Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me”; “The Dock of the Bay”, Otis Redding’s 1968 hit; “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong; “Heart of Steel” from New Orleans sextet Galactic featuring the incomparable voice of Irma Thomas…and the Doors “Riders on the Storm” with Jim Morrison from 1971.
What do those songs have in common? Give up?
Those five songs represent American Music.
Incredibly, those five songs segued back-to-back through a simple background music sound system on the patio at Isola Pescatori’s Hotel Belvedere.
It was an astonishingly beautiful early fall afternoon on Isola Pescatori, one of several small islands within northern Italy’s Lake Maggiore. On that day a bright, crystal clear blue sky had bloomed after heavy morning gray overcast.
After we enjoyed a casual, delicious seafood lunch al fresco at Ristorante La Pescheria, a leisurely stroll through Pescatori’s narrow, winding, cobbled passages followed.
We soon discovered Hotel Belvedere’s small inviting covered patio, overlooking Maggiore to the east. The luncheon rush crowd had passed. We asked if it was too late to sit, relax and enjoy some wine.
Of course not.
Cool rose was served. A stunning view of the lake’s blue water and the distant Monte Rosa mountain range captured us. Music drifted over us as we visited, gazed and sipped.
But it was not just any music we were hearing. It was American Music. And in the few moments which followed, those five songs by Sinatra, Redding, Armstrong, Irma Thomas and The Doors created not only a magical soundtrack for the two of us that gentle midday in distant Italy; those five songs also reminded me how much American Music is woven into the musical fabric of people’s hearts and souls everywhere.
Remarkably, those five back-to-back songs composed a reflection of nearly every genre of American music that writers and performers have been creating and contributing to the world for decades. The jazz, swing, soul, blues and rock in that set of American Music…in all its forms, textures, beats and rhythms…represented the heartbeat of a nation’s culture.
It’s a musical heartbeat that is loved. Everywhere.
It’s a heartbeat that transcends politics and religion; a heartbeat capable of pumping the power to unite rather than divide.
What a wonderful world it would be if we could let the power and emotion of the popular music we export display what America might truly represent, rather than the bombastic America some politicians and pompous talking heads portray us to be…
…Wistful thoughts imagined one wonderful day in Italy, with help from our companions Frank, Otis, Irma, Louis and Jim…
Thank you all.
For a look at the Belvedere on Isola Pescatori:
True Talent Endures. Legends Result.
The 1970’s. Wow, that’s really a long time ago… 40 plus years for those having a tough time doing the math.
The Vietnam War. The Kent State killings. Nixon resigns. The Manson murders. The Apollo moon missions.
The 70’s marked the pinnacle of recorded music on vinyl. It was an incredible era. Without going into boring statistical detail …LP’s by chart topping artists like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Wings, KISS, Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac accounted for multiple millions of units sold.
Most radio stations played the “hits” in Top 40 formats on AM radio or reached for deeper LP cuts to air within FM Album Oriented Rock structures. Whichever airwave was broadcasting the sounds…they reflected the monstrous sales numbers of mainstream artists generated through flourishing local and national record store retailers.
Fewer stations chose a more free form format approach, mostly on the FM band. They exposed loyal listeners to alternative, yet generally accessible music and artists in less mainstream genres such as progressive rock, blues, folk and jazz. One might be able to tune in and discover obscure but talented artists. They could be as varied as Deodato, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, The Strawbs, Milt Jackson, Barclay James Harvest, Wishbone Ash or Roxy Music. These “underground” stations often made “stars” out of many of these musicians and groups. As their exposure grew and talent was recognized, some became part of the mainstream.
During the 1970’s, I was producing, syndicating and distributing a weekly one hour radio program out of my own studio in Portland, Oregon to about 20 independent radio stations in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
“Import Report” spotlighted LP music generally unavailable in US record stores. It was stuff you didn’t or couldn’t hear on US radio…except on Import Report.
I didn’t make much money doing this, but it was a lot of fun. I’d select music to showcase during each Import Report which had been recorded and pressed overseas. Countries as globally diverse as England, Germany, The Netherlands, Finland, France, Italy and Japan were the roots.
The musical genres from overseas were all encompassing. However, there were only a few knowledgable and/or curious record retailers who’d import these types of albums into the US. If you were fortunate to live near one of these unique stores with import inventory, likely you’d be able to find something really new, fascinating and entertaining.
I was extremely fortunate during my Import Report years to live near Portland’s Music Millennium record store…owned and operated by one of the great music junkies of the era…Don MacLeod. MacLeod stocked Millennium with a gold mine selection of underground and hard to find imported music on LP.
The mission then of Import Report, was to point my listeners in New York, Portland, Albuquerque, Atlanta…or wherever… in the direction of this new, fascinating and entertaining music; music which I had discovered in the bins and on the shelves at Music Millennium.
We all know by now…that those halcyon music days of the 70’s were short-lived…and that the music industry we knew then, has all but shriveled and withered away the last quarter century.
The chain LP record retailers have been buried beneath the rubble of inferior, over priced plastic CD’s, Napster and online download entities like iTunes…while radio is now a vast wasteland of hate talk, sports talk, Auto-Tune aided music and 35 minutes of broadcast commercials every hour.
So it is now that I look back at that musically overwhelming 1970’s era with some satisfaction knowing that, quite likely, Import Report was the very first music capsule on US airwaves to broadcast the likes of now legendary artists and recordings such as Elvis Costello’s “My Aim Is True”, Kraftwerk’s “AutoBahn” and Dire Straits first LP, the self-titled “Dire Straits”.
Which brings us…in a very roundabout way… to “Tracker”…the new work by Dire Straits’ guitarist/vocalist Mark Knopfler. It’s been 20 years since the Straits disbanded, but Knopfler has remained active, releasing over the years a brilliant array of astonishingly wonderful music. It’s safe to say that the Mark Knopfler body of work from the Dire Straits years…”Sultans of Swing”, “Money For Nothing”, “Telegraph Road”, “Tunnel of Love”… through his solo career including 8 albums…as well as his country rock roots band, The Notting Hillbillies, represents that of Legend.
“Tracker” reveals a reflective, age appropriate Knopfler recalling stories of life and love. And fond memories of good times.
“Beryl”…a “Sultans of Swing” sound-a-like…reminisces perhaps of all he’s accomplished through the years. The Ry Cooder influences are pronounced through out “Tracker”…but Knopfler’s take on Cooder here literally sparkles.
“Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes” opens with a jaunty, jazzy Celtic fiddle/accordion highlighted instrumental…cruises into vocals about memorable times in London when young…and then closes with a remarkable instrumental homage to Vince Guaraldi’s “Take 5″.
Aussie folk singer Ruth Moody weaves her lovely soprano in and between the controlled tempo of Knopfler’s voice during “Wherever I Go’…the two of them often combining for a tasty duet celebrating love, separation and devotion…a saxophone drifting along through some measures for comfort.
The highlight in my opinion is “Lights of Taormina”… a panoramic aural feast of a time savored with a long lost love at the Sicilian coastal paradise. Where has the time gone?, Knopfler wonders. Edging into melancholy…yet loving and warm…past moments cherished with the help of a seductive tenor guitar.
Eleven other songs complete “Tracker”. They exquisitely represent the work of an accomplished, well-traveled, experienced artist; an artist confident in his approach and delivery…unconcerned with radio airplay or album sales. Mark Knopfler is the embodiment of an enduring talent which emerged from the stacks of record store wax and Billboard charts of that long ago 70’s Era.
Exposing listeners years ago to unknown musical artists is what I hoped to achieve with Import Report. I’m happy to say I didn’t miss the target with Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler.
Today, in this 21st Century, Mark Knopfler represents the very essence of Legend.