Tuesday, December 17, 2013




We're getting ready for our final "MUSIC ON THE MENU LIVE" show of 2013,
and you can help us pick the songs!

Hello everyone,

On Sunday, December 22, I’ll be doing my annual “Music On The Menu Live Holiday Special.”  I’ve been doing this show on the Sunday before Christmas for about seven years now, and it’s always one of my favorite programs of the year. Throughout the entire hour, I’ll be playing Christmas music being performed by our own NEPA artists. Some of the songs will be from local artists offering their renditions of holiday classics while others will be original compositions. And, like last year, I’ll have a few special guests in the studio. Hope you can tune in. It’s always a fun show.

On Sunday, December 29, I’ll be doing my last show of 2013. It’s been a great year for “Music On The Menu Live,” as the show found a new home at 105 The River. I’ve now been at The River since early October and I couldn’t be happier with how things are going. The show is on a great station, right in the middle of your FM dial, and you can also listen online. We’re commercial free each week and we podcast the show  each week, so if you miss it on Sunday night, you can listen to it whenever it’s most convenient for you. We’re broadcasting right from Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, one of the hottest spots in town, we're still sponsored by The Weekedner, and I’m working with a great producer, Lobo, who brings both fun and professionalism to each show. It’s been all good, and since Lobo and I want to end 2013 on a fun note and thank you for listening, we’ve decided to let you program the final “Music On The Menu Live” show of the year. Below you will find the playlist of every show we’ve done since the show moved to 105 The River on October 6. For those shows, I picked the songs. For our final show of 2013, you'll pick the songs. To vote, just look through each playlist and then send me a message of five of your favorite songs that we played on the show since October. The 12 songs that get the most votes will get played on the December 29 edition of "Music On The Menu Live."

Again, just take a look at all of the playlists below and send your favorite five songs to musiconthemenu@comcast.net or send me a message at www.facebook.com/musiconthemenu 

Please send your list of five songs to me by 4 p.m. on Monday, December 23. 

Here are the playlists:

 October 6 show:

1. Who’s To Blame – Tim Husty
2. Pieces of You – k8
3. Wink – Miz
4. Dance All Night – Farley
5. When We Fall – Stardog Champion  
6. Unreal – Mere Mortals
7. Love Like That – Asiz
8. The Tower – Cabinet
9. Throw Your Love To The Wind – Iron Cowboy
10. Do What You Like – George Wesley
11. Timothy – The Buoys  
12. World In A Way – The Badlees

 October 13 show:

1. Memory (Goodbye) – Nowhere Slow
2. Submission – Shannon Marsyada  
3.The Best That I Could Do – Rick Manwiller
4. Dedicated – Mighty Fine Wine  
5. When Eagles Fly – Kevin Campion
6. Break Me Down – Jeanne Zano
7. Always The Victim – Graces Downfall
8. Walk Alone – The Five Percent
9. Still Cry – Ed Randazzo
10. The Diary of Jane – Breaking Benjamin
11. Nothing Like The Real Thing – Badlees

 October 20 show (Badlees special):

1. World In The Way – The Badlees
2. Nothing Like The Real Thing – The Badlees
3. Wanderlust – The Badlees
4. Waiting On A Memory – The Badlees

5. Vigilante For The Golden Rule – The Badlees
6. All At One Time – The Badlees
7. Appalachian Blues – The Badlees
8. The Man Who Went Away (John Galt’s Blues.) – The Badlees
9. A Place To Call Home – The Badlees

October 27 show:

. Stick in The Mud – Shannon Marsyada
2. Rest Out – Jared Campbell
3. Too Soon - Iron Cowboy
4. Ritual – Crush
5. Once – Fall of Empire
6. Bury Yesterday – Jackson Vee
7. The Naked Sea – Days Before Tomorrow
8. Boogie On – Lemongelli
9. Miss You – Melissa Krahnke
10. Truth Is On The Way – I Am Buffalo
11. The Secret (Jamie) – The SilenTreatment
12. The Bleed – Silhouette Lies
13. Waiting on A Memory -  Badlees

November 3 show:

