Friday, May 24, 2019


I am never quite sure whether I prefer New Order as a sound or as an idea. If it is the former, it is definitely the spindly treble of the bass that is a major component. If the latter it is the ridiculous posturing of Peter Hook, bass guitar round his knees, legs akimbo, somehow still managing to make contact with his strings.

In the day, I never really got baggy and Mad-chester; I think I was already too old, finding all the druggy Hacienda nonsense outwith my taste. But I liked the idea of Anthony Wilson and the whole Factory Records conceit. And I absolutely loved Fac. 73, otherwise known as 'Blue Monday'. (Factory records famously gave a catalogue number to much more than just their recorded releases, so that the aforementioned Hacienda nightclub was Fac. 51, its resident cat Fac.191 and Wilson's eventual coffin Fac.501.) Blue Monday was the single from the 2nd album by New Order, 1983's 'Power, Corruption and Lies'. I had been vaguely aware of the band, predominantly down to the acclaim and coverage given the earlier Ian Curtis helmed version of the band, 'Joy Division', ahead of his suicide. Much as I tried, I could never find any love for this band, expecting New Order to be the same. Probably through the addition of Gillian Gilbert's keyboards and programming, I found to my delight their electronica/dance influences far easier to swallow than the post-punk agitated spiky guitars and epileptiform (I know) ticcing of JD.

There are apparently abundant reasons why Hook developed his idiosyncratic style of, if you will, lead bass guitar. Firstly it was the allegedly dodgy equipment used, wherein the amplifier and speakers couldn't manage lower registers. However the second reason arose mainly from the sequencer and synthesizer driven patterns underpinning so many of the songs. Add that to the fact the guitar was almost a purely rhythmic instrument and it becomes apparent of the spaces left, crying out for counterpoint. Strangely I find the comparison is with the blues, say with B. B. King, his guitar replying in call and response to the vocal, so too does Hook use his bass to answer both the vocals and the main thrust of the the electronica. A human heart within the machine.

'Blue Monday' apart, I was probably fairly lukewarm about their offerings until the swansong, both  with and of Factory. This was 'Republic', and the run of singles emanating therefrom, notably 'Regret'. I adored this. At which point they split for 8 years. But, in no small part due to the flurry of re-releases and remixes released  in the interim, back they bounced, in 2001, with my 2nd favourite, 'Get Ready'. Even with a slight return to the more guitar driven earlier style, still Hook's bass remained as high in the mix as it sat low on its strap.

I sort of lost interest after that. That line-up seemed to peter out, even as the size of the by now stadium gigs became larger. It is clear there were internal frictions, predominantly between guitarist/ singer and self-appointed leader, Bernard Sumner, and Hook. Each have written about this extensively in the wake of Hook leaving the band, and the subsequent lawsuits as he tried to get some degree of payout for his participation in the sound, before, during and after. Involved in a number of side projects over the years, of late he has concentrated on his own band, Peter Hook and the Light, effectively a New Order tribute and covers band, albeit with his one vital and authentic ingredient. I have never seen New Order live, regretting that point, as, even as they continue to exist, somehow, for me, the focus has been lost. I would love, however, to see Peter Hook and the Light, and I hope I will.

New or newer?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Base/Bass: Ry Cooder's Chavez Ravine

purchase  [Chavez Ravine]

File under: Songs that reference baseball

Ryland P Cooder has always gone out of his way.
Gone out of his way to promote music that most others would not. See his JAZZ album that includes non-traditional instruments such as: cimbalo, tuba ...  See various songs from Into the Purple Valley, Paradise and Lunch, Chicken Skin Music, Bop Till You Drop

Gone out of his way to bring back music that others forgot. Hawaii, Carribean ...

Gone out of his way to speak up for others who had only a small voice. (How's about Down in Hollywood, for that perspective?) Then there's the Buena Vista Social Club project that -  in and of itself  -revived an entire genre of music.

Among the issues he has raised (because raising issues through his music is what he does) is the <Chavez Ravine> story.

Now .. you're about to ask what the relation to the theme is?
<3rd Base, Dodger Stadium> is about BASEball, because the Chavez Ravine area was torn up by eminent domain in order to build the baseball stadium, and its mostly Latino residents were left out in the open - the land eventually ending up as the ball park.

Cooder's song highlights one of the displaced residents who eventually ends up with a job tied to the new ball park venue: parking cars around the stadium. (His house was 3rd base, folks!)  But, at least in Cooder's version he takes it with a grain of salt, without the kind of chip on his shoulders that you and I might have had...                                      

The song relates how his home was located at the spot where 3rd base ended  up. He lost his home, but found work right there all the same.

Muy Fifi from that album:

Saturday, May 18, 2019


I have so long wanted to do this post, the bassline, or is it the baseline, of the Stranglers being such a glorious sound. For about 10 years, 1977 - 1987, they were avowedly my favourite band, in no small part due to the bass guitar of Jean-Jacques Burnel. OK, as a only ever a pretend punk: ex-public schoolboy at medical school perhaps not being core demographic, they hit all my buttons, being slightly older and keyboard based, with no small nod to the Doors and a guitarist at school with and in his first band with Richard Thompson. (I have covered this ground before.)

It was only later I learnt the unique bass timbre was anything but, with yet another frisson of joy when I heard this, by another even earlier favourite band, the Move. Roy Wood, leader of the band, decided he disliked the bass parts on 1971's 'Message to the Country' so much as to remove them and do them himself. Title track below.

But this post is to celebrate J.J., from the unmistakable dum der dum of 'Peaches' to the later more melodic gallic noodling of 'La Folie'. My favourite bit of Burnel is actually from their first release, the last track from 'Rattus  Norvegicus', 'Down in the Sewer', with, at about 6min.30, a beautiful countermelody within the instrumental finale to the song. Listen to it, above. But what about his other stuff? Always a more complicated figure than the lampoon of he being the inchoate muscle to Cornwell's lofty intellect, he has been de facto leader of the band since Cornwell left, dismissing his erstwhile bandmates, as so did many, as a spent force. It may have taken many of the subsequent near 30 years, but it is arguable that they now have a bigger fanbase than at their 80's peak, and can put out material to critical assent, touring near constantly, way, way more than merely as a greatest hits machine. (Perversely, this is arguably what Cornwell has become, albeit in his way, satisfying the undoubted hunger to hear all  those songs in his voice.) Here's an enlightening interview with Burnel from not so long ago.

Burnel has also produced 3 albums of his own, together with one alongside keyboard Strangler Dave Greenfield. These underline his avowedly franco-european heritage, the first, in 1979, 'The Euroman Cometh', addressing a future wherein a president of the united states of Europe is necessary to see off the dual threats of a american values and soviet subversion. Just, perhaps, the sort of thing the potentially  disintegrating Europe of today, fuelled by my country's dismal performance, needs? I somehow doubt JJ is a Brexiteer. The lyrics start by commenting on any modern european having to contend with the shared lineage of Charlemagne, Oliver Cromwell and Hitler, so not exactly moon in june. Not entirely successful in the intent to fuse electronica with rock, it makes for interesting, if dated, listening.

Perhaps less portentous, and more accessible came 'Un Jour Parfait', echoing very much the sound his day-job was beginning to investigate at around the same time, possibly why, give or take a later soundtrack album (for a japanese anime version, set in the future, of the Count of Monte Cristo, 'Gunkutsuou'), solo work became superfluous. He had a band to keep on the road. So, what better, given it his basslines we are here to celebrate, than a track from the Stranglers, 21st century style:

'Time Was Once on My Side', 2012, with it's near lead bass motifs, has a clear back reference to their original style. Maybe I, like so many who lapsed, should give them a go again and I feel I might.

