of the photos spotted a friend -- who was sucking on Sly Stone's tongue -- in one shot from 40 years ago. "I went to high school with her!" she exclaimed, looking at Norman Seeff's great photo of Stone and then-wife Kathy Silva engaged in a kiss. "I wonder what she's up to now?" These intimate moments stretch throughout "Who Shot Rock & Roll."

Continue reading »

Spotify updates its radio function, takes on Pandora

Spotify radio
The popular music service Spotify announced today an update and improvement to its radio function, one that aims to go head to head with Pandora, the online streaming service that handpicks playlists based on listeners' favorite artists and musical styles. To wit: The Spotify app, once available only to premium subscribers, is now also available to users of the free service.

The major update is aimed at mobile devices, an outlet on which Pandora has a virtual lock when it comes to listening to streamed music on the go. That company's popular app is ubiquitous on smart phones; by updating its application and concentrating on radio, Spotify hopes to parlay its increased visibility into taking a chunk of Pandora's market share.

So that's the business aspect. But how does Spotify measure up from a listener's perspective? I've always been of the mind that there are two types of listeners: those who prefer to pick their own soundtrack, and those who rely on tastemakers to help them match their mood with their music. That's one reason why I have been a vocal fan of Spotify and have devoted less attention to Pandora. I choose my music, and opt for other means of discovery. But I have the luxury of access to a lot of music.

Continue reading »

Album review: Fiona Apple's 'The Idler Wheel ...'

You learn a lot about Fiona Apple by what she chooses to reveal in the lyrics to her new album, “The idler wheel is wiser than the driver of the screw and whipping cords will serve you more than ropes will ever do.” A songwriter whose greatest flaw is evidenced in the extended title, the Los Angeles singer and pianist has on her latest record ironically offered her most focused, refined and best-edited album in the 16 years since her (one-worded) debut, “Tidal.” 

Over the course of a perfectly sequenced 42-minute album, Apple describes herself as “a still life drawing of a peach,” “all the fishes in the sea,” “a fugitive too dull to flee,” a tulip in a cup, a dewy petal and a moribund slut. These sorts of reveals are nothing new, of course.

Apple, 34, has always been a first-person songwriter unafraid of sharing intimacies and speaking in absolutes. But because this is only her fourth album since 1996 and her first since 2005’s “Extraordinary Machine,” few had any idea of the ways in which she had perfected her craft in the last seven years, or how she’d learned to build songs delicate enough to be beautiful but sturdy enough to support her voice.

Apple’s “The Idler Wheel” is an exquisitely rendered work, with as many thrilling moments of silence and space as with vocal drama. It’s essential 2012 listening for anyone interested in popular music as art. And like all great albums, it’s an encapsulation of all that has come before it as filtered through a singular aesthetic.

Continue reading »

Graphic: Fiona Apple's new 23-word album title, diagrammed

Fiona Apple's new album is a sentence, and a rather unruly one at that. It's called: "The idler wheel is wiser than the driver of the screw and whipping cords will serve you more than ropes will ever do," and is 23 words long. We'll leave her title to her fans and detractors to dissect and find meaning within. But as a visual aid, here's the sentence diagrammed using the Reed-Kellogg method; perhaps by understanding Apple's construction, listeners will be better equipped to handle its meaning.


Sneaker review: Bon Iver's 'Ramos' shoe by Keep

America, don't hate us for the Offspring's 'Cruising California'

Review: Grimes, Grouplove and more at Make Music Pasadena

-- Randall Roberts
Twitter: @liledit

Graphic: Randall Roberts / Los Angeles Times, using Reed-Kellog diagrammer


Sneaker review: Bon Iver's 'Ramos' shoe by Keep

One's choice of footware, like music, is something we all share, but will never agree on. Melodies hit some people's eardrums one way and it gives them pleasure, while those same frequencies, emitted, say, by a rugged Wisconsinite with a high falsetto and a ragged beard can cause others great disappointment or discomfort.

No two sneakers fit the same person the same way. What looks good on Rusty looks a little frou-frou on Randy. What Bonnie wears would look silly at the end of Emma's long legs. And Bon Iver's first pair of shoes, designed for the Keep shoe company in its Ramos style, while at times overflowing with universal grace, are an uneven attempt, hindered not only by a young upstart Justin Vernon's challenged aesthetic, but by a central flaw that renders the rest of the design unworkable.

According to legend that floated in through an open window this morning, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon set out to work on his first shoe at an off-the-grid, rumored-to-be-mystical cobbler's shop on Staten Island, N.Y., deciding first that the color salmon embodied the emotions he was feeling, unaware that a world away in the downtown New York style scene, shoe fashionistas had declared salmon as the new brown mere hours before. It was around dinner time, and the shop was located in the same block as Ruddy and Dean steakhouse, which was having a fish special. Vernon set out to capture the moment.

Continue reading »

Elvis Presley's Graceland: 30 years of myth-making

Graceland, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee
The Egyptian pyramids. Stonehenge. The Mayan temples. The Taj Mahal.


Thirty years ago, a mythic story once hidden behind security gates in a suburb of Memphis was born, one with meanings much larger than the physical edifice itself. On this day in 1982, the gates of Graceland, Elvis Presley's estate in Memphis, Tenn., were opened to the public.

In the years following its christening as the vessel of all things Presley, Graceland, a Georgian colonial-style estate built in 1939 in Whitehaven, Tenn., has become not only a tourist attraction, but the focus of pilgrimages, a holder of stories, a museum and a metaphor.

When Presley bought it in 1957 for $102,500, he gave an interview to the Memphis Press-Scimitar in which he bragged about his acquisition, and its potential: "This is going to be a lot nicer than Red Skelton's house when I get it like I want it," he said, as quoted in "Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley," the first book in biographer Peter Guralnick's essential two-volume tome. (His prediction proved accurate; how many classic Paul Simon albums are named after Skelton's home?)

Continue reading »

Bob Welch's former bandmates praise the guitarist -- and the man

Bob Welch

After the death Thursday afternoon of Bob Welch -- the guitarist, singer and songwriter best known for his early work with Fleetwood Mac -- a number of peers, former bandmates and colleagues have released statements praising the late musician. 

In an interview with Reuters, Mick Fleetwood, who hired Welch in 1971 after the departure of Peter Green, said Welch was a key part of the band's evolution. "He was a huge part of our history which sometimes gets forgotten. Mostly his legacy would be his songwriting abilities that he brought to Fleetwood Mac, which will survive all of us," said Fleetwood. "If you look into our musical history, you'll see a huge period that was completely ensconced in Bob's work."

And although Stevie Nicks and Welch weren't in Fleetwood Mac at the same time, she released a statement Friday morning expressing her admiration and regrets: "The death of Bob Welch is devastating .... I had many great times with him after Lindsey and I joined Fleetwood Mac. He was an amazing guitar player -- he was funny, sweet -- and he was smart -- I am so very sorry for his family and for the family of Fleetwood Mac -- so, so sad ..."

This morning Pop & Hiss received a note from songwriter David Adelstein, who served as Welch's keyboard player from 1977 through 1982, just after the release of the "French Kiss" album that propelled Welch into the top 20. "I was hired and we rehearsed at one of Mick Fleetwood's homes in Topanga for the next three months," Adelstein wrote. "In January 1978 the band began rehearsals in a sound stage at Sunset & Beachwood."

Adelstein shared a few recollections of his experience in Welch's band, and, with his permission, are excerpted below:

"For me, they were very exciting times back then. We were the opening act for Dave Mason back around February 12, 1978, our first show at Rocklyn College, NY. A short time later, Bob was leading us up the stairs to what was the biggest crowd I've ever seen, Cal-Jam II. We opened the show with a 10:00 AM call! That was a rush -- 250,000 people in the crowd at the old Ontario Motor Speedway. During that tour, Bob opened shows for not only Dave Mason, but for Jefferson Starship, Heart, Beach Boys, Styx, Allman Bros. and of course [Fleetwood] Mac (a great billing -- the best of both worlds).

"When it came to the follow up album, Bob and his producer, John Carter, gave me my first opportunity to play on that album. When it came around to the third album, Bob gave myself and guitarist Todd Sharp the opportunity to include an original song on the album. This launched my songwriting career.

"All in all, I have awesome memories from my time playing with Welch, sharing dinners at some wonderful restaurants (he appreciated great food), along with his love of music and that included all kinds of music! The circle of friends here in the LA area ... are already missing him much."

You can read the full Times obituary here.


Bob Welch dies: Former Fleetwood Mac guitarist

10 musical works inspired by Ray Bradbury's writing

An appreciation: Herb Reed helped R&B, pop soar with the Platters

-- Randall Roberts
Twitter: @liledit

Photo: Bob Welch performing with Avenue M. Credit:

Bob Welch dies: Former Fleetwood Mac guitarist, 'Ebony Eyes' singer

Former Fleetwood Mac guitarist and singer Bob Welch has been found dead in Nashville of an apparent suicide, according to the Nashville Police Department. The musician, who worked with the band in the early 1970s and later had hit solo songs such as "Ebony Eyes," was 66 years old.

Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron said in a statement, "The police department responded to his address at 12:18 p.m., where Mr. Welch was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest." Aaron added that Welch's wife indicated that he had been suffering with health issues. A suicide note was found in the home.

Welch was a member of Fleetwood Mac as the band was transitioning away from being a British blues rock band and into the 1970s powerhouse that it became. As a singer and guitarist, Welch was lesser known than the pair who replaced him -- lead vocalist Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham -- but his work with fellow band mates including Mick Fleetwood and John and Christie McVie prior to Nicks' arrival on albums "Future Games," "Bare Trees" and "Heroes are Hard to Find," among others, set the tone for what was to come.

Welch left the band amid the chaos of the McVie divorce, just prior to mainstream success with the 1975 album "Fleetwood Mac" and then "Rumors," Fleetwood Mac's acclaimed 1977 hit album. The singer went solo, and scored a massive hit with "Ebony Eyes" in 1977. The album from which it was culled, "French Kiss," featured a number of former Fleetwood Mac members, as well as a rendition of "Sentimental Lady," a song originally recorded with Mac but reworked by Welch.

Welch was born in Los Angeles in 1945, the son of successful Hollywood movie producer Robert Welch, best known for his work with Bob Hope on a series of "Paleface" films. A full obituary will appear in the L.A. Times.


10 musical works inspired by Ray Bradbury's writing

VIDEO: Remembering former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Welch

An appreciation: Herb Reed helped R&B, pop soar with the Platters

-- Randall Roberts Twitter: @liledit


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Recent Posts

Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: