September 23 – Listen How it Goes, My Rhythm: Abraxas at 50

9/23/70: Santana – Abraxas

We stood before it and began to freeze inside from the exertion. We questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it: We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it “Abraxas”…. – from the Hermann Hesse book, Demian.

There are examples throughout all music genres of bands or individual artists who get into a groove where they can do no wrong in the studio, on stage, or both. In 1970, Latin/blues/jazz/rock fusion band Santana was one such group. It had been just over a year since their breakout performance at Woodstock, followed by the release of their self-titled debut album a couple of weeks after the festival. Santana’s followup was recorded with the same lineup over a period of two weeks in the spring of 1970, and Abraxas was released on this date 50 years ago. It reached the top of the Billboard album chart in the U.S. while featuring three prominent instrumental tracks.

Santana On 'Black Magic Woman,' A Pioneering Cultural Mashup : NPR

The star singles from the album were covers: Black Magic Woman (Fleetwood Mac) reached number four in the U.S. (after leaving Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green derived significant royalty income from Santana’s version), and Tito Puente’s Oye Como Va hit number thirteen. But after many years and many plays, the tracks that keep me coming back are the non-hits, such as the instrumentals Incident at Neshabur with its heavy jazz inflection, and Samba Pa Ti. Carlos’s inspiration for this song was a heavily drinking saxophone busker outside his NYC hotel window. Two of my other favorites were written and sung by keyboardist Gregg Rolie, Mother’s Daughter and Hope You’re Feeling Better. The former maintains much of the Latin flavor of the rest of the album, while the latter features more of a straight forward rock sound. Carlos’s searing guitar licks are the common denominator along with Rolie’s vocals.

Santana - Hope You're Feeling Better - 8/18/1970 - Tanglewood (Official) -  YouTube

While the first three Santana albums have been stuffed into the classic rock pigeon hole over the years, this band perhaps more than anyone carved out a unique niche. The Latin rhythms which form the backbone of Santana’s music just feel good to listen to, and the band must’ve felt an immense sense of freedom when playing it. It could be a bitter cold winter day, but with Abraxas playing it’s always sunny and 75. For many including me, this continued into their lesser known (commercially speaking) fourth album, Caravanserai, before Carlos shifted into a different but also very interesting phase of his career.

Though Carlos and the Latin element of these albums understandably garner the most attention, I feel Gregg Rolie doesn’t receive the praise he deserves. Maybe he has and I’m just not aware. However, it’s no coincidence that Santana and later Journey (who he co-founded with Neal Schon, who also played on the third Santana album) were markedly different bands after his departure. His vocals and signature Hammond B3 were crucial ingredients to both.

rolie

Bonus Blurbs:

  • Oye Como Va, translated to English, means listen how it goes, my rhythm.
  • The album was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2016.
  • The album cover art is a painting titled Annunciation, by Mati Klarwein. His distinctive style would be found on later albums by Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Gregg Allman.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Singing Winds
  2. Crying Beasts
  3. Oye Como Va
  4. Incident at Neshabur

Side Two:

  1. Se Acabó
  2. Mother’s Daughter
  3. Samba Pa Ti
  4. Hope You’re Feeling Better
  5. El Nicoya

-Stephen

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/santana-abraxas/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/abraxas-mw0000191745

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

September 18 – Fleetwood Mac, Phase Two

9/18/70: Fleetwood Mac – Kiln House

The winds of change were blowing in 1970. From a purely musical standpoint, this date 50 years ago stands out, especially in the realm of blues rock. Most significantly and sadly, Jimi Hendrix passed away in the early morning hours. And when Fleetwood Mac’s fourth studio album went on sale that day, it was the band’s first without blues guitar master Peter Green. There are still some heavy moments on Kiln House with guitarists Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer, the latter making his final appearance with Fleetwood Mac, but we also hear a group trying to find a new direction with elements of blues, folk, 50’s retro, and soft rock mixed together. The album also marks the first appearance of Christine McVie, though she was not yet an official member of the group. She also designed the album cover.

Fleetwood Mac - Kiln House - D - 1970--- | Upper left : Dann… | Flickr

Kiln House – named for a hops drying building that the band and their families lived in communally at the time – lacks cohesiveness yet contains some very good music. Danny Kirwan’s Station Man is my favorite track. It’s a grungy goulash in the vein of early-70’s Stones, Delaney & Bonnie, and Little Feat. Jeremy Spencer’s take on Big Joe Turner’s Hi Ho Silver is a rocker, as is the mostly instrumental Jewel Eyed Judy. Kirwan’s instrumental Earl Gray is a nice interlude after the kitschy Buddy Holly tribute, and the guitar work on Tell Me All the Things You Do suggests the drop off with Green leaving was nowhere near fatal. As for the subjective negatives, I could do without Spencer’s 50’s tributes such as This Is the Rock and Buddy’s Song.

Kiln House, Truncheaunts Lane, Alton © Oast House Archive :: Geograph  Britain and Ireland

That sense of searching for a sound seems to have plagued the group for a six album stretch starting with this one and lasting through 1974’s Heroes Are Hard to Find, yet that may be due in large part to the high standard set during the Peter Green blues years as well as those of the most widely known Fleetwood Mac era of Buckingham and Nicks which followed Bob Welch’s departure. In other words, there’s some really good music on the 1970-74 albums that deserves much wider reappraisal, and Kiln House is but the first of them.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. This is the Rock
  2. Station Man
  3. Blood on the Floor
  4. Hi Ho Silver
  5. Jewel-Eyed Judy

Side Two:

  1. Buddy’s Song
  2. Earl Gray
  3. One Together
  4. Tell Me All the Things You Do
  5. Mission Bell

-Stephen

Kiln House

https://www.allmusic.com/album/kiln-house-mw0000193528

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/fleetwood-mac-kiln-house/

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

September 3 – Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson

There’s a great deal of joy for me in the music I celebrate on this blog, and generally that’s where I prefer to focus my attention. But with that yin comes the inevitable yang. Beginning with the death of Brian Jones in July of 1969, followed by the darkness of the Manson murders the following month and Altamont in December of that year, the positive vibes of the Peace & Love movement had taken a major hit. The great music played on, but all was not well. Fatigue had set in due to the ongoing mess in Vietnam, riots at home, Kent State, etc. Drugs of choice had become more dangerous, and some folks weren’t equipped to handle it in the long term. Canned Heat co-founder, guitarist, harmonica virtuoso, and singer Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson was a casualty of the times. In the weeks and months following his passing, the bad news kept coming.

Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson – PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

The Massachusetts born Wilson became a musician, and specifically a serious blues enthusiast and student, at a young age. His falsetto vocal style was directly influenced by Skip James. Wilson also helped Son House re-learn his own songs after years away from music. He studied music at Boston University before moving to Los Angeles with guitarist John Fahey. It was Fahey who gave the extremely nearsighted, intellectual, and introverted Wilson his moniker, “Blind Owl.” In L.A. Wilson met Bob Hite, and together they formed what became one of the greatest blues rock bands of all time, Canned Heat. That band’s two most commercially successful singles, Going Up the Country and On the Road Again, feature Wilson on vocals (the latter song also featuring him on tambura, harmonica, and guitar).

Alan Wilson of Canned Heat - Rockers Who Died at Age 27

Unfortunately, Wilson was also prone to depression. He had spent a short time in an L.A. hospital after a suicide attempt a few months prior to his death, and on this day 50 years ago he was found behind bandmate Bob Hite’s Topanga Canyon home, dead from an overdose of barbituates. There was no note, and his death was officially ruled an accident. He left an important musical legacy in his brief time on Earth. Like Brian Jones, he championed the cause of the original blues masters who had been nearly forgotten, while creating some of the enduring sounds of the Woodstock Era. Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson: 7/4/43 – 9/3/70.

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Wilson_(musician)

 

August 3 – The End of an Era for Canned Heat

8/3/70: Canned Heat – Future Blues

For two or three years around the turn of the 1970’s, a handful of artists stepped away from the trend of heavy, self-important music to record albums that get the listener up off the couch and into boogie mode. A couple days ago we turned the spotlight on Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen, which I described as loose and sounding like a party taking place on stage. That album had counterparts in the blues rock idiom at the time such as Delaney & Bonnie: On Tour with Eric Clapton and Canned Heat’s Future Blues, the latter released 50 years ago today.

6 - Canned Heat - Future Blues - D - 1970--- | Klaus Hiltscher | Flickr

Future Blues was the band’s fifth album, and the last to feature most of the classic lineup. Larry Taylor and Harvey Mandel left the group after its recording and just before its release. Co-founder Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson passed away a month after its release, an unfortunate founding member of the 27 Club.

Alan Wilson of Canned Heat - Rockers Who Died at Age 27

This is widely considered to be one of their best albums. Future Blues was to critic Robert Christgau what Life Cereal was to Mikey… The band eschewed the extended jams they were also known for, sticking with more concise tracks mostly under three minutes long. The whole thing clocks in under 36 minutes as originally released. Future Blues is also noted for its stylistic diversity, from 1940’s jump blues on Skat (with horns arranged by Dr. John), to the darker London Blues (featuring Dr. John on piano) and heavy guitar of its most well known track, Let’s Work Together. This is not to say it’s a dark album, not by a long shot.

Canned Heat - Titel & Alben : Napster

Favorite tracks of mine include the straight forward blues of Sugar Bee and So Sad, both sung by Bob Hite, Charlie Patton’s Shake It and Break It sung by the Blind Owl, Arthur Crudup’s That’s All Right, Mama with Hite’s gravely vocal, as well as Wilson’s rolling but eerily prophetic My Time Ain’t Long and John Lee Hooker-influenced London Blues. When I think of American bands from that time, the “Woodstock Era,” Canned heat is one of the first to come to mind. Their combination of blues n’ boogie was unmatched to my ears. The vocal styles of Bob Hite and Alan Wilson couldn’t have been much more different, yet it was unquestionably Canned Heat regardless of who sang or how long the track was.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Sugar Bee
  2. Shake it and Break it
  3. That’s All Right (Mama)
  4. My Time Ain’t Long
  5. Skat
  6. Let’s Work Together

Side Two:

  1. London Blues
  2. So Sad (The World’s in a Tangle)
  3. Future Blues

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/release/future-blues-mr0000098435

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_Blues_(Canned_Heat_album)

June 26 – Free’s Breakthrough

6/26/70: Free – Fire and Water

The English rock band Free released their third album on this day 50 years ago. The band, consisting of vocalist Paul Rodgers, guitarist Paul Kossoff, bassist Andy Fraser, and drummer Simon Kirke, found themselves in a make or break situation with this recording after their first two albums garnered little attention. Recorded over the first half of June 1970 and clocking in at 35 minutes, Fire and Water reached number two on the U.K. album chart and 17 in the U.S. The album spawned the single All Right Now, a top five hit on both sides of the pond which remains a classic rock radio staple. Due to the album’s success, Free was invited to perform at the Isle of Wight Festival a few months later in front of 600,000 people.

Free - Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 - Amazon.com Music

This is a tight, rocking album which critics have favorably compared to Blind Faith, Cream, and Derek & the Dominos. I don’t disagree with that, but to me what stands out is that it was a harbinger of an album rock sound going forward in the 1970’s, whereas albums by those other bands mentioned were (in my mind, anyway), the sound of the end of the 60’s. The obvious comparison would be with Bad Company, and the reason I find that interesting is because Free released three more albums after this one in rapid succession, but didn’t find much acclaim. Yet when Bad Company – including Rodgers and Kirke from Free, Mick Ralphs of Mott the Hoople, and Boz Burrell from King Crimson – released their eponymous debut in ’74 they were off to the races with a sound not unlike Fire and Water – just with better production and presumably better promotion.

Andy Fraser, Free's Bassist, Dies at 62 - The New York Times

The title track could’ve also been the radio hit from the album (though off the top of my head I can’t think of another example of a song fading out to a drum solo). Oh I Wept displays Rodgers’ ability to have a soft touch with his vocal when called for. Remember has a nice, mellow groove with its congas (I can hear a bit of Traffic on this one), and Heavy Load sounds very much like a preview of Bad Company (Ready for Love, for example). And, of course, the enduring All Right Now: To me, this song is a good example of the power of great rock ‘n’ roll guitar riffs and driving rhythm that more than make up for lyrics lacking much depth.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Fire and Water
  2. Oh I Wept
  3. Remember
  4. Heavy Load

Side Two:

  1. Mr. Big
  2. Don’t Say You Love Me
  3. All Right Now

-Stephen

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/free-fire-and-water/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/fire-and-water-mw0000198572

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_and_Water_(Free_album)#Track_listing

 

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.

Image result for taste band 1970
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.

Related image
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 12 – Like a Lead Balloon…

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

How successful bands form is interesting to me, because there’s no set formula. Some were created when their members were kids or very young adults, and they maintained most if not all of their core (Beatles and Stones as obvious examples). At the other end of the spectrum are groups who came together less organically or not organically at all, such as the Monkees and Supertramp. One characteristic shared by all of them regardless of their level of success or fame is that their best material came when the core group was still intact.

220px-The_Monkees_1966.JPG    supertramp001-640x408.jpg

It would seem to take a heavy dose of respect by a musician for what his or her band had accomplished, as well as an awareness that what might lie ahead may not be as good as the past for those groups to call it quits when, for whatever reason(s), they are no longer a whole unit. Led Zeppelin is one such example of a group who knew when to move on, but today we celebrate their auspicious beginning.

6a00d8341c465d53ef0133ec8305df970b-800wi.jpg

The group formed as a vehicle for Jimmy Page to complete the legal (touring) obligations of the Yardbirds late in 1968, and Robert Plant wasn’t even his first choice as vocalist (that was Terry Reid). Page recruited John Paul Jones, and Plant brought in John Bonham. They realized very quickly they had good chemistry and decided to forge ahead, changing their moniker to Led Zeppelin after their brief Scandinavian tour as the New Yardbirds in September of 1968. They entered Olympic Studios shortly thereafter, and 50 years ago today their eponymous debut was released in the US (March 31 in the UK).

Led_Zeppelin_24958_008_01_z_l.jpg
Jay Thompson photo.

The album is a mix of originals, covers, and rearrangements of contemporary blues and folk songs whose performances by the likes of Joan Baez, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Willie Dixon, and Howlin’ Wolf inspired Page. The sessions lasted roughly 36 hours over a span of a few weeks in September and October of ’68 before the group even had a recording contract. It cost Page and manager Peter Grant less than £2,000 out of pocket to record the album. Page produced it and Glyn Johns engineered. Recording Led Zeppelin took such a short amount of time because most of the tracks had been well-rehearsed on the New Yardbirds tour preceding the sessions.

led-zeppelin-bath-festival-1969-chris-walter.jpg
Chris Walter photo.

Contemporary reviews were all over the board, apparently depending on what pill the reviewer had taken when listening to or writing about the album. John Mendelsohn in Rolling Stone ripped it as failing to do what the Jeff Beck Group had already failed to do: fill the void left by Cream. Melody Maker and the Village Voice were much kinder. Today it is rightly viewed as an essential British blues rock recording. This is one of those albums for me which contains no particular favorite tracks; they’re all good, whether on this album or live.

Random personal notes about the Led Zeppelin album:

