Wednesday, April 27, 2011

RIP Phoebe Snow

In honor of one of the greatest voices ever to grace a record, I reprint this concert review I did of one of Phoebe's shows back in 2008. Enjoy.


If Phoebe Snow had Beyonce’s looks and body she’d no doubt have a fortune sitting in the bank.
One of the greatest voices to ever grace a recording, she blows away most anyone in music today and this show proved she hasn’t lost a note. Her voice, simply put, is an instrument virtually limitless in its power.
She made covers of All in the Game , Jackie Wilson’s Work Out, and even Janis Joplin tunes her own. And her compositions remain sensitive, introspective, and poignant.
Even more powerful was Ms. Snow trying to cope with facing her birthday without her daughter who passed away earlier this year. Struggling to sing a song about her, it was one of the most touching moments I can remember at a live event. What had been a mere concert transformed into something more- a “love fest” as Phoebe herself put it.
The audience- deeply moved by what they were witnessing- spontaneously burst into a rendition of the traditional Happy Birthday followed by Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday, while Phoebe stood on stage shaking her head at what she was witnessing. It was truly beautiful. Adding to the great vibe, an African woman in traditional garb walked up to her and graciously gave her a beautiful ring while another man passed along flowers.
Mentioning the heat repeatedly, it was clear Phoebe was feeling it. And she did maybe a dozen numbers total. So I’ve seen longer, even better concerts in my life.
But I sure don’t remember too many that felt this good.
Bravo Phoebe. And happy birthday.

-Evan Ginzburg

Monday, April 18, 2011

WAKE UP EVERYBODY… A Radio Host/Club Booker looks at the musicians he’s worked with

A Radio Host/Club Booker looks at the musicians he’s worked with

The music industry is a cesspool.
That’s no secret.
Artists of every race, creed, and color have been ripped off since the dawn of the first recording. Geniuses like Chuck Berry have chased down residuals for literally decades. Racism, nepotism, cronyism, and ageism reign. A buddy of mine offered his major label record exec brother a beautiful, talented 16 year old singer-songwriter and was told she was “too old.” They’re now looking for 14 year olds to groom to be the next Justin Beiber.
In short, most musicians will never pay the bills no matter how talented. And if you haven’t “made it” yet, you’re most likely not going to.
It’s not fair. It never has been. It most likely never will be.
But what about the other side of the coin? What about musicians who are their own worst enemies?
I have been a radio host (and co-host) for 21 years (16 with 50,000 Watt WBAI-FM 99.5 Pacifica) and now with Evan Ginzburg’s Legends Radio for the past five ( I have booked and hosted live shows for nearly as long and am currently the host and booker for my Friday night series, now in its third year, in a lovely Village Café, Gizzis at 16 West 8th. To say I’ve seen it all is an understatement.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’d be doing live radio 2PM in the afternoon at WBAI in front of a sizeable audience and the musicians would rush in late, forget their CD, or cancel at the last minute, leaving us scrambling. One incredibly talented blues singer was so high she literally couldn’t remember her long-standing band members’ names. Not one of them. So much for that “interview.” Singing while high wasn’t the issue; talking was.
On my current radio show I do phone interviews exclusively. Often a musician will forget their cell phone, not charge it, or take the call from somewhere so loud that you literally can’t hear them. One singer was in the middle of skateboarding when I called. With the background noise excruciating, it was “ideal” for a radio interview.
Whenever I see a talented musician for the first time I generally introduce myself and try to exchange business cards. The key word here is “try.” You see, many don’t have one. Or their card will have the number crossed out. Sheepishly they’ll tell you, “This is my girlfriend’s number. I’m staying with her.” Within seconds you go from respect for an artist to, “He’s a kid.”
Over the years I’ve gotten literally thousands of CDs for airplay. Here’s a tip, guys and gals. If it looks like it was made by a seven year old in somebody’s basement, replete with literally dozens of spelling errors, it goes to the bottom of a very big pile. I may not listen for months. Or ever. Unfair? Maybe. But some semblance of professionalism does count. Not that airplay on my show is going to be a life-changer, but I’m sure other DJs will react the same way. That's ditto for e-mails asking for airplay with 37 spelling and grammar mistakes. They’re awfully hard to take seriously.  Spell-check is your friend. And the fact that your song is “blowin’ up on da Net” is wonderful. It doesn’t mean I’m going to take you seriously.
The live music scene is always interesting as well. I’ve seen bands walk in “piecemeal” for a gig. If the set is, for example, at 8PM, one member will be there nice and early and anxious to play. Another will be there at the bell. And they’ll wait and wait for the third loser while the audience gets antsy. And sometimes they don’t even know the show time, though it had been discussed and agreed upon weeks earlier. “I thought we were on at 9,” they’ll tell me. “Close.” It was 8. Bands have gone on minus key members because somebody’s so late. And I’ve seen bands actually argue on stage for a variety of reasons with members storming off over some petty squabble. Last booking there, boys.
Promotion is also an issue. Artists will painstakingly put together a website with every bell and whistle. There are those pensive shots of the artists looking longingly into thin air as they wait for their muse. They have a hundred photos of themselves, videos, audio clips, a blog, whatever. What they don’t have is the damn gig plugged. The Facebook/social network scenario is even more frustrating for a booker/promoter. Said artist relentlessly posts videos of cute babies and animals, videos of their favorite artists from 35 years ago, they rage against the political machine, and they talk about every fascinating aspect of their lives down to when they’re clipping their toenails. But, no mention of the gig. Or even worse- the last gig or the next gig is the “important one.” The one you booked them on doesn’t matter and isn’t mentioned. In most cases, though, they’ll remember a few nights before the event to plug it. It’s almost an afterthought. Hey, promotion done on their end.  No calls to friends, family, or colleagues. No e-mail blasts to their list (if they bothered to compile one, that is). Plugging it on Facebook is the be all and end all. I’ve seen incredibly talented veteran performers draw ZERO. And most of these folk work in an office, go to Church, go to school, and unless they’re a serial killer on the side, I assume they have a friend or family member somewhere. What exactly is a booker’s motivation in bringing in someone who draws zero and doesn’t even try to? Sure, we know you’re not making big money and you’re here because you love to play. But even on a tip jar gig a larger audience draws more tips and possible CD sales. No “new math” here. A larger audience= better payday.
Another aspect of the booking game that always fascinates me is the “all about me” syndrome. At Gizzis we’ll do a quality show with multiple acts of every possible musical genre. I’m talking on the same night going from country to folk to blues, etc. which hasn’t been done much since The Fillmore days. In other words, they’re shows we’re extremely proud of. But very, very few artists will say the show is from 7-11 PM. “I’m on at 8PM and doing a 45 minute set.” Well, maybe somebody doesn’t want to schlep into Manhattan for a 45 minute show, but they would for a full night out. Hey, don’t even let them know there are others on the bill. That would mean being a team player.
The capper may have been when one of the artists on a recent show excitedly advertised another show at the same exact time as her own. Her own Facebook friends excitedly told her how they were going to the other show. Sure, she was plugging a worthwhile event, and it’s certainly kind of her to be so selfless, but it’s not going to endear her to the guy who booked her. File this one under “go figure.”
I could go on and on. And of course, there’s the other side where an artist is exceedingly reliable, talented, and relentlessly promotes. That’s when it makes this all fun.
In short, musicians have been victims for decades and will continue to be in a cruel industry that spits them out. And I know that because of this, there will be some who are quite angered by this piece. But sometimes they don’t do themselves any favors, either. As Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes sang, Wake Up Everybody. There are folks that legitimately want to help you, book you, and play your music. Don’t make us regret that.

Evan Ginzburg

R.I.P. Larry Sweeney


“Sweet and Sour” Larry Sweeney had it all.
There were the looks, charisma, and man, could he ever talk. He may very well have been one of the greatest heel managers wrestling had ever seen.
There was only one problem.
He was born in the wrong era.
“You’re like a Model T Ford,” a WWE Rep once told another indy heel manager buddy of mine. You see, in a wrestling world filled with silicone enhanced “Divas,” the smooth-talking heel manager has gone the way of the dinosaur.
Which left the dog eat dog world of the indies for Larry.
I first met him while serving as Associate Producer on The Wrestler. Doing grappler casting calls, I had brought about 150 indy wrestlers in for Darren Aronofksy’s consideration. We all “took to him” immediately. Larry, or Alex if you will, was respectful, personable, highly intelligent, and just plain nice. I ultimately spent a lot of time chatting with him on set between takes at the ROH shows we shot at. We talked “old school” and about his real life, where he worked as a teacher besides his weekend warrior gigs.
Whenever I attended the always great Ring of Honor NY house shows, Sweeney would get on the stick and have the crowd eating out of the palm of his hands. He reminded me of a young Cornette mixed with some Bobby Heenan and Johnny Valiant. He was bleached blonde and brash, sharp, and just plain funny. And behind the scenes, there wasn’t a single time he didn’t greet me warmly or sign autographs for all who asked him.
I had only seen the sweet side of “Sweet and Sour.”
I also caught him on a New York based indy  promoted by Paul Sarachelli. He was rightfully in the main-event versus a legit pro boxer in Larry Barnes. His elaborate entrance to music was Rocky meets wrestling meets performance art. He hadn’t even entered the ring and they “hated” him. At the peak of his powers, he was clearly a master of his craft. And I was pleased to help promote this bout on my own show, Legends Radio, where Sweeney had come on and hyped it like it was the Super Bowl and World Series rolled into one. And when a thousand plus attended the event, a near miracle in indy wrestling, it didn’t surprise me. You see, had Sweeney been around in the 70s and 80s, I sincerely believe he could have filled a baseball stadium with folk wanting to see him “get his.”
How’s that for “old school?”
Yes, he was a classic heel manager in a world that no longer wanted him.
In short, I have had too many people I’ve both known and respected in this business die way too young. The great- and I mean great- Larry Sweeney is the latest on this long, tragic list. He had all the potential in the world.
It hurts like hell to think what could have been.
--Evan Ginzburg

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Photographer Bernard Ente Dies

Yesterday I lost a friend.
And I mean a friend.
Bernard Ente, or Bernie as we all knew him, made my getting married at age 50 last year a hell of a lot easier. A photographer by trade, he shot all my wedding pictures. “Get in the middle of the street,” he suddenly ordered. I looked at him incredulously, and in spite of that ever-present mischievous glint in his eye, I saw the artist in him had taken over. So my dolled up Korean wife and I timidly ran into the middle of a brief break in traffic right there in front of Gizzis Café on West 8th. “Smile, you look too stiff!” he mimicked me as he smirked. Bernie could always make everyone laugh, and I immediately relaxed. Lightning fast, he shot again and again before oncoming cars forced us to run into the packed venue. Bernie made our far from traditional wedding even that much more special.
“What do I owe you?” I asked when I saw the gorgeous set of pictures that commemorated a day I never thought would happen.
“Nothing,” he said. “Just take us out to lunch,” he said.
That was Bernie.
When I wrote Apartment 4B, Like in Brooklyn, book designer Jeff Archer suggested a picture of the actual building I grew up in for the cover. Bernie was the first guy I thought of. Going deep into my old “hood,” Bernie laughed that residents thought he was a cop while he shot the now gated WWII six story apartment.
“What do I owe you, Bernie?”
“Just a photo credit.”
And was he ever proud of that cover.
Bernie was also involved in various community activities. He was the kind of guy who would take the time to fight for a creek, or whatever it was he believed in. It was never, ever about money. One friend of Bernie’s, Erik Baard, wrote this in his own tribute to him on

“He was a crusty Queens guy with a deep sentimentality in the best way, and he had a fine eye. He was kind and intelligent. His natural (or was it hard won?) skepticism never stopped him from supporting the most idealistic endeavors and over-the-horizon dreams. “

Yes, guys like Bernie are few and far between. And for a guy who brought nothing but joy everywhere he went, 59 was way too young to go.
Bernie made his living as a school photographer. He was often on the road, and I didn’t see him as often as I’d like to. But when I did, whether it was with his lovely wife and daughter who he adored, or at a hot blues show, we always had a blast. 
And we laughed. Oh, how we laughed. Because that was Bernie.
Bernie was a subscriber to my Wrestling- Then & Now newsletter, which is how we met, and he was also pleased that out of the thousands of possible pictures that would have been fitting, his wedding shot was what I chose for my twentieth anniversary issue’s cover. Bernie and I had bonded in our mutual love of music and wrestling. Whenever I’d do a comedy show with Johnny Valiant, there was Bernie shooting away. He was all about support. And never a charge. 
He was that rarest of guy who everybody loved. I honestly never heard anyone say a bad word about him.
Bernie was really a big kid at heart. A joker. He was quite tall and would whip out that camera lightning like to get a shot of everything from a duckling in a pond to whoever he was with in an unguarded moment. “Got it,” he’d say victoriously. He was larger than life and I honestly can’t believe he’s gone.
When Bernie championed someone, like blues harmonica ace Felix Cabrera, he’d suddenly get serious. “Evan, you gotta book Felix,” he’d say passionately. And I have and always will. Working with guys like Felix has enriched my life. This Friday at Gizzis, Felix dedicates his set with Robert Ross to Bernie, and for someone who loved and supported the blues, I can’t think of a better sendoff.
You know, this was a man who was always about laughter and fun. So there’s almost this odd sense of guilt in my writing this with a heaviest of hearts. But it sure isn’t easy losing a friend. Particularly when my friend, Bernie, epitomized the word. 

Evan Ginzburg