Keep On Rollin' - RIP Gary Richrath - by Matt Walters


"We're very lucky in the band in that we have two visionaries, David and Nigel, they're like poets, like Shelley and Byron. They're two distinct types of visionaries, it's like fire and ice, basically." - Derek Smalls, "This Is Spinal Tap"

It's no secret that most of my favorite bands feature multiple songwriters, each with distinct personalities. I usually blame Donna Knappie for this. 

Donna was my 16-year-old babysitter in 1977, solely responsible for brainwashing 3-year-old Matt by placing a brand new copy of KISS' Alive II in his hands. Upon opening the gatefold LP, the sight of the larger than life pyrotechnics of the Love Gun version of this band firing on all cylinders completely mesmerized me. I had never seen anything like this, and it completely terrified me. Naturally, I immediately led my parents to the nearest Sam Goody in order to demand that they purchase a copy of the LP Destroyer before I could bring myself to go to sleep that night. 

I have obsessively followed KISS for the subsequent 38 years of my life. 

Thanks, Donna. 

Truthfully, blaming Donna is just a cop-out. You see, I had also convinced my parents to buy me another album earlier in that same year, Queen's News of the World. This album also featured a larger than life iconography, in the form of a large robot killing the members of Queen. The inner gatefold was an illustration of the same robot descending on the rest of the people in what would be Queen's audience, through a torn-out hole in the pavilion. I was utterly horrified, and I couldn't possibly look away, or stop listening. 

It turns out that toddler Matt was highly suggestible to bizarre imagery in music. 

More important to my formative musical philosophy, beyond the visual cues, was that each of these two bands featured multiple songwriters/vocalists, each contributing their own brand of songwriting and style to the mix. In Queen, Mercury's whimsical folly complemented the hard-edged crunch of May's power. Deacon's plaintive delivery and calculated structure mirrored the visceral spontaneity and emotional guts of Taylor's rage. In KISS, Stanley's Raspberries conjurings matched Simmons' summoned Beatles, and Frehley's distilled Hendrix counterbalanced Criss's Faces-by-way-of-Krupa. You get the idea. I became hooked on this formula of music, and I've responded to it in many other bands I've followed. 

I digress.

I'm writing this article because we lost someone big in the rock and roll community last week, but you didn't hear about it. 

We lost Gary Richrath. 

Gary Richrath was the lead guitarist and one of the primary songwriting forces in REO Speedwagon during the first 20 years of their professional career. He was a blistering player that had a knack for songwriting and often played by instinct, probably a much more important trait than anything anyone ever got with a formal education in music. In the formative years of the band, he was the glue that held it all together, often while the band barely made ends meet on their live reputation, largely built on Richrath's prowess. He wrote their biggest early hit, "Ridin' the Storm Out," while the group itself rode the storm out of three lead vocalists in three consecutive albums.   

Eventually, the band settled on Kevin Cronin in front, and never looked back after that lineup finally clicked. Ironically, the band had already hired Cronin for their sophomore slump of an effort dubiously titled R.E.O./T.W.O., and immediately fired him after realizing what they needed in a lead vocalist resembled an extra in the film Dazed and Confused, rather than the Least Photogenic Guy In Rock History. It turned out they were wrong, and Richrath had the balls to admit this. He asked Cronin back after three more tepid albums (Side note: the studio version of "Ridin' the Storm Out" features Dazed and Confused on lead vocals, while the later, more popular live version features Cronin).  

I digress, again. 

You see, the above quote by our friend Derek Smalls has a rather large grain of truth to it, like most other things in the brilliant mockumentary by Rob Reiner. Tufnel and St. Hubbins complement each other in a way that creates undeniable chemistry, just as Simmons, Stanley, Criss and Frehley did, just as May, Mercury, Taylor and Deacon did. 

....and if Cronin, the talented pianist/guitarist/vocalist, was one of those visionaries of REO, the relatively unheralded, less remembered Gary Richrath was, in equal part, the other. Richrath was the fire, with the steely bite of his Les Paul cutting through any song, combining all the swagger of every '70s band put together in his effortless mastery of the fretboard and mercurial songwriting. Cronin, on the other hand, was the ice, the calculated pop songwriter who delivered melody in measure, carefully crafting arrangements and finding just the right blend of soft rock with pop sensibility to skyrocket the band into rock and roll's stratosphere. 

