Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tricky Fingers in the 90s: Finessing the Jewel Case Top Wrap-Around Label Sticker

For those who need a visual aid
I spent at least ten minutes searching on Google trying to find out what that sticker is actually called (and ten minutes in internet time, is at least a decade in old-school library card catalog time), but people who actually still buy CDs and DVDs (or did at any point) know what I'm talking about. It's that stupid sticker with the artist's name and album title (and bar code) that wraps over the top edge of CD jewel cases and generally make it a pain in the dick to open and always seem to rip into dozens of tiny sticky pieces and leave tacky gunk on the case. You know those horrible little things. If anyone knows if there is official name for these things, let me know.

I recently rediscovered these delightful nuisances. Like an increasing number of music enthusiasts, most of my music purchases over the past several years have been on vinyl. CDs have not been by regularly purchased format since the late 90s. Unfortunately, recently I have had some problems with my receiver which has made me unable to play records, and as the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony (and surrounding controversies) set me off of a Deep Purple listening binge, I decided to order a bunch of CDs from Amazon. (Those who would be quick to admonish me for not supporting independent record stores should know that I did look in numerous shops for all of the albums before resorting to online purchases.)

Why I did this instead of just listening to them on Spotify or YouTube (or, in this case, in addition to doing so) has more to do with old habits and principles than anything practical. Not to dwell too much on a point on which I have pontificated so often before, the fact is that when I was growing up you bought music. Sure, on occasion, a friend would dub an album onto a cassette for you, but by and large, music was a physical artifact that you bought, you listened to, and you treasured. Collections were usually on display, showing off your investment (emotional and financial), as well as giving the curious and analytically minded guest an insight into your personality through your choices.

So at any rate, in the last few days, I have been getting packages from Amazon full of CDs, and I have now found myself trying to utilize that skill that I have not practiced regularly in at least fifteen years: Getting those fucking labels off, and doing it in style.

I know this sounds trivial, but I put to you that this was a way of showing commitment.

When I was in college in the mid 90s, one of my roommates (we'll call him Tom O to avoid protecting his identity) used to cover the inside door of his wardrobe with top label stickers of discs that he had bought and which he had managed to remove in one piece. The dexterous removal of these stickers was a sign of investment and engagement with music. It showed that you cared. Much like the ability to handle records properly, or to wind a reel to reel tape, the ability to deftly remove these horrible little things demonstrated a tactile skill that came with a serious dedication to listening to and engaging with music. It was a skill that developed through practice, from buying a lot of CDs and caring intensely about the tangible and fragile artifact that carried the music.

Oh yeah.
I feel like millennials will not understand this. They don't buy CDs anyway (to be fair, most people don't anymore). Also, looking back, I remember looking at the modest collections of my baby-boomer parents and their friends, full of cracked jewel cases and ripped stickers, evidence that they couldn't be bothered to show their commitment to music through manual dexterity on such an obsessive compulsive level.

Maybe this was only a Gen X thing. Or maybe it was just a little part of Gen X. Or, who knows?
Maybe it was just me and my roommate, Tom O. At any rate, now I have found myself having to try my hand at it again, finessing that little piece of plastic, trying to get it off in one piece. I gotta tell you, I still got it.

(Seriously, though, if anyone knows a better name than "jewel case top wrap-around label," let me know. Or even make on up. I'm open to colorful suggestions.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Deep Purple Bassist Nick Simper's Hall of Fame Snub

Trying in Vain to Find Logic in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Induction Process

Deep Purple, Mark I
Ritchie Blackmore, Rod Evans, Ian Paice, Jon Lord
and Nick Simper
This Friday, the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and this year Deep Purple, the classic English rock band that is credited with helping to lay the groundwork for heavy metal, is finally being inducted. Having been eligible since 1993, many believe that this honor is long overdue, and others feared it would never happen as more and more diverse acts meet the 25 year mark required for admittance.

