Tags Posts tagged with "Charles Backfish"

Charles Backfish

The cover of the Beatles’ iconic ‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album

By Kevin Redding

It was 50 years ago today … on June 1, 1967, that the Beatles released “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” in the United States and completely changed everything: music, culture, themselves, how people viewed and analyzed rock ’n’ roll.

The incredibly ambitious and experimental 13-track album — on which John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr abandoned their traditional mop-top image and sound in favor of a more conceptual, weird, wholly new product with a scope and style that hadn’t been attempted before by them or anybody else — helped usher in the Summer of Love and set the tone for the rest of the decade.

While many older albums, especially when they fall on younger ears, tend to lose their might over time, “Sgt. Pepper” still stands strong, and sounds just as vibrant and fresh as ever. To this day, it’s argued to be the greatest, if not most influential, album of all time.

Peter Winkler
Favorite Beatles song:
‘A Day in the Life’

“It was just absolutely groundbreaking,” Peter Winkler, a retired Stony Brook University professor of composition and theory and popular music, said, recalling the first time he listened to the record.

Winkler, who taught one of the very first rock music classes at the university in 1971, said he’ll never forget the week it came out and how stunned he was upon hearing the album’s epic finale “A Day in the Life” — “I had never heard anything like that before,” he said, “with that big orchestral roar — that had never happened on a pop record before.”

“Everybody was listening to the album, everybody was talking about; that doesn’t happen these days where one particular record is having that impact on everyone,” Winkler continued. “It was incredibly innovative and made this enormous splash around the world. It expanded the vocabulary of pop music in such a dramatic way. It was just a game changer. Everything that followed — Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd — came straight from ‘Sgt. Pepper.’”

Pete Kennedy
Favorite Beatles song:
‘A Day in the Life’

Pete Kennedy, a New York-based singer-songwriter who regularly performs at The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, echoed Winkler’s excitement over the innovation of the album, comparing it to the release of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales,” a grandiose, cohesive novel, amid decades of mere folktales in the Middle Ages. “That’s kind of what the Beatles did with this. They put rock music together in a much more serious way than anybody had before. It marked the beginning of the rock world that still exists now … they were already so well known and could’ve coasted along doing what they’d been doing but they took this step instead,” Kennedy said.

The album’s release coincided with, and legitimized, an emergence of rock journalists and professional critics who recognized the genre as something to be taken seriously, a notion that would’ve been inconceivable beforehand. A month before, renowned classical composer Leonard Bernstein even hosted an hour-long CBS special called “Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution” referring to the Fab Four as a group whose songs were “more adventurous than anything else written in serious music today.”

Just before the album came out, Kennedy explained, he and a lot of other people thought the Beatles were a done deal. In August 1966, the group performed their final live concert, having had enough of the screaming girls and a hectic atmosphere wherein people were burning their records after Lennon referred to the band as being “bigger than Jesus,” choosing to work exclusively from the studio from then on.

Norman Prusslin
Favorite Beatles song:
‘Getting Better’

One June afternoon the following year, Kennedy walked into a record shop and saw an unrecognizable band, dressed in colorful military costumes and surrounded by a slew of famous faces and flower-power imagery.

“Just seeing that pop-art album cover, with no advanced warning and them with mustaches, it might not seem like a big deal, but it really was because their appearance was such a big part of them,” he said. “The Beatles hairstyle and matching suit … now they looked like hippies, and it was sort of shocking.”

Norman Prusslin, the first station manager of WUSB and director of the media minor at Stony Brook, said of the infamous cover, “it was almost like their alter ego, a way for them to step out of being the Beatles … it was also one of the first times pop records had lyrics printed on the back.”

“It was a very different record, musically, it wasn’t your typical Beatles record up to that point,” Prusslin, who saw the group live in 1964, said. “It felt continuous,

Charles Backfish
Favorite Beatles song:
‘Within You Without You’

like one long thing … I think the concept of the album, rather than being just a collection of songs, became a pallet for an entire creative journey that became influential to other bands that came later. It maximized studio equipment to its fullest potential at the time and contained exploratory, autobiographical lyrics that encouraged other bands to free themselves and try different things and not be set in the two minutes and 50 seconds standard pop hit duration.”

Charles Backfish, the host of WUSB’s “Sunday Street” program, highlighted the album’s coinciding impact with the rise of FM radio. While AM was the dominant form of radio in the ’60s, with FM merely broadcasting whatever AM played, an FCC regulation went into effect in January 1967 declaring each dial needed to have different programming.

“So it opened up the option for FM stations to do something different,” Backfish said. “While AM played classic top 40 songs, FM started to explore different music and some things happening in the rock scene at the time lent themselves to being played on there … and ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ is a perfect example. There were no singles released from the album, each song segued into another, and so it’s an album that found a real home on FM radio and helped drive the popularity of FM radio.”

The Kennedys will return for their ninth Dylan birthday celebration on May 21. Photo by Jeremy Lebled

By Kevin Redding

The times may be a changin’ but the songs of Bob Dylan continue to be sung. On Sunday, May 21, in celebration of the Nobel Laureate’s 76th birthday, The Long Island Museum, in partnership with WUSB-FM’s Sunday Street Concert Series and the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, will host the 12th annual Dylan tribute concert in the Carriage Museum’s Gillespie Room at 7 p.m.

Several local and outside musicians — including concert staples Pete and Maura Kennedy, whose covers include guitars, sitars and ukuleles, Rod MacDonald of the revered tribute band Big Brass Bed, and Russ Seeger of Levon Helm’s Last Hombres, who will perform Dylan deep tracks like “Foot of Pride” — will strum and sing through decades of material, from 1965’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” to 1997’s “Love Sick.”

Much of the setlist will feature songs from two touchstone albums celebrating anniversaries this year — 1967’s “John Wesley Harding,” Dylan’s return to his acoustic roots after three albums of going electric, turns 50, and 1997’s “Time Out of Mind,” his Grammy-Award-winning comeback album, turns 20.

“Every year the show takes on a different dimension … it’s always different and never stale,” said Charlie Backfish, host of the long-running, weekly Stony Brook University radio program “Sunday Street” from which the series stemmed. “We have unique interpretations of Dylan’s songs and we don’t just do the greatest hits; we really go through the catalog and try to play songs you don’t hear often, making it very different than the usual Dylan tribute show.”

Speaking of deep tracks, Seeger is expected to perform “Foot of Pride,” a song Dylan wrote and recorded in 1983 but never released on an album.

Backfish said he chose Dylan as the focus of the tribute concert because of the singer-songwriter’s incredibly prolific career. “He has been at home in a variety of different musical settings over the years, starting out in a folk direction and moving toward rock and then into a country sound and then in a gospel direction later in his career — he’s moved in fascinating ways, his songs are incredible and it [really] opens up the possibilities of using the lyrics and melodies and taking them in different directions and there’s a lot of room to move with Dylan songs. It’s terribly interesting and it’s quite a rich catalog we have to go with,” he said.

The Sunday Street Series started in 2004 at the University Cafe at Stony Brook University when Backfish put on concerts featuring the singer-songwriters he’d interviewed and played on his radio program. In 2014, he was in need of a different venue to host the concerts and turned to The Long Island Museum, which took it over a year later.

“We were wanting to do a singer-songwriter concert series at the museum when Charlie approached us,” Neil Watson, the museum’s executive director, said. Since Backfish came aboard, the museum has hosted more than 20 concerts featuring an ever-changing roster of artists. “It’s activated our performance space on a regular basis like nothing can. People who would never have come to the museum are now being introduced to it in a different way.”

Watson, who noted “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” as his favorite Dylan song, said he was thrilled to be hosting this particular event.

“This concert series sells out very fast and I think it’s because Dylan’s music has touched so many people for different reasons,” Watson said. “What these musicians do with the material is critical and when you hear their interpretations of his songs, they take on a new life. The [concert] captures the spirit of Bob Dylan. It will be a rollicking good time.”

The Long Island Museum is located at 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. Tickets may be purchased in advance at www.sundaystreet.org through Friday, May 19 for $30. If available, tickets may be purchased at the door for $35 (cash only). Please call the museum at 631-751-0066 the day of the show to confirm ticket availability.