Talk From The Rock Room: February 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Take One: Jerry Lee Lewis with his Pumping Piano - 'Crazy Arms' Sun Record 259 1956

A recent addition to the 'rock room' arsenal is a 'Take One' feature where I will concentrate on one particular song or single for a more astute recognition of that particular track. Hopefully songs will emerge that offer up 'lost' classics, familiar friends, while also revealing new nuance and unique details. The tune picked for dissection today is Sun Record 259 released in December of 1956 and acting as the music world's introduction to the 'Killer', Jerry Lee Lewis.

Lewis's debut single and track of note was a cover of Ray Price's 'Crazy Arms', a country classic released in May of 1956 and written by Ralph Mooney and Charles Seals. The original boozy country lament shot up the charts by June and featured a 'clip-clop' rhythm as well as mournful pedal steel and teary eyed fiddle dressing. Price sang the song in quintessential country ballad fashion and stirred the hearts of listeners when reaching #1 in country music charts. A testament to the strength of the song's melody can be seen in the number of cover versions by artists such as Willie Nelson, Jerry Garcia Band, Patsy Cline and Gram Parsons.

Jerry Lee Lewis traveled to Nashville, Tennessee from Louisiana in the Fall of 1956,to try to showcase his abilities to a bigger audience. Auditioning for the Sun label, Lewis collaborated with drummer Jimmy Van Easton and guitarist Roland Janes in November and created the resulting 'Crazy Eyes' through their own through tasteful arranging and gentle distortion of the original.

While carefully tracing around the songs arrangement, Lewis, adept in any genre and able to assimilate genres into his own style, covertly introduced the 'country crowd' to rock and roll. Through tempo, diction and nimble fingers Lewis built on the songs already sturdy bones while morphing and combining naturally related genres of country, rockabilly and in the future, gospel and blues.
Because 'Crazy Arms' was already familiar to mass music listening public through Ray Rice's hit rendition, it was the perfect vehicle in which for Lewis to slide into the drivers seat. 'Crazy Arms' was also backed with a preview of  Lewis's own rocket fueled rockabilly by featuring his own original composition, 'End of the Road'. Nestled on the flip side, the boppin' tune foreshadowed his future single for Sun, 'Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin On', which would cement his reputation for eternity.

Back to the song at hand, Jerry Lee Lewis's 'Crazy Arms' begins and shuffles in on drums increased in intensity from the original recoding and stepping perfectly in the footprints of Lewis's roly-poly saloon piano. The drums and piano are locked in copacetic harmony and are the critical element in the originality of the arrangement. Lewis's vocals change the song from a weepy doubtful reflection to a matter of fact statement. His rocky repetitions of the last word coming at the conclusion of each line, as well as his pauses and his sly elongation of the line 'all the time' inject a new attitude and elicit a tight eye wink from the song. Also of note, is the historically recognizable Sun Record echo on the vocal and the straight take of Lewis's singing, with no harmonic additions by a second voice as on Price's version.

Mid song, the tune gives a light elbow jab when the drums shift into a slightly excited double time. Lewis's two solos appear, balancing on the knife edge of the melody, while also adding a pinch of New Orleans to the Tennessee stew. Flashing fast ticklish glissandi punctuate the end of each of his black and white quotes. His mid tempo boogie-woogie banging also lends to the aforementioned increased urgency of the song. Returning to the verse the song concludes at a bit past two and a half minutes.

The Jerry Lee Lewis 1956 debut single 'Crazy Arms', was an inauspicious, but influential beginning to a legendary career that would soon become derailed by scandal and then reemerge  to now approach almost 60 years. This introductory single packed a country ballad with a flammable piano bashing steely eyed rocker while offering up a conglomerate of influence that would inject all genres of music with new and exciting possibilities.

Jerry Lee Lewis-Crazy Arms b/w End of the Road

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Chicago-'Feelin' Stronger' Live In 75'- Largo, Maryland Capital Centre XXXIV

Playing in the 'rock room' today is the new official release of Chicago, Live In 75, originally offered in a limited run by Rhino Handmade and now made available to a bigger audience to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of the performances. The live two disc set hails from three nights in Largo, Maryland on June 24-26th 1975. The bill was a double one with the Beach Boys (referred to as the 'Beachago' tour) assisting in making the performances even more legendary in nature. Another interesting note regarding these performances is that according to the liners, Robert Lamm broke his leg playing basketball before the first evening and had to be lowered onto his keyboard stool by crane after being fitted with a cast. The band never missed a beat as illustrated on the resulting recordings.

The 1975 tour discovers Chicago playing with fire and attitude and disseminating a set list pulling from all corners of their impressive discography. The current LP release, Chicago VIII was on the shelves and the band deftly featured three tracks from their recent output during the show. The original Chicago line up is spotlighted on this recording as well as added percussionist Laudir De Oliveira. The resulting soundboard recording contains a well balanced mix, sometimes a bit squished on the high end and a well chosen blend of the typical set list of the era played excitingly.

The recording and hypothetical concert begins at the beginning with 'Introduction' from the groups debut Chicago Transit Authority album. The band ignites the evening with a kinetic and quaking run through the introductory track. Kath and Seraphine are particularly frisky expressing an updated and current reading of a familiar concert classic.

'Anyway You Want' follows off of the current Chicago VIII and allows for Cetera to have an early showcase of some hit and miss high tenor vocal attacks. The rock solid groove of the songs framework is tastefully colored by a breathless Kath solo drawn over the chugging changes. The song acts as a sample of the groups recent sonic creations as well as a diversion from the upcoming run of hits.

'Beginnings' follows next after being introduced by Jimmy Trombone as 'nostalgic' and then commenting that 'nostalgia is in'. 'Beginnings' is played as a percolating percussive stew with poly rhythms whirlpooling beneath the entangled horns. Lamm takes a newspaper clipping from 'You are so beautiful' before the song rises to a substantial and well payed conclusion.

'Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is' keeps things in a 'hits' mode, as a comment is made from the stage that 'Terry hates playing this one'. Regardless, its a well played rendition sticking close to the original blue print. The crowd obviously loves it!

'Call On Me', the lead single composed by Lee Loughnane from Chicago VII follows next and allows the concert to slide into a warm easy listening groove. The song alternates between a sandy coast verse and a reverberant and bounding outro cadence. The crowd digs it and band is feelin' it.
The ornate centerpiece of the concert follows with the extended suite of 'Ballet for a Girl In Buchannon' played in an accomplished version that accelerates through the multiple musical movements. Cetera is in peak form on his instrument playing inventive lines through well known changes, while Kath directs the multiple responsibilities of the band members. After Seraphine fires off blinding flares signalling the exit from 'Color My World' and the entrance of 'To Be Free', Kath squashes the effect pedal and discharges a euphoric guitar display resting on thunderous Seraphine tom-tom rumblings. The music splits down the center from the pressure as Kath coaxes a wash of multicolored sonic expression from his instrument before perfectly blending the lines into the 'Make Me Smile' reprise. Heady stuff.

Stuffing another new song into an open slot, Robert Lamm comments that the band is going to get 'a little funky'. He also comments that the band 'isn't looking' if people wanna do things they 'can't do at home!' 'Ain't It Blue' finds Kath in wonderfully smoky throat perfectly echoed by Cetera during the verses. The band sinks their work boots a foot into thick dirty mud with a gut bucket beat and delicious interactions between the driving horn trio and Kath's wavy and over driven guitar wines.

'Just You and Me' brings the crowd back to earth making sure not to alienate them with too many musical expeditions into the unknown at one time. The central part of the track leaves the gentle and catchy melodic construction and enters an erotic zone where Parazaider plays a serpentine saxophone solo that slips in unannounced. Kath employs a warm rain tone through his wah-wah eliciting the tears of loss as well as the excitement of reuniting expressed in the lyrics of the track.

