Talk From The Rock Room: September 2012

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Put The Boot In: Byrds In Winter - The Byrds 12-9-1967

 This edition of "Put The Boot In" has been posted per request from the city of Buffalo, NY. The originator of all things "Rock Room", "Sick Dude Brad" has asked me to review a field recording that only circulated this past July after hiding out for over forty years. The recording is of The Byrds at San Fransisco's Winterland December 9th 1967. The unique thing about this audience recorded tape is that it features The Byrds as a trio. Minus David Crosby, Gene Clark, and slightly before the appearance of Gram Parsons, this recording is a rare look at The Byrds during a time of major upheaval. The line up at this point is Chris Hillman on Bass, Roger McGuinn on guitar, and Michael Clarke on drums. Some folks believe it sounds like there is another guitar other than McGuinn's on the recording. I disagree with this assumption. I believe that this is a fully amped Chris Hillman holding down the bottom end with some distortion to make up for the loss of  David Crosby's rhythm guitar. The listener can judge for themselves.This show took place on the weekend of December 8th and 9th at Winterland with the line up consisting of The Byrds, Electric Flag, and B.B. King. This field recording is purported to be a fragment of the early show on the ninth. Evidence that supports that is McGuinn's comment at the end of the tape "We'll be back in about two hours".

As for the recording of the show, it leaves much to be desired. It is a distant mono recording with unknown mileage as far as generational loss. It contains only 24 minutes of the performance. But what is does offer, is many of those special moments that all "Rock Geeks" pine for. The elusive jewels amongst the crud. With careful listening these moments be found among the sonic anomalies of the tape.It took me about five minutes of concentrated listening until I was fully tuned in and transported to the Winterland arena on that winter afternoon. All things considered, this is a remarkable recording I fell lucky to have access to.

The tape opens with an already in progress "Feel A Whole Lot Better" sung confidently by McGuinn. Roger's Rickenbacker chimes spring water clear through the post summer of love air. His guitar stays up front in the recording for the whole performance. But it is Hillman's bass that is the driving force behind all of the songs on this recording. Always underestimated and under appreciated Hillman proves his worth during this performance. While somewhat buried at first, when I turn my ears to the lower frequency he lays down elephant tracks on even the quieter numbers. "Feel A Whole Lot Better" eventually segues with a bell like echo into "Satisfied Mind". A tune covered by the Byrds since there earliest days, this is a well played version regardless of the vocals being somewhat distorted. Next comes a one minute fragment of "Have You Seen Her Face" which is exciting and well played enough to rope me in. Then just as suddenly, it cuts me off just as McGuinn's solo starts. Ouch. Oh well.

 In my opinion the most wonderful moment of the tape is the huge version of "My Back Pages" that comes next. Again the tape cuts in mid verse, but what we do get in its entirety is the mammoth psychedelic maelstrom that winds its way out of "My Back Pages". With shades of Miles Davis's "Milestones" emanating from their vibrating instruments, the trio of McGuinn, Clarke, and Hillman whip the crowd in to a frenzy with a tuned in instrumental outro. Highlighted by glittering stabs of McGuinn's Rick, and underpinned by the throbbing rhythm section of Clarke and Hillman, this is the peak moment of the tape. McGuinn's solo is made up mostly of block chords and ringing "raga" like string hits, but is nonetheless extremely effective in its emotive qualities.This jam finds The Byrds locked in, and spinning in a multi colored globe. The Byrds soar over Winterland, and come crashing to earth as one unit as they segue into "Baby What You Want Me To Do". Hillman is all over this one, as the Byrds move from psychedelic messengers, to swaggering, swilling, blues singers. With a gait that struts, The Byrds stomp their feet through "Baby What You Want Me To Do", which we get in its entirety! I let out a deep breath after that one, and look at the track listing anxious for what comes next.

What comes next is a smoking version of "Renaissance Fair" that continues the tight ensemble playing. This is also a complete version of the song! Every instrument is up front and clear, which makes this another peak offering of the recording. A nice snapshot of the "The Byrds" during such a definitive and changing era. The "Eight Miles High" that follows is started with a startling rumble of Hillman's bass, and he playing the well known intro figure. Unfortunately the song is not complete and some of the vocals are a tad flat. I feel like this recording has already given me the magic that it contains. The performance then closes with a textbook reading of "So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star" which is found in its entirety. This is a crisply executed ending to a performance that has been a lift to listen to.

