Musings On Music History: A Double Dose Of Keef Awesomeness, The Kiss Army’s (Original) Cat Man, and Eddie V. Joins The World

12.18: Keith Richards, one of rock’s greatest guitar players and biggest personalities, loves this day. In 1943, his screams filled the room as he took his first of many breaths, making his parents proud, for sure, as their one and only child. Also on this day, on Keith’s 40th birthday, he married model Patti Hansen, to whom he is still married, 29 years later. That totally blows away our faith in the rocker-model-celebrity dating/marriage system of “use ’em and lose ’em.” Thanks a lot, Keith and Patti. Now nothing makes sense. Anyhoo, we’d like to congratulate Keith on his 68th birthday and Patti and Keith on their 28th wedding anniversary. Hazah!

12.20: On this day, the Kiss Army celebrates the birth of one of its generals. Peter Criss, the cat’s meow behind the Kiss drum kit, was born George Peter John Criscuola today in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York. Beginning his love of music with jazz, Criss moved on to rock, eventually placing an ad, after stints in a few different bands, in the back of Rolling Stone, extolling his skills as a pounder of skins, which elicited a call from a couple of fellow NY lads by the name of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. With the formation of Kiss in December of 1972 came gobs of wacked-out makeup, rock ‘n’ rollin’ all night, and the theme song for every Beth in the world. “Beth” became, and remains, Kiss’ biggest hit. Peter was the only member of the band in the recording studio for that song. “Beth” is Peter Criss and wouldn’t exist without him. While his first stint in Kiss only lasted until 1980, his work in the group’s canon is yet held in high regards by the army of followers, old and new alike. [more]

12.21: Frank Zappa, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1940. His influence among musicians is as widespread as the ignorance of his work amongst most other people. From Black Sabbath (the progenitors of heavy metal) to John Frusciante (red hot guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers), from Bill Frisell (modern jazz composer) to George Clinton (latter and modern day funk master), from his son Dweezil to his daughter Moon Unit, Zappa’s prodigious influence continues to be explored, 15 years after his death. The month of December saw his birth and his death, bringing his life full circle, or as circular as the life of someone so left field, so known/unknown could be. Happy birthday, Frank. We miss you, sir.

12.22: This day in 2002 marks the passing of a musician we miss immensely, as Joe Strummer, one of the brightest and best of the last 50 years, passed away from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. He was only 50 years old. What in incredible talent. From his work with The Clash, one of the most important bands not only to emerge from the late ’70s British punk scene, but one of the most important bands ever (yeah, you read that right), to his latter-day work with The Mescaleros, Joe always put his heart and soul into everything. Political, social, and environmental issues easily found a home in Joe’s lyrics. The Clash distinguished themselves from the rest of the first wave of punk groups for a number of reasons. First, they could actually play their instruments. Well. Unlike the Sex Pistols. Second, they weren’t afraid to spread their wings musically and try different styles on for size, from soul to reggea to straight-ahead arena rock. Third, their album London Calling is one of the best albums since the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll. Simply amazing.

12.22: On this day in 1946, Ozzie and Harriet welcomed a second son into their quintessential 1950s nuclear family, when Rick Nielsen was born. Wait, what? What’s that you say? Oh, that was Ricky Nelson. Rick Nielson is the guy we’re supposed to be talking about, the guy who rocked into this world on this day in 1946? Who the hell is Rick Nielsen? Well, kids, sit down and let Uncle Hard Rock History teach you a lesson. Way back in the hirsute, Super 8 Track world of the early ’70s, rock was king. At least, in its own mind. And one of the bands leading the charge of ’70s rock was Cheap Trick, resplendent in their wonderful hair and mustache, their goofiness, their hooks, and their wanting you to want them. Though their first few albums failed to make a dent in the minds of your average ’70s rock and roller, their fourth album, At Budokan, paved the way for their airwave takeover. Up until then, they were only big in Japan. We don’t know why Japan embraced them, but their first few albums all went gold in the Land of the Rising Sun. So, when they played Japan in 1978, they recorded a special album at one of their stops, for their Japanese fans, never intending it to be available in the U.S. On the strength of its sales as an import, however, Cheap Trick’s record company decided to release it domestically. Good call, record exec guys. The live version of “I Want You To Want Me,” which had originally appeared on their 2nd album, In Color, in a studio version, became the biggest hit of Cheap Trick’s career, getting them noticed everywhere, not just Japan. And, to come full circle here, kiddies, Rick Nielsen wrote that huge classic rock staple. So, you can thank him for that next time you see him. Tell him we said “Hey and Happy Birthday!”

12.23: Yes, he’s still alive, to this very day. Eddie Vedder joined us on this day, the eve of Christmas Eve, in 1964, not quite ready to lead the charge from Seattle that would impale the music world with the grunge. Grunge. Grunge. Say it again. Grunge. If you weren’t there or weren’t paying attention at the time or were too old or too young to care, grunge came like a tornado, destroying the ’80s L.A. hair metal scene (Poison, L.A. Guns, Ratt, etc.) seemingly in a single pass, showing the L.A. poseurs for the rock wannabes they really were, their music for the insipidness it belched out on a regular basis. Vedder’s band, Pearl Jam, tore out of Seattle, along with Nirvana, Soundgarden, Temple Of The Dog, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, and Alice In Chains, in 1991, taking the music world to task, ruling rock radio for a few short years, showing the world what’s up. Actually, all the Seattle bands really wanted to do was make music, to channel their creative energies into something meaningful to themselves and a few other people. That the entire country (kinda) got what they were doing attests not only to their prescience, but to the universality, at the time, of what they were doing. Namely, melding metal with punk with alternative rock, writing lyrics based on their lives, their hard lives, their disenfranchised Generation-X attitude, and, generally, just being genuine. This isn’t to say that all Seattle music espoused this thinking or that every “grunge” band adhered to anything even remotely like this categorization, but the label stuck to many bands that didn’t make it past the times and is still heavily associated with Seattle. The term “grunge” disappeared almost as fast as it emerged. Pearl Jam, though, is still alive, to this very day, lead by a fearless and insanely, extremely talented musician who goes by the name Vedder. Eddie Vedder. Happy Birthday, Eddie.

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