Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Buddy Holly: 75th Birthday celebrations this week

courtesy of Popperfoto/Shore Fire Media
September 7 would have been Buddy Holly's 75th birthday.

To help mark the occasion, tomorrow will be officially declared “Buddy Holly Day" in Los Angeles. And the influential singer/guitarist will finally get a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The star unveiling takes place at 11:30 a.m. at 1750 N. Vine St., north of Hollywood Blvd., with a rare appearance by widow Maria Elena Holly, Phil Everly (of the Everly Brothers), producer/musician Peter Asher, Gary Busey (who famously portrayed the musician in the Oscar-nominated film biopic) and surprise guests.

Later that night, The Music Box Theatre in Hollywood hosts a special, invite-only concert to be  filmed in HD for a PBS special airing in December. Paul Anka, Michelle Branch, Chris Isaak, Lyle Lovett, Raul Malo, Graham Nash, Stevie Nicks, Boz Scaggs and Patrick Stump are among the confirmed performers.

Today, "Listen to Me," a new tribute collection to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer, was released on Verve Forecast Records in association with Songmasters. Proceeds will benefit The Grammy Foundation, Songwriters Hall of Fame and Artists House Music.

Produced by Asher (of 1960s hitmaking UK duo Peter & Gordon), the marvellous album includes a wide range of contributors from rock royalty.

Ringo Starr does a quick, faithful "Think it Over," Beach Boy Brian Wilson gives "Listen to Me" the lush chamber pop treatment, onetime Travelling Wilbury/ELO main man Jeff Lynne comes out of the woodwork for a perfect "Words of Love" in his usual style, Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks delivers a finger snapping, bopping "Not Fade Away," containing some slicing electric guitar work from her longtime sideman Waddy Wachtel and Jackson Browne steps out of his typical comfort zone with the orchestrated ballad "True Love Ways."

Linda Ronstadt's original 1976 take on "That'll Be the Day" (also produced by Asher) is included and sounds just as sharp now. Elsewhere on "Listen to Me," Cobra Starship's dance-friendly "Peggy Sue," Chris Isaak's solemn "Crying Waiting Hoping," Zooey Deschanel's heavenly "It's So Easy," Natalie Merchant's stark piano/violin-infused "Learning the Game" are some of the highlights.

The Fray, Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy), Pat Monahan (Train), Imelda May, Lyle Lovett and actor/comedian Eric Idle, of Monty Python fame, round things out in fine fashion.

This past June, the Holly celebration started with another great tribute album, "Rave On" (Fantasy/Concord Music Group). It debuted in the Billboard Top 20 at #15, a rare feat for this kind of release.

A second former Beatle - Sir Paul McCartney - toplines the roster here (he happens to own the publishing rights to the Holly catalog and produced a music doc in the '80s), along with My Morning Jacket, Cee Lo Green, Justin Townes Earle, The Black Keys, Florence+The Machine, She & Him, Modest Mouse, Julian Casablancas, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Fiona Apple and John Brion, Graham Nash, The Detroit Cobras, Kid Rock, John Doe, Karen Elson, Nick Lowe and Jenny O.

Many of them do radically new interpretations. Florence+The Machine bring an industrial New Orleans vibe to "Not Fade Away" (with help from Bayou icon Ivan Neville on keys). The Black Keys' elemental accompaniment touches the emotional core of "Dearest," while Modest Mouse takes "That'll Be the Day" into truly avant-garde territory.

Green's exquisite vocals echo among handclaps and percussion on his epic reading of "Baby, You're So Square (I Don't Care)." Paul McCartney's take on the originally lilting "It's So Easy" is a raw, propulsive excursion filled with boisterous spoken ad-libs. Lou Reed lays down a blazing "Peggy Sue," replete with overdriven guitars and loopy keyboards. The romantic underpinnings of Holly's music are cleverly revealed in Rave On's multiple male-female pairings: Apple and Brion, Reed, Elson and (husband/producer) Jack White and She & Him.

Known for his work with such directors as Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson and Todd Haynes, esteemed film music supervisor Randall Poster was sought out to produce and oversee the project.

"As the tracks from various contributors were gathered for the album," explains Poster in a press release, "we seemed to be gathering pieces of a complex and original puzzle ... that traces back to the roots of rock and roll and shapes so much of the music that followed."

Both albums have their share of winsome covers and are highly recommended for both Holly aficionados and fans of rock 'n' roll in general. Send me a comment and I'll let you know my personal choices for cherry picking downloads.

For more "Rave On: Buddy Holly" information, visit:

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