big bend revisited… memories of the end of summer 1971, and a new Nights on Venus single in mid-October…

Big Bend, as in national park Big Bend, in far West Texas, bordering Mexico, and separated by the mighty, muddy Rio Grande River. Think Fandango (a young Kevin Costner) and No Country For Old Men (Tommy Lee Jones)…

Still from the movie "Fandango" (1985)... Kevin Costner holds the bottle of champagne ("Dom") aloft before flinging it into the abyss...
Still from the movie “Fandango” (1985)… Kevin Costner holds the bottle of champagne (“Dom”) aloft before flinging it into the abyss… No, we did not have champagne with us on this trip as we were 14 and our handlers would have frowned on that. No beer either…
Map of Big Bend National Park... The dark line is the Rio Grande River and the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
Map of Big Bend National Park… The dark line is the Rio Grande River and the border between the U.S./Texas and Mexico.

I was reminded, via Facebook post this week (thanks John!), that today, August 27th, was the day the St. Mark’s School of Texas Class of 1975, from Dallas – about 92-93 of us – boarded buses, along with our Outward Bound instructors and select faculty from the school, and set off at 7:00 a.m. 45 years ago for the remote and rugged Big Bend country south of Alpine and Marfa for an adventure. We would be there for 10 days – 5 in the Chisos Mountains, 5 on the Rio Grande River.

This was the official start of our freshman year, 1971. The first Outward Bound trip (mandatory for us) had come into being that year as an alternative and replacement for the annual rite of passage known as Freshman Day at the school – a one-day melee which involved a lot of shaving cream, silly string, dunkings in the library courtyard fountain and general harassment from the seniors toward the incoming freshman class. The trip to Big Bend was supposed to end that tradition, which it did (I think), and was to be our rite of passage.

I was 14 at the time. I had just come back to Dallas from my first summer of working up at the Evergreen Conference in Evergreen, Colorado only the week before. Mostly I was helping out with routine maintenance and kitchen duties, although the first job I was assigned was to clean out the incinerator which probably hadn’t been touched in a couple of decades. It had to be the dirtiest, nastiest job my supervisors could think of to give me as an initiation and I’m sure they were laughing their asses off that entire week I was cleaning it out. On the brighter side, I was always off work by 2:30 and could hike or hang out down at Bear Creek the rest of the afternoon; there’d been a summer romance with a girl from the Midwest, and The Who’s album Who’s Next had just been released and was on the Denver FM stations constantly. “The Song Is Over” (featuring Nicky Hopkins’ excellent piano work) from that album quickly became my favorite song and still is to this day.

And then came the trip to Big Bend…

Casa Grande... Big Bend, 1971. Photo courtesy of Mark Walsh.
Casa Grande… Big Bend, 1971. Photo courtesy of Mark Walsh.

First of all, it’s absolutely beautiful country – if you’ve been there, you know and if you haven’t, you should definitely go. I remember we got there late in the afternoon and were glad to get off the buses after 12 hours. We quickly divided into groups – several of them would go to the river first, several would stay in the mountains. I was in one of the groups that would get the mountains first. We all ate hamburgers for dinner, then got our gear and said adios to the groups that were headed for the river… and later we camped out under a cloudless sky filled with a million stars. Will never forget that… I just stared up at the sky for the longest time, ’til I fell asleep.

Cover from the St. Mark's yearbook, The Marksman, 1972...
Cover from the St. Mark’s yearbook, The Marksman, 1972…

And the first five days of the trip in the mountains were the best, at least for me. We hiked the trails, hiked up to Lost Mine Peak with 35-40 lb. packs on our backs; I remember I was reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath at the time and had it tucked away in my pack. The days were predictably hot (but it was a dry heat), the nights cool because it was the desert. One classmate broke his ankle and had to be carted out – I remember that; the highlights: a 200-foot free rappel down a sheer vertical rock wall where you could lower yourself as fast or as slow as you wanted, an overnight mini-solo in the wilderness, and of course, those cool desert nights. We may have all sweated like pigs during the day, but the mountains were “no sweat” and essentially familiar terrain.

Pictures of the Big Bend experience from the Marksman, 1972...
Pictures of the Big Bend experience from the Marksman, 1972…

The same could not be said of the days on the river, the muddy Rio Grande. In fact, as I thought about this trip in the weeks leading up to it, the time on the river was the part I had been dreading. For good reason as it turned out. Most of the time in the boat on the river was boring – if it got too hot, which it inevitably did, you just rolled off the side into the river and floated along. There were raft wars, wasp wars, swatting at the damn wasps with the frying pans in our packs, but then I also remember one day hearing the guys in the boat up in front of us starting to sing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” so we all started to sing along in ours. That was cool.

I remember being in the boat – and we were always switching into other boats – that helped two guys cross the river from the Mexican side to the U.S. side. I remember seeing dead livestock in the quicksand near the river, a dead horse… a body floating downstream, lifeless. A human body. Those who were in that particular boat that day will remember… ’cause we were all a little freaked out, even the Outward Bound guy. Most of the time on the river was fairly peaceful and then you’d have the occasional rapids and everyone would work as one to get through them. For whatever reason I happened to see a lot of death on the river. At 14 years of age, it leaves an impression… Can’t unsee it.

And then there was the last day… It was supposed to be an easy day – only one last set of rapids before the takeout point. I wish I had all the pictures I took on this trip – I was telling a classmate I had shot 12 rolls of film on the trip, actually was bragging about it as I was a bit more of a camera buff back then, in the photography club at school and all. But they were lost that last day, never got to see ’em – my camera, waterlogged and ruined even before the raft turned over. The following passage comes from a journal entry I wrote much later, 25 years after the fact, looking back on what happened, and now 20 years ago… For those who remember, this will fill in some gaps.

What I remember about that last half-mile or so before the takeout point… I see the three of us – Mark, Mike, and me – in the boat, coming through the rapids and it was late in the afternoon; it was actually quite beautiful because there was that “cinematic honeydew light” that you get just ahead of sundown. The golden hour. We were actually coming through those rapids quite late in the day and I remember watching the boat up in front of us – I was at the back of our boat, playing captain. But the boat up in front of us hit a hole in the middle of the river; I watched their boat dip into it and then watched as it veered off way to the right toward the rock wall on the south side of the river. I remember thinking we had to avoid that hole and so we started paddling harder and I was trying to steer the boat as best I could away from it. Well of course, that proved futile and we ended up dipping down into it as well. And sure enough, we started drifting way to the right just like the boat in front of us did. Even so, I didn’t think we were in immediate trouble – then just as quickly realized we were. That would have been when the boat was getting too close to the rock wall and then as the boat got stuck against the wall by the current moments later.

The first thing that happened when the boat got stuck was that Mark, who was sitting up at the very front, got swept away by the current. The river just swept into the boat with such force he was gone in an instant, and I can still remember that look of surprise he had because he turned around in the water looking back at us and then he was downstream, gone. I remember that being kind of an ‘oh shit’ moment and yeah, I knew we were in trouble. So it was just me and Mike in the boat at that point and he’s still trying to paddle and I’m trying to push us off the rock wall with my paddle. I was noticing also that the water was pushing against the boat with such force that the boat was starting to inch its way up the rock wall itself and eventually it was going to turn over on us. Mike turned around and yelled, “What are we gonna do, Thomas?” It was very clear we couldn’t stay where we were and wait for the boats behind us. The river wasn’t going to let us do that ‘cause it was going to flip the boat over on top of us. It seemed like the only thing we could do is try to jump and swim away from the boat and the rock wall as far as we could, get out into the current and go with it. That would be the instinctual thing, right? I yelled back at Mike to swim hard toward the center [of the river]. That was the plan, so he pushed off and went into the river and now I’m all alone and the boat is even more at an angle.

I don’t remember being scared here, probably because there wasn’t time to be scared and possibly because I didn’t fully understand just how dangerous a situation we were in. Sometimes it’s good not to know. A few moments later, I took a deep breath and moved my foot to the left side of the boat, getting ready to push off… then tried to push off but my foot slipped and next thing I know I’m in the water, underwater, and the boat has landed on top of me. OK… now I’m scared. There were some duffel bags in the boat, a few strongboxes and some other equipment but there wasn’t a whole lot which was good because that stuff wasn’t tied down and now this stuff is landing on top of me and I was pushing my way back up to the surface through it. There were only three of us in the boat when this happened. Usually there were 4-6 of us in a boat and one instructor from Outward Bound or one of the teachers who came on this trip but for that last set of rapids we did not have any of the ‘grown-ups’ on board.

When I was still underneath the boat and trying to push it away, I did surface briefly then went back under. I surfaced a few seconds later and saw the sky, caught my breath, and went back under again. There was no control over anything – I was just simply at the mercy of the current. I remember thinking, “Well, this is it, I’m gonna drown…” and the next thing I knew, I could see the sky again and I’ve got a small canister of Kodak film in my mouth. Really. This time I was able to keep my head above water and I was just carried along with the current.

Eventually that current brought me into the same small inlet where it had deposited Mike. We both ended up in a small eddy in a cove on the Mexico side of the river, then scrambled up out of the water onto a small grassy area and watched while the last couple of boats passed by us. I started blowing a whistle, trying to alert any of the boats passing by; Mike pulled out his pocket Bible and was praying (he eventually became a preacher). That we both “landed” in this semi-hidden cove I’ve always thought of as highly providential (the second meaning of the word). It took an hour-and-a-half to two hours to send a motorboat in and get us out of there.

The way we were... Big Bend, 1971
The way we were… Big Bend, 1971

All three of us eventually got to camp that night, ate dinner as we were all starving by then, re-told what had happened out there on the river. Everything I had brought on the trip was lost; the clothes I came out of the water wearing were the ones I wore on the bus the next day heading back home. At least they were dry by then. By the time the buses got to Sweetwater on I-20 on September 6th, and the local Dairy Queen – 200 cheeseburgers ordered, oops sorry, 198 cheeseburgers and 2 hamburgers owing to a classmate’s allergies (hey Robert!) – things started to feel more “normal” again. Actually, those were the best-tasting DQ burgers I ever remember having had, before or since.

For the next year(s?) St. Mark’s decided to hold the freshman Outward Bound trip elsewhere… which turned out to be the Pecos Wilderness area in New Mexico near Santa Fe. As far as I know (I transferred to Irving Cistercian the following year, but not because of the trip), the Class of 1975 was the only class who ever made the trip and completed the course in Big Bend – we were trailblazers! And for those who made this trip and were there, I salute you! It is an indelible part of our experience, individual and collective. On this 45th anniversary.

Nights on Venus News:
The new single “Speed of Life” will be released mid-October. Yes, the David Bowie song “Speed of Life”. Licensing/permission has been obtained. It will be a 2-song single also featuring a new original “Confirm Humanity (I’m Not A Robot)”, both instrumentals, and the two songs will be on the album “We Are All Haunted By Something”, scheduled for release in June, 2017. Stay tuned for updates. A mini-interview I did recently with Bandwidth Daily should be up online soon.

Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthlyis the most recent offering from Nights on Venus. The 6-song EP was released on December 30, 2015 and is available on Bandcamp, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, and iTunes.

"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Santos, Perspective and all previous albums are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV Website.

craig_730Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky),

 

new music: “i just wanna fly off to iceland with u” and high country photos…

Currently we’re getting some much-needed afternoon rainfall here in Golden on this last day of July. It’s been very dry here of late – fire restrictions in place here in Jefferson and Clear Creek counties and many others in Colorado I’m sure. Thankfully only another month-and-a-half of summer to go. No camp fires – that means you, campers and visitors to our state alike. We don’t need any wildfires.

Other than hiking in the high country and being able to enjoy a craft brew on a patio with a cool breeze somewhere après-hike, I really don’t like summer very much. Probably all those years I lived in Texas… Too freakin’ hot. Plus if you come to Colorado during peak tourist season, you might get this:

OK, we're full now. Continue on to Wyoming. 26-mile bumper-to-bumper traffic jam from the top of Genesee to the Empire exit, 7/30.
OK, we’re full. Continue on to Wyoming… 26-mile bumper-to-bumper traffic jam from the top of Genesee to the Empire exit. This is coming up on the El Rancho (Evergreen) exit at 1:00 pm, 7/30. Obviously, we’re on our way back down to the hill here…

And if you get stuck in one of these, you’re gonna have… “a bad time“. No amount of great music/mixtapes and snacks/edibles is gonna help you out here. Just sayin’.

Colorado Tip #4: If you want to go to the high country from Denver in the summer, always leave before 9:30 am, especially on the weekends. The earlier the better. You’ll thank me later.

Always in search of cooler climes, Erin and I are looking to visit someplace cool (literally) and exotic in 2017. Like Iceland. Set to a bossa nova beat…

I JUST WANNA FLY OFF TO ICELAND WITH U (mastered demo)
(© 2016 Nights on Venus/Craig C. Thomas. All rights reserved.)

Hike up Mayflower Gulch, 7/30...
Hike up Mayflower Gulch, 7/30…

Love the graphic of the horse and the people in the hot springs near Reykjavik in the map. The “U” in the title is a nod and homage to Prince, who died in April of this year and was one of his trademarks in many song titles throughout his career. It will be the only time I use the “U” in the context of song title. Just my way of saying “thank you” for what his music has meant to me in my life.

Mayflower Gulch, 7/30
Mayflower Gulch, 7/30
The trail up to Linkins Lake, near Independence Pass, 7/21...
The trail up to Linkins Lake, near Independence Pass, 7/21…
Linkins Lake...
Linkins Lake…
The beginning of the Linkins Lake hike...
The beginning of the Linkins Lake hike…
Mayflower Gulch, looking west...
Mayflower Gulch, looking west…
Mayflower Gulch
Mayflower Gulch
Independence Pass Lake...
Independence Pass Lake…

The release of a 2-song single is scheduled now for mid-October; “I Just Wanna Fly Off to Iceland With U” may be the B-side on this one… we shall see. More details to follow. As always, thanks for following/listening!

Mayflower Gulch
Mayflower Gulch
Coming down Independence Pass...
Coming down Independence Pass…
Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthlyis the most recent offering from Nights on Venus. The 6-song EP was released on December 30, 2015 and is available on Bandcamp, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, and iTunes.

"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Santos, Perspective and all previous albums are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV Website.

craig_730Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky),

book review: “zen guitar” by philip toshio sudo, photos from recent hikes in the mountains, summer of 2016

First of all, I love this book. Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo is one of my favorite books of all time.

On the west ridge of Loveland Pass, above timberline, Erin up ahead of me on the trail, looking east…

First published in 1997, this book has been a companion since then that I revisit every few years, or revisit a chapter as needed whenever, because its message is just that good. And it’s not just for guitarists of course. It’s for everyone who is involved in the creation of music, whatever the instrument, whatever the genre, at whatever level of ability. Or those involved in the creation of art… or any kind of creative endeavor, and that covers a lot of territory. But way beyond that, and ultimately, it’s about how we all create our lives.

Beatin' the heat at 12,000 feet...
Beatin’ the heat at 12,000 feet…

Zen Guitar is not about learning a specific technique, or any technique for that matter. As the author points out from the very beginning, there are plenty of books and videos for learning techniques and genres. Instead, he says simply: “We are here to make a sound.”

We are here to express beauty, beauty in the world.

In the chapter “Beginner’s Mind”, Sudo incorporates the idea and training/imagery of the martial arts dojo to provide a basic framework for practice:

1. Wear the white belt.
2. Pick up your guitar.
3. Tune.
4. Play.

That’s it. What could be more simple?

berthoud_west07Well of course, it’s not that simple – it never is. And there’s the rub (paradox). Essentially Zen Guitar is a spiritual book; it connects the basics of playing the guitar to one’s spiritual development along the musical [and one’s life] journey.

Thoughts are creative in themselves. Energy follows thought. Thoughts become things. Everyone is creative.

From the chapter “Pick Up Your Guitar”:

“Look deeply into the spirit that goes into making an item of quality – the care, the precision, the attention to detail. Incorporate that spirit into your work… Anything you set out to make – music, love, a bookshelf, a meal – make as well as you can. To do otherwise is spiritless…”

And “Act with a sense of purpose.”

loveland_west02Each chapter is relatively short – most of the time one page or less than two pages, and begins with a pertinent quote from a well-known musician. Bite-size chunks of musical wisdom… Like most spiritual books Zen Guitar is best digested in an unhurried fashion. Read a short chapter, if you’re unfamiliar with the idea presented, if it’s new to you… give it time to sink in. Think on it, feel it… embody it.

Above timberline...
Above timberline…

The quote that begins the aforementioned “Pick Up Your Guitar” chapter:
“If you pick up a guitar and it says, “Take me, I’m yours,” then that’s the one for you.” – Frank Zappa
Speaks to intuition… Learn to trust it.

In fact, the quotes are a highlight in themselves and very definitely, on their own merit alone, a reason for buying the book. A few examples/highlights:

From the chapter “Loss of Focus” in the section “The Twelve Common Missteps”, comes this gem:

“I remember coming to a concert where they had a big catered meal set out for everyone… I went and said, “Miles, man, you gotta see all this food they got here.” And Miles said, “I didn’t come here to eat.”
– Gary Bartz, recalling a conversation with Miles Davis

Looking southeast toward Grays and Torreys and Grizzly Peak,,,
Looking southeast toward Grays and Torreys and Grizzly Peak on the Continental Divide…

From the chapter “Jamming”…

“The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen.” – Duke Ellington

And from the chapter on “Virtuosity” comes this:

“Whether you are [playing] in the bar, the church, the strip joint or the Himalayas, the first duty of music is to complement and enhance life.” – Carlos Santana

That is truth. As a musician, playing music enhances your life. What you put forth into the world musically enhances the experience of life for many others – people you will most likely never meet but affects them nonetheless. Music is not just mere entertainment and should never be thought of as such. Music, played with true feeling and integrity, can change lives. This is no small thing.

There’s a lot more that I could quote from this book but I think you get the idea. If you’re involved in any kind of creative endeavor, not just music, not just guitar, you should get this book. Zen Guitar is that good, it is that inspirational and I highly recommend it. This book should be in every creative’s library. The bottom line on it…
Know what you are doing and more importantly, why.

Most of all, be mindful of what you are doing.

It boils down to:
Do what has to be done
When it has to be done
As well as it can be done
And do it that way every time.

Accept nothing less…
Much food for thought here.
Indulge.

On the Continental Divide Trail west of Berthoud Pass…
Ahead of us...
Ahead of us…
Clouds above the Divide…
Random couple on the CD Trail, low clouds rising from below...
Random couple on the CD Trail, low clouds rising from below…
Hiking up through the fog and clouds...
Hiking up through the fog and clouds…

Nights on Venus News:
New music is coming soon, within the next couple of weeks. Finishing up a new song: the mastered demo of “I Just Wanna Fly Off to Iceland With U”… Yes, Iceland… with a bossa nova beat. Of course they go together. And we’re making plans to go there in 2017 and get Nights on Venus on the lineup of the Iceland Airwaves music festival, November, 2017.

berthoud_west05For this year there will be no new album. Erin and I are getting married in November – we set the date, and as this is 4 months away there’s a lot to do between now and then. There may be a 2, possibly 3-song single release in the fall but a full album won’t happen until 2017. And it will be entitled “We Are All Haunted By Something”. And as I’m working with these 20+ songs so far, it may possibly become a double album… we shall see.

berthoud_west12
Wildflowers, looking north toward Vasquez Ridge…
Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthlyis the most recent offering from Nights on Venus. The 6-song EP was released on December 30, 2015 and is available on Bandcamp, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, and iTunes.

"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Santos, Perspective and all previous albums are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV Website.

Craig, on a windy rock...
Craig, on a windy rock…

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram

Happy Birthday Todd Rundgren! Seven Todd Songs Of Celebration!

Happy Birthday Todd!
I’m just going to re-blog John’s Celebration here and add three more songs to the mix, so let’s make that 10! Including the first song I ever heard by him, 48 years ago… the song that made me a Todd Fan For Life (TFFL):
“Open My Eyes”, with the Nazz, 1968

From 1975 and the album “Initiation”, here’s “Real Man…

And more recently, from his album “Liars”, this is “Godsaid” from 2004…

Enjoy!

johnrieber

Todd Rundgren Something Anything

Happy Birthday Todd!

All Todd Rundgren fans know that today is his birthday, and I wanted to look at some of the songs from some of the albums that he has released over his long career.

todd-rundgren-interview-rock-cellar-2

He has taken some interesting paths in his musical career, but fans stay with him because there is true genius in his work.

Here are seven great songs from seven incredible Todd Rundgren albums…why seven? WHY NOT.

Faithful Todd Rundgren

“The Verb To Love” From “Faithful!”

“Faithful” is one side of classic songs Todd “covered” faithfully, and the second side is simply one of his greatest collections of songs ever, including this 7-minute ballad.

Here is a great live version of the song, performed with Utopia, from 1977:

Read all about the album that produced this incredible song by clicking on my “Faithful” story here:

https://johnrieber.com/2016/05/14/todd-rundgren-stays-faithful-a-shocking-record-label-betrayal-beatles-covers-brilliant-new-songs/

Todd_Rundgren_Nearly_Human_booklet


“The Want Of A Nail!” From “Nearly Human”

“Nearly Human” is…

View original post 517 more words

summer of 2016, looking ahead…

Time really does fly. We’ve reached June already, the start of the hiking/summer season and I anticipate a very busy season for us here. Some photos from Sunday’s hike at Alderfer/Three Sisters open space park in Evergreen, usually our first hike of the season…

There is a new song in the Nights on Venus News section.

Looking west to Mt. Evans from the Brothers Lookout. Still a lot of snow in the high country, and that's good...
Looking west to Mt. Evans from the Brothers Lookout. Still lots o’ snow in the high country, which is a very good thing…
3sisters_08
On the Sisters Trail early a.m.
Some companions on the trail...
Some companions on the trail…
Aspens, early in the season...
Aspens, early in the season…

3sisters_09craig_hiking02I’m currently working on new songs in the studio… makin’ headway, finishing them up. Taking a more balanced approach this year (and also in 2015 and moving forward), a more relaxed approach to creative work, allowing more time for these little trips Erin and I take into the mountains, getting out into the natural beauty of the wilderness, and especially now as summer is upon us and we’re making plans to move up to the mountains within the next year, year-and-a-half. There have been many changes over the last few years and this year of 2016 in particular so far; we’re not even halfway through. And in these times of accelerated changes it’s good and necessary to unplug from the Internet as much as possible – the bane now of our collective existence – and get away from the constant ‘urbanity’ of it all. Well anyway, that’s where we’re headed.

Evergreen Mtn.
Evergreen Mtn.

3sisters_10

From the beer garden at Lariat Lodge in Evergreen... formerly Hart House of the Evergreen Conference
From the beer garden at Lariat Lodge in Evergreen… formerly Hart House of the Evergreen Conference, on the National Register of Historic Places… I have a lot of history here.

Nights on Venus News:

Yours truly, from another incarnation... From 1982, promo shot with Sound & the Furies, Dallas, TX
Yours truly, from another incarnation, c. 1982… and an extra set o’ hands…The keyboard is a Roland Paraphonic (505) which had some pretty decent organ sounds but not much else, thus the effects pedals are on the keyboard itself where I could do some real-time tweaking, and an extra pair o’ hands would have been welcome…
Promo shot with Sound & the Furies, Dallas, TX.

New music from the current recording sessions…

THERE IS ONLY NOW (mastered demo)
(© 2016 Nights on Venus/Craig C. Thomas. All rights reserved.)

Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthlyis the most recent offering from Nights on Venus. The 6-song EP was released on December 30, 2015 and is available on Bandcamp, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, and iTunes.

"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Santos, Perspective and all previous albums are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV Website.

On top of Chief Mountain...
On top of Chief Mountain…

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram.

sometimes it snows in april…

IMG_20160417_095124Like today… the last day of April (and now into May, as of this writing). It has been snowing here since early Friday morning and yes, it is the title of a song by Prince that closes his 1986 album Parade.

2016, four months into it, has been a brutal year for iconic musicians and their fans as we have witnessed the passing of so many of our musical heroes. Artists who made a deep and lasting imprint on popular culture and made significant contributions through their music. David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Dale “Buffin” Griffin, drummer for Mott the Hoople. Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson, guitarist/songwriter and original singer for Jefferson Airplane (both died on the same day), Maurice White of Earth Wind & Fire, Dan Hicks, Vanity (singer Denise Matthews, Prince protégé); Keith Emerson; George Martin, the legendary producer; Merle Haggard. And now, Prince himself.

Where to even begin?

The 21st of this month was just an ordinary Thursday. I had come back from lunch and was settled in at my desk. I go online, onto Twitter, and see Prince’s name is trending – not a good sign for musicians in 2016, but I knew he was on tour, the Piano and a Microphone Tour, and he was relatively young (hell, I turn 60 this year). I also knew his private jet had had to make an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois last week, but surely he didn’t…

And now it’s been 9 days since his death. I still can’t believe Prince is gone. Though some in the press sometimes referred to him as “the diminutive one”, he was truly larger than life. A musical force of nature we will not soon see again, if ever.

The day after he died, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam said, “If there was anyone I thought would be playing when he was 80 or 85, it was gonna be Prince.” I would second that and thought so too, which is what makes his death even more shocking.

I had seen him and his various bands six times over the years, beginning with the Purple Rain tour, and I would say at least 3 of those concerts are among the best 5 concerts I’ve ever seen by any artist. Watching him onstage you just saw pure joy and virtuosity in his playing that seemed effortless; listening to his recordings you just hear pure creativity and talent and that same joy.

His arrangements of his songs are amazing. Hey, when the record company said “there’s no bass part on “When Doves Cry” – no problem. He just simply told them it sounded better without the bass so he took it out. Reminds me of the renowned photographer Ansel Adams: when people questioned his work he would just say, “I’m the artist and I know how it’s supposed to look.” Prince, who produced his debut album (“For You”) when he was 19, and all albums thereafter, could have said the same: “I’m the artist; I know how it’s supposed to sound.”

This video has been making the rounds on the Internet for the last week or so. Very much worth watching. Just beautiful… effortless.

I think the first time I remember seeing – or even hearing about – Prince was on TV, on an episode of Saturday Night Live in 1981 which featured Todd Rundgren as the musical guest but also included Prince who sang “Partyup” off of his album Dirty Mind. I also remember being kind of pissed off about it ’cause, as a huge Todd fan, I wanted to see more Todd; I had no idea who this Prince guy was (though I, along with the rest of the world, would soon find out).

In 1982 you started to hear Prince on the more mainstream radio stations in Dallas; I remember KVIL-FM and longtime, legendary DJ Ron Chapman would refer to “Delirious” as “the baby song” probably because that’s what listeners called it when they phoned in to request it. I first heard the album 1999 over at my friend Annie’s house on Richmond Ave. near where I worked at Balloon-o-Grams after we had moved down to Lower Greenville. Heard it a lot actually, especially side 2 (“Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “D.M.S.R”), as she would play it before we went out and hit the clubs – Cafe Dallas, Confetti, Tango – during those “run-amok” days.

After 1999 I went back and bought all his albums that I’d missed – both Dirty Mind and Controversy were amazing. There was nothing else like these albums out there at the time – truly groundbreaking.

And then came Purple Rain

Near Conchas Lake, eastern New Mexico, 1984...
Near Conchas Lake, eastern New Mexico, 1984…

In mid-September of 1984, Prince was king. Seriously. He ruled the airwaves – radio, MTV, and in the movies. You couldn’t go anywhere in America, even a small town like Las Vegas, New Mexico and not know who he was. I had moved out to Santa Fe by then, tending bar downstairs at the Plaza Ore House where we played Prince constantly on the weekend nights, and traveling twice a week through eastern New Mexico, through towns named Roy, Springer, and Tucumcari, with my girlfriend at the time, trying to hold onto a relationship that was doomed from the outset. Purple Rain was the lion’s share of the soundtrack to all that craziness (“Let’s Go Crazy”), driving around in the empty spaces and flat-topped mesas, meeting up with her whenever our schedules would allow.

Favorite songs from that album: “Take Me With U” and “The Beautiful Ones”.

Roy, New Mexico, 2009...
Roy, New Mexico, 2009…

She and I saw Purple Rain in Las Vegas, a town that was proud of the fact that the movie Red Dawn – featuring Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, and Lea Thompson, and also released that year – had been filmed there. Loved everything about Purple Rain, and I remember afterward she said a very interesting thing about Prince: “He’s going to be the one people remember.” Will never forget that… this at a time when Michael Jackson was at his peak popularity, Bruce Springsteen had released Born In the U.S.A., and Madonna had just released her first album.

32 years ago…

Still from the movie "Purple Rain"...
Still from the movie “Purple Rain”…

I hope that whoever is in charge of Prince’s estate and entrusted with his music, will – sooner than later – release an expanded, full edition of Purple Rain, with all the musical interludes that he recorded and that were recorded, the rough versions of the title track for instance, including where he plays it on just the piano. Give us the whole enchilada… please.

I love the fact that even after the phenomenal success of Purple Rain, Prince did not move to Los Angeles… or NY, or anywhere else, and stayed put in his hometown of Minneapolis… where he was so much a part of his community and the primary architect of the ‘Minneapolis Sound’.

I love it that after Purple Rain he didn’t try to duplicate it or just rest on the success of it and continually pushed himself further musically, exploring, taking risks, and staking out new musical territory for himself, his band, and his listeners all over the world. That is what a true artist does.

And the albums followed, year after year, tour after tour…
33 of them in all, continuing on through this past December, 2015 with the release of HITNRUN Phase Two. I’m just now catching up with the HITNRUN albums… and they are both excellent.

I love the fact that when he was recruited to be on the “We Are the World” studio sessions in 1985, he chose to record his own song instead – “4 The Tears In Your Eyes” – as his contribution with his band The Revolution. At the time he caught a lot of flak for it, but his song is by far superior. Go check it out on The Hits/The B-Sides album here (scroll down to song 55). It is one of his best and most affecting emotionally.

Essential Prince albums… by decade:
1970’s
Prince (1979) – includes “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad”

1980’s
All of them…
Dirty Mind (1980)
Controversy (1981)
1999 (1982)
Purple Rain (1984)
Around The World In a Day (1985)
Parade (1986)
Sign o’ the Times (1987)
Lovesexy (1988)

1990’s
Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
Love Symbol Album (with the New Power Generation, 1992) – includes “Sexy M.F.” and “7”
The aforementioned Hits and B-Sides album (1993)
The Black Album (1994)
The Gold Experience (1995)
Emancipation (1996)
Crystal Ball (1998)
Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (1999)

2000’s
N.E.W.S. (2003) – all instrumental album
3121 (2006)
Planet Earth (2007)
Lotusflower (2009)

2010’s
PLECTRUMELECTRUM with 3rdEYEGIRL (2014)
ART OFFICIAL AGE (2014)
HITNRUN Phase One (Sept., 2015)
HITNRUN Phase Two (Dec., 2015)

All titles in all caps… his.

Essential songs?… Too numerous to list here. To me they’re pretty much all essential, even from albums I didn’t list above.

Most Underrated Prince album: Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, 1999

Best Prince Song you’ve probably never heard: “Da Bang” from Crystal Ball, 1998 (also love “Crucial” from that album – check ’em out)

Best Prince Song you may have heard but not necessarily on the radio:
“P Control” from The Gold Experience, 1995

For better or worse, and probably forever, people will say that Purple Rain, the soundtrack and the movie, was his magnum opus and what he will be most remembered for. It’s an excellent album to be sure – the 6th album in his discography – but I’m not sure it’s his best (Sign O’ the Times would be a strong contender). But Purple Rain achieves its greatness not just from the songwriting and musicianship and the performances, but also from hitting the collective consciousness at just the right time, right place, with the right cohesive image – so much so that it became mythical. It was a game-changer.

Erin and I watched the movie the day after he died (it will be playing at ‘Film on the Rocks’ at nearby Red Rocks Amphitheater on May 12th… we will be there). The weirdest thing about it was that through the entire movie it didn’t seem like he was gone at all… until the final song “Baby I’m a Star” that closes the movie, when he turns around and the camera freezes on him, and it was a clear reminder that yes, he was gone. Which absolutely sucks…

Some have called Prince the “greatest recording artist of our time” – I think that’s true, at least in my book, and to answer the implied rhetorical question of whether there will be another like him… no, there won’t be. He was one of a kind, his talent singular, and with the music industry as fractured and splintered as it is now, there will never be consensus around any artist in the same way no matter how hard the industry might try to manufacture it.

Prince had said he had hundreds of songs “in the vault” and that he hadn’t always given the record companies his “best songs”. I look forward to hearing those songs as they are released (hopefully… certainly?) in the coming years, but that’s small consolation. I’d much rather have him still with us here on Planet Earth.

A couple more articles/blogs on Prince:
from Matt Taibbi… http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/goodbye-prince-you-were-the-best-of-us-20160422 Includes video…

and Moe Berg (Pursuit of Happiness)… http://moeberg.ca/?p=297

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The Truth About Vinyl And Streaming – And It Is Not Pretty…

Important read if you’re an Indie artist considering vinyl… From the Trichordist blog site.

The Trichordist

vinylcu

There’s a romanticism about vinyl, and we share that enthusiasm of the format for obvious reasons. However it should be noted that the romanticism that surrounds vinyl, is largely that- romanticism. Below we’ve assembled a number of recent editorials and reports about the state of vinyl production to shed some light and much needed perspective on this subject.

There several important take-a-ways from our friends who are on the front lines of vinyl production that are also noted in the reports below.

1) Vinyl revenues are grossing more than free streaming receivables. This sounds impressive at first but said another way it means that free streaming is just not generating a lot of revenue in the aggregate of the total business (not a surprise, free streaming is a big problem).

Second, and more sadly is the fact that vinyl production is very expensive and miscalculations on selecting a title or…

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