Ten Things, Friday, March 15th

{ONE} NO MORE AUCTION BLOCK FOR ME
Very few guitars owned by Bob Dylan have ever come up for auction – the last one I can find was his 1963 Martin, played from the late 60s to 1977, most notably at the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh. That went for $400,000. This week sees the auction of his Fender XII twelve-string. Sending a press video link to me, Richard points out the hilarious voiceover. For a start, it isn’t a key Dylan guitar at all. Heritage Auctions put up a picture of Dylan playing it in the studio, saying, “the 12-string instrument was used to record the double LP Blonde on Blonde – it is believed to be one of the best albums ever released and may rewrite music history when it crosses the auction block March 16 at Heritage Auctions.” Errr, probably not. Those pictures of Dylan in the studio with the XII are captioned as being from the Highway 61 sessions on Fender’s own website. More important is the fact that no electric 12 string appears on any Dylan tracks from 1965 (unless I just haven’t dug through the 18 CDs of The Cutting Edge forensically enough).

Bob’s mint guitar, in the studio with it, and the 1969 Fender catalogue

The hyperbolic narration ends with… “this piece could very well be the ultimate Dylan guitar – it is definitely one of the most important guitars of the 1960s, and popular music history for that matter…” No, no, and no. It’s not the storied Stratocaster he played at Newport in 1965 (the only other guitar of Bob’s that’s come up for auction, going for $965,000, although that authentication was controversial), which maybe fits the bill. His Greenwich Village Gibson, possibly. His small-bodied Blood on the Tracks Martin, again, maybe. But not this, a Fender publicity opportunity gift, that looks to be in unplayed condition, that may not feature on any of Dylan’s released music.

nb. I’ve always liked this eccentric guitar, probably since seeing Tim Buckley play one (I certainly liked the guitar more than I liked Tim Buckley). The Electric XII used the offset Jazzmaster/Jaguar body allied to what became known as “the hockey stick” headstock. Jimmy Page used his 1965 Electric XII on the arpeggiated rhythm guitar parts in “Stairway to Heaven” and as a drone on “When the Levee Breaks.”

{TWO} THE GEORGE MICHAEL AUCTION
Michael tells me that I should see the show before the auction happens, so I hotfoot it to Christies at St James, arriving at the back of the building to see Damien Hirst’s vitrine of a bull’s carcass pierced by lances (Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain, 2007). The piece was too heavy to get into the main exhibition space, so had been left in a loading bay with some disco lights and a music player. It is playing Michael’s rather glossy and antiseptic version of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Suitably off balance, I head round to the front. This is some show, room after room filled with giant blow-ups of George, video screens and mad outfits from video shoots, and George’s collection of the art of the YBA’s (with other artworks also).

The cover image for Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 is projected onto the staircase

The stages of George’s career are rather portentously spelt out in panels around the main staircase – “So, on 24th November 1994, five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, George Michael chose to publicly declare the beginning of a new era of his own…”

The wildly impressive staging…

It is excessive and fun, but diverting too – his taste leans towards the glib and glossy, very surface-driven, but one man’s art and all that… and I guess if you’re rich, like art and have the wall space then this is what you do.

Giant video screen, prop from video shoot

{THREE} THE GREATEST SIDEMAN
When Hal Blain’s third edition of his life story was published in 2010, it carried the fabulous subtitle, The Story of the World’s Most Recorded Musician. In Art Garfunkle’s words, “If music in the second half of the 20th Century were the Empire State Building, Hal Blaine would be the ground floor.” Blaine was an arranger as much as a drummer, and for a gilded period was on more hits than almost any other musician. The book’s a good read, especially where Phil Spector is concerned…

“Phil had a way of holding me back while the band rehearsed. I felt like a racehorse who wants to run as soon as the gate opens and Phil, the jockey, would rein me in until we were coming around the clubhouse turn, heading for the final stretch. When the right take materialized, he would start his incredible gyrations in the booth, running from one side of the glass to the other, looking at key people during crucial moments like Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. He would conduct with one hand asking for loudness, while the other hand was directed at another section calling for quiet. Then he would give me that magical look that meant only one thing – Go! And we would both go crazy, me doing fills that were total lunacy. I would do eighth-note and 16th-note fills during a shuffle, and vice versa!”

“We would rehearse for hours and hours, and no one could even go to the toilet for fear of moving a mic. Finally, after endless run-throughs, Phil would call a “ten” and scream, “Don’t touch the mics!” And no one did. I clearly remember how carefully we would all get up, twisting our bodies and moving delicately. Phil had positioned the mics himself, and the placement was sacred. Like ballet dancers, we would step around the mics and over the cords strewn all over Studio A. The heat was incredible. There was no real air-conditioning in those days… we used to say that the flies buzzing around the Gold Star were getting as large and as famous as us musicians!”

{FOUR} THE LAST BLUESMAN
David Remnick writes a fine portrait of Buddy Guy (cool playlist included, too) in the New Yorker. He’s following Buddy around his house while a Gumbo cooks on the stove: “Guy took me around the house to give the flavours, as he said, time to “get acquainted.” There were countless photographs on the walls: all the musicians one could imagine, family photographs from Louisiana, grip-and-grin pictures from when he was awarded the Medal of Honor in the Bush White House and from the Kennedy Center tributes received during the Obama Administration. (Obama has said that, after Air Force One, the greatest perk of office was that “Buddy Guy comes here all the time to my house with his guitar.”)

An enormous jukebox in the den offered selections from pop, gospel, rock, soul. “I listen to everything,” Guy said. “I’ll hear a lick and it’ll grab you – not even blues, necessarily. It might even be from a speaking voice or something from a gospel record, and then I hope I can get it on my guitar. No music is unsatisfying to me. It’s all got something in it. It’s like that gumbo that’s in that kitchen there. You know how many tastes and meats are in there? I see my music as a gumbo. When you hear me play, there’s everything in there, everything I ever heard and stole from.”

{FIVE} R.I.P., MR PARALLEL FOURTHS…
One of the finest guitar sessioneers ever died recently, the man responsible for some of the greatest fills in Southern Soul – Reggie Young, guitarist at both Muscle Shoals and American Studios in Memphis. From a 2013 interview:
Do you remember the first time you heard yourself on the radio?
“Well, I was listening to this guitar solo on the radio in ’78, and I said to myself, “I can play a better solo than that guy.” Then I realized it was me!
I decided then that I needed to slow down. I was doing two, three, four sessions a day and I’d stay after the sessions were over and overdub harmonies or whatever had to be done. Then I’d be pushed for time to get to the next session…
Have you had any unusual calls?
Steve Jordan (the session drummer) asked if he could give my number to someone. I said, “Sure,” and a couple of days later Steven Segal called me. He was very nice. He kept saying, “My brother” (laughs). Well, he asked if I was interested in doing a benefit and I said I was, then he said I needed to be in Korea on Tuesday (laughs)! I told him that I couldn’t be there, but I gave him Tony Joe White’s number!”

{SIX} A FILM RECOMMENDATION!
I saw a preview at the end of last year (thanks, Hedda!) of Wild Rose, with Jessie Buckley playing a mouthy, car-crash Glasgow girl desperate to get to Nashville to be discovered. It should be a disaster of cringe-worthiness I know, but it neatly sidesteps most of the pitfalls (except for a cameo by Bob Harris that put one in mind of Graham Hill in Grand Prix). A typically excellent performance by Julie Walters helps, as does the fact that Jessie can really sing. She’s backed by a band of grizzled musos – Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham are there, as is Sam Amidon’s drummer, Chris Vatalaro – some decent songs, and a storyline that dials down the fairytale so as to not overshadow the realism. I loved it.

{SEVEN} BREATHLESS, NOT TOPLESS
That New York Herald Tribune knit shirt worn by Jean Seberg in Breathless? Now available here

{EIGHT} IF 5 THINGS HAD A RADIO STATION…
It would sound something like this, but probably not as well-compiled and eclectic: Graham Lovatt’s latest incarnation, at Completely Sound, with the excellent tagline, Music from all directions.

{NINE} IS THIS THE GREATEST…
photo in Jazz History? A quiet Sunday night in 1953. The Dodgers had just won the pennant. J.F.K. and Jacqueline Bouvier had just married. And four titans of bebop came together in a dive bar for a rare jam session. Read it at the New York Times.

{TEN} THE RBP PODCAST
The day ended and began with Giorgio Morodor. Doing some homework on Sigue Sigue Sputnik prior to appearing with Barney and Mark I listened to their hit single from 1985, “Love Missile F1-11”, and found that Moroder produced it, a fact I had not known. Their tagline – “We invented the future” – was never destined to last, and their schtick now looks quaint. And they last updated their website in 2015, so not really covering the “future” bit, lads. Part Adam & the Ants, part Sweet, it’s rockabilly strapped to an Autobahn rhythm. Still, it was fun to talk about their journey from Moroder to Stock, Aitken and Waterman, and then I got to quote Greil Marcus on Curtis Mayfield.

Someone described it as “bedroom dancing” which was a perfect description of the joyous quality it had

Afterwards, I headed to the other side of town, to Oslo in Hackney with Tim for The International Teachers of Pop. Such a fine name that I went not having heard a note. I did read an interview, however, and it told me that “Sheffield has a great history of drawing out these awkward, gangly weirdoes that make a very British, nay eccentric, kind of pop music that stews in the underground for a few years then appears seemingly from nowhere fully formed, like a very peculiar butterfly.” Spot on. They were terrific, a kind of reverse Human League with the two girls not as backing singers, but as strutting frontmen, and a drummer who laid into the beat with such ferocity and metronomic time that we assumed it was all done with computers. Dry Sheffield wit, pointedly political lyrics, and as they say, “a bona fide 125bpm cuddle for the masses!”

If you’re receiving the email out, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full Five Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

Wednesday, May 2nd

It was a week of strangeness, a week where Gibson went bankrupt, Bob Dylan turned distiller and Prince had a new song out…

ONE “I’M LIKE A BIRD WITHOUT A SONG”
With some synchronicity, there I was talking about Susan Rogers (see the music player on the right) and Eric Leeds, when she’s interviewed by The Guardian for the release of Prince’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U”. “One day, he went into a room with a notebook and, within an hour, emerged with the lyrics to “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Rogers, who witnessed many such bursts of creativity, remembers, “The song came out like a sneeze.” As usual, she rolled the tapes as Prince laid down instrument after instrument, mixing and overdubbing in the same session (Eric Leeds overdubbed the sax part three days later).”

It starts for all the world like a Harry Nilsson song, a fairground calliope round punctuated by a percussive dah-dah! Then the vocal starts, a tune you know so well that any deviance from the version you’ve loved since 1990 pulls you up short. There’s an unexpected muscularity as the drums and swooping guitar fly in at the end of the first line. It has that loosey-goosey drumming style that Stevie Wonder had when he overdubbed on top of his own drum parts. (Eddie Hinton was another captain manyhands in this regard – Spotify “Watch Dog”…). It also has a couple of bluesy turns to the melody which really work, and listen to how Eric Leeds’ tenor picks up on that sour/sweetness beautifully. Susan thought the finished song was “exceptional, in his Top 10”. She was right – it’s a masterpiece. Really.

TWO “I BEEN A MOONSHINER…”
As I write this, son is in L.A. attempting to buy a bottle of Bob’s new signature hootch, Heaven’s Door. According to Clay Risen of The New York Times, “the palate opens with a soft cocoa and buttercream note, then sharpens toward black pepper and cigar tobacco. The finish is slightly bitter, with the sweet spiciness of an Atomic Fireball.” Sounds good, Clay. Let’s hope Gabe hits paydirt. It’s occasioned the release of more pictures of Bob in his ironworking studio, along with inspirational quotes…

5-whiskeydylan1

…but there’s a cute bit of the Heaven’s Door site that has a random selection of Bob’s original typescripts for songs that reference drink. This one, for “Blind Willie McTell” – bootlegged whisky in his hand – has the fabulous (cut) couplet, “Just me and Betty Grable, trying to stay warm…”

5-whiskeydylan2

THREE “DON’T THINK TWICE, IT’S ALRIGHT”
While typing, I’m listening to Verona, the last show of the Dylan European Tour (it’s here) which features heavily re-arranged versions of the entire set-list. There’s an intimate and gentle loveliness to pretty much everything played, like the band are gathered around one mic in a triangle of light. Although it’s all very restrained, there are some neat angles to the melody lines (mainly in the form of unison lap steel/guitar features). The version of “Tangled up in Blue” is very odd, but the American Songbook stuff is gorgeous, “Honest with Me” is given a total Eddie Cochran makeover (quite a lot of the gig has a dawn of R&R feel) and “Pay in Blood” has now become a brilliant kind of Weimar Blues. Bob’s own piano playing is on-the-money, operating at the most eccentric end of his spectrum. The interludes in “Ballad of a Thin Man” – well it’s nothing like you’d expect. The whole band sound like they’re having the damnedest time. Good on Ol’ Whiskey Bob.

FOUR RY COODER TOURS AGAIN, AT SON’S INSISTENCE…
Well done, Joaquin! Of course, The Prodigal Son London date sold out instantly. A shame, as Cadogan Hall would be an excellent venue to hear him and his band of young guns play. I managed to get tickets for the gig at the National Stadium in Dublin, the world’s only purpose-built boxing stadium, built in 1939. Wish me luck. I mean, acoustically it could be fine, I just have my doubts… Oh, and someone put this excellent promo film on YouTube recently: Van Dyke Parks’ first music video production at Warner Brothers Records, in 1970. “I headed up a pioneering office that I titled ‘Audio Visual Services.’ Of those several ten-minute documentary musical shorts, I know of only one that survives – ‘Ry Cooder’”. Dig the pick-up truck and Airstream trailer.

FIVE MORTIFICATION CORNER
I’m at the dentist, around the corner from Selfridges. Across from me, looking at his phone is Toby Jones. Who doesn’t love Toby Jones as an actor? Brilliant in his breakthrough role as Truman Capote in Infamous, marvellous as Neil Baldwin in Marvellous (the story of Stoke City Football Club’s kit-man), and fantastic alongside Mackenzie Crook in Detectorists.

I have a guitar with me, which I never do. I hate carrying a guitar around town. I feel a charlatan. I have it because my sister-in-law, Hedda, has asked me to bring it to that evening’s Mark Kermode in 3D at the BFI, of which she is one of the producers. Not to play, you understand, but as a back-up, in case actor Johnny Flynn can’t bring his to the show. Johnny wrote the theme song for Detectorists, so I’m amused by the coincidence. Dentist visit done with, I head to the South Bank, and to the Green Room. Tonight’s guests are Charlie Brooker of Black Mirror fame, and Jessie Buckley and Johnny, who are there to talk about their new film, Beast.

I’m talking to Mark, who says that Johnny won’t be here for the start of the show, and we work out a bit of business where, as Johnny’s introduced, Mark will ask if anyone has a guitar. Guitar secreted under my seat, that’ll be my cue to hold my hand up and pass it to the front. Hilarity will ensue.

Mark asks if the guitar’s in tune, so I say yes but get it out to check. As I’m doing so, Mark then suggests a run through, and pulling out his harmonica, calls Jessie over, and expects me to play along, with Charlie Brooker and Hedda for an audience. The chords for, yes, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” fly from my head, and Jessie’s lovely voice is left to deal with my all-over-the-shop guitar. Attempting to pull the chords up on the phone is tricky, as the BFI building seems to block 4G signals, but Mark somehow gets them. Not so they fit on a tiny phone screen, however. We go again, there’s much stopping and starting, but it gets the key worked out, warms Jessie’s voice up and allows Mark to sort out the right cross-key for his harmonica.

The show is, as usual, highly entertaining, and Charlie Brooker’s love for the terrifying Magic Roundabout film, Dougal and the Blue Cat, a sight to see. Then Johnny arrives on stage, and he and Jessie try to talk about a film that is almost impossible to without spoiling its taut roll-out of character and tension. Then Mark asks his guests to play a song, and if there’s a guitar in the house. There is. It’s Johnny’s, but no-one’s told Mark so he points me out, and expects me to hand it to him. But I’d been asked to leave mine in the Green Room in case Johnny wanted to familiarise himself with it. And no-one’s told Mark, but it only adds to the rather carnival-esque atmosphere of these shows… All is well, though, and they essay a sweet, skipping version of “Don’t Think Twice”.

5-kermodebeast

Afterwards, I talk to Johnny about his love of the fingerpicking style of Mississippi John Hurt (listen to the Detectorists theme to check that out), his upcoming live album (and great live albums of the past), Blake Mills’ production of his friend Laura Marling’s Semper Femina (I love how Mills pushed the structures of the music, but he’s not so sure) and his lovely 1934 wooden Resonator guitar (a National Trojan, I think). He’s a lovely guy, great at both things he does, as is the extremely talented Jessie. And, thankfully, I hadn’t seen the excellent Beast before I met them both. That’s all I’m saying.

If you’re receiving the email out, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full 5 Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

%d bloggers like this: