Talk From The Rock Room

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Put the Boot In: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks – February 24, 1964 London, Ontario - 'Bacon Fat'

Spinning today in the ‘rock room’ is a 30 minute archival tape of 24k musical gold. Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks captured live and in action on magnetic tape in London, Ontario, Canada, February 24, 1964. Three weeks removed from the arrival of the Beatles, music was on a spacecraft to the stars and the 'Hawks' were riding shotgun. Live performances by the ‘pre-Band’ Hawks are quite rare and range from acceptable to acceptable minus as far as audio quality goes. This capture finds the 'Hawks' ready to soar on their own as they would within a year leave the 'Hawk' on their way to becoming the 'Band' via Bob Dylan. The tape has circulated for a number of years and is a proper document of an evening with 'Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks'

This particular recording was made by an enterprising audience member and captures the band in full flight with only some distortion on the vocals. Unfortunately Rick Danko’s bass playing is not very audible on the tape in addition to some rough spots on the reel. This is also the shortest of the currently circulating ‘Hawks’ recordings, but it does contain Ronnie Hawkins fronting the group which makes the recoding that much more exciting! There is no specific venue listed with the tapes information but it’s easy to tell that the crowd is amped and the band is playing well. In spite of the tapes sonic limitations, it really does place you right in the room. There are a number of discernable comments by concert goers and some humorous on stage tom foolery. You are going to want to put your bootleg ears on for this one, but it will be well worth the sacrifice!

This band line up of this particular recording is Rick Danko (bass), Richard Manuel (vocals, piano), Garth Hudson (organ, saxophone), Levon Helm (drums), Robbie Robertson (guitar) and Jerry Penfound (saxophone, percussion) who would only be the group for a limited time more and of course the 'Hawk', Ronnie Hawkins. The quintessential front man and star of the show until the 'Hawks' started to fledge.

The recording picks up with the band already grooving in progress with ‘Who Do You Love’. The groove is rutted deep as a Canadian two track and Robertson’s guitar growls on the tape. I don't think much music is missing here. The recording’s fidelity is such that you can discern individual voices from the crowd in addition to Hawkins shouting on stage direction. The issues with the tape come from the substantial sonic maelstrom emanating from the grandstand and causing distortion. The band is chugging along dynamically while the ‘Hawk’ primes the pump. Fans of the female persuasion can be heard close to the taper with remarks and giggles. The ‘Hawk’ in typical fashion plays with their emotions and stirs up their excitement.

Soon after Hawkins snarls the opening lyrics the group detonates the central jam into a frantic whirlwind of sound. Manuel’s fingers clang around the upper register of the piano as Robertson peels of reams of swollen licks. Hudson is audible and shifts the floorboards underneath the venue with thick coats of  rich organ. The tension is delicious as the group falls back into the verse groove. Manuel and Robertson volley licks back and forth. Helm’s ride cymbal is crystalline driving the rhythm. I've said it before and I'll say it again, 'The Hawks were the best band in the world at this point in time". Wow.

There is a plethora of kinetic passing of the musical pipe as the 'Hawks' quiver with energy. Another detonation of sonic madness takes place with Robertson getting ultra demented. The ‘Band’ brings it back down yet again before Hawkins calls for Garth Hudson to lay down a solo. Hudson sneaks in low with a musical army crawl, spreading a wash of unique sound with Helm popping off rim shots. At a bit past seven minutes the ‘Hawk’ says, ‘Ok Robbie', as the jam undulates between an aggressive ‘Bo Diddley’ beat and that of a sonically serrated hand saw slicing wood. Robertson, in his infancy as a player, cuts deep with distorted slices and jabs distilled through the sheet of sound.

Manuel rattles along underneath and soon links up with Danko as the sonic haze gains some clarity. The sound improvement is in addition my ears becoming accustomed to the recording. The 'Hawks' increase the tension with Robertson hitting on a circular lick and Helm riding the train right next to him. Hawkins screams and the band opens the tap. The tension is thick, palm mutes, and rock and roll  screams grind the 'Who Do You Love' jam to a thrilling and sexy conclusion.

A respite to the onslaught of sound comes with Hawkins lubing up the crowd, 'We got a lot of requests, we gotta do some slow ones for the sake of the people rubbing around on each other out there’. There is alot of cool dialog and audio verite gold that I will leave you my dear reader to discern on your own. That's the fun!

Giving the 'Hawk' a break, 'Beak' gets the spotlight for 'Share Your Love' a song the later 'Band' would revisit on 1973's Moondog Matinee. Manuel croons 'Share Your Love', getting the little girls to giggle and swoon. While focusing in and picking through the sonic debris of the tape I can hear Robertson picking watery filigrees and Helm' shuffling the beat. This is priceless. 

At the conclusion of  'Share Your Love', there is a bit of fantastic dialog between the 'Hawk' and the females in the crowd. Hawk asks the ladies yelling for Levon to 'show him what you want'. Hawk tells the fans to 'not be bashful now' and tell Levon what they want him to sing. Hawk then mentions, 'We got the horns here now so we'll let 'Beak' sing one more then we'll let Levon. There is a small cut in the recording and we hear the count off for 'A Sweeter Girl Has Never Been Born'. This is where it's at. Admittedly, the 'rock room' does not know the author of this cut, but I can confirm that Manuel makes it his own.

This is swinging R and B at it's finest and the 'Hawks' are as tight as a bank vault. After a double snare hit by Helm, the 'Hawks' jump into the pocket. There is some hi distortion on the tape but Manuel comes in loud and clear. Helm swings with his ride cymbal and the horns bleat out well placed punctuations. Manuel's vocals rattle the light fixtures as he plainly illustrates why he was the lead vocalist for the 'Hawks'. I'm pretty sure its Garth Hudson and Penfound on horns. Oooooooh, lord this is the stuff. Take note that right at first sax break Manuel lays down a beautiful descending line on the piano and then hits boogie-woogie just in time for the first sax solo. Chills. 

It's sounds to these ears that Garth takes the first solo spot but this a total guess on my part. Dig on the song's conclusion when the 'Band' drops out and Richard really gets into it with Helm nailing the beat to the floor. Highlight reel stuff even with the questionable audio at points. 

Hawkins mentioned that they group has time for two more songs and runs down a list of possibilities before remembering that Levon was supposed to sing one! There is some more audio verite' rarities from the 'Hawk' to be mined here. Cutting in already in progress, Helm is singing the hell out of Howlin Wolf's, 'Howlin' for My Baby'.

The sound here is very alright, Manuel parrots the verses with Helm on the upper register of the piano and Robertson strangles out responses. The Hawks are are hot to the touch as Robbie takes a serpentine first solo with his trademark sustained notes. Levon is Levon, which is to say en fuego. Robertson takes an additional solo with even Danko's guttural thumping entering the sonic spread. The guys bring it down and you can hear a grin in Helm's vocals as the girls squeal in delight. Mr. Hudson flies in for the outro with a series of technicolor washes. Damn, this is the 'Band' right here. The crowd knows it as they start to clap in time, Robertson riffs again and the song concludes magnificently.

The 'Hawk' replies, 'It's Levon Helm and the Helmettes' at the song's conclusion. There is a brief cut before we are placed into the Garth Hudson/Robbie Robertson composition 'Bacon Fat' a song that would continue to be played on stage by 'Levon and the Hawks' into 1965. There are no vocals on this version. 'Bacon Fat' is a syncopated piece that highlights Hudson's substantial abilities and Robertson's rapidly ascendant guitar stylings. The song displays all of the elements that made the 'Hawks' a musical powerhouse. A natural gestalt linkage between the players, an organic trading off of licks and a tight rhythm section that hits the mark through any and all changes. Hudson is especially frisky with heavy finger work. Toward the song's conclusion Levon Helm announces, 'I'd like to introduce the future leaders of Canada' to a great response. You can tell things are getting crazy by this point in the evening. Penfound takes a sweet final sax solo, Levon says 'goodnight' and Hudson takes it home.

