AUDIO BLOG: Ken Dashow on Pete Fornatale/50 LICKS

Ken Dashow

Ken Dashow

No real post from me today, but I will be back later in the week with a guest post in this space, and some horse racing thoughts over at my other blog, But for now, check out this cool audio clip that I’ve posted over on It’s a cool clip of Ken Dashow talking about my Dad and 50 Licks. Once you’re there, just click the play button on the right hand side of the page about halfway down.

And, in case you missed it the first time, you can hear Perrin’s Mixed Bag radio debut debut over on there as well.

RE-Blog: My Billy Bragg Story

I posted this awhile back on my other blog but hey, if you can’t steal from yourself, who can you steal from? I’m going to see Billy Bragg tonight at Town Hall so I wanted to share this again in my musical blog space. Here goes:



It was twenty years ago today. Actually, it was 22 years ago. And it was not “today” per se, it was September 13th, but that’s close enough for rock and roll. And this is one of my favorite rock and roll stories.

I was a freshman at the State University of New York at New Paltz in upstate New York. I had just met a new friend, Steve Tell. Steve was older than me, and even though I perceived him as a rival for a girl I was interested in at the time, I liked him right away. He liked great music, he was mellow, fun and a Mets fan. And he told this amazing story about his dad laughing so hard at a Gabe Kaplan comedy gig that he vomited in some stranger’s coat pocket in the cloakroom. What wasn’t to like?

I had just started on the campus radio station, WFNP. Working for FNP was the first time I’d ever heard of a format called “Alternative,” which I considered an oxymoron. I was struggling a bit at the station, looking for a way to do something different and yet still fit in overall. A few weeks later, I’d get into trouble for playing a Paul Simon record on his birthday (not alternative enough I guess) but there were plenty of artists in the Hot Box at FNP that I was happy to play, none moreso than Billy Bragg.

In the late 80s, Billy Bragg was one of my favorite recording artists. I first heard him live from the UN playing “Help Save The Youth of America” during one of the old live music Hungerthons my Dad, the rock and roll version of Jerry Lewis, would host. Workers Playtime got me through at least one tough break-up, a post modern Blood on the Tracks. Billy remains a personal favorite of mine to this day. A brilliant writer and performer, these days I dream of collaborating on a book with him. But back in 1990, I was just an 18-year old fan. And I was pretty damn psyched when I heard he was going to be playing a show just over the river at the de facto all girls’ school (ahem, women’s college), Vassar. Vassar was a favorite place to visit back in the day for not only the aforementioned co-eds, but also the plethora of interesting arts options: Shawn Colvin in the coffee house, Jim Jarmusch films on the big screen, Billy Bragg on the lawn. And it was all free.

Steve had a car, dug Billy, and was up for driving over to the show. It was one of those gorgeous, golden September evenings. I snuck in a little radio with me that included a tape recorder. I wasn’t planning on bootlegging the show. I was just a big fan of the 1990 Mets, and they had a HUGE game that night against the team they were in a pennant race with, the Pittsburgh Pirates. I must have gone to 20 games that summer with a crew from high school that included Josh Volpe (who in a shocking moment of apostasy became a Yankee fan a few years later), and Charlie Siegel, who lived in a two family house with Mets catcher (well, sort of) Mackey Sasser. Anyway, I figured I could keep tabs on the game between songs or something. Perhaps a younger reader might ask why I didn’t just check the score on my phone? These were the days before non military grade mobile phones, kids, let alone internet ready ones. This is the kind of shit we had to deal with in the bad old days.

Shortly after we arrived, we realized there was a little problem. Billy was late. VERY late. You see, he was doing the Letterman show that night around 5ish, and someone had incorrectly indicated to his management how long it would take at that hour to get from Manhattan, where Letterman taped, to Poughkeepsie, the home of Vassar (75 miles north).

This was less a problem for me, as it enabled Steve and me to quietly huddle around the radio and follow the game. The Mets started the day 2 ½ games back of the Pirates, and we had our co-ace Dwight Gooden on the mound (we also had 1988 AL Cy Young Award winner Frankie “Sweet Music” Viola). The Bucs got two in the top of first and it looked like it was going to be one of those nights, especially since the Mets were going against their ace, Doug Drabek. But the boys got to Drabek in the 4th, knocking him out of the game, the big blow a Daryl Strawberry home run.

Shortly after the Straw man’s blast, whoever was running the show sent out folksinger Greg Trooper to perform as an impromptu Opening Act. That’s what I thought at the time anyway. Looking back at the amazing website, Braggtopia, it looks like Greg was on the bill officially two days later at the Ritz, so maybe he was scheduled to be there all along. But it seemed like he was just doing a free turn helping everybody out. Steve and I rooted for him and he was great. I recall him really sending it in on his showstopper, Ireland, which is, apparently, about a girl from Brooklyn.

Greg finished up and Steve and I checked in once again on the proceedings down at Shea. My man Daryl Boston, who I was ready to give a lifetime contract to at that point, knocked another one out towards the chop shops to make it 6-2. I felt pretty good, especially considering that 80s Met killer Sammy Khalifa had retired three years earlier (If you’re one of the six people who get that reference, take a bow).


Finally, FINALLY, Billy hit the stage. Back then, I thought his hilarious stage patter and energetic performance were motivated at least in part because he felt bad about making us wait so long — but I’ve subsequently realized that he’s just that damn good EVERY time.

I didn’t record the exact set list and Braggtopia doesn’t have it, but I remember a few things. I believe he opened with “Milkman of Human Kindness.”

I’m pretty sure he played “St. Swithin’s Day.”

