Saturday, April 20, 2019


And so I move, seamlessly, from one Soft Machine alumnus to another, from Robert Wyatt to Kevin Ayers, together the rhythm section in the original line-up. Kevin is no longer with us, my buddy J.David penning some words at the time of his demise, but he is a fella that gave me great teenaged pleasure, with his uber-cool image, his prog credentials, so important to me at that time, but mainly, through his gloriously quirky and quixotic songs, often exhilaratingly bonkers, as indeed is this. Duck call percussion?

I came to Ayers a little behind the loop, via the teenage prodigy he had earlier hired on bass for his band, The Whole Wide World, one Mike Oldfield. Soft Machine were too clever and a bit old for me, but Tubular Bells was a sensation for me, upon its 1973 release, introducing me to any number of connections, as I perused the back story and looked at the names of his address book, mustered together for the live performances. Whilst I don't think Ayers was involved in the latter, I was particularly taken with his peculiarly english style of singing, espousing the usual transatlantic twang, then and now still so prevalent. It reminded me of another very english vocalist, early Pink Floyd focal piece and front man, Syd Barrett, exemplarised in this later solo track.

What I didn't know was that 'O Wot a Dream' was actually about Barrett, and that, after Barrett's lysergic exit from Pink Floyd, the two actually performed together on the above clip, 'Singing a Song in the Morning (Religious Experience)', the compelling guitar calisthenic being performed by Barrett, I have to say somewhat against the myth around his having entirely lost it. Still, the record company still saw fit to cut the end coda from the original cut, it taking until a re-release for it to see light of day. In this brief interview, a looking seriously out of it Ayers mentions the relationship at the very end of the clip, about 5.25.

As arguably an ill-fitting tribute to both, here is a poor quality recording of a less than 100% Ayers performing 'O Wot a Dream' at a 2007 Syd Barrett memorial concert. I think I probably prefer the duck call on the studio version to the jaw's harp. Finally, in case any might wonder, why the spelling, wy the wot, if you will? Personally I think this just adds to the overall anglocentricism of the song, but, who knows, maybe it was to avoid any confusion with this.

Wy not?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

What?!: What Are Their Names

purchase [If Only I Could Remember My Name]

Wikipedia tells us that Crosby's 1971 first solo album <If Only I Could Remember My Name> was selected for the Vatican's top pop 10 albums of all time list. What? David Crosby? The Vatican?
Said Crosby: It baffles me as much as it baffles you, man.

If Only I Could Remember My Name came on the heels of Deja Vu and was Crosby's solo album that coincided with the solo albums from each of the rest of CSNY.

The album seems rather raw to me. Others have labeled it as experimental. That is certainly true of this piece: the lyrics don't even kick in until the song is more or less finished, and up until that point, we listen to what I would call a rather wandering guitar. Very much <a la Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead>. No surprise then to learn that Garcia helped to arrange and produce the album.

A news article in a recent Guardian noted that 1 percent of Brits own virtually all the land in the country. Although Crosby was probably more focused on the US, this song rifs on that theme.
What are their names? What do they care about you? About the state of the world beyond their wealth?  What does their "charity" mean for the future of the planet (like rebuilding Notre Dame)?

The entire lyrics aren't long and the "choir" singing it includes most of the Airplane, the Dead, Joni Mitchell and CSNY

I wonder who they are
The men who really run this land
And I wonder why they run it
With such a thoughtless hand
What are their names
And on what streets do they live
I'd like to ride right over
This afternoon and give
Them a piece of my mind
About peace for mankind
Peace is not an awful lot to ask

What?!: Be Thankful For What You Got

William DeVaughn: Be Thankful For What You Got

Sometimes, when there’s a theme with almost limitless possibilities, the best course is to jump on the first song that jumps into your head. If that were the case here, I’d be writing about The Buzzcocks’ “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Life.” But I’m not (yet, at least). My second thought was “(What’s So Funny) ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding,” since I heard Nick Lowe sing that live the other day. But I have already written about that song in detail at Cover Me. (Did you know that Cover Me has a Patreon site? Check it out!)

Scrolling through the official J. David iTunes library (yes, I still have one. And an email address. Proves I’m an early adopter), I came across a bunch of possibilities, but stopped cold when I came to “Be Thankful For What You Got.” You know, that great, smooth, 1970s soul song, with the memorable line, “Diamond in the back / sunroof top / digging the scene with a gangster lean," sung by….by….Curtis Mayfield? Nope. The singer is William DeVaughn, who wrote the song, originally as “A Cadillac Don’t Come Easy,” while working full-time as a government draftsman.  Luckily, he changed the title, or I couldn’t be writing about it here.

DeVaughn took the song to Omega Sound in Philadelphia, maybe a step above a vanity studio, and paid $900 of his own hard-earned money to record it. Omega Sound, however, had connections with members of the MFSB group of studio musicians, who backed up many great acts, including Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the O’Jays, the Stylistics, the Spinners, Wilson Pickett, and Billy Paul, and had hits on their own, notably “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia).” MFSB sax player John Davis liked the song, suggested a jazzy, smooth, soulful arrangement, booked Sigma Sound Studios and enlisted some of his fellow MFSB members to play on the track.

What they created was something truly special, a song that became a huge crossover hit, and which has been covered, referenced and sampled by artists as diverse as Parliament-Funkadelic, N.W.A., Rumer, Gabor Szabo, Arthur Lee and Love, Rihanna and Massive Attack.

DeVaughn, a Jehovah’s Witness, had a couple of minor hits after “Be Thankful,” but appears to have not fully committed to a music career. Which is a shame, because he has a great voice, and could really write a song.

Sunday, April 14, 2019


I absolutely loathe this song. Or at least in the iteration it is best known, the version that ruined weeks and weeks and weeks of my childhood, spoiling my Top of the Pops viewing by being number one forever, or seeming to be. Louis bloody Armstrong, gurning away to the camera, all grimaces and duff notes, perpetually mopping his brow. How could anyone sweat that much? And as for the "woahhhhh yeaaaaaah" at the end. Dreadful, and still able to bring me out in hives. Now, don't get me wrong, I was probably about 10 years old, how was I to know that this buffoon was one of the seminal voices of jazz, albeit via a trumpet than his frayed vocal cords? I know all that now and respect the dude but still cannot allow myself much to like him. (And don't get me started on 'Hello Dolly'........)

But you know, it isn't actually a bad song. Or at least is capable of being made into quite a good song. There have been very many covers, many of which are clearly tributes to the original and, broadly, unnecessary. Then there are the standard make-overs in the idiom of the day. And others that are just downright odd. As in, what were they thinking? (I think a look in the eyes of the performers might just answer that question.)

But here are trio that, I believe, pass muster.

You could say this is just another idiom of the day offering, but you will have to understand the amount of love I have for this venerable performer, the sadly late Rico Rodriguez. This pillar of reggae trombone delighted me for many of his decades of activity in music. I probably first came across him on, again, Top of the Pops, he always present, alongside sidekick Dick Cuthell, on flugelhorn, whenever the Specials had a song in the chart. I later understood he had been an original in the early days of ska and reggae, in Jamaica, associated with the Skatalites, ahead of becoming an occasional member of Georgie Fame's Blue Flames in the 60s. His latter days were spent as a focal member of Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, his solo spots always getting fond applause, even if eventually did little other than hold his trombone and sing a little. (Come to think of it, were I to witness, as a 10 year old, these performances, him as a grey bearded ancient, I wonder too whether I would have a similar opinion as I do now of Satchmo?)

Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John is a serious fan of Armstrong and his legacy, producing a whole album in tribute to him. And it is a corker, start to finish, all tempered with the loose N'Awlins swing for which Rebennack is rightly lauded. This version also featured the Blind Boys of Alabama, vocal staples of a gospel and r'n'b sensibility since the cusp of the 40s. Having started off as a session man, a member of the fabled Wrecking Crew, Dr John invented himself as voodoo shaman, the Night Tripper, in 1968. However, he has perhaps become now more associated as a custodian and standard bearer for the musical pot-pourri that is his home city, often working with other vintage names from the heritage of New Orleans. His live shows remain a thing of wonder.

Finally I offer the majesty that is the vocal of Robert Wyatt. I apologise for each of my three choices having grey and grizzled beards; such now is the territory of musical iconography. Wyatt is another with a long lineage harking back into the 60s, initially as the drummer for proto-jazz-proggers Soft Machine and then his own band, Matching Mole. Following a terrible accident, in which he broke his back, he has become an elder statesman of a politically-hued brand of often unclassifiable blends of jazz, latin and all else available, both on his own and in any number of collaborations. And the odd hit single. This version of the song is the closing track on a wonderful 3 hander, alongside saxman, Gilad Atzmon and violinist Ros Stephen. This distils all the kitsch out of Armstrong's version, leaving a lighter sweetness that doesn't cloy on repeated. I love it.