Illustrating the balance between the bands ability to alternate between the poles of accessible pure pop songwriting and space bound jazz and rock improvisations, '(I've Been) Searchin So Long' straddles this fence with a leg hanging in each aesthetic. The James Paknow penned number invites the ear in smoothly through Cetera's blossoming ballad skills, before suddenly revealing another Kath shredding of the theme, then followed by an impressive musical reconstruction.
The steamy salsa sounds of the vibrant instrumental 'Mongonucleous' come next, again written by trombone player James Paknow. The dress swaying gusts of horn are the central movement of the song revealing delicious female dancing legs. A substantial drums/percussion breakdown takes place mid song encouraging rhythmic hand clapping from the crowd and a stunning counter attack by Danny Seraphine that results in a soaring expression of his inspiring abilities. The song stretches out for 12 minutes before concluding with a  glorious and joyus restatement of the theme.

The third song to be featured off of Chicago VIII, 'Old Days' follows, the song is also the third Paknow penned number in the row to be featured. The track begins with an urgent foreboding introduction that reappears throughout the song before emerging into the reflective melodic statements of the verse. The song keeps the momentum that has been created as well as introduces the crowd to another current musical statement.

Closing out the first disc as well as the first segment of the concert the expected '25 or 6 to 4' brings the concert to a fevered pitch. The band plows through the usual groove of the song passing through the verses before breaking it down the rhythm, constructing a relentless and seething guitar solo segment the shifts the groove into a lower gear. Kath wraps his hand around the neck of his Telecaster and squeezes trembling screams from his strings before scrubbing the tune to a proper conclusion.

After returning to the stage for more music the band begins the concluding segment of the show with a rendition of the Beatles, 'Got to Get You Into My Life'. A song that inspired the development of the Chicago creative aesthetic, the band plays a version that stays comfortably close to the Beatles studio reading but retains the recognizable Chicago imprint. Cetera digs into this one. Awesome.

A favorite of the 'rock room', Robert Lamm's 'Free' from Chicago III is next in the rotation sung by Kath with help from the others and aggressively circulated by the entire band. Beginning on Seraphine's smoke signal drums the convulsive opening figure reveals a breakneck negotiation of the song proper. Like a game of 'whack a mole' each instrumentalist appears before disappearing so another can employ a musical detail. Kath drives the band with his textured riffing, Lamm's sleek organ slides underneath the triad of horn interjections like a shag carpet. The track rises into the clouds before crashing in a rippling ball of horn and guitar riffs entangled together.

The early example of 'Chicago Transit Authority' in their element and a song that represented the bands early ideals, follows with an expansive reading of the 'Spencer Davis Group's, 'I'm a Man'. The singers alternate verses through testosterone injected recitations of the lyrics. Through flexed musical muscles the band points the way to the beach and allows each instrumentalist a moment to deconstruct the songs internal melodies. Again, the drums and percussion are addictive, leading the band into uncharted and diverse rhythmic territories punctuated by succinct Kath interjections and swells in addition to foundational and fuzzy Cetera thumping. The band hangs weightless at one point before collaborating and turning as one unit, allowing music to sprout organic wings, no member taking the lead while the music organically swells of its own accord. 'I'm a Man' surpasses 12 minutes and offers the listener another wonderful highlight.

Just when you think the band has wrung out the musically soaked towel, 'Dialog', a 'Chicago' classic found on Chicago V  keeps the high tempo of the concert apex going at high velocity. Answering the crowds emotional pleading, Kath sirs up the briskly bubbled introduction before being quickly joined by Cetera's close knit quotes. By the time of the concluding 'We can make it better' reprise the entire concert hall has morphed into a celebratory concert review with hands waiving and throats screaming.
The Beach Boys then join 'Chicago' on the stage for a finale of 'Wishing You Were Here' which understandably so, is starting to show some tiredness on the bands part. Kath takes lead vocals on the Cetera penned track that brings a fitting moment of reflectiveness and introspection to a concert that has been hot to the touch for the previous five numbers.

'Feelin' Stronger Everyday' finally brings the collection to a fitting close, returning to a number well known by the crowd and containing an irresistible melody as well as inspiring lyrical content to send the audience home full and satisfied. Cetera's straight and falsetto vocal reading is well done. Anthemic in its construction, the song slowly stacks bricks as it builds it way to exuberant high tempo conclusion where all of the vocalists lose themselves in the flamboyant show ending singalong.

