In Memoriam: John Ballor, 1956-2019 - by Ricki C.

I have a heroically garbled cassette tape from 1978 of Romantic Noise, Willie Phoenix's best band EVER, playing a song called "I Feel New."  John Ballor, the lead guitarist of Romantic Noise, sings lead on the tune and it is, quite simply, one of the most gorgeous, heartfelt tunes I have ever heard in my rock & roll life.

The quote above was the first paragraph of The Ballad of Willie Phoenix part one / Romantic Noise and The Buttons, 1978-1980 in 2013, from my old blog, Growing Old With Rock & Roll. John only sang lead on about three tunes in Romantic Noise: the aforementioned “I Feel New,” another great power-pop tune called “Holly” and a raver called (I think) “Politician, Politician” that only got played once when I saw the band. (Songs came & went pretty quickly in those days, Willie was CRANKIN’ out the tunes, most of them good, many of them great.)

Colin wrote me yesterday and said that he read John had passed away. From what I can piece together with my rudimentary computer skills, John died peacefully in hospice care in Ann Arbor, MI, from complications of MS and cancer.

I’m not really gonna get into all that, though. I’m gonna remember John to the stage right of Willie, spinnin’ out great concise lead guitar lines & solos (Willie didn’t start playin’ lead guitar until The Shadowlords in 1982) and adding backing vocals along with bass player extraordinaire Greg Glasgow in Romantic Noise and The Buttons. You can check out all the stuff I said about those bands by following that link above if you like, but let me just say this: Willie Phoenix has been a genius musician since the first week we met in 1978, but those two bands – Romantic Noise and The Buttons – with John & Greg and successive drummers Dee Hunt and Jerry Hanahan were Willie’s best bands EVER, largely on the strength of the musicians involved in those bands. (On the other hand, Willie was writing SUCH great songs in that halcyon late-70’s era it’s possible that the quality of the tunes improved the musicianship of the band.)

John went on to play with a lot of other bands after The Buttons broke up in 1980: The Amenders, Civil Waif, The Waifs, etc. I think one of them even got signed to Arista in the 1990’s, but I’m not sure which one. I am sure of this, though, my favorite post-Buttons story about John involved that band. In the early ‘90’s Willie was playing with The True Soul Rockers; Kozmos on bass, Mike Parks on lead guitar and the rock-solid Jim Johnson on drums. One weekend the TSR was playing at Chollie’s, a little dive bar in the Graceland shopping center that was formerly a Long John Silvers. (You could still smell the fried fish in that place.)

It was summertime & hot and Mike Parks & I were hangin’ around outside during one of the set-breaks when a big-ass white limousine pulled into the parking lot and stopped in front of Chollie’s. Mike & I just looked at each other and Mike said, “Well, this guy’s gotta be lost.” The back door of the limo opened and out stepped John and his wife & Civil Waif band-mate Laura. (John just MIGHT have been wearing a white suit to match the limo, but my memory’s a little hazy on that.)

“Hey guys,” John smiled brightly, shaking Mike’s & my hands, “how’ve you been?” I laughed, fixed John with a stare and said, “John, you hired a fucking LIMO to make an entrance at CHOLLIE’S? Arista must be paying you a LOT of money.”

John just switched on that little-boy grin of his at my calling him out, and we went in and caught the last set. I think that might have been the last time I ever saw John, and I treasure that memory to this day.

Check out the picture below, and make no mistake: John Ballor was the PRETTIEST lead guitarist I ever changed a string for. – Ricki C. / May 1st, 2019.



What I Learned at Chris Collaros' Funeral - by Scott Goldberg

I know for many, attending a funeral is difficult—knowing what to say to family or being around grief can be uncomfortable. For me, there is a closure that occurs at funerals that I find helpful. What I have invariably learned at funerals is the things we often view as frivolous are actually the things that resonate with people. They are things that connect us to each other and specifically to the person we have lost and come together to honor.

This past week I attended the funeral of Chris Collaros. Chris was the principal at Wickliffe, the elementary school my kids attended. My youngest is now a freshman in high school, so it’s been awhile since we have been active members of the Wickliffe community.

Nevertheless, the evening before the funeral my daughter (now a junior in high school) and I paid our respects at the funeral home. We weren’t alone. We arrived around 6 pm and wound our way through a line that took about an hour and a half to reach the family. Apparently, it had been this way the entire calling hours which began at 3 pm. Throughout the funeral home were mementos of Chris’ life. Most poignant were the notes, cards and pictures from Wickliffe students some with encouraging messages, and others just reporting on the current happenings at school and letting him know he was missed. One wall was decorated with some of the colorful ties Chris wore including his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers—as a Browns fan it reminded me even Chris Collaros had his flaws. We saw alumni families like ours, younger families with kids still attending Wickliffe, and we hugged past teachers that nurtured my kids and taught them about things like compassion and empathy that come in so handy at moments like these.

When we reached the family, I recounted to one of Chris’ daughters how our family was nervous when Chris became principal at Wickliffe. We had gotten to know the previous principal, Dr. Fred Burton and loved the community he had created at Wickliffe. But it didn’t take long for us to realize what Dr. Burton already knew--that Wickliffe was in good hands.

The next day at the funeral, I learned a lot I didn’t know about my kids’ principal. Back in the day, Chris Collaros was a football star in blue collar Steubenville. Mellancamp’s Jack and Diane running through my head—for Chris was Jackie—he was “a football star”. Good enough (and smart enough) to earn a scholarship to Princeton.

I learned Chris took the work he did quite serious, but I never felt like Chris took himself too seriously. Promoting progressive education in Upper Arlington is probably not as easy as Chris made it look. It wasn’t always clear to me what progressive education meant. But I knew it involved experiential learning, celebrating all kids, and respecting and tolerating all their differences. The result of which created a special community that our family is proud and grateful to be a part of.

I did know Chris played the guitar. Chris played in a band along with Fred Burton and a few other school administrators and they called themselves Principally Speaking. The band was a staple at the annual Wickliffe fundraising event. Chris brought his guitar to Wickliffe Town Meetings, Golden Star Choir performances, and occasionally on his visits to classrooms. The funeral was filled with music. Beautiful, uplifting music performed in part by the Upper Arlington High School choir.

The funeral was poignant and sad (I’ll admit I cried) for we had lost a great man who provided a wonderful learning environment for our kids, but I also left grateful to have known him. And even more grateful for the impact he has had on my children, my family, all the kids that graced the halls of Wickliffe, all the kids that then are affected by the spirit of Wickliffe when those kids move on to middle school and high school, well the impact is immeasurable.

Often what is written in pencilstorm can seem frivolous or beside the point. Somebody’s top five concerts, the Buckeyes prospects this season, or which Cleveland team is about to break my heart. But music and sports have a way of connecting and uniting people. It’s often how we explain our connections to our close friends and loved ones. That’s the exact opposite of frivolous—it’s vital and makes life worth living.

I wish Chris was still around to greet kids as they enter Wickliffe with that gapped-tooth infectious smile of his. Frankly, I wish he was around for next football season so he could witness the pounding the Browns are about to inflict on the Steelers and get a small taste of what it’s like to be a Browns fan for say the last 40 or so years. Thinking about Chris the song Forever Young keeps running through my head—not the Rod Stewart song, but the one by Alphaville (I had to look that up). I guess a job that requires you to be around kids all day can do that for you. He was a lucky man.

So next time someone who has touched your life passes, take the time to attend their funeral. You will be reminded of why they meant so much to you and you may learn something new about them. It will likely give you a chance to reflect on them, perhaps laugh about some anecdote, and cry a little too. I did all that at Chris’ funeral. And as the wise coach Jimmy Valvano said if you do all those things you’ve had a full day, you’ve had a heck of a day. - Scott Goldberg

Remembering Mark Hollis - by Jerome Dillon

"I like silence. If you're going to break into it, have a reason for doing it." Mark Hollis

The Talk Talk records changed my life: The Party's Over' rarely left my turntable in '82 and '83, 'It's My Life' was in my Walkman for '84 and '85, and 'The Colour of Spring' was the only cassette in my 1976 Chevy Impala for the better part of three years.

I was 19 when 'Spirit of Eden' was released. Looking back, that record was a benediction -- or rite of passage. I was in awe and realized what a callow musician I was. It convinced me that the most crucial component of the creative process is risk. It gave me direction.

'Spirit of Eden' is fearless and brutally honest. Everything is exposed for what it is, or more importantly, what it isn't. At points it's deceptively fragile and delicate, only to shift suddenly into midrange guitar feedback and a violent battery of drums and percussion.

When 'Laughing Stock' was released, I thought it was an amazing record, but it felt like the end. I didn't think that Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene could go any further. Lee Harris and Paul Webb had become an astounding rhythm section: perfectly balanced in supporting, pushing or staying inside the music.

In 1998, Mark's solo record was released and at first listen, I was reminded of what a callow musician I was. At 3:00 into the fifth track, "A Life (1895-1915)", the instrumentation deconstructed -- leaving only an isolated shaker in the left channel. For the next 1:26, the arrangement swelled into one of the most hypnotic and solemn sections of music I'd ever heard: alternating bars of six and seven with a repeating piano motif and vesperal female vocals soaring above the mix. When the record finished, I sat dumbstruck. It was so smart, restrained and visceral -- it pissed me off.

My favorite singer, songwriter and band. The impact is immeasurable and the music's depth, emotional resonance and atmosphere are timeless. Thank you, Mark. Godspeed. Jerome Dillon

Further reading:

Say Goodbye to Musical Genius Mark Hollis With These Gems .

Mark Hollis And Talk Talk’s Brilliant, Nuanced, Stubborn Visions .