Posts Tagged ‘Music

06
Apr
09

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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02
Apr
09

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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25
Mar
09

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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18
Mar
09

Neko Case storms through the heartland

Neko Case keeps pushing the frontier of her special blend of country rock to an expanse of thought-provoking songs and heartfelt performances. Her latest, Middle Cyclone, is perhaps her most satisfying mix.

case-middle-cycloneCase’s crystal clear voice, so pure and with seemingly limitless range, delivers lyrics of vivid imagery sometimes mixed with metaphor (I have waited with a glacier’s patience, smashed every transformer with every trailer, ’til nothing was standing), sometimes with doses of hard-nosed reality (The next time you say forever, I’ll punch you in your  face) over whirlwind muscianship. Her brand of country sounds rooted in the west rather than the south, and her songs stop short of radio-friendly hooks but exhibit beautiful melodies in unusual and creative constructions that invite revisiting after each listen.

The opening track, This Tornado Loves You, rushes at the listener like a lover running roughshod in search of her man. With rolling-wheel guitars sounding like banjos, Case and her band churn out a relentless chase over territory that belongs to the heart but evokes the wild center of a storm.

Whether using spare arrangements (many of the songs are co-arranged with her band’s guitarist Paul Rigby) as in The Next Time You Say Forever, Vengeance Is Sleeping and the title track, or with her full band on the uptempo People Got A Lotta Nerve, the ’50s  feel of Fever or the waltz time Magpie To The Morning, the performances are sparkling and appropriate. Of the sparsely played tunes, Middle Cyclone is the most poignant with only voice, guitar and music box.

neko-profile-2The haunting melodies of Polar Nettles and Prison Girls, with its droning guitar and pop sensibilities, stand apart starkly from much of the other material but still work perfectly. Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth (a tune by Sparks) plays like an anthem, the background vocals building to a wall of sound by the end. The track also shows Case’s tendency at times toward classical and Celtic sounding melody.

The lovely Harry Nilsson ballad Don’t Forget Me features a piano orchestra of eight players on second-hand pianos in various stages of disrepair, set up in a barn on Case’s Vermont property, where the album was recorded. The sound from the keyboards is drenched in echo as if it were coming from a vast canyon. Despite the funky surroundings of her farm as seen in a promotional video, or perhaps because of it, the album’s production matches the performances throughout – clear, full and distinct.

I’m An Animal is pushed by the driving beat of drummer Barry Mirochnick’s tom-toms on what is probably the album’s heaviest track. Case belts out The Pharaohs in a style reminscent of her tour de force Deep Red Bells from the album Blacklisted. She wrenches everything out of the melody’s sustained notes, sounding like a ringing bell, deep and vibrating. The closer, Red Tide, has Steve Berlin’s keyboard-generated sax section to propel the shuffle feel that Case glides over. There is actually one more cut, more than 31 minutes, of outdoor sounds, either crickets or frogs, Marais La Nuit.

One quibble I have with Case is the length of many of her songs. They’re so short, one clocking in at  1:46 (The Next Time You Say Forever) with most in the two-to-three minute range with the exception of Prison Girls (5:26). This is pretty standard for Case and sometimes I feel a song is not completely developed when it ends or I’m left wanting more of it. But I suppose that’s a good thing. Because that’s what this album does. Makes you want more.

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15
Mar
09

The lost boys

Boston-area rock ‘n roll legends Barry & the Remains are most noted as a great American band that never quite made it but deserved to.

the-remains-1The Remains were known for their intense live shows and I was lucky enough to see them twice, once in their neighborhood and once as the opening act for the Beatles at Shea Stadium on the Fab Four’s last tour (1966) of the States.

The Remains are the subject of a new documentary, America’s Lost Band, which will be screened at a number of film festivals this year, including the Southeast New England Film, Music & Arts Festival in Providence, R.I., April 2-5. The screening is April 3 at 9:30 p.m., to be followed by a live acoustic performance by the Remains with the original members, Barry Tashian (guitar, vocals), Chip Damiani (drums), Bill Briggs (keyboards) and Vern Miller Jr. (bass).

The first time I saw the Remains was definitely the best. A junior in high school in the spring of 1966, I went up to Boston for the weekend with a bunch of friends (all seniors) to visit the friend of a friend who was at a prep school in the area. He had a friend who was a friend of the Remains, and we went to see them at a mixer in a small hall in a Boston suburb. I had never heard of them.

They were really something. Most of the material was blues-based rock and British Invasion covers with a few originals. We were used to mostly cover bands in Connecticut and the Remains smoked them all. The hall had two levels and we were in the balcony, where the band went in between sets. The group had a Rolling Stones look and sound to some extent, playing covers such as Mercy, Mercy, Like A Rolling Stone and a fiery rave-up of I’m A Man. They sported shoulder-length hair and Stones-like apparel, tight jeans-cut pants and colorful shirts, very British looking. Tashian was quite the front man, singing, playing stinging guitar in a melding of a Chuck Berry/Kinks style and on occasion pulling out a harmonica. At the time, one of the best bands I had seen live.

We met them in between sets. I talked with Barry. He was really nice, and there was some talk among us of trying to get them to come to Connecticut. That never happened.

By the time Shea Stadium rolled around in August, Damiani was gone, replaced by N.D. Smart, and their look had changed dramatically, more Beatle-ish with shorter Beatle cuts and suits to match. From my upper deck right-field perch, I couldn’t really hear them that well. But they went down fine with the crowd.

Several months later, when their album, The Remains, was finally released on Epic, I was a little disappointed. But I wasn’t the only one. It was generally perceived the studio tracks didn’t capture the live excitement of the band. This was a pretty common problem with some groups in the ’60s, getting that live sound on tape. Worse, the band was breaking up as the album was released.

When the album came out on CD with bonus tracks in the ’90s, I appreciated it a little more and I still enjoy most of it, particurlarly the originals Why Do I Cry and Heart and a Billy Vera tune Don’t Look Back. A Sundazed release in the late ’90s of essentially an audition in a Nashville studio for Capitol does a somewhat better job of  portraying the band’s strengths.

Tashian is now based in Nashville and plays and writes in a more country style of music with his wife, Holly. They have recorded five albums, some country award winners. The current Remains are also cut in that mold with a recent album (2002), Movin’ On. Smart went on to play with the late, great Gram Parsons, one of the early country-rock innovators. Tashian also played with Parsons and was in Emmylou Harris’ hot band for nine years.

Oh yeah, the Beatles. How were they? Believe it or not, you could hear the Beatles amid the outrageous screaming and they sounded very good. There is a website, provided by Jerry Lepore, that includes a set list from that show and I remember most of it but I have one quarrel with one of the tunes. I clearly remember Ringo’s spotlight as Yellow Submarine, not I Wanna Be Your Man, because it was disappointingly the only song from Revolver that they played!

The biggest impression, though, was that any time one of them, particularly Paul or John who were on opposite sides of the stage, turned or waved to one half of the stadium, it crested in an ocean of flash bulbs. An image I’ll never forget.

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06
Mar
09

The story behind the Blind Faith cover

In response to a previous post about Blind Faith, a friend expressed interest in the genesis of the infamous 1969 album cover, how it all came about.

mariora-goschenBelow is a rather long excerpt from an even longer note about the creation of the Blind Faith cover by Bob Seidemann, the photographer who came up with the concept and shot the model holding the “spaceship.” To read the entire note you can go here. It’s interesting to observe that the name of the photograph was Blind Faith and that was then taken by Eric Clapton as the name of the band. Also the model was actually 11 years old at the time, Mariora Goschen. The cover is here juxtaposed with a recent photo of Gorschen, who is now in her 50s, and is a massage therapist and shiatsu practitioner.

Seidemann mentions this is the first time the name of the band was not on the album cover. That’s not exactly correct. The first Stones album in England had no name on the cover and the second Traffic album also has no name. There were probably others.

blind-faith-returnsIf you think the cover was an alarming image, check out this cover to the band’s tour program with a nude covered by her long hair in all the vital places blind-folded and on a crucifix.

Another interesting tidbit is that the poster commisioned for the three Clapton-Winwood Madison Square Garden concerts in 2008 shows the spaceship, which has been likened to a hood ornament of either a 1953 Oldsmobile or 1956 Chevrolet.

The relevant portions of Seidemann’s note about the actual circumstances and how it all came about follow.

 

 

 

By Bob Seidemann (excerpt)

Detroit was burning. The police were rioting in Chicago, cultural icons were dropping like flies, the love generation had been kicked to death by CBS, NBC, Life, Look and Newsweek and I wanted out. I called Eric Clapton in London to ask if he would put me up for while. He did. I stayed at his flat in Chelsea with a wild crowd of ravers. The party had been going on for some time when I arrived. Other residences of the never-ending, day-for-night, multi-colored fling were Martin Sharp, a graphic artist and poet with an uncanny resemblance to Peter O’Toole, and the wildest of ravers, Philippe Mora a young film maker who looked like a cheery Peter Lorre and their handsome girl friends. I bunked on a ledge under a skylight in the living room. All of the London scene came through. It was wild and wooly.

         A year passed and I had my own room in a basement flat in the same part of town with another bunch of ravers. The phone rang. It was Robert Stigwood’s office, Clapton’s manager. Cream was over and Eric was putting a new band together. The fellow on the phone asked if I would make a cover for the new unnamed group. This was big time. It seems as though the western world had for lack of a more substantial icon, settled on the rock and roll star as the golden calf of the moment. The record cover had become the place to be seen as an artist.

         I had sold my cameras in San Francisco after the Pieta poster  (A controversial 1967 photo that reversed roles of the famous Michelangelo painting – editor’s note) because it scared me so much, vowing never to pick up a camera again. The picture gave me the heebee jeebees and the willies all at the same time. If you pinned it to the wall, the wall would smoke. It was a picture of death alright. If I was going take up a camera again to make a cover for Eric’s new band it would have be the antidote to the Pieta image, a picture of life.

         It was nineteen sixty nine and man was landing on the moon. Our species was making its first steps into limitless space and I had a shot at immortality. That’s what every artist hopes to achieve, a stab at greatness, to make something that will last for a little while. To scratch an image on a wall and hope the wall outlives him. The lights were on, the curtain was going up, and I was coming down. Down from San Francisco. Down from the height of blinding insight. Down from the top of the mountain. Down from that lofty battlefield. Down from Dr. Strangelove and 2001. The pop world was awaiting the new pop idols, and I had been asked to create their emblem.

         Technology and innocence crashed through the tatters of my mind. Only a thread of an idea, something I couldn’t see, something out there just beyond my vision, an impulse rippling through the interstellar plasma. I stumbled through the streets of London for weeks, bumping into things, gibbering like a mad man. I could not get my hands on the image until out of the mist a concept began to emerge. To symbolize the achievement of human creativity and its expression through technology a space ship was the material object. To carry this new spore into the universe, innocence would be the ideal bearer, a young girl, a girl as young as Shakespeare’s Juliet. The space ship would be the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the girl, the fruit of the tree of life.

         The space ship could be made by Mick Milligan, a jeweler at the Royal College or Art. The girl was another matter. If she were too old it would be cheesecake, too young and it would be nothing. The beginning of the transition from girl to woman, that is what I was after. That temporal point, that singular flare of radiant innocence. Where is that girl?

         I was riding the London Tube on the way to Stigwood’s office to expose Clapton’s management to this revelation when the tube doors opened and she stepped into the car. She was wearing a school uniform, plaid skirt, blue blazer, white socks and ball point pen drawings on her hands. It was as though the air began to crackle with an electrostatic charge. She was buoyant and fresh as the morning air.

         I must have looked like something out of Dickens. Somewhere between Fagan, Quasimodo, Albert Einstein and John the Baptist. The car was full of passengers. I approached her and said that I would like her to pose for a record cover for Eric Clapton’s new band. Everyone in the car tensed up.

         She said, do I have to take off my clothes?   My answer was yes, I gave her my card and begged her to call. I would have to ask her parent’s consent if she agreed. When I got to Stigwood’s office I called the flat and said that if this girl called not to let her off the phone without getting her phone number. When I returned she had called and left her number.

         Stanley Mouse, my close friend and one of the five originators of psychedelic art in San Francisco, was holed up at the flat. He helped me make a layout and we headed out to meet with the girl’s parents.

         It was a Mayfair address. This is a swank part of town, class in the English sense of the word. The parents were charming and worldly with a bohemian air. He was large and robust, she was demure. They knew the poet Alan Ginsberg, owned a tenth century manor house outside of London and were distantly related to two royal families, one English, the other German. The odds against this circumstance were astronomical and unsurprising.

         Mouse and I made our presentation, I told my story, the parents agreed. The girl on the tube train would not be the one, she was shy, she had just past the point of complete innocence and could not pose. Her younger sister had been saying the whole time, “Oh Mommy, Mommy, I want to do it, I want to do it”. She was glorious sunshine. Botticelli’s angel, the picture of innocence, a face which in a brief time could launch a thousand space ships.

         claptonwinwood-posterWe asked her what her fee should be for modeling, she said a young horse. I called the image ‘Blind Faith’ and Clapton made that the name of his band. When the cover was shown in the trades it hit the market like a runaway train, causing a storm of controversy. At one point the record company considered not releasing the cover at all. It was Eric Clapton who fought for it. If this was not to be the cover, there would be no record. It was Eric who elected to not print the name of the band on the cover. This had never been done before. The name was printed on the wrapper, when the wrapper came off, so did the type.

         This was an image created out of ferment and storm, out of revolution and chaos. It was an image in the mind of one who strove for that moment of glory, that blinding flash of singular inspiration. To etch an image on a stone in our cultural wall with the hope that that wall will last. To say with his heart and his eyes, at a time when it mattered, this is what I see and this is what I feel. It was created out of hope and a wish for a new beginning, innocence propelled by BLIND FAITH.                        ©Bob Seidemann

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01
Mar
09

Performing now … the one and only Jeff Beck

Late last year, Jeff Beck released his third live album since 2006, Performing This Week … Live At Ronnie Scott’s, recorded at the legendary London jazz club. Later this month, a DVD of the performance will be released by Eagle Rock Entertainment.

beckronnies-2Beck, acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest guitar players, has had a varied career that started in earnest with the Yardbirds, replacing Eric Clapton, through two versions of the blues-rock based Jeff Beck Group and on to a long run at the forefront of fusion music. When Beck made the transition to jazz-rock  in the ’70s, he finally started garnering appropriate accolades for his prowess. As the guitarist in the Yardbirds, he was well-known to the general public in England but not so much in the States. Still, as early as the mid-’60s he was experimenting with extraordinary sounds on the guitar before many of the decade’s guitar heroes, including Jimi Hendrix, who cited Beck as an influence.

He is currently on tour with the proficient and powerful quartet that recorded at Ronnie Scott’s with him and includes Jason Rebello, keyboards, Vinnie Colaiuta, drums and young Australian wunderkind Tal Wilkenfeld, bass. Beck will be stopping in Connecticut at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods April 11.

So why three live albums since 2006? Well, the latest is really the first of the three to enjoy a wide-ranging release. Live at B.B. King’s (from 2003, released in ’06) was an import that is now apparently out of print and only available through places like the Amazon Marketplace for about $45. Official Live Bootleg USA ’06 (2007), originally sold at shows, is also fetching the same price on the open market but is actually also available at Jeff Beck’s website for $15.

Ronnie Scott’s has 11 of its 16 tracks in common with Official Live Bootleg’s 14, and nine in common with Live At B.B. King’s 16. So it would seem there isn’t a great deal of difference among the three, at least in repertoire. But if you had to own one it should be Ronnie Scott’s. The sound is the best of the three and the performances are standard-bearers for Beck’s catalogue.

The set opens with Beck’s Bolero from the seminal blues-rock album Truth by the Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. Originally the B-side of a Beck single that preceded Truth, the bombastic production of the recorded version that featured one-half of the future Led Zeppelin (John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page, who wrote it), Nicky Hopkins on piano and Keith Moon on drums, is replaced here with a tight sounding masterpiece of economy and passion, featuring the recognizable melodic lines of the original with improvised segments.

It’s followed by John McLaughlin’s Eternity’s Breath, which serves as an intro to Billy Cobham’s classic Stratus, from the album Spectrum, a record that helped establish the fusion movement in the early 1970s. It’s also probably a bow to Tommy Bolin, who played lead on the original and died in the mid-1970s of an overdose while on tour with Beck. The tune fits Beck like a glove and one wonders why it’s taken him so long to make it  his own.

The first 10 songs on the album are by other writers, including three by Tony Hymas (Behind The Veil, Blast From The Past and Angel), who produced Beck’s most successful album artistically in the past two decades, Who Else? The Jan Hammer tune You Never Know, Stevie Wonder’s Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers and Max Middleton’s Led Boots from the album Wired are also among the first 10 tracks and all presented here in note perfect and heartfelt performances. Angel is Beck at his most lyrical employing the hybrid technique of only using his thumb and fingers, having eschewed using a pick long ago.

The frantic Scatterbrain, from Blow By Blow, is kicked up a notch higher in tempo than its recorded version, the Mingus tune Goodbye Pork Pie Hat intros to Beck’s own Brush With The Blues, the two of which share a similar feel, and Hymas’ Space Boogie, Big Block, a Hymas-Beck-Terry Bozio composition, and the exquisite interpretation of the Beatles’ Day In The Life lead to the finale Where Were You, another Hymas-Beck-Bozio tune.

Where Were You is particularly noteworthy. It features Beck’s technique of playing the strings with just the vibrato arm after producing a harmonic with his left fingertips, something he originated with this tune on the album Guitar Shop.

A word about his band members. Colaiuta has probably been with Beck the longest and he is a consummate drummer, dynamic, driving, explosive and technically rarely equalled. Rebello exhibits tasteful wizardry on keys and Wilkenfeld, 22, is matured as a player well beyond her years. She takes an inspired solo on Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers and is solid throughout matching Beck on all the uptempo unison lines.

The DVD will include 13 of the tracks on the CD and one additional tune, People Get Ready with Joss Stone guesting.

I’ve seen Beck three times since 1969 and plan on seeing the Foxwoods show. The most recent was at Oakdale in 1999, with a band that included Colaiuta and guitarist Jennifer Batten, in a mind-boggling performance that has been preserved on a widely distributed gray-market item. Previous to that, I caught him on his Wired tour at the Waterbury Palace in the mid-1970s with Jan Hammer, a tour that would later produce a live album. It was another stellar night of pyrotechnics.

The first time though was probably the most interesting from a historical viewpoint if not from a performance one. In support of the Truth album in May, 1969, the original Jeff Beck Group was booked for two shows at Woolsey Hall at Yale. I had tickets for the second show, so we didn’t show up until about 9 p.m.

The opening act was Rhinoceros, a New York based heavy rock outfit, with an album on Elektra. Although we didn’t know it at the time we arrived, Rhinoceros evidently blew the audience away in the first show leaving little reaction for Beck and his group. I’ve seen this happen to headliners a few times over the years and it’s a very strange phenomenon.

So we were startled from our second-row seats to the right of the stage when the Jeff Beck Group opened the second show. As to Beck’s performance, it was fine. They played most of the material from Truth and sounded good if not great with the addition of Hopkins on an upright piano. It was a joy to finally see him and hear Stewart sing live (I didn’t realize Beck actually sang part of Let Me Love You), but they did seem in a bit of a hurry to leave the premises.

We later heard Rhinoceros’ set was a good one, but we weren’t really interested in seeing them and didn’t stay. It wasn’t until talking with James Velvet, a fixture on the New Haven rock circuit for years, about different concerts we’d seen in common that he told me the details about the first Rhinoceros set. Now Beck opening the second set finally made sense to me. The group evidently didn’t want their crew to bother breaking down and resetting the equipment only to be upstaged again, so they opened their own concert for the second show! Then they made a quick getaway, never to return to New Haven.

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