As is the case with many bands, Deep Purple included many musicians over the years, which presents the problem of deciding which members are to be honored. Usually the Hall recognizes members of "classic" lineups, whatever that means. In the case of Deep Purple, there are a number of omissions for various reasons. Current members Steve Morse (who replaced the notoriously cantankerous founding guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in 1994) and Don Airey (who took over the keyboard chair from Jon Lord in 2002) are not included, in spite of their years in the band. In addition, in spite of their popularity (largely due to other projects) the one-album stints of guitarist Tommy Bolin and vocalist Joe Lynn Turner were not enough to warrant inclusion. In the end, the Hall chose to induct all of the members from the band's inception in 1968 up to the departure of Blackmore in 1975.

All except for Nick Simper, the founding bassist who played on the first three albums including the hit single, "Hush."
Nick Simper, today.

Commenting in Classic Rock magazine, Simper himself seemed to take the snub in stride and did not blame his old bandmates.  "Yes, it is a little strange that I am [the] only one from Marks I, II and III being left out, but I shan't lose any sleep over this. It's not as if I need to be given this award to know what we did in Deep Purple made an impact. And I'm sure it wasn't a decision that came from the band.”

Even considering that the band did not achieve their greatest success or even their defining sound until his departure in 1969, his exclusion is quite inexplicable. After all, vocalist Rod Evans, whose tenure with band ended at the same time as Simper's, is being honored, in spite of controversy and a lawsuit around fraudulent use of the band name.

Interviews with numerous Hall of Fame acts back up Simper's belief that the groups themselves do not necessarily choose the inductees. I have tried to find the specific rules as to who is to be included, and who makes these decisions, but in vain. Even searching for consistency in the list of members proves to be problematic. In my search for a set of criteria, I found numerous examples which simply contradict each other.

The only thing I ever found that suggested a concrete rule was in the case of Jack Sherman, erstwhile guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sherman was vocal in his disappointment at being snubbed when the band was inducted in 2012. Though the decision was ostensibly made by the Hall of Fame, Sherman believed that the decision was influenced by the band itself. Told that induction was limited to "original and current members, and those who played on multiple records," he believed that it was technicality designed to exclude him and Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, who played on the band's 1995 album One Hot Minute when long-time member John Frusciante had taken a hiatus from the band. By these criteria, Sherman, who played on the first album but was not a founding member, did not qualify. In a turn of events that must have been particularly insulting, current guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who had only a full member of the band for three years and had been all of four years old when the band was founded in 1983, did receive the honor of inclusion. This strange technicality made Klinghoffer the youngest member of the Hall of Fame.

The "original and current members, and those who played on multiple records" rule does explain many omissions, but not all. It does not explain the exclusion of Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Welch in 1998. Though Welch not a member of the original band or its later classic Rumours line-up, he was a pivotal member for several years and albums and was essential to saving a fracturing band while helping it make the transition from blues-infused hard rock to the pristine pop rock for which it is best known. Welsh attributed the snub to a then-recent breach of contract lawsuit between him and his former bandmates. This of course, would be a fallacious argument if the band indeed did not have some sort of say in who was inducted.

Stu doesn't need your pity.
But apparently the band may have some say. When the Rolling Stones were inducted in 1989, the band requested that founding  pianist Ian Stewart ("Stu") be inducted with them, even though he was fired from the band (or to be more specific, was demoted from band member to session musician and road manager) before their first album. This decision was made by the Stones' manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who argued that the stocky, square-jawed Stewart did not fit the image of the young rebellious band. Jagger, Richards, and company, however, held him in high esteem. Keith Richards would frequently say, even after Stu's death in 1985, "I still feel like I'm working for him. It's his band." They presented the argument to the Hall that, in spite of the fact that he had never been credited as a band member on any album, as a founder, he should be eligible. Now while he technically fits the rule that excluded Jack Sherman, as a member who was not terribly well known, it is hard to imagine that the Hall would have automatically inducted Stewart if it were not for the band's intervention.

Warren Haynes
The current member factor seems to be used quite inconsistently. When the Grateful Dead were inducted in 1994, keyboardist Vince Welnick had been in the band for less than 4 years, but was still included . Meanwhile, when the Allman Brothers Band were so honored the following year, only original members were inducted, ignoring not only members from the mid 70s, when their popularity was at its zenith, but also then-current members including Warren Haynes, who was not only instrumental in their comeback six years earlier, but would later prove to be the glue that would hold the band together over the next couple of decades.¹

Now, I do not intend to slight Klinghoffer, but personally, I believe that Haynes is far more deserving of the honor.

Which leads me back to the case of Nick Simper. Before Deep Purple, Simper had played with a number of working English bands in the early sixties. Notably, he was the last bass player for Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, a hugely influential group whose single "Shakin' All Over" became a rock staple and was famously covered by The Who on their Live at Leeds album. Admittedly a late-comer to the group, Simper had the sad distinction of being present (and injured) in the car crash that killed Kidd. He would later do a stint in Screaming Lord Such and the Savages before playing in the Flower Pot Men with Jon Lord.

It was Lord who recommended Simper to fill the role as bassist in Deep Purple, a band that he was starting with guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. When singer Rod Evans came to audition, he brought along his drummer Ian Paice, and the lineup of what would later be known as Deep Purple, Mark I, would be complete. That lineup, which played a blend of proto-progressive and psychedelic rock, would find modest success and tour internationally.

Simper and Evans would be fired in 1969 due to the desire of Blackmore, Lord, and Paice to take the band in a heavier direction. Simper would play with a number of bands over the ensuing decades, but would never find the same level of success. Evans would resurface in Captain Beyond, a band that included former members of Iron Butterfly and Johnny Winter's band. Not quite a "supergroup", they were at the very least a "pretty-nifty-group." They released a couple of well received, if not hot selling albums, before Evans left the music business to work as a respiratory therapist.

Unfortunately, Evans' story took a pitiable turn in 1980, when he was recruited by a disreputable promotion company to participate what would be a Deep Purple reunion in name only, with a group of hired guns (apparently Simper was also approached, but turned down the offer). After a few warm-up gigs, the band was set to play at the 12,000 seat Long Beach Arena. On the day of the show, the managers of (the real) Deep Purple placed a half page ad in the LA Times informing audiences that no members of the band's most popular Mark II and III lineups would be performing. The show went on as scheduled, and went off poorly. Sound problems abounded, the band was below subpar, and angry fans, realizing they'd been duped, began leaving immediately, many asking for refunds. A lawsuit was brought against Evans (assumed by many to be at the behest of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore) which resulted in his loss of all future Deep Purple royalties. It is a sad and embarrassing story and one does have to wonder how Evans, who was described by his former band mate, Bobby Caldwell, as an "intellectual giant" (although, to be fair, this is by rock star standards [ducks]) would have allowed himself to be roped in to such a dubious enterprise.

When I saw that Evans was being inducted and that Simper was not, I was perplexed. I don't think that Evans should be excluded for events of over thirty years ago, but why was Simper excluded when his parallel tenure with the band was not marred with controversy? Who decided? Do the bands in question really have as little say as we are led to believe? Were there inter-band politics that we do not know about, or is it just another example of the bassist not getting any respect? This situation with Nick Simper and Deep Purple, above all others, indicates to me that there really is no rhyme or reason. Even if one argued that rules changed from year to year, this case indicates a complete lack of logic within itself.

If anyone can shed light on this, please let me know. Looking at these and other cases, it seems to me that the decisions of who gets in and stays home and bitterly watches the ceremony on TV, are taken on a case by case basis and based more on whims than specific criteria. We may never know the answer, but the case of Nick Simper once again highlights the irregularities and inconsistencies of the induction process of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I guess we really can't take it that seriously.

(¹The only reason I can imagine for this strange paradox is that Welnick joined a band that played together more or less continuously for several decades, as opposed to Haynes who joined a band that was reforming after having been broken up for several years. It's not much, but it's all I got, and it would explain the absence of Deep Purple's Steve Morse and Don Airey.)