Category: Randall Roberts

Influential guitar picker Doc Watson recovering after fall, surgery

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Doc Watson, the 89-year-old guitarist whose expert flatpicking style brought him a level of acclaim during the folk revival of the 1960s and who is still revered 50 years on, is recovering after he fell down at his Deep Gap, N.C., home. According to Mitch Greenhill, president of Folklore Productions International, which represents him, after being taken to to a hospital, other health issues were discovered.

"They determined after keeping him overnight that there were more serious things going on, and they transferred him to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem for surgery," said Greenhill.  The musician, who lost his eyesight when he was a year old, remains in critical but stable condition after undergoing colon surgery, he added.

A statement on the company's website reads, "Doc Watson is in critical but improved condition after undergoing colon surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The family appreciates everyone’s prayers and good wishes."

The guitarist and banjo player didn't achieve national acclaim until age 30, but drew influential supporters after his first appearance at Gerde's Folk City in 1961. After hooking up with fellow folkies such as David Grisman, Watson became a well-known figure in the budding scene. He was a regular performer at the Ash Grove whenever he was in Los Angeles. 

These days, Watson is known as well for his founding of the popular North Carolina music event Merlefest, which brings together folkies from all over the country for a pleasant, family-friendly weekend of music. The event, which Watson started in the memory of his late son, celebrated its 25th anniversary in April, when the three-day event brought together dozens of acts, including Donna the Buffalo, Jim Lauderdale, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and John Hammond. And, of course, headlining was Watson himself.

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-- Randall Roberts
Twitter: @liledit

Photo: Music legend Doc Watson performs at the annual Merlefest at Wilkes Comunity College in Wilkesboro, N.C., on April 28, 2001.   Credit: Alan Marler / Associated Press.

Elton John has 'serious infection,' cancels Vegas gigs

Elton John hospitalized with "serious infection"

This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

Sir Elton John has been forced to cancel three upcoming concerts due to a respiratory infection, the superstar singer announced on Thursday morning. According to information sent out by John's publicist, he developed a "serious respiratory infection" over the weekend during his weekly Las Vegas performances of "The Million Dollar Piano" show at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.

After the condition worsened on Monday and Tuesday, the six-time Grammy winner and member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles at 6:00 a.m. Wednesday, where he remained throughout the day. There he underwent tests, and his doctor recommended he take a week off for rest and to treat the infection with antibiotics. He was later released.

As a result, John will cancel three performances scheduled for Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday at Caesar's Palace. 

“It feels strange not to be able to perform these ‘Million Dollar Piano’ concerts at the Colosseum,” said John in the press release. “I love performing this show and I will be thrilled when we return to the Colosseum in October to complete the 11 concerts soon to be scheduled. All I can say to the fans is sorry I can't be with you.”

John and his band still plan to tour Europe this summer, starting June 1 in Germany.

[For the record: 12:40 p.m., May 24: The headline on this post was changed to reflect that John was released from the hospital after a short stay.]

ALSO:

Could a hologram-like Elvis tour? 'If tasteful,' says Lisa Marie

Live: 'The Million Dollar Piano' at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas

Dillard & Clark: Celebrating an unsung L.A. country rock classic

— Randall Roberts
Twitter: @liledit

 Elton John at the Palladium in 2010. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Phillip Phillips steps onto 'American Idol' treadmill

Phillip Phillips wins American Idol
This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

The winner has been declared. A nation has decided, and we went to bed on Wednesday finally knowing that American Idol No. 11 is, in the words of dozens of Twitter commenters, another “white guy with guitar” (WGWG). Rest easy, America.

Phillip Phillips, a 21-year-old would-be troubadour with husk in his voice, a twinkle in his eye and a smile tailor-made for winning over the world’s grandmas, got the majority of the 132 million votes cast for the long-running Fox music competition. 

He bested 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez, who can sustain a note for miles and who on the show’s finale performed a stunning duet of “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going’ with Jennifer Holliday. This memorable moment, though, was too little, too late. With enough Southern grace to charm a nation of "Idol" watchers whose preferences have trended toward WGWG, the unflappable Phillips becomes the fifth of a kind in a row, following Scotty McCreery, Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen, and David Cook.

Who knew we still loved white guys with guitars so much?

VIDEO: First glimpses of Phillip and Jessica

Many "Idol" watchers did, which is probably one reason why viewership has nearly halved since the series’ peak in 2003, when 38 million people witnessed Ruben Studdard best Clay Aiken and established their relevance around water cooolers the nation over. (Aiken recently lost to Arsenio Hall on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice," which isn't the path many would have predicted in 2003, when Aiken's debut album went platinum on the heels of his "Idol" star turn.)

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'American Idol' finale 2012: How to compare Phillip and Jessica?

American Idol finalists Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez with host Ryan SeacrestThe first thing that Phillip Phillips is going to need to do is change his name, or take on a nickname, if (or when) he becomes America's 11th American Idol. If he's to continue his pop career, he's going to need something less obvious. Maybe Phillip Danger, or Phil Trembley, or Flannel Phil. A name that has some pizazz so he can separate himself from the pack after concluding what host Ryan Seacrest described on Tuesday's final performance show as "one of the tightest finale races in our history."

If that's true — Seacrest is one of most hyperbole-prone hosts in the history of the universe — then 16-year-old powerhouse vocalist Jessica Sanchez on Tuesday didn't make that race any tighter. Though she's got just as much magnetism as Flannel Phil, Sanchez's performances were on the whole less captivating than his — especially the final songs of the evening, those picked as potential singles for the singers.

Sanchez chose a bland ballad called "Change Nothing," and Phillips, who earlier in the night had made Billy Joel's "Movin' Out" his own, opted for a high-energy march called "Home," and within those choices they answered the question that judge Jennifer Lopez posed during the two-hour event. She called these final performances "a battle of the opposites" before wondering, "How do you compare?"

INTERACTIVE: "Idol" vs. "The Voice"

It's hard to argue with a drum line, which Phillips rolled out during his song, "Home," a Mumford & Sons-style romp that conjured the rustic pleasures of (and copped a song title from) Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. Judge Randy Jackson compared the song to Fleet Foxes, and was so impressed that the avalanche of "yo yo yo," "dude," and "dawg" compliments that sprung from his mouth Seacrest could have described as "one of the most excited bits of enthusiasm in our history."

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'American Idol' finals: Jessica Sanchez versus Phillip Phillips

 'American Idol' finals: Jessica Sanchez  versus Phillip Phillips
So it's come down to this. After three months, thousands of voices, dozens of songs, hundreds of screams and fan-freakouts galore, the two finalists for this year's "American Idol" go head to head this evening for the final set of performances. On Wednesday, the world will learn whether Jessica Sanchez or Phillip Phillips lands for eternity on history's scrolls alongside kings, queens, Pharaohs, presidents and prime ministers as the reigning king of pop music by becoming Season 11 winner of "American Idol." Or something like that.

"American Idol" circa 2012, however, has struggled in the ratings -- down about 20% from this time last year. It's a shocking turn of events for a show that steamrolled its way into American hearts throughout the '00s, made dozens of young artists famous (and infamous), transformed a British jerk with a funny name and a boxy haircut named Simon Cowell into a man you love to hate, and introduced a rapt TV-watching culture to the pleasures of harshly judging strangers with dreams.

If you're one of the 20%  who tuned out this year, or one of the millions who couldn't care less about a judged singing competition were it not for wanting to share some quality time with your family, or boyfriend or (most likely) your grandma, you're going to need a quick primer on the two finalists so you can have a semi-literate point of view. Here are some factoids to prepare you for the conclusion.

INTERACTIVE: Who's the best? 'Idol' vs. 'The Voice'

Jessica Sanchez, 16

Hometown: Chula Vista, Calif.

Quick bio: Jessica is a veteran at 16, having been featured prior to her "Idol" star turn on both "Showtime at the Apollo" at age 10  and on the first season of "America's Got Talent" at age 11. She's got a killer voice.

Past songs: Her choices are descriptive of her style: Among them, Jennifer Hudson's "Love You Like I Do," "I Will Always Love You" as performed by Whitney Houston, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary," "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen, Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father."

Famous singer she most suggests: A modern R&B vocalist, Sanchez comes across as a combination of Mariah Carey, Houston and Christina Aguilera. She's got a huge voice for such a tiny frame, loves to show off her range (maybe a bit too much), and with a flash of her smile makes Steven Tyler melt.

Handicapping: Oddsmakers are suggesting that Sanchez needs to nail her performances tonight in order to best the young Phillips. If so, a dollar bet will yield you about a $4 return.