Having said....

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Base/Bass/Basic: Run Through the Jungle

purchase [ Creedence Run Through the Jungle ]

I have generally worked with the assumption that most basic (pop) songs are based on the the I-IV-V progression. And it's true: songs such as She Loves You, Twistin' the Night Away and If You're Happy and You Know It are all essentially variations of the I-IV-V standard.

And then, just the other night, I watched a performance from a group of exceptionally talented vocalists, who maintained a I-I-I progression (if progression it can be called) for minutes on end.
That's essentially a "drone" - and what became apparent to me- in terms of viability/interest - was what the musician overlays the "static" backup with - for example, a soaring solo in the same key - is what really makes the song.

There would seem to be a major element of jazz/experiment behind this: classic pop, it's not.
Unless the song becomes a (popular) hit.

So ... How to work in the role of a basic bass line that moves around, but is limited to a single note/<chord> and is part of a major hit?
A bit of a quandary. But it's been done. More than once. Aretha's "Chain of Fools" is one such.

Here's another: kind of the epitome of making the most of what (little) you got: a single chord.
But it works perfectly well. Makes me wonder if the Doors didn't do something similar?

Creedence Clearwater/Run Through the Jungle

Monday, May 13, 2019

Base/Bass: Overusing "The Base"

When I read the theme announcement the other day, I thought, how about writing something that discusses how overused the phrase "the base" is in political discussions.  You know, how commentators are always saying that "Trump is playing to his base" or "The Democrats are pandering to their base."

And then I remembered that I already wrote that, back in February, at my personal blog, Another Old Guy.  Yes, I'm not afraid to shamelessly cross-promote.  And if you click on this link, you can read the piece there, and also find out what J. David's real name is.

I promise to write something original at some point during the run of this theme, and I promise that it won't be about bass fishing, Lance Bass, or BASE jumping.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


Well I made a right pig's ear of that, didn't I? Did all my jiggery-pokery and pressed send, only to realise buddies KKafa and J.David had already put out on that day. So I pulled back in for an edit/revision, aka delaying tactics.  48 hours grace and re-press send. And it's in the same bloody place........... More complicated than it looks, this blogging, innit?

So, mis amigos, amends necessitates (yet) another toothsome foursome for your delectations.

The late, great Gregg Allman probably needs little introduction here. Indeed, it wasn't so long I was bemoaning his passing, and I still find myself reaching back into his back catalogue, and that of the he and his sibling entitled band, when in need of spiritual succour. Like me, do you find there is little more uplifting than a slice of melancholia? Strange but true. This song, 'Rolling Stone', is from his later days, having put the band on another temporary hold, and finding himself back in the critical good books, the days of his "disgrace" long distant. (Did you see where I pulled that link from, btw. Hold that thought.) The voice still as searching a beacon as when I first encountered him, back in ages ago, this LP, 'Low Country', as memorable as 1973's 'Laid Back'. The song a plaintive lament, most of his are, to the plight of a man, left by a woman, for a change she being the rolling stone. Obligatory THE Rolling Stones reference, erstwhile alumnus in the Allman Brothers Band, Chuck Leavell has been main keyboards man for the Stones since 1982.

Well, that thought from above didn't need holding that long, did it? I am surprised this theme hasn't yet overtly picked up on the onetime de rigeur bible of the counter-culture, but time to remedy that. It is funny to think that Dr Hook, later doyens of a smooth cocktail cowboy kitsch, were, at the time of this song, about as raggedy-assed hippie country redneck longhairs as you could find. I don't think they ever actually did make, as the song is called, 'The Cover of the Rolling Stone'. But, OMG, I loved them and their songs, often penned, as was this, by the 'Playboy' cartoonist Shel Silverstein. Here's a BBC TV appearance they did at their dumbest. And that's good dumbest. Dennis LaCorriere, their more usual singer, is still on the road, billed often as Dr Hook, his eye-patched side-kick Ray Sawyer and he having fallen out aeons ago, and whom is, anyway, now deceased, with a tour this summer to celebrate 50 years since 'Sylvia's Mother'. I am thinking of going. (Or was: get well soon, Dennis.) RS reference: How many times were the Rolling Stones on the cover of Rolling Stone? Who better to tell?