I know that night is when I heard “North Sea Bubble” for the first time, with Billy’s patter focusing on Thomas Paine. I think he played Greg Trooper’s song, “Everywhere.”

At some point Billy mentioned his long-time roadie and pal Wiggy and somebody yelled out: “Wiggy Stardust!” Billy obliged and played the last few bars from Bowie’s classic, subbing in the appropriate name.

I recall one of the rare, male Vassar kids yelling out for “New England,” and Billy cheekily saying, “I know where I am.” I guess he didn’t realize that Poughkeepsie isn’t technically New England, but with as long as it took him to get there from NYC, who could blame him? And when he finally got around to playing his hit, he omitted the word “prams,” instead rolling his eyes, Jagger-style, and replacing it with “baby carts.”

After the show, I checked in with the Mets one last time. They had held on to win 6-3 and were within 1 ½ games of first. Sadly, that was close to the high water mark of the season. They did get within half a game a couple of days later, but they never made the front, tailing off and missing the playoffs. Had the Wild Card existed back then, they’d have made it, but then again, that September game I remember so well wouldn’t have meant nearly as much.

At the time, of course, Steve and I knew none of that. There we were, on a total high. The show was amazing, the Mets had won. I had an idea. I told our other friends what I wanted to do and they looked at me sideways and said they’d meet us back at the dorm. Only Steve believed.

I was stupid and 18. I beseeched Steve to follow my lead and started asking around for the Student Union building. I wasn’t sure Billy would be there, but part of being stupid and 18 is that, like a heel in pro wrestling, you have no short supply of overweening self-confidence. We found the place and I proceeded to lay down some line of absolute bullshit to whomever was guarding the performers’ area. I have no idea what I said. I may have referenced my father’s employer, WNEW. I may have told some version of the truth. But the next thing we knew, we were at a table, surrounded by a particularly fetching bunch of Vassar coeds, with Mr. Billy Bragg, front and center. I don’t really remember what he was eating but for the purposes of this piece I’m going to say it was a curry. I introduced myself quickly, did what I went in there to do, and we got the hell out of there.

Less than an hour later, I headed to the TV room at Bouton Hall. Billy’s Letterman appearance was just about to air. One of my friends asked, “How did it go?”

“It wasn’t what I’d hoped,” I lied, “I only got this.”

And then I hit play on the tape:

“Hi, this is Billy Bragg and you’re listening to Peter Thomas Fornatale on WFNP, radio New Paltz.”

The Story of Richie Havens and Woodstock


Dad loved Richie Havens. So much so that he named his longtime show after one of his records. And they were friends. Richie gave us a cool blurb for our Woodstock book. Today’s post is an excerpt, written by my father, from our book, BACK TO THE GARDEN. Please contact me via the comments if you’d like a copy, I’ll make you a good deal 😉. .

It is 5:07 p.m. on Friday, August 15, 1969. You are standing on the stage in the far end of the cow pasture’s natural amphitheater. The stage is set, and you can smell the fresh lumber used for its recent construction. As you look out in front of you, a sea of bobbing heads stretches for miles. It is a wave of humanity unlike any in the annals of recorded history. Certainly, the crowd is unusual for its size and more so for the ostensible reason all these people are here—for a unique type of American music barely fourteen years old called rock ’n’ roll. If you accept the crowd estimate of five hundred thousand, that makes it the second-largest city in New York.

Richie Havens: We were back at the hotel. I was supposed to go on fifth and there was no way to get anyone there. There wasn’t gonna be a Woodstock, to tell you the truth. It was gonna be the world’s largest riot, because seven miles away were all the musicians in two hotels, and they couldn’t get to the site at all—no road to get there. And no one could carry tons of amps and equipment down to the stage from seven miles away.

Michael Lang: It was a question of who we could get on the quickest, who was ready, and who needed the least preparation and the least gear. Tim Hardin was an idea. He wasn’t ready. Tim, I think, was a little blitzed, a little too blitzed. He was a friend, and I was hoping that playing at Woodstock would bring him back, because he had been blitzed for a while. And I thought it would be a good opportunity for him to get his shit together, and straighten up long enough at least to get some public recognition. But he wasn’t ready.

Richie Havens: Tim Hardin was there, but he decidedly refused to go on first. He was not coming out from under the stage.

Chip Monck: Tim was absolutely unable to fathom or to deal with the fact of opening the show. He couldn’t be presented without some help. So he politely declined.

Richie Havens: All of a sudden, they said, “Richie! We’ve got a guy with a helicopter who’s gonna come over. You’ve got the least number of instruments, so you’ll go over first.” I said, “Okay, fine.” Then he came back and said, “No, he’s not coming,” then “Yes! He is coming!” Now the concert is three hours late already and in the Holiday Inn driveway comes this little helicopter right outside my window and I hear this noise, so we run out with our two conga drums, two guitars, and the three of us, and we hunch into this bubble helicopter and they took us over.

Michael Lang: Well, Richie was scared, frankly, as I recall. But I think that was a kind of natural reaction to looking at a crowd of that size. But he didn’t make it a problem.

Richie Havens: I actually was afraid to go on first. I knew the concert was late and that maybe it would be a little nuts. I didn’t want to be trampled by a billion people. So I said, “Don’t do this to me, Michael. I’m only one guy. My bass player isn’t even here.”

Richie’s bass player, Eric Oxendine, got caught in the traffic jam leading to the site, and decided to walk the fifteen or twenty miles from where the traffic was stopped dead to the stage. He would have made it in time for Richie’s set if the order hadn’t changed, but that was not meant to be. Lang continued to beg, plead, and cajole. Richie relented and walked out on stage.

