Five Things: Wednesday, November 27th

“The best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced”
There are certain people so musical that everything they are is musical. Their movements, their voice, their atmosphere. James Booker was one of those people. Not that he wasn’t a truly colossal pain in the ass to those around him, but the fact that many stayed with him and attempted to help his journey through this world pays testament to their appreciation of his genius. In a film, Bayou Maharajah, comprised of great interviews, fascinating recordings, amazing clips (from local bars aplenty to German TV) and some wonderfully eerie black and white “ghostly” videos, this original native son of New Orleans vividly grabs your attention. His voice, talking or singing, is hypnotic. His piano playing… well, that defies description. Neither “standard” Professor Longhair derivation, nor straightforward funk ’n’ boogie, but a weird hybrid of these things with a dash of Liberace’s romanticism (don’t laugh), and Chopin and Rachmaninoff’s melodies. There’s a distorted improvisation  that slowly turns into “A Taste Of Honey” that somehow deepens a piece of pop fluff right in front of your ears. And always – always – something bitter and sweet mixed in. Often you watch him play an outrageous passage with a hard glint in his eye, a steely focus and drive, and as he ends it, a sly, shy smile to himself, as if to say, there, that’s what I can do… My favorite interviewee (and there are some great ones) is Harry Connick Jr., who knew Booker as a slightly wayward uncle figure (well, more than slightly) since Harry’s father, the district attorney of Orleans Parish, had befriended and helped Booker at various times. His recall of the night that Booker phoned him at two in the morning to ask Harry to come rescue him from some drug escapade gone wrong (“James, dude – I’m twelve years old!”) was extraordinary. He tells of recording Booker’s phonecalls, and you can see that he’s still unsure to this day why he did. He says something along the lines of I just loved hearing him talk, and I thought if I taped him, I’d always have his voice to listen to. Watch as Harry shows, beautifully, how Booker added layer upon layer of complexity to a tune. Mesmerizing.

I’ve found my harmonica, Albert…
Bathed in the warm glow of Bob’s band, a Dylan concert to really enjoy. Charlie Sexton still has the moves of a heart-throb (let’s not forget that he fronted the bar band in Thelma & Louise), Donny Herron’s like a young engineer at his desk, working tirelessly on all manner of instruments and sounds, and the New Orleans engine room of George and Tony just keeps rolling on, making even the most ordinary twelve-bar come to life. Yes, it had its up and downs. Michèle, up until then an enthusiastic applauder, said I’m not clapping that… after a particularly calamitous “Spirit On The Water.” I was with her – it was like a drunken showband at the end of the pier, with Les Dawson on piano. But the high points were high. A malevolent “Pay In Blood” that far surpassed the studio take. A great re-visit of “All Along The Watchtower” with a left turn, two-thirds through, into a spacey and atonal breakdown, before a thunderous climax. A lovely “Waitin’ For You”, a song written for the soundtrack of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, highlighted by a Sexton solo that sounded for all the world like the great Grady Martin. A gorgeous “Forgetful Heart”. Oh, and a beautiful and soulful “Blowin’ In The Wind” to end with.

Good Vibrations
It’s the story of Terri Hooley, godfather of Belfast punk (he started a record shop called Good Vibrations) and it’s nominally a feel-good music film, but is actually pretty hard-nosed about the difficulties of Belfast in the 70’s. The fast-cut collage that follows the opening scene takes our main character from Childhood to 1976. It’s brilliantly done, in a kind of kinetic pop art way, packed with news images of the Troubles, and edited to Hank Williams singing “I Saw The Light”. As it progresses it becomes more and more distorted, and finally the song disappears among swirls of echo, to be replaced by a hum of feedback and soundwash.

Mel Brimfield, 4’ 33” (Prepared Pianola for Roger Bannister).
Strangest piece of art owned by We The People, seen on a short tour of the Government Art Collection. [4’ 33”, a 1952 composition by US experimental composer John Cage (1912-1992), is referenced in the title but not played. The actual score for the pianola takes as its starting point athlete Roger Bannister’s performance in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics where he came fourth – the race that spurred him on to his sub 4 minute mile].

Piano

Bruce Springsteen, New York City Serenade, Rome
I remember a night in Sheffield, in 1974, when my friend Mike and I played this track (newly released) to Colin Graham, old family friend, editor of Angling Times, and big-time “Jazz Buff”. We were trying to prove that rock musicians could play their instruments and felt the combo of Bruce and David Sancious was a good bet… or something like that. In a game of what Charlie Gillett would turn into Radio Ping-Pong, we were searching through the records we’d brought with us (oh for an iPod) for something that we thought could pass muster. I wish I could recall what Colin, pipe in mouth, thought of it. Watching this recent performance of it, beautifully filmed and played, gives a Proustian rush back to the time I spent obsessively listening to The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. Apparently I bought it at Dobells, and it was £2.99.

Bruce

Five Things: Wednesday, November 20th

In Bob News This Week
Watch this. Most. Jawdropping. Music Video. Ever. The world of US TV skewered with humour, with shades of Bob and Larry Charles’ dystopian nightmare Masked & Anonymous hidden in the glossy surface (watch those news channels again and look at the ticker tape lines–BANKS STILL DEALING IN IMAGINARY MONEY, for instance). A triumph of technology and imagination, it’s also very funny. Love the Kanye West quote. Hats off to Vania Heymann, who had the idea.

Dylanvid

In other news, Hugh and I wander over to Bond Street for the press view of Bob’s Iron Range welded metal work at the Halycon Gallery. Hugh is disappointed that rough and rusted metal has been so highly varnished that it looks like cookware rather than sculpture.

BobCarDownstairs are Bob’s huge re-Photoshopped magazine covers (very strange, and not very good) and his Gangster Doors, vintage car doors riddle with gunshots. At this point, I confess I felt like Mr Jones.

Oh, George! You Card!
Tom Junod, in US Esquire: “Being Clooney, he does not only write to Brad Pitt, however. He also writes as Brad Pitt. A few years ago he even had some stationery made up with Brad Pitt’s letterhead. Then he found a book about acting and accents and sent it to Meryl Streep, with an accompanying note. It said, “Dear Meryl, this book really helped me with my accent for Troy. I hope it helps you too.” He signed it “Brad Pitt.” Then he sent another letter to Don Cheadle on “Pitt’s” stationery. As long as Cheadle has been acting, he has dreamt of playing Miles Davis. So the letter informed Cheadle that Pitt’s production company had acquired the rights to Davis’s life story. The letter said that Pitt wanted him to star in it.

As Charlie Parker.

Now That’s What I Call A Career
Mike O’Neill obituary by his daughter Jess, The Guardian
My father, Mike O’Neill, a piano player and songwriter who enjoyed his heyday in the 1960s, has died of cancer aged 75. Born in Lowton, Lancashire (now in Greater Manchester), the oldest of four brothers, he grew up in the 40s causing havoc as a child. He later took a job in the steelworks, but decided to teach himself the piano instead, eventually hitching his way to London, where he threw himself into the music business. After playing with Colin Hicks and the Cabin Boys, he fronted the instrumental group Nero and the Gladiators who performed in togas and had hits with rocked-up versions of “Entry of the Gladiators” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. After leaving the band he went on to play with the Ivy League and the John Barry Seven and was a founding member of Heads, Hands and Feet with Tony Colton and Chas Hodges (of Chas and Dave fame). A prolific session musician, Mike played with the Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dusty Springfield, Shirley Bassey, Deep Purple and Chuck Berry. He even jammed with Jimi Hendrix, who reportedly thought about taking Mike on as his pianist. Mike also played on Donovan’s album A Gift from a Flower to a Garden, toured with Joe Cocker and even gave Dire Straits their name. Mike’s childhood friend Clive Powell arrived in London and joined him in his flat in Old Compton Street, Soho, where he introduced him to jazz and the 2i’s coffee bar. Powell then began to perform under the name Georgie Fame and recorded some of Mike’s songs. In the 70s, Mike drifted into theatre and was musical director with the 7:84 theatre company, where he met his wife, the actor Rachel Bell, whom he married in 1979, and worked with the playwright John McGrath. He later went on to work as a doorman at the Royal College of Art, becoming great mates with Eduardo Paolozzi – who swapped sculptures and prints with him in return for back copies of National Geographic, which Mike lovingly rescued from many a London charity shop. He loved to paint and draw and was the kindest, most generous and good-hearted man you could ever hope to meet.

Triptych From Marrakech
Drummers in the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square. Always go to the barbers with the painting of Liberace on the door for a shave. I understand this list of chefs and restauranteurs, but was puzzled by the inclusion of Ray Charlz.
Marrakech

Five Things Extra: Welcome To Muscle Shoals, Hit Recording Capital Of The World

“David, little David, help me now, c’mon little David…”

ShoalsSign

Excerpts from David Hood Q&A, Soho Hotel Cinema

Audience member: Do you have a theory about what the magic of Muscle Shoals was?
DH: I think it’s a group of young people who wanted to make good music, that was the driving force. We never thought we’d be famous, we never thought we’d be Beatles or anything like that… always my role has been a supporting role. I was always the guy by the drummer playing and trying to do whatever I could to make the artist sound good… we all had the same goal and that was to play great music and to hear it on the radio. And that was a thrill… it’s still a thrill.