Brother Jack McDuff, alleluia, now there is one righteous dude we don't seem to hear enough of. Prominent in the more soulful area of bebop, with the hammond organ his instrument of choice, he would have fitted into the later acid-jazz scene of the 90s like a silk sock in an alligator-hide and cuban-heeled chelsea boot. Indeed, George Benson, who, with similar jazz leanings, arguably and eventually did, was given his first break with McDuff. I have always revelled in the sound of the hammond; Emerson, Lake and Palmer were my first love, my brother in law then tipping me off to the delights of Jimmy Smith. But McDuff seemed more effortless than either of these titans, and is one to whom I return more often. Any RS link here has proved more problematic than I thought, assuming any number of crossovers in covered material, not necessarily the whole band, but within Keith's many and varied works on the side. But, by leaving no stone unturned (groan!), here's a song done by McDuff, a Ray Charles standard also covered by Bill Wyman project, Willie & the Poor Boys.


Finally, one you most certainly may have missed, unless you traipse through the less worn corridors of niche musical combos. One might be the Alabama 3, rightly revered for this, their claim to fame with Tony Soprano and his mob. But, into near 25 years of existence, not only have they never stopped performing and putting out new material, so there has been time for the odd side-project. O'Connell and Love is one such, featuring Larry Love aka Rob Spragg aka Robert Love, their elegantly wasted frontman, in a (slightly) more laidback guise, alongside Brendan O'Connell, a longtime friend, with whom Love's nominally earlier solo album had also been written. Think beer-soaked saloons and  maudlin whisky bars, punters alternately weeping into drinks and dancing on tables.  Sharing a title with the quite different piece in the companion to this post, 'Love is Like a Rolling Stone' just says it how it is. The title's enough. A RS link? Forgive the contrivance, but, if we invoke up again the voice of Alabama, I am sure 3 of the featured stories would be enough to spike some interest.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Stone that Roll/Rock: Santana - Stone Flower

purchase [Stone Flower]

Maybe "Stones That Rock" instead of "Stones That Roll"?
I mean .. get up and dance (when the rhythm really kicks in).

I had more or less forgotten about Santana's Caravanserai album until I started digging for <Stones that Roll> songs. And then I kept mis-spelling Kervanseray as I wrote - and should have known better. Modern Turkish, my home-turf, still includes in its [govt sanctioned dictionary] kervan (travelling group) and saray (palace) in its vocab.
My loss for forgetting about Santana: this album includes so much that could be played over and over again. (The grooves of which album I wore down to their nubs back in '73 or so.) IMHO Santana, especially Santana before about 1980, could be played on auto-repeat. Even today. Caravanserai might well be the best of their work.

Although 1972 doesn't "seem like yesterday" any longer, Santana's music from '72 is no less viable today. <Stone Flower> is actually pretty standard Santana from that era: a loose jazzy progression that builds up over time and then explodes into full song.

Wikipedia notes that the album was a major departure from the band's previous style: I'm not sure I agree. Seems to me like a natural expansion from where they were: maybe a little more salsa and jazz, but that was already their apparent trajectory. But also the same era that the man was associating with Mahavishnu John... Hmm....

Then again, the intro to <Stone Flower> IS rather prolonged.

The song itself is actually an Antonio Carlos Jobim piece. And that album, from a few years before the Santana version, includes names I haven't seen in a few decades: Ron Carter, Airto Moreira. (And I once had an extensive ECM record label collection of 33RPMs, but there's reasons I haven't seen the names beyond the years between.)

Lee Ritenour's version, below, much more jazzy: