Friday, September 19, 2014

The music of a heartbeat...Forever Doo Wop

In the still of the night I held you, held you tight.....
Earth Angel, earth angel will you be mine?......
If for no other reason than the lyrics, most would agree that Doo Wop was the music of falling in love.

For example, one of the most popular songs of the genre, The Great Pretender, describes a man who deals with his heartbreak by denying it. The Platters wrote the lyrics in the washroom of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Did you know Doo Wop groups often practiced in washrooms because of the acoustics?....Well they did, at least according to

Doo Wop originated from rhythm and blues and unlike big band and jazz genres that preceded it, with Doo Wop it's the vocal harmonies that are the focus and not the instrumentals.

Living in Las Vegas is a blogger's dream, and when I check out a show or act to write about, I know  I'll find some of the best performers right here in town no matter the genre. Such was the case with Doo Wop. 

Earlier this year a group of seasoned Doo Wop performers joined together to form a show which now is one of the resident shows at the Riviera. Forever Doo Wop is a celebration of Doo Wop music and its influence during its peak. When was the last time you heard perfect harmony? Singers blending their voices in one singular pitch into a form of audio heaven. I couldn't remember when I had until I experienced this production last weekend. I liked this show even more than I expected, and was taken aback by the talent I saw that night. It was mesmerizing.
"Most of us in the show having been performing together for many years in Las Vegas and around the country. We are truly a family and it shines through in our performances."  - Early Clover 
Some of cast of Forever Doo Wop... Willie, Terry, Gwendolyn, Serena, Tonja, Early & Greg
Forever Doo Wop counts down top Doo Wop songs in addition to many other popular hits of the genre. Like many productions these days they rotate an ensemble cast made up of seasoned pros, so the show can perform every single evening with no nights dark. 

After the performance I spoke with Early Clover, one of the leads of Forever Doo Wop who has performed in Las Vegas for years, in addition to touring with well known musical acts. 

"Teenager in Love is one of my favorite songs to perform because it reminds everyone of a vulnerable time, when everything was new, not only love, but life in general. I would also say the same about Still of the Night, because who, from when they were young, doesn't remember that feeling of first love....and hoping that midnight didn't come too soon!"....Early Clover

I asked him what would you say to someone who isn't familiar with Doo Wop music about your show? Early said if you are from the era, then the songs will help you relive that part of your life again if even just for that hour or so....and if not, the lyrics and vocal harmonies have timeless appeal to anyone who enjoys music. The Penguins, The Platters, The Silhouettes....many recognize the songs of the era and the artists too because the songs have survived long past the time frame they were most popular.
The influence of Doo Wop lives on and the songs of the genre have been recorded as well known cover hits by other artists.  Stay, originally by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, then later recorded and released by Frankie Vallie & The Four Seasons was later covered again by Jackson Browne. Another one is The Great Pretender originally by The Platters, and later covered by  Freddie Mercury of Queen.

Several films have featured Doo Wop with beautiful results like "Do You Love Me" by The Contours in Dirty Dancing, and "Book of Love" by the Monotones in American Graffiti. The music is as much a part of the films as the actors and the story lines.

Mary & Gordy Wendt, 1963

For me, although Doo Wop was before my time it was very much a part of the soundtrack of my childhood. This is because my parents met, fell in love and married listening to Doo Wop. As many do with the music of their youth, they continued to listen to "their music" in the decades after.

Before we could afford our own, my sisters and I listened to our parents' records in the basement. Whether it was from my dad's records or his singing and guitar playing to Buddy Holly, The Drifters and others, I recognize so many songs from that time because they are floating around in my subconscious. My dad recently told me, "At 16 I had three goals in life...get me a job, get me a car, then get me a girl." And he did, my mother!

Ensemble  Cast of Forever Doo Wop, Le Bistro Lounge, Riviera Hotel & Casino Las Vegas...Early Clover, Jerome Jackson, Willie Green, Tom Ross, Terry Forsythe, Tonja Foster, Gwendolyn Forsythe, Serena Henry, Greg Carter, E.J. Welch, Lawrence Jones, Leanna Carter, Tyneisha Lewis, Farah Melanson, Denita Asbury, Erica Bowers, Jill Rock Jones, Paige Sigga. DJ is Ryan Flanigan or Rick Antonio

Starring an all-star, eight-person ensemble of lead singers from some of America's most influential musical groups.  Forever Doo Wop takes audiences on an unforgettable journey through the exciting history of Doo Wop music. Paying homage to one of America's most persuasive art forms, Forever Doo Wop is comprised of a series of vignettes and mini concerts, spanning all genres of Doo Wop....Excerpt from Forever Doo

Music by Gary Kupper, Stage Direction Misty Singer
Assistant Production Operations Manager, Early Clover
Red Mercury Entertainment

Forever Doo Wop 30 second video clip


Anna Wendt Copyright 2014

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fight For My Soul

Although the phrase "fight for my soul" makes a good mantra it's actually the name of the most recent album by Jonny Lang, which hit number one on the Billboard Blues chart this past winter.

