Paul Heinz

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Filtering by Tag: Supertramp

20 Greatest Keyboard Intros

If you’re a music fan and haven’t already heard of Rick Beato, I highly recommend you visit his YouTube channel and poke around a little, or – more likely – so much so that you jeopardize your job and marriage.  Music is a rabbit hole that’s easy to fall into, and Beato makes it all the more enjoyable by relating interesting aspects of music without dumbing things down and without condescension.  Particularly enjoyable is his “What Makes This Song Great”series in which he dissects classic rock songs, isolating tracks and playing along with amazing virtuosity, while revealing what makes the song stand out.

Rick recently made a video of the “20 Greatest Keyboard Intros Ever,” and since I’m a keyboard guy, before watching the video I quickly made my own list, inspired mostly by song intros that I learned (or tried to learn) starting back when I was around twelve years old to – most recently – intros I learned for bands I play in now.  Only three of the songs Beato covered made my list, but I kicked myself for forgetting to include Rush’s Signals and Genesis’s Dancing in the Moonlit Night, both of which I learned back in the early 80s.

Without further ado, here are my Top 20 keyboard Intros that I recall learning over the years:

1)     Bloody Well Right – Supertramp
2)     Foreplay – Boston
3)     Angry Young Man – Billy Joel

These overlap with Beato’s list, all essential inclusions, and although I thought I learned them all when I was a teenager, even performing “Foreplay” in the 1984 Brookfield Central Battle of the Bands, it wasn’t until I reached my 40s that I actually learned how to play these intros correctly.  All are great fun, highly satisfying intros that still mess me up from time to time.  The latter is a bitch to play unless you’re on a grand piano – I’ve found keyboards don’t have the action required for the rapid repeated notes.  Then again, maybe it’s just my playing.

4)     Another Man’s Woman – Supertramp

I could fill my Top 20 list with nothing but Supertramp songs (“From Now On,” “Take the Long Way Home,” etc.), but if I limit it to two, this has to be the other inclusion.  Another wonderful Rick Davies intro.

5)     Levon – Elton John

Buying the Elton John Greatest Hits album in the winter of 1979-1980, followed shortly thereafter by an accompanying piano book, was monumental for me, opening up a whole new world of piano playing that went beyond Michael Aaron lesson books.  I could easily pick twenty Elton John intros for this essay (“Skyline Pigeon,” “Idol,” “Take Me to the Pilot,” etc.), but “Levon” is the one that made the biggest impression on me.

6)     Nobody Home – Pink Floyd

That same winter of 1979-1980, Pink Floyd’s The Wall made its debut, and – prior to me playing by ear more frequently – this was another piano book that inspired me.  This intro isn’t earth-shattering, but it sets the melancholy song up so well.  Very tasty.

7)     Fooling Yourself – Styx

For a young keyboardist, this Styx song was highly satisfying, as it was easy to reproduce the original part note for note and even get the synth patch pretty close (often not such an easy task on a four-octave Korg Delta keyboard).  Nothing fancy here, but effective.

8)     Fire in the Hole – Steely Dan
9)     Aja – Steely Dan

My brother challenged me to learn “Fire in the Hole,” and I got it kinda sorta down before moving onto “Aja.”  Today, I could learn these songs with a bit of hard work, but I remember struggling mightily just trying to figure out the opening chord to “Aja.”  I didn’t even know what a major seventh chord was at the time, so I was at a distinct disadvantage!  I remember showing my piano teacher Fred Tesch what I had written out on manuscript paper, and he immediately wrote out a bunch of chords that I needed to master, which subsequently made learning songs a helluva lot easier. 

10)  Trilogy – Emerson, Lake and Palmer
11)  Awaken – Yes

These songs provided a different sort of challenge.  Instead of blues and jazz-based chords, these intros were more classically-influenced, and once the patterns were deciphered, they weren’t too difficult to learn.  The fast runs of “Awaken” are merely suspended chords and pretty easy to play.  But again, they sound really tasty.

12)  Trampled Under Foot – Led Zeppelin

Perhaps an odd one to include, as it’s a whopping two measures long, but in the days when learning a song meant placing down the needle on a record, lifting it, plunking out a few notes on a keyboard, placing the needle back down on the record (but too far to the right, so the fade out of “Houses of the Holy” was still audible), listening, lifting, playing, dropping, listening, lifting, playing, etc., learning even a two-measure intro wasn’t so easy!  Also, not understanding pentatonic and blues scales made it a lot more challenging. 

13)  Jungle Land – Bruce Springsteen

Roy Bittan’s handywork was a lovely work of art to reproduce, not only the intro here but the entire song.  Monumental.

14)  Abacab – Genesis

My high school band took on this song and did a pretty damn good job of it!  Once again, when I relearned this song about five years ago, I realized that my ears hadn’t picked up on a few things back in mid-80s.  YouTube set me straight as it always seems to do.

15)  Target – Joe Jackson
16)  Be My Number Two – Joe Jackson

The former’s Latin-based piano part is probably a joke to those who know the ins and outs of this style of music, but for my young ears in 1982, I didn’t understand what was happening here at all.  It wasn’t until the late 80s that I finally wrote out the parts to figure out the syncopation.  I never did master Latin patterns and rhythms the way I’d like, but I got this Joe Jackson part down pretty well.  “Be My Number Two” was more my speed, and I love hearing what Joe’s done to the middle section lately when he plays live, modulating every two measures or so before resolving back to the original key.

17)  The Way It Is – Bruce Hornsby

I can’t tell you how exciting this song was for a piano player in 1986.  In a decade awash with synth sounds, this was an honest-to-goodness piano track, and playable too!  The solo later in the song required more finesse, but even that was doable.  Bruce put piano back on the map.

18)  Locomotive Breath – Jethro Tull

This is another one I kinda sorta learned until recently, when YouTube came to the rescue.  Slowing things down at half-speed sure makes the faster runs a lot easier to dissect!  I just played this intro last month at a gig and had a lot of fun doing it.

19)   The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway – Genesis

This gets my vote for the best keyboard intro ever.  In typical Tony Banks fashion, the chord progression here is insanely odd – something I’d never come up with in a million years.  It’s also – like “Angry Young Man” – hard to play (for me, anyhow) without a grand piano, and even then I’ll still mess up the final run.  I learned this intro for a proposed Genesis tribute band that never came to fruition, but it was so much fun to learn.

20)   Year of the Cat – Al Stewart

There’s more to this intro than meets the eye, as after the initial memorably eight bars the piano delves into some interesting voicings that aren’t so easy to hear initially.  This intro captures the mood of the song perfectly.

So there you are – my Top 20 Keyboard Intros.  Oddly absent are any songs by Ben Folds, especially “Philosophy” and “Landed,” but only because I haven’t actually learned those songs.  Why?  I don’t know.  Ben Folds was a breath of fresh air when the debut album came out in 1995, as important to me in my late 20s and early 30s as Elton John was to me in my teens, but I still need to learn the tunes.

Some other honorable mentions:

1)     Sweet Dreams – The Eurythmics
2)     1000 Miles – Vanessa Carlton (it once again put piano back on the map in the 2000s.)
3)     Take on Me – Uh Huh
4)     Waiting for a Girl Like You – Foreigner (read about how Thomas Dolby came up with this intro – amazing!)
5)     Lady Madonna – The Beatles
6)     Don’t Do Me Like That – Tom Petty (the piano is sparse and simple, and the organ is perfect)
7)     Jump – Van Halen (of course)
8)     Atlantic – Keane (man, I love this eerie opening)
9)     The Great Gig in the Sky – Pink Floyd
10) Vienna - Billy Joel
11) Head over Heels - Tears for Fears

Lot of great stuff to choose from!  If you’ve got any others I should have mentioned, send them my way.

Alpine Valley Concert Memories

It happens to all venues eventually, I know, but this time it kind of hits home: for the first time since its 1977 inception, Alpine Valley won’t host any concerts this summer, and it may be in jeopardy of closing permanently. Tucked in rolling hills of southern Wisconsin, Alpine Valley is a spectacular site for a large concert, but it’s miles from nowhere and has fallen victim to the likes of Wrigley Field and Soldier Field, two Chicago venues that are hosting more concerts than in the past.

Nonetheless, Alpine Valley remains an integral part of my memory’s concert vault. It's the venue where I experienced the inimitable thrill of witnessing not just a show, but an Event, larger than life and at times life-affirming. I attended eleven shows during those hot, summer nights of my youth:

1983 Supertramp
1984 Bruce Springsteen
1984 Rod Stewart
1984 Elton John
1985 Tom Petty with Til Tuesday
1987 Tom Petty with Del Fuegos and Georgia Satellites
1989 Elvis Costello with Cowboy Junkies, Violent Femmes and Edie Brickel and New Bohemians
1990 Rush
1990 Billy Joel
1990 Jimmy Buffett
1991 Elvis Costello with BoDeans

If I could go back on see one of these shows again, it would be the first: Supertramp’s Famous Last Words show from 1983, the last tour with Rodger Hodgson. I may have enjoyed Springsteen and Stewart and Petty and the rest, but I lived for Supertramp. They spoke directly to me and my brooding teenager sensibilities. Hodgson sang about living a meaningful life in a world that didn’t understand you, and regardless of what Rick Davies sang about, he did so with cynicism and anger. I identified with both. I memorized their lyrics, labored over their piano patterns, and studied their albums' liner notes and intricate cover art. At their Alpine Valley concert, the opening segment on the movie screen of a tightrope walker about to fall to his doom as Bob Seibenberg attacked his kick drum prior to the opening of "Crazy" was the perfect introduction to my amphitheater concert-going experience.

The biggest show for me by far was Springsteen’s 1984 performance, the first of two nights. (The second night can be streamed on youtube, but I sure do wish the first show was available.) Bruce was just about to hit his peek, “Dancing in the Dark” was on just about every frequency along the radio dial, his voice was forceful and confident as opposed to the twang he’s adopted over the past couple of years, and when the first booming note of “Born in the USA” kicked off the show, the rumbling cacophony of 25,000 fans filled my gut with a palpable thrill. I’m not sure I’ve equaled that level of excitement at any concert I’ve attended since.

That same summer, Elton John toured his last decent album (IMO), Breaking Hearts, and sped through a cocaine-induced set that I enjoyed at the time, but in hindsight was probably really mediocre. I’ve listened to recordings of that tour, and they suffer from the constant drone of a synthesizer mimicking strings and other sounds from the studio recordings. They also suffer because Elton was a performer who was tired of performing, so much so that this was supposed to be his final tour. Har har. On a brighter note, I may have witnessed the last Elton John tour during which he was able to belt out the high notes in all their falsetto glory. Elton likes the way his voice sounds now compared to his younger years, but to me, give me Elton pre-1985. Among the purest and most flexible voices I’ve ever heard, and hearing him sing "One More Arrow" was worth the price of admission.

Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck may have started off the Camouflage tour together, but by the time Steward came to East Troy, Beck had had enough and was likely happily sipping a martini in England without his pain-in-the-ass colleague. A terrific replacement was recruited, and at the Alpine Valley show an audience member proudly displayed a home-made sign that read, “Jeff who?” In front of my brother and me was a gorgeous blonde who was taking photos of the show and who promised to send us some prints. She never did.

It was on my return trip from Tom Petty’s Southern Accents show in 1985 – a tour that sported a regrettable giant Confederate flag as a stage backdrop, and an almost equally regrettable horn section – that I received an East Troy welcome in the form of a speeding ticket, as I was going a whopping 67mph in a 55mph section of highway (it’s now 65). I wasn’t the only one. It was Wisconsin's favorite way to thank visitors for spending money at the local venue. My buddy Jim did his best to support my case with the officer, but a ticket was issued before the cop even put his car in drive.

That same day a fellow fan in the parking lot heard me ruminating over my wish for a classic Yes reunion by mentioning their epic track, “Gates of Delirium,” and he yelled “YES,” kneeled down on the ground in front of me and echoed my feelings, after which we spent five minutes discussing all the great songs we’d like to hear a reunited band perform. The shirtless man had cut his knee on a piece of broken glass when reacting to my plea, and said, “It was worth it.  We’re like Yes blood-brothers.” 

Lou Reed was to open up for Elvis Costello in 1989, but he cancelled and was replaced by The Violent Femmes, though the Cowboy Junkies paid tribute with their rendition of “Sweet Jane.” It was also during this show that my buddy Todd looked to his friends from England as Elvis sang a spectacularly subtle performance for such a large venue of “Tramp the Dirt Down,” during which he spouted the venomous lyrics:

When England was the whore of the world, Margaret was her madam

During the Jimmy Buffet show in 1990, the old folks yelled at my gaggle of college pukes to sit the hell down. At the Billy Joel show that same year, he bragged about getting to sleep with Christie Brinkley. And you know what? Even decades after their divorce, he’s still entitled to brag about that one!

Just two weeks later, Stevie Ray Vaughan and four others died in a helicopter accident as it was leaving the venue.

Elvis capped off my Alpine Valley experience in 1991, promoting an album that had no business at such a large venue, and the driving riff of “Pump it Up” was the last sound I’d ever hear in the lush, green hills of East Troy, Wisconsin. There are concerts I probably should have gone to since then (Radiohead comes to mind) but life gets complicated, bands become repetitious, and now if I really need to see a concert at a big venue, Miller Park and Wrigley Field are a-callin’. Live Nation claims they will book shows for at Alpine Valley in 2018, but I have a hunch we may have seen the last concert at East Troy. 

And I have to wonder, how the heck are Wisconsin's finest going to reach their ticket quota absent concerts at Alpine Valley?

Hodgson in Milwaukee

Prior to his performance on Saturday night at the Northern Lights Theater in Milwaukee, I hadn’t seen Roger Hodgson grace the stage since his final tour with Supertramp in 1983, and it was hard to believe the same man could belt out the same tunes as forcefully as he had three decades ago.  Sporting a white shirt and black vest, Hodgson alternated between keyboards and acoustic guitar, backed up by a four-piece band and a largely superfluous 17-piece orchestra. 

Beginning with “Take the Long Way Home,” Hodgson stuck largely to his Supertramp repertoire, performing each of his songs from 1974’s breakout album Crime of the Century and the mega-hit Breakfast in America, along with several from the intervening albums.  Particularly surprising were the inclusions of “Easy Does It” and “The Two of Us” from 1975’s Crisis?  What Crisis?  Notable absences on this particular evening were songs he performed on other nights of his four-night run in Milwaukee: “A Soapbox Opera” and “Even In the Quietest Moments.”  That he mostly ignored his solo career was a little disappointing, as I would have loved to have heard “Had a Dream” and “In Jeopardy” from his debut solo album, and I wish the Supertramp song “Crazy” would have been part of the setlist.  Also oddly absent from the evening was electric guitar.  Hodgson is a master at the tasteful solo or well-placed wail – placing him in the same category as David Gilmore – but these parts were instead arranged for the orchestra, whose presence was most appreciated on “Fool’s Overture,” Hodgson’s epic composition from 1977, and “Hide in Your Shell” from Crime of the Century. 

Roger seemed genuinely pleased at both being able to perform his old material at such a high level and by the audience’s reaction.  Supertramp made their North American debut in Milwaukee, and back when radio stations had more leeway to support particular artists, Milwaukee was one of the band’s hubs.  Hence the four successive shows at Northern Lights, an intimate theater that allowed Roger to give special dedications and wishes to various members of the audience between songs.  When he was with Supertramp, Hodgson and fellow singer/composer Rick Davies yielded audience interaction duties to saxophonist John Helliwell.  Now Hodgson takes on these duties himself, and he seems more comfortable in his own skin today than when he was at the height of his career. 

Hearing Hodgson’s band faithfully reproduce the parts originally played by Dougie Thomson, Bob Siebenberg, John Helliwell and Rick Davies only made me appreciate how adept the original band was at creating a “sound.”  Tastefully understated parts made the whole bigger, and though they may not have been household names, these guys what they were doing.  Current woodwind virtuoso Aaron Macdonald blew through recognizable solos from tunes such as “The Logical Song” and “It’s Raining Again,” and it highlighted how innovative and integral John Helliwell’s contributions to the original band were.  Drummer Bryan Head played behind a drum shield of Plexiglass, and while this may help with sound separation, it was visually unappealing.  More intricate bands have managed happily without one, and I wish sound engineers would employ other techniques to improve their live mixes.

Back in 1979, when Supertramp temporarily ruled the Billboard charts, “Take the Long Way Home” was a favorite of mine, but when I heard Hodgson sing it on Saturday, the following lines hit home harder than they ever had before:

When you look through the years and see what you could have been

Oh, what might have been

If you’d had more time

When I last saw Hodgson in 1983, I was fifteen, and the world’s expanse was limitless, the future so vast, I could hardly contain the very thought of it, my arms unable to open wide enough to embrace what lay ahead.  I no longer feel that way.   I suspect Roger doesn’t either, but it was cool to see a man happy to revisit the past for an evening and share it with an appreciative audience.

Supertramp, 1979

1979.  The year of The Knack, Led Zeppelin’s first album in over three years, 52nd Street, Tusk, The Long Run, and…

Breakfast in America

Living in Milwaukee in 1979, there was nobody bigger than Supertramp.  Already mainstays of Milwaukee radio from their previous three releases, Supertramp was kept in constant rotation on WQFM and WLPX, with “Logical Song,” “Goodbye Stanger,” “Breakfast in America,” “Take the Long Way Home” and “Lord Is It Mine” all making the airwaves.  Supertramp played at Mecca Arena on March 22, and then returned to Alpine Valley for three consecutive shows on June 15-June 17, just a week after exiting the Billboard best-selling album ranking (only to return a week later).

The tour culminated six months later in Paris, after selling over four million copies of Breakfast in America in the US alone, the fifth-best selling album that year, eventually winning the Grammy for the best engineered recording.  The Paris show was recorded and subsequently released as a live LP, and though the concert was also filmed, it wasn’t made available in video.  This glaring omission in rock concert libraries has now been rectified, as the show is now available on DVD and Blue Ray.

I missed the 1979 tour.  As an 11 year-old, too young to see rock concerts, I was filled with jealousy when my brother returned home from one of the Alpine Valley shows with a t-shirt in hand.  I made the next Supertramp concert at Alpine Valley on August 28, 1983, for what would be Roger Rodgson’s last tour with the band, and I have terrific memories of Bob Siebenberg starting the show with the kick drum from “Don’t Leave Me Now” as a giant tightrope walker appeared on the film screen behind the stage and the band launched into the song “Crazy.”

Watching the Breakfast in America DVD last night brought back fond memories of that show, but I was also able to watch the band with perhaps a more discerning eye than back in 1983.  A few thoughts:

  • Davies and Hodgson have no stage presence whatsoever.  Hodgson sings most of his songs with his eyes closed, and Davies has a twitch that makes him look like he’s expending the greatest of effort even when he’s playing the simplest of keyboard parts.  I remember both of the band leaders having little to no interaction with the audience in 1983 as well, with the exception of Hodgson announcing his decision to leave the band (just before playing "Give a Little Bit").
  • John Helliwell, in addition to being a great woodwind and keyboard contributor, is the voice of the band, adding a much needed sense of humor and dialogue with the audience.
  • Hodgson is a very underrated guitarist.  I liken him to David Gilmore; perhaps his chops aren’t extraordinary, but his choice of notes and sounds are flawless.  Just hearing him play the tasteful guitar solo in “School” was enough for me to take notice, and I still love his work at the end of “Goodbye Stranger.”
  • The stage setup is interesting, so that even though Davies only plays keyboards (and harmonica), he positions himself in one of four different places on the stage: one for the front stage Wurlizer, one for the grand piano, one for the Hammond and other keyboards stage left, and another keyboard setup that allows for Hodgson and Helliwell to have easy access during songs that require guitar and woodwinds.  In effect, you have three of the five members moving around regularly, which makes for a more fulfilling visual experience.
  • The highlight of the concert for me is the inclusion of “Another Man’s Woman,” a Davies tour de force and completely unexpected.  Hodgson’s understated guitar work during this song is another example of how less is more.
  • Perplexingly absent from the set list are Davies’s contribution to Supertramp's latest release.  Only one of his songs from Breakfast in America is performed, the hit “Goodbye Stranger.”  In the notes from my concert program for the …Famous Last Words… tour, is states, “Rick Davies was so sure that Breakfast in America would not reach the top 5 on the American charts that he bet Bob Siebenberg $100 that it wouldn’t.”  Perhaps he didn’t really like the tunes from this record, which would explain why he played all four of his songs from Crime of the Century, but only one from the best-selling album in the band’s history.
  • The screen behind the stage is used fleetingly, and I suspect this was a rather extravagant and expensive proposition in 1979.  On the DVD, film is used only for the songs “Rudy,” “Fool’s Overture” and “Crime of the Century.”  When I saw them in 1983, I recall them using the screen for "Crazy" and “Child of Vision” as well.
  • Why the cameras didn’t roll during “Ain’t Nobody But Me,” “From Now On,” “A Soapbox Opera,” “You Started Laughing” and “Downstream” is a mystery, and one wonders if Rick’s contributions to the band were overlooked in favor of the hit-making Hodgson, since four of the five missing tracks are Davies songs.  Luckily, the audio is included for these tracks as a DVD extra.

The legacy of Supertramp has been minimized in my mind due to Hodgson’s departure in 1983, a few uninteresting albums since that time, a lot of extended time off, and the inability of Davies and Hodgson to come to a settlement that would culminate in a reunion tour.  Other bands have stayed relevant without new material (The Beatles, anyone?  Or Billy Joel?), but one has to wonder if Supertramp is one of those bands that’s going to disappear entirely from people’s playlists in the next ten or twenty years.  If so, it’ll be a shame, because Supertramp had a remarkable knack for walking the balance beam between creativity and accessibility.  There is no reason in the world that a song like “School” should have gotten radio play, and yet it did.  Supertramp achieved something remarkable, and I have to wonder if after the inclusion of Heart into the Rock and Roll Hall-of-Fame last year, if they shouldn’t be considered.  I doubt it'll happen, but if the year 1979 is any indication of the band’s impact on the music world, perhaps it should.

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved