Musings On Music History: Keef’s Big Day, Frank’s First Breath, and Kiss’s Mighty Meow

12.16: A genuine electronic music superstar, Paul Van Dyk, joined us on this day in 1971. East Berlin (yes, kids, Berlin, and Germany, was divided between east and west for many, many years) had no idea the talent in their midst. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the subsequent flood of talent, money, and good times into Berlin, Van Dyke began what would evolve into his career. Now one of the most recognized DJs in the world, Van Dyk regularly commands high-dollar for only a few hours on the decks. Though not as popular in the U.S., DJs and electronic music draws thousands upon thousands to events all over the rest of the world. PvD, as his fans call him, tops the electronic charts and is consistently named top DJ by peers and fans, alike. Fröhlichen Geburtstag, Paul!

12.18: Keith Richards, one of rock’s greatest guitar players and biggest personalities, loves this day. In 1943, his screams filled the room as he took his first of many breaths, making his parents proud, for sure, as their one and only child. Also on this day, on Keith’s 40th birthday, he married model Patti Hansen, to whom he is still married, 25 years later. That totally blows away our faith in the rocker-model-celebrity dating/marriage system of “use ’em and lose ’em.” Thanks a lot, Keith and Patti. Now nothing makes sense. Anyhoo, we’d like to congratulate Keith on his 68th birthday and Patti and Keith on their 28th wedding anniversary. Hazah! [more]

12.20: On this day, the Kiss Army celebrates the birth of one of its generals. Peter Criss, the cat’s meow behind the Kiss drum kit, was born George Peter John Criscuola today in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York. Beginning his love of music with jazz, Criss moved on to rock, eventually placing an ad, after stints in a few different bands, in the back of Rolling Stone, extolling his skills as a pounder of skins, which elicited a call from a couple of fellow NY lads by the name of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. With the formation of Kiss in December of 1972 came gobs of wacked-out makeup, rock ‘n’ rollin’ all night, and the theme song for every Beth in the world. “Beth” became, and remains, Kiss’ biggest hit. Peter was the only member of the band in the recording studio for that song. “Beth” is Peter Criss and wouldn’t exist without him. While his first stint in Kiss only lasted until 1980, his work in the group’s canon is yet held in high regards by the army of followers, old and new alike.

12.21: Frank Zappa, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1940. His influence among musicians is as widespread as the ignorance of his work amongst most other people. From Black Sabbath (the progenitors of heavy metal) to John Frusciante (red hot guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers), from Bill Frisell (modern jazz composer) to George Clinton (latter and modern day funk master), from his son Dweezil to his daughter Moon Unit, Zappa’s prodigious influence continues to be explored, years after his death. The month of December saw his birth and his death, bringing his life full circle, or as circular as the life of someone so left field, so known/unknown could be. Happy birthday, Frank. We miss you, sir.

12.22: On this day in 1946, Ozzie and Harriet welcomed a second son into their quintessential 1950s nuclear family, when Rick Nielsen was born. Wait, what? What’s that you say? Oh, that was Ricky Nelson. Rick Nielson is the guy we’re supposed to be talking about, the guy who rocked into this world on this day in 1946? Who the hell is Rick Nielsen? Well, kids, sit down and let Uncle Hard Rock History teach you a lesson. Way back in the hirsute, Super 8 Track world of the early ’70s, rock was king. At least, in its own mind. And one of the bands leading the charge of ’70s rock was Cheap Trick, resplendent in their wonderful hair and mustache, their goofiness, their hooks, and their wanting you to want them. Though their first few albums failed to make a dent in the minds of your average ’70s rock and roller, their fourth album, At Budokan, paved the way for their airwave takeover. Up until then, they were only big in Japan. We don’t know why Japan embraced them, but their first few albums all went gold in the Land of the Rising Sun. So, when they played Japan in 1978, they recorded a special album at one of their stops, for their Japanese fans, never intending it to be available in the U.S. On the strength of its sales as an import, however, Cheap Trick’s record company decided to release it domestically. Good call, record exec guys. The live version of “I Want You To Want Me,” which had originally appeared on their 2nd album, In Color, in a studio version, became the biggest hit of Cheap Trick’s career, getting them noticed everywhere, not just Japan. And, to come full circle here, kiddies, Rick Nielsen wrote that huge classic rock staple. So, you can thank him for that next time you see him. Tell him we said “Hey and Happy Birthday!”

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