Only someone who is a blues legend in the making at the ripe young age of 33 can write songs like he does about his journey through life in the music business and sound like a wise older guide but with a youthful and optimistic slant. Fight For My Soul addresses some of the darkness in his past with a clarity that one can only have looking back on it much later. He spent years in his teens and twenties in the throes of the wild (and sometimes dangerous) party life on the road but came out of it on the other side almost a decade ago, stronger and better than ever. They say one of the hardest industries to maintain your integrity and sense of self in is the music business. Must have been especially hard for someone who entered it at age 14, certainly not a man, barely a teen. But as I said he has long since earned the title of survivor.
“Music is one of the greatest conveyers of ideas and emotions, and in a sense that doesn’t have as much to do with the individual performing, but the power of the connection...And if Fight For My Soul can help somebody by making them feel better or that they’re not alone, that’s my idea of success for this album.” - Jonny Lang

There's no artist I like to hear, see perform, or write about more than Jonny Lang. I caught him last month, as I always do now when he's in town, this time at The Railhead.  As usual he seemed to stop time with his 90 minutes of no intermission musical immersion, powerful voice, energy and phenomenal guitar. Jonny always makes such a casual and humble entrance, then proceeds to  instantly exceed expectations only a few seconds into his opening number, which this time was "Blew Up the House."  I would love to know what he does to prepare for a show because I'm sure it starts longggg before showtime.  His voice and energy take his audience somewhere special without ever leaving the room! Few musical artists can do this. Beyond talent it requires tremendous physical and spiritual energy. Many performers could work their whole life and never have this kind of effect on an audience, but Jonny has had it from the very beginning and it has only grown since.

Jonny Lang...2014...Photo by Evil Robb

“The inspiration for the songs on the record vary widely.  Some are about personal struggles, some are focused on injustices I have seen. ...... I’ve wanted to make this album for a long time.  Creatively, I think there is a lot more going on inside of me than I’ve been sharing on recordings.” 

Now that he is a 20 year music industry veteran, here is a little background on his amazing career so far. Lang started taking guitar lessons at age 13 from blues guitar player Ted Larson and shortly after was not only asked to join his band but it was renamed Kid Jonny Lang and The Big Bang...He took off into the music business and another life from his small town upbringing in North Dakota, moving first to Minneapolis. There he released his first album Smokin'. Then at age 16 when most of us are just learning to drive, he was on to his second and first major studio album with Lie to Me, in 1997 which went multi platinum. I know I listened to mine so much I wore it out and ended up buying another copy.

Then at the age of 17 when most of us are just graduating high school came the Grammy nominated Wander This World in 1998. It was a 5 year stretch until his next album Long Time Coming in 2003. Finally, after overcoming serious personal and addiction issues came the much deserved Grammy Award for Turn Around in 2006. Shortly after this he decided to become an independent artist and left the major label life, with less security but more freedom, a career defining decision and a big one for a 27 year old. In 2009  he released Live at the Ryman. Then he and his wife started a large family, and now Fight for my Soul in 2013 working with producer Tommy Sims. With this album Jonny has said he is entering a chapter where he has found his true voice.

"I would say all of those voices steering you away from questionable decisions, 
listen to them, they are right." - Jonny Lang 

Five to download...these are my top five fave Jonny Lang singles

Breakin In
Fight For My Soul
Red Light
Quitter Never Wins
That Great Day

Jonny and Jimi Hendrix.....In addition to the international solo tours with his band Jonny Lang has toured with the Experience Hendrix Tour now for several years. Next American tour starts on Sept. 19th and goes through Oct 18....24 performances in 30 days! Some of the most legendary guitar players to ever jam onstage are all in one place and many of the venues are outdoor.

Experience Hendrix Tour, September 19 - October 18, 24 cities nationwide in 30 days..............

Jonny Lang Band...Barry Alexander, James Anton, Akil Thompson, Dwan Hill, Missi Hale vocalist

My two past articles about Jonny Lang...


Anna Wendt Copyright 2014