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UK Music Producer Kevin Armstrong Talks Playing FYF Fest and Lucky ‘Second Chance’ With Iggy Pop

An FYF Edition of The California Rocker Q and A


Kevin Armstrong has played with some of the most creative and and famous frontmen in music. He worked with not only David Bowie, but he has performed and led the bands for Thomas Dolby, Sinead O’Connor, and now he has reunited with Iggy Pop, with whom he worked during the Blah Blah Blah years in the mid-1980s.  Three years in, and with an FYF Fest performance tonight, Kevin sat down with editor Donna Balancia to answer the important questions about music.

CR: Kevin, how did you reconnect with Iggy Pop and get back with the band?

KA: It started with a guy named Tom Wilcox, who used to run a gallery in London, he got involved in ICA, a music and arts place. He indulges his fantasies with events, and he gets private and public arts money to put them on. He phoned me and said, ‘It’s the 25th anniversary of Blah Blah Blah would you like to do a semi tribute thing?’  I said yeah I would. I did it, Iggy was watching on the Internet.

KA: I actually contacted Henry McGroggan, Iggy’s manager, and said ‘I’m doing a Blah Blah Blah tribute, would Iggy give his blessing. Henry said yes and “We’ll keep an eye on it.” I said as an aside, “And if you ever need another guitarist, I’m available, ha ha,” and ended the phone call. A year later I get a call from Henry out of the blue, he said “Ron and Scott have passed, The Stooges is over, but there are these shows in England with Foo Fighters at Wembley.” Of course that was an amazing call to get after 30 years. Here we are three years later, he’s digging the band, we’re digging him, it’s going well.

Kevin Armstrong says his parents encouraged his career - Photo by Paul McAlpine

Kevin Armstrong says his parents encouraged his career – Photo by Paul McAlpine

CR: What does working with Iggy again mean to you?

KA: I’ve done a lot of work with high level players like, David Bowie, Thomas Dolby, and it’s been a rare thing for me to revisit this work at this level. I knew I had unfinished business, but I never imagined it would be Iggy and this kind of thing. It’s a second chance to put together all the things you kick yourself for the first time around.

KA: I’ve kicked myself over things like on a basic level, guitar sound, since I didn’t know what I was doing back then. Now I know a lot more about that. Also your general attitude is different. I look at my younger self and think my behavior could have been better. When you’re older you don’t need to prove yourself any more. I’m glad I got a second chance to do this and heal some of the things I felt bad about. Working with Iggy Pop again is like having lightning strike twice and it’s a good feeling. It rarely happens.

CR: How did you react to the news of David Bowie’s death?

KA: David Bowie’s death was a shock. There were rumors. I’m friends with Brian Eno in London and we had discussed it on occasion, you know like ‘Have you seen David?’  There were rumors but I don’t think anyone really knew. It’s the loss of someone completely unique. The minute it was announced my phone started ringing and didn’t stop for two days.  They’d say “Do you want to talk about it?” and I said, “No.” Then as the day wore on it became clear how much he prepared himself through his work. I couldn’t imagine anyone doing it this way. Bowing out this way with an album at the top of the charts and leaving clues. I started to feel I would talk about it, about what an amazing guy he was.

Kevin Armstrong says he's lucky to have another chance to work with Iggy Pop - Photo by Paul McAlpine

Kevin Armstrong says he’s lucky to have another chance to work with Iggy Pop, they’re pictured here at The Ritz – Photo by Paul McAlpine

CR: What was your family like growing up?

KA: On my mother’s side, my grandfather was a drummer, my mother was an accomplished classical pianist. I think she could have had a career as a pianist. But my mom’s a weird person, I’d phone her up and tell her I’m playing with Iggy Pop and opening for a band called Metallica playing before 180,000 people this week in Mexico and she’d say “That’s nice, dear,” then I’d hear from my sister who’d say, “Mum’s really proud of you.”

KA: I’d like to say I consider myself very lucky because I’ve always gotten to do what I love to do. I believe people should do what you want to do. My dad said when I was 16 when I wanted to flunk out of school and join a band, normally your parents would say ‘You’ve got nothing to fall back on,’ my dad said, “Do it, son.” I’m very lucky.

CR: What advice would you give to artists on the way up?

KA: I had this conversation with a friend and he said, ‘If you can find a thousand people interested in what you do, and service them and get them to spend a hundred dollars a year on you, that’s $100,000 a year.’  You can become a tiny industry yourself if you have the energy to do it.

KA: The Internet has driven the quality of music down. John Peel, the DJ in London would play things nobody else would play. He had a strict rule he would not talk over the music. But even he, in the age of endless, by the yard monkey soundtracks made by one bloke and a computer, even he would start to talk over the music in the end. I think it’s better now. I hear a lot of good new artists.

KA: The musicians used to earn from record royalties, now there’s nothing there.  It’s swung back towards live music. It’s kind of done a complete flip, you used to make records to promote live tour, now you give music away to sell tickets. Live skills are really important. That’s why guys like Iggy are still going, that’s where the living is to be made.

