R.I.P. JERRY LEE – We finally lost The Killer three days before Halloween, decades after we expected it. He had serious health issues for so long that when his name came up people would ask, is he still alive? He was 87. He went to Sun Records in the mid-’50s and was considered part of the Million Dollar Quartet there, with Elvis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. The original wild man of rock and roll (wait – what about Little Richard?), the Loo-siana boy would have had a much bigger career if he hadn’t married his 13-year-old cousin once removed, Myra (who later remarried and became an author). He was 22 and it was his third marriage, of seven. His first was to a preacher’s daughter, when he was 16. In ‘68 he went country (country folks are more forgiving of those things) and had great success, and continued to record and tour the world into his late 70s. His 2006 album, “Last Man Standing,” sold more than million copies.
He grew up in an impoverished farming family who mortgaged the farm to buy him a piano, and as a young’n played in a trio with two cousins, Mickey Gilley (later a country music star) and Jimmy Swaggert (later a famous televangelist). His role model was his piano-pounding older cousin Carl McVoy, who recorded with Bill Black’s Combo. I guess he just liked cousins.
I saw him (10 feet from his piano) at the famous Palomino Club here, mid-’80S. He had just gotten out of the hospital for some illness, and it showed. He seemed almost weak. But as the set progressed he made an amazing transformation, at the end shouting and pounding like the old Jerry Lee. He was wild, he could be awful, he was a bedrock founder of rock and roll. We’ll miss him.
JEFF BECK – I waited 60 years to see him, and was not disappointed. I say that because when I was just out of high school I saw The Yardbirds were scheduled to play some silly little venue in Las Cruces, 3-½ hours south of Albuquerque. I convinced three friends (one with a car) to make the trip. It took some convincing because this sort of thing was not done by kids from a Catholic school in NM in the mid-‘60s. Somehow, long before internet or even free “long distance” phone calls, I found out that the venue burned to the ground the night before. Las Cruces was cowboy country and it’s possible some good ol’ boys didn’t want those longhair English wankers in their town.
Beck replaced Eric Clapton as Yardbirds guitarist, followed by Jimmy Page (holy frijole!) and Beck’s fuzz tone, string pounding innovative style influenced their bolder recordings. He continued with various Jeff Beck Groups, for a while with Rod Stewart as vocalist, but by 1975 realized he could carry the music on his own and ditched the singers. In his late 70s now he still records and tours to large crowds and seems to get better with age, which sometimes occurs with master classical musicians but not so much WITH rock and roll guitar stars. His dedication to sound experimentation seems to keep him fresh, and there were all ages at that show.
He played at the gorgeous Orpheum Theater in downtown LA, remarkable not only for its over-the-top old theater palace decor but for the friendliness of every employee there I spoke to. Could this be a rock and roll venue? You bet.
Oh, I almost forgot. Johnny Depp showed up to sing and play on half a dozen songs, and to my surprise he didn’t mess it all up. I guess his first love was music, and he’s not a bad singer and guitar slinger. A lobby employee told me that when he was announced on the bill, they sold out within five minutes.
RHIANNON GIDDENS – Here’s another Great One I’ve been somehow missing. You never know what she will do, because she can do so much (she just wrote an opera! – see below, you can catch it on Sunday), but how about the LA Philharmonic (with groundbreaking African-American conductor Jeri Lynne Johnson) as her backing band? With the Resistance Revival Chorus, 60 powerful voices? Spreading centuries of American music of all types across the Disney Hall stage for us to digest, learn from, and certainly enjoy. We’re so lucky! It can be a fortunate time to be alive, for the arts, and a fortunate city to live in. Sat 8 p.m., Walt Disney Concert Hall, LA, $59-114.
LIBRARY GIRL 13TH ANNIVERSARY SHOW – The anniversary shows (13 years! Every month, quite an accomplishment, Susan Hayden!) are always great and how can you miss when it’s titled “Everything in New Orleans is a Good Idea” AND I See Hawks in LA is performing plus more music AND the famous taco truck will be there to get you fat (Tuesday) and happy before the word pictures start unreeling. Sun 7 p.m. (tacos at 6), Ruskin Group Theatre, SM Airport, $20 (includes tacos, dessert, free parking).
THE HOT CLUB OF LOS ANGELES – Breakneck, virtuoso 1930s Django-style swing music, spitting distance to Santa Monica. Mon 9 p.m., Cinema Bar, Culver City, no cover.
EM – She’s unique, compelling, and right here in Santa Monica. Go. Tues 9:30 p.m., Harvelle’s, Santa Monica, $10.
ELTON JOHN FAREWELL YELLOW BRIK ROAD TOUR – I was never the biggest fan (don’t murder me!) of his music (can’t stand “Crocodile Rock”), and thought Bernie Taupin the most overrated lyricist ever, and his drummer Nigel Olsson an embarrassment, but I do appreciate a good show and EJ has always given us that, so on this final tour I’m sure he will deliver. And besides that he’s a gigantic philanthropist who tried single-handedly to stop the AIDS epidemic. Next Thurs, Dodger Stadium, LA, $45-250.
ALBERT LEE – Not a household name – except among musicians. Not a flashy rocker but a master of nearly anything with strings, with perfect taste coming out of his fingertips. He’s been on so many albums (with so many styles of music) probably even he has lost count. Featured, in the intimate confines of McCabe’s should be a gourmet treat for lovers of music of every stripe. Sat 8 p.m. McCabe’s, Santa Monica, $32.
LA OPERA, “OMAR” – Last chance! Someday Rhiannon Giddens may be ranked with Verdi, Rossini, Puccini and Wagner, but not yet, not on her first attempt at an opera with a big important theme (many operas don’t get this deep, or contemporary across centuries). On the other hand, none of those dudes could create magic with a banjo the way she can or inspire Ken Burns with her encyclopedic knowledge of all music and how they relate and fuse. She is such a talented creative, in so many fields, and this work (music also by Michael Abels) doesn’t just pad her resume, it is the retelling of the life of a 37 year old West African Muslim scholar ripped from his peaceful life and sold into slavery in America. Great story, costumes, sets, but the music is perhaps a bit too ambitious to be memorably melodic. Don’t let that stop you. You don’t want to let Omar slip by without knowing his story. Sun 2 p.m., Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, LA, $199-274.
TOLEDO DIAMOND — He’s unique, compelling, and right here at Harvelle’s. Go. Sun 9:30 p.m., Harvelle’s, Santa Monica, $12.
COMING ATTRACTIONS: “TOSCA,” LA OPERA , Dorothy chandler Pavilion, 11/19, 27, 12/1, 4, 7, 10; TOLEDO DIAMOND, Harvelle’s, 11/20, 27; “THE WALKING DEAD” Series Finale Screening and Red Carpet, Orpheum Theatre, 11/20; HOT CLUB OF LOS ANGELES, Cinema Bar, 11/21, 28; EM, Harvelle’s, 11/22, 29; ELTON JOHN, Dodger Stadium, 11/17, 19, 20; GERALD CLAYTON & Friends, Sam First, 11/22; MACY GRAY, Vibrato, 11/23; THE LAST WALTZ TOUR 2022, Orpheum Theater, 12/4; DUDAMEL LEADS THE TRISTAN PROJECT: I,II,III, Disney Hall, 12/9. 10. 11. 15, 16, 17; LA CHAMBER ORCHESTRA Tribute to Lucha Libre!, GIL SHAHAN, Ambassador Auditorium, 12/11; BILLIE EILISH, Kia Forum, 12/13, 15, 16; X, Orpheum Theater, 12/16.
Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 3,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 36 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org