February 21 – Blood, Sweat and Tears Debut

Blood, Sweat and Tears – Child Is Father to the Man

The debut album by Blood, Sweat and Tears, Child Is Father to the Man, was released a half-century ago today.  While later albums by the band contain the radio hits, this one is the realization of founding member Al Kooper’s vision of adding brass and strings to a blues/jazz/pop blend to create a music hybrid not heard before (Chicago Transit Authority was released a little over a year later).  The eight man brass section on the album includes trumpeter Randy Brecker.  There’s no Spinning Wheel here, but the album doesn’t need it.  There’s not a weak track, and it has maintained solid positive critical acclaim throughout the years.

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The original Blood, Sweat and Tears lineup.  Al Kooper is far right.

I suppose this is as much of an Al Kooper post as it is a B, S & T post, as the band’s glory years were just around the corner.  Al is one of my favorite peripheral (for lack of a better word) musicians in rock history:  In 1965, after tricking producer Tom Wilson into letting him onto the session, Kooper improvised the famous Hammond Organ part on Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone.  He then went on to form The Blues Project before establishing Blood, Sweat and Tears.  He left the band after this debut album on which he does the majority of lead vocals, and later in the year re-emerged in studio with guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills for the seminal-but not-as-famous-as-it-should-be album, Super Session.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Overture
  2. I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know
  3. Morning Glory
  4. My Days Are Numbered
  5. Without Her
  6. Just One Smile

Side Two:

  1. I Can’t Quit Her
  2. Meagan’s Gypsy Eyes
  3. Somethin’ Goin’ On
  4. House in the Country
  5. The Modern Adventures of Plato, Diogenes and Freud
  6. So Much Love/Underture

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_Is_Father_to_the_Man

Did you know:

That the French horn at the beginning of You Can’t Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones was played by… AL KOOPER!

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-Stephen

The Beatles in India: Feb. 15-April 12, 1968

Since long before 1968, westerners have journeyed to India in search of a different way of being within the confines of the material world.  But no visit has been more documented, more celebrated, than that of the Beatles when they traveled to the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whose spiritual guidance they had begun receiving the previous August, in the beautiful surroundings of Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas on the banks of the Ganges, northern India.

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Rishikesh today

The group and their entourage arrived in two parties, with George Harrison and his wife, Pattie Boyd, her sister, Jenny, and John and Cynthia Lennon arriving on February 15.  Paul McCartney and his girlfriend, actress Jane Asher, and Ringo Starr and his wife, Maureen, arrived at the ashram on February 20.  There they joined a larger group of seekers and Transcendental Meditation (TM) teachers-in-training for a months-long immersion in meditation and lectures by the Maharishi.  Others of note at the retreat included John’s inventor-friend Alexis “Magic Alex” Mardas, Donovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, jazz flautist Paul Horn, as well as Mia Farrow and her siblings, including sister Prudence.

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Mia Farrow and the Maharishi

The basic story is well-known.  The Beatles had long beforehand grown weary of Beatlemania, George and perhaps John the most.  With the combination of the death of their manager, Brian Epstein (while they were in Wales being initiated into TM the previous August), and the founding of their company, Apple Corps, they were quickly becoming untethered, stressed, and looking for guidance or at least a nice holiday.  Ringo and Maureen stayed about ten days, the food problematic for his sensitive digestive system.  Paul and Jane left after about a month – Paul to supervise Apple business and Jane for an acting engagement.  The Harrisons and Lennons stayed on until April 12, famously leaving when the rumor that the Maharishi had made inappropriate advances toward Mia Farrow became fact in John’s mind due to Magic Alex whispering in his ear.  Years later they would all express regret at their behavior in leaving the ashram as they did, assigning it to their relatively young age when they were there.  This would be the final time the four Beatles traveled together.

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Photos and film footage of the Beatles’ time in Rishikesh paint an idyllic picture of mid/late 20-somethings on a spiritual quest, evolving out of a life of short-lived pleasures enjoyed by elite celebrities and into something more meaningful and lasting.  But while the trip did everyone some good by most accounts, you can take the egotistic rock star out of Swinging London, but you can’t always take Swinging London out of the egotistic rock star.

Associates made sure LSD and alcohol were available, a big no-no at a spiritual retreat (duh).*  Also, John and Cynthia’s marriage was in its final throes, and he began each day with a trek to the local post office to check on the arrival of new telegrams from Yoko, to whom he would soon and almost always be attached.  And much to George’s chagrin, Paul and John spent a lot of time writing songs that would end up on the sprawling White Album later in the year instead of meditating.  Indeed, George was the single most serious practitioner among the four, and continued to be until the end of his life with lapses along the way like most of us mortals.

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John pretending to be married to Cynthia in India.

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Another element to this period is the fine line a spiritual teacher walks between the teachings on one side and the commercialisation of it on the other.  Obviously the Maharishi enjoyed increased publicity worldwide as a result of his association with the Beatles, and I have no problem with that in and of itself.  When the dust of the 60’s settled, the awareness and popularity of TM became much more widespread.  This was a good thing, and the Beatles, especially George Harrison, were a major reason for it.  Was it inherently bad that the Maharishi was also a shrewd business man?  I don’t believe so.  Just as modern teachers such as Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle generate large amounts of money through their writings and speaking engagements, so too did Yogananda and Vivekananda years before the Maharishi, and it was all for the better in my book.

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The remains of the Maharishi’s abandoned ashram today.  Apparently there are plans to renovate the grounds.

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*Subsequent to this post, I’ve read another account of the Beatles’ India Trip (Riding So High:  The Beatles and Drugs by Joe Goodden) which states the group was clean during their stay in Rishikesh.  However, within weeks Lennon would develop a heroin addiction upon meeting Yoko back in London.

https://www.beatlesbible.com/features/india/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beatles_in_India

-Stephen

 

 

Coltrane, Harrison, Dylan, and God, Pt. 3

And finally, the main idea behind this trilogy of posts:  Bob Dylan’s 1978 conversion to evangelical Christianity and the current reassessment of his musical output that resulted from it.  What?  I’m really going to talk about this?  Why?

Having come of age during Dylan’s creative trough of the 1980’s, all I had to go by when I decided it was time for me to explore his music in-depth were the handful of hits I was familiar with from the radio.  My first Dylan album was his Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (Vol. 1 was out of stock at Streetside Records that day), and even that was challenging for a 15-year-old to dig into.  My first Dylan concert was in 1988 when he was arguably still in the nadir of his career.  That I’ve reached the point where I now embrace his most controversial and arguably most inaccessible albums seems a minor miracle.

By 1978, Dylan was spent.  Having reached peaks of critical acclaim, fame, and fortune, the downward slope included the end of his marriage and negative reviews of his self-produced 1975 tour docudrama Renaldo and Clara (released in ’78), his ’78 live shows, as well as his album, Street Legal.  He began searching for answers as many of us do, and as he’s told the tale (abridged here), one night a fan tossed a crucifix on stage toward the physically and mentally ailing star.  Something told him to pick it up and put it in his pocket – something he never did while performing.  At the next stop, in Tucson, AZ, he had a vision of Christ in his hotel room.  From there he enrolled in bible study at the Vineyard Church in California, where a couple of his band members were involved.  Thus began a roughly three-year period when Bob Dylan was transformed and his fans were bewildered by the fire and brimstone gospel rock coming at them from the stage and vinyl.

Dylan released the first of his “Gospel Trilogy,” Slow Train Coming, in the summer of 1979.  The album had a contemporary gospel sound thanks to the production of Jerry Wexler (an architect of the “Muscle Shoals sound,” including works by Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin) and lead guitar by emerging star Mark Knopfler, fresh off the release of the self titled Dire Straits album.  His use of female gospel background singers carried over from the Street Legal album and would continue throughout the trilogy and accompanying concert tours.  I first heard Slow Train in 1992 and liked it from the start, even if the message in the songs seemed a bit odd for a Dylan record.

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The only exposure I had to the second and third albums, Saved and Shot of Love were songs included on his Biograph and Bootleg Series:  Rare and Unreleased, Volumes 1-3 box sets, which I immersed myself in one snowy, solitary Christmas break during college.  I thought the songs were o.k., but just couldn’t bring myself to add those two records to my collection.  To be honest, female backing vocals (gospel or otherwise) just seemed so out of place on a Dylan album, and the production seemed too 1980’s.  Furthermore, I had read really nothing positive about that phase of his career, and there were just too many other gems of his (and Neil Young’s) that I wanted to absorb.

