Every new day brings the potential for things to enter our lives that change the way we view the world. Fashion trends, tv shows, even political beliefs can come and go, but certain things have a way of sticking with us and shaping who we are for the rest of our lives.
Recently, I received one of those “challenges” going around on FB asking people to list their top 10 favorite albums. While I generally don’t get into the Facebook challenge thing, I found this one to be more compelling than dumping a bucket of water over my head, but there’s been so much great music that has been put out over the years that I’d drive myself crazy worrying about leaving something off. Instead I’ve compiled a chronological list of albums that have led me down the road to where I am, musically, both as an artist and a fan.
My Name Is Roosevelt Franklin
Roosevelt Franklin (1974)
The first actual record I ever scored for myself for 5¢ at a neighborhood yard sale when I was probably 4 years old. My boy Roosevelt came from the urban side of Sesame Street and kicked out this collection of funky jams with his homies Mobity Mosely, A.B. Cito, and little bro Baby Ray to teach us the lessons we all need to learn in life. Highlights include a duet with RF and his mom counting to 10 (“Whatchu gonna do when you be 8? I’m gonna eat all the collard greens offa my plate”), Mobity Mosely going through the months of the year (“Mobity mo mo mo mo my, August is the month we have a fish fry”), and teaching the neighborhood kids the days of the week (“I woke up Tuesday morning and ate some ham and eggs, put shoes on my feet but first I put socks on my legs”). Most importantly for me, though, this was the first record I learned to put on the player by myself and cue up the best songs, skipping the filler. Essentially, that day, at 4 years old, I became qualified to be a professional DJ. Kiddinggggg. Seriously, tho….
In 1984, I had already been banned from watching MTV after my mom witnessed the “baseball scene” in Meatloaf’s ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ video featuring a sweaty, bloated ‘Loaf making out with the pretty lady before declaring “STOP RIGHT THEEEERE”. Bless her heart, Mom found that scene too racy for her little man. Naturally, I sought out the most sexually explicit and depraved thing I could get my hands on, and one day while perusing the record cabinet at The Globe, I found it! I was sold as soon as I saw the cover. When I turned it around and saw the first song, “I Wanna Be Somebody,” I thought “Yeh! I wanna be somebody, too… THAT GUY!” I mean he had saw blades on his arms and in his crotch that he would use to cut up raw meat and throw it in the audience! For a sheltered 10 year old kid living in a small town, it doesn’t get any cooler than that! From that day forth I held concerts in front of my bedroom mirror instead of doing my homework, using a tennis racquet as my air guitar and soccer shin pads for arm bands, knowing EXACTLY what I wanted to do with my life. Heheh, Meatloaf Schmeatloaf!
…And Justice For All
I got no sleep the night of August 24th, 1988. I know this because I just Wikipedia’d the release date of “Justice” and it says Aug 25th. That summer I was raking in $13 per week delivering newspapers and on this day, Hi-Ho Records was getting 12 of them. I had already been learning how to play guitar for a year or so and soon after the release of the album, tabs (sheet music by numbers) for the entire record became available. I learned to slop through every note of this masterpiece which really boosted my skill level…. to like…. 2. My friend, Shawn Marquis, and I already had multiple band names, complete with logos and elaborate stage plots drawn up, so we finally got together to actually jam out some music. We would sit in his bedroom and come up with riffs, many of which sounded like they came straight from this record, and try to arrange them into songs. Without even knowing it, we were learning the art of songwriting and collaboration. 20 years later, he flew out to Phoenix to play drums and help arrange some songs on my album. That, my friends, is some crazy shit!
When the whole Seattle grunge scene exploded in the early 90s, countless bands got a free ride on the coat tails of the ‘founding fathers’ Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. None caught more flack for doing so than Candlebox. They were signed by Madonna’s then-fledgling label, Maverick, after playing less than 10 shows and the entire scene shunned them as being “corporate commercial sell-outs.” I won’t even disagree with that notion, but here’s the thing… You can’t fault a band for getting lucky -AND- that album was fucking amaaaazing!!! Front to back, every song could’ve been a single, the production was super slick (some would argue to a fault), and it just plain rocked! Due to its endless rotation in my Dodge Dakota while I was working at a factory (building guitars, no less), I knew every line of every song and figured out that I actually had decent vocal range, and could sound kinda like the singer. Soon after, my friend Bob and I started doing “the acoustic duo thing” where I honed my chops a bit and Voilà, that was the last day-job I ever had.
Lifted or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground
Bright Eyes (2002)
If I were to indeed list my top 10 favorite albums, at least 3 of them would be Bright Eyes records. My band, Leo’s Invention (2001-2005) was on tour and sleeping on people’s floors across America, and we made a friend in Omaha, NE who turned us onto this kid she had gone to high school with, Conor Oberst. Sarcastic prick that I can be, I thought “yeh, whatever, everyone’s got a band.” Leaving town the next day, at our first fuel stop I noticed this same kid on the cover of Spin Magazine, heralded as a songwriting genius, and on a world tour with REM! After swallowing a heaping serving of humble pie, I became absolutely obsessed with everything of his that I could find. From that day forth, no conversation I’ve had about music or inspiration has lacked his or his band’s name. This particular album completely changed the way I looked at songwriting and has opened me up to find other hugely influential singer/songwriters such as Elliott Smith, Ryan Adams, Jenny Lewis, and most recently Taylor Goldsmith of the band Dawes, who opened for AND was the backing band for Conor on this year’s tour, which I was lucky enough to catch -while I was on tour- in Copenhagen.
I could’ve easily listed 50 albums that have influenced me over the years and these aren’t even necessarily my favorites (tho, going back and listening to Roosevelt blew my mind). But in music, as well as in life, it’s not always the “top of the heap” stuff that makes us who we are. I hope this satisfies the terms of the challenge and would love to hear any comments about defining moments you’d like to share. In the words of Mobity Mosely, “I’m gonna Mobity mo mo mo til I can’t Mobity mo no mo. Huh!”