My Stories, Unsung Heroes

The Last Dance

Two episodes a week come out, because ESPN is involved, along with Michael Jordan’s production company and Netflix. Otherwise all of it would drop if it was just done by Netflix.

It’s a great doco so far.

I more or less lost interest in basketball after the 97/98 season, but this doco has got me reading about it again, watching older games and other basketball documentaries.

I’m not even a Bulls fan, it was Lakers for me. But I never got on board the Kobe era with Phil Jackson as coach. Just too many other things were happening in my life that made sports not really important. Sort of like how COVID-19 showed all the sports stars that they are not really an important service when it comes to life and death.

So how much power did Jordan have?

Well, when ESPN was given the all clear to have unprecedented access to the Chicago Bulls during the 97/98 season, the contract stipulated that the ESPN footage could only be used/released if Michael Jordan approved it. Well its time now for Jordan to release it and ensure that his legacy remains, in the face of new challengers (these challengers have been made up by the media) like Steph Curry and LeBron James.

It’s been over 22 years and the footage is that clear, it looks like it was filmed today. It feels like those Amazon “All Or Nothing” documentaries.

And there is no doubt that the era of Jordan, Pippen, Rodman (who came a bit later on) and coach Jackson is a massive era. Plus there is no doubt that they all ended up hating Jerry Krause.

A lot of the things in the documentary, show how the team banded together in spite of Krause. If they played a team who had a player that Krause liked, then they would set the record straight and show Krause that he was wrong. Jordan and Pippen even took their anti-Krause stance to the USA Dream Team match against Croatia in the Olympics.

Toni Kukoc was already signed with the Bulls but was sent on loan and playing in the European Leagues. Pippen owned him in that first match, but as Jordan said, to Kukoc’s credit he showed what a player he is in the final. Even though Croatia lost. Of course, we all know that Kukoc eventually joined the Bulls and played a part in the three-peat.

Krause always spoke about how great the organisation is. Because he also wanted to be noticed for the backroom work he did. But the players are its bread and butter. The players are the organisations best assets. If the players are not there and doing what needs to be done on the court, then the organisation has nothing. You don’t see a retired Krause jersey hanging above centre court.

What happened after Jackson, Pippen, Jordan and Rodman left the Bulls?

Sweet FA.

If the organisation that Krause built was so great, why didn’t it keep winning titles or get back to winning titles after a decade in the wilderness, like the Lakers did in the 2000’s under the tutelage of Jackson, and Kobe (being mentored by Jordan).

Krause forgot who were the stars. It was the players. They are the assets. They brought people in to the venue and they sold the merchandise. Pippen won six titles and the Bulls wouldn’t up his salary. They kept him to a contract he made years ago before they even won their first title. When the Bulls won their fifth title, Pippen was listed at 122 on the salaries received list. Players who played in non-championship teams earned more than Pippen. Rookies even earned more than Pippen.

Seriously that is how Krause treated his assets.

The record labels did the same disservice to their best assets, the artists.

Of course if you got a recording contract back in the day and got to make an album that did commercially well, then you are thankful, but the power was always on the label side.

The deck was stacked against the artist from breaking even. The artist still lived at their parents’ house while the label heads and A&R reps flew private and had executive offices in high rises and lived in penthouses.

Desmond Child went to Richie Sambora’s parents house to write with the band. Even though they had two Gold albums on the board, the band Bon Jovi had a million plus debt to the label.

But Krause wanted to prove that he is the “man” and that the “organization” is brilliant, and in his vanity, he is also the reason why the Bulls never achieved anything post Jordan.

And Jordan never went back. He mentored Kobe at the Lakers instead and is owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Whereas if you look at others, Magic and Larry Bird they still had some involvement with the teams they played their careers with.

And what a great title, “The Last Dance”. Phil Jackson came up with it, as he had a policy of giving each season a title before it commenced.

Because Jackson was told he was on the outer and to him it was “The Last Dance”.

Music, My Stories, Stupidity

Is Having Mike Portnoy in your band a good thing or a bad thing these days?

