Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Top Five Concerts that Changed My Musical Life

Posted by Steve Yoakam (Max in Rock ’n’ Roll)

I’ve been to a lot of great concerts: Creedence, Ten Years After (Alvin Lee!), Jethro Tull, Eric Clapton, Miles Davis, James Brown and a Motown revue that changed my musical life—but for Rock ’n’ Roll, here goes:

#5 B.B. King, The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane in 1968
A great concert with my brother Michael at the old football stadium at IU in Bloomington, Indiana. (Remember the race in the movie Breaking Away? That was the place.) B.B. had a big hit with “The Thrill is Gone” and educated Hoosiers on the finer points of the blues. The Byrds were morphing into something beyond “Mr. Tambourine Man” but Roger McGuinn was still playing his Rickenbacker. And Grace Slick was simply the coolest and sexiest woman on the planet.

#4 The Small Faces
Again in Bloomington in 1973. This was a great gritty band when Ronnie Wood was still lead guitarist and Rod Stewart (before disco) was one of the gutsy-ist singers in rock besides Joe Cocker. The J. Geils Band opened, which was great as well.

#3 An all-day outdoor concert on Bull Island near Evansville, Indiana, in 1971
My memory of the day is a little haaaazy shall we say, but not the music. The lineup went: Boone's Farm, Black Oak Arkansas, Howlin' Wolf, Sleepy John Estes, Mississippi Fred McDowell, The Ike and Tina Turner Revue, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Procol Harem and The Steve Miller Band. Howlin' Wolf crawled out on stage on his hands and knees growling with the mic in his teeth. My friend John Long and I got right up to the stage for Ike and Tina and got whiplash from dancing.

#2 A tie: The Rolling Stones in Indianapolis in 1972 and Prince at First Avenue in Minneapolis in 1983 or 84
The Stones were fabulous and Mick and Keith were in rare form. The revelation was Mick Taylor's guitar work. Stevie Wonder opened. He had just released Talking Book and played every instrument on the stage.

Prince was doing an unannounced preview of Purple Rain at the club and a friend told me to hustle over. My Lord can that dude do it all! The place was electric and The Kid burned it up with his guitar.

#1 My claim to rock immortality: The Last Waltz at Winterland in San Francisco in 1976
A buddy was working security and got me in about a third of the way through the concert, so I stood along the wall house-right. The Band has always been one of my music totems and all the other incredible musicians that night made it very special. It had a real communal feel. And of course there was this dark little guy with a movie crew doing a guerilla shoot of the concert. People kept saying "stay out of Marty's way." Who knew? Whenever the movie is playing on TV, it brings back warm memories.


  1. Your #5 was my first concert. I was a 7th grader at Bloomington's Binford Junior High.

  2. Been sitting here tonight trying to dredge up old memories. Well, your post brought it all back... Bloomington 1968 (for some reason I keep thinking 1969) Byrds, Airplane, B.B. King.
    I saw Grace Slick behind the stage She was aloof and seemingly had great powers (to me, a 19 yr old kid).
    The concert was great. What I will always remember was the open mic statement by one of the Airplane's members: "Richard Nixon doesn't fuck"
    J Alter