Talk From The Rock Room: February 2019

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Put The Boot In: Cream - Live Barbecue 1967 - 'Those Were The Days'

Just prior to the Technicolor bloom of 1967’s ‘Summer of Love’; and 2 weeks before Monterey Pop was The Spalding Festival Barbecue 67. Featuring a line up comprised of ‘The Move’, ‘Pink Floyd’, ‘Ram Jam Band’ and the headliners, Cream and the ‘Jimi Hendrix Experience’, the festival was a forerunner to the more widely known gatherings of the era Monterey Pop, Woodstock, Isle of Wight etc. This concert, in the ‘rock room’s’ humble opinion is the signpost where the psych got heavy, and the two towering bands of the era changed the way rock and roll was played….. all in a barn for 1 British pound.

Held at Tulip Bulb auction hall in Linconshire, England with a capacity of 4,000, legend has the concert being oversold and acoustically horrendous. In what amounted to a huge hot shed, Barbecue 67’ was witness to one of the first musical movements of the legendary Summer. In recently circulating photos of the festival one can see piles of amps, wires and a closely packed audience enthralled with the performers. Tall tales exists of eager fans sneaking in side doors, rushing under the stage to their point of hands being able to stick through the floor, and an ornery headlining Hendrix who smashed his guitar and torched it as well as knocking over his stacks.  One thing that cannot be doubted and the focus of today’s ‘rock room’ rant is the Cream put on an amazing and stunning musical display. 

Spinning in the ‘rock room’ today is a 40 minute audience recorded document from the evening. While the vocals are distant and Jack Bruce’s bass plays hide and seek on the recording what does exists is a stellar aural document of a legendary and fertile period in rock and roll history. Headphones are recommended for an all encompassing experience and the ambiance of the room. The recording is surprisingly clear for the era this stereo recording.  Clapton in particular is playing with a competitive fire (sharing the bill with friend Hendrix) and reaching for amazing improvisational alchemy. For a venue with horrible acoustics the resulting recording is surprisingly good and able with the right environment to put you in the human crush of Barbecue 67.
Hailing from the band’s 1966 debut album Fresh Cream, Cream begins its set with ‘NSU’. As the band’s on stage prowess increased over time ‘NSU’ would crack like an egg spilling out rich psychedelic from its innards. Here for this performance, ‘NSU’ is taught and loud containing all its power in a few short minutes. To the ‘rock room’s ears Clapton is playing his ‘Fool’ Gibson SG as his tone is rotund and a goodexample of his 66-68 SG era. Baker is thrashing around his kit and as previously mentioned Bruce’s bass is there but not really. The crowd is enthusiastically clapping to Bakers churning groove through the verse before the chorus detonates in a spray of day glo. Clapton slams on his E string as the central solo begins soon becoming melted plastic as Clapton does his best Hendrix expression early in the gig. A quick return to the verse and the show is underway.

A succinct studio standard rendition of ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ follows months before its single release in November of 67. Fresh out of the oven, ‘Sunshine’ is played briskly over Baker’s native tom-tom thumping. There seem to be some issues with EC’s rig which mess with the groove a bit but are rectified by the solo segment. While the vocals remain distant Bruce sings gloriously and confidently. Clapton’s famed ‘woman tone’ coo’s its way out of the SG for variations on the ‘Sunshine’ theme through the midsection of the song. Clapton takes two melodically lachrymose turns through his solo. Similarly to ‘NSU’, ‘Sunshine’ is still an adolescent and the song has not yet grown into its outro jam.

The next three songs to follow each highlight a member of the band respectively. The first of the triad is ‘We’re Gone Wrong’ which is introduced as a slow quiet number (by EC?). The cascading rolls of Bakers drums carry the dynamic and tension filled song from Fresh Cream. Bruce’s vocals are stunningly dramatic and operatic rising and falling with Clapton’s timed vibrato strums. Each strum rises in intensity until the verse gets slashed open by now blindingly sharp chords. Bruce’s melody lines ooze a mysterious exoticism. The first small improvisational section of the evening occurs as the basic frame of the song is discarded and the tempo is increased. Clapton and Baker percolate as one as the song morphs into a somewhat directionless jam which may be caused by a lack of Jack Bruce’s bass. But even without stretching out fully, this reading epitomizes Cream’s performances of the time.
 Jack introduces the next song, ‘Steppin Out’ which acts as a spotlight moment for Clapton. Often a highlight of Cream performances, Clapton recorded three different versions of the 1959 Memphis Slim classic cut. Clapton played the song with the Powerhouse, Bluesbreakers and Cream and with each reading the song was extended and Clapton’s sonic pallet was increased. The version found here reaches around five minutes but has a substantial amount of virtuosity packed into it. The Hendrix influence is palpable with Clapton dispersing an array of bends, twists and slick neck slides. I can definitively say that having his friend as well as completion Jimi Hendrix watching from the wings helped to charge this particular version of ‘Steppin’ Out’.

Beginning with the song’s recognizable lick as the volume on the tape fluctuates, Baker and Bruce walk in a stomping lock step. Bruce’s work here is dizzying. Clapton looking sharp walks into the street and at around a minute in changes from a muted tone to a salient one and peels off a few acid drenched Chuck Berry licks.  At 1:45 into the song, Clapton grabs onto a bluesy turnaround and repeats it increasing in tempo which sets the fuse alight causing the trio to converge at an agreed upon musical intersection. At a bit past three minutes Clapton’s playing takes on a rough edged, ‘devil may care’ attitude, with an unrestrained wildness that takes the jamming to another place. Bruce’s upper neck work is audible and the band is shaping the song like molten metal! Baker bashes his kit to bits while driving the song to its syncopated conclusion. Wow. The crowd explodes in recognition and as a result of the furious performance starts to get rowdy.

While the crowd yells, Clapton introduces and counts off Bruce’s spotlight segment which features him on harmonica playing ‘Rollin and Tumblin’. Again the vocals are obscured but in no way detracts from the high energy performance. Clapton and Bruce enter into a series of duets of harp/guitar and vocal/guitar while Baker plays the train tracks.  The band inters into a mid song runaway segment where Bruce wails away into the blue midnight before returning to the song proper.
Finally, Ginger Baker gets his featured moment as Jack introduces his drum solo ‘Toad’. Clapton lends a hearty dose of Hendrix drenched feedback acting as a large iron gate which swings open to reveal the big bad ‘Toad’. Baker plays his usual series of triplet filled tom-tom hits and rumbling double bass. The crowd can be heard clapping in time and urging Baker to destroy his kit as the guttural thumps reverberate around the venue.

The band concludes the evening’s performance with an overjoyed version of ‘Im So Glad’ (a UK single), hailing from the Fresh Cream album. The song, originally composed by Skip James was redressed into a blues rock format by the band becoming a thrashing expression of ecstatic song. The central jam of the tune is  Clapton and Bruce’s most melodic playing of the evening. Bruce and Clapton’s interplay is only a small glimpse of what they would develop over the next year on stages around the word. The dynamics rise and fall with Clapton floating out quotes and melodic snippets, before scrubbing his fretboard to dust when returning to the verses. The power and volume crackles off of the recording and is stunning to the ears.

One can only imagine the aesthetic, the excitement and the artistic revolution in which Barbeque 67 was birthed. Thankfully, the available recording of Cream gives us a small peek into the depth of the era and the unbelievable music being created at the time. Hopefully other performances will rise to the surface to give us a full spectrum of the evening’s festivities, but regardless the ‘rock room’ is thankful for what we have. Its mind-blowing to think what the festival would be the beginnings of and even more so that the Hendrix experience would follow Cream on that May evening, but in the end…… those were the days. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Put the Boot In: "Blues Power"-Derek and the Dominos at the Marquee Club 8-11-1970

     Today in the "rock room" I am enjoying a unique and powerful live concert recording. On August 11, 1970, shortly before commencing with the recording of the seminal "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs" LP, Derek and the Domino's played their first and only concert at the 900 hundred seat Marquee Club in London, England. Only two months had passed since their debut performance, and this field recording captures the band in their infancy, exhibiting a fresh excitement and undertaking a chimerical performance.
 The recording I am listening to is a first generation tape off of a mono reel master. This is another "put you there" recording, with major thanks going to the enterprising taper who had the foresight to record the performance. There is a smoky ambiance to the warm recording with all instruments audible and especially clear during the quieter numbers.This is the best sounding recording of this date to surface. The capture features the usual crowd chatter, and clicks and clanks, but all in all the recording is a aural time machine that no discerning listener should have an issue with.

  After the MC's introduction of the band, the performance begins with a "cry babied" Clapton guitar intro that slithers into a swaying version of "Roll It Over". It's obvious what's on the band's mind, as the sexually charged song erotically tempts the ladies and assembled groupies in the audience. Bobby Whitlock's funky organ lays the foundation for the established dual vocals. When Clapton's first guitar break approaches it is prefaced by a scream, and then Clapton rips into his first solo of the night with an absolute fury. A series of accomplished trills with Clapton's signature 1970 sound reverberate throughout the club, and the energy level is palpable on the recording.

     "Roll It Over" segues into "Blues Power" seamlessly with the band jumping on board at the same time. The rhythm section of Clapton cronie Carl Radle, and session man extraordinaire Jim Gordon push the chunky groove like a truck with one flat tire. "Blues Power" bounds forward powered by Clapton's electric washboard rhythm and Whitlock's sly organ flourishes.  Clapton swings into his solo spotlight with a slightly over driven tone, and displays his delicious crisp Stratocaster alternate picking. Comets of speedy arpeggio licks are spread around the venue like cosmic dust as Clapton scurries up and down the neck of his guitar.

     Again, without pause, "Blues Power" slips into "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" like a clandestine hand going up an woman's dress. Clapton is definitely heated up now as he pours sweet Brandy licks full of unrequited love out of his guitar by the cup full. His solo stings with a B.B. King like intensity, but obviously played with Slowhand's unique style. Clapton approaches the return to the lyrics with some warm bluesy tremolo action.  I think this may be a first time played for this song, I can't say for sure. What I can can say, is that Clapton's love of the blues both vocally and instrumentally is already fully mature for this early era performance. His off mic shouts and falsetto reaches are emphatic, heartfelt and strictly "blues". The show pauses briefly after opening with three consecutive non stop songs.

     After a moment the band explodes into "Anyday", it sounds great, but this version is missing Duane Allman's signature slide licks that make the album version soar. Regardless, the "Layla" LP would not be released for another three months, and by the end of August the band would be laying down these songs for posterity, Duane not yet a twinkle in Eric's eye. I digress, back to the show, this version is highlighted by Whitlock and Clapton's perfect overlapping vocals, and a silky smooth organ breakdown, that peaks nicely. Radle's danceable bass line during the chorus is also a moment worth taking note of.

     After an extended pause the band lays into the rare Clapton solo track "Bad Boy". I am not sure if this is a set break or the start of a second show. "Bad Boy" is a sludgy swamp stomp through dark paths, as the group really digs their claws into this one. Gordon and Radle lock into a tight "Booker T" groove, and Clapton features his most aggressive soling of the night. There are plenty of shimmering vibrato filled scrubs across the fretboard by Clapton, who endlessly plays lick after disorienting lick. The mid song breakdown illustrates some of Clapton's "Cream Era" psychedelic soloing in a new context. An obvious peak to the set, and also the set closer, as E.C. announces the band is going to take a few minutes and come back for a second set.

     The second half of the show keeps things stomping as "Bottle of Red Wine" roars as the opener. A concert favorite of the Domino's, for its straight rock and roll changes and celebratory nature, this version is no different and shows all band members having a good time and showcasing their chops. A dual vocal, drinking song, the band and crowd are again warmed up for the rest of the show.

     Introduced by Clapton, who states that the song is "dedicated to a friend Jimi", the Domino's then preform the Hendrix penned song "Little Wing". Eric sings the shit out of "Little Wing" and then intensely deconstructs the melody in multiple and beautiful ways. The starts and stops of the tune are expertly timed and punctuated by the band. Again, Whitlock's organ swirls, whirls, and colors everything under Clapton's guitar. It's obvious to me from this version that Clapton is already in love with the song.  Stunning.
     The band pauses for tuning, and then runs rough shot into "Tell the Truth". Like a deer caught in the crossfire the band positively sprints through this song breathlessly, leaping over anything in their path. There is no comparison to the studio version in regard of tempo. Clapton dons a slide for the jam that coalesces out of the Whitlock, Clapton "whooohoos", and does pretty well for it not being his tool of choice. "Tell the Truth", in my opinion, will benefit from its more patient arrangement in the future.

     Clapton then gives the keys to the car over to Bobby Whitlock who preforms his own "Country Life" which would eventually appear on his first solo album. Tasty as a home cooked meal, the group chugs their way through the carnival keyboard changes of the tune. Per usual, Whitlock's vocals are rich and powerful like a ship's horn blasting through the room. The second set has been break neck, and confidently played. The crowd must be stunned, because I know I am, sitting here over forty years later looking at the cover art bemused.

     Clapton brings the heat down slightly with a personal favorite of mine, "I Don't Know Why" a song penned by Steve Cropper and Bonnie Bramlett. The song is brimming with a gospel soul and contains potent vocalizations by Clapton and Whitlock.  Whitlock sings under and behind Clapton with impressive "Band" like vocal echoes pushing Eric into greater vocal gymnastics. The song embarks on its closing jam, rising higher and increasing in intensity, Clapton moving and shaking, rising, until suddenly the tape fades to silence. Ouch. I knew it was coming, but it still hurt, but I'm very thankful for the hour of music I got to enjoy.

     There is a plentiful amount of recorded documents (roughly 20 out of the 60 shows they performed) available of Derek and the Domino's for those who search. This show in particular is a wonderful picture of an early period in their development, and contains incendiary playing for a small assembled crowd. Besides some small but unexpected aural blips along the way, the (M1-AUD) version of this concert is well worth checking out. Derek and the Domino's were around for such a short period of time, but the quality of their recorded work is unparalleled. Their live concert history is just as impressive, with a years worth of shows ranging from nights like the aforementioned, to the glorious November Fillmore East shows which spotlight extended and mature versions of many of these same songs.

Roll It Over-Marquee Club


Sunday, February 10, 2019

Now Playing: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young - 'Black Coral' -The Deep Cuts

Throughout their various tumults , whether it be over creative or personal differences, drugs or missed musical opportunities: Crosby Stills Nash and Young have still managed to develop a discography of impressive songs, even if they’ve only erratically come together as one unit.

While this output has been inconsistent and somewhat limited at times, the discography of the four principal members, solo and together contains significant pieces of music that are vital elements to seeing the entire image developed from their collaborations. Regardless of their numerous battles, one must get past the insults, the erased tracks, the destroyed sessions and public arguing to examine the music ...the only thing that should really matter.

Today in the 'rock room', I will gaze beyond the silhouettes of massive hits bobbing on the surface of their respective careers, well known songs that have seeped into rock history like 'Ohio”'and 'Our House.' but also beyond the constraints of the three studio albums created over 45 years....because there is more music to be had. There remain songs that are only nestled on the flip sides of solo recordings that contain input from all four principal members. Diving even deeper into the blue depths of history, we can find unreleased takes of familiar songs, which due to stubbornness and miscommunication never became an official Crosby Stills Nash and Young release.

The songs compiled below, through often unfortunately and woefully overlooked, individually contain the unique alchemy that manifests itself only when the four musicians join together in a celebration of creation. That they’re not more celebrated within the core of the members’ respective catalogs remains somewhat shocking, but I encourage you to decide for yourself:

“BLACK CORAL,” (CARRY ON, 2013): Long-time fans will remember an earlier version of “Black Coral” that first appeared on the 1976 Stephen Stills/Neil Young project Long May You Run. The track later surfaced on this Stills-focused box set, featuring a unique CSNY arrangement. One of the stronger tracks off of the 1976 album, this new take features the streaking Crosby Stills and Nash vocal blend, completed by Young’s Stringman Synthesizer additions. Built around a percolating and percussive Stills piano core, the song is a claustrophobic drift through mystical seas. Stills’ approach shows a quintessential gritty throat vocally, while lyrically the song touches on environmental issues leaving the listener to contemplate the line: “Don’t take more than you need, because heaven just might be the sea.”

“THROUGH MY SAILS,” (ZUMA, 1975): The closing song on Young’s 1975 album with Crazy Horse, “Through My Sails” is a perfectly encapsulated Crosby Stills Nash and Young moment. The CSN vocal blend elevates the ocean sway of the track up and through the clouds, making it one of the quartet’s finest moments on tape. They are accompanied only by light percussion, acoustic guitar, leaving the vocals feeling naked, pure and real. It’s woody respite from the electric music from Crazy Horse that came before, and is representative of the relief nature provides after a bright, all night bender in the fast lane.

“SEE THE CHANGES,” (CSN, 1991): Originally in the running for the unreleased early-1970s Human Highway project, an updated take on “See the Changes” ultimately appeared on 1977’s CSN. This earlier version, however, was recorded in the studio by Crosby Stills Nash and Young in 1973, training a new spotlight on one of Stills’ most honest and true lyrical creations. In contrast to its more laid back officially released counterpart, the 1973 edition road trips on silvery rapt acoustics and slightly rough-hewn vocal blends. A hint of sadness prevails, however, since this version could have become a vital piece in an unrealized CSNY full-length.

“PUSHED IT OVER THE END,” (Italian import b-side, 1974): Considered by many to be the great lost CSNY track. A smoky umbrageous song with differing movements, the lyrics deal with Young’s deteriorating relationship with Carrie Snodgrass. Reaching past seven minutes, “Pushed It Over the End” opens like a junkie waltz, balanced precariously on Young’s razor sharp Les Paul stabs. The clandestine trap door then falls out from under the performers amidst a wash of feedback, exposing the classic Young melody residing at the center which CSN drape their lacy veil of harmonies. The extended soloing over the jerking groove mid track is essential listening. Set aside for a discussed and unrealized early-1970s Crosby Stills Nash and Young project, “Pushed It Over the End” made a few extended appearances during the 1974 concert tour. Unreleased in the states, “Pushed It Over the End” actually did appear on a pricy Italian-issued box set of Young albums. That version hails from August 27, 1974, and contains some vocal additional studio touch ups.

“SOMEDAY SOON,” (LOOKING FORWARD, 1999): Coming from the group’s last studio offering, 'Someday Soon' harkens back to the heady days of Crosby Stills Nash and Young, eliciting all of the elements that make the group so special. Penned by Graham Nash, the acoustic mid-tempo song highlights Nash’s innate ability to compose melodies for the ages. All four members appear and are invested in the song, revealing the band’s recognizable fingerprint of quality vocal arrangements, empathetic instrumentation and damn good songs. Stills and Nash’s harmonizing on the middle eight seems to sum it all up for me. It’s chill inducing and awe inspiring.

This truncated list is only a sampling of the prolific and unique musical creations developed by Crosby Stills Nash and Young. There are numerous songs that meet the criteria to be included in this list of rare tracks. I simply tried to distill it down to a reasonable number, representing all eras. As mentioned, there is an entire album tentatively titled Human Highway that contains CSNY songs that were never fully developed in the studio, though many of those songs stretched their legs in concert appearances. What this list does illustrate is that regardless of the temperament and condition of the principals, the music could slice through the thick pretense and always deliver the goods. Whether or not the musicians could notice the magic themselves at the time is irrelevant, because the sonic gifts have been captured for eternity for all to enjoy.