Chicago Live In 75 is a welcome anniversary release and tribute to a group obviously under appreciated and often misunderstood by rock aficionados. The era magnified by this release offers a look at a band equally adept at improvising at a furious rate, composing songs that appeal to multiple and diverse tastes, as well as displaying a live stage prowess that few groups could or can compete with. The aural document captures for posterity the original Kath era band navigating the sonic seas, cresting white capped instrumental expressions while expressing crystalline, heartfelt and melodically superior songs of mass appeal. This recording illustrates the eternal strengths of the band as well as combining the dual polarities of their music often misconstrued by critics and fans. The band could do it all, bring the girls to tears, elicit rock and roll hand horns from the dudes, boogie until sunrise and impress the best musicians of the planet. Go pick this one up and find any and all of the musical rock and roll tastes you seek.

Chicago-'Old Days' 1975

Chicago- Mongonucleosis 1975

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Bob Marley and the Wailers-'Take a Lift'-Easy Skanking, Boston June 8th, 1978 Tuff Gong

Released on Feburary 17, 2015 and kicking off a year of celebrating what would have been Bob Marley’s 70th birthday, the new archival release, Bob Marley and the Wailers Easy Skanking Boston 1978 is a welcome and long awaited addition to the Marley live discography. The new beautiful soundboard recording features the first of two performances at the 3,600 seat Boston Music Hall on June 8, 1978. These particular performances have circulated for years amongst Marley fans and scholars and with this release, the tapes have finally earned an official documentation. Recorded right in the middle of the 1978 US Kaya tour the band is practiced, smoldering, smoking and disseminating the Wailer brand of ‘Rebel Music’.

As an added bonus to the featured 13 song stunning soundboard recording of the early show, an  additional Blue Ray included in the CD/Blu Ray combo package spotlights 7 songs shot by an enterprising fan from the front row in surprising and inspiring clarity. The resulting footage puts the viewer at Marley’s feet for a divine and inspiring view of the master in his element. Marley’s stage presence is mesmerizing, as every rhythmic movement and vocal nuance is channeled through him supernaturally. This bonus footage is truly a gift for any fans of Marley and offers an additional and unique glimpse into his ritualistic performing alchemy. Where the additional ‘bootleg’ video footage is missing in spots due to reel changes, the Marley family has added tasteful and trippy animations to help fill the gaps. The result is a spectacular addendum to the complete concert audio.

The concert begins with a rare for the era performance of ‘Slave Driver’ that slowly opens the creaking musical door without a sound and slinks out of the humid island darkness. When Marley’s vocals enter the crowd explodes in appreciation and recognition. Marley has a slight rasp to his emotive vocal performance only adding to its emotional resonance. The band is already cinched tight with the rhythm section of the Barrett brothers cutting the trail and leading the group toward higher land for a greater view.

‘Burnin and Lootin’ follows after a brief pause and holds down a substantial groove through the collaboration of Aston Barrett’s bass, Junior Marvin and Al Anderson’s guitars in a trident pronged rendition of the central melody line. The cadence of the track is as thick and sweet and Guava jelly, driving and allowing for Marley and the ‘I Three’s vocals to embrace, retreat and collaborate to great heights. The track segues seamlessly into ‘Them Belly Full’ like ocean sand meeting shoreline. The tempo increases and the music roaches into a puff of smoke initiated by skunky Tyrone Downie keyboards and overdriven Junior Marvin guitar.
 Over the course of this tour and into Europe The Wailers morphed into a dance hall orchestra, with each of Marley’s melodies transforming into an expansive reggae sonic landscape. This musical freedom enabled Marley to strut and sway his way through his politically charged commentaries and joyful reiterations of faith and ganja with grace.

‘The Heathen’ from 1977’s Exodus follows next and acts as an invitation for those defeated followers of Jah to take back their confidence and their inner power to rise up and fight another day. Family Man’s plucky bass again pushes the performance, warming the assembled crowd and acting as the rumbling thunder to Marley’s lightening strike words.

