Talk From The Rock Room: February 2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gene Clark-'Here Tonight' The White Light Demos 1971

Released in November 1971, Gene Clark's solo LP White Light is an encapsulated moment where Clark as well as producer and friend Jesse Ed Davis found the perfect blend of Clark's weighty baritone voice combined with a highlighted minimalist instrumentation; allowing for the deep lyrical content and breezy vocal melodies to shine through. Earthy and honest, the original recording is a tastefully organic array of Clark's songwriting and vocal abilities.The album like much of Clark's career is severely under appreciated, but to those aware of its delicate beauty, it is a collection of songs that can change the listeners way of thinking about the human realities of life. These songs came from Clark during a period of rebirth, when the melodies poured from him, like clean spring water from a crystalline decanter. Lyrical tales, white undriven snow wind blown across open land, free of impurities, light and airy. Always slightly ahead of the curve, White Light followed Clark's two perfect albums of country-rock experiments with Doug Dilliard, which true to form Clark left behind to head in the direction of another compass point. Similarly to his leaving the Byrds, Clark the intrepid traveler was always scanning the horizon for more. Spinning in the 'rock room' today is a collection that appeared in late 2013 gathering Gene Clark's home demo recordings from the period leading up to the recording of White Light. The compact disc Gene Clark-Here Tonight-The White Light Demos is an affectionate compilation of Clark his acoustic and often a harmonica developing his compositions, pulling then from air and translating then to tape. The set also features three songs that have not appeared anywhere before this collection.
 These recordings were recently discovered in a tape vault, long thought lost, the original ideas developed by Clark in his workshop cabin in Mendocino, California. Listening to these solo recordings the essential elements of Clark's melodic prowess and the fundamental foundation of his art is on display in all its raw glory. This is the troubled solo troubadour, finally at ease, creating at will and without a deadline and tapping into the flowing energy of the muse.Clark, the greatest songwriter you've never heard of and author of the most beautiful minor key ballads you have ever heard.

 After the opening 'White Light' acoustic guitar and harmonica version that opens the collection like the original LP, the first major revelation appears. 'Here Tonight' originally recorded by the Flying Burrito Brothers with assistance from Clark, surfaces here with a swaying strum, buoyant, intimate and uncluttered. Every crevasse and recess delicately explored, every breath and hum of throat captured.

If the previous song was a revelation, the next is an epiphany, 'For No One' is an unreleased jewel, a weightless circular acoustic finger picked melody line carries with it, some the most mournful harp interludes I've ever had the pleasure to hear Gene blow. His voice enters, a light fragile china, a misty specter of loneliness, quaking with a shaky falsetto. The minimal and concise lyrics elicit powerful images intensified by the ghostly accompaniment. An amazing find, a legendary piece of music.

What has been reported as Bob Dylan's favorite piece of Gene Clark music, 'For A Spanish Guitar' follow next, one of Clark's most regal and endearing melodies. This version like the entirety of the release takes on a magnified aptitude through the 'in the room' ambiance. A darkened room, some headphones and time to kill is needed for the weightiness of this track. This is not casual listening music. Worthy of note is the thick maple syrup of Clark's harmonica prowess. His playing is showed a more direct spotlight on this release and is an absolute joy to hear!

'Please Mr. Freud' is another discovered song and reflects a heavy Dylan influence both rhythmically and in attitude. The liner notes for the release attribute the lyrical content to Clark's deep interest in exploring humanity, religion and alternative ways off viewing the world around him. The tune's lyrical melody is brimming with flashing imagery, echoed in between verses by gentle harmonica. The reason for its remaining unreleased is unknown, but maybe its Dylan influence was too much for Clark? We will never know.
 'Jimmy Christ' follows and is the final 'discovered' song on the collection, the above photo is of a publishing acetate donated for the CD by Whin Oppice. What I find interesting is that song was cut to acetate, and never used for any released as far as I know. The short guitar harmonica ditty contains some heavy lyrical content, with Clark wondering aloud who can really feel the pain of another, can the narrator relate his pain to anyone or anything in the world? How can we relate to Jesus?

