Sunday, August 31, 2014
In addition to collecting some of Young's most revolutionary and long standing music, the aforementioned records also set out to shatter the illusions and myths that had surrounded Young since the beginning of his career. The music was an infected flesh wound, some fans had to look away, some listeners opened the door and decended to the basement. During this prolific era, there was also a failed attempt at recording an LP with CSNY, as well as a huge amount of Young music that being recorded but remained shelved. Right up to current days this music has yet to see an official release.
Young was peaking as an artist, suffering as a person and searching for for new ways of expressing his art, even developing films for his restless mind. Following these creatively hectic days, Young reunited and retooled 'Crazy Horse' for the subject of this 'rock room' rant, 1976's LP Zuma. The original rhythm section of Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot was supplemented by guitarist Frank Sampedro who stepped in for, but never replaced Danny Whitten who was lost to a drug overdose in 1972 and was the inspiration of 1974's Tonight's the Night. The group had last recorded with Young during sessions for 1970's After the Gold Rush and their street cowboy punk attitude was the perfect tonic for Young's musical ill regarding a band..
This record would eventually become responsible for permanently casting the 'Crazy Horse' sound and providing Young with his most trust worthy and surefooted medium of musical dissemination. The band's rough hewn and gritty attitude locked in puzzle piece syncopation with Young's artistic sensibilities, allowing him a freedom and challenging creative outlet. The 'Horse' may have been simple, but they were always real. Raw electric emotion has always mattered to Young more than musical showboating and self important ideals. Zuma would develop into a representation of Young's new direction, a swinging electric bar band armed for sonic assaults and based in melody and big guitars. The conglomerate of compositions and ideas Young had strewn around his mind collided with a group hungry to back him. The results are documented as explosive and definitive, The band would stand witness to these ideas providing a charged and quaking musical backdrop. The band equal to a well oiled road machine of unparalleled power, rattling windows as it travels down the back roads, pipes exposed.
The album opens with the country thunder of 'Don't Cry No Tears', a song developed from a melody that had been rebounding around Young's head since he was a youth. The track introduces as well as encapsulates the 'Crazy Horse' sound, illustrating a creaky swinging rhythm and weaving dual guitars that glistening with a chrome luster. Edgy instrumentation and wildflower melodies, the perfect harmonious combination for Young's eclectic band of brothers..
'Dangerbird' is the song the truly reveals what the 'Horse' was truly about and what they would become, to be illustrated in full glory on 1978's Rust Never Sleeps. Unfortunately faded out on the official LP release, the song illicits memories of the formative Horse excursions such as 'Cowgirl In the Sand' and foreshadows the upcoming musical travelogues like 'Cortez the Killer'. The song reveals itself on a bass pulse and feedback note, its slow metallic dirge opposing the imagery of flight. The first solo flaps furiously over scratchy guitar support, Young's notes quaking with a nervous vibrato. The music fights gravity, struggling to become airborne, its silvery sonic streaks shedding weight, aiding its levitation. Young's second solo soars in spite of being made of solid stone, lifting, then finally fracturing into a dizzying array of quaking riffs.
The following song, 'Pardon My Heart' lowers the dynamic with an acoustic rendition of a track that had been floating around Young's songbook since early 1974. He plays all of the instruments on this recording except for bass guitar which is played by Tim Drummond. Young's vocals are picture perfect, at one point answering his own plaintive backing calls. Reminiscent of the future Young composition, 'Will To Love' in its recording approach and vibe, I will always classify 'Pardon My Heart' as a 'lost' classic.
"Lookin For A Love 'is a cloudy ray of sunlight bottled inside a lean melodic country lilt. What sounds to me like Young's glorious Gretch White Falcon, the notes ring out in harmonic intercourse with Sampredro's crisply picked rhythm. The Horse play it straight and let the well traveled melody lines carry all of the heavy lifting. The last tracks allow for a nice respite from the stampeding and anxious Horse.
The first side of the record concludes with the quintessentially Neil Young, 'Barstool Blues'. In my humble opinion one of the finest tracks on the record, 'Barstool's' lyrics flash fleeting spectral glimpses of Danny Witten next to the bar, the passing scent of Young love interest Carrie Snodgrass and the blurred imagery of a darkened head in hand establishment. The vocals are live and upfront on this studio track, and the music reminisces as well as forebodes. Young's shaky solos sing in a voice that match his own rattling throat. Slam the door, take a gulp and get rowdy for this one.
The definitive 'Neil Young and Crazy Horse' epic 'Cortez the Killer' comes next, its historic genesis born from this record. The song would soon be extended and twisted into smouldering heaps on later concert tours, but here it sits in its purest unadulterated form. The introduction of the song slowly bobs past three minutes on Young's patient exploration of the watery theme. Young reportedly built the song based on a history lesson learned at at school, the lyrics both tell a tale and portray a heavy mood. The songs basic structure is custom build for expansion and development through extended guitar soloing. A well deserving and recognizable classic.
Always the master of moods and contrasts, the LP gently concludes with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash making an appearance for the airy 'Through My Sails'. Unable to get it together for their own LP, Young must have not wanted to waste the possibilities presented in this beautiful song. A sweet, even optimistic composition from Young, closes the door on one era in his career, revealing a time where the 'Horse' would become old dependable and CSN quite dispensable.
Zuma is a record that further entrenched Neil Young's electric identity by providing another, yet familiar avenue for his creative expressions. The LP would prove to be a formative foundation in the explosive performances yet to come from Young and the Horse. The rest of the 1970's would find Young morphing yet again into uncharted musical realms, but always having the 'Horse' in the stable awaiting his return. This continued gravitation back to a comfortable pair of sonic shoes for Young would remain the catalyst for the groups deep and lasting musical relationships. These enduring friendships, forged deeply during the recording of Zuma, continue right on into the present day.
Cortez the Killer-Zuma
Through My Sails-Zuma
Saturday, August 16, 2014
These were heady days never to be witnessed again, resulting in a recorded document of friendship and collaboration featuring the some of the most respected musicians of the time. It's a low key affair, light on guitar fireworks but stewing with a smoky and boozy soul. Soon, Clapton's next LP, 1977's Slowhand would overshadow this particular record, producing three huge singles and rocketing up the charts. So, No Reason To Cry remains a clandestine member of Clapton's discography; birthing only one Top 40 single, his fourth solo LP stands a wonderful collection of good time music, drenched with Jim Beam and soaked in comradery. It has some soft spots, but the payoff is worth the wait. While only containing three true Clapton compositions, the LP still contains some gems. Co-produced with long time Clapton comrade Carl Radle and Band associate Rob Fraboni, this is the record that had to be created in order for Clapton to make the next natural move in his career.
The record begins with the Manuel/Danko composition 'Beautiful Thing' originally composed around 1966 in the late days of 'The Hawks' and the formative days of 'The Band'. There is a delicate and beautiful demo recording of the track on 'The Band's', A Musical History box set coming from 1966 which illustrates the songs early beginnings. Unfortunately, Manuel or Danko could never shoehorn the song onto a 'Band' record, holding on to it for ten years until Clapton used it for the opening song on his own record. Churning on a instantly recognizable Richard Manuel piano melody the music drips with watery lament, dressed in overlapping slide guitars and secular organ lines. The chorus is sung by the collaborative ladies visiting the studio eliciting all of the emotion from Manuel's original intent. Clapton's whiskey and cigarettes voice is the proper fit for a song that precariously balances on hopefulness and loneliness. Clapton would fulfill his wish to become a member of his favorite group with the multiple collaborations with the principals of 'The Band' on this record. Ronnie Wood and E.C. both play dueling slide on the track, intertwining their licks into a cloudy swell.
The acoustically rooted Bob Dylan composition 'Sign Language' follows next and is a charming result of Dylan's visits to the recording sessions when leaving his tent. In typical Dylan fashion the song places the listener into a developed scene with minimal effort, highlighted by Robbie Robertson's fluid guitar work and flexing tremolo bends.The rhythm track shifts with bellowing acoustic rhythm and syrupy dobro slithering.The solos are an absolute chill inducing blend of swells, picked harmonics and plucky punctuations. Dylan and Clapton share lead vocals (no easy feat) encouraging the mind image of them standing at the microphone arms around one another, bottle hanging by their side. Dylan's vocals still retain the 'Rolling Thunder' era push and are a highlight to crane an ear for.
The bluesy stomp of the Alfred Fields song 'Country Jail Blues' originally released in 1941, follows and finds Clapton at home with a straight blues stomp. The song would stay with Clapton for years, making an appearance on stage during his 1994 Blues tour. Here it is Clapton's comfort zone, a straight forward campfire blues, shackled ankles and black and white stripes. The song swings on what sounds like heavy left hand Richard Manuel piano and multi-tracked electric and wooden slide guitars. Billy Preston's organ underlines Clapton's sing/speak vocal approach and his dagger sharp guitar solo.