Sound quality is never the deciding factor for me whether to listen to a field recording or not. The most legendary performances are often obscured under years of dust and tape warble. Patience, and a love of the historical rock moment are the only required prerequisites for enjoying some forty plus year old audience recordings. I'm thankful for the taper who had the foresight to record this performance before it was in vogue to do so. I am also thankful for those who share recordings like this one to future rock listeners, so that the music continues play on.

Byrds Winterland 1967

Friday, September 28, 2012

Put The Boot In: Cat Stevens - 9 Lives - 'Sing Out'

In addition to my normal blog entries, I am going to include a more specific feature in "Talk From The Rock Room". This feature is called, "Put The Boot In". I will use this monicker to introduce different field recording and bootlegs that have made their way to the Rock Room. Endless musical artists have a plethora of live, studio, demo, and rehearsal recordings available for those willing to search. Bootleg recordings are generally for the fanatic and the completest, but they are also for the general music fan who wants an intimate and unguarded view of the artist. I will use these entries to recommend and reflect on the recordings I am currently enjoying. I cannot assist you in getting these recordings in anyway. But if you ever make it to a "rock night" at my home, I'll be more than happy to hook you up!

     Playing today in the rock room is a collection by Cat Stevens called "9 Lives". This recording is a pristine soundboard of Cat's demonstration recordings made at London's Morgan Studios between 1970 to 1971. For those not familiar, this era is when Cat Stevens defined the singer songwriter movement. He was creating and releasing career defining LP's like "Tea For The Tillerman", and Teaser and The Firecat". The majority of this release contains "Teaser And The Firecat" tracks, solo acoustic and unadorned by overdubs or post production trickery.

     I have a feeling that these tracks were liberated during the compiling of the Cat Stevens box set in 2001. A similar thing happened during the construction of the John Lennon anthology. The Anthology made its appearance, along with an abundance of pirated material that was great for the public, not so much for the Lennon estate. Consequently, this is the grey area of bootlegs for collectors. Sometimes the music does not circulate without shady dealings happening somewhere down the line.

     It seems a fitting day to listen to some Cat Stevens, with a heavy frowning sky out the window, and a bite in the air. Cat's warm minstrel melodies can encourage the sun to break through a leafy sky on any dark day.The "9 Lives" recording begins with a crisp solo acoustic version of one of Cat's most popular and beloved recordings "Wild World". Immediately I am struck by the ambiance of the solo acoustic track. The sound quality on this collection is obviously very close to the master recording, if not a clone of the master. Stevens husky voice comes through my speakers unprocessed and true, with an emotion not heard on the officially released version. The ambiance of the recording allows me to experience every scrape of a string, and click of a plectrum. This is followed by the concert favorite "The Wind". This track features Alun Davies on a second acoustic guitar and is beautifully performed. But not as practiced as the tune would become in years to come. "The Wind" blows gently into track three which is the first of the completely unreleased songs on the recording. Making its debut on this collection, "Can This Be Love" is a song in progress. To my ears it sounds like a "Mona Bone Jakon" outtake with its deep reverberating bass line and intermittent lo-fi drum beat. A beautiful melody and a simple lyric, this track stands out as being not quite ready to come out of the oven, but tasty nonetheless. Regardless of its potential, the song was destined to languish in the vaults. Observe the beauty of bootlegs, where the lost is found.

     Meanwhile the recording continues with unique and sparse versions of Cat favorites like "Changes IV", "Katmandu", and "Morning Is Broken". All differ from their album counterparts in unique and personal ways. Following this triad the collection debuts another unreleased track, ""It's So Good". This song contains an unmistakable Cat melody followed by a work in progress lyric containing, "It's so good, "nice", "hard", "fast", "slow". The track again shows great potential, and is proof of the strength of Cat's material during this era. Tracks like "It's so good" were left off of albums because the competition between other numbers was so great. One of my favorite tracks on the collection is the solo demo of "Tuesday's Dead", which sounds like a frigid evening campfire singalong with the Cat. The percussion of the released version is replicated here with Cat's knocks on his acoustic guitar and strident rhythm work. Everything I love about this collection is expressed in the beauty and intimacy of this performance. I feel like hand clapping and singing along is the only thing appropriate at this time. Consequently, the closely miked version of "Don't Be Shy" that follows contains the same features, hence the rarity and beauty of this imported collection.

     The rest of this collection contains stripped down versions of recognizable classics, such as "Moonshadow" which need to be heard to be properly appreciated. Special mention is required for the dual acoustic version of "Peace Train" which is toward the end of the track list. Following a false start Cat and Alun run through a exciting and loose recording of the signature Cat track. Cat's voice rises like smoke from a  chugging train rolling down a peaceful track. Nearing its conclusion, one more unreleased track remains on the collection, this song being titled "The Fisherman". To me this acoustic track feels finished and ready to be placed on an LP. A clean performance, the atmospheric ditty smells of fish, and is moist with the sea air. Steven's concise biting guitar underpins the joyous, "Na na na na na" chorus. A great find.The three unreleased songs that support this collection are alone worth the search for it. The track list closes fittingly with "If you want to sing out", a lilting piano based demo, and a "Harold and Maude" soundtrack favorite.

     "9 Lives" is a crystal clear and unadorned document of one of the most respected and controversial singer songwriters of the last fifty years. Any fan of acoustic based rock or folk should hunt down a copy of this "stray" Cat. These songs I assert are best enjoyed by a open fire, or candlelight with plenty of time for contemplation. The performances contained within are a hole in the wall peek at an artist reaching the pinnacle of his career, while composing life defining songs.

Track List:

Wild World
If I Laugh
Can This Be Love
Changes IV
Morning Has Broken
It's So Good
Tuesday's Dead
Don't Be Shy
Who'll Be My Love
How Can I Tell You
Peace Train
The Fisherman
If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"I Ain't Dead Yet"-Bob Dylan's Tempest

     Bob Dylan is entering his fifth decade in the rock pantheon, and has again created an album worthy of praise and contemplation. Since the turn of the new millennium Dylan's records have evoked a time in the not so distant past when whiskey was illegal, women were fast, and music was loose. Dylan has created his own unique genre by his juxtaposition of musical influences and love of literature. One thing that has kept Dylan relevant after all these years is his constant acceptance of change. Dylan's brand new album "Tempest" expands on the sepia colored template started with 2001's "Love and Theft", 2005's "Modern Times", and to a lesser extent 2009's "Together Through Life". In my opinion "Tempest" is the crowning jewel of these achievements, and Dylan's songwriting has again reached new heights not scaled since "Time Out Of Mind".

     Dylan's writing is always at its best when it's mysterious, dark, and drinking from the cool well of the folk and blues tradition. For those who complain about Dylan's voice, Dylan fans know that's not why we listen. Sure, Dylan's voice is showing the ravages of time and rock, but it has also gained a "blues man" aura that Bob has been striving for since his first LP in 1962. "Tempest" shows Dylan as a keeper of tradition, and the sole heir of the true history of musical storytelling. Dylan, again is leading his listeners down a path unfamiliar to them, but one that Dylan trusts in implicitly. Similar to when  Dylan was "going electric", "going country", "going religious" or any other place Dylan has "gone", "Tempest" takes us into the past and into our own consciousness.

     I will leave the track by track dissemination and analysis to the "experts". I want to express my supreme excitement over Dylan's new work of art. The LP version of "Tempest" is the preferred method for listening in my opinion. The unique and practiced sound of Dylan's road band lends itself to the crackling cozy sound of an old wooden phonograph. Which is exactly how the record opens when "Duquesne Whistle" rolls into the station on a distant swing band jam that could have been pulled off of an old Columbia lacquer from the 1930's. "Tempest" rolls along nicely through a generous cross section of Dylan's current musical stylings. Dylan's band, impressively understated, lets Dylan croon, growl, chant and sing his words like he always has. Dylan, even with his now limited range dances around shuffles, sings the blues, and forces the beat ahead with his mastery of poetic tempo and dictation. There is no harmonica on this record, only Bob's voice and his understated backing band.

     "Pay In Blood" are some of Dylan's most venomous lyric's that he has written in years and harkens back back to "Positively Forth Street", and "Idiot Wind". "Pay In Blood" shows Dylan hasn't lost his ability to crucify or deny in his lyrics. "Long and Wasted Years" is melodically my favorite track on the album. It is a tenderly sung descending ballad filled with sharp Dylan stanzas that both comfort and disturb. It's such a powerful set of lyrics, I will post it here in its entirety:

     It's clear to me that Dylan is still heads and shoulders above any songwriter, and in years to come tracks like "Long and Wasted Years" will be considered with Dylan's best work .It's chilling to hear Dylan in complete control and directing epics like "Tin Angel", and the title track "Tempest". These aforementioned songs look back at Dylan compositions like "Highlands" which is the last song of such length that Dylan has composed. Both these tracks pass the standard 5 minute mark and stretch into the proverbial sunset where they extend their legs and bask in the warm glow of the sun."Tin Angel" is a murder ballad in the classic sense which could have been pulled from a classic folk anthology. Filled with classic Dylan imagery it is in my opinion the peak of the record, a crowning achievement for Dylan. The same can be said for the title track "Tempest", Dylan's artistic portrayal of the Titanic disaster. It seems fitting that the "modern " Dylan would choose such a well known historical moment and stamp it in the typical Dylan fashion with mystery, dreams and love. Only Bob could take such a overexposed time in American history, and look at it through a looking glass in a different way. "Tempest" is history through Dylan's eyes, and his reflection of the past into today's world. Only Dylan could create such a "historically modern" record, which he has been doing since "Love and Theft".

     "Tempest" requires a contemplative setting, and the ability to "listen" to the record, as opposed to "hearing" it. This is not an "ipod" record, meaning not a collection of background music. "Tempest" is a collection designed to be enjoyed like a book or an anthology of poetry. When the LP is opened it feels like a dusty cracked book is being pulled off of the top shelf of a library stack. It feels like mysteries are being revealed, and a historical perspective is gained, and a veil is lifted. The LP closes with the song "Roll On John" which, in typical Dylan fashion, is a requiem for John Lennon thirty years later. A tender, honest track peppered with Lennon lyrics and Dylan expressions of honor and respect, it is a fitting close to the record. Ruminating on this song will do nothing, it has to be experienced to understand its full depth. Fitting in with the historical perspective of the record, "Roll On John" is a page from the "Tempest" collection. The collection reaches from steam powered trains, to ocean liners, from American disasters to murder, and finally to an expression of uninhibited love and respect.

     Dylan has already secured his place in history as a poet, performer, and "song and dance man". In my opinion he could have stopped anytime after "Blood On The Tracks" and his place would have been secured as the best songwriter in history. But Dylan has continued on and has not rested on his laurels, but has developed and continued to surprise and create masterpieces. There could be more music coming from the 71 year old Dylan in the future, we cannot be sure. But for now "Tempest" does more than enough to show that Bob has plenty to say and has no problem saying it.

It’s been such a long long time

since we loved each other and our hearts were true
one time, for one brief day, i was the man for you
last night i heard you talkin in your sleep
saying things you shouldn’t say, oh baby
you just may have to go to jail someday
is there a place we can go, is there anybody we can see?
it’s the same for you as it is for me

I ain’t seen my family in twenty years
that ain’t easy to understand, they may be dead by now
i lost track of em after they lost their land
shake it up baby, twist and shout
you know what it’s all about
what are you doing out there in the sun anyway?
don’t you know, the sun can burn your brains right out
my enemy crashed into the dust stopped dead in his tracks and he lost his lust was run down hard and he broke apart he died in shame, he had an iron heart

I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes
there are secrets in em that i can’t disguise
come back baby
if i hurt your feelings, i apologize
two trains running side by side, forty miles wide
down the eastern line
you don’t have to go, i just came to you because you’re a friend of mine
i think that when my back was turned,
the whole world behind me burned
it’s been a while,
since we walked down that long, long aisle
we cried on a cold and frosty morn,
we cried because our souls were torn 
so much for tears
so much for these long and wasted years


“You don’t write the kind of songs I write just being a conventional type of songwriter. And I don’t think anybody will write them like this again, any more than anybody will ever write a Hank Williams or Irving Berlin song. That’s pretty much for sure. I’ve taken things to a new level because I’ve had to. Because I’ve been forced to.”-Dylan 2012


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Hendrix Experience

     Daydreaming on a dreary September morning, I experience a unique "Radio I Ching" moment. I wake up, I walk into the rock room, and spin a 1970 Band Of Gypsy's audience recording from Baltimore, Maryland. I continue with some mundane morning tasks with Jimi playing in the background. Then, a quick glance into cyberspace reminds me that today is indeed the anniversary of James Marshall Hendrix's death. I glance at the glossy picture of Jimi dressed like a psychedelic Indian gracing my wall, and sit in the recliner to listen.
     It immediately occurs to me how lucky I am to have access to to so much Hendrix music. Skeevy audience recordings, hundreds of "liberated" studio recordings, endless official releases, video recordings of Berkley, Woodstock, Monterey, and a plethora of biographical writings. Hours upon hours of Hendrix's musical creations, available to enjoy over forty ears after his death. Numerous authors ruminating about a life that was over before it started. What really strikes me is this music was all created in the time period of 1966 to 1970. It blows my mind. For four years Hendrix was creating music for the masses. In four years he developed a lifetime of music. In four years he created like he had lived forty. There is such an abundance of Hendrix material available that it seems like all he did was play music. Which is probably true.
     Jimi revolutionized electric guitar, blues and psychedelic rock, in a blink of an eye. It's all subjective, but I feel no one since has done anything to match the forward thinking, and sound shaping abilities of Hendrix. I sit here thinking of Keith Richards, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and all of Jimi's contemporaries who had the opportunity to expand their knowledge, and abilities by living long lives. I wonder what Jimi, given the same opportunity as Beck or Zappa to extend their careers past the tender age of 27 would have accomplished. Where would electric guitar playing be? Where could it have gone? What would Jimi's music have sounded like with modern technology, and modern recording techniques? What would Jimi's maturity, constant practice and performance created? The possibilities are mind numbing and almost impossible to think about. A prolific four years of Jimi's career, expanded into a fifty year career like the Stones, is almost too exciting to imagine.
     Jimi is gone, and I selfishly think how I never had the chance to witness the creation of the songs that fulfill my musical life. Unable to see him in concert, like many of his fans, my exposure is strictly through the media's of vinyl, CD, and video. His abilities extinguished by pressure and drugs, Jimi burned out. He died pathetically by choking on puke, alone, on the edge of musical revolution. Jimi's 1970 audience recording interrupts my thoughts like a strong radio frequency and I hear his incendiary string bending conjuring guitar fifty years into the future. Foreshadowing every guitar player playing "acid jazz" to" tech metal ",  from Eddie Van Halen to Jack White. Jimi's composition"Machine Gun" startles my spirit like it always has, and will continue to do. Even on a distant field recording, the future of music, takes me deep into the past. Into a cold, cavernous civic center, turned "Electric Church" and balanced on the edge of magic. Jimi's power is reflected in his ability to touch me through sound waves still dancing on air from four decades ago.
     Jimi's legacy is set in stone, and he does not need my tiny blog to explain its importance to music. His legacy has been disseminated endless times, by numerous people. But what my blog can express is the sadness I feel that we will never know what could have been. We will never know what Jimi's next LP would have contained musically. Where could Jimi have taken us next? After forty years Jimi is still the "greatest" guitar player of all time, and he is still revolutionizing the instrument from the grave. If you are so inclined, listen to some Jimi today, and reflect on where he took rock music, and dream about where it could have gone.

In From The Storm-1970

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Radio I Ching

     Music is the soundtrack to our lives. We all have had a certain song that attaches itself to a special moment. The song, and the moment in time forever linked. Music has the power to elicit emotions in us, and to remind us. There is also music's ability to define a moment as it is in progress. When the music almost comically fits the scene too well. This is referred to as "Radio I Ching".

     Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead referred to this term regarding his time spent with "Beat", and "Prankster", Neil Cassidy. He talked about the times where Neil's actions during their psychedelic journeys, perfectly fit what was on the radio at the time. Neil's stream of consciousness raps, and actions seemed hardwired to what was happening on the FM dial. Strange? Yes. Real? Definitely. In today's age of portable music, its completely possible to encourage this kind of simpatico between real life and recorded music. But the real essence of "Radio I Ching" is its randomness. The ability for the universe to match up in completely random, yet meaningful ways. The feeling that the music playing, fits with the world we are living in.

     I will use a few examples in my life to more adequately express the premise of "Radio I Ching" . While taking a trip back from the Adirondack Park a sudden urge for a caffeinated beverage came over me. After getting myself a towering steamy coffee, I plopped myself into the car to hear Bob Dylan's "One More Cup Of Coffee" (To The Valley Below) come blasting out of the FM radio.  I chuckled to myself and immediately thought, "Radio I Ching". Another example of the way "Radio I Ching" has entered my consciousness was on a recent trip to Woodstock, NY. Traveling the farm filled back roads of New York State I approached a flashing interaction indicating a train stop. Just as my foot dropped to press down the break "The Kinks", "Last Of The Steam-Powered Train's" started it's blusy shuffle from my speakers. It may seem silly to some, but "Radio I Ching" can be a defining moment in a music lovers life.

     What makes of the concept "Radio I Ching" so interesting is it's randomness. It's the goose pimple feeling of music you love, becoming part of your life at the most opportune times. "Radio I Ching" is at its best when it comes creeping unexpectedly, and adds a feeling of "being" to a mundane day."Radio I Ching", is truly being "in the moment". Obviously, the emotional strength of the action being undertaken only magnifies the "Radio I Ching" moment. One of the first songs that played on my turntable after the loss of my beloved pet, was "I Miss You" by Badfinger. While I was responsible for putting that record on the turntable previously, I had no control over how profound the effect was after the loss of my animal.I was also unaware of the song's potential magnitude after such an emotional time. When the needle dropped it was again the music speaking through me, not necessarily to me.

     "Radio I Ching" can happen at any time, in any situation, awareness is it's only prerequisite. In contrast to the randomness of the universe, it is also up to us as listeners to direct our "I Ching" moments. Take music with you to fit the situations you may find yourself in. Like an athlete priming themselves for a competitive match with appropriate music. Let your listening preferences define your experience. Let the music be your guide on the journey through life. To quote Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, "Let the music be your master, can you heed the masters call?"

     Obviously, the lyrics are what give the context in which a song fits a chosen moment. But instrumental music can also add into the "Radio I Ching" equation. I find that a late night drive down rutted dirt mountain roads fits perfectly with a mellow jazz infused 1973 Grateful Dead "Dark Star". Or a sherbert sunset on Lake Ontario can act as the music video for some mid seventies Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The possibilities are endless. Similar to the concept of "Radio I Ching", all music lovers I assert, can make music a soundtrack to their life. By joining life moments to a melody or lyrics, we can make life's special times permanent fixtures of our memory. This is not an epiphany that  I am taking credit for. We obviously have knowledge of the connection between life experience and music. Otherwise we would not have Wedding dances, or soundtracks to movies or television shows. The thoughts I have are directed more to having an awareness to capture and create these crystallized moments.The music we love can define our lives if we let it. Memories may fade, but music can let us replay our memories in technicolor for eternity.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bermuda 1980-(A short fiction?)

     Squinting into the sun, I squeeze my eyes together tight like a clam. I'm gently skipping my hot feet across the sun fried sand. I can sense the deep blue sky and frothing dark water, contrasted by the grinding beach of lobster dreams. I feel steel drums come in and out of earshot, or maybe an acoustic guitar? Regardless, an already perfect day, now has a soundtrack. I drift in a ocean water haze, vainly following the sound intermittently coming in and out of focus on the breeze. The music tickles my eardrum on each passing gust. I decide to follow the music like a peasant behind a piper. Feeling I have nothing better to do today, I walk on, enjoying the day and my unknown jester.
     My steamy stumbling beach walk takes me to a place containing a perfume air, and a fitting music. I now can clearly hear drums, and a fitting metallic chime of chunky acoustic guitar. A five foot stucco retaining wall corrals the music behind its garden gate. A voice now joins the mini orchestra, instantly familiar, but singing an unknown song. It sounds just like John Lennon." Wow, what happened to him?", I think to myself." It's been a few years without as much as a peep"." Can you imagine?", "Ha ha ha, Imagine, good one dude", I chuckle. I approach the mystery music on silent sand footsteps. A ornately decorated villa frames the larger scene, where the coastline caresses the front of a breathtaking colonial building. A glass walled sun room jettisons from the rest of the home,where I glimpse a silhouette behind pained glass.This human shape appears to have headphone ears, a long pony tale, and a nose like a Bermuda bird. The heady scent of Freesia fills my nostrils intoxicating me, and makes me feel a bit euphoric. I can't be sure what I see.
     I assume this is the source of the mysterious beach serenade. The soothing music has to be emanating from this sunshine shadow. I step cautiously toward the wall, careful to not set off a alarm mutt, or security. "Hey!", "You looking for my Dad?", a young boy about five years old screams at me as he flies by like a beach Frisbee. Startled, I am unable to speak in time as the boy motors toward the front of the villa. My nervous stomach slightly recovers, "I think its about time I travel on", I say to myself out loud, feeling slightly like an intruder.
     In my inspection I do not notice that the music has ceased and I am now standing by the garden gate looking like a stranded tourist. The music then starts again suddenly, sounding very Caribbean.The gangly shadow moves fluidly with the sounds through the window. The vocals cause me pause, as there is now no doubt in my vacation mind who is singing this song. I can discern the words, "Woke up this morning, blues around my head", repeated over and over on top of the guitar and drums. I feel my head start to spin and my stomach churn like seasick waves. "What in the world is John Lennon doing in Bermuda recording music?", I say to myself. Unprepared for the upcoming answer, I hear a voice yell through the window of the villa. A thick Liverpudlian accent clear as a bell echoes from the house, "Keeping away from the weirdos!" In stunned silence I stand landlocked in paradise between the ocean and John Lennon, unprepared for what will happen next. I lift the camera to my television eye, and look through the viewer.......

ADDENDUM: This fiction was created through dreams based on reality. The Summer of 1980 was John Lennon's last, and he was busy creating his Swan Song "Double Fantasy" while vacationing in Bermuda. John had disappeared from the public eye for five years, and was ready for his return to the music world after this period of intense creativity. The "Bermuda Demos" John created during this fertile period are some of the greatest music he wrote. By December he would be living his last days.

Steppin Out -Bermuda 1980

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Grateful Dead - Dave's Picks Vol. 3 October 22, 1971 - "Gone Are the Days"

Fall 1971 for the Grateful Dead was a time of great metamorphosis as well as extreme creativity. For most of the year the band performed as the "quintessential quintet" after losing Mickey Hart in February for personal reasons. By going back to one drummer the band could swing like no other, and performed streamlined crisp rock shows throughout the year.. Phil Lesh referred to this period as the band's "turn on a dime era". Some critics of this early to mid 1971 period cite the lack of improvising as somewhat of a issue. While this is somewhat true, it has to be taken into account that the band was introducing new songs at a legendary rate, as well as developing their new sound.

     Which leads us to October 1971 as the Grateful Dead embark on their Fall tour.  A new addition to the band is keyboardist Keith Godchaux. Garcia had been remarking for sometime that the band needed a keyboardist that could help take their improvising to new heights. Pigpen was a proficient organ player, but his skills on piano were little to nonexistent. Pig's strengths were elsewhere. Keith's addition ushered in what most consider to be the golden age of the Grateful Dead. This period lasts roughly from the Fall of 1971 until their "retirement" shows in October of 1974. Keith's impact on the band was swift and immediate. That is where  Dave's Pick's Volume 3 picks up, October 22, 1971, three days into the band's Fall tour.

     This was Keith's third show with the band, and the music feels like he's been there forever. This show represents the era when the band was honing their improvisational skills which would come to glorious fruition during the Europe 72 tour in the Spring. The October 22, 1971 Chicago Auditorium show is a perfect representation of what Keith brought to the band, as well as how tight the Dead had become.

     The first set of the show starts with the usual opener of Bertha, but after that there is nothing usual about this release. The first set is sprinkled with a cross section of the band's career, as well as songs like Tennessee Jed, and Ramble On Rose which are played here for only the second time. Special mention goes to "Beat It On Down The Line", "Comes A Time", and "Cumberland Blues," which all benefit from the enthusiastic vibe the band is feeling. The band smokes this set until there is nothing left. Keith's playing is above the earth as he bounces and dances around Garcia, confident in his delivery of every song, new or old. The first set is a shining example of a rock band at the top of their game.

     The summit of the show is the 25 plus minute "That's It For The Other One " suite contained in the second set. Ushered in by a danceable Billy K drums interlude, the "Other One" comes crashing through the wall. Phil Lesh holds down the bottom end with a fierceness that defined his playing throughout this era. The pre-verse jam hits peak after rolling peak, like whitewater racing through a boulder strewn ravine. No notes are wasted by any of the players involved. The post verse jam, thick as jelly, drips over and under itself, until the conglomerate of the band feels its way back into the pounding roll of the Other One. This piece foreshadows the towering versions of the "Other One" to come, dates such as 10-26-71, 11-14-71, 11-17-71 and my personal favorite 12-1-71. The band throughout this passage develops melodies out of thick air, bounce them off of one another, and watch them fly away. It is an absolute joy to hear the band listening to each other so intently. The jam becomes a crosstown bus passing by noisily, before segueing seamlessly into a lumbering "Deal". Snorting versions of "Sugar Magnolia", Casey Jones", and "Johnny B. Goode" bring this performance to a voice shredding close.

     After barely having time to catch my breath I pop in disc three to find there is an additional hour of music from the same venue, the previous night. The powers that be at GDM decided to include another raging set of songs from October 21, 1971. While not the entire performance, what is included here is more than enough. The disc starts with a typical, which is to say, stomping version of a standalone "Truckin". This is followed by an always welcome appearance of "Big Railroad Blues" which ripples with tight ensemble playing.The obvious highlight of disc three is the Dark Star->Sitting On Top Of The World->Dark Star->Bobby McGee suite. The "Dark Star" is a quiet meditative version broken up by a classic "Sitting On Top Of The World", which tips a top hat to the bands "primal" days. The "Star" is loose and shimmering , light on percussion, and heavy on particle like melodic ideas. Keith in his second show has already proven his exceptional improvisational prowess. The pre-verse jam breaks apart into a stained glass interlude at only three minutes, the band is obviously "feeling it".

     After the first lyrics are sung the band again drops into a lightly flashing space, delicately filled with Lesh chords, and Weir filigrees. Jerry picks harmonics around Keith's child like piano, and Billy's light cymbal taps. I feel like these early Keith shows are overflowing with originality and excitement. The excitement is tangible as Jerry grabs a major key riff from the chaos, and one by the one the band drops "more or less in line", into a "Feeling Groovy" jam. "Sitting On Top Of The World" makes a quick appearance, then disappears back into the second verse of "Dark Star". Dark Star then leads into a sweetly sung Bobby McGee, which closes the suite of songs started with "Dark Star" almost a half hour previous. Wow, an amazing series of songs, tightly played, creatively improvised, and emotionally performed.

     This ends the obvious highlights of disc three, though the show ends with a unique and heartfelt "St. Stephen-> Johnny B. Goode". Dave's Pick's Volume 3 is a great representation of the Dead during a time of change and growth. The crisp Rex Jackson recording contains dynamic sound and intense performances. Per usual, great care has been taken by the people at Grateful Dead Merchandising to give a us a fantastic archival recording. If you are so inclined, please check out the Grateful Dead in the Fall of 1971. Listen to a band on the cusp of greater things, and quite possibly the best live band in the world.