What an experience to be lucky enough to witness 'Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks' in a small Canadian club at their peak. The 'rock room' will never be able to make that happen but thankfully there are audio documents like this one to get us as close as possible. Until the long rumored 'Hawks' box From Bacon Fat to Judgement Day sees a release this will have to do. (I wont hold my breath). The talent and ability was obviously there from the formative days with Ronnie Hawkins and the future 'Band' as they all ended up with music careers that would place them in the pantheon of the very best at what they do. Here, we can check them out when they had the fire in their guts and stars in their eyes. They were the best r and b band in the land and tapes like this prove it every time.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Now Playing -George Harrison - Live at the Olympia 1974 - Hari's On Tour Express

Some special rock footage guaranteed to blow your mind has recently come into circulation and for the time being is available for review online. In 1974 Ravi Shankar and George Harrison undertook a 45 show concert tour across the US running concurrent with Harrison' s release of his 'Dark Horse' single and his announcement of his own Dark Horse records. Obviously anticipation was high for the tour as this would be the first time a Beatle would tour North America since the group retreated from the road in August of 1966. For a long while, any documented footage from this tour has been at a premium and only a miniscule amount of officially sanctioned product has ever been released from the tour (Living in the Material World documentary). In recent times YouTube has been the recipient of more than a couple different Harrison and Friends tour clips that have been recovered from various collections. As of the writing of this article the footage has been removed from You Tube, but can be found in the dusty corners of the internet for those who want to search.

Harrison put together a 'hot shit' band for the tour and was thrilled to share a bill with one of his musical hero's Ravi. Baked by Tom Scott and members of the the L.A. Express as well as Billy Preston, Willie Weeks, Jim Keltner and Robbin Ford.  Originally a double LP of music was planned to be mined from the shows but unfortunately this never occurred due to a number of contributing factors. The most affecting of these was that media vas vicious in their reviews of the tour. The criticized Harrison's voice ( which was admittedly rough on some nights due to overuse and abuse), other outlets complained that Harrison only played four Beatles song throughout his set and most obnoxiously they complained about Ravi's stage time.

Like anything we view through the hazy lens of rock and roll history these media observations can now be looked at as a skewed representation of what occurred on the tour. The recent and previously mentioned clips and snippets of varying quality that have been circulating can now reveal the tour to fans in the different light. There are available clips from Atlanta, as well as a few fan made compilations around , but nothing the compares to the gold we will discuss today.  Which takes us to the subject of today's TFTRR 'Now Playing' feature. I am enjoying beautifully shot, vividly colored and highly welcomed Super 8 footage from George Harrison, live December 4th 1974 at the Olympia in Detroit, Michigan. Harrison played two shows on this date at the venue and this particular footage was shot from very close to the stage at the afternoon performance.

An enterprising fan has lovingly synced the available audience recorded audio to this amateur footage providing us with the most amazing capture of Harrison's famed 1974 tour we could ever hope to see. In the case of a few of the songs no concert specific audio was available so music from shows in Los Angeles and Toronto was flown in. The 'rock room' will try to note when this is the case. The total length of the footage is just short of 28 minutes; and while not complete and frustrating at times, totally worth its weight in rare gold! Most importantly its a steady shot with close to tripod quality.

The footage begins with a version of 'Hari's On Tour (Express) ' in full bloom. The cameraman is fully focused on Harrison while  the clarity and steady hand of the film is breathtaking. Harrison is a striking image in denim donning his slide and grooving kinetically to the pumping horns. He is shaking it like it's 1964! Out of frame is band member Robben Ford contributing a soaring slide line to the churning rhythm section comprised of  WIllie Weeks on bass and Jim Keltner on drums respectively. Harrison looks like he is having a blast on his woodgrain Stratocaster taking a gritty solo spot which the steady camera captures in all it's glory. At one point Hari looks directly at and through the camera. 3 minutes of this track exist before being dropped into a version of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' all ready in progress. But such is 'bootleg' material.

'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' again finds the camera loving George, as it should. For this much to small snippet of the track, Harrison is armed with "Lucy" the famed cherry red Gibson Les Paul Harrison was gifted by Eric Clapton. George is fully invested in the vocals then leans waaaaaay into his solo before we are dropped into a 'Something' already in progress.

Harrison is still playing 'Lucy' and swaying to the heavy stepping rendition. In the 'rock room's opinion Harrison's obvious investment in the song is more than enough to prove the extreme worth of this film. Sure, the vocals are 'shouty' and rough hewn, but so were Dylan's in 1974. The taper obviously caught the sweet stuff as Harrison again digs into the solo spot, eyes closed, switches pick up's and squeezes out a beautifully emotive solo spot. I feel myself getting fired up, this is where its at. The taper pulls back for a wide stage shot and all of a sudden I'm sitting front three rows, only a small glitch brings me back to the 'rock room' couch. Harrison sings the final verse with some updated lyrics, while at 6:40 the camera frames a toothy Hari grin that gives me shivers. Stunning.

A perfectly framed and vibrant shot of Billy Preston fills the screen as the band orbits around Preston's first number one hit, 'Will It Go Round In Circles?' The band is jamming here and we are placed up front as the camera pulls back for a full stage shot just as Preston takes a funky melodica solo spot. The energy from the film is tangible. We get some muffled sonic's at about half after eight minutes which continue through to the end of the song. 

The next segment finds us dropped mid way into a churning horny and percussion filled jam. 'Soundstage of Mind' spotlighted all of the contributors to the show and it's obvious George and the band are having a tremendous time. This spotlights some stunning close up footage of George now donning an additional Stratocaster. Wow, this makes me sweat for an official release from this tour. We know it exists, lets do this!

These concerts were unknowingly ahead of their time, the mixture of styles as well as, artists. Beginning with the 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh, Harrison was always looking to expand his and own own sonic pallet. The 'rock room' firmly believes that part of the reason for questionable media reviews in regards to Harrison 1974 tour, was because of the closed ears of the reviewers! In our meaningless opinion these performances are ace!

The following clip places us into the first verse of  the 'Beatles' 'For You Blue'. Harrison and his band play a slippery and jazzy reading which the camera operator tries to capture the key moments which the do with great success! Harrison takes a measures solo on his Strat, percussionist Emil Richards takes a (bell/chime?) solo to which the horn section takes great joy in. Next we get Alvin Lee on a beautiful Gibson 335 getting his moment to shine. Hari grins his way through another verse as Willie Weeks' breaks us down with a thumpy solo spot that overwhelms the recorder.

Sticking with the film makers theme a perfectly framed Harrison stands armed with an Ovation acoustic guitar while playing a lilting reading of 'Give Me Love, Give Me Peace On Earth' with band before we are dropped into the tour's unique arrangement of the 'Beatles' 'In My Life'. Harrison's arrangement of the Rubber Soul Lennon/McCartney cut was preformed on the 74 tour in a bombastic reading, like a lost All Things Must Pass track. The camera gets Harrison and Lee in frame as Hari takes a concluding solo thankfully captured. 

The following clip finds the Harrison band playing 'Tom Cat' from band member Tom Scott's fusion record with the horn section L. A. Express. A funky number, the track adheres to the theme of Harrison providing his fans with a plethora of different genres and musical experience. Our mystery filmmaker does a fine job of scanning the stage for whomever is contributing at the time. The band is cooked under red lights here, though I do believe that the audio has been flown in from another performance for this clip.

Harrison has his famed psychedelically painted 1961 Beatles Fender Stratocaster and slide for this next rendition of 'Maya Love' from Harrison's then current Dark Horse record. The famed instrument named 'Rocky' was part of numerous Beatles sessions and continues to be owned by the Harrison estate. Stunning footage here as Harrison takes two icy slide solo spots in his recognizable tone. I could watch this repeatedly as Harrison plays sinking in inspiration.

The fantastic Billy Preston again takes up the screen with yellow shirt and resplendent afro for his current 1974 cut 'Nothing From Nothing'. Preston gets the crowd going with a hand clapping break down. The camera pans and everyone on the stage is drenched in the joy of creating music. Following a few blips, Preston comes out from behind his keyboard to get down in front of the crowd. Harrison is beaming as he and Billy groove. The lights are bright and the musicians are brighter as the music churns. Classic! The music heard on this clip hails from the Toronto performance. 

The recorder turns their television eye into the crowd to collect the vibe and then back to the stage where this piece of historic celluloid concludes. This is the kind of stuff the the 'rock room' lives for, rare footage, a underrepresented era,  and one of my musical idols in full blow. It remains to be seen if anything will ever come from this footage or the pro shot stuff the Harrison estate has in their archives. (see Living In the Material World) But what we can be thankful for is that a kind renegade taper immortalized this footage forever and we are lucky enough to delve into it. 

Typically the media misses the mark when their unrealized expectations are not met. That is definitely the case with George Harrison and Ravi Shankar's 1974 tour where unique combinations of music collided with familiar sounds and were expressed by a special collaborative of musicians.


George Harrison's 1974 Tour

Monday, August 2, 2021

Take One: Thin Lizzy -'Cowboy Song' 1976 Single

Thin Lizzy's intelligent and rowdy singer, songwriter and bass player Phil Lynott was inspired and seduced by American pop culture. What better inspiration for a peaking songwriter then the plethora of imagery provided by the American Cowboy? Co-written by Phil Lynott and drummer Brian Downey 'Cowboy Song' was released as an edited Mercury Records single in September 1976 b/w 'Angel from the Coast. Both tracks hailed from 'Thin Lizzy's' breakthrough and probably their most popular LP, Jailbreak. This would be the third single to be culled from a record that put the group on the map with the previous hits being, 'The Boys are Back In Town' and the title track, 'Jailbreak'.

While the lyrical content is more fictional mind movies than some deep introspective soul reveal, what the context does is give 'Thin Lizzy' a starting point for a cinematic and glorious guitar rocker. In the cut, there are multiple movements as well as an organic navigation through interweaving dual guitar lines, popping snare shots and Lynott's rotund bass work. The song starts from humble and dusty origins and by the end of its tale dynamically reaches its destination.

Lynott must have fancied himself a traveler on the open plains, a stranger in a strange land as the band made their way across the U.S. on tour. Of Irish (born in England) and African American decent Lynott was something of an oddity in the world of rock and roll. It also provided him with unique views and a quirky lyricism. While songs of 'Cowboys and Indians' may seem trite, 'Thin Lizzy' is one of the only groups that can use the germ of an idea like the cowboy and scrawl it out with glorious attitude using the penmanship of hard rocking dual guitars.

As previously mentioned the single was truncated for release, so the 'rock room' will review the full length LP version. We would also like to direct you to the frenzied version available on 'Thin Lizzy's June 1978 live album, Live and Dangerous which you can find here. Dripping with drama and attitude this is a must hear rendition.

The song opens with a harmonica blowing from somewhere on the chalky horizon. A dusky chorused guitar accompanies Lynott's gentle introductory lead vocal on the look out for coyote. From out on the edge of darkness, a snare snaps, a pulsing riff appears and coagulates into a orchestrated dual guitar attack. This sizzling intro rides toward and lands on a delicious and chunky verse melody. 

A man and his horse reflect on the woman they left behind, the classic cowboy song. But here, injected with some punky molten rock and roll riffing and a delinquent attitude. The descending chorus line  resets the pallet in response to the addictive melody that gallops through the high speed verses.

A duo of aggressive Les Paul's through Marshall stacks is the aesthetic as Scott Gorham takes the first solo over the gritty verse melody, a glorious wind through the hair ride on the back of a stringed stallion. Gorham's guitar eliciting freedom with a series of triumphant exclamations. Soon both guitarists collaborate for the opening melodic statement but played here higher up the neck, before dropping low into a downstroked and spacious gallop. 

Lynott raps some verses from the chorus over a 'Television-esque' groove. 'It's ok amigo, just let me go, ridin in the rodeo' as the band churns. Dual guitar lines push through like fingers in balloons for clipped statements, but the airy arrangement continues until Brian Robertson saddles up with a screaming solo spot. Sweetly distorted with six shooter blazing, 'Robbo' take a series of edgy replies to Gorham's previous excursion. Woo- hoo! The band returns right to the chorus and concludes the song with the line, 'the cowboy's life is the life for me'. 

'Cowboy Song' is a terribly underrated cut from a extremely famous LP. That being said, 'Thin Lizzy' hardcore fans love it! Jailbreak was the record that took 'Thin Lizzy' to levels of stardom that they had never thought possible. Through diverse arrangements, true lyricism and a heavy rocking Phil Lynott, the band offered an originality that became  a great success. Alternatively that originality kept some of their compositions from main stream acceptance for a number of years. One thing the 'rock room' can confirm, you can never go wrong with heavy guitars, a tight rhythm and well written songs.