Mid-Week Beat: Happy Birthday to Daniel Johnston

chapterone2Most people know singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston from the 2006 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston but this one-of-a-kind musician was influencing underground musicians well before the celebrated documentary came out.

Johnston became initially known within the Austin, Texas music scene in the early to mid 1980s. He recorded all his material on a $59 Sanyo monaural boombox, singing and playing piano, guitar and chord organ. He would hand out his cassettes to pretty much everyone he met and eventually gained attention from the press, developing a large and devoted fan base through his quirky, yet heartfelt, compositions.

Johnston self-released his cassette-only releases for almost a decade before he actually entered a real recording studio in 1988 to record 1990. However, it’s these early, lo-fi recordings that he’s best known for and which contain some of his best-loved songs like “Speeding Motorcycle” and “True Love Will Find You In The End.”

These early recordings have earned him a reputation as a seminal artist in the so-called “lo-fi” and “outsider” genres, but Johnston’s method of recording was more based out of necessity than a desire to achieve any sort of artistic aesthetic. It goes without saying though, that Johnston’s primitive recording techniques did give his songs a certain vulnerability that is often hard to achieve in a “professional” recording studio. The songs were recorded “as-is” complete with out-of-tune guitars, instrumental flubs and background noise! The definition of D.I.Y.!


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The Mid-Week Beat: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement

Dr.-Martin-Luther-King-Jr-005With Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up this Monday, this week is a chance for us to remember this great man and the incredible struggle that he helped spearhead: the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

And, since this is the Mid-Week Beat, it’s also important to remember what a key role music played for those involved in the struggle. When one thinks of the music of the civil rights era, we largely think of so-called “freedom songs”: African-American gospel hymns like “Go Down Moses” or “We Shall Not Be Moved,” that had deep roots in the African-American churches and socially concious folk songs sung by artists like Julius Lester, Odetta and Pete Seeger. The freedom songs were collaborative in nature and they served as a tool to bring people together in the struggle and to gain strength from one another.

Many younger African Americans involved in the movement, however, sought to separate themselves from the old church tradition and wanted music that was more revolutionary in spirit. Music that could be cranked at parties and was more receptive than participatory. Therefore, it was the soul and r&b that was being produced in Detroit by Motown or in Memphis by Stax, that spoke to this, more militant, generation.
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The Mid-Week Beat: Happy Birthday to Elvis and Bowie!

Happy-Birthday-Elvis-Presley-David-Bowie-elvis-presley-18274375-500-311Today marks the birthdays of two major forces in modern popular music, one has sadly passed on and the other continues to create original and challenging music. I am, of course, referring to the legendary and iconic Elvis Presley and David Bowie.

Elvis Presley was born on this day in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. It was in the Assembly of God church in Tupelo that Elvis first discovered his love for music. He entered a singing contest at the age of ten at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, winning fifth place, and, a few weeks later, got his first guitar for his birthday. He would take lessons over the following year and would watch and learn from other guitarists but he remained shy and nervous about performing in front of other people.

He eventually began bringing his guitar to school on a daily basis, playing and singing during his lunchtime, despite being teased for playing “hillbilly” music. He became a fan of Mississippi Slim’s radio show on the local radio station WELO, and Slim’s younger brother, who was a classmate of Presley’s, began taking him to the station. Slim begain showing the young Presley guitar chord technique and eventually scheduled him for two on-air performances. He chickened out of the first one but made it to the second.
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The Mid-Week Beat: Paying Tribute This Weekend

elvis-impersonators-590x310As many musicians out there know, a large portion of learning to be a instrumentalist or songwriter is learning to properly steal from your influences. Many musicians struggle to be original but chances are, someone has played the combination of chords and notes that you “wrote” before. That said, if you really get down to it, the actual notes and chords don’t really matter. It’s what you bring to those chords that matters; your unique perspective and individual playing style. No matter what you do to differentiate your sound from sounds of the past, there’s bound to be a little of your influences in there somewhere. That’s okay, as long as you also bring a little of yourself into the mix as well.

With that said, there are two very different ways to approach a tribute show. Some artists attempt to re-create the exact sound of the artist they’re paying tribute to, others choose to re-interpret an artists songs in their own unique way. I find the latter to be more enjoyable because it really distills music down to its pure form and pays homage to the folk tradition, where songs were passed down over the years; constantly changing and being re-interpreted. By interpreting a song in their own voice, a musician ensures that those songs will continue to grow and change for years to come. Songs by revered songwriters like Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen are constantly being changed and re-interpreted by musicians, while artists like Elvis or Neil Diamond often get impersonated, with musicians donning their cadence, look and stage presence.

Today on the Mid-Week Beat, we feature both kinds of tributes: impersonations and interpretations. If you’re a fan of the original artists, chances are you’re going to enjoy hearing the songs you love regardless of whether they’re done straight or in an entirely different style. What matters are the songs.
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The Mid-Week Beat: Holiday Concerts for Music Snobs!

rock-santaTurkey Day has passed and you’re starting to hear the familiar strains of holiday songs coming out of the speakers of every store, shopping mall and restaurant around town. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love holiday music, but I don’t think I’m alone when I say that hearing some of those songs over and over can sometimes make me want to ram a candy cane in my eardrum.

Basically, I’m a music snob. So, when picking out holiday concerts for you, my faithful readers of The Mid-Week Beat, I thought I’d try and find events that stray away from the typical holiday concert and are certain to appeal to your discerning tastes. You won’t find any Nutcrackers in this list, no Christmas Carols and certainly, no Messiah‘s. Instead you get a psychedelic music festival in Seattle, Christmas songs as done by The Who, a choir composed entirely of indie rock songstresses from Brooklyn and much, much more. The one common thread: they all center around music and they all attempt to bring something fresh and new to the age-old “holiday concert” concept.

Of course, if you’re a traditionalist, we have plenty of traditional fare on the site but why not go out and experience something a little different this year? You can always catch The Nutcracker next year.

Be sure to pick up tickets soon as all of these shows are sure to sell out.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 6 I Psychedelic Holiday Freak OutSeattle, Washington tumblr_mv58oo2nPf1rjap9ao1_500

FunkFarm, a Seattle-based imprint, has announced the Psychedelic Holiday Freak Out — a 2 day, 38 band music festival taking place on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. With stages for rock and hip-hop, the festival will bring top West Coast talent to the city to play alongside a collection of rising local artists.

The event was conceived during a hung-over drive between Portland and Seattle. “We saw the dreariness out the window and decided that Seattle needed a late-fall festival to shake things up before winter really set in,” said organizer Nate Leonard-Berliner. “We originally wanted to cater to fans of psychedelic music, but our scope quickly expanded when we saw the sheer variety of great acts interested in working with us.”

The lineup highlights top performers across a wide swath of genres, including sonic futurist Vox Mod, hip-hop fire spitters Kung Foo Grip and hard-driving garage rockers Fox and the Law. Individual stages will be hosted by legendary radio DJ Marco Collins, consummate sci-fi cowboy Brent Amaker and local hip hop veteran Bishop I of Oldominion.

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The Mid-Week Beat: Rachel Wong – Here’s to the Indies!

rachel_wong_9This week on the Mid-Week Beat, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we want to say how thankful we are for all the incredible independent musicians out there. We are thankful that these musicians continue to get out there and  make great original music despite all the hardships that go into trying to build a music career.

If you are an independent artist, don’t get discouraged if you haven’t achieved “success” in the industry sense of the word. You are doing something that most folks don’t get an opportunity to do: pursuing your dream. You do what you love, often times while working day jobs, raising kids and enduring all the other stresses of daily life.

Independent musicians’ undying perseverance is something to be admired. Many nights are spent loading gear in and out of venues, waiting around for hours during soundchecks, sometimes to only play to a handful of people. But if they weren’t out there persevering, music fans would never be fortunate enough to discover the musical gems that sometimes appear out of nowhere. Chances are your favorite artists had many years of hard work behind them before they got the recognition they deserved.

Case in point, Brown Paper Tickets’ own Rachel Wong. When Rachel isn’t working wonders with our digital marketing, she’s often found playing her unique brand of acoustic pop in local coffee shops, at community festivals or, sometimes, on TV!

Influenced by the late Michael Jackson, John Mayer, Lauryn Hill, James Morrison and Sara Bareilles, Rachel mixes a soulful vocal style with beautiful pop melodies. Her music is infused with self-determined passion and her unique perspective as an Asian American woman. This determination has helped her garner international recognition as tracks off of her debut album Curtain Fall can now be heard on radio stations in Canada and the Philippines.

Rachel beat out over 3,000 bands in the US to secure her top 12 finalist spot for Ford’s Gimme the Gig II Contest. As part of the contest, she was able to showcase her original music in front of Grammy-award winning producer Don Was and renowned sound engineer Krish Sharma for a KTLA TV feature.


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The Mid-Week Beat: Happy Birthday Mike D and Phife Dawg!

Today is the birthdays of two prominent contributors to the so-called “Golden Age of Hip Hop” – Mike D of the legendary Beastie Boys and Phife Dawg of the equally influential A Tribe Called Quest.

Mike D was born Michael Diamond on this day in 1965 in New York City. Born into an upper-middle class Jewish family, young Diamond was drawn to the gritty, urban hardcore punk scene that was starting to blossom around clubs like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City.

In 1978, at the age of 13, he co-founded The Young Aborigines, an “experimental-hardcore” band with Diamond sitting in on drums. Eventually, Adam Yauch (later dubbed MCA) would replace Jeremy Shatan on bass and Diamond would move from drums to vocal duties. In 1983, Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) would join the group on guitar and they would eventually change their name to the Beastie Boys. The group released the legendary Polly Wog Stew EP in 1982 and it would be their only release as a hardcore punk band.

** WARNING! This video contains language that may be offensive to some viewers. **


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The Mid-Week Beat: House Concerts

houseconcertsRecently, we here at Brown Paper Tickets have seen a surge in the popularity of house concerts: concerts hosted in the homes of ardent music fans who wish to have a more intimate musical experience, in the comfort of their own homes, amongst a handful of fellow music enthusiasts. The audiences can range from 10 people, or up to 20 or 30.

Traditionally, house concerts were common amongst folk, country and blues musicians living in rural areas without traditional venues to play in. In fact, you could argue that, in these areas, pretty much every live musical performance was in someone’s home.

In urban areas like New York City, apartments were often used for rent parties, where a tenant would hire local musicians to play and then pass the hat amongst the attendeees to collect that month’s rent.  Rent parties of 1920s New York are often credited as playing a major role in the development of jazz and blues and jazz legends like Willie “The Lion” Smith and Fats Waller got their start playing stride piano at these affairs. Later, in the 1930s, New York folk musicians like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger would describe their weekly rent parties as “hootenannys.”

While rent parties and hootenannys may be things of the past, for the most part, the house concert remains popular. The intimate environment seems to lend itself to classical, blues, folk and Americana music, but it’s a great venue for singer/songwriters as well. Audiences can enjoy the music without being distracted by the din and clatter associated with traditional music venues and bars. They can hear the lyrics and enjoy the little subtleties of an individual’s performance.


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The Mid-Week Beat: Here’s to the Singer-Songwriters!

Bob_Dylan_All_Along_the_Watchtower_single_coverOn this day, in 1967, Bob Dylan recorded “All Along the Watchtower” during a three-hour recording session at Columbia Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. Dylan would perform ‘Watchtower’ live more than any of his other compositions in the 45 years since its release. It would be covered by countless artists in a variety of genres, most famously by Jimi Hendrix for his 1968 Electric Ladyland release.

Other artists who have covered the song include the Dave Matthews Band, U2, Neil Young, The Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam, Eric Clapton, Supetramp, Van Morrison, Paul Weller, T.S.O.L., Bobby Womack and countless others.

While Dylan may be widely praised as a singer/songwriter, with countless artists covering his songs, he is just one in a long line of troubadours that have braved stages armed with little more than their words and an acoustic guitar. In Dylan’s day, singers that wrote their own tunes were relatively rare in popular music. Most pop singers sang other people’s songs or, occasionally, co-wrote their own songs.

What separates the “singer/songwriter” from other musicans is that they often provide the sole accompaniment to an entire composition, typically using only a guitar or piano and the compositions are written primarily as a solo vehicle. While in Dylan’s day, singer/songwriters were largely associated with the folk tradition, Dylan influenced many in the rock community to follow a similar path. As a result, singer/songwriters became a powerful force in popular music in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the success of artists like Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, James Taylor and countless others.
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The Mid-Week Beat: RIP Lou Reed

lou-reed-lou-reed-31564770-1024-768So, if this was a normal Halloween, I would be writing about all the upcoming Halloween music events but when a musical legend dies, it’s the duty of the music fan to pay tribute. This last Sunday morning, we lost probably one of the most influential musicians of the past 40 years and an artist that had a tremendous impact on me: Lou Reed.

Any fan of “alternative” music owes a huge debt to Reed. Starting his musical career in the era of “free love” and psychedelia, Reed was churning out discordant, droning songs about violence, hard drugs and life on the streets of New York City; far removed from what was going on in hippy meccas like London or San Francisco. Reed believed that rock and roll could push boundaries and challenge audiences just like the literature of the Beat Generation or the art of the avant garde.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that he found a confidante and ally in Andy Warhol, who took Reed’s band the Velvet Underground under his wing, giving them a home at his Factory, an entourage of “superstar” fans and a dark, surreal aesthetic that struck a deep resonating chord for the music fans that would later develop the punk ethos. The famous saying goes that the first Velvet Underground album sold very few copies, but everyone that bought it, formed a band.

After the demise of the Velvet Underground, Reed continued to experiment, creating the proto-industrial record Metal Machine Music, penning probably the first Top 40 hit about transsexuals (“Walk on the Wild Side”) and becoming a major influence and star of the glam rock scene of the early 70s. Of course, by the mid-1970s punk was in full swing and Reed was regularly credited as one of the founders. His songs were covered by bands like Joy Division, The Modern Lovers, Slaughter and the Dogs and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, who all obviously owed a huge debt to Reed and the Velvet Underground.

Reed continued to make challenging music up until his death on Sunday, collaborating with Metallica and the Gorillaz, among others. Needless to say, the music world is a lot emptier without his presence and for this week’s Mid-Week Beat, I thought I’d highlight shows and musicians that owe a debt to Mr. Reed and the music he created. Thanks for everything Lou. We’ll miss you.
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