Many successful people have failed

Recently, my wife and I watched three separate music documentaries – the eight part series on Country Music, one on Motown and one on David Bowie. What I find interesting is how many artists had to fight failure to get a chance and gain eventual success. These failures reminded me of other similar stories I have been exposed to.

Garth Brooks, one of the biggest selling artists of any genre, was turned down by every studio in Nashville. The night of the most recent “no, thank you,” Brooks performed at a small venue and that same record producer was in the audience and saw something.

David Bowie made records and even albums, but they went nowhere for years. He never lost hope. After much experimentation, he came up with the idea about a man in space. “Ground control to Major Tom…” became the lyric that peeked our interest in “A Space Oddity.”

The Beatles intrigued a young record producer named George Martin, but he recognized the band needed to practice to learn how to play. Many people don’t know that a fifth Beatle named Stu Sutcliffe was very inexperienced. So, Martin sent them to Hamburg, Germany to play seven shows six nights a week. They had to learn new material.

The Supremes led by Diana Ross were called the “no-hit Supremes” for years as they could not break through. Eventually, Berry Gordy and his writers came up with the right song, “Baby, baby. Where did our love go…”

Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time. Yet, Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team before making the team the following  year. As Dean Smith, Jordan’s college coach would say defending his decision to start Jordan as a freshman, “I put him on the blue practice team and they won. I put him on the white practice team and they won. It did not take a genius to realize we had a better chance to win if he played.”

Steve Jobs was successful with the Apple, but failed to develop the next generation machine. Fortunately, while the team he led was failing, another Apple team plodded along and developed the Macintosh. Jobs took it over and it made history. We should also note, Jobs was later fired from his own company, but  returned to save them and launch the hand held I-series of devices.

Hewlett-Packard failed at its first business. It was a bowling alley scorekeeping system. Yet, they created an organization that allowed the development of new products and were hugely succesful with computers and printers.

Everyone fails at something or even more than a few things. The key is what do you do next. When life knocks you down, you have to get up, dust yourself off and move forward. Or, as Winston Churchill famously said, “When you are walking through hell, the key is to keep walking.”

Competition and collaboration

I am reading a wonderful book on the life of Paul Simon. His story of dedication and diligence to his craft is an amazing read. He is a highly competitive, yet very collaborative professional. And, he notices these qualities in others.

Simon noted after meeting the driving forces of The Beatles, he saw how competitive John Lennon and Paul McCartney were. They made each other better trying to outdo the other. But, they also were highly collaborative with each other and other musicians within the band and recording studio.

Don Henley and Glenn Frey of The Eagles were similar. Like Simon and the lead Beatles, Henley and Frey are highly prolific songwriters. Yet, they worked relentlessly on their harmonies. They were as close to flawless as possible. Regardless of who sang the lead, the others contributed to making the music sound even better.

The Beatles were known for their harmonies as well, with numerous takes and much practice. Like The Eagles, regardless of the lead, they all worked together to get the right sound, either vocally or instrumentally. There is a great documentary on the making of Sgt. Pepper that highlights the competition and collaboration which created the most acclaimed album of its time.

Back to Paul Simon, he and Art Garfunkel would practice their harmonies facing each other to watch the other’s mouth as they sang. They even preferred to record singing in one mike because rhey felt it sounded better. And, like The Beatles, Simon constanty pursued makig the music better collaborating with other musicians who brought different styles of music.

Plus, Simon is competitive due to being told he was not tall enough, he wasn’t good enough, he didn’t have the right birthplace to be a folk singer, he wasn’t rock-n-roll enough, he couldn’t sing as well as Garfunkel, etc. Simon just learned his craft behind the scenes even going to England where he was more accepted for his unique style and songwriting.

Competition is a good thing. Yet, checking egos and working together make the product even better. Collaboration is vital, otherwise the competition can become unproductive through sabotage or rooting for failure. The dysfunction in Congress and White House are obvious examples where the absence of collaboration is stifling progress.

So, it is more than fine to compete, but do collaborate. That added seasoning could make all the difference.

 

A few cheers for George and Ringo

My friend Jill did an excellent piece yesterday on John Lennon, so I have been humming tunes of The Beatles all day. Without question, The Beatles owe their amazing success to the collaborative song writing of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Yet, to overlook the contributions of George Harrison and Richard Starkey (aka Ringo Starr) does a disservice to the band.

