Friday, 17th April

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

DaveWedding reception, Somerset. At the Maverick Festival a few years ago there were lots of well-known names in the, uh, Americana field, but they were all left for dust by Stompin’ Dave, our pick of the weekend. A great Rev. Gary Davis-style ragtime picker, a fine frailin’ banjoist, an excellent flat-foot dancer – Dave does all these things with brio and style. To hear him play as everyone arrived back from the church was a treat.

MY FAVOURITE PIECE OF WRITING ABOUT PERCY SLEDGE THIS WEEK
Mick Brown, in The Daily Telegraph: “But if “When A Man Loves A Woman” was very much a product of its time it was also, magically, a piece of work that transcended the moment and the place in which it was made: a song that seemed to have been circling the heavens, just waiting to be called down to earth. The greatest pop music has a magical capacity to speak to the heart, articulating the inchoate feelings that one can barely articulate oneself: This is how love feels, how love hurts. “When a man loves a woman, can’t keep his mind on nothing else…” You KNOW that’s right. From a small dusty town in northern Alabama, the song reached out to me, a love-struck teenager in South London, a textbook of all the longing I felt for the girl on the dancehall floor, whom I could never tell exactly how I felt, and never would.”

JOE BOYD ON SAM CHARTERS
From his email newsletter, kindly sent on to me by Mick Gold: “When I realized that music was still out there to be discovered and that producing records would be my life, it was, remarkably, that same Sam Charters who gave me the tip that opened the door to my professional career. In the winter of 1965, the night before leaving for Chicago (on business for my then-employer George Wein, producer of the Newport Jazz and Folk festivals), I found myself sharing a table at the Kettle of Fish bar with Sam. We and the other Greenwich Village blues hounds had gathered to hear the first New York performance of the just re-discovered Son House. When in Chicago, Sam urged me not to confine myself to South Side bars in my quest for great blues, but to head to the North Side and check out a mixed-race band under the leadership of Paul Butterfield. I mentioned the tip to my friend Paul Rothchild, newly appointed head of A&R at Elektra Records. He joined me in Chicago, signed Butterfield, added (at my suggestion) Mike Bloomfield on lead guitar. Six months later I had my reward: a job opening Elektra’s London office – on my way at last!”

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (SLIGHT RECOMMENTATION)
Why is it that biopics often run out of steam halfway through? For the first 45 minutes this is great – as flighty and diffident-seeming as its title character, nicely shot and beautifully played. Andrew Buckley is great as Chas Chandler, as is André Benjamin as Jimi, and the music score is very clever. Denied any Hendrix tracks, director John Ridley has Waddy Wachtel replicate the sound and feel of both the Curtis Knight band and the Experience, with help from Leland Sklar and Bob Glaub on bass, and Kenny Aronoff on drums. The real star of the show, though, is Imogen Poots as Linda Keith, and it’s when her character becomes less involved that the story starts to sag, losing the vivacity and energy that she brings.

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
The Festival of the American South was held at the Royal Festival Hall, about 10 years ago, maybe more. One night was a songwriter’s circle hosted by Charlie Gillett, with Guy Clarke, Allen Toussaint, Vic Chestnutt, and – on this track Dan Penn, with Joe South adding inimitable Tennessee guitar. Probably unrehearsed, with some stumbling rhythm guitar, but a wonderful, wonderful vocal on a track written by Penn with Spooner Oldham and made famous by Percy Sledge.

Five Things Extra! Soho’s Record Stores

If you’re around the area, go and share your memories of any of the legion (it’s up to, unbelievably, 142 at the moment) of record stores that have graced Soho’s streets, from the Harlequin that turned into Our Price to Steve’s Sounds in the basement at Newport Court, via Collets International, Ray’s and Dobell’s. A pop-up jointly curated by Leon Parker of the British Record Store Archive and the Museum of Soho, it was put together at short notice with help from The Museum of London and is located on Berwick Street next door to Gosh! Comics. The weird thing for me was not what I’d remembered, but what I’d forgotten. They have t-shirts for sale, along with records and memorabilia, and it runs ’til Monday.

Letter from Cheapo Cheapo Records confirming availability of Caravan’s first album and Chris Spedding’s The Only Lick I know; John from the Museum of Soho with Leon; Early Dylan and ’Ree sleeves; Hands up who remembers Imhofs?

Letter from Cheapo Cheapo Records confirming availability of Caravan’s first album and Chris Spedding’s The Only Lick I Know; John from the Museum of Soho with Leon; Early Dylan and ’Ree sleeves; Hands up who remembers Imhofs?

Wednesday, April 8th

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Dylan DeanBob Dylan watches Dean Martin, at home in Woodstock, Summer ’64, from a great set of photos by Douglas Gilbert. “In July of 1964, one year before his music changed from acoustic to electric, I photographed Bob Dylan for LOOK magazine. I spent time with him at his home in Woodstock, New York, in Greenwich Village, and at the Newport Folk Festival. The story was never published. After reviewing the proposed layout, the editors declared Dylan to be “too scruffy for a family magazine” and killed the story.” [Thanks, Bob G].

HOLD ON THERE A MINUTE!
Yes, we all laughed when Peter Bradshaw sent Grace of Monaco up at the Cannes Film Festival. “It is a film so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire-risk. The cringe-factor is ionospherically high. A fleet of ambulances may have to be stationed outside the Palais to take tuxed audiences to hospital afterwards to have their toes uncurled under general anaesthetic”. And it’s a very funny review, but having actually seen Diana, with Naomi Watts, a film he uses as an unfavorable comparison, I have to disagree about his heirarchy. Grace may be an undemanding watch, but it’s nicely shot and has a great cast of dependables (Langella, Jacobi, Parker Posey, and Kidman herself). Yes, the plot is nothing (rich people trying to keep their gilded colony afloat), but it actually looks like The Magnificent Ambersons in comparison to Diana. Maybe the music is somehow to blame – Christopher Gunning’s score sounds like Hollywood-orchestra-by-the-yard stuff, and it doesn’t suit the rather cool shooting style of the film, and, at times, drags it into near-melodrama.

CROWDFUND ONE MUSO DOCUMENTARY…
And you come across the radar of a lot of other people trying to crowdfund muso documentaries. “Hey, My name is Steve Duddy and I’m the executive producer of a brand new documentary titled Porcaro: A Band Of Brothers. The Porcaro family is one of the most prolific and iconic families in music. Jeff, Mike, Steve and Joe Porcaro helped shape pop and rock music as we know it today.” All true, but I’m just not convinced there’s a two-hour documentary in it.

HUSH NOW, DON’T EXPLAIN
For me, Billie Holiday was a singer from childhood Sunday mornings, remembered as sun-drenched and suffused with warmth. Too young to appreciate the complexity that she bought to anything she sang, there was still a sense of melancholy and yearning that was half-understood, and put away until one could fully appreciate it. You never hear any popstrels wanting to be Ella, do you? It’s always Billie. That kind of pain travels across time and distance, so the sweet-voiced singers lose out. And, hey – sad songs probably travel better than the happy ones. So, now it’s the centenary of Billie’s birth and Radio 4 have author Julia Blackburn and singer Rebecca (runner-up of the seventh series of The X Factor) Ferguson talking about her. Blackburn’s book, With Billie, was beautifully reviewed in The Guardian by filmmaker Mike Figgis, back in 2005:

“Billie was part of my life growing up on a council estate in Newcastle. My father was obsessed with her and her one-time accompanist, Teddy Wilson. There were two LPs that became central to my understanding of Billie. One was The Billie Holiday Memorial, on Verve records. In her book, Blackburn describes hearing Billie for the first time, while listening to this album. The first track is “I Cried for You” and has Johnny Hodges on alto sax introducing the song. The LP was a compilation of some of her finest tracks and ended with her devastatingly sad version of “For All We Know We May Never Meet Again”. I know every track by heart, every click and each moment where the needle would stick. Blackburn seems to have had the same experience.

When I first started collecting albums myself it was difficult to find any I could afford that my dad didn’t already own, so I would look at cheap editions of LPs. Most were not so good, but I did find one that my dad didn’t have. One of the tracks was “Fine and Mellow”, and I later learned that it was taken from a TV show called The Sound of Jazz. It is my favourite Billie track of all time and I know every note by heart. She is accompanied by Ben Webster, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Gerry Mulligan and Roy Eldridge. Blackburn talks about this track in her book, but I would like to add a different slant. Years after first encountering the LP, I saw a documentary about Billie which included the complete TV footage of “Fine and Mellow”. It was the most profound experience to see how the music was animated: the way the musicians and Billie interacted with each other, the way she moved her head when Young was playing his solo. I’d go as far as to say it is my favourite piece of film of all time. There is no other jazz footage I am aware of that comes even close to this in describing the beauty of jazz improvisation.” Wonderful.

I also found these reminicences: “Jazz critic Nat Hentoff recalled that during rehearsals, Billie Holiday and Lester Young kept to opposite sides of the room. During the performance of “Fine and Mellow”, Hentoff recalled, “Lester got up, and he played the purest blues I have ever heard, and [he and Holiday] were looking at each other, their eyes were sort of interlocked, and she was sort of nodding and half-smiling. It was as if they were both remembering what had been – whatever that was. And in the control room we were all crying. When the show was over, they went their separate ways.”

Arranger and bandleader Ray Ellis: “I would say that the most emotional moment was her listening to the playback of “I’m a Fool to Want You”. There were tears in her eyes… After we finished the album I went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her performance, but I was just listening musically instead of emotionally. It wasn’t until I heard the final mix a few weeks later that I realized how great her performance really was.”

On Woman’s Hour, Rebecca Ferguson does a fine version of “Don’t Explain” – she doesn’t overly over-soul [or should that be over-jazz?] and there’s a lovely grain to her voice – hear the way she sings “You are my joy… and you are my pain”. It’s remarkable to hear her speak in a quiet, almost dour Liverpool accent, then sing like this.

JUST LOVELY
This wonderful remincence of Muddy Waters by John Moore, on The Guardian’s music blog: “A couple of weeks into guitar lessons with a lovely schoolteacher called Jill, who had written a song for Rags, the Blue Peter Horse that was broadcast on BBC1, I was able to play “Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” – a sad lament to a lost pooch. As I strummed it for Peter, hopefully, I felt sure it would earn his approval. It didn’t. He was polite enough, of course, but as my parents beamed with pride at their six-string wunderkind, he asked if this was really the kind of thing I wanted to play.

Come to think of it, no, I replied. Then the suburban epiphany began, and the devil’s music came to Wokingham. The man in the sharp suit, with the cigarette glowing in the side of his mouth, picked up my guitar and began to play.
“Gypsy woman told my mother, before I was born/You got a boy child comin’, gonna be a son of a gun…”

The words, and sheer brutality of the riff, almost broke me in two.

And that’s when it started, year zero: from teenybopper to bluesman in one evening. As far as I was concerned, the little dog could stay lost, all I wanted was a John the Conqueroo, and a black cat bone – which, with our own midnight black, ancient moggy, was a distinct possibility.

Hearing a 12-year-old boy with a chorister voice, growling that “He’d Just Like To Make Love To You”, was enough to make our next-door neighbour Joan cry with laughter. I went electric soon after this, and she wasn’t laughing then – and I got called much worse than Judas. My love of Muddy Waters has stood me in good stead. At secondary school, it earned me the protection of the school psychopath. He’d learned that a boy in the first year had been blowing a blues harp on Winnersh station as the downhome train came in. He loved Chicago blues, and until he was expelled for arson, I was untouchable.”

SOMETHING I LEARNED

Sharon
That Sharon Robinson, great Leonard Cohen collaborator, is not a front person; some people work best in the engine room. Coming into the front room that is west London’s Bush Hall, we’re treated to the kind of performance that requires ‘notes’ – from a musical director, promoter or friend, whoever will say: “Don’t play that song, rehearse that one some more, don’t cover the electronic keyboard with a shawl that makes it look like she’s trying to reach the dead, do away with the pre-recorded drum tracks that bring John Shuttleworth to mind and hire a percussionist instead, don’t be exposed up there while your son doesn’t really cut the mustard as accompanist, with erratic timing and lack of articulation…” The trumpet player was great, but there needed to be more sonic variation.

Also, if Leonard’s songs take up fifty percent of your set, you really need to tell illuminating anecdotes of your time working with one of music’s finest and most interesting lyricists. Something about the working relationship, with a sense of detail that will make an audience feel special. Sharon Robinson has a wonderful voice, and sings with conviction but lacks the killer instinct of the true performer. It was not unenjoyable (in fact we may have been the only people to not love it – the audience were pretty ecstatic) but it would have been so much better with a great rhythm section at an intimate club like Ronnie’s.

In a week of such nostalgia (not even mentioning Linda Grant’s lightly cringe-inducing piece on the potential passing of Joni Mitchell by, in effect, saying  “You may be saddened by Joni dying, but I will be the most saddened person ever. I will, I promise – the most saddened person in the whole of the world. She wrote my life – did I tell you how sad I’d feel?”) here’s hoping next week’s blog will be a little more forward looking.

Wednesday, 1st April

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Chris

“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right”, I imagine Virginia Woolf to be singing as we chance upon the latest hoarding at Fitzroy Place, the Candy Bros high-security detention centre for the obscenely rich. It tells us that Coldplay formed at the University of London. And on the right, as I’ve pointed out before, Dylan’s illustration is accompanied by the fact that he played The King and Queen in Foley Street on his first visit to London. Fitzroy Place is, apparently, Where Creativity Lives and that fact is illuminated by said hoardings. Chris looks strangely unmoved by this knowledge.

