Some of the Sad Notes and High Notes in Music in 2017

Let’s All Make A New Years Pledge for 2018 to Keep Record Stores Alive

By Doug Draper

Posted December 22nd, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Canada and countless others around the world said goodbye in 2017 to one of its favourite musical sons, and a true advocate for social justice and environmental protection, Gord Downie.

For those of us – young and old – who are fans of pop music going back to the first records of Elvis, Chuck Berry and The Beatles, 2017 was another year of sad goodbyes to some of the giants in the world of rock and soul and folk and blues and jazz, and everything in between.

The goodbyes started with the one and only Chuck Berry and  another one of rock’s pioneers, Fat Domino, and continued with the legendary likes of Gregg Allman of Allman Brothers fame, Allman Brother co-founder and drummer Butch Trucks, Glen Campbell, J. Geils, one half of Steely Dan’s brilliant music makers, Walter Becker, soul-singing sensation and late comer to stardom, Charles Bradley, and (I still can’t believe this next guy left us before I was ever able to get my hands on one of those always hard to get tickets to see him in concert) Tom Petty – just to name a few

Greg Allman, co=founder of the legendary Allman Brothers Band, left us in 2017 with one last great recording out of the just as legendary Muscle Shoals studios called ‘Southern Blood’.

On the Canadian side of the ‘rock and roll heaven’ ledger, 2017 goes down as the year millions of us mourned the news we all knew was coming when Tragically Hip front man and national treasure Gord Downie succumbed to brain cancer. Canadian music fans also said goodbye to April Wine bassist Steve Lang and, for those of us who got into the habit, starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, of going to a Lighthouse concert whenever that band was booked to take a stage anywhere within driving distance, we lost its co-founder and one of the world’s greater drummers, Skip Prokop.

And for music lovers in Niagara, Ontario and Western New York, 2017 also marked the end of an era with the closure of one of the best stores anywhere between Toronto and New York City to buy by almost any songs that pop into your head on vinyl or CD – Record Theatre in Buffalo, New York.

2017 saw the closing of one of the greatest record store we’ve ever had in the region, Record Theatre in Buffalo, New York. Since its doors closed for the last time last August, trips to Buffalo for music lovers like me, have never been the same. file Photo by Doug Draper

And speaking of brick-and-mortar record stores struggling to survive in the brave new world of Amazon and digital downloads, we also saw the loss in 2017 of the whole HMV chain, including the one and only Niagara, Ontario outlet at the Pen Centre mall in St. Catharines.

One of the signs featured at HMV record stores in the winter of 2017. The discounts did little to lessen the sadness many music lovers felt over the loss of another real place to go to buy records.

But the year also delivered its share of musical pluses, including the revival of the Sunrise Records chain, including a store that opened last spring at the very same Pen Centre location where HMV closed its doors.

On the new record releases front, there were continuous reminders that not only do we still have a good number of legendary musicians around, but many of them are still able to produce songs as good as, if not better, than the new artists.

Just to name a few of the really good releases by older generations of artists in 2017 – in no particular order – let me start with one by Chris Hillman, a founding members of the classic folk-rock 60s band, The Byrds, called ‘Bidin’ My Time’, which was co-produced and played on by Tom Petty just weeks before his death, with appearances on some of the tracks by fellow former Byrds members Roger McGuinn and David Crosby.

If you are in to the kind of folk rock that permeated the music of The Byrds and Tom Petty, you should love this CD. The reworking of Pete Seeger’s ‘Bells of Rhymney’, which starts the set off and was first recorded by The Byrds in about 1965, is worth the price of admission.

And speaking of former Byrds, David Crosby (also of Crosby, Stills & Nash fame) also released a great album of his own in 2017 called Sky Trails.

If you are in to classic soul and R&B, the legendary Mavis Staples of Staples Singers fame came out with a very good one in the fall, produced by Wilco co-founder Jeff Tweedy, called ‘If All I Was Was Black’.

Van Morrison sounds as good as ever on one called, ‘Roll With The Punches’, as does Buffy Sainte-Marie with an album called ‘Medicine Songs’, featuring one of the toughest protest songs in a long time, titled ‘The War Racket’.

Protest songs, or at least ones that are topical for these dark and disturbing times, also work well on Neil Young’s recently released album ‘The Visitor’,  Billy Bragg’s mini album, ‘Bridges Not Walls’, Pink Floyd member Roger Waters latest solo release ‘Is This The Live We Really Want?’ and on ‘Bone On Bone’, the latest album by Canada’s own Bruce Cockburn, which was a long time coming and turned out to be well worth the wait.

There were other very good  ones in 2017, including ‘Songs of Experience’ by U2, ‘Americana’ by Ray Davies of Kinks fame, ‘I Knew You When,’ a great tribute to late Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey, by an old friend, Bob Seger, and ‘God’s Problem Child’ by another true legend, Willie Nelson.

Some recently departed artists also left on a high note with releases of final studio recordings worthy of their good name.  Soul singer Sharon Jones, who lost a long battle with cancer in the fall of 2016, was brought back to life with a passionate set called ‘Soul of a Woman’.  Chuck Berry was already working on an album celebrating his 90th birthday called ‘Chuck’, which was released to critical acclaim shortly after his death in March of 2017.

Gregg Allman left of us with a wonderful set called ‘Southern Blood’ and Gord Downie did the same with a solo album he recorded when he knew the end was near, but that works as a celebration of his life and one final gift of music to his legions of fans. It is called ‘Introduce Yourself’.

I could go on with more of the sad notes and high notes that unfolded in the world of music in 2017, but the music lover in me has already gotten carried away and I can see this is getting long.

skip Prokop gave us many “Sunny Days” during his many years as a drummer for a band he co-founded and help turn into a Canadian musical institution – Lighthouse. There has still never been anything like the power that poured from a stage when the band broke into one of its anthems, ‘One Fine Morning’.

Maybe you can share a few of your own words on the state of music in 2017 in the space below.

Inside Record Theatre in Buffalo during its final days. This closing of a store with a great staff and great selection of music, shouldn’t have happened. Make sure it never happens at another record store again.

In meantime, let’s wish the best of health to the music legends we have left in 2018 and hope that the hit recordings keep on coming.

Last but not least, help do what you can to keep record stores alive! We need more Record Theatres!

Just a quick P.S. on two Christmas albums you may enjoy‘A Moving Christmas to You’ by Blue Rodeo, with a great version and fine vocal performance by Jim Cuddy on ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’, and if you want to get funky, see if you can find ‘Its a Holiday Soul Party’ by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders



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