Music Journalism A-Z – Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer

There are several music journalists considered the “dean” of music critics. The music journalist community looked favorably upon Robert Palmer in that leadership role.

There was a period of my life where I voraciously read the New York Times along with Rolling Stone Magazine. It was during that time I became captivated by the knowledge imparted by Robert Palmer.

Robert Palmer had an incredible knack in adding jet fuel to my interests. I read his writings with a desired relish that made me very learned in the process. I believe this had to  do with his transferable music interpretive skills.

In the early 1970s, Palmer became a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He became the first full-time rock writer for The New York Times a few years later in 1976, serving as chief pop music critic at the newspaper from 1981 to 1988.

Blues Musicologist

Fat Possum Records
Fat Possum Records (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The part of Robert Palmer’s career that interests me the most was when he began teaching ethnomusicology and American music courses at colleges, including at the University of Mississippi. He made tremendous strides as a blues musicologist.  He produced blues albums for Fat Possum Records with artists like R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough.

The book he wrote Deep Blues is a standout publication in the study of the blues. Robert Palmer had a rich analytic side strongly complemented by an ability to synthesize information into discernible form.  His definitive style compels the reader to immerse themselves in the delta and south side blues experiences.

Deep Blues became a living documentary. This is perhaps the best blues documentary.It was filmed in the Northern Mississippi hill country, where Fred McDowell is the figurehead of local tradition.

Deep Blues (1992) Poster


Robert Palmer was a practitioner of music, which set him apart from many music journalists who wrote about music but lacked that  intricate  detail of performing it with scope and precision.  He and fellow musicians Nancy Jeffries, Bill Barth, and Luke Faust formed a psychedelic music group blending jazz, folk, and blues with rock and roll, called The Insect Trust. The band recorded its first, self-titled album on Capitol Records in 1968. He played alto sax and clarinet.

The Insect Trust and album Hoboken Saturday Night


Robert Palmer’s daughter Augusta from the first of his four wives put together a film of discovery and connection with her estranged father entitled, The Hand of Fatima.

An excellent first anthology of Robert Palmer’s writing curated by Anthony DeCurtis who was Robert Palmer’s editor at Rolling Stone in the 90s. Blues & Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmer



Music Journalism A-Z – Alan Light

Alan Light

I chose Alan Light as the letter L music journalist because the last several PBS fund drive music specials have featured him as “the” music commentator during the pledge breaks. This prompted me to research who is Alan Light? I’m happy to share I was knocked out to discover his competent depth of contribution to our American music legacy.

Alan Light got his start as a fact checker at Rolling Stone. He soon became Senior Editor.  He next became founding music editor and editor-in-chief of Vibe.  He went on from there to become editor-in-chief of Spin Magazine. He has been a contributor for The New YorkerGQEntertainment Weekly, The New York TimesMother Jones, and the Oxford American.

Radio and Television Credentials

Alan Light once had a spot as music reviewer on radio station WFUV-FM, He presently serves as music correspondent on the NPR show Weekend America.

Alan Light is the director of programming for the public television series “Live From the Artists Den.”


Alan Light is quite prolific. He has (co)written five books to date.

The Holy or the Broken

  1. Tupac Amaru Shakur: 1971-1996 (with Quincy Jones), 1998
  2. “Vibe” History of Hip Hop, 1999
  3. The Skills to Pay the Bills: The Story of the Beastie Boys, 2006
  4. My Cross To Bear (by Gregg Allman, with Alan Light), 2012
  5. The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”, 2012

My Cross to Bear

Music Journalism A-Z – Anthony DeCurtis

I deliberated about today’s blog post between two music journalists whose last name begins with the letter D. My choice was between Stephen Davis and Anthony Decurtis. I decided to write this music blog post about Anthony DeCurtis. I trust I am not placing too much emphasis on music journalists who own a Rolling Stone Magazine, New York Times pedigree.

Anthony DeCurtis

anthony decurtis

The closer I examined Anthony DeCurtis publishing accomplishments I discovered how he executes his craft. A side goal of my blogging effort is to glean as much as I can from this illustrious collective to improve my music journalism skill.

Anthony DeCurtis holds a Ph.D. in American literature from Indiana University, and teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Pennsylvania.  He resides in New York City.

I value how expressly Anthony DeCurtis conducts the art of interviewing famous musicians. I love to read interviews that form a trust with the performing artist. Anthony DeCurtis has perfected his interview style to an interpretation level that few music journalists ever achieve.

Anthony DeCurtis leads interviews with celebrities at the 92Y. Watch his interview session with Nas from 1/8/13 here.

Nas with Anthony DeCurtis

I especially like the structure of his book, In Other Words: Artists Talk About Life and WorkIt is a collection of the most intimate and revealing interviews by Anthony DeCurtis.  DeCurtis wrote new introductions which tell the story behind these stories, transforming these collected works into an episodic memoir of a life on the front lines of cultural journalism.

The Lumineers Is Our Favorite Album of 2012

I first read about the Lumineers in a New York Times column about the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas this past March. It is an event as a music journalist I long to attend.

The Lumineers, from Colorado, balance the plaintive with the foot-stomping. Wesley Schultz sings in a high tenor about love, time and disillusionment, at once wistful and hard-headed. But while he philosophizes, the band, including a cello, backs him with the enthusiasm of buskers, keeping the songs grounded. During the set I saw, it made a point of going out into the club to belt one song unplugged and got the room singing along. – Jon ParelesBands, Bands, Bands

I looked them up on the Internet, wondering what their music sounded like and if they had any tour dates in our market. Sure enough The Lumineers were booked to appear at StageOne in Fairfield, Ct. on April 19th. The ticket price was $12 which I saw as reasonable and a great music value.

I’m so glad we went to see them as they were just beginning to ascend. Their stage presence and musicianship was infectious. We became instant fans. They made us feel like members of their family. I bought their CD that night and we’ve played it ever since 🙂

On Record Store Day this past month I made a point to find The Lumineers Winter EP. I’m dying to open and play it (I usually keep all my record store day vinyl purchases sealed as a collector.)

Here is a video of The Lumineers performing “Ain’t Nobody’s Problem” a song on that EP.


Capitol Theatre in Portchester, NY Plans Triumphant 2012 Return, Part I

The concert venue that started me on my journey to attend live music events for 42 years is the Capitol Theatre in Portchester, NY. It was a haven of great music in the early 1970s. I attended 12 concerts there from 1970 through 1974. I am elated to learn The Capitol Theatre will resume its preeminent role as a concert venue in our market in 2012.

The New York Times music section featured an informative article yesterday about The Capitol Theatre titled, “Live Music to Return to a Storied Theater” by C.J. Hughes. (See Related Articles link below).

The gist of the article is that Peter Shapiro who owns the Brooklyn Bowl plans to produce 100 performances a year there. The Capitol will undergo a two million dollar, four-month renovation project. This could translate into a late spring/early summer grand re-opening. Peter Shapiro is also the publisher of Relix magazine, which provides excellent coverage of the jam band scene.

I’ve never been to the Brooklyn Bowl but my son has and he really likes the venue. I am a long time reader of Relix. The magazine does a fine job of covering the alternative and rock music scene. Peter Shapiro is very well-connected in the music industry and this bodes well for us concert goers. The addition of The Capitol to the New York/Connecticut market sharpens the competition for the concert dollar. I think this may cause a couple of existing promoters to be more price competitive now.

The proximity of The Capitol Theatre in Portchester, NY was beneficial for Fairfield County Connecticut residents. The lower drinking age of 18 just across the state line made it attractive to see shows there. Portchester was more adjacent than The Fillmore East in the East Village of New York City. I find it amazing that Howard Stein was able to book so many premium top rock acts at The Capitol in lieu of New York City and Bill Graham’s organization. It’s going to get interesting with Connecticut having so many venues in 2011, such as the casinos, The Ridgefield Playhouse, The Klein and The Fairfield Theatre and Infinity Hall. My concert dance card will be full later on in the 2012 season. 🙂

The NY Times Capitol Theatre article motivated me to finally write this music blog post. In order to do the topic justice, I will break the blog post in two parts. As a faithful progressive music listener, I would heard The Capitol Theater radio advertisements on WNEW-FM 102.7. My second concert at The Capitol was Traffic, Silver Metre and Swallow on June 27, 1970. We attended the 8 p.m. early show. I was fortunate to be able to buy tickets in those days at a local head shop in Norwalk, Ct. The shop owner always offered us seventh-row center seating.

The English Rock Groups at The Capitol Theatre

product image

Traffic and Jethro Tull were my favorite two bands in 1970. I recall that Steve Winwood wore a long sleeve white t-shirt that was covered in silver stars. It was a shirt I would later buy at the same head shop that sold me tickets and wear it the next time we saw Traffic, much to Steve Winwood’s chagrin. (He kept looking over at me puzzled where I got the shirt I was guessing…) Traffic consisted of Steve Winwood on Hammond B3 organ, guitar and vocals, Chris Wood on saxophone and flute and Jim Capaldi drums and vocals.

Notice on the bootleg cover that Steve Winwood is wearing the shirt I mentioned in the picture from that night. The two songs I remember the most from Traffic’s set were “40,000 Headmen” with Chris Wood playing the flute and “Pearly Queen”, which featured Steve Winwood performing a riveting guitar solo.

Our third concert was Jethro Tull, McKendree Spring and Livingston Taylor which again was an early show. Jethro Tull featured their third album Benefit that night. It was my second time seeing Jethro Tull (the first time was at The Fillmore East in July of 1969). It was our first Livingston Taylor concert. Little did we realize we would see Liv nine more times in later years. We bought his first record on Capricorn Records the following day as we fell in love with his music and charming wit.

I am going to go out of chronological order here to collect the acts we saw at The Capitol Theatre under the proper headings. We saw Traffic again on Halloween night, 10/31/70.  By then Traffic was increasing strongly in popularity due to FM airplay and the chart success of John Barleycorn Must Die. We noticed that the audience was more enthusiastic the second time we saw Traffic. It felt like a band I had treasured for my listening pleasure was beginning to move out of my reach. But isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work in music industry circles.

We experienced this again six months later with Jethro Tull on 4/27/71 at the late show. Aqualung was receiving lots of accolades from the music critics and was getting heavy airplay on FM stations like WNEW-FM and WPLJ-FM out of New York City. My request to interview Ian Anderson and the band for our local college radio station was turned down the day of the concert by their publicist. She felt we were too small a radio station and market for the fast rising Jethro Tull. The audience was ravenous for Tull that night and I could feel the band being swept along by the success of Aqualung. Having been a loyal fan of Jethro Tull for three years I should have been psyched for their greater acceptance instead of feeling like others were tearing them away from our midst.

It proved monumental that The Capitol Theatre served as the launchpad for the fueling rocket success of Traffic and Jethro Tull in America.

Part II of my music blog about The Capitol Theatre early concert years will be posted tomorrow. It will cover the San Francisco era with such bands as Santana, The Grateful Dead, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna and Big Brother and the Holding Company.