The Grandfathers, "It Works For Me"

>> Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nothing spectacular to see here, but a helluva lot of fun if you can catch them live, or they were back when I was in law school. Back then they were The Grandsons Of The Pioneers, but The Sons Of The Pioneers have no sense of humor; there were litigious letters signed by actual lawyers, apparently, and now a witty band name that reflected a band's hip willingness to do alt-country covers of really old-school mid-century country-and-western tunes is reduced to, well, meh is what it's reduced to. I'd have gone to see a band called "The Grandsons Of The Pioneers" at least once even if a friend hadn't dragged everybody she knew to a show every time they were in town; "The Grandsons", eh, not so much.

The town in question was Chapel Hill (well--technically Carrboro, actually), but The Grandsons were from Virginia or D.C.; their press kit describes them as a Washington band, but why does it seem like they were from Arlington back then?

And I have no idea how many of the current members were in the band I saw a ridiculous number of years ago and have a couple of CDs by. What is a band, exactly? A brand name, a particular set of guys. Why is Genesis a band fronted by Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins but not one fronted by Ray Wilson? (Who?) The ScatterKat and I agreed to disagree this weekend over one of the most divisive points of rock and roll history: I happen to be a member of the small but feisty minority that thinks Van Halen was vastly better with Sammy Hagar at the mic than David Lee Roth; on this score, ScatterKat is an originalist. (Nobody, it must be noted in this context, thinks Van Halen was better with Gary "Who The Hell Is This Guy?" Cherone.) There are still people, indeed, walking the Earth, who think Pink Floyd should have quit when their creative mastermind and lyricist left--I mean Syd Barrett in 1968, not Roger Waters in the mid-1980s; this notwithstanding the fact that, for all of Barrett's charm and mad genius, Pink Floyd did a lot better commercially (and ultimately artistically) without a paranoid schizophrenic Mandies burnout at the wheel.

Meanwhile, King Crimson is any project Robert Fripp decides to call King Crimson, The Kinks are Ray and Dave Davies with some other guys, and the guy with the flute isn't named Jethro Tull (though Ian Anderson might save a few twits some confusion if he just started calling himself that).

There's some weird chemistry--no, alchemy--by which the fans really decide who's in a band, no matter what the people who are actually in the band might think about it. I'm not sure R.E.M. wouldn't have done better to change names after Bill Berry left, because even though Berry was "just" the drummer and maybe the most enigmatic figure in the band (it's a rock drummer's special privilege to be the -est member of a band: the zaniest, or the weirdest, or the wildest, or the quietest, or any other superlative with-or-without an actual "-est" you might think of). R.E.M. was never really R.E.M. again after Buck retired. Everybody knew it except the remaining guys in the band, apparently. Or maybe not: Peter Green leaves Fleetwood Mac and is replaced by a spacey eccentric from California whose condition for joining the band is they have to take his weird girlfriend, too, and history is made while millions of people forget who Green is.

Pondering this sometimes gets me to thinking about alternate histories where The Beatles tried to keep going. In my brain, it's Paul McCartney who always tries to keep the wheel rolling, even though in real life, he's the one who filed the lawsuit that formally dissolved the band. You can try to imagine Lennon telling McCartney he could stay or go, but The Beatles would be continuing with or without him, except it's just damn nigh impossible to imagine John Lennon wanting to have anything to do with the brand name at that point (hell, he even wrote whole songs about how done he was with The Beatles). What about a Harrison-led Beatles? John and Paul taking George and Ringo to court while the latter two book shows across Europe and the U.S. with a couple of surrogates standing in? Yeah, I guess that one's hard on the suspension of disbelief, too.

And yet it just seems apt for the Rolling Stones to keep... ah, well, rolling. Or, if the Stones should quit, it's less because of turnover than it is that they've been orbiting some kind of existential drainhole for decades. (Since they flirted with disco ca. 1978, I would contend, though I think The ScatterKat disagrees; I know she's fond of "Emotional Rescue" (1980).)

Is there a magical rule I'm missing? How much turnover does there have to be in a band before, say, they stop calling themselves The New Yardbirds and go with something dumb and in-jokey like Led Zeppelin? Anyone have any thoughts? Better yet, figures and charts?


Phiala Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 1:25:00 PM EST  

I miss going to see shows at the Cradle.

Aw.... dammit. I made the mistake of looking at their upcoming shows... now I REALLY miss living in Chapel Hill.


vince Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 1:43:00 PM EST  

I have thoughts, but no figures and charts. Some bands have one or two key members, and the rest are interchangeable. Usually (but not always) it's the singer, because the voice is uniquely associated with the band. When Lionel Richie left the Commodores, they had one more hit, but then that was pretty much it. The Stones are the Stones pretty much as long as Jagger and Richards are still part of it, but if either leave, that's it.

Some bands can survive quite well with regular personnel changes. Hawkwind is one that comes to mind. I can't think of how many changes they've had over the years, but it's been a lot. Keeping track of who played what requires excellent database skills.

Others can evolve, or have definite periods associated with a certain lineup. Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, King Crimson, and Yes come to mind here.

As for Van Halen, I like much (but not all) of both the Roth and Hagar incarnations, and the one with the Extreme vocalist just sucks in ways I find hard to describe without a massive amount of inarticulate groans and gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes.

And yeah, a drummer can make a huge difference to a band. The Who come to mind. The Who without Kieth Moon just wasn't ever the same band. Moon brought a style of drumming and a spirit that could not be duplicated.

Eric Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 2:42:00 PM EST  

Sorry, Phiala.

Those are good points, Vince; the one that especially stands out to me at the moment is the significance of the singer as the voice (and usually the face) of the band. I don't think it's an original observation to point out that one of the things that helped Genesis transition from Peter Gabriel to Phil Collins is that both men have similar ranges and tones; indeed, while their voices are generally distinguishable, there are a few early tracks with Gabriel on lead and Collins on backing (or vice-versa) where their voices are practically indistinguishable ("For Absent Friends" from Nursery Cryme comes to mind). Similarly, David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar aren't that far apart in their vocal styles.

Nick from the O.C.,  Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 4:05:00 PM EST  

Should Metallica stop calling itself Metallica yet?

Megan Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 6:53:00 PM EST  

Speaking of Fleetwood Mac:

At one point during the constant band change-ups (but before Stevie and Lindsey joined), the band manager claimed that HE owned the name "Fleetwood Mac", put a band together and started touring as Fleetwood Mac. Their road manager figured out it was a scam and hid the equipment. That shortened the tour. Mick Fleetwood sued.

I'd say that it all ended well, but most Mac hits are schlocky Christine McVie tunes, so that's not really as great as I'd like it to be.

Eric Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 7:11:00 PM EST  

Nick: Metallica should just stop, period.

Megan: yes, but we got the full-band-press on "The Chain", along with all of the swipes Lindsey and Stevie took at each other on Rumours, which makes up for a lot of Christie's schmaltz.

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