Talk From The Rock Room: 2020

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Put the Boot In: Grateful Dead – Winterland- December 30, 1977 – ‘Shotgun Ragtime Band’


One day removed from one of the most famed Grateful Dead performances in history, December 30, 1977 contains a mysterious grace all of its own. The Grateful Dead were known for legendary New Year’s runs throughout their history and the year 1977 was one of the best. As previously stated, the concert from December the 29th is legendary in ‘Deadhead’ circles not only of the return of ‘China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider’, but for the amazing musical conversations that took place on the stage that evening. That concert was a must have in original tapers circles and was later immortalized officially on Dick’s Picks Volume 10.  As a special bonus, Dick included a chunk of the next night, December 30th as filler. That particular evening is the focus of this Talk from the Rock Room review.

I am listening to the circulating Charlie Miller soundboard which can be streamed at the Grateful Dead archive here. I will refer to the official release of Dick’s Picks Volume 10 for the second set jam. The opening set is long and languid, opening with a typically substantial Fall 1977 version of ‘Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo’ and culminating with a hyper vegetating ‘Let It Grow’. Beginning with the September 3, 1977 reading, the Fall 77 ‘1/2 Step’s’ just get better and better through to the end of the year.  This one is no exception.

There are also crystalline versions of long slow Jerry classics like ‘Row Jimmy’ and ‘Peggy O’ to be enjoyed here. Typical to this era both of these songs are highlighted by nuanced Garcia vocals and attentive playing. One hesitates to say, ‘typical of the era’, but during the Fall of 1977 the Grateful Dead’s standard of playing was so strong even the most basic set list can stun even the most practiced and jaded listener.  Lesh is creative, Garcia positively sings through his strings and the two drummers play as one. Weir and Godchaux are peaking for one final golden era with the famed 1970’s line up.

Highlights of the first set include the aforementioned as well as a shit kicking ‘Dire Wolf’ with a lyrical Garcia solo and a very aggressive ‘Passenger’. The drummers are epically feisty on this Winterland evening. The jittery set closing “Let It Grow’ reaches full bloom only to be cut off by Weir just a bit early. The final closing jam, while not quite October 11, 1977 does have a flood of Garcia’s scrubbing bubbles. The set rises to reach a well-timed conclusion.

The jamming in the second set is wonderfully West coast, patient and beautifully played. The big musical segment is of enough note that as previously stated, it was included as bonus audio on the aforementioned Dick’s Picks Volume 10. The set begins with a sturdy ‘Samson’ and a cool down ‘Ship of Fools’ before the musical suite of the evening commences. A typically well played ‘Estimated Prophet’ begins the journey. By the winter 78 tour ‘Estimated’ will have really started to go some crazy places, and this version is the start of the song revealing new avenues of improv for the band. The outro jam here starts off plodding, then probing but by the last minute Garcia begins to discover a sweet dissonance. Both he, Weir and Lesh begin to feel something worth chasing for the final minute with unique heavy playing. Slurpy and sticky Garcia Mutron playing is the obvious highlight. Weir chunks out with off beat chording, Jerry misses steps on purpose running hot on Weir's tail. While not picture perfect, the segue into ‘Eyes’ is beautifully developed.  ‘Eyes of the World’ is a long narcotic version with some of the most delectable Garcia vocals of the era. A+

You can feel the mist of inspiration descend upon the stage as ‘Eyes’ begins to dissipate following the ‘fade out’ riffing. Lesh growls some gentle feedback blasts while signaling a syncopated groove which begins to develop around Garcia’s circular runs. The drummers click out an excitable groove using rims shots and cymbal clicks, meshing into an improvised teletype. A busy and floral jam now surfaces as Lesh and Garcia propel the major key groove forward. Weir plucks out an answer and he and Godchaux join the drummers in creating an engaging rhythm. Garcia reveals the axis and begins to weave his brassy tone with perfectly placed fretwork. Everyone circles the fire encouraging the flames.

The band has achieved lift off and the crowd has jumped on the back for the ride. At around the fourteen minute mark, Garcia and Godchaux are in perfect simpatico. Lesh is pulsing, pushing and pulling with Hart’s bass drum churning the groove. Around fifteen minutes, Kreutzmann starts to increase the heat with some snare drum snaps before Garcia gently pumps the breaks and lands the intro into ‘St. Stephen’. A fine piece of improv and one of the best jams of the Fall.

In the ‘rock room’s’ humble opinion, this is the best ‘Stephen’ of the year and one of the finest of the post retirement Dead era. Thunder drums and sprawling Garcia strumming are only part of the madness of the reading. A heavy stepping rendition, after disposing with the lyrics at close to six minutes the band cracks the egg with percussive piano and ringing Garcia notes. Per their usual practice the mid-section of the song rolls and boils with dynamic intensity. Weir signals the drummers to pick up the pace and the band gaining their footing, begin to crest the musical wave. The group is now delicately balanced on the precipice in their preparation to return to the main Stephen riff. The tension increases with each Garcia strum until Hart signals a full band return to the ‘Stephen’ theme. Success.

Photo By Bob Minkin

A small stumble during the return verse is forgiven as the band has just presented the New Year’s eve,  crowd with a gift that will last forever. The concluding ‘Stephen’ leads into a slam banging version of ‘Sugar Magnolia’. Garcia bends strings of the neck while the band constructs a joyous and buoyant version of the oft-played show closer. Like the rest of the music preceding it, this one is a good un. Rock star Bobby goads the band into an epic all night reading. The band obviously knew they knocked it out of the park as they give Winterland a double encore of ‘U.S. Blues’ followed by ‘Good Lovin’. The band is just not running on inertia from the December 29th blow out, but creating a brand new musical experience. On Winterland this particular evening, ‘something new was waiting to be born’ and the group answered the clarion call.

December 30, 1977 is another unique chapter in a huge volume of stellar playing maintained by the Grateful Dead in the late 1970’s. Enjoy the entire evening as you would study a text or watch a film. Dig right into the second set magic if you choose. Regardless of how you listen there is a vast soundscape of Grateful Dead to enjoy, just point at a calendar and spin. Just make sure you don't forget late 1977 when the Dead were once again reaching and surpassing a musical peak.

 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Take One: The Monkees - 'The Girl I Knew Somewhere', 1967 B Side –'Bound Down In a Whirl'

The famed prefabricated four. ‘The Monkees’, were as you probably know if you are perusing this article, a made for television band developed in the mid 1960’s. The Monkees grew quickly in stature and fame to eventually become referred to as the ‘American Beatles’. The only issue was that none of the principals of the band played instruments on any their first two original recordings. While the original intent was to have a television show about a rock band, what eventually took place was the television show became a rock band. While both Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz originated from acting and show biz backgrounds, both Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith came from musical stock. Nesmith had actually already released some singles under the moniker Michael Blessing and was a budding songwriter as we will soon find out.

By the conclusion of 1966 Nesmith was eager to pitch his own original music to the group’s producers and he did with unsuccessful results. But, when Don Kirshner (producer) released a Monkees single in early 1967 without approval from the show or the band he was then removed from the Monkees project. The band and Nesmith got their way and a Nesmith penned song and band recorded track was placed on the flip side of the upcoming single. These sessions would in turn morph into the sessions for Headquarters, which would be the Monkees third full length record. It would also be the LP with the claim to feature the members playing all of the instruments on the album. Ironically, the Nesmith song recorded, ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’ never appeared on Headquarters, or a proper LP until 1976. It remained tucked away on the flip side of a 45. Since then it appears on almost every post Monkees greatest hits package or anthology. A killer start for the band and a great sound!

The song, as I alluded to above was originally planned to be part of a single release, but when it was undermined by Don Kirshner for an unfinished version of ‘She Hangs Out’, that plan was nixed. Following Kirshner's departure, he first version that the band recorded was over a series of dates in January of 1967 and featured Nesmith as the lead singer. These were the group’s first sessions as a ‘real group’ and the song ‘All of Your Toys’ was also attempted at the session. The backing track consisted of Micky Dolenz on drums and vocals, Peter Tork on acoustic guitar and harpsicord, John London (non band member) on bass, Davy Jones on tambourine and Nesmith on his electric twelve string Gretsch and lead vocals. This track was unreleased for a number of years before turning up as a bonus track on the 1995 Rhino reissue of Headquarters where it was included as a bonus cut. The alternate version is loose and soars with Nesmith crooning the vocal lines but alas, was not to be featured on a 45.

