Sunday, August 2, 2020

Put the Boot In: Stephen Stills and Graham Nash Live at Winterland 1969 – ‘The Will to Play’

In the heyday of the late 1960’s mind blowing concert line ups were the norm. On any night, especially in San Francisco, there was bound to be a stunning array of legendary musicians taking the stage. These tribal gatherings were usually put together by famed concert impresario Bill Graham. One Fall weekend on October 24th and 25th in 1969, psychedelic rock masters the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane shared a double bill at the WInterland ballroom. While this was not unusual for the two San Francisco contemporaries to be on the same bill, what makes the performance on October 25, 1969 especially unique is the duo that was invited to play an intermission set.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young had built a relationship with a number of San Francisco groups during this era, with many if not all of the fellow musicians contributing to and playing on the others studio recordings and even on the live stage. All of CSNY's principals had come from major bands of the time, the 'Byrds', 'Hollies and 'Buffalo Springfield respectively; with all the members firmly entrenched in rock's fraternity. The conglomerate of these musicians played under the moniker of the ‘Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra’ and collaborated on a number of records including but not limited to, Jefferson Starship's Blows Against the Empire, Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, and Nash’s Songs For Beginners. Stills had even composed a song, ‘Black Queen’ to play on stage with the Grateful Dead and had high hopes of producing them. He did end up joining the Dead on this evening during their set for a hearty and bluesy version of ‘Turn on Your Lovelight’.

This particular evening should have featured David Crosby as well, who was additionally a very close friend of the Dead and Airplane. Unfortunately he was enveloped in a deep mourning following the loss of his girlfriend Christine Hinton in a terrible automobile accident. Crosby would never be the same, and for the immediate interim he was in no condition to create music and perform. So, the band’s activities were put on the shelf while Croz recovered. Stills and Nash were the natural choice to take the stage while they waited for their musical futures to be determined. Following a series of concert cancellations following Hinton’s death, this recently discovered performance was a way for Stephen and Graham to keep active and try out some material.

Just the previous evening at nearby Wally Heider’s studio Stephen Stills and Graham Nash minus David were working on the upcoming CSNY LP eventually to be named ‘Déjà vu’. Jerry Garcia was invited to apply his considerable talents on the pedal steel to Nash’s track ‘Teach Your Children’ when Stills thought it needed a deeper ‘country’ aesthetic that he thought his playing could not provide. Obviously, his choice was right as Garcia poured out a rich cool stream of ‘Bakersfield’ melodicism to Nash’s classic.  (Garcia would go on to contribute each of Stephen, David, and Graham’s future solo LP’s) As an aside, Garcia would be given a beautiful 1957 Fender Stratocaster by Nash for his assistance on Nash’s songs, later known as ‘Alligator’ which the ‘rock room’ previously wrote about here.

Graham Nash speculates that it was Garcia who invited the pair to perform the next evening after their recording of ‘Teach Your Children’, regardless of who gave the invite, it happened. While sonically pleasing soundboard recordings of both the Dead and Airplane sets have circulated amongst traders for some time, the rumored set by Stills and Nash has not. Though bits and pieces of the tape had started to surface as of last year. Now, thanks to famed sound man and LSD chemist Owsley ‘Bear’ Stanley and Grateful Dead collector and archivist Charlie Miller the Stills and Nash set circulates in wonderful soundboard quality.  

The waaaaaay casual performance begins with a Bill Graham introduction as the performers take their places on the stage. A number of on stage asides can be discerned as well as the tangible excitement and musical friendship between Stephen and Graham. As he takes the stage Nash asks for a drink for his parched throat, while making sure it’s a ‘straight’ drink. Nash returns to introduce the debut of ‘Teach Your Children’ but then defers. As Nash commences his on stage search off mic, Stephen begins to pour out some acoustic blues. The show begins in earnest with a funky syncopated version of Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads’. Taking a number of licks from his country blues satchel, Stills begins to duet with his guitar singing in his honey sweet 1960’s Buffalo Springfield throat. Stills sings all three verses while dicing the song with a stinging solo. Nash lends a boisterous ‘Yeah!’ following Stephen’s spotlight moment.

Next, Nash joins Stephen for real and introduces ‘A little country tune we know’ before revealing the first performance of a fifty year nightly career song and probably his most famous composition, ‘Teach Your Children’. Here Stephen and Graham give it a confident reading, only missing the buttery Crosby harmonies, the song is still a stunner. Stephen and Graham sing joyously with a few lyrics yet to be pressed into stone.  An unassuming beginning for what would become a worldwide favorite after its official release on 1970’s CSNY LP Déjà vu.

A brief break follows before Stills introduces a new song composed by John Sebastian. Sebastian was a close friend of Crosby Stills and Nash and in the ‘rock room’s humble opinion one of the finest songwriters anyone has ever witnessed. ‘How Have You Been’ follows and I assert is the highlight of the performance. The song would be worked out in the studio by CSN in addition to this previously unknown performance; which makes me assume it was in the running for an album track at some point in time. The song would make a proper appearance on Sebastian’s 1970 solo album, John B. Sebastian. Stills sings the shit out of the track on this evening with Nash in close support harmonies that sound like the two are blood relatives. Back porch guitar, double exposed harmonies and a full investment in Sebastian lyrics allow the song to sigh with a delicate hopefulness.

After a short on stage discussion, Stills and Nash decide to play a ‘fast’ singalong with ‘Lonesome Valley’, with Nash inviting the crowd to join. 'Lonesome Valley’ is a Woody Guthrie song well known to a number of the attendees that evening and a song Stills was familiar with from his time with the Au Go Go Singers‘. Performed as a call and response stomp, Graham and Stephen state and reply the verses before harmonizing on the final lines. Nash soars to ‘Hollies’ heights with his famous songbird tenor, sometimes missing the mark, but making the performance so endearing.  A unique song and even more special reading that places the ‘rock room’ center stage while taking a big gulp of Kool Aid.

Some additional on stage discussions reveal that the duo is short on time, before Graham Nash announces, ‘We are going to leave, but just before we do I want to hear Stephen sing some blues’. Closing the duos set is an early ‘Black Queen’, played with smoke and leaving whiskey rings on the table. A song Stills composed for the Grateful Dead, the song would eventually become a show stopper for Stills and appearing on his first solo LP Stephen Stills with the disclaimer, ‘Courtesy of Jose Cuervo tequila’. Stills gets dirty with a jumpy version that spotlights his spooky picking. Midway through the song at around three minutes Stephen hits on a repetitive melody that morphs into lush backcountry strumming.  This is Stephen’s own variety of the blues, his voice as important as the licks, and working together like Aces in a hand. The jam elicits humid air and after an additional verse Stills again sings with his instrument. Howling like the town crier, Stills allows his stunning falsetto to caress the strings, entering into an extended and stony exploration of the song’s central licks. After a small vocal misfire, Stills shrugs it off and enters into a fitting conclusion with some additional big falsetto. The crowd explodes in kind and MC Bill Graham again introduces the duo before the tape cuts.

One of the eventualities that thrills the ‘rock room’ more than anything is when new or unknown music circulates. This recent discovery of this tape of Graham Nash and Stephen Stills live at Winterland allows not only a musical epiphany but an important historical glimpse as well. The recording captures the band or in this case the duo in an important and formative time. It allows us to place a cup on the door and listen for magic and clues that a ‘rock geek’ like myself lives for. The ability to listen to a fifty year old unofficial recording to mine for ‘rock gold’ is a welcome proposition. Thanks to taper and chemist Owsley Stanley for again capturing lightning in a bottle and placing it on magnetic tape. Thank you to Charlie Miller for recovering the reel and releasing it into the wild for all to enjoy.

 


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Richard Thompson - Bloody Noses EP - 'Some Old Campaign'

On July 3rd, 2020 famed guitarist and singer Richard Thompson quietly released a six track EP via the website Bandcamp. This collection was recorded during his and all of our recent quarantine during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. Thompson, like countless other working musicians has been unable to perform live (his main source of income) and has cancelled all of his scheduled concerts as well as his 2020 guitar camp. The one positive result of (if there is one) of musicians such as Richard being off the road has been a welcome plethora of home recordings, live streams and stunning new works of musical art which has been developed during lockdown.

Thompson’s six song EP is titled Bloody Noses and the songs all dangle from the same threads of confusion, fear, hope and faith. No matter our profession or artistic drive, at the present we are all facing the same world issues in addition to our own private battles. Richard Thompson has always been adept at bringing the dark into the light and revealing to his listeners that no matter how black the evening, we may never witness the dawn, and that is ok.

Recorded at home with all instruments played by himself (guitar, mandolin, percussion) and additional vocals by his partner Zara Phillips this all acoustic EP features the usual intelligence, humor and virtuosic playing we have come to expect from RT. Currently the EP is available as a digital download (both MP3 and FLAC), but during one of his recent live streams RT did say we will see a physical release at some point.

The EP begins with the track ‘As Soon As You Hear the Bell’. Using boxing as a life metaphor, Thompson sings richly about accepting the fights and the injuries that may come, and making sure that when the bell rings there will be no giving up. A fitting melodic attitude for our current situations. The hopeful chorus is a cool compress onto the listener’s fresh bruises.  Thompson’s acoustic playing is a blend of Curtis Mayfield playing an English folk song groove. Every stringed nuance is magnified through RT’s lacy picking and fresh vocals.

‘She’s A Hard Girl to Know’ follows next on the EP, and in the ‘rock room’s opinion stands alone among the six tracks because of its gossamered picking and shimmering chord changes. The airy arrangement, like many of RT’s songs allow for the narrative to peek through the yellowed pages of melody. Thompson’s construction reflects the ‘unknowability’ of the song’s subject. This aforementioned thematic approach of the ‘wild woman’ that Thompson is often attracted to has also played out in classic Thompson tracks like ‘Beeswing’ and Cooksferry Queen’. Here, Thompson per his usual wont, takes a well-worn look at relationships through a brand new angle and using a specialized lens.

‘If I Could Live My Life Again’, is a track that Thompson was playing during his most recent acoustic tour of January and February of 2020. In addition, RT took to showcasing it during his recent lockdown live streams from home. This typically strong RT track plays out as a tender acoustic blues. Pensive and hopeful, Thompson fingerpicks a muted rock and roll rhythm that is accentuated by plucky chords and dizzying circular licks. To the ‘rock room’ this track brings to mind the contemplation of a lost chap walking wet cobblestone streets wondering why he/she went left when the path bared right. A song of  past regret carried by a melody that moves into the future.

Thompson’s talented partner Zara Phillips joins RT on harmony vocals for the next song titled, ‘The Fortress’. This substantial cut is chunky and deliciously catchy. ‘The Fortress’ is our protective shell, our shield, which unfortunately has been breached by disease, media, and disrespecting friends. Life has been interrupted by true realities, and how we react to this and protect our ‘Fortress’ is the true test. Thompson’s verses and melody immediately seep into my head. RT’s chopped strums work with the lo-fi thumping, allowing his descending vocals to wrap around my synapses. The expansive and soaring chorus diverts from the melody quickly and scrawls its message across the fortress entry way. Thompson and Phillip's co mingled vocals inspire hope and induce chills. A wonderful cut.

Track five of the digital EP is titled ‘Survivor’ and is in the ‘rock room’s humble opinion a welcome addition to the Richard Thompson vault of stunning compositions. The song sways with the breeze of a light country waltz and sings with a glass held high and a nod to another fellow survivor. Here the instrumentation is some beautifully prickly mandolin drizzled over the top of RT's acoustic strums. Similarly to all of RT’s most enduring songs, the narrative is the final puzzle piece fitting into one empty space of 1000 different emotions. Thompson is offering a cheers to everyone, those who have lost love, misplaced hope and those who have given up or lost everything but continue to move forward and live. Thank you Richard for these beautiful songs. 

The final song, ‘What’s up with You?’ moves with a pulse that RT compared to ‘Celtic Rockabilly’ during his recent online performance of the song. In addition to this musical clue, Thompson also notes a Buddy holly influence. The song swings with jolly attitude, with the title line being the axis in which the song spins. The narrator presses the song’s subject to reveal what exactly the crux of their issue could be. High speed strumming and pure rock riffing bring RT’s six song collection to a wonderful but short close.

Per my usual practice of leaving a link of the music I review, today, I ask if you are reading and are able please visit Richard Thompson’s band camp page:    https://richardthompson.bandcamp.com/album/bloody-noses-ep  and make a donation. You will not only receive an amazing collection of songs, but you will also assist in keeping Thompson’s head above water during his time off of the road. If you are a fan, getting this EP is a no brainer. If you are just getting to know RT, donate and discover.  As previously stated Thompson has said that as things return to a new kind of ‘normal’ his hope is that these songs will get a physical release (vinyl, CD). He also has noted that a second collection of songs are in the oven and will come out when fully baked in the next couple of months. In the meantime, let's ‘now be thankful’ for the songs RT has provided for all of us 'survivors'.


Monday, July 6, 2020

Put the Boot In: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Fillmore East May 10, 1968 – 'Getting My Heart Back Together'

On May 10, 1968 the Jimi Hendrix Experience played two shows at New York City’s famed 2,600 seat Fillmore East. Hendrix was in town working diligently on his upcoming record yet to be named, Electric Ladyland. It worked out perfectly that while Jimi was recording in the city at the Record Plant, he could and would also play some local concerts.

Today in the ‘rock room’ spins a fantastic hi fidelity audience recording documenting the May 10th evening performance at Fillmore East. I am listening to a lossless file set taken from a silver pressed CD titled, The Jimi Hendrix Experience Fillmore East 2nd Show and pressed by “No Label”. This particular audience recording has been circulating for a number of years, under an array of different titles but has usually contained a number of aural issues.  The aforementioned version I am enjoying is the most complete thus far, has a minimum of cuts and is sonically stunning. The vibe of the venue is tangible on the recording and Hendrix’s guitar has its face against the glass. Redding’s bass is audible and Mitchell’s multifarious attack across his kit can be felt as well as heard. There is a sly psychedelic lilt to Hendrix’s playing, culminating in a crushing and closing version of ‘Purple Haze’. In addition to the amazing playing are a couple rare musical nuggets placed in the setlist that will excite any Hendrix Experience fan.

This particular era for the Experience found them enormously popular, prolifically creative and playing seditious concerts throughout the year that left audiences stunned while growing Hendrix’s legend. Jimi’s fame was ascending at a furious rate and he was revolutionizing guitar with every concert and recording produced. Which takes us back to May 10, 1968’s evening performance. Following the afternoon concert and evening concert’s opening act, ‘Sly and the Family Stone, Hendrix took the stage to a sold out room. The Joshua Light Show morphing the stage into a pulsating, liquescent musical mass.

The evening begins with ‘Lover Man’, an extended introduction features an exotic bit of riffing illustrating Hendrix is feeling frisky this spring evening in NYC. Jimi’s guitar tone is paunchy and the sound of Bill Graham’s room is crystalline. The Experience stomps through their opening number with deft precision. The first Hendrix solo takes off with Redding’s giant bass grumble setting the foundation. Jimi immediately struts his stuff with a vertiginous series of soaring and diving bends. Devastating stuff, and the crowd responds in kind.


Following ‘Lover Man’ Hendrix explains to the crowd that any odd sounds they may hear are caused by the amps, and they had not had a chance to get them overhauled. (Hendrix concerts always featured equipment on the verge of a breakdown) A searing reading of ‘Fire’ follows hot on the heels of ‘Lover Man’. Textbook perfect, the band has the arrangement in their crosshairs. Mitch Mitchell is punishing his kit filling each empty pause in the song with a crashing series of alien triplets.

Hendrix is obviously in a groovy mood as he and Noel Redding takes a chance to speak to the crowd following ‘Fire’. Hendrix quotes the opening riff of the Beach Boys ‘Surfing USA’, saying he ‘had a big flash’.  Foxy lady follows, possibly related to the ‘Surfin USA’ quote and begins with the buzzing of electricity and hissing of overdriven amplifiers. The band is frightening in their sound, Jimi barley stays tethered to the earth during the first solo spot. What begins as a smooth bluesy exploration quickly becomes a clinic of molten strings and elongated bends, Jimi’s lady in see through top and hot pants.

A pause between the songs, features someone from the crowd yelling to the stage, ‘Take off your hat!’ To which Jimi replies, I’ll Take off my hat if you take off your pants’. The centerpiece of the show then follows and is a deep and conversational reading of a 15 minute ‘Red House’. What makes this reading even more special is that Hendrix breaks out his black right handed 1956 Les Paul Custom for this rendition. There are pictures by famed rock photographer Elliott Landy available for perusal which immortalize this moment. Three different Gibson Les Paul’s were owned by Jimi Hendrix, but the 56’ may be the most beautiful. The following ‘Red House’ ranges from delicate to distorted and then decorated with silvery strands of feedback. Hendrix does a call and response throughout the verses with his six string vocals

‘Red House’ begins, with a delicate groove and smooth probing by Hendrix. His tone, a sweet velvet beam, or a musical insect exploring for the rich pollen payoff. While ‘Red House’ was nearly always a highlight of Hendrix shows, here it ascends to different and multiple levels. The journey over yonder is filled with detours and unique fragments maybe not always related buy nonetheless stunning. Hendrix’s guitar positively moans during the prelude. The sound improves on the recording unbelievably as the cymbals and bass are not as loud so Hendrix’s tone can be discerned reverberating off of the walls of the hall.

Hendrix lets out a couple ‘Yea’s’ early on and lays on the blues thick with perfectly placed notes and absurd bends. At approximately two minutes and twenty seconds Jimi switches pickups to a rounder more overdriven sound. The first verses take their time getting to Hendrix’s baby with patient vocals and a smoky groove. Each verse is responded too with a singing guitar melody, when Hendrix mentions that the ‘key wont unlock this door’, he manifests a deep magenta stream of reverberating decay. Maybe a minor display but one that makes Jimi the best ever. Hendrix, sets the stage for the first solo break with a ‘Look out’, then a deeply felt metallic bend.

By Elliott Landy

Hendrix lets loose with a plethora of rutted and gravel filled licks and with a nonverbal signal takes a spin around the drive with dirty trill to which Mitchell matches with a tempo increase. Let off his leash Jimi begins to move at a different time and space than Noel and Mitch diverging into his rock and roll tool belt with some inexplicably abrasive takes on recognizable licks. At seven minutes, Redding and Mitchell come to the forefront as a delicate shuffle coagulates. Hendrix taps his strings, a breeze pushing the jam forward. Mitchell takes a brief solo spot as Redding and Hendrix fade. The crowd appreciates his abilities and responds in kind. At around ten minutes Hendrix returns with a succulent watery tone from his wah-wah, the band drops out as Jimi constructs a hallucinatory narrative. Someone in the crowd whistles and before too long Hendrix pulls the rip cord. From a bit after twelve minutes forward Jimi scribbles out a letter to his girl and nails it to the front door of the ‘Red House’ with a blade. The letter is dizzying and aggressive and leaves nothing to chance. A return to the verses is a welcome relief from the jaw clenching Hendrix solo spot.

A substantial wall of soaring feedback follows and precedes a strutting and crowd pleasing ‘Hey Joe’. This is the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the peak of their fame in one of the most famous music venues in history, playing one of their most popular cuts. The song is ignited with high octane gas and burned to ash.

A quick ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ snippet, not long enough to qualify as a song is introduced as, ‘That was the Monkees, now we’d like to do something by the Monkees’ to the crowd’s great amusement. Hendrix replies, ‘we have to keep things balanced’. A small tune up and Jimi plucks out the elastic opening lick of ‘Hear my Train’. In late 1967 on the BBC the Experience played a formative version of what would come to be known as ‘Hear My Train a Comin’. Hendrix also referred to the song as ‘Lonesome Train’, or ‘Getting My Heart Back Together’; and like ‘Red House’ the song would become one of Hendrix’s show shopping astro blues numbers. The tasty musical gruel was comprised of a heaping spoonful of Delta blues, a dropper of Oswley’s finest and the electric sensibilities of Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell. The imagery is classic blues with the main symbolism of the train referencing freedom, something always at the core of Hendrix’s songwriting. Here, on May 10th, 1968 is an early formative version of ‘Hear My Train’ comes smoking uncontrollably down the track.

