Friday, January 22, 2021

OVER: EVENING OVER ROOFTOPS/EDGAR BROUGHTON BAND

 Well, you can try and draw some inference into this song and the exit of Agent Orange or, even, prematurely, I fear, to feel vaccines are auguring in any swift end to the 'rona. But you'd be wrong. I even sat and listened hard to the words, trying to shoehorn in some hidden message, but, no, it didn't really materialise. Let's face it, the lyrics are sufficiently vague as to be harbingers of just about anything, whether good, bad or indifferent. I suspect, however, given the ambience and the counter-culture image of the band, bad. So ignore them as anything other than a contrivance to fit in with the theme, just enjoy the song.

Evening Over Rooftops

And what a song. It takes me back, in a shake, to probably 1972 or 3. I shared a study with two others, the three of us competing to have the coolest music, where cool equalled the most obscure and arcane. These were days when walking anywhere necessitated an army surplus greatcoat and an album, a LP, under your arm, demonstrating your street cred to one and all. Benjy favoured the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Frank Zappa, unusual choices then for fifteen year old boys in south coast England. I favoured Fairport Convention, the Byrds and the Burritos, and still do. But Nige, with access to wealth beyond our means, was ploughing further fields, and, as he owned the record player, made sure we knew it. His tastes ran to Captain Beefheart, Kevin Coyne and Van Morrison, enjoying vocal styles a little rawer than the rest of us. He had introduced us also to the Edgar Broughton Band, and this song in particular. 

Apache Dropout Boogie

Edgar Broughton and his band were darlings of the underground. Prodigiously hairy of head and face, they were forever being featured in reviews of free festivals, a phenomenon somewhat of the rage in early 70's UK. Often performing on a flat-bed truck, you could guarantee their presence, and that of Hawkwind, whenever or wherever the freaks were gathering. Locked away in our boarding school, this we could only dream of and did, incessantly. Evening Over Rooftops is perhaps not the greatest invitation or introduction  to their oeuvre, their more typical product being cathartic squalls of rudimentary thrash. I wasn't so keen on that, not that, god forbid, I could or would ever admit to that. Anyway, the sleeve of the record that contained the song, their third, entitled the Edgar Broughton Band, was so sufficiently eye-opening as to put the musical content into a distinct second place. It has tended to be better known as the 'Meat Album'. I'm surprised I never owned it, but I bet I borrowed it. Conspicuously. It reached an astonishing number 28 in the UK album charts of 1971.

Out, Demons, Out

I don't think I thought of either the Edgar Broughton Band or their music much after 1975. The shifting mores of the day put their hairiness and bombast out of favour. But they never went away, remaining a shadowy fixture in the periphery, adding members and trying new ways to carry their message onward. The core unit remained Edgar, unsurprisingly, on guitar and vocals, his brother, Steve, on drums and Arthur Grant on bass, other players dipping in and out on lead guitar and keyboards. Although they haven't performed together for a decade, Edgar playing largely solo, he has never officially broken up the band, or so he has said in an interview and piece in this month's Mojo. (Earlier interviews tell a slightly different tale....) But then, out of the blue, or even, out of the blog, came a reminder, and a chum posted the featured track. The decades dissolved and I was that teenage boy again, delighting in the fact I could still sing along and remember all the words. A quick shift around Discogs and I finally did own a copy of the parent album. Or a CD, to be fair, so not quite so impressive to tout around town.

So, let's revisit it. First the introductory swirl of strings, the acoustic strumming then cutting in, as the orchestration sets the sombre mood. The voice, Edgar's, a flat and blunt tool but perfect. Backing vocals sashay in with oo-oos and aahs, as bass and drums leap in, propelling the song up a gear. Then comes the wonderful guitar solo, by initial fourth band member, and co-writer, with Edgar, of the song, one Victor Unitt. Channeled, as was then the vogue, through a Leslie cabinet, it is a gloriously nostalgic sound. Building progressively, no messing around with middle eights, gradually the voice gets more and more demented, a stentorian sermon until a girly chorus, the Ladybirds, no less, ushers in the fade. Of course you can play it again!

