Talk From The Rock Room: June 2021

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.