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THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Andy 'Thunderclap' Newman

A footnote in the history of rock and roll, under his moniker a classic rock track was created that will never die.

But he did. Last week. Years after his bandmates Speedy Keen and Jimmy McCulloch.

McCulloch joined the band when he was fifteen. And it was he who went on to further notoriety, most famously with Paul McCartney's Wings, wherein he composed the music for "Medicine Jar," from the band's 1975 smash "Venus and Mars," which gets no love today, it's completely forgotten, but how could one follow up "Band on the Run"? Yet, "Venus and Mars" contains one of my favorite McCartney tracks, "Letting Go," the whole album was the soundtrack of my summer of 1975, along with "Blood on the Tracks" and "One of These Nights." McCulloch also composed the music for "Wino Junko" from Wings' 1976 album "At the Speed of Sound." More famous than "Venus and Mars" because of the lightweight hits "Silly Love Songs" and "Let 'Em In," the album was not as good, it featured too much of Linda, "Cook Of The House" may have been a joke, but it was execrable, however there were some standout tracks on the LP, like "Beware My Love" and "Warm and Beautiful," and let's throw in "She's My Baby" for good measure. And let's not forget McCulloch's debut with Paul, et al, was on "Junior's Farm," a ripper. But Jimmy couldn't keep his hand out of the medicine jar and died at 26, what a waste.

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John "Speedy" Keen held out much longer, he didn't pass away until 2002, but despite being the genius behind Thunderclap Newman, writing almost all the material, after this success he slipped into obscurity, I bought his 1975 solo LP, anyone who knew his work had to have it, but it was disappointing.

And the man the band was named after?

Andy Newman was an enigma, a piano player who seemed to vanish into thin air once the band broke up. Who was responsible for the band's success? Was it Pete Townshend who produced and played bass? McCulloch was a stellar guitarist. But, as stated above, Keen wrote the songs.

But the album had Newman's piano all over it. Especially the almost ten minute masterpiece "Accidents."

Okay, now you think I'm overstating. Could be the case. But I listened to "Hollywood Dream," the band's one and only LP, ad infinitum back in 1970 and '71, I purchased it at Sam Goody's during fall break from college. I met my new best friend Larry at the museum toting all the LPs I'd retrieved, needing them for sustenance, to get me through the first semester of my freshman year.

It did not begin auspiciously.

I'm game. I'll make the most of a situation. I leave the starting line. I learned all this from my mother.

But it doesn't always work.

You can give it your best try, the old college try, and still…you may find out you're in an untenable position.

Kind of like freshman orientation. They bused us all up to Bread Loaf, Middlebury's summer campus, wherein a band played and we ate unmemorable food and I was as lonely as a boy could be.

Except when the band from Boston played Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air." The sound man let me listen on headphones. I couldn't believe they were playing a song I'd only heard a couple of times on FM radio that seemingly no one knew but me. You could buy it as part of the "Strawberry Statement" soundtrack LP, a double, but even though I read the book I wasn't about to lay down my cash for an album of songs I already owned just for this one cut. And who would even know where to buy a single, a format I'd given up on once the Beatles hit.

So, inspired by the song, that's the power of music, on the way back to campus I sat next to a woman and did my best job of chatting her up. I couldn't get a word in edgewise. I just looked her up, she's an MD in the middle of the country. Don't you love the internet?


But for a long time the band's LP "Hollywood Dream" was unavailable.

And it's still not on streaming services.

But Tom Petty brought "Something In The Air" back from the dead on his "Greatest Hits" LP, it's a faithful version, I give TP credit.

And the way the song goes…

"Call out the instigators
Because there's something in the air"

Funny how 1969 and 2016 are so similar. Even if Hillary wins we know there's widespread unrest, the populace is no longer happy with the rich and powerful dictating to us.

"We've got to get together sooner or later
Because the revolution's here"

That's the difference between yesterday and today. Yesterday the youth were all on the same team, there was no such thing as a twentysomething Republican, we loved our brothers, we wanted change, now we've got chaos.

"Hand out the arms and ammo
We're gonna blast our way through here"

Not if college students insist on trigger warnings, back then we were afraid of getting our ass shot off in Vietnam, so we were much more willing to put our lives on the line, death'll do that for you.

Another difference between then and now is music rode shotgun, it greased the skids of change.

"And you know it's right"

That's right, you know you've got a gay brother, that your grandparents were immigrants, that really you're no better than anybody else. So why do we keep trying to keep each other down?

At least we used to have the Hollywood Dream. And the American Dream. The dream that things could get better and would. Our music inspired us.

And now our heroes are dropping like flies. Some that you recognize, some that you've hardly even heard of, as Ray Davies would say.

Merle Haggard passed today.

And David Bowie and Glenn Frey and Paul Kantner and Dan Hicks and more bit the bullet already this year.

Joe Cocker passed a year ago.

But we know all them.

Most people don't know Andy Newman.

Let that be a lesson to you, you can have a worldwide hit and still live in obscurity, never mind poverty. At least Andy Newman went back to being an electrician, as opposed to continuing to court the dream.

So, reach for the brass ring. And if your work resonates you can be an agent for change.

That's the job of an artist, to link us all together, to show us the way, to illustrate that life is not dreary, to give us hope.

Andy Newman's act did all that for me.

I salute him and his bandmates, who may be gone but are not forgotten by me.

Maybe you know what I'm talking about…