The unreleased and unheard songs disposed of, a folky version of 'Where My Love Lies Asleep' with a rolling tempo differing from the released version and a naked interpretation of 'The Virgin' follow.
'The Virgin' is missing its central Davis guitar riff but still retains its vivacious groove centered around its central vocal melody.

The following 'Opening Day' and 'Winter In' were both unreleased until their appearance as bonus tracks on the remastered version of White Light. 'Opening Day' is a bright song that rises like a early morning view of the sun, while questioning time as it hangs against gravity like the pendulum of an ancient clock. Clark's strumming unusually excitable and bright a contrast to the surrounding numbers. 'Winter In' is a song made from the inspiration of its creation, a song that apprehends a moment and paints it across time like a brush to canvass. The tune collects discard moments like scattered photographs and collates them into shared experience. Another song that leaves me wondering the reasoning for its eventual disappearance from the running for the record.
'Because Of You' is very similar to the released version, obviously lacking the album overdubs and production techniques. Not to be redundant, but the songs melodic strength is similarly to previous songs increased by the intimacy of the demo recording. 'With Tomorrow' concludes the set, the track a writing collaboration between Clark and Jesse Ed Davis, this version a brief song sketch only light pencil marks left quickly on a note pad for remembrance. The song a fitting end to the collected works that make up the set. Clark's schematics for his continuing musical direction, in many ways more definitive than the final products themselves.

If you do not already own White Light do not pass go until you are the proud owner of the album. After digesting it and letting its soulful living lines seep into the fabric of your musical life, search out the collection discussed above. Similarly to John Lennon's home recordings, or Pete Townsend's available demo recordings, Clark's song sketches offer a peek through the keyhole, pulling back the shades to reveal the heart of inspiration for the songwriter. For the duration of the listening experience Clark is in your room, the music wrapping its metaphorical arms around your ears and heart.

Gene Clark-Winter In

Gene Clark-Jimmy Christ

Gene Clark-For A Spanish Guitar

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks-The Best of Ronnie Hawkins 1964 LP

Spinning the ‘rock room’ today is a sturdy pillar supporting the cathedral that is rock and roll history. The album Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks: The Best of Ronnie Hawkins was released courtesy of Roulette Records in 1964. The mono LP not only features Hawkins performing with his usual rock and roll renegade sensibilities, but also broadcasts the talents and abilities of Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Robbie Robertson (The Band) on all tracks, as well as appearances by Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and King Curtis.

The sides Hawkins was cutting during this period would influence a host of famed rockers John Lennon and Bob Dylan included. Hawkins albums always contained the hottest shit musicians and a no frills ‘in the gutter’ approach. Dylan would eventually take Hawkins former band for his own to help disseminate his ‘thin wild mercury music’ on the legendary 1965-66 tour. When the needle drops on this record, there is little doubt on whom the best rock and roll band in the land was. Say what you will, but the guys in the Hawks were playing at a level that few bands ever reach. The proof is in the recordings, this particular disc directly pointing to the eventual musical pinnacles reached with Dylan in 1966 and soon after that the sacred heights scaled as the Band.
The LP opens on a snare shot and the group is off and shredding, glowing in a sizzling glossy black. Robertson’s slightly static guitar pumps ‘Bo Diddley’ full of a metallic scrubbing sound, a sound alien to this era, the 'Diddley' beat now modernized and super charged. Hawkins swamp hollers, or more appropriately, huffs out Canadian wind storm screams, waiting for the resounding echoes from the backing peanut gallery. Sexy and sultry, the opening ‘Bo Diddley’ smells of Canadian whiskey, stale cigarettes, loose ladies and the funky clubs of Young street in downtown Toronto in the early 60’s. The deep tree lined grooves played by Helm and Danko and developed here foreshadow their future deep running and powerful roots. Swelling ‘rave ups’ separate the galloping drums verses and amphetamine piano slapping contributed by Richard Manuel.
‘Come Love’ is a sultry swing, Hawkins vocals are punctuated by Robertson’s sharp edged paper cut Stratocaster. Robertson’s first solo a tasteful yet twang exploration of the blues groove, his tone a silver arrow chilled by the Northern winds. Staying on the subject of grooves, ‘Honey Love’ in contrast, is a product of the time, a lighthearted Latin flavored ditty, highlighted by Helm’s roly-poly island tom-tom’s and Danko’s animated and thumping lines.

‘High Blood Pressure’ is as tight as a shrunken sweater. Hawkin’s sounds way laid back for this vocal performance. The entire ‘future’ Band is also featured on this recording with all five members accounted for. You can tell because the groove shakes likes the leaves on the trees and the feel is the undeniable Band (Hawks) rhythm section and dual keyboard/piano attack. Mr. Hudson starts to go impressionistic with his introductory solo enveloping the group with his individualized sonic pallet.

Creeping along on a blue piano, ‘Arkansas’ rolls down dusty roads, name checking women and locations while reminiscing about his favorite lady. A moody and original song instrumentally, again, Helm’s drums injecting the song with its danceability and its swing. Garth Hudson also drizzles musical honey all over this track.

The following song ‘Boss Man’, contains the entire future Band contributing once again. Garth Hudson’s fat organ swirls along in windy time with the sly swing of the group. The finger snapping workers lament is made convincing by the low key shadowy strut, even the humorous ‘huh huh’ backing vocals add to the enjoyment. Good stuff.
Side two opens with a violent and shattering event, the musical impact of‘Who Do You Love’ is immediate. The song streaks out and grabs the listener emphatically by the shirt asking the question, ‘Who Do You Love?’ Danko’s bass loops and loaps, jumping from the speakers then retreating like a wack-a-mole game. This was the Hawks signature song and it shows, there is a levitating delicacy to their aggressiveness. Suddenly, they quickly turn a hard corner and kill an ant with a hammer. The mid section builds rising on Hawkins ascending guttural screams, then excitedly bursts at the seams, revealing pounding black and whites, droning bass, and Robertson standing baby faced, scorching eyebrows with the frictioned heat from his guitar statements. This definitive track belongs on any hypothetical list or discussion regarding ‘rock and roll’s’ foundational songs, or important musical moments. Must have

‘I Feel Good’ bounds in on a rockabilly groove, buoyed by Helms dependable beats. King Curtis takes the first solo with a celebratory investigation of the melody. To my ears this song is in the style that the members of the group were starting to rebel from, less of the pop, more of the ‘R and B’ and violent raucous rock. In the context of the LP it sounds good and lends diversity to the record as well as showing off the multiple talents of the Hawks.
One of my personal favorite songs on the LP is the version of ‘Searchin’ that Hawkins pulls out, the bluesy shuffle accentuated by possibly the dirtiest guitar you will hear on a recording from 1961 (when this number was recorded). Robertson peels prickly sections of sound from his guitar that positively moan.... this is serious stuff here. Helm and Danko sit back locked in a stone thrown across water cadence, over which Hawkins raps the syncopated tale.

The final song that features all five members of the Band as Hawks is ‘Mojo Man’. ‘Mojo’ bops along on Danko’s percolating bass line and features a golden Curtis saxophone solo foreshadowing the future Band’s own wailing horn section additions during their own career. Another irresistible pulse is donated by the group making obvious that the potential in the 'band' is surpassing  the principal and namesake.

The LP comes to a close with two numbers that showcase Hawkins voice, the first displaying his ‘Elvis’ falsetto’ upsing’. ‘Sexy Ways’ lets Hawkins get the girls worked into tizzy with his creamy smooth singing of various compliments over the churning rock rhythm. The tune has some big female backing vocals and a nice sax solo, but it fades out just as Robertson gets a chance to juice it up! In my opinion the weakest song on the record, but hey someone may love it!

The album concludes on the slow burn of ‘You Know I Love You’ with Robertson making up for a missed opportunity on the previous song with a sharp and unique opening riff that slides in sensually. The lick is absolutely shiver inducing in conjunction with the silvery bell chimes on Helm’s drum kit. Hawkins swings like a slightly inebriated playboy, Mr. Dynamo charming the ladies right out of their skirts, even though they ‘don’t even know his name’.

1964’s Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks: The Best of Ronnie Hawkins LP finds one of ‘rock’s’ finest showman during the prime of career, as well as spotlighting his backing band, who was about to embark on the journey of a lifetime, culminating with some of the most revolutionary music ever heard in popular music. This is a hard one to find in the bins, but is still available in digital formats and is well worth a concentrated listen.

Who Do You Love

Bo Diddley

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Now Playing: Grateful Dead- 'Sitting On Top Of The World' October 21, 1971

      'Now Playing' in the 'rock room' is a musical movement of the highest standard, hailing from an era of reinvention an growth by the Grateful Dead. I am in the heart of the October 21, 1971's second set immortalized on the third CD of Dave's Picks volume three, which also features the October 22nd 1971 show as its centerpiece.  The segment that is 'now playing' in the 'rock room' is the 'Dark Star/Sitting On Top Of The World/Dark Star/Me And Bobby McGee' suite that forms the central axis of this performance. The entire October 21st show, including the first set does circulate in unofficial soundboard capacity. This time period finds the group morphing into the psychedelic beast that would soon materialize in Europe, six months following this particular tour. The group was introducing new songs, assimilating a new pianist, and taking their improvisations to uncharted and exciting levels.
     The concert is also notable for being Keith Godchaux's second show with the band since taking over piano duties, in which he asserts himself immediately and assimilates his adventurous playing seamlessly into the group mind. These early concerts are the exploratory templates that would eventually reach cosmic levels when the band reached Europe. Back to the show at hand, the subject of this 'now playing' is the first 'Dark Star' with Keith Godchaux, as well as the first since July 1971. The intimate Auditorium Theatre in Chicago would be witness to numerous peak Grateful Dead performances and this opening night in 1971 is no different. The ornate and opulent theater was the perfect location for the special improvised journeys the Dead were known to embark on.
     The 'Dark Star' begins in earnest after a humorous 'Frozen Logger' tuning segment. A graceful examination of the theme occurs with Garcia confidently picking harmonics along with ancient melodic chimes that reverberate through the venue. Billy K scratches on wooden doors with a light percussion that shuffles quickly into the shadows. This is a panoramic and spacious 'Dark Star' drift and at three minutes the band breaks apart into a sickly spider web meltdown. Godchaux asserts himself through scatter shot keystrokes disorienting the direction and encouraging Lesh and Garcia to fall deeper into the musical void. The melt spreads, becoming slightly psychotic in its intent before Garcia aggressively restates the theme and slides into the first verse.

     Garcia strongly sings the first verse at half past six minutes, the band then moves briskly from the lyrics before dropping again into a weightless introspective space. Godchaux, Weir, and Garcia roll themselves into a twinkling musical mass at ten minutes. The music becomes a psychedelic music box, Lesh plucks light blue notes, while the music envelops itself, shapeless it bumps into stars, dissipating before moving on. Garcia begins to dig away at layers of the jam, hitting on ideas, discarding ideas, before brushing away the dirt and revealing the central theme he so wanted to discover. The jam ignites like flash paper, gaining momentum through a series of heavenly melodic statements by Garcia and Godchaux. Kreutzman becomes the multi-limbed master and the unsung hero throughout this multifaceted excursion. He plays a plethora of poly-rhythmic grooves that branch off from the central trunk of swing beats. Garcia's Stratocaster has the classic shimmering and ethereal 'Europe' tone that drives the band into an excitable 'Feeling Groovy' jam that careens around corners at dangerous rates threatening to lift off at any moment. The post verse jam is an example of peak and prime Grateful Dead, birthed during this very era and riding an awesome wave straight on through the Winterland 1974 performances. The jam rises, the suddenly, the band becomes molecules dissolving like sugar in water and returning to a sparkling drift.
At this point the jam disappears as quickly as it appeared, reaching its outstretched hand over the jagged edge of the sonic precipice to gain purchase, pulling itself skyward, quickly becoming a lightning struck version of 'Sitting On Top Of he World'. The band boogies their way through the song at high velocity. The band sounds positively joyous as they romp through a prime rendition. Garcia plays two pliable honky tonk solos and then Bam! We are back in the midst of 'Dark Star'. The second verse is sung quickly and before we realize its not 'St Stephen',Weir strums the opening strains to 'Me and Bobby McGee'. Similarly to the music that preceded it, this 'Bobby McGee' is concentrated joy. The band's attention to detail is marvelous, and the 'Bobby' becomes a fitting landing to the previous 25 minutes of musical flight.
     The second set then concludes with the 'St Stephen' that was missing from the previously played 'Dark Star.' Segueing into a streaming 'Johnny B Goode' and closing the performance on a high and rocking note. This 'Dark Star' suite from early in the Grateful Dead's 'golden era', is a fine example of the grey area lying between the bands early 1971 'bar room' jam sessions, and their gradual development into a nimble, swinging psychedelic jazz band. The Fall of 1971 is full of these amazing performances, sometimes falling flat in spots, but always full of the possibility of magic and the drive for exploration. Dick's Picks Volume 2 features a concert from this era, hailing from October 31, 1971 which also contains an extended 'Dark Star' excursion worth checking out. Road Trips 3.2 showcases a mid tour meltdown with the November 15 concert in Texas. The short lived 'Download Series' offered up the October 26 Rochester, NY show for a short time, giving us another well played and extended performance.  Well, that's it from here, check it out, thanks for reading!

Dark Star Suite 10-21-1971

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Jimi Hendrix Experience-'Might Even Give A Piece To You'-Miami Pop Festival 1968

     With the abundance of new music being released the last few months, my new copy of Hendrix  Miami Pop Festival 1968 has been waiting patiently for a concentrated listening session. As has been previously discussed here in the rock room its a strange 'experience' when new Hendrix recordings are unleashed on the public. The question is always asked, 'How much more can there be?' I can confidently tell you dear reader that in the case of live recordings, Miami Pop Festival is a core addition to the Hendrix canon, as well as one of the best live performances to be unearthed from his vault. Found in the era prior to Electric Ladyland but following the groups first two LP's, the Experience is practiced and exhibiting incendiary concert experiences on a nightly basis. While this recording contains most of the usual Hendrix concert staples from the period, each performance is injected with unique melodic escapades, and exclusive band interactions that make the concert essential listening.

     The concert is also notable for Hendrix being dosed with 'STP' prior to the performance making his approach to many of the songs, a bit more 'cosmic' to say the least. There were to be two performances each day at the festival (5-18/19-68) by the headlining Experience, unfortunately the second day being a washout because of torrential rainstorms.This disc features the second of the first days performances as well as two bonus tracks from the afternoon show. As noted in the liner notes, among Hendrix aficionados, these performances are considered some of the finest ever by the Experience. Listen for yourself.
 As the disc and concert begins with the MC's introduction, Hendrix's guitar can be heard being plugged in and the sound that follows is startling in its tone and magnitude. While only a tuning up, this preview of the sound quality of the recording through the gear setup is that exciting!

    The concert starts in earnest with 'Hey Joe', and its obvious the group is quaking with kinetic energy. A drippy feedback laden 'Indian' introduction sets the stage. Mitchell is an octopus on the kit and Hendrix's licks are shimmery and multifaceted. Under it all Redding rumbles warmly, laying the thick road in which Hendrix can travel at his wont. 'Hey Joe' thunders recklessly, its climactic bridge a thrashing and stirring statement and a bombastic opening to the set.

'Foxy Lady' follows, detonating through its well known stop and start changes. This one, similarly to the entire show, has supplementary mid verse riffing, additional curls and points on Jimi's guitar lines and contains Hendrix acknowledging the song through added musical details, making it definitive. This show does not take place in a vacuum so to speak, as the previous weeks Fillmore East performances hailing from May 10th feature concerts of the same power and grace. The 'rock room' will review these concerts at some point in the future rest assured dear reader.
'Tax Free' is the first monumental exploration of the concert. Reaching past eight minutes Hendrix heavy steps with metallic string bends early on before switching to his milky 'Crybaby' eliciting liquid psychedelia to seep from the onstage amps. The roller coaster chord changes are reigned in and by Redding and Mitchell and developed into a shifty transparent floor in which Hendrix slides across shoeless. Hendrix tugs on the melody line until it splits into multiple frayed ends, gently gathered by the assembled audience. At two minutes Hendrix Jimi pours a series of molten licks based on the theme, setting the stage for an explosive climax that tumbles into a Mitchell breakdown. Dynamically Hendrix shifts out of the interlude into a staggered blues, then through an intense and speedy jam before returning to the song proper and concluding with a mind bending sound scape. 

     After a lascivious romp through 'Fire', boiling over with sultry attitude, another expansive highlight occurs. An embryonic reading of 'Hear My Train A Coming' is introduced to the crowd. This performance is one of the earliest know recordings of the song, with the preceding Fillmore East version quite possibly being the earliest. Jimi does say that the band has only done this particular 'slow blues' only 'one time before', and its only 'just a jam'. Similarly to his influential blues heroes, Hendrix starts the song with some elastic country blues riffing and an off mic holler. 'Train' moves slowly, Hendrix exploring every cranny of its changes, the song is still early in its development, slightly tentative, but builds steam steadily. The first solo a deliberate rubbery exploration eliciting Albert Lee, eventually leading to some tight stinging statements. The second and third solos, are all quintessential Hendrix, distorted, soaring, and resplendent. 

     Hendrix thanks the crowd and explains that there's nothing left of their amplifiers but ashes, before Mitchell pounds out the totemic rhythm of 'I Don't Live Today'. The concert is peaking at this point in the show, probably in addition to Hendrix and the majority of the crowd. After the weightless drift through space where Hendrix states on the studio version 'Existence, nothing but existence' the Experience dash toward the precipice ahead joining hands and taking a leap of faith. Beautiful.

     Quite possibly the best era for 'Red House' depending on who you ask. Hendrix straps on his Gibson Les Paul Custom for a twelve minute version of another 'slow blues'. Clean as summer sheets drying on the line, Hendrix skillfully plays a smooth and round introduction, each note a universe onto itself containing sustained barley audible sounds that disappear into the humid Florida air. Hendix's vocals the most expressive of the evening, entering into a duet with his other electronic voice, soul, soul, soul. In this version Jimi is on his way to see his 'fat baby'. The first solo is a concentrated attack, becoming over driven and gaining momentum. Hendrix menacingly draws the band into a percolating and swirling climax in which Mitchell and Redding are flying and Hendrix drapes his velvet guitar over restraining them to inches above the earth. A jazzy interlude develops with Jimi blocking chords while Mitchell scats across the skins. This fizzles into a low key, but melodic Redding bass solo that appears briefly then continues on through the songs changes with Hendrix returning for another round of soloing. This series of expression contains his entire sonic arsenal, wah wah, Octavia, over driven neck strikes and vibrato. The top does not come off here, as Hendrix keeps the emotion in constant flux, raising and deflating the tension, eventually slipping into the last verse. This 'Red House', similarly to all of them, contains its own attitude and emotion, this 'Red House' contains shades of blue, stays in control, and is slow and smooth. Wow.

     The concert concludes with Hendrix's biggest hit and for a lot of the crowd the most wished for track of the evening 'Purple Haze'. This is a raucous punk version that teeters on its axis, threatening to go out of control. Not straying from the studio version too much per usual, this track is still as well played as the previous and a fitting conclusion to the concert.

      The CD has two additional bonus tracks that come from the afternoon performance, featuring 'Fire' and 'Foxy Lady' from the afternoon show. These are again monstrous versions containing playing of the most impressive magnitude. The 'Fire' jumps like a child who has touched a hot stove and is probably 'better' than the one from the featured performance. The riffs Hendrix lays down prior to the second verse have to be heard to be believed!

     The Miami Pop Festival performances in May of 1968 find the 'Jimi Hendrix Experience' reaching the perfect combination of time, crowd, weather, drugs, practice, ability and friendship to play a show of legendary status and a show that today can stand as one of their finest moments as a performing group. In my opinion these tracks can easily compete and sit with the famous and lauded Winterland 1968 performances to come in October. Every Hendrix fan needs this recording in their collection. Yes, dear reader there are more things in the Hendrix vault that are worth your money and time!

Foxy Lady-Miami Pop 1968

Miami Pop 2nd Show B/W Footage