What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions

The Deep Six: “Old School” Rhythm Sections and Their Sporting Equivalents, Part II

The picture that spawned this bit of lunacy. For those of you who don’t know, that’s Geddy Lee of Rush.

When you are a kid, two things that get your juices going are music and sports. Face it, being good at either was the ticket to Chick-town, and since I was 14 with enough testosterone surging through my veins to kill a man in his 50s; I got involved in both because I was taking any ticket I could.

Fast forward to when you are that man in his 50s; where you start realizing that to remain visible to the 23-year-old residents of Chick-town will require investment in a sports car, and you start flashing back to the salad days. If you are as deranged as I am, you start noticing that the two have more parallels which have only become visible through the prism of age.

Sadly, the groupies got older too…

Dunk that prism in a Sea World sized-tank of bourbon and the onset of mid-life doom, and I came to realize in between the bouts of pre-suicidal sobbing that the bass players and drummers that influenced me shared characteristics with the sports figures I idolized.

You can see Part I of this list here.

Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

The Jimi Hendrix Experience at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival

If there were ever a Rock Rhythm Section Hall of Fame, it simply would not be complete without the guys who formed the foundation of The Jimi Hendrix Experience; Noel Redding on the thick-string and Mitch Mitchell on the cans.

First of all, that may be the best band name ever in terms of telling you exactly what was about to happen. Even 50+ years after his death, you don’t listen to Jimi Hendrix…you experience him. You understood that completely the first time you heard Hendrix launch into one his improvised guitar solos that nobody knew where it would lead.

Now…imagine being the two guys playing with him. Like you, they had no clue where his musical journey was headed. You know there were plenty of times when Redding and Mitchell told each other something like “you stay in tempo, and I’ll stay in key…eventually he’s got to come back to us.”

Sports Figure Comparison: The Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Line in the “Randall Cunningham” era

Bass and drums form the foundation of all rock music; the shredding guitar heroes get all the attention. A football team works on the same principle; the offensive line forms the foundation upon which the quarterbacks build. In other words, keeping the rhythm behind a guy who you have no idea where’s he’s going is just as challenging as blocking in front of an equal dose of unpredictability.

That’s because both rhythm sections and offensive lines involve order, precision, and working in unison; and both pay dearly for mistakes. With effects pedals, distortion, and other musical trickery, guitarists can get away with a lot of slop. But a bass player dropping a wrong note or a drummer getting out of the beat is plainly obvious. If an offensive lineman screws up, a penalty is called, the game is stopped, and the referee shames the offenders.

Cunningham: Flying like an Eagle

Hence the challenge faced by the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line in the Randall Cunningham era. He was a quarterback with a Hendrix-ian talent for starting on the sheet music, but quickly engaging in impromptu flights of football fancy. His blockers would quickly have no idea where he was going, which forced them into the “Redding/Mitchell” method of adapting “on the fly.”

The bottom bass, drum, and offensive lines: Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, and the Cunningham Philadelphia Eagles made improvisation work like nobody before or since.

John Wetton and Carl Palmer – Asia

I’ve been in bands as both a bassist and a drummer, and for my money there no better example than Asia for songs which force those two to be completely in sync. Even if you don’t like Asia’s sound, there’s no denying the members’ roots in legendary “prog rock” acts like Yes, King Crimson, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer drive them toward a style which demands precision.

Take the song Don’t Cry for example. It’s a perfect “warm-up” song for any rock band because it requires perfect synchronization between the two guys in the rhythm section. Anything less and that song becomes a sloppy, muddled mess.

Sports Figure Comparison: Ole Einar Bjørndalen

If you’ve never performed on stage, you don’t know how much energy it consumes. There’s only one sports comparison to that level of exertion while maintaining laser-like precision; the Winter Olympic discipline known as Biathlon.

If you’re not familiar, biathlon is a combination of the heart-exploding nature of cross-country skiing with target shooting…which requires complete calm, focus, and nerves of space-craft grade titanium. To give yourself a home simulation, spend five minutes on a NordicTrack, then try to shoot five wadded-up pieces of paper into a waste-basket 15 feet away. Repeat this cycle three times…let us know at which point you collapsed into a sweaty, gasping pile moments from a “911” encounter.

That’s the moment you will truly appreciate what Ole Einar Bjørndalen has accomplished in this sport. The man has won more Winter Olympic medals (13 total, including 8 golds) than anybody in any Winter Olympic event, he has more World Championship medals than anybody in the history of biathlon (45 total, including 20 golds, and he’s literally lapped the field in terms having the most individual event victories in the Biathlon World cup with 94. Top that off with six overall World Cup titles, and there really no discussion about who is the greatest biathlete of all time.

In other words, this guy can hit a target the size of the top of a beer can from 50 meters all while his heart is sledge-hammering inside his chest. The key is top-flight biathletes can time their shots to fall in between their breaths and heartbeats. Such a skill parallels that needed by a drummer and a bass player not to step on each other, and nobody mastered that more than John Wetton and Carl Palmer.

Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts – The Rolling Stones

If The Beatles were the backbone of the “British Invasion,” then The Rolling Stones were it’s guts. The Stones had a sound which was electrically visceral and rooted in “Delta” Blues and “Buck Owens Twang” country. That doesn’t seem like a recipe which ends up at a place I call “stealth thunder,” but there’s no better way to describe what the combination of Wyman and Watts lent to the sound of The Rolling Stones.

Take a good look at that picture above. This was the closest I could find to a isolated shot of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts on stage as Rolling Stones. That’s because visually, they were so non-descript they could have been mistaken for part of part of the set.

That’s the “stealth” part.

The audial end was a completely different story. Wyman’s intricately melodic bass lines were the ropes forming the ring to hold the raw, “bare-knuckle” stylings of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and (insert 3rd guy here). The bond completing that marriage of steel strings came from the drumming of Charlie Watts, which had the subtle rhythm of a summer rain punctuated by the occasional crack of lightning.

That’s the “thunder” part.

Sports Figure Comparison: John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine

For this comparison, you have to go from England in the 1960s to Atlanta in 1990s…but they both feature “stealth” and “thunder.” During the 1990s and early 2000s, the Atlanta Braves won an unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles. A major component of that streak a triumvirate of arms known colloquially as “The Big Three.”

Comprised of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux, “The Big Three” were starting pitchers for the Atlanta Braves from 1993 to 2002 (although John Smoltz did make the transition to the bullpen later in his career). Along the way to powering the Braves to all those division titles, “The Big Three” combined to take home seven National League Cy Young Awards. All three eventually had their jerseys retired by the Atlanta Braves and were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in their first years of eligibility.

Smoltz represented the “thunder;” he was the one who was out to over-power you. To me, he always looked like the guy who wanted to strike you out, then rip off his shirt and challenge you to a bare-knuckle brawl. On the other hand, Glavine and Maddux didn’t look the part of dominating pitchers.

Sophisticated simplicity if there is such a thing They made it look easy

Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve Jordan – The Blues Brothers

It’s easy to overlook the band behind The Blues Brothers as just part of a Saturday Night Live skit turned classic movie. But that band was chock full of first-rate “R&B” musicians, and the foundation of that all-star ensemble was the rhythm section of Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve Jordan.

You may not remember Dunn’s name, but you certainly know his face…more importantly, you’ve heard hundreds of his bass lines. On the visual end, you know Dunn as the ginger, bearded, pipe-huffing bassist. But whether you know it or not, Donald “Duck” Dunn has been in your ears far more than his been in your eyes.

Not only are there all those great Blues Brothers jams, but Dunn appears on a panoply of other cuts you know with artists ranging from Otis Redding, Booker T, Sam and Dave, Eric Clapton, and countless others. Dunn’s deep-pocket grooves and melodic stylings have influenced thick-stringers for decades (including yours truly).

Beyond The Blues Brothers, Dunn can be heard putting the bottom end into such notable R&B tracks as Respect, 634-5789, Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, the Bill Withers classic ballad Ain’t No Sunshine, the disco standard Knock On Wood, the MTV monster Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks duet Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, and hundreds of others

As for the man on the cans, Steve Jordan is not immediately recognizable from The Blues Brothers because he didn’t appear in the film. But he is the guy on all the records, because like Dunn, he was a member of the Saturday Night Live band which backed John Belushi and Dan Akroyd from the beginning. You may also not know that Jordan was an Emmy award-winning musical director and Grammy award-winning producer and songwriter. He’s probably best-known as part of the band on Late Night With David Letterman.

Sports Figure Comparison: Steve Jordan and Tommy Kramer

It all comes down to this. Both pairs made beautiful music together, despite the fact those duos were composed of completely opposite kind of guys. As for the Steve Jordans, both were very polished in their approach to their respective professions; the football version using his Ivy League education to keep find ways to exploit NFL defenses. That made the Minnesota Viking Ring of Honor member one of the best tight ends in the game in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

As the contrasting counterparts to the Jordans, Donald “Duck” Dunn and Tommy Kramer were both prototypical “good ol’ boys” from Texas who had that unique swagger which whose formula is 1 part southern gentility, two parts gunslinger, and a whiskey jug full of the “Fuck it, let’s go!” mentality of a bull rider as he pops in a dip of Skoal and climbs into the chute. That’s how at their peak, Kramer and Jordan could do things which…to quote Dunn’s single speaking line in The Blues Brothers…”could turn goat piss into gasoline.”

