The Boy Who Cried Freebird: Rock & Roll Fables and Sonic Storytelling

The Boy Who Cried Freebird: Rock & Roll Fables and Sonic Storytelling

by Mitch Myers


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Wedding the American oral storytelling tradition with progressive music journalism, Mitch Myers' The Boy Who Cried Freebird is a treatise on the popular music culture of the twentieth century. Trenchant, insightful, and wonderfully strange, this literary mix-tape is authentic music history . . . except when it isn't. Myers outrageously blends short fiction, straight journalism, comic interludes, memoirs, serious artist profiles, satire, and related fan-boy hokum—including the classic stories he first narrated on NPR's All Things Considered.

Focusing on iconic recordings, events, communities, and individuals, Myers riffs on Deadheads, sixties nostalgia, rock concert decorum, glockenspiels, and all manner of pop phenomena. From tales of rock-and-roll time travel to science fiction revealing Black Sabbath's power to melt space aliens, The Boy Who Cried Freebird is about music, culture, legend, and lore—all to be lovingly passed on to future generations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061139024
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/01/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.76(d)

About the Author

Mitch Myers is a writer, historian, and psychologist based in Chicago and New York City. His unique pop commentaries have been broadcast on NPR's All Things Consideredand published in a variety of journals, magazines, and websites. He also maintains the Shel Silverstein Archive in Chicago.

Read an Excerpt

The Boy Who Cried Freebird Rock & Roll Fables and Sonic Storytelling

By Mitch Myers HarperEntertainment Copyright © 2007 Mitch Myers
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-113901-7

Chapter One River Deep

A few years ago, I was in Los Angeles and found myself at a quiet bar in the middle of the afternoon. There were just two guys shooting pool and an older fellow drinking by himself.

The older fellow had long sideburns and wore a fringed leather jacket. He told me that he was a studio musician who'd played on a lot of recording sessions during the 1960s.

"Wow," I said. "That sounds exciting. What instrument do you play?"

"Glockenspiel," he answered.

"Glockenspiel?" I barely contained my sarcasm. "Man, you must have sat in on some pretty heavy sessions."

The musician became stern, "Listen kid, you think you're smart? Let me tell you something, I worked on one of the greatest recording sessions of all time. Have you ever heard the song 'River Deep, Mountain High,' produced by Phil Spector?"

"Sure," I said. "Ike and Tina Turner recorded that one in 1966."

The old guy laughed, "You're half right, son. Now let me tell you the real story."

With that, he strolled over to the old-fashioned jukebox in the corner, dropped in some quarters, pushed a few buttons, and returned to his seat. He said that his friends called him Harvey the K.

Then Harvey leaned back on his barstool and explained a few things, "Phil Spector was a young hotshot when he first saw Ike and Tina Turner perform in L.A. at the TAMI Show in 1964," he said. "But two years later, at the age of twenty-six, Phil was a hugely successful record producer. He had a string of hit singles with all these different girl groups-like the Crystals singing 'He's a Rebel' and 'Be My Baby' by the Ronettes.

"It hardly mattered who was singing when Phil was in charge. He picked the groups, gave them their songs, and directed their every move in the studio. Before Spector, record producers rarely got any press, but Tom Wolfe wrote this big article about Phil in 1965 calling him 'The First Tycoon of Teen.'

"Anyway," Harvey said-talking faster as his tale progressed, "Phil had started his own record label, but the hits weren't coming like they used to. His last big record had been with the Righteous Brothers and even though he produced their number one hit, 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling' a year earlier, the Righteous Brothers stopped working with Phil.

"Yeah, Spector was slipping, but he still had a few tricks up his sleeve. So, he contacts this little label called Loma Records and offers to buy Ike and Tina's recording contract for $20,000! And get this-the entire offer is just so he can produce one song with Tina Turner. But there's a catch, part of the deal is that Ike isn't allowed anywhere near the recording session-Phil just wants Tina!

"They finally make the deal, and Tina starts rehearsing at Phil's L.A. mansion, just the two of them with no Ike in sight. They were working on this disjointed love song about a little girl and her rag doll that Phil had written with a couple of his cronies from Manhattan-Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. Phil had even convinced Ellie and Jeff to come out to L.A. hoping to recapture the magic of their days together at the Brill Building, when they'd collaborated on hits like 'Da Doo Ron Ron' and 'Baby, I Love You.'

"In a way, Phil took a big risk working with Tina. She and Ike weren't stars at that point-just another hard-core rhythm-and-blues revue doing endless one-nighters. Ike fronted a nine-piece road band and had Tina singing along with three Ikettes. Ike called all the shots back then and if you think about it, Tina's work with Phil was her first step away from Ike's domination.

"Finally, Phil got everyone together for 'River Deep' and you had to see it to believe it-it was a huge scene with more than twenty musicians crammed into Studio A at Gold Star Sound in Hollywood. We're talking about the top session guys at the time, guitarists like Glen Campell and Barney Kessel, Leon Russell on piano, even Sonny Bono was there working for Phil.

"And there were just as many people hanging out, too. I remember Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was watching us the whole time and Mick Jagger kept walking in and out of the control booth. Would you believe Dennis Hopper was there, taking photos? It was a rock 'n' roll party, and Phil worked us harder than usual just to impress everyone.

"With so many musicians in the studio, Phil took his 'wall of sound' to a whole new level. It was positively orchestral with four guitarists, four bassists, and three keyboards, all going over this killer arrangement written by Jack Nitzsche. Nitzsche was always in the studio with Phil, and so was engineer Larry Levine. Jack, Larry, and Phil fussed endlessly with the sound that day-adjusting each microphone and cranking up the echo and reverb beyond anything that I had ever heard before.

"Phil used two drummers for the first time, as well as two percussionists. We were falling all over each other, but the sound was huge; there were saxophones, trumpets, and trombones. Phil threw them all together until the instruments reverberated into one giant roar. Later, he would add an entire string section and a battalion of backup singers.

"Of course, the whole thing was done in mono-and nobody made mono recordings like Phil Spector.

"Tina tried doing her vocals that day, but she just wasn't ready for the total Spector experience. So, Phil rehearsed Tina for another week before finally recording her vocal track. That day, there was hardly anyone in the studio-just Phil, Larry, and me. The lights were low and Tina was wearing headphones with Phil's tremendous sound booming in her ears.

"Spector was relentless, and he kept making Tina sing the song over and over until the sweat came right through her blouse. Finally, she said, 'Okay Phil, one more time.' Then she pulled off her shirt, stood there in her bra, and nailed it. She matched Phil's majestic production punch for punch. It was fantastic.


Excerpted from The Boy Who Cried Freebird by Mitch Myers Copyright © 2007 by Mitch Myers . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This

Steve BloomEditor

“Mitch’s ‘Rock & Roll Fables’ are departures from the norm, alternately fresh, smart and unique.”

Bob Boilen

“Dr. Myers can tell a story...When you read his fiction, you understand the facts.”

Jason Koransky

“Mitch truly lives within the music.”

David Wally

“Mitch Myers has an agile mind and a deft pen.”

Dave Marsh

He is one of my favorite living storytellers.

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