Phillip Phillips, 21

Hometown: Leesburg, Ga.

Quick bio: A working man with a tech college background, Phillips has been riding the "Idol" gravy train all season. He's the only contestant who has never been up for elimination, and when he strums his acoustic guitar it's easy to understand why.

Past songs: Last week, Phillips had to perform the insufferable Matchbox 20 song "Disease," while Jimmy Iovine made him do Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight." Those songs are tailor-made for Phillips' husky voice. He's also covered Queen's "Fat Bottom Girls," the Box Tops' "The Letter," Dave Matthews Band's "The Stone" and many other guy-rock classics. He also did a version of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know."

Famous singer he most suggests: He's got the gravel of Dave Grohl -- but a little wimpier -- and the charm of John Mayer.

Handicapping: This baby is Phillips' to lose: Those twinkly eyes, that smile, his solid voice and his harmless demeanor so closely resemble the last few years' winners that all he has to do now is avoid a KONY 2012-style onstage meltdown. Most oddsmakers have him winning handily. Whether he'll survive the music business that has used and discarded most past winners/runners-up is another thing.

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-- Randall Roberts 
Twitter: @liledit

Photo: Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox.

Album review: John Mayer's 'Born and Raised'

Untitled copy
Whether he likes it or not, five words have come to define John Mayer for many music fans: “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” the title of the treacly 2001 ode to a lover and her “porcelain skin” and “candy lips.” Also out of his control is the suggestion generated by two other words in recent years, “Dear John,” the Taylor Swift-penned hit that many speculate was about the pair’s brief romance.

Swift’s lyrical description of a man with a “sick need to give love and then take it away” introduced Mayer (at least those who believed “John” to be him) to a legion of tweens who didn’t know Dave Matthews from John Mayer from Jerry Garcia, couldn’t tell the difference between Christopher Cross and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Mayer to many became a man who played “dark twisted games” with a delicate 19-year-old flower.

Simply uttering the words “John Mayer” in mixed company (necessary now due to the release of his sixth studio album, “Born and Raised”) will prompt a range of polarizing opinions. Whether it’s the hits on one of his five platinum studio albums stretching back to “Room for Squares” 11 years ago, his funny, self-aware appearance on “Chappelle’s Show” or his charming (and on at least one occasion, drunken) interactions with Ellen DeGeneres, the gestalt of his rambunctious years has made him lovable and/or lascivious tabloid fodder.

The perception, which he enabled at nearly every step of the way, was that he was a man who moved through women like he did obvious metaphors. Combined, Mayer’s charisma, devil-may-care attitude and many talents have run the risk of canceling each other out. For much of the population, the first thing that comes to mind when his name comes up isn’t “really good guitarist” but any number of celebrity foibles in his past (i.e. Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston …).

But that was then, the songwriter and guitarist tells us over and again on “Born and Raised” and during the media blitz in advance of the record. According to Mayer during his most recent appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” he’s a different man now. He quit Twitter. He retreated to Montana after the corrupting pleasures of the big city did a number on him.

Like William Wordsworth and Henry David Thoreau before him, Mayer checked himself through peaceful, easy rural isolation — and apparently listened to a lot of Laurel Canyon folk rock. Getting called “twisted” by America’s sweetheart Swift will do that to a man.

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Robin Gibb: A Bee Gees voice filled with more than just disco

The Bee Gees' Robin Gibb, center, died on Sunday
Their hits could fill an entire Saturday night, last until the first church bell rang on Sunday morning and provide a sweat-drenched workout on the dance floor that broke only for the slow numbers. Even more remarkable was that each classic gem of the Bee Gees, whose co-founder Robin Gibb died Sunday after a long battle with cancer, would be packed with feeling.

There’s “Jive Talkin’,” the group’s frenetic ode to a lying lover, which highlights a skeptical Gibb’s sweet tenor. “How Deep Is Your Love” finds Gibb, who co-founded the Bee Gees in 1958 with brothers Barry and Maurice (Robin’s fraternal twin), describing him and his lover “living in a world of fools breaking us down,” when they should really just leave them alone. That song alone was responsible for countless dark-corner slow dances.

The climax, of course, would hit with the first few notes of “Staying Alive” from “Saturday Night Fever,” the 1977 double-album soundtrack that made Robin and his brothers  international superstars and helped define disco — and the 1970s.

PHOTOS: Robin Gibb | 1949-2012

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Bill Ward cropped out of Black Sabbath images on band's site

Black Sabbath's home page, minus Bill Ward

Bill Ward? Was he even in Black Sabbath?

If the band's website has anything to say about it, no. In what appears to be a nasty turn and an effort at revisionist history, the metal band's homepage has cropped the drummer's image from dozens of old photos, as if to suggest that Sabbath never had a drummer. As Brooklyn Vegan first reported (after a tweet from @sethcdiamond), the front page of the band's website is entirely Ward-free.

Black Sabbath's upcoming reunion has been making news of late after negotiations between Ward and the team behind the tour failed to reach an acceptable agreement with the drummer. Ward last week penned an incendiary open letter to the band and its fans declaring his intention to skip the anticipated tour due to what he called the offer of an "unsignable contract."

"I am unable to continue unless a 'signable' contract is drawn up; a contract that reflects some dignity and respect toward me as an original member of the band," he wrote.

The other members of Sabbath -- Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi -- responded with their own press release, which read, in part, "We were saddened to hear yesterday via Facebook that Bill declined publicly to participate in our current Black Sabbath plans," before adding, "We have no choice but to continue recording without him although our door is always open."

That door seems to have now slammed firmly shut. Black Sabbath? Did they even have a drummer? Somebody better guard those original master tapes closely, lest Ward's sonic pounding on "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" suffer the same fate.

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VIDEOS: Classic Donna Summer

PHOTOS: Donna Summer | 1948-2012

-- Randall Roberts
Twitter: @liledit

Photo: Screen shot from blacksabbath.com

Dillard & Clark: Celebrating an unsung L.A. country rock classic

Album
Before there was the Eagles, or the Flying Burrito Brothers, or Poco, there was "The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark," the 1968 country rock album created in Los Angeles by former Byrd Gene Clark and banjo player Doug Dillard.

Dillard, who died on Thursday at age 75 (read Randy Lewis' wonderful obit here), was best known for his work with the Dillards, the bluegrass band he co-founded, but to devotees of the budding Los Angeles country music scene that put the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco, and the Eagles, among others, on the map, Dillard will be forever linked to "The Fantastic Expedition," an unsung gem that continues to draw fans 44 years after its release.

In addition to featuring a wonderful portrait of the pair on the cover (courtesy photographer Guy Webster), the album and its nine songs -- eight originals and a Flatt & Scruggs song -- are one of the bigger bangs of Los Angeles country rock. Along with the Byrds and Dillards affiliations, core players on the album include Bernie Leadon, who would go on to co-found the Eagles, and Chris Hillman, also a former Byrd. The album was produced by Larry Marks, whose work with everyone from Phil Ochs to the Flying Burrito Brothers and Emitt Rhodes remains some of the most vital of the era.

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Donna Summer: The sonic seduction lives on in today's beats

Donna Summer, who died Thursday
If you drop a needle on the original version of “Love to Love You Baby” just as you're beginning this appreciation of Donna Summer, the so-called Queen of Disco who died Thursday at age 63, you would probably be finished reading long before the song ended. It has to be that long -- there's a world of impact there.

The epic 17-minute jam introduced Summer to America with some of the most memorable moans in pop music history, and over the following decade the Boston-born diva went on to become one of the most popular vocalists in the world. Her influence on pop music -- especially during the birth of electronic dance music -- goes far beyond those moans, and even they helped tilt American culture.

Summer and her early producer-collaborator Giorgio Moroder's not-so-subtle message of sexual freedom was a sonic seduction, and when a shortened version of the song was released, it climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. That such a brashly sexual work could reach a national audience during “American Top 40” with Casey Kasem on Sunday mornings says a lot about America in the 1970s. In hindsight, its success arguably marks as important a cultural shift as Elvis shaking his hips on Ed Sullivan's show. If Presley suggested male sexuality through visual cues, Summer confirmed it through a series of faked orgasms --  the BBC once tallied it at 23.

PHOTOS: Donna Summer | 1948-2012

The message of the song's lyrics may have been simple -- this feels good, and I love it -- but its saucy sense of freedom expanded the notion of what was acceptable on the airwaves in the mid-'70s; hearing it even today, it's shocking to learn that the single was so successful. But it makes sense given the times.

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