  • The descending chord riff in Babe I’m Gonna Leave You always sounded familiar to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until one day it hit me: That’s Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4! (Of course, the Chicago song came after.) It turned out I wasn’t such a genius for noticing it – a music editor for LA Weekly made note of the similarity as well as that of the descending chord of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Maybe it’s just obvious and not all that interesting.
  • My uncle Chris, whom I’ve described elsewhere in these pages as the one who is, in a way, responsible for me starting this blog, is also the source of some current confusion for me. The “story, ” which I’ve “known” for about 35 years, goes something like this: He keeps his original copy of Led Zeppelin around for posterity. He no longer plays it because my aunt cannot stand Led Zeppelin, and, you see, one side of the vinyl was covered with ice cream during a wild party at his rented beach house in Virginia Beach where he lived during the summer of ’69 or ’70 while working as a lifeguard. Younger, more impressionable me: Right on! A heavy party at a beach house in 1970 with Led Zep cranked up on the turntable – I can DIG it! And of COURSE there was ice cream, wink wink, nudge nudge… Fast forward to a few days ago when I reached out to my uncle to confirm some details of the event, and the air was let out of the party balloon. In 2019 the only fact that remains is that ice cream was splattered on the vinyl. But now I learn that it was a relatively innocent birthday party held in the garage of my grandparents’ Hampton, VA home, and that it wasn’t Led Zeppelin, but the White Album. This is a very disappointing development. Though I love my late grandparents as well as the White Album, it’s just not the same. My uncle told me to go with what I thought the original story was if I wanted to, so I will. It coulda happened, man, it coulda happened…
  • This past summer, about a month shy of the 50th anniversary of the actual recording of this album, my now 18 year old son had a chance encounter with Robert Plant (and James Hetfield) at a resort in Colorado. I was pleased to hear that Robert was nice to my kid. He declined to be photographed (understandable in today’s over-selfied social media world), but he was pleasant and chatted about how amazed he is that yet another generation is being turned on to this music. Good stuff.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Good Times Bad Times
  2. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
  3. You Shook Me
  4. Dazed and Confused

Side Two:

  1. Your Time is Gonna Come
  2. Black Mountain Side
  3. Communication Breakdown
  4. I Can’t Quit You Baby
  5. How Many More Times

-Stephen

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

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/led-zeppelin-i-187298/

Album Review: Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin I [Reissue]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/25_or_6_to_4

November 1 – Canned Heat’s Blues (and Flower) Power

Canned Heat – Living the Blues

Why do I continue to take Canned Heat’s music for granted?  Every time I listen to them I’m blown away at their combination of simplicity and virtuosity.  As with other well-known artists of the day, Canned Heat paid homage to the greats with their style of blues ‘n boogie.  But theirs was a uniquely American sound.  And as the world found out the following summer, they were just as at-home in front of massive audiences as they were in bars.

Canned-Heat-Bob-Hite.jpg

The classic lineup’s double LP Living the Blues, their second album of 1968 and third overall, was released on this date with guest appearances by John Mayall (piano on Walking by Myself) and Dr. John (Boogie Music).  And with it, they continued to make their mark on the late-60’s music scene while bringing a classic American genre to the fore.

Canned Heat 4.jpg

They also showed on this release that they could stretch it out and jam with the best of them.  While Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson’s Going Up the Country, along with his On the Road Again from Boogie with Canned Heat earlier in the year, are their trademark tunes with a permanent place on the Counter Culture’s Greatest Hits, Canned Heat were so much more.  The 20-minute Parthenogenesis which takes up nearly all of side two, and the 41-minute Refried Boogie, which consumes the entire second disc of the album, showed they could bring serious crunch to the blues.  Other great tracks here are Charley Patton’s Pony Blues and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s One Kind Favor, both powerfully delivered by Bob Hite.

AllMusic’s Lindsay Planer writes, “Living the Blues stands as a testament to Canned Heat’s prowess as modernizers of the blues and recommended as one of the most cohesive works from this incarnation.”  It’s pure, unpretentious, joyful music.

 

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Pony Blues
  2. My Mistake
  3. Sandy’s Blues
  4. Going Up the Country
  5. Walking by Myself
  6. Boogie Music

Side Two:

  1. One Kind Favor
  2. Parthenogenesis:   I. Nebulosity  II. Rollin’ and Tumblin’   III. Five Owls  IV. Bear -Wires  V.  Snooky Flowers   VI. Sunflower Power (RMS is Truth) VII. Raga Kafi  VII. Icebag  IX. Childhood’s End

Side Three:

  1. Refried Boogie (Pt. 1)

Side Four:

  1. Refried Boogie (Pt. 2)

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/living-the-blues-mw0000006464

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

http://ppcorn.com/us/canned-heat-living-blues/