A standard of the 1978 tour ‘Rebel Music (3 O’clock Road Block) comes next and in typical fashion is performed flawlessly with the crowd responding in kind to Marley’s authoritative questioning. This version contains every bit of power as the version contained on the live LP Babylon By Bus and in the ‘rock room’s’ opinion definitely contains more impressive sonics. The accompanying Blu-Ray picks up at this point of the performance so the listener can now enjoy the additional rare visuals and intimate front row glimpse of Marley and the Wailers in on stage action. The footage is stunning in its clarity in regards to its age and non-professional nature and the gaps filled by the created visualizations are equal in their clarity and positive artistic aesthetic
Vibrant island imagery, Rasta mythology, wisps of ganja smoke and Marley deep inside the music are featured in the accompanying footage. His complete absorption into the soul of the muse is stunning to witness, so tastefully documented.
 ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ follows with its usual nightly and impeccable performance. The version is imposing and pulls an enormous response from the crowd. At this point it was possibly Marley’s most popular track due to Clapton’s magnification of it through his cover version. Clapton’s reading cannot touch a version of this caliber…ever.

Lighters light and matches combust as after the Sherriff has dropped to the ground and Marley invites the assembled friends in the crowd to ‘take it easy’. ‘Easy Skanking’, from the recently released Kaya, and the title track of this particular release makes a laid back appearance with thick joint between its fingers. A highlight performance and communal celebration that illustrates the essential elements that make Marley’s performances so special.

‘No Woman, No Cry’ now makes its nightly tour appearance in a version that while not as poignant as the well known version from 1975’s Live LP none the less does not fail to induce chills and inspire quiet contemplation. Marley makes this rendition as inspiring as any that preceded or that would follow, as his innate gift for sharing, inspiring and performing for any and all crowds as if it would be his final performance is expressed on this recording.
The incendiary apex of the early show follows as Marley leads the band into a string of Wailers standards that individually ‘catch a fire’ and collaboratively provoke the crowd into ecstasy. ‘Lively up Yourself’ appears for the ashes of ‘No Woman, No Cry’, inviting the collected crowd to not ‘be no drag’ and to feel the diverse reggae riddims surging through their bodies and minds. Junior Marvin is the star here with pointed soloing that magnifies Marley’s vocals and off mic asides. This is an on stage party and the spirit is infectious as the crowd can be heard responding to the music, as well as Marley’s trance inducing dance. 

Quite possibly a highlight of the show, the visual footage that is included of this particular jam finds Marley immersed in the collective music making and communal vibe of the crowd. He faces Carlton Barrett at his drum kit and sways in creative fulfillment and absolute joy. The ‘I Three’s dance in a tight family circle, lost in the created sounds, existing for the musical moment, beautifully captured for posterity on this release.
 With barley a pause the band enters into an excitable and high tempo ‘Jammin’ that elicits the same sort of communal response as ‘Lively up Yourself’. Marley scats and raps as the Wailers churn a foaming musical current underneath him.  Again, what footage is available here finds Marley eyes closed drenched in sweat, glowing with the energy of a worldly messenger visiting for only a delicate moment. The extended ‘Jammin’ ends the main segment of the set with Marley sharing a microphone with arms draped around the ‘I Three’s’ before leaving the stage, but soon to return with a militant and didactic display of three of his most influential songs and performances.

After a double shot of the previous celebratory grooves Marley lights up a triad of heavy commentary, leaving the concert attendees with not only a dizzying display of musical spiritual awakening, but of messages to contemplate and possibly apply to their own existence. The crowd is ecstatic and begs for the band to return as documented on the recording and when Marley returns to the concert stage the performance ascends to the next level.
‘War/No More Trouble’ was a standard of Wailers sets throughout their career and this particular version is another dramatic and deadly serious melodic statement built on Emperor Haile Selassie I definitive foundational words. Marley’s vocals are chilling in their expressed emotional content, he voice quivering. When the band climbs the ladder in ‘No More Trouble’ the music plays the band and the groove takes on its own form and life. This is the Wailers in their element and at their finest as they seamlessly enter ‘Get up Stand Up’. Marley dons guitar and short sleeved red t-shirt for this reading, thankfully captured by the enterprising fan.

‘Get Up Stand Up’ becomes freedom a sing a long, longing  for life and freedom as well as a musical expression of hopefulness and strength. The multifarious drums and percussion accentuate Marley’s vocal patterns that answer both the instrumental details and the ‘I Three’s’ flawlessly placed Rasta interjections. After a thorough exploration of ‘Get Up and Stand Up’ including the tribal call and response between Marley and audience, the song with a signal from Marley, suddenly becomes the show closing ‘Exodus’.

‘Exodus’ concludes the show in brilliant fashion with Marley screaming at the songs climax, ‘Jah!’, ‘Rastafari!’ repeatedly with such investment and soul that it’s impossible to not become moved from the developed musical magic. Bathed in red light, fist clenched, Marley quakes from an unknown force, he stands stoically with hand raised, dreads reverberating from his rocking head, opening his mouth and draining his reserves from such an exhausting and inspired performance. The show could not have ended in any other way.
 Bob Marley and the Wailers Easy Skanking, Boston 1978 is an amazing introductory release by the Marley family to celebrate his 70th Earth Strong day as well as a welcome addition to the ‘rock room’s’ Marley archives. The collection highlights a moving performance spotlighted by stunning soundboard quality and bonus accompanying video footage. Similar to the Hendrix archives, just when you think there cannot be much more Marley in the vaults, something like this comes out and rekindles the hope and excitement once again. A must have. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tools of the Trade: 'Play My Records, Stay at My Home'-Dave Davies 1959 Gibson Flying V

The forerunner and master of the definitive ‘rock riff’. Dave Davies, famous guitarist of the Kinks and disseminator of iconic guitar lines that graced legendary songs like ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘All Day and All of the Night’ and ‘Til the End of the Day’, was also a revolutionary in his choice of instruments. Today in the ‘rock room’ we will examine one of the most recognizable of these guitars Davies’ 1959 Gibson Flying V. While the Flying V started to be produced in 1958, Davies is on record as saying his is was an early model prototype ,but has recently confirmed it is a 1959. I cannot confirm the exact production date. Currently these early Flying V’s can reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, due to their rarity and limited production.

According to legend, Davies’ and the ‘Kinks’ arrived in America for their 1965 tour minus the guitar (a Guild) that Davies planned on using for the planned performances. Without an alternate guitar Davies and crew took to the American music shops to find a suitable replacement. According to Davies when he was unable to find a guitar that suited his needs a shop owner presented Davies with an original 1959 Flying V in an oddly shaped tattered carrying case. Davies was later quoted in an interview with Gary Owen that he paid 200.00 dollars for the instrument, the main attraction that he could ‘put his arm through the middle of it’. He later realized that the balance of the instrument was not realistic to his playing needs and thought more of its ‘fancy look’, calling it a piece of ‘visual art’. This makes perfect sense as the guitar was created during an era where space age design was applied to everything including vehicles and household products. The guitar was sleek and sharp and the perfect foil for the fashion forward and hip Davies.
 Oddly enough, the exposure that Davies’ gave the guitar over the course of the 1965 US tour cemented the instruments popularity for the duration of rock history. Davies was pictured on the television show ‘Shindig!’ playing the guitar and that was enough for garage band wanna-be’s and guitar heroes to look for the groovy and idiosyncratic instrument and to make it their own. This visibility encouraged Gibson to assemble a 1966 edition of the guitar which unfortunately did not sell as expected and by 1970 the guitar was no longer being made. In spite of the instruments lack of sales famous guitarists Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards and blues man Albert King used their own respective Flying V’s throughout the 1960’s. By the mid to late 1970’s the instrument was back in production and being used by a host of musicians ranging from rock to metal. 
Davies guitar featured a solid body natural finish and was made from Korina wood and contained what I believe to be a Mahogany neck. The guitar also featured a string through body tailpiece in addition to two Gibson PAF humbucker pickups. Three dials for volume and tone control for each respective pickup as well as a switch for bridge/neck pickup choices are spotlighted on the lower part of the guitar and white pick guard. The tone of the guitar is classic Gibson with a heavy mid range attack. The guitar expresses a smooth but hearty round tone that slices through the surrounding supporting instruments. A definitive example of the guitar in action is on the Kinks track ‘Til the End of the Day’. The guitar was also featured on various sessions and stages up to 1970 including the songs ‘Australia’ and ‘Yes Sir, No Sir’. According to Doug Hinman the guitar’s last on stage appearance was in September 1970. The guitar was later sold at auction in 1995 for 24,000 dollars to a new and probably very enthused owner.
While Dave Davies’ 1959 Flying V is not like previous ‘Tools of the Trade’ features where the instrument is the musicians’ ‘go to’ tool; it is a guitar of great influence and importance in the Kinks history, as well as in the history of rock. The innovative design, punk aesthetic and unique woody tone were the perfect fit for the misfit guitarist Davies and the krazy Kinks. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

David Crosby- 'Laughing In the Sun'-The 1971 LP 'If I Could Only Remember My Name'

 David Crosby’s 1971 solo LP If I Could Only Remember My Name was developed in a time of great emotional upheaval and intense creativity for Crosby and the contributing musicians. Many if not most of the finest San Francisco musician’s fingerprints can be found on the glass of the record. Often referred to as the ‘Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra’ the combination of talents can also be discovered adding their unique abilities to other albums of the era. Jefferson Starship’s Blows against the Empire, Graham Nash’s Songs for Beginners, Mickey Hart’s Rolling Thunder as well as Paul Kantner/Grace Slick’s solo excursions feature many of the same artists. David Freiberg, Neil Young, Michael Shrieve, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell as well as the members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane all make appearances in various combinations equaling some mind expanding and amazing music created in the early 1970’s. This beautiful time in rock history will never be witnessed again, a time where wonderful collaborations and a shared love of musical discovery took precedent over record contracts, royalties and tour receipts. Spinning at 33 1/3 in the rock room today is David Crosby’s 1971 masterpiece If I could Only Remember My Name.
Emotionally recovering from the loss of his lover Christine Hinton from a devistating car crash, If I Could Only Remember My Name is the result of Crosby’s escape from depression and his eventual refuge found through music and his friends. The collaborations featured on the recordings did not occur in a vacuum, the relationships were developed early on in the respective musicians careers. Paul Kantner, Crosby and Stills collaborated on the songwriting of the CSN track ‘Wooden Ships’, Jerry Garcia was a ‘spiritual advisor’/producer for the Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow album and David Freiberg, Kantner and Crosby often cross pollinated each others work in the early stages of their careers.

The LP opens fittingly opens with the aptly titled ‘Music Is Love’. The song features three of the four principals of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, with Stills the only member not appearing. The song encapsulates the pervading attitude of the record with the ‘Music Is Love’ mantra harmonized by Nash and Young while Crosby spreads a soaring free form vocal frosting over the top. Young, Crosby and Nash interweave crystalline acoustic guitars with Young offering his personal rhythm section of bass and congas and a ghostly vibraphone. The campfire vibe song rises weightless like smoke, soaking into the glorious melodic sunshine.
 The cinematic and epic ‘Cowboy Movie’ follows, spotlighting the rhythm section of the Grateful Dead with Hart, Kreutzman and Lesh in addition to featuring a Jerry Garcia and Neil Young in a dusty ten paces and turn guitar duel. The story line of the tail fictionalizes the CSNY break up through the premise of a spaghetti western and comments on some of the personal issues that haunted the band, like certain principals relationship with the ‘Raven’ (Rita Coolage).  Garcia and Young go toe to toe through deft uses of moaning feedback and the perfect finishing of each other’s guitar phrases. The heavy footed groove slowly gains in intensity, Crosby shreds his vocals thrillingly eventually climaxing in an instrumental orgasm that fades out much too soon. (There is a thrilling and extended version of this track available on the David Crosby box set Voyage)
The cool night air of ‘Tamalpais High (At About 3) settles in, again featuring the Grateful Dead’s Billy K. on drums and Phil Lesh on bass. Garcia and the Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen hold the six strings while Nash and Crosby handle the delicate wordless melody. Crosby stated that this song was not really 'received' by ‘CSNY’ so it ended up on his solo record. A quintessential Crosby melody, circular and umbrageous in its design, lyrical content is not required due to the aural portrait conjured by the instrumental and vocal alchemy. The organic blending of Crosby and Nash’s melody lines slither over the morphing jazz groove driven by Lesh’s thumping Alembic bass and Kreutzman’s multiple arms. Garcia and Kaukonen trade virginal clean tone lines over the additively shifty composition.

