Talk From The Rock Room

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Now Playing: 'Suprise Partie' New Years 1968 Paris, France - Who, Small Faces, Fleetwood Mac, Booker T

Now Playing in the ‘rock room’ is one of the finest substantial slabs of the 1960’s rock revolution to be captured on celluloid. Paris, France in 1968 was a city and country in upheaval. In May 1968 the French Revolution was ignited. A revolution in all sense of the word, the working man, artists and government were all turned upside down by the social upheaval forcing France into the modern world. Women’s rights, gay rights, student and musical freedoms were also on the docket. Concluding this important and chaotic year was a huge New Year’s Eve celebration with some of Europe’s most respected and forward thinking musicians. Now days, New Year’s Eve celebrations are nothing unusual, but here rock music was still considered to be subversive and was not taken seriously or as entertainment for the whole family unit.

‘Surprise-Partie’ was broadcast on French television on December 31, 1968 from ORTF studios in Paris and included a remarkable line up of artists. ‘The Who, Small Faces, Booker T and the MG’s, Pink Floyd, The Equals, Les Variations, The Troggs, Joe Cocker and Fleetwood Mac. Similarly to New Year’s Eve celebrations of modern times, some of the performances were taped on site and some come from various venues around Paris. Most of the bands performed live, but both the Small Faces and Who lip- synced their spots. This puzzles me somewhat at these two acts are obviously the most incendiary of the line up and famous for their live shows, but for reasons unknown they played along to backing tracks. There was a number of bands that played but did not make the television broadcast including but not limited to: PP Arnold, Francoise Hardy and Johnny Halliday.

Flickering today in the ‘rock room’ is the available circulating pro shot hour and a half broadcast. Unfortunately the original broadcast ran for three and a half, so we are missing much. What I am enjoying is also available on line for your review here. The film is quintessentially 60’s with a plethora of rock and a substantial amount of beautiful groovy ‘birds’. A paisley time capsule with a stellar captured soundtrack.

The show begins with ‘The Who’ playing along to a prerecorded track of three of their songs against the back drop of a aluminum foil dazzled stage. This particular era finds the in the grey area between their ‘psychedelic Mod’ era and Tommy. The footage is welcome for that single fact alone. ‘I’m a Boy, I Can See for Miles’, and ‘Magic Bus’ comprise the set. The band gives it their all but seems slightly uncomfortable with their surroundings. Moon and Townsend in particular seem to be feeling no pain. This mimed segment does offer a complete contrast to the Who’s devastating live performance of ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’ that took place on a few weeks prior on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.

The ‘Small Faces’ take the stage for their segment which is also mimed. The band looks like a group of bad asses in this clip with all eyes locked firmly on the simply decorated stage. Fascinatingly, the band opens with the title track of their latest LP, Odgens Nut Gone Flake. The band is in an odd configuration with Marriott on Hammond organ. This is also a rare and unique look at the band as very early in the next year Marriott would leave the band to begin ‘Humble Pie’ with Peter Frampton. The next two songs also feature from Odgens with Ronnie Lane’s ‘Song of a Baker’ and the horny ‘Rollin Over’. A fine and funny moment occurs when Marriott leaves the Hammond to grab his guitar in time for ‘Song of a Baker’ causing him to miss the beginning of the cut. Moon and Townsend laugh and Moon gives Marriott a joking punch as he grabs his instrument. Both Townsend and Moon sit on the stage like the surrounding dancers and band around enthusiastically to the Small Faces.

The show cuts to an offsite club where ‘Booker T and the MG’s’ play live at ‘Bibelot’. The band is as taut as a drawn bow with Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn and Al Jackson in particularly fine form locking down the groove. First up a swinging version of the famed ‘Green Onions’ with Cropper and Booker taking tasteful and crisp solo spots. Following next is the 1966 B side, ‘Booker Loo’. Washed with Booker’s breezy organ lines and the intimate venue quivers with the MG’s perfect shady rhythms.

The camera’s move to an additional off site club where the celluloid grasps another famous rock band during a time of flux. Next is ‘Pink Floyd’ live at ‘Bilboquet’ hailing from September 7, 1968 (I believe the band recorded a segment at the ORTF Studios the day before).  Founder, guitarist and songwriter Syd Barrett had left the band in April 1968 and was replaced by David Gilmour who is seen in this footage for one of the first times. This bit of footage is a real treat as I feel this particular era of Pink Floyd is stellar. Here the band performs ‘Let There Be More Light’ the lead off track from 1968’s Saucerful of Secrets. Of special note to ‘rock geek’s, is that this song is the first to feature a David Gilmour guitar solo and a stunning on at that. Set up on a minimalist stage, the song revolves around Roger Water’s weighty bass line. The psychedelia pulsates with a lysergic march to which a number of swirling and twirling girls and boys gyrate. The band is heavy and this particular performance sets something of a high water mark for what was to come for this definitive line up of the group.

‘The Equals’, a UK R and B band follow playing a short fiery three song live set. The band is known for their big hit, ‘Baby, Come Back’ (which closed this set), but also as one of the first racially mixed bands of the time.  The crowd is pumped with everyone on their feet and shakin’ asses. ‘Equality’ cooks with a soulful Eddy Grant guitar solo complete with some Hendrix style theatrics including playing with his mouth and buns! There is some serious sonic shoveling going on. The finishes bombastically with their big aforementioned single, ‘Baby Come Back’.

Popular French musicians, ‘Les Variations’ join the stage to play a set thematically connected by all being performed by the ‘Stones’ except for the closing ‘We’re Going Wrong’ (via Cream) which emerged from an ‘world music interlude’ during the set closing ‘Satisfaction’. ‘Les Variations’ set is charged rock and roll brought to life by a fully invested crowd who loves their hometown boys! Take note of the snappers in the front row who initiate the party atmosphere and get on stage during the gritty dynamic and improvised vamp on ‘Around and Around’. ‘Les Variations’ rips it up! A similarly high energy ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love’ gets the assembled crowd even more crazed with some early crowd surfing. These are the kind of sick moments that the ‘rock room’ lives for!! I will say that my assumption that the circulating video is out of order may be confirmed during the ‘Les Variations’ set as the credits are run during the concluding number.

‘The Troggs’ live set though maybe more well-known artists, pales in comparison to ‘Les variations’ freak out. Well known for the smash, ‘Wild Thing’ the US forerunners of ‘garage rock’ play a well-received set but one that lacks in the power of the previous groups. Nonetheless, the band is brisk and disseminates a chunky set of grooving pop psych. A strangely placed cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Peggy Sue’ is nestled mid set before the band closes with a singalong version ‘Somewhere My Girl Is Waiting’ from the bands 1967 LP Cellophane and the high tempo sudsy stomp of ‘Hip Hip Hurray’.

The cameras move yet again to join Joe Cocker and the Grease Band live at the ‘Tour de Nesle’ in Paris. A two song set comprised of the ‘Dylan/Band’s’, ‘I Shall Be Released’ and Cocker’s famous rendition of the ‘Beatles’, ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’. This segment may be the most intimate venue view yet as Cocker and his band are ‘elbows to ass*h*oles’ on the dimly lit and cramped stage. Cocker is his usual invested self and the footage joins with the small club crowd slow swaying and dancing. When ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ begins it gets the girls right up and dancing near the lip of the stage. Fresh faced Cocker gyrates and moves with the downbeat and reaches for each note while making the purely Beatles song his own only a bit over a year since its release. The footage of the stage from over the top of the minimal crowd really give listener a sense of time and space. Cocker directs the band charismatically during the ‘Friends’ conclusion with his body punctuation's and growling vocals driving one of the highlights of the broadcast to a substantial and explosive finish.

Closing the available footage is a three song blues set by the original ‘Fleetwood Mac’. Peter Green takes lead vocal for the track ‘Homework’ which is turned in on time and features a delicious shuffle. Peter Green steps back to let Jeremy Spencer come forward for two slide guitar focused numbers which the Mac appropriately kick their way through. The band closes with Elmore James, ‘Dust My Broom’ which gets the crowd swinging, but honestly we all know that 'Fleeetwood Mac' could have taken the show down in flames if they chose to.

The circulating footage of ‘New Years Eve 1968, ‘Surprise Partie’ is a time capsule of a unique musical and social period in our history. The pro shot color footage appropriates the era through sound, sight and aesthetic. Such an amazing visual experience to become part of an epoch that we can only read about and analyze through the foggy lens of history.

