Talk From The Rock Room: 2018

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Tools of the Trade: Brian Jones Vox III Teardrop Guitar - 'As Tears Go By'

Vox first started to build guitars in 1961, and in 1962 in order to compete with American instrument makers Vox introduced their iconic Phantom guitar. Most if not all British aspiring and popular rock and roll musicians were using the Vox AC-30 amplifiers as a cheaper alternative to paying taxes and import fees on American made amps. Vox was started by Tom Jennings as a company that could compete with the American companies like Fender, Gibson and Rickenbacker. In 1963 the Jennings Company Vox debuted the Vox MK series of guitars often referred to as the Teardrop and Phantom respectively.

The MK III Teardrop because of its use during the ‘Stones’ early ascension to popularity soon became synonymous with Brian Jones. Similarly to Paul McCartney and his Hofner bass and John Lennon and his Rickenbacker 325, when one thought of Jones the guitar was almost an extension of his being.The guitar’s unusual body, unconventional build and use by Jones assisted in making Vox the chosen guitar for many British artists including the Hollies and David Bowie. As they say, ‘Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery’.
The obvious marketing move was to get these instruments into some of the famed British musician’s hands of the time for their use and for some free promotion. At the time (1963) the Rolling Stones were inching toward world domination and superstardom and were just beginning to reap the rewards of their musical genius and instrumental prowess. Their early appearances illustrate that the band had yet to upgrade their gear as a smattering of Harmony, Selmer and Hofner instruments graced their stages. The first level of their ascendant popularity consisted of appearances and promotions. Brian Jones, guitarist and multi-instrumenalist and at the time the cherub faced leader of the ‘Rolling Stones’ was the first lucky recipient of one of Vox’s premier prototypes.

During this era of the Stones formative years Jones can be witnessed playing a quivering slide part over the band’s plethora of blues covers on the MK III, or scrubbing out a chugging metallic brush stroke of rhythm.  In addition to his ‘Teardrop’ guitar Jennings Musical Enterprises also gave Brian a matching Vox MK III 12 string which was handmade by Mick Bennett as was Jones’ 6 string.
Jones prototype guitar was built in Vox’s Dartmouth, England factory and contains minor yet significant differences to the regular run of instruments. The instrument contained two single coil pickups, a three position selector switch for using one or both of the pickups respectively. Under the switch the guitar had both volume and tone control knobs. The guitar setup was based around and somewhat mirrored the popular Fender Telecaster alignment which was also a guitar that many of Brian Jones’ idols played and he also liked himself.

The headstock was arranged with ‘six on a side’ tuning pegs and the Vox logo. The saddle/bridge was also modeled after the American Stratocaster on Brian’s guitar edition with later mainstream editions including a Bigsby vibrato tail piece. The bridge on Brian’s prototype originated from an original 1950’s Strat where it was removed and then affixed to the body of the Vox. (see video) The backside of the instrument shows a ground wire leading from the back of the sustain block leading in lo-fi fashion to the guitars plastic hatch. Many musicians and curators have remarked upon seeing and playing the guitar that upon close inspection it is truly a ‘handmade’ guitar. Lots of personality and mojo contained within.

Also unique to the guitar was its ‘zero fret’ located at the top of the head stock to increase the guitars sustain by holding the strings the appropriate distance above the neck. Finally, as an added bonus the back of the guitar came with a circular snap on protective pad which was designed to protect the guitar from the scrapings of a musicians belt buckle.

The famed Vox was used often by Brian on stage in the bands formative days. It can be seen in action when the Stones debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show on October 25, 1964 as well as the group’s appearance on the Tami Show on where its stannic aesthetic can be witnessed chugging out the R and B stomp critical to the Stones early classics (through Fender amplification). The guitars clean white lines, elegant weeping shape and bristled tone matched perfectly with Jones unique look and personality. Jones used the guitar on stage in 1964 and 1965 and it quickly became a part of his image, the guitar was not used in the studio as often as it is said that its shape made it hard to record while sitting down. While the guitars studio use cannot be tracked perfectly, Jones did use the guitar on the Stones classic ‘It’s All Over Now” where it’s trademark ‘tinny’ tone is a result of the aforementioned single coil pickups.
As quickly as Jones had co-opted the Vox; as was his wont Jones would use a number of other guitars throughout his tenure with the Stones.  Explorers, Les Paul’s and Gretch would also help to create his instrumental arsenal. The Vox MK III’s own handcrafted history in addition to its owner’s own unique musical aura add up to one of rock history’s most recognizable and just plain cool guitars. 

