From The Desk Of Luther Russell: “Fat City”

You might not know Luther Russell by name, but you’ve probably heard music he’s made with the likes of Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Brian Bell (Weezer), Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams) and countless others. Selective Memories: An Anthology, out February 23 on Hanky Panky, is a two-CD compilation of Russell’s material that’s a stellar introduction for newcomers to this musician’s musician. Russell will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

Russell: I recently re-watched this John Huston masterpiece from 1972 which stars Stacy Keach, Susan Tyrell and a very young Jeff Bridges. One of the great boxing films, it tells the tragic tale of a past-his-prime ex-contender named Tully (played by Keach) who has fallen on hard times in Northern California and decides to get back into it once he meets a promising young kid (played by Bridges). Tully’s life has been fucked up ever since his wife left him. He’s a terrible alcoholic, can’t hold down a job and picks fruit and vegetables with migrant workers to make ends meet. This is his one last shot, and he goes for it with gusto. He picks up a floozy (played by Tyrell—she is just amazing in this film; I think she even got nominated for an Oscar for her role). Keach is just a brilliant and underrated actor, and this film shows why. Sure, I grew up knowing Keach as the asshole cop in those Cheech & Chong movies, but have since discovered what beautiful range he has. There’s an unmistakable air of Steinbeck in this film’s down-and-out story and location. Fat City was based on a novel by Leonard Gardner, and I guess he’s gone on to be acclaimed by the likes of Joan Didion.

From The Desk Of Luther Russell: “John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman” By John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman

You might not know Luther Russell by name, but you’ve probably heard music he’s made with the likes of Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Brian Bell (Weezer), Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams) and countless others. Selective Memories: An Anthology, out February 23 on Hanky Panky, is a two-CD compilation of Russell’s material that’s a stellar introduction for newcomers to this musician’s musician. Russell will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

Russell: This 1963 LP sits on my turntable at the moment, unable to come off anytime soon. It’s one of those records that makes you do what you used to do when you were young: Either flip back and forth between the a- and b-sides, or just leave on a side until further notice. It’s simply a slice of sonic, melodic and emotional perfection, the likes of which will not be bettered in the future. This has been a favorite of my father’s since I can remember, so I know it well, yet understand it so much better now. Let’s start with the singer: Johnny Hartman, terminally underrated, his exquisitely enunciated and delivered lines wrought to perfection by his immaculately contained emotion. He delivers the meaning of the song first, yet couched in a technical expertise that any musician would die to have. That’s a lethal combination, for most singers this gifted tend to lack sufficient amount of feeling. Yet Hartman stands in a very select group with Chet Baker, Billie Holliday, Nat “King” Cole and Sinatra as masters of a certain era of song, where you hear the lyric first and the musicality afterward. Then how about the band? Just the My Favorite Things/Love Supreme-era quartet of John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner … killing’ it. Slaying it. Saying it. Laying it down. Just go get it, stream it, beam it, do what you have to do. You’ll be a happy person for it.

From The Desk Of Luther Russell: “After The Ball: Pop Music From Rag To Rock” By Ian Whitcomb

You might not know Luther Russell by name, but you’ve probably heard music he’s made with the likes of Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Brian Bell (Weezer), Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams) and countless others. Selective Memories: An Anthology, out February 23 on Hanky Panky, is a two-CD compilation of Russell’s material that’s a stellar introduction for newcomers to this musician’s musician. Russell will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

Russell: Been really enjoying this 1972 book on, well, the whole damned history of popular music, as told by one who knows: the great Ian Whitcomb. As a performer, he came over here during the British Invasion and had a top-10 hit in “You Turn Me On,” appearing on such programs as Shindig, American Bandstand and Hollywood A-Go-Go. After making a few records and even producing a record for Mae West(!), Whitcomb settled into his role as expert and aficionado for the glory days of Tin Pan Alley. He wrote this colorful and brilliant history of 20th century music, tracing it’s roots from the first real pop “hit” (“After The Ball”) on to the era of the Beatles. I recently picked up an original pressing, only to realize that my dad had this book when I was a kid, and I used to stare at it and wonder who all the stars were on the jacket. I think After The Ball has held up as one of the more witty and personal books on the subject of popular music and will continue to do so. By the way, there are some amazing interviews Whitcomb conducted in the early-’70s with some of the greatest songwriters in history like Irving Caesar, Johnny Marks, Abe Olman and Harry Warren, which you can find on YouTube. They’re a mind-blowing window into the processes of these giants and leave you wanting so much more.

From The Desk Of Luther Russell: “California: A Literary Chronicle” By W. Storrs Lee

You might not know Luther Russell by name, but you’ve probably heard music he’s made with the likes of Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Brian Bell (Weezer), Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams) and countless others. Selective Memories: An Anthology, out February 23 on Hanky Panky, is a two-CD compilation of Russell’s material that’s a stellar introduction for newcomers to this musician’s musician. Russell will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

Russell: This is a beautiful compendium of classic authors’ reflections or fiction writing on the subject of California. It was published in 1968, and I found it in an antique store here in Pasadena, where I now live. Among the literary greats littered about this collection to have their say about the Golden State are Robert Frost, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, William Saroyan, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson and many more. Speaking of Robert Louis Stevenson, I gravitated toward his short non-fiction story immediately, for I had at one time attended the high school in Northern California bearing his namesake. In this tale, called “The Silence Of Silverado,” he tells the story of joining the woman he loves, Fanny Osbourne, in Silverado where they spend their honeymoon as squatters in a ghost town, living in an abandoned goldmine. Needless to say it seemed to me like the most romantic thing in the world. As Lee states, “It was the kind of eerie but enchanting hideaway that suited Stevenson’s nature to perfection.” And there are so many other magnifienct musings on my home state in this very special book.

From The Desk Of Luther Russell: “More You Becomes You” By Plush

You might not know Luther Russell by name, but you’ve probably heard music he’s made with the likes of Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Brian Bell (Weezer), Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams) and countless others. Selective Memories: An Anthology, out February 23 on Hanky Panky, is a two-CD compilation of Russell’s material that’s a stellar introduction for newcomers to this musician’s musician. Russell will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

Russell: Liam Hayes is an artist I’ve followed ever since he released debut record More You Becomes You in 1998 under the moniker Plush. I’ve often called this record the “best album of the ’90s,” but I guess most fans of OK Computer would disagree mightily. And as remarkable an achievement as some of the other perennials of that misremembered and misbegotten era are, More You Becomes You occupies an intimate place in my own heart. What seems like an almost stream-of-consciousness piece for piano/voice is revealed over many listens to be a complex reconstruction of thoughts and feelings as they might have happened once upon a time. There are obvious signpost influences along the way that many have mentioned, but I prefer to ruminate on the uniqueness of Liam Hayes and how he transmits his musical outpourings: with lyrical style and harmonic sophistication. He went on to record many other top-quality albums, and imagine my surprise to be working with him now on not one, but two new records. What I’m excited about is a new album called Mirage Garage, which I helped him record and perform. For me, it sets a new bar for Liam’s music and is as personal as anything he’s done. But it’s also an LP about the quandary that faces today’s modern human. It should be out sometime next year, after a slate of Liam Hayes/Plush reissues, so look for that!

From The Desk Of Luther Russell: “The Rockford Files”

You might not know Luther Russell by name, but you’ve probably heard music he’s made with the likes of Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Brian Bell (Weezer), Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams) and countless others. Selective Memories: An Anthology, out February 23 on Hanky Panky, is a two-CD compilation of Russell’s material that’s a stellar introduction for newcomers to this musician’s musician. Russell will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

Russell: This is my meditation. This is how I recharge. Rocky, Beth Davenport, Angel, Sergeant Becker. Maybe it’s something to do with growing up in Los Angeles in the ’70s. I got used to recognizing all of the innocuous locations on these kind of shows: parts of Burbank, the Valley, downtown. Same locations you see on Emergency and Adam 12. And it’s all very standard, not stagey, and always gritty: a quality one could not accuse L.A. of much anymore. Then, of course, there is “Rockfish” himself: James Garner. A man with so much goodness in him it makes you want to break down and weep openly. He was such a natural at playing the good guy because he was one. It’s something one doesn’t need to prove about Garner, one just knows. Sure there’s an occasional clunker—like practically the whole fourth season. But it still does what it’s supposed to do—suspend your disbelief and quietly reset your clock. The best ones are the infuriating ones that just stick in a McGuffin early on and circuitously volley the plot back and forth until a reasonable human being could not follow anymore … usually within the first scene. And it’s all downhill from there. But then Rockford takes his dad fishing and all is right in the world. And who can forget the greatest TV theme in history??

