In My Room: From Captain & Tennille to Captain Beefheart

I am essentially a self-made music nerd. The number of individuals that have influenced my love of rock and roll and specific tastes in music can easily be counted on one hand. When it comes to my musical education, I have pretty much found my own way.

It was in the mid-1970’s that my obsession took hold against an aural backdrop of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 and its opposing world, the legendary FM rock radio of the Northeast Ohio Greater Listening Area. As far as cultivating a fledgling fanatacism for music goes, it was a privilege to be in that time and place.

Recording songs from a radio speaker to a tape recorder soon led to buying records. (Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” was my first 45.) I quickly became a serious student of pop and rock music. At the time I didn’t think that I had too far to go to catch up on things.  The rock era was still relatively young. Heck, I watched Happy Days. I read about Elvis and The Beatles in the pages of Dynamite Magazine.  Little did I know that the depths of rock music were murky, even boundless, and I am still filling in the story today.

Dynamite Elvis

In addition to constantly soaking up Top 40 and AOR radio, I sought out music on television as much as I could.  Variety shows and American Bandstand were in regular rotation, but Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and The Midnight Special were the real treats if I could manage to stay up late enough.

Dynamite Donnie

By 6th grade I had a subscription to Circus Magazine, and instead of baseball cards I began to spend my lawnmowing money on copies of Creem and Hit Parader at the Quik Shop or People’s Drug. I quickly learned that the consensus was that the Rolling Stones were “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” and this thing called Punk Rock was exploding.   I started recognizing the name “Lester Bangs” at the end of record reviews, and I knew “The Last Waltz” had nothing to do with ballroom dancing. By the time I reached high school,  I could tell you the difference between Gram Parsons and Graham Parker and that The Clash was “The Only Band That Mattered.”

Now don’t get me wrong. There was no real “cool filter” in place. I wasn’t some kind of junior rock critic wunderkind. A highly questionable middle-of-the-road Arena Rock phase figures in my background, and I don’t really remember NOT liking much music. I was just absorbing it all, taking it all in.  In fact those aforementioned swings between Top 40 and album rock radio still inform my tastes today.

I would continue to explore through the college years with SPIN magazine and MTV’s 120 Minutes program steering me to out of the way musical places. I discovered the Velvet Underground and all of the non-mainstream artists in their long shadow. One only had to see the VU’s albums listed in Rolling Stone Magazine as some of the greatest ever so many times before taking the plunge. Besides they were REM-approved. Another college favorite, The Replacements, led me to Alex Chilton and Big Star. Once in my twenties armed with more discretionary time and an employee discount,  I delved deeper into cult figures.  I invested in music-geek-must-have boxed sets from Robert Johnson and Phil Spector, and Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. Deities of the Rock Snob world like Captain Beefheart, Roky Erickson, Arthur Lee, Gene Clark, Skip Spence, and Jonathan Richman were not far behind.

I am really still catching up today as I educate myself on the pioneers of the early 1950’s R&B and the songwriters, producers, and arrangers of the Rock Era’s first couple of decades.  Had he known that this education would take decades, I don’t think that there’s any doubt that my ten-year-old self would have still been up for the trip.


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