Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sinking & Falling: Fall Back Down



Rancid: Fall Back Down
[purchase]

Back in 2003, my then 13 year old son was in a punk phase, which I kind of liked. He wanted to go see Rancid, the great ska-punk band that was playing at Roseland in midtown Manhattan. Not surprisingly, I agreed to take him. At the time, I was vaguely aware of Rancid, probably from hearing their 1995 song “Ruby Soho,” and maybe a couple of others. The band's early days came at a time when I wasn't listening to as much punk rock as I had when I was in college.  Although there are some who have criticized the band for being derivative, particularly of The Clash, I think that criticism was misplaced (although the Clash influence is unmistakable). There is very little in music, particularly rock music, that doesn’t build on the work of prior artists, and to me, at least, Rancid’s ability to write anthemic, catchy songs, mostly but not exclusively with a ska and punk base, while addressing social and political issues big and small make them special.

And, more to the point, they put on a great show. That night, we saw two opening acts, psychobilly band Tiger Army, which I enjoyed greatly (and who I enjoyed again the following summer at Warped Tour), and hardcore band Roger Miret and The Disasters, fronted by the former Agnostic Front singer, which I did not like. But Rancid put on a great show, and we were dancing (and my son was moshing) the whole time. The Internet doesn’t seem to have a setlist for that show, but considering that it was a single from the band’s then-current album, Indestructible, I’m pretty sure that that they played “Fall Back Down.”  I couldn't find any video from that show--in 2003, not everyone had video cameras in their pockets--but here's a video of them playing the song live, a few months earlier, which gives a sense of how good Rancid is live.

“Fall Back Down” is one of those anthemic songs that the band is so good at. Written in response to the divorce of singer/guitarist Tim Armstrong from The Distillers’ Brody Dalle, Armstrong and co-writer, singer/guitarist Lars Fredricksen, crafted a tribute to the power of friendship in the face of adversity. It peaked at number 13 on the US Modern Rock charts, and in addition to being somewhat more pop than punk, the video for the song contained appearances by a member of Good Charlotte and Kelly Osborne, which led to complaints that the band had “sold out.” The song was also used in a bunch of video games, and even as the theme to a reality show.

This theme was inspired by the effect that the racist-in-chief’s recent racist comments have had on the reputation of the United States, so this song, about friendship and support, doesn’t completely fit. And yet, if you cut out a few lines from the lyrics that directly reference the divorce, it actually kind of works pretty well, as both a reflection on the almost exactly one year since inauguration day (and its tiny crowd), and as a recognition of how we can, with our friends, make it through:

You see it's our style to keep it true 
I've had a bad year, a lot to go through 
I've been knocked out, beat down, black and blue
*                             *                                * 
If I fall back down, you're gonna help me back up again 
If I fall back down, you're gonna be my friend 

The Roseland Ballroom, where I saw that concert, has been knocked down, and a 62-story, 426-unit mixed-use tower is rising on the site.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sinking & Falling: When You’re Falling

Afrocelt Sound System with Peter Gabriel: When You’re Falling

[purchase]

The easy way to address our new theme would be with songs about falling in love. There is nothing wrong with that approach, but I am more interested in what else falling can refer to. In When You’re Falling, the falling is quite literal, especially in the notorious official video. I have used a live version instead for two reasons. First, the sound quality is better, allowing you to really hear all of the moving parts of a great song and band. And second, some people may react to the official video in exactly the way the record label feared at the time, and that would be an unfair distraction from a fine song. Let me explain.

On the commercial strength of Sledgehammer in particular and the album So in general, his label Virgin let Peter Gabriel start his own vanity label. Others, like Prince with Paisley Park, would use such labels for their releases and those of friends. Gabriel, however, launched Real World as a home for contemporary world music, as opposed to the more traditional forms. Afrocelt Sound System caught his ear with their amazing fusion of Irish and African music. It sounds unlikely until you hear it, but Irish traditional music has a percussiveness that the band uses as a bridge to the music of another world, and the result is infectious and very danceable. The band had released two albums of instrumentals that are well worth seeking out, before deciding in 2001 to broaden their appeal by working with guest vocalists. Gabriel was an obvious choice. When You’re Falling sounds like Gabriel must have written it, but in fact his only role was singing it.

I mentioned the official video, which I called notorious. It depicts a man falling out of the sky, into a city that appears to be New York. He falls through the sidewalk and through the earth itself, and out the other side into space. Along the way, he is observed by three separate characters played by Peter Gabriel. One of these characters is an airline pilot. The video came out briefly in the late summer of 2001. Of course, then 9/11 happened, and the label pulled the video for fear that people would associate it with the tragedy. Hence the notoriety I mentioned. For Afrocelt Sound System, this meant that the wider fame and popularity they were seeking eluded them. They deserved better.

IN MEMORIAM: Chuck Berry



Purchase The Great 28 

A lot of people claim to have invented rock 'n roll.

But, that's a prodigious bit of boasting, to say you invented the genre, when the very mythology of the origin is so varied, so colorful, so joyously populated by gods and heroes.  So, where was rock 'n roll made, and where and what from?

To be sure their are ethnographic explanations and tracing the origins of the sound make for great myth-making and listening.

But, the argument pertaining to its exact origin remains as varied as the source materials.

No amount of explication or analysis or research can answer the question and assign a singular forefather to the origins of rock. No Cronus, just many, many Titans. And the myths are there for you to pick and choose from, but in reality, the birth of rock 'n roll is a singularly personal thing. What we lack in historical consensus, we make up for in in the purely individual.  It's about a gut feeling, a deep vibe, a startling, life-altering chord change inside you that get not so much strummed as lit up and electrified and sent shivers all up and down your spine. Rock 'n roll was invented when you heard your first truly, foot shuffling, head bobbing, heart throbbing, "pants dropping" (Springsteen), earth shaking, heart attack making, soul quaking song.

So, who to believe?

I believe Little Richard when he said "The blues had an illegitimate baby and we named it rock 'n roll."

I believe Alan Freed was spot on when he adopted an African-American slang phrase for having sex and used it to describe the new sound that he was spinning--a sound that mixed rhythm, blues and something swinging and new. Freed broke racial barriers by playing black artists on the mainstream airwaves and putting those same bands on stages together in racially mixed concerts.

I believe Jack Newfield, who said in a 2004 article from the New York Sun that rock 'n roll was a "Black and White alloy" of many, many great players, from Ike Turner to Jerry Lee Lewis.

I believe Elvis Presley, who was humble about his part in rock's invention and insisted that he simply took his influences and added something of his own and what came out was what he loved. I believe he truly was the King

Rock 'n roll has its origins, to be sure--historic, cultural, geographical. And it has its legends. Like any great monolith of our dreaming that holds sway in our fascinated imagining should--Rome, the Vikings, the Great Wall of China--the great ideas and events are bigger than even their own definition.

But I think the real inventor of rock 'n roll resides in the listener's own heart. No amount of explication or analysis or research can answer the question and assign a forefather to the origins of rock. It's about a gut feeling, a deep vibe, a starting, life-altering chord change inside you that is not so much strummed as lit up and electrified, sending shivers all up and down your spine.

For me, it was Chuck Berry.

Blistering guitar licks, snazzy suits, a ridiculously athletic and unselfconscious strut--called the duckwalk--that he employed on stage.

Chuck Berry.

He made me want to pick up a guitar.

I could never master his leads when I played guitar, but I tried hard to learn "Johnny B. Good". His car crusing a road rhythms were easier for me, and I still love that sound. When a Chuck Berry song comes up on shuffle, I inevitably get the same rushing excitement that I did when I first heard that ripping, siren call sound of his Gibson hollow-body.

I heard that sound, and I thought, that is rock 'n roll. That is where it comes from.

The heart of rock n roll is an embodiment of spirit--something wild inside you that might be unattainable. It is all gut, a stirring fire that burns from your inner-self all the way out. What it makes you feel is what truly defines it. That's a wonderful little covenant to enter--if you don't love music, don't feel the almost indescribable thrum down in the part of your soul that speaks most closely with the gods--it won't matter to you who invented rock 'n roll.

Extracurricular reading:
Who Really Invented Rock 'n Roll?, from the New York Sun

Saturday, January 13, 2018

In Memoriam: Greg Kihn Band's Steve Wright




purchase [greg kihn band rekihndled]


weheartmusic has one of the most extensive lists of musicians who died in ...whatever year. The site goes back a ways and it's worth a visit- very eclectic -music styles all over the place/great resource [I feel like Mr Trump saying so, but this one is not fake news]. Nearly any musician who has made a name of some sort ends up here. Granted, no one could keep up with the list of all musicians, but the site does a commendable job - ranging across the globe. Visiting the site,  you get the impression that any musician tagged by some contributor or other gets researched and listed: if they missed someone, let them know and they'll make amends.

At a rough estimate, the site has more than 30 x 12 entries for (2017 =571). That offers up too many choices for the current theme. Their compilation for 2016 actually had a few more: 603 to 571.
One of their entries for December 2017 is Charles (Charlie) Manson, who apparently aimed for immortality via the rock-star path, but then veered off to other avenues of (in)famy. Not chosen for SMM beyond curious mention.


Little Peep? I acknowledge his impact. Tom Petty? I actually performed his <YouGotLucky> this fall, totally by chance before I heard of his death. Fats Domino? Always in our memory. But the weheartmusic site includes music related names you may know but had not heard had died this year:
⦁    Nat Hentoff (Village Voice [and more] -journalist)
⦁    Anita Pallenberg (Rolling Stones muse [and more])
⦁    J Geils (founder - J Geils Band)
⦁    James Cotton (seminal mouth-harp blues player)
⦁    Tom Edwards (of Adam Ant - edited thanks to Geomel)
⦁    and that's just a few cursory personal interest-related names.

Above, a random choice from their 2017 list - RIP bassist Steve Wright from the Greg Kihn Band.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

IN MEMORIAM: GRANT HART




I hate singers who spend most of their songs whisper-singing. They either have a crap voice, haven’t figured out who they are or have nothing at all to say. These days? Cigarettes and Sex is a culprit. I don’t know where this trend came from and I’m sure it’s defended as a means of making the vocals just another instrument. Yuck.

Grant Hart hurled his heart into the untrammeled blaze of Husker Du’s music. Whereas band mate Bob Mould sang like a pissed off, hung over prisoner smashing his coffee cup against the bars, Grant Hart was a dude in a straight jacket in a white room desperate to be heard. He was raw, melodic and heart breaking. Vulnerability slammed around the walls of just about every song Hart sang. Check out “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill”, “Keep Hanging on”, “Don’t Want To Know If You’re Lonely” or “The Last Days of Pompeii” from his work with Nova Mob.

Hart met Bob Mould while working at Cheapo Records in St. Paul, about 15 years before I moved to the Twin Cities. (Yeah, a great band was formed by guys hanging out and working at a record store. That won’t happen again, will it?) I usually arrive late on the scene. I was in my early teens and too young and scared to drive when Big Black and Naked Raygun were regular playing in Milwaukee. I have a friend who saw Husker Du twice though and she said that sonically it felt like she was in a crappy, open-top car with her hair blowing back and her heart splitting thanks to the band's sheer volume and thanks to their unapologetic vulnerability driving every song.

I treasure vulnerability. Part of adulthood is learning how to hide your weaknesses or worse, how to pick up and store away others’ dirty mistakes when they make the mistake of opening up to you. The urgency of Grant Hart and Husker Du is still there when I listen. He opens up his jacket, points at his heart and lets you take a shot.

The reason for their demise was often attributed to Hart’s abuse of drugs and Mould and Hart's infighting. According to a Rolling Stone article written by Daniel Kreps in September of 2017, Husker Du broke up because Mould told Hart that he would never let a Husker Du record have equal songs Mould and Hart and thus the album Warehouse: Songs and Stories had 11 Mould songs and 9 Hart songs. Yuck number 2.

Husker Du never reunited. Hart died due to liver cancer.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

IN MEMORIAM: CHRIS CORNELL




In 1991, when Axel Rose was asked about some of his favorite new bands, he said “The singer of Soundgarden has a beautiful voice.” I had figured Rose to be a tasteless idiot whose well-publicized love of the Sex Pistols I had dismissed as naive and more about a juvenile liking of the name than the music. At the same time, his comment had also given me a weird feeling of hope.

Two years later I was twenty years old and in Prague on a spring break after studying in a small city in southern Germany. Room and board inside somebody’s home cost about 9 dollars a day. Three things are especially vivid from the week I walked around Prague in my ripped jeans, flannel and Joy Division shirt: two raggedy U.S. street performers who recycled 6-8 songs all day, including VU’s “I’m Waiting for My Man” and Pete Seeger’s “Which Side are You On?”; two cleanly dressed prostitutes parading around the main square (I held a competition with myself to see how long I could ogle before getting embarrassed and looking away); and a ticket table for Guns and Roses with special guests Faith No More and Soundgarden. 14 dollars a piece.


Rose had backed up his comments and had brought both bands on a year-long tour. Who knows if the attention he had given to Soundgarden had anything to do with Seattle’s ascendancy and the brief improvement of commercial radio in the early to mid 90s? After three days of indecisiveness, I spent the money and watched the gig in what was then the world’s largest stadium. There were no :assigned seats. They opened the gates and you ran. I made it to the third row and had to pee by the middle of FNM’s set.


Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell’s first words when he came on stage in Prague were nothing creative or insightful, something like, “Man, anyone want to play football?”  Then Soundgarden followed with a stunning set that managed within its short 40-minutes to both dig deep and climb to an epic peak that humbled G n R, who was good in their own right but nowhere near as enthralling as Soundgarden.


Cornell was an entrancing figure on stage: long brown curly hair, jade green eyes, olive skin, hair throwing around in the wind. Sexy as hell. He was wearing a long-sleeve black shirt, unbuttoned, showing off some nice abs for a guy on a year-long tour. And that voice, that ‘beautiful voice’ as Rose had called it. Growling and bluesy, Cornell’s voice has always made me think of what it would sound like if the devil came above, winked and sluiced up the world with some songs he’d been working on with a few of his friends down below.



Look at recent videos of Soundgarden and Cornell hardly looks any different. The music hasn’t lost its dark, romantic growl either. If you want to step back into the Soundgarden catalogue, start with Badmotorfinger. The swirling, frightening “Jesus Christ Pose”, the dark, Sabbath-like ooze of “Slaves and Bulldozers” and the psychedelic, yet fragile “Room a Thousand Years Wide” showcase a band growing so confident in itself: heavy and sexy, just slightly vulnerable and musically better than anything else in the grunge scene.


Cornell died under peculiar circumstances after a show in Detroit, Michigan on May 8, 2017.

Monday, January 8, 2018

In Memoriam: Dead Guitarists


No, this isn’t an article about Jerry Garcia (who died in 1995) or Bob Weir (still very much alive).

As always, we find ourselves looking back on the past year, marveling sadly at the losses the music world has suffered. And as is my habit, I try to highlight some of the lesser known people who died, because the more famous have been lauded at length elsewhere. In fact, the first person I considered writing about, Maggie Roche, was the subject of an excellent piece in The New York Times Magazine, and I’m not going to try to compete with that—so read it at the link.

Instead, I decided to write about a few of the many guitarists that passed away in 2017, in many genres (and thanks to KKafa for writing so well about Larry Coryell, and Darius for writing about Walter Becker, so I don’t have to). There should probably be some sort of clever organizing principle, but I can’t think of one, so I’ll do it in order of the date they died:

Tommy Allsup: Rarely does a coin toss turn out to be a matter of life and death, but for Tommy Allsup, losing one to Ritchie Valens on a cold Iowa night in February, 1959 allowed him to escape the fate of Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper (and pilot Roger Peterson). But it would be wrong to focus only on Allsup’s luck—he was a fine musician, who was touring with Holly and went on to a long career as a musician, songwriter and producer. In addition to Holly, Allsup worked with Willie Nelson, Leon Russell, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Asleep at the Wheel, George Jones, Don McLean, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings (also left off the plane in Iowa that night), Earl Scruggs, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dwight Yoakum, and the Everly Brothers, among others. Admittedly, despite that long resume, it appears that pretty much everything ever written about Allsup includes a reference to the coin toss. You can hear him tell the story here. And here he is telling more stories about Holly, before playing “It’s So Easy:”




Allan Holdsworth: Holdsworth is probably the best known of the guitarists in this article, and in some circles, he is considered to be one of the most influential guitarists of all time. I’ve referred to him before, most recently in a piece about a Gong song, one of the many bands that he contributed to over the years. Here’s what I wrote then:

If you don’t know who Allan Holdsworth was (he passed away earlier this year), find his music on the Internet. Days before his death, a 12 CD box set of his solo albums from 1982-2003, entitled The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever, was released. The title was taken from a proclamation on the cover of an issue of Guitar Player in 2008, and it isn’t an overstatement. That’s not to say that there aren’t other guitarists who changed the way guitar was played, but he’s certainly one of them. He was the favorite guitarist of Eddie van Halen; Tom Morello and Frank Zappa, among others, have cited him as an influence. 

I really lack the vocabulary to explain why Holdsworth is also one of my favorite, if not my favorite, guitarist, so here’s a quote from Robben Ford, not a bad player in his own right: "I think Allan Holdsworth is the John Coltrane of the guitar. I don't think anyone can do as much with the guitar as Allan Holdsworth can." Apparently, he developed his style attempting to make the guitar sound more like a saxophone.

I may have first encountered Holdsworth from his Gong performances, or it might have been with his incredible playing in Bill Bruford’s band. And from there, I’ve listened to his solo work, his one great album with U.K., and his other recordings, with Tony Williams, Jean-Luc Ponty, Soft Machine and others. I saw him once, in the early 80s at the Bottom Line in NY, and it was a pretty incredible experience. Here he is playing with Bruford—the guitar solos kicks in at about 3:25, but don’t skip ahead—the band is too good:




Ray Phiri: Like Tommy Allsup, I suspect that most Americans, at least, are familiar with Ray Phiri for something that was really only a small part of his career. Phiri, a South African guitarist, singer, composer and arranger was featured on Paul Simon’s groundbreaking Graceland album, as well as its follow up, the more Brazilian-flavored Rhythm of The Saints. Ultimately, Phiri and Simon fell out over, as usual, issues relating to song credits and royalties. But in many ways, it was Phiri’s African/rock/blues fusion guitar, and his arrangements, that helped to turn Graceland into a huge hit for Simon. Nevertheless, Phiri’s career in South Africa, as the founder of The Cannibals and Stimela, and as an anti-apartheid activist is his most important legacy. That is why in 2011, the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, awarded Phiri the Order of Ikhamanga, a national honor, citing “the successful use of arts as an instrument of social transformation.”

Here’s Simon’s “Boy In The Bubble” from the 1991 concert in Central Park, which was later released as a live album. Phiri has a brief solo at about 2:55. Also visible on stage is Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini, who played and recorded with Simon for 30 years, and who died in December, 2017:




John Abercrombie: There was a time, when I was in college, and for a few years afterwards, that I listened to a lot of jazz on the ECM label, which I got into initially by listening to Pat Metheny, with whom Abercrombie shares some sensibilities. In addition to his own, fluid, understated virtuosity, Abercrombie regularly played with other great musicians, including drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Dave Holland (who together comprised the Gateway Trio), bassist George Mraz, and drummer Peter Erskine, among many others. I sort of lost track of Abercrombie in the 1980s and am not all that familiar with his later work. But I still occasionally enjoy some of those early ECM albums. Here’s a live recording of the Gateway Trio, which highlights Abercrombie’s playing, as well as Holland and DeJohnette (who is one of my favorite drummers):




Phil Miller: I’ve written numerous times about bands and musicians from the Canterbury Scene, of which Phil Miller was a significant part. Miller, who was a member of Matching Mole, Hatfield And The North, National Health (which I wrote about here), and other bands, was a fluid and nimble player, whose soloing was imaginative and avoided cliché, but was also a skilled accompanist. I never had the chance to see any of Miller’s bands live, but have long enjoyed his recordings, particularly with National Health. And, based on this video, I wish that I had seen them (you can skip the first minute of noise, if you must):


Bonus Dead Bass Player--John Wetton: The bass is a type of guitar, right? And Wetton is probably more famous that anyone above, having had some actual hits, with Asia in the 80s. Wetton died just shy of two months after Greg Lake, another bass player with a similar voice, who Wetton ultimately succeeded in King Crimson (Lake, interestingly, briefly replaced Wetton in Asia, years later). In addition to playing in King Crimson, on three of their best albums, Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red, Wetton was a member of U.K., which originally included Holdsworth (and Bruford and Eddie Jobson), as well as Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, and other bands, and collaborated with many musicians, including Phil Manzanera, Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, Steve Hackett, and Geoff Downes. Here’s a link where you can download an unreleased track of Wetton playing with Robert Fripp and Phil Collins, and here’s a video of a live U.K. performance with the original lineup, synced to the album track:

Sunday, January 7, 2018

IN MEMORIAM: JAKI LIEBEZEIT


It takes a lot for me to latch onto a drummer, my favourites to be counted on one hand, with Dave Mattacks, Charlie Watts and this guy being the thumb, the index and the f-you middle finger. The other two still live, so will have to await their turn, but Jaki was the essence of drumming, ever condensing the need and size of his kit always downward. So, how would you know him? Ultimately, I guess, through Can, german post-rockers of the 70s at a time when all else was per and the phrase was yet to be considered. More metronome than accompaniment, the beat is constant and incessant in its intricacy. In truth I was not a great fan of the band, then or even now, sometimes finding them overly cerebral for my simpler taste. But I could never shake off that rhythmic pulse.


I am no scholar of the language, but I find it intriguing that his name translates, ever so loosely, into "loves time". OK, very, very loosely, but enough for me to peddle such mythology. Arguably he invented the "Motorik" style of percussion, near mechanistic but never mechanical. No human prototype for a drum machine he, and I really began to latch on to him and this in the 1980's and 90's, when he became involved with british uber-dub bassist Jah Wobble, becoming a, possibly the, lynchpin of Wobble's live Invaders of the Heart, a solid counterpoint to the turmoil of bass notes.(Scratch possibly, substitute probably. Or definitely.) Catching the band live at Glastonbury in the early mid 90's. I recall standing entranced as he pounded his insistent patterns into a tiny kit, as the clip above evokes. With little recorded evidence, there is 'Live in Leuven', a remarkable live concert, sparse and spare, just the two of them, he and Wobble, with thin scrapes of guitar above, from Philip Jeck. Nothing on youtube. I am guessing Wobble became introduced to him via the extraordinary 'Snakecharmer' project, involving Wobble with Libezeit's Can colleague, Holger Czukay, and U2 guitarist, The Edge. Years ahead of it's time, an astonishing 47 years ago, here is another example of his groundbreaking work, a clear influence on dance music's european arm......


There is little more to add. He wasn't prodigious in output, working also with Brian Eno and little known singer Robert Coyne. At the time of his death, an unexpected event, he was set to reunite with Irmin Schmidt for a performance of Can music, entitled the Can Project. He was 78, dying of pneumonia.

My favourite quotation from him relates to his dismissal of hi-hat:
'It was invented for the Charleston. I don't play the Charlestown so much these days'.
Other examples of his modus operandi come in this interview from The Quietus.

Finally, and I don't usually enjoy such things, here he is in solo mode:


Can, Wobble, go!!

(Holger Czukay, Liebezeit's colleague and bassist in Can, also died during 2017.)

Friday, January 5, 2018

In Memoriam: Walter Becker

Steely Dan: Don’t Take Me Alive

[purchase]

By most reckonings, Walter Becker was one half of Steely Dan. The other half was Donald Fagen. I have written before how I consider Steely Dan at its peak to have been a trio, adding producer Gary Katz. However, it is Walter Becker whom we lost in 2017, at age 67. Donald Fagen is probably the man most people would think of when discussing Steely Dan. Fagen was the lead singer, so that made it his band in the minds of some. But you have only to compare the Steely Dan album The Royal Scam with Fagen’s solo album The Nightfly to understand Walter Becker’s importance. Both albums feature Fagen’s writing and Katz as producer. Both feature the shimmering pop-jazz surfaces that Steely Dan became known for. But, on his own, Fagen creates a set of songs that is sweetly nostalgic, although laced with sly irony at times. Don’t get me wrong, The Nightfly is a great album. But The Royal Scam has a bite that The Nightfly is missing. You can hear it in the razor sharp guitar solo Becker played on Don’t Take Me Alive, but this is also a lyric that Fagen would never have written. Becker gives us the story of a desperate man. A crowd urges, “Mad dog, surrender,” but it is the mad dog’s point of view that interested Becker. Becker gives us this man’s story, and makes him a human being without making him any less fearsome. It is this quality of desperation that interests Becker. You find it in the story arc of Kid Charlemagne, and from a woman’s point of view in Haitian Divorce. Even on the album Aja, in the song Josie, which seems to be more a Fagen kind of character portrait, the title character is “a raw flame, a live wire…”, descriptions that come from Becker’s need to work out his personal demons.

It was those personal demons that eventually broke up Steely Dan. Becker would descend into the depths of drug addiction, and he became unable to devote himself to the meticulous process of shaping the music that had also become a hallmark of Steely Dan. It would be thirteen years before Becker and Fagen would work together again, and twenty years before Steely Dan released a new studio album. There were musical high points in this later Steely Dan output, and in Becker’s solo albums, but they would never again capture the spark that made the classic run of Steely Dan so great. In part, this was because Becker had finally put some of his demons to rest. I am glad he lived long enough to experience a happy marriage. I am glad that he and Fagen were able to renew both their friendship and their musical partnership. But it the music of those tortured years that Becker will be best remembered for.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Top Posts of 2017

 

We interrupt the In Memoriam theme for our third annual listing of the most viewed posts of the prior year.

Through our (usually) two-week long themes, our international roster of writers address many different kinds of music, and bring different perspectives to their pieces. In our top 10, there are personal memories, political and social discussions, covers, remembrances of those who have passed, both famous and personally important, and even just posts about songs, music and musicians, both famous and obscure. This list includes discussions of folk, rock, prog, power pop and other genres.

So, in case you missed them, here are the most viewed posts from the last calendar year. But they are only a small sampling of what you will find in our archives, which we invite you to explore.  Also, we invite you to like us on Facebook, so that you won't miss anything.

This year, one piece, from the Middle theme, about Cody Jinks, was by far, the most viewed of 2017.  Here are the top 10:

1. Middle-Cody Jinks, Somewhere In The Middle
2. True Stories-The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
3. On/Off-2 From Creedence Clearwater Revival
4. Pour-Coffee and Tea Edition
5. In Memoriam-Martin Stone
6. In Memoriam-Some Overshadowed 2016 Losses
7. Change-David Bowie's Changes
8. Change-The World Has Changed
9. In Memoriam--Black (Colin Vearncombe)
10. In Memoriam--Dan Hicks

Because so many of the most viewed posts are from early in the year, which makes sense, since they were on the site, available to view, for the longest, below are the top posts for each of our themes not represented in the total top 10:

Frozen-A Burning Snowman/The Sadies
Small Towns-Boy (Bronski Beat) & Girl (Tracey Thorn)
Prison-Alan Lomax, Prison Recordings, circa 1947-1948
Steel-Alison Steele-Night Bird Flying
70s Motown--I Want You Back
Movies About Musicians-Old Joe's Place
Gold-Heart of Gold
Large Numbers-Bill Million
Hard-Clearwater's Great Hudson River Revival
Right-Red Right Hand
Two Words-Somewhere Rocks
Chaos/Confusion-Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll & Chaos
Shadows--Shadow of a Doubt (Complex Kid)
Incompetent/Can't-Mayor of Simpleton
Down-Burning Down
Listen-Are You Out There?
Train-Somewhere Down The Crazy River
All the Fixings-Pecan Pie
Leftovers-Two Words/Perfect Way/Scritti Politti
The End-Both Ends Burning
Seasons-Must Be Santa

And look forward to more great music and writing in 2018!!

IN MEMORIAM: GREGG ALLMAN


I actually chanced upon the music of the grizzled and younger member of the eponymous brothers band via his solo work, which may be the exception proving the rule. It was about 1974, maybe 3, and I was "out of bounds", visiting a newly opened record shop in Eastbourne, a town on the south coast of England, where I had been sent away to school. It was just over the borderline of Terminus Road, whereby I would be gated (aka grounded) if caught there by a prefect or a teacher. It had been commended to me by my study-mate Nige, a 15 year old with a ridiculously large and precocious record collection, usually involving gritty singers like Van Morrison, Joe Cocker and Captain Beefheart. He had a copy of 'Laid Back', by Allman, and had been ramming it into my ears on rotation. I liked and he told me where to buy it. I was entranced by the maudlin, hoarse drawl, ever a moment just behind the beat, and drenched in a spicy southern stew of country, soul and blues. I was not caught that day and bought a copy I still own, unplayable from day 1 due to some pressing error. I never had the opportunity to again to sneak out and get it changed, so had to rely on playing Nige's copy to death. My entry, probably, to much of the music of the southern states, as I was soon gorging on he and his brothers, blood and otherwise, at the Fillmore East, as well as all the other vivid colours coming up out of the Capricorn label, with which I became swiftly acquainted. Hell, if the South was going to rise again, did Eastbourne count?

It was easy to be drawn into the fantasy. Short haired adolescent schoolboys in uniforms will always be drawn into outlaw vibes, and I was no different. Gregg Allman was one step better than the rest as he played the organ: my earlier musical infatuation was with E.L.P., so I was still more comfortable, then at least, with a keyboard than a fretboard. (And I say the brief solo in Stormy Monday remains one of the most consummate few bars in my heart, at about 5.12.)

I never knew much of his backstory, relying on the inkies and upon record sleeves for my information. I thus followed the tragic death of his brother and of other band member Berry Oakley with interest, if, truth, preferring the more melodic direction led by Dickey Betts, centred upon his chiming guitar and the rippling piano of Chuck Leavell. Indeed, Allman seemed increasingly sidelined, renowned more for marriages and for snitching on his dealer, in the music press of the day a despicable deed. I lost interest and the decades went by.

Fast forward into this century and, whilst the Allman Brothers Band were still on the road, give or take a break or two, they were making little impact on my musical tastes of the moment. That is until I foolishly decided I might like the Grateful Dead and to investigate their oeuvre. Part of this involved looking at whatever other near apocryphal forever bands were up to. Like Govt. Mule. And, via Warren Haynes, guitarist thereof and also of the post Grateful and post Jerry band, the Dead, listening to a couple of his solo efforts, I got drawn back to his other other band, the Allmans. It was as if I had never been away, the sound an amalgam of my memories and my fantasies. Then two years or so ago, which I now discover was 2011, Allman brought out one of the comeback albums of the age, 'Low Country Blues', a mere 16 years after his last solo recording. (OK, strictly speaking, he hadn't been away, even if the stories similarly suggested he hadn't been all here either. A liver transplant had been involved.)


'Low Country Blues' caught my imagination, sonically and symbolically, the old ranch hand coming again good with the album of his life, looking and sounding fit, raring to go, with a fresh complexion belying his years. This time, rather than awaiting his 3rd wind, I went back and researched out his intervening years, yes, even the Cher ones. Suddenly he was, in my eyes, a colossus and unimpeachable until came the news. At 69 his liver cancer was back, a complication of Hepatitis C unappreciated at the time of initial surgery, and he died in May, with the last hurrah provided by his final record, the posthumous 'Southern States', another cracker, following 4 months later. What better legacy? Listen to the words.


Or his own words, when asked about what may lie next:
"Music is my life's blood. I love music, I love to play good music, and I love to play music for people who appreciate it. And when it's all said and done, I'll go to my grave and my brother will greet me, saying, "Nice work, little brother—you did all right." I must have said this a million times, but if I died today, I have had me a blast."

Dig in here!!

Monday, January 1, 2018

In Memoriam: Larry Coryell





purchase [Eleventh House Level One]

passed away Feb 19, 2017
Andy LaRayGun may not have known his was to be the last post of the 2017 <season>, but it ended up being a nice transition to the new theme. He's so right - so many musicians now gone, but their music goes on. That's the cool thing about recording music - it hangs on after they've hung it up.


I "turned on" to Larry Coryell back about '73. At about that time, I was listening to Mahavishnu John and a fair amount of most anything that came out of the ECM label. Within a short time, I had added Steely Dan. At one point, I must have had about half a dozen Coryell 33 albums -the man managed to put out nigh on 100 in his life-time!


Back in about '76, when I was spinning 33's at WQFS,  Coryell was in my regular playlist: I was bridging the line between more pop-jazz oriented music like Steely Dan (someone else may take on Walter Becker, RIP 2017) and musicians like Coryell and Mahavishnu John, who were [at that time] skirting the edges of popularity. Sad to say that we lost 2 of them in 2017: Walter Becker of Steely Dan and Larry "Maestro" Coryell.


Now... Steely Dan appears to be in a different couloir - ECM, John McLaughlin and Coryell are pretty solidly Jazz. Steely Dan ends up more frequently in the pop charts. However, for my likings, Steely Dan  [lightly] pushed the I-IV-V format far enough to the jazz edge to also turn me on. 


Coryell, however, was on the fringes of what most people would listen to - known, but outre. Harmonic but vaguely dissonant. Jazz but then again with a scent of pop - if you made it that far.
There's a lot to Coryell's oeuvre: myself, it was the Eleventh House collection that meant the most, but that's highly subjective - most anything he did is full of class.