I logged in a lot of stage time this summer, with Seann Clark & Friends, Colette Bone, and my own solo gigs. But the high point was my birthday (July 19), when I went to see the High Life play at the Sprague Brewery in Venango.

If all I did that night was see the High Life play, it still would have been a great evening. The High Life are one of the most exciting acts in the tri-state area. Though primarily a cover band, they recently released an excellent album of original material:

https://www.amazon.com/Uncovered-HighLife/dp/B07F6WD8VP

As I said, if all I had done was see the High Life play, it would have been enough. But because it was my birthday, they invited me onstage to play five songs with them:

“Amie”

“California Dreaming”

“Lyin’ Eyes”

“Comfortably Numb”

“Hotel California”

I’ve seen the High Life (who are good friends of mine) literally dozens of times. Even so, I was amazed how much energy there was on that stage. When I play my two-hour solo gigs, I hardly break a sweat. But after five songs with the High Life, my tongue was hanging out like a red necktie!

For some reason, YouTube wouldn’t let me post it, but here is the video of (most of) the performance:

https://vimeo.com/352613168

Needless to say, it was a great time. But the evening held an additional bonus in store…

One of the first things you learn when purchasing a musical instrument is that quality is quality and junk is junk, and seldom do the twain meet. Some notable exceptions to this rule are the “cheapo” Japanese guitars that came out during the 1960’s. This is because many of them were equipped with “gold foil” pickups, revered among cultists for their dynamic, “chimey” sound. (Ry Cooder, for example, is a big proponent of gold foil pickups.)

Unfortunately, the increased availability of information nowadays has resulted in better-educated guitar sellers. Gold foil pickups themselves go for $150 on eBay.

Well… while I was playing with the High Life at the Sprague Brewery, I took a closer look at the various “knick-knacks” decorating the stage. I spotted a beat-up xylophone, a cheap trumpet… and a junk guitar with gold foil pickups! I asked Brian Sprague about buying it and he agreed to let me have it provided I brought him another junk guitar to hang on the wall in its place.

I returned to Sprague’s the following evening to conclude the transaction. On stage were Glenn Rankin and Dan (“Chip”) Schell, another excellent duo on the local music scene. Rankin and Schell are also a cover act; however, I was impressed with some of their song choices (“Summer Breeze”, “Penny Lane”).

https://www.rankinandschell.com/

When they were done playing, I expressed my appreciation that they didn’t do the same tired old songs that musical acts around here usually play (i.e. “Wagon Wheel”, “Sweet Caroline”). “We actually do both of those,” Chip sheepishly admitted. “But we’re not allowed to play ‘Wagon Wheel’ here.”

So… bands at Sprague’s aren’t allowed to play “Wagon Wheel”. That’s fine by me; if I never hear it again, it’ll still be too soon. But it got me thinking… If you were in charge of booking musical acts, what songs (if any) would you ban from being played onstage?

To get the ball rolling, here are my “bottom ten”:

  1. “Wagon Wheel”
  2. “Sweet Caroline”
  3. “Last Dance with Mary Jane”
  4. “Folsom Prison Blues”
  5. “Wish You Were Here”
  6. “Brown Eyed Girl”
  7. “Me and Bobby McGee”
  8. “All Along the Watchtower”
  9. anything by the Beatles
  10. “Wonderwall”

A word about #9… Those of you who know me well know that the Beatles are my favorite group. It is precisely for that reason that they made the list. The Beatles’ songs are very personal to me. They sound simple, but in fact are full of intriguing nuances. When someone plays a Beatles song and screws it up, it’s like fingernails scraping on a chalkboard.

Anyway, that’s about it for this newsletter. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and if I don’t see you around here, I’ll see you around. Hear?

Rock long and prosper,

Frank

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