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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Going Up the Country
Walking by Myself
One Kind Favor
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