Best Songwriter 2014 | Mike Condello | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix

When Bill "Wallace" Thompson, creator and co-star of Arizona's favorite madcap children's program The Wallace and Ladmo Show, passed away in July 2014, Facebook and Twitter feeds across the city were flooded with a familiar tune, "Ho Ho Ha Ha Hee Hee Ha Ha," the show's theme. It was penned by Mike Condello, who was responsible for much of the show's iconic music. Under Condello's watchful eye from 1962 to 1972, the show incorporated Beatles spoofs by fictional acts like Hubb Kapp and the Wheels and Commodore Condello's Salt River Navy Band, alongside Condello originals. Condello was busy with his own songs, too. His 1968 album Phase 1 features Phoenix's finest psychedelic pop moments, melding fuzzy guitars to Condello's sighing schoolboy vocals. The album was re-issued by the folks at hip label Sundazed this year, offering a chance for fans to own a shining nugget of Sonoran pop. Like Thompson and Ladimir "Ladmo" Kwiatkowski (who passed away in 1994), Condello left too soon. The songwriter lost a long battle with severe depression in 1995. Though a treasure unknown by many outside a circle of record collectors and psychedelic enthusiasts, Condello's songs still ring in the heads of Phoenix children of all ages.  

As confusing as KWSS' existence is (yes, it's independent and nonprofit, despite the underwriting announcements that occasionally sound like actual commercials, the entirely mainstream style of station identification, and the fact that the lefty news programs associated with these types of stations air on KWSS at ungodly hours on weekdays), it's the only radio show we'll even consider listening to in the morning. That's because Beef Vegan, host of The Morning Infidelity, which runs from 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, clearly cares about his community, and he frequently gives airtime to local musicians, both on recorded tracks and via live on-air performances. He strikes a perfect balance between bemused guide and flashy showman as he discusses the happenings of the world, both locally and elsewhere. Add the great playlists he curates during his show and you get a great idea why The Morning Infidelity is the best option on Phoenix radio in the morning.

KWSS stepped up in a big way this year, sponsoring the star-studded Summer Ends festival at Tempe Town Lake, where rising locals Black Carl, The Senators, Playboy Manbaby, and Mouse Powell headlined the KWSS Stage alongside mainstage acts like the Replacements, Foster the People, and Switchfoot. The station's local-centric program, especially morning crew TMI, helped break Phoenix act Kongos locally, before the family band broke into the Top 40. Programs like TMI, Erratic Radio!, and Danny Zelisko's Presents are some of the most spontaneous and exciting in the Valley, and the station's commitment to new acts as well as established alt icons make it a rarity not just in Phoenix, but nationally.

KCDX recently started boasting that it's "like pirate radio, minus the pirates," and the catchphrase is utterly accurate. It's aural anarchy on the station, which broadcasts across most of the Valley. You're as likely to hear a noisy Velvet Underground tune as you are prog rock from 10cc. There are no DJs to clue you in on what's what, but the station updates its website in real time, a handy trick when it's spinning a song by underground Texas psych bands like Bubble Puppy or British folk rockers Fairport Convention. Sometimes the station airs silence for hours — making it all the more mysterious when the tunes come roaring back to life. No one does freeform AOR like KCDX — and while other classic rock stations do a good job with the standard formula, it's awesome to hear the rulebook thrown out the window while cruising across the desert.

There's no one playing sexier jams than this locally owned station, which features programs like the syndicated Art Laboe Show, the sensual Quiet Storm, and a block of programming by the Manic Hispanic, whose knowledge and selection runs deep, incorporating lowrider oldies from doo-wop acts and smooth electro from Zapp and Roger. The vibe is mellow but hardly boring, and Mega 104.3 takes it to the streets, too, hosting events at clubs like Casablanca Lounge.

More than just a legacy hip-hop station playing classics, the Beat includes select new songs, afternoons with Ramses Ja, and edgy programming featuring Pokafase, Mattlocks, Roknowledge, DJ Element, and Madd Rich. On-air mixing and a solid catalog of hip-hop classics from Jay Z, Notorious BIG, and even left field acts like Digable Planets, and new cuts by Schoolboy Q and Rick Ross. The Beat manages the difficult task of incorporating new songs into a playlist of legends, showing off a commitment to furthering hip-hop's cultural legacy while staying relevant to a new crop of fans.

During the day, KJZZ broadcasts NPR content and exclusive news and culture reporting about Phoenix, but at night, the controls are handed over to jazz DJ Blaise Lantana. On Saturday night, the station broadcasts American Routes out of New Orleans, one of the best roots programs in the country. On Sunday night, the station devotes five hours to Those Lowdown Blues, blues musician and club owner Bob Corritore's 30-years-running blues program, which features the disc jockey spinning dirty Delta blues, gritty R&B, and gospel. Last year, the station took its commitment to the blues even further, launching a 24-hours-a-day online component, Jazz Phoenix, playing a stream classic jazz for HD listeners. From hard bop to smooth progressive tunes, KJZZ remains the standard for jazz and blues in the Valley.

Dan Hull deals in yarn-spinning. The master storyteller is arguably the architect of downtown Phoenix's storytelling scene. And he has told tales across the country — including at The Moth in New York. Lucky for Valley dwellers, Hull's easy to find around town. He hosts the aptly named Yarnball, a recurring open mic night at literary hotspot Lawn Gnome, and organizes Storyline, a series at Space 55 in which he occasionally takes the stage. Each event series is a platform for both established and emerging storytellers. Further bolstering Phoenix's storytelling scene, Hull occasionally hosts workshops for start-up raconteurs. And we've gotta give him snaps for that. 

The two Valley radio stations for popular country music have some pretty short-term memories. That is, you're not likely to hear music that's more than a few years old. That's certainly not the case on KSWG, "Arizona's Real Country," where Johnny Cash and even Brooks & Dunn make the station's list of most-played songs. The station still mixes in modern country hits from the likes of Luke Bryan or the Zac Brown Band, but it probably is the only local radio station that will give you the opportunity to belt out Alan Jackson's "Chasin' That Neon Rainbow" in the middle of the afternoon — and don't pretend you still don't remember that words.

It would have been enough for many in the crowd just to see a real live Beatle, but Paul McCartney is a showman and a gentleman, and at 72, he worked hard to please the crowd at his August show in Phoenix. The fans sat politely and quietly for a few new songs, but they were obviously there to hear old hits, and McCartney delivered. Both Beatles and Wings fans left pleased as the songs — and accompanying anecdotes and touching moments — rolled out. From "8 Days a Week" to the end of "Abbey Road," McCartney and his band played on. Highlights included "Maybe I'm Amazed" — dedicated to Linda — and "Live and Let Die," which was accompanied by some incredible fireworks. He told the story behind "Blackbird," played "Something" on the ukulele and actually married a couple from the audience onstage — with the caveat that he's not really ordained to do it. Either way, it was a night to remember, and not just for the newlyweds.

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