Talk From The Rock Room: 2021

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Put the Boot In: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks – February 24, 1964 London, Ontario - 'Bacon Fat'

Spinning today in the ‘rock room’ is a 30 minute archival tape of 24k musical gold. Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks captured live and in action on magnetic tape in London, Ontario, Canada, February 24, 1964. Three weeks removed from the arrival of the Beatles, music was on a spacecraft to the stars and the 'Hawks' were riding shotgun. Live performances by the ‘pre-Band’ Hawks are quite rare and range from acceptable to acceptable minus as far as audio quality goes. This capture finds the 'Hawks' ready to soar on their own as they would within a year leave the 'Hawk' on their way to becoming the 'Band' via Bob Dylan. The tape has circulated for a number of years and is a proper document of an evening with 'Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks'

This particular recording was made by an enterprising audience member and captures the band in full flight with only some distortion on the vocals. Unfortunately Rick Danko’s bass playing is not very audible on the tape in addition to some rough spots on the reel. This is also the shortest of the currently circulating ‘Hawks’ recordings, but it does contain Ronnie Hawkins fronting the group which makes the recoding that much more exciting! There is no specific venue listed with the tapes information but it’s easy to tell that the crowd is amped and the band is playing well. In spite of the tapes sonic limitations, it really does place you right in the room. There are a number of discernable comments by concert goers and some humorous on stage tom foolery. You are going to want to put your bootleg ears on for this one, but it will be well worth the sacrifice!

This band line up of this particular recording is Rick Danko (bass), Richard Manuel (vocals, piano), Garth Hudson (organ, saxophone), Levon Helm (drums), Robbie Robertson (guitar) and Jerry Penfound (saxophone, percussion) who would only be the group for a limited time more and of course the 'Hawk', Ronnie Hawkins. The quintessential front man and star of the show until the 'Hawks' started to fledge.

The recording picks up with the band already grooving in progress with ‘Who Do You Love’. The groove is rutted deep as a Canadian two track and Robertson’s guitar growls on the tape. I don't think much music is missing here. The recording’s fidelity is such that you can discern individual voices from the crowd in addition to Hawkins shouting on stage direction. The issues with the tape come from the substantial sonic maelstrom emanating from the grandstand and causing distortion. The band is chugging along dynamically while the ‘Hawk’ primes the pump. Fans of the female persuasion can be heard close to the taper with remarks and giggles. The ‘Hawk’ in typical fashion plays with their emotions and stirs up their excitement.

Soon after Hawkins snarls the opening lyrics the group detonates the central jam into a frantic whirlwind of sound. Manuel’s fingers clang around the upper register of the piano as Robertson peels of reams of swollen licks. Hudson is audible and shifts the floorboards underneath the venue with thick coats of  rich organ. The tension is delicious as the group falls back into the verse groove. Manuel and Robertson volley licks back and forth. Helm’s ride cymbal is crystalline driving the rhythm. I've said it before and I'll say it again, 'The Hawks were the best band in the world at this point in time". Wow.

There is a plethora of kinetic passing of the musical pipe as the 'Hawks' quiver with energy. Another detonation of sonic madness takes place with Robertson getting ultra demented. The ‘Band’ brings it back down yet again before Hawkins calls for Garth Hudson to lay down a solo. Hudson sneaks in low with a musical army crawl, spreading a wash of unique sound with Helm popping off rim shots. At a bit past seven minutes the ‘Hawk’ says, ‘Ok Robbie', as the jam undulates between an aggressive ‘Bo Diddley’ beat and that of a sonically serrated hand saw slicing wood. Robertson, in his infancy as a player, cuts deep with distorted slices and jabs distilled through the sheet of sound.

Manuel rattles along underneath and soon links up with Danko as the sonic haze gains some clarity. The sound improvement is in addition my ears becoming accustomed to the recording. The 'Hawks' increase the tension with Robertson hitting on a circular lick and Helm riding the train right next to him. Hawkins screams and the band opens the tap. The tension is thick, palm mutes, and rock and roll  screams grind the 'Who Do You Love' jam to a thrilling and sexy conclusion.

A respite to the onslaught of sound comes with Hawkins lubing up the crowd, 'We got a lot of requests, we gotta do some slow ones for the sake of the people rubbing around on each other out there’. There is alot of cool dialog and audio verite gold that I will leave you my dear reader to discern on your own. That's the fun!

Giving the 'Hawk' a break, 'Beak' gets the spotlight for 'Share Your Love' a song the later 'Band' would revisit on 1973's Moondog Matinee. Manuel croons 'Share Your Love', getting the little girls to giggle and swoon. While focusing in and picking through the sonic debris of the tape I can hear Robertson picking watery filigrees and Helm' shuffling the beat. This is priceless. 

At the conclusion of  'Share Your Love', there is a bit of fantastic dialog between the 'Hawk' and the females in the crowd. Hawk asks the ladies yelling for Levon to 'show him what you want'. Hawk tells the fans to 'not be bashful now' and tell Levon what they want him to sing. Hawk then mentions, 'We got the horns here now so we'll let 'Beak' sing one more then we'll let Levon. There is a small cut in the recording and we hear the count off for 'A Sweeter Girl Has Never Been Born'. This is where it's at. Admittedly, the 'rock room' does not know the author of this cut, but I can confirm that Manuel makes it his own.

This is swinging R and B at it's finest and the 'Hawks' are as tight as a bank vault. After a double snare hit by Helm, the 'Hawks' jump into the pocket. There is some hi distortion on the tape but Manuel comes in loud and clear. Helm swings with his ride cymbal and the horns bleat out well placed punctuations. Manuel's vocals rattle the light fixtures as he plainly illustrates why he was the lead vocalist for the 'Hawks'. I'm pretty sure its Garth Hudson and Penfound on horns. Oooooooh, lord this is the stuff. Take note that right at first sax break Manuel lays down a beautiful descending line on the piano and then hits boogie-woogie just in time for the first sax solo. Chills. 

It's sounds to these ears that Garth takes the first solo spot but this a total guess on my part. Dig on the song's conclusion when the 'Band' drops out and Richard really gets into it with Helm nailing the beat to the floor. Highlight reel stuff even with the questionable audio at points. 

Hawkins mentioned that they group has time for two more songs and runs down a list of possibilities before remembering that Levon was supposed to sing one! There is some more audio verite' rarities from the 'Hawk' to be mined here. Cutting in already in progress, Helm is singing the hell out of Howlin Wolf's, 'Howlin' for My Baby'.

The sound here is very alright, Manuel parrots the verses with Helm on the upper register of the piano and Robertson strangles out responses. The Hawks are are hot to the touch as Robbie takes a serpentine first solo with his trademark sustained notes. Levon is Levon, which is to say en fuego. Robertson takes an additional solo with even Danko's guttural thumping entering the sonic spread. The guys bring it down and you can hear a grin in Helm's vocals as the girls squeal in delight. Mr. Hudson flies in for the outro with a series of technicolor washes. Damn, this is the 'Band' right here. The crowd knows it as they start to clap in time, Robertson riffs again and the song concludes magnificently.

The 'Hawk' replies, 'It's Levon Helm and the Helmettes' at the song's conclusion. There is a brief cut before we are placed into the Garth Hudson/Robbie Robertson composition 'Bacon Fat' a song that would continue to be played on stage by 'Levon and the Hawks' into 1965. There are no vocals on this version. 'Bacon Fat' is a syncopated piece that highlights Hudson's substantial abilities and Robertson's rapidly ascendant guitar stylings. The song displays all of the elements that made the 'Hawks' a musical powerhouse. A natural gestalt linkage between the players, an organic trading off of licks and a tight rhythm section that hits the mark through any and all changes. Hudson is especially frisky with heavy finger work. Toward the song's conclusion Levon Helm announces, 'I'd like to introduce the future leaders of Canada' to a great response. You can tell things are getting crazy by this point in the evening. Penfound takes a sweet final sax solo, Levon says 'goodnight' and Hudson takes it home.

What an experience to be lucky enough to witness 'Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks' in a small Canadian club at their peak. The 'rock room' will never be able to make that happen but thankfully there are audio documents like this one to get us as close as possible. Until the long rumored 'Hawks' box From Bacon Fat to Judgement Day sees a release this will have to do. (I wont hold my breath). The talent and ability was obviously there from the formative days with Ronnie Hawkins and the future 'Band' as they all ended up with music careers that would place them in the pantheon of the very best at what they do. Here, we can check them out when they had the fire in their guts and stars in their eyes. They were the best r and b band in the land and tapes like this prove it every time.






Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Now Playing -George Harrison - Live at the Olympia 1974 - Hari's On Tour Express

Some special rock footage guaranteed to blow your mind has recently come into circulation and for the time being is available for review online. In 1974 Ravi Shankar and George Harrison undertook a 45 show concert tour across the US running concurrent with Harrison' s release of his 'Dark Horse' single and his announcement of his own Dark Horse records. Obviously anticipation was high for the tour as this would be the first time a Beatle would tour North America since the group retreated from the road in August of 1966. For a long while, any documented footage from this tour has been at a premium and only a miniscule amount of officially sanctioned product has ever been released from the tour (Living in the Material World documentary). In recent times YouTube has been the recipient of more than a couple different Harrison and Friends tour clips that have been recovered from various collections. As of the writing of this article the footage has been removed from You Tube, but can be found in the dusty corners of the internet for those who want to search.

Harrison put together a 'hot shit' band for the tour and was thrilled to share a bill with one of his musical hero's Ravi. Baked by Tom Scott and members of the the L.A. Express as well as Billy Preston, Willie Weeks, Jim Keltner and Robbin Ford.  Originally a double LP of music was planned to be mined from the shows but unfortunately this never occurred due to a number of contributing factors. The most affecting of these was that media vas vicious in their reviews of the tour. The criticized Harrison's voice ( which was admittedly rough on some nights due to overuse and abuse), other outlets complained that Harrison only played four Beatles song throughout his set and most obnoxiously they complained about Ravi's stage time.

Like anything we view through the hazy lens of rock and roll history these media observations can now be looked at as a skewed representation of what occurred on the tour. The recent and previously mentioned clips and snippets of varying quality that have been circulating can now reveal the tour to fans in the different light. There are available clips from Atlanta, as well as a few fan made compilations around , but nothing the compares to the gold we will discuss today.  Which takes us to the subject of today's TFTRR 'Now Playing' feature. I am enjoying beautifully shot, vividly colored and highly welcomed Super 8 footage from George Harrison, live December 4th 1974 at the Olympia in Detroit, Michigan. Harrison played two shows on this date at the venue and this particular footage was shot from very close to the stage at the afternoon performance.

An enterprising fan has lovingly synced the available audience recorded audio to this amateur footage providing us with the most amazing capture of Harrison's famed 1974 tour we could ever hope to see. In the case of a few of the songs no concert specific audio was available so music from shows in Los Angeles and Toronto was flown in. The 'rock room' will try to note when this is the case. The total length of the footage is just short of 28 minutes; and while not complete and frustrating at times, totally worth its weight in rare gold! Most importantly its a steady shot with close to tripod quality.

The footage begins with a version of 'Hari's On Tour (Express) ' in full bloom. The cameraman is fully focused on Harrison while  the clarity and steady hand of the film is breathtaking. Harrison is a striking image in denim donning his slide and grooving kinetically to the pumping horns. He is shaking it like it's 1964! Out of frame is band member Robben Ford contributing a soaring slide line to the churning rhythm section comprised of  WIllie Weeks on bass and Jim Keltner on drums respectively. Harrison looks like he is having a blast on his woodgrain Stratocaster taking a gritty solo spot which the steady camera captures in all it's glory. At one point Hari looks directly at and through the camera. 3 minutes of this track exist before being dropped into a version of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' all ready in progress. But such is 'bootleg' material.

'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' again finds the camera loving George, as it should. For this much to small snippet of the track, Harrison is armed with "Lucy" the famed cherry red Gibson Les Paul Harrison was gifted by Eric Clapton. George is fully invested in the vocals then leans waaaaaay into his solo before we are dropped into a 'Something' already in progress.

Harrison is still playing 'Lucy' and swaying to the heavy stepping rendition. In the 'rock room's opinion Harrison's obvious investment in the song is more than enough to prove the extreme worth of this film. Sure, the vocals are 'shouty' and rough hewn, but so were Dylan's in 1974. The taper obviously caught the sweet stuff as Harrison again digs into the solo spot, eyes closed, switches pick up's and squeezes out a beautifully emotive solo spot. I feel myself getting fired up, this is where its at. The taper pulls back for a wide stage shot and all of a sudden I'm sitting front three rows, only a small glitch brings me back to the 'rock room' couch. Harrison sings the final verse with some updated lyrics, while at 6:40 the camera frames a toothy Hari grin that gives me shivers. Stunning.

A perfectly framed and vibrant shot of Billy Preston fills the screen as the band orbits around Preston's first number one hit, 'Will It Go Round In Circles?' The band is jamming here and we are placed up front as the camera pulls back for a full stage shot just as Preston takes a funky melodica solo spot. The energy from the film is tangible. We get some muffled sonic's at about half after eight minutes which continue through to the end of the song. 

The next segment finds us dropped mid way into a churning horny and percussion filled jam. 'Soundstage of Mind' spotlighted all of the contributors to the show and it's obvious George and the band are having a tremendous time. This spotlights some stunning close up footage of George now donning an additional Stratocaster. Wow, this makes me sweat for an official release from this tour. We know it exists, lets do this!

These concerts were unknowingly ahead of their time, the mixture of styles as well as, artists. Beginning with the 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh, Harrison was always looking to expand his and own own sonic pallet. The 'rock room' firmly believes that part of the reason for questionable media reviews in regards to Harrison 1974 tour, was because of the closed ears of the reviewers! In our meaningless opinion these performances are ace!

The following clip places us into the first verse of  the 'Beatles' 'For You Blue'. Harrison and his band play a slippery and jazzy reading which the camera operator tries to capture the key moments which the do with great success! Harrison takes a measures solo on his Strat, percussionist Emil Richards takes a (bell/chime?) solo to which the horn section takes great joy in. Next we get Alvin Lee on a beautiful Gibson 335 getting his moment to shine. Hari grins his way through another verse as Willie Weeks' breaks us down with a thumpy solo spot that overwhelms the recorder.

Sticking with the film makers theme a perfectly framed Harrison stands armed with an Ovation acoustic guitar while playing a lilting reading of 'Give Me Love, Give Me Peace On Earth' with band before we are dropped into the tour's unique arrangement of the 'Beatles' 'In My Life'. Harrison's arrangement of the Rubber Soul Lennon/McCartney cut was preformed on the 74 tour in a bombastic reading, like a lost All Things Must Pass track. The camera gets Harrison and Lee in frame as Hari takes a concluding solo thankfully captured. 

The following clip finds the Harrison band playing 'Tom Cat' from band member Tom Scott's fusion record with the horn section L. A. Express. A funky number, the track adheres to the theme of Harrison providing his fans with a plethora of different genres and musical experience. Our mystery filmmaker does a fine job of scanning the stage for whomever is contributing at the time. The band is cooked under red lights here, though I do believe that the audio has been flown in from another performance for this clip.

Harrison has his famed psychedelically painted 1961 Beatles Fender Stratocaster and slide for this next rendition of 'Maya Love' from Harrison's then current Dark Horse record. The famed instrument named 'Rocky' was part of numerous Beatles sessions and continues to be owned by the Harrison estate. Stunning footage here as Harrison takes two icy slide solo spots in his recognizable tone. I could watch this repeatedly as Harrison plays sinking in inspiration.

The fantastic Billy Preston again takes up the screen with yellow shirt and resplendent afro for his current 1974 cut 'Nothing From Nothing'. Preston gets the crowd going with a hand clapping break down. The camera pans and everyone on the stage is drenched in the joy of creating music. Following a few blips, Preston comes out from behind his keyboard to get down in front of the crowd. Harrison is beaming as he and Billy groove. The lights are bright and the musicians are brighter as the music churns. Classic! The music heard on this clip hails from the Toronto performance. 

The recorder turns their television eye into the crowd to collect the vibe and then back to the stage where this piece of historic celluloid concludes. This is the kind of stuff the the 'rock room' lives for, rare footage, a underrepresented era,  and one of my musical idols in full blow. It remains to be seen if anything will ever come from this footage or the pro shot stuff the Harrison estate has in their archives. (see Living In the Material World) But what we can be thankful for is that a kind renegade taper immortalized this footage forever and we are lucky enough to delve into it. 

Typically the media misses the mark when their unrealized expectations are not met. That is definitely the case with George Harrison and Ravi Shankar's 1974 tour where unique combinations of music collided with familiar sounds and were expressed by a special collaborative of musicians.

NOTE: THIS FOOTAGE HAS ALREADY BEEN REMOVED FROM YOU TUBE

George Harrison's 1974 Tour



Monday, August 2, 2021

Take One: Thin Lizzy -'Cowboy Song' 1976 Single


Thin Lizzy's intelligent and rowdy singer, songwriter and bass player Phil Lynott was inspired and seduced by American pop culture. What better inspiration for a peaking songwriter then the plethora of imagery provided by the American Cowboy? Co-written by Phil Lynott and drummer Brian Downey 'Cowboy Song' was released as an edited Mercury Records single in September 1976 b/w 'Angel from the Coast. Both tracks hailed from 'Thin Lizzy's' breakthrough and probably their most popular LP, Jailbreak. This would be the third single to be culled from a record that put the group on the map with the previous hits being, 'The Boys are Back In Town' and the title track, 'Jailbreak'.

While the lyrical content is more fictional mind movies than some deep introspective soul reveal, what the context does is give 'Thin Lizzy' a starting point for a cinematic and glorious guitar rocker. In the cut, there are multiple movements as well as an organic navigation through interweaving dual guitar lines, popping snare shots and Lynott's rotund bass work. The song starts from humble and dusty origins and by the end of its tale dynamically reaches its destination.

Lynott must have fancied himself a traveler on the open plains, a stranger in a strange land as the band made their way across the U.S. on tour. Of Irish (born in England) and African American decent Lynott was something of an oddity in the world of rock and roll. It also provided him with unique views and a quirky lyricism. While songs of 'Cowboys and Indians' may seem trite, 'Thin Lizzy' is one of the only groups that can use the germ of an idea like the cowboy and scrawl it out with glorious attitude using the penmanship of hard rocking dual guitars.

As previously mentioned the single was truncated for release, so the 'rock room' will review the full length LP version. We would also like to direct you to the frenzied version available on 'Thin Lizzy's June 1978 live album, Live and Dangerous which you can find here. Dripping with drama and attitude this is a must hear rendition.

The song opens with a harmonica blowing from somewhere on the chalky horizon. A dusky chorused guitar accompanies Lynott's gentle introductory lead vocal on the look out for coyote. From out on the edge of darkness, a snare snaps, a pulsing riff appears and coagulates into a orchestrated dual guitar attack. This sizzling intro rides toward and lands on a delicious and chunky verse melody. 

A man and his horse reflect on the woman they left behind, the classic cowboy song. But here, injected with some punky molten rock and roll riffing and a delinquent attitude. The descending chorus line  resets the pallet in response to the addictive melody that gallops through the high speed verses.

A duo of aggressive Les Paul's through Marshall stacks is the aesthetic as Scott Gorham takes the first solo over the gritty verse melody, a glorious wind through the hair ride on the back of a stringed stallion. Gorham's guitar eliciting freedom with a series of triumphant exclamations. Soon both guitarists collaborate for the opening melodic statement but played here higher up the neck, before dropping low into a downstroked and spacious gallop. 

Lynott raps some verses from the chorus over a 'Television-esque' groove. 'It's ok amigo, just let me go, ridin in the rodeo' as the band churns. Dual guitar lines push through like fingers in balloons for clipped statements, but the airy arrangement continues until Brian Robertson saddles up with a screaming solo spot. Sweetly distorted with six shooter blazing, 'Robbo' take a series of edgy replies to Gorham's previous excursion. Woo- hoo! The band returns right to the chorus and concludes the song with the line, 'the cowboy's life is the life for me'. 

'Cowboy Song' is a terribly underrated cut from a extremely famous LP. That being said, 'Thin Lizzy' hardcore fans love it! Jailbreak was the record that took 'Thin Lizzy' to levels of stardom that they had never thought possible. Through diverse arrangements, true lyricism and a heavy rocking Phil Lynott, the band offered an originality that became  a great success. Alternatively that originality kept some of their compositions from main stream acceptance for a number of years. One thing the 'rock room' can confirm, you can never go wrong with heavy guitars, a tight rhythm and well written songs.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Now Playing – Memphis '69 - The 1969 Memphis Country Blues Festival

“We Don’t Know What the Heat Says, But it’s Cool to Dance.”

Flickering on the flat screen of the ‘rock room’ is a historic piece of celluloid immortalizing three days and two nights of oppressive heat and stunning blues music. Filmed for posterity, on June 6th-8th 1969 the Memphis Country Blues Society put on their annual Memphis Country Blues festival which ran from 1965 for 4 years. The film was once thought to be lost to the ravages of time, though luck would eventually intervene. A casual conversation between ‘Fat Possum Records’ (who will release the film on August 6) co-owner Bruce Watson and Gene Rosenthal from Adelphi Records resulted in these reels of blues gold being excavated, synced up, beautified and released for our listening and viewing pleasure. 

Rosenthal had originally filmed the festival himself, traveling from Maryland with a crew, exhausting his budget and shooting over 40,000 feet of film. The film was shelved and remained in suspended animation as Rosenthal had to sell his gear just to process the media! We are sure glad he did. Because 47 years later all his hard work finally paid off. Due for online release on August 6th and on physical media September 17th, this previously unreleased vibrant capture of blues, brotherhood and music making has been over a half of a century in the making. Order the film here.

Ironically, held only a few days after a Klu Klux Klan rally at the same civic shell, Memphis 69 illustrates the collaborative power of music and how the musicians involved didn't see color. The current timing of the release of this film couldn’t be better considering the fractured state of relations in the United States. This is a rare musical documentary where the blues, the counterculture and all walks of life get it on and let the music guide the way. Featured in the film are special performances by blues legends, Bukka White, Yank Rachel, Furry Lewis, Johnny Winter, Mississippi Fred McDowell and a formative performance by John Fahey. Most of those appearing at the festival were local performers just doing their job. The film offers up a plethora of flashing images of the diverse crowd intermingled with the montage of music culled from the three days of performances resulting in an effective expression of the festival.

The film begins with movement, pictures of Memphis, classic imagery with a radio station acting as the soundtrack while making announcements for the upcoming festival. The antiqued scent of a cracked time capsule fills the ‘rock room’ as each artist is placed in the marquee with the corresponding reels of archival footage. Within moments I am seated on the speeding train flashing over the bridge and placed in preparations for the show. Hippies, blues cats, fine ladies and hipsters stroll through the turnstiles for day one. Before long the grainy footage and movement settles on the steamy stage basked in brutal sun.

The ‘Bar-Kays’ open the proceedings soaked in sunshine, the former backing band for Otis Redding taking the family canine out for a spin while they ‘Walk the Dog’. A bounding groove and a fob twirling Stax swing get me up and getting down. An absolutely triumphant beginning to the film. Soon after, you can feel the heat emanating off of the film as the assembled crowd fan off as Bukka White takes the stage. Bukka the one man substantial band puts on a guitar clinic with his glistening resonator guitar, silvery slide, percussive ham boning and guttural vocalizations.

Estimated at the time of the concert as being 106 years old, Nathan Beauregard takes the stage with his electric guitar for a set of the ‘real’ blues. Protected from the oppressive sun with an umbrella Beauregard gets way down. ‘Rediscovered’ in the late 1960’s in Memphis, this rare recorded appearance allow the viewer, like those in attendance, to deeply experience the blues by someone who had lived it and disseminated it in the prewar era.

The next performers are legendary bluesmen Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachel who plays some killer electric mandolin on this track. A pretty young girl holds an umbrella over Sleepy John's head as he cooks up a jambalaya of bubbling blues with his young white rhythm section, illustrating just how wonderful the collaborations were during this long musical weekend. Later in the film Estes and Rachel will be spotlighted again during the evening performance as an acoustic duo swapping licks and vocals. Stunning stuff.

A cut in scene with test tone shows a 'Friday Evening' sign before placing me in a night time seat for English blues woman Jo Ann Kelly and 'Backwards Sam Firk' who accompanies her for Son House's 'Death Letter Blues'. The voice that comes out of this white woman's throat could have been pulled from the rutty grooves of a dusty 78. This is a highlight performance from the film, as it has introduced me to something new and illustrates the talented diversity on display at this long forgotten gathering of musicians. Son Thomas follows with a reading of 'Crossroad Blues' as dirty as the bottom of the Mississippi River. Thomas dredges the depths with his voltaic reading of the blues standard. The film then suddenly cuts to a plea from the stage that equates as a sign of the times. 

A pivotal moment in the film follows when it is announced from the stage that one of the musicians was arrested outside the venue while enjoying a beer. The MC notifies the crowd that there will be a cup being passed around to take up a collection to assist in getting her out of jail. Can you imagine this happening in a modern day venue?  The camera captures looks of concern across the assembled crowd before returning to the songs. A small but telling piece of film nudging me to understand that music wasn't just a side gig for these performers, but a way to survive.

A stunning Lum Guffin solo performance follows as he duets with his finger picks and pocketknife slide for a serrated performance that cuts deep and which draws a handshake from someone close to the stage. Reverend Walter Wilkins and Family follow close behind with a celebratory gospel jamboree.  Cooking over canned heat, the Wilkins family band stomp in close precession for the army of the lord. A fitting conclusion to the films documentation of the first day of performances.

The second day of music begins nestled in pastoral imagery and a sense of calm. John Fahey pulls on a smoke dangling from his lips before revealing to the crowd an emotive solo finger picked prelude. The chiming strings and persistent thump of his bass notes lend a calming soundtrack to the film. A breezy clothesline of portraits of the attendees increases the emotion of the music as well as lending a a deep realism and historic context to the film.

Sid Selvidge with Moloch continue the introspective day two of the gathering. A smooth R and B sound plays against studies of beautiful women and shirtless gentlemen. John D. Laoudermilk sits solo on a stool for a dramatic reading of 'Tobacco Road' undulating between aggressive bass notes, fingerpicking and well timed harp toots. Fields of cotton and farm hands hard at work elicit the true source of the festival as they move in time with Laoudermilks expressive playing. A moving series of moments in a film brimming with them.

Memphis's own Furry Lewis takes the stage next, a man who lived the original Delta blues and a musician who influence reached even the 'Rolling Stones'. Fluid strumming, guitar body percussion and backward hand work on his acoustic neck shuffles out the 'Walkin Blues'.  Lewis moves, jigs and squirms his way through straight Delta blues with no chaser. Once Lewis hits his flow, the tap opens revealing undistilled and crystalline soul music. A second song, 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart' follows and is played as a cross between jump blues and a waltz. Lewis serenades the crowd deeply and in a way the film's viewers as well.  Lewis leaves the stage and returns just as quick with a beaming smile as the crowd urges him back. We get one more number before the MC announces the conclusion of the afternoon performances.

The mood of the film changes with the angle of the sun. People return to their seats as the dusk settles on the crowd like liquid night. Bukka White sits center stage with glorious resonator guitar and his substantial hound dog throat. White digs deep, plays his guitar behind his head and stuns the crowd into honorable silence An even better appearance than his playing on day one. Hot on Bukka's performance, blues legend Piano Red, sits at the blacks and whites, bowler cap perfectly in place and performs 'Rocky Mountain'. Rolling notes and delicious caesura's punctuate Piano Red's highlight performance.  Bukka White shares the piano stool with Red while lending gritty off mic asides and gruff encouragement. I fell lucky to have witnessed this.

The local 'Jefferson Street Jug Band' takes the stage next with John Fahey joining for a rickety back porch jam with kazoos, jugs and clarinet. A screaming and ragged reading of Country Joe and the Fish's', 'Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Rag' brings the crowd to their collective feet. 'Insect Trust' follows next and is a wonderful and fitting representation of the festival. The band is a full electric whirling dervish of blues, rock, jazz conglomerate with a saxophone and a hearty female vocalist.

Another well timed interlude takes place with a plea from the stage that while 800 people paid to get into the festival there are 3,000 attending. The voice announces that these musicians have been working their whole lives for recognition and that there is going to be a hat passed so that the performers can get something for their art. As these pleas are executed, the film pauses on crowd shots, an effective approach, and successful in making me want to pay for my own ticket!

Moloch, who appeared earlier in the film play a harmonica driven slab of blues rock with a full band and a singing drummer. Staying thematically consistent as the MC reads a poignant poem to the crowd, 'Johnny Winter Band' and his '300 amps' take the stage. Winter's 'blues trio' sizzle in the evening air. Winter disseminates series upon series of brisk prickly blues riffing. Winter's rhythm section puts eight ball in the corner pocket while Winter breaks the cue over his knee. Once Winter, just a young lad here tugs on the musical tread everything unravels magnificently. The camera scans the front row of the crowd, there are no phones, iPads or drunk floppers. Just a series of young impressionable faces and fully engrossed music fans. A blue howl of feedback segues the film into the closing Sunday morning as snippets of cells from the final day of the festival coagulate on screen.

'The Salem Harmonizers', a gospel vocal group sound just like a glorious Sunday morning with only guitar accompaniment. The camera pans across the early morning assembly all ages, colors and denominations clap hands and sing collaboratively about 'old time religion'. This is church. Now performing in the grass as opposed to the stage Mississippi Fred McDowell sits on a chair and states, 'These folks behind me are all nice Christian people, you see I'm a Christian too but I play the blues'. Armed with amplified hollow body guitar and slide McDowell is easy on a Sunday morning with a slowly swaying jump groove. McDowell's slide work is patient and orchestrated and as smooth as the silver on his ax. This is a legend, up close and intimate. McDowell's set concludes, people applaud, faces smile and we are then placed in the back of the venue looking at a clearing stage.

In this age of instant gratification, Memphis 69 is a film that took a decades long gestation period. Not really lost, just never found. The film as we have explored, is a diverse collaborative of the blues players and admirers from the Memphis area and beyond. The film can also be viewed as a metaphor for what we as music lovers and people may have lost in the interim. While the documentary focuses on the art and performers, through the music and images captured it also illustrates to the viewer empathy, collaboration, faith, and creativity. That being said, on the outskirts of the magic of music there is also prejudice, disrespect and entitlement. These elements can sometimes be held in check by the power of song. Memphis 69 allows us to feel all of these divergent emotions with a visual soundtrack of historic proportions.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Elvis Presley – ‘Closing Night’ -September 3, 1973

Jamming this evening in the ‘rock room’ is a live Elvis Presley performance hailing from the closing night of a 58 show season at the Las Vegas Hilton. This particular recording is a well-balanced reel to reel in contrast to the usual Presley cassette soundboards to circulate. This concert is also an official release by the Follow That Dream label, a subsidiary of RCA for serious Presley collectors and to ‘steer fans away from bootleg products. Many if not all of these FTD’s quickly go out of print as they are pressed in limited fashion. In the case of the October 2004 title Closing Night, reviews and attitudes were mixed but the release nonetheless remained in high demand. On the Closing Night cd the first seven tracks hail from Presley’s dinner performance with the rest of the CD featuring the Midnight show. The recording is a clean soundboard line tape from reel to reel, a little bit sterile, but with a respectable balance of instruments.

A caveat emptor, this review will be a bit longer than some as there is a lot to unpack on this evening. There are both psychological and musical aspects to the concert as well as a plethora of dialog and a substantial amount of musical highlights.

A bit of historical context regarding the performances featured on the recording is needed to fully appreciate the concerts. Reportedly prior to the show Presley had said to others around him that he was done playing Vegas and was fed up with the Colonel’s tactics. The magnetic tape reflects these repressed emotions of the King through the performance with Presley’s playful and tipsy mood is underlined with a dose of angst. 1973 is a year when everything was coming to a head for the ‘King’. This was his 9th Las Vegas season and he was getting fed up with Vegas, Parker and personal issues including but not limited to his increasing reliance on prescription pills. Following this Vegas residency Presley would take five months off of touring. When he would return there would be set changes and a temporary improvement in his Vegas stage show. But really, this particular show in the 'rock room's opinion, is where Presley started to pull away from being a commodity. Unfortunately it was already too late.

The media line regarding Presley during this time is not simple, there is strata to be revealed by peeling away layers of myth. Admittedly 1973 was a strange year for Elvis, subpar performances, An upcoming divorce, and a deeply buried longing for something that not even he could not discern. The ‘rock room’ doesn’t deal in tall tales, we listen to the sounds. The band is crisp and Presley is on for the most part. But this is not the usual Presley performance as his emotions get the better of him. The September 3rd dinner show which as previously stated begins the CD is pretty chill with ‘E’ in a goofy mood. He does at times song slightly medicated but typical to other shows of the time pulls out more than a couple slam bangers for the crowd. The dinner show is just a precursor to the main event, but regardless the entire collection allows for an insider’s view of the entire event.

Admittedly there are much better performances Presley available, but only a handful so revealing and charged emotionally. Presley, the consummate showman, usually left his luggage at the door, but for this one Las Vegas evening he revealed more than usual while putting on a memorable evening of music. The ‘TCB’ band is as to be expected, professional, brisk and ass kicking.

The dinner show begins with the usual for the era ‘CC Rider’ opening which spits up gravel in a jittery version highlighted by James Burton chicken pickin’. Presley is turning the key for a cold engine and it takes a bit for him to get cooking. Presley remarks, ‘Is this the right song?’ toward ‘CC’s’ conclusion. A brief intro and the beginning of Presley’s humorous dialog for the evening.

Elvis comments about destroying his microphone before entering into a chat with Charlie Hodge which gets a great laugh from the crowd. Presley mentions being ‘straight’ for those who had not witnessed the show before to which Hodge responds, ‘I’ve never been straight in my life’. Inside jokes and silliness prevails early on. Presley slurs his way into a fluid ‘I Got a Woman’ that lays so far back that it almost lays down. Glenn D. Hardin’s piano is a major highlight on the tape as well as the vocal dive bomb By J. D. Sumner (backing vocalist) that became a great place of amusement for the ‘King’ during concerts. Sumner’s ability to reach subterranean depths of bass with his voice placed him the Guinness World Book of Records and during this particular show Elvis got extra pleasure out of it and had J. D sing it again!

Another set list standard follows with ‘Love Me’ which is as loose as is the show thus far. Presley takes the opportunity to smooch with some female fans while some off mic giggles continue to litter the stage. James Taylor’s ‘Steamroller Blues’ follows and the things begin to get wrenched down on the stage. Again, Glenn D. is a superstar, with some dirty saloon stylings leading into a typically stellar James Burton Tele solo spot.

While Presley’s voice is not as strong as the later show, ‘Steamroller Blues’ gets him fully invested and ends up being a strong version. The band flattens everything in the Hilton playing a swinging rendition of a ‘rock room’ Presley on stage favorite. Highlight.

‘You Gave Me a Mountain’ follows and continues the upswing of the first show. This reading is sung well and played dramatically with Presley exhibiting some superb vocal strength. Oddly enough, Elvis sings midway through the number, ‘The sound system in this hotel isn’t worth a damn!’, then apologizes to his own long time sound engineer Bill Porter following the performance.

The final featured song from the dinner show tape is a good one. Presley jumps into ‘Trouble’ played for the first time since the 1968 Comeback Special, the original featured on 1958’s King Creole soundtrack. Prior to the song beginning Presley remarks to the crowd, I’d like to do a medley of Spanish folk songs for ya’ to a limited response. This Leiber/Stoller classic has, in keeping with the theme of the concert has a chill vibe but a fully present Elvis. The band plows through the 12 bar with a gritty Telecaster spotlight solo on Burton and Presley crooning free.

Thus ends the available tracks from the dinner show and we are placed in the midnight show already in progress. Photos show that Presley begin the midnight show by coming on stage with a stuffed monkey on his back! The aural evidence is not present on the FTD release, but the symbolism of Presley's statement makes too much sense. The ‘rock and roll’ medley begins and Presley is in the same sort of mood as the preceding performance. The band sizzles through the changes connecting each classic seamlessly seguing verses of ‘Long Tall Sally/Whole Lot of Shakin Going On/You’re Mama Don’t Dance’/Flip Flop Fly/Hound Dog’. No surprise to the ‘rock room’ James Burton is en fuego with a plethora of heady playing.

Giggle and snorts are the order of the day as the show begins its descent into the alien land of strange. ‘Fever’ follows and finds Presley swapping out lyrics, snorting, embarrassing his stage mates and just plain being odd. I find myself laughing out loud during this unique rendition.  I'm sure the assembled crowd was blown away by the Elvis show on this twilight zone evening.

Just when you think the late night show can't possibly get any stranger, according to reports following 'Fever' a bed is then rolled out to center stage.  Yes, a bed in which Elvis gets comfy and performs a fitting 'What Now My Love' laying down (with questionable movements). Howls of laughter and a confused response from the crowd litter the performance. Actually, not a bad performance that concludes in a massive conclusion. Hmm.

What happens next could be one of the weirdest moments on a Presley stage. James Burton picks out the opening lick to 'Suspicious Minds' and Presley promptly starts to sing the lyrics to 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'! This segment is admittedly kind of painful, but definitely funny and you can discern that Elvis is having a good laugh at both Tom Parker and the Hilton's expense. Presley quirks to the orchestra director, "I gotta stick to one song or the other'. After calling the director lovingly a 'son of a bitch' Presley decides on 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and again flubs lyric after lyric before completely forgetting them  and causing the crowd and back ground singers to collaboratively sing the words back to Presley! Classic. Presley emerges out of the fog and proceeds to sing the shit out of the rest of a powerhouse reading. Proof positive of why this is such a mercurial concert and how much of a emotional yo yo Presley was at this point.

'Suspicious Minds' finally gets its chance and is played fast and carelessly. Not even a shadow on the 1970 versions. It's unfortunate that we cannot see what is transpiring on stage! Presley is reverberating between Yin and Yang at this point because as he prepares to introduce the band and notices some sheet music on the floor of the stage. When someone goes to pick it up, Presley starts calling out members of the mafia to come out and pick up the music stand, 'There's 25 other employees around backstage!' The band grooves on behind the King as he continues the introductions while also acknowledging friends and family in the audience. 

What comes next many consider to be a highlight of the two closing  Fall 1973 Vegas shows is Presley's reading of 'My Boy'. Elvis had covered the song on his 1974 LP Good Times and played it on stage during this Vegas run while also dedicating it to Lisa Marie Presley. You can tell Elvis connects deeply with the song and like flipping an emotional switch he grabs the crowd and holds them in the palm of his hand. There is no joking here, just prime Presley. Elvis is obviously content and feeling it as he takes the opportunity to thank Charlie Hodge with a comment that when he sings with Elvis that 'it sounds like one voice'.

Elvis is feeling it as we now hit the home stretch with a series of tight but loose performances beginning with a hearty 'I Can't Stop Loving You' with horny punctuations from the orchestra. At the songs conclusion a disappointed Elvis says, 'Thank you for the light applause'. You can just feel that Elvis is searching for a different venue, audience, direction, anything on this particular evening. 'American Trilogy' follows, always a highlight, but here it takes until the song conclusion to reach a boil as Presley is back with messing with the words in an obvious response to the crowd. By the time the song hits the 'Hush little baby' lyric, Elvis pulls up his boot straps and digs in.

Presley quickly calls out 'Big Hunk' and Glen D. bangs the ivory's for 'A Big Hunk O' Love' a 1959 single from Presley's one and only military recording session. Here is a brisk version with Presley sweetly slurring the verses and the band popping through the syncopated licks. In contrast, Elvis then introduces 'a favorite' of his with 'The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face', a song made famous by Roberta Flack and a 1972 single for Elvis as well as the 'B' side to 'American Trilogy'. Presley is fully invested in this song and you can feel it. The show now takes a strange but welcome turn as Elvis bets big and cashes out bigger. Elvis concluded the song with, 'I hope you like it, it don't make no difference'. 

As what was rumbling beneath the surface during 'My Boy' with Presley's mood, he is in fine fettle and sinks himself into the song with total aplomb. Then, at the song's conclusion Presley takes a small break to draw attention to the chain around his neck which he said was given to him by the staff of the Hilton for playing a third show the evening prior. Elvis then mentions a Hilton worker named Mario who presides in the Italian restaurant who is going to be fired after Presley's stand at the hotel. Presley states plainly, 'I don't want him to go, he needs a job, and I think the Hilton's are bigger than that'.

Presley calls out 'Mystery Train' and then precedes to devote the evening's energy and his performing energy to Mario's cause as the band peels through a sidewinding version on 'Mystery Train/Tiger Man' medley. Ronnie Tutt is all over the kit with tribal explosives and the rest of band and the bank vault tight proving why they are the best in the land. The energy pouring off of the recording as James Burton pulls out a series of  reverberant twang laden licks. 

What happens next is a major highlight of my personal 'rock room' collection and any 'bootleg' recording for that matter. Presley has the band bring it way down before calling out over the undulating groove, 'This next song is dedicated to the hierarchy, the staff, of the Hilton Hotel' as he roars into 'Tiger Man' leaving no doubt as to who is the king of the LAs Vegas jungle. Classic stuff.

Presley hitting his stride continues as he introduces the 'Stamps' quartet and introduces a 'gospel number', which is 'How Great Thou Art'. A usual concert highlight, this performance is no different and similarly to the preceding songs is wonderfully performed. Elvis displays his vocal power and control and its obvious to the 'rock room' where Presley's true heart lies. There is some distortion on the tape here but this does not deter from the stellar musical display. The song concludes to great applause to which Presley replies, 'Thank you, thank you, you're very nice, you finally showed some appreciation for something. The King is definitely not being clandestine with his feelings toward the Hilton, the crowd, or his situation. Elvis then asks the crowd, 'Do it again?' The band and Elvis then look skyward with a second substantial conclusion, to which Elvis says, 'I'll sing it all night' and enters into a second reprise!!! Amazing stuff. 

The concert settles into a mellow introspective vibe, with the expected closer of 'I Can't Help Falling In Love' providing the finale. Presley first sings the always welcome 'Help Me Make It Through the Night' wonderfully before another special concert moment.

'Softy As I leave You' continues the unique aspect of the performance as this is the 'song's' debut with Presley reciting the lyrics as opposed to a full band version which would be the case when he recorded it the following year. Obviously, something is haunting Presley throughout this evening and 'Softly as Leave You' is dictated with great feeling. A unique and special performance. An expected and well sung rendition of 'I Can't Help Falling In Love With You' brings this idiosyncratic show to a well played conclusion. While putting on his usual fully invested performance Presley exercised some demons on this particular Las Vegas concert stage evening. 

A concert like this particular 1973 Elvis Presley show offers as much to the artist's personality an off stage existence as it does to the performance. Shows that blur the line between the art and the artist are always interesting glimpses in the window's of the artist's soul we enjoy and idolize. Jim Morrison and the Doors in Miami 1969, Keith Moon at the Cow Palace in 1973, are just a couple examples of how rockers played out their own issues in front of paying fans on a concert stage. It's shows fans and listeners the human side of rock as well as illustrating that these artists are not infallible. The 'rock room' will leave you with a Presley quote following the performance of 'A Big Hunk O' Love' that we feel sums up the entire experience on this Closing Night, 'We kid a lot, and have a lot of fun, but we really love to sing and play music and entertain people. That's the name of the game. As long as I can do that I'll be a happy old son of a bitch!"

ELVIS- CLOSING NIGHT

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Take One: Slowhand and Van – ‘The Rebels’ –Van Morrison and Eric Clapton


The second of two recent Van Morrison and Eric Clapton musical collaborations was released as a single on June 11th. The first, 'Stand and Deliver' was released in December of last year to mixed reviews. Playing under the obvious moniker of Slowhand and Van, the duo retooled a track from Morrison’s controversial 2021 LP Latest Record Project Vol. 1, originally titled, ‘Where Have all the Rebels Gone’. The aforementioned album is a fat 28 track recording swinging with stellar and current Van the Man. Proceeds from the sale of this single will go directly to the ‘Van Morrison Rhythm and Blues Foundation for assisting out of work musicians negatively affected by the global pandemic.

Morrison has been recently under fire for the lyrical content of some of his current work for reasons not exactly clear to the ‘rock room’. Morrison’s recent comments and lyrics have been in regards to his own Northern Ireland and their lockdown rules. Live performance as of this writing is still illegal in Northern Ireland with Morrison’s own June 10th performance being stopped by police. There is obviously much to dig into in this story, but we want to be brief. It was only when the American music media, specifically Rolling Stone got involved that certain segments of music 'experts' got triggered in regards to Morrison’s feelings.

The ‘rock room’ doesn’t get into our favorite musicians beliefs, conjecture or politics, all we know is Morrison is naturally cantankerous, highly opinionated and one of the finest musicians to grace a rock and roll stage. Clapton as well has had current comments placed under a microscope  and has been set as an example of a boomer musician subject to cancellation by the social media mob.  As Indira Ghandi stated, “Rebels and nonconformists are often the pioneers and designers of change”. I do know that supporting struggling musicians and artists is a noble cause and we will leave it at that.  

Lyrically 'The Rebels' finds Morrison searching the landscape for someone who take a stand for personal freedom, or actually anything. While there has been some media offence taken (when is there not these days?) to lyrics like the opening stanza, ‘Where have all the rebels gone? /Hiding behind computer screens/Where’s the spirit, where’s the soul? / Where have all the rebels gone’? Lyrics like the aforementioned come as no surprise to those who actually listen to Van Morrison, he has been doing this for years. Seek out the cut, ‘The Great Deception’ found on 1974’s Hard Nose the Highway.

Morrison calls em' like he sees em', unfortunately these days that may put you in the crosshairs. Morrison’s new releases and LP was deemed ‘dangerous’ by Northern Ireland's health minister. Lyrically in 'The Rebels' Morrison is asking point blank, where are his contemporaries, where are the new voices of free thinking or natural decent? Morrison hailed form an era of outspoken artists and cultural figures unafraid to speak their mind. The ‘rock room's opinion is that Morrison is entitled to ask this question musically without being vilified. Isn’t that what ‘rock and roll’ is about? Morrison’s music is labeled “dangerous”, but other popular music spotlighting moist private parts or drug use is on the ‘ok’ list? This is a war that has been waged since Elvis's pelvis so its really nothing new in the art or entertainment world.

But I digress, ‘The Rebels’ is a straight rock track with no chaser. Tough guitars, a good groove and sincere vocals, I wouldn't expect any less from such a legendary meeting. The tune strays from Morrison’s original recording by adding EC’s still acute guitar abilities. Whereas the original has a faster ‘honky’ groove, Clapton’s addition takes it to a deeper shade of blue. A churning four in the bar with intermingled acoustic and electric guitars meshing is the core. Clapton’s guitar has as serrated edge that slices open the opening salvo. Morrison has given over the main vocal duties to Clapton on the song but joins in harmony at the conclusion of each line.

The song is a gritty ear worm on a loop in my brain after a couple of listens. Clapton’s central lick dissects the verses while singing in bluesy rapport. Throughout his soling is patient, edgy and is soon joined by Morrison’s own horny harp blasts. This instrumental collaborative continues throughout the song and during the track’s excellent fade as well. Here, Morrison sings along with his famed wordless melodies combusting from thin air. The song has become a flowy oblique rolling over onto its self and seems to gain momentum as the verses move by.

A video has been made to accompany the single and can be watched here.  Based in blue and graced with line drawings, ‘rebels’ from James Brown to Kurt Cobain are scribbled throughout as Slowhand and Van march toward the screen in sketched gangster sympatico. ‘Wanted’ signs flash as John Lennon, Janis Joplin and Elvis are also mentioned through the litany of ‘rebels’ yesterday and today. I have to assert that the 'rock room' and more substantial media outlets talking this much about a new single from a couple of ‘rock and roll fossils’ must mean Morrison and Clapton are doing something right. 

Now, obviously I live for this stuff, but I feel lucky to have these two pillars of rock still creating and still speaking their mind.  Rock is still about being a rebel right? Born to be Wild and all that? I don’t necessarily think that stops when you hit a certain age. Art is supposed to elicit a response, good or band, right or wrong, it makes us feeeeeel. You don’t have to agree with Slowhand and Van, but understand they can say what they want and still have the talent and podium to do it. Whether to listen or not is up to you.

The Rebels

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Put the Boot In: Grateful Dead- September 2, 1968 –Betty Nelson’s Organic Raspberry Farm

As Summer turned to Fall in 1968, a gathering of tribes and a collaborative of some of the most famed musicians on the planet joined as one at a nondescript berry farm in Sultan, Washington. The purpose,  a cosmic weekend of mind-bending music. The Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter than Air Show was exactly that with a lineup that included but was not limited to, James Cotton, Santana, It’s a Beautiful Day, John Fahey, Country Joe and the Fish, and the focus of today’s Put the Boot In feature, the Grateful Dead. Being one of the first festivals of its ilk in the States, there were no precedents to be made or guidelines to be followed.

Forty performers and 15,000-20,000 fans gathered for a typically 1960’s festival weekend full of logistic issues and rain. But, by all accounts the festival was a stunning success with music beginning on Saturday at 9:30 AM and running all the way through Monday. Betty Nelson whom owned the farm had responded to an ad in a local ‘head’ paper and the next thing you know here farm is making musical history! The aforementioned Grateful Dead made their appearance unannounced (not listed on the poster) and disseminated in the ‘rock room’s’ humble opinion on of their finest sets of the ‘primal’ era.

The recording jamming in the ‘rock room’ today is a circulating Charlie Miller soundboard reel with highly acceptable sound quality which can be enjoyed on the Internet Archive. The drums snap like a wet rubber band, Garcia is amped, and Lesh and Weir are nestled perfectly into the mix. The ‘rock room’ has had this performance on cassette for a number of years, but this currently circulating upgrade is where it’s at. The Grateful Dead played on the final mud covered day of the festival, September 2, and go on to propagate an aggressive and psychedelic set. All of the group’s era specific ‘suites’ are on display; ‘Dark Star->St. Stephen->the Eleven’, ‘Cryptical Envelopment-> That’s It For the Other One’ and a molten reading of ‘Alligator->Caution’.

The tape begins with an MC introducing the band and some brief onstage adjustments before the show begins confidently with a quickly maturing ‘Dark Star’. The band comes begins the show with a shifty tempo and edgy metallic Garcia lead line. I can smell the euphoric tincture of mud and pine emanating from the tape. The band, typical to this era stay relatively close to the theme of ‘Dark Star’ in the first pre-verse section.

Garcia leaves for a few segments (possibly due to guitar issues) before returning a three minutes with some melodic turns on the theme. Weir is right with him with filigreed dressing. At a bit after four minutes Jerry lands on a unique and funky groove that acts as a pathway to the first verse. Hart opens the gate with a flash of gong work. Leaving the orbit of the first verse, Lesh gets busy and while still keeping home base in sight the jam starts to stretch due to the warmth of the instruments. A well-played ‘Dark Star’ jam develops with Weir, Garcia and Lesh weaving lines against the back drop of Pig’s organ mantra. Jerry plays through the verse melody on his guitar and then inspects it under rays of musical sunlight equating to a dynamic peak.

While not completely breaking new ground this ‘Dark Star’ exhibits the constant growth that has taken place in the song since its premier on live tape on January 17, 1968. The framework is being constructed for future improvisations and the suite of songs, ‘Dark Star’, St. Stephen’ and the ‘Eleven’ is already wearing ruts into the roads where future moments of musical glory will take place. Seven months of work on 'Dark Star' in 1968 would soon pay dividends by the Winter of 69, when the band's perfect vision was captured on tape.

‘St Stephen’ follows to huge applause that can be discerned on the tape. This is played briskly and full of fire as will become the standard for performances at this concert. An extended and fiery ‘Eleven’ per its usual segue emerges from the ‘St Stephen’. Surpassing twelve minutes, this is a top shelf 1968 reading with only a small stumble during the lyric portion as Garcia just won’t stop playing as Weir and Lesh begin to sing. Not that that’s a problem! All hands are on deck for the first portion of the song. Following the aforementioned verses things get interesting.

The drummers erupt beginning from seven minutes forward with nuanced and kinetic playing. Garcia and Lesh follow the theme before the launching of the ‘Eleven’ and thrashing off into unexplored lands. The band is moving on its own momentum now with a high tempo and explosive improv. Garcia lets free with a series of expressive licks. You can smell the energy being created on the stage.

From ten minutes forward things get violent, the band detonates musical clusters across the stage leaving nothing but remnants behind. Lesh thumps out a strange series of notes around twelve minutes which morphs into a ‘Santanaesque’ groove that soon dissipates into particles before landing perfectly in the tall grass of ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy’. Unfortunately ‘Death Don’t ‘is cut just before the verse begins.

The ‘Other One’ suite is also a recipient of the same cut and begins with just a bit shaved from the intro. A hypersonic version of the 'Other One' shreds through space and time with a multitude of peaks and valley's. On it's way to reaching full maturation, this version plays to the sky in an electric outdoor venue. At four minutes the central summit becomes clear through candied clouds. Garcia chases his own tail with a circular and repetitive lick to which the rest of the band digs its nails into. Weir sings verse two before the band drops into the 'Cryptical' outro. Dynamically the band initiates a rugged jam that swings between glorious and hallucinatory. Garcia triumphantly wales away, nudging the band this way and that. A small flash of feedback brings the 'That's It For the Other One' suite to a proper conclusion while leaving a smoking crater on the minds of all the witnessed it. A huge excited response comes from the crowd at the song's conclusion to which Lesh responds, 'It's a good thing you all got up on your feet because now you can dance'.

‘Alligator->Caution’ acts as the crushing 25 minute finale to the proceedings with some of the best playing of the ‘primal’ era. The band begins the song, an ornery beast stirring with one eye cracked. ‘Alligator’ begins with its usual crawl through the swampy verses before falling into the deep end with a drum duel. Bill and Mickey ignite the drum break like flash paper. Around 9 minutes Garcia enters into a triad with the percussionists playing with an elliptical tone and initiating some playful call and response with the drummers. An off mic shout of excitement can be heard on the tape. It’s getting serious and soon enough the band freight trains their way into ‘Caution (Do Not Step On Tracks). There is some obvious distortion on the reel when the band enters but that is soon forgotten as the jam careens around corners and tips to one side of the musical rails.

The first musical madness takes place at about three minutes where a sticky distorted jam quickly changes its mood to euphoric. Lesh tears his neck up hitting the ‘Seven’ lick and a shimmery stained glass acid jam begins to levitate. Garcia hits on a siren call to which Lesh responds and the jam becomes a rolling series of peaks bubbling with psychedelic energy. Soon streaking hints of melody originating from Donovan’s ‘First there is a Mountain’ and the traditional ‘Goin Down the Road Feelin Bad’ and even 'Not Fade Away' tickle our synapses. The band is fully linked at this point with the drummers approaching the precipice of ‘out of control’. Garcia hits the wiry scrubbed tempo of 'Caution' proper increasing the energy.  Garcia then tweaks a melody at close to four minutes that turns some knobs before the entire band pours a frothing wash of sound from their collective. Palm mutes, peeling paint and reverberant strings announce the band’s decent into ‘Caution’s’ verses. Pig goes down to see the gypsy and the band stays outside the back door lending well timed asides.

The drums churn with aggressive punctuations and the pinging bell of ride cymbals providing a sparkling back drop for Pig. Weir, Lesh and Garcia soon join Pig for a dizzying 'all you need' vocal chant interlude. The band gets properly crazy before Pig signals 'just a touch of mojo hand' and the collaborative falls down an ancient well as one unit. A moaning flood of feedback washes over the crowd before Garcia emerges into the daylight triumphantly with the clarion call of 'Caution'. 

A kinetic jam is again initiated before punctuating the groove with the recognizable segment where Lesh carpet-bombs the room in a descending power riff. The tempo again increases leaving this piece in the rear view and the intensity of the jam is now careening uncontrollably. Primal Dead at it's best vintage, Garcia is now pouring florescent notes from a vial of sound while Lesh stands proudly on the summit of his fret board. 'Caution' appears at varying moments as the images outside the train car window would pass in a blur.  As the band percolates a unique and jagged jam ejaculates from the remnants, Lesh plays an alien series of notes, and the band shovels chunks of  aural fuel into the fiery furnace before the musical steel rails descend into feedback. 

A bizarre plethora of clicks, hums, buzzes and cymbal shimmers forms a weightless 'space'. Here, the shared silence works in the same effective way as the electrical forces playing games with the crowd's mind. One must envision thousands of music lovers getting their heads properly blown in a rich smoky Fall forest of the great Pacific Northwest. The feedback matches this beautifully strange scene. Lesh in musical lab coat plays magician scientist, drawing odd creatures from the mossy caves of the wood with the blue electric waves emanating from his digits.

Soon, the feedback concludes in same silence from which it was born and the crowd explodes in joy back at the band. A stellar performance in a wonderfully perfect setting for a group of musical visionaries concludes. In typical 'Grateful Dead' fashion the band breezed into town, morphed the musical landscape forever, and left like a shadow in the night. The 'Dead's' performance at Betty Nelson's Organic Raspberry epitomizes the 'Primal Dead' era of the band. A youthful energy, paired with a willingness to experiment solidifying the foundation for an enduring career.

 

 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Take One: The Intergalactic Elephant Band: ‘Male Chauvinist Pig Blues’ - Page, Lane, Moon, Harper

One Valentine’s Day 1974, English folk legend and musical oddity Roy Harper officially released his seventh LP, the aptly titled Valentine. Supremely talented and stunningly lyrical, but equally underrepresented in the UK and virtually unknown in the US. On his records Harper usually had one or more of his well-known contemporaries and admirers assist him in his recorded creations.

Placed in the second slot on the record Valentine, the focus of this Take One, ‘Male Chauvinist Pig Blues’ is a jagged and weighty slab of British rock. Nestled in complete contrast to the surrounding acoustic based cuts, this track spotlights a backing band rock geeks can only dream of. A sturdy rhythm section comprised of Keith Moon and Ronnie Lane on drums and bass respectively, and none other than Jimmy Page on lead ax lending some six string bending to the cut.

The Valentine album is dedicated to ‘Bonzo, Jimmy, John Paul, and Robert, so Page’s inclusion should come as no surprise. The ‘Led Zeppelin’ fans reading today will also note that the final track on Led Zeppelin III is titled ‘Hats Off to (Roy) Harper’, so the mutual admiration society between the musicians had been brewing for a while.

While our focus is on the studio cut from the LP Valentine, in addition to the star studded collaboration on the LP, Harper also decided to stage a record release performance at the Rainbow Theatre, London. On the day of the album release Harper had a number of his musical pals stop by. Joined by a very special MC named Robert Plant, Harper performed a full set of music. He was soon joined onstage by Jimmy Page, Ronnie Lane, Keith Moon and a guest appearance by John Bonham on acoustic rhythm guitar for boozy electric versions of ‘Male Chauvinist Blues’, ‘Too Many Movies’ and ‘Home’.

Both of the boozy and rickety readings of ‘Too Many Moves’ and ‘Home’ performances would be included on Harper’s 1974 live album, Flashes From the Archives of Oblivion, in addition to a stunning acoustic duo rendition of ‘Male Chauvinist Pig Blues’ recorded by Page and Harper reportedly at the Royal Albert Hall 1973 which we have included here for your review. 

As previously stated, the ‘rock room’s focus is the original studio reading with our rock royalty line up. Opening with a Moonie roll down the front steps, the song takes on a chunky groove. Page, the omnipotent ‘riff master’ soon develops a silvery descending lick through the verses that immediately makes me think of  his excursions on Physical Graffiti. Obviously the beginnings of those compositions were in Page’s head at this time and it’s a natural occurrence that they transfer to Harper’s songs. Page also dons a slide for some icy overdubs that can be discerned shifting under the basic track.

Ronnie Lane, uses builder’s hands and cements the arrangement together with rotund bass lanes, while Moon and Page take divergent paths toward a melodic payoff meeting at various intersections to punctuate appropriately. The song emits a gritty urgency not only from Harper’s plaintive vocals but from the sideways rhythmic dances occurring from Moonie’s kit. 

At points the track becomes caught in a whirlpool of sonic vertigo as there a number of details in Pagey's guitar approaches that flash in passing. Additionally, there are a plethora of ideas being bantered about in a compressed time frame, one can only dream about the possibilities of a full album by this crew of rowdies. It's rare that such star studded collaborations pay dividends but here the multifarious approaches equate to a unique musical birth.

Like a pebble in a mattress, this is an odd track to be included in a record of 'love songs', but lyrically the song is just that. The narrator is well aware of his issues and faults but isn't going to do anything to alter them except maybe find a new lover? Typical to Harper's catalog this is a strange collaboration and odd song. But it works! His conversational vocal approach soon turns to falsetto with verse ending shouts. Both the unique lyrical approach and disorienting arrangement equate to a kick ass number by some stellar musicians.

Similarly to the 'rock room's' breakdown of the 'Ansley Dunbar Retaliation's' 'Stone Crazy', this one off contains a particular group of musicians and a resulting song that defies any expectations of the collaboration. Roy Harper's impressive catalog and career offer a number of additional moments for aural inspection, but for today this one track is quite enough. A welcome sonic door to open revealing a deep wealth of unique music to explore.


Friday, May 14, 2021

David Bowie - Live Santa Monica 72 - 'Ziggy Played Guitar'

For a David Bowie fan in the 1970’s if you owned a recording of the KMET-FM broadcast of ‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ live performance of the Santa Monica auditorium on October 20, 1972 you flaunted it like a badge of honor. This famed concert was played on the radio in soundboard quality while featuring an expansive and well played set list from Bowie’s early discography. The band features Bowie in all of his decadent ‘Ziggy’ glory, while backed by the ‘Spiders From Mars’ made up of: guitarist Mick Ronson, drummer Mick Woodmansey, bass guitar Trevor Bolder, and long time Bowie pianist Mike Garson who joined the lineup for this 2 night appearance. The concert also holds the distinction of being a favorite of Bowie himself.

As previously stated Bowie and the Spiders played at the Santa Monica on October 20th and 21st with the first night the focus of this Talk from the Rock Room rant. These shows took place during Bowie’s first United States tour and found Bowie on the precipice of super stardom. The concert circulated in varying quality from the first broadcast, even being released in a semi-official boxset capacity but without Bowie’s approval. This is peak Bowie, straddling the fence between ‘Ziggy’ and Aladdin Sane and in total creative bliss. The set list features a cross-section of cuts from The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory and Ziggy while also exposing the audience to one new song, ‘The Jean Jeanie’. The rest of the concert is filled out with a plethora of Bowie standards.

When the concert was finally officially released in 2008 on CD and LP after almost 40 years of being bootlegged. Bowie had the following to say, ‘I can tell that I’m totally into being Ziggy by this stage of our touring. It’s no longer an act; I am him. This would be around the tenth American show for us and you can hear that we are all pretty high on ourselves. We train wreck a couple of things, I miss some words and sometimes you wouldn’t know that pianist Mike Garson was onstage with us but overall I really treasure this bootleg. Mick Ronson is at his blistering best.’

The concert and recording contains a kinetic energy with the band jamming on a knife’s edge. The sound quality is a line recording from the soundboard. The 2008 official release which I am jamming does miss some of David’s onstage remarks but offers quality sonics. The performance oozes attitude and you can feel the band puffing out their chest to the American audience. Taking the stage to ‘Ode to Joy’ (typical for the era) the concert is already dangling from the edge with a blistering version of ‘Hang on to Yourself’. ‘Hang on to Yourself’ would end of on the flip side of Bowie’s September 1972 single, ‘John. I’m Only Dancing’ which would also get a work out at this concert. Shades of rock and roll past ring around the stage with the ‘Spider’s weighty riffing.

‘Ziggy’ immediately follows with it’s recognizable ringing ‘D’ chord while Ronson’s guitar moans a thick Les Paul tone. The song is perfection in its positioning in the concert’s second slot. Bowie sounds great and I’m sure at this point looks even better! ‘Changes’ brings things to manageable levels for a moment, with the intro highlighted by Mike Garson and Trevor Bolder’s respective instruments weaving under Bowie’s vocal melody. What an opening trio!

If the sonic temperature was any higher the arena would combust so Bowie dons his twelve string for a dynamic and dramatic version of ‘The Supermen’.  Alternating between the airy verses and chunky chorus the song has a tangible fire that may be lacking on the studio recording. The following ‘Life On Mars’ and ‘Five Years’ spotlight the evening’s crisp bombastic vocals. ‘Life on Mars’ again lends it beauty to Mike Garson’s nimble fingers. Decades on from this evening’s concert these songs would be inseparable from Bowie. By that time they will have been road tested by a number of different Bowie touring bands and played for an uncountable amount of Bowie fans throughout the world. Here, they have an early morning freshness and scent of spring as Bowie is learning to weave their melodies into the fabrics of his discography and into the hearts of his admirers.

What feels like an acoustic segment begins with ‘Space Oddity’ in an sparse guise. This is the only song played during the concert from Bowie’s 1969 LP. Electric bass and meshing acoustic guitars highlight a version sung almost as a duo with Ronson who lends some wobbly and endearing backing vocals. Additionally, some cool video of this performance circulates which the 'rock room' has included here.

‘Andy Warhol’ continues the ‘unplugged’ feel of this portion of the concert. Bowie is again on twelve string with Ronson lending the song’s signature ascending lick with a clean tone and later on, bell like harmonics and twinkling trills. A favorite of the rock room and an excellent highlight of this famed recording.

Next, following some unique banter with the audience, Bowie plays a cover of Jacques Brel’s ‘My Death’ on his acoustic guitar, Bowie had revealed this addition to his setlist in August at his two nights at the Rainbow Theatre. He had previously been coving another Brel song, ‘Amsterdam’, but Bowie seemed more attracted to this particular song. It’s lyric more in touch with the dramatic theatre intensity of the ‘Spiders’ concerts. Bowie moves between dictation, swooping singing, whispers, and sinister inquiry, all in six minutes and centrally located in the middle of the evening.

                                                            Photographer Unknown

In contrast to the music that preceded it, Bowie and the Spider’s enter into an extended and explosive version of ‘The Width of a Circle’. I’m digging the off mic shout that precedes the band kicking the song off. A consistent highlight of an evening with Bowie, the syncopated slamming around the song’s changes reveal themselves in a book written by Bowie and read by ‘Black Sabbath’. After disposing  of the verses at a bit after two minutes, the ‘Spiders’ drop in from a dark corner, weaving a hearty strand of variations. Ronson lends a sticky drone that lays on top of Woodmansey’s hunky thump.  This portion of the evening allows the ‘Spiders’ to stretch their respective legs and do some straight up jamming.

At four and a half minutes the jam turns into angles and sharp edges, Ronson and Woodsmansey aggressively try to jam a key into a strange lock and after a crushing stab fall back into another round of high tempo soling and the song’s final set of changes. Bowie and the band return to the dramatic set of concluding verses before completing the musical sphere.

Bowie and the Spiders now set their phasers to stun and enter into a molten series of punky renditions of Bowie gold. Starting things off with ‘Queen Bitch’, the band knobs up the intensity with each number until giving it all to the crowd with a concluding and symbolic ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’. The ‘Spiders’ are deadly and Bowie is sinister in his vocal approach. Following a groovy ‘Queen Bitch’, an aggressively funky ‘Moonage Daydream’ follows with a viscous Ronson guitar solo where he kicks on the wah-wah for the first time in the show. Bowie’s vocals just destroy me here, sensual and scary all wrapped into one. Classic.

‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ follows next in an arrangement that borders on country. Bowie’s vocals are anything but. The song has a strange history and would be released as a Bowie single in  September of 1972, again in 1973 with a saxophone added and then finally in 1974 in a disco aesthetic as ‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’.

Bowie introduces the band prior to his cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting For the Man’. I mainstay of Bowie concerts, this version starts out laid back but ends nice and proper. Bowie is true to form and gives his best Lou Reed impersonation with well-timed vibrato. Spacious and loose, the band turns in a dynamic performance that with each turn around the roundabout ends up picking up speed.

The double whammy of ‘The Jean Genie’ and ‘Suffragette City’ whip the crowd into a writhing mass of glamorous rockers and chicks. Road tested burners played here with the original disseminators in clear fidelity. ‘The Jean Genie’ stomps with both Bowie and Ronson scratching along during the verses. With just a pause the band slams head on in ‘Suffragette City’ high speed, no breaking. This is the stuff that influenced an entire decade. ‘Queen Bitch’ through ‘Suffragette City’ is a ‘Rock 101’ course that must be taken by all rockers. Everything one could ask for in a rock and roll show and performance is included within. David replies, ‘good night’ and the concert has concluded to a standing ovation.

The concert and recording closes with Bowie on a slightly out of tune acoustic guitar playing ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’. Garson joins David during the second verse and the drums and electric guitar enter for verse three. There can be no other concluding song for Bowie or his fans, and the rough and ready reading only makes it the more fitting.

David Bowie, live in Santa Monica is a ‘must have’ aural capture of an era of Bowie that acted as the compass bearing for the rest of his career. Bowie’s plentiful personas were blended colors on an artist’s pallet throughout Bowie’s career. Pales and pinks, fluorescents and day glo each identify Bowie as a recording artist as well as a human….or peoploid. On this, musical recording ‘Ziggy’ is finding his feet and his way just like his creator. Like the tale of Frankenstein the beast would soon take over the creator therefore eventually forcing the death of said beast. But for a special snapshot in time, one luckly captured on this recording, ‘Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly, and the Spiders from Mars’ and by doing so became a star, man.