1. Boogie On – Lemongelli
2. Beat Down – Dashboard Mary
3. Between The Lines – Jakesway
4. We’re Gonna Get There – Eva Katherine  
5. On The Radio – Main Offender
6. Love Like That – Asiz  
7. Evangeline – Tony Halchak  
8. Day After Day – Monster Truck Supergroup
9. New Morning Sky – Miz
10. Meteors – Plus 3
11. Better Off – Ronnie Williams
12. Nothing Like The Real Thing – Badlees

 November 10 show:

1. Small Town Waltz – Bob Lewis
2. Waiting On Me – Farley
3. Everybody Here – Angelbeth
4. My Kid Smokin’ – And The Moneynotes
5. Wine & Shine – Cabinet
6. Anthem – Clove
7. Two For The Road – Eddie Appnel  
8. Next Town – The Invisible Swordsmen
9. The Way Life’s Supposed To Be – International Pete
10. Solid Gold – The Great Party
11. Push The Pill – OurAfter
12. The Man Who Went Away – Badlees

November 17 show:

1. Dance All Night – Farley  
2. Old Lion – George Wesley  
3. No Looking Back – Graces Downfall  
4. Bleeding Ears – Chris Hludzik 
5. Dipsomnia - Jerry Sapphire
6. Orion – k8
7. Side of The Mountain – Maruce Project
8. Heaven’s Love – Maybe Someday
9. Black Riders – Zamani
10.Minimum – Wally & The Paupacks
11. If I Only Knew – Tom Flannery
12. Vigilante For The Golden Rule – Badlees

November 24 show:

1. We The Broken - Panacea
2. The 1 Who Got Away – Rick Manwiller
3. Keep Me Turning On – Bent Blue
4. Blow Me Away – Breaking Benjamin
5. I Just Might – Charles Havira
6. The Futch – Doug Mackie
7. Ring Them Bells – Ed Randazzo
8. History – Jay Morgans
9. Last Call For Alcohol – Kermit Alphonso Project
10. Walking On A Fine Line – Mere Mortals    
11. Rugged Rebel – Suze
12. Don’t Let Me Hide – Badlees

 December 1 show (“Snow Tracks” special):

1. You Don’t Know - Cabinet 
2. Renaissance Man ­- Cherokee Red   
3. Claws - Kid Icarus
4. Hecho En Mexico - The Great Party
5. Biting At The Rose - Needle Points
6. Insomnia Hold You - Cold Coffee
7.  The Show - Abstract Peoples
8. Critical Mass- Roug Chimp
9.  Louisa - Okay Paddy    

December 8 show:

1. Still In Love – The Five Percent
2. Throw Your Love To The Wind – Iron Cowboy  
3. Joke’s On You – Dani-elle
4. Ashes On The Sea – Mere Mortals  
5. It’s All Up To You – Dani-elle
6. Rubberoom – Strawberry Jam
7. Junk – Mighty Fine Wine
8. Battle Call – Three Imaginary Boys
9. When We Fall – Stardog Champion
10. Stick In The Mud – Shannon Marsyada
11. Missed It By A Minute – Woody Browns Project
12. The Man Who Went Away – Badlees

December 14 show:

1. Orion – k8
2. Toothpullin’ – Cider
3. Heels Of The Day – Miz
4. Lovely Please – Kriki
5. Fallen – No Vacancy
6. Letter – Nowhere Slow
7. Come Into My House – Robert Reilly
8. 1-9-6 - 40-Lb. Head
9. Draw Me In – Kids On Bikes
10. Life As A Dime – Moonbagg
11. Sara Jean – The Swims
12. Too Many Changes – Badlees

Again, send your five favorite songs to musiconthemenu@comcast.net or send a message to me at www.facebook.com/musiconthemenu. And remember, I'll need your lists by 4 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 23. Thank you! Looking forward to playing your favorite tunes on the show on December 29! 



Tuesday, October 15, 2013



It was February of 1996, and as the music columnist at The Times Leader at the time, I was off to cover another event. At that point in my career, I'd already been reviewing shows for about four years, and even prior to that, going back to my early teens, I'd been to a lot of concerts. I enjoyed it, but it seemed pretty rare at that point to experience something at a show that really surprised me.