Side two in my humble opinion is slightly inferior to the first, but still contains fine moments of note. 'Hello Old Friend' is the big single from the record and is a good representation of the sought after sound of the LP and the direction in which Clapton's music was traveling. A harmless but very catchy song, 'Hello Old Friend' welcomes the listener with hearty backing vocals and a cascading chorus piano. A positive beginning to side two of the record for one of Clapton's more recognizable numbers.
Soon to become a concert showcase of Clapton's, 'Otis Rush's 'Double Trouble' follows and again finds Clapton with the seat back, driving the blues to his true home. This studio reading is no slouch exhibiting a shredded vocal attack by Clapton and a smoke blue backing. This song also features the first 'big' soloing of the record with Clapton exhibiting his usual form. The rendition is a highlight of side two without a doubt.
Clapton then introduces collaborators for the next two songs, the Marcy Levy/Clapton penned, 'Innocent Times' and the Sims/Levy track, 'Hungry'. Levy sounds invested and powerful on 'Innocent Times', a slow waltz and country swing that suits her voice well. The following tune, 'Hungry', while containing interesting instrumentation, sounds too much like a poor rewrite of 'Keep on Growing' from Layla and Assorted Love Songs to these ears. Check it out and decide for yourself.
The 1976 LP No Reason To Cry was a communal attempt by Clapton and his associates to make a great record while still helping to define the next direction in his career. The record works in some spots and struggles in others. What cannot be denied is the soulfulness of its best songs. The collaborations are timeless and the' music as therapy' approach is tangible. Clapton would soon be approaching greater fame and dealing with more intense struggles. But for these captured musical moments it was all about 'work as play', with mostly positive results. Worth searching out alone for the diverse combinations and unique approaches contained within.
Black Summer Rain
No Reason To Cry-Entire Record
Saturday, August 9, 2014
In contrast to his Hofner bass, the Rickenbacker was a larger and heaver bass guitar. It's solid body weighed in at ten pounds and its maple and rosewood neck at 33 1/4" was much longer that the Hofner at 30". The longer through body neck and solid form gave the Rickenbacker a deeper more elastic tone and a more complex resonance than the Hofner, which according to McCartney also had a hard time staying in tune. The bass was fitted with a pair of robust 'toaster top' pick ups, one covered with a large chrome hand rest.When McCartney received the instrument it was decorated in a sharp 'fireglo' finish and featured two regal horns that protruded from the top and bottom of the instrument, in addition to volume and tone knobs for each of the pick ups respectively.
As the Beatles touring days came to a conclusion and their radical studio explorations drew closer, the Rickenbacker became McCartney's go to instrument for his increasingly revolutionary melodic approaches. The switch to this aforementioned instrument coincided with McCartney's discovery of the magic of counter melodies and a new guitar players approach to the instrument. These factors should be taken into account with McCartney's new found experimentation with the avant garde as well as with drugs, as this new bass provided the perfect platform for the Beatles arising musical directions beginning in 1965.
The 4001 bass was now a permanent fixture in McCartney's arsenal. In 1967 the Rickenbacker locked down the bottom end on the Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP as well as featuring the Beatles singles during this era. 'Penny Lane' and 'Lovely Rita' are fine examples of the timbre of this instrument in action, as well as McCartney's multifaceted and influential approach. The bass got a facelift in 1967 when Paul had it psychedelically painted in addition to a few of the other Beatles instruments undertaking this change. A nice representation of the 4001 on video with its acquired paint job is on the available 'All You Need Is Love' broadcast footage, the 'Hello Goodbye' music video and the 'I Am the Walrus' performance from the Magical Mystery Tour film.
Post-beatles it would figure heavily in the multitude of buoyant bass lines comprising the 1970 solo LP McCartney, the 1971 album Ram and the 1973 'Wings' album, Red Rose Speedway. While never becoming his 'main' instrument, it appears that when ever McCartney required a hearty tone with a chunky and cutting attack he would return to the 'Ric'. The 4001 slowly became identifiable with McCartney, as it did become his preferred on stage bass.
McCartney's Rickenbacker 4001 bass is still working today, Giles Martin, producer on McCartney's 2013 album New revealed that the bass was used during the making of the LP on one track. The 'rock room' has not been able to confirm or deny this track as of yet. The bass has been McCartney's trusted companion for 50 years, never completely replacing the iconic Hofner in the eyes of fans, but always on a rack waiting for its moment to sing. Rickenbacker's have a discernible sound popularized in the 60's and still disseminated today. Combining this sound with the artistic prowess and revolutionary thinking of Paul McCartney equatedto the documented musical success. From its beginnings and creation in the ambiance of creativity of the 1960's, McCartney's Rickenbacker bass has now become inseparable from McCartney himself in the annals of rock history.
Wings-'Rock Show/Jet' 1976
Beatles-All You Need Is Love-Broadcast
Hey Bulldog -Isolated Bass Line (For Fun)
Sunday, August 3, 2014
Live from the 'rock room' today comes a beautifully balanced FM broadcast soundboard recording of British blues/rock/jazz masters 'Ten Years After' live in 1969. Fresh off of their career defining performance at Woodstock in August, this recording finds the band strutting with attitude and not letting up with the musical blues bombardment. This recording illustrates the group full of confidence, prepared for fame and playing an hour long set of salacious blues rock. This concert is in support of the band's 1969 LP release Ssssh.
While there are a few defining official releases of the group available for purchase, I would consider this particular recording an essential addition to viewing the musical palette developed by the group. The crowd is rowdy, the band is hot and they continuously ring the bell with their smoky interpretations of rock, jazz and blues sensibilities. The band consistsof founding members, Alvin Lee (Guitar, Vocals), Leo Lyons (Bass), Chick Churchill (Keyboards) and Ric Lee (Drums). This is the era that defined the group and their developing popularity which would soon reach its nexus.
The concert begins with the simmering shuffle of 'Spoonful', a dramatic reading of a tune many, if not all British blues bands from the 1960's tried their hand at covering. The song is an absolute standard of the blues idiom. The first highlight of the recording comes during Alvin Lee's introductory solo when he releases a charged blue hum of feedback that rings out as the rhythm section churns underneath his sonic manipulations. He follows to unleash a golden daisy chain of notes, so true one can only shake ones head in amazement.
Unbelievably, following the opening 'Spoonful' the band now turns up the burners with the band showcase reading of Count Basie's, 'I May Be Wrong, But I Wont Be Wrong Always'. This high octane jump blues is a swinging nine minute clinic with each band member illustrating their own personal instrumental prowess. At 3 minutes in Alvin Lee falls off of the steep precipice of the amusement park coaster for a roly poly and euphoric array of riffs that seamlessly lead into Chick Churchill's series of dissonant, yet icy cool sliding of the keys. One thought that enters by mind here is how modern day guitar god Warren Haynes' discovered his own sound and how it had to have been pulled from the grooves of early 'Ten Years After' records. His own technique was obviously influenced by Lee's mastery of tone and resonance. It genesis is witnessed here as Lee gallops across the fretboard for a plethora of fuzzy kazoo glissando's, revolutionary in his approach, disorienting in its effect. A jazz club bass breakdown of heavy exclamations continues the groove before falling back into the main theme of the track. Breathless jamming to be found inside of this particular track.
Ric Lee's recognizable drumming takes center stage for a reading of 'Hobbit,' a jam constructed in the fashion of previous popular drum excursions such as Ginger Baker's 'Toad' and John Bonham's 'Moby Dick'. Lee's showcase is a tom-tom and hollow snare extravaganza, a series of melodic and pounding tribal statements. Lee raises the tension slowly and then pulls out the carpet so all that remains is a wash of cymbals and golden swells. This particular drum clinic is unique and is less about showing off abilities and more about building a towering wall of rhythmic statements and dynamic grooves.
Next comes a shady and sinister reading of the Sonny Boy Williamson classic 'Good Morning Little School'. The band hooks the jumpers to the terminals for a weighty and electric interpretation of this classic blues. Designed around a boulder heavy riff that pulls from the proprietary melody, the song splits open midway for a exposed deconstruction of the song. The drums drop out leaving only the hi-hat metronome click and the interweaving of Lyons bass and Lee's clean syrupy 335 tone. Like a stone skipped across a lake, Lee's well of spring water lines glides across Lyon's diffused riffing. Lee's playing becomes visceral, tumbling over rocks, leaving a glistening trail in its wake, only to disappear from the directed and created heat of the rhythm section. The drums return bombastically, initiating the jazzy groove into a over driven and tumbling improvisation.
Bringing the vibe down slightly and keeping the increasingly rowdy crowd in check, Lee introduces the next song as a track they 'haven't done in a while'. The band begins the cobwebbed and haunted blues of 'No Title', hailing from 1969's Stonedhenge. It's roots reaching back to a classic Delta blues, Lee's vocal line and his guitar melody run side by side down a darkened two track country road. Like a vintage blues man Lee growls in heady syncopation about the contemporary state of the hippy blues man. This is the illustrated strength and power of 'Ten Years After', their ability to attach a modern approach to a vintage and respected past through any song they tackle. The song starts by slithering quietly, restraining an obscured strength, singing the the real blues. From out of the roadhouse dust and debris rises a shifty progressive sounding instrumental introduced by a shimmering extended Lee guitar line. At four minutes the band begins to unravel, Churchill holding down the jam with funky keyboard exclamations. Lee rides the undercurrent with profound soloing that bites, soothes and rolls across the landscape uncontrolled, subject to the gravity of the world. Following Lee's exposing of the songs interior, Churchill takes a pulsing and extended organ solo that peeks through a crack in the door at private quivering jazz lines, celebratory baseball stadium organ and thematic secular wonder. The journey takes a 90 degree turn, faces its accuser and drops perfectly into the sparse blues that began the song, ending appropriately on the single strike of a ringing bell of a ride cymbal.
A short break follows with the assembled crowd refusing to let the band leave the stage through shredded yells of encouragement. Lee announces that this will be their final song, though it will be 'five hours long'. The band then viciously concludes the evenings performance with a prelude of 'Scat Thing' which segues seamlessly into 'I Can't Keep From Crying'. 'Scat Thing' illustrates Lee as Mel Torme on acid, an animated guitar/voice marriage where Lee's love for jazz improvisation is on full display. The perfect conglomerate of talent, humor, improv and musical knowledge allows Lee to use his voice articulation and rhythmic mastery in conjunction with his clean and buttery guitar attack.
The band slides into 'I Can't Keep From Crying' like a clandestine lover slipping between the sheets, the groove a cross between the Butterfield Blues Band meeting the Doors at a British corner pub. The first solo spot by Lee is constructed of slippery phased block chords, distorted and linked together into a buoyant feathery musical chain. This metaphorical musical chain settles on the cloudy blue musical turbulence stirred by Lyons and Ric Lee's thunderous collaboration. Churchill initiates the slightest musical turn signal with whispered influence and Lee follows without question, goes clean and races around the corner to pull away from the group.
The band lowers the temperature slightly when Lee returns, leaving room for him to space out with Morse Code licks, springy trills and creaking string trickles and tickles. Just when the jam is going to float off into the unknown never to return, it explodes into the atmosphere with a hyper and kinetic 'Bo Diddley' alien groove. This jam becomes superimposed into a bipolar excursion that swings between multiple poles first quoting 'Sunshine of Your Love' and then 'Foxy Lady'. As 'Foxy Lady's dress is blown up from the exhaust, Lee glances back red faced before an obscene and muddy rutted guitar solo appears from the earth. Down tuning mid jam, Lee sinks the band into soft earth, burrowing with a substantial and guttural tone composed of the thickest mud and gravel. The group forms a circle around Lee ass he strangles thick blobs of sound, ringing the notes from his ax like hands squeezing a balloon full of water to its breaking point. Churchill again signals a change in the attitude of the jam with a quick musical clue, giving the rhythm section a slight goose in the behind. This institutes a herky-jerky sideways climatic ascending jam that reaches a peak, then descends only to attempt another towering summit. Rising again and then eliciting shattering glass, slamming doors, glitter guns and euphoric improvisational attitude this central jam is a highpoint of the song and of the evenings performance. The band carefully navigates their way back to the body of the song through a musical mine field before returning to the verse briefly, then departing on a final concluding funk jam that allows Lee to free form vocally while the band percolates behind him. The band brings it way down, dimming the lights to dusk, before concluding on a horny wave of bull horn feedback. The crowd erupts in rapt amazement and adulation as the MC announces the end of the performance while the existing tape concludes.
The circulating recording of 'Ten Years After' from the Kulttuuritalo in Helsinki, Finland December 3, 1969 is well worth the search for any fan of the British blues explosion, as well as any admirer of psychedelic or improvisational music. The well known and diverse musical styling of guitarist Albert Lee, who's playing smooths the edges of multiple genres, is instrumental in driving the band into their amazing blues interpretations as well as into differing realms of jazz, and bebop and boogie. This perfectly balanced soundboard recording will be a welcome addition to the collection of any lover of edgy blues and jazz based musical explorations. It's clarity and ambiance only magnifies the incendiary performances to be found upon review.