More Than 5 Things, September 12th, Pt. 1

I’ve seen lots of stuff over the weeks since the last post, and here it is, in no particular order. It has nothing to do with music, but you have to watch The Octopus in My House on iPlayer to see the finest nature programme of the past year. Three-hearted, blue-blooded and entirely boneless… you’ll never order octopus in a restaurant again. And, as the publicity happens for The Last Waltz at 40 tour, I’m just trying to figure out why none of the publicity mentions Garth Hudson, only musicians like Warren Haynes and Jamey Johnson, who, last time I looked, have no real Band connections. It’s also been amusing to see which media outlets had an issue with Lana Del Rey’s latest, Norman Fucking Rockwell, and how they decided to deal with that middle word. Was it F***ing? F—ng? Or F@!%ing? And there are no words for what’s happening politically at the moment in Britain, so on with the show…

{ONE} I LOVE A GOOD INTERVIEW
Fascinating Clive Davis interview by David Browne in Rolling Stone.
Which act do you regret not breaking?
“You’re always somewhat regretful of any artist you thought would break. There was the Alpha Band years ago that had T Bone Burnett and a young violinist named David Mansfield. And there were the Funky Kings with Jack Tempchin, who has written so many great songs [the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Already Gone”]”.

I may be the only person who has all three of The Alpha Band albums. Featuring great T-Bone Burnett songs like “The Statue Makers of Hollywood” and “Perverse Generation”, and even a song written with artist Larry Poons. They broke in my house, but possibly not in anyone else’s. Here’s the photographic proof…

AND ALSO…
Rob Stoner interviewed by Jason Woodbury on Aquarium Drunkard, about his role in Rolling Thunder, and what he thought of the Scorsese film. He asks Stoner about Dylan’s tendancy to cloud and obscure facts about his life and work: “I mean you could even look at that as in his sartorial approach, how he changes his lid every era: started out with a little newsboy hat, a little commie, comrade worker hat, and then he went on to the top hat, then the cowboy hat, then the fucking cab driver hat. It’s all part of him just being a shapeshifter. It’s all intentional, and it’s all in fun. It makes for a more entertaining movie than just another goddamn rock documentary. Also, it’s because it poses more questions than it answers. It sets them up for a sequel.”
AD: Do you think that there will be one?
Rob Stoner: Well, they’ve got plenty of performances left in the can, and furthermore, when they set out to begin this project 12 years ago, Scorsese sent a team around to every principal who was alive at the time to do a day’s worth of interviews. They came to my house. Bob’s manager, Jeff Rosen, sat in my studio with me for an entire day, interviewing me. So they have all these interviews in the can. They’ve got enough to do it. This time, if they do it again, hopefully they’ll mention Jacques Levy, Howard Alk, and Paul Goldsmith.
When asked how he handled working with demanding artists, he put it down to “incredibly good luck and people skills. You have to employ a lot of psychology and tap dancing and tip-toeing around these people’s idiosyncrasies. These idiosyncratic individuals, man, they’re artists. Some of them have acquired their strange quirks and personality by design, some of them are just naturally that way, but either way, you have to accommodate them. It’s all about psychology, really.
AD: And that was just a natural skill set that you possessed?
Rob Stoner: Well, basically, it was a desire to keep the job!
AD: Did you ever work for anybody who was more difficult to please than Dylan?
Rob Stoner: I’m gonna have to save that one for my book, man. [Laughs]

{TWO} MUSIC TO WORK TO

At least, that’s how this track worked for me. Forty two minutes and twenty seconds of “Wichita Lineman”. In places it is exquisitely beautiful. Apparently mentioned in Dylan Jones’ new book about the song (yes, just that song. A whole book). Hear DJ talk about it on the Rock’s Backpages Podcast here (it’s Episode 37).

{THREE} WORLD’S COOLEST TRUMPET?

Coming up in late October, as part of Christies Exceptional Auction, this Miles Davis-owned trumpet… “The trumpet was made by the Martin Company, which had been founded in Chicago in 1865 by the German instrument-maker, Johann Heinrich Martin. By the middle of the 20th century, demand for its trumpets was pretty much insatiable. Dizzy Gillespie was a huge fan, Miles Davis was another. Davis was particularly fond of a model called the Committee. So much so that when the Martin Company was sold to a rival manufacturer in the 1960s – and the production of Committee trumpets officially stopped – they continued to be custom-made for Davis. The Committee horn being auctioned was one of a set of three conceived by designer Larry Ramirez, who was a part-time jazz trumpeter himself. At Davis’s request, one was coloured red, one blue and one black – each of them decorated with a gilt moon and stars, and with the word ‘Miles’ inscribed inside the bell. Ramirez told the story, in later life, of the nerves he’d felt at the moment Davis handed him back one of the horns and said, ‘You play, don’t you?’. He duly played a tentative passage from Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and remembers his relief when Davis observed, ‘Man, you play pretty good’.”

{FOUR} RIP JIMMY JOHNSON, RIP DONNIE FRITTS
When we recorded in the Shoals, Jimmy lent Mark his Telecaster, and us his car. Jimmy, like all of the Shoals team, wanted to help out. Tape Ops, receptionists, engineers, legends – all of them the embodiment of Southern Hospitality. I promptly reversed the car into a telegraph pole. Here I am on the bonnet of the Jimmymobile, pre-prang.

And Donnie (Flip-Side) Fritts was the subject of this lovely memoir by David Hood’s son Patterson (thanks, Bob, for The Bitter Southerner tip). A tribute to “Alabama’s Leaning Man”, he starts, “There was never a time when I didn’t know Funky Donnie Fritts…” and goes on to tell of Donnie’s life and times. “One of my favorites among Donnie’s songs was “Where’s Eddie,” which he and Eddie Hinton co-wrote around sunrise one morning. They got drunk, climbed a tree, and wrote the tune while sitting among the limbs. The British artist Lulu ended up recording it for New Routes, the album she recorded in Muscle Shoals. Years later, my band Drive-By Truckers recorded it for our album Go-Go Boots. Donnie later told me that he and Hinton drunkenly argued over whose name would grace the title. Fortunately, neither fell out of that tree.”

Donnie Fritts and Jimmy Johnson at Muscle Shoals Sound during the Prone to Lean Sessions

{FIVE} NICE NAMING, BRIAN…
The excellent film on Dieter Rams, part of the BBC’s Design Week of programmes, was graced with a fine Eno soundtrack (evocatively named, as usual). The three outliers were a Lotte Lenya Brecht/Weill track, Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses” and John Lewis’ “D&E”, both performed by Oscar Peterson.

{BEFORE YOU GO…}
The Tom Waits song location map

The RBP podcast with Richard Williams
A great episode. As Barney writes, “In the latest episode of the Rock’s Backpages podcast, Jasper Murison-Bowie (left) and I talk with very special guest Richard Williams about his long & august career as a writer, editor & author… and about Easy Rider, Arthur Lee, Albert Ayler, Laura Nyro, Melody Maker & much, much more. Richard gave me my first break as a music writer when he (and Ian Birch) gave me some reviews to write for MM in 1979. I owe him more than I can ever express. His taste and erudition have been beacons for me for at least 45 years. Thank you, sir.” Find it here (it’s Episode 41).

Life looks better in Super 8
Rather beautiful Super 8 movies of the Elliot Lawrence Big Band on the road in 1950, from Marc Myers’ JazzWax.

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The book of Five Things is available from Amazon here.

Front Cover

“He writes with the insight of someone who has inhabited the world of the professional musician but also with the infectious enthusiasm of someone who is a fan like anyone of us. He also comes at the subject from an entirely personal, slightly sideways perspective, with no agenda and no product to sell. It’s entertaining and inspiring in equal measure.” – from an Amazon review by Zuma
“A terrific book, stuffed to the gills with snippets of news items and observations all with a musical theme, pulled together by the watchful eye of Martin Colyer… lovingly compiled, rammed with colour photos and interesting stories. He has a good ear for a tune, an eye for the out-of-ordinary and can write a bit too.” – Steve Carr, everyrecordtellsastory.com

Friday, August 9th

{INTRO} SINCE WINSTON CHURCHILL WAS NO LONGER AVAILABLE…Why does the line “The new Captain Bligh / on the new ship of fools” keep running through my mind this week? It’s from Gil Scott-Heron’s nonpareil “B Movie” of course, his incredible dissection of Ronald Reagan’s effect on the state of America. It is full of indelible images, playing off Reagan’s past as a cowboy actor, the “Voodoo Economics” of George “Papa Doc” Bush Snr, the Madison Avenue sales job. It’s full of lines like “Racism’s up / Human Rights are down / Peace is shaky / War items are hot…” How’s this for nailing Brexit? “The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia / They want to go back as far as they can… / Even if it’s only as far as last week / Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards…”

I’m posting this just before fleeing to Marseille (not in a Country Joe, “Air Algiers” kind of way – you know, “I hopped on a plane / Oakland, New York / Oakland, New York / New York to Marseille…”). We are not going to the Casbah to cool it for a couple of years, we are not on the run from the FBI, our pictures have not been put on the Post Office walls. We are merely staying in Bédoin, a small town at the base of Mont Ventoux (there’s a plaque in the square in memory of British cyclist Tom Simpson, who collapsed and died near the peak, placed by journalists following the 1967 Tour de France).

{ONE} BETTY WRIGHT AT THE BARBICAN
I went with my old soul mucker, Mark. This is Mark’s take on what occurred: “Well, she was fabulous. Despite the best efforts of the couple sat next to me, who were more interested in scrolling through pictures on his phone during a particularly sensitive musical moment, and quite the most gormless MC who did his best to wreck the end of the show. Oddly, “Shoorah, Shoorah” was the weakest moment, but she played a bunch of songs I’d never heard which were fabulous. It didn’t feel remotely revivalist; in fact, she seemed utterly contemporary. And she was charm itself – never taking herself too seriously, funny as fuck, just a delight.”

And, although “Shoorah, Shoorah” didn’t work (it was the one New Orleans track in a Miami playlist) another Allen Toussaint anthem – “Everything I do Gohn (sic) be Funky” – summed up her exceptional band. The audience responded in kind.

{TWO} JOHN SIMON’S BOOK
“John Simon has always been one of our most musical producers, a mix of musical and social skills. Part arranger, part psychiatrist, part instrumentalist, part pure music lover, part camp counsellor.” – John Sebastian

Bob Lefsetz mentioned John Simon’s book, A Memoir of a Musical Life in and out of Rock and Roll, in one of his letters, so I sent off for a copy as I’d always been fascinated by the part he played in so many interesting careers, from Simon & Garfunkel and Leonard Cohen to Joplin, Taj Mahal, Gil Evans and The Band. It’s a great read (even if it’s littered with typos and is poorly designed) and I thoroughly recommend it. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff about the period of change from Tin Pan Alley to Flower Power – here’s a couple of excerpts…

On Fake Books. The first rock n roll song I ever played? “Shake Rattle and Roll”. I went with Dave Poe to far-off, exotic Bridgeport and we bought the sheet music in a music store. We learned songs from these little song collection books called “Combo Orks”. They were made for kids just like us. Each was issued by a music publishing house and contained songs solely from their catalogue. But what we really pined for and drooled over were… The Fake Books! These books had over 1000 songs, unlimited by the publishers right to print them and, hence, completely illegal. (if you can imagine that, long before the current climate everything-for-free internet.) These were as unattainable as The Holy Grail for youngsters like us. They were suited for pros because, unlike regular sheet music, each song had only its melody and chord names. From those chord names alone, you had to know how to transform the letters into actual chords that sounded good. It wasn’t until after college when I arrived in NYC that I managed to purchase my own illegal fakebook. It was like a drug buy! I actually had to meet this shady guy in a trenchcoat on the street who, looking left then right, opened up a large black suitcase and handed me volumes 1 and 2 for thirty bucks apiece. Then he was gone in a flash. Those two books continue to serve me well fifty years later.

On Al Kooper. Al has always had a good sense of how to attract attention for publicity. When he was temporarily on staff at Columbia, he wanted to give promotional copies of a record he’d made to DJs and Program Directors and attempted to persuade the Promotion Department to hire Andre The Giant to do it (literally a huge celebrity). Al tells me it didn’t work out because Andre couldn’t fit in a taxi.

On working on The Band. The guys in the band were so inherently musical that they found picking up a new instrument and making music on it natural, challenging and fun. Levon was always open to suggestions and to learning something new, always humble, never haughty. We imagined a mandolin part for “Rockin’ Chair”, but there were more chords required than 99% of mandolin players would ever be asked to play. So he and I sat down in facing chairs to figure it out. It remains one of my favourite memories of working with Levon. We each knew something the other didn’t know. I heard some chords that he didn’t know. He could play the mandolin better than I could. So together we figured out unconventional mandolin hand positions for chords that would fit the song.

And this nugget, a tale from VU and Dylan legend, Tom Wilson. One of his former mentors was a doo-wop producer. He wrote down all the doo-wop background nonsense syllables he used, like “shebang, shebang” or “whoop-whoop” and kept them filed alphabetically in a little box to make sure he didn’t use them again.

{THREE} SWOON RIVER
Jacob Collier’s 140 guest voices (and 5,000 of his own) on a version of “Moon River” is, um, impressive. But he’s no Richard Carpenter, Senator. Every time that someone covers this indelible Mancini / Mercer song (Frank Ocean most lately) they do too much to it, slathering it in syrup. For me, nothing has ever come close to the gut string guitar and simple reading of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Fun fact: Mancini and Mercer worked on the song in different towns. After Mancini had the melody, he sent it to Mercer, who wrote the lyrics. They played it for the first time in the empty ballroom of the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel in Los Angeles.

{FOUR} IN BEATLES ABBEY ROAD WEEK…
Did you ever see this, the climax of the woeful Bee Gee musical inspired by Sgt Pepper? It is insane to think that all of these people were in the same place at the same time. Watch it and weep, mostly with laughter.

{FIVE} A SMALL ROUND UP…
Oh, Pet… Excellent wide-ranging interview with Petula Clark by Elle Hunt in The Guardian about her astonishing career. I’ve always loved the fact that she recorded a nice electro-ish chill out track aged 80. It’s called “Cut Copy Me” and can be found here.

Oh, Ashley… Bill Bradshaw, writing at onthewight.com. “Fifty years after Bob Dylan made his now-legendary appearance at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, the great troubadour has made a remarkable gesture to a new festival about to honour the anniversary. It means a previously unpublished and unheard Dylan composition will be heard exclusively for the first time at the Million Dollar Bash festival on the Isle of Wight on Saturday, 31st August. Now Dylan has made contact with Million Dollar Bash’s curator, Ashley Hutchings MBE – a founder member of Fairport Convention – to pass on a special poem. Hutchings has put together a one-off band, Dylancentric, to pay tribute to Dylan’s songs and assembled a high-class bill for the special event, including folk-rock legend, Richard Thompson. Hutchings, described by Bob Dylan as “the single most important figure in English folk-rock”, was contacted by his mentor as he called together the band for rehearsals. Hutchings said that Dylan’s messages also indicated he acknowledged the hard work going into the Bash’s salute to his 1969 appearance and that he fondly recalled his own time on the Island 50 years ago.

More Band stuff. Barney sends this: “Calling all Band fans (I know there are a few of you out there). A smart young guy named Matt Lodato asked me some great questions about Robbie, Levon, Garth, Rick & Richard… and we ended up having a pretty cool conversation.”

More Country Joe. Here’s Joe’s excellent “Air Algiers”, taken from the 1970 Big Sur Folk Festival, a week of peace ’n’ love, apart from Stephen Stills, who has a fight.

And Finally… Mark (from Betty Wright, above) and I lit in to “Air Algiers” a few years back as part of our Poisonville Project, and did it as a muezzin-inspired electric blues. Find it here.

Friday, June 17th

ONE AT HENDRIX AND HANDEL’S…
…where the launch for The Last Great Event (Volume 2 of When the World Came to the Isle of Wight by Ray Foulk) took place. Since it opened in February I’ve meant to go, so it was good to finally get there.

hendrix

In the photos: A poor cut out on the greeting poster, that loses half a Stratocaster – took me back to the great old days of letterpress block cutters; A wall featuring some of Jimi’s record collection (good to see Sam’s first recording of Lightnin’ Hopkins after re-discovering him); The nicely done record bins where each record is listed alongside little stories and anecdotes; Some guests having their picture taken in the recreated bedroom; Cute plate as plaque, yours for £42.50 (£2.82 in 1970’s cash).

TWO THE BAND IN LANDYLAND
A show at Camden Proud that sadly didn’t feature an appearance by Elliot Landy (I’d taken my copy of Woodstock Vision in quest of an autograph) or enough material to sate the thirst of people who are excited by the idea of a show of photos of The Band. A disappointingly un-curated take on a fascinating period, with no real context (such as the story of Robbie Robertson, fed up with being told their album cover could be shot by the best that New York had to offer, Penn or Avedon, replying “Who’s the worst photographer…” and Grossman saying “I don’t know if he’s the worst but he keeps bugging me” and gave the job to Landy. Where were the photos of The Band playing American football remembered from the sheet music book of The Band album, where was Hudson (Garth) on a Hudson (automobile) by the Hudson (River)? Ah well, write this off as the moanings of a boring fan. Here is my favourite unseen photo, Richard Manuel as Warren Beatty.

landyband

THREE HEAR THE ICELAND FANS ROCK SAINT-ÉTIENNE

FOUR FAVOURITE CORRECTION OF THE WEEK
Corrections and clarifications, The Guardian: “A column (How we made… The Orb’s Little Fluffy Clouds, 7 June, page 19, G2) featured interviews with the Orb’s Alex Paterson and Youth. The accompanying photograph, however, did not show Paterson with Youth, as the caption said, but with another member of the Orb lineup, Thrash.
 

FIVE HERE’S A SONG FOR THE SUMMER: “SEALED WITH A KISS”
As I was recording this I read that jazz guitarist John Etheridge was doing a version in his live sets so I deliberately avoided searching for his version until I’d completed mine. Then, of course, I YouTubed his: the melody lends itself to his approach, on top of the Steely Dan-ish organ chords and I really like Mark Kircher’s drumming in the intro.

I’d heard the song for the first time in years on one of the last episodes of Mad Men and the melody nagged away at me. One one hand it’s an over-ripe teen anthem, on the other a singular melody that doesn’t sound like a “pop” tune at all. Anyhow, joined by talented, proper musicians – Mark Pringle on guitar and structure, Paul Taylor on trombone and arrangement, I give to you, on the music player to your right, my take on Brian Hyland’s summer smash, “Sealed With a Kiss”. As always, play it loud. When the music player is updated and the song is no longer there, you can find it here.

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Five Things Extra: Martin Stone

Photograph by Keith Morris

Photograph by Keith Morris

My favourite guitarist in the world is Mark Pringle, obvs, but – for the time he was active in the London scene in the late sixties and early seventies – Martin Stone ran him a close second. Many nights were spent nursing a pint of that horrible seventies’ version of an alcopop, lager & lime, at the Greyhound in Fulham and watching his band, Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers. Not quite as mellow as Bees Make Honey, not quite as rocky as Head, Hands and Feet, not quite as threatening as Kilburn & The High Road, the Peppers were my favourite band of that period – they swung (Pete Thomas was the drummer), they had vim and attack (especially where Martin was concerned), they played great songs and they were funny (frontman Phil Lithman left to rejoin San Francisco avant wackos, The Residents). When he played something particularly wonderful Martin would peer from under his woolly hat and crack a mischievous smile. Now, Martin (who quit the music business and became an antiquarian book seller/scout) is ill and the NHS won’t fund his treatment as he lives in Paris. It’s time to partly pay him back for those nights when the Kings of the Robot Rhythms reigned over Balham’s Bongos – go to the Just Giving site here.

And here’s an excerpt from a vivid piece by Martin that I loved, written in tribute to a book collecting mentor (and I remember that flat in Cannon Street Road, too – Martin shared it with the aforementioned M. Pringle):

“I first met Peter at the Olympia Bookfair in the late 1970s; he had a table of James Joyce in absolutely marvelous condition, many of them inscribed. I stood there hypnotised. I was new to the game, working the coal face of the book trade, a bottom-feeding outsider. I had never seen books like these; a first edition of Joyce’s Dubliners, brand-new in dust-jacket, that had never been tipped out of a sack at five in the morning in Brick Lane market.

Peter peered down at me with avuncular concern. “Stay well away from Joyce,” he said. “He’s a nightmare to buy and sell.”

He said he’d like to see my books and I gave him my address and phone number. He ignored the phone, and sometime after midnight there was a rapping at my window.

“Fuck off,” I yelled. My home was in Whitechapel; bad people sometimes tried to get in under cover of darkness.

“Now, now, Martin, it’s Peter Howard and I’m here to buy your books.”

A fellow member of the 24-hour club. I hid the cocaine and let him in.

He pointed at the far wall of my storeroom. “What are all those?”

“Minor Edwardian and Victorian fiction.”

“There’s no such thing as minor.”

“Er, no, of course not… I mean, I rather like them all really.”

“How much for the wall?”

I was checkmated; it was the first time I’d encountered the omnivore approach to book buying.

“Well, some of them are a bit more but mostly they’re about two pounds each.”

“Why can’t they be more, Martin?”

No book dealer had ever asked me that question, either.”

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