Frank Sinatra launched his own record label, Reprise, today in 1960 in order to allow himself more artistic freedom than he’d had working for Capitol. This is how he got the nickname “The Chairman of the Board”. His first release was his own Ring-a-Ding-Ding!, and the first artists signed to the label were a host of his friends, “Rat Pack” and otherwise: Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Jo Stafford, Rosemary Clooney (George’s Mom), and he even put out a comedy record by Redd Fox. Frank was an early critic of rock and roll music, especially The Beatles as they became wildly popular, but later admitted that George Harrison’s Something was “the most beautiful love song ever written”, and at one point recorded the very first song in the Apple Corps records catalog (never released), a special reworking of his song The Lady is a Tramp for Ringo Starr’s wife Maureen’s birthday (with lyrics such as “She married Ringo, and she could have had Paul…that’s why the lady is a champ!”). But within three years the roster of old crooners wasn’t selling well at all and he sold the label to Warner Bros., who immediately signed an American distribution deal with The Kinks, and maintaining Sinatra’s “artist first” policies, were able to sign Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Little Feat, Fleetwood Mac, and many other rock and roll dirtbags including, at one point, Seattle’s Mudhoney.
The Monkees issued a press release today in 1967 saying that from here on out they would be playing the instruments on their records instead of using session musicians. Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork could actually play their instruments when the TV Show started, but while Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz could not, they learned along the way. Contrary to the way they were usually portrayed, Tork was a better guitarist than Nesmith, who had started as a bass player, Dolenz was most often the lead vocalist, and Jones turned out to be the better drummer, but this lineup only appeared on the show once, on the Boyce/Hart song Words.
Bob Dylan recorded Lay Lady Lay at Columbia Records Nashville studio today in 1969. He’d been asked to write it for the soundtrack to the movie Midnight Cowboy, but he hadn’t finished it in time for it to be included, and instead Harry Nilsson had a huge hit and received a Grammy for his version of Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me.
It was a Friday the 13th today in 1970, so naturally Black Sabbath thought it would be perfect to release their debut album Black Sabbath, which many consider to the the world’s first “heavy metal” album. They’d recorded the whole thing in one day, and aside from the thunder, rain, and bell sound effects on the title track, there are no overdubs, just Sabbath playing their whole set at the time live in the studio.
The Sex Pistols had already broken up, and their barely a bass player Sid Vicious had died a year before, but that didn’t stop London police from raiding the home of singer Johnny Rotten (now going by his real name John Lydon) today in 1980, who greeted them waving a ceremonial sword. Not wanting to be shot, he quickly put it away, and the cops searched his flat thoroughly, but the only illegal item they could find was a fully-functional tear gas canister, which John said he kept for self-defense.
The marble slab on the tomb of Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant was stolen today in 1982 from the cemetery in Orange Park Florida. Police found it two weeks later in a nearby dry riverbed, but when he and guitarist Steve Gaines graves were vandalized again in 2000 (This time Van Zant’s coffin was pulled out and dropped on the ground , and Gaines’ ashes were scattered on the lawn), he was reburied next to his parents in Jacksonville, but the original tomb site has been maintained for Skynyrd fans as well.
The English equivalent of the Grammys, The Brit Awards ceremony was broadcasted live for the last time tonight in 1989. Hosts Mick Fleetwood and Samantha Fox flubbed their lines, bands were mis-cued onto the stage and made mistakes, and just about everything that could go wrong did.
In an instance of “trickle-down” economics at work, multi-billionaire investor Steve Schwarzman hired Rod Stewart to play for one hour at his 60th birthday party in New York tonight in 2007. Rod, who’d once said that rather than get married again he’d “find a woman I don’t like and buy her a house”, was fully capable of doing so with his $1 million paycheck.
Rock and Roll Birthdays
The Monkees most musical member Peter Tork (real name Peter Thorkelson) is 75. He plays guitar, banjo, bass (his main role in the TV band), keyboards, french horn, and sings, and was somewhat a fixture in the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 60’s when he met Steven Stills, who later ended up recommending him for a role on The Monkees after producers told him his hair and teeth wouldn’t photograph well on the show.
Peter Gabriel is 67. A 2010 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the original lead singer of Genesis, he joined the two-time club in 2014 as a solo artist.
Foreigner bass player Ed Gagliardi is 65. Naturally right-handed, he learned to play his Rickenbacker bass left-handed in honor of his musical idol Paul McCartney, but was booted out of the band in 1979.
Former Black Flag singer turned spoken-word performer, writer, and actor (Sons of Anarchy, Californication, Jackass) Henry Rollins is 55.