Friday, 18th September

auction

IMAGES OF THE WEEK
From the upcoming (September 29th) Rock & Pop auction at Sotheby’s in London, these eight lots are my favourites. A spare £150,000 may get you Bob’s original “Hard Rain” lyrics… [From the family of Elisabeth (Lily) Djehizian, the first wife of Hugh Romney (“Wavy Gravy”). Lily met Romney whilst working as a waitress at the Gas Light and was closely associated with many of the artists working in Greenwich Village in the early 1960’s, most notably Lenny Bruce.] Click to enlarge – check out the great Beatles’ (U.S.A.) Ltd. typography.

WELL THIS RAISES THE GAME A LITTLE BIT
Spellbinding six-minute overview of the current state of Kendrick Lamar’s music on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Lamar makes most current music look dumb and pallid. It isn’t just the crack rhythm section or the compelling jittery shapes he throws as he sings, it’s the delivery and the timing. He romps through the mid-section with the fantastic beat of To Pimp a Butterfly’s “King Kunte” dissing musical frauds– “I can dig rappin’, but wait! a rapper with a ghost writer? tell me what happened!?“ The song relentlessly builds by moving up a semi-tone every chorus, the two bass players powering it on and on, before it morphs into a effects-driven jazzy end section with an amazing repeated vocal riff on “lovin’ you is complicated…” Staggering.

NOT STAGGERING
Is it just me, or is this as tuneless as I think? One of Apple’s new Apple Music adverts with Leon Bridges, or as he’s known in our house, Aloe Blacc without a decent song. The others aren’t much more convincing – I’m not sure Shamir or Flo Morrisey are doing anything not done better before.

BEST TELEPHONE TREE HOLD MUSIC THIS WEEK!
…and the winner is: Southern Electric, with the Miles Davis Quartet (Miles on trumpet, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums) playing “When I Fall in Love (it Will be Forever)”. It was on repeat and made the resulting 25-minute wait way more pleasant.

FROM MARK MYERS’ WSJ PIECE ON THE MAKING OF STEELY DAN’S “DEACON BLUE”
Strangely, Mr Christlieb is referred to as Pete…
Mr Fagen: “When everything was recorded – the rhythm section, the horns and the background vocals – Walter and I sat in the studio listening back and decided we needed a sax solo, someone to speak for the main character. We liked the sound of a tenor saxophonist who played in Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band, a cat who blew like crazy when the show went to a commercial. He had this gutsy sound, but we didn’t know who it was.”

Mr Becker: “We had our producer Gary Katz ask around and he found out it was Pete Christlieb. Pete had invented any number of cool harmonic devices that made his playing sound unique. He just sounded like a take-charge soloist, a gunner.”

Pete Christlieb: “I went over to the studio one night after the Tonight Show finished taping at 6:30 p.m. When I listened on headphones to the track Tom [Scott] had arranged, there was just enough space for me to play a solo. As I listened, I realized Donald and Walter were using jazz chord changes, not the block chords of rock. This gave me a solid base for improvisation. They just told me to play what I felt. Hey, I’m a jazz musician, that’s what I do. So I listened again and recorded my first solo. We listened back and they said it was great. I recorded a second take and that’s the one they used. I was gone in a half-hour. The next thing I know I’m hearing myself in every airport bathroom in the world.”

EXTRA! FOR ALL YOU NIGHTHAWKS OUT THERE…
It’s Pete Christlieb’s sax on Tom Waits’ wonderful Nighthawks at the Diner. I found this piece on its recording, a Dan Daley interview with Bones Howe… We started talking about where we could do an album that would have a live feel to it. We thought about clubs, but the well-known ones like the Troubadour were toilets in those days. Then I remembered that Barbra Streisand had made a record at the old Record Plant studios, when they were on 3rd Street near Cahuenga Boulevard. It’s a mall now. There was a room there that she got an entire orchestra into. Back in those days they would just roll the consoles around to where they needed them. So Herb and I said let’s see if we can put tables and chairs in there and get an audience in and record a show. I got Michael Melvoin on piano, and he was one of the greatest jazz arrangers ever; I had Jim Hughart on [upright] bass, Bill Goodwin on drums and Pete Christlieb on sax. It was a totally jazz rhythm section. Herb gave out tickets to all his friends, we set up a bar, put potato chips on the tables and we had a sell-out, two nights, two shows a night, July 30 and 31, 1975. I remember that the opening act was a stripper. Her name was Dewana and her husband was a taxi driver. So for her the band played bump-and-grind music –and there’s no jazz player who has never played a strip joint, so they knew exactly what to do. But it put the room in exactly the right mood. Then Waits came out and sang “Emotional Weather Report”. Then he turned around to face the band and read the classified section of the paper while they played. It was like Allen Ginsberg with a really, really good band.” From Tomwaitsfan.com

nighthawks-soundonsound

Bones Howe’s original layout diagram for the live recording.

