Extra! Woodstock Mania, part 3

Woodstock Four The John Cuneo Woodstock Express

woodstock

John is an illustrator that I’ve worked with through the years, and it was great to finally meet him and his wife, Jan, when we pulled into Woodstock from Connecticut. John and Jan live in a house that was part of the Robertson spread, mostly used as a crash pad and rehearsal space during the time of The Band’s Woodstock years (John says that one visitor, returning to the scene of his old band days told him “I’ve had sex in every room of this house!”). We settle for a fine lunch and conversations that range far and wide. Later, concerned that we haven’t seen enough, John puts on a guided tour of the locale, taking in Dutch barns, The Levon Helm Memorial Boulevard, the Byrdcliffe theatre (located just above what was Bob Dylan’s home, and the slopes of Overlook mountain). After fond farewells we take our leave later than we should and end up lost in the wrong part of NYC in a snowstorm (that’ll teach me to say we didn’t need satnav), and are saved by the directions of a Josh Homme lookalike police officer, wearing the largest bullet-proof vest I’ve ever seen, printed with the words Strategic Tactical Unit. Finally we sink into the warm snug of the Marlton Hotel in Greenwich Village (where Jack Kerouac penned the Subterraneans). Later, I find this version of “Up on Cripple Creek” – shot at the same time as the better-known clip of “King Harvest” – recorded in John and Jan’s house. Great loosey-goosey drums in the false start, Levon’s cigarette insouciantly dangling from his lips, and a great moment where Garth decides to stroke his beard rather than play the wah-wah clavinet line…

Woodstock Five East Village Night
As our old friends Rick and Liney guide us through the doors of the Summit Bar, located in the old Alphabet City section (so named because of Avenues A, B, C, and D, the only avenues in Manhattan to have single-letter names) we are struck by two things. One is the unique bouquet of cardamom, as the bartender infuses sugar spirit with the world’s finest pod, and the other is the sound of Levon Helm singing “Up on Cripple Creek” – I mean, what are the chances? Hearing this, Rick says, “Do you remember his great part in The Shooter?” I’d forgotten it, but Rick brings it all back home… Mark Wahlberg plays a sniper caught in a double-cross and set-up by a hawkish senator and, in the scene in question, drives up to a house deep in the woods. He glances at his companion, saying, “Welcome to Tennessee, the patron state of shootin’ stuff” and they get out of the truck and knock on the door. What follows is another of Levon’s great film cameos…

 

Wahlberg (Bob Lee Swaggart): “Suppose I was looking for a man to make a 2,200 yard cold-bore shot? Who’s alive that could do that?“
Mr Rate: “Seems I heard about a shot like that bein’ made not too long ago – said the guy’s name was Bob Lee Swaggart – never met the man so I wouldn’t know.”
Wahlberg replies, “Yeah, they said that alright”.
Mr Rate: “They also said artificial sweeteners were safe, WMDs were in I-raq and Anna Nicole married for love…!”

We eventually tumbled out of the Summit and into the warm embrace of the great staff at Kafana across the road, where we drank Serbian Cabernet Sauvignon and put the world to rights. And so our Woodstock-related adventures came to an end, but if you are interested in the music that was made there and the history of how a small town in the Saugerties came to be such an artistic and musical powerhouse, read Barney Hoskyns’ fine new book, Small Town Talk.

Oh, and Five Things gold awards to: The Marlton Hotel at 5 West 8th Street, The Summit Bar at 133 Avenue C (try the oysters) and Kafana, a great Balkan restaurant at 116 Avenue C.

Postscript. I took a copy of Small Town Talk to give to John. A few days later he emailed, saying how much he was enjoying the book, and attached this…

!dylanbassett

 

Friday, May 20th

lakestreetONE LAKE STREET DIVE: A DAUGHTER SPEAKS
In the half cinema-half club that is the Scala we see Lake Street Dive. Afterwards I asked J about it.

Dad What did you think?
Daughter They were constantly surprising – there were ballads, 60s style pop, country, jazz – it really felt like being at a roadside bar, and the only thing missing was the cigarette smoke! Vaping doesn’t feel the same! 

D I thought they really looked like they were having a good time.
D Yes! They had a great rapport with the audience, and with each other. You really felt they were four friends making great music together, who just happened to be giving a concert – to another bunch of friends! In sitcom terms, Bridget the bass player looked kooky and fun, Rachael the singer was the glamorous one, one boy a little serious and studious (the guitarist), the other a little showy (the Italian drummer). He did an excellent solo on a rented kit (coincidentally painted in the colours of the Italian flag!).

D Did you have a favourite song? Had you actually heard much before we went?
D I only knew a couple, but I think “Saving all my Sinning” was my favourite live – it had a great intro about growing older and saving up all your bad decisions for a party night. And I thought the cover they did of the Kinks “Lola” was a perfect fit for their sound. I really like their sound, it’s very rich, considering there are only three instruments. Oh, apart from when the guitarist plays trumpet, but that still makes three, as he puts down the guitar!

D I think the fullness is down to subtle percussion and really nicely worked-out guitar parts…
D Yes, but I think the bassist is the key to their sound. On one song it was just Bridget behind Rachael for the first half and there didn’t seem to be anything missing…

D I thought the first encore was terrific, all of them clustered round one mic doing “Nobody Knows What I’m Doin’ Here”. I tried to video it, but I held the phone the wrong way up…
D Typical! That was great, but the song that touched me the most was “So Long”, dedicated to Prince – the sound of longing really stayed with me…

TWO ON TOM HANKS’ FASCINATING DESERT ISLAND DISCS THERE WAS…
Hands up who’s never heard Dusty Springfield’s “Doodlin’”. I can’t be the only one, surely. How did I miss it? Whoa, my knowledge has such enormous holes in it. Whatever, what a track, with its lovely slinky drumming and psychedelic strings. Oh, yes, and a spectacular lyric! Starting with “Usin’ the phone booth/makin’ a few calls/Doodlin’ weird things/usin’ the booth walls – yeah!” It continues in a restaurant: “Later the waiter/had me arrested/took me to Bellvue/where I was tested…” and at the hospital with the doctor… “Showed him hidden thoughts that linger/find an outlet through your finger”. I head over to Wikipedia to find that “Doodlin’” is a composition by Horace Silver, with lyrics added by Jon Hendricks (of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross). It has become a jazz standard. Reviewer Bill Kirchner suggests, “Take a simple riff, rhythmically displace it several times over D-flat blues harmonies, resolve it with a staccato, quasi-humorous phrase, and you have “Doodlin’”. Thanks, Bill. Time to listen to it once more, while chuckling at Hanks’ calling David Byrne “Weird Dave” as he chooses Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime”.

THREE ROBBIE FULKS HAS A NEW RECORD OUT
I hope it matches his description of his new, redesigned, website: “The new look – from the Russian Tea Room to the Trump Tower! What a snazzy makeover we’ve gotten here at the worldwide. The friendly navigational tools are sure to make blog-reading and record-shopping like falling off a log. The magnificent (except for the subject) photos taken by Andy Goodwin provide an environmental hue so warm and deep and cosy, you’ll be tempted to bring your business partners here to butter them up and shoot them. Many thanks to Mike Sosin of the fledgling Bloodshot record label of Chicago, Ill. for bringing this website to life and ignoring all helpful input. Be sure to let us know what you think! We can’t wait to ignore you.”

FOUR SUTTON HOUSE
As the oldest Tudor House in London, Sutton House is fascinating, but when you get to the room upstairs, time periods co-exist. Over time the house had fallen into disuse, and it was squatted in the 1980s by a local group who wanted to turn it into a community centre and neighbourhood hub, but they were moved on after several months. Their aim survived, though – the National Trust took it over and it’s now used for local events as well as being a window into the past. What’s nice is that the squatters are paid tribute to by an approximation of how the room looked when they were there.

sutton

And the caption tells us that “this eye was painted by an anonymous squatter in 1985. It is said to be the emblem of the rock group PSI”. That may be Psi Com, Perry Farrell’s first group but I can’t find that image anywhere. I can tell you that the record on the deck is by the Thompson Twins.

FIVE MICK VS MILES
My friend Mick Gold had kindly invited me to a screening of “Miles Ahead” and I having said yes excitedly, sadly had to cancel. The next day, Mick sends his thoughts. “Aaargh! You didn’t miss much. For a start, the script is awful, Ewan MacGregor is totally unbelievable as a Rolling Stone journalist with a Scottish accent who knows nothing about music, there is an evil record producer who is a cardboard villain, and the whole thing is orchestrated by blaxploitation guns & car chase clichés that don’t even work.
“But I think it’s weirder than that. I don’t think it’s cynical. I think it’s a labour of love gone wrong. Maybe it reveals that Don Cheadle is a fine actor but has no taste and no writing ability. I understand he spent nine years getting the movie made – he wrote it, produced it, starred in it, directed it, crowdfunded it, and poured his own money into it. This was not some cynical quickie movie.
“The sad thing is I think Cheadle is striking as Miles: he looks good, he does the voice well. Only problem is its farrago of bad Superfly and tortured genius cliches. Not everyone was as miserable as me. There was laughter and applause at BAFTA, and I sat next to two editor friends who said to me afterwards, That was great. When I said, That was awful, their faces fell.” 

In other news, it’s BobWeek on rocksbackpages, and full of wonderful writing on the Iron Range’s favourite son, so head on over and get a subscription now… [end of marketing plug].

Extra! Josh Ritter

FROM RIHANNA TO RITTER
Gabe and I take turns DJing as he drives us back from a day trip to Old Trafford watching Leicester and Man U draw. It was wonderful to see Riad Mahrez up close, and the game featured a surprisingly deft performance by Marouane Fellaini (who would have expected that? Not me). I trawl around my iPhone to find things that I think Gabe’ll like and Dion’s “King of the New York Streets” gets the thumbs up. If you’ve not heard it, rectify immediately – it’s a terrific romp in the sound and style of Garland Jeffreys, or those tracks that Ronnie Spector cut with the E Street Band.

The newer songs that leap out as keepers are Rhianna’s “Desperado”, a sensational slice of noise with Robyn Rihanna Fenty’s wonderfully supple and slurry vocal wrapped around a industrial morass of funkiness, and a couple from Josh Ritter’s latest record. I’ve always been interested by Ritter, while never bothering to investigate much further. In general I find the whole Americana singer-songwriter thing a busted flush, peopled by whiny voices and dull songs, but Ritter is driven and clever, with the same vivid delivery and whipsmart wordplay as, say, the undervalued Steve Forbert (or, maybe, a rockier Lyle Lovett).

“Sermon on the Rocks” sees him and his great Royal City Band expand their sonic palette, alternating between a fearsome wallop and a delicate charm. Favourite on the road home from Manchester was “Getting Ready to Get Down”, a song in the mould of August Darnell’s great “There but for the Grace of God (Go I)”, a rocking tale of parental fears, small town morals and a daughter’s rebellion, spat out like prime Chuck Berry:

“Mama got a look at you and got a little worried/Papa got a look at you and got a little worried,
The pastor got a look and said “Y’all had better hurry/Send her off to a little bible college in Missouri!
And now you come back sayin’ you know a little bit about/every little thing they ever hoped you’d never figure out,

Eve ate the apple ’cause the apple was sweet/What kinda God would ever keep a girl from getting what she needs?”

Each verse has another cracker:
“Four long years studyin’ the Bible/infidels, Jezebels, Salomes and Delilahs…”
“To really be a saint, you gotta really be a virgin/dry as a page in the King James Version…”

“And when you get damned in the popular opinion/it’s just another damn of the damns you’re not giving…”

Powered by a rockabilly/afrobeat/funk guitar line sitting on a big four-on-the-floor and a rootsy Hammond, we put it on repeat and it flies us down the outside lane of the M6 in fine, fine style.

Later, trawling for stuff on Josh, I find the official video, explained here…
“Hey All! A few days after we put out “Getting Ready to Get Down” as a single, my great friend, Doug Rice, discovered an amazing homemade video online. It was a guy in his dance studio teaching the world line-dancing steps to “Get Down”! We contacted Cef, who it turns out is a line-dancing instructor from Idaho, told him how great we thought it was, and next thing you know we had even more footage to work with. We knew this stuff had to be shared. Cef is a great guy and I thank him (and his wonderful class!) wholeheartedly for sharing his pure talent and enthusiasm with me and letting me share it with you…

I also came across this thoughtful video made for PBS News Hour, rather prosaically titled “How does a Singer Songwriter Deal With Self-Doubt On Stage?” I’m digging the threads,  especially the Paul Simenon-like paint-splattered boiler suit that he wears on stage.

Extra! Woodstock Mania, part 2

Woodstock Two Full Tilt, Theatre Royal, Stratford East
So, a few days after The Last Waltz revisited we head to the the theatre to see Full Tilt, a musical play about Janis Joplin, who was of course managed (as were The Band) by the Squire of Woodstock, Albert Grossman.
“On stage a woman stands, the greatest rock singer of her generation. Behind her is the hottest band that a record company can buy. In front of her, an audience of thousands of expectant fans. She is Janis Joplin. She is utterly alone.” So, it’s pretty much a salty monologue with a band for the performances. There are a few scenes where other characters – a night desk clerk, a road manager – intrude, but it’s pretty much Angie Darcy’s show as Janis. The musicians who make up her band (Big Brother in parts, Kozmic Blues at others) are some of Scotland’s finest – guitarist Harry Ward, Andy Barbour on keyboards, bassist Jon Mackenzie and James Grant on drums. The simple set, not much more than a dressing room, may be underpowered, but it’s the only thing that is. By the end we (wife, mother, daughter) have winced at the sad facts of a life shaped by bullying, heartache and drink, have heard the word “Maaaaann”, drawled at least 150 times, and had the roof raised by a bravura performance of “Piece of My Heart”.

Woodstock Three Small Town Talk launch, Rough Trade East

A few days later, it gets more Woodstock-y at Barney’s reading – with guest, Graham Parker – to launch his new book. Recommended for its fascinating portrait of a small town unique in American music history, the book has a lot of time for the less famous among its denizens – Karen Dalton, the Muldaurs, Bobby Charles, Paul Butterfield and the floating pool of musicians who would come to define East Coast Americana. Graham Parker, who lived in Woodstock for a while, told us of his most memorable musical moment there: “I had the extraordinary experience of working with Garth Hudson, which was a full-day experience, for three songs… he fell asleep at one point, then he woke up and said, “Where did all these women come from?” There was just me and the engineer… [Garth has a narcoleptic condition]. We’d agreed on a fee – and he beat me down by a thousand dollars at the end! “Uh, that’s too much…”

Tuesday, May 10th

AL GREEN NITE!
A chance stumbling across a Bee Gees concert the other night while my mother was staying with us led to an across-the-board agreement that the Bros Gibb wrote some crackers, which then led on to an Al Green YouTube-athon, Al being one of my mother’s favourite singers. I said “You have to see this!” and lined up Al in 1973 doing the Robin and Barry Gibb classic “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (which I have previously mentioned here). That led on to many delights, but it was the Soul Train version of “Take Me to the River” that took the biscuit. With a horn intro that I’d swear was sampled by Gil Scott Heron for “B Movie”, the drummer starts working a storm up behind Al. Al whips his arm around in the air like he’s lassoing the band to join him in the river itself. The drummer holds back his fills ’til the last moment each time around. He’s playing a space age kit with bowl drums – I’ve never seen one like it before. Once you’ve spotted Homer Simpson’s face in those bowls, it’s hard not to keep seeing it. Make sure to play this loud – as Don Cornelius says at the end, it’s a Stone Gas…

CRAFT BEER LABELS REALLY PUSHING WORDPLAY TO NEW LEVEL
Peter, Pale and Mary, anyone?

!beer

A BONUS OF OCCASIONAL LECTURING…
…is that, apart from spending a day with a really nice engaged group of people, you get a poster done for your visit, and in the case of working at Southampton for Chris Arran and Jonny Hanmsotonnah, a hand-crafted CD (Songs from the Mermaid Café , in association with Trunk Records, to tie in with Jonny’s exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park).It has now accompanied me on a few trips and is a fluid mixture of things known and unknown. We’ve long thrilled to the calypso stylings of Robert Mitchum, but were not au fait with Pinky Winters, whose “Cool Sazerac” is a highlight. My favourite track is not the title music to Kes, or even the beat-driven “Comin’ Home Baby”, by The Velvet Fog, Mr Mel Tormé, apparently a Northern Soul classic, and totally terrific. No, it’s the beautiful “Melodie Pour Les Radio Taxis”, played by Barney Wilen, Kenny Clarke, Kenny Dorham, Paul Rovere and Duke Jordan, from the soundtrack to Un Témoin Dans La Ville – totally unknown to me, but found by Jonny in the Trunk Record archives. Hear it in the music player to the right…
From a site devoted to Wilen: “The main character of his playing continues to lie in his even trajectory. His solos have a serene assurance which eschews dynamic shifts in favor of a single flowing line. With his tone still exceptionally bright and refined, it grants his playing a rare, persuasive power.”
And Jonny’s own liner notes are a treat: “The trunk itself has more than a touch of the Tardis about it. Once you open the lid, you soon find yourself diving in headlong, ’til only your loafers are seen popping out. And once the rummaging begins, there’s no possible way to stop. And why would you want to? This particular record shop, above us in the great internet wen, is far more interesting than anything you’ll find on most high streets…”

AN EXCERPT FROM TOM JONES’ “OVER THE TOP AND BACK”
Dip into Tom’s book anywhere and you’ll be rewarded with a pithy take on his career at that point…
“And then an opportunity opens up for me to become a recording artist at the home of the world’s most notorious gangsta rap label… Tom Jones at Interscope. It couldn’t seem less likely. Of all the records companies in all the world, at this point in time. So suddenly my world is now Jimmy Iovine’s phonebook And Jimmy Iovone’s phone book is not short of numbers. Furthermore, during the making of the album we happily sign up for, he seems ready to use every single one of them…
Teddy Riley from the Backstreet Boys, the king of new jack swing, gets asked to produce some tracks. So does Jeff Lynne. So does Trevor Horn. So does Flood, who has worked with U2 and Nine Inch Nails. So does Youth, the techno and dub producer. So, for all I know, do any number of other people who aren’t too fussy about having a surname in 1994.
As the album comes together, Jimmy gets in touch. ‘I’ve been listening to everything , and it’s great,’ he says. ‘But I’m just trying to think of the track my mother is going to like.’ Seriously? Even now, at Interscope, with lethal rap acts down the hall and armed guards on the door, with money flying around to bring in the hippest producers and writers known to man, we’re still wondering how to please Jimmy Iovine’s mother?
Nothing against Jimmy Iovine’s mother, obviously.”
It’s a cracking read, poor proofreading notwithstanding (Porter Wagner? Shell Talmay?). And the CD that was released to tie in with the publication, Long Lost Suitcase, is a nice evocation of 50s music of all stripes, with one standout track – a version of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ “Elvis Presley Blues”. It was a strong song when it appeared on Time (The Revelator), but here it’s given depth by an arrangement brilliant in its simplicity – the only backing is producer Ethan Johns’ guitar over-amped and tremolo’d to the point of feedback, throbbing from left to right in the speakers, providing a bluesy plaincloth for Jones to sing over, just the right amount of unpolished. And Tom has something to give the song; after all, he knew Presley as peer and friend, and the lyric stares him in the face – “I was thinking that night about Elvis / Day that he died, day that he died/ He was all alone in a long decline…”

WHAT DID YOU DO AT WORK TODAY, DARLING…
“Well, I played my clarinet, I mean I held my clarinet, through two holes, um, in a sound stage and lifted it, you know, miming, when the clarinet section played… no, I couldn’t play it, it was just my arms through the stage, I had no way of blowing, just my arms, I couldn’t see anything, the floorboards were very close to my nose…”

Marc Myers at JazzWax posts this incredibly weird clip: Ann Miller, tap dancing like a champion,while a disembodied orchestra plays…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, and in a non-music-related way, this, by Charles Pierce for US Esquire, is worth reading…

 

Extra! Woodstock Mania, part 1

In the lead up to a trip to the States (that would include lunch in Woodstock with this blog’s local Correspondent), a series of random events coalesced around the subject of that small town in the Saugerties. So with three weeks to go ’til we left, we started with this…

Woodstock One The Last Waltz Recreated
An Irish group, called “The Group”, bring a show they have done for a few years now to London for the first time. In it “The Group” play most of the songs from The Last Waltz, the movie of The Band’s swansong concert. 
Tim sees a small listing in Time Out, and a few days later we find ourselves (Tim, Alison, Alex and me) at the Islington Assembly Rooms watching a live concert that is a tribute to a movie that was made about a live concert.

lastwaltz

The picture shows Winterland, er, Islington. From left, Unknown, Ronnie Hawkins, Rick Danko, Neil Young, Van the Man, Robbie Robertson (obscured), Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond (and Muddy Waters), Joni Mitchell and Paul Butterfield. But I’m sure you could tell that [click to enlarge].

The musicians all dress as the guys in The Band did on that night and they make a fair fist (Tim’s phrase) of the songs. There’s a horn section at the back, from which “Garth Hudson” steps out to take a couple of sax solos. They’ve got the moves down, from Robbie Robertson’s flailing hand shtick while soloing to Rick Danko’s bobbing and weaving (the bass player is pretty uncanny, actually, musically as well as visually). Behind them a very poor presentation of bad graphics and clips from the film is run from a Windows Laptop (boys! Really…). It’s great to hear the songs played well, although you can never quite shrug off the Tribute Band™ feel.

The revolving guest artists (who ranged far and wide at the The Last Waltz) are played by a motley crew. To actually convey how strange this whole thing was, I will just tell you that the same person played both Neil Diamond and Muddy Waters. Diamond spot on, Muddy, well… less spot on.Thankfully, we were spared “The Staples” singing “The Weight”. Eric Clapton was played by a very short older gent with a silver grey afro, who virtually had to be restrained from “Clapton-ing” everything he played on after “Farther On up the Road”. As the entire audience roared the chorus of “The Weight” back at the stage it was hard to tell who was in charge of the whole thing – the band or the crowd, a fair proportion of whom appeared to be friends of the group. Whatever, it made for a fitting end to a mad celebration of a unique event.

Woodstock Two Full Tilt…
follows next week.

 

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