Talk From The Rock Room

Monday, March 1, 2021

Now Playing: Moby Grape – Live on the Mike Douglas Show /Steve Paul Scene 1967

Aired smack dab in the middle of the ‘Summer of Love’ and one week after the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, ‘Moby Grape’ appeared for a live appearance on the Mike Douglas Show. A rare paisley glimpse into arguably one of the tightest and best songwriting bands of the 1960’s. Jamming both aurally and visibly in the ‘rock room’ today is a unique performance by a San Francisco band that burst into flames before they earned their rightful due.

Unfortunately, even in current times, television is not the best transmitter of perfect sound nor is it a perfect representation of a ‘rock band’ in their element. Television production is a far cry from front of house music production and balance and quality is not at the top of the list. But, that being said the ‘rock room’ considers us very lucky to have a performance such as this one captured for us to enjoy years after the fact.

Looking like it was dubbed from an nth generation VHS tape multiple times, the performance itself is precious. First off, having footage of the original band with Skip is cause for celebration. As previously mentioned the color is washed out the audio is muffled but the footage is absolute gold. The band begins their set with ‘Omaha’, a rock guitar monument. Introduced by Mike Douglas as the ‘Moby Grapes, gives me a chuckle. (NOTE: Recently on social media some time stamped footage of the show outro has circulated with the band playing 'Aint No Use' under the exit voiceover. This segment looks absolutely stunning! Let's hope the entire clip will circulate at some point in the future!)

The footage begins with Mike Douglas checking in with the band to see if they are ready as instruments can be heard tuning up off screen. The band begins following introduction and is as tight as a ‘go-go’ dancers skirt right from the start. A priceless moment occurs when Skip and the group come in a bit late with their vocals and Spence lends a beaming and mischievous smile at the rest of the band while getting it on! Jerry Miller stands center stage and splays a teletype series of lead lines from his hollow body guitar throughout the cut. The energy emanates from the group regardless of the substandard television sound quality.  It really is special to be able to watch the individual instrumentalists working out their respective parts. 

The band appears to be getting off with shared smiles and bring the outro jam of ‘Omaha’ to a crowd rousing conclusion. The available visuals improve slightly with 8:05 probably because of the brighter stage lighting. The song is played flawlessly, the only issue being the aforementioned messy mix from live television. Spence again has a trouble making look across his face, which is to be expected. The band’s harmonies are tightly pressed, especially in contrast to other contemporaries from the ballroom scene on San Francisco. Oddly and humorously enough, just prior to the conclusion of ‘8:05’ Mike Douglas walks out as the band is finishing the song! The band gathers to finish properly as the show heads to commercial break. A puzzling performance to say the least in the aspect that the band didn't blow up nationally just on the basis of this clip!

A short juicy bunch of ‘Moby Grape’ in their early prime while colliding with the ‘straight’ world of primetime television. Well worth searching out for the quality of the musical performance as well as the rarity of the footage. Well deserving of the possibility, the ‘rock room’ hopes, that someday a proper box set of rare live cuts and available footage will be compiled. I know I’d be down for helping out any way that I could. ;) 

If you like what you checked out above here there is also an additional bit of rock film of the original members performing two additional cuts from their debut LP, including ‘Hey Grandma’ and ‘Sitting By the Window’. While going on a run of available footage of the original ‘Moby Grape’ I figured I discuss another ‘rock room’ favorite. This footage is from a 1967 film shot at the Steve Paul Scene in Manhattan.  This film was broadcast on WNEW New York in November of 1967 and features a host of popular musicians from the time performing at the club. Included in the film are 'The Staple Singers', 'Blues Project', Aretha, and of course, 'Moby Grape'.

Again, like the Mike Douglas footage the band is playing live on stage, as this was a favorite club for famous musicians to play in clandestine fashion. Jimi Hendrix in particular liked the aspect of anonymity and intimacy the NYC club offered. Spence goes properly crazy during the jam, convulsing in excitement and exuding a prickly stage presence to which the band responds. Specially placed dancers and psychedelic displays flood the screen, but do not distract from another thankfully immortalized piece of celluloid from ‘Moby Grape’ and their comet trailing musical career. This footage is a bit washed out, but in actuality clearer than the Mike Douglas footage, with more than acceptable sound quality considering the source.

‘Sitting by the Window’ follows and is played dynamically with Peter Lewis taking a perfect lead vocal spot. Grape’s three guitars work together chain on gear lending the song a diverse blend of melodic lines. Spence sits behind the group on the line of amps watching the band perform the debut album cut perfectly. Even in this sterile environment the band's talent is fully discernable.

Man oh man, four songs from the first ‘Moby Grape’ record played with color footage! What more could a ‘rock geek’ as for? While not perfect in any fashion, for fans of the ‘Grape’ and or San Francisco rock in general this stuff is priceless. Short and sweet but full of magic and well worth 15 or 20 minutes of your rock and roll attention. Until next time…

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Take One: Jim Capaldi – Short Cut Draw Blood - 'It Don't Scare Me'

The portentous Jamaican adage, ‘Short cut, draw blood’ warns that taking the easy way out can offer dire consequence. It also warns that the even quickest strike can also cause injury. Both of these eventualities carry substantial thematic weight with Jim Capaldi’s 1975 album of the same title.  Recently, the Jim Capaldi Estate has announced a worldwide digital release of this vital album in Capaldi’s discography across numerous streaming platforms. The Estate has rolled out this current reassessment of the record with a release of the first single and title track, ‘Short Cut, Draw Blood’.

The title was brought up to Capaldi by Chris Blackwell of Island Records, who was also Bob Marley and the Wailers producer, hence the use and familiarity of a Jamaican proverb. The album was the first following the disillusion of Traffic, though Capaldi had a number of former and current members of the band he founded including but not limited to his songwriting partner Steve Winwood appear on the LP.

The subject of today’s Talk from the Rock Room ‘Take One’ feature is the title track of Capaldi’s 1975 LP and the aforementioned premier digital single of the  album release. With the former ‘Traffic’ and Muscle Shoals rhythm section of Hood, Hawkins and Rebop the song’s striding groove moves impatiently and nervously through Capaldi’s verses. The song’s construction and content brings to mind Bob Dylan’s ‘Hurricane’, another melodic proclamation from 1975 that both jams and informs. Jim hisses out gritty accusatory verses that may have been too much for the early critics. While not always fashionable in the music industry to be environmentally conscious, this was a theme held close to Capaldi’s heart. Capaldi was a straight shooter and with this cut he hit the mark with a bullseye.

The song enters with a picked acoustic lick that signals the introductory verses. Capaldi itemizes the acts being perpetrated on the Earth and its inhabitants through swirling lyrics winding around flashing keyboards and passing sonic washes. Each verse gains momentum with jagged electric guitar, moans of Moog and percussion joining before crashing into the matter fact chorus, ‘I’m telling you that a short cut is gonna draw blood, and you are gonna get you face pushed in the mud’. Capaldi elicits a sneer when navigating the lyrics and a sly smile in the chorus. Following the third verse a guitar solo enters with all of the various song’s elements colliding. Capaldi comes back following the solo and free forms with the stratified guitars, adding well timed shouts and vamps on the chorus until the fadeout.

Similarly to all enduring art, Capaldi’s song has gained relevance in the intervening years. The finger pointing in Capaldi’s lyrics assess a shadowy figure in charge that still remains in a plethora of clandestine places. Not much has changed. Capaldi’s lyrics are honest, and honesty is sometimes too much,’ 

'Well you can build a lot of buildings that you want in this world, till a man can't see a thing. Keep on spraying the crops with your suicide juice, till the birds no longer sing’. These acts were happening when Capaldi composed the song in the mid 1970’s and they continue to this day. Proof that Capaldi was on the right path of environmental consciousness and his venomous voicing and dulcet musicality the perfect combination to distribute his message.

Jim Capaldi’s 1975 record and track Short Cut, Draw Blood deserves a critical reassessment and a new audience. Its messages and musicality are just as important to listener’s ears today as they were in in middle 1970’s. Capaldi’s talents ranged from composing, arranging, singing, and of course drumming and his recordings need not languish is the dusty recesses of a record store. As an addition, please enjoy this live version of 'Short Cut, Draw Blood' and 'Goodbye Love' from the 'Old Gray Whistle Test' November 18, 1975 before you go. Here’s to enjoying Jim Capaldi's music as well as adding a new generation of listeners that I am sure will be hopeful recipients to his message.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Put the Boot In: Traffic – Live in Fort Worth 1974 - 'Done With Reality'