Harrison was the very young lead guitarist who learned how to play from banjo music. He was three years younger than McCartney and was only seventeen when they played for months on end in Hamburg. Lennon at first thought he was too young,

George Martin, their famous producer was walking the halls after Brian Epstein was unsuccessfully pitching the young band he managed to a Martin colleague. Martin overheard Harrison’s guitar playing on record and popped in the office and decided to take them on.

Harrison would flavor the Lennon and McCartney songs with his picking. He also penned some outstanding songs for the band such as “Something,” “Taxman,” “Here comes the Sun” and “Within you, without you” to name a few. He was accredited for introducing an amalgam of eastern/ western music which is unique to both cultures.

As for Ringo, he did not join the band until 1962 after the band fired their first drummer Pete Best. Starr had been following them even though he was drummer for another band. He liked to wear rings, hence the stage name.

I did not know this until later, but Starr is a left handed drummer who plays on a right handed drum kit. So, his style yielded an interesting sound. He also likes to record in the same room with the others to see and feel how they are playing. Starr collaborated with many artists following the band’s break-up, as he was easy to get along with and could play.

While he sang lead on a few songs “Little help from my Friends,” “Yellow Submarine,” and “Octopus’ Garden,” besides his playing, his main contribution was his effervescent fun loving spirit. He was the beloved jester in a band full of cut-ups.

One final thought comes from the excellent Ron Howard documentary “Eight Days a Week,” which highlights their touring period. Starr said he could not hear his band mates in the big arenas, as the sound systems were not ready for the challenge at that time. So, he watched their body language to keep in time with them. Now, that is professional.

Sgt. Pepper turns fifty

Fifty years ago this month, what is regarded by Rolling Stone Magazine as the greatest album of all time was released – The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Airing on PBS is a BBC produced show called “Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution,” hosted by musician Howard Goodall.

The show is worth the watch as Goodall highlights the innovation and storytelling behind the album. Being a musician, he demonstrates a few items of note and highlights what then was truly cutting edge. In essence, The Beatles had grown tired of touring where they and their fans could not hear their music over their screaming fans. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr wanted to get their creative juices flowing back in the studio and, boy, did they ever.

Working with record producer George Martin, The Beatles told a series of stories about their youth and observations about current life. They blended instruments such as the harmonium, which was a small organ for churches, with piccolo trumpets with sitars with nine pianos playing at once.

I don’t want to steal the thunder of the show, but let me highlight two items . To me, the most avant grade song is “A Day in the Life,” which blends a McCartney song about daily routine with a Lennon song about select news of the day. But, to blend these two songs together, they needed a bridge. So, they used a concept called accidental music and had fourteen orchestra members start at the lowest note possible and build slowly to a certain common level giving the musician the option of being just below, at or above that level. It was pure genius.

The second item is the song “Within you, without you,” by George Harrison. He actually played and orchestrated Indian musicians to play in a somewhat Western style. Goodall had some musicians play the song in an Eastern style, which produces a different sound, But, he notes Harrison wanted to blend two cultures together introducing Indian music to westerners.  He felt westerners were not ready for a total immersion. It is fascinating.

There are many surprising observations that show how cutting edge this album was. The fact that some history and actual people and places are recurring themes makes the music live even more. “Penny Lane” is an actual place, “When I’m 64,” was about McCartney’s father, “Lovely Rita,” was an actual meter maid, and “Strawberry Field Forever,” was an actual park where Lennon played when he was young. It should be noted that while recorded at the same time, “Strawberry Field Forever” and “Penny Lane,” were released as a two A-sided single as Brian Epstein, their manager, did not want too much time to elapse since their previous release, so they were not on Sgt. Pepper.

Please give the album a listen again or for the first time. And, do watch the PBS special either here or on the BBC. “We’re Sgt. Pepper’s one and only lonely hearts club band,” they sang toward the end.

Paul is dead

When The Beatles released what I think is their best album called “Abbey Road,” quite a stir was raised. It was in 1969, well before Social Media and just before the mechanics of the Internet were invented. A rumor was started that Paul McCartney was dead and it went global as a story.

The rumor was based off a story in 1969, that Paul had died in a car crash three years earlier and was replaced. There were several clues, but a key piece of evidence was on the cover of the Abbey Road album where the four band members were pictured walking across the street in front of their studio of the same name.

John Lennon walked first dressed in all white like a spiritual being. Ringo Starr came next dressed in black as a minister or funeral director might. George Harrison was last dressed in jeans and a blue work shirt, as if he portrayed grave digger,

Paul was third and was dressed in a suit with no tie and no shoes. He was also walking out of step with the other three. Other signs were used as evidence from earlier songs and albums. Was this to promote record sales or was it one of the many crazy stories that followed The Beatles?

Two final comments. If this story came out today with Social Media, it would go viral beyond belief. It would likely fragment into many permutations which would also go viral. I am reminded of the story about Bob Hope’s passing which led Congress to have a moment of silence for him to commemorate his life. Yet, no one checked into the fact that he was not dead at that time.

Lastly, I am among many tourists who travelled to the site of the famous album cover picture. Like many before, I quickly walked on the street for a photo shot. The dilemma is Abbey Road is a busy street and the tour guide forwarned us. We just might have ended up dead like Paul needing the three others to bury us. By the way, Paul is still not dead.

 

Wordsmithing and storytelling

“He went to Paris, looking for answers to questions that bothered him so.

He was impressive, young and aggressive, saving the world on his own.

But, warm summer breezes and French wines and cheeses, put his ambition at bay,

And, summers and winters, they scattered like splinters and four or five years slipped away.”

This is the opening stanza to my favorite Jimmy Buffett song, whose title is in the first line “He went to Paris.”  The wordsmithing and storytelling of this song is so engaging and I love how easily Buffett sings it to let the story unfold.

Another song I adore is written by Kenny Loggins  as a tribute to his brother Colin and his first child called “Danny’s Song.” It was made popular by Anne Murray, but I enjoy the Loggins and Messina version a little more. The last stanza defines my wife which is a key reason for my enjoyment.

“Love a girl who holds the world in a paper-cup.

Drink it up, love her and she’ll bring you luck.

And, if you find she helps your mind, you better take her home.

Don’t you live alone, try to earn what lover’s own.”

Words and music. I enjoy a nice instrumental, but to me the words matter, especially when they tell a story.

A final taste is courtesy of Jim Croce in a less known song called “Lover’s Cross.” Here is the opening stanza.

“They said it was bound to happen.

It was just a matter of time.

Well, I have come to my decision

And, it is one of those painful kind.

Well, it seems that you wanted a martyr,

And, that is the one thing I just couldn’t do,

Cause, baby I can’t hang upon a lover’s cross for you.”

These three songs are from a small number I can sing word for word. You will laugh, but I would sing them to my kids as I rocked them to sleep, as I grew quickly tired of nursery rhymes. Gordon Lightfoot, David Gates and The Beatles also lend themselves well to such a mission.

The lyrics I typed are from memory, so there is a chance they are not exactly correct. What are some of your favorites where the lyrics come easily to you?

 

The more I practice the less I suck

The above phrase was uttered by Joe Walsh, the legendary guitarist with The Eagles and as a solo artist. Walsh was a guest on Daryl Hall’s show “Live at Daryl’s House,” where Hall has a studio in his mountain house and the crew and guest jam together, then cook and eat a meal. It is worth the watch (see a link below).

After jamming on Funk 49, Rocky Mountain Way, and Life’s Been Good along with a few of Hall’s songs, the group sat down for a meal which they prepared with a guest chef. As they spoke of how they got started in the music business, Walsh regaled them with his story.

In essence, Walsh spoke of an early band where “we all sucked.” This brought lots of nods and smiles. Then, he said The Beatles came out and they learned to cover The Beatles’ songs. He said if you knew the songs, you could get gigs and they began to play more. But, they also had to practice more beforehand. Eventually, they got closer to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice, which ironically referenced The Beatles in his book “Outliers.” Gladwell noted The Beatles were sent to Hamburg to learn to play better in front of an audience with seven shows a night, six days a week.

And, he then uttered the above line. The more I practiced, the less I sucked. This succinct lesson applies to far more than playing music or singing. It could be related to golf, tennis, free throws, research, business analysis, teaching, presentations, general medicine, surgery, investing, etc. It could be as basic as driving a car or learning to cook or bake.

If we put in the time, we will suck less. Doing something once, does not make you proficient. It means you did it once. It takes practice to get better at something. Thanks Joe for your music and advice. You no longer suck.

http://www.livefromdarylshouse.com/