This Saturday, WXPN’s Dan Reed is amping up his Highs in the 70s spotlight for its annual Prog Rock Marathon. Along with local prog expert Biff Kennedy, Reed will explore the many avenues of progressive rock, from Crack the Sky to Rush and Emerson Lake and Palmer in an expansive 12-hour special, from 1 p.m. until 1 a.m. Known fantastical art, epic arrangements and long, long songs (Reed notes that the first selection in the playlist is a full 25 minutes), prog is a genre filled with mystique. I swapped e-mails with Kennedy to get the insider’s scoop.
The Key: What draws you to prog rock and keeps you excited about it?
Biff Kennedy: I have been a fan since the late 60’s when i first heard bands like Procol Harum, King Crimson, Genesis, Traffic, Spirit and others who were fusing classical and jazz and trad folk themes and arrangements with rock and roll instrumentation. I like the majesty of the arrangements, the power of the band when everyone is locked in, the desire to take chances and work outside the pop song structure. I guess it reminds me a little of being in church as a kid, and hearing those swirling, swelling keyboards in the balcony.
TK: The running prog joke is about how long the songs are. Why is the length / expansiveness important?
BK: Prog is a players’ format, as is the jamband scene today. The appreciation is for the performance skills of the musicians who get to stretch out and extend a musical theme or melody beyond the boundaries of the three minute pop format. When artists like Terry Riley and Soft Machine released albums and double albums, four sides of vinyl with only one 18-22 minute song on each side, I think it made the statement that “we do this because we can.” Labels like Columbia, Deram, Charisma, Island took chances on artists who had a slightly different set of motivations. Continue reading →