Gordon “Sting” Sumner and Stewart Copeland – The Police

A common problem with great bands is eventually the egos outgrow the room. A phenomenon which can exacerbate that is when one ego gets inflated beyond the size of the room all on it’s own. Welcome to the tale of The Police.

Arguably the most influential band to come from the “Punk/New Wave” movement of the late 1970s, The Police featured a sound as unique as the background of it’s members. What would eventually become The Police was the brain-child of American-born drummer Stewart Copeland. An accomplished writer and composer in his own right, Copeland had moved on the from the English prog-rock band Curved Air and was looking to move in a different direction. Having been in various places around the world due his his father’s work, Copeland had exposure to many different sounds in world music.

But it was one fateful night in 1976 when Copeland convinced a young bassist and songwriter named Gordon Sumner to give up his teacher by day, jazz bassist by night life to join his fledgling band. A year later when classically-trained guitarist Andy Summers joined Copeland and Sumner (know known as “Sting” because of a black and yellow striped sweater he wore on stage).

The rise of the The Police was meteoric. Their first televised performance came in Ocotber 1978 on the BBC’s legendary music show Old Grey Whistle Test to promote their first album Outlandos d’Amour.. While their initial single Roxanne didn’t chart, after relentless touring and more television appearances, The Police began to make the charts and get increased radio airplay on both sides of the Atlantic.

October 1979 saw the release of their second album Regatta de Blanc. Now, The Police were “big time” as the single Message in a Bottle hit the Top 5 in the UK, Canada, and Australia, and the album made the Top 25 in the United States. Their next album Zenyatta Mondatta produced mega-hits Don’t Stand So Close To Me and De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da. But with their third release, the critical acclaim came as well, with Don’t Stand So Close To Me winning a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance for Duo or Group and the Summers-written track Behind My Camel taking home the same award for for Best Rock Instrumental.

The trio kept riding the rocket when 1981’s Ghost in the Machine took no time at all to go triple-platinum in the United States, platinum in Canada and the UK, and gold in countless other countries. Now there was no doubt; The Police were the biggest band in the world ant the time. That title was officially bestowed on them by Rolling Stone and several other notable rock music critics in advance of the 1983 release of their monster opus (and swan song) Synchronicity.

In the summer of 1983,there was no bigger Police fan on earth than yours truly. Three cassette tapes which got worn out in my Walkman were Moving Pictures and Signals by Rush, and the aforementioned Ghost in the Machine. When Synchronicity was released, I was the first kid in line at the record store that had the glass counter full of “novelty pipes” to get my copy.

The first time I listened to it, I was awestruck. I honestly thought it could end up as one of the great rock albums of all time; it could be to The Police what Revolver was to The Beatles. That sounds a bit hyperbolic in retrospect, but back in the day the comparisons were flying.

The second time I listened to it, I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. I knew it wasn’t going to be Revolver; it was Let it Be…the swan song. That was the impact of the kick. I knew this was the last Police album I’d ever hear. As great as it was, Synchronicity was also the sound of egos exploding the room.

The first clue was the composition of the songs themselves. By now, it was clear that Sting had emerged as the “star.” That album was all about Sting’s songwriting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland had clearly been relegated to being Sting’s backing band. The first great example of that is the song which would go on to surpass The Beatles’ Yesterday as the most-played track in the history of FM radio. Every Breath You Take became their signature single, becoming the #1 hit of 1983 and cementing their status as the biggest band in the world at the time. But as accomplished musicians in their own rights, Copeland and Summers weren’t ready to be just two more parts of Sting’s stage show.

The second clue came in the Sting-written track King of Pain. The common belief is that Paul McCartney wrote Hey Jude about John Lennon’s son Julian, but I always felt like that was record company spin. To me, that record sounded more like McCartney’s musical good-bye to The Beatles, and King of Pain gave me the identical kick-in-the-gut feeling. Give that track a close listen. That was not written by a happy man.

Then came the stories of volcanic confrontations between Sting and Copeland. At first, there were tales of raucous shouting matches, but those quickly turned to tales of words be supplanted by punches. Nobody ever confirmed those rumors, but I will never forget seeing a Police interview on MTV in 1984 where the denials are flying, but the sunglasses on Sting’s face were clearly the kind one uses to hide a serious black eye.

Like most fans, just like those of The Beatles, I held out hope there would be a re-union, but I lost any semblance of that when I heard Sting’s The Dream of the Blue Turtles. That’s when I knew Synchonicity was realistically Sting’s first solo album; there would never be anything other than that from now on. I got my own king of pain knowing there would never album show-casing the melding of the musical stylings of Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers, and Gordon Sumnet.

That still stings.

P.S. There’s a tale for another time when I actually got to meet “Sting” and he handed me a Fender Precision Bass he signed with a Sharpie.

Sports Figure Comparison: Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson

When George Steinbrenner became the principal owner of the New York Yankees, the legendary Bronx Bombers who have won more World Series than any other franchise were in the midst of a championship drought. They hadn’t won a World Series since 1962; they didn’t even appear in the Fall classic since 1964. Steinbrenner wasted no time in seeking to change that.

In 1975, Steinbrenner hired manager Billy Martin, a pugnacious former Yankee second baseman who had become a respected skipper in his post-playing days. The Yankees made their first World Series appearance in a dozen seasons 1976, but they came up short against Cincinnati’s Hall-of-Famer laden “Big Red Machine.”

Eager to have his own star-studded line-up, Steinbrenner acquired all-star Slugger Reggie Jackson in 1977. Much like when Stewart Copeland added the man who would be known as “Sting,” Steinbrenner’s pairing of Martin and Jackson paid immediate dividends. While the new-found greatness of the Yankees was apparent, it was equally obvious there was no dugout with sufficient space to house the egos of NewYorks’s new dynamic duo.

The most famous example came during a Saturday NBC Game of the Week between the Yankees and the Red Sox in Boston. At one point in that game, manager Billy Martin became enraged at his star right-fielder because he felt Jackson didn’t hustle “hard enough” after a ball hit toward him. Martin called Jackson into the dugout; taking a player out of the game in the middle of an inning is an extremely unusual move. It took no time for the already-hot tempers to erupt into an unforgettable moment…all caught on camera.

Unlike the situation with The Police, there was really no denying the internal strife in the Yankee dugout. But like The Police, the tumultuous greatness of the Martin/Jackson Yankees only lasted for a few short years. .

Kathy Valentine and Gina Schock – The Go-Gos

Like the aforementioned Police, The Go-Gos emerged from the “Punk/New Wave” scene of the late 1970s.The original line-up had a much harder sound than the one most would know. In fact, this incarnation of The Go-Gos spent time as the “house band” at the famed Los Angeles music venue the Whiskey-A-Go-Gogo; the same place which served as the launching pad for rock legends such as The Doors, Van Halen, and Mötley Crüe.

While that served to give them major mainstream exposure, it was the addition of drummer Gina Schock and guitarist-turned-bassistbassist/songwriter Kathy Valentine that propelled The Go-Gos on a trajectory to becoming legends in their own right. The combination of Valentine’s pop-yet-punk stylings punctuated by Schock’s “four-on-the-floor muscle car” drumming gave the band a string of hits that some dismissed as “girl pop,” but became fixtures on early MTV.

Easily the most successful all-female band in rock history, the Go-Gos dismissed their detractors and proved their rock and roll mettle by blowing away crowds when they toured with The Police on their 1981 Ghost in the Machine tour. All tolled, The Gog-Gos landed a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and world-wide recued sales topping seven million. None of that happens with out the rhythm section of Vanetine and Schock.

Sports Figure Comparison: Jocelyne and Monique Lamoreaux

Just like it was easy to dismiss The Go-Gos as “girls,” it would be just as simple to see this comparison strictly on the basis of gender. Doing so it either case completely misses the sheer bad-assery of both The Go-Gos and the Lamoreaux twins.

Jocelyne and Monique Lamoreaux grew up in a hockey family in Grand Forks, North Dakota. They became a dominant force in the game at every level they played. While the women’s game is by design not nearly as physical, that fact was lost on the Lamoreauxs. They grew up playing back yard “pond” hockey. (in North Dakota, you can simply flood your back yard and it will stay frozen solid for a good five months at least) with four brothers who all went on to play hockey professionally. Not only that, but they were both all-state in ice hockey throughout their school years as they led the PeeWee “A” Boys’ “Wheat Kings” team to the North Dakota State Hockey championship for the 2001–02 season.

In the women’s game, the Lamoreaux made it know they were equally adept as skating around you or over you. That’s how they dominated the NCAA game, then took that level of bad-ass to the international game. They led the United States team to silver medal in both 2010 and 2014. But more importantly, they played pivotal roles in PyeongChang in 2018, when Monique scored the game-tying goal and Jocelyne netted the winner against Canada to bring home the Olympic gold.

They retired from competition in 202, and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame wasted no time; they were inducted in 2022..

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What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

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