Hey! Did you know Fresh Ink Group publishing produces a weekly live podcast called Voice of Indie? The hosts of the show are me, Beem Weeks, and author and publisher Stephen Geez. Every Wednesday at 8 pm EDT we welcome authors, musicians, and artists into our studio for a full hour of discussions. We also open the phone lines so listeners can call in with their questions and comments.
Past guests have included author and journalist Ronald E. Yates, musicians Ron and Zach Tippin of the prog rock band Widetrack, sci fi author Robert G. Williscroft, and Robert McKenzie, author of The Chair.
This week’s guest is Christian romance author and gospel singer Jeannie Sharpe. Be sure to mark it down on your calendar. And if you miss any show live, you can always find it in the archive!
It’s been well established here on this blog that I’m a music fan—a metalhead, first and foremost. But I am just as comfortable listening to Elvis Presley or Grace VanderWaal or Willie Nelson as I am in cranking up albums from Iron Maiden or Metallica or Megadeth.
It is my belief that music is one of the greatest gifts God has given to us humans. And I’m not just talking about gospel music either. All good music comes from the soul—be it gospel, country, classical, pop, or, yes, even metal. Music is the communicating of feelings. Songs are so often linked to times and places from our past. Certain songs can bring back a loved one we’ve lost years ago. My father visits my memories whenever I play the music of Bob Seger. An old girlfriend is sitting right beside me again during certain Led Zeppelin songs.
Music tells stories. It expresses love and hate and anger and frustration and lust and contentment—often within the very same rhythm. It becomes what the listener needs it to be in any given moment.
On October 6, 2020, the world lost one of the most gifted musicians to ever play guitar. Of course, I’m talking about Edward Van Halen. His is a particularly difficult loss to fathom for those of us old enough to recall the release of that first Van Halen album. 1978 became that timeline between what came before and what followed. Van Halen changed everything—and that’s not hyperbole.
There were plenty of creative and extraordinary guitarists before the world ever heard of Edward Van Halen. Jimi Hendrix changed ideas of what a guitar could be within the confines of rock music. Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Richie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, Alvin Lee, and Robin Trower—these are just a few of the genius players whose fingerprints are all over the rock music landscape. But everything changed upon the arrival of Van Halen’s debut album on February 10, 1978.
Since my earliest memories, music has always been a huge part of my life. Originally it was the music of my parents that lured me in, showed me this incredible notion of sound that makes a body want to—need to—move. My father introduced my ears to Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and Bob Seger. My mother brought along Loretta Lynn and Bobby Bare and Tanya Tucker. Both parents are responsible for my love of 1950s rock and roll—Elvis, Buddy Holly, Dion, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry. And I cannot forget my babysitters who shared the whole Motown experience with me.
By the mid-1970s, I began to lean toward the harder rocking stuff—the Beatles and the Stones and the Who produced the first albums I bought with my own allowance. Then came Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and Aerosmith. Throw in some Queen and KISS, and all is good. And it was actually KISS that afforded me a copy of that first Van Halen album. I traded the KISS Destroyer album for Van Halen.
The first Van Halen album wasn’t just a collection of songs by a new rock band. It was a whole new sound. It represented change, a major shift. Most of the bands that followed owe a thousand debts to Van Halen. That the album itself still sounds fresh and exciting forty-two years later says more than mere words could ever convey.
Edward Van Halen influenced a whole generation of guitar players in the same way Hendrix had done years earlier. A self-taught player, Van Halen learned from practice and experimentation. He was a tone chaser—he modified, designed, and/or built most of his own equipment, including his guitars and amps. He understood the instrument in ways that many guitarists—even the great ones—never fully conceive. His guitar became an extension of his own body. A cliché, sure—but nonetheless true.
Van Halen changed the musical landscape in an instant—the way the Beatles had in 1964 or Nirvana in 1991. Suddenly, nobody wanted to be the next Eric Clapton anymore. Clapton wasn’t tapping or doing hammer-ons and pull-offs. Neither did he play those thick and meaty riffs that populated the Van Halen sound. And that’s not a disrespect to the legend of Clapton, either.
This isn’t an article about the history of Van Halen. Most people already know the stories of drug and alcohol excess, of in-fighting that tore the band apart, of seeing the departure and return of members over the decades. This is simply an acknowledgment of the man who left a huge mark on the music world and the lives of those who became fans of the band. That he should be gone at the young age of 65 is wrong on so many levels. In the end, cancer took down this giant. Decades of cigarettes, alcohol, and the rock and roll lifestyle finally caught up with him. This one remains particularly difficult for me to fathom. And for the record, Edward Van Halen isn’t even my favorite guitarist. That honor belongs to the late Randy Rhoads. But Van Halen represents the beginning of my love of heavy metal. It started with “Eruption” from that first album and continues to this very day. I am truly thankful to have been alive during his entire run.
Will there ever be another game-changer like Van Halen? I think so. It’s a continuing cycle. Most likely there is some boy or girl out there, honing his or her skills, finding their own sound and style in the various influences available. We’ll hear from them in due time. But for the moment, we mourn the irreplaceable.
Rest in peace, Edward Van Halen. Thank you for your incredible contributions to the lives of so many. Godspeed.
Fuschia Phlox is a multi-talented musician, writer, and artist from Salisbury, England—with a detour through the Greek island of Paros. This world traveler has recently released a new album of original music entitled 2020.
Her sound combines many interesting elements from multiple genres. There’s a bit of pop and alternative mingled with folk-ish vibes. There’s even threads of EDM running through some of these tracks.
“Crysalis” is perhaps my favorite track in this collection. It contains a rich, mournful tone that remains with me long after I’ve finished listening. Other standouts here include “Kiss Like This”, “The Constant Reach”, and “Just”.
The vocals really shine on these songs. Her lyrics tell stories of life and living and existing in this world today. This is an artist worthy of your attention.
Former Alabama drummer Mark Herndon is now offering autographed hardcover copies of his memoir The High Road exclusively at MarkHerndon.com.
What drives a man to spend 26 years performing night after night? To persevere through a stifling tour bus, bad food, strange women, flared tempers, a plane nearly blown from the sky? Just how did that troubled military brat with a dream claw his way from dirt-floor dive-bar shows to the world’s biggest stages? Aviator, author, and Country Music Hall of Fame drummer Mark Herndon lived that dream with one of the most popular and celebrated bands of all time. He learned some hard lessons about people and life, the music industry, the accolades and awards, how easy it is to lose it all . . . and how hard it is to survive, to embrace sobriety, to live even one more day. Herndon’s poignant memoir offers a tale at once cautionary and inspirational, delightful and heartbreaking, funny yet deeply personal. From innocence to rebellion to acceptance, can a man still flourish when the spotlight dims? Are true forgiveness, redemption, and serenity even possible when the powerful say everything you achieved somehow doesn’t even count? That you’re not who you and everyone who matters thought you were? Mark Herndon refuses to slow down. So look back, look ahead, and join him on the trip. He’s taking The High Road.
Legendary Country Music Hall of Fame drummer Mark Herndon yearned to fly jets as a military brat, then discovered the dream of playing drums, vowing to come back one day and perform at the very place where he once had to stand outside just to hear. Along the way, he loved and lost and made plenty of mistakes, persevering to achieve all that he imagined before having so much taken away. After decades with one of the most celebrated bands of all time, he still lives his dreams, playing, producing, flying, and now writing with keen observations about life and living in the spotlight.
It’s a common refrain uttered by countless older generations when discussing a younger, newer one. Sometimes the speaker may be complaining that these kids today don’t appreciate how good they have it. Other times, a speaker may be lamenting the loss of a past activity that no longer finds favor with the next generation.
It’s this one, lamentation over loss, that put me in mind to write about one such relic that is becoming more difficult to find as the years march forward. The other day I found myself at the local shopping mall. You know, the sort of mall that had been hugely popular during the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s. This mall, originally opened in 1969, remains an easy place to meet my shopping needs. The ownership has maintained a clean and friendly environment that welcomes customers the way it did fifty years ago.
As a teenager, I spent many hours at the mall, shopping, hanging with friends, and flirting with girls. Back in the day, there were stores unique to malls across the country. Hot Sam’s soft pretzels were always a favorite while visiting. As was Orange Julius. Spenser Gifts offered some of the coolest items. While Spencer remains at the mall here, Orange Julius and Hot Sam’s have long-ago fallen by the wayside. So too have the record stores—which is what I want to talk about today.
Kids today. . . they don’t hang out at the mall. In fact, during my recent visit, I found a handful of elderly mall-walkers and a smattering of customers wandering through the near-empty space. There is truth in the fact that kids are kids—no matter the generation. But from one era to the next, certain things may get left behind and forgotten.
Record stores are among those lost to history’s tide. Kids today get their music from the internet. They buy downloads or they stream it—and even downloads are quickly fading. They listen to music that has been compressed and depleted of its full, rich tones and sound. But if you’ve grown up with this as your only source, you haven’t a clue what other possibilities existed once upon a record store.
For those of us above a certain age, we recall fondly a multitude of record stores that once dotted city landscapes across the globe. I remember spending many hours in local record shops perusing the latest albums or listening to the opinions of others regarding this band or that guitarist or who would be touring this year. We’d meet our friends there—or bond with strangers over the latest Led Zeppelin album.
But it wasn’t just about albums. At most record stores, we could find t-shirts and posters and buttons of favorite bands. We’d line up at these stores for tickets to the concerts passing through the area. And I’m not talking about the over-priced events ordered online these days. I remember buying tickets to see Blue Oyster Cult for $8.00 back in 1980. That was the first of many concerts I’ve attended throughout my life. I paid a mere $9.50 to see Ozzy Osbourne in concert—a show that included legendary guitarist Randy Rhoads. Sadly, Rhoads died in a plane crash just six weeks after I saw him. I still carry the memory of being mesmerized by this incredible talent. As I recall, the actual ticket price for the Ozzy show had been just $9.00. I remember being upset that the record store had the nerve to tack on an extra .50 to the cost.
Many were the days when a new album dropped, and I’d be there—early—just as the clerk began stocking the record bins. With the new disc or cassette (or even 8-Track) secured, I’d hang out a little longer, snooping through the import bins or the bargain bins, hoping to mine gold by discovering an album by a great unknown band or singer. The imports were usually those late 1970s and early 1980s British heavy metal bands that I’d read about in the music magazines. This is how I discovered Iron Maiden and Saxon and Motorhead and Tygers of Pan Tang. I lived and breathed metal in those days. Still do.
Sometimes, I’d hang out in the pop music department, over with the Duran Duran or Adam and the Ants albums. Why? Because that’s where the girls were found. I didn’t care for that sort of music, but I knew enough about it to hold a conversation with a pretty girl or two.
Record stores weren’t just for the young, either. I remember many a visit including my mother or father (and even grandparents), who had their own record collections to build upon. They enjoyed country music and rock-n-roll oldies from the 1950s and 1960s. I now possess many of those same albums. I also own CDs from Duran Duran and Adam and the Ants. It all comes back to memories tied to these wonderful stores and to the people who shared this same journey. Back to a time when life didn’t feel too busy or complicated.
Kids today, they’ll never know the joys of the record store, of the people and the culture that sprang from it across many generations. They have it easier, kids today. They can get anything they want simply by pointing and clicking on their smart phone or computer or tablet. But here’s the truth: something always gets lost when life becomes too easy. For many of us, that something is the record store. Gone but never forgotten.
Michigan rockers Widetrack return with their new album entitled The Unwakening. And after one listen, it’s easy to hear these guys take the term progressive to heart. They haven’t grown fat and lazy since their last album. There isn’t any resting on laurels here. This band has moved their sound and energy into exciting new realms.
The opening number, a track called “Martyr”, kicks off this new collection with a galloping thunder reminiscent of the best of classic British hard rockers UFO. But that’s where any comparison ends. Widetrack, the father and son duo of Ron and Zach Tippen, have been busy carving out their own unique brand of alterna-prog rock in the global musical landscape.
The second track, entitled “Unveiled”, with its crisp guitars and righteously tasty bass work, carries the new album forward with thought-provoking lyrics:
Don’t let these poor blinded souls
Thwart your progress
No time for doubt to sway your heart
From those in flux
“Requiem” floats in on a dreamy undertow, its mood and words lamenting a life lost among the cruelties of a cold and deceitful world.
“Tribal” is perhaps my favorite song in this collection. This one is a rocker that weaves intense bass lines with frantic guitar riffs atop a punishing drumbeat. The echo in Ron’s vocals paint the lyrics in a dark and somber mood.
The fifth track, a jam called “The Rift”, sparkles with elements of the best of the nineties sound—but thoroughly modern and fresh. This is a song I’d expect to hear on modern rock radio.
On “Gone Dark”, Tippen sings:
The signs were all there
You sought no conversation
Trolling contact from calm violence
Proclaimed your god’s wrath
The fate of my conviction
From your pulpit of cult follows
“Drones” is a trippy number with an acoustic beginning that builds, thrashing and kicking, into a mountain of sound.
The tenth track on the album, entitled “Voyeurs”, is a straight-forward rocker that really showcases the stellar drumming of Ron Tippen—who also happens to handle lead vocals and much of the guitar work.
I often speak of vibes and moods when sharing my thoughts on this album. That’s because each of the twelve tracks is awash in these elements. Mood and vibe are never easy to connect with if the musicians are not truly feeling their own music. Some bands, resting on reputation and past accomplishments, often half-step their way through studio sessions, just to be able to say they’ve got new product for sale. It is so obvious that Ron and Zach Tippen truly feel the music they’re creating. Each of the songs on The Unwakening are deeply imprinted with the hearts and souls of these musicians. There’s no half-stepping anything with these guys. Widetrack is a professional band on every level. These are talented guys creating incredible music. The Unwakening is an album worthy of your time and attention. Grab a copy and help this band continue to forge their own path across the modern rock scenery.
I discovered this young girl, Karolina Protsenko, on YouTube recently. I know nothing of her life story outside of these videos. But I feel driven to share her incredible talent here on the The Indie Spot! This is why I created my blog nearly a decade ago—to share the beauty of art (writing, painting, music) in all of its glorious splendor. Though these songs she covers contain some of the most beautiful lyrics ever written, this girl teaches us that music doesn’t have to contain words to move the soul. I’m not ashamed to admit to having a lump in my throat just listening to these stunning instrumentals. Please, take a moment and listen.
So today I saw Van Halen trending on Twitter. My first thoughts drifted to the recent disclosure that guitarist Edward Van Halen has been receiving treatment for throat cancer. Did something serious happen to the second greatest guitarist ever? Has the brilliant creator of numerous classic guitar riffs taken a turn for the worst?
All the chatter centered around a single, simple confession. It seems the latest pop sensation doesn’t know who or what Van Halen is. But that’s to be expected, right? I mean, Billie Eilish, the pop singer in question here, is just 17 years old. She was born in 2001. Van Halen hasn’t released a successful album since 1995’s Balance, which sold 3 million copies (physical copies, no downloads back then) in the United States, and another couple million across the rest of the world.
Okay, I sort of get why some older people might be a little miffed that this kid doesn’t know who the once mighty Van Halen is or were. This is a band that has sold over 80 million albums worldwide. They’ve had two albums pass the ten million (Diamond) sales mark in the United States alone. They’ve been at it for 40-odd years. Their tours are legendary. They’ve more than paid their dues. But do these same angry Van Halen fans know who Billie Eilish is? Most have admitted they don’t.
As stated above, Miss Eilish is just 17 years old (though she’ll be 18 this month). She wasn’t even born when the VH machine made legit music and world-conquering tours. That’s excuse enough right there. Yes, she’s a singer and musician. She ought to know more of the history of who and what came before her. But that is not mandatory. It doesn’t disqualify her from being legit herself because she can’t pass a pop-culture trivia quiz.
Billie Eilish is making some seriously good music. She is touring the world in support of her first album. She’s also released an EP. I own every Van Halen album (including the Sammy Hagar stuff).
I also own both Eilish releases.
I am a music fan.
I cannot wrap my head around the animosity going back and forth on Twitter. Both sides dissing each other. One side accused of being old and out of touch, the other side dismissed as young and ignorant. I couldn’t ever imagine myself dumping on a band like Bill Haley and the Comets simply because they had their success long before I was born. I like the music. I own some of The Comets CD’s. In fact, my collection of nearly a thousand CD’s (and countless downloads) contains music that traverses a wide spectrum. I have music from Django Reinhardt, a French jazz guitarist popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s. I also have many 1940’s Big Band swing jazz albums. Billie Holiday—the original Billie? I possess lots of her music. I own many titles from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, Grace VanderWaal, Pink, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Tupac, Eminem, and, of course, the aforementioned Van Halen and Billie Eilish.
It’s a collection befitting any true music fan. In my younger days, if it wasn’t metal, it sucked. Then I grew up and my love of music matured. Good musicians always look toward the future with an eye on the past. There aren’t many successful musicians who rise to the top by not knowing the past. But here’s the cool thing: the past is so vast and filled with tons of great music and musicians just waiting to be mined by a new generation. And by that same token, the world today is filled with some incredible new music and talented young musicians. Why would anybody choose to dismiss a band or singer based on age? Music unites, ignorance divides!
For those who may not be familiar with Billie Eilish, have a serious listen:
Are you too young to recall Van Halen’s glory days? Let this seep into your mind:
Rating: ★★★★★ Grace VanderWaal is on a roll. The rapidly ascending singer/songwriter opened 2019 with a brooding single called “Stray.” She closes the year out with a brand new six-song EP entitled Letters: Vol. 1. And just what did she accomplish in between? I’m glad you asked. Miss VanderWaal released a soundtrack single for a major motion picture (Wonder Park), opened a handful of gigs for none other than Florence and the Machine, entertained a massive crowd at the Railbird Festival in Kentucky, before taking to the road for a sold out headlining tour of her own. Oh, and did I mention she had to squeeze all that in while keeping her grades up in school? You won’t hear me complain about my schedule ever again.
Listening to the tracks on the new EP, it’s easy to hear the time and effort that has been spent on creating this collection. The songs here are fresh and focused, filled with determination and life. The opening track, “Intro (Gucci Shoes),” is a short, playful piece. The lyrics seem poke fun at the vanity of self-make overs, of trying to be something other than who or what we really are:
I just bought some new Gucci shoes
Wasted my college funds just to look cute
Forty minutes to look like I did it in two
Maybe I am vain, so are you
So I got a new wig, got some new clothes
Then made some new friends that I don’t even know
And I got a new wig, got some new clothes
I learned a new dance, got a new nose
This theme runs through other songs as well. “Poser,” the second track in the collection, speaks to alienation and being fake, a poser, a person maybe not comfortable or confident in her (or his) own skin.
“I Don’t Like You” is another take on the age-old notion of being in love with somebody that you just don’t like. You simply cannot live with this person any longer—despite what you may still feel in your heart. This is a catchy number, one that will have fans singing along with VanderWaal for years to come, whenever she breaks it out during her live shows.
“UR So Beautiful” is a gem of delicate beauty; one of those songs that sticks in my head long after I’ve put my iPod away. It’s the vocal that sets the mood and carries with it a gentle vibe threaded throughout the song.
My current favorite of this collection has to be “Waste My Time.” As with the first track, there’s a playfulness embedded within the song. But there’s also a 1970s-esque bounce beneath the foundation of the track, one that will most certainly have them dancing in the clubs. I’ve said this elsewhere, but it deserves repeating: get this young lady a bass player, and her live band will rival the best in the business.
The final song in the collection is a guitar-driven piece called “The City.” Loneliness and frustration portray the lyrics in a melancholy haze. Grace’s vocal is both pleading and dismissive all at once, needing and wanting, but so over that selfish somebody. In this track I hear potential for lots of radio air play—or maybe as the soundtrack to a movie break-up scene.
Letters: Vol. 1 is solid from start to finish; it’s some of Grace VanderWaal’s best material thus far. If I were to utter a single negative, I would say it’s simply too short. But I’ll not lodge that complaint. I choose to be grateful for this wonderful bounty of new music.