The Riff

Introducing The Riff. A place to share your musical story.

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Photo by Jisu Han, Unsplash

We started The Riff out of frustration.

It was at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis and I was reading Anthony Kiedis’s memoir Scar Tissue.

I’ve always liked the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but my connection with their music fell deeper after reading the book. I wanted to write about that connection.

Unfortunately, I was not able to find a good place to do so.

As a listener who doesn’t play instruments, I feel that writing is another art form I could take on to enhance my intimate connection with music. …

No, it wasn’t about the Emperor of the Romans

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Walter Becker (left) and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, 2007. Photo by Kotivalo via Wikicommons

Steely Dan emerged in the 1970s with a fresh take on rock by adding a jazz feel. The lyrics of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were dense with literary and pop culture references, clever turns and in-jokes. The music behind the words was just as good, and the pair used the best session players in the country to create a string of memorable albums.

1976’s The Royal Scam was Steely Dan’s fifth album and has been called their most cynical. Tracks included “Haitian Divorce,” “The Fez” and the triumphant “Kid Charlemagne.”

“Kid Charlemagne” tells the story of the rise and fall of a San Francisco drug manufacturer. In a 2000 online chat with the BBC, Becker revealed that the lyrics were based on Owsley Stanley, a famous LSD chemist of the 1960s known professionally as Bear. “I would say it was very loosely inspired by a character named Owsley,” said Becker. “He was a well-known psychedelic chef of the day.” …

Check out this reliable playlist when you’re searching for new finds

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Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

Happy third week of 2021! Most of my followers will be familiar with my signature “Songs on Heavy Rotation” pieces. They are 10-track playlists which feature old and new songs I’ve been living with. For the new year, the playlist piece received a makeover. “Songs To Keep You Company” follows the same format. However, it has a different title and feature image.

Enjoy the playlist! Feel free to chime in and discuss the songs in the comment section!

Hooligan — Baby Keem

Baby Keem has taken the rap game by storm. His unique flow and visceral confidence bleeds through the track. …

Live concert series, Pt 3

My first live concert

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Photo by m on Unsplash

What will $4.00 buy you these days? The first thing that comes to my mind is a “Grande Latte” at Starbucks, and doing so might give you a few pennies in change.

If there’s a better story about inflation and how much/little our dollars get us today relative to fifty-two years ago, it’s likely this one (though feel free to inject your own noteworthy achievements in economic impotency).

In 1969, I was thirteen years old, an eighth grader at Bessemer Junior High School, and like the other old school buildings I attended, that structure no longer exists. Eighth grade was a fairly good year for me: I had broken through to the friend clique I had longed to belong to; I was calling girls on the phone almost nightly, not that these calls ever led to dates or even makeout sessions at “mixed” parties, but at least girls would talk to me, sometimes for hours at night, though I realize now that they could have been just avoiding their homework.

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From My Own Spotify

Many rappers put out projects in 2020, and many of them are struggling because they are missing out on hundreds of thousands, or even millions, in show money. Some emcees have taken the opportunity to put out more quality music than ever before. If there is one rapper whose stock has risen significantly during the pandemic — it’s Ransom.

If you’ve been listening to mixtapes for a long time, you probably know about Ransom, but what he has done in the last year is truly remarkable. He has always been technically skilled, and hip-hop fans on the East Coast have known about this for some time. …


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Photo by Phillip Blocker on Unsplash

This last week has been a helluva year. As always, I found refuge in music. Maybe you have as well?

Sometimes a random song is a perfect salve. The universe is mysterious that way. Below are 5 songs that made these past few days a little more light for me.

Once In a Lifetime- Talking Heads

The Heads really never drift too far away from my headphones; they have a knack for finding their way into most of my playlists, or being the record I “just happen” to dig out & play. This week’s rabbit hole started with my reading a friend’s review of David Byrne’s “American Utopia,” and my looking to find it (It’s on HBOMax, btw). …

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Photo by Dominic Hampton on Unsplash

So I read this story by Terry Barr and it got me thinking about my concert experiences as well. There are hundreds to choose from and plenty I don’t remember all that well for various reasons. Most involving some poor decision making on my part. So for that reason, I decided to write about how my lifelong love affair with live music began in a very odd way, all during a 14 month period in the mid 80s.

I won’t pretend to remember the actual dates or all of the details of each show since I was just about to turn 11-years-old for the first show in 1984 and had just turned 12 for the second one in 85. Thanks to the internet though, I was able to see the dates and read some reviews which did bring back some faded memories. …

From the orchestra pit to city hall

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Image courtesy of Christopher Gordon

IF, AS EMILY DICKINSON ONCE SUGGESTED, fame is a fickle food upon a shifting plate, then it stands to reason that the entertainment industry is a shifty business. In front of or behind the camera, a person can undergo an entire evolution cycle of job roles and titles across the course of their career.

Cinematographers might decide they want to try their hand at directing (looking at you, Barry Sonnenfeld). Sometimes the director might have a go at screenwriting (hello, Mr. …

A Q&A with Chicago Hip-Hop’s Newest Savant

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Photo by Lauren Washington

July 2020. The backdrop is pretty nondescript. Just a freshly-painted gray wall and a window in sight. But the woman in the foreground is about to explode and elicit a slew of fire emojis, for good measure, once more.

No microphone check necessary. She’s ready.

Just hit “REC.”

I never been the type to tell you that I got the answers.
I seen what they did to Malcolm, what they did to Panthers.

These are the rhythms of Chicago indie rapper and composer Brittney Carter, 29. She’ll continue flowing like that, over a jazzy backbeat, for a minute. And that’s all she typically needs to produce her head-bobbing clips, which have now garnered more than a million views online. …

A Playlist Series

Holy F**K

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Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash

I might still be in shock. And it doesn’t help that the variant strain of Covid is raging and scientists warn that we’ll be blindsided if we don’t act. Fortunately, a responsible set of adults will be taking leadership soon. The question is: can we wait for responsible leaders for another 13 days, and, during that wait, will the cretin-in-charge destroy what’s left of us?

I have almost laughingly referred to Trump as the Orange Plague, and plague, he is. But let me be even more clear:

He should be impeached, arrested, thrown in jail as an inciter to riot, as a subverter of the Constitution, as a traitor to our country. This should happen now, and while we’re at it, the Hawley’s and Cruz’s, and Tuberville’s need to be exorcised from the Senate. Treason is Treason. Tyrants are Tyrants, and what we have had for four years is a drift and then a locomotive toward Authoritarian Dictatorship. …


The Riff

A new publication on music and how it’s impacting our lives ❤

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