It sounds to the ‘rock room’ that Jimi has returned to the Gibson he donned during ‘Red House’, but I cannot confirm that. His tone is thick and sweet as the richest New York maple. Mitchell stomps out ‘Train’s churning groove. Hendrix places well timed exclamations from his strings that elicit front porch blues gatherings from southern jukes. Jimi pauses to introduce the song as ‘Something we’ve never done before’, before singing the introductory verse.

Autobiographical but still firmly rooted in the blues, Hendrix testifies while harmonizing with his instrument. The first solo break immediately jumps the track and begins a runaway journey downhill. Hendrix snarls as he plays a variation on the central theme, fully overdriven and setting the table for the next series of courses he is ready to serve. Hendrix has a plump organic fuzz to his playing, Redding continues to grumble leaving a comfortable station for Hendrix to return from his journey.

The intensity increases, Jimi grabs a hold of a trilling riff on the lower part of the next causing the music to swirl. Mitchell throws his kit down the stairs and Jimi starts to use feedback to develop his next series of string narrative. His tone grows even gruffer and suddenly at round five minutes and twenty the train leaves the tracks and takes off streaking across the night sky, a human made comet, a UFO, musical disorientation and aural chaos ensues. Jimi rides the E string back to the verse licks, bringing the band dynamics down before letting off the gas for the third verse. Following the concluding vocals, Hendrix returns to his trademark vocal/guitar harmonization for the songs outro peak with a series of ‘Here My Train’ exclamations that bring the stunned crowd to their feet.

After a cut on the recording a nimble and somewhat rare cover of Bob Dylan’s 1965 single, ‘Please Crawl out Your Window’ follows. Hendrix was a huge admirer of Dylan, illustrated by his covers of ‘Drifters Escape, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, ‘Watchtower’ and the aforementioned ‘Crawl out Your Window’. This live reading remains close to Dylan’s studio recording with Hendrix singing really well. What the ‘rock room’ finds wonderful is Hendrix’s portrayal of guitarist Robbie Robertson’s solo breaks which he plays perfectly. The lightning fast version is topped off with a succinct ‘shave and a haircut’ conclusion.

A considerable sonic prelude comes next, creeping across the stage like a psychoactive fog. Hendrix brings to life flashes of war, peace, truth and lies through his sound experimentation. Similar to previous preludes as ‘Are You Experienced’ and foreshadowing his Woodstock soundscape coming in 1969, this found sound preface is one of the major highlights of the show. Hendrix turns the Fillmore East into a deep space aquarium, bubbling space melodies appear before dissolving into blue atmospheres. Things detonate before soaring away unknowingly, suddenly the undulating introduction to ‘Purple Haze’ appears.

‘Purple Haze’ is suffocating, in a good way. Played with a studio standard, the Experience crowns their evening concert with stunning and ear splitting perfection. Before a breath can be taken by the collective crowd the band readies to enter into the set closing ‘Wild Thing’. The song is unfortunately cut, but what is available is consistent with the rest of the show….amazing. Hendrix introduces the song as a ‘delta blues’ after asking the crowd to singalong with the band. The volume is thunderous and the excitement and enthusiasm is tangible on the antiqued field recording. As previously stated ‘Wild Thing’ cuts quickly, but its reverberations echo through the spheres.

With the plethora of stellar Hendrix material available to hardcore fans, in addition to his own limited discography it is often difficult to pinpoint the ‘best’ concerts. In the case of Fillmore East 1968, we are lucky to have an audience recording with such amazing fidelity. In addition to the tapes sonic gifts, the capture found one of the most amazing artists our planet has ever witnessed in his prime. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Superlatives often fail to express what Hendrix and his band did for rock and roll music, so now we can just sit back, and let the music play tell us the tale.

Other Hendrix rants by Talk From the Rock Room:

https://www.talkfromtherockroom.com/2014/01/the-jimi-hendrix-experience-miami-pop.html

https://www.talkfromtherockroom.com/2015/04/put-boot-in-jimi-hendrix-experience.html?m=1

https://www.talkfromtherockroom.com/2013/03/jimi-hendrix-lord-theres-got-to-be-some.html

https://www.talkfromtherockroom.com/2014/01/now-playingthe-jimi-hendrix-experience.html?m=1