Talk From The Rock Room: 2021

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Take One: Fairport Convention/Sandy Denny –'Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’ – ‘I Have No Fear of Time’

A song that contemplates the passing of time and was voted by UK listeners in 2007 as their favorite folk song is spinning endlessly on the ‘rock room’s turntable today. ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ is a song composed by Sandy Denny and recorded a number of times by a multifarious collection of musicians. Oddly enough the song’s subject is proven by the song longevity and agelessness. Denny was a great fan of traditional song and she ended up composing one that would nestle comfortably into the folk lexicon. Similarly to other ‘rock’ standards including but not limited to, ‘Without You’, Everybody’s Talkin’, ‘Let It Be’, Denny’s song sprouted new life and like her true love of folk standards started to be passed along from musician to musician.

‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ was composed in 1967 as per a demo recorded at Denny’s home and is available on a rare cassette only compilation called The Attic Tracks Volume 3. Unbelievably, Denny was 17 years old when she composed such a substantial pillar of songwriting. What I find unbelievable is the depth of character and deep understanding of life at this early age, in addition to being able to express it in melody and song. The melody and lyric contain a soaking sense of solitude and melancholy that seems difficult to grasp without a plethora of painful life experience.

Denny recorded an additional version shortly after her early 1967 demonstration recording joining with the band  ‘The Strawbs’ and having guitarist Dave Cousins accompany her on a lacy acoustic based reading. This particular recording has been released officially and his available on the recording Sandy Denny and the Straws-All Our Own Work which was a compilation of the aforementioned 1967 recordings released in 1973.

Denny’s song and her career received a well-deserved acknowledgement and  jolt when famed folkie Judy Collins received one of Denny’s demos of the track in 1968 and decided  to cover it as well as title the name of her record after the song. Collins version which also was released as a ‘B’ side to her single ‘Both Sides Now’, appeared officially well before Denny’s already recorded versions.

Perhaps the definitive version amongst a career of performances  is the first reading of this Denny song to appear on a pressing, ‘Fairport Convention’s third long player, 1969’s Unhalfbricking. The song here emanates a ‘hopeful sadness’ with Denny’s vocals perhaps eliciting a deeper emotion than the songs lyric. Denny’s acoustic and Richard Thompson’s open the tune, revealing a salty horizon where past and future collide in the present quiet contemplation of the author’s thoughts. Thompson’s guitar weaves cleanly through the songs melody, knotting each string perfectly with a tight musical bow hitch.  The arrangement retains its acoustic elements, but with ‘Fairport Convention’ gets as Neil Young would say, a bit of the ‘spook’, taking the song to a new level.

The song sways on its own internal momentum, just the delicate metronome of a high hat. Bass and the snare soon to follow setting the table for Denny’s shimmering and delectable vocals. The chorus soon revealing a beam of scattered sunlight breaking through the foggy verses. Denny’s voice the calm storyteller, perfection in the face of uncertainty. Richard Thompson’s wife and friend of Sandy said of Denny’s vocal acumen, ‘With Sandy, you just believed every word, every syllable, and every heartbeat. It was all relevant. That's a great gift.’

The hardest part for any band is to lay back and to be attentive. Here, the band lays so far back they tip in their rocker, with Thompson’s aforementioned guitar squiggling in shorthand across the chord changes. The main instrument and focus is Sandy. Dynamics and the act of listening are on full display. The blurry collection of lyrics brings to the ‘rock room’ an image of a solitary figure on a forgotten winter shore. The seasons morph in front of them, the weather shifts by the moment and the figure remains, stoic, hidden.

While the ‘rock room’s above focus is on the definitive “Fairport Convention’ studio recording, there is a number of live renditions both with and without ‘Fairport’ that are worthy of your time and attention. A quivering solo acoustic version from September 11, 1973 on the BBC is available officially (if you can find it). Just Sandy and her spectral twelve spring conjoined in sonic dance of perfection. I feel lucky to be able to listen to this magical performance, in a way it sums up Sandy perfectly.

While writing about this song the ‘rock room’ has learned there cannot be only one definitive version of this track! They are all definitive. The substantial strength of the song’s melody and its enduring quality is proven by the long list of stellar artists who covered the song. Along with Judy Collins, Nina Simone, Eva Cassidy, Lonnie Donnegan, Susanna Hoffs, and of course Richard Thompson who pays a moving tribute to his friend every time he performs it in concert.

My hope with this Take One feature is to once again place a firelight glow on a song that in all reality needs no promotion from my humble little ‘rock room’. But as Sandy stated, ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’, and with the passage of years Denny’s importance and influence on both the world of folk and rock cannot be understated. The timelessness of the song, its singer and its disseminators will endure.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Tools of the Trade: Duane Allman’s Les Paul Guitar's -Goldtop, Cherry, Dark Burst -'Wings to Fly'

One thing you can depend on in the Talk from the Rock Room ‘Tools of the Trade’ feature is that the instrument will be iconic and its voice instantly recognizable. This is the case with Duane Allman’s 1957 Les Paul Gold Top serial number #7 3312. The guitar that bellowed on the ‘Allman Brothers Band’s first two LP’s as well as on ‘Derek and the Domino’s classic Layla and Assorted Love Songs has a story that borders on fiction and an alchemy that balances on fantasy. Allman’s legacy was built using this guitar and his spirit continues to be disseminated by its use by various Allman Brothers family up through current times. Much has been said about this guitar and it is one of the most famed instruments in the annals of rock history. The ‘rock room’ won’t add much to the substantial legacy, but can collaborate information and celebrate Duane and his legendary 'tools of the trade’. One silly aside that that the 'rock room' is not proud of. When visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years back Allman's 'Gold top' was on display. The 'rock room' was so overtaken with emotion upon seeing this beautiful piece of 'rock history that I actually set off the alarm sensor for getting to close to the iconic instrument. But...... I digress.

Duane Allman purchased his Goldtop sometime in 1968/1969 probably from Gainesville instrument shop Lipham Music where the band purchased much of their gear. The guitar became his partner in crime both in the studio and on the stage during the band’s formative months. In Galadrielle Allman’s book about her father, Please Be With Me, there is a document/letter labeled May 16, 1969 where Duane mentions purchasing a Gibson Les Paul Goldtop guitar in addition to a Marshall amp and Heritage acoustic to fellow guitar player Ralph Barr. As previously mentioned this 1957 Les Paul had the ‘goldtop’ finish, no pick guards, and two PAF pickups. The guitar can be heard on Duane’s early work with Boz Skaggs, such as ‘Loan Me A Dime’, Allman’s work with Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and both of the ‘Allman Brother Band’s first two seminal recordings. Statements from Bobby Whitlock, vocalist and pianist for ‘Derek and the Dominos’ support the fact that the Goldtop was Duane’s main weapon of choice during this era and during the recording sessions for Lalya.

This guitar assisted in developing Duane’s touch and his tone as a player and offered a stunning contrast with Dickey Betts Fender Stratocaster in the early Brothers days. Stunning footage of the Goldtop in action can be found on the circulating pro shot footage from the Love Valley festival in North Carolina 1970.  A straight Les Paul into a Marshall stack, this is the stuff, all touch, all tone, all soul.

Now, this is the point of the tale when the Goldtop and the Cherry burst cross paths and exchange numbers. In September of 1970 the Allman Brothers Band were playing a concert in their hometown of Dayton, Florida where the opening act for the evening was ‘Stone Balloon’. The guitarist of that group,  Rick Stein had on stage a beautiful 1959 cherry burst Les Paul that caught young ‘Skydog’s eyes. Allman approached the guitarist following the concert with a deal in mind.  Allman offered the ‘Stone Balloon’ guitarist his Goldtop, $200.00 cash and a 50W Marshall head in exchange for the 1959 Les Paul.  One exception to the trade is that Allman wanted to keep the PAF pickups from his Goldtop and install them in his new acquisition. Allman Brothers Band roadie, Kim Payne has confirmed that he changed out the pickups from one guitar to the other in a Daytona, Florida hotel room. It is documented that the older PAF pickups have a lower output therefore having greater clarity and presence. Presence is one thing Duane Allman’s style is not lacking. So, in the end the pickups were swapped and Duane had a new guitar while the famed Goldtop would move on to experience a series of adventures of its own.

After the trade, the Goldtop changed hands a number of times in the 1970’s and reportedly underwent 2 complete refurbs. By 1977 it fell into the hands of Gaineville guitarist Scott LaMar. LaMar bought the guitar for $475.00 dollars in 1977. Since that time LaMar has become steward of the instrument doing a proper restore with the assistance of Gibson and lending the guitar to the ‘Big House Museum’ in Macon, Georgia. The guitar has also been lent to the ‘Allman Brother Band’ for in concert appearances, being played by Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes. The guitar sold at auction in 2019 for the price of 1.25 million dollars. The anonymous buyer still loans the instrument to the 'Big House Museum' for a few months out of the year.

Returning to the new Les Paul Allman received from the trade. By the time of the Allman Brothers Band’s performance at the Fillmore East on September 23, 1970 Allman was donning his new guitar with the Goldtop’s PAF’s and blazing new trails. There is some confusion with the pickups, since they have their covers on the new guitar, but did not on the Goldtop. Keeping covers on or off pickups tend to have a subtle effect on tone. The plain top cherry also has no pick guards which Allman did not like similarly to the Goldtop. The guitar features a mahogany neck and two piece maple top. This guitar would also be featured on the famed Live at Fillmore East album as well as the number of stunning live recordings and bootlegs that exist from Duane’s essential last year.

                                                             Photo: Amalie Rothchild

The subtle tonal discrepancies found between these two legendary guitars can be analyzed and compared by listening to the available studio recordings and live performances. Roughly, from the earliest Allman's concerts until 9/23/70 you get the Goldtop. From 9/23/70 until June of 1971 you get the 'cherry burst'. As previously stated, the Allman Brothers impeccable and historic live release At Fillmore East immortalizes this 'cherry' guitar for eternity. Finally from June 1971 through 'Skydog's final show (The Final Note released in October 2020) we get the melodic disseminator in Duane's short life which we will discuss below.

While the player is the one most responsible for the expression of sound through any given instrument, the instrument is the disseminator and the tool responsible for aural imagery and invisible sonic dreams to come vibrantly to life. Because Duane Allman’s musical career has to be measured in moments it’s easy to focus on his guitars and when and how they were used. The 1957 Gibson Goldtop assisted in developing Duane as a player and the 59 cherry burst was where he went once he started to develop a taste and technique. The following guitar, a 1959 Les Paul tobacco is when he he had a full vision of what he wanted aesthetically and musically in a guitar.

There is a third Les Paul in this story, one that was in the hands of Gregg Allman at the time of Duane's death. The 'dark burst' Les Paul is a 1959 standard tobacco burst and was purchased by Brother Duane in June of 1971. Road manager Twiggs Lyndon traded Gregg a 1939 Ford Opera Coupe for the instrument determined to keep it safe for Duane's daughter Galadrielle when she was old enough to understand the importance of the guitar. The 'dark burst' (which looks deep red around the edges) too has special 'Skydog' characteristics, in particular it's pick ups. Guitar tech Tommy Alderson worked on the instrument after years of non use. He stated in an interview with Guitar World magazine, 

“They (pickups) are set different than anything I’ve ever encountered,” he says, “dropped down a fair amount below the pickup ring. The pickup pole adjustments had the screws turned up so they would pick up the signal. Also unusual, the bridge pickup is a lot weaker than the neck pickup. I plugged it in and put it in the middle, and it was the ‘One Way Out’ sound. It was just crazy to hear.” He also stated that some work had been done on the headstock at some pint in the guitar's life.

This particular Les Paul also called 'Hot Lanta' can be heard on the live at the closing of the Fillmore East concert from June 27, 1971. This soundboard recording has been included on the deluxe edition of the band's Eat A Peach LP. It can also be sussed in definitive sound quality on the official release, Live from A and R Studios, New York, August 26, 1971 which the 'rock room' reviewed here. This guitar was the instrument that Duane would play right up until 'the Final Note' played on October 17, 1971 at 'Skydog's ' last show. Obviously due to Duane Allman's tragically short life he didn't get to keep searching for his perfect 'Tool of the Trade', but he was getting close. Duane's daughter has stated, "By the time my Father found those guitar's. particularly 'Hot Lanta' , he really achieved the ideal tone he was looking for". 'Hot Lanta' is also the guitar where roadie Twiggs Lyndon changed out the frets on the instrument following Duane's death and instead of disposing of them spelled out 'DUANE" on the back of the guitar.

A famed circulating field recording from September 16, 1971 at The Warehouse in New Orleans, LA features the original six in a late era peak. The tape is a perfect sonic document to hear Duane and his 'Hot Lanta' guitar streaking like blue heat in their natural environment. The 'rock room' often uses this special aural document to study the instruments habits. Silvery streams of stunning string displays pour off the existing tape. It's a gift to able to hear the vibe of  Allman and his final guitar during a  peak performance.

The aesthetic that Duane and Gregg Allman developed in the first three years of the 'Allman Brothers', was the template that the band used to 'hit the note' for the next almost 50 years. One of the defining elements of that sound and the curator of the group composition was Duane Allman, Through his fingers and his 'Tool of the Trade' 'Skydog' created a fingerprint that will remain an indelible mark on rock for as long as people continue to listen.

Three Gibson Les Paul's, three guitars with the spook, fire and as much personality as their respective owner. The guitars that allowed Duane Allman the means of expressing himself fully. It's obvious that Allman found a multitude of magic which he loved in a Gibson Les Paul. He spent most of days undertaking a series of tweaks and sonic experiments to insure he would eventually find sonic perfection.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Albert King - Born Under A Bad Sign 1967 LP - 'Play It Pretty'

A compilation album that influenced an entire generation of players and a record that is entrenched as a blues classic and one of the finest recordings ever made. Released in August of 1967, and spinning in the ‘rock room’ today is the stereo version of Albert King’s Born Under a Bad Sign. Recorded at Stax Studios from March 1966 through June 1967, Born Under a Bad Sign is a quaking electric blues vamp. While not an album that blew apart the charts (which is usually the case with great Blues records) but an album topping with soul and stellar guitar playing. Albert King’s style influenced a host of players ranging from Eric Clapton. Mike Bloomfield, Jerry Garcia, Hendrix and a plethora of others. Every song, every groove and every nuance of the guitar work was studied by these hopeful and talented guitarists. Obviously the LP has gained importance and media acceptance in hindsight which is the usual with great blues records. If you are in to that sort thing, Rolling Stone listed the record on their 'Top 500 Records of All Time" list.

King’s, ‘tool of the trade’ was a famed right handed Gibson Flying V guitar strung normally. The kicker in this, is that King is a left handed player! Thus King’s technique and approach caused him to pull strings from above as opposed to pushing them from below. This in turn allowed King for a unique way of phrasing notes with special inflections and bends. This record is not only influential, it freaking jams and highlights some of the most soulful blues playing you will ever have the pleasure to hear.

The LP opens with the instantly recognizable lick and shady strut of ‘Born under a Bad Sign’. The Memphis horns blast the central lick like a steamship as the ‘Booker T and the MG’s stick the eight ball corner pocket. King goes down smooth vocally as after each verse as he squeezes out a trebled response to each of his verses. Written by William Bell and Booker T. Jones, ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’ is one of the most addictive licks and blues blueprints in the history of modern music.

‘Crosscut Saw’ follows with a dusty swamp groove that just makes ya jiggle right where you sit. We all know what King is talking about when he asks to, ‘drag my saw across your log’. Sensual, yet sinister the rhythm undulates like the rocking of a serrated blade through moist wood. One of the earliest of the  Delta Blues, the song made its first appearance outside of the jukes in 1941 when it was released by Tommy McClennan. King’s gritty riffing working against the tidal pull of Al Jackson Jr’s drums and Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn’s substantial bass lines.

The Leiber/Stoller classic and a favorite cover tune of rockers of the era ‘Kansas City’ comes next and is played with a chunky swing. The cut opens with King's silvery and brisk quotation of the main lick. Second verse the 'Memphis Horns' kick in for a sweet contrast punctuating Albert's chilly vocals. Mmmm, this swings with some attitude. King and the horns then pair up to sing there way through an instrumental verse. 

'Oh, Pretty Woman' is the next track on side A and was composed by Memphis DJ,  A. C. Williams. Other musicians including Gary Moore and John Mayall both later covered the cut. In the 'rock room's' humble  opinion this one is a highlight of the record. A menacing stomp with a sturdy bass line and perfectly slotted horn lines moaning under the central melody. King, lends just enough guitar to increase the edge of his vocals during the chorus. He takes two navy solo's throughout the track, smooth enough to sooth and with just enough bite to scare ya.

'Down Don't Bother Me', is a straight forward blues and King original with on time call and response guitar and vocal and some rolling saloon piano setting the table. King's guitar rings through the verses and for the first break King takes a solo spot that would make E.C. blush. 

"The Hunter' concludes side A, a composition composed by the members of 'Booker T and the MG's'. "Led Zeppelin', well known thieves and borrowers from the land of juke joints quoted this song in the middle of 'How Many More Times' from Led Zeppelin I, a song that took it's influence from Howlin' Wolf's , 'How Many More Years'. Full circle indeed. 'The Hunter' opens on a steady piano vamp which morphs into a straight forward stomp after the airy entrance of the 'Memphis Horns'. King sings slyly behind the undulating blues gait, hoping to steady his love gun for the perfect shot. King then takes a stringy high on the neck solo spot with some off  hearty mic asides before closing the side with a final verse.

Flipping the LP, side two lights a smoke, pours a glass and leans way back in it's respective chair for an immersive collection of slinky blues. The side opens with 'I Almost Lost My Mind', a crooning contemplative blues with King in his best throat of the record. A flute appears toward the end of the opening verse along with the horns lending a windy emotion to the melody. The descending chord change is the recipient of King's contrasting solo spot which he bows and bends like soft silver. The solo contains a buoyancy the repels the weeping of the song's arrangement. King goes to see the gypsy for the song's final verse with further assistance from the perfectly placed flute. A beautiful song to set the darkened stage of the flip side.

'Personal Manager', the longest cut on the record opens with a stabbing clipped guitar, similarly to the opening of Dylan's 1997 track 'Love Sick'. This song was co-written by King and David Porter. The brilliant premise of being a chosen woman's 'Personal Manager' is laid out by King as a proposition. Just sign on the dotted line and never have to worry about anything again. Once the verses begin, tickled in by the woody trills of a piano, King explains to his baby the benefit of him becoming his lady's 'Personal Manager'. You know what? I believe every word. The mid song solo rings with attitude and sings with sustain. The tension rises and King takes the musical document to get notarized by the blues gods. This shit makes my eyes squint. Highlight.

The 'Velvet Bulldozer' takes on 'Laundromat Blues' next. The suspicious narrator hoping that that his baby doesn't get it too clean as she seems to have a load to wash everyday. The instrumentation stays consistent with side two with a boozy barroom backing and a silky reading. Knocking piano and tasty licks from King get things sudsy. Kings tone with just a touch of distortion slices through the perfumed open arrangement. The tension of the music increases with the anxious wonder of our narrator. King drops a coin into the slot with a start stop solo spot. The band cycles around King as he pulls on and off the strings with deep feeling.

The penultimate song on the record is 'As the Years Go Passing By' composed by Don Robey, though King was known to tell others that he wrote the song. One can understand why, with a dramatic spacious arrangement and a killer set of lyrics the song fit King like hand in glove. A simple sentiment and a detailed expression, King emanates the deepest blue on this track. Delicate and jazzy drums lay back while the piano and horns try to stop the time. An emotive solo spot appears as a lone saxophone quivers from center sound stage. Stunning.

The LP closes with fittingly 'The Very Thought of You', a pop standard hailing from 1934 and composed by Ray Noble. The son had been covered prior to Albert King's version by artists as diverse as Ricky Nelson and Little Willie John. The song illustrates both King's ability to take on the deepest most guttural blues as well as the most lilting melodic construction. The song acts as a healing finale after the previous musical journey through suspicion, loss and heartache. The standard's instrumentation sways with the hopefulness of the lyrics content. King voice is the obvious highlight and his ability to translate the song is its strength. Like King states during the instrumental break, 'Play it pretty', Play it pretty'. His final vocal line is testament to that statement as he caresses the final word gently to all of our ears and hearts.

Albert King's 1967 record Born Under a Bad Sign was critical in assisting bringing blues to a mainstream audience. It's influence on a number of up and coming rock guitarists cannot be understated. The dictionary of licks displayed by King on guitar designed the template for all rock and blues that would come after. The LP was ransacked for its sonic gold and jewels for a number of years by enterprising musicians and continues to be. The diversity of  the catalog of songs, the professionalism of the musician's and the colossal talent of Albert King collided to develop an album of important songs and an enduring presence.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Now Playing: Moby Grape – Live on the Mike Douglas Show /Steve Paul Scene 1967

Aired smack dab in the middle of the ‘Summer of Love’ and one week after the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, ‘Moby Grape’ appeared for a live appearance on the Mike Douglas Show. A rare paisley glimpse into arguably one of the tightest and best songwriting bands of the 1960’s. Jamming both aurally and visibly in the ‘rock room’ today is a unique performance by a San Francisco band that burst into flames before they earned their rightful due.

Unfortunately, even in current times, television is not the best transmitter of perfect sound nor is it a perfect representation of a ‘rock band’ in their element. Television production is a far cry from front of house music production and balance and quality is not at the top of the list. But, that being said the ‘rock room’ considers us very lucky to have a performance such as this one captured for us to enjoy years after the fact.

Looking like it was dubbed from an nth generation VHS tape multiple times, the performance itself is precious. First off, having footage of the original band with Skip is cause for celebration. As previously mentioned the color is washed out the audio is muffled but the footage is absolute gold. The band begins their set with ‘Omaha’, a rock guitar monument. Introduced by Mike Douglas as the ‘Moby Grapes, gives me a chuckle. (NOTE: Recently on social media some time stamped footage of the show outro has circulated with the band playing 'Aint No Use' under the exit voiceover. This segment looks absolutely stunning! Let's hope the entire clip will circulate at some point in the future!)

The footage begins with Mike Douglas checking in with the band to see if they are ready as instruments can be heard tuning up off screen. The band begins following introduction and is as tight as a ‘go-go’ dancers skirt right from the start. A priceless moment occurs when Skip and the group come in a bit late with their vocals and Spence lends a beaming and mischievous smile at the rest of the band while getting it on! Jerry Miller stands center stage and splays a teletype series of lead lines from his hollow body guitar throughout the cut. The energy emanates from the group regardless of the substandard television sound quality.  It really is special to be able to watch the individual instrumentalists working out their respective parts. 

The band appears to be getting off with shared smiles and bring the outro jam of ‘Omaha’ to a crowd rousing conclusion. The available visuals improve slightly with 8:05 probably because of the brighter stage lighting. The song is played flawlessly, the only issue being the aforementioned messy mix from live television. Spence again has a trouble making look across his face, which is to be expected. The band’s harmonies are tightly pressed, especially in contrast to other contemporaries from the ballroom scene on San Francisco. Oddly and humorously enough, just prior to the conclusion of ‘8:05’ Mike Douglas walks out as the band is finishing the song! The band gathers to finish properly as the show heads to commercial break. A puzzling performance to say the least in the aspect that the band didn't blow up nationally just on the basis of this clip!

A short juicy bunch of ‘Moby Grape’ in their early prime while colliding with the ‘straight’ world of primetime television. Well worth searching out for the quality of the musical performance as well as the rarity of the footage. Well deserving of the possibility, the ‘rock room’ hopes, that someday a proper box set of rare live cuts and available footage will be compiled. I know I’d be down for helping out any way that I could. ;) 

If you like what you checked out above here there is also an additional bit of rock film of the original members performing two additional cuts from their debut LP, including ‘Hey Grandma’ and ‘Sitting By the Window’. While going on a run of available footage of the original ‘Moby Grape’ I figured I discuss another ‘rock room’ favorite. This footage is from a 1967 film shot at the Steve Paul Scene in Manhattan.  This film was broadcast on WNEW New York in November of 1967 and features a host of popular musicians from the time performing at the club. Included in the film are 'The Staple Singers', 'Blues Project', Aretha, and of course, 'Moby Grape'.

Again, like the Mike Douglas footage the band is playing live on stage, as this was a favorite club for famous musicians to play in clandestine fashion. Jimi Hendrix in particular liked the aspect of anonymity and intimacy the NYC club offered. Spence goes properly crazy during the jam, convulsing in excitement and exuding a prickly stage presence to which the band responds. Specially placed dancers and psychedelic displays flood the screen, but do not distract from another thankfully immortalized piece of celluloid from ‘Moby Grape’ and their comet trailing musical career. This footage is a bit washed out, but in actuality clearer than the Mike Douglas footage, with more than acceptable sound quality considering the source.

‘Sitting by the Window’ follows and is played dynamically with Peter Lewis taking a perfect lead vocal spot. Grape’s three guitars work together chain on gear lending the song a diverse blend of melodic lines. Spence sits behind the group on the line of amps watching the band perform the debut album cut perfectly. Even in this sterile environment the band's talent is fully discernable.

Man oh man, four songs from the first ‘Moby Grape’ record played with color footage! What more could a ‘rock geek’ as for? While not perfect in any fashion, for fans of the ‘Grape’ and or San Francisco rock in general this stuff is priceless. Short and sweet but full of magic and well worth 15 or 20 minutes of your rock and roll attention. Until next time…

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Take One: Jim Capaldi – Short Cut Draw Blood - 'It Don't Scare Me'

The portentous Jamaican adage, ‘Short cut, draw blood’ warns that taking the easy way out can offer dire consequence. It also warns that the even quickest strike can also cause injury. Both of these eventualities carry substantial thematic weight with Jim Capaldi’s 1975 album of the same title.  Recently, the Jim Capaldi Estate has announced a worldwide digital release of this vital album in Capaldi’s discography across numerous streaming platforms. The Estate has rolled out this current reassessment of the record with a release of the first single and title track, ‘Short Cut, Draw Blood’.

The title was brought up to Capaldi by Chris Blackwell of Island Records, who was also Bob Marley and the Wailers producer, hence the use and familiarity of a Jamaican proverb. The album was the first following the disillusion of Traffic, though Capaldi had a number of former and current members of the band he founded including but not limited to his songwriting partner Steve Winwood appear on the LP.

The subject of today’s Talk from the Rock Room ‘Take One’ feature is the title track of Capaldi’s 1975 LP and the aforementioned premier digital single of the  album release. With the former ‘Traffic’ and Muscle Shoals rhythm section of Hood, Hawkins and Rebop the song’s striding groove moves impatiently and nervously through Capaldi’s verses. The song’s construction and content brings to mind Bob Dylan’s ‘Hurricane’, another melodic proclamation from 1975 that both jams and informs. Jim hisses out gritty accusatory verses that may have been too much for the early critics. While not always fashionable in the music industry to be environmentally conscious, this was a theme held close to Capaldi’s heart. Capaldi was a straight shooter and with this cut he hit the mark with a bullseye.

The song enters with a picked acoustic lick that signals the introductory verses. Capaldi itemizes the acts being perpetrated on the Earth and its inhabitants through swirling lyrics winding around flashing keyboards and passing sonic washes. Each verse gains momentum with jagged electric guitar, moans of Moog and percussion joining before crashing into the matter fact chorus, ‘I’m telling you that a short cut is gonna draw blood, and you are gonna get you face pushed in the mud’. Capaldi elicits a sneer when navigating the lyrics and a sly smile in the chorus. Following the third verse a guitar solo enters with all of the various song’s elements colliding. Capaldi comes back following the solo and free forms with the stratified guitars, adding well timed shouts and vamps on the chorus until the fadeout.

Similarly to all enduring art, Capaldi’s song has gained relevance in the intervening years. The finger pointing in Capaldi’s lyrics assess a shadowy figure in charge that still remains in a plethora of clandestine places. Not much has changed. Capaldi’s lyrics are honest, and honesty is sometimes too much,’ 

'Well you can build a lot of buildings that you want in this world, till a man can't see a thing. Keep on spraying the crops with your suicide juice, till the birds no longer sing’. These acts were happening when Capaldi composed the song in the mid 1970’s and they continue to this day. Proof that Capaldi was on the right path of environmental consciousness and his venomous voicing and dulcet musicality the perfect combination to distribute his message.

Jim Capaldi’s 1975 record and track Short Cut, Draw Blood deserves a critical reassessment and a new audience. Its messages and musicality are just as important to listener’s ears today as they were in in middle 1970’s. Capaldi’s talents ranged from composing, arranging, singing, and of course drumming and his recordings need not languish is the dusty recesses of a record store. As an addition, please enjoy this live version of 'Short Cut, Draw Blood' and 'Goodbye Love' from the 'Old Gray Whistle Test' November 18, 1975 before you go. Here’s to enjoying Jim Capaldi's music as well as adding a new generation of listeners that I am sure will be hopeful recipients to his message.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Put the Boot In: Traffic – Live in Fort Worth 1974 - 'Done With Reality'

Spinning today in the ‘rock room’ is a newly circulating (I believe) audience recording from the final ‘Traffic’ tour in 1974. This recording hails from the Tarrant County Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texasand is a brisk and groovy listen with all instruments balanced and up front.  This recording comes from a first generation reel with perfect ambiance and sonic’s. It is the ‘rock room’s’ humble opinion that this October 12th, 1974 recording could pass for a professional recording with the exception of some audience chatter. Within two weeks of this particular ‘Traffic’ tour the band would conclude and ‘Traffic’ would be no more. The concert is a well-developed cross-section of the group’s career with a number of new songs intermingled with fan favorites. This is another ‘stripped down’ version of the band reflecting their 1970 performances with the normal triplicate of Winwood, Capaldi and Wood joined by Rosco Gee on bass guitar. Light as a seed travelling on the breeze, the band navigates the concert deftly and leaves behind memories of an amazing band.

The 1974 tour is an odd duck. While there are a number of ‘Traffic’ recordings for the collector to enjoy. Most available tapes are BBC recordings or field tapes from their early days. In recent times, tapes recorded by enterprising audience members have started to seep through the cracks. Tapes from London and Manchester from the Spring, Reading in the Summer and this one from the Fall show a band who has reinvented themselves regardless of how close to the end. With the release of When the Eagle Flies, ‘Traffic’ stripped away the band additions of Roger Hawkins and David Hood on drums and bass respectively who had toured with the band throughout 1972-1973 and returned to the powerful triad of Winwood, Capaldi and Wood, but with Rosco Gee on bass to allow for easier instrument swapping between Wood and Winwood. This is a tight, light band ready to play and the ‘rock room’ is thankful for a first generation audience tape like the one we are going to review.

Like can be deduced from an excitable female fan caught on the circulating tape, ‘let’s get down!’ The band responds in kind and begins the show with a slick extended instrumental jam. The concert begins with this lead in instrumental that lets the players warm up and slides into a sleek groove with Winwood taking a crispy guitar solo spot. Wood takes up residence at the piano stool, with Capaldi and Gee making up the rhythm section respectively. Once a danceable foundation has been set, Wood moves to sax and Winwood to Rhodes as the band develops a super funky syncopated lead in into the opening ‘Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory’.  Note: There is a small cut on the tape in this spot.

‘Shootout’ features a dual keyboard attack with Wood lending a quivering Moog drone and Winwood a spongy Fender Rhodes dressing. Capaldi is endlessly creative on the kit with a number of rhythmic shifts, while Wood moves to flute for the outro jam. A wonderfully extended and unique opening track that sets the standard high for the rest of the evening.

An introduction of Rosco Gee prefaces a high tempo version of ‘Empty Pages’. Winwood sings a siren song and is in stunning voice. There is another dual keyboard attack in the arrangement here. I can hear some amplifier issues during the song but it seems that by the conclusion the crew gets them sussed out. Winwood’s first solo spot with the Rhodes is an ornate scrawl across the blank background of the songs arrangement.  Top notch stuff.

‘Empty Pages’ segues into the spectral pulse of ‘Graveyard People’ from the just released When the Eagle Flies record. ‘Graveyard People’ lyrically is a complex dissertation of the psychology of those folks who cannot see past the end of their own nose. A slippery sax solo by Chris Wood closes the gate and leaves a misty beam of moonlight on a unique song pairing and wonderfully played duo from the early and late era of ‘Traffic’. A 'rock room' must hear.

Following an impressive introductory series of jammed out cuts, the crowd responds to a down and dirty reading of ‘Pearly Queen’ hailing from ‘Traffic’s’ 1968 self-titled second LP.  One of the most delectable guitar licks in rock history is played here by Winwood and propelled by a classic groove. The song builds to a peak that the band collaboratively holds up and inspects under the stage lights for all in attendance to see. An underrated player of six strings, Winwood shreds this one to strips.

Capaldi, speaks from the stage and asks the crowd to sing along and if they don’t, they’ll get a ‘kick in the ass’. ‘Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring’, follows,  a long time opener for the band is played here in a grooving reading,  the pendulum swinging between rock and roll. Winwood hits the note vocally, while Wood honks and squawks his way on some blurry horn. I can feel the momentum swing on the first generation tape, as the crowd swings with the intensity of the band. 

Another new for the time song follows with ‘Walking in the Wind’ which elicits a walk along an unnamed ridge in the highlands. This song was released as a single at the time. The crowd responds with hoots and hollers as Capaldi locks down a rubber band snap of a rhythm with brisk accents. Winwood plays acoustic piano over Gee's skipping bass line. Cool, calm and collected the groove blows my hair back in a room with no open windows. As the title implies the arrangement is spacious and the recording breathes with the music. One of the 'rock room's favorites in the 'Traffic' discography.

A short acoustic based interlude follows with the sought after ‘John Barleycorn’ played from a special place where one finds the angel’s share. The crowd is silent and each instrument is discernable on the field recording. Capaldi invests himself in the hand percussion as well as the harmonized vocals during the song’s final verses.  Wood steps up to take a few perfect flute recitations that leave the crowd in a boozy stupor with their respective ‘nut brown bowls’ and brandy.

’40,000 Headmen’, gets a hearty approval from the crowd as it too is played with a woody sensibility. Introduced by Capaldi who returns to drums, he remarks to the crowd, ‘You just gotta stand up and keep going no matter the odds’. ’40,000’ drifts beautifully with Chris Wood’s flute spot eliciting screams from the crowd.  Winwood free forms vocally while Capaldi and Wood deftly answer each other’s parts, before taking his own turn in having a conversation with Wood.

Following a bit of chill, a series of four songs from the current, When the Eagle Flies album are played for the final stretch of the concert. All but the song ‘Memories of a Rock n Rolla’ from the new album would be played on this evening. Beginning the run with ‘Love’, the band exposes the crowd to their current direction and new songwriting experiments. 'Something New’, which was the albums’ opener comes next and is a joyous celebration of the conclusion of a relationship. Catchy enough to be placed as the LP’s opener, here the song feels like it’s been a part of the catalog forever. Classic cut.

The sparse arrangement and ecologically relevant lyrics of ‘When the Eagle Flies’, the title track of the last ‘Traffic’ album speaks of a day of reckoning and judgement when an eagle flies and clears the earth for its next life or phase. The performance features Winwood with accompaniment on bass by Gee. A message not so passé’ and ‘hippy’ anymore and packaged here in an intimate stony soul arrangement.

In the ‘rock room’s opinion one of the finest late era ‘Traffic’ songs, cut from the same detailed cloth as ‘Low Spark’, is ‘Dream Gerrard’. On this final ‘Traffic’ tour the song stretched out to lengths reaching twenty minutes. This version is around twelve minutes. Based around Chris Wood’s oblique central mantra, Winwood on piano and Wood on sax navigate distorted faces, strange mists and a disorienting groove. Around eight minutes in Gee takes a bass solo with rhythmic accompaniment by Capaldi. Gee brushes by the circular melody while taking off on varying melodic paths. The band repeats the central riff and returns to the song proper bringing the song and set to a conclusion.

The tape captures the arena imploring the band to return to the stage for more. The band responds in kind for a double encore of two ‘Traffic’ classics. The first, ‘Heaven Is in Your Mind’ hails from ‘Traffic’s debut LP, Mr. Fantasy, a hallucinatory tale and groovy sound. Wood takes a lascivious horn break and the end of the track and the band conjures the best part of the trip.  Finishing off the evening is a slow and steady ‘The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys’ that travels the side streets and familiar avenues for a crushing reading to end the night.

The first break finds Winwood torching his Moog for a series of sonic solar flashes that aggressively enter the ear. Wood saunters over to what sounds like the Rhodes to support Stevie’s soloing. The band find finds their way back to the song’s warm palpitation for verse two. Following the verse, Capaldi picks up the tempo for a warm syrupy jam with syncopated Winwood Rhodes and the moan of Wood’s alien saxophone. Again, in what has been a theme for the concert Stevie and Chris are listening intently to one another. Winwood, returns to sing the final verse and with that the concert has reached its conclusion. The crowd roars and after thanking the assembled, Capaldi (I think) says, ‘We sincerely hope Muhammed Ali beats George Forman on the 29th’.

Like previously stated, ‘Traffic’s’ 1974 tour is a worthy chapter of their varied and important and musical career form 1967-1974. In spite of lineup changes and usual politics, the core of Capaldi, Winwood and Wood never wavered in their vision nor their love to create new music. While the band dissipated the connection between the players lasted a lifetime. The concert recorded in Fort Worth, Texas on October 12, 1974 is right where the traffic started to back up, but until the end of the road every night was a chance to renew their connections and play the music they created together.



Monday, February 1, 2021

Taste – ‘Live Taste’ 1971 – 'It’ll Be the Same Old Story'

Jamming aggressively in the ‘rock room’ today in the third and final album by Irish rockers ‘Taste’. Released in February of 1971 following the band’s demise, Live Taste was recorded during the group’s final tour at the Montreux Casino, in Montreaux, Switzerland. This was also the band’s only official live documentation at the time. Famed Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher fronted the power trio with the muscular rhythm section of Charlie McCracken on bass and John Wilson on drums. Recorded professionally, the existing LP does exhibit some limitations of the time. The performance is similar to the now officially released Live at the Isle of Wight CD/Blu Ray combo, which means it is just as thunderous and awe inspiring. Gallagher would soon move on from the group that helped propel his career after these aforementioned recordings. Unfortunately business often interfered with music making during this era and ‘Taste’ fell into that trap and it pried the group apart. Luckily for us they left behind a brief but tasty discography, which the ‘rock room’ will delve into today.

The performance begins with ‘Sugar Mama’, a famed Gallagher reimagining of a classic blues covered by everyone from Tampa Red to Led Zeppelin. Here it begins with Gallagher shredding his vocal chords with his solitary, yet kinetic guitar accompaniment. The assembled crowd keep time with their hands. At a bit after a minute the band drops in like a piano of a rooftop crashing into the verse. Almost immediately Gallagher peels away a euphoric series of licks running parallel with his hollers. McCracken thumps out a resounding sludgy bass, just as rock and roll should be. Dynamically, the band lets some air out for the second verse. After Gallagher dispenses with his husky shout, he moves into a probing clean toned exploration of the blues changes. At four and a half minutes Rory starts to peel paint with an explosive trill detonation and some off mic screams. The band soon navigates its way into an elastic false feedback conclusion that Gallagher shreds into a proper and smoking conclusion.

Gallagher dons his brass slide for a chance reading of ‘Gamblin’ Blues’, a blues cover written by Melvin Jackson. A straight dirty boot stomp, Rory performs like a back porch bar patron, laying down streaky blues slide, as a speeding set of headlights passes through liquid night. Mid song Gallagher hits on a haunted ringing string, stomps his foot in time and chimes through a series of unique interpretations of a typical blues change. Rory closes the number with a shimmery slide vocal duet, no band here, just rock wood shedder Gallagher and his ax.

Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘I Feel So Good’ follows and is a straight up rock and roll workout, complete with swinging bass and drum spotlight segments. The band cooks through a weighty shuffle before dropping into a thumping Charlie McCracken bass solo. Hot on it’s heels a wash of cymbals introduce a well played John Wilson drum solo. What is listed as ‘Feel So Good Pt 2’ (on the original LP this is the start of Side 2) exits the drums as Gallagher and McCracken chase each other’s tails in a blusey vamp. The band then brings it down, simmering to almost silence. Gallagher uses a sweet tone while vocally testifying before a substantial return to the song proper. McCracken climbs the rungs of his bass in unison with Gallagher shredding his guitar. Explosive.

In the ‘rock room’s opinion the next cut is a highlight on the record and may be a highlight of the band’s career! Responding to crowd requests, ‘Taste’ casts their bait into the deep end for ‘Catfish’ which is introduced as the final song of the set. I’m saying this right now, definitively, you aint’ never heard heavy electric blues until you have heard this! Change my mind! The band drops anchor into the murky depths of the song with a destructive splash. Dredging the submerged earth the band reveals a chilling pulse to which Gallagher gags out the hook and line. Singing a duet with his strings the Gallagher and the band move dynamically through bluesy currents. There is a sense of anticipation as the band sinks into the undertow allowing Gallagher to quote from the blues ‘Two Trains Running’. The band resurfaces, sailing into a plucky improve segment. McCracken and Gallagher enter into a bird’s nest of runs, Wilson steading the ship with firm pounding. Gallagher finds a stringy sun touched feedback note that stretches from shore to shore with the band watching it’s ripples. Swirling, another round of kinetic jamming occurs that ends with a hard stop, a quick band introduction, and then a boulder off of the bridge back into the song proper. Gallagher sings the ‘Catfish’ verse melody on guitar and concludes a heady jam on a classic blues. Wow.

Side two of the LP concludes with the Gallagher penned, ‘Same Old Story’ from 1969’s self-titled album. The cut is an undulating, syncopated slab of aggressive rock. Simple and ass shaking, Gallagher takes what could be his best solo of the night! This piece is like Chuck Berry on space amphetamines! Charlie and John seal up the vault with a relentless groove and just like that the song, the LP, and the band are concluded.

‘Taste’s’ 1971 album Live Taste in the ‘rock room’s’ opinion one of the finest examples of the ‘British Blues Boom’…….to come out of Ireland of all time. While Rory Gallagher would go on to a quite wonderful career, for a short era, ‘Taste’ may have been the best band in the world. (See Isle of Wight 1970) Perhaps, they broke up right in time, as the ‘power trio’ would soon be considered passé’, but when listening to an album like Live Taste, it always leaves me wanting for more music. Underrated but overwhelming with talent, Ireland’s ‘Taste’ has left a smoking legacy behind even if only smoldering for 3 years.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album - 'The Stone Blues'

Recorded over two days in February of 1975 and released in April, The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album was the perfect combination. Levon Helm and songwriter Henry Glover had the excellent idea to have the legendary Mississippi Muddy Waters to Helm’s barn studio in Woodstock, NY as their first ‘client’. In what would be Waters last LP for Chess, Helm, in addition to Water’s hot shit touring band collected some of the most amazing and respectful talent he could to back the blues legend. In addition to guitarist Bob Margolin and pianist ‘Pinetop Perkins’ from Water’s road band, Helm included Woodstock talent, Paul Butterfield an honey boy Garth Hudson from Helm’s own group ‘The Band’. Former Hawk guitarist Fred Carter also stopped in along with famed horn player Howard Johnson. Today in the ‘rock room’ we will drop the needle on this Grammy winning record and study its grooves.

The LP opens with the Bobby Charles composition, ‘Why Are People Like That?’ famed songwriter of ‘See You Later Alligator’ fame. Charles had taken up residence in Woodstock, but his swamp Louisiana sensibilities are tangible on the swampy groove. Opening with an audio verite’ moment of Muddy directing the proceedings which is a theme of the LP, the song stutters along on Helm’s crispy snare hits. Butterfield enters with a billowing harmonica accompaniment and mid song solo. Per usual Mr. Hudson lays a shifty bed in which Muddy makes you contemplate exactly, ‘why are people like that?’ This cut especially illustrates the completely natural meeting of Muddy's deep blues and the rustic back porch arranging of Helm and friends.

The swinging ‘Going Down to Main Street’ is a Waters original that jumps with a shifty twelve bar gate. Garth Hudson lends some hip, yea, hip accordion toots along the way. Both Hudson and Butterfield build a nest with the central bird call melody popping its head above the bundle of twigs. This is a funky juke ass swinger and displays another side of the multiple roots of American music on display. The song concludes with a Waters giggle that just has to make the listener smile.

The first slow blues of the record, a Waters composition ‘Born with Nothing’, also features some razor edged chrome slide riffing by Waters, a definite highlight. Hudson splays a wash of indigo accordion across the cut. A 12 bar wood floor stomp, like previously stated, features a cutting spotlight solo for Muddy.

Closing the first side of the record is 'Caldonia', a jump blues written in 1945 by Louis Jordan. The song would become a favorite of both Helm and Waters. Helm would continue to perform the song both solo and with the ‘Band’ throughout his career. Muddy played it at ‘The Last Waltz’ though it was not featured on the original soundtrack LP. Here it cooks over sterno with a joyous melody line squeezed out by Butterfield and Hudson on harp and accordion respectively. Muddy raps matter of fact fashion, his robust vocals as rich as Southern muck land. In the ‘rock room’s humble opinion, this track illustrates what IT is all about. Again, ‘Honeyboy’ Hudson lights it up with a stellar squeezebox solo.

Flipping over the record, Side two begins with ‘Funny Sounds’, a Waters original that raps its knuckles on the back door with the assistance of Helm’s perfection on drums. ‘Pinetop Perkins’, a master on the record, trills the black and white’s with a master’s hand including a subterranean solo spot. Featuring some of Water’s best vocals on the record, the collective surrounds him with some of the purest blues on magnetic tape. Butterfield follows with a horny harp spot that squawks its way right to the bus station where Muddy waits for the final verse. It makes me sweat!

The low end, ‘Love, Deep as the Ocean’, follows with an ‘audio verite’ moment captured with Waters explaining to the band that, ‘I don’t write anything but stone blues’. This is the lead in to Helm’s clip clop groove and the dizzying Perkins/Hudson dual keyboard attack. Water’s professes his love while slicing knife edge slide riffing. Butterfield, Perkins and Hudson all get fingerprints across Waters notes as Muddy brings things to a rolling boil. Big ‘well’s and hearty promises initiate goosebumps and in the end, two of Waters finest blues of the 1970’s open up side two of this stone classic.

‘Let the Good Times Roll’ comes next and swings with a devil may care attitude. The song begins like a huge stage curtain rolling back. The horns get in on the action here with Howard Johnson blowing out some funky smoke. Butterfield toots out the central groove while Waters directs us to just 'get it on', it don't matter who you are, just let the good times roll. Both this and the following 'Kansas City' close the record with unadulterated rock and blues. Each amazing musician getting their own chance to let it roll.

The Leiber/Stoller classic ‘Kansas City’ closes proceedings properly with some high octane rocking and rolling. Helm snaps sticks with some crispy hi hat work, while Hudson puts down the accordion and lends some very 'Band' like Lowrey organ paint strokes. A rare, (for this record) guitar solo follows which to me sounds like the clean tone stylings of Fred Carter. The clandestine star of the show, Paul Butterfield is given another solo spot to which he ignites like flash paper. As the band gains temperature, Waters passes the bottle of cherry wine to Pinetop who takes his own set of verses with Muddy answering in kind. 'Kansas City' sums up the fun collaborative effort and musical spirit in which the record was created.

Personally, for the 'rock room', The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album encapsulates the multiple things that I love about music. The unpretentious attitudes, the musical respect, Woodstock, Levon Helm and arguably the finest blues man to walk the land. While the record differs somewhat from Water's extensive blues catalog as far as musical elements, it also never forgets it's roots. Like Muddy states on the record to his supporting musicians; that they may 'want to change the temperature' while arranging. On The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album, the temperature is feverish! Its rare that disparate musical collaborations are a success, but when you have pure musicality and unabashed love for music the results can be nothing short of musical magic.

The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Put the Boot In: Bob Dylan and the Hawks – Live In Hartford October 30, 1965 - 'No Need to be Nervous'

Following Dylan’s legendary electric set at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965, Dylan set forth to find a permanent rock and roll backing band to disseminate his vision. The concerts that took place from the summer of 1965 through May of 1966 are some of the most legendary and destructive rock and roll concerts in music history. The combination of imagery and electricity accumulated into a new music, the ‘thin wild mercury sound’. In the ‘rock room’s humble opinion (and others) this developed conglomerate changed the direction of rock music and really has never been topped. Groups just weren’t doing things like this! In addition to the revolution in music was the combative audiences, antiquated equipment and bouncing around the globe on a diet of hotel food, drugs and groupies!

Today in the ‘rock room’ I am enjoying a distant, chopped up, wavy and aurally challenging field recording from October 30, 1965. These are the moments that the ‘rock room’ lives for. A tattered magnetic tape immortalizing a historic moment. That being said, this recording is not going to be for everybody. Put on your ‘bootleg ears’ and tune in. This particular evening can be looked at as the connective tissue strung between Newport and the Royal Albert Hall in May of 1966. This available recording from Hartford is one of only a handful that features the entire ‘Hawks’ line up as soon after this aforementioned performance Levon Helm would leave the group until mid 1967 when by that time they were the ‘Band’. If you are willing to search you can find a copy of this show, there is also a streaming version available via the usual channels (I have included a link here). It has also been 'officially' released to those who purchased the 'Cutting Edge' big blue box in 2015 where the 1965 tour was included as a bonus in mp3 format.

There are other recordings available for the ‘rock room’ to peruse from this era, but there are enough unique moments contained within this one to share it with my fellow ‘rockers’. The September Hollywood Bowl tape is a soundboard, and the two December shows recorded by Allen Ginsberg are stunning, though not featuring Levon in the group. While this show because of sonic anomalies falls down the list of ‘must have’s’ in the Dylan canon, it also spotlights historically essential music and a rare set of songs.

The concert and the tape begins with ‘She Belongs to Me’ and the ambiance of the Bushnell Auditorium is discernable on the recording. The crowd is attentive and the fidelity is reasonable as Dylan sings a sparkling opening track. A Mr. Jim La Clair posted his recollections of the Harford show online as he attended and had front row seats for the concert. He notes in his remembrance a ‘dynamic tension’ in the air as the concert took place as well as noting the piles of electric gear littering the stage. La Clair also notes that when Dylan took the stage for the opening acoustic set ‘he seemed to emit an aura that was otherworldly’, ‘standing in the light just a few feet from my seat he seemed so fragile, like a porcelain doll’. It is also remembered that while there were only a few cat calls during the previous evening’s performance in Vermont which La Clair attended as well; in Harford things were a bit more edgy.

Following unfortunately truncated recordings of ‘To Ramona’ and ‘Gates of Eden’ comes a full version of ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’. Typical to this era, the crowd is in rapt silence hanging by their fingertips on each of Dylan's words. While distant, Dylan's voice reverberates around the hall, weaving a fantastic version of this Bringing It All Back Home song. Of special note is the usually fabulous harp solo mid way through the song.

Only short snippets of 'Desolation Row' and 'Love Minus Zero/No Limit' are on the tape. A poignant harp starts 'Love Minus Zero'  which ends way to quickly and leaves me wanting more. The acoustic set then concludes with an upbeat and briskly strummed ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’. This song would too become elongated and stretched like warmed candy by the time it reached Europe. Here it still retains its folk elements but tinged with it's stony imagery to which the performances would soon match. Dylan's harp spots are again an obvious highlight.

The electric set starts with a rare extended ‘Tombstone Blues’ a song that would soon be replaced by ‘Tell Me Mama’ when the tour touched Europe. Someone near the taper identifies the song as ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ in error. Their exchanges will be audible throughout the recording. Here, Robertson’s guitar is screaming and he locomotives behind the granite foundation of the Hawks rhythm section. Dylan’s vocals are clear and his is in full ‘Highway 61’ throat. 

Unfortunately both Manuel’s piano and Danko’s bass play hide and seek on the circulating tape. Regardless, the on stage energy is tangible. Dylan continually spits out verses like a sour lemon with extra emphasis on lines like, ‘Jack the Rippahh’! Prior to Robertson’s first solo, Garth Hudson firehoses an audible multicolored wash across the stage to which Robertson responds aggressively. I swear I can hear a girl near the recorder remark, ‘You didn’t tell me about this’. ‘This’, being the 180 decibel rock and roll machine on the stage I would assume! The group reaches a steamy and rolling boil by the cuts conclusion with applause of approval rolling in from the audience.

‘Baby, Let Me Follow You Down’ comes next, a song well entrenched in Dylan’s career at this point and a song that would remain in stage sets throughout the end of the 1966 tour. A groovy harp introduction starts things off with Danko thumping out his bass line soon after. Dylan sings here in a chilled ‘folky’ style for lack of a better term, as by 66 he would be howling out this track. The Hawk’s sparkle here even with the lack of fidelity, with Helm’s detailed touch lending a loose swing to the proceedings. Hudson, Manuel and Robertson each take a solo segment with Manuel’s piano bobbing out of the wash on the tape to great effect. Smokin!

Only a brief fragment of ‘Just like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ is available on the recording before cutting off. ‘Maggie’s Farm’ then follows in a rare mid 1960’s electric reading. The song starts off with Dylan and his lone jangly guitar before the band kicks their shovel into the soil and gets to working. The song is careening on the edge of high tempo electrified madness. The ‘Hawks’ swoop in for their prey shredding everything in their way. Dylan raps cool and collected as the group swirls the instrumentation into a silvery honky tonk groove. Right now at this moment, this is the best band on the planet. Hudson answers Dylan with alien melodies, Danko and Helm bounce rhythms and counter rhythms against the back wall of the arena.  Through Robertson’s piercing solo he and Manuel match gaudy R and B riffing excitedly; at this point I am so far into this recording I feel like moving matter in preparation for time travel. The band comes to a hard stop that cuts just prior to the tape. Wow.

An early standard of the Dylan and the Hawks sets but gone by the 66 World Tour is ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’, originally off of Dylan’s Another Side of Bob Dylan record.  This is another one of those, ‘It used to go like that, now it goes like this’ moments. Beginning with a start and stop arrangement, Dylan and Hawks enter into an attentive but aggressive rendition to the crowd’s collaborative applause. The middle eight develops a direct rock stomp, dressed with Manuel’s staccato piano, prior to opening wide for the substantial chorus where the sky is revealed. On this particular track I am very happy with the balance of all the instruments and vocals; less volume on stage in this case assists with the value of the recording. Following the opening lyrics the ‘Hawks’ run through an beautiful instrumental verse and chorus before Dylan soars in with harmonica for another pass before returning to the ‘melt back into the night’ verse. A wonderful performance of this Dylan classic.

When the tape cuts back the crowd is yelling something about ‘rock’ and then scattered shouts of ‘folk music’ rain down. Dylan plays the opening chords to ‘Ballad of the Thin Man’ to a mixture of applause and jeers. A steady and sly ‘Thin Man’ thumps up tempo through verse one before the tape cuts and the rest is lost in the foggy ruins of time.

Some giggling and crowd ambiance is caught before another relative rarity follows with ‘Positively Fourth Street’. The song had been released as a US single the previous month on September 7th, 1965 so the crowd was familiar with the cut as there is substantial applause as it begins. I don’t know how to explain it but this track contains it all. The vibe, the sound, the groove and Dylan and the Hawks peaking combines to place me square on my butt in the middle of a venue from the past. Dylan’s singing is perfection, every inflection an additional layer to the songs sneering put downs. He bobs and weaves while pulling out the emotion of the lyrics like a blood draw. The Hawks are a crisp as fall in the mountains, Hudson plays a mirror of the signature lick while Robertson laces up some well-timed filigrees.

The tape and concert concludes with 'Like a Rolling Stone'. Those familiar with this period know that by the time Dylan hit Europe the live versions of this song had become bombastic. Here, Dylan and the band are playing well but have not yet haunted the performances with that extra smudge of voodoo. Unfortunately the recording also contains a number of drop out's and speed variations by this point in the tape.  

For students and 'rock geeks' of Dylan, the period immortalized by this recording is legendary in scope and myth. Dylan and the Hawks (later the Band) took on and developed a new and different combination of lyric and song. They performed the music to diverse and defiant audiences around the globe. Patience is key when enjoying when a field recording of this prominence, but the riches that reveal themselves with careful concentration are worth the wait.