January ’69 – A Bert Jansch Folk & Blues Classic

Bert Jansch – Birthday Blues

In the late 1960’s and early ’70’s there was seemingly an alternate universe of musicians and bands happening right alongside the mega groups, and in some cases (cough Led Zeppelin cough) they were a serious influence, even providing the only female vocal ever heard on a song by that parenthetical band. This was a British world of mostly acoustic “folk revival” performers including Davey Graham, Nick Drake, Al Stewart, the Pentangle, Fairport Convention, and the duo and solo acts within those groups (John Renbourn, Sandy Denny, and Richard Thompson, to name a few). There were, of course, many more. One of them was Renbourn’s duo counterpart and fellow member of the Pentangle, Scotsman Bert Jansch. He released his fifth solo album, Birthday Blues, 50 years ago this month.

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The Pentangle had just released its pinnacle album Basket of Light, and Birthday Blues is basically a Pentangle album without singer Jacqui McShee or fellow guitarist Renbourn (he’s backed by the band’s rhythm section of Danny Thompson and Terry Cox on this release). It is considered Jansch’s most “pop” record, but it’s firmly in the folk and blues genre. It’s alternatively playful and moody, as the album’s title suggests. Jansch was a dynamic guitarist with a distinctive singing voice – a good combination – so if you like this style of music, there’s a lot to enjoy on this release. Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell is a beautiful instrumental inspired by his wife, who also designed the album cover. Poison is a haunting track on the folk rock side of things with heavier drums and an eerie guitar and harmonica that give a feeling of foreboding. A Woman Like You is another one in that vein.

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Trying to recall what inspired me to learn about Bert Jansch, it was probably a Roots of Led Zeppelin sampler CD that came attached to an issue of MOJO Magazine or one like it around 2003 with Jansch’s 1966 take on the traditional Blackwater Side. I purchased a Best of Bert Jansch CD and was on my way. It didn’t occur to me at the time to even bother looking into whether or not he still performed live. Even if he did, it seemed highly unlikely he would pass through Texas. Then one day in 2010 I read he was going to perform at the local symphony hall – opening for and performing with Neil Young! Then I looked at the ticket prices.  Then I looked at my bank account. Wasn’t happening. A little over a year later Jansch died of lung cancer. Missing that show is a big music regret of mine.

Tracklist

Side A:

  1. Come Sing Me a Happy Song to Prove We Can All Get Along the Lumpy, Bumpy, Long & Dusty Road
  2. The Bright New Year
  3. Tree Song
  4. Poison
  5. Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell
  6. I’ve Got a Woman

Side B:

  1. A Woman Like You
  2. I Am Lonely
  3. Promised Land
  4. Birthday Blues
  5. Wishing Well
  6. Blues

-Stephen

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

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/birthday-blues-mw0000205948

Bert Jansch – Birthday Blues LP

 

 

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

September 1968 Wrap Up – A Singularly Singles-Oriented Month

September of 1968 was the quietest month of the year on the 33 1/3 rpm scene, but there were a handful of significant singles releases, some of which continue to maintain a cozy existence on oldies radio stations heard in dentist’s offices across the land.  Let’s give ’em a spin and move on to October, what say ye?

9/7/68  Led Zeppelin perform for the first time as The New Yardbirds:  Jimmy Page and his new recruits played their first gig – a show booked while the Yardbirds were still together for which there was still a contractual obligation to play.  It was held at the Gladsaxe Teen Club of Gladsaxe, Denmark.

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9/68  Three Dog Night – Single:  One

One, so they say, is the loneliest number.  It’s also a number that was written by Harry Nilsson.  It was the second single from Three Dog Night’s first album, and it reached #5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

9/68  The Turtles – Single:  Elenore

This track was included on LP The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, and was a satire of their own hit record, Happy Together, which their label wanted them to record more songs like.  It reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Oddly, Elenore, their satire of Happy Together, also sounds kind of like Three Dog Night’s version of Harry Nilsson’s One.  Hmm…

9/68  Steppenwolf – Single:  Magic Carpet Ride

This was the lead single from Steppenwolf’s second album, thoughtfully titled The Second.  Good late-60’s guitar and keyboard driven rock music.

9/68  Gordon Lightfoot – Single:  Bitter Green

While not a major hit – not even in Canada (peaking at #44) – this is one of the earlier tunes of Lightfoot’s that I like.

9/18/68  The Who – Single:  Magic Bus

Magic Bus was written by Pete Townshend in 1965, but not recorded until May 1968.  It wasn’t a particularly successful single, but went on to become one of the Who’s more famous tunes.  I wwaaaaanit, I wwaaaaaanit…(You caaaaaaaan’t have it!)

9/30/68  Diana Ross & the Supremes – Single:  Love Child

No longer known simply as the Supremes, this Motown track is from their LP of the same title, and it reached #1.

-Stephen

http://ultimateclassicrock.com/led-zeppelin-first-concert/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_(Harry_Nilsson_song)

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_Carpet_Ride_(Steppenwolf_song)

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

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

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