Kevin with David Bowie - Photo by Paul McAlpine

Kevin with David Bowie – Photo by Paul McAlpine

CR: What are you working on?

KA: I’m doing lots of things. After this Iggy thing three of us in this band are doing a tour with Mike Garson, David Bowie’s  piano player, then immediately we’re doing a thing with Thomas Dolby. Then I’m the musical director of Gutterdammerung, the movie.

CR: Who is one of the most innovative musicians you’ve worked with?

KA: Thomas Dolby. One of the most innovative, he’s a professor at Johns Hopkins. He’s got a professorship and they gave him a budget to use a theater. He is one of the most innovative and clever musicians I’ve ever worked with and I’m about to work with him again.  I always learn something. I was talking to Earl Slick about being a sideman and the attitude is, the best thing you can do is anything you go into, you can learn something from it. Whether it is to unlearn something you know or learn something. With Thomas I always learn something.

Paul McAlpine photo of Iggy Pop and Kevin Armstrong

Paul McAlpine photo of Iggy Pop and Kevin Armstrong

CR: How does a bandleader and side man work with a dynamic frontman?

KA: You start with examining the work they’ve done. You ask, what makes it good? For instance doing Iggy this time around I figured early on, that what people want to see in my opinion when they buy a ticket, is they want to see the music done right. It’s not Karaoke. Do we want to try recapture the music, and examine what’s good about the record and bring it into the live performance, get girls dancing, get everyone enjoying it. I felt it was up to me to say that to him.  Slow the tempos, make it good, don’t run away with it and respect the original work. For him that’s a big spectrum because he’s an artist who quite uniquely straddles America and Europe. The Stooges are American, yet The Idiot and Lust For Life were part European albums. It’s quite a range of material.

KA: It’s about communication. This time it’s working well. We’re doing quite a lot of Stooges, we’re doing the later stuff and there’s the great record with Josh Homme, Post Pop Depression. We play “Gardenia,” “Break Into Your Heart” and “Sunday.”

CR: What is on the horizon?

KA:  I have a studio at home, but increasingly in the most recent years, I’m less inclined to sit at a computer. I have my projects and I will continue to play live. While I’m still kicking and breathing, I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.

Check out the Kevin Armstrong website.

Video courtesy of J.T. Jasinski

Heather Harris to Exhibit Her Famous Rock Images at Pop Obscure Records From May 6 Through June 18

The Blessings To Play Opening Night Party


Heather Harris has had a unique perspective from her vantage point as rock photographer in the pit since 1967.  There isn’t much this sharpeye doesn’t see, and she shares her vision with others.

The well-known rock photographer is holding an exhibit May 6 through June 18 at Pop Obscure Records in downtown Los Angeles. Beloved local band The Blessings will play a set during the opening evening on Saturday.

“I enjoy going to local shows and you’ll see my photography exhibit includes not only big rock stars but also local artists,” Harris said. “Local artists become big artists, so we included some local people in my exhibit.”

Heather consults with James Williamson on a photo shoot – Photo © Kurt Ingham

Vast Catalogue of Photos

Harris has a remarkable body of work, but she goes under the radar because of her gracious humility. Many of the most well-known photos of rock stars featuring The Who, Prince and Iggy Pop were taken by the soft-spoken Harris.

Harris’ photographs of musicians have been published in Rolling Stone, MOJO, Billboard, Los Angeles Times, Creem, Music Connection, Warner Brothers, Penguin Books, St. Martin’s Press and many more. Spanning Buffalo Springfield to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, her work includes many of the most important figures in rock that came through her native Los Angeles throughout the past five decades. Check out her blog, Fast Film.

Heather’s photo of The Who – Photo © 1970 Heather Harris

Under The Radar

“A lot of people are surprised to see my old stuff as well, because people konw the images but don’t know my name,” she said. “What I think I’ve done is document music acts with a fine artist’s sensibility. It’s always amusing when they say ‘You did that?’ It’s funny that on Facebook any uncredited, good Stooges photograph leads people to say, ‘Is that one of Heather’s?’ Well, if anyone thinks any good photograph of the Stooges is by me, my work is done.”

Harris who has been shooting photos since the late 1960s has seen many changes in how photos are taken over the years. How has she preserved the images?

Photo of Paul McCartney © Heather Harris

Digitizing Images Today

“It takes money,” she said. “I have 40 years worth of images, when we had the earthquake in Northridge, the chimney fell into the bedroom closet and that’s where my pictures were. So it’s not as if they haven’t been endangered. Some people have full time assistants digitizing, I don’t have that. As far as the digital stuff, I backed up most of it on DVDs, I’d still like to get a book out because we still have books, since the middle ages, and that’s a form of preservation in and of itself.”

Harris said there are very few photographers she pals around with, and even fewer she admires.

“One of the music photographers I was most influenced by is David Gahr, and the most amazing thing about his photos is I’ve seen them in person and they look exactly like they reproduce,” she said.  “He had a beautiful tonality that reproduced exactly like it looked. His images would look good even in newsprint. He had a nightmare – his studio burned down but he had lots of books out there. I bought his book, The Face of Folk Music. His stuff always stands out as the best.”

Iggy Pop – Photo © Heather Harris

The Future of Photography

As far as equipment, Harris says that for her, it’s Nikons all the way and she shoots with a D3.

“You’ve gotta have full frame,” she said. “All the clients want huge files. Your friends complain but clients want huge files. I had always pushed film, I like the look better, I don’t use flash unless I have to. I use the little camera as a snapshot camera, it doesn’t scare people. It’s good enough for most usage.

As for the future of photography?

“The future already happened,” she said. “It’s the micromanagement aspect of the music business rather than visual experts controlling the media.”

The digital revolution has also played a role in Harris’ work and she has adapted. She said while digital is relatively inexpensive compared to the old days of photography, she also enjoyed shooting on film.

“I always took a lot of shots, even on film,” Harris said. “‘People ask why did you shoot black and white? There wasn’t fast color film until the 1980s. It was three times as expensive, but most of the publications were printed in black and white. Yeah it was expensive and also it was hard to duplicate and retain.”

Harris has had her share of wild experiences out in the field.

David Bowie Photo © Heather Harris

Scrapes In The Pit

“The funniest one is, the first concert I went to where they blocked off the stage from the audience and that was the Palm Springs Pop Festival which was before Woodstock in 1969,” she recalled. “They blocked off the stage with chicken wire, I just tore it down and took pictures of The Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram Parsons. Why do I only have one picture? Ten thousand people followed me and rioted. They rioted all the way to Taquitz Falls.”

Harris said there is one main difference in today’s music than when she first started out.

“When I first started going to shows there were more Titans straddling the Earth, Jimi Hendrix, like that but the opening bands sucked,” she said. “The big thing about the outfits that put on concerts here for the first time they tried to put on three good acts. Nowadays it’s hard to find bad bands, and there are a lot of good bands. But they’re not great.”

Harris said: “It’s a different world, it matches the bombardment of the current audience who want sound bytes and want things fast and short. I still think the greats of any art form can surpass the limitations of any era by being unique to themselves and universal so I think there’s still room for that.”

She added: “Music is wallpaper to most kids. But younger people like to go to the show and they get their friends jazzed to go to the show. But music fans are music fans. That’s one thing that won’t ever change.”

Pop Obscure Records is located at 735 S. Los Angeles Street in Downtown Los Angeles. For more information go to the Pop Obscure Facebook event page. 

Self portrait © Heather Harris

Watch the Trailer for the Mick Rock Doc, ‘Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock’ in Theaters April 7


Mick Rock has made a career of featuring artists on film. Now the lens is turned on him.

The Magnolia Pictures documentary on Rock’s outstanding career in music photography will get a U.S. release on April 7.

Few punkers and rising rock stars escaped Rock’s lens. When asked how he built such a remarkable and vast portfolio, his answer: “I just don’t sleep.”

Check out the trailer here:


VIDEO: Iggy Pop Classic, ‘The Idiot’ Celebrates 40th Anniversary, And Here’s How It All Came About


In honor of the 40th anniversary of The Idiot, the famous collaboration between Iggy Pop and David Bowie, here is a video that tells the story of how the album was created. The Idiot was released 40 years ago this March 18.

Along with “Nightclubbing,” also on the track list are “Sister Midnight,” “Funtime,” “Dum Dum Boys,” “Tiny Girls” “Baby,” “Mass Production,” and one of Iggy’s first successful songs, “China Girl.”

Bowie enjoyed Iggy’s iconoclastic approach to music, Iggy recalled.

“Here was somebody very very talented and he wanted other outlets,” Iggy said in the video embedded here.  “There were certain things he was able do with me he chose not to do under his own flag. He wrote the music to ‘Nightclubbing,’ and I got very excited and I insisted I write a lyric to that. It wasn’t at all rock. In that case we used a drum machine and at first he said ‘That doesn’t sound professional enough,’ I said, ‘Yes it does it’s good enough for me. I’m only Iggy f***ing Pop.'”

Pop-Up Art Exhibit by Rocker Billy Morrison and Controversial Plastic Jesus Draws Art, Rock Stars

Music, Hollywood, Fete ‘Anesthesia: The Art of Oblivion’

Photos and Story By MARCY KRAFT

“Anesthesia: The Art of Oblivion,” a pop-up gallery collaboration between rocker Billy Morrison and street artist Plastic Jesus brought rockers to Gibson Brands Sunset on Friday night for an opening reception.

The two artists have been fans of each other’s work for some time and “Anesthesia: The Art of Oblivion” is their first public collaboration.