Chip Monck: And suddenly, it was show time. I said, “Sit down, stand up, do whatever you wish to do, but we’re ready to start now and I bet you’re pleased with that. And, ladies and gentlemen—please—Mr. Richie Havens.”

He was twenty-eight years old, dressed magnificently in white trousers and a long, flowing orange caftan. Richie Havens was born on January 21, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York. He was a product of that borough’s rough and tough Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood who somehow escaped the dead-end fate of many of his peers and schoolmates in part because of his devotion to music and the arts. He moved to Greenwich Village at the dawn of the ’60s and made his living as a portrait artist and poet. For a while, he lived down the hall from Noel Paul Stookey who was performing as a solo musician-comedian at clubs in the Village before joining forces with Peter Yarrow and Mary Travers and rewriting American music history as the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. Stookey befriended Richie and encouraged him to flex his musical muscles. They’ve remained lifelong friends.

Richie took the advice and began transforming his poems into songs, which he performed to great acclaim and growing audiences throughout the rest of the decade. One major factor that helped Richie gain an audience was the change happening on FM radio. When FM radio came into being, every AM station simply used FM to simulcast its programming. But in 1966, the FCC mandated that the FM signal must broadcast something different. This led to more creative, progressive stations playing the hipper music of the day and gearing their freeform programming to a decidedly younger crowd. One of the early favorites on these so-called “Freak-quency Modulation” stations was Richie Havens. His invitation to perform at Woodstock was a no-brainer.

Josh White: Richie Havens was quite popular at that time. He was a folksinger in the tradition of Leadbelly and Josh White—the other Josh White. He was a favorite on freeform radio stations. He was a very good and impassioned singer, and he was one of the earliest black folksingers who developed credibility with this white audience. The audience loved him.

Mike Jahn: One of the reasons I decided to go to Woodstock was that Richie Havens was going to be there. Richie and I were friends, and I figured if he was going to be there, I could be there. I knew him back in 1966. Somebody gave me a copy of Mixed Bag and I loved it. I got in touch with him and met him in his apartment in the East Village. He took me to Slug’s, a legendary jazz club, and I was probably the only white man in the place. There was some animosity with the guy at the door. He didn’t want to let me in, but Richie said, “He’s cool,” so he let me in. So we went in together to see Sun Ra. Richie was such a sweetheart.

Stan Schnier: When Richie was doing shows at the Fillmore, he didn’t have a road crew. There was a guy named Dino who played backup guitar, and Dino used to come over to our apartment all the time and jam with us. It was a very small world then. Funny enough, most of the time when he and Richie were on stage, you couldn’t even hear Dino, because Richie sang and played so full and loud and Dino was kind of in the back, twiddling. It wasn’t a defined rhythm-lead relationship. It was just something that they had between them that kept Richie locked in. I never saw anybody like Richie before, and I haven’t seen anybody since. He was totally unique.

Tom Law: I met him through Albert Grossman. I’d see him when I was working for Peter, Paul and Mary. I think he’s one of the most soulful people on the planet; I put him at the top of the list.

Billy Altman: I saw Richie Havens open for Cream in the fall of 1967. He was somebody I was familiar with. A great performer. His energy was impressive. He used a tuning where his guitar was tuned to a chord and it allowed him to do all these great rhythmic things. And that made him the perfect act for that point at Woodstock. He was able to get people into the music physically, because of how rhythmic it was, and that’s not something a lot of people could have done.

Mike Jahn: As a performer, Richie was magnetic and charismatic. He had an amazing rich sound, and he used that open E tuning on his guitar and it just sounded amazing. He had huge hands. Piano player hands. You can’t bring your thumb around over the bass strings and bar the strings unless you have immense hands. His voice is very expressive. Here’s a comparison that most rockers will hate, but hearing Richie play “San Francisco Bay Blues” was on the level of hearing Streisand’s rendering of “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Taking an old jolly-time tune and making it into something entirely different. It blew me away. He is a wonderful talent.

You can’t talk about Richie Havens without discussing his ability to perform covers—to interpret other artist’s material. At a time when most of his contemporaries were dismantling the notion of being handed other people’s songs to record and perform by the A&R (artists and repertoire) man at the record company, Richie clearly had it going both ways.

Billy Altman: He was a great singer and a great interpreter also. There aren’t many people who can do Bob Dylan as good as Bob Dylan, or even half as good as Bob Dylan, and he’s one of the few people who’s always been able to do a great job with Dylan’s material. And I say that with the utmost respect. The same is true with the Beatles. Even with songs that you wouldn’t necessarily think would be open to that kind of interpretation like “Here Comes the Sun.” He is able to find things in songs and make them his own. That’s what Richie Havens does.

He wasn’t the opening act; he was the opening “act-cident.” The good luck charm. The omen that in some way everyone at the festival backstage, on stage, and in front of the stage hoped could make you believe that everything was going to be all right. He did his job and he did it magnificently. He was the perfect candidate to spark the flame to light the fire that would burn brightly and tangibly for almost four straight days. His peace-love demeanor and childlike jargon definitely set the tone for the entire weekend of hippie chic:

Richie Havens from the stage on August 15, 1969: A hundred million songs are gonna be sung tonight. All of them are gonna be singing about the same thing, which I hope everybody who came, came to hear, really. And it’s all about you—actually—and me and everybody around the stage and everybody that hasn’t gotten here, and the people who are gonna read about you tomorrow. Yes! And how really groovy you were—all over the world, if you can dig where that’s at—that’s really where it’s really at!