This night, however, would not be typical. On tap on this particular winter evening was Natalie Merchant at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre. I showed up, as always, with a notebook and pen and a deadline to file my story. And it was to be one of those special nights when the unexpected happened.

It was one of those nights when the opening act - an artist that I had never heard of before - left me awestruck.

Her name was Soraya. She was on Island Records. And obviously by landing a spot on the Natalie Merchant tour, things were starting to go her way. Her songs were captivating. Her voice was beautiful. She was charismatic, yet in a subtle way, and her entire performance was completely engaging.

The next day, I was on the phone with Island Records, asking that they send me a copy of her CD, "On Nights Like This," and her bio. I wanted to write about the record and, hopefully, turn some more people on to an up and coming artist that I felt deserved to be heard. And that's exactly what I did.

The album, like her set at The Kirby, was fabulous. I gave it one of the most positive reviews I'd ever written. I thought, for sure, that she would soon become a star, especially considering this was around the time of the "Lilith Fair" and what was really a golden era of music for female singer/songwriters.

From my review:

"A dazzling-yet-grounded performer with a smile that could stop rush-hour traffic, Soraya's performance was refreshing, inspiring and utterly captivating ... The album is a breezy collection of romantic, acoustic-based ballads that celebrate life's joys, questions its dilemmas and mourns it sorrows .... Her stirring music deserves even more attention."  

Though she did later have some commercial success, most of you have probably never heard of Soraya. Adding to her many talents, she was also a bilingual artist, and thus most of her success came on the Latin charts. She also later won a Latin Grammy for "Best Album by a Singer-Songwriter."

I admit I didn't know any of that until recently. Back in '96, I simply loved her show at The Kirby, loved her album, told the readers of the newspaper that I wrote for about her music and - like people often do when they think they've found something special - I played it for some friends. I also remember talking to a colleague who was the program director of an adult contemporary radio station, and him telling me how he too was pretty blown away by her performance in Wilkes-Barre, and that he too thought we'd be hearing a lot more from her in years to come.

Again, however, that never really happened. And, believe it or not, that doesn't surprise me. Big record labels often seem to have a knack for signing great artists, but then never really helping them break through to a wider audience. She was also signed around the time of the Polygram/Seagrams sale, when what is now Universal Music gobbled up most of the music industry and, unfortunately, didn't properly develop some of their best talent. But again, in fairness, she did later go on to do very well in other parts of the world.

As the years went by, I lost track of Soraya. But I always kept that wonderful CD of hers, and one day recently, I decided to Google her to see what she was up to. And I was stunned at what I learned.

Soraya died in 2006 of breast cancer. She was 37 years old.

The same illness had also claimed her mother, grandmother and aunt.

Being that this is national "Breast Cancer Awareness Month," I thought I would honor her memory by sharing her story and posting my favorite song from that fine album that I wrote about 16 years ago. Breast cancer has also touched my family, and it has touched the lives of my friends and co-workers. Some have survived it. Some have not.

This blog is my pink ribbon for all of them, and to Soraya. Please listen to this piece of music that I've posted here and know that the artist that wrote it and sang it - like so many of the people that you may have known in your own lives - should still be with us. Please support agencies that fund breast cancer research, and please remind the women in your lives to go for their yearly exams.

Soraya left us with the gift of her songs. And though she's now gone, we can still, in a way, give her something back. We can still listen to those songs, and while doing so, remain dedicated to curing the illness that took her life.

What a voice she had. What a beautiful voice.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


October 9, 2013
Swagger. Sentimentality. Bravado. Thoughtfulness. Continued artistic growth. After more than 23 years of making records, that’s what you’ll find on “Epiphones & Empty Rooms,” the latest release from The Badlees. The reigning kings of Pennsylvania roots-rock are back with style and grace on this stirring 21-track, double disc-set, and as it has done with every album, it is a band that again shows an uncanny ability to remain true to its core sound yet also break new ground.
The first disc features songs sung by the band’s frontman, Pete Palladino. And while some of the tracks have a bit of the power-pop flair that Palladino loves, these tunes also have teeth. “World In The Way” is a melodic yet also forceful gem, while “Wanderlust” is a gritty roadhouse stomper that sounds as if it were written to be blasted in the car while speeding down the interstate.

