Extra! Bob Dylan & his band, RAH, 21st October

“Why can’t I be more conventional
People talk
People stare
So I try
But that’s not for me…”
– “Why Try to Change Me Now”, covered on Shadows in the Night

These things we know: that Bob has a great band, from the rock steady rhythm section, equally at home with brushes and bows as sticks and fingers – to the dazzling front line of guitar and pedal steel; that he has an unsurpassed choice of songs to sing; that he won’t respond to requests no matter how many times the audience shouts out their particular favourite song; that he will always be his own man, ploughing his own furrow.

This we didn’t know: that he could sing, live in concert, timeless songs of the 40’s and 50’s with a believable, vulnerable – but above all careful – voice.

It made him less cavalier with his own songs, too, and the contrast of the pedal steel and brushes-driven Sinatra songs gave his 21st century blues numbers more snap and bite – “Pay In Blood” was terrifying, phrase after phrase flung from the stage like Muddy Waters backed by Johnny Winter; “Long and Wasted Years” becoming a second cousin of “Brownsville Girl”, both in melody and narrative delivery.

He pays homage to the American music that still fuels him in the way he chooses to walk onto the stage. The first half kicked off with guitarist Stu Kimball playing an acoustic piece of western folk (think the “Pat Garrett“ soundtrack, or “Red River Valley”) as the rest of the band filed on. For the second half Kimball played an electric country blues, Mississippi via Chicago, for the band’s entrance. As he said in Chronicles, “Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I began. I always felt like I’d started on it, always had been on it and could go anywhere, even down in to the deep Delta country. It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood.”

I also thought of this quote, said when he was 21 and talking of the tradition that he wanted to work in… “I don’t carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people. You see, in time, with those old singers, music was a tool – a way to live more, a way to make themselves feel better at certain points.”

And even at his most forward-thinking, smashing the conventions of popular song, there would always be the blues: “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat”, “Highway 61”, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”. You wonder what his 1966 self would make of him singing Sinatra at the Albert Hall in 2015. I bet he’d be fine with it. He was 1966 in 1966, and he didn’t need to be that again. He’d be pleased that he still honoured his roots every night that he plays, whether it’s Crosby and Sinatra, Wolf and Waters, or Williams, Holly and Berry. And, as he encored – with a wonderfully rolling and tumbling, piano-led version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” that was almost-country (but mostly Bob), and a coruscating “Love Sick” – I kept coming back to that verse from “Why Try to Change Me Now”. It struck me as both the fulcrum of the night’s set, and of his entire enormous, chaotic, poetic, mind-blowing, career.

Five Things, Wednesday 13th August

Don’t hold back, just push things forward
Ithaca Audio’s pertinently titled mashup uses one of the great intros (Shaft) and a bizarre selection of other imagery and soundtracks (Star Wars, Horse/Surf Guinness Ad) to excellent effect. “Shaft” is a Proustian Rush™ thing for me. It always transports me to Tony Blackburn’s (I think) chart rundown show on Sunday evenings, when all the homework – that you should have done on Friday – loomed. The Chart Show as background made it more bearable (though probably not good for the concentration) and occasionally something would issue out of the warm AM fuzz and demand that you stopped what you were doing to listen in wonder and awe. “Shaft” is the track I remember more than any other…

Prestige New Jazz v Esquire
At London Jazz Collector’s blog, a graphic Battle of the Brands: US jazz label Prestige’s covers translated or re-versioned by the UK’s Esquire when they were issued here. I don’t know which I prefer – there’s great work on both sides, as well as the odd duffer. I have the Prestige of Ray Bryant’s Alone With The Blues, but check out the IKEA-like (those ubiquitous piled stones that were done as large prints a few years back) Esquire version…

Royal Blood, Shortlist Interview
The new Morphine (only without the sax)? Not really, but I always like being put in mind of Morphine. Great drummer, wailing saxist and a bassist, Mark Sandman who played 2-string slide bass (!) and created such a unique vibe that you didn’t miss any other instruments. Check these two songs from a French TV show. They sound, if anything, better now, and still as unusual. Sandman died, of a heart attack, way too young… Anyhow, I liked Royal Blood’s answer when they were asked about appearing on US TV: Shortlist: You appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live. What was that like? Mike Kerr:I’d never been to Hollywood, and it’s a very strange place. It’s like a theme park for millionaires. But the show is a very isolated experience. We didn’t meet Jimmy Kimmel or watch the show. It was like turning up to a place in Hollywood and doing a gig to 20 competition winners that were Googling you on the way in.

Paul Anka, on writing “My Way” for Frank Sinatra
In 1967, Frank Sinatra confided over dinner that he’d decided to retire. The Rat Pack was starting to splinter, which made him feel vulnerable, and he was being harassed by the FBI because of his Mob connections. ‘Kid, I’m fed up,’ he said. ‘I’m going to do one more album and I’m out of here.’ Then he lightened up and said: ‘Hey, kid, you never wrote me that song you always promised me. Don’t take too long!’ He’d often joshed with me about writing a song for him, but I’d never got round to it.

A few months later, at home in New York, I couldn’t sleep one night. So I sat at my piano and started playing a French song, “Comme d’habitude”, to which I’d bought the rights. There was a storm brewing and as I played I suddenly sensed myself becoming Frank, tuning into his sense of foreboding. That’s how I got the first line: ‘And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain.’ I thought of him leaving the stage, the lights going out, and started typing like a madman, writing it just the way he talked: ‘Ate it up… spit it out.’ I’d never before written something so chauvinistic, narcissistic, in-your-face and grandiose. Everything in that song was Sinatra.

When I finished, it was 5am. I knew Frank was in Las Vegas, but by then he’d be offstage and at the bar. I called: ‘Frank, I’ve got something interesting – I’m gonna bring it out.’ When I played the song for him, he said: ‘That’s kooky, kid. We’re going in.’ Coming from Mr Cool, that meant he was ecstatic. There was never any question of singing it myself; “My Way” was done Sinatra’s way – and that was unquestionably the right way. Though I do like the way Sid Vicious did it…

I had one of those, honest
On Jeff Gold’s Record Mecca, an autograph book containing The Beatles signatures is priced at $7,500. It’s very similar to my autograph book, which once had the Beatles autographs on a single page, too. It also had The Searchers, Freddie “Parrot Face” Davis and Pete Seeger: they were all guests on Sunday Night at The London Palladium. Our friend, the bassist Lennie Bush, had the gig with the Jack Parnell Orchestra (which was full of great jazzers). Lennie (Sinatra’s go-to bass player on any sessions that Frank did in London) always took my autograph book with him. And then at some point I decided that my friend and colleague, Colin McHenry, was a bigger Beatles fan than me and that he should have that page. Colin, you owe me…

I love that—"To, Martin, keep with it” written by Sinclair Traill, editor of Jazz Journal, who then joked around with Earl and they ended up signing their names as Sinclair Hines and Earl Traill…

I love that—”To, Martin, keep with it” written by Sinclair Traill, editor of Jazz Journal, who then joked around with Earl and they ended up signing their names as Sinclair Hines and Earl Traill…

 

 

 

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