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This book should be sub-titled “A Cautionary Tale on the Perils of Drug Abuse”. After the release of their first two albums, the eponymous Black Sabbath and the stone classic Paranoid, Black Sabbath were poised on the cusp of superstardom, along with fellow Birmingham, England native son John Bonham and Led Zeppelin. But then began not years, but decades, of drug abuse and its ensuing chaos, and instead of reaching the pinnacle, they began a decline that ultimately put them in the unfortunate position of being the actual inspiration for Spinal Tap. This then is an ode to what might have been, with glimpses of all that wasted potential surfacing over the years since their heady, heavy heyday.
I, like many of the classic rock generation, lost interest after that second album, upon reading this book, I discovered why. As no more than a casual fan, who, like many, felt that (and still do) the only “true” Black Sabbath consisted of Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, Geezer Butler and Ozzy Osbourne, I learned a lot from this book. For instance, that Tony Iommi (much like the late Chris Squire with Yes) was the only constant in a revolving door lineup, which at times included some of my favorite Seventies artists, such as Cozy Powell, Glenn Hughes, and Ian Gillan, that Sharon Osbourne was responsible for Ozzy’s solo career, which completely eclipsed the Sabbath of the time, and that Sharon ultimately wrested control of the band from Tony.
As far as rock bios go, this is one of the better ones I have read, it actually falls into the “can’t put it down” category. I found myself staying up much later than I intended on several occasions (the lot of the aspiring writer being that one has to keep the soul-crushing “day job”) as I read of Tony’s domination of the band (he actually bullied Ozzy on the schoolyard when they were growing up, and that relationship continued for many years), Bill Ward’s hellish existence as the butt of the band’s jokes (Tony actually set him afire to the tune of third-degree burns), Ozzy’s live-to-party life, their failed attempts at outlandish stage props (yes, they actually attempted to re-create Stonehenge on stage) and much, much, more. Author Mick Wall actually worked with the band as a publicist, so many of the accounts are first-hand, but where other authors present that type of access in a wink, wink, nudge, nudge, I’m-cooler-than-you’ll-ever-hope-to-be fashion, Wall presents the story in a matter-of-fact yet fascinating manner.
Bottom line is, if you’re a child of the Sixties, teenager of the Seventies, or just want to know more about one of the most influential bands of all time, this is a must-read.
The FAQ title is not entirely without merit, as there are several chapters that do fall into the “frequently asked” category. Of particular interest is a history of the Mellotron, that distinctively prog keyboard that “made” so many of the classics of the genre (“Watcher of the Skies” and “Court of the Crimson King” come to mind immediately). Romano gives the usual description of the instrument as an unwieldy beast that would not stay in tune (if you need proof of that, take your ears no farther than the studio version of that classic rock warhorse “Free Bird”, this musician cringes every time he hears the 3rd verse), but then goes on to give the further history of the instrument as well as some insight into its manufacture. Other topics that lie squarely in the FAQ realm are a biography of the ultimate prog journeyman, John Wetton, the obligatory treatise of the fall from grace of the genre in the late 70s as the record labels dumped prog bands to sign punk and New Wave artists, and not one but two essays on cover art, which of course was an integral part of the prog experience in the 70s. These latter are particularly jarring in the Digital Age, as Romano describes the time and expense that went into manually creating many of the classic prog album covers, of course now they could be done on a PC or Mac very quickly and at little or no expense.
An honest review of this book must mention that a couple of the chapters are nearly unreadable, I forced myself to slog through them since I had committed to publishing a review. The chapter on “concept albums that aren’t” I found to take stretching a point to new extremes, as many of these albums have never been considered concept albums by anyone I know or have read. Romano’s writing style in this chapter is “early 20th century academic treatise”, i.e. very dry, and even, I hate to use this word but I must, pompous. The pomposity is found in further writings on long-form songs, and the occasional “nudge-nudge-wink-wink I know the real story of Joe Blow, but I can’t tell you”. The dryness appears as well in a chapter on proto-prog bands of the 1960s, it feels like reading all those “begats” in the Old Testament. Fortunately the whole book is not written in this style.
A recurring theme in the book is the guitarist who left an up-and-coming band just prior to the band hitting it big, as the author writes about Mick Abrahams (Jethro Tull), Anthony Phillips (who left Genesis prior to their prog-rock success with Peter Gabriel), Steve Hackett (who left the same band prior to their pop success with Phil Collins), and the late Peter Banks (Yes). Some of these artists are completely satisfied with how their lives and careers turned out, others not so much.
The “All That’s Left To Know” part comes into play with articles on somewhat-familiar bands such as Univers Zero, Van der Graaf Generator, and Happy The Man, and a history of the RIO (Rock In Opposition) movement. Bands that are obscure to even the most die-hard fanboys (and girls) are described with great zeal, these include District 97, Dimensionaut, and Scale The Summit. To American fans, even the more well-known Italian bands such as Primiata Forneria Marconi (PFM), Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, and Le Orme are somewhat obscure, Romano takes a step further into the depths with discussions of two “lost classics” from Italy, the albums Zarathustra by Museo Rosenbach and Opera Prima by Paolo Rustichelli and Carlo Bordini.
The nice thing about living in the YouTube age is you can actually listen to almost all of this music as you read about it, to do that back in the day, you would have had to send your money to one of those sketchy mail-order houses with the Xeroxed catalog (with colored construction paper cover of course) and keep your fingers crossed that you would get an album in return. While this is probably not the book to give to your 13-year-old progeny that you are trying to expose to the music you or your parents loved as a teenager, if he or she takes a liking to Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis and Yes, then this would make a great follow-up gift (and you could sneak a read to learn more about your favorite genre).
On June 3, 1983, Jim Gordon, the drummer for Derek and the Dominos, and co-writer of the song “Layla” murdered his mother with a hammer and a butcher knife.
First about Jim. He was a Grammy Award winner and one of the most requested session drummers in the late 1960s and 1970s, recording albums with many well-known musicians of the time, and was the drummer Little Richard, and Delaney & Bonnie.
Gordon began his career in 1963, at age seventeen, backing The Everly Brothers, and went on to become one of the most sought-after recording session drummers in Los Angeles. The protégé of legendary studio drummer Hal Blaine, Gordon performed on many notable recordings in the 1960s, including Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers by Gene Clark, The Notorious Byrd Brothers by The Byrds and the hit “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams.
At the height of his career Gordon was reportedly so busy as a studio musician that he would fly back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas every day to do two or three recording sessions, and then return in time to play the evening show at Caesars Palace.
In 1969 and 1970, Gordon toured as part of the backing band for the group Delaney & Bonnie, which at the time included Eric Clapton. Clapton subsequently took over the group’s rhythm section — Gordon, bassist Carl Radle and keyboardist-singer-songwriter Bobby Whitlock. They formed a new band that was later called Derek and the Dominos. The band’s first studio work was as the house band for George Harrison’s first solo album, the three-disc set All Things Must Pass. Gordon then played on Derek and the Dominos’ 1970 double album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, contributing, in addition to his drumming, he played the piano for the title track, “Layla,” which he received writing credit for. (He was in the studio playing the piano part for a different song he was writing and Eric Clapton and Duane Allman started jamming to it. They made it part of “Layla”. He also played with the band on subsequent U.S. and UK tours. The group split in spring 1971 before they finished recording their second album.
In 1970, Gordon was part of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and played on Dave Mason’s album Alone Together. In 1971, he toured with Traffic and appeared on two of their albums, including The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. That same year he played on Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson album, contributing the drum solo to the track “Jump into the Fire”. In 1972, Gordon was part of Frank Zappa’s 20-piece “Grand Wazoo” big band tour, and the subsequent 10-piece “Petit Wazoo” band. Perhaps his best-known recording with Zappa is the title track of the 1974 album Apostrophe (‘), a jam with Zappa and Tony Duran on guitar and Jack Bruce on bass guitar, for which both Bruce and Gordon received a writing credit. Also in 1974, Gordon played on the majority of tracks on Steely Dan’s album Pretzel Logic, including the single “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”. He again worked with Chris Hillman of the Byrds as the drummer in the Souther–Hillman–Furay Band from 1973 to 1975. He also played drums on three tracks on Alice Cooper’s 1976 album, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell. Gordon was the drummer on the Incredible Bongo Band’s Bongo Rock album, released in 1972, and his drum break on the LP’s version of “Apache” has been frequently sampled by rap music artists.
Gordon developed schizophrenia and began to hear voices, including those of his mother, which forced him to starve himself and prevented him from sleeping, relaxing or playing drums. In 1983 he attacked his mother with a hammer before fatally stabbing her.
Though at trial the court accepted that Gordon had acute schizophrenia he was not allowed to use an insanity defense because of changes to California law due to the Insanity Defense Reform Act. On 10 July 1984 Gordon was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s website , as of March 2013, James Beck Gordon, prisoner #C89262, age 67, admission date 13 July 1984, is still serving his sentence at the California Medical Facility, a specialist medical and psychiatric prison in Vacaville, California.
Jim was recently up for a parole hearing. He did not show up for it. He has said he is “institutionalized” and has no real desire to get out.
It was supposed to be the day before my birthday, but April 29th, 1999 will forever be one of the saddest days of my life. Instead of enjoying the festivities of my special day, it was spent helping coordinate between various family members, while my wife, a travel agent, made their travel arrangements to attend my father’s funeral.
I was not expecting to be summoned to the hospital that Thursday afternoon. Yes, my father was in the hospital once again. True, he had been having heart issues, complications from the coronary bypass he’d had many years ago. Certainly, he was taking better care of his health, exercising and eating right, but apparently, the damage had been done.
I visited Mr. Marty, as we liked to call him on a Monday. He was in good spirits, joking as usual. He even made disparaging comments about the food, which to me signaled he was on the mend. So I thought nothing of it, and went about my business as usual. This was not his first hospitalization, and those previous admissions had been mostly precautionary and of short duration.
Three days later, I got a call from his wife, “You better get down here right away,” she said with an urgency I had never heard before. “Your father is going back into surgery.” His second wife was not my favorite person, and rarely called us, so this was indeed a call we took very seriously. I picked up my wife at her office, and we went to Northwestern Memorial post haste.
Dad was already in surgery by the time we arrived at the hospital. It was an agonizing several hours, pacing back and forth, trying to get a handle on how things took a turn for the worse. Finally, the surgeon emerged with the news we dreaded the most. His sixty-nine year old heart was simply not strong enough to handle the stress of the latest surgery, and he died on the operating table.
I insisted on seeing him. My wife joined me, and in a state of numbness, We were escorted to some curtained off area, where there he was, pale, lifeless, yet lying peacefully on a metal gurney, draped by a solitary white sheet. I don’t know why, but after a few moments of reflection, I removed a dollar bill from my wallet, folded it up, and tucked it under his armpit. Why? Well, my brother, father and I used to share a private joke. It sprung from a Richard Pryor bit, and took on a life of its own when my brother would call or ask my dad for a buck. “Gimme a dollar,” one of us would exclaim. When all three of us were together, which wasn’t very often, it would result in raucous laughter. So if nothing else, I suppose Mr. Marty could have the last laugh when some bewildered employee at the funeral parlor would try to figure out what the bill was doing there.
Mr. Marty loved technology, and I always regret that he never lived to see the millennium. He bought a VCR when they first came out. He had a mobile telephone in his car, and a cell phone when they first became widely available. I remember when he developed an interest in photography, we converted our laundry room into a darkroom. We took pictures, developed the film ourselves, and made black and white prints, some of which I still have.
Speaking of the ubiquitous VCR, in the days before everything and anything could be saved for future viewing, one of our family pastimes was watching Dallas Cowboys football on Sundays. My brother David reminded me that Dad took this day of rest quite literally, and would nod off frequently, leading to another favorite family quip, “What’s the score, Mr. Marty?”
My Dad was one of those “early adopters.” In fact, he was the first person to show me the Internet. I remember stopping by to visit him, when he dragged me over to his neighbor in the converted warehouse that served as his office, and housed a number of other small businesses. They were a computer company, and he wanted to show me something called “the world wide web.” I guess this was around 1992 or 1993. On one of those large, old CRT monitors was the original “home page” for CBS television. I was mesmerized, as the computer guy clicked on images for Letterman and 60 Minutes. Each click led to another “page.” It was even in color.
It’s unfortunate that Mr. Marty never made it to see the Internet in its present state. I have no doubt, he would have loved all the social media that exists today. Since his grandchildren live all over the country, he would have lived on Facebook, following every milestone, sporting event, and accomplishment. Similarly, he would have been telling me how to use Twitter, Instagram, and the other social tools for my business.
As despondent as I was over the tragedy of his loss, I actually had to go back to work that night. We had a thriving business at the time supplying newspaper websites with postgame audio from sporting events. This was in RealAudio. Our reporters would feed the interviews over the telephone, and I would record it on cassette machines. Then I would play them back an record it on the computers. Mp3 technology was still a few years in the future. We even had to deliver the files via 56k dialup. It was brand new, cutting edge stuff, and no one else could easily perform it, or process the incoming audio as fast.
Therefore, I had to try and overlook the days events. I dropped my wife off to retrieve her car at work, and headed back to the office. It was early in the NBA and NHL playoffs, and our clients had games on both coasts, as well as here in the Midwest. A typical night involved five or six events, so as I finished up one game in New York, another “stringer” might call in from Detroit or St. Louis. The last of the reporters usually phoned in just after midnight. Somehow I was able to keep my composure, and stay focused on the task at hand.
Finally, at quarter to one in the morning, mentally exhausted, and physically spent, I was able to close up shop and make the short drive home. I know there’s a higher power up there, with a good sense of humor, and a definite grasp of true irony. I turned on the car radio to try to decompress and what song comes on – “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas. The day went from sublime to surreal….
…and that’s when I lost it.
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