From The Desk Of Luther Russell: “Bayou Maharajah”

You might not know Luther Russell by name, but you’ve probably heard music he’s made with the likes of Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Brian Bell (Weezer), Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams) and countless others. Selective Memories: An Anthology, out February 23 on Hanky Panky, is a two-CD compilation of Russell’s material that’s a stellar introduction for newcomers to this musician’s musician. Russell will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

Russell: One of the best music documentaries ever committed to celluloid, Lily Keber’s very recent and relentless masterpiece tells the tragic and hilarious story of one of the few piano geniuses of the 20th century: James Booker. He was an one-eyed gay junkie with more soul in his left pinky than half the doo-wop groups named after birds. His playing was a gumbo of Longhair, Chopin, Gershwin and Ellington, and that was just his left hand. First-time director Lily Keber masterfully unfolds this unique man’s story through interviews with those that knew him, including Harry Connick Jr. and his district-attorney father, who allowed this crazed genius access to his 13-year-old son because … New Orleans in the late ’70s, that’s why. Mixed with evocative stock footage of the Big Easy in those pungent, festive classic days, you get a colorful biography of a truly great artist that you can literally take a bite out of. And like the great American city itself, it tastes funky but goes down smooth.

From The Desk Of Luther Russell: “Trouble Boys: The True Story Of The Replacements” By Bob Mehr

You might not know Luther Russell by name, but you’ve probably heard music he’s made with the likes of Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Brian Bell (Weezer), Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams) and countless others. Selective Memories: An Anthology, out February 23 on Hanky Panky, is a two-CD compilation of Russell’s material that’s a stellar introduction for newcomers to this musician’s musician. Russell will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

Russell: Being a die-hard Replacements fan, I rushed out to buy this tome by great Memphis writer Bob Mehr. How could it not be a well-researched, thoughtful and empathetic portrait of one of the most brilliant and fucked-up bands in history? Well, it was so much more. It’s an example of what a rock bio can be when it is searching and driving and relentlessly works its way to the truth. And the truth is: You thought the Who were dysfunctional?? Ha ha. The Replacements were fucking meta. When there was nothing left to burn, they found a way to burn a little more. God, and those songs. That’s the amazing thing about Westerberg; you learn that he must have fed off the chaos, for where else could his witty blood letters come from? The book goes a long way to fleshing-out his and his bandmates backgrounds and sets a bleak, yet extraordinary context for how this desperate music inspired a generation to take its ’80s ennui and turn it into something creative. I’ll forever be altered by this band and its amazing spirit, hooks and soul. And this book explained to me the reason why.

From The Desk Of Luther Russell: “Fear” By John Cale

You might not know Luther Russell by name, but you’ve probably heard music he’s made with the likes of Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Brian Bell (Weezer), Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams) and countless others. Selective Memories: An Anthology, out February 23 on Hanky Panky, is a two-CD compilation of Russell’s material that’s a stellar introduction for newcomers to this musician’s musician. Russell will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

Russell: A close friend of mine, poet/writer John Tottenham, once put the song “Buffalo Ballet” on one of the many mix tapes he’s made for me over the years. It’s only recently that I’ve picked up a copy of the record this song lives on. To say Fear has blown me away is an understatement. This is great songwriting, performing and an eerie sense of what lies “ahead” in music—to the point that it still sounds fresh today, more than 40 years later. I guess it makes sense Cale recorded it concurrent to producing groundbreaking tone poems like Horses by Patti Smith. The opening track, “Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend,” has to have one of the best drum sounds I’ve heard on a rock record. The ending dissolves into a frustrated strangle of the elements that make up the body of the track. Elsewhere on the record are weddings of cascading piano to stuttering, staccato guitar to remind anyone listening that the artist is constantly on the creative search, like a musical shark in murky, anodyne waters.

From The Desk Of Luther Russell: “Little Big Man”

You might not know Luther Russell by name, but you’ve probably heard music he’s made with the likes of Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Brian Bell (Weezer), Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams) and countless others. Selective Memories: An Anthology, out February 23 on Hanky Panky, is a two-CD compilation of Russell’s material that’s a stellar introduction for newcomers to this musician’s musician. Russell will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

Russell: I’ve always loved the 1970 movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway, but nothing could prepare me for the sheer wit and depth of the original novel by the late Thomas Berger. Dave Sobel, former organist for my old band the Freewheelers, gave me the book and insisted it was a masterpiece and I would love it. And he was so right. Berger inhabits the only slightly dependable 121-year-old narrator Jack Crabb as if he has astrally projected into a real-life frontier character—one he made up from thin-air, no less. A boy is taken by the Cheyenne in a raid on the prairie and is raised as one of their own then spends his life flitting back and forth between the Nation and “civilized” society. In this picaresque piece, Berger makes you feel like you are right there amongst the legends of the day, like Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill and George Armstrong Custer—and he pokes holes in all of them. With his wicked sense of humor, Berger wraps your head around the sheer hypocrisy of the times, a mere precursor to our own modern travails. Now obsessed with Berger, a master storyteller practically on par with Twain, I have found many of his books, and am about to break open Vital Parts and The Feud.