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Lennon Letter to Folk Singer

John Lennon wrote a letter to calm a folk singer who once complained that success and wealth could ruin his songwriting, the musician has revealed.

Steve Tilston was just 21 in 1971 when the star read the interview he had done with now defunct ZigZag magazine.

In the hand-written letter, now revealed for the first time, Lennon told the young musician not to worry about becoming wealthy because it would not change what he felt inside.

Here are the words of wisdom in his own handwriting:

lennonltr

The Muse stay with you John… 70th anniversary of his birth in just one month from today…

Ray Charles’ copyrights a lucrative business

A very interesting article from Reuters about Ray Charles’ effect as a performer on both the songs he interpreted (helping out those songwriters’ catalogues) and his own publishing catalogue that he owned or that he wrote while under Warner/Chappell Music.

Ahead of the 80th anniversary of Ray Charles’ birth on September 23, 2010, the Ray Charles Marketing Group is working with partners on numerous projects including a new documentary on the Biography Channel and the debut this fall of "Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Musical" set for November.  So get ready for a lot of Ray Charles in the near future (hurrah!).

But while he helped other artists/songwriters with his interpretations of their songs, the same didn’t work out for Ray Charles since his reputation sometimes proved daunting to other singers. In other words, because Charles often did the definitive versions of his songs, nobody will record/cover his songs.

Ah, to have that problem one day!  But I won’t, ‘cos I’m a “non-performing” songwriter for good reason… I can’t perform… but I keep the Muse with me…

Gordon and Gord – Easter Day Broadcast

Earlier this month in Toronto, a master class in songwriting was offered up by two of the greatest Gords in Canada – folk icon Gordon Lightfoot and Tragically Hip rocker Gord Downie in the inaugural concert of a new six-part series, If You Could Read My Mind, named for Lightfoot’s 1970 breakthrough song.

Sponsored by the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, the two Gords perform stripped-down versions of some of their work and discuss their craft in an intimate setting that was perfect for the animated, funny, revelatory and – at times – touching discussion between the two men and host Laurie Brown.

It was hard not to notice Downie’s admiration of the 71-year-old Lightfoot – whose "austerity and economy of words" he praised – as The Hip’s lead singer got downright emotional early in the show which was being taped for later broadcast on CBC Radio 2 on Easter Sunday.

From a Canoe article on the concert, here are some quotes about songwriting provided by the Gords at their concert earlier this month:

[T]he Orillia, Ont-born Lightfoot said he first began writing songs in Grade 12 – his first ever was a novelty tune called The Hula Hoop Song which was inspired by a Life magazine cover – and was inspired more seriously later by Dylan but admitted that "recording was like going to the dentist."

He said he still has a technical rehearsal with his band every Friday to keep his guitar skills up.

When Downie asked Lightfoot about dealing with writer’s block, the onetime drinker didn’t miss a beat: "Alcohol."

Downie, who hails from Kingston, Ont., couldn’t remember the first tune he wrote but said he first sang at a house party – The Doors’ opus The End of all things – "trying to infuse it with 15-year-old angst."

Later, he recalled, he and his Hip bandmates hung out at The Prince George Hotel catching travelling blues legends like John Lee Hooker in concert but Downie admitted he didn’t learn to play the acoustic guitar until he was twenty.

Both men agreed their songwriting had been hugely inspired by nature over the years, helping to forge the Canadian identity, with Lightfoot revealing he went on massive canoe trips in Northern Ontario and Quebec, sometimes a month at a time.

The only problem – and it’s a good one to have – the CSHF now faces is how to make the next five concerts as entertaining as Thursday night’s premiere deluxe edition.

Lightfoot and Downie’s natural chemistry set the bar high.

May the Muse stay with you Gords…

Springsteen to Guest on Spectacle

The Boss will be a guest on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle program this coming season on CTV in Canada (and on January 27 on Sundance in the U.S.).

From a New Jersey Star-Ledger article by Jay Lustig about the 2-hour season finale with Bruce and members of his E-Street Band:

Songs performed by the entire ensemble include urgent versions of Springsteen’s "The Rising" and "Seeds," as well as a soul-shouting duet on the Sam and Dave hit "I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down" and a well-conceived medley of Springsteen’s "Radio Nowhere" and Costello’s "Radio Radio."

Costello opens the first episode by singing Springsteen’s "She’s the One" and introducing him as the "past, present, future of rock ’n’ roll." The artists’ respect and admiration for each other is obvious as they discuss Springsteen’s development as a musician and a person, and their musical philosophies.

"The greatest rock ’n’ roll musicians are desperate men," Springsteen muses. "You’ve got to have something bothering you all the time."

"You can’t always be a nice guy in the song, is what it is," Costello responds.

The pair also zeros in on specific topics, such as Springsteen’s early years performing in Asbury Park (he calls it a "low-rent Fort Lauderdale" and says the town’s isolation from the recording industry meant "you were left in a bit of your own wilderness"), fatherhood, the influence of Bob Dylan and President Obama’s inauguration.

The most amusing segment comes when they talk about the way Springsteen’s songwriting changed between 1975’s "Born to Run" and 1978’s "Darkness on the Edge of Town," becoming … well, darker.

"One reason it was different is there was some young English songwriter at the time who said the songs on ‘Born To Run’ were too romantic," says Springsteen. "I can’t remember his name right now, but …"

Costello looks genuinely surprised. "Was it me?" he asks. "It wasn’t me."

"I’ve been waiting 30 years for this moment," says Springsteen, with delight. "What do you think? Of course it was."

I’m looking forward to catching this episode for sure… The Muse is with these two and here’s a clip from the episode:

Brandy Alexander, Ron Sexsmith & Feist

John Lennon and Harry Nilsson and a night of Brandy Alexanders in 1974 led to Leslie Feist and Ron Sexsmith co-writing Brandy Alexander some 30 years later… Ah, gotta love your music history and songwriting stories… This is from a recent interview found in the Montreal Gazette:

Ron Sexsmith’s songwriting collaboration with Feist would never have happened if John Lennon and Harry Nilsson hadn’t had way too much to drink at the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles in 1974.

The ex-Beatle and his raucous songwriting pal were downing brandy Alexanders that much-documented night, resulting in behaviour that led to their forcible ejection from the club.

When Leslie Feist saw Sexsmith drinking one of those cocktails at a party in Ottawa, she asked what it was. Sexsmith told her the story of the historic Lennon-Nilsson debacle.

“Three days later, I received anemail from her with this lyric in it,” Sexsmith said in a recent telephone interview.

“And I was, like, ‘Wow! Why didn’t I think of that?’ ”

He took it to the piano, and a quick session later, Brandy Alexander had music.

“I’m a Luddite,” Sexsmith said. “I don’t have anything to record on, so I never had a tape of it to give her.

“About a year later, when I was in Los Angeles recording Time Being, I saw that Leslie was playing across town. So I took a cab and I played it for her in her dressing room. She recorded it on to a dictaphone.”

Feist’s hushed, sultry version came out last year on her platinum-selling disc The Reminder. Sexsmith recorded a more upbeat interpretation on his latest album, Exit Strategy of the Soul.

“I had no intention of recording it,” Sexsmith said. “It wasn’t until after I heard her version, which I loved, that I got to thinking that, in my head, I heard it as more of a party song.”

There are significant differences in the lyrics, too.

“They feel, almost, like two different songs,” Sexsmith said.

“But I did stick more faithfully to her original lyrics than she did.”

Here’s to finding your Brandy Alexander somewhere (wherever inspiration finds you), oh, and here’s the recipe:

1 1/2 oz brandy
1 oz dark creme de cacao
1 oz half-and-half
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
In a shaker half-filled with ice cubes, combine the brandy, creme de cacao, and half-and-half. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with the nutmeg. And May the Muse be with you…

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