Friday, March 4th

ONE: BOB!
So he was not only down in the basement mixing up medicine and making tapes, but squirreling away mountains of artifacts in a hideaway storage facility. Thus the late period curtain-reveal of Bob Dylan’s career continues. This is from the NYT piece by Ben Sisario on Dylan’s huge secret $60 million archive: “Humanizing touches appear, but in small and scattered pieces. There is a wallet from the mid-1960s containing Johnny Cash’s phone number and Otis Redding’s business card. We can see the 1969 telegram from “Peter and Dennis” (Fonda and Hopper, that is) about the use of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” in the film “Easy Rider,” but the response is by a lawyer. Amid these mountains of paper, Mr. Dylan, the man, remains an enigma.”

telegram

TWO: IGGY!
From Big O: It’s already a big deal to have a celebrity in class but what happens when it is Iggy Pop, 68, who poses nude for your art class? Twenty-one artists, aged 19 to 80, at the New York Academy of Art were greeted by a naked Iggy Pop on February 21, 2016 as the rocker was recruited by the Brooklyn Museum to serve as the class’ nude model. Rolling Stone reported that conceptual artist Jeremy Deller, who was the driving force behind the Iggy Pop Life Class project, said: “For me it makes perfect sense for Iggy Pop to be the subject of a life class; his body is central to an understanding of rock music and its place within American culture. His body has witnessed much and should be documented.”

THREE: ENNIO!
How nice to see a dynamic B&W photograph used on a concert poster for once…

! morricone

FOUR: MAVIS!
Mick Gold treats me to a viewing of the very affecting Mavis! at BAFTA. Highly recommended for its story of family ties and Civil Rights – for Mavis Staples, it’s always all about the music. No diva-ishness, no dilution – the struggle runs through her like a seam of coal. Most moving moments: a visit to Levon Helm in his studio, rail thin and gaunt, intently listening while Mavis sings to him, and finally being compelled to join in by the beauty of her voice; Mavis talking about Pops with Jeff Tweedy and his son, and feeling the love of another musical family in the projects that they’ve recorded with her.

Other highlights: the least gnomic Bob Dylan interview, possibly ever, and the performances with her current band, a terrific ensemble consisting of guitarist Rick Holmstrom, bassist Jeff Turmes and drummer Stephen Hodges (whose work I mainly knew from the swordfishtrombones-era Tom Waits).

Mick sent me this, from the filmmaker’s notes: Many people have wondered what it was like to ‘meet Dylan.’ WTTW rented a suite in the North Side hotel where Dylan was staying. We invited Mavis and her sister Yvonne to watch the interview; they had not seen Dylan since Mavis sang background on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone for David Letterman’s 10th anniversary show in 1992. Dylan arrived on time and alone. He wore a black riverboat gambler outfit, framed by a black cowboy hat and black gypsy boots. Like a schoolboy, Dylan tiptoed into the room with a shy stride. He carried a single red rose for Mavis. They embraced… Dylan and the Staples had some good times. This didn’t make it into our documentary, but Pervis (who left the group in 1970) recalled Dylan diving off a board at the motel where they were staying during the Newport Folk Festival. “He jumped off the board and his shorts came off,” Staples said. “I went in and got ’em. I thought something happened to him because he had his boots on, too. We got to be friends. We bought some wine, and he wrote “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” on the back of a shirt board.” I asked Dylan about this story. He said it “pretty much sounds right” and that he wrote many songs on many different objects.

In an interesting interview with Noah Schaffer for Arts Fuse, Holmstrom explained his philosophy for backing Mavis: “I really think Mavis sounds best in a stripped down setting because it gives her voice more room to resonate. Plus, a lot of my favorite Staples Singers stuff was just Pops Staples on guitar and their voices, occasionally with bass and drums too. To me, that’s where the deep Staples vocal blend really shines. It’s as if the singers are an orchestra horn section, punching and popping lines, being a lead instrument at times, not just singing “oohs and aah’s.” If you add too much it takes away from what makes it so soulful in the first place. We like to use silence and a bigger range of dynamics than most bands. We try to play really quiet at times so that when we play at medium volume it has an impact, rather than starting on 10 and staying there all night. It also makes it easier on the six singers to really sing rather than strain to hear ourselves. It’s something we have to constantly work on, remind ourselves of.”

FIVE: MICHAEL ABRAHAMS!
If only all health warnings were like this…

 

Thanks this week to Marc Myers of JazzWax fame for running some fine Terry Cryer shots of Sister Rosetta Tharpe with Ken Colyer this week. Marc had written about Sister Rosetta and linked to the fine BBC documentary about her, so I had sent him the shots out of interest.

Oh, and look out for a Five Things Extra! next week on all the strange Woodstock related events and coincidences that seemed to happen in the last few days.

Monday, January 25th

IMAGE OF THE WEEK
Best thing we bought in Paris last weekend: from the Vanves flea market – it’s hard to resist Monks playing music, I find. Best thing we saw but didn’t buy: this Philips’ Rosita music centre.

Paris

ONE. ENOUGH SINGER-SONGWRITERS, ALREADY
Ian Gittings wrote about the plague in The Guardian: “Jamie Lawson, a Devon-born singer-songwriter had put out three albums over a decade-long career to almost blanket indifference… Ed Sheeran released the fourth last year [on his new record label], expressing hope that it would pick up play at “my dad’s dinner parties”. This should have been the kiss of death but was instead inexplicably regarded as a recommendation: on the verge of his 40th birthday, Lawson saw the record go to No 1. This precipitous rise from obscurity is baffling, as Lawson is such an unremarkable, journeyman talent. In the currently cluttered field of showily sensitive male singer-songwriters, he possesses no discernible selling point. He is Sheeran without the endearing glimpses of wit and humanity; Damien Rice minus the depths and the dark side [actually I think Gittings is letting him off lightly here, it’s even worse than that – Ed].”

Fronting a functional band with an ingratiating grin apparently welded to his face, Lawson primarily suggests some ghastly amalgam of James Blunt and Ben Haenow. His excruciatingly sentimental lyrics could be the handiwork of a moonlighting Clintons cards copywriter: the jaw-droppingly platitudinous “Someone for Everyone” (“Don’t worry/If you can’t find love in a hurry”) could very easily be retitled There are More Fish in the Sea, or At Least You’ve Got Your Health.”

And one of those “showily sensitive male singer-songwriters” is Jack Savoretti. I saw him do a couple of songs as a short support act to Paulo Conte, his record company playing up his Italian heritage in hopes that Conte fans would flock to follow Jack too.

Last week he played the Graham Norton Show, and while he seems a nice enough fellow, his performance was a patchwork of all the current crop’s failings. There was a sub-Coldplay chord sequence powering music that exists on some glassy plane entirely separate from the voice, with no interaction and no give and take. Far from it being a social activity, this is music that doesn’t move about the room, talk amongst itself or tell an interesting story. It just sits there like an Ikea sideboard, neat and bland, with a flimsy and hollow core. So even though the band can play, and he can sing, it’s all for nothing. His vocal was at 10 on the emotional richter scale by the end of the first chorus, and there’s no way here for the listener to invest in a narrative arc. And it’s all topped off with a ridiculous lyric, blathering on about the fall of Empires and such like, topped off with the awful title phrase “If I could catapult my heart/to where you are”. Just imagine that line in your head. Go on. Whoa! Enough negativity! Here’s something I liked…

TWO. INSTRUMENT CORNER
Bob G sent me this link to Behold, an interesting Photo blog, where Ed Stilley makes an Outsider Artform of guitars. “God Instructed Him in a Dream to Make Guitars and Give Them Away to Kids, So He Did”. Can’t beat that for a headline. And the solution to limited access to parts results in a truly unique 12-string guitar.

THREE. A NICE PIECE IN THE NEW YORKER
Elon Green on Mavis Staples’ new album, which will release in mid-Feb followed by a new documentary, Mavis!: “The new record, Mavis thought, presented an opportunity to do something different. Radically so; her inspiration came, in part, from Pharrell Williams’s galactically popular “Happy.” She’d sung it to herself each morning, and it had, more or less, lodged itself in her brain. “When the world was just so upside down, [Williams] brought a lot of people up with that song,” Mavis said recently. “I’ve been making people cry for so many years, and I just want to sing something joyful.” And at the end, this: “As for Mavis, she has only one regret about the record, set for release on February 19th. “I wish I could have gotten old Dylan to write a song for me,” she said. A lifetime ago, Mavis and Bob Dylan were in love. “We may have smooched,” she says in the documentary. Dylan, in fact, went to so far as to ask Pops for Mavis’s hand in marriage. He was denied.”

FOUR. THIS YEAR WE’RE LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS FILM…
The Jaco Pastorious documentary, co-directed by Stephen Kijak who did such a great job with Scott Walker in 30 Century Man. One YouTube comment from StevieDebe kind of sums up the end of the story: “When I met him on the street, 6th Avenue and 3rd St, I said Are you Pastorius? He said, That’s right, Jaco Pastorius, best bass player in the world… can I borrow $16? To which I said gladly yes! It has a nice trailer, with an imperious Joni Mitchell – “I like originals… pause, drags on her cigarette… Jaco was an original”. It could be time for me to drag out my old chestnut, “The Night I Met Joni (and Jaco)”, except that I won’t. You can find it here if you’re so minded.

FIVE. A FASCINATING PIECE IN VANITY FAIR…
by Michael Lewis, where he takes on the mantle of William Goldman to illuminate the strange route movies take to get made. This is apropos of The Big Short: “ Having said all that, the movies that have been made from my books have, in my view, been pretty great. It’s no use trying to shift gears here and claim credit for this. There’s no obvious correlation between the quality of a movie and the quality of the book it springs from: good movies have been made from bad books, just as bad movies have been made from good books.

Each of the three times I have sat in the darkened room and watched for the first time a movie of my book I have felt simple delighted surprise. With each movie the surprise has been greater. The Blind Side wasn’t that hard to imagine as a movie – at the heart of the book was a bizarre and moving family drama. Moneyball was hard to imagine as a movie, but at least it was about baseball and thus organically linked to popular culture. Wall Street, even in the aftermath of a financial crisis that has cost so many so much, is not. The behavior of our money people is still treated as a subject for specialists. This is a huge cultural mistake. High finance touches –ruins – the lives of ordinary people in a way that, say, baseball does not, unless you are a Cubs fan. And yet, ordinary people, even those who have been most violated, are never left with a clear sense of how they’ve been touched or by whom. Wall Street, like a clever pervert, is often suspected but seldom understood and never convicted.”

 

Five Things: Wednesday 25th June

My two favourite bits of ephemera found on the web this week
Roxy Music small ad in the Music Press. Those were the days. I think the pic on the right was an album cover, but I’m not sure. Whatever, top marks!

Roxy
Horseless Headmen, The Harrison

HH

Forty five minutes of improvised fabulousness: with added drummer, Tom Atherton, who imbued proceedings with a mighty roar that still allowed the terrific Nick Cash (regular drummer) to decorate and amplify the noise with bells, bike chains and upturned water dispensers. Guitarist G Painting seemed to be initiating the proceedings this time round, alternating an almost metal attack with delicate and spiky Chinoiserie. Bassist Ivor Kallin was propulsive and gulping, and trombonist Paul Taylor’s organic rasp and great ear for a melody (he’d been playing along to Duke Ellington on the sound system before they started) added to the Headless mix. Sometimes it felt and sounded like they were building the Titanic in a tiny basement; at others, when they stroked a melody tenderly, like a warm bath.

Mavis Staples talking to Elon Green about recording The Weight for The Last Waltz, The New Yorker
Just an excerpt: “The Last Waltz was, as Helm wrote in his memoir, deemed “too lily-white and missing something crucial.” And so, not long after the show, the Staples Singers, a popular gospel group and old friends of the Band, performed “The Weight” on an M.G.M. soundstage in front of an audience of two hundred and fifty people. As the song finishes up, the camera settles on the Staples family—Roebuck (“Pops”), out of focus in the background, and his daughters, Cleotha, Yvonne, and Mavis. Mavis, closest to the camera, throws her head back, leans toward the mic, and says, almost inaudibly, “Beautiful.” Here is Mavis Staples’s memory of that session: “It was so beautiful to me. I was surprised that was caught on tape, you know, because I thought I was whispering. It wasn’t rehearsed to go like that. It was just a feeling that brought that on. The excitement of being with our friends—Levon and Danko and those guys were such good friends of ours—to be singing with them, and knowing that this is going to be on the big screen, the silver screen, it was just a moment in time for me…

Scorsese gave us all a break at one point, and everybody scattered. Levon was on his drums, still drumming. So Pops walked back there. “Hey, Levon!” Levon said, “Hey Roebuck!” And they talked a bit, and all of a sudden Pops realized that Levon was smokin’ two cigarettes. He said, “Levon, man, you’re smoking two cigarettes at a time?” And Levon held one of ’em up and said, “Oooooooh, Roebuck. You gotta try this one!” And that one was marijuana! Pops said, “Man, I don’t want none of that mess.” Daddy was so tickled. We talked about that forever

And I remember everything about it. I remember every moment that we had doing that. Pops said, “Mavis! Baby, you shouldn’t carry it out so long like that,” when I go, “Heeeyyyy yeeeeaaah.” And I said, “Nah, daddy, that’s the good part. That’s what I feel.” He said, “O.K., do what you feel. That’s the best thing. Do what you feel.”

Busking at Clapham, 1980s
Among Bob Mazzer’s pictures of the London underground during the 80s at the Howard Griffin Gallery I was drawn to this as Clapham Common was my local tube station then (this could be Clapham North or South, all three look alike). Doesn’t that seem like a proto-Jack White, down in the tube station at midnight? And I don’t think the guy singing is actually with the band…

Clapham

Bob Dylan by artist Martin Creed, The Guardian
Jeff also gave me tapes, including a bootleg of the Bootleg Tapes (I think they mean the Basement Tapes – ed) that I still play. I have a lot of cassettes from that time and a car that plays tapes, so I still listen to Jeff’s bootleg when I’m driving. I love the Bootleg Series: those funny versions of songs often seem better than the official versions. They haven’t been cleaned up. I got into Bob Dylan, again, because of the 1997 album Time Out of Mind, which seemed like the start of a whole new thing. It’s the most beautiful, peaceful music, but also the funniest, most thoughtful and stupid music I could possibly imagine. It feels like it’s got everything in it, but without necessarily making sense. Things fly in from left, right and centre. There are different ideas, turns of phrase, beautiful pieces of music, catchy bits, but it’s mysterious and I can’t understand it. It doesn’t add up. One song, “Highlands”, is 15 minutes long and sounds as though he’s just making the story up as he goes along. It’s brilliant. It reminds me of something I’m told the painter Gerhard Richter once said: “I want my work to be stupid, like nature.”

Five Things Extra: Welcome To Muscle Shoals, Hit Recording Capital Of The World

“David, little David, help me now, c’mon little David…”

ShoalsSign

Excerpts from David Hood Q&A, Soho Hotel Cinema

Audience member: Do you have a theory about what the magic of Muscle Shoals was?
DH: I think it’s a group of young people who wanted to make good music, that was the driving force. We never thought we’d be famous, we never thought we’d be Beatles or anything like that… always my role has been a supporting role. I was always the guy by the drummer playing and trying to do whatever I could to make the artist sound good… we all had the same goal and that was to play great music and to hear it on the radio. And that was a thrill… it’s still a thrill.

I was interested in the fallout of Aretha’s appearance in the Shoals and her sudden departure after Rick Hall and her husband, Ted White, came to blows. Was there a difference in feel, working in New York, where the sessions relocated, compared to the Shoals?
DH: Well it was a lot more formal. There were union guys saying You can’t unplug that amplifier, we gotta have someone come in. We did the Letterman show three weeks ago in New York and we’re setting up and I wanted to move my amplifier, and… In Muscle Shoals, we were the guys, that’s the thing. [But in New York] once we got in there, got in our positions, playing the music, it was the same, then…

Our little studio, 3614 Jackson Ave., when Paul Simon came and recorded there, he came to record “Take Me To The Mardi Gras”, because he had heard “I’ll Take You There” and wanted those black Jamaican musicians to play, so he came and booked the studio time. He booked four days for that song and when he came in it was raining and the studio leaked… I don’t know if it’s polite to say this but the sound engineer [Jerry Masters] taped tampons across the back of the control room roof, because the water was dripping on the control board. We got “Take Me” on the second take, so we had three more days – Paul Simon’s not going to give up the studio time he’s paying for so we cut “Kodachrome” and those other things… [those other things included “Loves Me Like A Rock”, “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor” and the luminous and delicate “St. Judy’s Comet”, showing the deft touch that made them perfect collaborators. Just listen to Pete Carr’s guitar fills, Hood’s super-melodic bass and Barry Beckett’s cool vibes. The Rhythm Section also cut “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “My Little Town” with Simon].

So, very primitive facilities that we had… but it’s the sound of the musicians – it’s not the room, it’s the musicians. Many, many accidents happen in music. At the end of “Kodachrome” you hear Paul Simon go “OK” – that’s when he’s trying to get us to stop, to do it again, and we keep playin’ and it sort of becomes the record, so you never know on things like that.

My friend Alex: Often in the film Rick Hall comes across as an eccentric and sometimes brutal character – is that a fair depiction?
DH: That’s some true depiction – to this day. The session where you see [in the film] Candi Staton  recording ”I Ain’t Easy To Love”…

Alex: He’s all over it, isn’t he…
DH: He was so typical Rick Hall. He was still as awful as he ever was. “No man, that’s no good! That’s not what I want…”

Audience member: Is it a love/hate thing?
DH: Mostly love [audience laughs]. He gave me my start, I would be nowhere without him… I tell him that every time I see him. It’s a small town where we are. You either love each other or kill each other!

Other than the fact that I missed MSTthere being any mention of Eddie Hinton (add your own non-hitmaking Shoals denizen here), the film captures something of the time and place that those wonderful records came from. Read Mick Brown’s lovely piece on the Telegraph’s site, that tells you what you need to know.

I caught up with David after 25 or so years – the last time we talked was in his office at 1000 Alabama Avenue. I wore the T-Shirt the studio had given us, and Alex took a picture on his phone.

Quote at the top: Mavis Staples’ exhortation to David Hood in “I’ll Take You There”. Sign photograph taken by me in ’87.

Five Things: Wednesday 19th June

I hear about Mavis Staples’ new album…
Due June 25 on Anti, One True Vine is described as “stark, acoustic arrangements and the most honest, unvarnished vocal performances of her career”. Featuring 10 tracks, including new songs written by producer Jeff Tweedy and Nick Lowe along with covers ranging from Funkadelic to Low. Recorded at The Loft, Wilco’s studio in Chicago, the album features Jeff Tweedy on nearly every instrument except drums, which were played by his 17-year-old son Spencer.

I rescue Son and Seb from Download…
… having had the car key stolen. They are at the edge of a massive event that stretches for miles, but considering that it only finished the night before, the clean-up and dismantling that’s taken place is majorly impressive.

Donington

I love the soundtrack …
by Mogwai for eerie French drama, The Returned. Its crepuscular, Lynchian feel is given extra heft by the almost constant musical backdrop, sometimes a spindly xx-y kind of guitar track, sometimes a curdled piano and spooky xylophone. I came across this interview with Fabrice Gobert, who wrote and directed the series, and Dominic Aitchison, from Mogwai.

FABRICE GOBERT  Six months before filming, we were casting the actors and I thought it was very important to cast the music for the series, as it would be a main character in the drama. I love what Mogwai do in general, but especially the film about Zinedine Zidane [Mogwai wrote the soundtrack for Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait]. It was a strange movie and the music was spectacular. When I was writing the scripts I was listening to that music a lot. I thought it would be strange to imagine that a band like Mogwai would agree to work on a French drama, but we tried it. We sent them three or four pages, where I tried to explain why I’d like to work with them. And they were interested. I don’t know why.

I talked to them about a Swedish film, Let the Right One In, a film with vampires rather than zombies, but it was very realistic, and a good influence for what we wanted to do. We don’t want to make The Walking Dead; we wanted to make a French fantasy drama where dead people come back. I gave them some photographs from Gregory Crewdson, an American who photographs the American suburbs and makes the spectator feel very uncomfortable with something very familiar and very strange. And I gave them music from films that I like. The sort of thing musicians make with movies when they are free, such as Neil Young for Dead Man, and Miles Davis for Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows.

DOMINIC AITCHISON  We received the basic synopsis, plus a list of films and books that might influence the tone of the programme. We’ve always wanted to do more soundtracks. The Zidane film was the only chance we’d really had to do something like that. It was great fun and quite different from writing a normal record – you have to try not to have obvious effects that would really ramp up the tension. You have to keep it really simple, and try to keep the dynamics quite flat; not having it jump up, and not having the big scares.

I send a video…
Land
To the This Land Is Your Land Project, an interactive PBS documentary that plans to record us all (or as many who upload their version) singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” I dug out a version [the first song we recorded in Garageband six years ago, as a test] and made a stills-based short to go with it. The title still is a photo taken of Coit Tower in San Francisco, on one of Bob Gumpert’s excellent tours.

I finally take the plunge…
This week, after four years prevarication, I finally take the plunge and order one of these…

Bruce

Yes, it’s an Ampeg Scroll bass, as played by one of my heroes, Rick Danko. First seen on the Rock Of Ages sleeve in 1972, I have wanted one ever since. I met a jazz bassist once with one, and I saw a picture of Brian Eno playing one Enothat I clipped out of the Guardian years ago (see left), but four years ago I found that Bruce Johnson – a retired Disney Thrill Ride engineer – had set up shop and was loving recreating (while considerably improving) Ampeg basses. Every piece of the body and neck, virtually every part of the hardware, made by hand, on turn of the century lathes that Bruce has overhauled. On holiday in LA we made a midnight visit to Bruce’s workshop in Burbank, and spent a fascinating hour with him and his dog. More anon on how the bass takes shape. Here’s Rick (a man who, in Ralph J Gleason’s wonderful line, “looked as if he could swing Coit Tower”, so muscular was his playing, so lurching his stage movements) with his fretless at Brooklyn’s Academy Of Music, New Year’s Eve, 1971 with “Don’t Do It”. And again, in an soon-to-be-released extended version of the great Festival Express, playing “Jemima Surrender”. Dig Levon’s rhythm guitar work on an Gibson SG, which makes a mockery of the “bring over my Fender” line.

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