Talk From The Rock Room

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Now Playing: Gene Clark - 'The Deep Cuts and Lost Tracks'

Gene Clark, a founding member of the Byrds and one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most intriguing troubadours, has often been suspended in the rock and roll gray area between obscurity and popularity.
Throughout a long musical career that concluded with his untimely death in 1991, Clark was at the forefront of musical innovators leading the way to the next big musical movement; whether it psychedelic, country rock, singer/songwriter, or his own brand of ‘Cosmic American Music.’ Gene was a reserved musical revolutionary. Unfortunately, the more tragic tales of other musicians of the era have distorted Clark’s deserving accolades. The path's that Clark blazed are often applied to others through posthumous campaigns.

Peering through the heavy haze of drugs and alcohol, picking through the failed album tracks and poor production choices, and inspecting the obscure and dusty melodies, a collection of forgotten yet stellar Gene Clark compositions comes into greater focus. Fans and scholars-in-the-know realize that Clark was and is a melodic innovator and by choosing any of the albums in his extended discography one can be witness to his deep and spiritual contributions to rock music.

Clark’s voice will always be remembered for its milky deep baritone, his lyrics for the revealing and detailed glimpse into his minor key reflection of life. If Clark only had one hit song during his solo career, or if some enterprising record executive had the foresight and insight to push his records instead of burying them, Clark’s musical landscape would be completely different. The deep cuts the ‘rock room is spinning today are powerful, beautiful and revolutionary in their own unique ways and deserve much more than a cursory mention on my internet list.

While most if not all of Clark’s solo work could be considered brimming with deep cuts, for this list I have distilled my choices to five songs from his discography of 11 solo records, two of them with ex-Byrd partners Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman. Depending on your familiarity with the Clark discography, you may have contrary choices to my own, but that’s the beauty of lists. A collaborative review and constructive discussion of the dusty cobwebbed corners of Clark’s career can reveal long concealed jewels and shine a brighter light on the obvious gifts of his songwriting abilities …

‘ONE IN A HUNDRED’, (WHITE LIGHT, 1971; ROADMASTER, 1972): A song filled with so much promise and melodic strengths that it held a spot on two albums. First recorded in 1970, the song is actually Byrds reunion track, containing all of the hallmarks of a classic Byrds LP cut with contributions from all of the group’s original members. The jingle-jangle guitar is present and accounted for, in addition to thick and sugary sweet harmonies and Clark’s unique vocal melody lines, all of its elements as distinguishable as a finger print.
 
The Byrds’ version of the song languished in the vaults until the release of the Dutch LP Roadmaster in 1973. In the interim, Clark, aware of the optimistic songs superior strengths, released an alternate version of the track on 1971’s White Light. This stripped down acoustic version is highlighted by Jessie Ed Davis’ serpentine slide guitar and features an airy yet woody arrangement that showcases this song’s internal strengths.

‘STRENGTH OF STRINGS,’ (NO OTHER, 1974): The combination of his refusal to tour as well as the creation of an LP way ahead of its time unfortunately sunk the album No Other before it ever had a chance to leave the ground. Tucked away as the side-one closer on this now unjustly forgotten album, the mammoth “Strength of Strings” contains a beautifully sung wordless introduction, and a slowly ascending main structure that seems to gain momentum as the song rolls forward. Imposing and towering vocals stretch out toward a huge sinking orange sun outlining the cosmic range.
The track is an anomaly; there is no music from 1974 that quite sounds like this. Instruments wrap around one another like a DNA helix, voices take flight, and melodies elicit images of universes colliding and exploding. The song hails from an album that Clark considered his finest moment and that once again fell into the wrong marketplace at the wrong time. ‘Strength of Strings’ is a revolutionary chapter and a song that continues to impress through its historic musical relevancy, one of Clark’s finest moments.

