Archive for the 'Music' Category


The Trick Is To Keep Going Has Moved!

A little sooner than I expected. But the transfer went fairly seamlessly. Yes, The Trick Is To Keep Going has moved here to my own domain. For those of you who would like to type it in, the URL has changed to

Everything that is here is also now there. But all new content will only be over at the new site after today’s two posts. The design is new and the setup slightly different. To search the site, click on the link at the top right of the homepage and that brings you to the bottom where the search box, blogroll and archives now sit. You’ll notice the sidebar has changed a bit and has what I hope you agree are a few unobtrusive ads plus a Google search box, which is kind of convenient. There is also a  Tag Cloud that works pretty well.

If you’ve made any comments on this site, they are all over there as well. I hope you’ll join me. And thanks to all friends,  new and old who I’ve either re-connected with or met through this site, for your support. See you there.



A Woman a man again

PJ Harvey has often said she never wants to repeat herself. As her catalogue bears out, she always changes direction for each new project. Although it’s inevitable that an artist will in some ways repeat herself, she does an admirable job of sticking to her goal.

pj-a-womanFor instance, her most accessible album, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (2000), which although sounded in some ways commercial for Harvey was really anything but when compared to Top 40 fare, was followed by a return to rawness and simplicity in Uh Huh Her (2004), reminiscent of some of her earliest work. Next came White Chalk (2007), completely piano-based, a first for her.

Of course the common vein running through these, as with all her work, is the distinctive, accomplished voice, pure at times or rough-edged and manipulated through electronics at others, a compelling sense of melody that is rooted in her knowledge and appreciation for the roots of modern day rock and the thought-provoking vivid imagery of her lyrics that are never conventional.

A Woman A Man Walked By is Harvey’s second collaboration with John Parish, the first Dance Hall At Louse Point from 1996. They have worked together for a long time, since Harvey’s early days with Automatic Dlamini when she played saxophone for that band and on her solo work, particularly To Bring You My Love (1995), during which Parish played in her touring band. For both of their albums, Parish writes and plays the music and Harvey writes the words. Although I’ve often wondered how much input she must have with melody. I would think some at least. Continue reading ‘A Woman a man again’


From the Vaults: Hidden Treasure, No. 2

After writing about Martha Velez’s 1968 release Fiends & Angels, I realized there are a number of albums that qualify as either era-defining or being highly influencial despite not having gained widespread recognition. These records weren’t huge sellers on first release but still made an impact, mostly with musicians, and all stand up today.

full-moon-albumThe self-titled album Full Moon from 1971 fits into this category. Three of its members came from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, drummer Phillip Wilson and tenor saxman Gene Dinwiddie (billed as Brother Gene Dinwiddie throughout the album’s credits), both of whom joined Butterfield around 1967 for The Resurrection Of Pigboy Crabshaw, and Buzz Feiten, who joined Butter a little later in ’68 replacing guitarist Elvin Bishop. Feiten, who did a stint with the Rascals after Butterfield, was one of the most unusual additions to Butterfield’s band, younger than most of the other players, precocious, almost punk for 1968. He brought a different sound and style and great versatility to the band with his piercing Fender Strat, cut more from a soul vein than blues.

They joined forces in 1971 with keyboardist Neil Larsen, from Florida, who later in the ’70s would record a string of exemplary jazz-fusion albums and also delve into pop rock with Feiten in 1980 as the Larsen-Feiten Band, and bassist Freddie Beckmeier. Over the years, Larsen and Feiten have also become legendary session players who have worked on hundreds of albums and with a who’s who of the music industry.

The resulting album, produced by Alan Douglas (yes, that Alan Douglas apparently, famous or perhaps infamous as onetime keeper of the Jimi Hendrix archive) was far from a blues-rock workout. It incorporated elements of soul, R&B and early jazz fusion built on strong songwriting from all members. Vocals were shared and more than capable and the playing a combination of forward-moving jazz, rock and soul with proficient and inspired soloing.

Bassist extraordinaire Dave Holland (Miles Davis’ In  A Silent Way) played on one of the original cuts and wrote and played on a bonus track, Three Step Dance, from a Japanese CD import release from 2000, produced and mixed by Feiten. Other guests include trumpet player Randy Brecker, percussionists Airto Moreira and Ray Baretto and background singers Robin Clark and Tasha Thomas.

The album opens with the band composition The Heavy Shuffle’s On, a rollicking, funky and mostly instrumental track that features Feiten on typically inventive solos. Feiten is always melodic in his approach and this cut finds him expressive and concise, using a wah-wah for his second chorus. The unison group vocals remind one in style of Butterfield’s Love March from Keep On Moving (1969), an album on which Feiten played.

Feiten has two songs both cut from the same cloth, To Know and Need Your Love, the first a funky moderate tempo love song, sung by Wilson. The tune, which features the background singers prominently, including Feiten in the chorus, was the album’s single. Feiten also contributes a tasteful solo with a squeaky clean, Strat tone. Need Your Love juxtaposes a free-time chorus embellished with the backup singers’ rich harmonies, and an uptempo funk/soul verse on which Feiten takes a vocal turn. Beckmeier and Wilson’s soulful interplay in the verse helps lay down a smooth, danceable groove. No solos in this radio-friendly take.

Feiten also co-wrote the album’s closer with Wilson, Selfish People, another moderate groove that builds with intensity behind Wilson’s driving rhythm. The sound of this cut is expansive and contemplative, developing slowly with an extended intro that lasts more than three minutes and features intricate stylings of Larsen’s keyboards with Dinwiddie’s soprano sax and Feiten on acoustic guitar. You can hear shades of future Steely Dan in the changes. Feiten’s solo on the tag is one of his best on the record.

Among an album of highlights, Dinwiddie contributes perhaps the peak with Take This Winter Out Of My Mind, cut in an infectious,  funk groove with a rousing, catchy chorus. Dinwiddie delivers a heartfelt vocal as well as mandolin over a tune with perhaps the deepest lyrical content on the album. Larsen solos on electric piano, followed by a double Feiten lead, two guitars panned extreme left and right. Clark and Thomas are stellar on vocal support.

Not to give them short shrift, perhaps the two most interesting tracks are Larsen’s instrumentals, Malibu, on which Holland plays, and Midnight Pass. Both would be perfectly at home on one of Larsen’s later fusion albums, particularly Jungle Fever, which probably deserves a place in this vault of its own. Larsen’s tunes are cool jazz with almost always a latin flavor, built on irresistible and beautifully constructed melodies.

The Malibu melody is played in unison on flute (Dinwiddie), guitar and organ and has a light but penetrating feel. Feiten and Larsen each take solo turns, with Larsen on electric piano. Midnight Pass is latin-infused with the melody played on guitar, sax and organ. Again Larsen goes to electric piano for his solo and is followed by Feiten, who as you can see really dominates the album in solo time. But that’s a joy. It’s one of the best examples of his prodigious talent and as he says in the 2000 notes “probably the most important period in my own musical development.” Dinwiddie’s tenor also gets a workout on this track. The solos throughout the original record are always understated but still give each player enough room for creativity, nothing extended.

The bonus track on the CD release is straight jazz with long, extended solos. You can see why it wasn’t used, if it was even intended, for this album. But it’s a nice addition nonetheless with outstanding playing. There is tension and immediacy that distances itself from the other tracks and gives it a feel in line with what Weather Report became known for. This is also one of Douglas’ best production jobs among many very good ones that predate his Hendrix involvement, which had mixed results.

I had this album for years on reel-to-reel tape, a copy I made with my trusty TEAC four-track simul-synch deck from a friend’s vinyl copy. I was estatic in 2000 when it became available and quite willing to pay $30 on the Amazon Markeplace for the Japanese import, knowing many Japanese discs go for much higher. Sadly, it’s already out of print and is fetching from $40-$60 on the Marketplace now. It’s one of my favorites and would be worth every penny at these prices.

As for a vinyl copy, I couldn’t find a single listing on popsike or eBay. Yet Tim Neely’s American Records Guide lists its value at $15. Your best bet might be record fairs, some of which still come to Connecticut periodically, but you might have to shell out more than $15.

I pull this album out every so often and never tire of it. Listening again as I write this piece, it still sounds so fresh and relevant. Strong songwriting, quality vocals and inventive playing that sounds far ahead of its time.

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CT Rock ‘n Roll: Pulse, Part 3

To recap part 2: At the end of the summer of 1967, two popular New Haven-based bands broke up at the prodding of manager/producer Doc Cavalier, who owned Syncron Studios (later Trod Nossel) in Wallingford. Three members from the Shags and three from the Bram Rigg Set joined to form The Pulse (the actual original name was The Pulse of Burritt Bradley). But after a failed single released on ATCO, the bubblegum confection Can-Can Girl, the group broke up after about six months. Pulse, a blues-rock outfit emerged with now four members from Bram Rigg Set, one lone survivor of the Shags and a new addition.

pulse-burritt-bradley-b-side-smallIn January, 1968, Pulse started rehearsing in earnest to play some live dates and start recording its first album. The first gig was to be at a small club in Watertown, the Shack. We used to rehearse in what was called the Shed in back of Syncron Studios. The rehearsal room was an unfinished concrete-floored area no larger than a two-car garage with 2×4 framing exposed on the first floor of what looked like an old barn. This was perhaps the most dangerous place I’ve ever rehearsed, yet we carried on in the Shed for 2-plus years as Pulse.

The danger lay in the ceiling, which was probably less than a foot above everyone’s heads. In fact, there was no ceiling, instead it was the foil side of insolation tucked in between the framing. So, if you happened to lift the neck of your guitar a little too high as  when you were taking if off and your hands were touching the strings, you were in for a maximum jolt of electricity, the kind that tenses your entire body. I’ve had a few of those in my days, several from the Shed and it is as you may know no fun and rather scary. Still, we persevered.

pulse-cheri-ad-2-smallSoon after forming, we added a sixth member, Jeff Potter, who played a mean blues harp and also added percussion with a conga drum and eventually occasional keyboards. Ray Zeiner, the keyboard player from the Wildweeds, had recommended him. Jeff and Ray lived next door to each other right down on the Connecticut River up near Hartford. Those houses are no longer there since the area flooded every so often. The Weeds had recently come into the fold with Doc (via their terrific single No Good To Cry) and Jeff had grown up and gone to Windsor High with Al Anderson and other members of the band.

Jeff added an element we needed and loved. The band was influenced by the great blues-rock groups of the times and in ’67-’68 that meant Paul Butterfield, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall and others. So the lineup was Carl Donnell (Augusto), lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Peter Neri, lead guitar and vocals, Rich Bednarzck, keyboards, Paul Rosano, bass, Beau Segal, drums and Jeff.

We set out putting together two sets worth of material that included some  unusual covers and what few original tunes we had at the time. We chose cover material that was not the usual fare for local bands in the same vein as the Bram Rigg Set, which always played songs no one else touched. This was largely influenced by Beau and when Bram Rigg was together lead singer Bobby Schlosser.

For those early gigs. we opened with our take on Spoonful, covered as a single by Cream at the time of their first album, the Otis Rush/Willie Dixon tune All Your Love, which gave Peter a lead vocal in addition to a piercing guitar solo over a shuffle feel in the middle, and the Doors Love Me Two Times, Carl being a huge fan of Jim Morrison. We did a take on a Mose Allison number, Mad With You, giving Rich a featured lead vocal spot along with an extended piano solo. And we also covered a B.B. King tune, Think It Over, which was a staple of those early sets.

Carl’s own Low Down Baby, which eventually made it onto our album, was a dark rocker in the Morrison mold, and Beau’s As A Rule were two of our early originals. As A Rule hung around a long time on our set list but wasn’t around when we finished the Pulse album.

Other early original tunes included I Can See, a power trio piece written by Beau, which we spent a lot of the spring perfecting in the studio. It really showed off Carl’s voice in the middle section, but was a little on the busy side, particularly by me, musically. That’s one of the few tracks, along with As A Rule, that I don’t have a copy of despite it being committed to tape.

Lovin’ Time was one of my earliest stabs at writing, but it didn’t survive over the long haul. Two other prominent tunes included Beau’s Duchess & Duke, which I have little memory of, and a song written by Karen Eisner, a precocious teenage singer/piano player from New Haven, called I’m Gonna Be A Rich Man, which had blues changes. Most of these were originally thought to make up what our first album was to become. But that would change. And little did we know it would be a long road until that first album was released.

pulse-ad-richThe gig at the Shack went really well as we had already started developing a following from people who had gone to gigs of both the Shags and Bram Rigg Set. People, right. It was young girls. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but let’s face it in the ’60s (and I suppose it’s still true today) one of the main reasons young guys got into the music scene was pure and simple: to meet girls. Like this devilishly handsome fellow to the left, Rich. As time goes on the serious musicians put the music first. But you know what? To some extent, there is always that attraction on the pop/rock scene of simply wanting to meet girls. It’s a universal truth in rock ‘n roll. And we did meet a few along the way. Of course in short time, almost everyone in the band had a girl friend.

A few more club dates followed and then one of Doc’s early mistakes with the band put us in a position we shouldn’t have been thrust into at that point. Through his association with a promoter, Doc landed us an opening spot with the Lovin’ Spoonful at the Back Bay Theatre in Boston. The Bram Rigg Set had actually opened for the Spoonful in the summer of 1967, an experience I’ll never forget that went very well. That was the first big gig I had played with the band, after a months of clubs and school dances.

The problem with the Back Bay show wasn’t really the band, it was as it was explained to us by our road manager Mike Geremia, who was out front during our set, the sound system that Syncron’s main engineer had insisted we use. Rather than using the house system, and remember in those days house systems were not what they are today, it was deemed we would use our own. But it was smaller than the house system and geared for clubs despite having two Altec A-2 cabinets, which were considered fairly large at the time.

On stage, we were doing fine, but evidently in the audience Carl’s vocals were terribly distorted. When the Spoonful came on, they used the house system and sounded just fine. On a positive note, John Sebastian of the Spoonful came into our dressing room after the show and was the nicest guy. Despite what we thought had not gone too well for us, he was extremely complimentary and of course so were we of his band’s set. Guitarist Zal Yanovsky was by this time gone from the Spoonful, replaced by Jerry Yester, but original members Steve Boone and Joe Butler were still in. They were coming off the success of Summer In The City and had just released Everything’s Playin’ with the single Six O’clock.

After that speed bump, Pulse started getting really popular in Connecticut. We played clubs all over the state, dances at high schools and colleges. But our favorite spot was definitely the Cheri Shack (see add above), owned by Connecticut’s own man in black, Bill Miller, a dance instructor, and run with his daughter Cheri. It was a beautiful two-floored renovated barn turned into a dance studio with one large room on ground level near the front of the building, mirrors on one side of the room with a ballet bar.

The stage was at the end of the room on the right side of the building, so if you walked in the front door, you turned right into the room where the bands played. We were the first band Bill had advertised in the local paper, the New Haven Register, with a large photo of the band. We played there frequently.

Cheri was a beautiful young woman and usually during our second set, she would get up on one side of the stage and do a belly dance in appropriate garb with her boa constrictor named Scheherazade. That made for some tense moments. The club also was one of the first with a fog machine and professional lighting. Our home away from home. Always loved playing there.

As 1968 rolled on, the band came together more and more, particularly live. Doc had many positive effects on us but also some negative influences as well. He needed to be in complete control. The always redeeming feature was our access to the studio and gaining experience recording. By the summer, I had written the first song I felt had any potential, Another Woman. The seven-minute opus was a culmination of my influences at the time but we put an interesting spin on it with our own brand of improvisational playing and almost flamenco qualities in the arrangement, always led by Beau’s unending ideas about how to put a song together. The song eventually made the album and in an edited version was the A-side of our first single.

But trouble was brewing. Doc was always meddling to some extent in the music despite his not being a true musician, although there are reports he did some playing in college. That’s not to say he wasn’t a good producer. At times, he was very good, and as the years passed, his accomplishments speak for themselves. But in late 1968, he became infatuated with a blues guitarist from Long Island and his mainpulations almost tore the group apart.

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69 (albums) from 1969

When I think of 1969, I think the end of the hippie dream, the fading of peace and love. After the violence of the Democratic convention in ’68, it appeared the Yippies were taking precedence over the original anti-war movement that so many of us bought into when we were at college.

the-band-the-band1Despite the triumph of Woodstock, the year ended on the foreboding trajedy of Altamont. It was the year the Beatles said farewell, another dream that was ending. So when I think about 1969, I don’t necessarily think of great albums first. But as Mojo Magazine points out in a recent special edition with a piece aptly titled 69 from 1969, which we acknowledge with the headline above, there was a motherlode of great music released in 1969. The music was changing and the early ’70s gave us another wave of great music as well with the dawn of the singer-songwriter era. But the decade’s last year included an impressive list of offerings.

You can find music just as good or better from any year in the ’60s. But since it’s 40 years on for this watershed year, we have a poll below in which you can vote. To refresh your memory, here are some of the highlights in no particular order:

jethro-tull-stand-upThe Band, The Band: Their second release and perhaps my favorite, along with Stage Fright, filled with songs that make up one of the foundations of today’s Americana movement.

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Neil Young: His second, and although I for one liked the weak-selling debut, this unquestionably has several of his standards.
Led Zeppelin I, Led Zeppelin: Some prefer the second, released in late 1969, but this really had the bigger impact as far as influencing the music scene. It was hard rock, but quite different in some ways than anything before.
Stand Up, Jethro Tull: Arguably their best, predating the more progressive leanings of the band.

slystandA Salty Dog, Procol Harum: Speaking of prog, but really is it? Using classical ideas and instrumentation in a tasteful combination is more like it.
The Gilded Palace Of Sin, The Flying Burrito Brothers: Gene Clark, the Byrds and others had recorded tracks and some nearly full albums of what was to be called country rock, but Gram Parsons’ first project as a leader really set the stage for the Eagles and those who followed.
Tommy, the Who: Many cite other Who albums as superior to this and that’s probably true, but none had a bigger influence in the grand scheme of things.

Stand, Sly & the Family Stone: This is loaded with classic Sly songs, Everyday People, I Want To Take You Higher, Sing A Simple Song, You Can Make It If You Try.
Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crosby, Stills & Nash: Deja Vu had some better songs on it, but as a trio this was their highlight.
Dusty In Memphis, Dusty Springfield: A peak  from a remarkably consistent vocalist, career defining.
Blind Faith, Blind Faith: The one-off, with about 15 minutes of filler, still holds up as a solid outing with at least a couple of rock ‘n roll classics.
Abbey Road, the Beatles: A fitting sendoff, which was recorded after but released before their official swan song, Let It Be.
In A Silent Way, Miles Davis: I preferred the first real experiment into fusion, Miles In The Sky (1967), but there is no doubting the impact of this outing.
Clouds, Joni Mitchell: I always think of this as coming out earlier than 1969, but her career didn’t take off in earnest as a solo performer until the ’70s with Blue and For The Roses.
Then Play On, Fleetwood Mac: The last gasp of the original Mac with Peter Green. It may have been the last but it has some wonderful blues romps, including Oh Well.
Let It Bleed, the Rolling Stones: Their decided shift back to blues-influenced rock on Beggar’s Banquet is followed by incorporating country blues into the mix. One of their last great ones.

There are many others, the Allman Brothers’ debut; Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief, not as well known in the States as the U.K., where it is a folk-rock staple; Santana’s and Chicago’s first. The list goes on.

What do you think? Vote for the best album of 1969.

This article is also available over at BabyBoom Review at this link.

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Concerts Vol. 2: Blown away

Several times over the years I’ve seen opening acts blow away a headliner. I mentioned one such concert that involved the original Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart at Woolsey Hall in New Haven in 1969.

rtrower1Two stand out above the rest though. The more recent was on Oct. 18, 1977. I know the date not because I still have a ticket stub, but because the concert became an album release for the headliner, Robin Trower (left, top), titled King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents, recorded at the now demolished New Haven Coliseum.

I was a huge Trower fan at the time and had seen him in the same venue close to two years earlier after the release of his third solo album. His band included James Dewar on bass and vocals and drummer Bill Lordan, who had played with Sly Stone.

At that concert, most of the material came from the seminal hard blues-rock album Bridge Of Sighs (1974), including Day Of The Eagle, Too Rolling Stoned and others, and a smattering from his latest, For Earth Below (1975). By 1977, Trower had released Long Misty Days, not as popular as his first three, and had  just released In City Dreams, which took a decided funkier and not quite as heavy turn.

rderringer1The opening act was the group Derringer, led by another guitar flash Rick Derringer (left). Since Derringer had released its first album in 1975, they had toured relentlessly and played in Connecticut frequently and New Haven often at the Arcadia Ballroom on Whalley Avenue, which at one time was a Nelke Motors dealership, selling Mercedes cars, and in Waterbury at the Red House.

I’d seen Derringer many times and his band was a solid hard rock outfit, with good songs and outstanding players. The original lineup included Vinny Appice, brother of Carmine (Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart)  on drums, the remarkable Kenny Aaronson on bass and Danny Johnson on second lead guitar. Neil Giraldo, who went on to play with and marry Pat Benetar, would replace Johnson within a year and Myron Grombacher took over for Appice. By the time of the Trower concert Mark Cunningham was on second guitar.

Derringer had a great stage show, but I always felt it was more suited for small clubs. I’d never seen the kind of pyrotechnics he had  planned for this opening slot. In addition to material from the Derringer albums, he also played  Rock ‘n Roll Hoochie Koo and Still Alive And Well, prior hits. Early in his set a large group of the audience rushed to the front of the stage where they were allowed to rock out. I was midway back on the floor and though I thought they sounded great, I also thought it was kind of strange that fans were rushing the stage, even for Derringer.

It all built to a heated and intense peak when Derringer and Cunningham stood on opposite sides of the stage and actually flipped their guitars high above their heads so they twirled in the air across the stage to each other, once, twice and them flipped them high in the year and caught them without a hitch. The crowed went absolutely bonkers.

When Trower came out with a band that now included Rustee Allen on bass, the audience was spent. Trower opened with Lady Luck, a scorcher of a rock tune, but the audience reaction was tepid. Not because they didn’t like him, they just didn’t have anything left. To make matters worse his second tune was the moderate tempo, almost laid-back funk of Somebody Calling, actually a track that is one of my favorites with very intricate guitar parts that are overdubbed in the studio, but that he proficiently pulls off live. You could tell he was annoyed at that point but he did a good job of concealing it, thanking the audience profusely for their appreciation. There was a little sarcasm detected.

The recording doesn’t reveal this as I believe they’ve padded some of the audience reaction, and admittedly by the end of the show, he had most of the crowed behind him. But it wasn’t anything like the first concert I had seen him play and it was definitely deflating.

lrussell-1The other occurrence of an opener upstaging the star was even more dramatic and happened much earlier, November 20, 1970 at the Fillmore East. I know this date because interestingly the performance by this headliner, Leon Russell, is also preserved on tape, this time over at Wolfgang’s Vault. It was  just after  the release of his first  solo album, Leon Russell. A longtime L.A. studio musician, he had come to prominence as the band leader for Joe Cocker on the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. Yeah, Joe was great but who is that guy with the long silver hair and the Les Paul standing on top of the grand piano?

His first solo album was nothing short of a revelation. People learned who he was quickly with a rocking gospel-flavored record that included many English guest musicians, unlisted in the credits, and some memorable songs such as Delta Lady and A Song For You. My girlfriend, Archer Rowbottom, and I were dying to see him.

ejohn-1The opening act was someone we had never heard of, but evidently had just released an album in the U.S., actually his second. His name was Elton John. He came out very low key. This was long before he started dressing to the nines. He had just a trio that included himself, Nigel Olson on drums and  Dee Murray on bass.

I had never heard any of the material, but when he broke into Take Me To The Pilot, that caught my attention as it did the rest of the audience. Early in his set, he played what would become his signature ballad, Your Song. That made a huge impression. Interesting that both he and Russell had solo ballads with such similar titles.

In the middle of the set, he said he had just been writing lyrics down on a cocktail napkin in his dressing room and he wanted to perform a new song they had never played live. It turned out to be the long and reflective Indian Sunset, which would be released two albums later on Madman Across The Water. At that point, I was mesmorized. He kept building the set and it climaxed that finished with The Border Song. The audience was ecstatic.

Russell came out, also kind of low key, with solo versions of Girl From the North Country and A Song For You, then he was joined by his band, the Shelter People, which included two guitars, organ, bass and two backup singers, Claudia Lennear and Kathi McDonald. He played all material from the first album and it sounded great but he never could build the audience to the kind of high they had just experienced with John.

Elton John was recently interviewed by Elvis Costello on Spectacle and it was fascinating to find out that Leon Russell was his idol when he first came to America and that when they played together for the first time, Russell watched him from the front row and then befriended him and became one of his greatest supporters. Isn’t  that cool?

Leon would have his day as far as my seeing him rock the house down. In August, 1972, still riding a high of creativity and popularity, we saw him at the Long Beach Arena in California, yet another performance captured on tape that would become the album Leon Live. This time the show was all his and he shook the place down with a band that by then had expanded to include the Rev. Patrick Henderson, who played a grand piano face-to-face with Leon who when he wasn’t standing on top of it was seated at a second grand piano, and the gospel backup singers of Henderson’s group, Black Grass.

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Hidden treasure

For years, the album Fiends & Angels has been one of the best kept secrets from the late 1960s blues-rock scene. Finally in 2008, the independent CD label Wounded Bird, which specializes in albums that the majors refuse to reissue, released this Martha Velez gem.

mvelez-1Until then, it had fetched rather pricey numbers on auction sites despite not having been a big seller at the time of its release in 1968. Still it was one of the defining blues-rock albums of the times, bringing together an almost perfect combination of singer, players and producer for a raw blues outing with unbridled energy. And some of the best playing by some of England’s best musicians.

Not available in the album credits and still not known completely, the personnel included, Eric Clapton, guitar; Jack Bruce (Cream), bass; Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix) and Jim Capaldi (Traffic), drums; Brian Auger (Oblivion Express), organ; Christine McVie (Chicken Shack, later Fleetwood Mac), piano; Keef Hartley, drums, and Chris Mercer, sax (Keef Hartley Band, John Mayall); Chris Wood (Traffic), sax and flute; and Duster Bennett, harmonica. That’s just a portion of the list.

Velez is a New Yorker, who studied opera at a young age and later attended the High School for the Performing Arts in Manhattan. She also joined a touring folk group, the Gaslight Singers, in college (Long Island University) and later had several lead roles on Broadway, including Hair. So how did she wind up recording her first solo album in England with all these prominent blues-rock musicians?

While recording a demo in New York with producer Richard Gottehrer, Seymour Stein of Sire Records was in the studio by coincidence. They immediately wanted to sign Velez and when it was revealed she loved the blues and particularly the material Cream was doing, they hooked her up with Mike Vernon, an English blues producer who had worked with the early Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall and later Ten Years After, among many others. He was also the founder of the blues label, Blue Horizon.

Vernon gathered together the elite group of musicians and a torrent of hot, inspired performances was unleashed on the material, matched perfectly to Velez’s voice, which has a trained quality but can be raunchy when needed.

mvelez-2The guitar solos are ferocious on most cuts and although Clapton is said to have played on only four, he is extremely recognizable on  the heavy groove of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Feel So Bad, I’m Gonna Leave You (perhaps the album’s best two tracks), It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry and In My Girlish Days. This was confirmed on a Velez compilation, Angels Of The Future Past, released on CD in the late ’80s. The other solos are just as powerful and inventive, perhaps attributable to the only listed guitarist on the session, Rick Hayward, although Spit James (Keef Hartley) and Paul Cossof (Free) are said to have also participated.

Jack Bruce is equally recognizable for his driving bass lines, all tight, punchy and restrained. Bennett blows heavy duty harp on both I’m Gonna Leave You and Feel So Bad, and Vernon also made liberal use of horns, giving the sessions yet another dimension.

The album contains so many other jewels: Velez’s funky composition Swamp Man, which holds the album’s title in the lyrics; the Joplin-esque slow blues A Fool For You; a cover of Etta James’ Tell Mama; the moderate shuffle of a smouldering Drive Me Daddy, over which Velez wails; Come Here Sweet Man, a delicate Velez original; and Let The Good Times Roll, the suitable rollicking closer. A great selection of songs.

Velez went on to record four other albums in the ’70s, including a reggae release, Escape To Babylon, produced by Bob Marley. She never fully returned to an album of all blues, although she did work with Vernon one more time on Matinee Weepers. Married to Keith Johnson, noted trumpet player with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Van Morrison, she also sang with Morrison’s band for a while. All her records, with the exception of her second, Hypnotized, are available from Wounded Bird.

You are unlikely to find Wounded Bird releases in a big music or electronics store at the mall. They are readily available at places such as Amazon. But a trip to the label’s web site is preferred because perusing its catalogue, you’ll find so many other long lost albums that haven’t seen the light of day on a major label.

My vinyl version of Fiends & Angels is still one of my most treasured from that time period. Even one in funky condition is fetching as much as $50 on eBay, despite the CD release. You have to love that album cover, too. The second image is from the UK release. For the record, Velez’s full name is Martha Carmen Josephine Hernandéz Rosario de Veléz. That’s an earful and so is this classic album.

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July 2018
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