I was interested in the fallout of Aretha’s appearance in the Shoals and her sudden departure after Rick Hall and her husband, Ted White, came to blows. Was there a difference in feel, working in New York, where the sessions relocated, compared to the Shoals?
DH: Well it was a lot more formal. There were union guys saying You can’t unplug that amplifier, we gotta have someone come in. We did the Letterman show three weeks ago in New York and we’re setting up and I wanted to move my amplifier, and… In Muscle Shoals, we were the guys, that’s the thing. [But in New York] once we got in there, got in our positions, playing the music, it was the same, then…

Our little studio, 3614 Jackson Ave., when Paul Simon came and recorded there, he came to record “Take Me To The Mardi Gras”, because he had heard “I’ll Take You There” and wanted those black Jamaican musicians to play, so he came and booked the studio time. He booked four days for that song and when he came in it was raining and the studio leaked… I don’t know if it’s polite to say this but the sound engineer [Jerry Masters] taped tampons across the back of the control room roof, because the water was dripping on the control board. We got “Take Me” on the second take, so we had three more days – Paul Simon’s not going to give up the studio time he’s paying for so we cut “Kodachrome” and those other things… [those other things included “Loves Me Like A Rock”, “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor” and the luminous and delicate “St. Judy’s Comet”, showing the deft touch that made them perfect collaborators. Just listen to Pete Carr’s guitar fills, Hood’s super-melodic bass and Barry Beckett’s cool vibes. The Rhythm Section also cut “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “My Little Town” with Simon].

So, very primitive facilities that we had… but it’s the sound of the musicians – it’s not the room, it’s the musicians. Many, many accidents happen in music. At the end of “Kodachrome” you hear Paul Simon go “OK” – that’s when he’s trying to get us to stop, to do it again, and we keep playin’ and it sort of becomes the record, so you never know on things like that.

My friend Alex: Often in the film Rick Hall comes across as an eccentric and sometimes brutal character – is that a fair depiction?
DH: That’s some true depiction – to this day. The session where you see [in the film] Candi Staton  recording ”I Ain’t Easy To Love”…

Alex: He’s all over it, isn’t he…
DH: He was so typical Rick Hall. He was still as awful as he ever was. “No man, that’s no good! That’s not what I want…”

Audience member: Is it a love/hate thing?
DH: Mostly love [audience laughs]. He gave me my start, I would be nowhere without him… I tell him that every time I see him. It’s a small town where we are. You either love each other or kill each other!

Other than the fact that I missed MSTthere being any mention of Eddie Hinton (add your own non-hitmaking Shoals denizen here), the film captures something of the time and place that those wonderful records came from. Read Mick Brown’s lovely piece on the Telegraph’s site, that tells you what you need to know.

I caught up with David after 25 or so years – the last time we talked was in his office at 1000 Alabama Avenue. I wore the T-Shirt the studio had given us, and Alex took a picture on his phone.

Quote at the top: Mavis Staples’ exhortation to David Hood in “I’ll Take You There”. Sign photograph taken by me in ’87.

Five Things: Wednesday 13th November

A Great Picture

Birkin Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg, from a new book of her brother Andrew’s photographs.

A Great Lyric
Jimmy Webb interview by Dave Simpson, The Guardian.
The lyrics to MacArthur Park infuriate some people. Someone left the cake out in the rain/I don’t think that I can take it/’Cause it took so long to bake it/And I’ll never have that recipe again. They think it’s a psychedelic trip. But everything in the song is real. There is a MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, near where my girlfriend worked selling life insurance. We’d meet there for lunch, and there would be old men playing checkers by the trees, like in the lyrics.

I’ve been asked a million times: “What is the cake left out in the rain?” It’s something I saw – we would eat cake and leave it in the rain. But as a metaphor for a losing a chapter of your life, it seemed too good to be true. When she broke up with me, I poured the hurt into the song. It was always around seven minutes long – not 22 as has been written.

Bones Howe, a fellow producer, had asked me to create a pop song with classical elements, different movements and changing time signatures. “MacArthur Park”, more of a suite than a song, was everything he wanted, but when we presented it to his new act, the Association, they refused to record it. It was the late 1960s and I was doing music for an anti-war pageant with some Hollywood stars, including Mia Farrow and Edgar G Robinson. Richard Harris and I started hanging out after rehearsals and drinking Black Velvets: 50% Guinness, 50% champagne. One night after a few, I said: “We ought to make a record”. He’d starred in the movie Camelot and sang every song in it beautifully. A few weeks later, I received a telegram: “Dear Jimmy Webb. Come to London. Make this record. Love, Richard.” He always called me Jimmy Webb.

I got a flight and stayed with Richard in Belgravia. Over the course of two days, we tore through 30 or 40 of my songs. I was playing the piano and singing. He was standing there in his kaftan, waving his arms and expressing excitement at some songs, not so crazy about others. The best went into his debut album, A Tramp Shining. MacArthur Park was at the bottom of my pile. By the time I played it, we had moved on to straight brandy, but Richard slapped the piano. “Oh Jimmy Webb. I love that! I’ll make a hit out of that, I will.”

I recorded the basic track back in Hollywood, with myself on harpsichord accompanied by session musicians the Wrecking Crew. We rehearsed it a few times, then played it right through, using the first take and adding the orchestra painstakingly later. When Richard did the vocals at a London studio, he had a pitcher of Pimm’s by the microphone. We knew the session was over when the Pimm’s was gone. I never could get him to sing the title correctly. He’d say: “Jimmy Webb, I’ve got it!” Then he’d sing: MacArthur’s Park…

A Great ebay Listing: Will Post, But Only To UK…

BeatA Fake Bob Dylan Cover
Steve tells me he had a dream where Bob Dylan was a dog walker. I made him the album cover. (Photo by Ken Regan/morrisonhotelgallery.com)

BobcoverA Terrific Guitar
At a press brunch for Southern Tourism, and again at the Hatch Show Print Exhibition, [free at Chelsea Space, the gallery of Chelsea School Of Art, at Millbank, go now] we hear Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup face an intimate bunch of strangers and entwine their voices beautifully while singing smart, literate songs from the latest alt-end of Nashville. As a bonus, Trent’s got quite the nicest Gibson J-200 I’ve ever seen, tobacco-brown and sweet-toned. Late 80s model, and he had to prove he was worth it by playing a a set of songs to the guy selling it.

J-200

Five Things: Wednesday 6th November

extra-WexlerJourney Through The Past No. 2
Before the web, if you liked something, you ripped it out of the magazine and filed it away. And then twenty years later, you find it again. Letter to The New York Times from the late, great Jerry Wexler… [click to enlarge].

I Always Like to Hear How Things Get Named
Fun fact: How did Just Seventeen get its name? Founding editor David Hepworth says: It’s always funny to reflect on the names that magazines could have had. Steve Bush, the art director, wanted to call it ‘Sasha’. We had to call it Seventeen because that was the right title for a magazine for 14-year-olds. The publishers of the American magazine of the same name made legal noises and so we had to come up with an alternative. Peter Strong, the publisher, suggested adding the word ‘just’. It wasn’t until years later I realised he must have got that idea from the Beatles song “I Saw Her Standing There”.

A Couple Of Things I Read This Week Concerning John Coltrane
Recalling the crucial year he turned 20 in MOJO’s 20th Anniversary issue, David Crosby tells of his time as an itinerant troubadour, playing coffee houses in New York, Miami, Omaha and Chicago. It was there that he saw a performance that would profoundly affect him: “During my Chicago stint, I had one of the best experiences I ever had in my life! I was living in an apartment with an English guy called Clem Floyd. His girlfriend was a little German hooker who was about four and a half feet tall. One day she said to us, ‘Do you wanna hear some real music? John Coltrane is playing on the South Side.’ So this attractive little German girl took Clem and I down to McKee’s—163rd and Cottage Grove, way South. We were the only white people in the room.

The way ’Trane played then was that the band would come out and the set was one song which would start out with ensemble playing. ’Trane would warm up by blowing a little to get going, and they all took their time because they figured their set would be an hour-long so they had time [to stretch out]. He’d play for a bit and walk off still blowing. Then McCoy Tyner would play…

Now, with McCoy Tyner, I’d never heard anybody play piano like that. At that point ’Trane had two bass players, Jimmy Garrison and Reggie Workman. They had a conversation that was stellar, and then it was Elvin Jones’s turn. Now, I will admit to being higher than three kites hooked up in series. I was so high, I was hunting geese with a rake. I was blitzed. Elvin Jones is a pretty intense drummer. I think that’s understating the case, don’t you? [His playing] pushed me up from the table and up against the back wall of the room! I’m standing there trying to hold on and I ducked into the men’s room.

So I’m in the men’s room, I’m trying to come down just enough to stay on this planet, and I’ve got my face pressed against this tile. I can still remember the colour of this filthy, light puke-green tile. I’m leaning against it because it’s cool. And–blam!–someone kicks the door in and it’s ’Trane. [Makes shrieking jazz noises, as if playing a sax] He’s doing that and by this point he’s burning! Burr-ning! [Makes more squalling jazz-orientated noises]. Skee-sa-wee-eek-swark! And I’m up against the wall. He doesn’t even know this little fake kid’s in there. He’s playing in there because it’s a good sound. And at that point my mind ran out of my nose in a puddle on the floor!”

It really affected me,” he says. “I realized that there were levels that I could never get to but, suddenly, I could see what direction I wanted to go in. There were things that jazz musicians could do that I could never hope to do. I’d listen to the chords McCoy Tyner played and they weren’t in my world. I had never heard those chords. I had listened to Gerry Mulligan and those kind of people, but I hadn’t seen the intensity level of those guys with ’Trane. I knew that somehow I wanted to reach for more. I wanted to move from [Broadway standard-turned-folk tune] “They Called The Wind Maria” to ’Trane playing “My Favorite Things”. Now, I feel I had a direction.”

Matthew Carter, brilliant type designer, from a profile in the New Yorker that I ripped out years ago: In 1960, Carter travelled to New York where, he says, “I was made abruptly and forcefully to realize that I knew nothing.” He felt that he was faced with two choices: to slink home, or resolve to stay. “The cowardly part of me could have gone back to England  and pretended I hadn’t seen all of this design”. In the spring of 1960, the John Coltrane Quartet played its first engagement. Carter was in the audience. Over several weeks he heard them three or four times. “Sometimes they played the same songs in the second set as they played in the first, not because they were lazy, but because they wanted to surpass themselves, or find something in the music that they hadn’t found earlier in the evening. They were that acute.” Listening to them, he decided that he owed it to himself to try and stay in New York. “Their seriousness of purpose was a lesson. I could have been dishonest enough to return to England and say I hadn’t seen great design. But I couldn’t somehow pretend that I hadn’t heard the John Coltrane Quartet.”

Indulged Rock Star Gibberish of the Week
“The Oslo hotel where you can sleep with your favourite rock star [Projected onto the bedsheet next to you]” blah’d The Guardian… “The idea came from A-ha’s Magne Furuholmen, Coldplay’s Guy Berryman, Mew singer Jonas Bjerre and producer Martin Terefe, who together make up the pan-European supergroup Apparatjik. They were given carte blanche to decorate The Thief hotel.” Then comes the gibberish: “We started by going around tacky gift shops trying to find things to make the room as kitsch as we could and create a sort of ‘disco combat’ feel,” explains Furuholmen. “We found pixelated carpets, retro fabrics, lots of vinyl, and something every hotel room needs: a disco ball for the bathroom.” Furuholmen and his band mates took these treasures and created Apparatjik World, an eclectic mix of art, video, music and installations – including projections of band members dressed as semi-nude muscle men with bulging silver posing pouches (“we like a costume: it gives us freedom,” says Furuholmen). The result? “Quirky … with a touch of insanity,” is how Stordalen describes his new suite.”

Oh, those buzz words that rock musos so love… Quirky, tacky, kitsch, retro… reaching a nadir with that deathly phrase ‘disco combat feel’. I mean, how dated is that. Didn’t U2 give us that about twenty years ago? Oh, and mention of Bono reminds me of the upcoming attractions at the Soho Theatre… Go, Jane…

Jane

Is This A Good Idea? Will The Mumfords Be Involved? (I Think We Know The Answer)
“Bob Dylan’s music publishing company recently discovered lyrics Dylan wrote in 1967 for informal sessions with members of The Band that later became known as The Basement Tapes. Dylan has entrusted T-Bone Burnett with these lyrics, and early next year—nearly 47 years since the legendary original sessions [ed’s note: love a good “nearly 47” anniversary]—Burnett will assemble a select group of contemporary recording artists in the famed Capitol Studios to complete the songs and record them as a band. Fans will experience this historic creative collaboration through an album release, as well as a documentary film and book of photography by award-winning filmmaker and photographer Sam Jones (The Wilco documentary, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, and his interview show, Off Camera with Sam Jones).—prnewswire

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