Five Things: Wednesday 22nd April

One Thing I’ll Miss Later This Week: The “Muscle Shoals” Film
PickI’m really looking forward to this documentary, but am not around to see it at the Sundance Festival in London this week. I wrote a reminiscence of the time that our band, Hot!House went there to record (find it here). Incidentally, the Rock’s Back Pages logo is the legendary Jimmy Johnson’s guitar pick (he lent us his car as well…)

I liked this review on imdb titled, The only puzzling thing about “Muscle Shoals” is how this story went so long without being told.
prettycleverfilmgal writes: “Have you ever heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama? Let me rephrase the question – have you heard an Aretha Franklin song? Have you ever grooved to Wicked Wilson Pickett’s “Land Of 1000 Dances?” Have you ever thought, “Yes, Percy Sledge, that is exactly what happens when a man loves a woman!” Have you ever driven way too fast while the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” blasted through your speakers? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you have heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, or at least you’ve heard the Muscle Shoals sound, the subject of the documentary Muscle Shoals from director Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier. In the interest of full disclosure, these are my people ya’ll! I grew up just east of Muscle Shoals, also on the banks of the Tennessee River – “The Singing River” to the Native Americans who made their home there for millenia before Rick Hall founded FAME studios. Driven by a need to escape the crushing poverty and overwhelming tragedy that befalls him, Hall is the central figure in the story of the famed “Muscle Shoals Sound” – well, him and a group of homegrown, white-as-cotton studio musicians known as the “Swampers.” These men shaped what ultimately proved to be some of the finest rock, soul, and R&B America would ever produce.”

Thinking About Richie Havens
Introduced to him by Don Sollash, manager of Dobell’s Record shop (“I listened to jazz all day – the last thing I wanted to listen to at home was more jazz…”), I bought all of the late 60s-early 70s Havens’ LPs and loved them. I re-bought some of them last year on iTunes and gloried again to “I Started A Joke,” “This May Be The First Day,” “Handsome Johnny” and their like. Marcel called me up when they showed a Beatles At The BBC programme of cover versions, saying how great Richie’s awesomely strummed version of “Here Comes The Sun” was. His second guitarist and conga player have the damnedest time trying to keep up with him…  And this is lovely, from Richard Williams’ thebluemoment: “I interviewed Havens once, for the Melody Maker, and it gave me a good story to tell. It was at a hotel on Park Lane, in 1970 or 71. I went up to his room at the appointed time, knocked on the door, and was shown in. He greeted me with great warmth, and looked me straight in the eye. “Aquarius,” he declared. Er, sorry, I said, but no. Still that piercing look. “Sagittarius!” No, wrong again. “Capricorn!” Look, sorry about this, but… “Taurus!” You can guess the rest: he ran through the whole card before a process of elimination gave him the right answer. He didn’t appear at all embarrassed, and it certainly amused me. Then we got to talk. He seemed like one of the good guys.” I also like Havens’ story of walking on Hampstead Heath in 1974 and spotting Ray Charles from a distance, sitting on a park bench. “Suddenly I heard, “Hey, Richie. Get over here!” And it was Ray. He had extraordinary senses…”

Jackie DeShannon,“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” As Seen On TV (In A Cholesterol Spread Advert)
I heard this (probably DeShannon’s biggest hit, from 1969) on tv the night before her cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” pops up on my iPhone. Now most versions of this, even by good people, are dull and lugubrious. This one, in the hands of the estimable Jackie, is different. It starts straight, then an accordion enters and gets a Bacharach/Butch Cassidy feel going. It takes a left turn with the entrance of a pedal steel into a 5th Dimension/Bones Howe groove, and DeShannon pushes the vocal line away from the original, but in a good way. Oh, and it has an accordion. Did I mention that?

“I Bet Your Mama Was A Tent Show Queen”
Bob Gumpert sends a link to a fascinating piece by Carl Wilson (not the Beach Boy) on the Random House, Canada blog. It’s the strange story of, to quote the intro “a gay, cross-dressing, black singer named Jackie Shane, who scored a surprise radio hit in what was then staid and uptight Toronto.” His only surviving tv clip can be seen here, a compellingly diffident performance of Rufus Thomas’ “Walking The Dog”

Meshell Ndegeocello: Ronnie Scott’s, Tuesday Night
The drummer, Earl Harvin, sits on the left, his kit pointing across the stage. His mallets are at the ready. Chris Bruce, the guitarist, playing a modded Tele Custom from the 70s, crouches at his pedalboard. Meshell Ndegeocello, her angular bass worn high, counts the song down. And, like setting out a manifesto, they start playing “Tomorrow Never Knows”…
Turn off your mind relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.
Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being
Love is all and love is everyone
It is knowing, it is knowing
and underneath it all creep the contorted keys of Jebin Bruni, wrenching decayed and tweaked noises from his banks of vintage organs and synths and laptop screens.

Meshell

There is, in her music, enough of the familiar to feel comforted. Often the songs are known – tonight derives mostly from her album in tribute to Nina Simone – but the constituent parts are roughly handled. They keep you on the edge of your seat: how far will they push before it all collapses? Great holes appear, to be suddenly filled by the rolling thunder of the drums or a shard of guitar or a sliver of keyboard or the clanging slap of Ndegeocello’s bass. It’s as if all the comforting sureties of the songs have been stripped away — but it’s music of beauty. It’s just that it’s not afraid to be ugly, too, like it wants to encompass the whole experience of life. It’s really hard to do it justice: my hastily scribbled notes in the darkness have phrases like ghostly martial doo-wop liberally sprinkled. But I’m making it sound doomy and it wasn’t at all. There’s such joy in hearing these musicians play. The metal freak-out that ends “Feeling Good,” the girls at the bar providing the backing vocals for “See Line Woman,” the stunning bass solo that brings a double-time “Suzanne” to an end – this is all wonderful, wonderful stuff. A version of “Pink Moon” in honour of London, and the stark and short “Oysters” are the icing on the cake. If she plays your town, go.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 11th April

Lionel Richie, What I’ve Learned, Esquire (US), April issue
“If what’s happening now in America had happened in the sixties, we would have protests like you’ve never seen before. But in 2011, people can name every player on the football team, but they can’t tell you how badly they’re being taken advantage of and by whom. They know what Gaga’s doing, but they don’t know what the government’s doing. Everyone’s on Facebook and Myspace and Yourspace and Theirspace and Twitter and Tweeter. Great, fantastic! But anybody paying attention?” From Tuskegee, Alabama, to 1600 Penn Ave—Lionel for Vice Pres 2012!

emusic find of the month
Hayes Carll’s Kmag Yoyo (military acronym, “Kiss My Ass Guys, You’re On Your Own”), which features the beautiful, Willie Nelson-esque Chances Are. “Chances are I took the wrong turn, every time I had a turn to take.” Every so often a classic country song is just what you need. And the title track’s Subterranean Homesick feel is pretty cool, too.

Havenly
News that Rumer is to cover It Could Be The First Day by Richie Havens sent me back to Stonehenge, one of the albums he made in the late sixties which also featured his great covers of I Started A Joke and It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. Richie also features on An Album To Benefit Preservation Hall (2010), which rounds up some usual and unusual suspects (Paolo Nutini, Andrew Bird, Tom Waits, Pete Seeger, Merle Haggard, Dr John, Steve Earle, Amy Lavere) in support of this venerable New Orleans institution, and his track may just be the best thing on it. Trouble In Mind is a totally gorgeous version of a old chestnut—with soft horns, walking bass, sad dobro and sandpaper clarinet underpinning Havens’ stoic vocal.

Girl Talk, Girl Talk
Speaking of muted horns, that song prompted me to find a tape recording I’d made in the late seventies. I had, unfashionably, gone to Ronnie Scott’s with tutor-cum-landlord, Dennis Bailey, to see Panama Francis And His Savoy Sultans. Dennis insisted we see a bit of jazz history, and we weren’t disappointed. To hear a (little) Big Band in a small club is an experience not to be forgotten, but what stayed with me was a glorious take on the torchy Girl Talk, a song composed by Neal Hefti, lyrics by Bobby Troup, written for the 1965 film Harlow, a biopic starring Carroll “Baby Doll” Baker. The song has been described by Michael Feinstein as the “last great male chauvinistic song written in the 60’s,” but hey—an instrumental version = no-one offended! Panama laid out a sifty undertow on his kit, the horns spread out and one of the great melodies took shape. By the time the second chorus comes round they’ve put the burners on and the whole thing is glowing and swinging and Dennis is shouting yes! yes! and we’re laughing with sheer joy, enveloped by the sound of beautifully burnished brass.
nb. Julie London does my favourite vocal version, and it is a staggering chauvinistic lyric…

In A White Room
We were talking about the surviving Abbey Road letters (as seen on the back of the Abbey Road album) that were on the memorabilia and antiques show, Four Rooms, and discussing what item of rock memorabilia we’d most like to own. The Jayne Mansfield cut-out from Sgt Pepper? Brian Wilson’s sandpit? The guitar on the cover of Joan Baez/5? My favourite choice was Simon’s: Nick Drake’s cape/blanket, Way to Blue cover.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 90 other followers

%d bloggers like this: