Talk From The Rock Room: 2019

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Hot Tuna - 1971 LP First Pull Up, Then Pull Down - 'We Used To Melt'

Sitting on the turntable platter today in the ‘rock room’ is Hot Tuna’s June 1971 LP, First Pull Up, Then Pull Down, the duo’s follow up record to the previous year’s acoustic based debut. Recorded live in April of 1971 the album continues a theme of Jorma Kaukonen’s and Jack Casady exploration of traditional and blues tunes sprinkled in with a curated selection of Jorma originals. The central differentiating factor of the first and second records is that, First Pull Up, Then Pull Down is fully electrified. The famed self-titled debut spotlighted Jorma, Jack and blues harmonica specialist Will Scarlett playing live in an acoustic setting in contrast to the bombastic performances Jorma and Jack had just left behind in the Jeffferson Airplane. The follow up record added drummer Sammy Piazza and blues fiddler and Bay area favorite Papa John Creach on electric violin to the school of musical fish. The first two albums could easily be referred to as Hot Tuna Acoustic and Hot Tuna Electric.

Hot Tuna’s manifold musical influences developed from both Jorma and Jack’s early coffee house folk days and their psychedelically induced playing with the Airplane. Hot Tuna was and has always been the culmination of their friendship and the expression of their numerous musical tastes. This LP and the aforementioned self titled debut set the brick foundation for all of their future musical exploits.

First Pull Up, Then Pull Down opens with ‘John’s Other’, a Papa John instrumental composition, and a horny jam session. Immediately I think of the ‘Dirty Mac’s jam from the ‘Rolling Stone’s Rock and Roll Circus with violinist Irvy Gitlis (as they are both a 12 bar). The band members each take the opportunity to solo over a bed of hot rock. First Papa takes a slick series of violin quotes, then followed by Jorma who puts a buzz saw to wood with a delightfully fuzzy guitar solo. Scarlett blasts some blues harp before again being taken over by Papa John. A straight ahead extended rock and roll opener, this track straddles the boundary between Hot Tuna of the sea and Jefferson Airplane of the sky.

The following cut is a cover of Reverend Gary Davis’s “Candyman” a major influence of Kaukonen and of music in general. While an acoustic version would appear as a bonus cut on the Hot Tuna debut reissue, here the song is given a country funkified rendition. A whiney harp by Will Scarlett takes center stage blowing over the front porch rocking chair creaking of the rhythm section. The deft concoction of harp and violin are the sugary covering over the rich rustic center. Jorma’s wonderfully reedy vocals lend a sepia tone to the proceedings.  Midway through the song Jack Casady takes the classic blues and dismantles the structure into a well-timed, chord riddled and looping bass solo. The music swells and lands perfectly into the central melody.

A Jorma Kaukonen original comes next with, “Been So Long”.  A chunky palm muted introductory guitar scrub signals the band to fall into place. Jack drops a stone into the water letting the ripples reverberate. To the ‘rock room’s’ ears, there may have been a rerecording on the vocals as they sound almost studio quality (in addition to an extra guitar lick). A cut that has lasted for the duration of ‘Hot Tuna’s career this song contains all of the hallmarks of Kaukonen's best songs. Dynamic guitar and a euphoric middle eight highlight this early Hot Tuna standard.

‘Want You To Know’ continues in the same vein, bathed in a bitter drink, thick smoke and dimmed lights. Jorma begins the tune with some delicate Delta blues finger picking before a steady snare hit and earnest fiddle swells coagulate the beat. Invisible dusty feet stomp collectively as the curtain is pulled back to reveal Papa John scribbling historical lines over the twisted frame of traditional music.

The second side of the record begins with another Reverend Gary Davis composition and an in concert favorite of Hot Tuna fans, 'Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning'. Sadly, lyrically the song remains as relevant as it was when it was born. This song was also given an acoustic reading on the first Hot Tuna record and here it is given a 100 watt jolt. Jorma plucks out the song’s introductory heartbeat before the band flares around him into a honky tonk groove. Jorma’s vocals sound slightly menacing as his picking mirrors the melody. Extended to past eight minutes, the band peruses each nook and cranny of the musical framework. Jorma and Papa John work in conjunction tugging on each end of the verse until snapping back into a collaborative groove. Casady hits the root appropriately but dances around the edges while tastefully joining in disseminating a taste of the lead melody. Midway through the song Piazza’s tempo doubles and at five minutes in Kaukonen stomps the fuzz box with Casady slamming his thick four strings. Papa John, Scarlett, and Jorma wrap around a central pole, streaming flash paper melodies that rise, fall and dissipate in musical community. The group reaches an appropriate peak before falling into the final verse and conclusion.
A blues classic and main stay of the Tuna repertoire ‘Never Happen No More’ comes next. Written by Blind Blake in 1927, the ‘rag’ tells the tale of a down on his luck depression era man, the perfect fit for Jorma and Jack. Papa John is the leader of the band, laying down a mournful yet slippery consonance to Kaukonen’s rag time picking. Similar to the groups cover of ‘Want You to Know’ the band pulls the most important elements of the song and hold them up to the light for inspection.
The album closes with an extended reading of ‘Come Back Baby’, a song Jorma had been using as a spotlight piece in Airplane performances. (the Woodstock version is particularly fine) The original version was written by Walter Davis in 1940, but a number of cover versions took place in the 1960’s including well known versions by Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. The closing version for First Pull Up, Then Pull Down sets a swampy groove with Casady answering Kaukonen’s guitar with rotund thumps pounded into the empty spaces. Again, Papa John adorns the rhythm with a martellato bow attack. Once in a while Papa John elicits a colorful dropping from above in a dizzying array of descending sound. While taken at a more patient reading than some Jefferson Airplane versions, the blues form is explored by all the instrumentalists conjuring up a dirt stomping version. At around 6 minutes Jorma pours some spicy wah-wah into the stew giving a kick to everyone involved.

‘Hot Tuna’s 1971 album First Pull Up, Then Pull Down is a proper ‘Volume II’ to their debut acoustic album. The record illustrates the other side of the band’s mirror to listeners allowing them a view of their influences and abilities. Perhaps not the 'best' Hot Tuna recording, but one well worthy of your listening time. Throughout the later 1970’s the band would walk the razors edge balancing their musical personality between rock and psych ‘metal’, but always keeping the acoustic blues and electric ragtime sensibilities firmly in their grasp. The relationship between Jorma and Jack endures of 50 years on, and while the musicians and friends they work with under the banner of ‘Hot Tuna’ revolve with every trip around the sun, the principals remain.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Now Playing: Fotheringay – Beat Club 1970 – “My Shadow Follows Me”


Now playing in the ‘rock room’ is a vibrant and rare 17 min color clip of ‘Fotheringay’ filmed in October 1970 for the German Radio Bremen television show Beat Club. ‘Fotheringay’ for those unaware was the band Sandy Denny put together with husband Trevor Lucas following Sandy’s departure from ‘Fairport Convention at the end of 1969. Live footage is at a premium for Sandy and thankfully this performance finds Denny at an amazing peak as both a writer and a performer. The rhythm section of Pat Donaldson and session drummer extraordinaire Gerry Conway are as tight and in the groove as the watch pocket on a vintage pair of Levi’s. Comprising the rest of the group is as previously stated Sandy’s future husband Trevor Lucas on acoustic guitar and astronomical Telecaster player Jerry Donahue. While when originally broadcast on November 28, 1970 one track (‘Nothing Was Delivered’)was shown, now, (as of 2015 when the box set Nothing More: The Collected Works was released) we are able to enjoy the entire performance.

‘Fotheringay’ was the result of the close knit nepotism of the late 1960’s and 1970’s British folk community. Following Denny’s decision to leave ‘Fairport Convention’ to play with her boyfriend, the result was one fine studio album, a few wonderful performances, some unfinished tracks and this excellent television broadcast.
The available color pro shot footage begins with the circular patina piano of ‘Nothing More’. The song according to Denny biographer Clinton Heylin was composed about legendary guitarist and oft-band mate of Denny, Sir Richard Thompson. Long lush acoustic strums and Donahue silver threads of melody drape themselves of Denny’s piano like discarded undergarments. Donahue’s swelling resonance of the lacy verses is of particular note. Denny, speaks to the protagonist delicately, probing their emotions, wishing to see the ‘pearls’ that he hold so close that no one will ever know. Her ancient winter maple throat is unwavering and drips rich drops of sweetness throughout her deadly serious inquisition.

Musically the song dramatically fractals into moonlight through stained glass. Denny’s voice is haunting, yet steady through the developing musical storm that gains turbulence as the song cuts through emotive waters of melody. By the third verse the song floats inches above the ground, Donahue weaves around the internal euphony before taking off into an icy clean recitation of Denny’s words. Denny’s face is framed by fire, she glances over the top of the piano as the drums drop away leaving the final verse to be sung over a sparse sparkling musical sky.
The next track to follow finds Sandy standing in her flowing gown with microphone as the band organically plays the sneaky introduction to ‘Gypsy Davy’. A traditional song (arranged by Denny) that was never officially recorded by ‘Fotheringay’, here it is played with a subtle power and a rooted ethnic aesthetic. Denny sways unintentionally seductively with eyes closed as she sings the first verse the music visibly taking her away. The documented Anglo American narrative is of a noblewoman who desert her high standing in life to run away with the poor gypsy she loves. In ‘Fotheringay’s’ capable hands the song becomes a towering knotted tree, standing timelessly and straddling the musical border between rustic and contemporary. Donahue’s guitar stings the central melody with deft filigree’s of gold leaf as the able rhythm section cooks over an open fire with a particular groove that defies description.



The dramatic epic ‘John the Gun’ follows next along with Denny’s return to the piano. Recorded during sessions for the unreleased second ‘Fotheringay’ record and later rerecorded for Denny’s The North Star Grassman and the Ravens solo debut the song is in the ‘rock room’s’ opinion on of Denny’s finest. Beginning with a lick that sounds like a high speed rocker, the song proper then gets its hammer cocked and drops into the verse with a metallic down stroke from Jerry Donahue.  Denny dramatically sings the narrative with a serious yet plaintive attack. Conway punctuates each line with large splashes of cymbal work. The substantial chorus is vocally collaborative with all hands on deck leading to Donahue’s slippery silver solo spot. He takes two rounds with deft string bends twisted like molten metal. 

The story of “John the Gun” is a tale of life and death, the song is eerie, grave, and feels as the cold steel of a gun. The track is a unique Denny original which elicits traditional song. “John the Gun” plays the games of war which takes young lives because he himself was the loser of said games. Denny, melodically and lyrically winds these ideals tightly around Fotheringay’s instrumental loom until rich golden twine is produced. On stage, Sandy is lost in her muse, staring into the creative distance, enveloped in song.
The criminally short performance concludes with a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Nothing Was Delivered’. Sung by Lucas, here the song becomes a lush mossy slab of ‘Celtic funk’. Conway’s drums and weighty double kick drums hits advance the song’s natural groove. Donahue stretches some rubber banded twang from his Tele, with well-timed string bends that pop with a rustic attitude. Lucas’s straightforward vocalization fits the song hand and glove. With the conditions that Dylan originally composed the song in Upstate New York in 1967, the ‘rock room’ asserts that of the many covers of this tune, ‘Fotheringay’ puts their spade in the dirt and reveals the heart of Dylan’s intent. Regardless of ‘Peter, Paul. And Mary’s ascent of the charts with the composition in 1967, this one is tough to beat.

While unfortunately short lived, ‘Fotheringay’ was a well-timed expression for Sandy Denny, and a band of soft comfort for her fragile psyche to develop her songs. While this brief creative endeavor neither moved the earth nor traveled across the seas, the songs remain. The band for the time was of one mind, longing to express their shared love of folk and traditional music by swirling it into a uniquely original tincture. While the group would fracture, the individual members bonds would remain and they would mix and match over the short years left for Denny. This special footage of ‘Fotheringay’ at the Beat Club 1970 should be treasured and enjoyed by those who witness it.  It’s a lucky star that it even still exists and luckier still with the minuscule amount of celluloid tape available to fans and critics alike.



Sunday, December 1, 2019

Fred Neil – Hootenanny Live At the Bitter End – “Drop the Atom Bomb the Day My Ship Comes In”


Revolving in the ‘rock room’ today is an obscure mono folk record from the FM label released in 1964. The LP titled, Hootenanny – Live At the Bitter End spotlights a number of artists from the heady days of the Greenwich folk scene which included familiar artists like, Bob Dylan, John Sebastian and the focus of today’s ‘rock room’ rant, Fred Neil. Famously known as the composer of the song “Everybody’s Talkin”, Neil towered above the majority of artists that passed through The Bitter End as is illustrated on the record. As famed critic Richie Unterberger stated in his review of the LP:  “All of the other performers sing sincere, twee coffeehouse folk that illustrates (if only in retrospect) just how necessary it was for gutsier artists like Neil to come along and blow them out of the water”.