Evening Over Rooftops (live, c.2010)

Have a butchers!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Over: The Once Over Twice


X: The Once Over Twice
[purchase

I think that the impetus behind this theme is the end of the Trump Error, and one of the things that many of us are hoping for is that politics won’t be a constant drumbeat in our brains. So, except for this brief mention, I’m going to try to steer this piece away from politics and toward music. 

Many critics consider X’s second album, Wild Gift, to be their finest, and I agree—and the fact that this is the second time I’ve written about the band here, both times about songs from the same album, bears that out. Which is not to say that they haven’t released a lot of good music (and their album from last year, Alphabetland, their first in years, would have been on my “Best of 2020” list, if I was still writing one at my other blog). But there’s something about Wild Gift’s mix of punk and Americana, and the skewed harmonies of Exene Cervenka and John Doe, that hit the sweet spot.

“The Once Over Twice” kicks off the album with a blast of punk/rockabilly guitar, and then we are off to the races with a sad, concise slice of life tale written and sung by Cervenka. The opening lines are killer: 

I just heard the sad song by another band
Sung by another man
He gave me the once over twice 

The phrase “the once over twice” generally means giving an attractive person the “once over” and liking what you see so much that you feel compelled to do it again. Clearly, it is a sign of attraction, so are we seeing the start of a new relationship? Something hopeful? Nope. 

I said when
He said okay so long. 

Oh well. After considering her options, in the face of rejection, the singer decides: 

I got some more scotch instead 

Before beginning to wallow a little: 

Then I died a thousand times
He hung me with the endless rope
Then I died a thousand times
Maybe you don't but I do
Got a hole in my heart size of my heart 

And then, it appears, she reaches acceptance: 

I'll see you and I'll raise you off the floor
I'll floor you and we'll dance without a band 

In an article from a few years ago about the album, the writer recounted Cervenka telling him that Wild Gift, "showed off ‘our sense of humor,’ . . . More personalized songs such as ‘The Once Over Twice’ detailed a want for something greater, but settling ‘for some more scotch instead.’ She continues that, as a writer, she lived for whatever was inside her head, then worked to get it all out quickly.” 

Whether or not you agree with Rick Anderson, an Allmusic reviewer, that some of Cervenka’s lyrics in the song “don’t amount to much more than pretentious high school noodlings” (I don’t), it is hard to disagree with his conclusion that “when she and Doe sing those lines together in their inimitable raw harmony, the effect is electric.” 

Also, later today, Trump’s term will be OVER!! OVER!! OVER!! WOOO HOOO!! 

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Over: If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day

 



purchase  [ RJ's version  ]


Because <In Memoriam> is kind of a coda to the year past, we might call this the first theme of the new. If you are of the type who makes resolutions at this time of year, it's like Starting Over. Unless, that is, you prefer to look back and claim the past is over. Either way, over it is.

And yes, I know we had a similar theme 5 years back, but time's has changed and so have half of your bloggers here.

And maybe I shouldn't go too far down this path, but .. hey .. if it's over, then judgment day is next.

This song is genrally credited to the legendary Robert Johnson, and Mr Eric Clapton plays a pretty decent rendition of the song. The real story of the song may be more complicated - a song that has been re-made over and over again from what appears to be the original - from a song called <Roll and Tumble Blues> by Hambone Willie Newburn (who?), which was maybe based on a piece called Minglewood Blues (what?).

You're probably familiar with the story of how Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil in return for super-natural guitar skills. And while more recent renditions of this song (Clapton) reference Johnson (and we learn that he may not have been the original source), here is some rather detailed research into the background of the era - most of which totally de-bunks the common Robert Johnson myth. For what it's worth. Myself, I prefer to live with the myth.

None of which really needs to influence our enjoyment of the selected output here. Over to you....

Eric



David Lindley




Saturday, January 16, 2021

In Memoriam: Tony Rice

 


purchase [ Tone Poems  ]


My better half thinks I carry a jinx. Possibly: 2 years back, I played Tom Petty's <You Got Lucky> on stage. The man passed a month later. It's not my fault, I swear (and I don't believe in these kinds of "non-coincidences"). For the past month or so, I have been circling around Tony Rice. "Circling" as in repeatedly bringing up Clarence White, his mentor. 

The story is that Tony ran into/across Clarence White when he was a younger man and srabbled to purchase Clarence's much punished Martin guitar after his mentor's death. 

In my ignorance, I first came across Tony Rice when my cousin-in-law shared <Tone Poems> with me. We were aiming to do some guitar/banjo together based on those tunes. I knew of David Grissman through my interest in the Grateful Dead  - but I failed to focus onTony Rice. Let that be a lesson to you: if you come across someting as great as Tone Poems and ignore the half, you're probably making a mistake.

Somewhere, I missed Tony Rice's connection to The Dead via Jerry Garcia's eclectic collaborations. Again, I missed cues via Ricky Scaggs and Bruce Hornsby and Phish - all music that I come and go from with some level of attention.

Better late than never. For me, the man's music will live on.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

IN MEMORIAM: TWO STEEL PEDDLERS

To say I am fond of pedal steel guitar would be an understatement; I bloody adore the instrument and how it sounds, whether as high lonesome shorthand for classic country, or, indeed, often more whenever it pops up in unexpected settings. This year we lost two or the best, two, even if I often confused the one with the other, with this piece probably now continuing to prolong the blurring of my Bucky with my Buddy.

So, in alphabetical, we got Mr Bucky Baxter, who left us in May. Born in Florida 65 years ahead of that, he was perhaps best known for his pivotal role in the bands of Steve Earle and of Bob Dylan. Indeed, he was a Duke for the three breakthrough albums of Earle's early career, Guitar Town through Copperhead Road, appearing sporadically thereafter. His was the steel in R.E.M.'s World Leader Pretend, and on Ryan Adam's Gold album, he featured on Joe Henry's Trampoline and, possibly surprisingly, played on and produced a record, Cockahoop, by the ex-Catatonia singer, husky welsh chanteuse, Cerys Matthews. But it was as a Bob Dylan regular on the Never Ending Tour throughout most of the 90s that his name became best known. Indeed, Dylan had come across him at a Steve Earle concert, asking him to teach him how to play the instrument. (History has not revealed how well that went.) In the studio, he also appeared on Dylan's Unplugged and Time Out of Mind, the latter, not without coincidence, one of my favourite Dylan's.

Fearless Heart/Steve Earle & the Dukes (1986)

World Leader Pretend/R.E.M. (1988)

Tryin' To Get To Heaven (live)/Bob Dylan (1999)

I have to mention Dylan some more, as Baxter was there for one of the two ever times I have caught the Bob live, when he headed a stormy Friday night in July at the Phoenix festival, near Stratford-on-Avon, in 1995. If Blackbushe a decade before had been sublime, this was ridiculous, all songs unidentifiable in the muddy sound, all party to tuneless new arrangements. All unidentifiable until Baxter's steel gave a hint of the original melodies, a highlight in an otherwise forgettable evening. O, had it been to the standard of the Vienna concert, above, four years later.
Baxter wasn't all that ambitious, it seems, happy to be a contributor rather than the focus of attention. But he did make one solo recording, Most Likely No Problem, an instrumental album which is worth the seeking out, with an astonishing who who's of participants.

The Big Difficult/Bucky Baxter (1999)

Here's a nice interview which gives an idea of the man. Finally, those with a finger on the pulse might know he is/was the father of the up and coming Rayland Baxter
R.I.P. Bucky. 


Buddy Cage, not to be confused either with another fellow deceased steel maestro Buddy Emmons, was a Canadian by birth, born a few years ahead of Baxter, in 1946. Another musician proficient in his instrument from an early age, he first drew attention in canadian country-rockers, Great Speckled Bird. However it was his longterm tenure in the steel seat for Grateful Dead offshoot band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, between 1971 and 1982, that he will be best remembered, taking the reins of the instrument from Jerry Garcia. Frankly, a much more adept player than Garcia. He also did a load of sessions, including, the ubiquitous Dylan reference, laying down some tracks on the many and varied Blood on the Tracks sessions, if only once on the actual studio release. 

Calgary/Great Speckled Bird (1970)

Gypsy Cowboy/NRPS (1972)

Peggy O/NRPS (2010)

Although the Riders continued for several more years, Cage had not been tempted to return to that fold until 2005, until after founder member, John Dawson had put the original band to bed in 1997. Their 2012 release, 17 Pine Avenue, I thought terrific and well up to the standards of their earlier work, better even, tighter without their notorious cannabinoid looseness of yore.

The intervening years had him back to guesting on innumerable projects, but he never made a solo record. Perhaps closest might have been if the music from a Dutch tour, in 2005, had been ever committed to posterity. In cahoots with Derek Trucks and Sonny Landreth, both accomplished legends on slide, it was called Steelin' and Slidin'. (I wonder if any clips are available?)

Steelin' and Slidin'/Trucks, Cage and Landreth (2005)

Here's an interview with him from his second spell with the band. Multiple myeloma took him in February.
R.I.P. Buddy.









Tuesday, January 12, 2021

In Memoriam: Toots Hibbert

Toots and the Maytals: Do The Reggay
[purchase

I suspect that like most American music lovers, my knowledge of reggae music is limited to the Bob Marley classics (and a few tunes by his family members), some Jimmy Cliff, a little Peter Tosh, a handful of Toots and the Maytals songs, and maybe a few other well-known tracks. I like reggae, but rarely went out of my way to listen to it (I am more familiar with the ska revival music of the late 70s and early 80s and the ska-punk music of the 80s and 90s). (By the way, check out Lovers Rock on Netflix, if you want to hear some great reggae music and see an excellent movie.) 

But in 2018, when I started to occasionally blog shows for the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, I had the chance to see Toots and the Maytals, and experiencing the then 75 year-old reggae legend play for 2 hours was a night I won’t forget. You can read about it here

Like probably every genre of music after the first caveman banged a stick on a rock (although someone probably would claim that the caveman’s efforts were derivative of some “more authentic” ape music), it is impossible to literally pinpoint when reggae was created. I discussed this a few years ago in the context of determining what was the first rock song. Trying to figure out where ska and rocksteady stopped and reggae began is similarly fraught, but most historians of the music agree that it was Toots & the Maytals’ 1968 single, “Do The Reggay” that gave the genre its name. Hibbert was once explained:

There's a word we used to use in Jamaica called 'streggae'. If a girl is walking and the guys look at her and say 'Man, she's streggae' it means she don't dress well, she look raggedy. The girls would say that about the men too. This one morning me and my two friends were playing and I said, 'OK man, let's do the reggay.' It was just something that came out of my mouth. So we just start singing 'Do the reggay, do the reggay' and created a beat. People tell me later that we had given the sound it's name. Before that people had called it blue-beat and all kind of other things. Now it's in the Guinness World of Records 

Frederick “Toots” Hibbert was born on (probably) December 8, 1942 in May Pen, Jamaica. His earliest performances were of gospel music in church choirs. At the age of 11, he was orphaned, and moved to the Trenchtown neighborhood of Kingston, the capital, to live with his brother. In 1961 or 1962, along with Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Mathias, he formed a band. Maytals is a word of unclear origin, which may be a reference to Hibbert’s home town, or to the Rastafarian term for “do the right thing.” The Maytals became a top ska act, initially releasing songs with religious themes powered by Hibbert’s powerful, soulful voice (and his multi-instrumental talent), influenced by, among others, Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, and eventually branching out into more secular songs. 

After Toots served 18 months in prison for marijuana possession, the band had a hit in the “rocksteady” style with "54-46 (That's My Number)," which Toots wrote about his prison sentence. They released “Do The Reggay," and then hit the UK charts with “Monkey Man.” Toots and the Maytals appeared in the 1972 film The Harder They Come, which popularized reggae worldwide, and had two songs on the film’s soundtrack. The band’s next album, Funky Kingston, released on Island Records, was a critical and commercial success (a different version of the album was released in 1975 in the US). Robert Christgau wrote about the album: 

The quick way to explain the Maytals is to say that in reggae they're the Beatles to the Wailers' Rolling Stones. But how do I explain Toots himself? Well, he's the nearest thing to Otis Redding left on the planet: he transforms 'do re mi fa sol la ti do' into joyful noise. 

In 1981, the original Maytals broke up, and after about a decade as a solo act, Toots formed a new Maytals in the mid-1990s. In addition to continuing to record and perform, Hibbert has collaborated or performed with Willie Nelson, Gov’t Mule, JJ Grey & Mofro, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eric Clapton, Bootsy Collins and The Roots, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards and Jamaican greats Shaggy, Marcia Griffiths and Ken Boothe, among others. 

Hibbert was hit in the head on stage by a thrown bottle in 2013, and despite the injury that caused a nearly three year hiatus from touring, Toots wrote the judge, pleading for leniency for his attacker who, nevertheless, was sentenced to a six month sentence. After recovering from the injury, Hibbert and his band continued to tour and appear on television. He released his first new album in years, Got To Be Tough on August 28, 2020. 

Two days later, Toots was admitted to University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston with, it has been reported, COVID-19, and on September 11, 2020, he died “peacefully . . . surrounded by his family.”

Sunday, January 10, 2021

In Memoriam: John Prine



John Prine (October 10, 1946 – April 7, 2020)

In a year like we've had, one filled with such division, anger, isolation, and death, it's a tough assignment to go back and look at the overly-long list of musicians we lost since last January. We do it every year, in the magazines and the lists--celebrate the best and the worst in our 'end of the year' accounting, and usually, noting those we lost becomes less painful as it is part of the ritual of seeing out the old and making for the new. Reading the list seems a little sadder, and a little longer after these 12 long months. But, then most things have taken on a different sort of weight lately, and gravity has a different--heavier, perhaps--effect than it normally does. Or should. 

While he was never the household name that he should have been, troubadour and poet of the everyday American life, John Prine passed this year from complications from Covid19. Seems unfair that he could have survived a life of his own, self-chose misadventures only to be brought low by this damned virus. Prine's work was expansive and ranged in styles over the years, while always staying within the country, folk, Americana genre. But to label him solely as a country artist is to miss the point of his songs. His guitar was simple while also distinctive. His voice was distinctive, too. But, it wasn't vocal talent that made him memorable, but the words that he sang. 

Prine's lyrics were narrative, telling stories and trafficking in images of the everyday, of the course of our lives, our loves, our happiness and sadness. his images are what we see, rendered poetic. He sings through characters who go about their daily lives, the weight of their actions growing with the parings of guitars and pedal strings, an emotional resonance of love, loss, and just living though a human day. You can read Prine and listen to him, and both endeavors are filled with emotion and meaning. In interviews, Prine bristled at being labeled a poet, and once said, “If I wanted to be a poet, I’d write poetry. I know what poetry is. I’m not writing poetry, I’m writing song lyrics. Whatever the subject is, I’m trying to write as well about that subject as I possibly can but still within the confines of a song. I’m not trying to put my words down as a poem set to music. To me, that’s a different thing.” It is the universality of his writing--the commonplace imbued with meaning and familiarity--that gives Prine's music the weight.

Another musician who is celebrated equally as a poet, Bob Dylan, is a fan of Prine's commonplace poetic beauty. Both have received literary awards, in addition to musical ones. He compared Prine to Proust, for his ability to craft story from the prosaic ordinariness of life, and said, in his own, unique way: "Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs."

Prine's catalog is large, and he worked hard, all the way up until he died. You can start anywhere, skip around, you'll hear some wonderful stories, meet some great characters. If you're in need of direction, two highlights:  the debut, self-titled album from 1971, and the songs "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore" and "Sam Stone", both about the Viet Nam war. And a personal favorite, 1991's The Lost Years, which features back up from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. "Angel From Montgomery", "Souvenirs", "Everything's Cool"...the list does indeed go on.

It's been a lousy year. Listening to music is a lifeline that will pull you from a sea of trouble.