April 29 – Feeding My Music Habit During Quarantine, Pt. 1

Hi folks. How’s everyone holding up these days? Keeping busy with the extra time? Going stir-crazy? I’ve had difficulty maintaining my motivation to blog, but I think about it and my general theme pretty much daily. Today I thought I’d check in and share my music listening and learning activities from the past couple of months with the extra time I’ve had on my hands. Thanks to hanspostcard for the nudge.

I’m typically a homebody, so I really don’t mind spending a bit more time at the shack. However, the month of May was shaping up to be possibly the biggest singular month for attending live shows in my lifetime. On tap was a club show by the Jayhawks next week which has been rescheduled for December, then late in the month I have tickets for the James Taylor/Jackson Browne show in Ft. Worth followed a few days later by the Rolling Stones in Dallas. Thankfully they will also be rescheduled. Hopefully.

James Taylor Announces US Spring Tour With Jackson Browne

A few months back an acquaintance turned me on to abe.com. If you like to read and don’t mind used books, this is a great resource. It’s been a revelation for me, especially since my my ritual of visiting Half Price Books and Records once a week came to an abrupt if temporary end. You can find good titles at dirt cheap prices, often with no shipping cost. I’ve consistently maintained a “yet to read” stack of three to five books as a result. The following is an overview of the various music rabbit holes I’ve been exploring recently through CD’s, books, and video as I’ve taken a bit of a detour from my usual topic of 50th anniversaries of album releases. I suppose if there’s one binding theme in them, it’s American roots music and culture.

I’d imagine most fans of rock-n-roll are at least somewhat familiar with the influence of blues and folk music from the South, especially the Mississippi Delta. But beyond a cursory knowledge and owning a few albums by Robert Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins and other contemporaries of theirs, I decided it was way past time to read a little more in depth about early blues music. I did a search of the more highly regarded books and decided on three for now, all of which cover different aspects of the blues. I’ve provided links for further information at the bottom of this post.

Muddy Waters – At Newport (1960) | Blues music, Muddy waters ...

In The Land Where the Blues Began (1970), American ethnomusicologist/folklorist Alan Lomax wrote of his field studies in the Delta region in the 1930’s and 40’s in a lengthy project underwritten by the Library of Congress. In it he shares stories of having to gain permission from local sheriffs, wardens, and plantation owners to speak to the local black musicians, preachers, laborers, and prisoners at the levee camps, prisons, churches, juke joints, etc. about their experiences which formed their world, and thus their music. Lomax also directed an hour long documentary of the same title in 1979, a rough copy of which can currently be found on YouTube.

The Land Where the Blues Began: Lomax, Alan: 9781565847392: Amazon ...

Paul Oliver’s The Blues Fell This Morning (1960) is one of the earliest accounts of what is actually meant by the lyrics and themes of blues songs, which he sourced from his his vast collection of 78 rpm “race records,” many quite obscure, dating back to the 1920’s. Oliver was a white British historian who hadn’t even set foot in America when he published this book, but his credentials were bolstered by the famous African American writer Richard Wright, who contributed the forward. To me, these latter aspects make the book itself historical and interesting. Rounding out my Blues Education 101 trilogy is Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues (1982), which arrived in my mailbox yesterday afternoon, beautifully mangled by its previous owner(s) (That really isn’t a complaint – it cost maybe $3). I anticipate this book to be an account of the actual musicians from Robert Johnson to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, etc. and the migration of musicians and music from the Deep South to the northern industrial centers, especially Chicago.

Blues Fell This Morning: Meaning in the Blues: Paul Oliver ...      Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi ...

I suppose in a positive development in terms of my impulse to write, I’m going to cut this short and break it up into one or two more entries lest I ramble on a little too long. Thanks for stopping by.

-Stephen

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/275635.The_Land_Where_the_Blues_Began

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1883368/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/940987.Blues_Fell_This_Morning

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/323227/deep-blues-by-robert-palmer/

 

January 3 – The Crazy Diamond Goes Solo

Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs

This is not an easy one to write about because it’s not an easy album to listen to.  The Madcap Laughs, released on this date fifty years ago, is a portrait of someone in the throes of mental illness and not just some eccentric artist.  John and Yoko were merely crazy self-promoters by comparison.  However, I can say that having gained much more of an appreciation of the early Pink Floyd albums, I now find the first couple of Barrett releases to be much more interesting and enjoyable.

Image result for syd barrett the madcap laughs

Recording began in May 1968 after Barrett was dismissed from Pink Floyd due to his increasingly erratic behavior, with most of the work being done April – July 1969.  From inception to release nearly two years later, five producers participated on the project over the span of recording dates, including Barrett, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, former Pink Floyd manager Peter Jenner, and Malcolm Jones.  In addition to Barrett and Gilmour, other musicians on The Madcap Laughs include Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper, and Mike Ratledge of Soft Machine, Jerry Shirley of Humble Pie, and Willie Wilson of Jokers Wild (Gilmour’s band prior to joining Pink Floyd)

Image result for syd barrett the madcap laughs

The first round of recording with Jenner ended in July ’68 when Barrett departed and later ended up in a Cambridge psych ward.  He returned in early ’69 to work with Jones that spring at Abbey Road.  This was a more productive stage, but it too fizzled due to Syd’s unpredictable behavior.  Barrett didn’t communicate effectively with the session players who had no choice but to lag behind Syd’s playing with constant time and key changes.  By this time, Gilmour became interested in helping his friend in the studio.  He and Roger Waters took over in the booth in the summer of 1969 and hurriedly wrapped up recording, re-recording, and mixing.

Image result for roger waters 1969

Interestingly, it’s the Jones produced tracks as opposed to those overseen by Gilmour and Waters that are arguably stronger – a term I use loosely.  Exceptions for me include songs Octopus, Golden Hair (with some lyrics taken from James Joyce), and Dark Globe, the latter described by AllMusic’s Stewart Mason as “horrifying” and “a first person portrait of schizophrenia that’s seemingly the most self-aware song this normally whimsical songwriter ever created.”  Beginning with She Took a Long Cold Look, the final few tracks aren’t as listenable to me, with Barrett seemingly sounding more incoherent as the album winds down.  But the final track, Late Night, is a clear reminder of Syd’s isolation, and as such serves as a reminder of the album’s purpose, suggests reviewer Ric Albano.  For the album cover, Barrett painted his bedroom floor orange and purple.  He was helped by his new acquaintance Evelyn Rose, the nude woman on the back of the sleeve.

Image result for syd barrett the madcap laughs

The elements that make an album one listener’s disaster – disjointed and out of tune playing, stream of consciousness lyrics, as well as unintelligible mumbling – are part of the charm for others, and there is plenty of charm for me on this recording.  I enjoy most of it in fact.  I like Barrett’s vocals and most of the production on the record.  But I can’t listen to it without the reminder of what was unfolding for him at the time.  Let it Be documented the disintegration of a band, but The Madcap Laughs documented the disintegration of a human being.  It was really happening.  The only other albums I can think of off the top of my head where the questionable mental state of the artist was on full display to this extent are Skip Spence’s Oar and Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers.  Perhaps Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica from the previous year as well.  For me there’s no question as to Syd Barrett’s talent and possible genius.  He simply didn’t make it.

Tracklist

Side A:

  1. Terrapin
  2. No Good Trying
  3. Love You
  4. No Man’s Land
  5. Dark Globe
  6. Here I Go

Side B:

  1. Octopus
  2. Golden Hair
  3. Long Gone
  4. She Took a Long Cold Look
  5. Feel
  6. If It’s in You
  7. Late Night

-Stephen

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

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-madcap-laughs-mw0000193903

The Madcap Laughsby Syd Barrett

 

January 1 – The Good Taste of Rory Gallagher

Taste – On the Boards For my first proper album post of a 1970 release, I present someone in whose music I’m currently immersing myself: Rory Gallagher.  More accurately, it’s the second and final album by Gallagher’s band Taste before he set out on his own (the band continues to this day).  Rory Gallagher is […]

Taste – On the Boards

For my first proper album post of a 1970 release, I present someone in whose music I’m currently immersing myself: Rory Gallagher.  More accurately, it’s the second and final album by Gallagher’s band Taste before he set out on his own (the band continues to this day).  Rory Gallagher is one of those names I heard and read a number of times before finally giving him a listen.  I picked up his live album Irish Tour ’74 a few years back and instantly loved it, but for whatever reason didn’t begin to explore his other albums until more recently.

Image result for taste band 1970

The band, originally a blues rock trio, was formed by Gallagher in Cork, Ireland in 1966, with Rory as the chief songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist.  Eric Kitteringham played bass, and Norman Damery was on drums.  Though they headlined many of their own shows, some of Taste’s higher profile live performances came in support of Cream on their 1968 farewell tour, and later opening for Blind Faith during its North American tour of 1969.  Later in 1970, after On the Boards‘ release, the band played a set on the third night of the epic Isle of Wight Festival.  That performance was released on LP in 1971, and is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.  It was one of the last shows the band did before Gallagher set out on his own.

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The first Taste album, rel. April 1969

In addition to heavy blues and rock, on this recording they also express their jazz influence with Gallagher on saxophone as well as guitar.  On the Boards, released 50 years ago yesterday (I’ve got some catching up to do…), was received well by critics for its precise musicianship which can be heard right out of the gate on What’s Going On?  Gallagher’s versatility is even more apparent on the jazz-heavy track It’s Happened Before, It’ll Happen Again featuring Rory on sax.

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Rory Gallagher

I do hear hints of other late 1960’s/early 70’s British blues rock bands on this album such as the Jeff Beck Group and Fleetwood Mac.  The guitar sound on Eat My Words is reminiscent of Jimmy Page on Zeppelin tracks such as Traveling Riverside Blues.  But comparisons such as these might be lazy on my part, as Taste and later solo Gallagher definitely had their own heavy but tight, compact sound.  The exception here is the title track with its long, soulful and moody instrumental portion.  There’s not a bad track on this album, which means it’s not a matter of acquiring a taste for Rory Gallagher’s music as suggested in the title of this entry.  It’s simply about waking up and giving it a listen.

Tracklist

Side A:

  1. What’s Going On?
  2. Railway and Gun
  3. It’s Happened Before, It’ll Happen Again
  4. If the Day Was Any Longer
  5. Morning Sun

Side B:

  1. Eat My Words
  2. On the Boards
  3. If I Don’t Sing I’ll Cry
  4. See Here
  5. I’ll Remember

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/on-the-boards-mw0000465916

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Boards_(album)

January 1, 1970: Where to Go from Here?

To those of you who used to visit my blog from time to time, it’s nice to see you again.  To any new visitors, welcome!  If interested, have a look at my inaugural post and perhaps my second entry for a better idea of who I am and why I started these pages.  I began writing about (mostly) 50th anniversaries of album releases in January 2018, and I had a great time with it for that entire year.  We turned over into 2019/1969, and for various reasons I ran out of steam and interest.  I said Happy Birthday to George Harrison last February and called it a day.  When I closed my laptop on the 25th of that month it made the sound of the Monty Python foot stomp, which was doubly fitting since Monty Python’s Flying Circus had hit the airwaves fifty years earlier.

Image result for monty python foot stomp

No regrets, though.  Yes, I missed out on yammering about some great and/or important albums and events from March – December 1969, but to borrow the title of a great Fleetwood Mac track from 1969 that I didn’t write about, oh well.  Is there any silver lining to skipping most of ’69?  Perhaps.  For me, that year didn’t offer as much in terms of sheer volume of albums that interest me as did the years 1965-’68 (’65 being the first year of my favorite ten-year stretch of music).  1970 might mirror ’69 for me in terms of the overall number of works that I enjoy or that I would like to explore more (or for the first time), but I feel we’re really entering a new era in rock and popular music in general in 1970. This is one of the main reasons I’m wading back into the blogosphere.  To illustrate:

Bands that shut down in 1970:  The Beatles (What!?  Why am I just now hearing about this?), the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, the Marvelettes, Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (R.I.P. Neil Innes), The Nice, Simon and Garfunkel, the Turtles, the Dave Clark Five, the Box Tops, Nazz, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Vanilla Fudge, among others.  A rather 1960’s sounding list, no?

Image result for the beatles 1963

Bands that said hello in 1970:  Aerosmith, America, Ambrosia, Blackfoot, Chilliwack, Derek and the Dominos, Dixie Dregs, the Doobie Brothers, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Electric Light Orchestra, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Fotheringay, Gentle Giant, Jefferson Starship, Lindisfarne, Mudcrutch, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Pure Prairie League, Queen, Raspberries, Sugarloaf, Uriah Heep, Weather Report, and Wet Willie, among others.  That, my friends, is a 1970’s list.

Image result for earth wind and fire

Bands/individuals from the latter list I’ve seen live:  Clapton (but not Derek and the Dominos), Jeff Lynne’s ELO (but not the original ELO), Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (but not Mudcrutch), and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.  And in the spirit of honesty and full disclosure I’ll admit to one more that I’d be embarrassed about if I had attended of my own free will.  Instead, it’s just kind of funny to me looking back:  Tony Orlando.

Image result for tony orlando and dawn

Yes, in a previous life my then in-laws treated their daughter and me to what was truly a lovely few days in Branson, MO.  The trout fishing was a blast, the round of golf frustrating but still fun, and then the Orlando (sans Dawn) show, a matinee as I recall.  He played his hits during the first set, then at the beginning of the second he announced that a great friend of his was in the audience; a wonderful man and a spiritual leader for our time:  Ladies and Gentlemen, a warm welcome, please, for the Doctor, Reverend…Jerry Falwell!  My jaw dropped to the floor as the Great Man arose in front to scattered applause among the assemblage of blue hairs throughout the half empty theater.  If ever there was a situation tailor made for me to get arrested for creating a public disturbance, or at least get thrown out of a theater, this was it.  But the stunning moment got away from me too fast.  And with that, Tony Orlando launched into a second set loaded with Neil Diamond covers…

So, where to go from here?  I guess it’s just time to get back to it again.  One of the aspects of this hobby that I missed during my hiatus is learning about music I’m not as familiar with, if familiar at all.  Not that I ceased exploring over the past ten months, but my critical listening to lesser known (to me) albums dropped significantly.  This is another reason I’m back, as will be illustrated in my next post.  And with that, I offer a humble thank you for checking back in with me or for visiting for the first time.  1970, here we go.  Happy New Year!

-Stephen

 

 

 

 

 

February 6 – The Burrito Brothers Take Flight

The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin

Today we celebrate another landmark country rock album. It was still an emerging genre in 1969, and one with band members Gram Parsons’ and Chris Hillman’s finger prints all over it. They had both played on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo release the previous August, with Parsons taking songwriting credits for a couple of its tracks before his blur of an association with that band ended as quickly as it had begun. Hillman followed him out of the Byrds a couple of months later, and the two formed The Flying Burrito Brothers in the latter months of 1968. Their critically acclaimed first album, The Gilded Palace of Sin, was released this day 50 years ago.

flying-burrito-brothers-650x400_sized
(L-R) “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow, Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, Chris Ethridge

Most of the songs were written by Parsons and Hillman in their rented L.A. home, a time and scene described very well in John Einarson’s book, Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers, written with heavy input from Hillman. Of the eleven songs, six were co-written by Parsons with Hillman, two with Ethridge, and one by Parsons and Barry Goldberg. The other two were soul tunes which the group incorporated seamlessly into their overall sound. Both written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn, Do Right Woman was first recorded by Aretha Franklin in 1967, and Dark End of the Street was originally sung by James Carr.

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One of the elements that sets this album apart from others from the opening track is not only the absence of a lead guitar, but the inclusion of “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel guitar which more than fills the void. Kleinow is vital to this recording, and he was a highly sought after session man as a result of it (see Kleinow wiki link below for a list of others he worked with). There are also three session drummers giving a few of these tracks just the right amount of snare.

sneakypete.jpg
“Sneaky” Pete Kleinow

There are left-leaning takes on subjects one might not expect in country music at the time with My Uncle (Vietnam) and Hippie Boy (the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago). There are songs I think of as classic country in Sin City, Do You Know How it Feels, and Juanita, and songs of tenderness such as Ethridge’s Hot Burrito #1. There are no bad tracks to me on this album. Personal favorites include…hell, all of them. And the overall vibe of the album was rounded out perfectly with the sequined Nudie Suits designed by Nudie Cohn and the photo session in the desert with a couple of their girlfriends in tow.

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Nudie Cohn

I’ve taken a somewhat cynical view of Gram Parsons in other posts due to his description of his own music as “cosmic” as opposed to simply country or country rock, but the Flying Burrito Brothers gave us something very special with this album. There’s no disputing that Parsons was passionate about both genres, and it shows here. But there were a couple of things brought home well in Einarson’s book mentioned above. Firstly, they (Gram, specifically) could’ve accomplished so much more, but Parsons had a lack of motivation which is mostly attributed to the fact that he lived off a family trust fund. Maybe he’d get out of bed, maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he’d be sober for a performance, but probably not. Unlike the others in his band, he always knew where his next meal was coming from.

gram_parsons_980.jpg
Gram with the Flying Burrito Bros. on that awful day at Altamont, December 1969.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, the songs on this record were all co-written. Gram clearly brought plenty of talent and enthusiasm for country, but Chris Hillman and to a lesser extent Chris Ethridge deserve a lot more credit than they’re given. And without a doubt these songs wouldn’t have been as good without Sneaky Pete’s pedal steel. Call it cosmic if you want, but it was a group effort, and a great one at that.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Christine’s Tune
  2. Sin City
  3. Do Right Woman
  4. Dark End of the Street
  5. My Uncle

Side Two:

  1. Wheels
  2. Juanita
  3. Hot Burrito #1
  4. Hot Burrito #2
  5. Do You Know How It Feels
  6. Hippie Boy
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John Einarson’s bio of the Flying Burrito Brothers, with heavy input from Chris Hillman.

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gilded_Palace_of_Sin#Track_listing

https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-gilded-palace-of-sin-mw0000193836

https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/gilded-palace-of-sin-flying-burritos/

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

February 5 – Cream’s Sayonara

Cream – Goodbye

By the time Cream’s finale was released on this day 50 years ago, the group had been disbanded for just under two months. There was nothing sudden about it; it had been announce prior to the release of their previous album, Wheels of Fire, that they would split after a forthcoming farewell tour. As with that previous record, Cream would utilize live recordings mixed with studio tracks on their final release.

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The first three tracks on Goodbye were taken from their performance at L.A.’s Forum near the end of that tour in October 1968, while each member contributed a new song to be recorded in the studio to fill out the album. The release spawned one single, Badge, which reached number 18 in the UK and 60 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The song was co-written by L’Angelo Misterioso, a.k.a. George Harrison, who misread Clapton’s writing of the word “bridge” on Clapton’s then-untitled song while working across a table from him. As Harrison would later describe it, an intoxicated Ringo Starr then walked into the room talking about swans in the park. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a beloved classic rock song was written!

Contemporary reviews were mostly positive, though the production was criticized by some. Yeah, those live tracks are loud. But Cream was a loud, distortion drenched band on stage. And by the end, Baker and Bruce were at each other’s throats while all three were playing over each other in live performances. To which I say, so what? It’s part of who they were, as well as a factor in their dissolution. They were a combination of a really good studio band who brought the thunder live, and when it was done, it was done. Within a few months Jack Bruce would release his first solo album, Songs for a Tailor, while Clapton and Baker would team with Steve Winwood and Ric Grech in Blind Faith. Then along came the 70’s…

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. I’m So Glad
  2. Politician

Side Two:

  1. Sitting on Top of the World
  2. Badge
  3. Doing That Scrapyard Thing
  4. What a Bringdown

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodbye_(Cream_album)

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