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However, time passed and we reached Vol. 12 of Dylan’s brilliantly curated Bootleg Series (the title is a misnomer for the uninitiated – these are official releases), The Cutting Edge:  1965-1966.  Rumors soon began to swirl on the intergoogle that Vol. 13 would revisit the Born Again Bob era, and I was stoked.  Trouble No More:  The Bootleg Series, Vol. 13 was released in November of 2017 and covers his live shows from 1979-1981 where once again, as in 1966, Bob went out nightly to do battle with his audiences who went to his shows expecting to hear one thing but who got another.  But this time it wasn’t merely that he wanted to play electric music, he now had a very serious message.

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You know we’re living in the end times … The scriptures say, ‘In the last days, perilous times shall be at hand. Men shall become lovers of their own selves. Blasphemous, heavy and highminded.’ … Take a look at the Middle East. We’re heading for a war … I told you ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ ‘ and they did. I said the answer was ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and it was. I’m telling you now Jesus is coming back, and He is! And there is no other way of salvation … Jesus is coming back to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem for a thousand years.  –Dylan speaking to a concert audience, 1979.

Wow!  Just, wow!  As with Dylan’s buddy George Harrison regarding the latter’s 1974 tour, 2018 me would love to go back and be in the audience for one of those shows.  I find it absolutely fascinating.  It takes nerve and conviction to stand before your adoring audience night after night and unload some of the most buzz-killing sermons on the stage-mount ever heard, putting your career and possibly your life on the line.  Keep in mind John Lennon was murdered by a deranged fan, convinced he needed to eliminate the man he felt was his idol-turned-phony, in December of 1980 while Bob was in the middle of this phase.

I’ve subsequently owned and enjoyed the second two albums in the trilogy for a while now.  The music on them is really good, and the production not nearly as bad as I’d allowed myself to believe it was when justifying to myself why I didn’t want to give them a serious listen.  I had a pretty good feeling about the impending live archival release as well.  Sure enough, it didn’t disappoint.  In fact, I love it.  As with live versions of his songs from Desire featured on The Bootleg Series Vol. 5:  Live 1975, the songs on Vol. 13 are much more powerful and alive than their studio versions.  As always, he changed song arrangements from time to time during the tours, each version with a distinct feel.  I’ve even gained an appreciation for the backing vocalists – they belong on these songs.  Exhibit A:

By the end of the 1981 tour, Dylan began to incorporate some of his classics back into his live sets.  His next album, Infidels, was released two years later and was greeted with much positive feedback from fans and critics alike as it was a return to more of a secular, introspective songwriting akin to his mid-1970’s output.  Evangelicals and cynics both might say that a three-year period of gospel music and sermonizing which seemed to suddenly end with no explanation suggests Dylan was insincere, but I strongly disagree with such a sentiment.

How do I reconcile my appreciation for this music and this period of his career in general?  Despite the enigma that is Bob Dylan, he is human.  Many humans search for meaning in life, and for some of us it involves a spiritual seeking that isn’t satisfied in the first discovery.  Or maybe even the second or third.  Or possibly ever.  But like the man sang, we press on.  Dylan is also an artist, and as such he expresses himself sincerely.  I don’t believe Bob could do otherwise.  We may not relate to the message, but it’s real.  These songs are an expression of where he was in his life at that time, and I find it very compelling.  And as a fan of music in general, I can’t help but wonder if there will ever be another songwriter like Dylan who will produce such controversial material, then survive the media and fan backlash to reinvent him or herself  again and again.  Springsteen, Neil Young, and U2 have, but only to a musical degree, not one concerning their message.  The music industry no longer gives younger artists enough leeway to do so.

A couple of weeks back I attended a theater screening of the hour-long film that was included on DVD in the deluxe edition of the Trouble No More release (I settled for the condensed two disc set).  It shows live performances with actor Michael Shannon giving evangelical sermons between songs.  About 15-20 of us diehards were present, and I was almost as interested in how the others in the theater audience would respond to it as I would.  When it was over, we all applauded.  As I was leaving, I ended up in a conversation with a gentleman named Larry, a Dylan fan who graduated from college fifty years ago and who saw Dylan and The Band at the Forum in L.A. in ’74, and a young man named Cade who looked about twenty and who had very recently started on his Dylan journey as a result of Bob being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  How great is that?  The three of us – three generations of Dylan fans – talked in the empty lobby for thirty minutes about what we knew and liked and could’ve easily gone on another half hour.  One of the many things we agreed upon was that the Gospel Years are very deserving of their current reassessment.

The following clip appeared after the credits rolled, and to me was worth the price of admission by itself.  It’s Bob dueting with backing vocalist Clydie King, presumably at a sound check, on a song made famous by Dion DiMucci fifty years ago this August.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow_Train_Coming#Conversion_to_Christianity

Did you know:

1) That Dylan’s touring drummer during these years was Jim Keltner, who was also a friend of George Harrison’s who had been the latter’s drummer on that controversial and much-maligned 1974 tour?  He was also the drummer on the Traveling Wilburys albums, which of course included Harrison and Dylan.  I wish he would write a book about it all.

2) That Dylan secretly married and had a child with one of his backing vocalists, Carolyn Dennis, in 1986?  They divorced in 1992, and they managed to keep it all private until 2001.

-Stephen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coltrane, Harrison, Dylan, and God, Pt. 2

This aspect of popular music from years past that has fascinated me more and more in recent years – when an artist or band has confounded their fan base with a relatively major change in artistic direction and whose career survived if not thrived because of it – crosses into rock territory today.  One well-known example of the latter is when a folk singer plugged in an electric guitar at a folk festival in 1965 and nearly instigated WWIII in the process.  Other times, as with the case of John Coltrane, it has involved the intermingling of spirituality or religion with what is “supposed” to be secular music.  This is a more delicate situation for artists.

By the time Bob Dylan, the folkie gone electric, had a vision of Christ in his Tucson hotel room in late 1978, mainstream rock audiences had already been exposed to songs of praise mixed in with their Eagles and Allman Bros. on the radio.  Norman Greenbaum had a major hit with the fuzz box guitar-drenched Spirit in the Sky in 1969, and George Harrison had struck gold with My Sweet Lord in 1970 or ’71, depending on which side of the pond you were on.  While there is always negative criticism on both ends of the spectrum (some evangelically inclined folks complained that Harrison deceptively added the Hari Krishna Mantra to the end of his song to indoctrinate unwitting youths into some foreign religion), these are benign light rock songs with great hooks – a winning formula.

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But while a song here and there is one thing, dedicating entire albums and concert tours to the subject is another.  Harrison had begun to antagonize some of his fans by the time of his Living in the Material World album in 1973, which features ten spiritually related songs and one lament about the never-ending saga that was the Beatles divorce.  Then came his 1974 North American tour during which he refused to play any of his Beatles-era songs or otherwise made a mockery of them, and frequently berated his audiences for their evil ways.  Add to this a nasty case of laryngitis and Ravi Shankar’s Indian musicians opening the shows and it was a recipe for disaster.

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Hari on Tour, 1974. John Gellman photo.

By most written accounts from the time it was a bit of a debacle, though some of that criticism has softened over the years.  Other than a brief tour of Japan in late ’91 in which he performed clinical renditions of his hits with Eric Clapton and his band backing him, he never toured again.  And the albums he would release after ’74 were more balanced in their spiritual and secular content.  Forty-four years on, there is at least a small ground swell of fans calling for the Harrison estate to release a set of the better sounding performances from the ’74 tour.  I know this because I’m one of them.  They weren’t all that bad, and anyway it’s now part of the lore.  If only George were still around to chant “Krishna!” at us while struggling through Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) with a wrecked throat in hockey arenas around the country!

Oh dear, I’ve done it again.  What was supposed to be another part of a brief introduction (which turned into a full post yesterday) has turned into another complete post.  I guess I’ll change the title again.

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-Stephen

 

Coltrane, Harrison, Dylan, and God, Pt. 1

John Coltrane – Om

Time has a tendency to turn axioms upside down if one is listening, reading, watching, etc. with an open mind.  The Beatles were this after experimenting with psychedelics.  Elvis was that after the army.  Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were something completely different once they started singing about what was “going on,” etc., etc.  Clear delineations with no middle ground, right?  Of course not.  Not only do we listeners/fans change as we age, but so do the artists, obviously.  What was once hip or great is now a punch line (Culture Club, anyone?), and what was too deep we now like to dive into and not come up for air for roughly 45 minutes.  This is why there will probably always be “new” 50-year-old music for me to explore.

One example is an album I didn’t originally intend to write about, but which I realized segues into my main topic (which I’ll now save for my next post):  John Coltrane’s Om, released posthumously late January/early February 1968 (Coltrane passed away July 17, 1967).  Recorded in 1965, Om is a further exploration by the saxophonist into Eastern spirituality and avant-garde jazz.  It is also widely considered his most disliked work.  I find this interesting, as I feel the album only expounds upon his A Love Supreme recorded just months before, and that work is considered a groundbreaking classic.

But Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders push the boundaries of art even further out with their soprano and tenor saxes, respectively, and Trane is even more pronounced about his spirituality on this record.  At a couple of points on the recording, he and a couple of others chant a portion of the Bhagavad Gita:  “Rites that the Vedas ordain, and the rituals taught by the scriptures: all these I am…I am Om!”  Certainly this must have ruffled the sensibilities of a waspy Dave Brubeck connoisseur.  It wouldn’t be the last time an artist vexed their fans with the imposition of their spiritual leanings into vinyl grooves or on stage.  Either way, Om is an acquired taste for the layperson such as myself, and I’ll keep nibbling.

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Francis Wolff photo

But even if I don’t really understand what Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders were doing on this record, musically speaking, I appreciate the spirit in which it was done due to my own spiritual interests and an inclination to understand avant-garde or free jazz a little better.  That’s my “in” for an album such as this, just as it was for its predecessor.  Will I like it as much as A Love Supreme in the long run?  Probably not.  It’s really out there.  But it doesn’t matter, because finding out is the best part of the journey.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Om, Part One

Side Two:

  1. Om, Part Two

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Om_(John_Coltrane_album)

But enough about jazz musicians exclaiming their newly found spirituality through their music, and on to folk and rock musicians exclaiming their newly found spirituality through their music…

-Stephen

February Odds ‘n Ends

February 1968 was a little lighter in the album release column, so I thought I’d take my first non-50th anniversary rabbit trail.  But before I do that, a few loose ends from the first two weeks of that month.  I shouldn’t put it like that; lives were at stake in some instances and I don’t mean to trivialize it.  On February 1, a couple of days into the Tet Offensive (see previous post), the execution of a Vietcong prisoner was captured on film by AP photojournalist Eddie Adams as well as an NBC news camera.  It’s still a shocking image fifty years on.

The prisoner’s name was Nguyen Van Lem.  Lem had killed a South Vietnamese Lieutenant and murdered the officer’s wife and six kids before leaving them in a mass grave.  Ironically, his executioner, South Vietnam’s Chief of the National Police Nguyen Ngoc Loan, might’ve disliked the U.S. as much as Lem despite being on “our side.”  Yet he lived out his post-war life in suburban D.C. with his wife and five children while running a pizza joint before succumbing to cancer in 1998.

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Eddie Adams photo

The next day, February 2, Nixon declared his candidacy for president and the madness would only get worse before it subsided.  On one hand, I look back at these periods of history and think it shows we’ve managed to overcome difficult times as a nation and planet.  But then I wonder if we ever really got through it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Execution_of_Nguy%E1%BB%85n_V%C4%83n_L%C3%A9m

On the lighter side of life and death, Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s daughter and only child Lisa Marie was born on 2/1/68, and Jimi Hendrix was given an honorary diploma from Garfield High School in Seattle, as well as the Key to the City, on 2/12.

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Frank Carroll photo

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-Stephen

January 30, Pt. 2 – Tet ’68

The Tet Offensive

On this day, a week and a half after the beginning of the siege of Khe Sahn, roughly 80,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers staged a shocking (to the U.S.) and deadly (to both sides, but mostly the communists) attack on over 100 cities and towns in the South in what was the largest military operation in the war to that point.  It occurred during the Tet holiday when both sides had agreed to a ceasefire.  One of the North’s main goals was to instigate an uprising against the government and the Americans among the population in the South, a plan which backfired.

The communists succeeded in breaching the compound walls of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon before being routed.  Fighting continued at Khe Sahn in the northern reaches of South Vietnam for a couple more months (see previous post).  General Westmoreland continued to believe for the first couple weeks of the Tet Offensive that it was just a tactic by the North to distract the Americans from what he believed was the real target:  Khe Sahn and the northern provinces near the DMZ.

But nowhere was the fighting more intense and the results more tragic than in the ancient Imperial City of Hue, where fighting continued for 25 days before the communists were driven out by U.S. and ARVN forces.  Initially, the government of the South prohibited the U.S. from using heavy artillery near the ancient walled Citadel within Hue, but eventually it couldn’t be avoided and most of the city was destroyed.   After Hue was recaptured, it was learned that the communists had massacred thousands of Vietnamese residents of the city that they deemed enemies of the North.  These included civil servants, teachers, police, and religious figures.  The last of the mass graves wasn’t uncovered until 1970, and to this day the communist government of Vietnam does not acknowledge the full extent of what happened.

For the U.S., Tet was a military victory, but one with disastrous results at home.  The military was unprepared for what seemed a preposterous move by the communists, and American citizens more than ever began to doubt U.S. military leadership as well as that in Washington, D.C.

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U.S. soldiers in battle near the walled Citadel, Hue.
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Damage to the outer wall of the Citadel from the Battle of Hue still evident during my visit in 2002.

The photo below is a view looking down into the entrance of the Imperial Citadel at Hue taken during my visit in 2002.  Months later, I was looking through an issue of National Geographic from February 1967 that my grandfather had given me in the mid-1980’s with a feature story on Hue.  I was astonished to come across a photo of two young women taken at the same exact spot one year before the Tet Offensive.  I can’t help but wonder if the two women survived the next year.

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While much of the Imperial Citadel at Hue has been either rebuilt or restored, some of it still appears as it did after the Tet Offensive.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tet_Offensive

-Stephen

 

January 29-30 – Steppenwolf, Velvet Underground

The final days of January gave us two influential rock albums.  One touched a nerve with the 60’s generation fairly quickly, while the other was initially accepted with a mostly exclusive audience before gaining wide acclaim in later years.  Steppenwolf’s self-titled debut and The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat are prime examples of how, despite what the parents of Baby Boomers might’ve claimed, all rock and roll does not sound the same.

January 29:  Steppenwolf – Steppenwolf

One of the more iconic rock vocals belongs to founding member John Kay.  As a small child in 1949, Kay and his mother escaped Soviet occupied East Germany and resettled in West Germany until 1958 when they moved to Canada where Steppenwolf was formed in 1967.  The songs on this successful debut are straight forward guitar driven tracks.  Two of them, Born to Be Wild and The Pusher, had their Counter Culture status cemented a year later when featured in the film, Easy Rider.

And now another installment of True Music Confessions:  Until I purchased a copy of the Easy Rider soundtrack a few years ago, I had no idea that Hoyt Axton was an accomplished songwriter who wrote The Pusher as well as a number of other well-known songs, e.g., Joy to the World.  I had only ever heard him sing in a Busch Beer commercial back in the 80’s and then in an appearance on WKRP in Cincinnati that I watched in syndication.  He certainly didn’t seem like much of a Counter Culture personality, but more of a bumpkin.  It turned out bumpkins could also be hippified.

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Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Sookie Sookie
  2. Everybody’s Next One
  3. Berry Rides Again
  4. Hoochie Coochie Man
  5. Born to be Wild
  6. Your Wall’s Too High

Side Two:

  1. Desperation
  2. The Pusher
  3. A Girl I Knew
  4. Take What You Need
  5. The Ostrich

 

January 30:  The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat

I feel somewhat awkward trying to write about the Velvets.  Perhaps they represent to me the limit I’m willing to go to in terms of avant-garde music/art.  I like them.  I know they’re influential.  Yet I’ve not listened to them much beyond a compilation I own.  At least not as much as I “should” have.  I was never cool enough.  Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another band whose work was so disregarded in its time, yet so revered in later years.  Groups today wouldn’t be given a second or third chance by record companies if they charted as low as the Velvets did.

I listen to plenty of music with dark, bleak themes by troubled writers and musicians, but I don’t think it gets much bleaker than this.  But it’s fantastic.  The fuzzy distortion, Mo Tucker’s minimalist, tribalistic drumming, Lou Reed’s monotone singing, John Cale’s electric viola, organ playing, and spoken word lyrics – it’s all so hypnotic.  Just listen to the epic Sister RayWhite Light/White Heat is their second album, and was recorded in two days sans Nico’s vocals or Andy Warhol’s production.  It was also their last album of new material to feature John Cale.  Listen at your own risk; you may just wake up in some filth strewn Bronx alley trying to hit your mainline sideways.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. White Light/White Heat
  2. The Gift
  3. Lady Godiva’s Operation
  4. Here She Comes Now

Side Two:

  1. I Heard Her Call My Name
  2. Sister Ray

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Light/White_Heat

-Stephen

 

January 22 – Lady Soul, Spirit, Dr. John

January 22, 1968 gave us a three course meal with very distinct flavors:  soul, jazz-rock, and a batch of psychedelic New Orleans gumbo.

Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul

The beauty amidst the world’s chaos continued on this day with the release of Aretha Franklin’s classic, Lady Soul, one of three great albums to come out on this date.  This one may be the most beloved of the three, and one of the most enduring of 1968 to this day.  Clocking in at 28:41, it’s very short but very sweet.  There’s not a weak song in the bunch, which includes a couple of her biggest hits. This music just leaves you feeling good.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Chain of Fools
  2. Money Won’t Change You
  3. People Get Ready
  4. Niki Hoeky
  5. (You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman

Side Two:

  1. (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone
  2. Good to Me As I Am to You
  3. Come Back Baby
  4. Groovin’
  5. Ain’t No Way

 

Spirit – Spirit

January 22 also saw the release of the self-titled debut from the band Spirit.  While their most famous song would come along later in 1968, they immediately carved their own niche into the rock music world with elements of progressive rock as well as jazz incorporated into their songs on this album, due in large part to drummer Ed Cassidy.  Cassidy himself was a bit of an oddity in rock at the time with his “Mr. Clean” shaved head, but more so because he was a couple of decades older than anyone else in the band and had played with such jazz luminaries as Cannonball Adderley and Thelonious Monk.  He was also the stepfather of founding member Randy California, who had briefly played with Jimi Hendrix prior to the latter’s rise to fame.  Another founding member was vocalist Jay Ferguson, who later found brief acclaim in the 1970’s pop world with the song Thunder Island.

I didn’t know much about this band when I picked up a copy of Mojo Magazine 15 or so years ago with a Roots of Led Zeppelin sampler CD attached, and Spirit’s Fresh Garbage was one of the songs.  I came to discover that Zeppelin had in fact opened shows for Spirit early on and were known to hang out side stage and listen to Spirit’s sets after their own.  In recent years one song from this first album, Taurus, made the news when Mark Andes, the only other living original member of the band besides Ferguson, sued Jimmy Page for copyright infringement on behalf of Randy California due to the similarity between a portion of Taurus and Stairway to Heaven (recorded two years later), but lost.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Fresh Garbage
  2. Uncle Jack
  3. Mechanical World
  4. Taurus
  5. Girl in Your Eye
  6. Straight Arrow

Side Two:

  1. Topanga Windows
  2. Gramophone Man
  3. Water Woman
  4. The Great Canyon Fire in General
  5. Elijah

Does the riff at about :43 in the following song sound familiar?

 

Dr. John – Gris-Gris

Somehow I only discovered this album in recent days (at one time I owned his 1994 album, Television), and I’m actually a little embarrassed to type that because it’s so good.  Swampy, funky, definitely not mainstream, this is the debut album of Dr. John (Mac Rebennack), and it’s also the first example of a nice side benefit of this little hobby of mine:  the opportunity to discover albums I’d never heard of, and to give others that I’d not paid much attention to a more critical listen.  If you’re so inclined, grab a sixer of Abita and dial-up this album late some warm, rainy night and enjoy.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya
  2. Danse Kalinda Ba Doom
  3. Mama Roux
  4. Danse Fambeaux

Side Two

  1. Croker Courtbullion
  2. Jump Sturdy
  3. I Walk on Guilded Splinters

Another reason to like Dr. John:  He was the inspiration for the Muppet character Dr. Teeth.

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-Stephen

 

January 21, Pt. 2 – Simon & Garfunkel, Canned Heat

Simon and Garfunkel – The Graduate (Soundtrack)

My LP collection, when I last saw it, was not very impressive.  My first albums as a child were hand-me-downs from my brothers when they replaced worn out and scratched copies of Beatles and Elton John records (What?  I’m part of the reason they were worn out and scratched?).  To this day, there are certain songs I hear on CD or the radio, and I expect it to skip at a certain point in the song.  As I got older, I received LPs for birthday and Christmas gifts, and I purchased a handful during adolescence.  But I mostly bought cassettes.  I’ve since replaced all the Beatles albums on CD (twice), and all the Elton.  I never did replace those KISS albums.  My first exposure to Bob Marley was the greatest hits LP Legend, which I bought in 1986 out of curiosity after repeatedly coming across his name in various publications, namely Rolling Stone, discussing the late, great Rastafarian.  (Keep in mind I grew up in flyover USA, and I just wasn’t exposed to a lot of this stuff at a younger age.)  I owned most of the early U2 and REM LPs, a Hendrix hits album here, the Pretty in Pink soundtrack or a random Windham Hill sampler record there, and that’s about it.  All told, I owned maybe 50 pieces of vinyl, give or take.  Not much, but I wish I still had it.  And it’s my own fault I don’t.  I took for granted that it would be in its last known location when I was ready to lug it to Texas.  When I thought to do it, it was gone.  Que sera sera

One LP in my collection that I always thought was interesting but didn’t fully appreciate at a younger age was the original copy of the soundtrack to The Graduate, released this day 50 years ago, which I absconded with from my mom’s collection.  I can still see the clean, barely played, thick vinyl, and the sturdy jacket which was its home.  It still had the original shrink-wrap on it, for crying out loud.  But at 15 I didn’t care much for the instrumental music by Dave Grusin mixed in with the Simon and Garfunkel songs.  It was easier to just listen to one of their “regular” albums.  Having watched The Graduate movie (which was released in December of ’67) for the umpteenth time the other night, I can now say I do enjoy the instrumentals just as I do those from the original soundtracks to A Hard Day’s Night and Help.  Not so much as individual pieces, but because of their importance to the films which I’ve loved for so long.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. The Sound of Silence
  2. The Singleman Party Foxtrot
  3. Mrs. Robinson (version 1)
  4. Sunporch Cha-Cha-Cha
  5. Scarborough Fair/Canticle (Interlude)
  6. On the Strip
  7. April Come She Will
  8. The Folks

Side Two:

  1. Scarborough Fair/Canticle
  2. A Great Effect
  3. The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine
  4. Whew
  5. Mrs. Robinson (version 2)
  6. The Sound of Silence

There’s so much trivia surrounding this film that I won’t bother getting into it, other than to mention my surprise to learn the other day that Anne Bancroft, a.k.a. Mrs. Robinson, was only 35 years old when that movie was made.  Dustin Hoffman, the young, recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock, was 29.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Graduate

 

Canned Heat – Boogie with Canned Heat

In my “January 21, Pt. 1” post I mentioned a vague interconnectedness of important historical events and pop culture.  What I’m referring to, as it relates to these posts, is the fact that soldiers in Vietnam, or the Resistance in Prague and many other places around the globe, listened to much of this music for a respite, for inspiration, or both.  To some extent it has been glorified in films over the years, but I’ve yet to see a documentary or read an account that debunked it in the least.  Sadly, much of the music was divided along racial lines in the military at the time.  In 2018 it’s hard to imagine James Brown or The Temptations as music for “those” people, while “these” people listened to the Doors, the Stones, or Johnny Cash.  It’s all such great music.  If ever there was a band that crossed those lines, it was Canned Heat.

When Canned Heat were at the peak of their power in the late 60’s/early 70’s, there may not have been a more fun band to hear live.  There were no costumes or stage antics, just great rockin’ blues n’ boogie.  Nothing pretentious about them.  See their performance at Woodstock, for example.  Boogie with Canned Heat, also released this day, and its followup later in the year, gave us some of the most quintessential Woodstock-era music.  But remember kids, SPEED KILLS!

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Evil Woman
  2. My Crime
  3. On the Road Again
  4. World in a Jug
  5. Turpentine Moan
  6. Whiskey Headed Woman No. 2

Side Two:

  1. Amphetamine Annie
  2. An Owl Song
  3. Marie Laveau
  4. Fried Hockey Boogie

-Stephen