January 1971 – Little Feat Debuts

January 1971: Little Feat – Little Feat

“Sooner or later, every committed rock ‘n’ roller finds his or her way to Little Feat, which has been described as everything from ‘bluesadelic’ to ‘funky Americana,’ and all of which really means an eclectic bunch of styles that long ago melded together in a bluesy, boogieing, baked-smile stew. Their influence is wide — not least on Phish, moe. and many other stalwarts of the jam scene.” – contributing writer Chad Berndtson of JamBase

Today we’re celebrating the debut of arguably one of the greatest, yet possibly one of the most underappreciated, American bands of all time. Their eponymous Little Feat is not a typical debut. Recorded late in the summer of 1970 and released 50 years ago this month, it sounds closer to a group that had been around a while, honing their songwriting and production.

One of the remarkable aspects of this album is that it’s not one or maybe two of the band members who stand out; it’s a full team effort, beginning with the first track, Snakes on Everything. That’s Bill Payne on keyboards and lead vocals, though you might be forgiven for mistaking his singing for Leon Russell – and that’s no slight. The songwriting is fantastic throughout, as is the musicianship. The sorely missed Lowell George’s slide and lead guitar work, as well as his vocals, shine throughout. The original version of Truck Stop Girl is here. I’m equally familiar with latter day Byrds’ version, but this one can’t be beat. Richie Hayward’s drums pop.

Faces in the Crowd: Lowell George

My favorite Little Feat song is on this album, yet it’s not my favorite track on it. Huh? It’s true. Lowell George wrote and demoed Willin’ when he was with the Mothers of Invention, which prompted Frank Zappa to suggest George start a band of his own. He did just that, and the song found its way onto Little Feat’s debut. Though guest Ry Cooder’s bottleneck guitar on this original, more up-tempo version makes it an enjoyable listen, I’m glad it was re-recorded for their follow up a year later. It became the definitive version I’ve always known and loved with its more soulful vocals.

Willin': The Story of Little Feat by Ben Fong-Torres

Forty-Four Blues/How Many More Years is an honest tribute to its writers Roosevelt Sykes and Howlin’ Wolf and the era in which they thrived, right down to the distorted vocals. Ry Cooder makes his second appearance on the album on bottleneck here. George’s I’ve Been the One features the sweet pedal steel playing of Sneaky Pete Kleinow. That man played on some mighty fine albums in those years. The weakest link in my opinion is the goofy Crazy Captain Gunboat Willie, thought I don’t consider it a throwaway on this otherwise wonderful, polished album.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Snakes on Everything
  2. Strawberry Flats
  3. Truck Stop Girl
  4. Brides of Jesus
  5. Willin’
  6. Hamburger Midnight

Side Two:

  1. Forty-Four Blues/How Many More Years
  2. Crack in Your Door
  3. I’ve Been the One
  4. Takin’ My Time
  5. Crazy Captain Gunboat Willie

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/little-feat-mw0000653350

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willin%27_(Little_Feat_song)

January 15 – John Lee Hooker & Canned Heat

1/15/71: John Lee Hooker & Canned Heat – Hooker ‘n Heat

The past thirty or so years have brought us so many collaboration albums, they’ve almost become passé. Some have been quite commercially successful, while others seem rather unnecessary. The first collaboration album I recall owning is John Lee Hooker’s 1989 album The Healer, which includes the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Charlie Musselwhite, and surviving members of Canned Heat, among others. I don’t remember what made me buy it – I’d probably heard the outstanding title track with Santana – but I certainly wasn’t familiar with Hooker’s music (I plead being a teenager at the time). Subsequently I heard some of his classic recordings and was able to understand why The Healer made sense. But that wasn’t Hooker’s first collaboration. Twenty years prior, he teamed up with the classic Canned Heat lineup for one of the great joint efforts in the blues.

Hooker ‘n Heat, released 50 years ago today, was the final Canned Heat recording to feature harmonica player, guitarist, and songwriter Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, who died the previous September between the album’s recording in May 1970 and its unveiling. His photo hangs on the wall behind the band on the album jacket. Canned Heat vocalist Bob Hite is credited as a producer and is present with the band on the cover, though he did not sing on the album. All the songs but one were written or co-written by Hooker, who is also the only featured vocalist.

To me, Hooker ‘n Heat is a perfect combination of styles. It doesn’t sound forced, which is due in part to the length of the album. There’s plenty of room for all involved. The first six tracks feature Hooker and his guitar unaccompanied, and it’s vintage John Lee Hooker. The main difference to my ears is the sound itself. It’s much more powerful than his early recordings, which alone doesn’t necessarily make it better than his music from the late 1940’s up to the 1960’s, just different. It sounds like I’m in an empty barroom with him in 1970. This of course makes sense because that’s also how Canned Heat’s studio albums sound – live. The studio chatter between tracks adds to the intimate, in-the-moment feel.

Canned Heat & John Lee Hooker HOOKER 'N HEAT - Liberty Records 1971 - USED  DOUBLE Vinyl LP Record - 1971 Pressing MCA-27005 - 17 Songs - Boogie  Chillen No.2 - Drifter - Let's Make It - Alimonia Blues - Amazon.com Music

Tracks seven through twelve are Hooker accompanied by Alan Wilson on various instruments. It’s fitting that this was Wilson’s final album considering his reverence for the original bluesmen. Along with American contemporaries such as Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield, Wilson incorporated their influence into the music of the Woodstock Era just as Brian Jones, John Mayall and a well-documented number of other Brits did a few years earlier during the height of the British Invasion. The final five songs include all of Canned Heat (sans Hite), and the results are as loose as might be expected. Hooker ‘n Heat helped introduce JLH to a new audience as well as to begin to benefit financially from some of the great music he’d written but not been given songwriting credit for as a result of bad deals early on.

If it’s been a while or you’re unfamiliar with this album, grab a beverage of choice some Friday evening after work and crank it up.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Messin’ with the Hook
  2. The Feelin’ Is Gone
  3. Send Me Your Pillow
  4. Sittin’ Here Thinkin’
  5. Meet Me in the Bottom

Side Two:

  1. Alimonia Blues
  2. Drifter
  3. You Talk Too Much
  4. Burning Hell
  5. Bottle Up and Go

Side Three:

  1. The World Today
  2. I Got My Eyes on You
  3. Whiskey and Wimmen
  4. Just You and Me

Side Four:

  1. Let’s Make It
  2. Peavine
  3. Boogie Chillen No. 2

-Stephen

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/canned-heat-john-lee-hooker-hooker-n-heat/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/hooker-n-heat-infinite-boogie-mw0001957288

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hooker_%27n_Heat

January 11 – Janis Joplin’s Best & Last

1/11/71: Janis Joplin – Pearl

The loss of Janis Joplin in October 1970, which occurred between the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, would eventually signal part of the symbolic end of 1960’s idealism. And sadly, from a musical standpoint, fans discovered she was possibly just getting started when her final studio album, Pearl, was posthumously released on this day 50 years ago.

The Best Songs From The Album “Pearl” By Janis Joplin | Society Of Rock

As a Gen Xer, I discovered her music the same ways most of my peers did. Me and Bobby McGee was probably one of the first songs of hers I heard, as it’s one of her more “radio friendly” tunes. But what got my attention as a sixteen-year-old were tracks like Piece of My Heart and Down on Me with their crashing drums, grungy guitars, and unbridled soul emanating from those vocals. Then I became enamored with the film clips of her performances at Monterey Pop and Woodstock – especially the former – and that was all I needed to confirm I was a fan. Unfortunately for me, I kind of stopped there. Her hits and the bits of her on film were plenty until I realized a few years later that there was more, as in, arguably her best.

Pearl is a strong album for a number of reasons, including a new, much tighter backing band known as the Full Tilt Boogie Band, whom she had performed with on stage a number of times before recording sessions began. It was widely known in the music world at the time that Big Brother & the Holding Co., as well as her next group, the Kozmic Blues Band, were holding her back in the studio. With the new group, and especially with Paul Rothchild as producer, a more polished (in a good way) sound was achieved. The best known songs, which are also the singles issued from the album (Me & Bobby McGee, Cry Baby, Get It While You Can, & Mercedes Benz) come alive even more in the context of this album, beginning with the first track, Move Over. Again, the new band and producer were just as crucial as the star on this one.

Janis with producer Paul Rothchild

What would’ve been, we’ll never know. What could’ve been? Maybe this album would’ve helped her overcome some of the self-doubt/esteem issues that plagued her as she neared her 30’s. Maybe Janis would’ve settled into a better place in life where she was comfortable in her own skin. Perhaps she would’ve let go of some of that pain with its roots back in Port Arthur. Supposedly her overdose came as a result of not realizing what she took that night was much more powerful than what she normally would’ve, and that she wasn’t even using as regularly at that point. Maybe her life would’ve changed due to the more mature musical direction she was just beginning to embark upon. Maybe too much damage had been done to her long-term health by then.

A bio authored by Janis’s sister, Laura Joplin

Musically, she left us with a smile. The a cappella Mercedes Benz, recorded during her final session just three days before her death, is a funny commentary on consumerism. Nothing in it or the rest of this fantastic album suggests the end was closing in. But the otherwise upbeat Buried Alive in the Blues, left as an instrumental because she died before the vocal was recorded, became an odd reminder that that’s exactly what was happening.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Move Over
  2. Cry Baby
  3. A Woman Left Lonely
  4. Half Moon
  5. Buried Alive in the Blues

Side Two:

  1. My Baby
  2. Me and Bobby McGee
  3. Mercedes Benz
  4. Trust Me
  5. Get It While You Can

-Stephen

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/janis-joplin-pearl/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/pearl-mw0000190564

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pearl_(Janis_Joplin_album)

January 1, 1971 – It’s About the Music, Maaan!

Happy 1971, friends! This is the fourth year for my blog, chronologically speaking, but since I mostly skipped the year 1969 it’s basically my third. If I were a baseball player, I’d be a streaky hitter and semi-reliable fielder. When it comes to my blogging I’m either all in or struggling to turn on my computer. I don’t know why I’m so consistently inconsistent, but writing helps keep my brain synapses firing and I mostly enjoy the process. I continue to love music from the now mostly bygone era of 50 years ago, and I’m still hearing some recordings from that era (and earlier) for the first time, so I’ll continue to babble about them in these pages.

Ted Sizemore – Society for American Baseball Research

By 1971, most of the dayglow optimism of America’s youth as found in popular music had been scraped off and painted over in various shades of gray. Songwriters were creating more introspective music reflective of that come down. Vietnam still raged on, and America’s racial and economic divide showed no sign of improving despite earlier socio-political efforts to that end (I found that filed in a folder labeled “The more things change…”). Hard drugs were taking a toll everywhere, from everyday young folk to soldiers returning from Southeast Asia, and of course on the music scene. As Joni Mitchell would lament in June of that year, “Acid, booze, and ass, needles, guns, and grass, lots of laughs…”

John Kerry

Some of the most popular music of the still new decade – often forgettable in any era – was vapid bubblegum dreck for people who didn’t want to know “what’s going on” in the first place.* As depressing as all this may sound, 1971 is the heart of my favorite ten year span of music. And beginning with album releases at the end of the second month of that year I can finally say I was alive when they came out. Let’s set the stage, shall we?

Bands that said sayonara in 1971: Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Country Joe & the Fish, Derek & the Dominos, Fotheringay, Free, The Mamas & the Papas, The Monkees, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, and Sounds Inc.

The Monkees - CBS News

New acts in 1971: Big Star, Billy Joel, The Charlie Daniels Band, The Eagles, Foghat, Jo Jo Gunne, Loggins & Messina, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Manassas, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, The Motels, New York Dolls, Paul McCartney & Wings, Roxy Music, Sister Sledge, Split Enz, and Vinegar Joe (Robert Palmer).

Cosmic American Blog: Split Enz: Two Finns From New Zealand

There’s really nothing earth shattering about the first collection of bands listed above. Booker T. & the M.G.’s ended up re-forming, Derek & the Dominos & Fotheringay were basically one-off groups anyway, albeit with very well-known leaders who continued on, and a couple members of Free would form one of the biggest acts of the 70’s with an updated Free sound. The new acts contained part of the origins of glam, punk, disco, and new wave (and a former Beatle who dabbled in some of those genres at various points in the ensuing years), not to mention one of the most influential groups of all time when it came to future bands, yet who remain one of the most underappreciated groups ever to enter a recording studio when it comes to the masses.

So, here’s to 2021 being a better year than 2020. I hope you continue to stop by for a reminder of what was good in music 50 years ago as we once again ring in the new year of 1971. Cheers!

-Stephen

*Sometimes I don’t mind vapid bubblegum dreck.

Desert Island Album Draft, Round 5: Sticky Fingers

I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There will be ten rounds, with draft order determined randomly by round. My fifth round selection is the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers.

March 26, 1971: Rolling Stones Tongue Logo Debuts | Best Classic Bands

It’s just that demon life has got me in its sway…

When it comes to filthy, gritty, living in the moment, above the law, unforgiving, unapologetic rock bands, the Rolling Stones are the original standard bearers. Within their unlikely and absurdly long life as a group – fast approaching 60 years – the stretch of albums loosely termed by many fans as the “Mick Taylor years” stand out for their return to basics, while at the same time cranking it up about 100 notches (I also include the pre-Taylor Beggars Banquet with these releases). For me, at the top of the heap, even if only by a few degrees, is Sticky Fingers. This is the one. This album represents everything I love about the Stones, Brian Jones’s unique contributions notwithstanding.

Sticky Fingers: The Lost Session – Snap Galleries Limited

There were a couple of periods of recording beginning in early 1969, with the bulk of studio work taking place the following year, concluding in December 1970. It was released on April 23, 1971. The album, with its distinctive Andy Warhol Factory designed cover which included, on initial pressings, an actual functioning zipper, topped the charts worldwide soon after. Sticky Fingers was the band’s first album of the 1970’s, and the first on their Rolling Stones label featuring the iconic tongue and lips logo. But, as always, it’s about the MUSIC, maaaan. 

How the Rolling Stones Launched a New Era With 'Sticky Fingers'

And the vibe. To my ears, the vibe or tone of the album is actually set with the count in to the second track, Sway, and it never lets up. Chances are you know this album well, or are at least familiar with it, and you know what I mean. And let’s give major credit where it’s due right now: The session players on Sticky Fingers were an all-star band in themselves, and are just as important to this record as the principals. Bobby Keys and Jim Price brought crucial sax and trumpet contributions. They rocked on tracks like Bitch, and displayed soul on the Stax ballad inspired I Got the Blues along with Billy Preston on the organ. Price also added the beautiful piano part to Moonlight Mile, with only he and the two Micks on the main track.

billy preston | seventies music

Other major contributions include Ry Cooder’s slide guitar and Jack Nitzsche’s piano on Sister Morphine (co-credited to Marianne Faithfull), and Paul Buckmaster’s string arrangements on Sway and Moonlight Mile. Other session players included stalwarts Nicky Hopkins, Rocky Dijon, Jim Dickinson, and Ian Stewart, and though he didn’t play on the album, Sticky Fingers wouldn’t have been what it is without the influence of Gram Parsons. The evidence is on Wild Horses and Dead Flowers. If we’re to include alternate versions, Eric Clapton and Al Kooper can be heard on the looser 2015 bonus disc cut of Brown Sugar. But the core, as always, was Mick and Keith and the boys, now including Mick Taylor, and it’s Taylor’s lead guitar interacting with Richards’s and Jagger’s rhythm playing that took the band’s sound to a place it hadn’t been before his arrival and hasn’t returned to in the 46 years since his departure, with all due respect to Brian Jones and Ronnie Wood.

Mick Taylor - Wikiwand

I don’t know why, but I’m fascinated by bands from that era that stretched and often broke the rules and not only kept it together but seemed to thrive on the chaos. Perhaps guys like Elvis, Hank, and others raised eyebrows earlier, but the Stones flaunted damn near every taboo in society’s face in these songs and said what of it, mate? These years found them defying not only the law, but the Grim Reaper as well, bless Keith’s heart (and veins), and they survived. Sticky Fingers is truly a fly on the wall album for anyone who wants to know what they were about without the visual horrors of watching the cinéma vérité documentary of their 1972 U.S. tour, Cocksucker Blues, that make one want to take a shower after viewing (just remember, I didn’t tell you to watch it). It’s not the first “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” album, but along with Let it Bleed, Exile on Main St. and the others, it’s about as extreme as it gets, especially considering when it came out. It’s an album that makes Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, and certainly latter day examples like the Gallagher and Robinson brothers of Oasis and the Black Crows, respectively – great rock artists that they all are – look like silly wannabes (and I like all of those bands, too). It’s a perfect rock album, and it’s on my island if you want to kayak over and listen some time.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Brown Sugar
  2. Sway
  3. Wild Horses
  4. Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
  5. You Gotta Move

Side Two:

  1. Bitch
  2. I Got the Blues
  3. Sister Morphine
  4. Dead Flowers
  5. Moonlight Mile

-Stephen

 

 

Desert Island Album Draft, Round 4: Blue

I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There will be ten rounds, with draft order determined randomly by round. With the first pick in round four, I’ve selected the first Joni Mitchell album I ever owned.

Anatomy of a Perfect Album: On Joni Mitchell's Blue | Literary Hub

Judge: “Mr. blogger known as Introgroove, you are accused of musical acculturation in the first degree. How do you plead?” Me: “Guilty as charged.” We’re now into the fourth round, and I realize I could fill my top 50 – never mind 10 – desert island collection with albums from 1965-75 alone. I do have one “modern” album from the 90’s in mind for later, yet even it’s over a quarter century old. It seems strange when I think of it, but I guess I’m just an older soul. Always have been. My choice to kick off this round, for example, was released when I was not quite four months old: Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

Picture of Joni Mitchell

Other than the handful of Joni’s singles I’d heard on the radio growing up – specifically Big Yellow Taxi, Raised on Robbery, Help Me, and Free Man in Paris – I didn’t know anything about her albums other than that they were held in high esteem by the omniscient scribes at Rolling Stone and MOJO. So at the age of 21 I decided to investigate for myself. I was at Streetside Records one day and ran into an older acquaintance I knew to be knowledgeable about such matters, so I asked him where I should start with Joni Mitchell. Without hesitation he said Blue. I took it home, popped it into the changer, and never looked back. At the time I was in an obsessive Dylan and Neil Young self-education mode, and her music fit my schooling perfectly. These days, I don’t try to categorize her. Especially not after gaining an appreciation for her later Hejira album.

Joni Mitchell's Alternative Tunings

But Blue? Almost everything I love about music from that era is encapsulated on this album: great songwriting, bare bones honest lyrics, a beautiful and unique voice, and unparalleled musicianship. Bob and probably even Neil couldn’t touch her alternate tunings (if I were still categorizing her). But it’s more than that. While the songs are mostly about Mitchell’s relationships past and then-present, some with famous musicians, others not well known, the recordings capture the mood of 1971. That is, it was a come down. Joni didn’t allot many words to political commentary, but in California she summed it up concisely: Reading the news and it sure looks bad, They won’t give peace a chance, That was just a dream some of us had… There’s a melancholy and resignation in those words and in her voice that can be found throughout the landscape of artists at the turn of the 1970’s. It wasn’t always bleak, but the 60’s hangover was hard to avoid, as in the title track: Acid, booze, and ass, Needles, guns, and grass, Lots of laughs…

Joni Mitchell makes appearance at Brandi Carlile tribute - Los Angeles Times
A rare Joni sighting – At Brandi Carlile’s tribute performance of the Blue album in L.A. last October

As we trudge through a summer of uncertainty and discontent, Blue maintains a contemporary feel. For me there’s something visceral about Joni’s music. As much as or more than other artists whom I admire but was born too late to listen to while they were in their prime, I feel like I was there when I listen to her. It’s 1971, except I’m 23 years old. I’m lounging at some dingy outdoor cafe with a buddy who’s just returned from Vietnam, unsure of what to do with his life. Return to school? Morocco sounds better. Or maybe the roles are reversed. Then again, maybe it’s just 2020 and we’re waist-deep in our own troubled times, but thinking about it in 50 year old terms makes it seem more palatable. Either way, Mitchell’s music is deep but accessible. This and her other early albums earned Joni the well-intended accolade from various critics, “Best Female Songwriter/Musician,” which rankled her and rightly so. She’s one of the best, most innovative songwriters, singers, and musicians ever, male or female, period.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. All I Want
  2. My Old Man
  3. Little Green
  4. Carey
  5. Blue

Side Two:

  1. California
  2. This Flight Tonight
  3. River
  4. A Case of You
  5. The Last Time I Saw Richard

-Stephen