BLUE NOTES By Buddy Blue
Every year, the holiday season produces a curious phenomenon: flailing hordes of has-beens emerge from the dank, mildewing recesses of whence they fester to play Christmas concerts; a little bit o' Branson to accompany your annual egg nog binge and busticated bank account.
Take pop culture artifacts Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme - please. Professional Sinatra-sycophants, dictionary definitions of L7-hood, this creepy, leering duo with the blinding, bleached teefers and flammable hair-dos were to the Rat Pack as, say, Herman's Hermits was to the Beatles. These people are strictly Goulet-bait - the sort of act that doubtless incited Elvis to take television target practice. Replete with "my ponytail's too tight" face-lifts, hideous carroty tans and cute-as-a-button stage banter, Steve & Eydie appear Friday at East Country Performing Arts Center. Fear them.
A veritable jamboree of yesterday's news transpires Friday and Saturday night, as California Center for the Arts, Escondido hosts "Carols by Candlelight," featuring America, B.J. Thomas, Stephen Bishop, Kim Carnes and Dan Seals. Although advertised as an evening of Christmas music, you can bet we'll also be subjected to such signature sonnets as "Tin Man," "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," "On And On," "Bette Davis Eyes" and "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight," for which this damnable assemblage of "soft rockers" is collectively responsible. Where the heck are the Captain & Tennille when we really need them? Well, if makes you feel any better, America also recorded "Muskrat Love." Brrrrrr....
Friday night also finds Kansas playing at Pechanga. Remember Kansas? No? Well, walk into any Guitar Center and you'll hear dozens of amateur guitarists all trying to coax the keening strains of "Dust In The Wind" from their instruments at the same time; a nightmarish circumstance of Bosch-ian proportions. This is Kansas' legacy. Oh yeah, that and "Carry On My Wayward Son." Mmm-hmm, '70s prog-rock lite; Kansas is to Yes as Gallagher is to George Carlin. Ouch.
Just to prove I'm not 100% Blue Meanie, I'll go ahead and guardedly recommend Sunday night's doo- wop mini-fest at Pechanga, featuring the Drifters, the Coasters and the Platters. Yes, of course I'm aware that many/most key members of the groups in question are deceased, soiling themselves in nursing homes or otherwise unavailable for comment, but a half-century after these dinosaurs roamed the earth, what do you expect?
What I expect is an evening of classy vocalizin' and warm, wistful wibbles for a great, bygone era in music that's been curiously overlooked. Enormous pains are taken to maintain the groups' original sound in these admittedly bogus reformations, and we may just be thrilled, chilled and grilled by the sweet strains of early R&B despite the fact that the members are mostly ringers.
I've never understood why doo-wop hasn't made a popular comeback when just about every vintage American music form from swing to rockabilly, country blues to honky tonk, Dixieland to be-bop, has been dredged up from the past and proffered as something fresh and exciting in recent years. So why not doo-wop? The blending of human voices in harmony singing anything from madly galloping rock 'n' roll to melodramatic ballads is among the most rewarding sounds in the universe.
A couple years ago, PBS aired a doo-wop reunion special, bringing together actual surviving members of many of the genre's finest on one stage. The concert was tremendously moving; witnessing venerable silverbacks like Harvey Fuqua and Jerry Butler singing fine as ever was bittersweet as the sentiments they crooned about. It was life-affirming to see that these grizzled geezers still had their chops in order, but also sad that it took a bluehair-pandering PBS special to briefly bring them back to the public eye.
While Sunday night's show will make me feel like Methuselah wheezing 'n' popping on a shuffleboard court -- doo wop was the first music I remember hearing as a little kid, and it's difficult to admit that I was
actually alive at the end of its radio heyday - I remain an admitted sucker for this particular brand of nostalgia.