The instrument was sold at Sotheby’s auction in 1984 for the blue light special price of $3,200 to the Hard Rock CafĂ©. It has since been displayed for a number of years and now can be located in the Hard Rock’s substantial London vault. It’s obvious the guitar is saturated with some heavy duty mojo.
As a final aside, there is a tall tale that Ronnie Wood picked up one of Brian’s Vox guitars (his 12 string?) to try on while the band was in preparation for the Stones 1989 Steel Wheels tour. The result being that he was quickly met with a sharp ‘Keep yer fuckin’ hands off of it’ by Keef.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Take One: Bob Dylan - 'Hero Blues' 1963-1974 'Find Somebody To Fight'

Bob Dylan’s ‘Hero Blues’ is a composition which surprisingly never found a home on an official release. Even though the song was never destined for Dylan’s mainstream audience, it retains a mystical history and important slot in Dylan’s colossal discography. Originally recorded on December 6, 1962 for the LP The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the tune has taken on a number of permutations over its varied existence.

Dylan recorded studio versions on both piano and guitar with both featuring his trademark harmonica. The song, while immortalized in the studio also made a few limited live appearances with the early definitive version hailing from the famed Town Hall concert on April 12, 1963 recorded shortly after one of its studio attempts. 

Today in the ‘rock room’ I am listening to the version featured on the Bootleg Series Volume 9 , The Witmark demos (the guitar/harp rendition recorded in 1963) which has in turn led me through the song's life, including its return to the live stage for a limited time on the Bob Dylan and the Band 1974 tour after a ten year absence.

As previously mentioned, ‘Hero Blues’ and its compositional metamorphosis was never available on an official release for a number of years. It did leak out on some bootlegs for the hardcore. But with the release of the Bootleg Series Volume 9, The Witmark Demos in 2010 and with the rare and hard to find European Copyright Collection in 2012, a studio glimpse has given fans insight into the song and its recording process. With both of the above releases taken into account three takes (1, 2 and 4) from the December 1962 sessions, and the publishing demo from 1963 are available for enjoyment.  The piano version has not yet seen an official release but was run-through during the sessions for The Times They Are A Changin'.

Content wise, the song is based around a theme which Dylan had played within other compositions; the need for a man to be a fighter in both war and domesticity so his woman has something to be proud of. The lyrics contain an attitude that Dylan asserts through his narrator that the most important thing to his girl/love interest is that her man be a hero, hence the song's title.  

The narrator believes that his ‘gal’ may have too much going on in her head and feels the need to live up to some invisible social standard which he too must strive for. ‘She reads too many books, she’s got nails inside her head, she won’t be satisfied until I end up dead’.  Association with celebrity, or in this case more importantly with someone who is putting their life on the line, portrays honor is how the ‘girl’ in ‘Hero Blues’ relates to others. Looking through the lens of how others see us is the crux of the song, but with the Dylan twist of how others see us can be based on our accomplishments or more importantly our representations.
The three takes recorded in preparation for the Freewheelin’ album are all similar in scope with the exception of take 4 lacking the ‘books’ verses. Each respective verse is separated by a simple descending plucked guitar lick. Dylan varies his just slightly with each take with the final take having more ‘aggressive’ vocals.  It has been speculated that ‘Hero Blues’ was tabbed for the Freewheelin’ record but was bumped in favor of ‘One to Many Mornings’. Fingerprints of other Dylan compositions from the same era can be discerned in ‘Hero Blues’ cuts like ‘It Ain Me Babe’ dip from the same well of influence.

The version on piano and harp from 1963 has its own unique charm and is an all time favorite of the ‘rock room’.  Highlighted by Dylan’s rickety boogie-woogie piano, the song cooks and blows steam with Dylan’s well timed harp blasts. The tune begins with the aforementioned wining harp and Dylan setting the rolling groove with his eclectic piano playing. The lyrics have been updated with the second and third verses differing slightly. I love the character of the piano reading as the tempo wobbles, the harp squeals and Dylan bites.  

The publishing version from May 1963 stays close to the original studio arrangement and also features guitar and harmonica. This publishing performance closely follows the song’s live premier in April of 1963 at the famed Town Hall concert in NYC. That the song was worked out in a number of different ways illustrates that Dylan did have plans for the track whether on one of his LP’s, or for a contemporary artist to issue a cover version.

When Dylan premiered the song live on April 12, 1963 at the aforementioned Town Hall concert, he prefaced the tune with, ‘This is for all the, uh, boys that know girls that want 'em, uh, to go out and get themselves killed.’ What follows is stunning, as Dylan plays a definitive version, with hearty breathy vocals and a youthful investment. The song unfolds patiently with Dylan’s harp blasts answering each verse. Stunning. A must hear, as is the entire Town Hall performance.  When Dylan concluded ‘Hero Blues’ that evening the composition was then inexplicably shelved; obscured for more than a decade under the weight of what was arguably Dylan’s most prolific composing era.
Much later, in typical Dylan fashion, he unearthed the song for his 1974 tour set list. The series of dates was Dylan’s return to the road for the first time since 1966. While ‘Hero Blues’ appearance only lasted for two shows, it was used to open both of the inaugural concerts in Chicago on January 3 and 4 1974 as a not so subtle commentary on how Dylan viewed his return to the performing stage and how it was perceived.

Art imitates life, and the duality of the lyrics of ‘Hero Blues’ when performed in 1963 and 1974 both relate to hero worship as both a soldier becoming a hero by giving his life in war and to a lesser extent being an artist/celebrity and being looked to as some sort of savior. In short, the song became relevant to Bob once again but in a more personal way. This man was viewed as some kind of musical savior and was pegged with being the 'voice' of a generation he hardly knew.  The song had been birthed as protest and grew into a commentary on its author.

Whereas in the early 60’s ‘Hero Blues’ fit right in with Dylan’s early topical numbers, in the 1970’s it became an explanation on ‘Dylan’ himself through the eyes of Zimmerman. The circulating recordings of ‘Hero Blues’ from the opening Chicago shows are fiery and eager. The symbolism attached to the song being the show opener is relevant. The Band is white heat, with Robertson taking a number of clenched guitar breaks lending to the drama of the performance. Danko and Helm walk in a honky tonk lock step with Danko’s plump fretless bass thumps urging along the groove. This Tour 74’ arrangement is reminiscent to the group’s ‘Hollis Brown’ musical approaches, a slamming ‘country honk’, with accusatory vocals and fiery attitude.

Similarly to other ‘deep cuts’ in the Dylan catalog (ie: Blind Willie McTell, Abandoned Love) ‘Hero Blues’ made its appearance and then disappeared into the graveyard of Dylan compositions not destined to be featured on an official release. Since its final performance in 1974 the song was never to be heard from again in front of a paying audience. The cut featured Dylan’s typically acerbic wit in addition to his unique portrayal of relationships, hero worship and idolization. For reasons never explained, Dylan often left the songs his listeners felt to be major compositions to languish in the vaults. Fortunately for us, there is documentation of these legendary tracks in addition to a critical reassessment of these hidden jewels via the ongoing Bootleg Series.

'Hero Blues' Live 1974

Studio Versions

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Take One: The Byrds - 1965 Single B Side - 'She Don't Care About Time'

Spinning on the turntable today in the ‘rock room’ is the flip side to the famed 1965 7’ Byrds' single ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’. Composed by Gene Clark, the cut, ‘She Don’t Care About Time’ is not only one of Clark’s finest compositions and best renowned songs; but also an influential and important part of the entire pop/rock mid-1960’s discography. 

Released on October 29, 1965 the single ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ b/w ‘She Don’t Care About Time followed the staggering success of the Byrds ‘folk-rock’ cover of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’. While in the groups early stages they concentrated mainly on Dylan covers and re-imagining’s of traditional folk numbers, Gene Clark, the band’s primary songwriter, focused on developing his own melodic and lyrical skills. Clark would leave behind the accessibility of other people’s songs and would dive headfirst into exploring his own emotions and dreams through melodic and metered poetry.

 In what would eventually become a bone of contention effecting the dynamics of the group, Clark’s  songwriting skills offered him more money and greater attention than other principals in the band. In an ironic twist of fate Jim (Roger) McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman would later earn greater recognition for being members of the Byrds than Gene would being the principal songwriter in their formatve days. While Clark’s stint in the band would be brief he was the perpetuating force in the group during their most influential and popular era.