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
Searching for a release date for Alex Gibney’s documentary on Scientology, Going Clear, (it’s just premiered on HBO) I came across this. You’ll need a strong stomach to watch, and an even stronger stomach to listen, but it’s worth it for the subtitles explaining the fate of Scientology’s 1990 top tier.

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
A memory of the Rolling Stones live at Hyde Park, 5 July 1969 by co-promoter Andrew King in M magazine:

“It was the week Brian Jones had drowned. They’d already sacked him a month before and were rehearsing guitarist Mick Taylor. Mick and Keith thought someone might have a pop at them that day, so there were guns around. It was the first time I’d ever seen guns in the music biz. They were very worried.
During the course of that day a million people came and went. For me, the day kicked off at three in the morning and went on very late indeed. The butterflies were such a bloody hassle! Mick announced that he was going to read a poem by Shelley on the death of Keats, which he did quite extraordinarily badly, as if he’d never heard of a comma or full stop in his life. It was obviously Marianne’s idea – she was the literary one.
When he finished, all these butterflies were supposed to fly out, representing the soul of Brian Jones. It was my job to unleash them. The butterflies were bred at a farm in the West Country [and] came up by overnight train in cardboard boxes to Paddington Station. I remember the breed had been a thing of considerable consternation with the gardeners, because they didn’t want them to affect the park’s ecosystem. We were chuffed we’d managed to find the right species of butterfly – but it wasn’t plain sailing from there. I remember being down at Paddington Station at 4.30am to collect them, peeped into one of the boxes… and they all appeared to be dead! I panicked and called the butterfly farm, who told me they were just cold and asleep, and I had to warm them up to get them to fly.
So I took them backstage, but the only heating we had were two tiny electric fires students use to heat cans of baked beans. We started stacking up these butterfly boxes on the heaters and one of them caught fire. It was a real palaver. In the end, we managed to perk them up a bit and by the time of the gig a few butterflies did fly out as they were supposed to, but an awful lot just went plonk onto the stage. I’ll always remember Mick in that tutu, looking on somewhat aghast…

A QUOTE QUITE-LIKED
Lulu in a Q&A in the Guardian Weekend: If you could go back in time, where would you go?
“To the 60s, when I was 16, at the Marquee in Soho, and Eric Clapton asked what I was doing that night. I would give him a better answer.”

OH NO, NOT THAT AGAIN…
An excellently argued piece by US Esquire’s Andy Langer about the need for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to go dark for five years. “It needs a way out in years in which Seal, Primus, and Sublime or, worse yet, Counting Crows are looking for a way in.”

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
“All I Have to Do is Dream”, Keith Richards solo piano version, recorded at Longview Farm, North Brookfield, Mass, in late May 1981. As Keith works it out – playing piano like a guitar player – he inches towards Charlie Rich territory, and it’s strangely affecting.

 

Wednesday, 25th March

Visual of the Week

Ken&Rose
The great Sister Rosetta documentary was shown again on BBC 4. Any chance to run these lovely Terry Cryer photos – taken in the Studio 51 Club on Great Newport Street in 1957, of Rosetta playing with my uncle’s band – cannot be turned down. A woman with an amazing voice, an electrifying style and great, great taste in guitars. Check out the wild solo two minutes into the film.

A fascinating snippet from Laura Barton’s Buena Vista piece in The Guardian:
[Nick] Gold and [Ry] Cooder felt a similar a sense of care and responsibility for the recordings they made. “Each morning, we played what we had recorded the day before,” Gold says. “We knew it was wonderful. When you listen to it, you’re right there.” This was partly due to the positioning of a pair of microphones high in the studio to capture the ambience of the room. “The studio [Egrem] has this one fantastic large room. It just has this lovely feel.” But when the pair took the recordings to California to be mixed, they immediately stumbled. “We weren’t hearing that special something,” says Gold. “There was a clarity missing.” They began a frantic search for a mixing desk that resembled the one used in Havana, eventually locating the same model in a Christian recording studio in Los Angeles. “And there it was – that sound back in all its clarity! Ry said, ‘It’s like someone’s wiped the windows clear.’”

Gary Katz in Conversation
An engaging Q&A with the bone-dry Brooklynite, in which his deep love of music and musicians shines across the orchestra pit at the Bloomsbury Theatre. It was organised by the London Song Company, and its founder Julian Marshall (who has worked with Mr Katz) led the questions. Lots to enjoy, but the heart of it was how much Katz loved working on these great songs with most of America’s greatest musicians a phone call away. It was interesting to note that Katz’s working relationship with Donald Fagen ended after Nightfly because of Fagen’s insistence on using Wendell, the prototype drum machine that engineer Roger Nicholls built by hand on Fagen’s command, instead of the mere humans (aka America’s finest drummers) who had done service on all the Steely Dan records up to Gaucho. One thing that resonated was how many of the great solos on Steely Dan tracks were done in one take, considering the Dan’s penchant for taking months fretting about the placing of one beat. Phil Woods on “Dr Wu”, Wayne Shorter on “Aja”, Jay Graydon on “Peg” – all one pass at the track, pack away the instrument, go home.

Perhaps the most astonishing of all was Steve Gadd’s drumming on “Aja”. Apparently, Becker and Fagen (and Katz) always talked about using him, but every time they came close, one of them would say, “I don’t really love his backbeat…” (laughter) and they wouldn’t call him. Having problems with the drum track (and extended solo) on “Aja”, Katz told us:
“Someone said, ‘Maybe this would be a good time to try Gadd’. [At this time] Steve had a distinct problem with drugs. When he came into the room he said, ‘Let me put the score up…’ It was a very long score, because of the eight minutes, so they set up a semi-circle of music stands. He said, ‘Can we just run it down so I can mark it?’ So Chuck Rainey, Victor Feldman, great musicians, ran it down, Gadd marks it. Said ‘Okay, I’m ready’. Walter and I were in the control room, Donald was outside with his back to us, doing the scratch vocal. He only played it once. The only time he played it, is what you hear (sounds of incredulity from audience). Walter says, ‘You know, we may have made a mistake about Gadd’. (laughter)

“So six months go by, as they usually do on our records, we went back to New York to mix, and we were just about finished mixing the song, and someone said, ‘You know Gadd’s down the hall working on a Michael Franks record’, and Don says, ‘Go get him, and let him hear this.’ So we go down, say we want to play him something – he was a mess… he sat in front of the console and we played it really loud, really good sound. The track is over, he goes ‘Wow… who’s playing drums?’ We just look at each other, ’cause he wasn’t kidding. I said, ‘You did, Steve’. He said, ‘I’m a motherfucker’ (audience collapses)”.

“We skipped the light fandango/Turned cartwheels ’cross the floor…”
Mick Gold comments on my mention of the King Curtis album “Live At The Fillmore West”. “I was watching Withnail & I for the 987th time late night on TV and was suddenly seized by curiosity. What was the opening piece of music which plays over shots of Paul McGann’s horrified face contemplating the squalor of their flat in Camden Town, 1969? A bit of a search revealed it was King Curtis performing “A Whiter Shade of Pale” from the album you mentioned. What does that honking full-bodied tenor sax solo over washes of organ fills have to do with the domestic chaos and anguish we’re seeing? It’s totally counter-intuitive yet it works…”

You are so right, Mick. Funnily enough I too had caught 15 minutes of W&I recently, and had to force myself not to watch it all (it’s one of those films that, no matter how many times you’ve seen it and wherever into the film you come in, it’s almost impossible not to continue to the end, or 2am, whichever comes first). So I re-bought it, as my copy is in storage. It’s such a great record. There’s something about the balance of the players. You can hear everything that everyone is doing – each one’s frequency seems to be perfectly sonically placed. Curtis is up high on sax, higher when he puts his soprano through a wah-wah pedal, Cornell Dupree is sliding delta just below him (his performance is a fantastic all-encompassing lesson in soul guitar by itself), the Memphis horns add glorious punctuation, Billy Preston is between them and the Rhythm Section, sometimes soaring up, sometimes grinding down, with Jerry Jemmott on the bass at the base, and Bernard Purdie is operating in some Purdie-world, all over everything without stepping on anyone’s toes. It’s such a fantastic recording. (Oh, and by the by, if you’ve never seen this short sample of Purdie doing a 16th note shuffle, it’s priceless: “Whoa! I like it very much!”)

This Week’s Homework
…consists of Courtney Barnett (courtesy of Oscar). Great so far – imagine if Patty Donahue of The Waitresses was born in Australia, grew up and married Reg Presley of The Troggs, with Aimee Mann as the maid of honour and Nirvana, fronted by Elvis Costello, as the wedding band. Great lyrics and titles, too, often ripped from regular life – “Don’t Apply Compression Gently”, “Pedestrian at Best”,“Avant Gardener” and “History Eraser” (for all you Photoshoppers out there). Great to hear an Aussie accent in song. Every Record Tells A Story thinks you should hear this album…

Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly (courtesy of Richard). I’m just getting to grips with this and I’m already excited. It demands listening to, a complex sonic experience crammed with ideas, asides and seventies jazz samples. The refrain “I remember you was conflicted/mis-using your influence” runs through it like a river. Report next week.

Collins

And with a final word from Stephen Collins in his wonderful Guardian strip, I’m off to watch the Godmother of Rock ’n’ Roll again…


A Note
My oldest, dearest friend died last week. I’ve known Sam Charters since I was four, and he, along with his wife Ann, left a musical impression on my life that isn’t even quantifiable. I’m not sure that I can find what I want to say about him yet, so I’ll leave it for a while, but I couldn’t let the week go by with no mention of its importance to me. I’m happy that I got to Stockholm in January so that we could sit and talk and drink Martinis – and listen to James Cleveland and Willie Nelson, one more time.

Wednesday, 18th March

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Dylan Batman

SOMETHING WAS DELIVERED
Following a week where I wrote nothing about Dylan, it’s time for some more! Thanks to Mick Gold for this fine accompanying graphic… Barney sends me a copy of his soon-to-be-published epic on Woodstock, Small Town Talk: Wild Times & Bad Blood in Woodstock, 1963-1986, and a link to a site, PopSpotsNYC. Now here’s what the internet was invented for. A madly obsessive geographical quest to find the locations of famous rock photographs. Tell me what’s not to love about this. With a thoroughness matching a JFK assassination researcher with a  first-gen copy of the Zapruder film, Bob Egan, pop-culture detective, heads out with his camera, or peruses Google Street View and, with the aid of Photoshop, removes the mystery from the history. I was inspired by his tracking of Jim Marshall’s shoot of Dylan, Suze, Terry Thai & Dave Van Ronk in Greenwich Village (the famous tyre-rolling shot comes from this morning) to order a copy of Proof, a book of Jim Marshall’s contact sheets.

Dylanwalk

The great detectiveness that pinpoints the famous Elliot Landy “civil war” shot of The Band is just mind-boggling. Way to go, Bob!

Band

A COUPLE MORE BOB THINGS
1) A strange advert using Wigwam, from Self Portrait, as its soundtrack. Clash of Clans? I wonder which creative thought of that? It actually – strangely – kind of works.
2) A great article in The New York Review of Books by Dan Chiasson, reviewing both a date on the Never Ending Tour, at the Beacon Theatre in New York, and Christopher Ricks’ new $299 book, The Lyrics: Bob Dylan. “The opening verses of “Tangled Up in Blue” are among the most famous in Bob Dylan’s repertoire. Readers who know them will find themselves singing along: “Early one morning the sun was shining, I was laying in bed/Wondering if she’d changed at all, If her hair was still red.” Pronouns matter in Dylan, especially his “I” and “you,” whose limitless friction, wearing each other away year after year, Dylan’s songs have often so beautifully expressed. But there’s no “you” in “Tangled Up in Blue,” which is, in a way, the point: the unnamed “she” is lost, out of earshot, beyond conjuring, a creature who haunts Dylan’s dreams.

CRITICAL MISS
Grace Dent reviews restaurant West Thirty Six in ES Magazine: “Gentrification will eventually chase off all the cool that the initial gentrifiers were in search of. I’d get more het up about this, except records show that Londoners have been moaning about ‘bloody other people coming to spoil things’ since around 1611. West Thirty Six is a rambling great restaurant serving bistro fare – grill, burgers, cocktails – over many floors, led by chef Rex Newmark. Rex’s Twitter bio reads: Rex Newmark the Rock & Roll chef. Celebrity Executive Chef of Beach Blanket Babylon & West Thirty Six. Now call me a stick in the mud, but I don’t particularly want my chefs to be rock’n’roll. I’ve never looked once at Bobby Gillespie staggering around a stage sweating and thought, ‘Gosh, I bet he can knock up a delicate smoked haddock soufflé.’ Heading up a new restaurant – new menus, staff, clientele, dealing with snags and curveballs – requires ball-breaking, round-the-clock devotion to the dance of hospitality for months. It’s the opposite of rock’n’roll. It’s like setting off on tour with the Bolshoi Ballet… [after a dismal experience she concludes…] Maddeningly, our choice of roasted cauliflower turned out to be a small plate featuring two florets of cauliflower, some fresh pomegranate seeds and an overpowering taste of chopped celery – a testament to GCSE Home Economics – for the bargain price of £8.50. That’s the problem with being a rock’n’roll chef. You set out to be Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction era; you end up with food that tastes like it was cooked, circa 2003, by Pete Doherty.

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
I’ve been listening to lots of instrumentals lately, inspired by rediscovering the wonderfully vivid King Curtis Live at Fillmore West. This led to making an instrumental playlist. Here’s one of the quieter songs on it – “On October 4, in the wee hours after the band cut Nick Gravenites’ “Buried Alive In The Blues”, Janis injected some heroin in her room at the Landmark Hotel. Combined with the cocktails she’d sipped earlier, the lethal combination killed the 27-year-old singer. Her stricken band returned to the studio a few days later to finish the recordings they’d started, while there started improvising a new song., the elegiac “Pearl”. Of the track, [reissue producer] Bob Irwin says, “You could just feel on the tape the unbelievably somber and sad mood when the guys started playing this pretty ballad. Every tape before that was lively and bubbly. This is an edited version of a jam that goes on for 12 to 14 minutes.” Though the heartbreaking song was not issued on the original album, “the band named that track Pearl” says Irwin, “and it was assigned a matrix number and held as a recording”. Of course, Pearl was the Full Tilt Boogie Band’s nickname for Janis. Naturally it became the album title as well.” – from Holly George-Warren’s excellent liner notes to The Pearl Sessions.

Thursday, 12th March

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

SaxesJust one window of Phil Parker’s extraordinary new brass and woodwinds store at the start of Hampstead Road.

OH NO, NOT THAT AGAIN…
The courage of my convictions gets a little weaker each time I read another review of Whiplash. This excellent, despairing, New Yorker review of how jazz is treated in the movies, by Richard Brody, points out, after retelling a much more accurate version of the Jo Jones v Charlie Parker incident: “Here’s what Parker didn’t do in the intervening year: sit alone in his room and work on making his fingers go faster. He played music, thought music, lived music. In Whiplash, the young musicians don’t play much music. Andrew isn’t in a band or a combo, doesn’t get together with his fellow-students and jam—not in a park, not in a subway station, not in a café, not even in a basement.” And Brody ends with this – “There’s nothing in the film to indicate that Andrew has any originality in his music. What he has, and what he ultimately expresses, is chutzpah. That may be very helpful in readying Andrew for a job on television. Whiplash honors neither jazz nor cinema; it’s a work of petty didacticism that shows off petty mastery, and it feeds the sort of minor celebrity that Andrew aspires to. Buddy Rich. Buddy fucking Rich.”

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
The BBC Timeshift programme, When Eating Out Went Exotic had a segment on Pizza Express and its relationship to music. When Peter Boizot wanted to change the use of a basement, he turned to his friend, designer Enzo Appicella: “He said, Enzo, I have this basement in Dean Street, can you design for me a nice jazz club? I said, How much do you want to spend. He said, Not much. I said, Do you have the money to spend on five gallons of black paint? He said, Yes, that’s ok. And that was the decor – almost like it still is now! I said, Peter, don’t pay me, but you must make a huge big party!”

TWO WORDS THAT COST A LOT
Found in M, the Performing Rights Society’s magazine, the story of Steve Miller and “The Joker”: “I remember it was late at night and I was at an open-air party, sitting on the hood of a Pontiac GTO convertible with my back against the windshield. I had a Martin D-28 guitar in my hands and I was playing around with a bassline. The lyric Some people call me the space cowboy just popped into my head and from there it only took me about an hour to finally come up with the chorus. When I took it to the band, there wasn’t much of a reaction. At the time we were cutting rhythm tracks with John King on drums and Gerald Johnson on bass and this was just one song out of nine we were recording that day. It was very simple, so no one thought it was a hit song – we got the basic track down in one take so the song you hear is actually the demo.

The whole thing was recorded at Capitol Records, Hollywood, in Studio B. I played the Martin D-28 six-string acoustic guitar with Gerald on a Fender bass and John on drums. Then I sang the lead vocal and added the second part harmony. The final part was done by playing a slide guitar solo on a Fender Strat through a Mannys overdrive pedal and a Leslie speaker set on the chorus effect. The whole song took about 30 minutes to do!

There was one line in “The Joker” that caused me grief. Ahmet Ertegun [respected media mogul and founder of Atlantic Records] somehow stopped the payment of all my royalties for the song. I called to ask why and he told me that Eddie Curtis [who had originally written the song “Lovey Dovey”] was threatening him over the “Lovey Dovey” reference I’d used within the song.

I explained to Ahmet it was a tribute to The Coasters [who recorded a version of “Lovey Dovey” in 1964] and not part of the lyrics of the song. Considering all the writing credits he’d had with his own artists, I told him he was being duplicitous. He agreed and said he was sorry. He also said he was going to sue me anyway, so I had to give him and Eddie Curtis a percentage of my song to get the block on my royalties removed.”

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
There is a whole Wikipedia entry discussing Steve Miller’s use of the word, Pompatus, in “The Joker”. The line “Some people call me Maurice/’Cause I speak of the pompatus of love”, was written after Miller heard the song “The Letter” by The Medallions. In it, writer Vernon Green made up the word puppetutes, ‘to mean a secret paper-doll fantasy figure, who would be my everything and bear my children’(!) However, Miller misheard the word and wrote pompatus instead. In the Latin language, pompatus is an actual word meaning done with pomp or splendor. However, it is stressed on the second syllable, whereas the nonce word is stressed on the first”. For a made up (“nonce”) word, it’s truly excellent that it has such a life beyond the song. A list of places where the word has turned up is great – apart from a 1996 film titled The Pompatus of Love starring Jon Cryer (featuring four men discussing a number of assorted topics, including attempts to determine the meaning of the phrase), we learn that Michael Ondaatje used it in his book Anil’s Ghost.

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK

Garland
“This is called Mystery Kids…” says Garland Jeffreys, and the carousel-like intro trills out from the guitar and keyboards, then they hit the first verse, plunging us all into Scorsese’s Mean Streets, as Garland lays it out: “Marcellino Casanova/Little Angel from Laslow Street/Cinderella, she’s a crossover/She got no father in her history…” As the band chorus, Who are the Mystery Kids? they suddenly pull back and Garland starts to recite over a ticking beat…

“I climb six flights/To the tenement heights/And there ain’t no lights/It’s the darkest of nights/And the piss-stench smell/In the black stairwell/With the William Tell Overture…”
– and Bosch plays descending chorused chords, arpeggiating into the distance over the shivery hush from the keyboard –
“– in the background/And across the floor/I see two big rats/In a world like that/Can’t take anymore…”
And Jeffreys talks of his father “My father worked every day that he could find a way to work…”
– here Bosch plays sweet chiming guitar, very quietly –
“He worked up in Harlem, grew up in Harlem, and he was a tough father, very tough. He didn’t really have to hesitate to slap you across the face if you didn’t mind what you said. Growing up like that was frightening sometimes… I would start waiting around five, knowing that he’d be home around six. You could go to the back of my house, which was really my grandmother’s house, and you could see the trains, the subway cars, go by. And I would always be looking to see…’
– Bosch scrapes the strings and makes the noise of wheels on rails –
“Is he on that train. Is he on this train?”

