Ten Things! Thursday, 7th May

Yes, for one week (or is that two?) only, owing to the non-appearance of Five Things last week, Ten Things Seen and Heard!

ONE: LOOKING FORWARDS
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Django and Jimmie. Now that sounds interesting – a tribute to jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and “Singing Brakeman” Jimmie Rodgers. Apparently, it contains a sublime interpretation Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”.

TWO: LOOKING BACKWARDS
After Leslie leaves the room, Grace steps in… according to Nishat Baig at The Source, “RCA’s newest singer Grace has joined forces with G-Eazy and Quincy Jones to recreate Lesley Gore’s hit song “You Don’t Own Me.” The original track, released in 1963, was considered one of the first women’s empowerment anthems. Quincy Jones was the original producer, and co-produced the new version as a way to pay homage to Gore before her passing. The 17-year-old singer/songwriter, Grace, is taking the pop-soul world by storm and has been influenced by singers like Smokey Robinson to Janis Joplin, and Shirley Bassey to Amy Winehouse.” Well, we’ve never heard that before, have we? However, to be fair, it’s a pretty fly version.

THREE: I HAD NO IDEA…

Bill
That Citroën made a Citroën Maserati, but they did, and Bill Wyman bought one. The Guardian reported: “The minute I saw the Maserati, I thought – this is it! It looked so beautiful. They showed me that incredible engine and the double headlights…” Wyman lived in Vence in the South of France between 1971 and 1982: “I’d drive it to Keith Richards’ place in Cap Ferrat, to record Exile on Main Street and I’d drive to Paris and back, an eight-hour journey each way.” Wyman recalled zipping over in his Maserati to see his new circle of friends on the Cote d’Azur, people such as the artists Marc Chagall and César and the writer James Baldwin. He also drove the car twice to the Montreux jazz festival where he played with the likes of Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy.”

FOUR: NEWS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE STATE DINNER!
Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe: “The partnership between Japan and the United States is simply unparalleled in building the future of Asia and the world. I know everyone here knows that famous song by Diana Ross, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The song goes, “Ain’t no mountain high enough; ain’t no valley low enough, to keep me from you.” (Laughter.) The relationship of Japan and the United States is just like this. (Laughter and applause.)”

FIVE: THANK YOU, SAINSBURYS
For reminding me of Al Green’s sublime Belle album, from which some adland baby-boomer (or, possibly, Hoxton hipster) had extracted “Feels Like Summer”, one of its highlights, to soundtrack their latest advert. It has a simple, funky groove that’s so damned relaxed. After the wonderful thickness of Willie Mitchell productions, Al produced this himself and it has a very different sound – a little more acoustic, a touch more diffuse and airy – but great in its own way. Cut on the cusp of the secular and gospel parts of his career it is both nostalgic and urgent, often in the same song. In “Belle”, which rides on the back of Al’s choppy acoustic strumming, he talks to a woman about his religious feelings – “Belle, the Lord and I been friends for a mighty long time/Belle, leaving him has never really crossed my mind” and “Belle, oh It’s you that I want, but it’s Him that I need…” The push and pull of his calling runs through all its tracks. Check out, too, the lovely “Dream”, a seven minute meditation with Green and James Bass on lead guitars, that’s reminiscent of the kind of songs Bobby Womack was writing on the Poet albums. It’s now firmly on the Summer Playlist – I’d recommend you add it to yours forthwith.

SIX: PRECIOUS

lowell

After last week’s Lowell George DVD, found on YouTube – more of the Bedbugs!

SEVEN: BOTH GEOFF MULDAUR AND HIS AUDIENCE ARE HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME
I’ll write more about this gig in the upstairs room of a pub in Islington, I think, but suffice it to say that it was a total treat [and thanks to Tim for spotting it]. Geoff was introduced by his childhood friend Joe Boyd, who produced several of his albums including the fantastic (and expensive – check out the soul sessionmen credits, the cream-of-the-crop jazzmen and, uh, the Hollywood Orchestra) Geoff Muldaur is having a Wonderful Time. The gig was a masterclass in tale-telling and hypnotic playing. He’s a precise, fastidious guitar player, often in open tuning, and he picks with the lucidity and precision of someone like James Taylor or Richard Thompson – you know, those guitarists whose fingers glide over the strings making complex spiderweb shapes while beautiful melodies issue forth. The thumbpicked rhythm didn’t waver, and his genius for arranging made each song come alive, whether its roots were in the twenties, sixties or nineties. The name-checks ranged from Philippé Wynne of the Spinners – “People were conceived to this guy and nobody knows his name. One of our greatest singers” – to McKinneys Cotton Pickers, via Bobby Charles (“Small Town Talk” and “See You Later Alligator” among many others) and Stravinsky – a testament to Geoff’s great taste.

EIGHT: SYNCHRONICITY
Oddly, I’d been listening to Phillippé Wynne because of Richard Williams’ great post on Boz Scaggs covering, in Richard’s view, a song he shouldn’t have. Read the description of its recording, listen to Wynne sing (especially at the fade) and you’ll be convinced of the truth of both Richard’s and Geoff’s words.

NINE: PLEASE, MRS GLASER…
With the memories of Barney’s new book on Woodstock still circling my mind (Small Town Talk is the story of what happened after Albert and Sally Grossman first came to Woodstock and then, on the advice of their friends Milton and Shirley Glaser, bought an estate that had belonged to comic-strip illustrator John Striebel.” – really, Shirley Glaser is pretty much responsible for the whole Woodstock scene), I walked into a movie poster shop in Marylebone and saw something I’d once tried really hard to find in the early days of the internet, and had then forgotten about: an original of design giant Milton Glaser’s poster, which was included in the sleeve of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits album in 1967. Apparently, some money changed hands and I seem to be the proud owner.

Bobposter

TEN: ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
A track from Sam Charters’ Folkways LP, Sounds of London. Looking for soundtracks to play at a photography show that we’re helping to organise, we’ve compiled playlists, recorded traffic, made music and disputed the various qualities of John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges and Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge. Sam’s London record, recorded in 1960, has some great moments – Speakers Corner, a pub in Shoreditch, Covent Garden Market at dawn, and this, a marching band recorded from our front room window in Charing Cross Road.

Wednesday 18th February

OH GOD, NOT THEM AGAIN…
I forgot to mention this last week. Anyone see, for some unfathomable reason, Kasabian open the BAFTA’s? The BAFTA’s (a name I can’t now hear without Jennifer Saunders as Clarice Starling pronouncing it “Bafders” in the French & Saunders Silence Of The Lambs spoof years ago) keep looking endlessly, enviously, westwards as the years pass, as they position themselves as Oscar’s Mini-Me. And they’ve noticed that the Oscars kick off with a musical number, right? Except, on the Academy Awards night it’s a specially written “musical” number, that catalogues, critiques and generally cocks a snook at the nominated films. That’s not how BAFTA see it, obviously. This year… (drum roll)… please welcome (another drum roll)… British Rock Giants… (cheering and clapping, more drum rolls, possibly some eye rolling)… Kasabian! Dear God. I know that if I think of British Film, I’m always put in mind of the Poundshop Primal Scream that are Leicester’s famous sons. I mean, aren’t you? And shame on Stephen Fry for calling them “The Amazian Kasabian”, whilst undoubtedly thinking nothing of the sort. I hope.

A QUITE-LIKED QUOTE
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu: What I’ve Learned, US Esquire: “I see only one requirement you have to have to be a director, or any kind of artist: rhythm. Rhythm, for me, is everything. Without rhythm, there’s no music. Without rhythm, there’s no cinema. Without rhythm, there’s no architecture. The cosmos is a system of rhythms that come in many ways: Images. Sounds. Colors. Vibrations… and if you don’t get that, if you don’t have that, it’s impossible to do something that vibrates. You can have the craft, the knowledge, the information, the tools, even the ideas – but if you don’t have rhythm, you are fucked.”

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
This Twen spread, shot by Robert Freeman, designed by Willy Fleckhaus, found on MagCulture.

Twen1

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
As Don McLean prepares to sell, on April 7, the 16 pages of notes that became “American Pie” for somewhere just south of $1,000,000 according to a Christie’s estimate, I thought of the only piece I ever had in Mojo magazine. It was for a regular column called “What do you mean you’ve never heard of…?” and my chosen subject was the ghostly Paul Griffin. The man who saved “American Pie”, after various attempts to record it had failed. McLean: “And then this piano player named Paul Griffin, who had worked with Bob Dylan, started running “American Pie” down, and he played the ass off that song. It just started bouncing all over the place. He really pumped the thing and drove it. And with my guitar in his ear, and him jumping around on the piano, it came together. Once I put the vocal on, it became a very hot record.” Not forgetting Rob Stoner’s great bass playing, of course…

I wanted to find him as he’d played some of the greatest piano parts in rock, and I tried for weeks to get in touch with him, calling numbers given to me by, I think, Chris Welch at Music Sales. Various family members would answer, promising that if I called at 2pm he’d be there, but it didn’t happen. Anyway, I cobbled something together, and while looking for it yesterday, found a wonderful letter online, from Jonathan Singer to the New York Daily News in 1999, archived on the steely Dan website (Paul was the only musician ever given a co-credit by Becker & Fagen). He wanted them to write a piece to get Paul’s hospital treatment paid for. I make no apology for running so much from it. It’s just so fascinating. Here are some excerpts:

“Think of the organ intro to Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now”… the gospel piano behind Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, and Don McLean’s “American Pie”… the tack piano on B.J.Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”… Dionne Warwick’s “Walk on By”… Paul Simon’s “Tenderness” from There Goes Rhymin” Simon – these all feature Paul Griffin at the keyboard.

“But if any one producer monopolized Griffin, it was Burt Bacharach. From Dionne Warwick’s first records; “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Walk On By,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart” – if Bacharach/David wrote it, then Paul Griffin probably played the piano part. Wait a minute. Bacharach, no slouch as a pianist, gave Paul nearly all of his own piano parts to play? “Do you know why he did that?” Griffin asked. “Because Burt used to love to come into the studio and conduct. That’s why he gave me those parts to play.”

“Other musicians might have kept quiet about Bacharach’s idiosyncrasies and just let their own legend grow. Not Griffin. Try to compliment him on that little organ part for Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now” and he humbly smiles away the accolade. “A Bert Keyes arrangement,” he says, proud to give credit where credit is due.

“Griffin was so knocked-out by Aretha Franklin’s piano playing, that he refused to play on the session for “Think.” “They wanted me to play that [piano] intro she does. I said, “No way! That’s her !” Then again, Griffin was playing with Aretha three years before Atlantic signed her; when Clyde Otis cut her for Columbia.

“Paul Griffin’s most extraordinary – and often uncredited – work with Bob Dylan occurred on January 25, 1966. There has always been some confusion about the players on this first New York session for Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Because the album was finished a few months later in Nashville, the album lists only the Nashville musicians. The two New York sessions, the first of which produced “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” are frequently credited to members of the Band. Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson might have played bass and guitar on one of the New York sessions. But just a single listening erases any doubt about who played piano. Al Kooper, who played organ at the session, remembers Paul well. “The piano playing on “One of Us Must Know” is quite magnificent,” Kooper told writer Andy Gill. “It influenced me enormously as a pianist. It’s probably Paul Griffin’s finest moment.”

“Griffin’s playing on “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” is reminiscent of what he would play five years later on “American Pie” – but even more brilliant in its intensity and improvisation. The song is an emotional confession of misconnects and apologies from the singer to some woman who has tragically slipped out of his life. Griffin gives the song its tragic depth – and height. He picks his way sensitively through the verses; but at other times, he prowls beneath the words with Judgement and an ominous gospel lick that he stokes until he has climbed to the verse’s peak. At the chorus, Griffin unleashes a symphony; hammering his way up and down the keyboard, half-Gershwin, half-gospel, all heart. The follow-up, a killer left hand figure that links the chorus to the verse, releases none of the song’s tension. Then, on the last chorus, not content to repeat the same brilliant part, Griffin’s playing is so breathtaking, and so completely embodies the lyric, that he enters into some other dimension. For several seconds, on one of Dylan’s best songs, Griffin makes Dylan seem almost earthbound. “It’s great, two-fisted, gospel piano playing,” Kooper says, “played with the utmost of taste.”

“Paul Griffin doesn’t remember it. He’s momentarily bewildered, almost apologetic for not recalling something others hold so dear. The part was probably something he’d heard in Paradise Baptist church at least a hundred times before. But do not mistake an isolated, fuzzy memory for a moment that he is unaware of. He is well aware of this music’s significance – in Paul Griffin’s life.

“The sound that you hear is the sound of gratitude,” he says simply. “If it wasn’t for music, I don’t know what would have become of me. I’d had a lot of jobs – I was a cutter in the garment district, I delivered groceries for a supermarket – but nothing with any kind of future. So, what you hear is the sound of being thankful… for being able to play… for being tapped to play on a session [Dylan’s] like that… thankful… as if I’d been saved from something horrible.”

“Several months after this conversation, Paul came down with pneumonia. Over the last year, he’s been in and out of the hospital. Then, a few weeks ago, doctors told him he needed a liver transplant. After a lifetime in music, “something horrible” yet threatens to overtake Paul Griffin, and he and his family wait. Would it not be fitting and wonderful if some of the artists, musicians and executives who so appreciated Paul while his smile lit up a session and his playing lit up their hearts, could now raise up as one and help him. Even the listening public – anyone who remembers all those Shirelles records, Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now,” “American Pie,” or the first exquisite twenty seconds of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” Anyone, in fact, who, like Don McLean, can still remember how that music used to make them smile…” – Jonathan Singer

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
And, of course, looking for all this stuff, in the way of the web I run across something else… Chip Taylor’s Rock & Roll Joe site, dedicated to the unsung heroes of Rock ’n’ Roll. Where they know Paul Griffin’s name. Seriously – a place you could lose some time looking round.

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
Say goodbye to Lesley Gore, singer of cracking songs in the Sixties. Just check out Ms Gore singing “You Don’t Own Me” in 1964, where the director has filtered the lens and shot in extreme close-up, for a brilliant modern-as-tomorrow look. Here’s a song I always liked from her last album, in 2005, recorded and written with Blake Morgan, where the quality of angels is called into question, as if she was Philip Marlowe, perhaps – “Oh I’m waiting for better angels/Oh I’m waiting, for any lead/Though my case looks fatal/I’m still hoping better angels come to me…”

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