Billy Morrison with Billy Idol and Plastic Jesus - Photo © 2017 Marcy Kraft

Billy Morrison with Billy Idol and Plastic Jesus – Photo © 2017 Marcy Kraft

Exhibit is ‘Everything we Hang Onto’

“Anesthesia: The Art of Oblivion” is described as “everything we hang onto in society to make us oblivious of our own plight and our own situation in life, such as idols, drugs … anything we pick up in culture.”

The artists were on hand to greet guests Friday night and Saturday.

"EXTINCTION" - 48" x 36" Acrylic on Canvas by Billy Morrison

“EXTINCTION” – 48″ x 36″ Acrylic on Canvas by Billy Morrison – Courtesy Billy Morrison

Billy Morrison: Rocker-Turned-Artist

Billy, who is best known as the guitarist for Billy Idol, is a long-time art collector and began creating his own artwork a few years back. His work was also shown last year at the Mouche Gallery in Beverly Hills, and I enjoyed that work immensely, so I was eager to see his new pieces.

“Creating the art was the easy part,” Billy said.

Billy’s solo pieces for this exhibit were months in the making and there’s a joy in finally seeing them on display. The challenge, Billy shared, comes from watching 500 of your closest friends come to critique the work as a part of the process.

Guitar installation on display - Photo © 2017 Marcy Kraft

Guitar installation on display – Photo © 2017 Marcy Kraft

Star-Studded Reception Included Ozzy Osbourne

Judging by the pieces displayed, I doubt Billy will receive any negative input on his work. His art is a fun and provocative collection that the crowd at the opening appeared to enjoy. In attendance were celebrity friends Billy Idol, Ozzy Ozbourne, Carmine Rojas (from David Bowie), Fred Durst (from Limp Bizkit), Steve Jones (from the Sex Pistols), Brandon Boyd (from Incubus), Rob Zombie, Shepard Fairey, and new recording artist Steve Costello.

"EQUALITY" - 48" x 36" - Acrylic on Canvas.

“EQUALITY” – 48″ x 36″ – Acrylic on Canvas by Billy Morrison – Courtesy Billy Morrison

The Art-Crowd ‘Look?’

Billy told a newspaper recently: “Ultimately, I want people to walk away feeling like they were entitled to be there. My personal art collection is pretty substantial, and I’ve spent a lot of money on a lot of iconic pieces, and yet when I walk into some galleries I’m treated like a homeless guy because of the way I look, because I don’t fall into the art-crowd look.”

Most people I spoke said he looked like the rocker-artist that he’s known to be.

Billy Morrison in Camp Freddie with Dave Navarro, Chris Chaney and Matt Sorum - Photo by Cyril Rickelton-Abdi

File photo of Billy Morrison in Camp Freddie with Dave Navarro, Chris Chaney and Matt Sorum – Photo by Cyril Rickelton-Abdi

Plastic Jesus in Attendance

Plastic Jesus showcased a 12-piece mixture of his new and known works while Morrison created 12 new mixed-media paintings specifically for this showing.

Plastic Jesus is know around LA for having erected the 6-inch wall around Donald Trump’s star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame and erecting the life-size gold statue of Kanye West entitled “False Idol” that stood near the site of the Oscar Awards on Hollywood Blvd. This statue was also on display at the showing.

A full collection of Morrison’s work can be found at Billy Morrison’s website. 

To purchase a piece from this collection, email for more information.

Lady Gaga and Metallica Overcome Glitches to Steal the Show at the 59th Annual GRAMMY Awards


David Bowie and Adele were the big winners of the night and Lady Gaga teamed for a wild duet with Metallica at the 59th annual GRAMMY Awards Sunday night.

It was an unusual show, highlighted by strong if not uneven performances as evidenced by Adele’s George Michael tribute that false started — and then restarted — so she could get it right.

Adele is a multiple GRAMMY nominee - Photo by Janine

Adele is a five-time GRAMMY nominee and five-time winner this year – Photo by Janine

Clumsy Comedy by James Corden

The show kicked off with a peculiar mix of clumsy comedy and great music as host James Corden followed Adele’s flawless opener performance of “Hello,” by falling down the stairs to the stage.

21 Pilots took their pants off and told this story: “This story starts in Columbus, it was a few years ago before Josh and I were able to make money making music. I called him up to come over to grandma’s house watch the GRAMMYs and as I looked around I noticed everyone was in their underwear. We said, ‘If we go to the GRAMMYs, or ever win it, we should receive it just like this.’ Not only is this amazing, but I want people watching everywhere to know they could be next. ”

The late David Bowie won five GRAMMYs - Photo courtesy Jimmy King

The late David Bowie won five GRAMMYs – Photo courtesy Jimmy King

Pregnant Beyonce Performs

And a pregnant Beyonce stunned the audience with a slow and technologically enhanced performance of songs “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles” from Lemonade. While some criticized the performance, the audience gave Beyonce a standing ovation and her adoring husband Jay Z applauded affectionately.

Katy Perry introduced her song “Chained to the Rythm” an apparent political statement as her normally colorful set was subdued black and white.

But the props of the night go Lady Gaga and Metallica who put on a firey performance despite James Hetfield’s mic blowing out.  Gaga showed she could do Ultimate Jam Night at the Whisky A Go-Go as she can hold her own against any metal performer. She wrapped her frontwoman duties with a stage dive into the audience.  Later in the night, Metallica played the Palladium in Hollywood.

Bowie’s Blackstar won five awards, and that tied with Adele, who swept all five categories in which she was nominated.  Drake and Lalah Hathaway each took two statuettes.

The band 21 Pilots weren’t the only newcomers to take home a statuette. The Chainsmokers won for Best Dance Recording, Maren Morris won Best Country Solo Performance for “My Church,” and Cage The Elephant took home Best Rock Album.

Chance the Rapper accepts the Best New Artist artist award onstage during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Photo courtesy

Chance the Rapper accepts the Best New Artist artist award onstage during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Photo courtesy

Chance The Rapper

Chance the Rapper, who won the first award of the main show — it was the second GRAMMY of the day for him — seemed at a loss for words. When he won Best Rap Album, he had been sporting a hat with the number 3 on it. Chance the Rapper is the first recording artist to win a GRAMMY that was distributed through streaming. Drake took home two awards.

Paris Jackson, who appeared in good spirits following her bombshell accusations that her father Michael Jackson was murdered, introduced a notable duet betwen The Weeknd with Daft Punk “I Feel It Coming.”

By comparison to all the other acts, Ed Sheeran exemplified the state of music affairs today by performing solo with his looper pedals and guitar, singing “I’m in Love With Your Body.”



David Bowie in Mexico City: Photog Fernando Aceves Captures ‘The Chameleon’ in Forest Lawn Exhibit

Bowie in Mexico City By Fernando Aceves


David Bowie loved Mexico City and back in 1997, he spent three days with photographer Fernando Aceves touring the city’s historic museums and the pyramids.

Aceves documented the Bowie tour of Mexico City and brings his remarkable photo gallery, David Bowie: Among The Mexican Masters to Forest Lawn Museum.  The exihibit runs from tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 27, through June 15.

Image of David Bowie © Fernando Aceves - courtesy of Forest Lawn Museum

Image of David Bowie © Fernando Aceves – courtesy of Forest Lawn Museum

Bowie In Mexico City

“David’s personality inspired me,” said Aceves, a well-known rock and roll photographer based in Mexico City. “I was always a fan of David’s growing up in Mexico City, but I was more a familiar with his acting like in The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Bowie played his first and only show in Mexico City on October 23, 1997 at the Foro Sol during the world tour to promote his Earthling album. Aceves got the great opportunity to accompany Bowie when the concert promoter asked Aceves to help make Bowie’s tour of Mexico City a success.

David Bowie in Mexican City Masters is on display at Forest Lawn Museum through June - Photos © Fernando Aceves courtesy of Forest Lawn Museum

David Bowie and The Mexican Masters is on display at Forest Lawn Museum through June – Photos © Fernando Aceves courtesy of Forest Lawn Museum

Observing The Masters

The exhibit is revealing, showing a side of the performer mingling with locals, enjoying his tour and taking in the culture. In the images, Bowie blows a conch shell, tours the pyramids and observes the master painters with reverence.

“This exhibit shows the down-to-earth man who felt strong admiration and respect for other cultures from around the world,” said Ana Pescador, director of Forest Lawn Museum. “With David Bowie as their tour guide, we are excited to take visitors on an inspirational tour of Mexico.”

David Bowie In Mexico City: He interacted with the people and observed the culture' said photographer Fernando Aceves - Photo courtesy of Forest Lawn Museum

‘David interacted with the people and observed the culture’ said photographer Fernando Aceves – Photo courtesy of Forest Lawn Museum

Sharing: Bowie in Mexico City Culture

“This is a great opportunity and part of our mission to share the culture of Mexico,” said Rodolfo Saenz, senior vice president of marketing at Forest Lawn Memorial Parks and Mortuaries. “It’s the 1-year anniversary of David Bowie’s passing and we wanted to celebrate his life and legend.

As the two men toured around Mexico City, David would admire the works of such masters as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo while Aceves would casually document the adventure.

David had a wry sense of humor in his approach - Photo © Fernando Aceves

David had a wry sense of humor in his approach – Photo © Fernando Aceves

David Bowie Fitting In

“He would fit into the paintings while he admired them,” Aceves said. “I was as casual as we could be and I never use a flashbulb. David would say, ‘My man doesn’t need any flash.'”

Bowie was on a mission, Aceves said.

“David had many marks in his Mexico guidebook,” Aceves said. “He wanted to write an article for Modern Painter and wanted to see the works of the masters. I don’t think the article was ever published.

“We went to the pyramids and the Palace of Fine Art,” Aceves said.  “He looked at the paintings with great respect. Mostly he observed in silence. I understand why they called him the chameleon. Like with the Diego Rivera painting, he fit into the painting.”

bowie-13-balancia-forest (1 of 1)

David Bowie photo exhibit runs through June at Forest Lawn Museum – All photos © Fernando Aceves

‘Actor In a Movie’

“He called me the ‘smudger’ and he referred to himself in the third person,” Aceves said. “He would say ‘You’re taking David to Mexico City.’ He was aware of the character.”

What is the secret to getting such insightful photos?

“I photographed him as an actor in a movie,” Aceves said. “I had to work as simple as the man.”

GRAMMYs 2016 – Dearly Departed Musicians Upstaged Those Still Here

Full List of Winners Here; Lady Gaga, Hollywood Vampires Mesmerize

Justin Bieber - Photo courtesy of CBS for

Justin Bieber – Photo courtesy of CBS for

By DONNA BALANCIA – It was a rough year for the music business and the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards reflected that, as dead musicians took the spotlight from today’s performers.

Lady Gaga honored David Bowie; Bonnie Raitt, Chris Stapleton and Gary Clarke Jr. performed in honor of BB King; and The Hollywood Vampires, alias Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper and Joe Perry, played in honor of Lemmy Kilmister.

As for the awards, Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar and even Justin Bieber got GRAMMY awards Monday night. And while many may have a hard time with Bieber, we have to admit he has a great voice and he does play guitar.

GRAMMYs: Rigged and Antiquated takes the position that the GRAMMY Awards event is a rigged and antiquated marketing function. The GRAMMY awards are highly irrelevant to 90 percent of aspiring musicians of today.  For established musicians, attending a GRAMMY Awards event and getting on national TV boosts recognition and sales.

Lady Gaga gave a fitting tribute to David Bowie during GRAMMY Awards - Photo courtesy CBS for

Lady Gaga gave a fitting tribute to David Bowie during GRAMMY Awards – Photo courtesy CBS for

But, big bucks are invested in the GRAMMY Awards. The annual event, and events like it, are important to musical instrument manufacturers who are having a very rough time getting young people to play traditional drums, keyboards and guitar.  The GRAMMYs can put a dream in a kid’s head, a guitar in his or her hands, and money into the empty coffers of today’s music schools.

So the industry props up Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and all the others, whether they have true talent or not, regardless if autotune is in their DNA, or whether they have truly “made it on their own” or not.

So congrats to the winners.

As for performances, a strong showing of the evening was that of The Hollywood Vampires, who busted their national TV cherry, putting on a tribute to Lemmy Kilmister. This Sunset Strip supergroup is so appealing and influential it could possibly single-handedly keep rock and roll alive.

The music business owes a vote of thanks to Johnny Depp and The Hollywood Vamps who make Rock N Roll Cool - Photo courtesy CBS for

The music business owes a vote of thanks to Johnny Depp and The Hollywood Vamps who make Rock N Roll Cool – Photo courtesy CBS for covered Johnny Depp’s compelling performance with The New Basement Tapes at The Montalban Theatre; Alice Cooper is an all-time original, whose “School’s Out” was a national anthem, and Joe Perry is pure class. And if we’re going for full disclosure we’re biased because we’re fans of not only outstanding producer Bruce Witkin, who is the bassist in the band, but also his beautiful and creative family.

Gwen Stefani, formerly of The Voice, debuted her single “Make Me Like You” via a high-dollar, one-take, but ultimately cheesy Target ad. Her record bows March 18.

Foo Fighters Still Together?

Foo Fighters, whose existence is in question since their long email note to the fans a few months back indicating they would stop touring, lost out to Alabama Shakes in the best rock performance category. The “wrap it up music” cued not only Alabama Shakes, but others during their acceptance speeches.

Gwen Stefani's Target commercial hit the airwaves during the GRAMMY Awards - Photo © Donna Balancia

Gwen Stefani’s Target commercial hit the airwaves during the GRAMMY Awards – Photo © Donna Balancia

Adele, What Happened?

Adele, whose chart-topping album, 25, was a multimillion seller, had some challenges. She missed the high notes during her performance of “All I Ask,” and the best we can figure is she has the walking pneumonia that’s plagued everyone in LA recently. Extremely talented and appreciated, it wasn’t her night, but she can take comfort weeping into her millions. She blamed a microphone causing a clanging sound. Rihanna canceled her GRAMMY appearance because of that LA flu. Smart move.

For the people who were actually there, it was good to see those who had passed were honored by the likes of Gaga, and Jackson Browne and Joe Walsh.

Browne and Walsh led their version of “Take It Easy” in tribute to Glenn Frey who also passed away a few weeks ago. Gaga, who seems to be every old musician’s favorite pal — she is godmother to Elton John’s children and hangs with Tony Bennett — put on a ripping performance to honor David Bowie through the years.

