I'm not a huge Tom Petty fan. Sure, I'm familiar with his top 40 radio hits. You couldn't avoid Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers in the '80s and '90s. But I never saw them live and never followed them that closely. But "Petty: The Biography" by Warren Zanes is something special. First of all Warren Zanes knows his music. His band, the Del Fuegos, opened for Tom Petty in the '80s. And he's an unapologetic fan. But he's also an extremely gifted and objective writer who brings a serious study to a field that is littered with "I was there" stories that don't tell you anything you don't already know.
Zanes explores the ups and downs of Petty's career with remarkable insight. He's also great at putting a broader societal context on the evolution of the music business. You get the feeling of what was going down in Gainesville in the 70s and what gave Petty, Benmont Trench, Mike Cooper and others the drive to sustain themselves when so many bands fell by the wayside. What emerges is the complex story of a band that managed to (more or less) evolve and stay together for 40 years under the leadership and songwriting of Tom Petty. You get to experience the band politics, friendships and loss. There are also some very funny scenes whether it's about the manager who needed a manager or touring with Bob Dylan. This is a great book, told by someone who understands the music world. If you're a fan of Tom Petty, you will love it even more.
Best of all, Zanes narrates the audiobook himself. Here's a video of the original line up of the Heartbreakers covering that '60s classic "Louie, Louie."
Although I was not familiar with Guy Pratt, I certainly knew many of the bands he played with: Roxy Music, Robert Palmer, David Bowie, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Robbie Robertson and Pink Floyd to name a few. His book "My Bass and Other Animals" though poorly titled, is a terrific account of what it's like to play sideman to the legends of the music industry. It's like sitting down at a pub with an old friend from high school thirty years later and discovering he toured with one of the biggest bands in history and he lets you in on all the crazy shenanigans.
This book’s genesis is from a series of life/stand up performances that Pratt did telling his stories of life as a rock and roll Road dog. That said, as a conventional autobiography it starts a bit slow as you learn about Pratt’s upbringing, first bass, first band etc. As Pratt's career takes off, the store is become quite funny. There were times when I was in stitches due to the materials as well as Pratt’s wonderfully dry English delivery. The stories about Pink Floyd are hilarious. If you listen to the audio version you also get Pratt's very entertaining American regional English accents. Here's a video of Guy Pratt talking about smashing his bass on stage at the end of his tour with Pink Floyd.
For bass heads or other musicians, the last chapter includes a full rundown of just about every bass, guitar, amp, and effects pedal that Pratt has owned. This is a great book and an awful lot of fun. But if you are bothered by stories of drug taking or drink, probably best to skip it.
And just for posterity's sake, here's a twenty-six year-old fresh-faced Guy Pratt playing bass on "Money" from the 1988 Delicate Sound of Thunder tour, live album and DVD. However, brace yourself for those dreaded late-eighties fashions.
I admit, I have a weakness for rock and roll biogs: The Doors, The Kinks, The Ramones, The Clash, KISS; I've read them all. Hell, I've read and enjoyed biogs by bands like Kraftwerk and I don't even particularly like their music! But it's pretty rare to find a novel that does rock and roll justice. Daisy Jones & The Six comes pretty close to being the perfect rock and roll novel.
The book is told entirely as an oral history charting the rise and fall of a fictional 1970s band Daisy Jones & The Six. This is quite different from a traditional novel and the story reads like an extended Rolling Stone or MTV interview with a real band. The device works extremely well and pulls you into each of the characters, their foibles, their egos in a way that brings the band to life. The story is being told many years after the fact, and the sometimes conflicting accounts are used to great effect in the story. You can still feel the raw emotions of how peoples lives are brought together including all of the joys, pains, hurt feelings and bruised egos. The characters are not always likable and the structure gives the book a bit of a meandering style, but it all comes together in a way that I can only describe as heartwrenching. Jenkins Reid has layered so much drama and emotion into the story that the climax is nothing short of magnificent. She captures the feeling of performance, songwriting, fame and addiction in a way that is truly memorable.
The book had been on my list for a while, but when I heard an interview with the author Jenkins Reid on the highly-addictive Bestseller Experiment podcast, I bought the book immediately on Audible. The book works especially well in audio because each of the different characters is voiced by a different actor. It's a fantastic book which I highly recommend. The only other novel I know that captures rock and roll is "Evening's Empire" by Former MTV exec Bill Flanagan. Flanagan's book is in some ways both funnier and deeper, but Jenkins-Reid's will may you cry.
IK Multimedia is an Italian music tech company that has long had a reputation for creating "cheap and cheerful" interfaces (iRig 2, AXE I/O), MIDI controllers (iRig Keys) as well as a boatload of software for recording and effects like Amplitube, Syntronik and SampleTank. Last year at SuperBooth, IK Multimedia stepped into the ring with its first hardware synth, the Uno. This year, they've followed up with their first drum machine, the Uno Drum, coming in June.
With a street price of $200, the Uno Synth is a remarkable device. It's cheap enough to almost be an impulse purchase as a first hardware synth but unique enough to provide something new to experienced musos. Of course, selling a synth for $200 requires cutting some corners and those design decisions may be deal-breakers for some buyers. Luckily, the company pulled in synth designer and musical geniusErik Norlander to guide them on the development of the Uno Synth. Despite it's compact size, it's easy to use and has a beefy sound.
I watched a lot of videos and read a lot of reviews of the Uno Synth as well as other low-cost synths, and this one best fit my newbie priorities: easy-to-use and low price. It's also worth noting that IK Multimedia occasionally runs promotions with bundled software, so that's another way to get more value.
For me the key advantages are: it's easy to get started (just plug in headphones and batteries or USB power), it has 100 built-in preset sounds, it's got nobs that make it easy to adjust the wave type (square, triangle, sawtooth etc.), filter, cutoff, tempo and volume, it's got a cool built-in arpeggiator and sequencer, and a built-in 2-octave (sort-of) keyboard. And the sound is awesome!
The Uno is quite small in size, like a tall hardcover book and weighs less than a pound. You can throw it in a laptop bag and take it with you without feeling loaded down. Personally I love the design. It reminds me of a modern adaptation of the classic Sinclair ZX81 computer from the '80s. The keyboard is going to be love/hate for some people (it's like typing on a tablet) but it actually works. Of course, you can also control it from a MIDI controller, whether from IK Multimedia or a third party, though it's obviously not as portable when you do that.
The Uno Synth comes with the necessary USB, Midi and Lightning (iOS) cables so it's easy to connect with other equipment. There's also a recently updated and totally free synth editor app for Mac/Windows/iOS which gives you a few more controls and makes it easy to load or save libraries of preset sounds and sequences. One thing I would love if there were more tutorials on using the Uno Synth with GarageBand or Logic Pro and how to create interesting sounds and sequences. I suspect a lot of buyers of the Uno Synth are going to be new to this type of music creation. If you're on the fence, give it a shot, there's plenty of fun to be had and the sound is great.
The Uno Drum
The newly announced Uno Drum has the identical dimensions and similar layout as the Uno Synth, though it's all white compared to the all-black synth. In some ways it's an even more stylish looking device, contrasting with the recent trend in black and grey portable synths. Of course, the layout is different since it has a dozen velocity-sensitive pads for drums (hi-hat, kick, toms, snare, rim, cymbal, ride, cowbell, etc.) as well as a few different buttons and settings. But between the Uno Synth and Drum, if you know one, you can probably figure out the other without even cracking the manual. You can also daisy-chain the Uno synth and Uno Drum together which is kind of cool.
I don't know much about drum machines, but the Uno Drum includes analog sampled drums (from SampleTank) as well as synthesized PCM drum sounds. There are 100 built-in drum kits, 100 patterns and a 64 step (!) sequencer, which is much better than the Uno Synth's 16 steps. Not to mention that you can chain sequences together into songs, a feature that is missing on the Uno Synth, though you can sort of simulate it by overwriting presets. There are also built-in controls for adding swing, dynamics, stutter and randomization to give a more human feel. As with the Uno, it's both USB and battery-powered, with headphone audio, midi in/out, cables etc. No news yet on a software editor, though it seems likely.
The Uno Drum is available for pre-order for $250 with free shipping.
Future Synth Designs
It'll be interesting to see where IK Multimedia takes the Uno line in the coming years. Personally, I'm hoping for a Duo polyphonic synth / groovebox that lets you lay down multiple tracks, maybe something like Tomm Buzzetta's proposed synth designs for his "Rhythm Section" groovebox and "Grab on the go" workstation. There are a lot of synths out there, but no one is optimizing for ease-of-use and fun like IK Multimedia.
Here's a good overview video of the Uno synth from the used gear marketplace Reverb.
I managed to see one of my all-time favorite bands last night, Television, live at El Club in Detroit. It's not a venue I've been to before and despite a few ominous comments on Yelp, it's a fine club in a fine neighborhood. I had no problem finding street parking, partly because I was ridiculously early. At any rate, the staff are nice and there's an outdoor patio as well as the bar indoors. El Club doesn't have much in the way of seating, just two booths way at the back, but since I didn't want to be standing on my feet wedged up at the front of the stage for three hours, that's what I opted for.
You can get a beer at El Club for $5, a very thin slice of pizza for $3 and shots for not a lot more. Although the beer selection isn't massive, it's better than a lot of clubs, and they had a fair number of Michigan craft beers. The opening act was some guy with shades, a beard, a Strat and some weird-ass sound effects. I don't know if he was putting it through a synth or running a synth on the side but it was less than exciting. I don't mind experimental electronic music, but I had to leave the room after a while. It was just painful. Television didn't come on until 9:30, after an hour of melodic bells. Detroit audiences being what they are started shouting "No more bells!"
I've seen Television twice before in 2014 and 2016 and they don't vary the setlist too much. The band opened with a somewhat spacey intro and then dove into "1880 Or So." When I saw Television in 2014, I was right up at the front of the stage and I was blown away, noting especially how strong Tom Verlaine's vocals were. Alas, in the five years since, they're not quite as smooth. The vocals are way down in the mix which may or may not be a good thing.
They played quite a few songs from their landmark 1977 album "Marquee Moon" ("Venus," "Friction," "Elevation...") , as well as the somewhat obscure and in my mind overrated single "Little Johnny Jewel." I would have rather heard "Call Mr. Lee" which someone had shouted. But Television concerts are so rare, I'm not gonna complain. I'd listen to them play the phonebook. The largely instrumental jam song Persia was a highlight as was the title track "Marquee Moon."
Television is one of those bands that still gives me goosebumps 40 years later. If you ever get the chance, go see them. There are a few more gigs next week in Toronto, Cleveland and Chicago.