August 9 – When Cream Rose to the Top

Cream – Wheels of Fire

That loud sound you hear is the thunder of White Room, the opening track of Wheels of Fire, that quintessential 1968 double album by power trio Cream, released 50 years ago today.  From here, the record twists and turns in many directions in the studio, from other solid originals penned by bassist Jack Bruce and writing partner Peter Brown such as Politician, As You Said, and Deserted Cities of the Heart, to heavy blues covers of Howlin’ Wolf (Sitting on Top of the World) and Albert King (Born Under a Bad Sign), as well as Ginger Baker’s somewhat bizarre spoken word Press Rat and Warthog.  And that’s only the first record, subtitled In the Studio.

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Clapton, Baker, and Bruce

The second album of the set, Live at the Fillmore (named as such despite the fact that three of its four songs were recorded at the Winterland Ballroom), features Cream’s live exploits, showcasing Clapton’s blistering guitar work on the Robert Johnson classic Crossroads and the excessive 16 minute drum solo madness of Ginger Baker on Toad.  Despite the fact that Cream were coming apart at the seams, Wheels of Fire displays the band at their peak, both in the studio and on stage.  It became the first platinum selling double album, and rose to #1 in the US and #3 in the UK with White Room (reaching #6) and Crossroads as singles which continue to endure as radio staples.

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The group, with producer Felix Pappalardi, began work in recording studios in the summer (London) and fall (NYC) of ’67.  However, due to Cream’s relentless touring schedule they had difficulty achieving a solid album, so they returned to the studio in January and February of ’68.  It was then they decided to order a mobile recording studio to be delivered to the Fillmore West and Winterland Ballroom to record six live performances and make it a double album.  The unused material from those shows would comprise the later Live Cream and Live Cream Volume II releases.

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For most of the albums I celebrate in these pages, I read through both contemporary and latter day reviews in order to glean some perspective.  But more often than not I come away with an eyebrow raised at what I perceive to be the arrogance of critics who look for any reason to lambast an artist.  Maybe that’s Professional Music Critiquing 101: counterbalance record company hype.  Maybe I’m just ignorant of how this works.  Yet here we are, 50 years on, and if you liked this music 20-50 years ago, chances are you still do.  I certainly do.

But Jann Wenner in his 1968 critique in Rolling Stone (see link below for the full, embarrassing review) heard White Room as nothing more than a carbon copy of Tales of Brave Ulysses and couldn’t imagine why they chose to repeat it.  I’ll grant that there are similarities, but how was that anything new to rock or blues music?  He also suggested it was “unfortunate” that they recorded the contemporary blues hit, Born Under a Bad Sign because, he wrote, Jack Bruce didn’t have a good voice for blues.  He also wrote that his harmonica playing was “amateurish.”  Wenner did like the live Crossroads, Spoonful, and oddly enough, Toad (a “fine number”), and somehow concluded that the album “will be a monster” despite his misgivings which outweigh his praises.

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Jann Wenner

Stephen Thomas Erlewine in his AllMusic review describes Wheels of Fire as a “dense, unwieldy double album.”  He continues:

…it’s sprawling and scattered, at once awesome in its achievement and maddening in how it falls just short of greatness. It misses its goal not because one LP works and the other doesn’t, but because both the live and studio sets suffer from strikingly similar flaws, deriving from the constant power struggle between the trio.

To me, that power struggle was a major part of what made Cream great, as well as the main reason they unravelled almost as quickly as they began.  And, perhaps that’s the type of information people like Wenner didn’t have in 1968.  They were young, ego-maniacal, substance abusing, brilliant musicians at or near their creative peaks.  They made loud, urgent, volatile, indulgent music, and there was no way they were going to maintain that level of output (the old animosity between Bruce and Baker would even quickly resurface during their brief but highly lucrative 2005 reunion).

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They had decided to split during the studio recording sessions that spring and held on for a farewell album and tour the following year.  But Wheels of Fire, along with another “sprawling and scattered” double album by a well-known quartet later that November, captures the essence of 1968 through rock and blues music as well as or better than anyone else – at least to someone like me born after the fact who can only view it through the lens of history.  

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Tracklist:

Side One (In the Studio):

  1. White Room
  2. Sitting on Top of the World
  3. Passing the Time
  4. As You Said

Side Two:

  1. Pressed Rat and Warthog
  2. Politician
  3. Those Were the Days
  4. Born Under a Bad Sign
  5. Deserted Cities of the Heart

Side Three (Live @ Winterland & the Fillmore West):

  1. Crossroads
  2. Spoonful

Side Four:

  1. Traintime
  2. Toad

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cream_(band)

http://ultimateclassicrock.com/cream-wheels-of-fire/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/wheels-of-fire-mw0000189640

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/wheels-of-fire-95827/

-Stephen

August 1 – The Jeff Beck Group Tells it Like it Is

Jeff Beck Group – Truth

Today we’re celebrating the Golden Anniversary of an early standard-bearer in the hard rock/metal genre.  Truth, the debut for the Jeff Beck Group, is one of those albums you might put on when you arrive home from work on a Friday, crank the volume, and just hope that the neighbors like it, because they’re going to hear it.  Blistering music for a blistering time of year.  The original lineup included Beck on guitars, Ronnie Wood on bass, Micky Waller on drums, and then-consummate front man (where have you gone?) Rod Stewart on vocals.  But they had more than a little help from their friends on this blues based recording.

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L-R: Waller, Beck, Stewart, Wood

Truth is mostly comprised of covers, beginning with the opening track Shapes of Things, which is a tune from Beck’s previous stop, the Yardbirds.  The album is also a continuation of the love affair English guitarists were having with Chicago blues; even the “originals” (credited to “Jeffrey Rod,” i.e. Beck and Stewart) are reworked Buddy Guy and B.B. King songs.  But the direction in which Beck took them was more aligned with Hendrix and Cream (and the simmering but as-yet-unheard Zeppelin).

My favorite track is the instrumental Beck’s Bolero, which features a very interesting lineup:  Besides Beck on guitar, Nicky Hopkins plays piano, John Paul Jones is on bass, Jimmy Page (uncredited) plays 12-string electric guitar, and Keith Moon (credited as “You Know Who” for contractual reasons) is on the skins.  It was also Page who wrote the song. (Jones, Hopkins, and Moon also play on other tracks.)

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Musician, band leader, engineer, A&R man, and music critic extraordinaire Al Kooper (whose name may end up gracing these pages more than anyone else, at least for 1968) shared his two very different opinions of the band in his September 1968 review in Rolling Stone, after first hearing the Jeff Beck Group live early on prior to listening to the album:

It was an unnerving experience to hear the Beck group. I had to leave after three numbers. The band was blowing changes, the bass player was losing time, Beck was uncomfortably and bitingly over-volumed, the singer was doing deep knee-bends holding the mike stand like a dumbbell (original, but so what.) It didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense to me.

But his evaluation of the record is much more positive:

As a group they swing like mad on this record. It remains to be seen what will happen to them in person. I hope the public is honest enough to make them work out.

Bruce Eder points out in his AllMusic review that Truth was “a triumph — a number 15 album in America, astoundingly good for a band that had been utterly unknown in the U.S. just six months earlier — and a very improbable success.”  

And, given that the group’s follow-up album (Beck-Ola) a year later is a brief 30 minutes long, you could probably go ahead and squeeze it in as well during Friday evening cocktail hour for the full Jeff Beck Group experience before the neighbors call the cops.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Shapes of Things
  2. Let Me Love You
  3. Morning Dew
  4. You Shook Me
  5. Ol’ Man River

Side Two:

  1. Greensleeves
  2. Rock My Plimsoul
  3. Beck’s Bolero
  4. Blues De Luxe
  5. I Ain’t Superstitious

Here’s a Jeff Beck Group show at Louann’s in Dallas, July 19, 1968 (the club is long gone, but was just a couple of blocks from where I’m presently employed):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth_(Jeff_Beck_album)

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/truth-2-184508/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/truth-mw0000262744

https://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/1977/february/remembering-louanns/

-Stephen

July 31 – Midsummer Odds ‘n Ends

It’s time to wrap up another month.  July was a big month for major releases, but there are plenty more to come in the back half of 1968.  This project has been a lot of fun so far, and I hope I’ve been doing these releases justice.  Here are some other noteworthy July ’68 releases and events before we head into the grind of August:

7/5  Tyrannosaurus Rex – My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair…But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows

This was the debut of Marc Bolan’s band, yet to be called simply T. Rex.  As often seems to be the case, retrospective reviews of the album are kinder than the originals.

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7/7  The Yardbirds final show took place at the College of Technology in Luton, Bedfordshire, supported by the Linton Grae Sound.  Within weeks, Jimmy Page would assemble the New Yardbirds, a.k.a., Led Zeppelin.

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7/19  Family – Music in a Doll’s House

Another debut, this one by the English progressive rock band Family.  Family is one of those bands I feel I should know more about by now, but I really don’t (other than Ric Grech’s involvement).  They’re on my mental list of perhaps unjustly undercelebrated prog bands to check out, which also includes the likes of Gentle Giant and Soft Machine.  For an excellent critique of this album, check out fellow blogger Zumpoem’s write-up.

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7/22  Merle Haggard – Single:  Mama Tried

The title track and first single from his new album released three months later, Mama Tried became a beloved country song and a cornerstone of Haggard’s career.  Though not purely autobiographical, it is based on his time as an inmate at San Quentin.  It reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles Chart as well as #1 in Canada.   It won the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999, and was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry due to its “cultural, historic, or artistic significance” on March 23, 2016, just 14 days before Haggard’s death.  The track has been covered by other artists many times.  My favorite cover is the Grateful Dead’s.  They performed the song live over 300 times.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_People_Were_Fair_and_Had_Sky_in_Their_Hair…_But_Now_They%27re_Content_to_Wear_Stars_on_Their_Brows

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Yardbirds#Final_days:_the_Page_era

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_in_a_Doll%27s_House

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mama_Tried_(song)

-Stephen

July 30 – Buffalo Springfield Bow Out

Buffalo Springfield – Last Time Around

This record seems to have defied the odds with how good it is.  Contract obligation albums have often not been the best representation of rock groups, and in the case of Buffalo Springfield, they had already gone their separate ways by the time this one was released.  The tracks had been recorded months earlier in late ’67-early ’68.  But producer Jim Messina, who also played bass and sang on a couple of songs, pulled a very good swan song album out of the void of participation by the others.

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The other side of the coin for Last Time Around, released 50 years ago today, is that it is really more of a collection of solo songs.  The opening track, On the Way Home, is the only song with all five original members participating.  The lyrics to one of the tracks, The Hour of Not Quite Rain, were actually written by a fan who won a radio station contest, something that seems more fitting for a Monkees bio.  And even that’s an enjoyable listen to my ears.  The upbeat Latin flavored Uno Mundo, one of five Stills penned songs, features a rather dark lyric for such a happy sounding song:  Uno Mundo/Asia is screaming/Africa seething/America bleating/just the same.  Stills took a bit of a hit with critics, who wrote that his contributions weren’t up to his standard.  I don’t hear it that way; his other songs, Pretty Girl Why, Four Days Gone, Special Care (with Buddy Miles on drums), and Questions (which he later revived for on the CSN&Y song Carry On) are all fantastic tracks.

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It was the mercurial Neil Young whose participation was next to nil on this project.  Despite this, the two tracks he did write for the album went on to be classics:  I Am a Child and On the Way Home (the latter sung by Richie Furay on the album, though my favorite rendition is with Neil on vocals).  The closing track is Furay’s Kind Woman, a ballad for his wife who he is still married to today.  It’s a nice, peaceful ending to a tumultuous three years for a very heavily ego-driven band.

The album could be looked at as an embarrassment of riches considering how much great music they recorded on the first two albums and knowing where they were headed in the immediate future:  Furay and Messina would form Poco, the very influential early country-rock band, Neil would record his first solo record before rejoining Stills, along with Crosby and Nash, on their second album.  And Stills, before joining CSN and a mere two days before Last Time Around was released, would have his name featured on a highly acclaimed blues rock album with Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield (which I wrote about here).

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. On the Way Home
  2. It’s So Hard to Wait
  3. Pretty Girl Why
  4. Four Days Gone
  5. Carefree Country Day
  6. Special Care

Side Two:

  1. The Hour of Not Quite Rain
  2. Questions
  3. I Am a Child
  4. Merry-Go-Round
  5. Uno Mundo
  6. Kind Woman

A very solid bio of the band is For What It’s Worth:  The Story of Buffalo Springfield (2004).  It was written by respected music history writer John Einarson with Richie Furay.  It seems like a pretty even-handed account of their story, and is bolstered by Furay, who appears to have been the most level-headed member of the group.

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/last-time-around-mw0000310624

https://books.google.com/books/about/For_What_It_s_Worth.html?id=vIdR–aAoAsC

-Stephen

 

July 26 – The Moody Blues’ Lost Chord, Found

The Moody Blues – In Search of the Lost Chord

As I work my way through the albums of 1968, it is really brought home to me just how diverse the music is despite being under an umbrella of “Rock ‘n’ Roll.”  Though the shift had already begun prior to ’68, we’re now beginning to see significant separation of artists who had the creativity and nerve to explore new sounds on their records from those who did not.  Drugs and the sometimes subsequent shift to spirituality were major causes of this movement, as was the fact that a higher percentage of rock music listeners were making their way into adulthood.

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The Moody Blues were part of the vanguard of groups whose music maintained little resemblance to that of just a couple of years earlier.  With their third release, In Search of the Lost Chord, they were well into a string of excellent albums with their unique stamp.  They were among a small number of bands including the Stones, the Who, and the Kinks who formed in the early-mid 1960s and evolved into the 1970s with quality, impactful recordings.  And evolve they did.  Unlike the other bands just listed, the Moody Blues forged a path into a developing sub-genre, Prog.  In just two years they took an enormous leap from the blues-based rock band co-founded by the quickly departed Denny Laine to the progressive, orchestral concept album Days of Future Passed.  And 50 years ago today they followed that up with another concept album, this one based on the theme of quest and discovery.

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One major element of the late 60’s shift in rock music was the introduction of instruments new to the genre, including the sitar and various other Indian sounds, as well as the Mellotron.  As with their previous release, these instruments were used heavily on this album.  Additionally, they returned to the use of spoken word.  All told, there are approximately 33 instruments played on the recording, all by the members of the band (as opposed to the addition of an orchestra).  While generally received well by fans and critics, In Search of the Lost Chord doesn’t seem to be considered as strong as its predecessor.  But to me, it’s a continuation of Days of Future Passed with its theme expanding outward as well as inward, from the whimsical Tuesday Afternoon and mysterious Twilight and Nights in White Satin of Days of Future Passed to the mind bending Legend of the Mind (an ode to Timothy Leary) and the cosmic chant Om (which is revealed to be the “lost chord”) of In Search of the Lost Chord.  They’re a great back to back listen on a dark, chilly day.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Departure
  2. Ride My See-Saw
  3. Dr. Livingstone, I Presume
  4. House of Four Doors
  5. Legend of a Mind
  6. House of Four Doors (Pt. 2)

Side Two:

  1. Voices in the Sky
  2. The Best Way to Travel
  3. Visions of Paradise
  4. The Actor
  5. The Word
  6. Om

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/in-search-of-the-lost-chord-mw0000650513

-Stephen

July 22 – Bloomfield, Kooper, Stills: The Unsung Supergroup?

Bloomfield, Kooper, Stills – Super Session

Not all music collaborations are created equally.  Some might be better known due to the names involved, but in retrospect come up short musically.  One example in my opinion is the Dylan and the Dead album.  Another might be John McLaughlin’s joint effort with Carlos Santana on Love Devotion Surrender, an enjoyable listen but far from either guitarist’s best album.  The widely acknowledged first “supergroup” was Blind Faith, whose eponymous album is highly regarded.  But the precursor to the rumble caused by Clapton, Winwood, Baker and Grech was Super Session, released 50 years ago today.  With this album we have three artists who were arguably in near peak spontaneous creative mode.

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L-R:  Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield, and Stephen Stills

The album title is a slight misnomer, as it’s really two separate collaborations with Kooper/Bloomfield on side one and Kooper/Stills on side two.  I’m not exactly breaking headline news by saying this is a significant blues rock album, as it has earned gold record status.  But with so many other noteworthy releases around the same time, it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.  You’ll likely never hear a track from it on classic rock radio (which is just fine with me).  Al Kooper was still somewhat fresh off his brief stint as one of the founding members of Blood, Sweat & Tears, Mike Bloomfield was about to leave the Electric Flag (having previously worked with the Butterfield Blues Band), and Stephen Stills was a free agent with the recent demise of Buffalo Springfield and participation in one of the most famous “supergroup” collaborations in his near future after spending a day with Kooper.

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Day one:  Kooper and Bloomfield

Kooper and Bloomfield had worked together as session musicians on Dylan’s landmark Highway 61 Revisited three years earlier as well as the latter’s fabled performance at Newport when he “went electric.”  Kooper, working as an A&R man for Columbia post-B,S&T, booked two days of studio time and invited Bloomfield to jam.  The songs on side one of Super Session are from the very productive first day, but when the second day rolled around, Bloomfield was a no-show.  As a testament to the respect Kooper has in the music industry, he was able to ring Stephen Stills, whose contribution rounds out the album.

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Day two:  Kooper with Stills

Side one includes three Kooper/Bloomfield originals, including their tribute to John Coltrane, His Holy Modal Majesty.  This extended jam has been described by one critic as a “fun, trippy waltz” that “features the hurdy-gurdy and Eastern-influenced sound of Kooper’s electric ondioline, which has a slightly atonal and reedy timbre much like that of John Coltrane’s tenor sax.”  Side two, or the “Stills side,” includes covers of Dylan (It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry), Donovan (a very unique take on Season of the Witch), and an original by session bassist (and bassist for Bloomfield’s Electric Flag) Harvey Brooks, Harvey’s Tune.  Session horn players added a brassy touch (though not as featured as on albums by Electric Flag or Blood, Sweat & Tears).  The album is late-60s Chicago blues with a twist.  In my view, it’s also an indispensable addition to any collection of blues-based rock albums of the era.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Albert’s Shuffle
  2. Stop
  3. Man’s Temptation
  4. His Holy Modal Majesty
  5. Really

Side Two:

  1. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
  2. Season of the Witch
  3. You Don’t Love Me
  4. Harvey’s Tune

For those who enjoy this album, here are a couple of others I recommend:

Michael Bloomfield – Don’t Say That I Ain’t Your Man!:  Essential Blues, 1964-1969

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The Butterfield Blues Band – East-West (1966)

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/super-session-mw0000190678

-Stephen

July 22 – Miles Davis Goes Electric

Miles Davis – Miles in the Sky

With Miles in the Sky, Miles Davis continued a very productive late-60s stretch of recording with his second quintet which included Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Herbie Hancock on piano and electric piano, Ron Carter on Bass and electric bass, and Tony Williams on drums.  George Benson guested on guitar on the track, Paraphernalia.  The album marked the beginning of Davis’s electric period, and is an early standout in the jazz-rock fusion genre.

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Critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes that, despite the longer rhythmic jams and the use of electric instruments, the recording is not as visionary as some of Miles’s other work at the time, and feels like more of a transitional album which is “intriguing and frustrating in equal measures.”

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I’m a fan of jazz music with little more than a novice’s knowledge of the genre.  My jazz collection has slowly but steadily grown over the years, and much of it is comprised of well-known standards which are obvious standouts even to a listener such as myself.  With albums such as Miles in the Sky (the title a nod to the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds released the year prior), I don’t feel the need to know if they’re slighty greater or lesser than their contemporaries.  Its composer was a mercurial artist who did not shy away from sharing his views, and this recording was made during a very difficult year for race relations in the US.  Keeping aspects such as those in mind when listening to music of any genre enhances my experience regardless of any specific knowledge I may have of the recording.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Stuff
  2. Paraphernalia

Side Two:

  1. Black Comedy
  2. Country Son

For a raw, unfiltered look at the life and work of Miles Davis, his autobiography is quite an eye opener.

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/miles-in-the-sky-mw0000652711

-Stephen

July 18 – The Grateful Dead’s Cosmic Anthem at 50, Pt. 2

Pt. 2:  The Grateful Dead – Anthem of the Sun

Here we go with a prime example of how this little hobby of mine has opened my eyes and ears, not just to music I’ve never heard before, but to music I’m familiar with but have given short shrift to.  In this case, pre-American Beauty Grateful Dead.  I had no idea of the experimental degree of this, the band’s second album and first to include second drummer Mickey Hart, released on this date 50 years ago.  It is comprised of multiple studio and live tracks spliced together.  It is neither a live album nor a studio album per se, but not in the same vein as so many well-known live albums from the 70’s and 80’s that had their imperfections edited out in the studio, a.k.a. “Frankensteined.”  This was planned madness.

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I’m going to stop right here with my personal thoughts on the Dead and Anthem and turn it over to my friend Mitch, whose influence on my musical tastes I shared in Pt. 1:

I have some strong feelings about ‘Anthem.’  It was one of those rare albums of the Sixties mixed entirely to enhance hallucinations and confuse one’s senses of time, place, and space.  The entire bouncing back and forth from free wheelin’ live recordings to tight studio freak sounds like the kazoos at the beginning of ‘Alligator’ leave you hungry for synesthesia.  There is a sensation of being both wrapped in a comfortable LSD quilt and then being tossed airborne for your first solo mission.  ‘Anthem’ crawls under your skin, finds your nerve endings and politely tugs and twitches to the Lesh powered thunder, Gracia driven lightning, Pig pulled vocals, and beatings issued from the dueling drummers Bill and Mickey, all synchronized in controlled chaos.

All in all, some say ‘Pet Sounds’ is the American ‘Sgt. Pepper.’  I disagree.  The Dead nailed the Wild West insanity of the Bay without the pop perfection of ‘God Only Knows.’  This album was the beginning of weirdness for hire, inner exploration, and outer expression.

Not in a million years could I have described it better than that.

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Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. That’s It for the Other One
  2. New Potato Caboose
  3. Born Cross-Eyed

Side Two:

  1. Alligator
  2. Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)

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

-Stephen

July 18 – The Grateful Dead’s Cosmic Anthem at 50, Pt. 1

Pt 1:  The Grateful Dead in My Music World

I’ve waded into these waters today with a minor sense of trepidation.  I don’t consider myself to be an expert regarding all the music I write about, far from it.  And I’m not quite sure how to approach artists like the Grateful Dead whose music, history, and legacy are held in such high esteem by their hardcore fans, yet completely misunderstood if not outright disliked by many others who haven’t spent any time listening to them.  That is, beyond Truckin’ or Touch of Grey when heard on the radio or wondering what the heck all those now-fading stickers on the backs of those equally fading VW buses are all about.  I consider Frank Zappa to be another such artist.  There are simply too many layers to those onions for the uninitiated to offer a value judgement based upon a few songs or one album (or a perception of the fan base).

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When it comes to the Grateful Dead, I consider myself a fan, but one whose education is rather incomplete.  I had a very good introduction though.  Besides my older brothers and my uncle, the most significant influence on my musical knowledge and taste to this day is my friend from my home state of Missouri, Mitch.  He’s the older brother of my childhood best buddy, Doug.  Mitch is by far the most knowledgeable fan of the Dead that I know, and while he most certainly is a Deadhead, I hesitate to lazily label him as such due to his crazy knowledge of everything from 1980’s Brit pop to bluegrass.  When I was plastering posters of Madonna on my bedroom wall in the mid-80’s, Mitch was comparing/contrasting various bootleg recordings of Help On the Way–>Slipknot!–>Franklin’s Tower.  (I’ve always been a fan of the classics even through the 80’s, but puberty does strange things to a person.)

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But like many others my age, I finally began to wake up to the Dead due to the commercial success of 1987’s In the Dark, and let’s face it, MTV.  That still seems so ironic.  Around 1990, Mitch bestowed upon me a ten cassette sampler of shows which I have to this day.  My favorites right away were the 1977 shows from Cornell and Buffalo, which put me in alignment with many fans who are much more knowledgeable than I.  Where I probably run afoul, however, is that I’ve yet to gain a full appreciation for Ron “Pigpen” McKernan.  And that’s to do with his vocals and not his musicianship.  The Keith Godchaux years (sometimes despite his wife Donna Jean’s participation in the group) are the most audibly enjoyable to me.

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Cornell, 1977

One element of the Grateful Dead that I’ve never fully grasped is that there are really two separate bands we’re talking about:  studio Dead and live Dead.  At the risk of sounding like a social anthropologist doing field research, it seems that if one is a “deadicated” fan, i.e., a Deadhead, the band’s studio albums are more or less an afterthought.  And I can see how that might be if one has followed them across the land and dived into the deep end of collecting/dissecting/trading shows.  Mitch and my other Dead aficionado buddy Jason agree:  The studio albums are but templates for what they could achieve on stage.  It’s a different world altogether, and I’m slipping into territory I can’t speak intelligently about.  But what about the rest of us more casual fans?  There’s some mighty tasty stuff on those albums, too, and I’m glad we have them.

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By the time I finally got a chance to see a Dead show it was June of ’91, and their latter year resurgence was peaking.  Unfortunately, I was a walking tie dyed newbie cliché wandering around the grounds of that amphitheater in Bonner Springs, KS.  I tried to make up for all those shows I never saw all in one day instead of just sitting there on the hill with a clear head enjoying some masterful improvisational musicianship from one of the greatest  bands of all time.  I own an audience tape from the show, but its quality I would deem to be, how shall I say, crap.  It was the only opportunity I would have to see them live, and within a few years Jerry was no longer with us.  Youth:  wasted on the young.  Or, in my case in June of 1991, youth: young and wasted.

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Holy Moly, the Intergoogle strikes again!  While thinking just now about the ’91 show I attended, it occurred to me to do a quick search to see if anything popped up.  Sure enough, here it is.  The cameraman must’ve been dancing, tripping, or both, but wow! I was there!  Actually, at this opening portion of the show I was shuffling through the dusty Third World marketplace that was the parking lot, trying to get to the gate.

What a long, strange post it’s been…

-Stephen

 

 

 

July 17 – Deep Purple Debuts with a Shot of Vitamin C3

Deep Purple – Shades of Deep Purple

Deep Purple’s debut 50 years ago today was part of a significant shift in rock music toward sub-genres including hard rock, metal, and prog.  Shades of Deep Purple is all of that, and since we’re still in the middle of 1968, it has a psychedelic feel as well.  And, it’s drenched in Jon Lord’s trademark Hammond C3 organ with that beautiful distorted sound.

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L-R: Rod Evans, Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore, Nick Simper, Ian Paice

The album was released on the Tetragrammaton label in the US, and on Parlophone in the UK in September.  The debut was not received well in the UK.  With the likes of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath yet to appear, Deep Purple were considered rather out-of-place in the UK music scene.  They were, as one British review claimed, the “poor man’s Vanilla Fudge,” i.e., too American sounding.  Deep Purple were indeed unabashed Vanilla Fudge fans.

However, as these things often go, it came down in large part to promotion.  And in the US (where they were referred to as “the English Vanilla Fudge,” and it was a compliment), the decision to release Hush as a single instead of their slowed-down, sloggy version of the Beatles’ Help, turned out to be a stroke of genius (or luck).  The song peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a solid catalyst for the album, which reached #24 on the album chart.

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UK album cover

Four of the eight songs are originals, plus the aforementioned Help, Joe South’s Hush, Skip James’s I’m So Glad (which was recorded by Cream the year before), and the oft-covered Hey Joe by Billy Roberts.

Modern critiques have been mostly positive on both sides of the Atlantic.  Bruce Eder writes in AllMusic:

Ritchie Blackmore never sounded less at ease as a guitarist than he does on this album, and the sound mix doesn’t exactly favor the heavier side of his playing, but the rhythm section of Nick Simper and Ian Paice rumble forward, and Jon Lord’s organ flourishes, weaving classical riffs, and unexpected arabesques into “I’m So Glad,” which sounds rather majestic here…

Also, none other than Rick Wakeman said that Shades of Deep Purple is his favorite British album of all time.  And that’s good enough for me.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. And the Address
  2. Hush
  3. One More Rainy Day
  4. Prelude: Happiness/I’m So Glad

Side Two:

  1. Mandrake Root
  2. Help!
  3. Love Help Me
  4. Hey Joe

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/shades-of-deep-purple-mw0000651951

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

-Stephen