Roxanne Tellier: No Biz Like Show Biz
My bones are aching like they’ve been played by a mad vibraphonist. Ah, the perils of live performance. The agony of the feet.But ah, the joys as well!
My band, Soul Café, gigged at Tennessee, a Toronto bar, last night. This particular unit plays classic rhythm & blues, but 4 out of 5 of us have played together for decades, and in pretty much every permutation of music that exists. We’re all ‘lifers.’ Music took us young, and she ain’t letting go.
If you’ve spent much time performing on a regular basis, the stage becomes second nature. There’s still a little frison each time the spotlight hits you and you get to show your stuff. For the rest of the world, speaking in public is a terrible fear. For entertainers, there’s no deeper fear than being silenced.
Whether we carry on for the love of the art, or to make a living, in front of a large audience, or in a smoky bar’s backroom, the need to be on stage drives performers, often long past their ‘best by’ date.
Frank Sinatra kept gigging years after his voice was a mere shadow of its former self. Oscar Peterson’s last Albert Hall gigs included him absent mindedly repeating some of his previously played tunes. Beloved Black Sabbath mumbler Ozzy Osbourne, 66, continues to baffle audiences with his current CD and tour.
Even if they want to retire, we often won’t let our heroes go gently into that good night. Revered blues musician, and childhood friend of Robert Johnson, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, played right up until his death in 2011, aged 96. Allen Toussaint, 77, New Orleans’ most revered songwriter and arranger, is booked solid from now until the end of October. Jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins, was honoured at the Kennedy Center on his 81st birthday, and played the Barbicon club in England at the age of 82. Bob Dylan’s still touring at 74; Neil Young (69) is touring to support his new album vilifying Monsanto, and at 71, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd wants a word with you about the planet.
The Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger,72/Keith Richards, 71/Charlie Watts, 74/Ronnie Wood, 68) are organizing yet another world tour, and Keef has a new release, Crosseyed Heart, set to drop in the fall. And I’m pretty sure Paul McCartney (73) has gigs booked for long after he’s actually left this mortal coil.
“When you get up in the evening and see all those people, all you think about for the next 1½ hours is delivering your best, and if you do, they’ll thank you for it. It is the most satisfying thing.”(Jet Black, The Stranglers.)
Billy Joel, 66, headlined at the Bonnaroo Pop Festival in June, playing his well-loved catalogue during a two hour set that was punctuated by his stepping in front of the piano, apple red guitar in hand, and bringing out hislongtime crew member Chainsaw for a blistering rip through AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell.”
Earlier this month, Joel broke Elton John’s record for most solo performances at Madison Square Garden. Joel marked the occasion by performing “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” “That was really an homage,” he said. “He’s, like, the guy before me! He was the piano player before I was a Piano Man. I felt humbled by it — to play 65 times and beat his record. I thought, ‘I’d like to tip my hat to the man.’”
Joel hasn’t released an album since 1993’s River of Dreams. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he said: “I’m writing new music all the time. I’m just not writing pop stuff. It’s not my goal right now. I’m writing for the sake of writing music. Whether it gets heard or not isn’t an issue for me. It keeps my own juices going and my mind active.”
As for Elton John, 68, he’s happily married to Toronto’s David Furnish, and the pair has two adopted boys, aged 2 and 4. He’s constantly on tour, released The Diving Board in 2013, and is #4 on the list of “wealthiest singers in the world,” with a net worth of $320 million.(Macca’s #1 at $800 million.)
Jet Black, the English drummer and founder member of punk rock / new wave band The Stranglers,is 76 years old. His last appearances on the band’s 2014 Ruby Anniversary tour were sporadic. When present, his playing was restricted to the encore only. His lungs are giving out, and he’s not in good health, but has said, “I’ll carry on until I’m incapable of doing it. I am going to have to stop one day, but I expect the band will carry on.”
Ginger Baker, the 75 year old legend chronicled in the rock-doc “Beware of Mr Baker,” has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a lung disease.In 2013 and 2014 Baker toured with the Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, a quartet comprising Baker, saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, (74), bassist Alec Dankworth (55,) and percussionist AbassDodoo.And in 2014 Baker signed with record label Motema Music to release a new jazz album with his quartet.
Leonard Cohen began his World Tour in 2008 when he was 73, and carried on until 2013. In 2014, Cohen released a new album, Popular Problems. Now 80, his song and voice also grace the newTrue Detective Season 2 intro.
Even if your teeth itch whenever you hear the song “Margaritaville,” it’s hard not to respect 69 year old Jimmy Buffett, who parlayed a summer hit into a massive empire. The singer–songwriter,actor, and businessman tours constantly and always at places where his sunshiney, beach bum anthems work best. He’s also a best-selling writer and is involved in two restaurant chains named after two of his best-known songs, “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and “Margaritaville“. Not a bad work ethic for a guy for whom “nothing is new but this brand new tattoo.”
Steven Tyler, better known as Aerosmith’s lead singer, has decided to celebrate being 67 by going country. Earlier this month he released a new song and video for country label Dot Records that extols a quasi-hippie, gypsy life style, and features an enigmatic young woman whoseems to have stolen his trademark scarves. Call me a traditionalist, but – I dunno. The makeup, the black fingernails … to me it all just feels like a Charles Manson family waiting to happen.
Music, like fine wine, can last a very long time and get better with age. Or it can turn vinegary. Some musicians bow out early, others just can’t quit. Me, I like to think I’ll go out like James Brown, shrugging off my minions are they try to tenderly lead me off the stage, and struggling back for just one more rousing chorus.
Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday
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Roxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.