The lightness of his spoken message was in direct contrast to the unrelenting power of his music and his message. He did “High Flying Bird,” the lead-off track from his stunning Verve-Forecast debut album Mixed Bag. He did Gordon Lightfoot’s “I Can’t Make It Anymore.” He performed a trilogy of classic Beatles songs, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “Hey Jude.”

Richie was well past the twenty minutes he was expecting to play, but even after double that amount of time, then triple that amount of time, there was still no sign that anyone wanted him to come off the stage. Nobody frantically giving him the “cut” sign, so he surmised, correctly, that his follow-up wasn’t ready yet. He soldiered on. Literally.

His searing performance of the antiwar song “Handsome Johnny,” cowritten with the then-folksinger, now Academy Award–winning actor Lou Gossett Jr., once again brought the crowd to its feet. Having accrued enough show business savvy to leave them clamoring for more, Richie attempted, once and for all, to leave the stage. It was not to be. Pushed back out once again to face the roaring crowd, Richie looked squarely into the eyes of a moment of truth that few performers in any of the arts ever face. And then it just came to him—an instance of otherworldly creativity that simply defies expectation, but not imagination.

Richie Havens: Two and a half hours—two hours and forty-five minutes later, as I walked off the eighth time, they said, “No, no one’s here yet, go back.” [Laughs.] For the seventh time. I decided I didn’t know what else to sing, you know, it’s like everything I could think of, you know? So, I really had an inspiration. I looked out over the audience, which I could not see the end of because what most people don’t see in the movie is, as far as you could see people in the picture that they show, when I’m on stage, there was the other side of that hill that was equally as large. And the people on that side of the hill never even saw the stage; they just lied down in the field and listened, and that was probably the best sound. It could be heard fifteen miles away actually. Best sound I ever played outdoors, in that sense. But the thing was that I was on stage and I didn’t know what to sing, so I—I looked out and I said, you know, “Freedom isn’t what they’ve made us even think it is. We already have it. All we have to do is exercise it. And that’s what we’re doing right here.” So I just started playing, you know, notes—trying to decide what am I gonna sing and the word came out, “Freedom,” you know. I started singing “Freedom.” And then, of course, “Motherless Child,” which I hadn’t sung in probably seven years—six or seven years, came out. And then there was another part of a hymn that I used to sing back when I was about fifteen that came out in the middle of it. “There’s a telephone in my bosom and I can call him from my heart.” And—that’s how it came together.

Arthur Levy: He used to perform with his eyes closed. I didn’t know if he did that because the amount of sweat he generated stung his eyes or if he just had to block out the audience. It was certainly the largest crowd he’d ever played to. It could have been very daunting and intimidating to perform to that number of people. “Freedom” is one of the great transcendental moments in rock history.

Bob Santelli: Havens saved the day. The manner in which Richie plays, hard strums, open tunings that would allow him to play the guitar as if it were some kind of weapon, as if the notes and the chords that would come flowing out of his guitar were meant to disable any doubters. This is the kind of acoustic music that was ideal for an outdoor setting, especially to kick off the festival. He rose to the occasion. Look at the intensity in Richie Havens’s face and match that with the intensity of his guitar playing and then the rhythms of his conga player. This was a powerful and driving rock band, and he was creating it with a guitar that seemed to have vengeance in mind in some way, shape, or form. It was a powerful performance and it was very lucky that it occurred because there wasn’t a whole lot else that was as compelling or as intense on Friday as Richie Havens.

It couldn’t have started off any better. There are many characters from all facets of the festival who have laid claim to or been given the title “Father of Woodstock.” Some are certainly worthy of the sobriquet. But, more than most, Richie Havens can wear that mantle with pride and dignity and humility. At this writing, he is still the greatest living embodiment of the Woodstock ethos.

On the occasion of this fortieth-anniversary milestone, Richie is still recording, still touring, still painting, still acting, and still making his voice heard on a variety of issues as he completes his seventh decade on the planet. I’d like to illustrate his generosity and commitment with a personal observation. In the 1980s, after the death of singer-songwriter Harry Chapin, I cohosted an annual twenty-four-hour fund raiser at the United Nations for World Hunger Year [now WHY HUNGER], the charitable organization cofounded by Harry and my friend Bill Ayres. On the afternoon of the broadcast, Richie came by to perform and lend a hand before a scheduled concert that evening on Long Island. He sang, he talked, he played, then he left for his gig. That was it. I put it out of my head and moved on to the next guest. At about three o’clock in the morning, the really dead hours of a twenty-four-hour Hungerthon, there was an unexpected knock on the door at the UN. It was Richie! He had taken a collection for World Hunger Year at the concert and brought the proceeds back with him to the city after the show! That is the ethos of Woodstock!

Richie’s performance crystallized and clarified the real underlying reason these half a million people have gathered together here in the single-word clarion call repeated over and over and over again, and

screamed right back at him by the throng, “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom . . . !”


The Stones and Boston

Kevin White, the rock and roll mayor

Kevin White, the rock and roll mayor

I wasn’t much in the mood to work on the blog — or anything else — last week. But today I want to share the greatest Rolling Stones story about Boston. This was initially meant to be a little sidebar in 50 Licks but it grew into an entire chapter. This happened during the riots of 1972, possibly the worst week in Boston until this past week, notwithstanding October 20-27, 1986.

Here’s how it all went down:

One of the Stones most memorable run ins with the law happened on the ‘72 Tour.

Robert Greenfield: Again, we’re back in the times. Boston is under siege. It has undergone three days of race riots and the entire police department is deployed in the ghetto.

Steve Nazro: My boss Eddie Powers, who was president of the Boston Garden, wanted to see me in the office. He said, “The Stones, because of the fog, could not land in Boston, and they were diverted to Green Airport in Rhode Island.

Robert Greenfield: Andy Dykeman, the photographer for the local rag is there taking pictures . Mick and Keith are standing there waiting for their bags. Andy’s too close, snapping photos. Keith said, “Get the fuck out of here man.” For whatever reason Keith doesn’t take kindly to Andy Dykeman’s response. . .”Fuck you” and he smashes Andy’s camera. Andy called the police, and they come and they put the grip on Keith. Now Mick, he’s not going to let Keith get arrested without him getting arrested. So Mick makes enough trouble, enough shit that they have to arrest him too.

Peter Rudge: One minute I’m going through the yellow pages of the Rhode Island airport trying to look for a bail bondsman to get us out of there, then the next I remember the Mayor calling me saying “Peter, I have a city on fire. The Stones have got to get here or there’s going to be a full scale riot.” I said, “Do what you can to help us. We can’t get Keith out. We can’t move. We’re trapped here.”

Robert Greenfield: Mick and Keith are fucking delighted because they have immunity. They know that they’re supposed to be in Boston Garden starting a show at 8 o’clock at night and everything these cops do to fuck this up is going to come back to them. Now we get the Stones lawyers. One thing about the Stones, they are lawyered up with guys that are so powerful they only have to make two phone calls. Peter Rudge is having a mental breakdown.

Don Law: At that point, I got a call from Peter Rudge who said, “We really screwed up this time. Keith kicked a photographer. The police hauled him off to jail.” I said, “You should sit tight. We’re going to see if we can get you out of there because we’re not going to give up the show.” So we got on the phone and we started calling people.

Mike Martinick: I was standing fairly close up to the stage. It was stiflingly hot and very humid. The smell of sweat, sandalwood and marijuana just permeated the place.

Steve Nazro: Stevie Wonder had already played. There was a break and people hadn’t been notified yet. They asked Stevie Wonder to play again, and he did.

Robert Greenfield: We now have 18,000 stoned, angry, long haired white kids, who can’t get home and would probably like to break a few windows and set fire to a few buildings in downtown Boston…

Don Law: One of the people we called was Kevin White who then was able to call the Governor of Rhode Island, who reached back to the police station and said, “We have a public safety issue. You have to release these guys.” And that got them out and they sent them up with an escort to the Garden.
Robert Greenfield: Kevin White, in what I still believe to be an extraordinary act, walked out on stage. The crowd reaction was “Fuck you!”

White would come to be known as “The Rock and Roll Mayor.”

Don Law: Kevin White, who still had serious national political aspirations, came out said, “My city is in turmoil tonight and I need to pull the police out of here. But I have bad news: The Rolling Stones were fogged out of Boston, had to land in Rhode Island, and were arrested.” The whole place boos. Then Kevin White said, “But I called and we’ve gotten them out and they are on their way.” There was so much cheering it was like the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. The problem of course was we then had a couple hours to waste while they made the trip up.

Robert Greenfield: The Stones are famous for being late; they never go on stage on time. Everybody knows this. For a while Chip Monck is stalling, reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull to the crowd.

Don Law: We wound up getting things to throw around: Frisbees, footballs, beach balls. Nobody got thrown out.

Peter Rudge: We got into the old Boston Garden and they announced “The Stones are here”. Everybody just went crazy. It was just something amazing.

Steve Nazro: I was most impressed by the fact that we had no arrests. Everybody had paid to see the Rolling Stones and by God they were going to see the Rolling Stones. It took close to an act of God, but things worked out. Watching the show, you’d never know there was something wrong. They were magnificent; they were energetic; they played to the crowd; they gave a wonderful repartee back and forth. I was never a big Stones fan before then but I became a Stones fan that night

Mike Martinick: They released an atomic bomb of a show. One of the highlights of was an incandescent rendition of “On Down the Line.” To bring the whole thing full circle, many years later I was at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and I happened to notice…Kevin White. I said, “Mr.Mayor, you don’t know me, but years ago I was at the Rolling Stones show when you got them out of jail. You made that show happen.”

Don Law: Kevin White was in his glory and I remember the next night, the Stones sent Kevin a personally signed poster which he prized and had prominently displayed.

You can see the poster on page 160 of the book. Disappointed I didn’t post it here? C’mon, man, I can’t give the whole book away for free. But here’s a hot “All Down the Line from Texas on the ’72 Tour.

On This Date in Rock History, Ronnie Wood Joined the Rolling Stones


Here’s an edited excerpt from 50 LICKS.

When the Stones were looking for a replacement for Brian Jones, young Ron Wood was among the possibilities after he was let go by The Jeff Beck Group. Ron had a passing acquaintance with The Stones and recalled a visit with them in 1968:

Ron Wood: “I went to Olympic Studios in London when they were doing Beggar’s Banquet and I saw little odds and ends going down and I was very impressed then. And I met Brian then. Nicky Hopkins introduced me to Brian and I used to think he was a very nice character, very outlandish, he was wearing all these brilliant colored clothes and floppy hats, feather boas and I used to think, ‘Christ this guy gets away with murder.’ He was a great character.”

brian jones

So, if he’d been invited, would Ron Wood have joined the Rolling Stones? We’ll never know. Here’s why:

Ron Wood: “I must put in another bit here. . .before the Small Faces started with Rod and myself in the lineup, Ronnie Lane very nicely said no to the Stones before they got Mick Taylor because apparently they’d asked me then but I knew nothing about it. Ronnie Lane said, ‘No, Ronnie won’t do it. He’s gonna stay with us.”

“That was thanks to Ian Stewart, occasional member of The Stones, and he’s like the old sixth Stone going back many years. He said, ‘Why don’t you get this guy Ronnie Wood. Let’s give him a try.’ So he rang up Laney (who) said no on my behalf. I don’t blame him. I had a fantastic time with The Faces. And chronologically everything took it’s own form and shape.”

Years later, after Mick Taylor left the band, the Black and Blue sessions became the Great Rolling Stones Lead Guitar Search. Just think if Simon Cowell had been making shows in 1975. . .

To no one’s surprise, Ron Wood was once again high on the Stones’ wish list. But they didn’t just give him the gig.

Keith Richards: “Black and Blue was auditions for guitar players. That’s why you’ve got three or four tracks with Wayne Perkins and two or three tracks with Harvey Mandell and at the end, it was one of those weird coincidences that seem to happen with us all the time that just as we were desperately looking for another guitar player, an English player, because that’s what we are. Wayne Perkins is a lovely guitar player, [but] we’re an English rock ‘n’ roll band and we just had to own up that there’s something about having an American guy that we’re just not common in our upbringing and our culture that would eventually widen…And Woody came in and the Faces just happened to break up at that very moment.”

Ron Wood: “At the time they were also recording Black and Blue with Harvey Mandell and Wayne Perkins, and Jeff Beck had come and gone, and Eric Clapton had been approached. All kinds of things were going on. I still get ribbed by Eric Clapton. He says to me, ‘I could have had that job, you know.’ I say, ‘Ah no, sorry Eric, you haven’t got the personality.’ I just rib him about it. Basically, the Stones wanted to remain an English rock n roll band. Eric was already successful in his own right. All the other lovely English guitarists like Jimmy Page, they were doing their own things. When I finally did join, they all expressed that they were really rooting for me and they said that they were really pleased that I did it.”

So when did it all happen?

Ron Wood: “I had said to Mick, only ring me if you get desperate. They’d been trying all these guitarists, Stevie Marriott, all the ones I said -even more…When I was ill after one of the Faces tours, I was bed-ridden in LA. I was really feeling down. The phone rings and it’s Mick. And he says, ‘Woody, remember what you said about getting desperate?’ And I said,‘Well, I see. I’m going back to England when I get better so I’ll call by and see you in Munich.’ And he says ‘OK then,’ and then I went there and I cut Hey Negrita and a couple of other tracks for Black and Blue. And they checked me into the hotel in Munich sandwiched between Harvey Mandel on the left and Wayne Perkins on the right. So it was like a whole string of guitarists. I walked in the studio and Charlie says to me ‘Christ, out of all these guitarists who’ve walked in here, Woody walks in he starts bossing everybody around, we’ll do this that and the other.’ It was no surprise to him that I did get the job just because I was a man after their own heart. Another silly Englishman.”

There was still one last obstacle to hurdle before total commitment to The Stones became possible:

Ron Wood: “At the time, Rod still hadn’t folded up the Faces. So I still didn’t say that I was joining. I said ‘I’ll do your ’75 American tour, I’d love to, but before that I have to do a Faces tour and straight after it, I’ve got to do another one.’ So that year I played like three horrendously big tours. I said to Peter Rudge, ‘If you don’t get me in The Guinness Book of World Records for the most overlooked person who has played in front of more people than anyone in one year…’”

The definitive word about the transition from Mick to Woody comes from Keith, though. Of course it does.

Keith Richards: “I’ll tell you the difference between playing with them two. The roles were much more fixed. With Mick [Taylor], either I was going to play lead on one number and that was accepted as that, or Mick would which is what he was good at. And when somebody is as good as Mick Taylor, they tend to not realize how good they are and they tend to desperately want to get into other things, they want to sing, write songs, produce. Which is what Mick wanted to do, wants to do and probably eventually will do. At the moment he hasn’t done anything. Everything that he’s done since he still could have done and stayed with us. I’m sure it will eventually in perspective it will fall into place and probably a period to turn things over to do what he wants to do next.

“While he was with the Stones he very much got into playing drums, playing piano, playing bass. Almost like Brian did. Once they got to a point with an instrument, very much didn’t even realize how good they were at what they were doing and rather would learn all those other things whereas with Ronnie there seems to be more of a knowledge of what we can do, what we’re good at and how we can play together. It’s Super-Sympathetic, whereas with Mick it was sympathetic. It was quite a rigid role to play, much more so than with Ronnie where we can cross lead to rhythm backwards to forwards in a number.”

Muddy Waters, The Painter

muddywaterspaintingWelcome to the blog for my book 50 Licks: Myths and Stories From Half A Century of The Rolling Stones. A couple of weeks ago on here, we talked about rock and roll urban legends. Last week we talked about Muddy Waters. Today we merge the two topics. Because, of course, there is a Rolling Stones rock and roll urban legend about none other than Muddy Waters.

On their first tour of America, the Stones got their chance to visit Chess Studios. They were in need of a boost. Their tour wasn’t going exceptionally well (the whole story is in the book on page 28). They recorded fourteen tracks in two days, including “It’s All Over Now.” Famously, Keith Richards insists he saw none other than Muddy Waters himself up on a ladder painting the ceiling! The implication being that the Chess brothers were such cheapskates that they put the talent to work in other ways as well.

Marshall Chess: I’ve laughed in his face many times as he’s insisted he saw Muddy up a ladder with a paint brush in hand. I guess people want to believe that it’s true.

Keith Richards: Marshall was a boy then; he was working in the basement. And also Bill Wyman told me he actually remembers Muddy Waters taking our amplifiers from the car into the studio. . .I know what the Chess brothers were bloody well like – if you want to stay on the payroll, get to work.

[Chess Producer] Norman Dayron: Marshall is right, Keith is wrong. And if Muddy Waters was helping carry anybody’s amplifiers – which isn’t likely – he was doing it out of courtesy.

Buddy Guy: I was the new guy. If anybody would have been painting the ceiling, it would have been me.

OK, so that’s Keith on one side, Marshall, Norman and Buddy on the other. Sorry, Keith, you lose. We’re going to put this one in the MYTH column. But there’s no doubt it’s a funny story/image and there’s a reason it’s persisted, even if mostly in Keith’s imagination

Marshall Chess: It says something about how unfashionable the blues had become at that time. By ’64 nobody really wanted to know. White people had never bought blues records. The audience had always been black. A new generation of black people looked down on the blues. They saw it as slavery music. Instead they were listening to Motown and Stax. It was bands like The Stones and The Yardbirds who introduced the blues to a white market.

Keith Richards: The most bizarre part of the whole story is we turned American people back on to their own music. And that’s probably our greatest contribution.


One From the Vault: Tom Harkins Interviews Pete Fornatale in 1994

K-Rock’s Pete Fornatale – Much More Than a CD Babysitter
(Originally written as a “Personality Profile” class assignment for Dr. Yvonne Stam at Kingsborough Community College’s Journalism and Print Media Program in 1994.)

By Thomas Edward Harkins

Since the day he first manned the microphones at Fordham University and projected his friendly voice forth in search of an audience, Pete Fornatale has been a familiar, comforting presence on the New York City airwaves. From his professional debut at WNEW FM 102.7 in 1969, Fornatale has provided an escape for his listeners, in four hour increments, as he’s guided them through an often tumultuous quarter century that has seen six presidents, two Woodstock festivals, two “wars”, thousands of albums, concerts, benefits, bands, and more births and deaths than anyone cares to remember. Through it all, Fornatale, and the music that he loves, grew and prospered.

One of Fornatale’s first professional radio assignments was a commercial for the original Woodstock festival. Listening to that voice from the vault today, one can hear that although the cheerfulness has remained, the youthful exuberance of the summer of ’69 has been replaced with the seasoned veteran’s knowledge and wisdom. Pete, as mellow as he’s always seemed, has mellowed further still with experience. At 49, Fornatale is much more than a disc jockey. He is a devoted husband and father of three upstanding and personable sons. His wife, Susan, is a schoolteacher who is as devoted to her work as Pete is to his. He is a thrice-published author, a lecturer, as well as a board member and lifelong devotee of Harry Chapin and Bill Ayres’ charity organization, World Hunger Year. He is also one of the most vocal proponents for the preservation of folk music in the country.

Spending time relaxing with his family is every bit as important to Fornatale as his work, and that is where we spoke with him last. We were sitting in a second floor room of his sister-in-law’s home in Port Washington, Long Island. Laughter and good smells came wafting up the stairs as his large family gathered in anticipation of their traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The irony and pressure of interviewing a man who makes his living interviewing some of the biggest names in rock n’ roll weighed upon me, but Fornatale soon put this novice interviewer at ease, reminiscing over framed family snapshots before getting down to the business at hand.

So, we wondered, how has the role of professional disc jockey changed over the last 25 years? In the golden days of vinyl, disc jockeys were “much more involved in the selection of the music” than they are in today’s pre-programmed world of computer printouts and laser discs. The hands-on selection and freedom of musical choice is clearly an aspect of radio that Fornatale misses. “Sometimes I feel like I’m just a babysitter for the CD player”, he says. It sounds sad, however, Fornatale still finds enormous satisfaction in the putting together of his weekly program “The Sunday Show”, which he tapes on Thursday afternoons, right after his normal 10AM – 2PM slot.

Years ago, radio stations played a much wider range of musical styles than today’s specialty stations. The Top 40 lists of years ago were all-inclusive; you were just as likely to hear the crooning of Frank Sinatra, as you were the blistering rock piano of Jerry Lee Lewis or the melancholy blues of Billie Holliday. Today we have radio stations that cater to every imaginable musical taste: hard rock, soft rock, easy listening, country, classical, as well as all-talk, all-sports, and all-news. We asked Fornatale if this was a trend he saw continuing, or would there be a reversal? “Yes,” he said, definitely continuing. “It’s an economically driven, ad driven trend.” In fact, the whole focus of radio has changed so much, the term “broadcasting” is no longer applicable. “We used to call it broadcasting,” said Fornatale, “today we call it ‘narrow-casting’.” Because, he explained, radio stations are targeting narrow, select audiences, and gearing their advertising toward particular demographic groups.

We wondered if a man who loves rock n’ roll music as much as Fornatale ever had the urge to pick up an instrument and add to the pool of rock n’ roll himself. Fornatale says he “just missed his opportunity”, when he toyed with the idea learning the piano at age 19. He never learned, he says, because at 19, he felt it was “too late” to pick up the skills. “Just think,” he says, “I would have been playing piano for thirty years now!” A distinct possibility, when you consider that Fornatale’s sons have shown evidence of musical talent. “Mark is an excellent guitar player,” he says of his 18-year-old, though “the working of a guitar is still very much a mystery to me.”

From its very beginnings, rock n’ roll has been attacked by the establishment from every angle. Religious fundamentalists and so-called “moral majorities” have pointed their fingers, calling rock n’ roll, by turns, wild, overtly sexual, drug oriented and even satanic. On the other hand, from Bangladesh to Live Aid to Farm Aid, we have seen the good things rock is capable of. We asked Fornatale if rock n’ roll was a unifying force for goodness, inherently evil, or just entertainment. “It depends,” he told us, “on the purpose of the event, the group, or the writer.” Just as in every other form of expression, Fornatale says there are examples of rock n’ roll he feels are “destructive”, negative, but he says that it is wrong for critics to make “blanket statements” about any art form. Clearly, for Fornatale, the goodness in rock n’ roll greatly outweighs the negative aspects. “Bruce Springsteen,” for example, he says, is a positive force in rock n’ roll”, citing Springsteen’s legendary generosity to noble causes, including World Hunger Year. Every year, “The Boss” donates one of his autographed guitars to be auctioned off for the “Hungerthon”, as well as a substantial amount of cash to WHY.

Rock n’ roll isn’t the only fish in the musical sea, though. There is a musical form that’s been around almost since time began, and is as close, if not closer to Fornatale’s heart, and that is folk music. We asked Fornatale why folk music is so important for those of us who’ve passed through “the television age” and entered the computer age. “Because, more than anything else, it’s the music of the people,” he said. “It is the best example of the ‘melting pot’ concept that we have. It’s like, what was it that David Dinkins used to say . . . ‘a gorgeous mosaic.’ Folk music”, says Fornatale, “encompasses musical influences from the four corners of the world.” Fornatale grows nostalgic as he cites the examples of the values and traditions that were passed down from Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to Arlo Guthrie, and to his children and Pete’s grandchildren.

Of the many hats worn by this musical historian, the hat of author is one he has donned three times over the course of his multi-faceted career. His three books are “The Rock Music Source Book”, “Radio in the Television Age”, and “The Story of Rock n’ Roll.” Naturally, we were curious if Fornatale was getting that urge to write again, as it has been seven years since he last published a book. As it turns out, Fornatale does have a few irons in the literary fire, but nothing definite or immediate. Among the ideas he’s kicking around is a book based on his old, nationally syndicated radio feature, “Rock Calendar.” He also expressed a desire to collaborate with his good friend Bill Ayres on a book of “The 100 most important songs; not the most financially successful songs necessarily,” he says, “but the songs that have had the most significant impact on their audience.” He said they would explore the issues surrounding the songs, the people who wrote and performed them, and the effect each song had on the listening public. If all this sounds very serious and “heavy” to you, fear not. Fornatale does have a sense of humor about him too. In the days preceding Woodstock II, Fornatale was marketing a humorous t-shirt called “Dogstock”, which depicted a festival of canine rock n’ rollers. “It was supposed to be called ‘Woofstock’, but someone beat us to the copyright,” he said. Nevertheless, Fornatale plans to re-issue the shirt “once the warm weather returns.” And this man, who professes a low tolerance for puns, is actually considering doing a rock n’ roll history book written in “dog terms.” We bet “The Beagles” and “Joe Cockerspaniel” can hardly wait. It’s enough to give men “paws.” Enough!

We had seen the history, literature, family values and nostalgia of Pete Fornatale, now we wanted to know about the charitable, crusading side. We asked Pete about WHY, and his relationship to the group’s co-founder Bill Ayres. “In the beginning, the mid-seventies, WHY survived because Harry Chapin would donate the proceeds from every other concert to the cause. It was a fifty-fifty split.” Fornatale said that when Chapin passed away, WHY almost went under. “They don’t accept donations indiscriminately,” says Fornatale. “If a group’s philosophies are not in keeping with the ideals of WHY, they will decline the donation.” Fortunately, WHY co-founder Bill Ayres had made a pact with Harry to continue the organization for as long as one of them was still living. Happily, in the years since Chapin’s passing WHY has grown steadily, and the annual Hungerthons, which followed Fornatale from WNEW FM 102.7 to 92.3 FM K-Rock, have taken in more money each year. “Hungerthon ’94 was the most successful ever,” says Fornatale. “We took in $450,000, just $50,000 short of the goal hurdle half-million, but $125,000 more than last year.”

25 years, we reminded Fornatale. He has been a friendly, familiar presence in the homes, automobiles, and workplaces of generations of listeners for over 25 years. In all that time, we wanted to know, what were some of the highlights? What made him proudest, and how long did he see himself continuing in his medium? As long as Dick Clark or Casey Kasem have in theirs? Rock n’ roll isn’t just for teenagers anymore. At the mention of Clark and Kasem, Fornatale rolled his eyes and pretended to bury his head in his hands, laughing. Then he grew thoughtful.

“It’s been a real privilege to be involved and identified with a group like World Hunger Year,” he said. And, as for defining moments, “Introducing Crosby, Stills, and Nash to the General Assembly of The United Nations. Standing at that podium, I could just feel the history in that room.” Going a little further back, “Introducing The Beach Boys’ free concert in Central Park in 1978,” a concert which Fornatale co-organized with the late Dennis Wilson. And more recently, Fornatale says, “hosting Paul Simon’s free concert in Central Park on HBO in 1991,” was another highlight. Fornatale says he’s not as knowledgeable about, or “emotionally connected to” some of the newer rock n’ roll, but he feels that classic rock as it stands will “follow us right off the planet.” He allows that “the possibility exists” that he’ll keep doing what he does well into senility,” though he isn’t entirely sure. “I’ll be 50 soon,” he says, “and you reach a point where you have to consider what you’d like to do with the time you have left. There’s still a lot to be done with World Hunger Year.”

25 years in the public ear, and a lifetime of memories to show for it. Pete Fornatale is clearly a man with a few rows left to hoe, a few stones yet unturned [ed note: no pun intended!!], and all the indications are there that he, and the classic rock and folk music that he loves, will be with us well into the next millennium; a friendly voice for the future, the future of New York radio, the future of freedom, and the future of the spirit of rock n’ roll.