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by Sean Murphy

19 Apr 2011


This hurts.

Of course jazz enthusiasts are a small if discerning bunch, so it’s unlikely the sudden passing of Billy Bang on April 11 will register as much as it should on the collective consciousness. This is a shame, but it can’t be helped. Those who knew Billy, and those who know and love his work, already miss him, and shall have to console ourselves that a great man has moved to the great beyond.

I fall back on what is, at this point, a somewhat formulaic observation, but I’m content to repeat it since it’s true: the death of any meaningful artist, particularly at a painfully young age (Bang was 63, which might not seem particularly painful or young to you, but it does to me, especially since as a working jazz musician he was still relevant, engaged, and important to music) is always difficult to endure, but we have little choice but to console ourselves with the work left behind.

by George de Stefano

18 Apr 2011


“Spoonful” is one of the best-known and most recorded songs in the history of the blues, and like many great blues numbers, there’s a bit of mystery about it.  “It could be a spoonful of coffee / It could be a spoonful of tea / But just a little spoon of your precious love / Is good enough for me”. There’s been a fair amount of speculation about the song’s meaning in the 50 years since Howlin’ Wolf recorded the Willie Dixon number. What exactly is in that spoonful? Is “love” really liquefied heroin? Or, as some have suggested, is “spoonful” a metaphor for spooge?

Willie Dixon tried to put the conflicting interpretations to rest in his autobiography, I Am the Blues.  “The idea of ‘Spoonful’ was that it doesn’t take a large quantity of anything to be good”, he observed. “If you have a little money when you need it, you’re right there in the right spot, that’ll buy you a whole lot. If a doctor give you less than a spoonful of some kind of medicine that can kill you, he can give you less than a spoonful of another that will make you well”. Asked about heroin, he replied, “People who think ‘Spoonful’ was about heroin are mostly people with heroin ideas”.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

15 Apr 2011


Mendelsohn: Klinger, this is the fifth time we will be talking about a Beatles album here at Counterbalance and we haven’t got out of the top 30. Think about that for a second. This one band put out a string of six records from 1965 to 1969—four years, six records—and all but one ended up in the top 30 of the Great List. Nearly one-fifth of all the records we’ve gone over so far were Beatles records.

Klinger: Assuming you’re not counting Yellow Submarine, which you’re justified in doing, you’re correct. Not only that, but the one that got away was originally only released as an EP in the UK. Capitol for once in its life showed foresight, stringing together a few stray singles and making Magical Mystery Tour a full-length LP upon its release in 1967. So it could be argued that the Beatles went 1.000 in the UK from ’65 to ’69.

by Evan Sawdey

14 Apr 2011


Photo: Quang Le

Let’s briefly discuss the two careers of Travie McCoy.

The first one involves his band, Gym Class Heroes.  Formed in 1997 with his long-time friend Matt McGinley, the group is best described as “alternative hip-hop”—they mix quirky lyrics, samples, and left-field cameos with tracks ranging from party anthems to somewhat more thoughtful meditations.  After being signed to Fueled By Ramen, the band really broke through with their 2006 sophomore album As Cruel as School Children, which generated single after single, ranging from the Patrick Stump-assisted “Cupid’s Chokehold” to the Rockwell-sampling “Clothes Off!”.  The album was a hit, and spurred the band to record the more rock-oriented 2008 The Quilt, which debuted in the Billboard Top 20.

by Sean Murphy

14 Apr 2011


“Good poets borrow; great poets steal.” That’s according to the great T.S. Eliot. Or is it?

Debate rages (well, amongst the handful of people who are aware of—or care about—quotations like this, or literature in general) as to who actually said it. Pablo Picasso occasionally gets the attribution, as does the critic Lionel Trilling (replacing poets with artists in his version).  So, even trying to correctly identify the ultimate epigram about plagiarism can lead to charges of… plagiarism. Brilliant! And, upon reflection, could it be any other way?

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