Hear the rest on the audio player to the right

Saturday, 7th March

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Bob Vid

From Mr Dylan’s bonkers film noir for “The Night We Called It A Day”.

FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT IN THE FIELD
Tim uses my ticket to a Guardian screening of Midlake: Live in Denton as I wasn’t around, and files this report: “The film was a bit disappointing. Everything was shot handheld, going in and out of focus, etc, which gave it the look of a home movie. The hometown footage, randomly scattered throughout the concert, added to the home-movie vibe, shots of band members and friends having a barbecue, walking around town, etc. Denton came across as more normal – population 120,000, two universities – than quirky and the band seemed very sincere but not especially interesting musicians. Knowing nothing of their music, I didn’t hear any lyric or riff that caught my imagination. That said, the Q&A with lead singer Eric Pulido was enjoyable. He came across as very honest, open and, yes, sincere. It says something about the changing face of rock ’n’ roll, though, when you hear a musician discuss his work/life balance, reveal that he sits on his hometown’s historic buildings commission and say that he is currently listening to a lot of ELO, Supertramp and Wings…”

MISTER DYNAMITE: THE RISE OF JAMES BROWN
An excellent example of building a documentary by getting all of the blocks in place: great interviews with people who were there, or who had specific musical points to make, and fantastic source films (whether home videos, tv shows, news broadcasts or features). But most importantly of all, the confidence to not cut flashily away from incredible footage of the songs themselves – to let the groove run long enough to mesmerize the viewer, and reveal the musical heart of the story.

There was so much here. No matter how many times you’ve seen the TAMI show footage it still staggers. This was Brown’s breakthrough moment, thrust before a huge white audience, beside The Stones, The Beach Boys and Gerry & The Pacemakers, among others. As his ‘Cape Man’ Mr Ray, says, “He come out there like a shot out of a gun, man, dancin’ all across the stage. It’s kinda hard to beat, when you’re an artist that can sing and dance”. Mr Ray then gets his moment, flinging the cape over Brown’s shoulders as he mimes collapsing from sheer fervour – as Mick Jagger (in a very funny interview) says, “It’s obviously an act, but you worry about him!”

Following the smash and grab of “Outasite!” and turning up the emotional volume with “Please Please Please”, the band prepare to go into “Night Train”. Drummer Melvin Parker’s eyes smile as he remembers that moment. “Sam the bass player whispers in my ear, says ‘Melvin, let’s see if those guys can keep up with this…’ and it’s Night! Night! Train!” He mimes smashing down his stick on the snare – “It was off to the races!” They then proceed to play it at a sensational tempo, but James and his three back-up boys look like there’s nothing they’d rather be doing. The fluid glide of the camera moves back across the stage with Brown as he does the push-ups, the astonishing Ali-like shuffle, the dervish splits, and catches his grin of satisfaction as he saunters off the stage, his work done.

“TOO WHITE TO BE BLACK, TOO BLACK TO BE WHITE”: GARLAND JEFFREYS AT THE MUSICIAN, LEICESTER
It’s dark in the mean streets of Leicester’s industrial quarter, and I was glad when I saw a light, a single point surrounded by the hulks of abandoned buildings. It’s the front window of the Musician, a tiny club. Great. This is where you want to connect with a gloriously rootsy r&b/rock band: pretty much one long room, a bunch of die hard fans, a compact stage – and on it a group of people who really, really know what they’re doing. This is a band who sound as muscular and dense and driving as you’d want, without sacrificing any detail. They’re locked in tight, Charly Roth’s keys answering Mark Bosch’s guitar as the bass and drums (Brian Stanley and Tom Curiano) lock like Al Jackson and Duck Dunn. When they left us with a tribute to his Syracuse University student friend Lou, they played “I’m Waiting for The Man” with a perfect lowdown Memphis undertow. The sound is terrific, better than one has a right to expect of a whistlestop date following a visit to Scotland the night before. On Facebook, Robert Maddock reported that “Malc the soundman has been there forever, and he said it was the best performance he had ever witnessed at the Musician.”

There was an elegance, a finesse to what they were doing, even as they thundered through “Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me”, dizzying blues licks spinning from Mark Bosch’s guitar over the song’s Junior Parker chassis, making the recorded version sound polite. There was the easy familiarity of music loved for a long time and played with friends – I have no idea if it was, but that’s what it sounded like to me. A good guide for a gig is how often the musicians smile at each other, over small mistakes or turnarounds they pull off dead on time. And Garland’s band were smiling a lot. In ways, it had the feeling of the early E Street Band, a lot of passion and humour in the music, rooted in r&b but with rock and latin seeping in. It was that New York brew of “Spanish Harlem” and “Stand By Me’, added to the Doo-Wop of Frankie Lymon and the street corner bands, with a side order of VU.

The best thing is that the songs are properly rooted – songs, as my friend Michael would say, “that sound like they’re from somewhere”. Often they’re reportage from his life: the centerpiece of the set was a chilling “Mystery Kids”, about his fearful wait for his father to arrive home, that I can’t do justice to now.* “Coney Island Winter”, “It’s What I Am”, “Roller Coaster Town” – each one great. And from someone who’s had a career as long as his, in a business that is rarely easy, there’s not a trace of cynicism about Garland Jeffreys. He warmly talks to locals who he apparently knows from a transplanted-to-New-York musician, and asks after their grandkids. It’s something to see.

The audience (all 85 of us) raise the roof and there’s much glad-handing and back slapping. I moved off into the night, the songs running around my head as I got lost in the circles of the centre, passing empty office blocks with hoardings promising a new dawn of luxury apartments with gyms and saunas and twenty-four hour concierge services. In my head I was still standing on Coney Island, twenty two blocks from the city…

More next week. Oh, and I’d also like to thank bassist Brian Stanley for a fascinating conversation that covered NY musicians, Late Night Show bands, Real Estate and Michael Jackson’s drummers.

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
Having watched the making of Aja a few weeks ago, I’m surprised to see The Bloomsbury Theatre lists an afternoon chat with its producer Gary Katz. So I’ve spent some time listing to The Royal Scam (not least for Paul Griffin’s amazing piano playing on “Sign In Stranger”). Here’s the tracking session for that song, which runs a little slow, and also the track for “Kid Charlemagne”, before overdubbing. The line-up is (approximately) Bernard Purdie on drums, Chuck Rainey on bass, Larry Carlton and Walter Becker on guitars, Don Grolnick on Fender Rhodes, Paul Griffin on Clavinet (KC) and piano (SIS).

Wednesday, 25th February

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

BobworldBob’s World. We just live in it, according to this Slate Map. It lists every place mentioned in a Dylan lyric. Although the one I clicked on at random seemed wrong: surely the “Brighton girls are like the moon” line in “Sign on the Window” refers to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, and not Brighton, East Sussex?

A QUOTE TO QUOTE
My favourite paragraph of newsy rock criticism so far this year, which encapsulates the mundanity of BRIT-schooled talent. Mark Beaumont in the Guardian… “This year’s fresh lump of unreconstructed fossil fuel being lobbed into the music industry’s spluttering furnace is critics’ choice winner James Bay, the latest in an endless stream of lowest-common-denominator trad singer-songwriter money-spinners, with an inexplicable 8m YouTube views, but this time – crucially – in a hat. The hat, let’s make no bones, is magnificent, a charcoal Panama worthy of the latter years of Razorlight, but its resplendent brim hides a chronic deficiency of personality, presence and ideas.”

OSCAR MUSIC
So in the last six weeks we manage to watch almost every major film in Oscar contention and stay up to watch the show, which turns out to be a damp squib, strangely underpowered. It’s a consequence, I think, of Neil Patrick Harris’s rather laid back and ironic presenting style, which didn’t get the required reactive energy from the audience. The opening musical number was a bravura technical display, and funny enough, but it was downhill from there. It reached a nadir with Lady Gaga singing a medley of all the songs from The Sound of Music which seemed to go on all dawn. Straight. With no contemporary ‘edge’. It was all we could do to stay awake. Maybe we were asleep and it never happened, it was all just some terrible hallucination.

So, on that note, my nominations for musical performances in the films of 2014 would be as follows:
1) Drummer Carla Azar (Wendy & Lisa, PJ Harvey, Jack White), who is terrific playing Nana, the drummer in Frank’s band in Frank, the amusing (and somewhat tragic) fictional re-telling of the career of Chris (Frank Sidebottom) Sievey.
2) Charlie Sexton, long-time Dylan sideman, in the wonderful Boyhood, playing Ethan Hawke’s brother, and some lovely guitar behind Hawke as he sings a (pretty good) self-written song.
3) The scene in Selma where Martin Luther King phones Mahalia Jackson late at night for some support, which comes in the form of a mesmerizing song… and then an FBI phonetap log comes up on the screen…

MLK

4) Antonio Sanchez’s improvised drum score for Birdman, the only music in the film (apart from a minute of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor). Fascinating to hear how it came together, in Vanity Fair’s piece: “An accomplished improvisational musician, Sanchez knew how to improvise to the beat in his own head or with other musicians onstage. But improvising to actual images, especially those that had not even been filmed yet, was more of a challenge. So Iñárritu pulled a chair up to Sanchez’s drum kit and talked him through the movie, motioning every time that Keaton’s character would advance to the next part of the scene.

“So [Iñárritu] would be sitting in front of me with his eyes closed and all of a sudden he would raise his hand. And I would think, OK, that means Riggan opened a door, so I would switch or do an accent or do something with the texture. We would try the scene again and then try a different kind of intensity and color… A lot of people think of the drums as a monochromatic instrument… and a lot of people do play that way but I have been experimenting with playing on the sides, the wood, on the rims, with my hands, with brushes, mallets, branches—anything to get a very wide range sonically.” He even stacked cymbals to make them sound less washy and sustained and more dry and trashy.

Iñárritu played the demos during rehearsals to make sure they worked. And they did, but he and Sanchez both agreed that the drums sounded “almost too good, too pristine” for a movie set inside an old Broadway theater. The two re-teamed in L.A., and Sanchez re-created some of his improv-ed tracks with a different drum kit that had been detuned and outfitted with vintage heads. The two also took the drums onto the street to experiment with hand-held moving microphones so that they did not have to rely on reverb, echo, and volume effects for some of the scenes in which Keaton walks through Times Square, weaving in and out of crowds alongside an actual street musician.”

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
Annoyed that I’m out of town on Friday – having just heard that Garland Jeffreys is playing in West Kensington – I check to see which other towns he’s playing on this short tour and discover that we can hit Leicester on Sunday night on the way back, and see him there. Who doesn’t love “35mm Dreams”, “Wild in the Streets” and “Ghost Writer”? I know I have, since 1975. As the New Yorker put it: “Last month, the Village Voice published its list of the sixty best songs ever written about New York City. Coming in at No. 7 was Jeffreys’s “Wild in the Streets,” a hissing, insinuating, insistent piece from 1973. No argument here, but you could print up a list of the Brooklyn native’s catalogue, tack it to the wall, step back ten paces, and throw a dart, and you’d be almost guaranteed to hit another great New York City song. Jeffreys, who is seventy-one, is still a dynamo.” And I can’t wait to hear him sing “In the heat of the summer/Better call up the plumber/And turn on the street pump/To cool me off…/With your newspaper writers/And your big crime fighters/You still need a drugstore/To cure my cough…”

AND…
I’m hoping that Mark Bosch is on lead guitar. From photos on Jeffreys’ website it seems he is – when I saw him with Ian Hunter’s Rant Band, I thought him a “passionate and note/feel-perfect Seventies/Eighties Noo Yawk (think Leslie West or Mike Rathke) player, matching Hunter every step of the way”.

Wednesday 18th February

OH GOD, NOT THEM AGAIN…
I forgot to mention this last week. Anyone see, for some unfathomable reason, Kasabian open the BAFTA’s? The BAFTA’s (a name I can’t now hear without Jennifer Saunders as Clarice Starling pronouncing it “Bafders” in the French & Saunders Silence Of The Lambs spoof years ago) keep looking endlessly, enviously, westwards as the years pass, as they position themselves as Oscar’s Mini-Me. And they’ve noticed that the Oscars kick off with a musical number, right? Except, on the Academy Awards night it’s a specially written “musical” number, that catalogues, critiques and generally cocks a snook at the nominated films. That’s not how BAFTA see it, obviously. This year… (drum roll)… please welcome (another drum roll)… British Rock Giants… (cheering and clapping, more drum rolls, possibly some eye rolling)… Kasabian! Dear God. I know that if I think of British Film, I’m always put in mind of the Poundshop Primal Scream that are Leicester’s famous sons. I mean, aren’t you? And shame on Stephen Fry for calling them “The Amazian Kasabian”, whilst undoubtedly thinking nothing of the sort. I hope.

A QUITE-LIKED QUOTE
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu: What I’ve Learned, US Esquire: “I see only one requirement you have to have to be a director, or any kind of artist: rhythm. Rhythm, for me, is everything. Without rhythm, there’s no music. Without rhythm, there’s no cinema. Without rhythm, there’s no architecture. The cosmos is a system of rhythms that come in many ways: Images. Sounds. Colors. Vibrations… and if you don’t get that, if you don’t have that, it’s impossible to do something that vibrates. You can have the craft, the knowledge, the information, the tools, even the ideas – but if you don’t have rhythm, you are fucked.”

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
This Twen spread, shot by Robert Freeman, designed by Willy Fleckhaus, found on MagCulture.

Twen1

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
As Don McLean prepares to sell, on April 7, the 16 pages of notes that became “American Pie” for somewhere just south of $1,000,000 according to a Christie’s estimate, I thought of the only piece I ever had in Mojo magazine. It was for a regular column called “What do you mean you’ve never heard of…?” and my chosen subject was the ghostly Paul Griffin. The man who saved “American Pie”, after various attempts to record it had failed. McLean: “And then this piano player named Paul Griffin, who had worked with Bob Dylan, started running “American Pie” down, and he played the ass off that song. It just started bouncing all over the place. He really pumped the thing and drove it. And with my guitar in his ear, and him jumping around on the piano, it came together. Once I put the vocal on, it became a very hot record.” Not forgetting Rob Stoner’s great bass playing, of course…

I wanted to find him as he’d played some of the greatest piano parts in rock, and I tried for weeks to get in touch with him, calling numbers given to me by, I think, Chris Welch at Music Sales. Various family members would answer, promising that if I called at 2pm he’d be there, but it didn’t happen. Anyway, I cobbled something together, and while looking for it yesterday, found a wonderful letter online, from Jonathan Singer to the New York Daily News in 1999, archived on the steely Dan website (Paul was the only musician ever given a co-credit by Becker & Fagen). He wanted them to write a piece to get Paul’s hospital treatment paid for. I make no apology for running so much from it. It’s just so fascinating. Here are some excerpts:

“Think of the organ intro to Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now”… the gospel piano behind Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, and Don McLean’s “American Pie”… the tack piano on B.J.Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”… Dionne Warwick’s “Walk on By”… Paul Simon’s “Tenderness” from There Goes Rhymin” Simon – these all feature Paul Griffin at the keyboard.

“But if any one producer monopolized Griffin, it was Burt Bacharach. From Dionne Warwick’s first records; “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Walk On By,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart” – if Bacharach/David wrote it, then Paul Griffin probably played the piano part. Wait a minute. Bacharach, no slouch as a pianist, gave Paul nearly all of his own piano parts to play? “Do you know why he did that?” Griffin asked. “Because Burt used to love to come into the studio and conduct. That’s why he gave me those parts to play.”

“Other musicians might have kept quiet about Bacharach’s idiosyncrasies and just let their own legend grow. Not Griffin. Try to compliment him on that little organ part for Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now” and he humbly smiles away the accolade. “A Bert Keyes arrangement,” he says, proud to give credit where credit is due.

“Griffin was so knocked-out by Aretha Franklin’s piano playing, that he refused to play on the session for “Think.” “They wanted me to play that [piano] intro she does. I said, “No way! That’s her !” Then again, Griffin was playing with Aretha three years before Atlantic signed her; when Clyde Otis cut her for Columbia.

“Paul Griffin’s most extraordinary – and often uncredited – work with Bob Dylan occurred on January 25, 1966. There has always been some confusion about the players on this first New York session for Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Because the album was finished a few months later in Nashville, the album lists only the Nashville musicians. The two New York sessions, the first of which produced “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” are frequently credited to members of the Band. Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson might have played bass and guitar on one of the New York sessions. But just a single listening erases any doubt about who played piano. Al Kooper, who played organ at the session, remembers Paul well. “The piano playing on “One of Us Must Know” is quite magnificent,” Kooper told writer Andy Gill. “It influenced me enormously as a pianist. It’s probably Paul Griffin’s finest moment.”

“Griffin’s playing on “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” is reminiscent of what he would play five years later on “American Pie” – but even more brilliant in its intensity and improvisation. The song is an emotional confession of misconnects and apologies from the singer to some woman who has tragically slipped out of his life. Griffin gives the song its tragic depth – and height. He picks his way sensitively through the verses; but at other times, he prowls beneath the words with Judgement and an ominous gospel lick that he stokes until he has climbed to the verse’s peak. At the chorus, Griffin unleashes a symphony; hammering his way up and down the keyboard, half-Gershwin, half-gospel, all heart. The follow-up, a killer left hand figure that links the chorus to the verse, releases none of the song’s tension. Then, on the last chorus, not content to repeat the same brilliant part, Griffin’s playing is so breathtaking, and so completely embodies the lyric, that he enters into some other dimension. For several seconds, on one of Dylan’s best songs, Griffin makes Dylan seem almost earthbound. “It’s great, two-fisted, gospel piano playing,” Kooper says, “played with the utmost of taste.”

“Paul Griffin doesn’t remember it. He’s momentarily bewildered, almost apologetic for not recalling something others hold so dear. The part was probably something he’d heard in Paradise Baptist church at least a hundred times before. But do not mistake an isolated, fuzzy memory for a moment that he is unaware of. He is well aware of this music’s significance – in Paul Griffin’s life.

“The sound that you hear is the sound of gratitude,” he says simply. “If it wasn’t for music, I don’t know what would have become of me. I’d had a lot of jobs – I was a cutter in the garment district, I delivered groceries for a supermarket – but nothing with any kind of future. So, what you hear is the sound of being thankful… for being able to play… for being tapped to play on a session [Dylan’s] like that… thankful… as if I’d been saved from something horrible.”

“Several months after this conversation, Paul came down with pneumonia. Over the last year, he’s been in and out of the hospital. Then, a few weeks ago, doctors told him he needed a liver transplant. After a lifetime in music, “something horrible” yet threatens to overtake Paul Griffin, and he and his family wait. Would it not be fitting and wonderful if some of the artists, musicians and executives who so appreciated Paul while his smile lit up a session and his playing lit up their hearts, could now raise up as one and help him. Even the listening public – anyone who remembers all those Shirelles records, Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now,” “American Pie,” or the first exquisite twenty seconds of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” Anyone, in fact, who, like Don McLean, can still remember how that music used to make them smile…” – Jonathan Singer

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
And, of course, looking for all this stuff, in the way of the web I run across something else… Chip Taylor’s Rock & Roll Joe site, dedicated to the unsung heroes of Rock ’n’ Roll. Where they know Paul Griffin’s name. Seriously – a place you could lose some time looking round.

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
Say goodbye to Lesley Gore, singer of cracking songs in the Sixties. Just check out Ms Gore singing “You Don’t Own Me” in 1964, where the director has filtered the lens and shot in extreme close-up, for a brilliant modern-as-tomorrow look. Here’s a song I always liked from her last album, in 2005, recorded and written with Blake Morgan, where the quality of angels is called into question, as if she was Philip Marlowe, perhaps – “Oh I’m waiting for better angels/Oh I’m waiting, for any lead/Though my case looks fatal/I’m still hoping better angels come to me…”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 110 other followers

%d bloggers like this: