Friday, July 5, 2013

The Other Guy(s): Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Airplane: Chauffeur’s Blues

Obviously, I like this theme, so I’m back with a third entry. And to pile it on, it is about two “other guys,” one of whom isn’t a guy.

When I was in high school, my friend Chris and I worked our way back from the then-popular Jefferson Starship through the discography of the Jefferson Airplane. I remember hours spent in the cutout bins at Korvette’s in Nanuet flipping through records to find their music. If you are a casual fan of the band, you know about Grace Slick’s powerful vocals, and maybe even Marty Balin’s blue-eyed soul singing or Paul Kantner’s folkier sounds. Or maybe you are a fan of their interesting harmonies, or the few songs that Jorma Kaukonen sang before moving full time to Hot Tuna. Four vocalists is pretty good for a single band, and these days it is rare to find a popular group that allows more than one, or sometimes two, singers to take regular lead vocals.

But the Airplane had even more singers. The Jefferson Airplane discography (not including live albums, solo projects and compilations) consists of 7 albums released between 1966 and 1972 (plus a reunion album from 1989). And although Kantner, Kaukonen and bass player Jack Casady were constants, Slick joined after their first album, Balin was there at the start, but left before the sixth album was done, and there were a number of drummers and other members that played with the band.

So, before Grace Slick, there was Signe Toly Anderson (no relation to previous “Other Guy” subject Jon). In the early days of the band, and on their debut record, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, her role was mostly to sing backup and harmony. She left the band in 1966, following the birth of her daughter Lillith (and possibly because other members of the band didn’t get along with her husband.) On October 15, 1966, the Airplane played the Fillmore, and at the end of the show, Balin announced that Anderson was leaving the band. Anderson’s farewell to the audience is a classic Sixties statement—“I want you all to wear smiles and daisies and box balloons. I love you all. Thank you and goodbye.” The band then played “Chauffeur’s Blues,” with Anderson on lead vocals, followed by one more song. The next night Slick performed with the band.

Anderson returned to Oregon, where she raised a family and sang with a jazz band before suffering from a number of health problems. She has made occasional appearances at reunion shows, with the KBC Band (Kantner, Balin, Casady), and with later incarnations of Jefferson Starship.

Jefferson Airplane: Pretty As You Feel

Fast forward to 1970, when the Airplane were recording the followup to their last great record, Volunteers. Drummer Spencer Dryden, who had joined the band after the first record, had left, ultimately to end up in the New Riders of the Purple Sage.  He was replaced by Joey Covington, a self-taught drummer who had played with Hot Tuna, in unrecorded performances. Then Balin left the band, and they were looking to replace his material on the album, which became Bark. Covington was jamming one night with Kaukonen, Casady, Carlos Santana and percussionist Michael Shrieve on a piece that was given the working title of “Shitty As You Feel,” and little was expected of it. But the engineer, Pat “Maurice” Ieraci thought otherwise, and the title was changed to something more printable. Slick and Kantner overdubbed vocals, Papa John Creach added some fiddle, and a good song emerged. “Pretty As You Feel,” with Covington’s lead vocal, was released as a single and hit 60 on the Billboard chart, the last charting single for the Jefferson Airplane.

Covington left the band in 1972 for a relatively obscure solo career and as a sideman, and passed away last month at the age of 67 in a car accident.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


The Who: "Bell Boy"

For this entry in the Other Guy theme, you could almost say it's the Other Other Other Guy. Yes, when it comes to the Who, Roger Daltrey was the lead singer, Pete Townshend (The Other Guy) sang the songs that Roger couldn't interpret the way Pete heard them in his head (at least that's the way I've always figured it), and then John Entwistle (The Other Other Guy) would sing his one composition per album. But unlike the Beatles, where Ringo always had a song per album as well, Keith Moon typically didn't sing on Who albums.

But on "Bell Boy," from the Who's classic 1973 double-LP concept album, Quadrophenia, Moon took the lead for a good chunk of the song. Daltrey starts things off by setting the scene for Moon's entrance, letting you know that he (in the character of Jimmy, from the album's storyline), has found that his idol, "Ace Face," is now a bell boy at a resort hotel ("I can see The Face coming through the haze/I remember him from those crazy days"), no longer the anti-authority figure he had been as leader of the Mods. And then in comes Moon as Ace Face himself, singing in a gruff Cockney accent, bemoaning his current situation. Obviously, Moon is hamming it up, so his singing isn't really as off as this might lead one to believe. In fact, while he's thinking back wistfully ("Some nights I still sleep on the beach/Remember when stars were in reach") you can hear him channeling his inner Townshend. Clearly it's a part that would have otherwise been sung by Pete -- but Moon handles it quite well, showing that he did in fact have some melodic range, even if it was rough around the edges.

Townshend has said that he tried to get Moon to sing the song more seriously, but that Moon simply couldn't help mugging for the part, so he gave up trying to get him to do it any other way. And he should be glad he did, as it's certainly one of the most memorable songs on a very memorable album -- and, it should be added, has one of the greatest power-chord riffs in the Who's repertoire. Moon's moment in the vocal spotlight was no throwaway tune, by any means.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Other Guy : Mick Ralphs


In the movie Almost Famous, Lester Bangs tells Cameron Crowe's stand-in "1973 is a dangerous time for rock n roll".

It was certainly a dangerous time for Mott the Hoople. The hard rocking, all-straight band suddenly found fame with the David Bowie penned and produced  glam rock gay anthem "All the Young Dudes", a #37 hit in the US. They toured like mad but couldn't escape the pop music pundits labeling them a Bowie band.

For 1973's Mott, Ian Hunter pushed the band to prove they could produce a great album on their own. He may have pushed a little too hard. Keyboardist Verden Allen had already left before sessions began in February. After the recording,  founding member and guitarist Mick Ralphs would depart to form Bad Company with his childhood friend, Paul Rodgers of Free.

But before he did, Ralphs took eight minutes in the spotlight to shine on this classic cut from Side Two of 1973's Mott."I'm a Cadillac" is all Mott with its heavy, chiming guitar sounds and sexually charged lyrics. Then, at about three minutes in, the electric guitars drop out and Ralphs steps up to the front with "El Camino Delo Roso", a Spanish guitar showcase.

With Rodgers, Mick Ralphs found someone who could reach the high notes on a song he'd just written called  "Can't Get Enough", soon to be a worldwide #1 hit. Bad Company also recorded Ralphs's All the Young Dudes showcase "Ready For Love" on the 1974 debut which sold 5 million copies. That year Ian Hunter left Mott after being hospitalized for physical exhaustion and eventually pursued a moderately successful solo career.

Mott the Hoople still play reunion gigs. There's a week of them coming up in the UK in November.