One of Crosby’s most enduring melodies and enchanted compositions, ‘Laughing’ follows and closes the first side of the record. Opening like the birth of a vibrant sunrise, the songs design is again built  around the Grateful Dead rhythm section featuring Lesh’s well timed and plump detonations. Crosby’s glistening twelve string strums sparkle like solar rays through rain drops. On top of all of the swirling magic Garcia lays a sleek and spectral pedal steel line that is extremely emotive, acting as its own independent star sailing melody line. The song lyrically is the search for answers and according to Crosby directed to George Harrison and expressed psychedelically through a collaborative chorus highlighted by the smooth styling of Joni Mitchell.
Flipping over the LP, the second side of the record begins with ‘What Are Their Names’ a still relevant song that still features in CSN and CSNY set lists to this very day, but now performed acapella. This original rendition is a full band performance constructed around a descending set of changes. Three crisp guitars wrap themselves around a central pole to open the song, Crosby, Garcia and Young gently caressing the songs internal melody. As the drums and bass enter (Shrieve and Casady) the song gains a slightly disturbing and dramatic edge, Young and Garcia’s guitars bite deep. The finger pointing lyrics are sung in huge super group choral fashion featuring but not limited to Crosby, Nash, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Laura Allen and possibly Crosby’s brother Ethan. A stunning start to side two and a commentary on the organic creation of the music contained on the record.

‘Traction in the Rain’ follows next and allows time for Crosby acoustic introspection. The drumless melody hangs weightless on woody strums and finds Crosby and Nash on shimmering acoustics and Laura Allen contributing on beautiful and cascading auto harp. Crosby’s vocals are some of the finest on the record and the song would become a highlight of future Crosby/Nash duo performances.
‘Song with No Words (Tree with No Leaves)’ is a prismatic meditation where in a role reversal, the music colors and supports the stunning wordless Crosby/Nash vocal melody. The supporting players act as one swirling instrument enveloped into each other through intent listening. The players cannot always be confirmed on these resulting tracks, but my ear hears, Garcia, Kaukonen, Shreive, Nash and possibly Young on piano. In the ‘rock room’s humble opinion one of the finest tracks on the record. 

The final two songs of the LP are also wordless compositions. In many ways this increases the emotional effectiveness and melodic strength contained within the numbers. ‘Orleans’ is a traditional French children’s song that lists the cathedrals of France. Of course Crosby arranges it into a strange and weaving mood piece based around overdubbed acoustics and his perfectly stratified vocals.

The album closes with the exhilarating and supernatural ‘I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here’. A vocal only movement, Crosby is quoted as saying he was in a good place, high as a kite and experimenting with the echo chamber in Wally Heider’s studio. Crosby sang six different parts developed on the spot, vocally improvised and bringing into existence a masterful representation of his recently departed love. Crosby felt that the creation of this song was initiated by Christine visiting him and/or making her presence known to him during the song’s genesis. Something is definitely happening during the brief apparitional and aural experience. This song epitomizes what this music is all about, remembering, feeling, expressing and being in the moment. The track is a fitting conclusion to the record and inspiring statement of Crosby’s talent and the towering importance of the record in the pantheon of rock history.
If I Could Only Remember My Name is not only a career defining statement for David Crosby it is also a commentary on the collaborative and communal environment surrounding music in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Friends created music on this record, credits or royalties did not matter. What mattered was sharing in the making of something bigger and better than its individual components. The songs contained on this record are inspired by the joy of giving and creating and the proof lies within the jagged grooves of its vinyl. The record is arguably David Crosby’s finest achievement and a photographic capture of some of the contributing musician’s finest moments ever committed to tape. The record is a standard of the rock room and a must have addition to any rock collection . (There are also a multitude of outtakes of the sessions available for those willing to search)