Mike Portnoy is a hard worker. There is no doubt about that. However, the question needs to be asked. With so many projects running, where is the quality control?

Of course, I know that quality is in the eye of the beholder and since Portnoy is just a drummer, the quality is in the music.

Music comes from the guitarists/keyboardists he chooses to work with. The guitar player in the band has the same value as a Number 1 draft pick for a losing team. You build a championship winning team around a great guitar player.

In Dream Theater, Mike Portnoy had the Michael Jordan of guitar players in John Petrucci. When Portnoy left the DT team, he committed career suicide in my view.

In Adrenaline Mob, he had the wild card roughie, Mike Orlando, who in my view is getting really close to the greatness of Iommi and I seriously believe this band is capable of producing a classic album like Heaven and Hell from Black Sabbath.

In Transatlantic he has a minor league player in Roine Stolt on guitar and another minor league/division two songwriter in Neal Morse. (Anyone remember Morse, Portnoy, George project, it was a deadest joke). If you want to hear quality spread thin, listen to Neal’s solo albums.

In Flying Colors he has the veteran superstar in Steve Morse, who has done his victory lap already and is now also spreading himself too far and too thin with Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Flying Colors and the Steve Morse band.

And that brings us to The Winery Dogs. For this project to be special, it needs to bring something different to the table, so that it stands out amongst the noise.

Richie Kotzen is a good guitar player, however there is nothing special about him. If I keep with the sporting analogies, this player wouldn’t win any trophies for you. He wouldn’t be a bad player to have on your team, but he is not the champion that you need. As a draft pick he would be way down the order.

When Kotzen came out with his first self-titled solo album in 1989 and with Fever Dream in 1990, he was just another shredder on the Shrapnel label. I have both of those albums and I can’t really remember much from them. I even purchased the Mr Big album he played on after Paul Gilbert left and that was also forgettable.

Just like Hard Rock and Glam Rock killed itself by cloning itself over and over again, the same thing happened to the Shred Movement.

Kotzen was a clone of the shred heroes that came before him like Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Paul Gilbert and Jason Becker (who also produced Kotzen’s first album).

There was also a Jimi Hendrix/Stevie Ray Vaughan blues influence, however that part of his playing didn’t really come out until he joined Poison. Maybe he was told to conform to the shred sweep picking style. The point. He is a clone of the shred era. He got his deal, because he could shred. Yes, he had talent. Yes, he practiced. Does he have the songs? No.

Even in his vocal delivery he clones Chris Cornell. There is nothing different or special about what he does and he is the centrepiece of the band as the guitarist and vocalist.

The point I am making is that there is no signature sound from Kotzen and since he is the frontman and the main songwriter, it is a troubling fact.

Which brings me to Mike Portnoy. Dream Theater success is because of the music. The musical instruments in the band are the guitars, keys and bass. Drums are a percussive instrument. If Mike Portnoy had never met John Petrucci, he would be just another talented drummer trying to make it.

Is Portnoy a great songwriter? Does he have the ability to write a great song on his own? My answer is NO.

Billy Sheehan is the bassist, and as good as he is, all good bassists need great guitar players. With Talas, Sheehan was the man, and that band was a product of its time, where it was cool to be a different and a leader and that is what Billy Sheehan was, a leader. However that band never really had success.

Then he found commercial success with two supergroups. First with David Lee Roth and then with Mr Big. In both of those bands, he had two monsters on the guitar. With David Lee Roth, he had Steve Vai (at one stage Yngwie Malmsteen was considered for the DLR slot) and with Mr Big, he had Paul Gilbert.

However is Billy Sheehan a great songwriter? Does he have the ability to great write a song on his own?

In DLR’s band, he had one song writing credit in Shy Boy, which is from his Talas’s days. In Mr Big, his name is over a lot of songs, and they are okay songs, however the main hit songs (which gave Billy Sheehan a career) are not written by him.

James Hetfield once said that he is anti-side projects for a very good reason. It dilutes the quality of the main product.

And in the end it is quality that the people want. That is the reality.