November ’68 – John Mayall’s L.A. Holiday

John Mayall – Blues from Laurel Canyon

It seems I’m in a Laurel Canyon state of mind.  By 1968, an artistically idyllic diaspora had developed in L.A. which would shape much of the popular music world for the next decade or so.  One name I wouldn’t normally associate with that scene is John Mayall, but he had visited L.A. earlier in the year and subsequently moved from his native England to Laurel Canyon the following year.  Mayall lived there for ten years (a brush fire destroyed his home and much archival material in 1979).  Fifty years ago this month he released his acclaimed Blues from Laurel Canyon, featuring 19-year-old guitarist Mick Taylor.  It was his first album after the breakup of the Bluesbreakers earlier in the year.


Mayall handles the vocals throughout.  He also plays guitar, harmonica, and keyboards.  Mick Taylor, who would soon join the Rolling Stones, plays some blistering lead guitar as well as pedal steel on the album.  Steve Thompson, all of 18, plays bass, and Colin Allen is on drums.  Peter Green, late of Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and at the time the leader of Fleetwood Mac, added guitar to the track First Time Alone.

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The album is considered innovative in the blues genre, as songs segue into the next or otherwise stop on a chord just before the next song begins.  We also hear a tabla – not an oft-employed instrument in blues music but one which fit well pretty much anywhere in the late ’60s.  The tracks tell the story of Mayall’s visit to L.A. prior to his move there, which actually makes it a bit of a concept album.  But there’s nothing to do with flower power or the burgeoning singer/songwriter genre on this record.  It’s all blues, and it only took three days in August of ’68 to record.  At the age of 35, Mayall was a senior citizen in the music world by that time and wasn’t going to be swayed much by what the younger musicians were doing.

Mick Taylor

There are some really good moments on this record.  The opening track, Vacation, begins with the sound of a jet landing (like another opening track to a major album release that same month), i.e., Mayall’s arrival in L.A., and features a more-accomplished-than-his-years solo by Mick Taylor.  Taylor also plays some tasty slide on 2401, which was inspired by Mayall’s visit with Frank (and daughter Moon Unit) Zappa and also features nice keyboard work by Mayall.  Someone’s Acting like a child is a classic blues track with great guitar and harmonica.  The Bear, with Mayall’s great boogie piano track, is based upon his meeting with Canned Heat (it opens with a riff from On the Road Again), and Taylor plays some outstanding improvisations on the song about Mayall mentally preparing to go home to England (before permanently moving to Laurel Canyon for the next decade) on the aptly titled Fly Tomorrow.

At a time when white blues guitar players like Clapton and Page were stretching their playing into heavier forms, Mayall stayed truer to traditional blues than most.  It’s interesting to me that L.A. appealed to him at that point in his career.  But then again, what wasn’t to like from a perch in Laurel Canyon, looking down over the Sunset Strip and its happening venues?  Warm, sunny days, an exploding music scene in the late 1960s, etc.  Good times.


Side One:

  1. Vacation
  2. Walking On Sunset
  3. Laurel Canyon Home
  4. 2401
  5. Ready to Ride
  6. Medicine Man
  7. Somebody’s Acting Like a Child

Side Two:

  1. The Bear
  2. Miss James
  3. First Time Alone
  4. Long Gone Midnight
  5. Fly Tomorrow




November 1968 – The Incredible String Band

The Incredible String Band – Wee Tam and the Big Huge

By the time the Scottish psychedelic folk group the Incredible String Band began recording their fourth album in the spring of 1968, their audience was growing both in the UK and US having completed successful tours and selling out venues such as the Fillmore and the Royal Albert Hall.  Their March ’68 release, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, was met with critical acclaim.  With the double album Wee Tam and the Big Huge, released 50 years ago this month, Robin Williamson and Mike Heron honed their creative process, and the result is considered by many, along with their previous album, to be their apex.

L-R:  Mike Heron, Rose Simpson, Robin Williamson, and Christina “Licorice” McKechnie

Williamson and Heron became more involved in each other’s songwriting.  They also became more of a band as opposed to a duo, as girlfriends Christina “Licorice” McKechnie and Rose Simpson took on more significant roles.  Of the fifteen or so instruments played on the record, McKechnie and Simpson contributed on the violin, Irish Harp, percussion, and bass guitar during live performances in addition to their hippie siren backing vocals.  Though not quite as much as its predecessors, Wee Tam is experimental to the point of avant-garde in some places.  Its lyrics are full of allusions to self-awareness, religion, and pagan mythology (they were indeed an influence on Robert Plant).  This was mostly Williamson’s contribution, whereas Heron wrote more simplistically about nature.

The following summer at Woodstock, (L-R):  Simpson, Heron, McKechnie, and Williamson

The title is an allusion to a small human (Wee Tam) contemplating the vastness of the universe (the Big Huge), and that theme plays out on the album’s four sides.  Unfortunately, Elektra Records released it simultaneously as two separate albums in the US, using the front and back covers for each release.  The result of this decision was the disruption of the work’s continuity, as well as negatively impacting sales.  Off the top of my head, I cannot think of another such example other than Bruce Springsteen releasing two different albums on the same day.  But those were never meant to be a double album, and time has shown they would’ve been better as one single record.  I digress.

220px-Wee_Tam.jpg   The_Incredible_String_Band_-_The_Big_Huge_(1968).jpg

The contrasting approaches of Heron and Williamson mesh really well on this release.  With each listen, I notice different instruments or vocal dynamics I hadn’t heard before.  The songs continue to use a Western folk structure, but are complimented with Eastern sounds of the sitar and sarangi.  The lyrics and backing vocals are exotic instruments in themselves.  The opening track, Job’s Tears, is surreal and serene with Williamson’s vocal intertwined with the backing vocals.  You Get Brighter is another favorite of mine.  Along with its guitar and harpsichord track, I hear a beautiful melody with simple, repeated lyrics:  “Krishna colors on the wall, You taught me how to love you…”  And, the sprawling Maya, which opens the second disc, sets the tone for the remaining tracks which are mostly dominated by Williamson’s surreal lyrics.


The Wee Tam portion is considered more accessible than the second disc, but to me it’s a cohesive, four-sided,  aery and dreamlike sequence.  It’s considered less ambitious than The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, but not to my ears.  One minute you’re at a ghat in Varanasi hearing sitars wafting in the wind, the next you’re sitting in an ancient Scottish church with a pipe organist playing a mournful dirge.  It takes an investment of time and attention to hear all there is to absorb with it, but not in the same vein of, say, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, other than to say these guys were from some place else, artistically speaking.  As Tony Hardy wrote in his appreciation on

As much as the playing shimmered with virtuosity, there was also a coy, amateurish side to the band, which was endearing to fans and annoying to everyone else. Their ramshackle approach, particularly on stage, was a real part of the band’s charm and what made them one man’s meat… It is nature’s roller coaster ride. It’s green before its time, haunting and plaintiff, spiritual and uplifting, funny and sad, baffling and informed, and it should be in everyone’s record collection.


Side One:

  1. Job’s Tears
  2. Puppies
  3. Beyond the See
  4. The Yellow Snake
  5. Log Cabin Home in the Sky

Side Two:

  1. You Get Brighter
  2. The Half-Remarkable Question
  3. Air
  4. Ducks on a Pond

Side Three:

  1. Maya
  2. Greatest Friend
  3. The Son of Noah’s Brother
  4. Lordly Nightshade
  5. The Mountain of God

Side Four:

  1. Cousin Caterpillar
  2. The Iron Stone
  3. Douglas Traherne Harding
  4. The Circle is Unbroken


Guilty Pleasure: The Incredible String Band – Wee Tam and the Big Huge

November 1 – George Harrison Steps Out

George Harrison – Wonderwall Music

In the world of film scores, some rather clearly need to be heard while watching the film in order to appreciate them.  Some are enjoyable regardless of the context in which they’re being listened to.  One such example for me is the Eurythmics soundtrack to the film 1984.  I also find the soundtracks to Wes Anderson’s films to be eclectic and enjoyable.  But a case where I can see how it could go either way for the listener is George Harrison’s score to the Joe Massot movie Wonderwall, titled Wonderwall Music, released this day 50 years ago.  It was the first solo album by a member of the Beatles, and the first recording released on their Apple label.


Harrison viewed Massot’s work, a movie full of psychedelic pop art (with sets created by the Fool) and dream sequences starring Jane Birkin and Jack MacGowran, at Twickenham Studios.  He took notes on the timing of its scenes, and then composed the music to fit accordingly.  That music would include Hindustani classical, psychedelic rock, cowboy western movie theme music, and even Ragtime.  The film itself is a metaphor for the generation gap as experienced in Swinging London, and Harrison saw it as an opportunity to examine through his compositions the gap between the West and the East, between materialism and spirituality.  As described by AllMusic’s Richard S. Ginell, the album was “a minor eruption of the pent-up energies of George Harrison.”

Jane Birkin   
Jack MacGowran


Harrison, who along with the other three Beatles was experiencing newfound creative independence after the death of manager Brian Epstein in late August of 1967, was given full artistic control by Massot.  He composed the music on piano and organ, and played guitar on much of the album, though on the original release he was only credited as producer, writer, and arranger.  He also collaborated with top Indian musicians as well as classical pianist and arranger, John Barham, a fellow classical Indian music enthusiast.

Harrison wanted to expand upon the Indian instrumentation that he’d utilized with the Beatles already.  In addition to the sitar and tabla, he now employed the oboe-like shehnai, the sarod, and the hammered dulcimer-like santoor, among others.  The Western tracks utilized tape loops, backward guitar sound, and wah-wah effects in addition to the more straight forward instrumentation.


Some of both the Western and Indian portions were recorded in London at EMI and De Lane Lea Studios from November ’67 to January ’68.  These sessions included Liverpool band the Remo Four, as well as Ringo and Eric Clapton (credited under the pseudonym “Eddie Clayton”).  Peter Tork played banjo on a track which was not included on the soundtrack.

Harrison and Tork, with Remo Four guitarist Colin Manley at left and Mal Evans behind Tork

The rest of the Indian sections were recorded in Bombay at HMV Studios from January 9-13, 1968.  It was in Bombay that the instrumental track to George’s future B-side The Inner Light was recorded.  The majority of the Western music was recorded upon Harrison’s return to London in January.  Final mixing with Ken Scott began on January 31, and two weeks later George returned to India with the Beatles, their wives and significant others for their retreat with the Maharishi in Rishikesh.

Harrison in Bombay, January 1968

The album would mark the end of Harrison’s immersion in Indian music as a composer and musician.  After spending time with Ravi Shankar in L.A. a few months later, he decided to concentrate on the guitar and Western music.  This period did inspire him later in his work with Ravi Shankar on the latter’s Music Festival from India and the East/West fusion of Harrison’s 1974 North American Tour, where he worked again with some of the musicians from the January ’68 sessions.


Contemporary reviews of the score were favorable.  There are sequences in the film with little to no dialogue, and it’s been noted that the music effectively takes the place of speaking parts.  Retrospective reviews also find much merit in Harrison’s efforts on the album.  It’s been described as a stew of music that’s altogether “spacey,” “esoteric,” “rollicking,” and “a beguiling tapestry of sound.”  Of course, there are different strokes for different folks.  Rolling Stone lazily included it in its “20 Terrible Debut Albums by Great Artists” issue.  RS writer Keith Harris:  “The best thing you can say about Wonderwall Music is that it’s probably more historically significant than the LP of experimental twaddle John Lennon released a month later – after all, Oasis never wrote a hit song called ‘Two Virgins.'”  The reality is, there are just many westerners who don’t care for Indian music.  And that’s o.k., because there are many of us who do.  And for many if not most of us, it’s due to George Harrison introducing us to it.

Harrison, Jane Birkin, and Ringo at the debut of Wonderwall in Cannes


Short and sweet, but great:  Ski-ing, featuring Eddie Clayton, a.k.a., Eric Clapton –

On the Bed:  probably my favorite track from the album –

Left off the original release, but fortunately added later:  In the First Place, featuring the Remo Four –

An alternate take of the instrumental track to The Inner Light, which George produced while in Bombay in January of 1968 –


Side One:

  1. Microbes
  2. Red Lady Too
  3. Tabla and Pakavaj
  4. In the Park
  5. Drilling a Home
  6. Guru Vandana
  7. Greasy Legs
  8. Ski-ing
  9. Gat Kirwani
  10. Dream Scene

Side Two:

  1. Party Seacombe
  2. Love Scene
  3. Crying
  4. Cowboy Music
  5. Fantasy Sequins
  6. On the Bed
  7. Glass Box
  8. Wonderwall to Be Here
  9. Singing Om




October 1968 Odds ‘n Ends

What a nice month October has been!  With the month full of great 50th album anniversaries (and cooler weather, of course), we’re headed into the final stretch of the year.  But before we get to the point in the year when north Texans are prone to running roughshod over local grocery stores, emptying their shelves of fake fire logs and bottled water whenever there’s a 2% chance of snow flurries, let’s close out October on this fine Halloween with a few final notably notable notables.

October:   The Osmonds – The Wonderful World of the Osmond Brothers  Yeah, no.

October:  Deep Purple – The Book of Taliesyn

Deep Purple gave us their second album 50 years ago this month (released in June of ’69 in the UK).  The Book of Taliesyn was released just in time for the band’s first US tour.  It was recorded only three months after their debut, Shades of Deep Purple, and hurriedly released by request of their label as their debut material was seen as insufficient to tour with.  As with their debut, it’s a mix of originals and rearranged covers including Neil Diamond’s Kentucky Woman.  Also similarly to their previous record, it was received well by critics in the US where they were still being called the “British Vanilla Fudge,”  but once again ignored in the UK.


October:  Brewer and Shipley – Down in L.A.

The duo from the Midwest released their debut album 50 years ago this month with a little help from Jim Gordon, Hal Blaine, Jim Messina, and others.


10/1/68:  Otis Redding – Otis Redding In Person at the Whiskey a Go Go

Another great posthumous Redding release, At the Whiskey a Go Go was recorded in 1966 prior to his rapid rise to fame due to his appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival a year later.


10/3/68:  Merle Haggard – Mama Tried

Merle’s critically acclaimed album featuring the hit title track reached #4 on Billboard’s Country album chart.  It was a continuation of his themes of crime and hardships.


10/7/68:  Thom Yorke born

The Radiohead frontman turned 50 this month.


10/14/68:  Tyrannosaurus Rex – Prophets, Seers and Sages:  The Angels of the Ages

This is the second album by the band later to be known simply as T. Rex.  An AllMusic retrospective review refers to it as the most underrated of their four albums.  As I probably said with the first one earlier this year, I’m going to have to give it a listen one of these days.


10/14/68:  Dept. of Defense announces it is sending back 24,000 troops to Vietnam for involuntary second tours


10/16/68:  Three Dog Night – One

One is the debut of Three Dog Night.  Oddly, their #5 single of the same title wasn’t included on the original album release.  Robert Christgau, Life Cereal’s “Mikey” of rock music critics, actually liked it.


10/17/68:  Ziggy Marley born

Ziggy has outlived his father by 14 years.


10/30/68:  Jackie Kennedy becomes Jackie Onassis


10/31/68:  LBJ announces complete halt to bombing in North Vietnam








October 25 – This is Jethro Tull’s This Was

Jethro Tull – This Was

With many bands that go on to achieve a degree of success, their debut efforts are looked back upon as lacking or even amateurish in their songwriting, musicianship, production, or some combination of the three.  But some start strong right out of the gate.  I consider Jethro Tull’s This Was, released 50 years ago this day in the US (Feb. 3, 1969 in the UK), to be one of the better debuts among bands from the era.

Jethro Tull once competed with The Mothers of Invention for the title of Most Insane Looking Band.

This Was IS different from what came after, and it’s mainly to do with personnel.  Whereas Jethro Tull is known as Ian Anderson’s band, on this first record he collaborated with guitarist Mick Abrahams, who brought a heavy R&B and jazz flavor to the songs.  Abrahams would subsequently depart to form Blodwyn Pig, leaving Anderson as the driving force going forward in an English folk and prog direction.  Abrahams wrote or co-wrote three and arranged one of the album’s tracks.  His lead vocal on Move On Alone is the only Jethro Tull vocal that would ever be done by someone other than Ian Anderson.

Blues-based English groups in the 1960’s were plentiful, but the ones who garnered the most attention brought a unique twist to their recordings and appearance.  As BBC reviewer Sid Smith noted on the album’s 40th anniversary, “… what made Tull stand out from the great-coated crowd was the high-visibility of frontman Ian Anderson’s on-stage Tourette’s-inspired hyper-gurning and Mick Abraham’s ferocious fretwork…Anderson’s presence though is of course undeniable and extensive.”

Jethro Tull performing on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus in December of 1968.  Note Tony Iommi filling in on the mimed guitar for the departed Mick Abrahams.  Martin Barre would take over on the band’s second album.

Contemporary reviews in Melody Maker and New Musical Express were quite positive, whereas Robert Christgau, henceforth to be known as Oscar the Grouch on this blog, hated it.  (Seriously, I’ve had about enough of that guy!)  The album features the traditional tune Cat’s Squirrel, a raucous affair which was a popular live choice for various bands including Cream, who also recorded it for their debut a couple of years earlier.

Most of the songs were written by Anderson or Abrahams, except one traditional tune (Cat’s Squirrel) and one by jazz multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk (Serenade to a Cuckoo).  Ian Anderson learned the flute from listening to the latter.  The sound of the opener, My Sunday Feeling,  has been compared to that of the Graham Bond Organization (the group where Jack Bruce and Ginger resided pre-Cream).  In my mind it has a hint of Davey Graham as well.  In other words, it’s very English sounding blues.


Concert staple Dharma for One features a Clive Bunker drum solo I find more interesting than most rock drum solos, especially on studio recordings.  Anderson’s A Song for Jeffrey is the most widely known track of the bunch, as the band partially mimed it for their performance on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.  I really don’t hear a weak track on this album.  I also think it benefits from the shorter overall length, as did many others at the time.  Jethro Tull came on to the scene, made their first relatively brief statement, and moved on to the next album.  This was alluded to in their choice of the album’s title.  This was what they were, but they would be something different going forward.


Side One:

  1. My Sunday Feeling
  2. Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine for You
  3. Beggar’s Farm
  4. Move on Alone
  5. Serenade to a Cuckoo

Side Two:

  1. Dharma for One
  2. It’s Breaking Me Up
  3. Cat’s Squirrel
  4. A Song for Jeffrey
  5. Round


October ’68 – All That Nazz

Nazz – Nazz

Nazz was formed in Philadelphia in 1967 by Todd Rundgren and Carson Van Osten.  They released this, their eponymous debut, in October of 1968.  The band took its name from the Yardbirds song The Nazz Are Blue, which was a reflection of the heavy influence they took from 1960’s British rock.  The album was not a big seller (though it did receive heavy airplay in places like Philly and Boston), but it does feature the fantastic single Open My Eyes b/w the original version of Rundgren’s Hello It’s Me, the definitive version of which he would re-record for his 1972 solo album, Something/Anything?.


In his AllMusic review, Stephen Thomas Erlewine suggests the album was a blueprint for American power pop bands that followed, and that even though some of its songs haven’t aged well, it’s still a good album worth listening to because of its place in music history.  He writes:

…they just like to try a lot of different styles, cross-breeding their favorite bands in a blatant act of fanboy worship. At their best, the results of this approach are flat-out stunning, as on the lead cut “Open My Eyes,” which twists the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” around until it winds up in Roy Wood (founding member of both The Move and ELO) territory.

Interestingly, another band called Nazz formed around the same time, and when they learned of Rundgren and Van Osten’s group, they changed their name to Alice Cooper.



Side One:

  1. Open My Eyes
  2. Back of Your Mind
  3. See What You Can Be
  4. Hello It’s Me
  5. Wildwood Blues

Side Two:

  1. If That’s the Way You Feel
  2. When I Get My Plane
  3. Lemming Song
  4. Crowded
  5. She’s Goin’ Down


October ’68 – Another Traffic Jam

Traffic – Traffic

Today we’re revisiting an album that further put Traffic’s unique stamp on the rock music world in the late 1960’s.  In October of 1968 the band released its followup to their 1967’s debut Mr. Fantasy with a self-titled album which features two distinctly different songwriting styles brought together by the group’s excellent musicianship.

(L-R) Chris Wood, Dave Mason, Steve Winwood, and Jim Capaldi

Band co-founder Dave Mason had left the band by the time their debut was released a year earlier due to artistic differences.  He was more interested in simpler folk-rock and pop compositions compared with the longer form, more jazz-oriented songs preferred by Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Wood.  Mason subsequently produced the debut album by Family (which included future Traffic bassist Ric Grech), but was invited back to Traffic in early ’68 in time to contribute to roughly half the tracks on their second LP.  As with Mr. Fantasy, by the time Traffic was released 50 years ago this month, Mason had once again departed the group.


Traffic, produced by Jimmy Miller, received positive reviews upon release and is considered to have aged well.  Critics such as AllMusic’s William Ruhlmann seem to agree that the album achieved a nice balance between Mason’s contributions and the more complex tracks featuring Winwood’s keyboard based melodies, Wood’s reed instruments, and Capaldi’s “exotic” percussion.  He notes that Mason’s pop oriented songs like You Can All Join In, which leads off the record, and Feelin’ Alright are more commercially appealing, whereas the others’ compositions were more enjoyable for their musicianship, including Winwood’s soulful vocals.


Despite the directional differences between Dave Mason and the others, this is a cohesive album with their songs mixed together as opposed to isolated on two sides.  There are a few highlights for me, beginning Mason’s bouncy You Can All Join In, which welcomes the listener in for what’s to follow.  Pearly Queen features Winwood at his multi-instrumentalist best on vocals, Hammond organ, lead guitar, and bass.  Winwood and Capaldi’s Forty Thousand Headmen is one of my favorite track due to Capaldi’s percussion and Woods’s hypnotic flute.  Cryin’ to be Heard might be the best example of what this original Traffic lineup sounded like as a cohesive unit, with its heavy drums and Winwood’s keyboards standing out.  Mason’s original Feelin’ Alright is also a good one, but I feel Joe Cocker recorded the definitive version.  Interestingly, of the five tracks not written by Dave Mason, he only appears on one, No Time to Live.


Side One:

  1. You Can All Join In
  2. Pearly Queen
  3. Don’t Be Sad
  4. Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring
  5. Feelin’ Alright?

Side Two:

  1. Vagabond Virgin
  2. Forty Thousand Headmen
  3. Cryin’ to Be Heard
  4. No Time to Live
  5. Means to an End