Neil performs three songs (hailing from 1963) on the record in his far out folk blues fashion. Leading on strident 12 string acoustic guitar, Neil with unknown backing musicians (on bass and harp respectively) ties everything together like tightly knotted rope. No disrespect to fellow artists featured on the record, Bob Carey, Len Chandler and Jo Mapes, but when the record is played in its entirety it is obvious to the ‘rock room’ who is the timeless talent. Prior to Neil appearing on the Hootenanny record he had released a number of rare singles (1957-1960) while quickly falling out of the ‘Brill Building’ school of songwriting. Following Hootenanny, Neil would record the influential, Tear Down the Walls record with fellow folkie Vince Martin and later following with four of his own solo recordings.

The first of three Neil songs on the record is “Linin Track” recorded by Huddie Ledbetter. Neil sits in the lead engine car initiating the groove. Neil states, “I heard that all Bitter End people have rhythm” as his wiry 12 string scrubs rock into a unique folk blues groove. “Linin Track” rises like locomotive steam as it races down the track. Neil is accompanied by as previously stated an unknown bass player who thumps out a mantra on the standup. Neil starts off the song with his ethnic box car chording. The strident and seductive percussion less rhythm expands and contracts as Neil bellows over the top of the rocky churn. His hearty voice elongating the verses and deep diving into the lower register. Midway through the song and through the musical smoke Neil shouts, “Here We Go” as he initiates another round of fibrous riffing. “Linin Track” languidly veers off course and segues seamlessly into “Grizzly Bear”; a 1962 single for Jake Scott which was co-written by Neil.
Neil begins to shout out the lyrics and then the dynamic call and response chorus to “Grizzly Bear” while requesting that Village singer/songwriter Major Wiley come on stage and assist with the lyrical echoes. Rolling down the mountain and through the briars and brambles Neil gets the “Bitter End” and Major to collaboratively get down. Neil brings the chunky groove lower and lower until concluding the “Linin Track’ bookend with a reprise. The crowd responds loudly and the vibe is bright.

The next track on the LP, “Sky Is Falling” is a Fred Neil original that never made it on one of his official LP’s.  Here again, Neil is joined by an unknown bass player who lends a warm walking bass line to the track. Neil precipitates a ticklish acoustic prelude before beginning the lyrics with his irresistible golden tenor. Neil croons his unique brand of blues, contemplating the falling sky and the eventual world “fall out”. Loose and intimate the song levitates between earth and sky, delicately balanced on Neil’s internal syncopation. Neil really huffs and puffs on the golden horn for the last verse as his voice hits spots where the listener can ‘feel’ it.

Neil introduces the final song on the album as, “another work song I learned from Bobby Dylan”. A humorous aside as Dylan actually backed Neil at the “Bitter End” in 1961 and they often traveled in many of the same Greenwich songwriting circles. “That’s the Bag I’m In” follows and is a Neil original that would later be recorded on 1966’s self-titled album Fred Neil.

A ‘rock room’ favorite and a Fred Neil classic, “That’s the Bag I’m In” begins on a circular fingerpicked lick and lists a litany of “shit happens” moments to our narrator. He immediately burns his fingers on the coffee pot and misses his connection amongst other unfortunate daily events. Eventually, “same thing gonna happen again, cause that’s the bag I’m in”.  The version here is a bit faster than the eventual studio recording with a kenetic strumming pattern. Another unknown musician joins Neil, this time on harmonica. I will throw it out there that I believe this spectral player to be John Sebastian (who often played in the Village and with Neil). Neil states to the player, “Get the bag” as both he and Neil accelerate the tempo and enter into a guitar/harp run through the changes. Connecting the dots and dressed with off mic asides, Neil sings the opening verse again to conclude the song with some gritty gusto on the exiting words.
In the ‘rock room’s meaningless opinion, Fred Neil is one of the finest songwriters to be birthed from the early 1960’s coffeehouse folk “hootenannies”. While some of these talented artists became bigger than they could ever imagine, some like Neil have not even been given the benefit of hindsight. Obviously his compositions such as “Everybody’s Talkin” and “Dolphins” have endured and influenced over the years, yet the man is still underrepresented. David Crosby, Bob Dylan, Tim Buckley, John Sebastian and Joni Mitchell are only a few of the famed and talented songwriters whom were assisted or inspired by Neil. Full scale musical acceptance would allude Neil for his entire life but he would contribute to the world in other ways. Neil would slowly retreat from music and head for the deep. His work with ocean and dolphin preservation would become his calling and he would leave an indelible mark on it just as he had as a songwriter.




Monday, November 18, 2019

Now Playing - The Grateful Dead - April 3, 1982 Scarlet Begonias->Fire On the Mountain – “Loose On The Town”


Now playing in the ‘rock room’ is the second set opener from the Grateful Dead’s April 3, 1982 concert at the Scope in Norfolk, Virginia. The Grateful Dead’s 1982 spring tour had begun with a rough and rockin’ show the evening before in Durham, NC, but this particular evening in Norfolk was a completely different affair. The entire show has a hallucinatory vibration that permeates the proceedings and lends the performance one of those rarified airs that tell the attendee and listener that it’s going to get stranger. The second set opening 25 minute “Scarlet Begonias-> Fire on the Mountain” is proof of this statement. The duo is a unique rendition featuring a particular segue between the songs and spectacular playing by all involved. For people that are into this sort of thing, this is also the Grateful Dead tour where Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh changed sides of the stage (the evening before). This factor could also be one of the reasons for the deep musical connection between Mydland and Garcia on this night.

I am listening to the wonderfully dynamic Bob Wagner/Charlie Miller audience recording as I write this rant. There is a Miller soundboard also available to enjoy, but in the ‘rock room’s’ humble opinion the Wagner is the way to go. The soundboards, especially from this era are terribly sterile, but the power of this performance nudged me to check it out as well.  As I stated above one can feel creativity in the air as the opening set of the concert spotlighted a well improvised “Bird Song’ and a crushing closing version of “Let It Grow” setting the table for the aural feast to follow. I was not planning on reviewing anything today let alone the whole show, but the stunning second set opener changed my plans for the afternoon.

“Scarlet” begins the second set with a smoky feel, slowly ignited like the rich oils of an incense stick. Brent Mydland washes the groove with thick Hammond organ swells and once Garcia enters with the vocals the tempo increases and the band is immediately locked in. Garcia is singing well and the band is fully invested in the medley.

The mid song Garcia solo is super fine, with Jerry taking five spins around the melodic track, culminating in a finale of bubbly scrubs. His melodic prowess on full display. Following the final lyric, the band quotes the “Scarlet” theme with Mydland in particular inflating the jam with airy key strokes. Garcia sets the tempo with lush strums revealing the pair of song’s rich and creamy center. Mydland again quotes the “Scarlet” theme under the percolating band before disassembling it into an array of crystalline fractals. Garcia’s plump tone is blue and icy, while the ambiance of the room comes through clearly as Garcia probes the landscape with prickly fret work. Weir works his neck as well with jittery strums that underpin Garcia’s fingers. The drummers work their cymbals and toms in conjunction increasing the groove while Lesh plays hide and seek underneath the rhythm. Lesh comes through on headphones much clearer, with both the audience and soundboard recordings unfortunately being a bit light on the bass.
At 9.5 minutes the band begins to coagulate. Garcia and Weir hook arms as Jerry finds something he really likes. Garcia hits the tickle spot and repeats, then adjusts, repeats and explores some more before knocking on the door of a danceable groove which he touches on before continuing on with the exploration. Weir is stunning in his clairvoyance, taking off ahead of Garcia before landing right next to him seamlessly. At a bit past 10 minutes Garcia settles into orbit, covering the song in a thick blanket of stars. Brent and Weir circle with him, folding the segue over onto itself. Garcia keeps lowering the jam, not in tempo but in dynamics, Garcia becomes a psychedelic clock, tic-tocking in slowed time. The crowd knows something is up and can be felt on the audience recording buzzing along.

Off on the distant horizon “Fire on the Mountain" waits, but it cannot yet be felt. Garcia blows on the embers hoping for flame, at 12 minutes he has taken the tune to no man’s land, where everything hangs in the balance. At around 12:30 the jam almost reaches silence whereas Weir, Brent and the drummers join Garcia in a plucky euphoric space. Destination has been reached and the firewall has been breached. The weightless circular Garcia riff wears off its edges while gaining traction. The melodic friction helps to mitigate a groove. Garcia then tickles higher on the neck waiting to feel the warmth from his musical embers while the beat boils. “Scarlet” is quickly quoted like a streetlamp passing by a car window, Mickey then slams a floor tom, Phil slides up his bass neck and the new fertile land between “Scarlet” and “Fire” has been discovered. Seamlessly the band gathers around the substantial mountain flames and “Fire on the Mountain” begins.

Similarly to the entire evening’s performance, Garcia continues his streak of pulling clandestine and unique melodies from a familiar structure. Lesh is now fully amped and very active and leads the way toward the incendiary summit. The first “Fire” solo is brassy and full of honk. By the final solo, Jerry plays with a clean tone while adding the filigrees and additional licks that always make a ‘normal’ reading into a special version. The rest of the concert follows in kind with a well played "Estimated->Eyes" to follow and a hearty post space "NFA".
For the Grateful Dead spring tour 1982 was an era where Brent Mydland had been fully assimilated into the group mind. While not a time as recognized as something like Spring 77, the period holds a number of unique and powerhouse performances. ( See: Hartford and Baltimore) While the Grateful Dead in the 1980's were heading toward bigger venues and larger internal problems, they were still able to access the gestalt linkage on lucky nights. In every Grateful Dead performance there is something unique to be discovered; and in the spring of 1982 these moments often occurred every night.


Grateful Dead The Scope 4-3-1982

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Ian McLagan and the Bump Band - 2014 LP United States - "Send You A Love Letter"

Ian McLagan was always a busy man. In between his numerous live performances with a plethora of artists as well as his work in preserving the memory of his beloved band of brothers the Small Faces, he found the time to record albums of his own original music. Today in the "rock room" spins his 2014 album United States. In what would be his final LP before his untimely death in December of 2014, United States is packed tight with good music, crossing musical borders with McLagan’s current then collection of friends in the Bump Band.

McLagan is, of course, a legend; not only in the minds of Small Faces and Faces fans, but for the massive scroll of musicians who have brought him in to augment their own musical creations,including Recognizable names such as Jackson Browne, Warren Haynes, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Paul Weller, Buddy Guy and others to numerous to mention. With the Bump Band, McLagan offered a musical collection that dips into his deep, cool well of influences, experience and professionalism.

Developed on the road with the Bump Band, which was originally established in 1977, United States features Jud Newcomb on bass, Conrad Choucroun on drums, multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Jon Notarthomas and McLagan on all things containing black and white keys. The project, which followed 2009’s soul searching and sometimes melancholy Never Say Never, exhibits a boozy swagger, cowboy attitude, and examines deep human relations.

Ian McLagan’s musical creations reveal in their details exactly how much melodic influence he was responsible for over the course of his 50-plus year career. He was the multifaceted R&B color in the Small Faces, and the gritty swagger behind many of the Faces’ legendary compositions — in addition to being a hired heavy left hand when the Stones needed it. The opening song on United States, “All I Wanna Do,” demonstrates this aforementioned swagger, featuring dank Fender Rhodes verses dropping into a ropy chorus breakdown, all of which is is later punctuated with Mac’s credible and breezy keyboard attack.
The following number, “Pure Gold,” is exactly that: The song contains a recognizable fruity delicacy that is the McLagan groove. The swirling organ driven melody is as cool as the icy sweat running down the side of a mixed drink, while it sounds like the Stones are playing in the background. McLagan’s vocals work in gravel contrast to the glittering music, though they coexist in perfect harmony. Vocals have never been McLagan’s greatest strength, of course, but over the years he has developed his own successful approach, gruff and emotive, similar to the styling of friend and former band mate Ronnie Wood.

The album continues with a truthful and vintage sound that exists without sounding dated, unfolding as an unpretentious display of an artist staying true to what he and his band do best, which is playing uncompromising rock ‘n’ roll and R&B.

“Don’t Say Nothing” begins dramatically on cathedral piano but, by the time the chorus enters, the song has become a smoldering slab of soul that climaxes excitedly. “I’m Your Baby Now,” with its streetlight groove, is a practiced concert favorite that sneaks around on slick slide guitar and barrelhouse piano rolls. “Mean Old World” brings to mind McLagan’s intimate duo shows with Notarthomas, unfolding as a personal piece of self examination with piano and guitar. Mac has always been able to pull a beautiful ballad from his fingers. The years have been kind to McLagan’s maturing abilities as a songwriter and interpreter, and his penchant for embracing sparse melodies are a gift passed down by partner and friend Ronnie Lane.

“Love Letter” is memorable, sealed with a tasty pop hook that supports the wistful lyrics and trademark Ian McLagan organ embellishments. The song’s melodic strength should have earned it deserved attention as far as circulation and airplay. The foreboding and funky “Who Says It Ain’t Love” is a total contrast to the airy “Love Letter,” featuring thick thumping drums and multiple layers of McLagan’s haunted musings. The track is a dark highlight of the resplendent collection, slithering in on a watery piano glissando that precedes the spectral blues-like changes. “Shlalala” follows, and despite its simplistic title, the song is a punchy pop number with a sing-along chorus, highlighted by another series of fiery soloing by both Notarthomas and McLagan.
United States concludes with two diverse and enticing songs, the first a jazzy attic portrait, the second comprised of colorful yearning. “How Blue” is a vaudevillian number that sounds like it could have been recorded in any era and with any band that McLagan has performed with in his career. Those familiar with his history know that a touch of vaudeville can always be found in Mac's tunes. "How Blue" retains a timeless energy and acts as a contrasting prelude to the beautiful closing song of the collection. “He’s Not for You” contains a south-of-the-border aesthetic, offering a precautionary warning message in the lyrics. Leigh Mahoney raises the stakes on violin, lending an air of class to the pub-crawling collection of musicians who swing on this number like a flawless brass pendulum in perfect time.

It’s comforting to revisit Ian McLagan and the Bump Band's final recorded output in the "rock room". In this age of plastic musical progress, songs where frills are kept to a minimum and honesty is the best policy are becoming harder to find. These wonderful musicians play songs for folks who like rock and roll and great songwriting. Ian McLagan is sorely missed and the Austin music scene as well as the world of rock and roll will always lack his unique music and personality. Hopefully Mac continues to jam in the next plane, where the beer will always be cold and the music is guaranteed to be heavenly.












Thursday, November 7, 2019

Put The Boot In: The New Yardbirds become Led Zeppelin 2-14-69 Miami - 'A Valentines Day Massacre!'


     

Today's edition of "Put the Boot In" is looking at a pivotal and albeit amazing performance from Led Zeppelin's first American tour in early 1969. This performance is from Thee Image Club in North Miami beach Florida on Valentines Day 1969. The show comes from an audience recorded bootleg and released on the Tarantula label under the moniker "Yellow Zeppelin" After listening to this show I think a more apt title would be "A Saint Valentines Day Massacre", based on the way this early flight of Led Zeppelin bombards the unsuspecting crowd. The recording itself sounds great for an late 1960's recorded audience recording. The bass is slightly muffled at points and there is the obvious distortion issues based on the loudness of the band. But all in all, Jimmy is amped and Robert's vocals cut through the din. Bonzo's drums are gonna be audible no matter what! If you're looking for letter ratings this show gets a "B" for sound, but an "A" for performance. Just tune in, turn on, and crank up this recording and you will find it is a very enjoyable way to spend ninety minutes. In less that two years Zeppelin's popularity would know no bounds, and its recordings like this that show the band in its infancy, taking chances, and blowing minds.

The recording starts with John Bonham hammering out the tempo to the era specific opener, "Train Kept A Rollin". While the recording echoes slightly, once Jimmy's Yardbird's Telecaster slices through the electric air like an aerodynamic missile, any sound issues are forgiven. I can't comprehend what the crowd in attendance was thinking when this fire breathing beast walked on the stage. Led Zeppelin I had only been out since January, and while it was starting to move on the charts, the band was still relatively unknown. "Train" blasts down the tracks at a furious rate until it slams head on into the back of "I Can't Quit You Baby". Robert Plant absolutely howls the lyrics to this blues classic in such a way, that the thought crosses my mind that he may be the greatest vocalist ever! The show starts off that intensely! Jimmy Page's spry fingers scurry across the the fretboard like a spider searching for a dark corner. The detail and natural vibrato in this fingers is fascinating to hear even on this distant field recording. After the exhaustive opening Robert introduces the next song as being from their new LP that is 'currently doing pretty well, apparently". John Paul Jones plays the opening figure of "Dazed and Confused to light applause. "Dazed" is a song that underwent numerous changes over the course of its life, and was one of Zeppelin's main vehicles for improvisation.

These early first LP era versions are boiling over with energy and always contain a mystery or two. The Page bow sequence is very dark and very psychedelic, and has yet to fall into the "themes" that would become standard in later versions. Robert echoes Page's riffs with erotic groans and quotes some "Sugar Time" lyrics. When the band comes back together the rhythm section takes off from the starting gate like a shot. John Paul and Bonham so in the pocket that you couldn't get a drum machine to replicate their tightness. Jimmy surfs along the top with riff after riff, some familiar and some not so much, but all effective. Jimmy's guitar is so loud at this point in the recording I have to chuckle to myself. The music is vibrating with beautiful chaos at this point. The call and response between Robert and Jimmy is right on, its hard to believe the band has been together for less that six months, and are this good. During this era I have always thought there is something other worldly about the sound of Jimmy's 1959/60 Dragon Telecaster. There is an indescribable knife edge quality to Jimmy's attack that guitar players have been trying to replicate for years. This performance is full of consummate examples of that classic sound.

"Dazed and Confused" climaxes and concludes, but special notice must go to Jimmy's hallucinatory muted guitar lines after the return to the song, and before the final chord. Slippery and understated, Page's riffs are euphoric in their statement, a stand out moment of the song. The crowd reciprocates in generous applause as Zeppelin continues the show with "The Lemon Song/Killing Floor". This in my humble opinion is the best performance of the first half of the show thus far. The band rips into the double time segment of this song with such abandon that I play this part back three different times to gain a full appreciation. At this point all of the instrumentalist's are clear on the recording, and the band is cooking like a pasty tourist in the steamy Florida sunshine. Jimmy plays with a slightly clean tone that makes his riffs ring with a bell like quality. The true magic cast during this performance occurs when the band hits the "squeeze my lemon" breakdown. Page kicks his "crybaby" on and lays down a series of thick milky leads as Plant scats and quotes lyrics from the tune, "I Think You Need A Shot". Page's guitar continues to peel kaleidoscopic notes as the band picks up momentum. Suddenly we are back into the double time jam as the band rings all of the juice from this lemon, and crashes to a satisfying conclusion. Hats off to the entire band for a unique and special jam.



 Unfortunately after such a intense first half of the show the band enters into a slightly out of tune and ragged, "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You". This can be forgiven based on the music that proceeded it, but the song pails in contrast to the proceeding jams. The track is much better suited to an acoustic reading, but still an A for effort.It's easy to understand why the song was eventually dropped from future set lists. The final track on my disc one is "How Many More Times" and it shakes the windows and rattles the walls with no other than John Henry Bonham leading the charge. At one point during the improv Bohnam and Page enter a call and response that is devastating in its accuracy and concentrated energy. Page goes into duets with every member of the band at some point who then bounce back every idea that he throws out. A perfectly played game of rock tennis. Eventually Page hits on a quintessential Zep riff and the band locks into a thunderous jam with all hands on deck. As soon as the band locks onto an idea, Page starts to lead them on another journey toward Mordor. Page gets so far out with his licks before the Bolero segment that John Paul lets go with a series of sliding bass lines that may induce dizziness. It's a shame that this version of "How Many More Times" cuts shortly after the concerts second "bow" interlude. I am of the opinion that this is one of the finest early Zeppelin shows I have heard, and if a soundboard ever surfaced it would yield amazing treasures. The second bow interlude is as euphoric and dark as the earlier "Dazed" breakdown, but quietly fades just as the band is ready to turn another corner. Damn! Oh well, I must be thankful for the bit that circulates and that we can all enjoy.

 The second disc starts with Page on stage solo for his spotlight, playing "White Summer/Black Mountainside". This version, like all of them contains unique improvisations within the basic structure of the song cycle. While nothing jumps out at me for being completely special, this is a well played version with Jimmy playing concisely. This Page spotlight acts as the "whisper to the thunder" that follows. I am barely prepared for the following "As Long as I Have You" that startles me out of my seat with a crashing guitar strike by Jimmy. Unbridled power is all that comes to mind as the band roughs up the crowd with this naked display of brute strength and musical ability. At this point in the band's career they were lacking original compositions, so songs like "As Long As I Have You" were their main improvisational vehicles until tunes like 'Whole Lotta Love" came into the rotation. There are a few versions of this song available on other Zep boots such as 4/24/69 and 4/27/69 which contain soundboard sound quality and arguably more mature performances. But this in no way dampens the astonishing intensity of this audience recording. Intensity may be too broad a term for this jam, as it is full of dynamics, light, shade, and careful instrumental placement. But it is played with such enthusiasm and strength that intensity seems an apt description.

 At around five minutes into the song things really heat up as Bonham and Page start to churn a delicious groove that just rumbles quietly until igniting into a "Mockingbird" jam. Jimmy has his "Wah Wah" emanating a slippery whine behind Robert's bellowing vocals. The jam suddenly drives into a heavy syncopated rock and roll swing with Page laying down his most impressive "Yardbird" riffs which are marinated in a spicy psychedelic sauce. Riff after riff is shot out like machine gun ordnance until they climax into a long sound wave of guitar feedback  that segues into a wordless Robert Plant scream recital. Led Zeppelin is now a tight and smoking R&B band strutting their stuff across the darkened stage. "As Long As I Have You" epitomizes the early Led Zeppelin ideal, and gives fans a glimpse into the band's influences, and a peek at the "nuts and bolts" of the group. This is Led Zeppelin broken into their primal elements. At one moment the band is a sharp toothed beast clawing its way toward your throat, at another a dancing gazelle gliding across the landscape.

 Taking a brief pause Robert Plant speaks to the breathless audience, "In spite of the high spirits we are going to do a blues". What follows is a clinic in "white boy blues" put on display by the band. "You Shook Me" was a staple of the band's early sets, and it never failed to ignite the band into a lumbering blues swing. Plant channels all of his blues idols and regurgitates their influence in a primitive and ancient scream. It's amazing how tied into each others performances Page and Plant are even at this early stage of the band's career. There are numerous versions of "You Shook Me" available in the Zeppelin bootleg world, but its versions like this that make me shutter. I have to say I believe that the other British blues/rock bands at the time (Cream, Stones, Fleetwood Mac) paled in comparison to the "Zep" interpretations of the blues during their early career.

The concert recording ends with what Zeppelin fans know as an early version of "Moby Dick", lovingly named "Pat's Delight" after John Bonham's wife. I am not aware if this is indeed the true end of the concert, but it does end the recording I have and my review. Book ended by an instrumental passage to set the stage, "Pat's Delight is thirteen minutes of recognizable and thundering John Bohnam drumming. Double and triple paradiddles scream by the audience at speeds unknown to modern drummers except maybe Buddy Rich. I love that during Bonham's spotlight people near the recording gear can be heard letting out hoots and hollers as they watch Bonham unleash on his kit with superhuman strength. A highlight of hundreds of Zeppelin concerts this segment is another chance to listen in awe to the natural wonder which is John Henry Bonham.

 This early field recording of of a young and hungry Led Zeppelin illustrates the four distinct, yet still developing personalities beginning the construction of their empire. The defiant Robert Plant, the magical Jimmy Page, the stoic John Paul Jones, and the animal John Bonham, learning to listen to one another and to develop a rapport that has been unequaled in rock and roll. The future after this concert will be filled with legendary and incredible performances by an older and more mature band. In contrast, these early concerts demonstrate a band learning on the fly, experimenting, and having fun traveling into the unknown. By developing medieval science's and myth, the band will create a mystical stew that will metamorphosis into something the four musician's could only fathom in their dreams. Sit down with this recording and witness Led Zeppelin in their infancy, hear musical giants change the landscape of rock, and be a part of a magical musical ritual that continues to this very day.













Friday, November 1, 2019

Take One: Richard Thompson – 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – “To Ride”


Accelerating from the speakers of the ‘rock room’ today is a song that was listed by Time magazine as one of its “All Time 100 Songs”. The song was birthed as a nondescript album track on Richard Thompson’s 1991 LP Rumor and Sigh and in the intervening years has become one of his most beloved cuts. The tune has since been covered by a plethora of artists and admirers including but not limited to Del McCoury, Jim Henry and Bob Dylan. If Bob Dylan covers one of your tunes, I think it's safe to say you have made it as a songwriter. For Thompson, the song is a concert staple up through this day requiring only himself and an acoustic guitar. 

Thompson’s songwriting has always been and continues to be full of dark imagery and magical accompaniment; in many ways this song could be viewed as a fitting culmination of all of his career successes. Thompson deftly conjures mystery from both pastoral and suburban landscapes, he pulls from both conscious and subconscious narrators. It’s an unknown commodity to understand the connection between a song and its developed audience. While there is no doubting the diverse and inspired amount of music Richard Thompson has made throughout his career with ‘Fairport Convention’, Linda Thompson, and as a solo artist, the song ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ was a flash caught in a bottle and has become a Calvary cross for the career of Thompson.

Thematically the song encapsulates, myth, sexuality, attraction, and danger in a glistening chrome package of steel strings. Thompson prior to a performance of the song described it as, It's a simple boy meets girl story, complicated somewhat by the presence of a motorcycle". By using an “object of myth” like the unbelievably rare 1952 Vincent Black Thompson taps into every young man’s psyche of Thompson’s time, or actually of any time. Only a handful (31 total) of the unbelievably fast bikes were manufactured and one can assume the legendary machine made quite an impression on the young Thompson. As an aside, recently (2018) one of the motorbikes sold for $929,000 US dollars. A red headed girl, a bike, leather and a series of crimes performed to get said bike inject the song with a cinematic romance that permeates all of Thomson’s compositions but in this particular instance, bleed out in Technicolor.

The song begins with Thompson’s recognizable hybrid picking (also called Travis picking) resplendently sparkling like a sun kissed highway. Thompson plucks out the central riff as one of two protagonist's ‘Red Molly’ sees James and his bike of the first time. It must be noted that in addition to the compositional majesty of this song, please watch Richard play it live HERE to understand and grasp the virtuosity on display to develop the central riff of the tune. For guitar players witnessing the fret reach of Thompson’s nimble fingers is awe inspiring enough.
James and Red Molly share an attraction that is consolidated with the Vincent. With minimal internal relationship details revealed lyrically, the music assists the narrative with Thompson’s dark deep oil vocal pouring out emotion at the end of each stanza. James promises via a ring to ‘Red Molly’ that his prized possession will be hers someday as the implication that she is the only love true enough to be gifted his Vincent.

Conversational in tone, dramatic in feel the song takes the listener around hair pin corners. It flies past in a blur with guitar and vocals wind swept in inspiration. Mid song Thompson separates the verses with a dramatic string stretching that diverges from the normal picking of the song. The lovers are quickly torn apart because of James checkered past (he had been robbing since age 17 to get his Vincent) when he takes a shotgun blast to the chest. Dramatically the music increases its intensity transparently as the narrative reaches its crux. You’ve heard the famous adage about speaking about music is like dancing about architecture, well in this case the ‘rock room’ will be quiet and let the song sing for itself.

In current performances the song has rounded off the rough edges found in early renditions. During one concert from 2002 referenced on the Richard Thompson discussion site RT List, it is stated that one lucky crowd got to hear additional lyrics not contained on the studio version of the song. Thompson referred to the ‘missing’ lyrics as the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the song. The lyrics were transcribed as follows:

Reported as following opening verse:
Says James this Black Lightning is a fine pedigree
On the Bonneville Salt Flats in the hands of Rollie Free
A factory model not rebored no tricks
The speed always steady on 146
They smashed through the land speed record that day
So I just had to have my own come one May
So you see it's a matter of some pride, that Vincent is the mark that I must
ride


Reported as following the final verse:
Well Molly stole his body from the hospital bed
Said we'll give him a decent burial yet
They cremated him out in the dark cold rain
Then they stripped his fuel tank right off the frame
Then they poured in his ashes as the (unknown word) flowed
I buried him there with a view of the road
And even the hard men cried
And forever on his Vincent he rides


The ‘rock room’ has been unable to find a version of the song with the aforementioned lyrics performed. If you have one, please let me know! One additional aspect that makes Thompson’s live versions unique is the lyric where he sings three makes of motorcycles that, ‘don’t have a soul like a Vincent 52’. Thompson likes to plug in a number of different bikes that fail to reach the standard of the Vincent, famous makers such as, Ducati, Harley, and Triumph.
With such a bottomless musical well of pure English inspiration, to focus on one Richard Thompson track seems a fool’s folly. Regardless, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” is only one tree poking its head above a lush green canopy of melodic treetops. Richard is a treasure for a myriad of reasons, his unique native voice, his guitar playing fingerprint unlike any other, and his ability to turn out an original tale. The aforementioned factors that make him wonderful, are also the reasons he has dodged ‘mainstream’ popularity, all the while remaining true to his muse.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Rock Room on the Road: John Sebastian -' Magical Connection' - Live at the Cafe Veritas 2013 Rochester, NY

Today in the ‘rock room’ I am thumbing through a stack of dog-eared ticket stubs while doing some musicial organization. While reflecting on some of the amazing concerts I have attended in my years I came across my review of a stunning John Sebastian concert I attended in a small cafĂ© in Rochester, NY in 2013. It is here that I have decided to share the text with you, my dear reader.

John Sebastian’s solo acoustic performance at the Cafe Veritas in Rochester on December 7th, 2013 was not only a musical cross-section of Sebastian’s hall of fame career, but an intimate investigation of the roots of the music that has influenced John Sebastian and a collective of generations. The softly lit room was accented by candles and featured as its centerpiece a slightly elevated wooden stage and large colorful peace symbol. The sold out crowd welcomed Sebastian who appeared, dressed in black with acoustic guitar and bright flashing smile. After gently chiding an audience member who was preparing to take pictures, Sebastian made it crystal clear he wanted the crowd’s undivided and complete attention. The evening would trace Sebastian’s humble beginnings as a Greenwich Village folk musician, gaze as his numerous gold records as a member of the Lovin Spoonful, and examine his deep love of jug band and blues music.

To start the show, Sebastian began to pick the indigo opening to Mississippi John Hurt’s ‘I’m Satisfied’. Sebastian’s voice still reveals glimpses of his younger throat that once contained honey, but now has a pinch of gravel and a blues man’s grit. Throughout the evening Sebastian would frame the songs with extended dialogues expressing the genesis of his songwriting, his Lovin' Spoonful  band mates, influences and family. 

