Wednesday, July 14, 2021

1971: WHAT IF

Ever the fly on the corpse, this theme immediately had me think of those unable to take up the challenge of looking back to 1971. Mainly from the standpoint of those who actually died that year, losing whatever future potential they may have been able to offer subsequently. Of course, nobody ever really dies in music, and many a career has been kickstarted on the premature visit of the grim reaper. Record companies often make a mint from a death: just look at the charts after the death of David Bowie, let alone the torrent of posthumous releases from his legacy. I wonder how much profit ever makes it back, if not to the artist, but to their dependents, the answer always precious little, I suspect. And, with the parlous state, allegedly, of the recording industry, is the death of all the septuagenarian, and older, boomers on their books all they have to look forward to? (Told you I'd cheer you up!)

1971, for all the touting of it being the year amongst all others, well, how was it for me? I turned 14 that year, and the records of that year and that have become classics were in my tunnel vision, or many of them, it being around the time I started hoovering up anything and everything to do with long hair hippies and their music; mainly because I was a short-haired school boy, I should add. Flip through the pages of venerable rock writer and broadcaster David Hepworth's tome to that year, 'Never a Dull Moment: 1971, The Year That Rock Exploded', and much of my then listening is actually detailed. He defined it as the year the 1960s ended, if a year late, and he lists 100 of the most influential albums. I was too wet behind the ears for many of them, but certainly I had my ears around The Yes Album, like kkafa, Tarkus and Pictures at an Exhibition by E.L.P., LA Woman by the Doors, Aqualung by Jethro Tull, the Allman Brothers Band's Live At the Fillmore. Plus, of course, Led Zeppelin IV, Killer by Alice Cooper, many more, even, Please To See the King by Steeleye Span. I had to be older for the likes of Carole King, John Prine and Shuggie Otis: see the list here.

But two names ring out on that list, the Doors and the Allman Brothers, as each lost an integral member that year, with both Jim Morrison and Duane Allman failing to greet the future that was beckoning. Others, of course, died that year, Louis Armstrong and Gene Vincent for two, but neither featured in 1971s year zero, and one was old-ish, the other with chronic health issues. Morrison and Allman were both in their 20s, which is desperately wrong.

The above is a computer generated image of how Jimbo may have looked, had he attained his 65th birthday, itself which would have been a remarkable 13 years ago. Mind you, the theories still abound as to his not actually dying back in Paris, 1971, it all being an elaborate ruse for him to slip under the radar for a quieter life, presumably in cahoots with Elvis Presley. To be fair, the evidence for that is thin, but tell that to the crowds who still throng to the cemetery for selfies at his grave, the real question being whether he died of natural causes, of an OD or whether, oo-ee-oo, he was murdered. There has been plenty written about each, and I am not going to link, go look yourself. My own feel is that his death was likely natural, if punishing your body with industrial amounts of booze, on a daily basis over years, counts as 'natural'. 

Had he lived, how would he now be faring? Would he back within the bosom of the Doors? Yes, perhaps, but bearing in mind he had left the band. But, let's be honest, without him they were pretty thin fare, never again reaching much acclaim until signing up Ian Astbury to play Jim, and ditching John Densmore, and riding out as The Doors of the 21st Century, or Manzarek-Krieger, or even Ray Manzarek & Robby Krieger of the Doors, with Densmore having, not unreasonably, taken substantive legal umbrage on the name they might call themselves. Astbury, frontman of UK leather and kohl rockers The Cult,  didn't last much beyond one, admittedly major, tour, ahead of a revolving door (SWIDT) of B team singers. Drums, initially offered to ex-Policeman, Steward Copeland were an even harder stool to fill, Copeland breaking a tactical leg ahead the tour's launch. Even if declining any initial suggestion, I cannot believe Morrison would not have leapt back in like Larry, if not for the megabucks, then to avoid the embarrassment of these pale shadows of the original band. That would have meant Densmore would be back in, too, and I would have loved the opportunity to capture that legacy live. 

I'm a fan. L.A. Woman was one of my first purchases, and like many of contemporaries, I never grew out of it or the Doors. This much you know. I enjoy the idea of Morrison remaining in Europe, had he lived, becoming a latter-day sage to the acolytes who now flock around his extinguished flame. Perhaps ahead and since the golden ticket reunion tour, not least as compatriot Ray Manzarek has himself died, more age appropriately and of natural cause. Maybe slim volumes of poetry, maybe music, it maybe of impenetrable form and nature. Think Scott Walker, himself spending most of his post 60s career in Europe, if England is still allowed to consider itself part thereof.

Duane Allman is a whole different matter. A slightly more facetious possible current appearance above will hopefully not offend. Arguably at his peak at the time of his accidental death, motor cycles and his eponymous Brothers Band never seeming a good choice. Having shown himself to be a premier league session guitar for the whole stable of southern blues, soul and rock music, his band with bro' Gregg had cemented their reputation, barely months earlier at the legendary Fillmore, (hi, Jordan), with, still, one of the best ever live LPs ever, period. And that is also without mentioning his star turn, frankly eclipsing "Derek" Clapton, guesting on the and the Dominos debut. Such remarkable talent. How would it be had he survived? The Band was seemingly able to carry on, if not regardless, certainly by polishing his laurels, with any number of wannabe Duane duplicates. Not a put down, again I like very much and admire the changing iterations of the band, probably even only officially on hiatus, following Gregg's rather more timely death. (That he should live an allotted, with his earlier lifestyle choices, is itself an irony worth considering.....) But returning to my theme, had Duane lived, would young Derek Trucks, himself the nephew of deceased fellow band member, Butch (2017) of that name, have been so tempted to take on the crown of the king of slide guitar? Can you imagine the pair of them duelling? Now that would be something.

Had Duane lived, I doubt he would ever have stopped being in the band, or even whether he would have been allowed to. But, had he, what then? I can imagine him as a perennial guest and star session man, wheeled out to give gravitas to any recording he became associated with. A bit like how Steve Cropper still conducts his career. Nice thought, ain't it?

So, 1971, great year and all, but imagine how greater today might be had these two icons, no small word, but undoubtedly apt, were still on the earth?

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