Tuesday, November 14, 2017

VIDEO: 23-Year-Old Eric Clapton Demonstrates the Elements of His Guitar Sound (1968)

by Mike Springer, Open Culture: 

In the fall of 1968, Eric Clapton was 23 years old and at the height of his creative powers. His band, Cream, was on its farewell tour of America when a film crew from the BBC caught up with the group and asked the young guitar virtuoso to show how he created his distinctive sound.

The result is a fascinating four-minute tour of Clapton’s technique. He begins by demonstrating the wide range of tones he could achieve by varying the settings on his psychedelically painted 1964 Gibson SG Standard guitar. His wah-wah pedal (an early Vox model) was critical to the sound of so many Cream classics, like “Tales of Brave Ulysses.” In the film, Clapton really has to stomp on it to get it working.

One of the most difficult skills to master, Clapton says, is the vibrato. In a 1970 interview with Guitar Player magazine he goes into more detail: “When I stretch strings,” he says, “I hook my thumb around the neck of the guitar. A lot of guitarists stretch strings with just their hand free. The only way I can do it is if I have my whole hand around the neck—actually gripping onto it with my thumb. That somehow gives me more of a rocking action with my hand and wrist.” If you watch the BBC clip closely you will see this in action.

The interview was conducted with Clapton seated in front of his famous stack of Marshall amplifiers. In the Guitar Player
interview, however, he admits he rarely used both at the same time. “I always had two Marshalls set up to play through,” he says, “but I think it was just so I could have one as a spare. I usually used only one 100-watt amp.”

Clapton’s demonstration (along with interviews of bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker) was incorporated into Tony Palmer’s film of Cream's Farewell Concert, which took place on November 21, 1968 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The original six-song version of Cream's Farewell Concert is available on YouTube. An extended 14-song version is available for purchase here.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The 10 Best John Lennon Songs You May Have Never Heard

Because his life was cut so short, and also in part due to his long “house-husband” phase in the late ‘70s, John Lennon released only seven post-Beatle studio albums — some in conjunction with wife Yoko Ono. It’s impressive that during that short span and with a relatively small output, so much of Lennon’s solo material made a significant impact. Yet there are still album tracks whose airplay and exposure pale in comparison to the mammoth hits still ingrained in the culture. In that spirit, here are ten John Lennon songs which deserve a little more recognition than they currently enjoy.
1. “Isolation” (1970)
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was the album on which Lennon finally got to say everything he wanted without having to worry about operating under the Beatle banner. He used the opportunity to lay bare his demons in harrowing, haunting songs that were often screamed more than sung. But on this restrained (for the most part) track, he sings almost meekly over somber piano chords about his all-encompassing fear (“We’re afraid of everyone / Afraid of the sun”) and loneliness, his cries for help made clearer without any Beatlesque exuberance to hide them.
2. “Crippled Inside” (1971)
On his second proper solo release, Lennon was canny enough to realize he needed more than just critical appreciation, which is why Imagine is filled with accessible melodies and lush production. In many ways, “Crippled Inside” deals with similar subject matter as the songs on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. But it’s delivered with saloon piano (played by studio ace Nicky Hopkins), a frisky dobro solo (from George Harrison) and cheeky enthusiasm from Lennon. The end result is as catchy a song about inner torment as you’re likely to encounter.
3. “New York City” (1972)
Well-intentioned as it might have been, Some Time in New York City was a misstep, as Lennon proved a surprisingly heavy-handed protest singer. But this playful rocker survives the wreckage with its humor intact. The music is a bit shambolic, but achieves some excellent forward momentum; Lennon’s recounting of his time in the Big Apple, complete with bizarre characters and welcoming landmarks, proves that he could do a Chuck Berry homage as well as anybody.
4. “Tight A$” (1973)
Mick Jagger gets all the credit for songs with salacious intent, but Lennon was no slouch in that department. This funky rocker from Mind Games shows him indulging in some naughty wordplay and barely-couched innuendo. That’s not enough to make a song, which is why the excellent chemistry from the studio band (with the invaluable Jim Keltner providing the backbeat) is so important. The Carl Perkins influence is palpable — even if Carl might have blushed at the lyrics.
5. “Aisumasen (I’m Sorry)” (1973)
Lennon’s separation from Yoko Ono (around the time that Mind Games was recorded) seems to be the inspiration for this ballad. It strolls along at a measured pace, giving ample room for Lennon to emote with his lead vocal. There’s nothing too fancy going on here, yet Lennon’s uncanny ability to evoke pain and vulnerability is enough to push this song a long way. This one is largely forgotten, coming as it did on an uneven album, but it has soul to spare.
6. “Steel and Glass” (1974)
Beatle fans might not have been too happy to hear Lennon savaging Allen Klein, since the lawyer took hisside over Paul McCartney during the Fab Four’s breakup wars. But there’s no denying how effectively he takes Klein apart in this song from Walls and Bridges. The fact that he reuses many of the same riffs that he used in “How Do You Sleep?” (his takedown of McCartney from a few years earlier) seems like Lennon’s tacit admission that he may have backed the wrong horse.
7. “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)” (1974)
Lennon allegedly wrote this song with Frank Sinatra in mind, but he actually provides a telling snapshot of his own emotional health (or lack thereof) in this after-hours ballad from Walls and Bridges. It reflects both the emptiness of fame (“It’s all showbiz,” he drily laments) and his loneliness without Ono. Jesse Ed Davis adds a weeping guitar solo that plays beautifully on the drunken horns. Mid-‘70s Lennon often gets overlooked, but this stunner is evidence that that era should get another glance.
8. “Just Because” (1975)
This 1975 album (Rock ‘n’ Roll), with production by Lennon and Phil Spector, casts a hazy cloud on many early rock chestnuts. However, they get it right on the album’s closing track, largely by getting out of the way of this Lloyd Price classic and letting Lennon (or “Dr. Winston O’Boogie” as he calls himself here), wringing every last bit emotion out of the descending melody. It’s far and away his finest interpretation on the record.
9. “I’m Losing You” (1980)
Many people forget that Double Fantasy was actually an album split right down the middle, between performances by Lennon and Yoko Ono. As a result, most of Lennon’s songs on the project either became huge hits in the aftermath of his death or have become well-known since. “I’m Losing You” sort of slips through the cracks,  perhaps because it bucks the perceived notion of the album as one filled with marital bliss. Instead, it’s a bluesy rocker that includes some of Lennon’s grittiest vocals since the Plastic Ono Band days.
10. “I Don’t Want to Face It” (1984)
Right before his death, Lennon was clearly energized to re-enter the recording world, so much so that he had recorded nearly enough material for a follow-up to Double Fantasy. Those songs were collected on a posthumous release in 1984, entitled Milk and Honey. “Nobody Told Me” became a hit, and “Grow Old With Me” became one for the ages. But this rip-roaring track, complete with Lennon’s faux-German count-in and his falsetto vocals, features him dissecting hypocrisy with all of the old humor and insight intact.
PS.  Read about some great, underrated solo tracks by Lennon’s Beatle bandmates George Harrison and Paul McCartney.
Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Film Review: ‘My Generation’

by , Variety.com: http://variety.com/2017/film/reviews/my-generation-review-1202595221/
David Batty
Michael Caine
85 minutes

Official Site: 
There’s a tremendous amount of pleasure to be had in David Batty’s “My Generation,” a sloppy wet kiss to Michael Caine and British youth culture of the 1960s. Loaded with great footage from the era and accompanied by superbly cleaned-up music tracks from the Kinks, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and many others, this love letter-as-documentary offers 85 minutes of good old fun. What it doesn’t do is posit any genuine analysis or even make a head-nod to diversity. But this is Caine’s narrative about the unapologetic working class taking over popular culture, and the writers as well as music mogul Simon Fuller, acting as top producer, have no interest in countering their star’s gleefully empowering chronicle of his youth. Voiceover interviews with such key players of the era as Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithfull, Twiggy and Mary Quant add to the overall feast, making the film an attractive offering for all platforms.

Britain in the 1950s was dull, announces Caine, though doesn’t every generation say that about the era before their own gloriously self-satisfied arrival? What’s undeniable is the momentous shift toward youth culture beginning in the 1960s, as well as the opening up of opportunities for white working-class creative types who no longer submitted to makeovers designed to smooth out their roughness. In one of the more telling anecdotes, Caine talks about auditioning for “Zulu,” his breakthrough role, and accurately suggests that had the director, Cy Endfield, been British instead of American, Caine’s working class London accent would have eliminated any hope of being cast in the role of an upper-class officer. That’s an undeniable fact.

Far more shaky is the suggestion that the working class in the 1960s was the first generation in Britain to thumb its collective nose at convention. On-the-street interviews from the era with stuffed shirts bemoaning the appearance of long-haired men in flowery blouses expose middle-class attitudes, but the filmmakers choose to ignore the fact that the upper class has always played with transgression in ways designed to shock the bourgeoisie. What made the 1960s different was that the working class was playing the same game, and emulating “our betters” was no longer an acceptable form of behavior. Nor was emulating our elders: Freedom from convention was the hallmark of a social revolution that impacted everything from art, music and clothing to changing concepts of morality. Of course, every Englishman knows the class system remains the key determinant of opportunity, but in the art and entertainment world, coming from the wrong side of the tracks is actually now more desirable than a boarding school certificate, and that’s definitely due to the upheavals of the 1960s.

Batty divides the film into three parts, roughly corresponding to the awakening, the flourishing and the decline of 1960s pop culture. Alongside nods to expected historic markers like the Beatles performing at Liverpool’s Cavern Club are more unanticipated moments, such as Roger Daltry talking about the profound impact of seeing Elvis perform: “For the first time in my life, I saw someone who was free.” That’s about the only time in the film there’s a mention of transatlantic influences on the British scene.

From there, the documentary plunges headlong into the intoxicating psychedelic playpen of Pop Art, Vidal Sassoon haircuts, and Mary Quant micro-miniskirts, reminding audiences (or teaching them for the first time) that in the 1960s, color and pattern were transgressive and hip, unlike today’s tediously conformist black monochromaticity. Suddenly, thanks to the British Invasion, being young and British meant you were cool, stylish and glam, tuned into the best music, clothes and art movements. Models such as Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy set new standards for beauty, and groups like the Animals, the Kinks, the Stones and of course the Beatles set the tone, guiding a generation from the innocent charm of “Love Me Do” to the raucous hunger of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” By the end of the decade, hedonism took a darker turn. The Vietnam War acted as a political coming of age, and the destructive nature of so much heavy drug use began to take its toll, symbolized by the death of Brian Jones and Faithfull’s near-fatal drug overdose, both in 1969.

For Caine, “My Generation” is a chance to look back in nostalgic delight at his salad days, allowing him to gamely reminisce about his time as one of the “it” boys of London. He even gets to swan around in the original Aston Martin DB4 he drove in “The Italian Job.” None of the others interviewed are seen on screen — whether that’s because the producers wanted to maintain the aura of 1960s youth, or it was the only way to get these people to talk, remains open for speculation. It’s also likely that writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais allowed themselves to be guided by Caine’s insistence on working-class culture, ignoring the fact that some of those included, most especially Faithfull, are from posh backgrounds.

If you set aside analytical skills however, it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the wealth of archival clips accompanied by fantastic music tracks that seem to have been remastered for the occasion (lord knows how much all the music rights must have cost). Ben Hilton’s editing successfully crams in a great deal without a sense of whiplash.

Film Review: 'My Generation'
Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Out of Competition), Sept. 4, 2017. (Also in London Film Festival – Journey.)
PRODUCTION: (Documentary — U.K.) An XIX Entertainment presentation, in association with IM Global, of a Raymi Films production, in association with Ingenious Media. (International sales: IM Global, Los Angeles.)  Producers: Simon Fuller, Michael Caine, Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly. Executive producer: James Clayton. Co-producer: Ben Hilton. CREW: Director: David Batty. Writers: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais. Camera (color): Ben Hodgson. Editor: Ben Hilton. Music supervisor: Tarquin Gotch.
WITH: Michael CaineVoices of David Bailey, Twiggy, Terry O’Neill, Roger Daltrey, Marianne Faithfull, Paul McCartney, Lulu, Joan Collins, Sandie Shaw, Penelope Tree, Dudley Edwards, Mary Quant, Mim Scala, David Putnam, Barbara Hulanicki.

Monday, October 23, 2017

VIDEOS: When Pink Floyd Tried to Make an Album with Household Objects: Hear Two Surviving Tracks Made with Wine Glasses and Rubber Bands

by , Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2017/09/when-pink-floyd-tried-to-make-an-album-with-household-objects.html

There are bands one casually encounters through greatest hits or breakthrough albums, on which they sound exactly like themselves and no one else. It’s impossible to imagine anyone but Fleetwood Mac making Rumors or Tusk. Or anyone but Pink Floyd recording Wish You Were Here or Dark Side of the Moon. But just like Fleetwood Mac, when we look back before Floyd’s best-known work, we find, as Mark Blake writes at Team Rock, that “they were a very different proposition.”
And yet it wasn't that Pink Floyd radically shuffled the lineup—though they had, since their first album, lost founding singer and guitarist Syd Barrett to mental illness and taken on David Gilmour to replace him. It’s that the same four musicians who re-invented psych-rock in the early 70s with “Money,” “Time,” and “Great Gig in the Sky,” sounded nothing like that blues/funk/disco/prog hybrid in the late 60s. Some of the same elements were there—the sardonic sense of humor, love for sound effects and extended jam sessions—but they cohered in much more alien and experimental shapes.

The title track of 1968’s Saucerful of Secrets, for example, opens with four minutes of dissonant horror-movie organ drones, which give way to primal drumming around which piano chords and sci-fi noises fall haphazardly, then resolve in a closing wordless choral passage. Not a single, cynical lyric about the pains of modern life to be found. The following year’s Ummagumma continued to build the band’s experimental foundations, and in-between these projects, they recorded film soundtracks that, again, do not make one think of laser-lit arena rock shows.
But there is plenty of connective tissue between the various phases of Floyd, much of it, like the bulk of their 1970 soundtrack for Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, officially unreleased. We can add to that list an attempted album called Household Objects, which they began in 1970 and abandoned in ’74. The project, drummer Nick Mason admitted, represents the then-largely-instrumental band “still looking for a coherent direction,” and in so doing, abandoning instruments altogether. On Household Objects, they made serendipitous discoveries using—as the title clearly stated—found sounds, in the vein of John Cage or the avant-garde composers of musique concrete.
In 1971, Abbey Road studios tape operator John Leckie, who went on to produce the heavily Floyd-influenced Muse, remembers the band “making chords up from the tapping of beer bottles, tearing newspapers for rhythm, and letting off aerosol cans to get a hi-hat sound.” Keyboardist Richard Wright recalls spending “days getting a pencil and a rubber band till it sounded like a bass.” The idea began two years earlier when the band performed a composition called Work that “involved,” writes Blake, “sawing wood and boiling kettles on stage.”
Household Objects recording sessions, writes Rolling Stone, “consisted of Pink Floyd playing songs on hand mixers, light bulbs, wood saws, hammers, brooms and other home appliances. Recording in this manner was excruciating.” Wright and Gilmour grew exasperated and the band moved on to other things, namely Wish You Were Here. All that seemingly remains of Household Objects are the two tracks here, “The Hard Way” (an instance where rubber bands sound like a bass) and “Wine Glasses,” the latter employing, you guessed it, wine glasses. But like so much of Floyd’s lesser-known or forgotten experimental work, these sessions created the backdrop for their more accessible hits. “Wine Glasses” survived in “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” In the video just above, you can see David Gilmour work out the glass arrangements for his performance of the song in the 2006 Royal Albert Hall concert film Remember That Night.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Smithsonian Presents a Gallery of 6,000+ Rare Rock ‘n Roll Photos on a Crowdsourced Web Site, and Now a New Book

Rock photography is an art form in itself, as demonstrated by books and exhibitions of some of its masters like Mick Rock, Jenny Lens, Pennie Smith, and so many others. But two years ago, the Smithsonian turned to the crowd, to the fan, to the amateur photographer, with a call to submit photos from over six decades of rock and roll that weren’t hanging on gallery walls, but sitting in a shoebox somewhere. From fans with instamatic cameras to amateurs covering concerts for their school paper, the Smithsonian wanted another angle on our cultural obsession.
Many of the contributions now live on a crowdsourced website. And a resulting book Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen collects the best of these in a chronological history of the genre, from post-war blues to the late 20th century. It will be officially released on October 24, though you can pre-order now.
Websites Mashable and Dangerous Minds present a selection of photos from the book, such as a shot of Sly Stone at the height of his powers (and belt buckle size), a pic of the Talking Heads on stage in Berkeley, 1977; a dark and mysterious glimpse of Bonnie Raitt, circa 1974; and a shot of Cream playing the Chicago Coliseum taken from the side of the stage, with Ginger Baker’s head a complete blur. Also find Joni Mitchell at Kleinhans Music Hall. And The Ramones in Tempe, Arizona, circa 1978.
Bonnie Raitt at the Harvard Square Theatre, by Barry Schneier/Smithsonian Books
It’s a reminder of how unpretentious these live shows could be, happening in a world with the simplest of lighting rigs and decades from the big screen projections even up-and-coming bands now indulge in. For the most part, this was an intimate contract between the artist and the audience, all crammed into small clubs with smoke, sweat, heat, and, most importantly, electricity in the air.
The new book also features tales from the people who took the photos, along with some more professional photos to “flesh out this overview of rock and roll,” according to the introduction by organizer Bill Bentley. He adds: "The results, spanning six decades, aim for neither encyclopedic authority nor comprehensive finality, but rather an index of supreme influence."
The Ramones in Tempe, Arizona, by Dorian Boese/Smithsonian Books
That supreme influence continues to be felt, for sure. Although the submission window is now closed, the Smithsonian's website allows you to look through the hundreds of submissions to the project.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

VIDEO: Inside the 1969 Bob Dylan-Johnny Cash Sessions

by Mike Springer, Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2012/06/the_1969_bob_dylan-johnny_cash_sessions_twelve_rare_recordings.html

Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash had formed a mutual admiration society even before they met in the early 1960s.
"Of course, I knew of him before he ever heard of me," Dylan wrote shortly after Cash's death in 2003. "In '55 or '56, 'I Walk the Line' played all summer on the radio, and it was different than anything else you had ever heard. The record sounded like a voice from the middle of the Earth. It was so powerful and moving."
When the young Dylan arrived on the scene in 1962, Cash was impressed.
"I was deeply into folk music in the early 1960s," he wrote in Cash: The Autobiography, "both the authentic songs from various periods and areas of American life and the new 'folk revival' songs of the time, so I took note of Bob Dylan as soon as the Bob Dylan album came out in early '62 and listened almost constantly to The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan in '63. I had a portable record player I'd take along on the road, and I'd put on Freewheelin' backstage, then go out and do my show, then listen again as soon as I came off."
Cash wrote the young Dylan a fan letter, and they began corresponding. When they met at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, Cash gave Dylan his guitar as a gesture of respect and admiration. Five years later, when Dylan was in Nashville recording his ninth studio album, Cash was recording in the studio next door. He decided to drop in. On February 17 and 18, 1969, Cash and Dylan recorded more than a dozen duets. Only one of them, a version of Dylan's "Girl From the North Country," made it onto the album, Nashville Skyline. The others were never officially released, but have long been circulating as bootlegs. In the video above, Dylan and Cash work on one of two versions they made of "One Too Many Mornings," a song originally recorded by Dylan in 1964 for The Times They Are a-Changin'.  The outtakes Dylan and Cash recorded together are all scattered around Youtube. One Youtuber posted a compilation back in 2013.
A few weeks after the release of Nashville Skyline, Dylan and Cash performed "Girl From the North Country" on The Johnny Cash Show. It was taped on May 1, 1969 at the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. A rough video clip (around the 30 minute mark) captures the moment. Despite Dylan's reported nervousness, the performance was well-received. "I didn't feel anything about it," Cash said later. "But everybody said it was the most magnetic, powerful thing they ever heard in their life. They were just raving about electricity and magnetism. And all I did was just sit there hitting G chords."

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ready for Their Closeups: The Top 5 Beatles Music Videos

Let’s put aside their individual mega-hits post-breakup like “Imagine,”
“Band on the Run,” and “Got My Mind Set on You.” Let’s also take out of 
consideration such memorable covers as Marvin Gaye’s exquisite
rendition of “Yesterday” and The Fifth Dimension’s rockin’ “I’ve Got a 
Feeling.” Instead, let’s focus specifically on the official videos on YouTube
— in particular, on The Beatles Vevo channel. What are people watching 
when it comes to Fab Four songs? Well first and foremost, it is not “Let It 
Be.” Below is a list of the five music videos with the most views to date on 
Vevo. At least so far …
1. “Don’t Let Me Down”: 88 million plays and counting
It might not feature their most beloved song or their most popular one but
this video does commemorate the Fab Four’s final public performance via
their immortal rooftop concert at Apple Studios in London circa 1969 —
with both Lennon and Harrison decked out in furs, McCartney sporting a
thick beard, and Ringo upstaging them all with his red plastic jacket. Pay 
close attention and you’ll spot Billy Preston accompanying the guys on 
the keyboards, too.
2. “Hey Jude”: 74 million plays and counting
First seen on the fairly short-lived Frost on Sunday on LWT (a.k.a. London
Weekend Television) in 1968, this video encored in America on The 
Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour later that same year. Stick around past
the 47-second intro and you’re brought up close to McCartney’s face
singing straight into the camera, with some cut-aways to the other band
members — most memorably a gum-chewing Lennon who looks to be
making faces at McCartney at one point in an attempt to make him laugh.
The emergence of a studio audience onstage at the end doubles as a
time capsule of period fashions.
3. “Hello, Goodbye”: 56 million plays and counting
The eye-popping, candy-colored, silken military uniforms of Sgt. Pepper‘s
fame may partially distract you from some lip syncing that doesn’t always
sync up and those preposterous hulu dancers who suddenly pop up at
the end. This is actually one of a trio of videos that McCartney himself
directed for the song and it debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show in
November 1967. (It was banned on Britain’s Top of the Pops because of
its illegal use of miming!)
4. “A Day in the Life”: 48 million plays and counting
Given the song pays homage to avant-garde titans John Cage and
Karlheinz Stockhausen among others, the video’s experimental feel —
part light show, part cinema verite, part family home movies — feels
perfectly appropriate. Quick glimpses of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
amid a montage of increasingly hallucinatory power adds a layer of
glamor. Why are the tuxedoed orchestra members wearing
strange noses and silly hats? Because they were asked to!
5. “Penny Lane”: 44 millions plays and counting
Deemed by none other than the Museum of Modern Art to be among the
most influential music promos of its time, this 1967 short was helmed by
Peter Emmanuel Goldman, a now largely-forgotten director who
Susan Sontag referred to as “the most exciting filmmaker in recent years.”
So decades before MTV came into existence, The Beatles were ahead
of their time in yet another art form: the music video.
– The CS Team
Photo: Keystone/Stringer (courtesy Getty Images)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hear Lost Acetate Versions of Songs from The Velvet Underground & Nico (1966)

by , Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2013/01/hear_newly_released_material_from_ithe_velvet_underground_nicosi_lost_acetate_version_1966.html

While the first Velvet Underground album may only have sold 30,000 copies, everyone who bought one started a band. You know, if you have even a faint acquaintance with rock history, that that well-worn observation comes from producer, artistic innovator, and "non-musician" musician Brian Eno.

And whether you could get into it or not, you've no doubt heard at least parts of that first album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, the 1967 release that brought together such soon-to-be rock luminaries as Lou Reed, John Cale, and the titular German vocalist/Warhol Superstar Nico.

The whole album, in fact, appeared under Warhol's aegis, and like most works associated with him, it tends to push opinions far in one direction or the other. The Velvet Undergound & Nico may still move you to found a rock band - or to scrap your interest in rock altogether - 45 years after its first release.

I refer to the record's "first release" because it's recently undergone a couple more, both of which originate in a version never even intended for market. "In 2002, a fellow paid 75 cents at a New York City flea market for a curious acetate recording of the Velvet Underground," reports Boing Boing's David Pescovitz.

"Turns out, the acetate contained early recorded takes and mixes of songs in different form." That man had stumbled upon the coveted Scepter Studios acetate version of the album that launched 30,000 bands, bootleg files of which soon began circulating on the net.

The acetate received a legitimate release last year as part of The Velvet Underground & Nico's "45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition," and you can hear cuts from it, like "Heroin" at the top of this post and "All Tomorrow's Parties" just above. For Velvet Underground purists, of course, only hearing the acetate disc itself will do. They'll have a hard time doing so - it last changed hands for $25,200 - but luckily they can now get at least one step closer with its brand new vinyl release.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Live Yardbirds Tracks Coming Home to Roost

Yardbirds live recording
No bull: The long-lost Yardbirds live recording of 1968 is making a comeback.
Due Nov. 5, “Yardbirds ’68” contains the Anderson Theatre recordings of late March 1968. That NYC set — complete with bogus audience cheers reputedly taken from bullfights — was released in 1971 as “Live Yardbirds: Featuring Jimmy Page” and later withdrawn after protests from group members.
“Yardbirds ’68” also contains eight “studio sketches” tracks from the period.
The new 18-track album was produced by Jimmy Page. The mastering is credited to John Davis, who worked with Page on the Led Zeppelin remasters of several years back.
The Anderson Theatre songs are highlighted by “Dazed and Confused” — the famed psychedelic Led Zeppelin track developed while Page was a Yardbird — as well as his guitar instrumental showcase “White Summer,” a number also shared by the two bands.
Other live tracks include “Train Kept A Rollin,'” “Over Under Sideways Down” and an expanded “I’m a Man.” (“Dazed and Confused” was mistitled “I’m Confused” on the original live album.)
The lineup remained the quartet from “Little Games,” the last studio album. Attempts to record another album for Columbia fizzled and the hitmaking British band broke up in the summer of 1968.
A statement from Yardbirds survivors Jim McCarty, Chris Dreja and Page reads: “We thought this might be lost forever, but we’ve rediscovered it, remixed it. It’s of great historical importance. We’re delighted to see the release.” (Singer Keith Relf, the fourth member of the 1968 Yardbirds, died eight years later.)
“Yardbirds ’68” debuts on double CD, vinyl at standard pricing — and in a pricey “Signed Deluxe Edition” with signatures of Page, McCarty and Dreja. The signed collector’s version goes for just north of $500. So far, the album is only available for preorder on Page’s British web site
The new album, alas, comes without James Grashow’s beloved woodcut of a bird above New York City (above, right). That cover has been replaced by a psychedelic painting featuring the Yardbirds logo that retains the purple color scheme (top).
The spring of 1968 found the Yardbirds in a strange place. The group’s last attempt at a single, “Goodnight Sweet Josephine,” flopped. Guitarist Page wanted to continue with the psychedelics of late-period Yardbirds tracks such as “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago.” Relf sought a classical-folk fusion. And audiences demanded the hits such as “Heart Full of Soul.”
When the Yardbirds played the Anderson, they already had decided to break up. They played their last show a few months later in L.A.
Page, particularly, objected to Epic Records’ two releases of the “Live Yardbirds” album, which was perceived as a cash-in on the success of his Led Zeppelin. After a 1976 revival of the live album by Columbia Special Products, Page reportedly took legal action and had album materials destroyed or returned to the band. Both versions of the live album remained collector’s item for decades and were heavily bootlegged. The post-production shenanigans such as the bullfight cheers are attributed to the poor original recording done at the Anderson. Those adds-on do not appear on the source tapes and will not be heard on the new album.
The “Yardbirds ’68” studio tracks mostly feature drummer McCarty on vocals, as singer Relf was fading from the band at that point. The producer was Manny Kellem (“Love Is Blue”), who apparently recommended the project be abandoned. Some of the studio tracks surfaced in rough mixes on the (since withdrawn) Yardbirds odds-and-sods album “Cumular Limit” of 2000, although the latest versions may differ and almost certainly will benefit from improved sonics.
The studio tracks:
  • Avron Knows
  • Spanish Blood
  • Knowing That I’m Losing You (Tangerine)
  • Taking a Hold on Me
  • Drinking Muddy Water (version 2)
  • My Baby
  • Avron’s Eyes
  • Spanish Blood
“Knowing That I’m Losing You” was reworked as “Tangerine” on Led Zeppelin’s third album.
McCarty continues to tour with a version of the Yardbirds. Dreja was a member of 21st century Yardbirds lineups but apparently has retired due to health issues. McCarty’s Yardbirds are expected to release a studio album next year.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What Happened To Savoy Brown?

by Jim Farber, Music Aficionado: https://web.musicaficionado.com/main.html?utm_source=email&utm_campaign=WeeklyRecommendations#!/article/what_happened_to_savoy_brown_by_jimfarber


Savoy Brown has never had a song on the pop charts and none of their albums have ever inched above the top thirty anywhere in the world. Yet, for aficionados of British blues, they hold a unique place. Between 1967 and 1974, Savoy Brown released nearly a dozen notable albums that took a holistic approach to the blues, snaking through an ever-evolving mix of boogie, R&B, jazz, and psychedelic rock.

The story of how those albums came to be contains a drama rife with personality clashes, exacerbated by a pitched resistance to the slickness of pop stardom. Over the years, the band switched line-ups as often as Imelda Marcos changed shoes. Yet their music achieved a consistent quality that deserves a rehearing by anybody who appreciates blues with a hard rocking edge.

Simmonds At The Center

Kim Simmonds - Savoy Brown's stalwart leader, and sole consistent member - rates as one of the most emotive and flexible guitar heroes Britain has ever produced. His love of the blues began after he heard the American pioneers featured in his brother's record collection. "It was the honesty of the music that attracted me," the guitarist said. "There was none of the nonsense of pop. It's simple music, yet at the same time there's great art in it."

Savoy Brown

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Simmonds formed his baby step version of Savoy Brown in 1965, when he was just 18. Their initial line-up featured six players, including harmonica player John O'Leary, and singer Bryce Portius, perhaps the first black musician to be part of a British rock band. The latter hire reflected Simmonds' upbringing in a racially mixed area of South London. In their early gigs, Savoy played the same clubs as Fleetwood Mac, opened for Cream at some of that group's earliest shows and even served as John Lee Hooker's band on a full U.K. tour. Their growing reputation as a live act got them a deal with Decca Records. But by the time they cut their first album, Shake Down, they had already replaced two of their initial players and added a second guitarist: Martin Stone. The band's debut, 'Shake Down', released in September of '67, featured production from Mike Vernon, blues-rock's ultimate go-to guy for his work with John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, and later, Ten Years After.

Savoy Brown

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Cover versions of classic blues songs ate up their debut, with the exception of one cut written by Stone. From the album's first song, the focus fell on Simmonds' shivering tone and limber leads. Yet only one track gave him room to stretch out, a final 6 minute take on the traditional blues Shake 'Em On Down.

Going On A Firing Spree

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The band's tentative first-steps necessitated a strong rethink before Simmonds cut album No. 2. Four of the band's six members got pink slipped, leaving only their leader and pianist Bob Hall. (For a blink-and-you-missed-it moment, Savoy had at its drummer Bill Bruford, who went on to great success with Yes). The band's more defining hires turned out to be second guitarist "Lonesome" Dave Peverette, a friend of Simmonds' from childhood, and frontman Chris Youlden. Though he owns one of rock's burliest, and most emotive voices, Youlden lacked the look of a showman. So the band's manager (Simmonds' brother Harry) created an image for him, outfitting the frontman with a distinct bowler hat and a monocle. The unit's debut, Getting To The Point, released in July of '68, bold-faced their reboot with eight original pieces. The slow blues, Flood In Houston, offered a nice showcase for Youlden's inventive vocals, as well as Simmond's intuitive guitar. But a cover track - Willie Dixon's You Need Love -

Savoy Brown

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has intrigued historians most. Youlden's cry of "deep down inside, woman, you need love," later struck some listeners as a precursor to Robert Plant's famous use of those lines in Whole Lotta Love, released one year later. Simmonds believes some of his licks also had an influence on that track. "We did dates with The Yardbirds when Jimmy Page was in the band," Simmonds said. "I wouldn't doubt that he heard some of that material."

Expanding The Blues

Savoy Brown

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Savoy greatly widened their melodic reach on 1969's Blue Matter. The key track, Train To Nowhere, threaded four muted trombones behind Simmons' valiant solo, while the vocal from Youlden nailed the existential pull of the lyric. The band devoted half of the album to live tracks, cut the previous December at a gig which Youlden missed due to a bad case of tonsillitis. His loss gave the band two gains: Guitarist Peverette got to show off his own skills as a vocalist, and the musicians got to stretch out on tracks that lasted up to nine minutes. The concert format re-emphasized Savoy's forte as a live band. Subsequently, the group began to concentrate on touring, particularly in the U.S., where they headlined the Fillmore East and West several times.

Savoy Brown

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Youlden more than compensated for his absence on the live part of 'Blue Matter' by dominating the writing on the first side one of the band's next album, A Step Further, released in late '69. He proved a striking songwriter, even on the instrumental track Waiting In the Bamboo Groove, which was fired by a charging horn section. Again, the second side of the album went the live route, devoting 22 minutes to Savoy Brown Boogie, a fast-paced medley of songs like Chuck Berry's Little Queenie, Hendrix's Purple Haze and even Hernando's Hideaway. It introduced fast and loose boogie to Savoy's usual repertoire of hard and steady blues.

Enter Jazz

Savoy Brown

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The band made an even greater leap on their fifth album, Raw Sienna, resulting in what some see as their studio masterpiece. Released in March of 1970, 'Raw Sienna' seemed to provide a U.K. answer to the jazz-rock trend exploding out of America in bands like Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago. In fact, Simmonds took his inspiration from Ray CharlesLittle Milton and the classic recordings of Blue Note. The full-bodied horn section, used throughout, added muscle to the best compositions of Youlden and Simmonds' careers. Youlden wrote six songs, including the heartfelt I'm Crying and the sexy Stay While The Night Is Young while Simmonds contributed the emotive That Same Feelin', along with the album's most animated track, Master Hare. A jazz-rock instrumental, "Hare" suggested a caffeinated version of a Dave Brubeck classic. Regardless, the album underperformed on the charts, inching up to just No. 121 in the U.S.

Savoy Brown

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For another blow, Youlden announced right after finishing recording that he was finished with the group as well. "He wanted to go in a more singer-songwriter direction, and I wanted to go more towards the guitar," Simmonds said. Personal problems also contributed to the split. "We didn't get along too well," the band leader said.

Lose One Singer To Discover Another

Savoy Brown

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Luckily, the band had Peverette in their back pocket as a vocalist. More, Simmonds had already written material he knew was among his strongest for a potential follow-up work. Released just seven months after 'Raw Sienna', in October of 1970, the Looking In album not only revealed a new lead singer but a whole new sound. With its tighter, four man line-up, Savoy Brown set its sights on hard rock, giving the music more punch and weight. After opening with a gorgeous solo guitar piece from Simmonds, the band launched into Poor Girl, a titanic rocker that honed the new tone. Peverette, a formerly shy singer, presented a newly assertive vocal style, while Simmonds kept the songwriting level high with the slinky Money Can't Save Your Soul and the jazz-tinged title track. The latter boasted dueling guitars from Simmonds and Peverette that wouldn't be out of place in the Allman Brothers. Together, it gave the band the highest chart score of its career, cracking the American Top 40 for the first, and only time.

Savoy Brown

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You'd think that success would encourage Simmonds to stick with the formula. But, in an exceptionally gutsy move, he challenged the other players to explore something dramatically different for their follow-up. "I wanted to go for a tighter, R&B sound." he said.

When the rest of the band proved ill equipped, or unwilling, to make that change, he fired all of them. The three - Peverette, bassist Tone Stevens and drummer Earle - took some ideas Simmonds had blueprinted and used them to form a new group, Foghat. By buffing up the sound, and simplifying their approach, Foghat became a huge act in the U.S. Their willingness to standardize Savoy's style, offers a key explanation for why they, rather than Simmonds' group, achieved sustained stardom.

Simmonds insists he "was very happy for them. And we remained great friends. I still get a thrill when I hear Slow Rideon a Nike commercial," he said.

The Move To R&B

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A shake-up in a fellow blues band helped the resourceful Simmonds rebound from the three man loss. As it happened, Stan Webb, czar of the Brit blues at Chicken Shack, had just jettisoned three members of his band. Recognizing an opportunity, Simmonds hired every one of them. The new line-up jelled remarkably well, especially with the addition of singer Dave Walker, whose deep voice had some of the throaty command of Youlden. The unit's debut, Street Corner Talking, released in September of '71, made good on Simmonds' goal to bring steely R&B to the blues, evident in a convincing cover of The TemptationsCan't Get Next To You

The song received wide play on FM rock stations as did a catchy original, Tell Mama. Both cuts showcased a slicker, more streamlined production sound.

Savoy Brown

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The groove on 'Street Corner' proved deep enough to inspire a strong restatement on its follow-up, Hellbound Train, released just five months later. The album found a highlight in the nine minute title cut, which remains a part of Savoy Brown's set to this day. The mix of R&B, boogie and blues hit a trifecta with 'Lion's Share', released late in '72. But, like all shades of Savoy Brown, this incarnation wasn't built to last.

By the end of that year, frontman Walker bolted to join the equally peripatetic Fleetwood Mac. His replacement, Jackie Lynton, proved a pale substitute, something the group tried to camouflage by surrounding him with scores of female backup singers on his sole album with them, 'Jack The Toad'. After Lynton left, Simmonds made another ballsy move by hooking up with peer Stan Webb for a double-guitar assault of an album, 'Boogie Brothers' in 1974. After that, Simmonds himself took over the singing, though he never considered himself a top vocalist. Savoy Brown's audience began to taper at that point, a trend which didn't dissuade Simmonds from continuing to lead some version of his brand through all the decades since. Along the way, he has released scores of albums and toured regularly.

The Yardbirds, John Mayall and 16 others

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In the 50 years since Savoy Brown released their debut, they've run through over 60 (!) musicians, with Simmonds serving as their sole through line. "I can be a difficult person," the band leader admitted. "And I don't want to stand still. Once I've climbed a mountain, I want to climb another. If a band weren't willing to do that, I would get another band."

The subsequent roller-coaster ride hasn't deterred Simmonds. For the band's fiftieth anniversary this fall, Simmonds will release yet another new Savoy Brown album and tour to back it. "I have a strong motivation to continue,' he said. "A famous poet once said "the deed can never be done without need.' There's something in me that's gotta come out. Through all of it - the band's changes, the music, and the fifty years - the one tie-in is my guitar playing. That's what keeps it all going."