The following chunky slice of finger picked blues called ‘Don’t Stop’ prefaced a trio of Lovin' Spoonful tracks who many in the crowd were highly anticipating.  Sebastian paused prior to these numbers and spoke nostalgically about his love for Motown and how it influenced his development as an artist. During this interesting discussion Sebastian started to strum the classic Motown hit ‘Heatwave’ slowly speeding the riff up, eventually morphing it into the introduction of the Spoonful’s own ‘Do You Believe In Magic? An amazing glimpse into the genesis of one of the 1960’s most enduring songs, and a prime example of the concert’s’ enjoyable ‘show and tell’ design.
‘You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’, and a definitive version of ‘Younger Girl’ followed, musically warming up the crowd who watched in rapt amazement. Sebastian encouraged a singalong atmosphere, and smiled often, singing directly to the crowd like an old time Greenwich folkie. His perfect guitar strikes emitting golden notes, clear as a crisp winter night, expressed immaculately by the acoustics of the room. Sebastian switched between two hollow bodied acoustic/electric guitars throughout the evening, both instruments delivering clarity and tone, his voice, slightly weary from the years, but full of expressiveness and rich personality.

Following the excitement created by the mini Spoonful set, John quieted things down, first speaking of his children and wife lovingly, then performing a version of ‘Strings of Your Heart’ as fragile as a rare bird’s egg. Keeping with the theme, Sebastian then, in beautifully tender fashion delivered an instrumental lullaby he used to put his boys to sleep with. Intricate and weightless, Sebastian eyes were closed tight, lost in the music, picking the crystalline melody, culminating in an absolute high point of the evening.

Sebastian then leaned casually on his guitar and proceeded to tell a humorous anecdote about his going out of style at least ‘four or five times’ over his career, and that one of the times he went back in style was with the famous ‘Welcome Back’. A jubilant singalong followed with Sebastian crooning the popular theme song he wrote for the historic television comedy. Highly enjoyable, and truly a piece of ‘good time music’ as the Spoonful’s credo used to be, the crowd responded with tremendous applause.

Another solid track off of Sebastian and Grisman’s 2007 album Satisfied came next with ‘Passing Fantasy’, before moving into another developed dialog where Sebastian explained in greater detail his relationship with Mississippi John Hurt. Sebastian then displayed to the crowd a few finger picking techniques ‘borrowed’ from Hurt using the examples to slide seamlessly into a stomping version of ‘Lovin You’, the opening song from 1968’s Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful. Stunning. A favorite of the concert and an all-time favorite of the ‘rock room’. The show reached another grand peak and a pair of Lovin' Spoonful numbers followed quickly and definitively closed the 75 minute set. ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?’ and ‘Daydream’, perhaps the most beloved song in the Spoonful catalog, closed the show to a complete standing ovation. Sebastian a true entertainer, playing to the crowd, interacting with them on musical and conversational levels left the stage to boisterous applause.

But luckily for us in attendance, Sebastian had one final surprise in store, reappearing with only a harmonica in hand to stand solo at the microphone. Sebastian, whose father was a famous classically trained harmonica player, instilled in him a love and respect for the instrument. Sebastian stated that in his home, ‘the harmonica was not a toy’, so for those of us in the crowd that were hoping for a bit of harp playing, we were in for a treat. As an aside, for those not aware the harp playing you hear on the ‘Doors’ famous radio cut ‘Roadhouse Blues’ is none other than John Sebastian.  Sebastian then plowed through an extended harp journey that wailed and wined with the historic breath of rock and roll and blues, displaying all the tricks of this virtuoso player. The performance could have concluded only one way, and Sebastian hit it perfectly with an awe inspiring display. A moment that I will remember forever.

John Sebastian created a musical atmosphere at the Cafe Veritas that encouraged attentiveness, revealed musical secrets, and encouraged audience interaction. The performance hearkened back to the early coffee house performances of the 1960’s in content as well as attentiveness by the performer. It’s refreshing to witness an artist so at ease with his legacy, and concentrated on delivering the goods to his audience even after all of these years. If you have the opportunity to catch the legend in his element do not hesitate, you will walk away satisfied.

Sebastian and Grisman - I'm Satisfied (Album)

Monday, October 14, 2019

Take One: David Bowie: Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) -Endless Faith

Spinning in the ‘rock room’ today with a touch Fall in the air is David Bowie’s first new musical (at the time) composition since 2013’s The Next Day. The adventurous single “Sue (Or In a Season of Crime), is a seven-minute jazz epic with the 17 piece Maria Schneider Orchestra. The song was originally featured as a new addition to the forthcoming Bowie Nothing Has Changed compilation. The song vocally elicits images of Tim Buckley’s atonal late-1960s albums more than anything from Bowie’s previous work. Instrumentally the song flows over rocks and flashes imagery across an aural silver screen through punctuated horn lines and orchestrated counter melodies.

Opening with water drenched swells and sensual horn blasts, “Sue” moves kinetically on erratic teletype percussion. In contrast, longing horns and an elastically crooned melody line react to each other like to repellant magnets. The track breathes with an internal pulse of a stand up bass. Bowie is in great throat, and enters into hand-to-hand combat with the swelling horn punctuation's. When his vocals dissipate, it’s all about the racing jazz kit and blowing newspaper brass.

The song’s rhythm continuously drops in and out of consciousness, disorientating the listener and detaching then from the song proper to dip them into unknown aural mysteries. The sounds fell like Bowie has stirred his eternal pot of influences into one cerebral and cinematic display. Miles ends up meeting Frank Sinatra, who then rings up Frank Zappa, as this multifarious compositional display unfolds.
A sinister theme develops in the lyrics. Is someone helping or hurting? Has the narrator given up and committed the ultimate crime? The claustrophobic orchestration drops away leaving cinematic swells and brisk snare work at the point in which the narrator finds Sue’s note. Bowie moans in spooky omnipotence Chaos ensues, the horns moan Bowie’s melody line before submerging into a dizzying array of rising bubbles. It is in this sparkling drift that the remainder of the song sinks to silence.
A promotion video for the track can be found here, a gritty urban film noir representation of the song.

The cut would later be re-recorded for Bowie’s final studio LP, 2016’s Blackstar featuring as an album track.On this version from the album, the loose jazz improv is been reigned in to a tight pocket where the central pulse is played by electric guitar. A number of substantial peaks roar with white noise swells and static following each Bowie verse. Spectral drones and moaning glacial keyboards wash Bowie’s haunting vocals in. Bowie reached differing levels of menace in both versions of the song, a testament to his continued creativity even in his later recordings.  Both of the versions reveal an aural personality aspect through their unique explorations.

Once again, David Bowie had given his fans a unique and inexpiable musical statement that holds onto no preconceived ideas or past glories. “Sue” was an amazing precursor to what the reclusive legend had percolating in his mind for his next and sadly final move. Obviously, Bowie’s work was still leaving all possible labels and descriptions behind and reaching for new compositional vistas.

Bowie - Sue Extended Version