It was the combination of these two men together that guaranteed unparalleled success for REO. Although Cronin wrote many of the biggest pop hits of the day, including "Keep on Loving You," and "Don't Let Him Go," it was Richrath who matched him step for step with "Take It On The Run," and "In Your Letter." All four of these songs struck top 40 gold on Billboard's charts in 1981 as singles from the band's smash hit Hi Infidelity, an LP that went on to sell over 10 million copies and became the single best selling album of 1981. Not bad for a bunch of kids from Champaign and Peoria. 

Perhaps the most fitting and infamous tale of their partnership is in the details of the most famous song of these four, "Keep On Loving You." Hi Infidelity's recording marked a departure point for the band, one in which a definitively more pop approach would be incorporated in the songwriting over the band's previous pure hard rock leanings. Richrath was particularly resistant to this change, especially when Cronin brought in a last-minute piano ballad to add to the record. As Cronin played the track for the rest of the band, Richrath became increasingly agitated, especially as he stewed over the lack of room for his trademark tobacco-burst Les Paul. When it came time for him to track, he was riled up enough to turn the distortion all the way up on his amplifier, in order to emphasize his distaste, but also to make a point about the lack of room for his style within this new approach. 

Richrath plugged in. The tapes began to roll. He reached for the volume knob on his guitar....

....and as soon as the rest of the band heard the dirge-like guitar over the rest of the track, they knew they were hearing magic. This contrast of tone, this juxtaposition of gentle, delicate piano and a yearning lyric set to a maelstrom of distortion created a desperate longing.

The band immediately knew they had their hit single. 

REO had a few more hits after Hi Infidelity, but never quite reached those stratospheric heights again in album form. Cronin continued to push them into a pop direction, and a disillusioned Richrath eventually retired from the band in 1989. He made a few more appearances sporadically, taking solace in solo work where he could, but the last 25 years of his life were largely spent out of the limelight. REO became Cronin's band, and eventually they rested on the laurels of their previous legacy like so many other Classic Rock juggernauts. 

However, those magical years of fire & ice shouldn't be forgotten, and Gary shouldn't be forgotten either, and that's why I'm writing this. Gary was great; Gary was legendary. From the moment he plugged in, he was ferocious. Every time I hear the lead guitar work in "Roll With The Changes," a shiver goes down my spine, no matter how many times I've heard it before. Come to think of it, I think I'll dial it up again. 

Keep on Rollin', Gary. Rest in peace. 

Pencilstorm Remembers Tom Petty - by Colin Gawel

Monday October 2nd was a shitty day. As the body count was racking up from pyscho-guy shooting up Vegas for no apparent reason, word broke that Tom Petty had passed away unexpectedly. I had been out running some errands when I heard the news so I cancelled whatever I had been planning on doing and ended up sipping a beer with Dan Cochran at his Four String Taproom. We just sorta sat there listening to Tom Petty. 

Anyway, since I play the Four String Taproom every Thursday, I figured it made sense to a do a set of Tom Petty songs. Soon word got out and people started lining up to join me. Nobody was asked, it was an all-volunteer force. It all happened very organically and very quickly. Ricki C. stage-managed the whole thing. There were no advertisements and there was no cover charge. You won't find any footage online as we respectfully asked folks to keep the phones away and stay in the moment. It was one of the best nights I ever had playing music. It was one long Tom Patty sing-along. The only thing missing was a campfire. Below is the set-list and players to the best of my memory. 

Colin Gawel - The Wild One Forever / WildFlowers (solo) w/ Jim Johnson on drums and Rick Kinsinger on guitar: Change of Heart / Listen to Her Heart / Rebels / Straight into Darkness / The Waiting 

Dave Masica - Walls (Colin on Drums, Rick on Guitar) / Shadow of a Doubt (Jim - drums) / Angel Dream / Southern Accents 

Brian Clash - Century City

John Estep - You Wreck Me / Sea of Heartbreak (Herb Schupp on drums) / Kings Highway

Patrick Buzzard - Yer So Bad / Learning to Fly / Into the Great Wide Open 

Dan Orr Project - Breakdown / Don't Do Me Like That / American Girl

John Estep & Everybody - I Won't Back Down / Mary Jane's Last Dance


Also a couple of my favorite Tom Petty tributes: the first by Tom's contemporary, the great Dan Baird. (I snagged from his Facebook page. reproduced without his permission as they say.....) 

Dan Baird 

For me, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were a rock and roll band that came onto the scene when the pigeon hole genres were taking over. Punk rock, new wave, heavy, hard, prog, glam, etc. There were a bunch of em. Not that they were at all bad. Some great bands came out of those rebranding and fashion trends. I was going along with the times and trying to find music I related to inside those brands, but something was missing for me. 

And here comes this rock and roll band that doesn't apologize for being just that. 2 guitars, B3, piano, bass and drums. Sing along choruses, tight punchy songs, great simple arrangements played by a gang of mo-fos on each instrument and a shaman/believer for a front man and songwriter disguised as an everyman. 

They'd picked up rock and roll and placed it onto a trajectory that seemed like the simplicity of what they were reintroducing had never stopped. It had. Was very close to complete dismissal. Their whole "We just don't need anything new, other than more great songs" was a bold move in the face of the change. Obviously it struck a chord with me. 

Yes they dabbled in new sounds after a few years, but it somehow sounded organic inside the song. Acoustic ballads got more common, but it felt right because of the conviction and honesty of both band and singer (didn't hurt that those ballads contained some of Tom's finest lyric either). 

The live shows could have been a greatest hits for 2 hours. They weren't. Great covers, older obscure numbers, new songs. To me, his North Star might have gotten hidden behind the clouds now and then, but when they cleared, look out, shit was back on. 

Thank you for showing the way to work inside a traditional medium and not sacrifice integrity, heart and soul. 

A rock and roller of the highest order to the end.

And click here to read a story by Annie Zaleski .

Or here for a story by Petty Biographer Warren Zanes .

And this story about Tom's acting career was fun

I was lucky enough to catch Tom and The Heartbreakers on the last tour. I was sort of leaving it up to fate when at the last minute I got an invite. As I was watching the show I thought to myself I should have brought my son Owen to this show. He has seen Springsteen, The Who, The Stones, AC/DC, Cheap Trick, KISS, Aerosmith, Foo Fighters and Green Day. For some reason I didn't feel it necessary to bring him to Tom Petty and it was a parenting fail. It is/was easy to take Tom Petty for granted. Tom Petty never demanded attention. He didn't need to. He was focused on earning your respect. Well done.  RIP Tom Petty

Colin Gawel plays in Watershed and fronts The League Bowlers. He founded Pencilstorm and wrote this at Colin's Coffee in between serving customers. 

Pink Turns to Blue. Grant Hart: 1961 - 2017 - by Jeremy Porter

Pink Turns To Blue
Grant Hart: 1961 – 2017

The first few times I heard Hüsker Dü I was a little underwhelmed. Their new album was "Zen Arcade" and it seemed really noisy to me. Not a lot of hooks. The guitar sounded funny. I liked the way the guitars sounded on "Tooth and Nail" by Dokken better. A couple months later, at the tail end of a long night of teenage debauchery, I was hanging with my best friend John Burke, who has turned me on to more music than anyone I've ever known. He asked me if I wanted to hear the new Hüsker Dü record, "New Day Rising," while I waited for my dad to pick me up. He put the record on and stepped out of the room to explain to his concerned grandmother why there was a strange, unfamiliar long-haired kid in the house at that hour. The next few minutes changed the way I heard music forever. I immediately connected with the confluence of melody and energy, structure and noise, and somewhere beneath the din – the lyrics. The cover looked like a photo from a family vacation. These guys looked like my friends, my neighbors, the guy who worked at the hardware store, and they sang about "getting drunk out on the beach or playing in a band." This wasn't Dokken. This was the new soundtrack to my life.     

Shortly thereafter, I revisited "Zen Arcade" with a vengeance, grasping not only to the hooks that I was now able to discern, but also to the absolute hardcore between them. I got it. It has become one of my desert island records.  It seemed like the blink of an eye before we had "Flip Your Wig" (released just 8 months after "New Day Rising"), and the holy trinity was complete. 

"Flip Your Wig" was Grant Hart's finest moment.  Every Everything, Green Eyes, Flexible Flyer, and Keep Hanging On are snapshots of beauty. I get a pit in my gut just thinking about them today. Even though his role and output often seemed just short of equal to those of bandmate Bob Mould, everyone knows that his part was every bit as important to what made that band so great. For every Chartered Trips there was a Pink Has Turned To Blue. For every Makes No Sense At All there was a Sorry Somehow. He brought a pop-rock, 60s feel to their records that was a welcome contrast to Bob's more power-pop-punk (before there was such a thing). He was the fun, smiling, goofy hippy to Bob's brooding artist persona. Together, and with bassist Greg Norton, they were a well-balanced juggernaut.  

After the split, things never really seemed great for Grant on the surface, especially against the inevitable comparisons to Bob Mould, who became one of the more respected alternative-rock guitarists and songwriters in the 90s and to this day. His band Nova Mob was supposed to play Detroit, but Grant got "sick" and openers The Magnolias played to an empty theater instead. He came through solo a couple times, and it was both incredible and heartbreaking to hear him sing and play those great songs but also see the visual evidence of his inner-battles. Still, he always had a smile and wit. 

I remember walking up to the Elbow Room in Ypsilanti to see him play. He was on the sidewalk talking to some fans about "the feud" with Bob and he pointed to me and my William Mitchell School of Law tee shirt. "Hey!" he stopped mid-sentence "Where did you get that shirt? That's in Saint Paul!" 

"My sister just graduated from there." I answered proudly, a little taken aback that he was talking to me, not even making the connection between the shirt and the guy who wrote If I Told You at first.   

"Aah. Always a good thing to have a lawyer in the family." He chuckled before resuming his take on the corporate-rock creation and perpetuation of the faux-Mould-Hart war.  

A couple years later, In March of 2010, I was beside myself to land an opening slot for him in Toledo. This was a big deal for me – recently going solo myself after being in bands for over 20 years, supporting one of my heroes. I said I'd do it for free and promote the living shit out of it, and I was a few days into that when I got an email from the promoter declaring "Grant Hart is a fuck!" after he reportedly demanded double the guarantee he had already contractually agreed to play the show a week earlier.  It never happened. 

The last few years of Grant's life saw some overdue redemption and respect. There was a Documentary DVD and accompanying soundtrack called "Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart" in 2013 that was an excellent and fitting tribute, and increased homage by the likes of Dave Grohl ("No Hüsker Dü, No Foo Fighters") were increasing too. His last album, "The Argument," received a plethora of praise that he hadn't experienced since the Hüsker days. He and Bob were talking again, and although a reunion (thankfully) never seemed likely, there were new projects around the old catalog in the works. It was exciting and optimistic, and really nice to finally see some harmony in that camp. 

Then on July 1st of this year there was a tribute show in Minneapolis where many faces from his past came out to honor and celebrate him and his songs. By all accounts it was a special night, but it took only hours for word to get out that he wasn't doing well.  

This morning hit hard right out of the gate. I remember when Johnny Cash died it seemed so expected that I was unphased, then a week later I read his obituary in Rolling Stone and it hit me like a pile of cinder blocks. When Joey Ramone died, I almost cried that night. When Joe Strummer died I was a little numb for a couple weeks, but every day since it has been harder and harder to stomach that loss. I can barely even listen to The Clash anymore. But Grant and Hüsker Dü have been with me literally almost every day since that late night in John Burke's room, listening to The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill, wondering "What the hell is this that I am hearing?". 

I'll admit to being a little stunned at the outpouring of sentiments on social media this morning. I guess I know a lot of people his music touched. More than I ever imagined. The stories and effect of his songs on people's lives are great to read, and I think as time passes, his legacy will grow beyond what he ever expected. Tonight I'll pull out my moldy, water-damaged copy of "Flip Your Wig" and turn it up.    

5 Stellar Grant Hart Moments:

1 - Every Everything / Green Eyes ("Flip Your Wig") – the definition of post-punk, pop-punk, whatever you want to call it. A band and a songwriter at their peak. 2 great songs on a record full of great songs. 
2 - Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely ("Candy Apple Grey") – Maybe the most "rock" Husker Du ever got. We were so into this when it came out. Great video too. Grant got the 2 singles off that album, deservedly so.    
3 - 2541 (single) – Grant beat Bob to the first solo-career release punch with this. The song is about the house he lived in, and also the address of the Hüsker Dü office on Nicollet across from Garage D'or records in Minneapolis. My first visit to the twin cities was in 1990, with my future wife, to visit friends and see Soul Asylum play. We were in Garage D'or and Grant walked in. 20 year old me was pretty excited to say the least. I bought a (second) copy of the 2541 single for him to sign, not losing sight for one second of the irony that we were across the street from the name-sake, and we chatted about his upcoming tour and the lack of a Detroit stop. The next morning Tommy Stinson ate breakfast at the Uptown Café in the booth next to us. I was in fan-boy heaven that weekend.         
4 - Pink Turns To Blue ("Zen Arcade") – C#m > A.  Falsetto chorus. Another gem of a pop song with a really sad but beautiful back-story. Grant's songs on "Zen Arcade" give the album so much depth and visualization, a great contrast to Bob's more ambiguous narrative. 
5 - Admiral of The Sea ("The Last Days of Pompeii" – Nova Mob) – A great song and video by Grant's post-Husker band Nova Mob. Not necessarily where I'd send a newbie, but an important early chapter in his diverse post-Hüsker Dü catalog.  