The Hollywood Vampires - Photo courtesy of CBS for

The Hollywood Vampires – Photo courtesy of CBS for

Stevie Wonder led the the tribute to Lionel Richie singing “That’s The Way of The World;” his voice is still amazingly clear and he appeared in good nature.  He made a brief but poignant statement on helping to enable people with disabilities.

With fashion, short undergarments with draping skirts were the style of the night (for the gals) as many picked gowns with thigh-high slits or outfits that flashed short shorts. Wonder actually slayed in the fashion department too, wearing camouflage in introducing Song of the Year. For the men, the print shirts and black and white tuxedoes were the flavor this year.

Among those who received a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award was Run DMC. Reverend Run (Joseph Simmons, brother to Russell Simmons) with all his advice and words of wisdom said his story and music was always told from his heart.

Original Wrapper

East Coast Rocker readers remember the night Run DMC warmed up for Lou Reed during his Original Wrapper show at the Capitol Theatre in Pasaic, N.J. and they had a very rough time with the audience. The audience was having none of this rap warm-up band and was calling out “Lou! Lou!” and catcalling “Boo!” while Run DMC was performing and scratching. OK it was 1986.

Mavis-Staples-Photo © Donna Balancia

Mavis-Staples-Photo © Donna Balancia

Speaking of rap, Kendrick Lamar’s performances were spot on and interesting at least, if not costly — and hot! — with fire burning right in the middle of Staples Center.

And lest we forget, a special congrats goes out to the grande dame of rock music, Mavis Staples, who was awarded the American Roots Award.


Album of the Year – 1989, Taylor Swift

Song of the Year – “Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran and Amy Wadge

Record of the Year  – “Uptown Funk,” Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars

Best Rap Album  – To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar

Best Country Album – Traveler, Chris Stapleton

Best Musical Theater Album – Hamilton

Best Rap Performance -“Alright,” Kendrick Lamar

Best Rap Song -“Alright,” Kendrick Lamar

Best Rap/Sung Collaboration -“These Walls,” Kendrick Lamar featuring Bilal, Anna Wise, and Thundercat

Best Rock Performance -“Don’t Wanna Fight,” Alabama Shakes

Best Music Video -“Bad Blood,” Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar

Best New Artist -Meghan Trainor

Producer of the Year, Non-Classical – Jeff Bhasker

Best Country Song – “Girl Crush,” Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose (Little Big Town)

Best Country Solo Performance  -“Traveller,” Chris Stapleton

Best Country Duo/Group Performance – “Girl Crush,” Little Big Town

Best Pop Vocal Album – Taylor Swift, 1989

Best Pop Solo Performance  -“Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran

Best Rock Album – Drones, Muse

Best Alternative Album – Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes

Best Rock Performance – “Don’t Wanna Fight,” Alabama Shakes

Best Rock Song – “Don’t Wanna Fight,” Alabama Shakes

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance – “Uptown Funk,” Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars

Best Metal Performance – “Cirice,” Ghost

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album – “The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern,” Tony Bennett and Bill Charlap

Best Traditional R&B Performance – “Little Ghetto Boy,” Lalah Hathaway

Best Dance/Electronic Album – Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü, Skrillex and Diplo

Best Dance Recording-“Where Are Ü Now,” Skrillex and Diplo with Justin Bieber

Remixed Recording, Non-Classical-“Uptown Funk (Dave Audé Remix),” Dave Audé (Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars)

Best Urban Contemporary Album-Beauty Behind the Madness, the Weeknd

Best Comedy Album-Live at Madison Square Garden, Louis CK

Best R&B Album-Black Messiah, D’Angelo and the Vanguard

Best R&B Song-“Really Love,” D’Angelo and Kendra Foster

Best R&B Performance-“Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey),” the Weeknd

Best Blues Album-Born to Play Guitar, Buddy Guy

Best Folk Album-Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn

Best Reggae Album-Strictly Roots, Morgan Heritage

Best New Age Album-“Grace,” Paul Avgerinos

Best Surround Sound Album-“Amused to Death,” James Guthrie and Joel Plante (Roger Waters)

Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media-Birdman, Antonio Sanchez

Best Song Written for Visual Media-“Glory,” performed by Common and John Legend

Best Music Film-Amy, Amy Winehouse; Asif Kapadia, video director; James Gay-Rees, video producer

Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media-Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

Best Spoken Word Album-A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety, Jimmy Carter

Contemporary Instrumental Album-“Sylva,” Snarky Puppy and Metropole Orkest

Best Improvised Jazz Solo-“Cherokee,” Christian McBride

Best Jazz Vocal Album-“For One to Love,” Cécile McLorin Salvant

Best Jazz Instrumental Album-“Past Present,” John Scofield

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album-“The Thompson Fields,” Maria Schneider Orchestra

Best Children’s Album-“Home,” Tim Kubart

Best World Music Album-“Sings,” Angelique Kidjo

Best Regional Roots Music Album-“Go Go Juice,” Jon Cleary

Best Bluegrass Album-“The Muscle Shoals Recordings,” The Steeldrivers

Best Americana Album-“Something More Than Free,” Jason Isbell

Best American Roots Song-“24 Frames,” Jason Isbell

Best American Roots Performance-“See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” Mavis Staples