‘POLLY,’ (THROUGH THE MORNING, THROUGH THE NIGHT, 1969): ‘Polly’ hails from one of two albums featuring Gene Clark and Doug Dillard from 1968 and 1969 respectively. Exploring the theme of freedom and flight later reflected in tracks such as ‘Silver Raven,’ ‘Polly’ sways like a weather-worn back porch swing in a smooth Southern breeze. The song moves in the manner of a secret passed between friends, soft and breathy, portraying a resonant sense of loss felt the narrator.
Sparkling acoustic arpeggios in addition to patint strokes across the strings elicit an intimate empty narrator’s room, a slow horse drawn rhythm supports the full community of group vocals that hang delicately in the air. While lyrically brief, Clark’s words, slow and languid expose deeper meaning with every listen. The resulting musical creation is a lacy waltz adding color to the black-and-white outline sketched by Clark’s honeyed vibrato.

‘LONELY SATURDAY,’ (TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY, 1977): After the disappointment felt by the relative commercial failure of 1974’s No Other, Clark returned with another record label and 1977’s release Two Sides to Every Story. Sticking to a theme that seemed to be developing, the record had little success, but the gift of hindsight shows this to be a well-made record containing the usual Clark classics that sit unnoticed like the a beggar on a cold city street. The LP has many choice moments, but the one that sticks with me because of its essential Clark elements is ‘Lonely Saturday.’

The song is a classic country tale of being left behind by a woman who has moved on, but what makes it worthy of inclusion on Clark’s Deep Cuts list is its definitive Clark vocal. You will be hard pressed to find any rock vocals more saturated with emotion. Weeping pedal steel, honky-tonk barroom piano, and the stale smell of a barren dance floor work in conjunction with Clark’s stomach-twisting vocals adding up to a song that will make any grown man cry at the bar.

‘GYPSY RIDER,’ (SO REBELLIOUS A LOVER, 1987): The So Rebellious a Lover LP was subject to positive reviews upon its release, a major change for Clark. It seems that, with the passage of time, some critics and musicians were actually catching up with Clark’s sensibilities. The fruitful collaboration with Carla Olson brought out a number of new Clark songs, the one featured here being one of his finest late-era compositions.
‘Gypsy Rider,’ originates from Clark’s comfort zone, a dusty cowboy ballad dealing with travel, escape and a vagabond searching for answers along the rutted highway of life. Built on Clark’s acoustic guitar and still hearty yet gently quaking vocals, the song balances on the rhythm of the stringed instruments and melody until a tender clip-clop percussion joins in mid-song. ‘Gypsy Rider’ illustrates that Clark’s penchant for melody still remained, despite its arrival toward the end of his tiring existence. Even tucked away on this now-rare album, Clark calls out from the grooves remaining relevant, singing for you.

The above list could go in a myriad of directions with the amount of rare quality material and hidden tracks to be found in Gene Clark’s discography. With a prolific artist such as Clark, material was always being created; he could never turn off the tap; and an abundance of material still awaits discovery. If only Gene could have hung on for a few more years and escaped the grasp of his demons, he would have collided with the current renewed interest and respect for his work.


Monday, September 26, 2022

Rock Room on the Road - Little Feat - Waiting for Columbus 45th Anniversary Tour - Point of Bluff Vineyards 9/25/22

Famed rock and roll grooves-men, Little Feat brought their  45th anniversary celebration of the renowned live album Waiting for Columbus to the picturesque Point of Bluff Vineyards in Hammondsport, NY. A heavy overcast day did not dampen the spirits of the band who played an incendiary set comprised of the entire 1978 Columbus LP.

Longevity is the hallmark of this highly influential band that has weathered several lineup changes and losses since the 1979 death of founding member Lowell George. Underrepresented by the mainstream, yet respected by their peers, Little Feat remains a celebrated group of musicians who continue to thrill on the live concert stage.

The current lineup of Little Feat features core members, keyboardist Bill Payne, Sam Clayton on percussion and Kenny Gradney on bass. They are supplemented by drummer Tony Leone who joined in 2019, guitarist Scott Sherrard in 2020 as well as longtime Feat guitarist Fred Tackett. The band wasted no time in cracking open familiar melodies and arrangements with exciting musical approaches. This current collaboration of Little Feat is not a nostalgic jukebox but an eager disseminator of fresh takes.

The band took the stage to a prerecorded reading of “Join the Band” and immediately jumped both feat into “Fat Man in the Bathtub.” The three-pronged rhythm section trident immediately propelling the pulse of the band with a churning groove.  The group sailed through the song’s off kilter changes with lead guitarist Scott Sherrard slicing and dicing with his amped Stratocaster slide guitar.

Following a pleading “All That You Dream” that revealed a ravenous jam itching to get out from it’s original skin, the group floored it down I-75 for a Bill Payne performance “Oh Atlanta”. Payne filled the tank with boogie-woogie fueling a high octane performance.

After a groovy Tony Leone sung “Old Folks Boogie,” Bill Payne dedicated “Time Loves a Hero” to past Little Feat legends, Lowell George, Richie Hayward, and Paul Barrare. He meant it, because “Time Loves a Hero” became a multifaceted exploration with each player listening intently to the others culminating in a inspirational peak. Once again the rhythm section of Gradney, Leone and Clayton percolated beneath the soloists providing a perfect shifting bed of percussive interplay.

“Day or Night” followed and unexpectedly became the biggest jam vehicle of the evening thus far with each respective member getting a chance to spotlight their chops and assert themselves melodically. The jamming was a series of relentless grooves and high musical acumen. This hearty version of "Day or Night" was only a lead in to the major crux of the show.

“Mercenary Territory” was played deliciously funky, yet suspicious with Payne’s organ undertow providing a sinister layer to the groove. Sherrard stepped comfortably into the substantial loafers of Lowell George with stellar vocals as well as piercing peaks on slide guitar.

A devastating double banger of “Spanish Moon” segued into “Skin It Back” kept the propellant rhythms moving while allowing Fred Tackett to take a dirty solo spot in “Spanish Moon.” Payne broke down the mid song arrangement with a piano, keyboard and synth wash disorienting the changes before Sherrard took the second solo spot down like a shot and with big riffs. His soloing initiated a seamless transition into “Skin It Back.” Kenny Gradney, thumped out a rotund and frisky lead bass line which would remain standard for the rest of the evening. A highlight performance.

A fifteen-minute medley of “Dixie Chicken” into “Tripe Face Boogie” hit every beat, change, start, stop and lick one could hope for and was relentless in it’s delicious and vicious instrumental improv. Fred Tackett even played some trumpet. Bill Payne illustrated why he is one of the finest pianists in the history of rock and roll history with a well spring of melodic fragments, accomplished playing and band direction. By the time the band hit “Tripe Face Boogie” the seated were forced to stand and the band was smiling in satisfaction. Sherrard and Tackett took the "Boogie" over the edge with frothing string bending and guitar weaving.

Following the exhaustive jamming, the band brought it down low for some slow stony swaying for the first time in the performance. “Willin” received great applause assisting in a poignant version with an extended opening instrumental. Bill Payne then introduced “Don’t Bogart That Joint” as a, “song from my old band” while eagle eyed Scott Sharrard spotted someone partaking in the crowd.

While the assembled cooled out, the band played the penultimate song of the set with a straight and neutral “Apolitical Blues” sandwiching Sam Clayton singing a welcome take on Muddy Waters “Long Distance Call.” The band again got to show out their skills, this time inside the twelve-bar framework. Little Feat then offered their own unique take on the blues, and closed the set with the appropriate sendoff of “Sailin' Shoes.”

After a hearty encouragement to return to the stage, Little Feat initiated their farewell with “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.” Members of the opening act Miko Marks joined the group on backing vocals as a big sing a long ensued. Played even faster than classic line up versions, the Feat rolled through the night and onto their next gig with a big truck version. Jamming until the last drop, “Let It Roll,”, the only deviation from the Waiting for Columbus LP closed the show with the proper message to take home.

Far from nostalgia and still jamming strong, Little Feat’s celebration of one of the greatest live albums in rock history is a worthy endeavor. Having experienced loss, the group has found something new and worthy of their legacy. Collectively they retain a strong sense of their history, and still a fearlessness to take new musical detours from long familiar roads.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Rock Room on the Road - Gov't Mule - Live at Beak and Skiff Apple Orchards - August 6, 2022

 

Fresh off of the European leg of their 2022 tour in support of their current album Heavy Load Blues, the ‘Gov’t Mule’ touring machine pulled into ‘Beak and Skiff Apple Orchards’, Lafayette, NY. Nestled on a green hillside just south of Syracuse in orchard country, the venue offered the perfect remedy for a steamy 90 degree central New York summer day. ‘Gov’t Mule’, the twenty plus year road tested quartet comprised of legendary guitarist, Grammy winner and founding member Warren Haynes, drummer Matt Abts, multi-instrumentalist Danny Louis and bassist Jorgen Carlsson; served up a boiling musical gruel comprised of a multitude of diverse musical spices and hearty chunks of electric blues to the hungry crowd.

At 7:15 Mule took the stage to Warren Haynes solo vocal introduction of Son House’s ‘Grinnin’ in Your Face’ that acted as a blue prelude to Matt Abts drum introduction to the catalog standard ‘Mule’. A classic double opener that long time fans understood meant the group had come to play. Haynes donned a slide for this opening salvo which was immediately cracked open and sizzled like an egg on black asphalt. Danny Louis's additions of spongy keyboards were a stellar contrast to Haynes' laser focused slide excursions.

‘Wake Up Dead’ from the aforementioned Heavy Load Blues, kept the tempo high and the jamming ripe as the bluesy stomp spotlighted Danny Louis’ slippery Hammond organ excursions. His Leslie speaker rotated at high revolutions behind his impressive keyboard array. With nary a pause, the group, with Louis now lending rhythm guitar pickpocketed the opening to Junior Parker’s ‘Snatch it Back and Hold It’. The crowd surged in to a funky head bobbing groove as Haynes peeled off a series of brassy licks. Carlsson, who was fully amped strapped the bottom end down as the group illustrated their mastery of the classic Chicago blues. Sandwiched between two halves of ‘Snatch It’ was a unique Mule flavored jam called ‘Hold It Back’, essentially a heavy improv in E that pulled away from the song proper before returning to the reprise for a groovy release.

Continuing what would be a deft blend of covers and originals in the set, ‘Beautifully Broken’ from Mule’s 2001 LP The Deep End Volume 1, slowed things down for the sun-drenched crowd but contained the most intense jamming thus far. Under violet light Haynes peeled off a plethora of virtuosic solos, each more intense than the previous culminating in the expeditious scrubbing of his strings that brought the band to a full climax and the crowd to collaborative applause.

For those who have followed ‘Gov’t Mule’ from the beginning the reading of ‘Rockin Horse’ from the band’s 1995 debut, when they were still a power trio was a welcome addition to the set. Haynes donned a Gibson SG for the performance while Abts pounded musical nails to wood through the verses. Crashing waves of sustained improv splayed waves of undulating sound over the crowd. Endless crescendos of guitar and keyboard were stretched to their respective limits. Matt Abts bass drum triplets replicated heart palpitations deep inside the cavern of my chest as the group took the songs internal makeup to its absolute limits.

It's moments like the aforementioned that separate Gov’t Mule from other bands of their ilk. This isn’t a run of the mill ‘jam band’. There is nothing cute about Gov't Mule’s playing. Mule finds the pulse of a song and explores every nook and cranny organically and with patience. Their musical summits are discovered through naturally occurring group exploration not contrived peaks. There is no ‘show’ just musicians disseminating their craft with no illusions or card tricks.

Leaving the smoldering heap of rubble that was the ‘Rockin Horse’ behinf, the band slipped into the fitting commentary of ‘Revolution Come, Revolution Go’. Toward the song’s conclusion Haynes’s let go with a blue drone of feedback that levitated above the churning rhythm section then traveled over the green hills, inched over the surrounding lakes and back to the crowd’s ears. Stunning.

The opening set concluded with the two-fer of ‘Aint No Love In the Heart of the City’ another deep blues from the current album offering and the closing reggae tinged  ‘Time to Confess’. ‘Confess’ surpassed ten minutes and balanced on Matt Abts and Carlsson’s unique bricklayers take on the ‘one drop’ groove. As dusk fell on the stage the jamming intensified before detonating in a wash of Danny Louis coloring and Haynes continuing discovery of melodic ideas.

Following a set break ‘Mule’ returned to the stage as the grounds cooled and a light rain spritzed the crowd. In contrast to the intensity of the first portion of the show, ‘Mule’, masters of moods opened the concluding set with music to match the vibe. A trio of classic ‘Gov’t Mule’ songs from their early catalog sated the longtime fans. ‘No Need to Suffer’ from 2000’s Life Before Insanity started things off and gave Jorgen Carlsson an opportunity to shine as he provided a melodic lead bass part originally played by dearly departed founding member Allen Woody.

Haynes and Carlsson initiated a razor dance of intertwining lines that increased in intensity each round through the chord changes. Louis shifted the arrangement over Abts solid rock rhythm adding a unique disorientation to the already psychedelically tinged attack. ‘Painted Silver Light’, one of Haynes most enduring melodies from 1995’s band debt followed in a crisp perfection and segued into ‘Thelonious Beck’ an instrumental jam vehicle from the group’s Dose record. Haynes started things off with a slide guitar introduction wrenching up the anticipation before unleashing the songs syncopated opening. Carlsson pulsed prolifically on bass as the band slammed through the song’s angular blues changes with Haynes once again offering a discography of rock and roll licks ranging from Chuck Berry to Jerry Garcia. Light touch, sustained feedback and a color wheel of tonal expressions only touch upon Haynes magic mastery of his instrument.

The concert had reached a misty summit and began the high speed down hill to musical satisfaction with an expansive cover reading of ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’s’, ‘Effigy’. Haynes husky vocals stirred up in a pot of whisky and sawdust, were smoothed for the culturally and time appropriate cover. As the group began to leave the framework of the song a choogling country boogie began to coagulate. Notes of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Cumberland Blues’ passed by the window of the speeding musical train. The crowd danced out their approval as Haynes began to quote Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. A smile was discernable on Warren’s face as the crowd caught on to the melody and the band ignited. A highlight of the second set, band and crowd alike joined in celebratory glory.

The crowd was now pliable to the ‘Mule’s’ every want and they took it to the bank with a dubby sweet version of Al Green’s ‘I’m A Ram’ and a huge and thumping of Tom Wait’s ‘Goin Out West’ to close things out. ‘Goin Out West’ featured Warren playing with a multitude of quivering tones and edgy riffing before leaving the work to the crowd to chant the lyric, ‘Goin out West where they appreciate me’. Louis picked up his trombone and accompanied the crowd as he led the procession off of the stage to the rhythmic crowd accompaniment.

The only way to conclude such a special evening of music was with the obvious choice of ‘Soulshine’. Originally released on the ‘Allman Brothers Band’ 1994 album,  Back Where It All Begins, the song has become ‘Gov’t Mule’s’ and Warren Haynes emotional tincture and defining song. Like the best tunes, it stirs up a multitude of emotions and acts as a musical moment to remember, reflect and elicit hopefulness.

‘Gov’t Mule’ is still one of the best kept secrets in rock and roll even after almost three decades. The group encompasses all of the most unique elements of their influences and when on stage becomes something more substantial than their four pieces. Haynes is a masterful songwriter, interpreter and guitar player of the purest standard. One time a band in flux, ‘Gov’t Mule’ has melded themselves into a group of superior musicians that have acquired their second sight through hard work, constant touring and a continuous reach for the note.


Photos: Amiee Van Lew/Craig Wolfert