Jeremy Porter lives near Detroit and fronts the rock and roll band Jeremy Porter And The Tucos.  

I took the liberty of adding a couple videos. - Colin G.




Jerry Lewis Was Bigger Than Elvis by Wal Ozello

Jerry Lewis, comedian and filmmaker, died on Sunday morning, August 20 at age 91. Pencilstorm writer Wal Ozello shares his memories of Jerry.

I met Jerry Lewis in 1995.  At the time, I was a video editor for A&E Biography and my company was doing a show on Dean Martin.  The company was a small one and everyone did double duty.  So when I wasn’t in the edit room, I went on the interviews as a camera assit.  My director, Brice Shipley, had scored what was soon to be one of the biggest interviews of all our lives: 20 minutes with Jerry Lewis.  Over the years, we interviewed dozens of big names.  Bill Cosby, Steve Allen, Tony Bennett to name a few.  But all of them paled in comparison to Jerry.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were a big part of my youth.  Growing up in Cleveland, the only thing on TV on Saturday afternoons was Super Host showing films from the 50s and 60s which included The Caddy, At War with the Army, My Friend Irma Goes West, and Pardners - all Martin and Lewis films.  Jerry’s solo films is where he really shined: The Bellboy, Cinderfella, The Geisha Boy, The Family Jewels and the infamous, The Nutty Professor. These movies were comedic gold. If you've never seen the original The Nutty Professor, you're missing out.

Before there was Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey, there was Jerry Lewis.  All are bland cardboard characters compared to the comedic genius of Jerry.  Either with Dean or without him, Jerry knew how to entertain like none other.

And how big was Martin and Lewis?  They were bigger than Springsteen, Simon and Garfunkel, Abbott and Costello, and even Lennon and McCartney.  Jerry’s credited in more than 50 films on imdb, many of which he wrote, produced and directed. He and Dean hosted several episodes of the Colgate Comedy Hour which was on NBC opposite The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS.  Martin & Lewis beat Ed Sullivan in the ratings forty times in a row… by double digits. Let me put that in perspective.  The Ed Sullivan Show was as big as Game of Thrones is on Sunday night.  When Martin & Lewis were on the Colgate Comedy Hour, people watched them instead.

They’d also do live shows, selling out week-long shows at the 4,000 seat Paramount Theatre and packing the streets with 75,000 people trying to get a glimpse of them from their hotel window. (See footage below.)

Jerry was also a Broadway performer.  He appeared in the revival of Damn Yankees which was how we ended up interviewing him. I was one of four people allowed in the room and we were told to keep it to 20 minutes.  Jerry ended up giving us 45.  After the interview was over, Jerry chatted up my director and me.  I think he was impressed that two guys in their early twenties new so much about his career and were in awe.  Jerry was 69 at the time and still giving it his all performing. During our conversation, Jerry casually called me a “fucking dago.” While to most Italians this is an insult, Jerry meant it as a compliment, as if I was suddenly “in” with him.  That moment is probably one of the top ten highlights of my career.

Jerry Lewis was the biggest entertainer that ever lived.  Imagine an amalgamation of Robin Williams, John Landis, Judd Apatow, Nathan Lane, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Presley.  He was bigger than all of them combined. I consider myself fortunate to have met him and even more fortunate to be entertained by him.  Rest in peace, funny guy and thanks for the laughs.

Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis at the New York Paramount 4 July 1951. Absolute bedlam on 44th Street! Come on up for coffee!
Jerry Lewis sings "We've Got a World That Swings" from the film, The Nutty Professor, (1963) directed by Jerry Lewis, featuring Les Brown and His Band of Renown. The song was composed by Lil Mattis and Louis Y Brown.

Clip from Martin & Lewis Colgate Comedy Hour.

The Password scene from the movie "Which Way To The Front" with Jerry Lewis

Wal Ozello is the lead singer of the Columbus hairband Armada. He's the author of the science fiction time travel books: Assignment 1989, Revolution 1990 and Sacrifice 2086 and a frequent customer at Colin's Coffee. As a local filmmaker, Wal has directed Dad Can't Help You Now by Colin Gawel and the short film, Alone.