Monday, August 16, 2010

"Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make."

And with those words on the airwaves, the show starts. The music begins.

My wife loves concerts. She sees far more shows these days than I do. But blissfully, it was the music that brought us together. Now before I start sounding like Peter Fonda in that commercial for Flower Power, I...uh, oh nevermind. (I had dinner with Peter Fonda once, but that's another story. The Castle Of Otranto by Horace Walpole. That's another story too.) Sorry, I lost my mind there...

Oh, yes, the music. Concerts. Obviously, it was the music that inspired me to start Space Pirate Radio. However, most of my concert-going experiences happened after I began the show in 1973. As the show expanded in its range of music, I was able to attend more shows featuring the artists that I had played as import records only. My love of new, foreign music helped keep the discoveries coming. One artist or record label would inspire me to explore a different offshoot. If I saw a name of an artist or producer on one disc and found it on another, then that would tempt my curiosity to hear the sounds that were offered. This is what made it all exciting, folks. New discoveries. Archeology in sound.

My initial tendencies were to explore the experimental, electronic music from the Pink Floyd/psychedelic school that had inspired the Germans. Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel and especially Amon Duul II were the key inspirations for getting the show on the air. I was pleased to have the first show on commercial radio that aired these artists. Someone once described me as the John Peel of the US, but I was able to play the entire songs--full sides worth. The luxury of a 6 hour show late at night in the early morning hours.

There were, however, exceptions to the all-electronic mantra that the show seemed to pulsate to. But yet, there was still something magical and psychedelic and progressive to it all. One example came from the folk school. I used to believe that in the 60s, in London at the UFO Club, there were three schools of experimental music: space rock, as personified by house band, the Pink Floyd; space jazz, as represented by the Soft Machine; and space folk, as interpreted by the Incredible String Band. Each one of these three bands triggered off whole schools of musical experimentation by an unlimited variety of artists. Now I could do a doctorate thesis here, but I won't. Instead, I will detour with the space folk and mention Alan Stivell.

Alan Stivell at the time was a very interesting Breton artist who did for the Celtic harp what Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull had done with the flute. He made it jazz, man. Stivell was hugely popular in France and Europe but unplayed in the United States. His album "Renaissance of the Celtic Harp" was as spacey and innovative as anything else could be under the power of electricity. Space Pirate Radio was again the first place to showcase him on commercial radio. To listeners, his work was legendary. Quite magical. His live performances at such places as the Olympia Theatre in Paris were envied and appreciated. He had never performed in California. In 1982 that would change.

Stephen Cloud, a concert promoter in Santa Barbara, often took chances on shows that should be done for art's sake and booked Stivell at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History on February 11. Stivell would play the night before in San Francisco and follow the next day in Los Angeles with Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band. Cloud appreciated Stivell's music but wasn't sure the show would do well due to its eclectic nature. It sold out and had to turn many away. The success of the show prompted Stivell to return the following year at the Victoria Street Theatre. Stivell was a lot of fun to be with. Very easy-going. All the ladies were charmed by him. He came over to my apartment, did a casual interview and some fun IDs.

So back to concerts. It was always a high point to see a concert by someone you had admired and shared with on the air. And then to either have them on the show or hang out backstage and talk about this and that...quite fun, really. I am blessed to say that there have been quite a number of those moments. I've already mentioned a number of them here. There are others I wish to go into length with later. Tangerine Dream, Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music, were quite special. My two days with Mike Oldfield were unique. Steve Hackett and Rick Wakeman stand out. My dinner with Robin Williamson and his wife Janet turned into a very memorable show.

Oh, there were concerts before my show. The Standells ("love that dirty water") and the Knickerbockers ("Lies"), an American band that wanted to sound like the Beatles, both played my decrepit high school. I saw Janis Joplin after she had left Big Brother, debuting with her Kosmic Blues Band at the San Bernadino Swing Auditorium in 1968. Brought her a bottle of Southern Comfort and hung out in the first row. Janis headlined the show along with Lee Michaels, MC5 and some new band called Chicago Transit Authority. Oh my. Those horns. Snuck into a Mothers Of Invention/Alice Cooper concert at Cal State Fullerton. Later I would have Frank Zappa on my show and redefine the art of interviewing. Story to come later.

Anyway, the heyday of concerts was definitely during the Space Pirate Radio era of 1974-1994. From 1974 until about 1985, KTYD had a lock-in with just about every concert. There were high points and low points, both at the historic Arlington Theatre. The zenith: a co-promotion with Gentle Giant for a wonderfully relaxed yet powerful performance. The nadir: The Clash, where I felt we were all extras in a monster car rally performing A Clockwork Orange.

It saddens me to think of the concerts that nearly happened but didn't. Tangerine Dream would have played Santa Barbara years before they did my 20th anniversary party for Space Pirate Radio at the Ventura Theatre. And Genesis was going to do The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway at UCSB, but the promoter cancelled it because Fleetwood Mac was playing the same weekend. This saddens me. The tears are coming. But saddest of all is thinking that we had to turn down a one night only concert performance of Zamfir with Joy Division. Moron, this later.