Suprise-Partie 1968


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Between the Lines: Chris Hillman- ‘Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond’

For the most unassuming member of the band the ‘Byrds’, Chris Hillman has made a most indelible mark on rock and roll history. For a man once asked by John Lennon, ‘Does he talk?’, Hillman’s new memoir, Time Between: My life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond speaks in measured truthful tones regarding Hillman’s fifty plus years in music. Chris Hillman, in his own words, dispels rock and roll myth with tales about the ‘Byrds’ monster arrival on the musical scene with ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, discloses truths about his relationship with tragic musical legend Gram Parsons, and lets the reader in on a number of clandestine rock and roll and life moments.  A founding member of the ‘Byrds’, ‘Flying Burrito Brothers’, 'Manassas', and his own Desert Rose Band, Hillman played at Monterey Pop and Altamont and in the ‘rock room’s humble opinion the major impetus for what rock history refers to as the ‘country rock' movement.

Through his deft navigation of multiple instruments, and his deep seated love of bluegrass music, Hillman has developed a portfolio of masterful compositions, LP’s and genre defying arrangements. We can now include a book full of stories no longer locked away with his muse. Hillman has worked with some of the most legendary collaborators in rock and country history, including but not limited to, Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Gram Parsons, Herb Petersen, Bernie Leadon, Tom Petty and Stephen Stills. Finally, his remembrances have been documented wonderfully in the new autobiography Time Between: My life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond, due on November 17, 2020. Both Tom Petty (who produced Hillman’s 2017 LP ‘Bidin’ My Time’) and Dwight Yoakam offer special words and a forward for the detailed memoir.

Unlike similar tropes by other famed rockers, Hillman’s memories are untainted by salacious details and are more rooted in making sense of what a vital element he was in the development of rock and roll and country rock. Chris was essential observer and participant in a major musical revolution. He was often overshadowed by the ‘bigger’ personalities in his bands, such as David Crosby and Gram Parsons, but not because of any inferior musical prowess. Hillman was cool without effort, his perceived aloofness included a higher level of talent and intuition.

Hillman’s story begins with fire, a theme that is consistent throughout the book as Hillman burns with a desire which seems to follow an almost predetermined path. The loss of his father from suicide was an obvious and defining moment that becomes a weight as well as an impetus in developing his life. Chris was a ‘middle class California kid’ who with talent, chance, hard work and instilled morals was thrown into a seismic era of music and madness and came out an essential element in the development of rock and country. Hillman as a teen in the early 1960’s would soon be witnessing things he had only read about in books.  Horses, and fast cars would soon give room to mandolins, guitars and eventually an unexpected fame that would change his existence.

Well timed and well intentioned meetings litter his early path to becoming a musician. Producer Jim Dickson, Jim McGuinn, The Godsin Brothers, Clarence White, are just a few of the relationships discussed by Hillman as his career was built brick by brick. Obviously, the famed period from 1965 through the end of the ‘Burrito’s is vital and is covered in lovingly great detail. His attentiveness to his development as well as those around him offers entertainment as well as life lessons. Hillman’s modesty and conversational tone are part of the allure of the book, allowing the reader to relate, a tall task in a rock and roll memoir.

Hillman’s importance in the emergence and genre blending of ‘country rock’ cannot be understated. He is aware of this but offers a refreshing and realistic take, by letting the reader breath in the rarefied air of the era and inviting them to make their own connections. He lends the reader a ‘Byrds’ eye view of the rock and roll world through an essential and inside place.

Hillman clarifies myth, recounting the dramas littering his groups;  the ‘Byrds’, ‘Flying Burrito Brothers’,‘ Manassas’ and his solo career lineups. He reveals the truth regarding Gram Parsons dismissal from the ‘Burrito’s and the sad reality of Gene Clark. But these historic yarns are secondary to what the book is all about, which is Chris Hillman’s music, faith and longevity. Hillman is a real authentic while discussing the pitfalls his own career faced in the mid to late 1970’s. He connects the wires understanding the reasons for his own decent into the trappings of fame, drugs, business and desperation. He witnessed the talent of his close friends deteriorate and used his upbringing and faith to keep him on a line that would lead to a literal and figurative rebirth in the 1980’s.

Hillman was always best at supporting a band, the most essential ‘sideman’ in rock history.  Following a number of life changing events including his marriage to current wife Connie, a new collaborator in Steve Hill, and his rebirth as a man of faith, Hillman’s career became everything he had ever wanted. Chris Hillman had returned to the music of his DNA, bluegrass and string band melodies, and in the process rediscovered himself. His group and new musical medium, the ‘Desert Rose Band’ contained an impressive rotating cast with Hillman as the axis. The group allowed for honest collaboration and in the interim, became a huge country music success.

Chris had finally found all of the life pieces he had been collecting since a youth and placed them together at the appropriate time. Hillman underwent a major spiritual revitalization until an unexpected battle with Hepatitis C almost killed him. Once again, a thread woven throughout the text is family and faith is what can get you through anything. It's amazing he is still here with us.

Like all great comebacks, Hillman’s return to health also marked the dawning of a renewed interest in ‘alt-country’, a genre that Hillman in all honesty had been developing since 1965. The reader cannot help but marvel at Hillman’s ‘country rock’ lifetime, but like the best movies we find ourselves rooting for the central hero. Hillman released the Tom Petty produced LP ‘Biding My Time’ in 2017 and found himself right in the thick of it yet again.

Though finding himself right where he needed to be, Hillman has revealed the last few years a mixture of sweet and sour. A number of friends and family including Tom Petty have moved to the next realm. Similarly to the beginning of his tale, fire again returned to his life in December 2017 in the form of wildfires displacing him and Connie from their home. But like Hillman states in the book, ‘Life is all about change and growth’ and as 2018 dawned Chris once again returned to the road celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ‘Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. Reunited with Roger McGuinn, the therapy of music, family and faith brought it all full circle, a reoccurring theme in the book.

Time Between: My life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond comes at a time when we all need something to look forward to. Through his lifetime Chris Hillman was always the one in a supporting role, providing to the needs of the band, as opposed to the one. Today, he is the front man, speaking loud and clear and jamming into tomorrow.  For fans of rock and roll history this is a critical read. Musical insight, rock myths and important life lessons abound, Chris Hillman is the solid foundation in every artistic endeavor he undertakes.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Fleetwood Mac - Bare Trees - 'When We Are Dust'

Spinning today in the ‘rock room’ is a transitional yet beautifully creative LP obscured by the mists of rock history. The album’s enigmatic vibe is because the record acts a bridge between era’s as well as band members. Fleetwood Mac’s 1972 record Bare Trees was recorded post Peter Green, pre Buckingham/Nicks and right when Danny Kirwan was aiming to leave the group. The lineup at this point in the band’s existence was founding members Mick Fleetwood, John McVie as the rhythm section, Christine McVie on piano and vocals as well as Danny Kirwan and newcomer Bob Welch on guitar and vocals.

The album is a heterogeneous mix of compositions and influence. Only little tattered remains exist sonically of the Peter Green Fleetwood Mac blues band, and on the record there is now a sanded sweetness to the sound that foreshadows the FM radio Fleetwood Mac only 3 short years away. A wonderful record reflected in the pastoral landscape of the cover of towering trees caught between seasons, suspended on a misty grey area. The recording finds Danny Kirwan reaching a creative peak, Christine McVie a full time member of the band and Bob Welch lending the group a slick professionalism. While this line up of the 'Mac' gets filed between the two towering lineup's their albums and importance cannot be understated. The final track on the album is a poem titled, 'Thoughts On a Grey Day' is a poem read by a close neighbor of the band when recording the record. The content of the poem informed and inspired much of Danny Kirwan's writing on the LP.

The record begins with the churning ‘Child of Mine’, McVie’s blue Rhodes piano rolling under the undulating rhythm anchored by McVie’s loopy bass. The song has wind-blown melody but does retain an edge with some prickly lead lines from Kirwan. The music elicits movement, the search for child misplaced from a life from time. The song is biographical as Kirwan never knew his biological father. By the second verse, the addition of circular tom tom strikes lend even more urgency to the track. There is a dizzying breakdown mid song with a cavernous guitar tone by Kirwan and a spongy bed underneath. A ‘Badfinger’ rocker comes to mind when I play this cut, don’t know why. But it always happens.  Great rocker, big guitars, ace opener.

Bob Welch’s ‘The Ghost’ opens with an acoustic and bass guitar playing a prelude melody in unison. Welch was from California, and it shows in the song’s gusty construction and the spectral chorus motif that just feels warm and right. A woody flute (created by McVie on Mellotron) winds around the songs body.  

Christine McVie illustrates a strong vocal showing with the following ‘Homeward Bound’ The song begins as a real thumper with a robust cowbell driven groove. These are McVie’s debut lead vocals as an official member of the ‘Mac’ with a urgent rocker. Pop rock perfection.

The sparkling and dramatic Kirwan penned ‘Sunny Side of Heaven’ rises above the horizon, levitated by a centrally located descending lick. Closing the first side of the LP, the song cruises just inches above the tree tops, warmth on its wings. The melody sails almost weightlessly, the guitar singing over lacy undercurrents. Again, Kirwan and Welch deftly weave guitar lines without ever getting too busy. This is genius stuff. This is one of those certain songs that is a universe unto itself, it existence unique, its magic tangible, and perfectly concluding side one.

The title track ‘Bare Trees’ opens side two and is one of the closest things to the previous Fleetwood Mac of old. The groove is propellant and bounds over snow drifts and glossy streams hoping to get home to a warm fire. Glistening guitars agitate the groove with anxious chugging and bountiful picking. Syncopated breaks cross cut the central theme with McVie and Kirwan playing a dual lick. These tasteful breaks are drizzled all over the record. A ‘rock room’ favorite, this track has all of the essential elements of a killer rock cut and is a fitting side two opener.

‘Sentimental Lady’ follows, another fantastic cut by Bob Welch. Here we can hear it in its formative state, a warm love song that would later reach number 8 on the charts when rerecorded for Welch’s 1977 solo album French Kiss. Oddly enough for that later version, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham would contribute with McVie producing. The song ‘feels’ like a hit as it hits your aural receptors, on the Bare Trees LP its tucked on side 2, just another fantastic song on a stuffed record. The chorus segment spotlights a helix of intertwined vocalists and shimmering guitars.

‘Danny Chant’ opens with a violent slashing wah-wah’d guitar prelude. Layers of stratified guitars give the song a firm foundation. A slide guitar moves in from somewhere, and the song reveals a tribal stomp. Dust rises around as a wordless melody line fittingly and rhythmically chanted. An weighty and disorienting Kirwin number that somehow strattles both sides of the 'Fleetwood Mac' musical fence and acts as a divide between the the Welch and McVie songs on either side.

'Spare Me a Little of Your Love' follows in dynamic contrast and gives Christine McVie her second spotlight of the record and is the perfect little pop song. The cut would endure as it was played in concert throughout the 1970's. The song is the blended hue on a pallet connecting era's of Fleetwood Mac. McVie's recognizable hearty voice pleads its case against a timeless melody and groovy backdrop. Beautiful. 

What many folks, myself included assert to be Danny Kirwan’s finest composition, ‘Dust’ is the penultimate track on the record. A gentle original wisp of British Folk, Kirwan’s fragile vocals and the haunting melody teeter on the edge of shattering into a thousand pieces. The song is a deeply introspective meditation on the inevitability of death and loss. Harmonies, breathy cotton mesh with a gently wobbling electric guitar. The song seems to pass through your fingers as its gifts soak into your ears.

A track of mixed emotions for Mac fans, but vital in the inspiration of Bare Trees, the final movement of the LP is 'Thoughts On a Grey Day'. A poem written and dictated by an elderly neighbor of where the band was living; Mrs. Scarrott dictates the text to Mick Fleetwood's recorder in a shaky but sure voice. The poem sums up the precipitation loss drizzled throughout the record, but also leaves the listener looking for some sort hopefulness that it always close at hand. It is the 'rock room's assertion that the poem is the vital motif which the record is distilled through.

'Fleetwood Mac's Bare Trees is an important detour in the substantial discography of 'Fleetwood Mac'. Filed in between two substantially discussed and recognized era's, the LP blend into the landscape like the leafless trees on its cover. The 'rock room' recommends pulling the album from the organized slumber of your record shelves or adding it to your collection for a completely reasonable deduction. Danny Kirwan, Christine McVie  and Bob Welch's songs deserve it.

Bare Trees LP