Spinning today in the ‘rock room’ is a newly circulating (I believe) audience recording from the final ‘Traffic’ tour in 1974. This recording hails from the Tarrant County Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texasand is a brisk and groovy listen with all instruments balanced and up front.  This recording comes from a first generation reel with perfect ambiance and sonic’s. It is the ‘rock room’s’ humble opinion that this October 12th, 1974 recording could pass for a professional recording with the exception of some audience chatter. Within two weeks of this particular ‘Traffic’ tour the band would conclude and ‘Traffic’ would be no more. The concert is a well-developed cross-section of the group’s career with a number of new songs intermingled with fan favorites. This is another ‘stripped down’ version of the band reflecting their 1970 performances with the normal triplicate of Winwood, Capaldi and Wood joined by Rosco Gee on bass guitar. Light as a seed travelling on the breeze, the band navigates the concert deftly and leaves behind memories of an amazing band.

The 1974 tour is an odd duck. While there are a number of ‘Traffic’ recordings for the collector to enjoy. Most available tapes are BBC recordings or field tapes from their early days. In recent times, tapes recorded by enterprising audience members have started to seep through the cracks. Tapes from London and Manchester from the Spring, Reading in the Summer and this one from the Fall show a band who has reinvented themselves regardless of how close to the end. With the release of When the Eagle Flies, ‘Traffic’ stripped away the band additions of Roger Hawkins and David Hood on drums and bass respectively who had toured with the band throughout 1972-1973 and returned to the powerful triad of Winwood, Capaldi and Wood, but with Rosco Gee on bass to allow for easier instrument swapping between Wood and Winwood. This is a tight, light band ready to play and the ‘rock room’ is thankful for a first generation audience tape like the one we are going to review.

Like can be deduced from an excitable female fan caught on the circulating tape, ‘let’s get down!’ The band responds in kind and begins the show with a slick extended instrumental jam. The concert begins with this lead in instrumental that lets the players warm up and slides into a sleek groove with Winwood taking a crispy guitar solo spot. Wood takes up residence at the piano stool, with Capaldi and Gee making up the rhythm section respectively. Once a danceable foundation has been set, Wood moves to sax and Winwood to Rhodes as the band develops a super funky syncopated lead in into the opening ‘Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory’.  Note: There is a small cut on the tape in this spot.

‘Shootout’ features a dual keyboard attack with Wood lending a quivering Moog drone and Winwood a spongy Fender Rhodes dressing. Capaldi is endlessly creative on the kit with a number of rhythmic shifts, while Wood moves to flute for the outro jam. A wonderfully extended and unique opening track that sets the standard high for the rest of the evening.

An introduction of Rosco Gee prefaces a high tempo version of ‘Empty Pages’. Winwood sings a siren song and is in stunning voice. There is another dual keyboard attack in the arrangement here. I can hear some amplifier issues during the song but it seems that by the conclusion the crew gets them sussed out. Winwood’s first solo spot with the Rhodes is an ornate scrawl across the blank background of the songs arrangement.  Top notch stuff.

‘Empty Pages’ segues into the spectral pulse of ‘Graveyard People’ from the just released When the Eagle Flies record. ‘Graveyard People’ lyrically is a complex dissertation of the psychology of those folks who cannot see past the end of their own nose. A slippery sax solo by Chris Wood closes the gate and leaves a misty beam of moonlight on a unique song pairing and wonderfully played duo from the early and late era of ‘Traffic’. A 'rock room' must hear.

Following an impressive introductory series of jammed out cuts, the crowd responds to a down and dirty reading of ‘Pearly Queen’ hailing from ‘Traffic’s’ 1968 self-titled second LP.  One of the most delectable guitar licks in rock history is played here by Winwood and propelled by a classic groove. The song builds to a peak that the band collaboratively holds up and inspects under the stage lights for all in attendance to see. An underrated player of six strings, Winwood shreds this one to strips.

Capaldi, speaks from the stage and asks the crowd to sing along and if they don’t, they’ll get a ‘kick in the ass’. ‘Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring’, follows,  a long time opener for the band is played here in a grooving reading,  the pendulum swinging between rock and roll. Winwood hits the note vocally, while Wood honks and squawks his way on some blurry horn. I can feel the momentum swing on the first generation tape, as the crowd swings with the intensity of the band. 

Another new for the time song follows with ‘Walking in the Wind’ which elicits a walk along an unnamed ridge in the highlands. This song was released as a single at the time. The crowd responds with hoots and hollers as Capaldi locks down a rubber band snap of a rhythm with brisk accents. Winwood plays acoustic piano over Gee's skipping bass line. Cool, calm and collected the groove blows my hair back in a room with no open windows. As the title implies the arrangement is spacious and the recording breathes with the music. One of the 'rock room's favorites in the 'Traffic' discography.

A short acoustic based interlude follows with the sought after ‘John Barleycorn’ played from a special place where one finds the angel’s share. The crowd is silent and each instrument is discernable on the field recording. Capaldi invests himself in the hand percussion as well as the harmonized vocals during the song’s final verses.  Wood steps up to take a few perfect flute recitations that leave the crowd in a boozy stupor with their respective ‘nut brown bowls’ and brandy.

’40,000 Headmen’, gets a hearty approval from the crowd as it too is played with a woody sensibility. Introduced by Capaldi who returns to drums, he remarks to the crowd, ‘You just gotta stand up and keep going no matter the odds’. ’40,000’ drifts beautifully with Chris Wood’s flute spot eliciting screams from the crowd.  Winwood free forms vocally while Capaldi and Wood deftly answer each other’s parts, before taking his own turn in having a conversation with Wood.

Following a bit of chill, a series of four songs from the current, When the Eagle Flies album are played for the final stretch of the concert. All but the song ‘Memories of a Rock n Rolla’ from the new album would be played on this evening. Beginning the run with ‘Love’, the band exposes the crowd to their current direction and new songwriting experiments. 'Something New’, which was the albums’ opener comes next and is a joyous celebration of the conclusion of a relationship. Catchy enough to be placed as the LP’s opener, here the song feels like it’s been a part of the catalog forever. Classic cut.

The sparse arrangement and ecologically relevant lyrics of ‘When the Eagle Flies’, the title track of the last ‘Traffic’ album speaks of a day of reckoning and judgement when an eagle flies and clears the earth for its next life or phase. The performance features Winwood with accompaniment on bass by Gee. A message not so passé’ and ‘hippy’ anymore and packaged here in an intimate stony soul arrangement.

In the ‘rock room’s opinion one of the finest late era ‘Traffic’ songs, cut from the same detailed cloth as ‘Low Spark’, is ‘Dream Gerrard’. On this final ‘Traffic’ tour the song stretched out to lengths reaching twenty minutes. This version is around twelve minutes. Based around Chris Wood’s oblique central mantra, Winwood on piano and Wood on sax navigate distorted faces, strange mists and a disorienting groove. Around eight minutes in Gee takes a bass solo with rhythmic accompaniment by Capaldi. Gee brushes by the circular melody while taking off on varying melodic paths. The band repeats the central riff and returns to the song proper bringing the song and set to a conclusion.

The tape captures the arena imploring the band to return to the stage for more. The band responds in kind for a double encore of two ‘Traffic’ classics. The first, ‘Heaven Is in Your Mind’ hails from ‘Traffic’s debut LP, Mr. Fantasy, a hallucinatory tale and groovy sound. Wood takes a lascivious horn break and the end of the track and the band conjures the best part of the trip.  Finishing off the evening is a slow and steady ‘The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys’ that travels the side streets and familiar avenues for a crushing reading to end the night.

The first break finds Winwood torching his Moog for a series of sonic solar flashes that aggressively enter the ear. Wood saunters over to what sounds like the Rhodes to support Stevie’s soloing. The band find finds their way back to the song’s warm palpitation for verse two. Following the verse, Capaldi picks up the tempo for a warm syrupy jam with syncopated Winwood Rhodes and the moan of Wood’s alien saxophone. Again, in what has been a theme for the concert Stevie and Chris are listening intently to one another. Winwood, returns to sing the final verse and with that the concert has reached its conclusion. The crowd roars and after thanking the assembled, Capaldi (I think) says, ‘We sincerely hope Muhammed Ali beats George Forman on the 29th’.

Like previously stated, ‘Traffic’s’ 1974 tour is a worthy chapter of their varied and important and musical career form 1967-1974. In spite of lineup changes and usual politics, the core of Capaldi, Winwood and Wood never wavered in their vision nor their love to create new music. While the band dissipated the connection between the players lasted a lifetime. The concert recorded in Fort Worth, Texas on October 12, 1974 is right where the traffic started to back up, but until the end of the road every night was a chance to renew their connections and play the music they created together.