(Has there ever been a greater car band than The Badlees?)
“Waiting On A Memory” also comes with plenty of hefty hooks and groove, with guitarist Dustin Drevitch adding to the bite. The chorus and the melody to “All At One Time” is so damn catchy you’ll likely find them running through your head all day after just a few listens, and disc one closes with one of the finest tracks on the album: “The Man Who Went Away (John Galt’s Blues.)” It’s a crafty and moody treasure that’s both breezy and thumpy, and with a pounding rhythm section, violinist Nyke Van Wyk’s tasteful touch and some blistering guitars helping bring the song to its conclusion, it’s the perfect way to end the Palladino side of the record, who has never sung better.
All of the songs on the album were written and produced by Bret Alexander, who also played seven instruments on the tracks. And when he steps up to the microphone to take lead vocals on disc two, he also delivers. “Vigilante For The Golden Rule” is an edgy, hell-raising, steamroller of a tune, while “Nothing Like The Real Thing” is one of the coolest tracks on the record yet also sounds unlike anything The Badlees have done before. Like “Vigilante,” it’s got tons of groove and bounce.

The band embraces its Pennsylvania roots with the soaring “Appalachian Blues,” and both “The Poet”and “Your Alamo” are perfectly simple yet also grand and poignant. The second disc closes with the masterful, “A Place To Call Home,” which ranks as one of the most beautiful songs the band has ever recorded. It begins with the story of an early 20th century immigrant, then spans several generations, ranging from a World War II veteran to a man struggling to support his family in modern times. Here, there's also a bit of a regional feel, yet with its gorgeous melody and thought-provoking storyline, it should appeal to anyone who has ever tried to empathize with a challenging journey. Some may see their grandfathers in the song. Some may see their fathers. Some may see themselves.

 “Epiphones & Empty Rooms,” in theory, shouldn’t work. Double-disc sets usually have too much material for even the biggest of fans to easily digest, and the concept of having one vocalist on one disc on another on a second disc is highly unusual. But here, with the mighty Badlees, it not only works, but it makes perfect sense. All that it has done is allow more room for more creativity and more fine songs. All that it is has done is make way for an epic triumph. 

This review also appears in the Oct. 9 issue of The Weekender:

MUSIC ON THE MENU – LIVE ON THE RIVER” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 104.9-FM (105, The River). You can also listen online at: www.105theriver.net 

To follow my postings about music on Facebook, please visit and "like" my page at www.facebook.com/musiconthemenu


Sunday, October 6, 2013



 Radio gives music life. It gives it an audience. It gives it a place where emotions and sentiments from both the past and the present can be heard. And that, more than anything, is why I enjoy presenting the “Music On The Menu Live” radio show every Sunday night.

There are songs – many, many songs – that are considered classics. And when we hear them on the radio, everything that went into making them comes to life. When you’re driving in your car and you hear “Layla,” from Eric Clapton, you hear more than just a great song. You revisit just how madly in love Clapton was with George Harrison's wife at that time. And in addition to hearing the guitar work of a man who would go on to become one of the most accomplished musicians of all-time, you also hear the playing of the late Duane Allman, a musical icon now frozen in time. When you hear John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance,” you are taken back to another era. Yet you can still feel the passion of the moment. When you hear Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run,” you can feel the energy of a young man looking to stake his claim in life – a young man looking for something better. Anything better. When you hear “Alive” from Pearl Jam, you can imagine a young Eddie Vedder out on a surfboard – which is where he was when he wrote the lyrics – feeling invigorated and inspired by the power and beauty of the ocean.

So many great artists. Some many great songs. So many moments captured in time. And with just one spin on the radio, when you are least expecting it, that voice is again heard. The initial inspiration for the song. The crafting of the song. The hours spent in the studio recording the song. It was not all for naught. It mattered. With radio, those feelings and those moments live on.

With “Music On The Menu Live,” I am able to help make that happen for artists whose songs are not played on the radio hundreds of times per week on stations across the country. They don’t get that nice ASCAP royalty check in the mail a few times a year, nor are they in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But the songs that I play from regional artists - and I mean this wholeheartedly – are often just as good. Some are even better. And the emotions that went into writing them were no different than those of anyone else that has ever sat on their couch with their guitar in their hands, or behind their piano, and wrote a song. They too were greatly inspired. They too put a lot of care into crafting their music. They too may have spent many hours in a recording studio. And when their songs are played on the radio – whether it is a song recorded 20 years ago or a song recorded 20 days ago - it is given life. It given it an audience. It is given a place where its emotions and sentiments can be heard.

