Friday, 30 September 2016

Confessions of a 70's TV Junkie

Session musicians are rarely acclaimed or even credited for most of their work. All you have to do is watch The Wrecking Crew to learn about it. That documentary came right on time because it connected musicians to so many of the TV shows I once watched. Spotify/YouTube in the early 70's was called radio and TV. You had to actually get up to switch channels and reception was terrible and anyone under the age of 30 years old is tired of hearing this right?

When I hear any of that TV music nowadays I'm way more aware of the individual contributions to an arrangement and what goes into it. "Who is playing the violin on Young Frankenstein? Who is the sax player on Blade Runner? Wow that drummer on the theme to The Bob Newhart Show was throwing down!" And so on... For a while my son watched the old Spider-Man cartoons and on occasion when things got really tedious I made it through the day on that background music.

When I was a kid growing up in suburban California I can recall a few important musical events that changed my life. I don't mean live music but just stuff that was going on in the culture that I picked up on TV and sometimes radio but I really loved TV. One was The Beatles break up which saddened me greatly despite the fact I was not old enough to really understand the lyrics or emotional content but I knew that in some way the world was not as good a place with them leading solo careers. Another, probably because of our proximity to the Bay Area was that some dude named Sly Stone was making the coolest music ever. I remember it made me happy and hopeful but it was the raw beat and those clever vamps that kept me on edge and excited. The other big moment was when I was watching the Thrilla in Manila and Ray Charles sang America the Beautiful before the match. I literally cried to that rendition right in front of Ali and Frazier and later when my family had moved back to Canada I saw him on the local telethon and he brought tears to me eyes then too.  It was so deeply emotional it made me want to be a musician so I could say something as powerful in that same way. Pretty dramatic for a 10 year old! I know I was a very sensitive little boy but damn it - I felt that pain like it was my own. When Animal House came out I knew without a doubt that soul music was something I loved but I still didn't search it out, I just waited for the songs to come around on the radio; usually on the AM rock stations because they played the hits of Bill Withers and Roberta Flack. I didn't know this music was meant to cross over but I was glad it was getting played after Elton John and Led Zeppelin. Thanks to The Variety Shows of the 1970's I heard a lot of R&B and Soul music on TV.

After my Mom and Dad split I lived with her and her parents for a while in their big house. TV was supposed to be a treat but I watched it as much as I could. One day my Grandpa bought himself a nice new color set and I was so exited to enjoy it. But he had other plans and so he could watch what he wanted without me bothering him; "Tommy Hunter...Golf?! But Grandpa..."M*A*S*H is on!" I would plead, he set up his old B&W set in the basement and spliced the cable from the antenna so I could watch what I wanted. I remember staying up way too late on many occasions in the storage room surrounded by boxes and it was cold so I got a blanket and he put this nice old padded chair in the corner and I ate snacks and watched a shitload of TV alone in a storage room in the basement. But I had so many cool folks to keep me company; I had my laughs with Happy Days, Mork & Mindy, weird specials like Battle of the Network Stars, cool dudes like The Six Million Dollar Man, sexy ladies like Charlie's Angels! I could go on and on. And so I canped out in that room eating pepperoni sticks, cheese slices and drinking OJ (with ice) and I got pretty fat.

But there were also movie features on the networks and one night Play Misty For Me came on and for those of you who don't know that's Clint Eastwood's first directorial film and a terrific thriller. The crazy girlfriend psycho genre was born, like Fatal Attraction but way more 70's like. Anyway it has its soft moments too and a big feature song in the film was The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Well I just couldn't believe that song. Strumming guitars and folky jazz chords gently hum along as Flack croons effortlessly about the first glimpses of a lover. It's so sweet and beautiful and to this day it calms me down when I'm a little stressed out. It was a bold move to use a long love song in a thriller because afterwards all hell breaks loose. I fell in love with soul music again but this time it was dressed up to meet up with my smooth rock needs. Those motherfuckers at Atlantic Records sold a long ass song about yearning and intimacy to a 10 year old boy. That is genius. I paid attention and never forgot her so if she did appear on a TV show I'd stay up late or find a way to catch her. The same goes for Ray Charles and especially Stevie Wonder.

Anyone hip to Flack knows her writing partner for many years was Gene McDaniels. Well he didn't write The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face but he did write many other hits like the other make out tune made famous by Flack from her album Feel Like Making Love. And oddly enough I have a connection to him.

I'll talk more about that next time.