Lesson the Load

Mighty Max Weinberg strafes an old high school. Now that's class.

Weinberg and his wife have a five-year-old daughter, Ali, and a nineteen-month-old son, Jay. The lecture gig was spawned when a booking agency got hold of Weinberg's 1984 book, The Big Beat, and asked if he'd be interested in speaking to audiences around the nation. It was a perfect opportunity because he could take his budding family along, he could hype Amnesty International, and he could, for a change, get out from behind the drums and meet his fans up close.

None of that had much to do with the Mighty one's recent visit to Miami Beach Senior High School. After the Amnesty International tour, Weinberg returned to Seton Hall, which he'd left in 1974 to do the E Street shuffle. He took a degree in January of 1990 and applied to law schools. "It was a dream of mine to go to law school," he explains. "I got accepted to several, including Georgetown, and I went to one for about a month. It was a big mistake. It took me completely away from my family. It was a good idea at the wrong time in my life."

The curve of life led him another way, and Weinberg now heads Hard Ticket Entertainment, a subsidiary label designed to specialize in jazz and classical releases. With distribution by the giant BMG, it is a pursuit with almost unlimited potential. "It's not like I'm selling records out of the trunk of my car or anything," Weinberg says. "I'm very happy doing what I'm doing now."

Hard Ticket's first project is Killer Joe's Scene of the Crime, essentially Weinberg's first solo album. For it, Mighty Max teamed with long-time friend Joe Delia, blues shouter Jimmy Vivino, and guests Little Steven, Jon Bon Jovi, Branford Marsalis, Southside Johnny, Phoebe Snow, Benmont Tench, the Beach Boys, Haywood Gregory, Tico Torres, and the Orchestra of St. Luke's. Weinberg constantly refers to Killer Joe as "Big Chill, big band," but that hardly does justice to what is a recording remarkable on several levels.

Despite a number of cover tunes and a fully retro approach, Scene is one of the freshest records out right now. The rough vigor is due to the fact that Max and his gang recorded the dozen cuts in three days using real musical instruments and real live human musicians. The result is all groove and no bullshit, the sort of rollicking good-time-for-all lost in these days of calculated music. There are a thousand elements at work, from the deep soul of Springsteen's "Club Soul City" to the blitzy giggle of "Peter Gunn '91," which lights a fire under Henry Mancini's pulsing instrumental from the old TV show. Another highlight is Springsteen's gorgeous nonvocal "Summer on Signal Hill," originally recorded by Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers on the B-side of their single, "Woman's Got the Power." (Profits from that track are earmarked for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters charity.) Jump blues, big band swing, good ol' rock, and much more come together beautifully in an album whose market is as difficult to pinpoint as the music is to categorize. It'll never move as many units as, say, Human Touch, but that doesn't lessen its merit.

And that these are high school students blowing the roof off the place doesn't lessen the impact of the jam session. After concluding his lecture, Weinberg has set up a drum kit in the middle of the Miami Beach High Rock Ensemble rehearsal hall/classroom and invited the students to play a couple of songs with him. What follows is a most amazing mini-concert.

The magical, motivational afternoon is partially attributable to, of all things, MTV. Weinberg was scheduled to provide his seminar to the staff of the Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando on April 10. "I was watching MTV and I saw a story about Doug [Burris, the Rock Ensemble's instructor]. I was floored. I wrote down his name and called him up out of the blue. I said, `I think it's fantastic what you're doing. How about if I stop by, let the kids ask me a few questions, give them some inspiration?'" After Burris was convinced that the call wasn't a prank, he said sure. "I'm not getting paid for it or anything," Weinberg says. "He's doing a good thing and I wanted to help out. I can give these students a practical view of what it's like having gone from Point A to Point Z, I'm fortunate to be in a position to give them some insight. I was moved by the program, it's as simple as that."

The program began twenty years ago. Burris had been a band director in Highland Falls, New York, and took his master's degree at the University of Miami. "I wanted to be a rock star," Burris says. "My mom said go to college. She said, `I'll pay for the first semester,' which I knew she couldn't, but I went, to FSU. One of my major accomplishments was getting through that." A year or two before Dr. Solomon Lichter hired him to teach guitar at Miami Beach High, Burris was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis. He watched Weinberg's lecture the other day from a wheelchair.

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