 I’ve been writing about music for newspapers and magazines for more than two decades. I don’t do it as often as I used to, but when I do, I still enjoy it. I like talking to artists about their music. I enjoy talking with them about their influences and their inspirations, and for the reader, I have always enjoyed the challenge of describing sound on paper. But I really love radio. I love being able to just play the music for people.  My old newspaper column, which ran in The Times Leader and The Weekender for 17 years, was called “Music On The Menu.” When I started my radio show 10 years ago, I decided to call it “Music On The Menu Live.” And that was simply because I was taking the music that I had tried to describe on paper and was now putting it right in your ears.  It was, in some ways, coming alive on the radio. And I feel privileged to be able to do that not only for the artists, but for the listeners.  

“Music On The Menu Live” comes to 105 The River tonight, and that same approach will continue. All regional music – both old and new – will have a home. If we play Led Zeppelin and The Beatles and The Police all the time, why can’t I play an old Strawberry Jam or Mere Mortals or Mighty Fine Wine tune on Sunday night? Good is good. And good will always be good. And so if you are a band that did a good record 10, 15 or even 20 or 25 years ago, and it came my way at some point over the years, you just might hear it on some Sunday evening. That inspiration that you once felt, and that time that you put into your music, was not all for naught. It mattered. Not only did you get incredible creative fulfillment from writing that music, but that music will still be heard. And if you’re a new artist or a veteran artist that has recently recorded some new material, and you get it my way, it will be heard. It is always very exciting to premier some new songs on the show, and over the course of the year, it happens almost every single week.

That’s what “Music On The Menu Live” has always been all about and will always be about. That’s what we'll be doing every Sunday night from 9-10 p.m. on 105, The River.

Thanks for listening.

I really do think you'll like the songs.

“MUSIC ON THE MENU – LIVE ON THE RIVER” will air every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 104.9-FM (105, The River). You can also listen online at www.boldgoldradionepa.com. To download the station's phone app, search "radio bold." Artists interested in submitting material for the show can contact me at musiconthemenu@comcast.net

To follow my postings about regional music on Facebook, please visit and "like" my page at www.facebook.com/musiconthemenu

Monday, September 30, 2013



This Sunday, I’m switching channels. “MUSIC ON THE MENU LIVE,” my weekly radio show that features some of the most talented artists from NEPA, will move to 105 The River. The show, as some of you may know, has been heard every Sunday night for the past 10 years on 102.3-FM, The Mountain. And while I thoroughly enjoyed my time at The Mountain and greatly appreciate the opportunity that the station gave me, I am very excited about my move down the dial.

 A big reason for the change, quite frankly, is that The Mountain changed. In August, the station switched to an HD radio signal. And while it also still streams on the internet, and my show did continue on after the change, I missed being on the regular FM dial. I put a lot of time and care into “MUSIC ON THE MENU LIVE” each week, and I want people to be able to hear it in their cars and on their stereos and on that old radio that you keep out in the garage. And so when Paul Ciliberto of The River gave me the opportunity to get back on the FM band, I took it.  And I am grateful for the opportunity, not only for me, but for the artists that I play.

 The station is owned and operated by the Bold Gold Media Group and - as the thousands of people that visit there every week know - is located inside Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. And that is very exciting to me. There’s so much energy there and they’ve been doing some exciting things with music, so it’ll be nice to be in the middle of the action. 
In addition to hosting “Music On The Menu Live” for the past decade, some of my other radio endeavors have included organizing the former “Weekender/Mountaingrown Original Music Series” shows, plus 2005’s  “We All Shine On: A Tribute To John Lennon” radio special.  Held on the 25th anniversary of Lennon’s death, the live broadcast featured dozens of local artists performing Lennon’s songs. I also put together the 2010 “ Weekender/Mountaingrown Holiday Special,” during which local artists, also live on the radio, performed their favorite Christmas songs. I worked with a great team of people on the former “Concert For A Cause” and was also involved with the recent “Music, Motors & More” event at Montage Mountain. Once I get settled in with the weekly radio show at The River, I am certainly open to working with the station and Mohegan Sun and doing other events featuring live bands. It is still something I love to do and the folks at The River tell me they feel the same. We will rock. This is certain.

 I realize some folks might be familiar with my show and my work in music, while others might not know anything about me at all. Some quick background: I did some work in college radio back around 1985-87 and co-produced a few specials featuring national acts. From 1992-2011, I covered music for The Times Leader and The Weekender and still occasionally contribute stories about music to The Weekender. I did a weekly radio spot about local music on 97.9-X from 1995-2004, and had been with 102.3-FM for the past 10 years. Some quick math tells me that's more than 20 years in music journalism and 20 years in radio. And the only reason I share that is because it directly relates to “MUSIC ON THE MENU LIVE” …

 In getting ready for my move to The River, I recently had the chance to go through my collection of CDs that I’ve accumulated over the years from local bands. And let me tell you: I HAVE A LOT OF STUFF. I’m talking two decades worth of stuff. In fact, this past weekend, sifting through it all was pretty much all I did. There were hundreds of CDs, and today I visited The River studio and dropped off several hundred songs from NEPA artists. It’s a good start.

 We’re going to have fun on The River. Looking through all of those great records this past weekend was incredibly energizing. I’ll be playing some stuff I haven’t played in a long time, as well as some tunes I’ve never played before. And it’s all good.  I’ve already met with my producer, Lobo, who I’ve worked with before at “Concert For A Cause,” and she shares my love and appreciation for local music. And Paul, by reaching out to me and asking me to join the station, clearly feels the same. And so, on Sunday at 9 p.m., I am back on the FM dial and The Weekender will continue to serve as a co-sponsor of the show. As always, I’ll be spinning the very best of NEPA’s music. As always, the show will include current music, plus the occasional blast from the past. As always, it will run the gamut, from The Buoys, to The Badlees, to Breaking Benjamin, to artists such as Miz, Cabinet, k8 and George Wesley.

 As always, I’ll be putting plenty music on your menu.
Listed below are some of the artists whose CDs I sifted through this past weekend. They’re all coming with me to The River:

And The Moneynotes
Alien Red
The Badlees
Bent Blue
Billy Spanton
Black Dog
Blue Sugar Riot
Bob Lewis
Bob Aluni
Breaking Benjamin
Brendan Quinn
Bret Alexander
The Band Brown
The Buoys
Cathy Donnelly
The Cellarbirds
Charles Havira
Chasin’ The Dog
Chris Hludzik
The Collective
Dashboard Mary
Days Before Tomorrow
Doug Mackie
The Drama Club
Drew Kelly
Ed Randazzo
Eddie Appnel
Effect of The Letter
Eric Klein
Eva Katherine
Fighting Zero
The Five Percent
Full Circle
George Wesley
The Godinez Brothers
Graces Downfall
Gypsum Choi
The Great Party
Groove Train
International Pete
The Invisible Swordsmen
Iron Cowboy
Jackson Vee
Janet Raines/Aaron Fink
Jared Campbell
Jay Morgans
Jeanne Zano
Jimmy Harnen
Joe Dombroski
John Canjar
Katie Kelly
Kermit Alphonso
Kate and CJ
Kevin Campion
Kids On Bikes
Lessen One
The Lo-Fives
Main Offender
The Maruce Project
Maybe Someday
Melissa Krahnke
Mere Mortals
Might Fine Wine
Monster Truck Supergroup
Mother Nature’s Sons
Morning Pride
Music For Models
Mystery Fire
Neil Nicastro
No Vacancy
The NonRefundables
Nowhere Slow
OK Paddy
Pete Palladino
Phyllis Hopkins
Plus 3
Rich Jenkins
Rick Jones
Rick Manwiller
Riley Oremus
Robert Reilly
Ronnie Williams
Shannon Marsyada
Shawn Z.
The SilenTreatment
Six Second Yellow
Stardog Champion
Stoney Creek
Strawberry Jam
The Swims
Terrence Hemp Cummings
Three Imaginary Boys
Tim Sheenan
Tom Flannery & The Shillelaghs
Tom Graham
Tony Halchak
Tyrants Temple
Underground Saints
Wally & The Paupacks
White and Gray
Woody Browns Project
40-Lb. Head
78 West
“MUSIC ON THE MENU – LIVE ON THE RIVER” will air every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 104.9-FM (105, The River). You can also listen online at www.boldgoldradionepa.com. To download the station's phone app, search "radio bold." Artists interested in submitting material for the show can contact me at musiconthemenu@comcast.net

