Sunday, February 12, 2012

Raise Your Hand

It's not often I get to combine two of my passions -- music and the fight for quality public schools -- but on Tuesday, February 21, the planets are going to line up to allow me that opportunity.

The good folks at Raise Your Hand, a grass-roots group of parents, educators and concerned citizens dedicated to ensuring their voices are heard on issues relating to public education, are hosting a fundraiser at Revolution Brewing, 2323 N. Milwaukee Avenue. (Disclosure: I recently -- and happily -- agreed to join RYH's Board of Directors, largely because I've been so impressed by the group's work in Chicago and Springfield.)

My guitar-slinging pal Steve Doyle and I are going to play music at the RYH event, and we hope to be joined that night by a couple of special guests -- Chicago harp guru James Conway and bassist Mark Blade, who many of us still remember from his work with the Crown Royals.

Guitar ace Steve Doyle always classes up my act.

Tickets for the event are $40 in advance and $50 at the door. You'll get drinks, appetizers and great conversation from 7-9 p.m., but our makeshift combo will continue to play music until 10 p.m. Reserve your tickets here.

I'll be shocked if I ever learn that RYH's founders dug through their record collections before deciding to name their group Raise Your Hand, but rest assured that it's almost impossible to keep me from doing what I can to help any group that's named after a classic tune by Stax soul man Eddie Floyd.

Hope to see you at Revolution Brewing on February 21

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Meet The Electric Rebel Monkeys

Like most financially strapped Chicago public schools, my youngest daughter's grade school is always trying to raise money. A few months ago, as part of a silent auction, I offered to conduct a songwriting/recording workshop for two small groups of kids.

The first group, now known as The Electric Rebel Monkeys, just completed their original song, "Stop Driving Us Crazy." The Monkeys are three CPS students (2nd grade, 3rd grade, and 6th grade) whom I had never met until they showed up at my house one day last spring.

Before they ever got around to christening themselves The Electric Rebel Monkeys, the kids spent a couple of Saturday mornings talking with me about songs, poems, and rock-n-roll. We listened to old records and talked about song structure. Most of all, we had fun.

Eventually, the kids put pen to paper and knocked out their song, telling their parents (in jest, of course) to get off their backs. As you can see from the video, these kids rock, and they had a ball rocking out.

Every time the Monkeys came to my house, I was reminded why we need to make sure we have music and art in our public schools. All kids should have the chance to sit around a table and brainstorm about song ideas. Not because they need to become musicians or songwriters, but just because it's a great way for kids to learn about teamwork, effective communication, storytelling, and constructive criticism.

Along the way, the Monkeys also needed to reach deep inside themselves to tap into vocal abilities they weren't sure they had at the start of this project. There's certainly something to be said for getting the opportunity to take those kinds of risks in a safe environment.

Finally, the kids learned that it's simply a lot of fun to create something from nothing. That's why "Stop Driving Us Crazy" by The Electric Rebel Monkeys is this week's "pick to click."


Stop driving us crazy
We're doing our best
Quit saying were lazy
Just give it a rest

You give me spinach every night
To make me big and strong
I don't want another bite
The taste is so wrong


You make me study every day
Until my brain is gonna burst
But all I wanna do is play
'Cause homework is the worst


You throw me in the bath
To get me squeaky clean
I start to feel your wrath
Do you have to be so mean?


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Forgive Them, Levi, For They Know Not What They Do

I spend very little time listening to music on commercial radio, and that's been the case for years. Yesterday afternoon I was again reminded why I avoid this (generally) pre-programmed dreck at all costs.

Around 2:00 p.m., I found myself stuck in someone else's car for a mercifully short ride, listening to Chicago's WLS-FM, which is now an oldies station. After a few commercials and a station identification break, the instantly recognizable intro to "Bernadette" by The Four Tops blasted through the Mazda's speakers.

I was pumped.

Few singers can match the power and emotion of the late Levi Stubbs, and I consider his performance of "Bernadette" to be one of the most powerful three-minute songs ever committed to vinyl.

Levi's passion and desperation build throughout the recording, until the song hits its climax at about the 2:38 mark.

That's when time stops.

There's silence.

Levi then lets loose a final anguished cry for his woman, after which the band (led by James Jamerson's driving bass) and the background singers bring it all home during the record's last twenty seconds.

I've listened to this record hundreds of times over the years, and every time I hear it, I anxiously await that pause, that final roar, and that outro.

Lord only knows who was turning the knobs yesterday at WLS-FM, but just as Levi dug deep for his last plea to Bernadette, the radio guy abruptly faded out the song at about the 2:40 mark.

But this guy wasn't content just to paint his own musical mustache on a Motown "Mona Lisa"; he added insult to injury by hurriedly halting Levi's masterwork simply to get to the next record.

Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves."