Sunday, March 7, 2021

MR/MS: BLOE, GROOVIN' WITH

 


It's thursday night, it's 7.30, so it must be Top of the Pops, that covering most of my youth, from as early as I can recall, possibly aged five or so, and progressing much into middle youth, my twenties and thirties. I think I probably came off the bus in the '90s, as anonymous dance acts pretended to play, and it only took a couple of dozen sales to get in the chart, with the programme eventually running itself out of steam in the noughties. True, the time slot varied a bit, as did the length of the programme, but it was always, between those years, essential viewing, even when it was a family cringe-fest, ma and pa jutting in with their opinions, often broadly unhelpful, and requiring many Judas moments of denial that I liked that sort or thing. Or worse, if I actually did.


This song I shouldn't have liked at all, it being a novelty instrumental, a one hit wonder at that. But listen. It's actually very well played, and so it should have been, given the players. To be fair, I am wondering how much I did like it at the time, 1970, and how much it is the nostalgic feel good filter of rose-tinted earbuds. Be that as it may, I think it's a corker now.


It is actually a cover, the tune first cropping up, as above, a b-side of an already pretty hard to harvest band, Wind, who certainly evoke a me, neither response to anyone I know. They were a backing band for Tony Orlando, actually during the time he was better known for performing with Dawn. I guess Tony Orlando with Wind might prove a tad close to the bone, this instrumental the flip of Make Believe, a 1969 hit, seemingly, if not my side of the pond. Anyhow, it was picked up by Steve James of Dick James Music (DJM), then the record label for, amongst others, Elton John. Unable to pick up the rights to release the original, he picked a selection of artists available to him to recreate it. Elton allegedly played on the pilot project, but was ditched for a version with a Zack Laurence on the piano, the distinctive harmonica part possibly played by a Harry Pitch. However, by the time it came to Top of the Tops, the harmonica was being played by an Ian Duck. None of those three have any lasting backstory, but the rest of the band did, being, essentially, Elton's then backing band, later to become Hookfoot, with Dee Murray on bass, Roger Pope on bass and Caleb, brother of Finley, on guitar. A fairly huge hit, peaking at number two, courtesy the alongside presence of Mungo Jerry's In The Summertime. It then remained in the charts for eighteen weeks, and longer in the clubs, it fitting well into the then Northern Soul craze filling the dancehalls of northern England.


There were follow-ups, none successful. On the back of the UK success, Wind had their version re-released in the US, as and a-side, this time credited under the slightly safer band name Cool Heat. There have been the odd subsequent cover version, some very odd. Perhaps the oddest, and the least necessary, was by the Associates, the band the of maverick Scottish singer Billy McKenzie, more usually defined by his extraordinary vocal range and lifestyle choices. But, for posterity, I feel I should include it here.


Don't bloe it!

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Mr./Ms.: Ms. B.C.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Ms. B.C.
[purchase

When you’ve been a theme-oriented blog for as long as Star Maker Machine, it is not surprising that we occasionally repeat themes, or in this case, have a theme that nudges up against an earlier one. Almost exactly two years ago, for our “Titles and Honorifics” theme, I wrote about Fela’s “Mr. Follow Follow,” which would work for this theme (although my colleagues seemed to write mostly about doctors or royals, which itself was another theme….) 

But it isn’t so much the theme that matters, but the music, and the writing, right? 

I like jazz, but I don’t know an enormous amount about it because there’s only so much time in the day, and most of my music listening is more in the rock genre. To some extent, I’ve found learning about jazz to be intimidating, but listening to the music can be amazing. I’ve written about non-fusion jazz a bunch of times, but considering my lack of deep knowledge, I’ve mostly focused on big names, unlike my rock or folk posts that often focus on lesser known artists. And I’m OK with that. 

We’ll continue in that vein today, with a song, “Ms. B.C.” by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Blakey was one of the great jazz drummers, with a career that started in the big band era. In the 1950s, Blakey and pianist Horace Silver formed the Jazz Messengers, and over the next 35 years it became a primary incubator of talent, with nearly every famous jazz musician spending time learning from Blakey. In the late 1980s, there was a small jazz club, Mikell’s, on 97th and Columbus in Manhattan, just down the street from my apartment, and my wife and I and some friends went there a few times—but not nearly enough. One night, we saw one of the last, if not the last, version of the Jazz Messengers. While I don’t remember who was in the band that night, it was pretty amazing. 

“Ms. B.C.” appeared on a 1981 album, modestly titled, Album of the Year, featuring Blakey, alto sax player Bobby Watson, Billy Pierce on tenor, James Williams on piano, bassist Charles Fambrough, and a barely 20 year old Wynton Marsalis. Written by Pamela Watson, wife of Bobby, and a composer, arranger, pianist, singer and music educator, it was dedicated to Betty Carter, a singer who, like Blakey, had a reputation for discovering and nurturing young jazz talent.   It's pretty great.

And just because, here’s an intense version recorded at the Village Vanguard in 1982, with most of the same band, but with Branford Marsalis on alto and Donald Brown on piano:

Sunday, February 28, 2021

MR/MS : JONES

Have you ever realised how many Jones's there are in music. And I don't mean performers, I mean in the material. Is it the commonest surname in song? (Answer: Possibly. Unless Mr and Mrs Postman of Poughkeepsie beg to differ.) So why is that, do you think? Is it because of the pervasive influence of the Welsh, creeping into all our genepools? Extensive research (wikipedia) tells me that, after Smith, Jones is one of the seven commonest names in the US and, again after Smith, the second commonest name in the UK. Plus it's short, it's anonymous by virtue of its ubiquity and it rhymes with bones. (I made that bit up. I mean, sure, it does rhyme with bones, but that may not be the reason for the popularity. But consider the possibility.)


Let's agree the above is the best Jones, a song I have adored these long 18 years since it became a staple on any mixtape song selection I have ever made. A glorious riot of teenage dreams for stardom, it is a true story. Or, at any rate, Mr Jones, singer Adam Duritz's buddy Marty Jones, and he did spend a night at the New Amsterdam, getting drunk and imagining how, if they were famous, they would get the girls they could only ogle. Funny thing fate, as, courtesy the song, Mr Duritz did become a big big star. As for Marty Jones, did he ever become someone just a little more funky? Sadly, that much I don't know.

So, back to Adam Duritz, and his wanting to be Bob Dylan. The Bob Dylan, above, I'm assuming, at peak mystique. As a boy I was, obviously, familiar with all the early hit singles, and bought Greatest Hits, an early step in my obsession with recorded music, and I remember two songs standing out in particular. Firstly, Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, because it was such utter shite, beyond the hey man, he said stoned schtick, and Ballad of a Thin Man, because it was just so damned cool. My views haven't changed, and the chunk out the vinyl just around track side 2 track 5 confirms that, it being the UK version, trainspotters, as well as revealing that Ballad of a Thin Man wasn't actually on the record. But you catch my drift.


When Mr Jones recovers from the shock of seeing his paramour in flagrante, he realises it was time to get him some cool. So off he shuffles, tail between his legs, possibly to the New Amsterdam, with the aim of smartening up his act. And, boy, can he shake his stuff. David Byrne could have been an archetypical Mr Jones, himself, almost the antithesis of hip, all nerdy shirts and mannerisms, yet somehow transcending all that and being just that figure he lampoons, but, hey, after all, "he is not so square". And that feisty arrangement, years before it became the thing, something to relish and wonder.


Mind you, it hadn't always been like that. Little did all those hipsters and hepcats know, but Mr Jones had a further backstory, the stuff of tragedy. Tragedy was, of course, de rigeur for the early Bee Gees, as their stage wear above demonstrates. (Nope, I'm not going to make a joke or insert a glib clip to any of their later work.) No wonder he had developed a little problem.....


That's right, too clever by half, here the neat insertion of a 'Jones' meaning a habit. OK, the lyrics aren't so subtle, but the song is OK in a non-threatening way, but it at least enable me to share my learning. So, if you have a 'jones' for something, we all know it is lifted from junkie slang for their fix, but, similarly, having a 'yen' for something comes from the exact same territory, 'yen' being a corruption of yan, meaning a craving, usually for opium. Well, I didn't know that.


So it's about time something turned good for our titular friend. So what better than a night out with the delightful Ms Winehouse. And before you smart alecs tell me she actually had quite a yen for a jones, it apparently refers to her, um, alleged friendship with the rapper Nas. (Actually me neither.) It isn't a bad song, even if it leads you into expecting something a bit more like this.


Finally, and to draw to a close the long and sorry saga of Jones esquire, and it's a rum old do, suggesting all sorts of shenanigans. I'm not too sure quite what Richard Butler, the lead Fur was thinking about here, but it seems, as fiction becomes fact and facts become fun, it refers to a real life Mr Jones. Sad, but true, my little scenario thus far is based upon little more than my fevered imagination. But Butler's Mr Jones, and possibly even Mrs Jones, refers to one David Jones. This one. I like to imagine all the Mr Jones' might also be. Try it.



Saturday, February 27, 2021

Main: Mainline Florida

 




purchase [461 Ocean Boulevard]


Main, to me, conjures up the Stones' Exile on Main Street, but let's that leave that aside this time around.

I very early on had a copy of Cream's Disraeli Gears. As well as a copy of Fresh Cream. And then I was extremely lucky to catch Blind Faith in Seattle at the tender age of 14. Lucky, because I didn't even live in the USofA. A year later, when I did move to the US for boarding school, out comes the eponymous Eric Clapton solo album of 1970. And then after Derek and the Dominoes, there's nothing for 3 years until 461 Ocean Boulevard.


I'm no historian, but I think I can hear  461 Ocean Boulevard as a turning point in the man's music style.  You can hear/sense a major change in guitar style but particularly his vocals.  The more melidious harmonies that had been percolating with Winwood and then Allman during the Dominoes period seem to have matured. Granted, Rolling Stone critic Ken Emeson was not impressed with Clapton's guitar on the album: hiding behind less capable musicians. Myself, I think the symbiosis with Yvonne Elliman on vocals is one of the strengths of the album.

Mainline Florida is credited to George Terry, who joined Clapton on guitar for the album and in later collaborations, including Lay Down Sally. I get the impression that it perfectly suits what must have been the atmosphere at the address near Miami in 1974.


Joe Bonamassa:


George Terry:




Tuesday, February 23, 2021

MAIN: LINE

So this mainline Jesus is on, right, what is it actually? I always thought it was about a train, especially with the world of gospel awash with songs about trains. Surely it must be God's preferred form of transport, such is the plethora of references, from the Staples Singers to the Carter Family, each espousing the sure-fire way to heaven is by locomotive. It's an odd idea, given how few were around in nothing A.D., but it seems a good idea. Plus it sort of fits that the journey in the other direction is more often by road, if only to please the optimist in me; more folk fit on a train than a car.

But then I got confused. Mainline is also a word associated with drugs and with addiction. Jesus doesn't have that mainline, does he? Scouring the literature, only a few are saying that. But it is interesting how the imagery continues, the tell-tale signs being also tracks. Few encapsulate it better than these guys. Even the rhythm sounds like a choo-choo. 

Pity we can't ask Lou how, or if, he got to Heaven, in the end, by train. Or did he take a car in the other direction. 

But it seems I got it all wrong. It seems Jesus was on the mainline as in telephone line. Or was, at least, available to take a call. With supportive evidence lobbied. Again it's a rum 'un, wondering how such discussions took place before Alexander Graham Bell. Written, I guess. 

Well, that cleared that up. Little else to say.

Trains or telephones. Or just plain Jesus.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Main: Mainstream

Quiet Sun: Mummy was an Asteroid, Daddy was a Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil
[purchase

For no particularly good reason, other than I like it, I’ve been listening to a bunch of fusion and prog-rock lately (I find it good to have on while working), which meant that coincidentally, I’ve heard a bunch of Chick Corea in the days before his death. That’s just an aside to the main point of this piece which is about an almost forgotten fusion album, Mainstream by Quiet Sun. 

I remember being introduced to Phil Manzanera’s music in college by someone at WPRB. Although aware of Roxy Music, I didn’t know the names of anyone in the band other than Bryan Ferry, but I learned that Manzanera was the guitarist, and that I liked his solo work better than Roxy. I’ve written about that, and about Manzanera’s background here—and even mentioned both Mainstream and our wonderfully titled featured song—so I won’t repeat myself too much. 

As I wrote there, when Manzanera booked studio time in 1975 to record his first solo album, Diamond Head, he reunited his school band, Quiet Sun, to record some music they had previously worked on, but never recorded formally, before the group disbanded in 1972. This was not just a bunch of kids bashing around in their garage, but a talented group of musicians influenced by the Canterbury Scene. In fact, bass player Bill MacCormick had befriended Robert Wyatt (the son of a friend of his mother’s), one of the stalwarts of the scene as a founder of Soft Machine. After Quiet Sun’s first disbanding, MacCormick joined Wyatt’s band Matching Mole, Manzanera joined Roxy Music, keyboard player Dave Jarrett became a teacher, and drummer Charles Hayward played with a number of different groups, including briefly with Gong. 

But Manzanera got the band back together in 1975, recording at night after the Diamond Head sessions were done, and working on improving their earlier music with what they had learned in the intervening years (and availing themselves of Brian Eno's synthesizers and treatments). What they turned out was exciting, interesting fusion, one of the most interesting of which is our featured song (and not just because of its title, which apparently was originally the more pedestrian “Dog,” derived from a prior title, “Mummy was a Maoist, Daddy was a running dog capitalist lackey of the bourgeoisie” that songwriter MacCormick’s brother, music journalist Ian MacDonald, revised in the studio). Remarkably, the complex song was reportedly recorded in one take. 

That was it for Quiet Sun, although some of the music from the album was later performed by 801, which was led by Manzanera, and included MacCormick. On the great 801 Live album, “Asteroid” was combined with a track from Diamond Head, “East of Echo,” and became “East of Asteroid.” It is also great.

Monday, February 15, 2021

MAIN: STREETS

"Main Street is a metonym used to denote a primary retail street of a villagetown or small city in many parts of the world. It is usually a focal point for shops and retailers in the central business district, and is most often used in reference to retailing and socializing."

Well, there's a thing. Metonym, I mean, a word previously outside my knowledge and vocabulary. And of course I love it and you can expect its casual drop into a future post real soon. But I felt I needed clarification of what quite an exile from main street might really mean. Sure, we know what the Stones meant, I think, but, to go all literal, surely it means they were strictly side streets. Or maybe back streets. But, anyway let's have a traipse around some main streets and see where we end up.


London is so big it would be invidious to classify which street is actually more main than any of the others, but, to apply the wiki description, certainly in terms of the main shopping drag and flagship stores, it probably fits the bill best. Plus, and essentially therefore, it has a song about it. A good one too, the output of early Everything But The Girl. Long before the drum and bass electronic clatter of Walking Wounded, they, married couple Ben Watt and Tracey Thorne, were offering delicate jazz tinged whimsy like this. With charm abundant.The lyrics explain perfectly why Oxford Street counts as main street: to those living outside the metropolis, coming in by train as a special treat, Oxford Street is exactly where you would head, if retail was your thing. And, let's face it, more people came to London to shop than to go to the museums. (I guess if you are already a Londoner, you may be more inclined to go to the West End or Brick Lane, depending on resources or requirements.)

Whilst there is a Main street in New York, most folk won't see it a go to, more a go through, so I think it's probably Fifth Avenue. Not everybody gets to pay the prices or even gain admission, so it's good to see the other side, Dylan LeBlanc's wry reflection on being a pauper in the glitz, a string drenched lament that sounds more (Best) western in style than the north east. Lovely song. Other contenders could be, for the more budget conscious, Broadway or Union Street.

OK, a bit of a cheat here, for Paris, but, hell, it was the obvious, right from the start of choosing the thematic approach, right? La belle Joni, peak folk becomes jazzier period, with the lyrically all over the place paean to, well, french kissing. Miles knew, however, that main street, Paris, equals Les Champs Elysees, another eye-waveringly temple to gratuitous wealth. Personally I always preferred Les Halles, the old market and, now, state of the art mall. Let's ask a local.

So where next on this whirlwind? Well, rather than a shuffle through the fleshpots further, the above is a lesser heard oddity from the touched by genius pen of Roy Wood, the Move, ELO and Wizzard man. A schizoid blend of the Glenn Miller sound, mixed with Brian Wilson, it is a delightful way to end this mosey up the main streets of Mammon.

Enjoy, and although the shops are all closed, you can still find all these goodies: EBTG, Dylan, Joni and Roy.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Walls/Obstructions: The Walls Came Down


The Call: The Walls Came Down
[purchase

If we were playing a game where I asked you to guess what band I was talking about, and the clues were: This band released their first album in the early 1980s. They wrote powerful rock anthems, with meaningful lyrics, sometimes with Christian themes, and performed them passionately and well, you very well might think I was talking about U2, which went on to become one of the biggest, most successful bands of all time. But of course, you saw the picture and read the title, so you know that I am talking about The Call, which, despite some success, did not go on to become one of the biggest, most successful bands of all time. 

OK, were they as good as U2? Not in my mind. But were they better than a lot of their contemporaries who went on to more fame and fortune? Definitely. 

The Call was formed in 1980 in Santa Cruz, and the leader and lead singer was Michael Been, who was born in Oklahoma, but moved to Chicago after high school. A performer from an early age, Been entered the Illinois state comedy competition (who knew that was a thing), coming in second, ahead of his friend John Belushi. 

After attending the University of Illinois in Chicago and playing in local bands, Been moved to the Los Angeles area in 1972, played in some bands, was a session musician, including on some Christian music albums, before relocating to Santa Cruz and, eventually forming The Call. Their first, self-titled, album was on a major label, was produced by Hugh Padgham, and had the Band’s Garth Hudson on a few tracks. I remember liking it a lot, and playing some tracks from it on WPRB. I wasn’t the only one. Peter Gabriel referred to the band as “the future of American music,” and recruited them to open for him. Gabriel later played on The Call’s third album, as did Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr and Robbie Robertson, and Bono appeared on their 1990 album Red Moon, as did T-Bone Burnett. Martin Scorsese cast Been in The Last Temptation of Christ, as the apostle John. Despite this appreciation, their success was limited and fleeting. 

The second album, Modern Romans, was released after I graduated from college, but I listened to it often, and loved our featured song, “The Walls Came Down.” A stridently anti-war song, it was inspired when Been saw the idealism of the '60s give way to more materialistic and militaristic mindsets of the Reagan years, including the Grenada and Lebanon conflicts. It uses the biblical imagery of Jericho’s walls coming down (without ever mentioning Jericho), and ends, though with the modern sentiment: 

I don't think there are any Russians
And there ain't no Yanks
Just corporate criminals
Playin' with tanks 

The band broke up after releasing Red Moon in 1990, and put out a reunion album in 1997, but that was it. Been played as a sideman for others, including Harry Dean Stanton, but for years acted as a sound engineer for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, which featured his son, singer and bassist Robert Levon Been. (I haven’t been able to determine whether he was named in honor of two members of The Band, but it certainly makes sense). Been died of a heart attack in 2010, backstage at a music festival in Belgium, where BRMC was appearing. 

So, why did The Call not reach even half of U2’s fame? Were they too strident and angry? Was front man Been’s lack of classical good looks part of the issue? Read some of the tributes to Been and The Call here, and you get a sense that they were one of those bands that should have been bigger, but just never got there, and no one can really explain why.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

WALLS/OBSTRUCTIONS: BREAKING DOWN THE WALLS OF HEARTACHE

I actually remember this song as being a banger from the minute I first heard it. It's true, quite when that minute was I don't recall, but it must have been sometime in 1968, that being when it was a one-hit wonder in the UK charts. Or possibly in 1975, when it was re-released, but I like to think it the former. I even remember who it was by, the name Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon indelibly inked on my consciousness. And no, it wasn't that Johnny Johnson, it was another one, whose real name was actually Johnny Mathis. And no, not that one either.

So what was the 11 year old me doing, grooving to Northern Soul? Well, I wasn't, no sir, I didn't even know what that was then. And I dare say a few readers may not now. No relation to Southern Soul either, not really. In 1968 I didn't even like soul music full stop, at least not the sort on Top of the Pops, which tended all to be Tamla Motown-ers, twirling and crooning in identical suits, with lots of crimplene and carefully asynchronised dancing. But I liked a good tune, with a good beat, this having both.

Some bio. Johnny Johnson/Mathis was a Floridian, raised in New York State. With three of his chums, BDtWoH was their first record, and it was a bigger hit over here than in his home, a creditable number four. Before long he and the Bandwagon had upped sticks and relocated, coming under the wing of the McCauley-Cook-Greenaway team, responsible for so many UK pop hits of that era.I say he and the Bandwagon, but the original Bandwagon stayed put, Johnson calling whomsoever present for shows and recordings as the Bandwagon, or even his Bandwagon. I also learn he/they weren't a one hit wonder, having a fair few lesser hits, lurching on for some time.

Meanwhile, in Wigan, and surrounding towns in the north west of England, a strange dance floor phenomenon was kicking off. I read about it in the music press, bemused by tales of all-night dances, boys in very baggy pants, shirtless and sweaty, performing extravagant dance routines from the minute they left work and until they returned back to work in the morning. Or so it seemed. This was Northern Soul, with playlists culled largely from obscure records of a decade before. The tendency was for a heavy backbeat and a fast tempo. Again, not quite my cup of tea then, although I see some greater appeal now, in my dotage. BDtWoH hit that bill just fine, and it's time came around again. Rather than this becoming a treatise, and rather than my awkwardly trying to explain the appeal of a movement I didn't understand, and movements I certainly couldn't do, here's a good song by Clive Gregson (with Christine Collister), describing and entitled Northern Soul. Gregson, the erstwhile singer and leader of band, Any Trouble, featured here, grew up in that neck of the woods, aware first hand of the subculture.

But, and there's always a but, the curtain didn't come down on the song then, it earning a well deserved pirates of encores in the 80s, first of all by SMM faves, Dexys Midnight Runners, themselves often and mistakenly labelled as one hit wonders as well. Actually, they had a slew of British his, both at 45 and 33rpm. And what better to put on the b side of their debut single than this song. Full of cheesy organ, brassy parps and strangled vocals, it is a corker. As an added bonus, feel free to grab a slice of this, from a solo covers album Dexys frontman Kevin Rowland, put out between iterations of the band. Concrete and clay being common staples of wall building.

Finally, from a similar time, ex-Motor Bram Tchaikovsky put out a somewhat power pop version with his eponymous band. If it starts a little anodyne, it is purely preparing you for the glorious chorus.


Bandwagon, Dexy's, Bram.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Walls/Obstructions: Crown of Creation

 



purchase [Crown of Creation]

Digging around for a possible alternative using the obstruction co-theme, what to my surprise but ... the Airplane again. Actually, it shouldn't be much of a surprise: For the most part, much of the 60's music scene was a process of breaching  the walls of "the establishment", and that establishment being an obstruction to peace, love and understanding. 60's music was a veritable cabal of mop-heads and irreverent protesters determined to undermine through music, to exhort the pop music masses to follow the evil ways of rock and roll.  Near the forefront of this rebellious movement was Jefferson Airplane. They were not alone: certainly CSNY, SDS, the Black Panthers .... heck MLJ ... but the Airplane certainly pushed the limits with their cry to Break Down the Walls... 

The song Crown of Creation is pre-Volunteers, the album/song of <break down the walls>), but the energy is clearly building even as early as  the Airplane's first "JA Takes Off". Jeff Tamarkin's "Got A Revolution" is an entertaining and informative history of JA if you want to dig deeper.

Written by Kantner, the lyrics are inspired by and their use officially approved by John Wyndham is his book The Chrysalids, a 50s sci-fi novel about a post-apocalyptic civilization that survives after the destruction of a sinning technologically advanced culture. Although this came out a year or so before Volunteers, the not-so veiled messages that society is out of tune with reality is present.

Z-Man's review remarks at Allmusic note that Crown is "unnerving ... a portentous forwarning of what mankind's enmity could someday provoke" while rating the song a B+ (Triad and The House at Pooneil Corners from said album get A's). Tamarkin says "The song pulsates with a martial rhythm ... the agitated energy reflects its time .."

The qualifying lyrics: "... they cannot tolerate our minds ... we cannot tolerate their obstruction"



Coincidentally, as happened in my last post, there is also a band of the same name, this time from Germany.



Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Walls/Obstructions: If Walls Could Talk

 


purchase [ Paradise and Lunch  ]


I find myself pre-disposed to prefer the Ry Cooder version of this because that's where I first heard it (and the version I, myself, play in open-D tuning). And because I have posted again and again and again and ... songs by Ry Cooder. My first SMM guest post as a possible SMM writer included a reference to Ry.

Ry Cooder fully credits Bobby Miller (of course he would) on his '74 album Paradise and Lunch, but I never dug deeper into the story of the song. Now that I have, I see that there was much that I missed. I knew that Ry regularly focuses on music that is at the roots of contemporary pop/rock. But without that exploration, I have been missing some great music.

Miller, known as a producer and songwriter, doesn't appear to have left a recording of himself performing the song. Me, I find it hard to imagine that a songwriter didn't also play the song in some version himself, but we'll have to rely on the version he first produced for/with Little Milton back in the '60s. I assume it was what he himself might have played - if in fact he played an instrument. I can also see what might have attracted Ry Cooder to come up with his own rendition. "It's the same old song .." but with a different beat. The original Little Milton version was released on the Checker label, a subsidiary of Chess records.


The notion behind the lyrics is certainly not new. What goes on behind closed doors that the walls could tell us about if only they could speak is a theme as old as ... well... the hills that could also tell a lot of stories. There's a peepin' tom side to it as well as an element of eternal truth about the human condition.

Geraint Watkins and the Dominators have a version


as does Koko Taylor


Here's a version by Dr Feelgood


And another from Duke Robillard that harkens back kind of to the original by Little Milton (at least in the strumming intro)

Oh, yes, and there's also a band of the same name




Sunday, January 31, 2021

WALLS/OBSTRUCTIONS: HONKY TONK/SON VOLT

 Hang on, what the bejasus has this to do with walls, I hear you say, the perfectly decent back to Bakersfield project by Jay Farrar and his revolving door of troubadours? More about building bridges, surely, between the goddam longhair americana hippies and the more trad what Hank did iterations of a redder necked country. Yebbut, but go check out the track listing, with at least three tracks referencing walls and barriers. See? That's good enough for me.

Big fan of Son Volt, as much as for Jay Farrar being there to assist at the birth of No Depression/Alt Country and all the many myriad names to try and disguise the solid bloodline of, or the musical origins and forbears of the style. Country rock was good enough for me in the 70s, but I guess that name suggests the need and presence of a drum kit, so fair play. Farrar and his for-a-while buddy, Jeff Tweedy had been the impetus within the band Uncle Tupelo, a honey of a group that, ahead of clashes of personality, produced some glorious music. Did they do any songs around walls or obstructions? Not as such, but this one acknowledges the truth that most doors have a need for surrounding masonry.....

Screen Door

Anyhow, moving on, and with Farrar moving out of Tweedyshot, and with Uncle Tupelo essentially having become Wilco, Farrar needed gainful. Son Volt began as a band in 1994, Farrar hooking back up again with Tupelo original member and drummer, Mike Heidhorn, himself also having, some time before, fallen out of step with Tweedy, recruiting the Boquist brothers. Hitting the red dirt ground running, their debut, Traces, was well received if not so well bought. That line up, plus additional instrumentation, produced three albums before Farrar called quits; as the principal writer, it was effectively his band. A wall link? Well, I believe that creosote is sometimes applied as weather proofing to wooden walls?

Creosote

Five years later and Farrar seemed ready to pick up the brand again, initially with the same members. However, following a solitary appearance on an Alejandro Escovado benefit/tribute album, this was not to be, and a near totally new set of sidemen were recruited. This version, shedding and adding as required, have since pursued a somewhat erratic course, careering from style to style. You want some Dylanesque ballads? Tick. Barroom brawlers? Likewise. But, for me it was and is Honky Tonk that hits their lodestone. Perhaps this is because that is the style of music I like best within the broad church of country, with, here, the sounds and influences of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens spilling through into this recording with affection and respect. Predominantly acoustic of guitar, bar the essential wail of pedal steel, with twin fiddles and the never more mournful vocal of Farrar, this format ideal for his world weary tones And, add the premium of three songs based around walls, there is nothing to obstruct the right of this album to lead this thread.

Brick Walls

Seawalls

Barricades

Beautiful stuff! OK, the lyrics may be a little hokey, but, hell, that's the M.O., they have to be; an effortless recreation of the fabled Bakersfield sound, that must even had Dwight Yoakam eating out his own heart. The steel, variously by Mark Spencer and Brad Sarno, is just exquisite. Given Farrar has now embarked on a 25 years later revisioning of his Son Volt output, with last years re-released Traces, with additional unreleased material, I can't wait for, gulp, 2038.

Build it up!



Saturday, January 30, 2021

Over: Move It On Over

 



purchase [get  some Hank Williams  ]


This week SMM's contributing vloggers have done a remarkable job skirting the obvious- we have seen all sorts of <Over>s that remained remarkably apolitic. Kudos to all - Maybe Biden's middle of the road approach will work? 

This song actually has its own Wikipedia page in which we learn that it is considered to be one of the earliest examples of rock and roll. The date? 1947. Note that: the start of Rock is '47.  The page also informs us that another contender for earliest example of rock and roll, Bill Haley's Rock Around the Clock, bears several technical similarities.

If you already know about 'Hank" Williams, you are a step ahead of where I was earlier this week. I knew the name, knew he was associated with country and maybe had even once read the story of a life that was over too soon. Not quite a member of the 27 club of musicians, as incidentally was Robert Johnson [see last week], as were Janis, Jimi, Kurt and Jim.

In addition to Williams' original, there are a number of others who have recorded it, including George Thorogood on an album of the same name. That said, for whatever reason, the version that caught my attention before I even learned that it was a Williams original was this one by Willie Nelson. There's something about the story told in the lyrics that just fits what little I know about Nelson. It seems like a song he ought to sing.


Willie:




George:



Thursday, January 28, 2021

Over: The Go-Gos, Head Over Heels


Purchase Head Over Heels--skip the middleman, buy from the band! 

I love songs that work in dichotomy. Particularly, when the upbeat melody and sound of the song in no way matches the lyrics. Some songs are so happy, so poppy, that it's hard to relate the sonic sensation that listening brings when you actually listen to what the singer is on about.  I recall this was a point of criticism in 2002, when Springsteen put out the September 11th response album, The Rising. Mixed into those soaring, elegiac and hymn-like sounds were songs of tragedy, pain and heartbreak. Some too-stiff typewriter trolls found that unforgivable.

But, then, music is meant to be a healing force, and I think that a sad lyric put to a bursting, energetic melody is the perfect combo. 

Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" never fails to uplift, despite the near-suicidal evocation in the lyrics. Springsteen's "The Rising" is a prayer of gratitude and awe for those who risk their lives to save others, and "Mary's Place" is a hell-with-it-all promise to the self, made at a turning point in grief and a personal decision to move on and find the beauty in life, a soul-fused, dance floor banishing of sorrow for affirmation of the fact that life goes on. 

Catharsis measured by sing-alongabiltiy, release in turning the volume up. There is just an ineffable magic about something sad that still makes you feel good. It's the magic of the music whispering the lyrics in one ear, and in the other, the gentle admonish, "Don't be sad..." 

I can't think of a better place to turn when I'm done than my record collection. 

I can write you a nice long playlist to help you out of emotional jams...

Which takes us to the song I've picked for the theme this month, which is 'over'. Over it, over done, overwrought, over and out? "Head over Heels," as done by the four album power pop, cute-punk California girls of my adolescent dreaming, The Go-Gos. A band that never got taken seriously, much to the "Doh!" of many of us who wrote them off as cream puff radio wannabes.

I love a lot of what the Go-Gos did, especially on their first album, where there was a lot of new wave grit to give the bubble gum some snap and sizzle. They made radio history with distinctly cool, distinctly genre leaning pop-punk tunes. There's glitz, and glam, but their music had a California vibe that would serve as the melodic precursor to your Green Days and your Blink 182s, abhorrent as it is to think punk could be pop, listened to by the masses and blared on commercial radio. Such is the way these things go--I mean, how many people who wear a Ramones t-shirt know the Ramones were a band? Music, as a cultural force, isn't exclusive to any one tribe, and the chameleon like appeal some bands carry is tribute to the universality of sound and the resistance we should all have toward arbitrary labels.

But, back to the Go-Gos.  They got short shrift for being the first Billboard charting, all female band to write all of their own songs, and play all of their own instruments. That sounds like a backhand slight, disguised as a compliment, but given the politics of pop music, and the exploitation that went along with so many of the hits that will forever be staples in our cultural history, the Go-Gos were a real band. With talent, and hooks, and looks.

"Head Over Heals" comes from Talk Show, their last album before they split up. It's the most commercial album they did, yet reflects the pressures of fame, and the lead single in particular speaks to the struggles the band faced with big label pressures, finances, substance abuse, and personality conflicts. Like any juggernaut pop band, the Go-Gos were put on a running cycle of touring and producing that brought fame very quickly. So many cautionary tales come from the world of pop and rock--young talent, driven by labels to repeat early flashes of magic, and then the trappings of fame, in the guise of sex, drugs and all the other glittery delights. It did the Go-Gos in, like so many other acts, but they managed four great hybrid albums in that run that reward listeners with fresh appeal, almost 40 years on. 

The Go-Gos certainly had a bright flash across the pop landscape, top 10 hits and fun videos. But, it came at a cost, as it did for so many bands, over the years. In a New York Times interview, lead singer Belinda Carlisle said "We were run ragged, we didn't know how to say no. ['Head Over Heels'] has an upbeat, cheerful melody and lyrically it really captures the darker side of fame and fortune - I had an appreciation for the lyrics then but not like I do now in hindsight." What make "Head Over Heels" such an interesting song--aside from it's confectionary of the opening piano riff to its tub thumping drums and static robot signal guitars, is the very dark nature of the lyrical content. 

Any song talking about head going over heels would most likely be about love, and while there is an intimation of romance here, "Head Over Heels" is a far darker, more plaintive song about being overwhelmed and out of control. It's a heavy ditty disguised as a light one, and the timelessness of the angst and the fear at being out of control has a universal appeal. You can tap your toes and snap your fingers to the song, but maybe it's a nervous tic rather than a signal of how into the groove you got. 

"Been running so fast
Right from the starting line
No more connections
I don't need any more advice
One hand's just reaching out
And one's just hangin' on
It seems my weaknesses
Just keep going strong..."

I know the song just went on repeat in your head--it's catchy, to say the least. But what I find most striking, again, is the dichotomy: here we have a dark confession of how fear and anxiety seem to rule the mind, and the lament that, despite best intentions, one's weaknesses are often stronger than our intentions not to be ruled by them. But, if there's anything to this song, it's the embodiment of hope and perseverance in the music. And music itself is sometimes just the thing we need to take one more step towards something better than the slow, sad moment we find ourselves in. Our weaknesses might be the only thing that has any strength, but keep working--you're doing fine, and it will get better.




  

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

OVER: SHAKIN' ALL OVER

Can there be a more evocative intro to a song? The pizzicato guitar plucks, with then the rolling riff of the lead guitar, sounding exactly how a shiver feels, creeping up your back(bone), standing all the hairs up on end. It's glorious. But the version you know is possibly not the version I know, the original failing to cross the atlantic at the time. Which is a pity, as it that rarity, a song of the early pre-Beatle 60s that can still hold its head up, undrenched in the syrupy strings that would spoil most of the UK's rock'n'roll output, often a tawdry and anodyne bowdlerisation of the real thing.

Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were huge during that short period of homegrown rockers, their calling card being their appearance, always in pirate costume, Kidd sporting an eyepatch and a cutlass. With the line up including the now legendary session man on drums, Clem Cattini, the guitar motif, both bits, was provided by one Joe Moretti, a Scot who also played on Vince Taylor's Brand New Cadillac. Number one in 1960, Kidd and his band couldn't hold on to that momentum, each further follow-up bringing diminishing returns, the line-up frequently changing until Kidd was killed, in a car accident, in 1966. For trivia lovers, also injured in that same crash was then Pirate, Nick Simper, later to be a founder member of Deep Purple. The Pirates weren't finished though, and I saw a revived version perform at the famous London pub venue, The Hope and Anchor, in the late 70s. A trio including the dynamic guitarmanship of Mick Green, he was one of the first players to play in a hybrid lead/rhythm style. Somehow, despite their age and portliness, they were lumped into the punk movement, mainly due the speed and precision of their sonic assault. Green was a key influence on Wilko Johnson, who picked up and ran with that style in first Dr Feelgood and then is his own band and with Ian Dury. I remember they did play Shakin' All Over that night, and I was bemused, knowing the song but not why they were playing it, other than the fact it was fast and ferocious. Green later became an integral part of Van Morrison's band, in the days when fellow 60's survivor, Georgie Fame was musical director and organist supreme. He died in 2010.

Wilko Johnson is then a link to the next version, courtesy his still fairly recent album with Roger Daltrey, the excellent Going Back Home, from 2014. Daltrey, of course, the then, the very much earlier and the still vocalist of the Who. Often cited as one of the best live albums of all time, their Live At Leeds, their version is a little slower and has a harder rock sound, with less roll. Legend has it that the only reason they played the song, was to get over the sometime confusion between themselves and Canadian band, the Guess Who, who had had a big North American hit with the song, in 1965. If a confused section of the audience were to muddle them up, and to call out for the song, it was easier to just play it, rather than have to explain. 

(By coincidence, and possibly for the same reason, guess what song the Guess Who played on their possibly less well remembered 1967 Live in Winnipeg opus? Good stuttering practice for a  later collaboration, too.)

Another noteworthy version was by from veteran rockabilly shouter, Wanda Jackson, who possibly shared a stage with Kidd at some time in the late 50s or early 60s. Better perhaps known for another song about shaking, she gave it a delightfully retro twang, including it on her 2011 collaboration with Jack White, The Party Ain't Over.

Quite why the emerging country and blues singer Eilen Jewell included it in her repertoire, on Sea of Tears, I do not know, other than that the idea was to reproduce the twangy tone of that time period, it suiting well her own material, if written nearly a half century later. But I'm glad she did. Still then an avid mix-tape maker, quirky covers were always a welcome discovery to slip alongside other songs I was trying to impress upon friends and family. It meant, in her case, I got to hear more of her own work, liking them and keeping up with her continuing career. Again, her cover is not a radical rewrite, but offered a little more of a western swing to it, with a decidedly more touchy vocal.

Johnny, Rog, Wanda, Eilen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Over: Don’t Dream It’s Over


Crowded House: Don’t Dream It’s Over
[purchase

When this theme was announced, I decided to write about the X song, “Once Over Twice,” but before I even started that piece, I heard Crowded House’s great ballad, “Don’t Dream it’s Over” twice on different Sirius XM stations while driving around in my car. So, it seemed like the universe, or at least the satellite radio folks, were telling me something. 

This song was discussed on this blog back in 2011, before I started writing here, by “boyhowdy,” who was one of the fine writers who attracted me to the blog as a reader first, and then as a writer. Unfortunately, he doesn’t write very often here anymore (and not at all since 2018), but still writes quite well and somewhat irregularly at Cover Lay Down. As it is my oft-stated policy not to try to write something if someone has said it better already, and because boyhowdy is a really good writer, let me quote briefly from his short post: 

this well-known EnZed pop ballad is clearly intended to be romantic in nature. But strip away the pop production . . .and it, too, transforms effectively as an anthem for our times, a call for change in a world where the vitriolic stream of talk radio madness overwhelms any attempt at rational discourse, where the news stations dumb down our world daily in their attempt to demonstrate that every idea has two equal and equivalent sides, where my inner city students struggle to find safe haven in a culture which seems to have forgotten them. 

And remember that passage was written in 2011, when the idea of Donald Trump as president still seemed like a joke. (Damn. Can’t stop inserting politics into music posts. Bad Jordan.) 

“Don’t Dream It’s Over,” was written by Neil Finn, who I still have trouble distinguishing from his older and also very talented brother Tim, for his band Crowded House, and was released on their 1986 self-titled album. It was a massive international hit, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. Since I’m stealing stuff from better writers, here’s a description of the song two Australian writers, Andrew Ford and Anni Heino, from their book, The Song Remains the Same: 800 Years of Love Songs, Laments and Lullabies, as excerpted in The Guardian

It was the song you danced to at the end of the night, pressed close to the intriguing person you’d just met while wondering what might happen next. The palpable sincerity in Neil Finn’s voice and the expansive melodic line of the song’s chorus encouraged hope. The song was also fast becoming an anthem for Antipodeans overseas, the slightly maudlin counterpart to Men at Work’s novelty song Down Under. 

If you read the Guardian piece, there’s a lot more about the musical attributes of the song that I have no ability to write myself. 

According to Finn, despite the fact that he knew the song was good, it almost didn’t come together. He told Uncut (I can’t find a link to the whole interview): 

The day I did it, I knew I had something quite special. Then the next day we played it with the band and it sounded like a bag of s--t. It was only when Mitchell (Froom) suggested the bassline, which Nick (Seymour) elaborated on, that it really found its groove. I was wavering away doing demos, and Mitchell made some quite profound suggestions. Like an R&B bassline might be better than a rock or pop approach, or a Hammond organ could sound nice. These were not textures I was used to. He filled in quite a few areas that we weren't covering, but maybe it made our individual sound less distinctive. It took a while, but then 'Don't Dream It's Over' started to work in the US and whole record went on to have a pretty big life. 

Somehow, Neil Finn ended up in the most recent touring version of Fleetwood Mac (replacing Lindsey Buckingham), and the band performed the song as a duet by Finn and Stevie Nicks. Check out this version from a show in Auckland, New Zealand, not that far from where Finn was born, and where he probably never dreamed he’d be singing on stage with Stevie Nicks.

Hey now!

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.