Best Latin Pop Album-“A Quien Quiera Escuchar (Deluxe Edition),” Ricky Martin

Best Tropical Latin Album-“Son De Panamá,” Rubén Blades with Roberto Delgado and Orchestra

Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album-TIE: “Hasta la Raíz,” Natalia Lafourcade and “Dale,” Pitbull

Best Regional Mexican Music Album-“Realidades, Deluxe Edition,” Los Tigres Del Norte

Best Roots Gospel Album-“Still Rockin’ My Soul,” the Fairfield Four

Best Contemporary Christian Album-“This Is Not a Test,” Tobymac

Best Gospel Album-“Covered: Alive in Asia [Live] (Deluxe),” Israel & Newbreed

Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song-“Holy Spirit,” Francesca Battistelli

Best Engineered Album, Classical-“Ask Your Mama,” Leslie Ann Jones, John Kilgore, Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum, and Justin Merrill, engineers; Patricia Sullivan, mastering engineer (George Manahan and San Francisco Ballet Orchestra)

Best Producer, Classical-Judith Sherman

Best Orchestral Performance-“Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow — Symphony No. 10,” Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)

Best Opera Recording-“Ravel: L’Enfant Et Les Sortilèges; Shéhérazade,” Seiji Ozawa, conductor; Isabel Leonard; Dominic Fyfe, producer (Saito Kinen Orchestra; SKF Matsumoto Chorus and SKF Matsumoto Children’s Chorus)

Best Choral Performance-“Beethoven: Missa Solemnis,” Bernard Haitink, conductor; Peter Dijkstra, chorus master (Anton Barachovsky, Genia Kühmeier, Elisabeth Kulman, Hanno Müller-Brachmann, and Mark Padmore; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Chor Des Bayerischen Rundfunks)

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance-“Brahms: The Piano Trios,” Tanja Tetzlaff, Christian Tetzlaff, and Lars Vogt

Best Classical Instrumental Solo-“Dutilleux: Violin Concerto, L’Arbre Des Songes,” Augustin Hadelich; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony)

Best Classical Solo Vocal Album-“Joyce & Tony — Live From Wigmore Hall,” Joyce DiDonato; Antonio Pappano, accompanist

Best Classical Compendium-“Paulus: Three Places of Enlightenment; Veil of Tears & Grand Concerto,” Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Tim Handley, producer

Best Contemporary Classical Composition-“Paulus: Prayers & Remembrances,” Stephen Paulus, composer (Eric Holtan, True Concord Voices, and Orchestra)

Lives of Lemmy and Bowie Celebrated in Venues Across L.A.

Lindsay and Rock - Photo by Donna Balancia

Lindsay and Rock – Photo by Donna Balancia

Monty’s Bar and Rainbow Among Bowie Party Places

– By DONNA BALANCIA – They reminisced about everything from prank phone calls to whisky days, as across LA friends and fans of David Bowie and Lemmy celebrated the two legendary musicians.

At the Rainbow fans signed a giant banner, placed flowers and partied for Lemmy and at Monty’s downtown there was a celebrity DJ party.

Clem Burke of Blondie - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Clem Burke of Blondie – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

At Monty’s Bar, people dressed up in their Bowie best and listened to stories from the likes of Lol Tolhurst of the Cure; Clem Burke of Blondie; Jerry Cazale of Devo; Nik Turner of Hawkwind; Douglas McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb and others.

Lol, who is a founder of The Cure, said he once received a call from Bowie, but didn’t believe it was really him and hung up on him.

Kevin Haskins, drummer of Bauhaus, said he was so nervous when he met Bowie the cigarette he was holding was shaking to the point where he couldn’t get it lit.

Lol Tolhurst recalls his Bowie stories - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Lol Tolhurst recalls his Bowie stories – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

California Rocker put together a selection of photos from around LA.  Photos courtesy of Mike Jakubow, Joe Bagnato, Jayson Larson and Manny Dominguez.

“I know that Lemmy loved Los Angeles, but I’m not sure Bowie liked LA at all,” said one party goer. “In fact I think Bowie said he wasn’t a big fan.”

Well, regardless of how Bowie felt about LA, LA showed its love for the legends.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”34″ gal_title=”David Bowie and Lemmy Parties”]

David Bowie’s New Release ‘Blackstar’ Covers His Own Death, Fans Grieve

Grief And Shock Around the World


How long had David Bowie been suffering under the cloak of silence regarding his cancer diagnosis?

We know he had been making music until his final hours as many of the mysteries are solved:  Why he hadn’t been touring, why the name Blackstar and why the somber tone on his recent music.

One thing is certain, David left those of us who loved his music since childhood inspired and amazed, ever dazzled by his range of personas and musical talent.

We will not forget, Ziggy Stardust.

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