‘She Don’t Care About Time’ would not appear on the LP Turn, Turn, Turn and would only be available on the ‘B’ side of the aforementioned ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ single.  Although later appearing on a number of greatest hits compilations; in what would seem to be typical of his musical career, one of Clark’s finest early moments of a composer would be nestled on the flip side of a Byrds' single.
Instrumentally the song was influenced by the Beatles and after its release it in turn influenced the Beatles back. While both groups competed in the charts, as artists and musicians their influence was shared even across the expanse of the Atlantic. 

‘She Don’t Care About Time’ begins with the recognizable and glistening ring of McGuinn’s Rickenbacker guitar. As Michael Clarke’s drums enter one is instantly reminded of the Beatles 1965 single ‘Ticket to Ride’. The sparkling picking and the start/stop tom-tom oriented drum groove definitely share a similar musical aesthetic to the Beatles track.  The song would also in return later be cited by George Harrison as an impetus and influence for his own 1965 song, ‘If I Needed Someone’ which likewise contained soaring and seamless three part harmonies.

The similarities between the two tracks end there though as Clark’s lyrics equal and in the ‘rock room’s modest opinion even surpasses the Byrds’ lyrical contemporaries of the time including the Beatles. Clark’s lyrics evoke a woman comprised of dreams and perfection. Figuratively, the woman does not need to heed time as she is timeless.

As McGuinn’s aforementioned picked intro is dispersed with, Crosby cuts rhythm strokes across the lick. The drums then rumble in with the appearance of the stunning signature Byrd three part harmonies. The vocal melody is the dolloped on top of the sturdy pop backing comprised of Clarke’s uniquely tumbling drums and the muted pluck of Hillman’s bass. Crosby and McGuinn express themselves  deeply through their respective riffs. The contrast lays in-between the central melody and band instrumentation, combining to express the deep originality of the cut. He track is a pop song with an ear worm melody balanced somewhere between the band’s folk beginnings, psychedelic zed minds and fertile musical beginnings.

Clark’s poetic sensibilities are the star of the song. His deft portrail of complex emotions distills a deeper meaning from his lyrical construct. The subject of the song is spectral, the perfect partner, or woman, or in the ‘rock room’s’ opinion the mysterious muse. Clark knows that she or it waits without regret. Time means nothing for a mystery or for a love as deep as the ages. The simple depth of the lyrics and rich artfulness is second only to Dylan in this era.

Mid song McGuinn takes a short quivering solo that quotes Bach while offering a mystical respite before heading back into the verse; as the song has no true chorus. Packed into a two and a half minute flip side, ‘She Don’t Care About Time’ sums up the early Byrds and the mid-1960’s folk rock aesthetic, all the while expressing something fresh, yet staying perfectly within its own time. The song has aged well and is well regarded by the band with both Clark and Hillman recording 'cover' versions in both 1972 and 2017 respectively.

Clark’s flight with the Byrds would be turbulent, but stunning in its ascent and brevity. Unfortunately success would shake the young band to its foundation and haunt Clark’s future days as an artist and musician. His songs when examined in hindsight are always ahead of the curve and foreshadowing the next move to come in whichever genre he saw fit to explore.  But the early sides cut when the Byrds were both individually and collaboratively peaking contain a historic alchemy that would never be matched by any of the group’s original principals.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Take One: Buffalo Springfield - 'A Child's Claim to Fame' - 1967 B Side

The root's of 'Country Rock' are tangled and deep. While the genesis of the movement are often discussed and debated the answers are often closely related. Regardless if  its The Byrds, the Beatles, Buffalo Springfield or the Monkees, the mid to late 1960's was littered with examples of rock colliding with multiple genres. This process includes the folk backgrounds of some the composers as well as the blues country influences in their writing. The respective members of many of the bands in this era would end up contributing to and playing with each other on numerous projects.

Spinning today in the 'rock room' is the 1967 single release 'B' side by the 'Buffalo Springfield', 'A Child's Claim to Fame'. Written by Richie Furay, who would later lead 1970's 'Country Rock' pioneers 'Poco'; the song can also be found on the 'Buffalo Springfield's second album, Buffalo Springfield Again. With two other principal songwriters in the group named Neil Young and Stephen Stills, Furay had no original songs featured on the band's debut LP, but that changed with their second release. Furay's songs were sweetly melodic and gently touched with a soft country lilt and his talent as a song smith could not be suppressed. A similar situation to squeezing George Harrison's songs onto Beatle records

Nestled on the flip side of Stephen Stills, 'Rock and Roll Woman', 'A Child's Claim to Fame' was recorded on June 21, 1967 following Monterey Pop and on the solstice of the 'Summer of Love', yet not a drop of psychedelia can be detected. The acoustic based song is looked fondly upon by Furay who has noted that it was quite an achievement for him as a composer. The track spotlights famed guitar gunslinger James Burton on dobro which lends a high and lonesome authenticity to the cut. Burton is a world renowned guitarist and played with Furay idol Ricky Nelson in addition to his extended time with Elvis among others. (he would also play on Gram Parson's debut album)
The track made nary a dent in the charts as the 'A' side 'Rock and Roll Woman' only hovered around the 40's despite being one of the Summer's finest 'A' sides and arguably one of the Springfield's celebrated cuts. The song's influence, importance and recognition by others cannot be understated. Like previously stated the song must also be looked at in the context of its nod to country music. The track sits comfortably with other songs placed in the discussion of  the'Country 'Rock' label. Tracks such as 'Beatles' 'Act Naturally', the 'Byrds' 'Time Between', the Monkees' 'Papa Gene's Blues' and the 'Springfield's' own 'Go and Say Goodbye' from their 1966 debut.

James Burton's tear drop licks and weeping filigrees magnify the song's melodic strengths, melding what is essentially a 2 minute long folk song verse intersected by two instrumental breaks. Stephen and Richie harmonize vocally with Stills going up high in the classic 'Buffalo Springfield' blend. Neil dryly lends his recognizable voice to the end line of each verse. The mono version reveals the beautiful vocal nuances nicely in my humble opinion.

Dewey Martin keeps things simple on drums with a straightforward country clop on the snare rim. Over the head of the verse and leading into the the breaks the softly muted fuzz of Young's guitar lends tasty exclamations of shimmering vibrato. The first solo is then taken by Young and is placed perfectly, emanating a vintage feel with a futuristic sound containing plucky notes and lustrous strums.

The second verse follows, and the solo spot at the end of the second set of verses is taken by Stephen Stills. Stills lends a typically fantastic serpentine acoustic line that dosey doe's with Burton's dobro at just the right times. Stills solo line continues under the book ending Furay/Burton hook as the first verse is then sung again.
The content of 'A Child's Claim to Fame' was inspired by the famously contentious relationship between Neil Young and his band mates. The song is Richie Furay's reaction at the time to Young's constant coming and going from the band and his increasingly erratic behavior. Years later Furay even alluded the Young may have written 'I Am a Child' as a response to 'A Child's Claim to Fame'. The sadness and disappointment in Furay's lyrics illustrates what type of dynamics contributed to the short shelf life of the group and how youth, personality and popularity ended the band before it really started.

Only one more album would remain for the band and that LP, Last Time Around, was a fragmented example of what had originally made the band so great. But for a brief time the 'Springfield' had it all. 'A Child's Claim to Fame', even in its brevity, is an amazing recording and sums up the entirety of the band's experience through its rustic instrumental aesthetic, unabashed lyrics and honest recitation.

A Child's Claim To Fame

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Grateful Dead - Dave's Picks Volume Two - 7-31-1974 'Lay Em Down'

Jamming aggressively in the ‘rock room’ today is an early offering from the Dave’s Picks vault release series. In preparation for the upcoming 1973/1974 Pacific Northwest box release from the Grateful Dead’s bulging musical vaults  Dave’s Picks Volume 2 finds the band lugging the famed Wall of Sound to Dillon Stadium in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 31, 1974 , smack dab in the middle of their summer excursion. The recording offers a generous three-set classic marathon show, similar to others of the same ilk such as 5/12/74 and 6/16/74 that feature multifaceted improv and extended performances. An assembled crowd of 20,000 filled the ample arena to which the band had recently graduated, after years of previously playing theaters.

The three disc, spring-water clear soundboard recording — lovingly curated by David Lemieux and mastered by sonic mater Jeffry Norman — offers more than three hours of music from when the Grateful Dead couldn’t get enough of ‘Playin’ in the Band. What is unique about this 1974 performance, other than its length, is that “Dark Star,” “The Other One” and even the aforementioned “Playin in the Band” do not make an appearance on this particular evening. But then there’s the hearty improvisation that takes place late in set three, emerging out of a raucous ‘Truckin'’ — just another reason, if one was needed, as to why this particular evening found its way into the Dave’s Picks series.

A simmering 12-song first set kicks things off, fitting snugly on disc one of the set. The Grateful Dead pull the ripcord on a perfectly paced concert with the still-youthful ‘Scarlet Begonias,’ represented here in a crisply executed, compact package. Elsewhere, highlights include the unique pairing of ‘Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo’ with a freshly picked ‘It Must Have Been the Roses’, to great success. As well as a huge “China/Rider” — one rivaling that of the legendary 6/16/1974 as it rattles the windows while riding the rails at a high velocity. This version exposes the Grateful Dead at their best, while the gray area between the songs reveals numerous beautiful musical secrets. The central jam finds Jerry Garcia at his most expressive piloting the band through diverse terrain.

The second set opens breathlessly, as the Dead offer rolling versions of ‘Bertha’ and ‘Big River.’ The real magic, however, occurs with their pairing of “Eyes of the World/China Doll,” which spans 23 minutes. A beardless Garcia spars with a bearded Phil Lesh over control of the ship, with dual lead lines that wrap around one another like the arms of lost lovers. This version; which is one of the best from a year brimming with them, features a loose, airy groove pushed by Bill Kreutzmann to greater heights, even as the group threatens to drift away like a misplaced newspaper on the wind.

The outro jam becomes disorienting, with the band breaking into differing combinations, the improvisational balloon ascending , then becoming still for a moment before falling directly into the ‘Stronger than Dirt’ theme. Garcia peels the musical fruit like a ravaged animal hungry for more, while leading the band through an abundant series of dynamic funk themes. These themes become burned at the edges before deconstructing into a swirling particle space that slowly fades into the delicate sparseness of “China Doll.” In spite of some initial tempo concerns, the song transforms into an enjoyable version.
A typically wonderful 1974 version of the “Weather Report Suite” concludes the second set in a dramatic, hold-your-breath fashion. While not the usual springboard for improve, the jamming is fast and furious. The third and final set then gets underway with an oddly placed ‘El Paso’, then continuing through a vintage run of well-played songs that culminates with a back-country porch version of ‘To Lay Me Down.’ One of only seven versions from 1974, the song would make only two more concert appearances before disappearing completely until its resurrection in 1980. This ornate reading is a highlight of Dave’s Pick’s Volume 2 and a fitting prelude to the rubber-burning exploration of ‘Truckin’ that follows.

‘Truckin' had been overhauled and retooled in 1974, often becoming the main source for an evening’s improvisations. There is a laundry list of 1974 versions where the band takes off of  down the highway and into unknown destinations (5-19, 6/16, tc) yet this version may be the finest …hence its inclusion on this set. After disposing with the usual verses Lesh starts to immediately get frisky on the outro jam. The band locks into a chooglin’ rhythm, while Garcia squeezes rich, clean tone droplets from his axe. He then signals the ‘Truckin'’ siren, with a beautiful reading of the climatic jam that would somewhat lose its effectiveness in later and leaner years. ‘The Other One’ is brushed up against, before Garcia spaces out at about ten minutes, with the group circling around him in a psychedelic standoff. The Grateful Dead searches for and finds the sweet spot, traversing strange tones, basking the warm rays of free improvisation then moving confidently through numerous and diverse changes in sympathetic gestalt linkage.

As the music gets lodged between clouds, Lesh becomes ornery and Keith Godchaux answers in glistening erratic piano runs. Lesh trills his ropy strings like some monstrous fluttering moth, initiating one of the finest band instrumentals created in the summer 1974. Everyone is playing at their absolute peak abilities. From this formlessness the Grateful Dead  search out the ‘Mind Left Body’ theme, while still dynamically freewheeling their way into a poly-rhythmic syrup that tumbles over endless precipices.

A slick but distorted blues jam soon develops, intermingled with pinches of the Spanish theme that eventually — through Kreutzmann’s and Lesh’s inference– becomes a full-on ‘Spanish Jam.’ The band deftly sneaks in and out of mirrored rooms, before brightening the vibe and slipping back into ‘Mind Left Body,’ as a portal into a shady docking with 'Wharf Rat.' Unbelievably, the Grateful Dead follow this explosive display with three more songs but, at this point in Dave’s Pick’s Volume 2, I am still digesting the previous musical triumph. I’m sure the attendants of the concert appreciated the warm send off by the band, and appreciated the rock and roll finish being smoothly frosted over by a sweet Uncle John’s Band.’

In the end, Dave’s Pick’s Volume 2 is a massive concert capture and a classic representation of everything that made a Grateful Dead show the place to be in 1974. Thankfully preserved by the band on tape and posthumously shared by their vault, it just goes to show that there are certain years in the band’s history that will continue to harvest sonic rewards, no matter how over represented or discussed. This is a good un.

7-31-1974 Truckin' Jam

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Now Playing: Humble Pie - Beat Club 1970 - 'I Will Excite'

For today’s Now Playing feature I have broken out of the ‘rock room’ vaults a clip of ‘Humble Pie’ on the famed German music broadcast Beat Club filmed in 1970. Decades ahead of schedule and the future popularity of MTV’s Unplugged this extended clip features the original ‘Pie’ line up in an acoustic format. Comprised of front man extraordinaire and in the ‘rock room’s’ humble opinion the most underrated rock vocalist of all time Steve Marriott, a 20 year old Peter Frampton, bassist Greg Ridley and then 17 year old drummer Jerry Shirley this clip is a stellar capture of the diverse abilities of ‘Humble Pie’ and their abilities to express and translate any genre of music.

During ‘Humble Pie’s first US tour in 1969 the band spotlighted the members individual talents with an acoustic set. One of the first rock bands of the era to do so. The centerpiece of these sets was a radical acoustic reworking of Graham Gouldman’s (future member of 10cc) ‘For Your Love’. The same song which became the ‘Yardbirds’ first top 10 hit in the US and in the UK in March of 1965. While appearing in concert this track never appeared as a studio cut on any of the Humble Pie LP releases.

Historically, ‘For Your Love' also  encouraged Eric Clapton to leave the ‘Yardbirds’ because of its pop sensibilities; but later put into the hands of ‘Humble Pie’ it became something entirely different. The song changed from a view through a parascope to seeing a scene in panoramic. The  Beat Club clip begins with Jerry Shirley palpitating a soft tribal groove on hand drums to which plectrum taps by Frampton and Marriott collaborate against the hollow bodies of their acoustics joining in rhythmic syncopation. Ridley plays a descending bass line on the low strings of his 6 string acoustic guitar. Drizzled over this rustic stew Frampton contributes a soft stringy guitar line. Marriott soon after begins his vocal line, singing over the musical embers urged to flame by the intimate sit down. Each element of the song is shuffled into place, a melodic deck of cards, Marriott the Jack of Hearts bearing his soul with a stirring vocal approach.
Marriott’s eyes are closed as he soulfully recites the first verse in a total contrast to the songs first reading in 1965. Here the singer/narrator pleads as if his life absolutely depends on the subjects love. This is no joke, this version contains no breakdown designed for dancing. Marriott’s approach squeezes every last intended drop of emotion from the composition. The song dynamically shifts under him with plush changes in tempo that rise and fall in  intensity due to the applied pressure of the collaborative strumming. 

When the ‘For Your Love’ chorus approaches the fresh faced and star bedazzled Frampton joins in vocally and echoes Marriott’s pleading. Both vocals wrap around one another like ribbon on a May Pole streaming and flowered. The group, The Band and their heavy influence is notable as the vocal approach instantly reminded me of their own arrangements highlighted on the 1969 The Band album.
Following the first sets of verses Frampton lends additional tasteful, crisp and understated guitar lines. 

The music soon trails away, leaving only particulates and the organic percussive tapping which opened the number. Marriott sings the next verses with each breath of life carefully measured, his voice moving against the shore of the song like the soft foam of ocean tides, before crashing into the rocks briskly and with grit.
The three guitars and hand drums undulate, keeping time yet drifting patiently and sometimes slowing like the lost wind of an antique clock. What is stunning about this performance is the total immersion in the song by the band. The concentration of each member and their respective compositional responsibilities creates a stunning and substantial whole. Like the fresh beginning of a relationship, in this clip, Humble Pie are in the troughs of excitement and wonder. The members are learning, creating and expressing without a thought for the future and the resulting music is unique and magical.

While Humble Pie would lose Frampton by the end of 1971, they would continue to contribute quality music for most of the decade. But their early and formative recordings, similarly to the focus of this rock rant were revolutionary and influential. Their live performances show stopping. (See Performance-Rockin the Fillmore) The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Faces and other contemporaries can be found taking bites from the Pie, borrowing from the band in a obvious show of respect. The Humble Pie from Beat Club 1970 is arguably close to the best the band would ever be. The song is stunning, the interplay organic and the result of the performance musically amazing.