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?

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

1971: Fillmores

Allman Brothers: Whipping Post
[purchase Don't Fight the Feeling - the Complete Aretha Franklin & King Curtis Live at Fillmore West ]
[purchase Allman Brothers Live at Fillmore East Deluxe Edition]
[purchase Mothers Fillmore East-June 1971]
[purchase Humble Pike Performance Rockin’ The Fillmore

1971 saw the closing of both the Fillmore West and the Fillmore East, the legendary venues operated by the equally legendary rock impresario Bill Graham. The original Fillmore Auditorium was located in a San Francisco building originally built in 1912, and Graham began booking shows there in 1965. It eventually became the center of the San Francisco music scene, with incredible musical performances and famous light shows. But in 1968, because of the increasing deterioration of the neighborhood and the insufficient size of the space, Graham moved his focus to the newly christened “Fillmore West.” That venue, formerly the Carousel Ballroom, was briefly run in 1968 as a cooperative venture by the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother and the Holding Company, before Graham took ownership and began booking shows there. (The original Fillmore was, for a while, operated by a different company as the “New Old Fillmore.”) 

The name “Fillmore West” was chosen because earlier in 1968, Graham had taken over a derelict space in New York City originally built for the Yiddish theater in the mid-1920s, and opened it as the Fillmore East. That venue, like its West Coast sibling(s) became hugely popular and influential, with shows on multiple nights a week, typically triple bills at 8 and 11 pm. The Fillmore East also featured elaborate light shows. 

However, by1971, the economics of the music business was changing in favor of stadium and arena shows (boo!), and Graham decided to shutter both venues. The last concert at the Fillmore East was an invitation-only affair on June 27, 1971, featuring The Allman Brothers Band, The J. Geils Band, Albert King and special surprise guests (Edgar Winter's White Trash, Mountain, The Beach Boys, Country Joe McDonald). The Fillmore West closed on July 4, 1971, after five nights of concerts by 14 bands, mostly from the San Francisco area, including Santana, the Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the New Riders of the Purple Sage. 

The Fillmore West eventually became a Honda dealership, before becoming a music and event venue called SVN West. The Fillmore East went through a few other iterations as a music venue before becoming The Saint, a gay nightclub in the 1980s. The former lobby of the venue is now a bank, and the auditorium was demolished to build an apartment building. 

The original Fillmore became a punk venue, The Elite Club, before reopening under Graham’s management. It was damaged in an earthquake, and after Graham died in 1991, it was repaired and reopened as The Fillmore. Live Nation operates the venue and has rebranded a number of theaters around the country with the Fillmore name, although in some cases, most notably at New York’s Irving Plaza, it didn’t take. 

Although 1971 was a bad year for the Fillmores West and East, it was a good year for albums recorded at the venues. On May19, 1971, Aretha Live at Fillmore West was released. It had been recorded there in March, and included a number of covers of current popular music. It’s pretty great, featuring, in addition to the amazing Franklin, King Curtis on sax, leading a band that included, among others, Billy Preston, Cornell Dupree, Bernard Purdie, and the Memphis Horns. And there’s a duet with Ray Charles. During the same shows, King Curtis’s band, which was also the opening act, recorded its performances (mostly covers), and they were released as Live at Fillmore West in August. Tragically, a week after its release, Curtis was stabbed to death in New York. 

If there’s one album that rock fans associate with the Fillmore East, it is the Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East, recorded there in March, 1971 and released on July 6, 1971. I’m not really sure what else to say about this album that hasn’t been said better by others. Suffice to say that it is one of the greatest live rock albums of all time, and probably just one of the best rock albums of all time (which is why when I picked one song to feature above, it was from that album). In 2004, the album was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, deemed to be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important" by the National Recording Registry. 

In June, 1971, The Mothers (formerly known as The Mothers of Invention, led by Frank Zappa) recorded performances at the Fillmore East (and some additional performances in May in Michigan), for Fillmore East-June 1971, released in August. It is raunchy and juvenile, and while it has some good music, really hasn’t aged well. 

Humble Pie, which featured Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton, recorded performances at the Fillmore East in May, 1971, and released Performance Rockin’ The Fillmore in November, 1971. I can’t say that I’m at all familiar with it, although I have a vague sense that I’ve heard the single from it, “I Don’t Need No Doctor.” Before the album was released, Frampton left the band for a few years of minimal success before he came alive, briefly.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

2021-50=1971: Yes


purchase [The Yes Album and Fragile ]

I don't recall having ever seen an album production credit for "bank loan arrangement" before. It equally stikes me as strange considering that the album where I saw it was produced immediately on the heels of an apparently successful tour supporting the release of The Yes Album that same year. Woulda thought they had made some money? One explanation is that they needed money to buy equipment for their newly added keyboard player, a man named Rick Wakeman.

So, in February, Yes released The Yes Album, in the summer, keyboardist Tony Kaye is removed from the band, Wakeman joins, and in November, they release >Fragile<.

The addition of Wakeman accomplished the band's intentions to give more prominence to electronic keyboards, and it was Kaye's reluctance to go down that path that led to his departure. 

Of these two 1971 albums, my personal preference is for The Yes Album - Fragile, perhaps because it was a bit rushed into completion, perhaps because Wakeman was still new to the group - doesn't seem to have the cohesion of a "band", but a band that does actually come together on their next album, Close to the Edge. The Yes Album is the product of a group that is working together and on the verge of defining the prog rock genre. The Yes Album is the band's third and the first with guitarist Steve Howe (who appears above at far right in the photo on the album cover of the 2nd album without having actually played on it). 

Shades of Genesis?