After deciding that Micky Dolenz vocals would have a more ‘commercial’ appeal the band reconvened in February to cut a ‘single’ version for release. Instead of Kirshner’s ‘She Hangs Out’, a shiny new version of ‘Somewhere’ would end up being the flip side of ‘A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You’ released in March of 1967. Davy was not on the single version as he was in England when the song was redone. A testament to Nesmith’s superior writing skills played out as ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’ landed at number 39 on the charts as a flip side! The focus of this particular ‘Take One’ is the mono single version, but you can also enjoy the original Mike Nesmith vocal and alternate mono mix here.

The single opens with a funky and chorused palm muted guitar riff as the band jumps into verse one. Dolenz’s drums while simplistic, bash with a garage band attitude and an endearing amateur syncopation. Dolenz’s lofty vocals are exactly what was assumed by the re cutting of the track, the sound of a ‘hit’. With the second verse comes Tork’s well timed harpsicord running side by side with the vocal melody. Tork’s tickling pulls the track together perfectly. John London plays bass on the single, like he did the unreleased version lending a professional foundation to the proceedings. When the middle eight comes round it is the chilling jump off point into Tork’s bountiful harpsichord solo spot. 

When the band returns to the verses Nesmith sings a beautiful open prairie counter vocal under Dolenz lead that to the ‘rock room’ is the song’s highlight. Nesmith sounds if he is off in the middle distance of the horizon responding to his internal fears. Again, in hindsight it’s a wonder that Nesmith’s song was not placed on the ‘A’ side, as the sounds just reach out of the hi-fi and grab you. Perfection in three minutes, everything you could want in a FM radio cut. There is also a remixed stereo version of the single available (on the OOP Rhino Headquarters box) where Nesmith’s acoustic overdub is much more prominent in addition to the popping of the backing vocals. The song presents a wider soundstage, but I still assert that the banging mono version is where it’s at.

While often eliciting a chuckle or shrug when commiserating with fellow ‘rock geeks’; the ‘Monkees’ have in hindsight received some long overdue plaudits from both listeners and critics. The band, using the gifts bestowed on them, while not often musical, combined to make a unique artistic expression of music and film. Undeterred by criticism, the Monkees cultivated their own fame and with ample self-awareness and unique abilities that allowed them to become a long lasting musical and cultural signpost. Proof of what they band could accomplish when given the opportunity can be witnessed in stellar tracks like ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Paul McCartney – McCartney III - ‘It's Still Alright To Be Nice'

Paul McCartney’s announcement of a new album recorded in ‘rock down’ sent excitement tremors through rock fans around the globe. In the spirit of 1970’s McCartney I and 1980’s McCartney II Paul used his allotted free time due to coronavirus restrictions to record a new album with all instrumentation, vocals, and production done by himself. The thematic connections between McCartney III and the other previous records are time, family, and creativity. I still need time to soak up the lyrical content, but will say I discern Macca’s usual optimism, but touched with an tension felt in the music as well. What makes this release even more thrilling is that this album wasn't planned. It's free and creative and there is no preconceived standard to adhere to for McCartney. The ‘rock room’ has listened to Macca’s new record and assert that once again McCartney has used an opportunity to create on his own terms and has come up in spades. Or in the case of McCartney III …. ‘Snake eyes’.

The album takes flight with the opening track ‘Long Tailed Winter Bird’ which is one bookend to the record with the closing track ‘Winter Bird (When Winter Comes) enveloping the other half. The opener focuses on a brisk acoustic riff which develops the songs internal melody. Displayed on acoustic guitar with rhythmic palm mutes, the song brings to mind lush mountainous highlands. The main lick midway becomes electrified while surrounded by drums and Mellotron wings. In what will be a theme for the recording McCartney uses stacked guitars and multi tracked vocals which call out from here and there to greet his avian companion. An airy opener and fine encapsulation of the rest of the record. 

Things stay up-tempo with ‘Find My Way’, a song that opens with a fuzzy keyboard and gated drums and that doesn’t take long to seep into your pores. Dual Macca guitars and dizzying overlapping waves of horns keep the alternating chord changes exciting. The middle eight of the song with Paul’s falsetto is an absolute joy. The song lands in a false ending and then restarts with some trippy cloud guitars before concluding. This one could and should be the single.

McCartney’s hallmark melodies have become more poignant over the years and with ‘Pretty Boys’ as well as ‘Woman and Wives’ he pulls from the well another sparkling plethora of unique twists on ageless McCartney lines. ‘Pretty Boys’ makes the ‘rock room’ think the songs inspiration possibly came from McCartney’s visit to one of daughter Stella’s shows. Acoustic based with a tapping percussion, McCartney’s well-worn breathy voice slips into the melody with a perfect fit. On second and third listen the song really started to take shape with nuance and detail revealing itself.

‘Woman and Wives’ follows, a piano based mid tempo shuffle grabs me by the collar immediately. While constructed with a churning snare there is a clandestine atmospheric sadness underneath the songs moving foundation. Macca acts as the town crier issuing advice and warning.  I can discern the famous reverberation of Bill Black’s standup bass on this song and like all of McCartney’s best tunes, I am left with a feeling of wonder when the song concludes. His vocals are hearty and rich, a matured ‘Lady Madonna’ vibe, singing with the back of the throat.

                                           Photo: Mary McCartney

‘Lavatory Lil’ is a quick and fun character assassination with a funky instrumentation reminiscent of the best McCartney I instrumentals. The track is a guitar driven syncopated thump with some stinky descending basslines. Additionally, in my opinion it contains some of the finest ‘Mod Macca’ vocals this side of 2010. Paul sounds like he’s playing loose, singing free and enjoying himself, and that is really all that matters. Great song, content and attitude.

‘Slidin’ closes side one and you know it! A bombastic and crushing central riff complete with 1966 sounding bass, thick fuzzed lead guitar and rock and roll Paul. This icy cut is stellar, featuring a thumping instrumental break with slippery lead guitar lines and the aforementioned big bass. Definitely one of the weightiest tracks Paul has made, and a hefty rocker for a 78 year old man! Would love to see this one come alive on a concert stage. Actually, blast this one on the hi fi and get the neighbors going if you can.

‘Deep Deep Feeling’ opens side two and whereas ‘Lavatory Lil’ remembered McCartney I, ‘Deep Deep Feeling’ reflects the heady experimentation undertaken on McCartney II. ‘Deep Deep Feeling’ is extended, complex and very cool. Multiple variations on a theme are delivered in multifarious packages. Macca begins the song vocally with only drum accompaniment. Then throughout the track he stratifies vocals, guitars, and all of the instruments at his disposal. The song stays in flux with tension while the foundation remains steady. Compartments are opened and shut, layers are peeled back and then returned. A Mellotron pulses over the rhythmic diversity as choruses of Paul weave deftly in and out of the creation. A centerpiece of the record and a definite highlight as it defies adequate description. The song is of its own creation and adheres to previous McCartney I and II aesthetics.

Perfection follows with ‘Kiss of Venus’ an acoustic song cut from the same historical quilt as ‘Jenny Wren’ and ‘Blackbird’. Lyrically mature, crystalline picking contrasts with Paul’s wrinkly inspired falsetto. The conclusion of the song highlights a surprising and resplendent harpsicord spot. Otherwise, just Paul and an acoustic here, that’s just enough.

‘Seize the Day’ immediately felt anthemic to the ‘rock room’. The verses reminded me of ‘People Want Peace’ from 2018’s Egypt Station. Dual guitars line the chorus which is as moving and catchy that only Paul McCartney could have birthed it. In addition, the middle eight spotlights some classic Macca vocals (imo), as I know this has been a bone of contention for many Paul fans.

The penultimate song on the eleven track LP is ‘Deep Down’. Beginning with an extended falsetto note, the song falls in around the vocal. The groove is reminiscent of ‘Spinning on an Axis’ off of Driving Rain, with a Fender Rhodes and a splashy snare. Soon the horns and guitar grab onto a slick line as a diversion from the song proper. This is the one song on the LP that may be lacking lyrically and may slightly overstay its welcome. I feel the reason is that the song is more about a groove than anything ‘deeper down’. It's not a bad track. It may grow on me more, that being said, it does feature some great Macca vocals at the end.

                                           Photo: Mary McCartney

The record closes with ‘Winter Bird/When Winter Comes’ bringing the collection full circle. During promotion for the record McCartney stated that the impetus for McCartney III was of the song ‘Winter Bird’. McCartney had recorded the track during sessions for Flaming Pie and the song was left to languish in the vaults. When revisiting his tapes for the Flaming Pie deluxe edition Paul decided to use the original song and develop it for an animated feature he was working on. Suddenly he was inspired and the idea of recording a McCartney III album fell in around it. George Martin produced the original session and what you will hear on McCartney III is a hybrid of the original recording and Paul’s new theme used for the opener. 'When Winter Comes' is a lost classic and its obvious why Paul wanted to use it and how it inspired the rest of the record.(Note his 1997 vocals)

While any news of a new Paul McCartney record elicits the usual cheers from his long time admirers and stoic acknowledgement from music fans in general; the usual flurry of interpretations and criticisms will be soon to follow. Your humble ‘rock room’ is included in part of this chaos. In the end, all that can be said is that one of the finest musicians of any genre has released a collection of song at 78 years of age. He is playing and producing it all and in the midst of a pandemic. If that is not cause for celebration I do not know what is. The bonus? The music is wonderful and the creativity is muffin topping out of the package. I don’t have to tell you to check out Paul McCartney, if you dig him, you know what to expect, and it’s gonna be good. Just like 2020's Dylan release, there's still plenty to be thankful for in the world of rock. McCartney III will be released on December 18.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders: Garcia Live Volume 15 – Live at Keystone Korner May 21, 1971

The archival release series Garcia Live has been consistently releasing classic Jerry Garcia performances since 2012. The estate has been touching on a wide array of Jerry Garcia’s various band’s and musical excursions. For the current release, Garcia Live Volume 15, the Garcia family has offered a rare previously uncirculating performance, as well a unique on stage line up and performing venue. The date of this concert, May 21st, 1971 finds Jerry Garcia in between Spring and Summer Grateful Dead tours, where the group had just closed the Fillmore East and would soon be travelling to France for a one of show in a haunted castle. Garcia is a master of his instrument and arguably reaching his first peak as a player.

The ambiance of the recording elicits intimacy as the on stage chatter as well as a comfortable musical simpatico is discernable from the tape. The source of the concert according to the release is from a four track soundboard recording. All instruments are balanced and the recording is a joy to hear. Only the intermittent buzz of a funky monitor causes any minor distraction. This miniscule annoyance is noted on the caveat emptor on the back of the release. Featuring Garcia alum, Ron Vitt on drums, and Merl Saunders on organ respectively, there is no bass player on the recording. But we are treated to saxophonist Martin Fierro who makes a guest appearance mid-way through the first set. A spectacular multifarious jam develops of the course of the evening, jazzy in its sensibilities, psychedelic in its approach and free in its attitude. A gumbo of delectable grooves swing from funk to space blues.

There is an early sweetness and directness to Garcia’s playing. These are the days when Jerry couldn’t stop, when shows like this one were what he used to expand his aural pallet. The ‘rock room’ believes Garcia to be armed with his famed Fender Stratocaster ‘Alligator’ on this particular evening. Saunders handles the bass duties on keyboard like Ray Manzarek. If the ‘rock room’ were to devise a label, this is a psychedelic jazz trio. There is no pressure, no deadlines, the band showed up and played for the pure joy of getting it on.

The concert begins with an expansive jam on the Saunders track ‘Man Child’ witch settles on a theme for the evening, open improvisation. The band drifts into an immediately groovy mid-tempo swing. Garcia lays some tentative licks over Saunders quivering Hammond splays. Music slices through gray heavy aired club jazz as a number of tempo changes leave and then return. Around 11 minutes there is a caesura where Saunders and Garcia weave a few notes before returning to the song proper. A ‘mini melt’ down is birthed as the song reaches the seventeen minute mark and Saunders lands the shuttle while Garcia probes for new life. Now that is a way to open a show.

What is listed as ‘One Kind Favor’ is a reading of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘See that My Grave is Kept Clean”, a favorite of most if not all of the bay area folkies come psychedelic messengers. Ron Vitt uses a breeze scat groove and the song pulls right into Garcia’s wheelhouse. The stellar brassy squonk of Garcia’s guitar features bluegrass bends over a brisk walking bass line by Saunders. Garcia notes to get ‘more highs on the organ’ in between numbers.

An additional blues follows with ‘I Know It’s a Sin’, a Jimmy Reed song played by the Grateful Dead on more than one occasion in their early years, the first version being on May 19, 1966. This song remains true to form, with Garcia singing in his sweet early 70’s quivering voice. A beautifully poignant solo is taken by Garcia, returned and reflected in kind by Saunders who lays in on oh so thick and with an extra coat.

Next, a ten minute instrumental reading of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Was Made to Love Her’ foreshadows later Jerry Garcia Band set list deep dive’s into the Motown Tamla songbook. A major highlight of the set, the band digs deep and comes up with an overflowing well of crystal clear spring water. Vitt keeps things busy with a series of thoughtful rhythms. Garcia quotes the melody line with honky string bends held up to glisten by Saunders lustrous Hammond swells. At about three minutes in Fierro jumps in with both feet and slays it with a taffy pulled sax solo. For those who don’t know Garcia has some of the funkiest rhythm playing on the planet and here it is on full display! Following Fierro, Garcia pulls the rip cord and enters into his own glistening solo spot. Easy highlight of the opening set and rare!

A unique to the performance jam referred to on the release as ‘Keystone Korner Jam’ follows next and is exactly that, a jam.  Garcia starts thing off with an ethnic sounding rhythm to which Vitt adds cymbal bell hits. Immediately Saunders and Fierro jump in to what becomes a flashing red light of a groove. Once the three principals of the band twist the ends of their respective wires together the jam immediately elevates. Reminding the ‘rock room’ of 1979’s ‘Reconstruction’ excursions this jam straddles the fence between earth and space and definitely encourages ass shaking.  Around five to six minutes Garcia hits on melody everyone jumps eagerly on before steering the ship quickly into a hallucinatory melt down. Garcia and Fierro get strange before Vitt and Saunders ignite a jittery groove out of the chaos. Post eight minutes Fierro takes the wheel and directs the foursome into a high tempo screaming improv. This time Fierro encourages a deep meltdown as the band dynamically falls into a weightless twinkling evening. The band rises again and Jerry deflates then gently into a perfect landing. The ball handling by the group here is wonderful, you can really feel the band listening to one another.

A song that would soon become a staple of ‘Jerry Garcia Band’ concert follows with a spacious performance of ‘The Band’s, ‘The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down’. Garcia sings endearingly and the band responds in kind reaching an emotional ending. Jerry announces the band is going to take a ‘break for a while’ and so will we.

The second set and disc two begin with the longest jam of the night and instrumental version of the song ‘Save Mother Earth’ from Merl Saunders 1972 LP Heavy Turbulence which both Garcia and Vitt play on. A slightly sinister prelude, leads to a sneaky arrangement. Garcia’s guitar has a serrated edge, contrasting Saunders smooth recitation of the lick. By five minutes the song has started rolling toward the horizon with Fierro wailing and at one point quoting ‘It’s Your Thing’. At eight minutes Garcia enters ready to duel with Saunders. Immediately the song morphs, rhythms rebound, Garcia deconstructs the inside and the song becomes reborn……..yet again. A syrupy floor slows the song and at ten minutes something odd is developing. Diversions and short cuts aside, by sixteen minutes Fierro keeps his endless faucet of melodies on full flow, soon the song sprouts flowers. By nineteen minutes the crown can be heard cheering the band along. The group has found it, the mysterious, gestalt linkage, and the crowd is along for the ride.

Garcia then unravels with a stirring solo that starts low around twenty minutes on the neck and stays there. Lending a muddy funk to the brightly developing groove. Saunders throws out some pitch bending swells to segue into his solo location. A groove similar to Chicago’s “It Better End Soon’ begins during the home stretch, but per usual gets very shifty before concluding another expansive series of jams! Yea.

A super rare cover of Jimmy Rodgers ‘That’s All Right’ follows as a resigned boozy sway, with Garcia singing blue and lonesome. The first break moves into a sturdy march with a crisply overdriven Garcia Strat exploring the songs changes. Fierro peeks through the shades here and there until he takes a spin around the block as well. A couple songs on this release I wish would have stuck around the Garcia sets as they fit the JGB template splendidly. Merl gets involved with some melody swells and distorted pitch playing, before all three melody makers collaborate into a fitting conclusion. Perfect, the makeup of this jam matches the vibe of the performance which is smoky bar light, sunglasses at night cool.

A major rarity and highlight of the release is the group’s attempt at David Crosby’s ‘The Wall Song’ hailing from his If I Could Only Remember My Name album which had been released in February of 1971. On the studio recording Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann backs Crosby with Jerry’s main lick central to the cut. This version surpasses twelve minutes and bears witness to the improvisational possibilities Garcia saw inside the song’s framework. While tentative in places, when the band picks a compass point the jam begins to reveal its secrets. The song begins as a pulse in syncopated time, and brick by brick begins to reach skyward. Garcia’s vocals are breathy and his approach uniquely his own.

Following the first three verses the collective uses the outro space to breech the wall.  Around five minutes Fierro blares a number a screeches and glissando’s down the rhythmic bricks. Garcia skates in at seven minutes on a current of feedback, using it to develop an edgy improv. Garcia’s tone here is reminiscent of the ‘David and the Dorks’ shows from December of 1970. Fierro returns close to nine minutes and hits on a beautiful play on the theme which gets Vitt excited. The jam soon transmutes into a dramatic and kinetic experiment, with Fierro and Garcia initiating a quivering freak out. Garcia lays a hand on the bricks making sure the structure remains before the band joins back in, concluding their journey with a smashing of the wall. The crowd responds in kind.

The concert and recording concludes with another song that would become a ‘Garcia Band’ staple, the Sun classic ‘Mystery Train’. Even missing Garcia’s partner in crime John Kahn on bass this one tears down the tracks leaving a trailing black cloud behind. A bit shorter than others, this early reading still shakes like Presley’s leg with a plethora of JG’s honky tonk string bending. Garcia bids the crowd farewell, introduces the band and says, ‘that’s it!’

With the unbelievably large amount of archival material that Jerry Garcia created over his extensive career there will always be music to be studied. Each performance date, a signpost to a new and unusual path and an obvious connector to Garcia’s past as well as the future. Every note Garcia played a topographical peak or ridge line leading to an even higher summit or new discovery of creativity. With Garcia Live Volume 15, we as listeners are privy to a previously unknown performance and are offered a glimpse into a path never traveled, pulled from historic air and fed into our hi fi’s. We are thankful.

GARCIA LIVE VOLUME 15

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Now Playing: 'Suprise Partie' New Years 1968 Paris, France - Who, Small Faces, Fleetwood Mac, Booker T

Now Playing in the ‘rock room’ is one of the finest substantial slabs of the 1960’s rock revolution to be captured on celluloid. Paris, France in 1968 was a city and country in upheaval. In May 1968 the French Revolution was ignited. A revolution in all sense of the word, the working man, artists and government were all turned upside down by the social upheaval forcing France into the modern world. Women’s rights, gay rights, student and musical freedoms were also on the docket. Concluding this important and chaotic year was a huge New Year’s Eve celebration with some of Europe’s most respected and forward thinking musicians. Now days, New Year’s Eve celebrations are nothing unusual, but here rock music was still considered to be subversive and was not taken seriously or as entertainment for the whole family unit.

‘Surprise-Partie’ was broadcast on French television on December 31, 1968 from ORTF studios in Paris and included a remarkable line up of artists. ‘The Who, Small Faces, Booker T and the MG’s, Pink Floyd, The Equals, Les Variations, The Troggs, Joe Cocker and Fleetwood Mac. Similarly to New Year’s Eve celebrations of modern times, some of the performances were taped on site and some come from various venues around Paris. Most of the bands performed live, but both the Small Faces and Who lip- synced their spots. This puzzles me somewhat at these two acts are obviously the most incendiary of the line up and famous for their live shows, but for reasons unknown they played along to backing tracks. There was a number of bands that played but did not make the television broadcast including but not limited to: PP Arnold, Francoise Hardy and Johnny Halliday.

Flickering today in the ‘rock room’ is the available circulating pro shot hour and a half broadcast. Unfortunately the original broadcast ran for three and a half, so we are missing much. What I am enjoying is also available on line for your review here. The film is quintessentially 60’s with a plethora of rock and a substantial amount of beautiful groovy ‘birds’. A paisley time capsule with a stellar captured soundtrack.

The show begins with ‘The Who’ playing along to a prerecorded track of three of their songs against the back drop of a aluminum foil dazzled stage. This particular era finds the in the grey area between their ‘psychedelic Mod’ era and Tommy. The footage is welcome for that single fact alone. ‘I’m a Boy, I Can See for Miles’, and ‘Magic Bus’ comprise the set. The band gives it their all but seems slightly uncomfortable with their surroundings. Moon and Townsend in particular seem to be feeling no pain. This mimed segment does offer a complete contrast to the Who’s devastating live performance of ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’ that took place on a few weeks prior on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.

The ‘Small Faces’ take the stage for their segment which is also mimed. The band looks like a group of bad asses in this clip with all eyes locked firmly on the simply decorated stage. Fascinatingly, the band opens with the title track of their latest LP, Odgens Nut Gone Flake. The band is in an odd configuration with Marriott on Hammond organ. This is also a rare and unique look at the band as very early in the next year Marriott would leave the band to begin ‘Humble Pie’ with Peter Frampton. The next two songs also feature from Odgens with Ronnie Lane’s ‘Song of a Baker’ and the horny ‘Rollin Over’. A fine and funny moment occurs when Marriott leaves the Hammond to grab his guitar in time for ‘Song of a Baker’ causing him to miss the beginning of the cut. Moon and Townsend laugh and Moon gives Marriott a joking punch as he grabs his instrument. Both Townsend and Moon sit on the stage like the surrounding dancers and band around enthusiastically to the Small Faces.

The show cuts to an offsite club where ‘Booker T and the MG’s’ play live at ‘Bibelot’. The band is as taut as a drawn bow with Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn and Al Jackson in particularly fine form locking down the groove. First up a swinging version of the famed ‘Green Onions’ with Cropper and Booker taking tasteful and crisp solo spots. Following next is the 1966 B side, ‘Booker Loo’. Washed with Booker’s breezy organ lines and the intimate venue quivers with the MG’s perfect shady rhythms.

The camera’s move to an additional off site club where the celluloid grasps another famous rock band during a time of flux. Next is ‘Pink Floyd’ live at ‘Bilboquet’ hailing from September 7, 1968 (I believe the band recorded a segment at the ORTF Studios the day before).  Founder, guitarist and songwriter Syd Barrett had left the band in April 1968 and was replaced by David Gilmour who is seen in this footage for one of the first times. This bit of footage is a real treat as I feel this particular era of Pink Floyd is stellar. Here the band performs ‘Let There Be More Light’ the lead off track from 1968’s Saucerful of Secrets. Of special note to ‘rock geek’s, is that this song is the first to feature a David Gilmour guitar solo and a stunning on at that. Set up on a minimalist stage, the song revolves around Roger Water’s weighty bass line. The psychedelia pulsates with a lysergic march to which a number of swirling and twirling girls and boys gyrate. The band is heavy and this particular performance sets something of a high water mark for what was to come for this definitive line up of the group.

‘The Equals’, a UK R and B band follow playing a short fiery three song live set. The band is known for their big hit, ‘Baby, Come Back’ (which closed this set), but also as one of the first racially mixed bands of the time.  The crowd is pumped with everyone on their feet and shakin’ asses. ‘Equality’ cooks with a soulful Eddy Grant guitar solo complete with some Hendrix style theatrics including playing with his mouth and buns! There is some serious sonic shoveling going on. The finishes bombastically with their big aforementioned single, ‘Baby Come Back’.

Popular French musicians, ‘Les Variations’ join the stage to play a set thematically connected by all being performed by the ‘Stones’ except for the closing ‘We’re Going Wrong’ (via Cream) which emerged from an ‘world music interlude’ during the set closing ‘Satisfaction’. ‘Les Variations’ set is charged rock and roll brought to life by a fully invested crowd who loves their hometown boys! Take note of the snappers in the front row who initiate the party atmosphere and get on stage during the gritty dynamic and improvised vamp on ‘Around and Around’. ‘Les Variations’ rips it up! A similarly high energy ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love’ gets the assembled crowd even more crazed with some early crowd surfing. These are the kind of sick moments that the ‘rock room’ lives for!! I will say that my assumption that the circulating video is out of order may be confirmed during the ‘Les Variations’ set as the credits are run during the concluding number.

‘The Troggs’ live set though maybe more well-known artists, pales in comparison to ‘Les variations’ freak out. Well known for the smash, ‘Wild Thing’ the US forerunners of ‘garage rock’ play a well-received set but one that lacks in the power of the previous groups. Nonetheless, the band is brisk and disseminates a chunky set of grooving pop psych. A strangely placed cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Peggy Sue’ is nestled mid set before the band closes with a singalong version ‘Somewhere My Girl Is Waiting’ from the bands 1967 LP Cellophane and the high tempo sudsy stomp of ‘Hip Hip Hurray’.

The cameras move yet again to join Joe Cocker and the Grease Band live at the ‘Tour de Nesle’ in Paris. A two song set comprised of the ‘Dylan/Band’s’, ‘I Shall Be Released’ and Cocker’s famous rendition of the ‘Beatles’, ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’. This segment may be the most intimate venue view yet as Cocker and his band are ‘elbows to ass*h*oles’ on the dimly lit and cramped stage. Cocker is his usual invested self and the footage joins with the small club crowd slow swaying and dancing. When ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ begins it gets the girls right up and dancing near the lip of the stage. Fresh faced Cocker gyrates and moves with the downbeat and reaches for each note while making the purely Beatles song his own only a bit over a year since its release. The footage of the stage from over the top of the minimal crowd really give listener a sense of time and space. Cocker directs the band charismatically during the ‘Friends’ conclusion with his body punctuation's and growling vocals driving one of the highlights of the broadcast to a substantial and explosive finish.

Closing the available footage is a three song blues set by the original ‘Fleetwood Mac’. Peter Green takes lead vocal for the track ‘Homework’ which is turned in on time and features a delicious shuffle. Peter Green steps back to let Jeremy Spencer come forward for two slide guitar focused numbers which the Mac appropriately kick their way through. The band closes with Elmore James, ‘Dust My Broom’ which gets the crowd swinging, but honestly we all know that 'Fleeetwood Mac' could have taken the show down in flames if they chose to.

The circulating footage of ‘New Years Eve 1968, ‘Surprise Partie’ is a time capsule of a unique musical and social period in our history. The pro shot color footage appropriates the era through sound, sight and aesthetic. Such an amazing visual experience to become part of an epoch that we can only read about and analyze through the foggy lens of history.

Suprise-Partie 1968

 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Between the Lines: Chris Hillman- ‘Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond’

For the most unassuming member of the band the ‘Byrds’, Chris Hillman has made a most indelible mark on rock and roll history. For a man once asked by John Lennon, ‘Does he talk?’, Hillman’s new memoir, Time Between: My life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond speaks in measured truthful tones regarding Hillman’s fifty plus years in music. Chris Hillman, in his own words, dispels rock and roll myth with tales about the ‘Byrds’ monster arrival on the musical scene with ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, discloses truths about his relationship with tragic musical legend Gram Parsons, and lets the reader in on a number of clandestine rock and roll and life moments.  A founding member of the ‘Byrds’, ‘Flying Burrito Brothers’, 'Manassas', and his own Desert Rose Band, Hillman played at Monterey Pop and Altamont and in the ‘rock room’s humble opinion the major impetus for what rock history refers to as the ‘country rock' movement.

Through his deft navigation of multiple instruments, and his deep seated love of bluegrass music, Hillman has developed a portfolio of masterful compositions, LP’s and genre defying arrangements. We can now include a book full of stories no longer locked away with his muse. Hillman has worked with some of the most legendary collaborators in rock and country history, including but not limited to, Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Gram Parsons, Herb Petersen, Bernie Leadon, Tom Petty and Stephen Stills. Finally, his remembrances have been documented wonderfully in the new autobiography Time Between: My life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond, due on November 17, 2020. Both Tom Petty (who produced Hillman’s 2017 LP ‘Bidin’ My Time’) and Dwight Yoakam offer special words and a forward for the detailed memoir.

Unlike similar tropes by other famed rockers, Hillman’s memories are untainted by salacious details and are more rooted in making sense of what a vital element he was in the development of rock and roll and country rock. Chris was essential observer and participant in a major musical revolution. He was often overshadowed by the ‘bigger’ personalities in his bands, such as David Crosby and Gram Parsons, but not because of any inferior musical prowess. Hillman was cool without effort, his perceived aloofness included a higher level of talent and intuition.

Hillman’s story begins with fire, a theme that is consistent throughout the book as Hillman burns with a desire which seems to follow an almost predetermined path. The loss of his father from suicide was an obvious and defining moment that becomes a weight as well as an impetus in developing his life. Chris was a ‘middle class California kid’ who with talent, chance, hard work and instilled morals was thrown into a seismic era of music and madness and came out an essential element in the development of rock and country. Hillman as a teen in the early 1960’s would soon be witnessing things he had only read about in books.  Horses, and fast cars would soon give room to mandolins, guitars and eventually an unexpected fame that would change his existence.

Well timed and well intentioned meetings litter his early path to becoming a musician. Producer Jim Dickson, Jim McGuinn, The Godsin Brothers, Clarence White, are just a few of the relationships discussed by Hillman as his career was built brick by brick. Obviously, the famed period from 1965 through the end of the ‘Burrito’s is vital and is covered in lovingly great detail. His attentiveness to his development as well as those around him offers entertainment as well as life lessons. Hillman’s modesty and conversational tone are part of the allure of the book, allowing the reader to relate, a tall task in a rock and roll memoir.

Hillman’s importance in the emergence and genre blending of ‘country rock’ cannot be understated. He is aware of this but offers a refreshing and realistic take, by letting the reader breath in the rarefied air of the era and inviting them to make their own connections. He lends the reader a ‘Byrds’ eye view of the rock and roll world through an essential and inside place.

Hillman clarifies myth, recounting the dramas littering his groups;  the ‘Byrds’, ‘Flying Burrito Brothers’,‘ Manassas’ and his solo career lineups. He reveals the truth regarding Gram Parsons dismissal from the ‘Burrito’s and the sad reality of Gene Clark. But these historic yarns are secondary to what the book is all about, which is Chris Hillman’s music, faith and longevity. Hillman is a real authentic while discussing the pitfalls his own career faced in the mid to late 1970’s. He connects the wires understanding the reasons for his own decent into the trappings of fame, drugs, business and desperation. He witnessed the talent of his close friends deteriorate and used his upbringing and faith to keep him on a line that would lead to a literal and figurative rebirth in the 1980’s.

Hillman was always best at supporting a band, the most essential ‘sideman’ in rock history.  Following a number of life changing events including his marriage to current wife Connie, a new collaborator in Steve Hill, and his rebirth as a man of faith, Hillman’s career became everything he had ever wanted. Chris Hillman had returned to the music of his DNA, bluegrass and string band melodies, and in the process rediscovered himself. His group and new musical medium, the ‘Desert Rose Band’ contained an impressive rotating cast with Hillman as the axis. The group allowed for honest collaboration and in the interim, became a huge country music success.

Chris had finally found all of the life pieces he had been collecting since a youth and placed them together at the appropriate time. Hillman underwent a major spiritual revitalization until an unexpected battle with Hepatitis C almost killed him. Once again, a thread woven throughout the text is family and faith is what can get you through anything. It's amazing he is still here with us.

Like all great comebacks, Hillman’s return to health also marked the dawning of a renewed interest in ‘alt-country’, a genre that Hillman in all honesty had been developing since 1965. The reader cannot help but marvel at Hillman’s ‘country rock’ lifetime, but like the best movies we find ourselves rooting for the central hero. Hillman released the Tom Petty produced LP ‘Biding My Time’ in 2017 and found himself right in the thick of it yet again.

Though finding himself right where he needed to be, Hillman has revealed the last few years a mixture of sweet and sour. A number of friends and family including Tom Petty have moved to the next realm. Similarly to the beginning of his tale, fire again returned to his life in December 2017 in the form of wildfires displacing him and Connie from their home. But like Hillman states in the book, ‘Life is all about change and growth’ and as 2018 dawned Chris once again returned to the road celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ‘Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. Reunited with Roger McGuinn, the therapy of music, family and faith brought it all full circle, a reoccurring theme in the book.

Time Between: My life as a Byrd, Burrito and Beyond comes at a time when we all need something to look forward to. Through his lifetime Chris Hillman was always the one in a supporting role, providing to the needs of the band, as opposed to the one. Today, he is the front man, speaking loud and clear and jamming into tomorrow.  For fans of rock and roll history this is a critical read. Musical insight, rock myths and important life lessons abound, Chris Hillman is the solid foundation in every artistic endeavor he undertakes.

https://www.instagram.com/chrishillmantimebetween/

Monday, November 2, 2020

Fleetwood Mac - Bare Trees - 'When We Are Dust'

Spinning today in the ‘rock room’ is a transitional yet beautifully creative LP obscured by the mists of rock history. The album’s enigmatic vibe is because the record acts a bridge between era’s as well as band members. Fleetwood Mac’s 1972 record Bare Trees was recorded post Peter Green, pre Buckingham/Nicks and right when Danny Kirwan was aiming to leave the group. The lineup at this point in the band’s existence was founding members Mick Fleetwood, John McVie as the rhythm section, Christine McVie on piano and vocals as well as Danny Kirwan and newcomer Bob Welch on guitar and vocals.

The album is a heterogeneous mix of compositions and influence. Only little tattered remains exist sonically of the Peter Green Fleetwood Mac blues band, and on the record there is now a sanded sweetness to the sound that foreshadows the FM radio Fleetwood Mac only 3 short years away. A wonderful record reflected in the pastoral landscape of the cover of towering trees caught between seasons, suspended on a misty grey area. The recording finds Danny Kirwan reaching a creative peak, Christine McVie a full time member of the band and Bob Welch lending the group a slick professionalism. While this line up of the 'Mac' gets filed between the two towering lineup's their albums and importance cannot be understated. The final track on the album is a poem titled, 'Thoughts On a Grey Day' is a poem read by a close neighbor of the band when recording the record. The content of the poem informed and inspired much of Danny Kirwan's writing on the LP.

The record begins with the churning ‘Child of Mine’, McVie’s blue Rhodes piano rolling under the undulating rhythm anchored by McVie’s loopy bass. The song has wind-blown melody but does retain an edge with some prickly lead lines from Kirwan. The music elicits movement, the search for child misplaced from a life from time. The song is biographical as Kirwan never knew his biological father. By the second verse, the addition of circular tom tom strikes lend even more urgency to the track. There is a dizzying breakdown mid song with a cavernous guitar tone by Kirwan and a spongy bed underneath. A ‘Badfinger’ rocker comes to mind when I play this cut, don’t know why. But it always happens.  Great rocker, big guitars, ace opener.

Bob Welch’s ‘The Ghost’ opens with an acoustic and bass guitar playing a prelude melody in unison. Welch was from California, and it shows in the song’s gusty construction and the spectral chorus motif that just feels warm and right. A woody flute (created by McVie on Mellotron) winds around the songs body.  

Christine McVie illustrates a strong vocal showing with the following ‘Homeward Bound’ The song begins as a real thumper with a robust cowbell driven groove. These are McVie’s debut lead vocals as an official member of the ‘Mac’ with a urgent rocker. Pop rock perfection.

The sparkling and dramatic Kirwan penned ‘Sunny Side of Heaven’ rises above the horizon, levitated by a centrally located descending lick. Closing the first side of the LP, the song cruises just inches above the tree tops, warmth on its wings. The melody sails almost weightlessly, the guitar singing over lacy undercurrents. Again, Kirwan and Welch deftly weave guitar lines without ever getting too busy. This is genius stuff. This is one of those certain songs that is a universe unto itself, it existence unique, its magic tangible, and perfectly concluding side one.

The title track ‘Bare Trees’ opens side two and is one of the closest things to the previous Fleetwood Mac of old. The groove is propellant and bounds over snow drifts and glossy streams hoping to get home to a warm fire. Glistening guitars agitate the groove with anxious chugging and bountiful picking. Syncopated breaks cross cut the central theme with McVie and Kirwan playing a dual lick. These tasteful breaks are drizzled all over the record. A ‘rock room’ favorite, this track has all of the essential elements of a killer rock cut and is a fitting side two opener.

‘Sentimental Lady’ follows, another fantastic cut by Bob Welch. Here we can hear it in its formative state, a warm love song that would later reach number 8 on the charts when rerecorded for Welch’s 1977 solo album French Kiss. Oddly enough for that later version, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham would contribute with McVie producing. The song ‘feels’ like a hit as it hits your aural receptors, on the Bare Trees LP its tucked on side 2, just another fantastic song on a stuffed record. The chorus segment spotlights a helix of intertwined vocalists and shimmering guitars.

‘Danny Chant’ opens with a violent slashing wah-wah’d guitar prelude. Layers of stratified guitars give the song a firm foundation. A slide guitar moves in from somewhere, and the song reveals a tribal stomp. Dust rises around as a wordless melody line fittingly and rhythmically chanted. An weighty and disorienting Kirwin number that somehow strattles both sides of the 'Fleetwood Mac' musical fence and acts as a divide between the the Welch and McVie songs on either side.

'Spare Me a Little of Your Love' follows in dynamic contrast and gives Christine McVie her second spotlight of the record and is the perfect little pop song. The cut would endure as it was played in concert throughout the 1970's. The song is the blended hue on a pallet connecting era's of Fleetwood Mac. McVie's recognizable hearty voice pleads its case against a timeless melody and groovy backdrop. Beautiful. 

What many folks, myself included assert to be Danny Kirwan’s finest composition, ‘Dust’ is the penultimate track on the record. A gentle original wisp of British Folk, Kirwan’s fragile vocals and the haunting melody teeter on the edge of shattering into a thousand pieces. The song is a deeply introspective meditation on the inevitability of death and loss. Harmonies, breathy cotton mesh with a gently wobbling electric guitar. The song seems to pass through your fingers as its gifts soak into your ears.

A track of mixed emotions for Mac fans, but vital in the inspiration of Bare Trees, the final movement of the LP is 'Thoughts On a Grey Day'. A poem written and dictated by an elderly neighbor of where the band was living; Mrs. Scarrott dictates the text to Mick Fleetwood's recorder in a shaky but sure voice. The poem sums up the precipitation loss drizzled throughout the record, but also leaves the listener looking for some sort hopefulness that it always close at hand. It is the 'rock room's assertion that the poem is the vital motif which the record is distilled through.

'Fleetwood Mac's Bare Trees is an important detour in the substantial discography of 'Fleetwood Mac'. Filed in between two substantially discussed and recognized era's, the LP blend into the landscape like the leafless trees on its cover. The 'rock room' recommends pulling the album from the organized slumber of your record shelves or adding it to your collection for a completely reasonable deduction. Danny Kirwan, Christine McVie  and Bob Welch's songs deserve it.

Bare Trees LP

Monday, October 26, 2020

Take One: Chicago - 'It Better End Soon' - Chicago II -'Can't Stand It No More'

The focus of today’s ‘Talk from the Rock Room’ Take One, is the song, ‘It Better End Soon’ found on side four of the 1970 LP ‘Chicago II’. Written by keyboardist and singer Robert Lamm the song is broke into four distinct movements. Politically motivated, like much of Chicago’s stellar early catalog, the song is pounded into the consciousness with a steely mantra of horns and guitar. Written in response to the Vietnam War and the mid-1960's civil rights movement; like all good art the song is still increasingly relevant. The ‘rock room’s focus for today's rant will be on the ten plus minute studio version, but I will also allude to the absolutely insane live versions performed by the group during the 1969-1971 time frame.

The opening lyrics of the song are a straight forward pleading for a better world:

Can't stand it no more
People dying
Crying for help for so many years
But nobody hears
Better end soon, my friend
It better end soon, my friend 

As stated, the song has a stunningly appropriate content for today’s current world climate. It just goes to show times never really change and human nature is human nature. 'Chicago' was a band that truly believed that music could change the world. But, I digress, the alchemy of the song really starts to develop as the horn trio honks out a repetitive five note cluster with the band coalescing around the groove. An earthy funk rolls over on itself as Cetera climbs the neck with a deliciously funky R and B bass line that lands into verse one.


The song’s introduction and the first movement is supported with Terry Kath’s gritty electric washboard scrubbing, setting the churning tempo. One of Kath’s musical gifts is that of having a drummer’s rhythm and his strumming patterns in the studio and especially the live versions are stunning. See this version from Tanglewood 1970 for a excellent example. As previously stated, Cetera then enters with a rotund and highly melodic bass line. In the 'rock room's opinion this is some of the finest playing Cetera has committed to tape. The trio of horns and drummer Danny Seraphine punctuate the groove. The groove is driving and constant. A drenching and dizzying wah wah lead line pours itself from Kath’s instrument. The horns blast out a conjoining melody line as the lyrics enter with the big bright Chicago vocal melodies. A second heaping dollop of wah wah brings up to Kath singing out verse two.

Following Kath’s disposal of the lyrics the second movement enters with Walter Parazaider’s spotlight and his stoically groovy flute solo. Dynamically reaching a peak, Kath and Lamm keep things together allowing Parazaider to explore the entirety of his instrument. Live version from this era include Walt quoting from a number of familiar melodies including ‘Dixie’. Kath lends well timed growls and asides vocally but Parazaider’s playing here is some of the best of his storied career. The rest of the band propels the groove with added handclaps, yells and percussive punctuations. During the extended live versions, with special attention paid to the aforementioned Tanglewood version from July 21, 1970 and the Isle of Wight version from August 28, 1970 later in the year, a full band improv would develop during these interludes.


The third movement that follows on the studio version is a Terry Kath rap. Helplessly groovy, Kath vamps on the famed Hendrix chord, the horn players again grab some percussion and a groove begins to develop. Flashes of thick Lamm B3 butter the bread as Kath lets it go. Pleading, begging, singing with a power reminiscent of Richard Manuel of the Band. The intensity is slowly wrenched up with Kath audibly wringing the emotion out of each and every word.  The live versions feature the same free flowing segment but with a bit more ‘in the moment’ guitar by Kath. Similarly to Kath’s idol Jimi Hendrix, Kath has mastered the art of dual singing with both guitar and vocals. I’ve mentioned the Tanglewood version a number of times now for the fact it is some of the best ‘Chicago’ footage of the founding members that exists. Someday, if we are lucky, someday this footage will see an official release (and I can do the liner notes). Like the previous movement the band joins hands around Kath’s pleading, the horns elongate their accentuation with extended breaths while Cetera and Seraphine lock things down. The band lands with a huge splash while a soaked to the bone with soul Terry Kath emerges victoriously from the swirling musical pool.

The fourth movement is a return to the song proper and the opening verse melody; both creating and closing an amazing musical suite. The original lineup of ‘Chicago’ is a stunning multifarious musical monster with each element a divine expert at their parts. The first ten years of Chicago featured the band becoming revolutionary with their musical approaches, lyrical content and fresh improvisational ideas. While 'It Better End Soon' would eventually fall from the Chicago set lists as the decade of the 70's turned to ash, in the years 1969-1971 is was a centerpiece that encapsulated everything important and vital about the group. 

'It Better End Soon' -Chicago II

Thursday, October 1, 2020

David Bowie – ChangesNowBowie – ‘Strange, Mad Celebration’

On August 29th, 2020 the first of this year’s Record Store Day drops was made, including a few exciting David Bowie audio releases. The subject of today’s ‘Talk from the Rock Room’ rant is the CD/LP release ChangesNowBowie, which documents an acoustic based nine song performance on BBC 1 radio. This performance was recorded in 1996 during rehearsals for Bowie’s 50th birthday celebration concert. The BBC broadcast the intimate show on the date of Bowie’s birthday the next year on January 8, 1997. A standout in the bootleg collections of many Bowie aficionados for a number of years, it is nice to have a crisp compact recording of this stand out later era Bowie performance.

The aforementioned broadcast featured some wonderful discussion with Bowie, but for this Record Store Day release just the music is included. Joining Bowie for the unique set of songs was Gail Ann Dorsey on bass and vocals, Reeves Gabrels (from Bowie’s Tin Machine band) on guitars and Mark Plati on Keyboards and electronics. What transpired on the BBC stage was a personal, sympathetic reading of a diverse set list both accessible for the assembled crowd yet still distinctly ‘Bowie’. The ‘rock room’ is following this stellar performance like reading a novel. I assert that this set list was developed to tell a tale, though different from what was broadcast, a personal touch in the song choices can be felt in addition to a tight focus.

This era of Bowie was another of constant reinvention and experimentation. Only a month after this broadcast, Bowie would release Earthling another chapter is his constantly evolving discography. The subject of today’s talk from the rock room, the ChangesNowBowie broadcast sits in complete contrast to the ‘drums and bass’, ‘electronic’ influence felt on Earthling. The multifarious Bowie per his usual practice had his fingers in numerous sonic pies during this era. Bowie always referred to himself as a ‘synthesist’, allowing his external forces to direct his muse. His recordings and performances in 1996-1997 hold this claim as true as ever. This performance is  hot tea and a plush pillow to rest a weary head.

The BBC concert begins with ‘The Man Who Sold the World’, a stringy sparkling rendition with Bowie’s reassuring vocals typical of this era the focus. He sings as if he is letting us in on an astronomical secret. A fitting opener as the song deals with someone dealing with two sides of their character. Special note to Gail Ann Dorsey’s delicate harmony vocals and Reeves sitar like ascending notes during the central riff.

Another fine arrangement of an 1970's composition follows with ‘Aladdin Sane’ in a spacious just on the edge of acoustic construct. Again, with perfectly placed Gail Ann Dorsey vocals. Churning folk guitars allow for focus on the lyrics through the verses until Mark Plati enters for a discordant piano interlude. Dorsey and Bowie blend vocally like they are related and conclude the song with swirling and overlapping voices.

An edgy and syncopated version of the ‘Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light/White Heat’ gets placed on the burner next. An in concert favorite over the years for Bowie, here it is played with the same gusto as previous 1970’s versions. The songs vamp is cut around the hard thump of the bass drum to which Bowie weaves around deftly. Reeves kicks on the distortion pedal following the verses and lets two molten solo spots develop, scorching the empty voids. Gold.

A rare take on ‘Shopping for Girls’, a song from Bowie’s side project ‘Tim Machine’s’ second LP Tin Machine II. Composed by Bowie and Gabrels, the track is an artist’s view about the awfulness of the child sex trade. Bowie struggled with making a ‘rock’ song about such a difficult subject but in his typical fashion he was ahead of the curve, and its addition to this unique show’s emotive set somehow makes complete sense. The song moves on a squiggly acoustic slide lick and Bowie’s matter of fact rhythmically ‘Dylanesque’ tempo. The song straddles the fence between creepy and sad and blunt reality. I suggest to you dear reader to follow along with the lyrics while having your listening session. Typically Bowie, this arrangement takes a difficult subject from a low key album and packages it so the collected BBC listeners become aware of its important existence.

An exquisite and majestic reading of ‘Lady Stardust’ is next in the set. Almost weightless in its construct, the song features the Bowie theme of ‘duality’ where the narrator is both man and woman or possibly both, or just another image distorted of oneself. One of the most beautiful songs from 1973’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, here its delectate structure is wrapped in patient and humble sonics. Bowie's vocals are perfection, with just a touch wavering lending legitimacy of his character study. For the first time in the show Bowie pushes his voice perfectly into the beyond.

 

The closing track from Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World, ‘The Superman’ is given a detailed and rare live reading next. Bowie has stated that the song’s original central guitar lick was given to him by Jimmy Page when playing on one of Bowie’s early sessions. Like previously stated the song is placed perfectly in the construct of the set, with each track somehow contextually related, or this could just be in the mind of the 'rock room'. This version is wonderfully bounding with a slick elastic bass line and strong scrubbing acoustic guitars. After the beginning verses, a smooth organ line lays a thick coat of sound paint across the rhythm. Typically for the evening Bowie sings the shit out of this one.

‘Repetition’, a song tucked away on the flip side of Bowie’s 1979 LP Lodger follows in its new 1997 guise. If anything the song’s content is more powerful under the microscopic view of the acoustic based analysis. The song is clandestine peek through a cracked door at an abusive relationship. Slotting into the track list with a deeper important message to be discerned, the song lost a bit of its claustrophobic vibe from the studio version. But by the end the walls are closing in and the melody eats itself amongst a wash of acoustic guitar, slide work and thick mellotron brush strokes.

‘Andy Warhol’ is another rarely played track, last put on display during the 1995 Outside tour after a prior absence of twenty plus years. In stunning contrast to the bombastic Outside tour arrangement, here, Andy Warhol’ is a perfect choice as a close relative to acoustic based number from 1971's Hunk Dory . The song grooves like a campfire singalong with the thick brushstrokes of acoustic guitars. Again, Bowie's voice the centerpiece in sympatico with every musical movement.

‘Quicksand’, one of Bowie’s most enduring melodies in the ‘rock room’s humble opinion closes the BBC session. Lyrically it is also one of Bowie’s shady and philosophical musings. The song offers no hope to the listener and offers a glimpse inside a mind coming to terms with both reality and knowledge.  Following a prelude made of glistening gritty particles, Bowie’s voice enters, youth in his voice, a resignation slightly below the surface. The song is pulled like warm taffy, stretched between being swallowed into the earth and reaching its arms to the sky. While exploring themes also looked at in ‘The Superman’ this song retains a cloak and dagger hopefulness, though this theme is only felt through it's optimistic chord changes. Bowie's vocals are chilling. The middle eight contrasts the verses with layered harmonies, swelled keyboard strings and fleeting hopefulness. Thus ends this collection.

Bowie's long and extensive catalog continues to be cracked open for inspection following the specific directives left after his death. The 'rock room' knows the surface has only just been scratched as Bowie  left a wealth of music and performance behind.. Sure, this performance has been available through unofficial channels for a number of years; but it's nice to own it officially. The show contains Bowie happy, centered and loose for his big 50th. It should be lauded for its contents, in addition to its availability to a new era of Bowie fans and collectors.

ChangesNowBowie

Friday, September 18, 2020

Take One: Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation – ‘Stone Crazy’ - Stewart, Green, Bruce -'Crazy Blue'

In the midst of the swelling white boy British blues boom of the 1960’s there was a plethora of cross pollination between artists, bands and songs. The guitarist’s chairs were almost always spinning as now legendary pickers bounded from group to group in addition to starting their own bands. Starting with  'Alexis Korner's, Blues Incorporated and moving into and through the 'Stones' and 'Yardbirds'’ in the early part of the 60's, a number of collaborative efforts followed suit. In the November of 1967 one of these short lived ‘supergroups’ came together, oh so briefly. Aynsley Dunbar, at this point drummer for 'John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, then the 'Jeff Beck Group' and later of Zappa's 'Mother's of Invention' pulled together his own side project using a few of the musical connections he had made along the way.

In a lineup that is almost too good to be believed, Dunbar enlisted Rod 'the Mod' Stewart who was later his band mate in the Jeff Beck Group to take over vocal duties. He also asked Peter Green recently defected from John Mayall’s Bluesbreaker to play lead guitar, and for Jack Bruce bassist for Graham Bond Organization the Bluesbreakers, and most currently at the time ‘Cream’ to assist. This aforementioned group was the blueprint for the first Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation and for this particular session the band was believed to be named ‘Crazy Blue’. Obviously all of the participants of the band were soo to be in preparation to springboard into bands of their own design.  Stewart eventually to Faces, Green to found Fleetwood Mac, Bruce already in Cream and Dunbar in a band that carried his name and later banging the kit Frank Zappa.

This loose conglomerate of a band joined for one legendary and historic session in November of 1967 which reportedly took place for the Blue Horizon’s label. Two songs and three attempts were taken at recording a single for the band. ‘Stone Crazy’ had two attempts and 'Fly Right Baby' with Jack Bruce playing piano had one and remains as of this writing unreleased. Who knows the actual reasons for the short term aspect of the band but one can assume that contractual obligations had something to do with it ending before it started. The subject of today's 'rock rant' is the only track that exists for our ears from the session, 'Stone Crazy'.

The song is a slow blues taken for leisurely drive on dark rain pocked cobblestone streets. Green’s candied tone is immediately recognizable as the track begins to reveals itself. Bruce grumbles a idiosyncratic bass line with a painter’s attention to detail. Dunbar holds it all together with a patient 12 bar on the hi hat and snare. Stewart soon comes in for the intro verse and the thougth crosses my mind that he could have been the best white blues singer ever, if he chose to follow that path.

Deftly weaving lyrics, with some that would later find a home on the Jeff Beck Group track, ‘Blues Deluxe’ Stewart makes ya feel it, playing with husky dynamics while extracting a deep feeling from the groove like a blood draw.  Peter Green answers Stewart's calls with silvery stringy bends. Green leaves just enough breathing room for each riff to marinate in your ears. It's a fact that these British musicians held the American blues musicians in such high regard that their recreations can be nothing but authentic. While this song's authorship cannot be determined, it is a straight blues with lyrical content hailing from an number of sources which was typical of the time.

First solo break Bruce and Green stream their respective licks from the musical maypole. Bruce thumps with a puffed out chest while descending in time, growling out the changes. In his typical fashion Green conjures a solo that amazes and medicates while emanating a deep understanding of the blues. Patient, sugary, sleek like liquid night. The song rocks gently with a secretive strength, the unique musical ability of each principal eliciting a power that does not require flash or musical posturing.

       Pic : Lars-Ewe Nilsson

Following the solo break Stewart returns with a sensual and gritty whisper. Regardless of your opinion of Stewart, it get's you feeling funny and funky. Stewart follows the aforementioned lyric with an aggressive demanding response, one begging to prove his love. Green tickles the fretboard with a scurrying yet perfectly slotted lick. The final lyric Stewart giggles during the break, a fitting end to what sounds and feels like a enjoyable exploration of the blues and a tentative musical relationship.

One track, five minutes, but a musical eternity contained within. Each member of this short lived conglomerate would go on to their own musical fame. Dunbar would go on to release a series of solo LP's, in addition to each respective member of this particular group. But for a couple of shared moments and one powerful track that has revealed itself to listeners they got it together for a legendary what if?

STONE CRAZY - 1967