To follow my postings about regional music on Facebook, please visit and "like" my page at www.facebook.com/musiconthemenu

Friday, August 16, 2013

Getting to Graceland
A little less conversation, a little more action

AUGUST 16, 2013

In Memphis, the days leading up to August 16 have become known as "Elvis Week." It's a celebration of the life of city's most famous son and The King of Rock and Roll, and it centers around the anniversary of his death. Year after year, people come from around the globe to experience all-things-Elvis Presley. There's even an all-night vigil at The King's former home, Graceland. Last year, on the 35th anniversary of Presley's death, the event was attended by an estimated 75,000 people.
Think about that. There's only a handful of recording artists today that can attract that kind of crowd. They're the ones that play football stadiums, not theaters or arenas, when they're out on tour. Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and U2 come to mind, but they are a select few. And yet in Memphis, that many people showed up just to walk past a man's grave, in silence, while holding a candle. A man who hadn't sung a song in 35 years.

Such is the impact of Elvis Aaron Presley. And though I've never been to "Elvis Week," I did recently have myself an Elvis weekend. Two good friends and I - to borrow from the inspiring song by Mark Cohn - did some walking in Memphis. We're all lifelong Presley fans, and we figured it was time we got down there. And so we put on our blue suede shoes, so to speak, boarded a plane, and touched down in the land of the Delta blues. We made the 1,032 mile journey to Graceland.

It's been nearly three months since our trip, and not a day has passed that I haven't thought about it. Memphis, for anyone with an appreciation for the history of rock and roll, is a special place. And as I told some people upon my return, "I brought home a little bit of Memphis with me, but I also think I left a little piece of me there."
It stays with you.

Graceland was wonderful. Though you sometimes might hear people say that it's not as big as they had expected, I didn't feel that way at all. It's a mighty big house, and yet it still has the feel of a home. There are moments on the Graceland tour that are simply fun, such as the rooms dedicated to Elvis's gold records and jumpsuits, yet there are also moments that are sad and poignant, such as when you find yourself standing before the very same piano that Presley played on August 16, 1977 - just hours before his death. You see a swing-set in the backyard, where his daughter once played, and a pool where good times were had by family and friends. And yet just 20 yards away, you also visit his grave.

Directly across the street from Graceland on Elvis Presley Boulevard is an annex plaza. And while no merchandise is sold at the actual home and the tour is extremely tasteful and serene, the plaza is a haven for the Elvis collector. Some of the gift shops even have special themes, such as "The '68 Comeback Special" and "Elvis's Hawaii." I loved it all, and I admit I bought a bit more than I had expected. While there, you can also visit the radio booth of Elvis Radio, a Sirius XM station devoted exclusively to Presley. My friends and I got lucky upon our visit there, as George Klein happened to be broadcasting at the time. Klein is a Memphis legend on TV and radio and was a close personal friend to The King, and there is certainly something very cool about standing directly across the street from Graceland and chatting with a man who once partied there many times with Elvis. Elvis had also served as best man at Klein’s wedding, and Klein served as a pallbearer for Elvis. And there he was, more than happy to come out of the radio booth to meet with fans.
This is the type of stuff that can happen when you visit Memphis.

Of course, if you're in Memphis, you also have to visit Sun Studio. It's history is well-documented. Early recordings of not only Presley, but also Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, B.B. King and Roy Orbison were all done there. You can stand in the exact spot where Elvis recorded "That's All Right" and you can see some of the vintage recording gear used at the time. For me, however, there was a moment at Sun that remains even more memorable. Just prior to visiting the city, I read the book "Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley." Written by Peter Gurlanick, it is considered to be the definitive Presley biography. And the truth behind Elvis's early recordings at Sun, wonderfully described in the text, is actually far more interesting than the myth or the drive-by Hollywood version ...

There is a perception that Elvis walked into the studio off the street, recorded "That's All Right," quickly became a regional sensation, signed with RCA, and soon became King. But that's not what happened. Presley recorded several songs at Sun prior to "That's All Right" without much success. Sam Phillips, the owner of the studio, thought he had a pretty good voice, but there was nothing particularly special about the first few tracks he recorded. But Elvis kept coming back. He'd come to the reception area of the studio - polite, shy and unassuming - looking for more opportunities to record. This went on for about a year. The receptionist at Sun, a woman named Marion Keisker, took a liking to the well-mannered young man. Ultimately, she helped get him the session that led to "That's All Right."
I don't know how many people that take the tour of Sun fully appreciate the significance of that little reception area, where a nice young woman once took a nice young man under her wing and, is essence, changed pop culture history. Most of the people on the tour I took part in moved quickly through the reception area and into the actual recording studio, but I stood there for a while, imagining the inward yet also obviously determined young Elvis coming back again and again, hoping for another chance to realize his dream.

Keisker, when she first met the 18 year-old Presley while working in that small office, asked him what kind of singer he was.

"I sing all kinds," he said.

She then asked whom he sounded like.

"I don't sound like nobody," he replied.
You stand in that little room, 60 years later, and you see Keisker’s little desk, and you can still feel the moment.

These are the types of experiences you can have when you visit Memphis.
My friends and I did a lot of walking in Memphis. We visited Lauderdale Courts, a housing complex where Elvis lived during his high school years, and we stood on the steps of Humes High School, from which he graduated. We walked up on the stage of the Overton Park Bandshell, an amphitheater where Elvis performed in 1954, and we visited the site of the Lansky Brothers clothing store, where The King first bought his cool threads. We strolled by the now abandoned Chisca Hotel, the home of the first radio station to play Elvis, and we visited 1034 Audubon Drive, the site of the home that Presley bought with the royalties from his first No. 1 hit, "Heartbreak Hotel." We also took a ride out to the site of the former Stax Recording Studio, where Presley recorded material for three albums in 1973, and we even visited the old Arcade Diner, one of Elvis's favorite eateries. While there, the grandson of the original owner came over to our table and told us some great stories about some of the times Elvis had eaten there, and he pointed us towards Elvis's favorite booth. Of course, we sat in it.

These are also the types of experiences you can have when you visit Memphis.
You can also party on Beale Street and hang out at clubs owned by B.B. King and Jerry Lee Lewis. You can see the great Mississippi River and the solemn site where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. We did all of that, too. And on the corner of Beale and Main Street, we visited Elvis Presley Plaza, where a striking statue stands in his honor of Memphis' favorite son.

If you are a fan of Elvis Presley, you should really try to visit Memphis. You need to go to Graceland. And Sun. And pack in as much as you can in the time that you have there. I also suggest reading "Last Train To Memphis" before you go, as well as George Klein's "Elvis: My Best Man" and Jerry Schilling’s "Me and a Guy Named Elvis." Both are entertaining and thoughtful books written by two of Elvis's closest friends, and the stories they share of their time at Graceland and growing up in Memphis will make your visit even more enjoyable. I actually read the latter two books after my visit there, and I found that having personal visuals of the city and Graceland in mind really helped bring the texts to life. Simply put: if you go there, and you can truly picture things as they were, the stories are even better.
Elvis passed away 36 years ago today. I was only nine years old at the time, but I was already a fan and I remember it well. Throughout my life, I've always done something to note the day. I'd watch an Elvis special on TV, or listen to some of his music. This year, it feels different. Though I am not at Graceland for "Elvis Week," this was the year I finally got down there. I stood on one of the same stages where he first performed and in the same room where he first recorded. I saw his home, his cars and his airplanes and met one of his best friends. I placed a flower on his grave as a gesture of thanks, for not only his music, but for all of rock music. I paid my respects to The King.

These are the types of experiences you can have when you visit Memphis.
If you've ever thought about going, do it. "TCB," as Elvis would say. Take care of business.

It will stay with you.