Wednesday, 25th March

Visual of the Week

Ken&Rose
The great Sister Rosetta documentary was shown again on BBC 4. Any chance to run these lovely Terry Cryer photos – taken in the Studio 51 Club on Great Newport Street in 1957, of Rosetta playing with my uncle’s band – cannot be turned down. A woman with an amazing voice, an electrifying style and great, great taste in guitars. Check out the wild solo two minutes into the film.

A fascinating snippet from Laura Barton’s Buena Vista piece in The Guardian:
[Nick] Gold and [Ry] Cooder felt a similar a sense of care and responsibility for the recordings they made. “Each morning, we played what we had recorded the day before,” Gold says. “We knew it was wonderful. When you listen to it, you’re right there.” This was partly due to the positioning of a pair of microphones high in the studio to capture the ambience of the room. “The studio [Egrem] has this one fantastic large room. It just has this lovely feel.” But when the pair took the recordings to California to be mixed, they immediately stumbled. “We weren’t hearing that special something,” says Gold. “There was a clarity missing.” They began a frantic search for a mixing desk that resembled the one used in Havana, eventually locating the same model in a Christian recording studio in Los Angeles. “And there it was – that sound back in all its clarity! Ry said, ‘It’s like someone’s wiped the windows clear.’”

Gary Katz in Conversation
An engaging Q&A with the bone-dry Brooklynite, in which his deep love of music and musicians shines across the orchestra pit at the Bloomsbury Theatre. It was organised by the London Song Company, and its founder Julian Marshall (who has worked with Mr Katz) led the questions. Lots to enjoy, but the heart of it was how much Katz loved working on these great songs with most of America’s greatest musicians a phone call away. It was interesting to note that Katz’s working relationship with Donald Fagen ended after Nightfly because of Fagen’s insistence on using Wendell, the prototype drum machine that engineer Roger Nicholls built by hand on Fagen’s command, instead of the mere humans (aka America’s finest drummers) who had done service on all the Steely Dan records up to Gaucho. One thing that resonated was how many of the great solos on Steely Dan tracks were done in one take, considering the Dan’s penchant for taking months fretting about the placing of one beat. Phil Woods on “Dr Wu”, Wayne Shorter on “Aja”, Jay Graydon on “Peg” – all one pass at the track, pack away the instrument, go home.

Perhaps the most astonishing of all was Steve Gadd’s drumming on “Aja”. Apparently, Becker and Fagen (and Katz) always talked about using him, but every time they came close, one of them would say, “I don’t really love his backbeat…” (laughter) and they wouldn’t call him. Having problems with the drum track (and extended solo) on “Aja”, Katz told us:
“Someone said, ‘Maybe this would be a good time to try Gadd’. [At this time] Steve had a distinct problem with drugs. When he came into the room he said, ‘Let me put the score up…’ It was a very long score, because of the eight minutes, so they set up a semi-circle of music stands. He said, ‘Can we just run it down so I can mark it?’ So Chuck Rainey, Victor Feldman, great musicians, ran it down, Gadd marks it. Said ‘Okay, I’m ready’. Walter and I were in the control room, Donald was outside with his back to us, doing the scratch vocal. He only played it once. The only time he played it, is what you hear (sounds of incredulity from audience). Walter says, ‘You know, we may have made a mistake about Gadd’. (laughter)

“So six months go by, as they usually do on our records, we went back to New York to mix, and we were just about finished mixing the song, and someone said, ‘You know Gadd’s down the hall working on a Michael Franks record’, and Don says, ‘Go get him, and let him hear this.’ So we go down, say we want to play him something – he was a mess… he sat in front of the console and we played it really loud, really good sound. The track is over, he goes ‘Wow… who’s playing drums?’ We just look at each other, ’cause he wasn’t kidding. I said, ‘You did, Steve’. He said, ‘I’m a motherfucker’ (audience collapses)”.

“We skipped the light fandango/Turned cartwheels ’cross the floor…”
Mick Gold comments on my mention of the King Curtis album “Live At The Fillmore West”. “I was watching Withnail & I for the 987th time late night on TV and was suddenly seized by curiosity. What was the opening piece of music which plays over shots of Paul McGann’s horrified face contemplating the squalor of their flat in Camden Town, 1969? A bit of a search revealed it was King Curtis performing “A Whiter Shade of Pale” from the album you mentioned. What does that honking full-bodied tenor sax solo over washes of organ fills have to do with the domestic chaos and anguish we’re seeing? It’s totally counter-intuitive yet it works…”

You are so right, Mick. Funnily enough I too had caught 15 minutes of W&I recently, and had to force myself not to watch it all (it’s one of those films that, no matter how many times you’ve seen it and wherever into the film you come in, it’s almost impossible not to continue to the end, or 2am, whichever comes first). So I re-bought it, as my copy is in storage. It’s such a great record. There’s something about the balance of the players. You can hear everything that everyone is doing – each one’s frequency seems to be perfectly sonically placed. Curtis is up high on sax, higher when he puts his soprano through a wah-wah pedal, Cornell Dupree is sliding delta just below him (his performance is a fantastic all-encompassing lesson in soul guitar by itself), the Memphis horns add glorious punctuation, Billy Preston is between them and the Rhythm Section, sometimes soaring up, sometimes grinding down, with Jerry Jemmott on the bass at the base, and Bernard Purdie is operating in some Purdie-world, all over everything without stepping on anyone’s toes. It’s such a fantastic recording. (Oh, and by the by, if you’ve never seen this short sample of Purdie doing a 16th note shuffle, it’s priceless: “Whoa! I like it very much!”)

This Week’s Homework
…consists of Courtney Barnett (courtesy of Oscar). Great so far – imagine if Patty Donahue of The Waitresses was born in Australia, grew up and married Reg Presley of The Troggs, with Aimee Mann as the maid of honour and Nirvana, fronted by Elvis Costello, as the wedding band. Great lyrics and titles, too, often ripped from regular life – “Don’t Apply Compression Gently”, “Pedestrian at Best”,“Avant Gardener” and “History Eraser” (for all you Photoshoppers out there). Great to hear an Aussie accent in song. Every Record Tells A Story thinks you should hear this album…

Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly (courtesy of Richard). I’m just getting to grips with this and I’m already excited. It demands listening to, a complex sonic experience crammed with ideas, asides and seventies jazz samples. The refrain “I remember you was conflicted/mis-using your influence” runs through it like a river. Report next week.

Collins

And with a final word from Stephen Collins in his wonderful Guardian strip, I’m off to watch the Godmother of Rock ’n’ Roll again…


A Note
My oldest, dearest friend died last week. I’ve known Sam Charters since I was four, and he, along with his wife Ann, left a musical impression on my life that isn’t even quantifiable. I’m not sure that I can find what I want to say about him yet, so I’ll leave it for a while, but I couldn’t let the week go by with no mention of its importance to me. I’m happy that I got to Stockholm in January so that we could sit and talk and drink Martinis – and listen to James Cleveland and Willie Nelson, one more time.

Saturday, 7th March

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Bob Vid

From Mr Dylan’s bonkers film noir for “The Night We Called It A Day”.

FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT IN THE FIELD
Tim uses my ticket to a Guardian screening of Midlake: Live in Denton as I wasn’t around, and files this report: “The film was a bit disappointing. Everything was shot handheld, going in and out of focus, etc, which gave it the look of a home movie. The hometown footage, randomly scattered throughout the concert, added to the home-movie vibe, shots of band members and friends having a barbecue, walking around town, etc. Denton came across as more normal – population 120,000, two universities – than quirky and the band seemed very sincere but not especially interesting musicians. Knowing nothing of their music, I didn’t hear any lyric or riff that caught my imagination. That said, the Q&A with lead singer Eric Pulido was enjoyable. He came across as very honest, open and, yes, sincere. It says something about the changing face of rock ’n’ roll, though, when you hear a musician discuss his work/life balance, reveal that he sits on his hometown’s historic buildings commission and say that he is currently listening to a lot of ELO, Supertramp and Wings…”

MISTER DYNAMITE: THE RISE OF JAMES BROWN
An excellent example of building a documentary by getting all of the blocks in place: great interviews with people who were there, or who had specific musical points to make, and fantastic source films (whether home videos, tv shows, news broadcasts or features). But most importantly of all, the confidence to not cut flashily away from incredible footage of the songs themselves – to let the groove run long enough to mesmerize the viewer, and reveal the musical heart of the story.

There was so much here. No matter how many times you’ve seen the TAMI show footage it still staggers. This was Brown’s breakthrough moment, thrust before a huge white audience, beside The Stones, The Beach Boys and Gerry & The Pacemakers, among others. As his ‘Cape Man’ Mr Ray, says, “He come out there like a shot out of a gun, man, dancin’ all across the stage. It’s kinda hard to beat, when you’re an artist that can sing and dance”. Mr Ray then gets his moment, flinging the cape over Brown’s shoulders as he mimes collapsing from sheer fervour – as Mick Jagger (in a very funny interview) says, “It’s obviously an act, but you worry about him!”

Following the smash and grab of “Outasite!” and turning up the emotional volume with “Please Please Please”, the band prepare to go into “Night Train”. Drummer Melvin Parker’s eyes smile as he remembers that moment. “Sam the bass player whispers in my ear, says ‘Melvin, let’s see if those guys can keep up with this…’ and it’s Night! Night! Train!” He mimes smashing down his stick on the snare – “It was off to the races!” They then proceed to play it at a sensational tempo, but James and his three back-up boys look like there’s nothing they’d rather be doing. The fluid glide of the camera moves back across the stage with Brown as he does the push-ups, the astonishing Ali-like shuffle, the dervish splits, and catches his grin of satisfaction as he saunters off the stage, his work done.

“TOO WHITE TO BE BLACK, TOO BLACK TO BE WHITE”: GARLAND JEFFREYS AT THE MUSICIAN, LEICESTER
It’s dark in the mean streets of Leicester’s industrial quarter, and I was glad when I saw a light, a single point surrounded by the hulks of abandoned buildings. It’s the front window of the Musician, a tiny club. Great. This is where you want to connect with a gloriously rootsy r&b/rock band: pretty much one long room, a bunch of die hard fans, a compact stage – and on it a group of people who really, really know what they’re doing. This is a band who sound as muscular and dense and driving as you’d want, without sacrificing any detail. They’re locked in tight, Charly Roth’s keys answering Mark Bosch’s guitar as the bass and drums (Brian Stanley and Tom Curiano) lock like Al Jackson and Duck Dunn. When they left us with a tribute to his Syracuse University student friend Lou, they played “I’m Waiting for The Man” with a perfect lowdown Memphis undertow. The sound is terrific, better than one has a right to expect of a whistlestop date following a visit to Scotland the night before. On Facebook, Robert Maddock reported that “Malc the soundman has been there forever, and he said it was the best performance he had ever witnessed at the Musician.”

There was an elegance, a finesse to what they were doing, even as they thundered through “Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me”, dizzying blues licks spinning from Mark Bosch’s guitar over the song’s Junior Parker chassis, making the recorded version sound polite. There was the easy familiarity of music loved for a long time and played with friends – I have no idea if it was, but that’s what it sounded like to me. A good guide for a gig is how often the musicians smile at each other, over small mistakes or turnarounds they pull off dead on time. And Garland’s band were smiling a lot. In ways, it had the feeling of the early E Street Band, a lot of passion and humour in the music, rooted in r&b but with rock and latin seeping in. It was that New York brew of “Spanish Harlem” and “Stand By Me’, added to the Doo-Wop of Frankie Lymon and the street corner bands, with a side order of VU.

The best thing is that the songs are properly rooted – songs, as my friend Michael would say, “that sound like they’re from somewhere”. Often they’re reportage from his life: the centerpiece of the set was a chilling “Mystery Kids”, about his fearful wait for his father to arrive home, that I can’t do justice to now.* “Coney Island Winter”, “It’s What I Am”, “Roller Coaster Town” – each one great. And from someone who’s had a career as long as his, in a business that is rarely easy, there’s not a trace of cynicism about Garland Jeffreys. He warmly talks to locals who he apparently knows from a transplanted-to-New-York musician, and asks after their grandkids. It’s something to see.

The audience (all 85 of us) raise the roof and there’s much glad-handing and back slapping. I moved off into the night, the songs running around my head as I got lost in the circles of the centre, passing empty office blocks with hoardings promising a new dawn of luxury apartments with gyms and saunas and twenty-four hour concierge services. In my head I was still standing on Coney Island, twenty two blocks from the city…

More next week. Oh, and I’d also like to thank bassist Brian Stanley for a fascinating conversation that covered NY musicians, Late Night Show bands, Real Estate and Michael Jackson’s drummers.

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
Having watched the making of Aja a few weeks ago, I’m surprised to see The Bloomsbury Theatre lists an afternoon chat with its producer Gary Katz. So I’ve spent some time listing to The Royal Scam (not least for Paul Griffin’s amazing piano playing on “Sign In Stranger”). Here’s the tracking session for that song, which runs a little slow, and also the track for “Kid Charlemagne”, before overdubbing. The line-up is (approximately) Bernard Purdie on drums, Chuck Rainey on bass, Larry Carlton and Walter Becker on guitars, Don Grolnick on Fender Rhodes, Paul Griffin on Clavinet (KC) and piano (SIS).

Wednesday, January 21st 2015: This Week…

I heard “The Mushroom Cloud” by Sammy Salvo for the first time
“I’ve got me a sweetheart and I love her, too/We want to make big plans but what can we do?
When a mushroom cloud has changed every rule/It’s deepened our thinking at home and at school
Peace, peace, peace where did you go?”

Fantastic piece of 1961 melodramatic apocalypse pop, written by the great Boudleaux Bryant, that almost made it as the theme tune for a new US tv drama Manhattan. “It’s deepened our thinking at home and at school…” – now that is songwriting genius. There’s a great site, The Art of the Title devoted to movie and tv credit sequences, and Manhattan made their 10 best of 2014. The eventual theme tune was written by Jónsi of Sigur Rós, who did the music score for the series.

I liked this story of one sick/slick guitar part
From an interview with Mark Ronson by Alexis Petridis in The Guardian: A courier arrives with a gift and a card from his record company, celebrating the arrival at No 1 in the charts of “Uptown Funk”, a collaboration with singer Bruno Mars that Ronson laboured over for six agonising months. He claims that he worked so hard on it that his hair started to fall out; at one point, the stress of trying to come up with a suitable guitar part caused him to vomit and faint. “We did 45 takes of it and I just couldn’t get it, it sounded like horrible bullshit, so we went to lunch, walked down to a restaurant. Everyone was saying: ‘Dude, what’s wrong with you? You’ve gone totally white.’ Because I was going on pretending everything was just fine; you don’t want to admit that you’re just not there, you’re not where you want to be. And I went to the toilet and just… fainted. I threw up, and fainted. They had to come and carry me out of the toilet.” As I’m leaving, he starts talking again about the guitar part on “Uptown Funk” that made him faint. He played it to his stepfather, Mick Jones, of AOR titans Foreigner. “And he said: ‘Oh, that’s good, is that Nile Rodgers?’

Of course, Ronson could just have hired Jules De Martino from the Ting Tings, who does a fine line in Chic-tastic rhythm guitar on their new album, Super Critical.

I missed out on PJ Harvey
By the time I read about the opportunity to watch her new album being recorded in 50-minute slots, it was sold out. Calum, however, got to see it, and gave an insight into what I missed:

“The set up is in the basement of Somerset House in the building recently abandoned by the Inland Revenue. Visitors are guided through the former rifle range, after decompression and mobile drop-off on the ground floor. In a one-way mirrored cubicle in the old gymnasium, the musicians, producer and technicians are already at work… we can see and hear them but they are isolated from us. No one within the recording studio looks up to the glass, the barrier remains intact. I find it hard to concentrate at first… this audio/visual voyeurism is unfamiliar territory.

The space is full of instruments some of which look like props – though a beautiful old snare drum is later pressed into service. Listen out for a hurdy-gurdy on the new PJ Harvey album. The talk inside the box is technical but then the assembled musicians run through a fairly short section of a song… or maybe it is a fairly short song… and it is possible to discern the beginnings of a ‘track’. It all looks like hard work and everyone is very well-behaved and patient. They do know they are being watched and this is bound to affect the ‘performance’. John Parish as producer sits on a white sofa (the whole interior is very white) and nods and suggests different approaches to the instrumentation. Snare drums, flute, saxophone, guitar and melodica are put to use with a good deal of experimentation with percussion on a marching-style rhythm. He asks PJ Harvey – ‘How’s your song doing in the middle of this?’ – she laughs in response. It seems quite tentative from everyone’s point of view…I have no idea if this is normal. At one point Parish says to Kendrick Rowe on drums something along the lines of ‘…you get into the groove at that point and there’s nothing wrong with that but maybe it should be a kind of standing up groove rather than a sitting back groove…’. The ‘audience’ are very attentive and quiet though we have been told that we don’t have to be. The session is about 50 minutes long and there is the feeling that people don’t want to miss anything.”

I was playing “Hey, Hey, Bunny” by John Fred and his Playboy Band…
and thinking how great it was (thanks, Richard) and decided to find out more about Mr Fred. I came across this Robert Christgau review from Rolling Stone in July, 1968, of the Judy in Disguise With Glasses album. Some excerpts, if you, too, are interested in knowing more about the obscure Mr Fred.

“John Fred, for those who manage never to listen to AM radio, is a kid from Louisiana who sold two-and-a-half million of a single called “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses).” The radio is the center of your life when you’re driving a lot – in the old days, many producers used a car radio speaker to make sure they had it right – and ”Judy in Disguise” soon distinguished itself as a great car song. It had the simple melody and the heavy beat, but it was good music over and above that – the instrumental work was very tight, the arrangement original with several good gimmicks (a heavy breath for punctuation and a short filter-distort at the close), and the lyrics, well, strange, not what is called rock poetry but not “yummyyummy-yummy igotloveinmytummy” either. Furthermore, it sounded like John Fred and his Playboy Band had a fine time making the record. [Do you think that comes through on records? I’m inclined to believe it does]. One does not expect a good album from a John Fred. Even the Box Tops, a Top-40 group that has never released a second-rate single, make terrible albums…

On the cover of this album in its original release was a corny picture of the band. On the back were pictures of John’s two previous LPs – John has been a star in Louisiana for some time – and some acknowledgements (Sitar furnished by Kenny Gill Music, Baton Rouge, La.). But it is a great record. The album is now entitled Judy in Disguise and has a not-bad cartoon on the cover. Paula, which hadn’t wanted to release “Judy” as a single because it was a little, well, er, far out, decided to play the freak for what it was worth. But the album didn’t sell much. All those single sales were to the 12-year-old market. And in a couple of years, chances are that John Fred will be back in the South playing dances, or maybe in the administrative end of the music business.

Like many white singers from the South (Alex Chilton of the Box Tops, for instance), John Fred’s bag is pop R&B. He is tuned to Memphis and to white singers like Eric Burdon and Stevie Winwood, the Eric and Stevie of “When I Was Young” and “Gimme Some Lovin’.” And just like them, he has ambitions. Obviously, he and his collaborator, sax player Andrew Bernard, listened carefully to the Beatles and decided to do some studio stuff of their own. Similar decisions have produced a lot of bad music in the past year. But stuck down there in Shreveport, Fred and Bernard were principally entertainers who wanted to fool around a little. So when they use crowd noises in “Achenall Riot” they integrate them cleanly into the music. They write obscure lyrics but link them to things known and seen, so that “Agnes English,” is obviously about a whorehouse. They employ a sitar and a girl chorus and part of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra but (out of pure caution, probably) never overdo it. Those three songs are the “experimental” ones. All were written by Fred and Bernard, who also contributed two more conventional songs and an arresting talk thing called “Sad Story”. The only one that doesn’t work is “Out of Left Field,” mostly because it’s hard to redo Percy Sledge. [“Sad Story” is amazing. An almost generic Southern Soul ballad is done with a minimal amount of instrumentation – ticking drums and one-finger keyboard – with a bizarrely Thief of Baghdad-style string arrangement. There’s a weird bit where Fred wordlessly sings a New Orleans Mardi-Gras melody. I’d love to hear Leonard Cohen and Patrick Leonard cover this.]

The Airplane and Stones have succumbed to excesses, but Fred and Bernard do not. Of course, they had much less to work with – the lyrics are high-pop in quality, and while the music is precise and well-realized, it is not brilliant. (The band is exceptionally tight live, but Fred is not a good performer, and his choice of material is unfortunate – he does other people’s songs because he believes his young audiences won’t recognize his own.) But for anyone who caught himself liking “Judy” or has a prejudice for happy music, the album is a worthwhile gamble. Just tell your friendly neighborhood dealer to write to Paula Records, 728 Texas Street, Shreveport, Louisiana. He’ll get it eventually.”

I bought a bargain Steely Dan DVD
£3 at Fopp bought me the DVD of Steely Dan’s Aja in the Classic Albums strand. Aja is an album I listened to recently, and found that I was almost alienated by its perfect sheen. However, this DVD, made in 1999 about an album released in 1977, is worth the price of admission for several things. Ian Dury, talking about how happy their music made him – “Jazz is a dangerous thing in Rock ’n’ Roll, you mustn’t do too much of it, and I don’t think they do… they use that knowledge and that love they’ve obviously got…” Drummer Rick Marotta on their profligate use of the best musicians money could buy (“It wasn’t like they’d play musical chairs with the guys in the band – they played musical bands. The whole band would go and a whole other incredible band would come in!”). We get a crack band assembled to play the songs as instrumentals to show off the grooves underneath. The marvellous Paul Griffin (Dylan’s Highway 61 pianist (strangely uncredited here) plays keyboards, Chuck Rainey’s on bass, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie’s on drums alongside Jon Herington and Walter Becker on guitars and Fagen on electric piano. We also get Donald Fagen rapping the song that was sampled from “Black Cow” (Uptown baby/Uptown baby/We gets down, baby/For the crown, baby).

There’s a great moment where they work their way through some of the guitar solos that didn’t make the cut on “Peg”. About eight guitarists had a go at it, and they play a couple of more-than-respectable attempts, before isolating Jay Graydon’s fantastic one-shot take that ended up on the album – and they both grin widely as he hits a particularly “Hawaiian” bend at the end of the first line. I can now safely listen to Aja again, hipped to the artful oddness of the backing vocals on “Peg” and the fantastic Chuck Rainey bass parts on “Home at Last”.

Five Things: Wednesday 12th March

Photographers’ Gallery: Poor Andy Warhol Exhibition
Negligible photos badly printed. This was the only one I liked, mainly for John Oates’ T-Shirt.

12-Warhol H&O

Jazz Names
In a pile of things, I find the launch issue of The Rocking Vicar, Mark Ellen’s pre-Word “magazine”, which grew out of an early email newsletter. My favourite nugget is David Quantick’s Jazz Names: adding your dad’s nickname to the place you live. Mine at this time? Bilco Fitzrovia. Send in more!

Nothing about the Music Business ever changes
March 1, 2014: David Palmer, who sang lead for Steely Dan in the early days, is suing his old band. In a suit filed in Los Angeles Palmer claims that he is owed money as a result of royalties earned via satellite and streaming services. Palmer is contractually listed as a founding member of the group, and therefore entitled to one-sixth of all royalties earned from songs on which he performed. – Hollywood Reporter. Palmer sang on five songs on Steely Dan’s 1972 debut, Can’t Buy a Thrill, including the lead on “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)” and the hit “Dirty Work”, and background vocals on several songs on 1974’s Countdown to Ecstasy. Back then, he also sang lead in concert because Donald Fagen was not yet comfortable singing lead. Palmer was fired in April 1973 due to, as reported in Brian Sweet’s bio Steely Dan: Reelin’ in the Years, concerns about both his ability to interpret the songs and his habit of performing under the influence of alcohol. The lawsuit may have resulted in the song “Dirty Work” being left off the CD release of the American Hustle soundtrack. Apparently Steely Dan refused to allow “Dirty Work” on the OST CD whereas all the other ’70s acts did.– Ultimateclassicrock.com

Carla Jean Whitney Calls…
and she’s writing a book on Muscle Shoals, and she’s found a picture that I took of the sign, “Welcome To Muscle Shoals, Hit Recording Capital of the World”. Looking for images for her, I find my favourite picture, of Heather and great bass player Bob Wray, recording at 1000 Alabama Avenue, and this business card that I didn’t know I had.

ShoalsBH

Rewatching the film on BBC4 I found myself wishing for less of the Singing River stuff, waaaaay less of Bono (he ever record there? No. His music influenced much by what was recorded there? No.) and much more music. What was there was fantastic, especially the Wilson Pickett sessions (love the look on Roger Hawkins’ face when he recalls Pickett complimenting him on his drumming) and, of course, Spooner at the Wurlitzer playing those immortal chords…

Sad (or maybe not) Site Of The Week: Forgotify

Forgotify

FTIS&HTW: Wednesday 13th February

Down Terrace
An in-your-face saga of the spiralling disintegration of a Brighton criminal clan, the music track for Ben Wheatley’s first film (from 2009) is a fascinating mix of transatlantic rural music. The none-more-English folk music of The Copper Family sits happily next to Robert Johnson’s Little Queen of Spades. Sea Shanties segue into acts of appalling violence while the plaintive, pain-wracked Are You Leaving for the Country? by Karen Dalton soundtracks the disposal of a body. And as terrible as that sounds, the music acts as a kind of “life goes on” comfort, especially in the scenes where the father, played by Robert Hill, sits playing guitar with his band of friends in the living room at the house in Down Terrace.

B Kliban: Lady Gaga’s Stylist, About 30 Years Early
Talking to Adam about the genius of the Canadian cartoonist, and—looking out one of his books—finding this great cartoon.
kliban

Thoughts While Running with Kid Charlemagne by Steely Dan in the Headphones
I’m struck by how this Seventies classic would work as Breaking Bad’s theme tune:

“On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene
But yours was kitchen clean
Everyone stopped to stare
at your Technicolor motor home…”

“…Now your patrons have all left you in the red
Your low rent friends are dead
This life can be very strange…”

“…Clean this mess up else we’ll all end up in jail
Those test tubes and the scale
Just get them all out of here
Is there gas in the car
Yes, there’s gas in the car
I think the people down the hall
Know who you are…”

I don’t listen to Larry Carlton’s fantastic shape-shifting guitar solo, I don’t listen to Bernard Purdie’s lickety-split drumming, I don’t even listen to Paul Griffin’s funky Clavinet. I just listen to Chuck Rainey’s sublime bass, pumping and prodding and pushing and powering the song along.

From My Friend Bill in the States
ps:  you’ll be amused to know that I’m performing in a Grateful Dead cover band called Feels Like The Stranger, playing our first gig in a Stamford CT bar on March 7th! I’m playing all the Bob Weir rhythm parts on an 18 song set list… sounds easier than done! That dude was all over the place re: chord shaping!! My left hand is a cramped, gnarled and numb mess… thus the name of the band… : ) C’mon on over, I’ll put you on the comp list : ))

Flight (Cassette) Deck
With The Cowboy Junkies’ version of Sweet Jane, Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine, The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under The Bridge, and Marvin’s What’s Goin’ On, Flight is a film about alcoholism and addiction masquerading as a legal/action thriller—with a terrific soundtrack, and a nicely indie feel for a mainstream Hollywood production.

Look out for an FTISHTW Extra! on Bob ’n’ Bette’s Buckets Of Rain Session coming soon

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 14th November

Steely Dan Sang, “Call Me Deacon Blue…”
Steve Miller sang, “Some people call me the Space Cowboy, some call me the Gangster Of Love.” Carly Rae Jepsen sang Call Me Maybe. Blondie and Al Green just sang “Call Me…” Beth Orton, on her new album Sugaring Time, sings “Call Me The Breeze.” And it’s wonderful. It sits on a groove that doesn’t quit—the great jazzist Brian Blade drums, with Sebastian Steinberg on bass, and a loopy Nick Drakesque folk guitar—and builds on the interplay between the dead-on bass pulse and Blade’s drums skipping and punctuating the 4/4, keeping it off-kilter enough to really hook you in. Atop this sit wonderful entwining vocals and a glorious organ solo that creeps up out of the track, attempting to wrest it away from the massed ranks of Beth. Beth just about wins. Interestingly, I can barely find a reference to this song in any review that I’ve read. It doesn’t fall into the “mournful serious intense thang” that all reviewers seem to need in female singer songwriters, like only those type of songs have any heft. Go figure.

Is There A “Boutique Festival” Setting?

My brother-in-law has a brilliant new stereo set-up in his house, and his new Yamaha amp offers to model the sound of your tracks for you—giving them the vibe and atmos of a Viennese Concert Hall, say, or a Cellar Club. At the rock end it offers two clubs from the Seventies, The Roxy in Los Angeles, and The Bottom Line in New York. If you buy a more expensive model, it gives you the Village Vanguard (“Nice!”) or a Warehouse loft (how bad does that sound, I wonder). Sadly, there’s no Boutique Festival, where the music is drowned out by the clatter of glasses and middle-class chatter. We decide the sound is kind of great with no modelling at all.

Shaken, Not Stirred. Credit Sequence, Skyfall
Yes, Adele’s song is very nice, all Bassey-isms present and correct, and it insinuates itself into your head really efficiently, but oh my, the film… Following an Istanbul-set opening sequence that isn’t a patch on Taken 2’s Istanbul-set chase sequences (and let’s not forget that Taken 2 is a B picture photocopied from another B picture, albeit a great one) the credits are unbelievably cheesy. Incoherent and naff images glide by with no stylistic consistency at all and it just makes you fearful of the next two hours. Rightly, as it turns out. Has Sam Mendes not seen The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?

Trey Songz’ Rhythm Section, Later, Friday
Trey sings his glassy, glossy pop hit, Simply Amazing, his schtick a little out of place on Later, and it’s all pretty groovy and pleasant enough until about a minute and a half in, when you’re not listening to Trey at all, you’re just listening for what Nate Jones on bass will do next—adding little filigree high-register melodies, dropping back to the root notes on his way deep 5 string, totally in the pocket of the groove. About a minute from the end they drop into a breakdown section, and that’s when drummer Antwan “Amadeus” Thompson and Jones decide to have a party on the tune. An outrageous series of rolls and hi-hat snaps are followed by Nate giving it the full Level 42, bass jutted out in front of him like he was Chuck Berry. At the end Trey does a boxer’s shuffle and feint to the bassist, which I fondly think is to honour an exceptional performance.

The Crop Marks & Arrows Of Outrageous Fortune
The International Herald Tribune, celebrating its 125th anniversary, has an auction of pictures from its archives on Monday 19 November. Looking through the catalogue, I’m mostly struck by the pictures of musicians, especially the ones that have compositors marks and instructions and arrows on, showing how the photo will be cropped, focusing on who the editors deemed the important part of the story…

Bennie Goodman clowning with Steve Allen; The Stones in Paris (only Brian Jones escapes a wax pencil cross); Dylan press release shot for The Times They Are A Changin’; Jane Birkin with Serge Gainsbourg; Lionel Hampton clowning around with Elsie Smith; notice how Jazz musicians always seem forced to ‘clown around’…

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 5th September

Black Tie White Noise
Evening Standard, last week. Bowie disputes claims made in the Observer by the V&A that he is co-curating the [Bowie Costumes] show. “Contrary to recently published reports: I did not participate in any decisions relating to the exhibition. A close friend of mine tells me that I am neither ‘devastated,’ ‘heartbroken,’ nor made ‘uncontrollably furious,’ by this news item.”

Really?
Interview with Kevin McDonald, Director of Touching The Void and Marley: “Q: Why do you think Marley’s music has proved so enduring? A: He wrote incredibly good tunes. Bob wrote more standards than almost anybody else, apart from Lennon and McCartney.” Did he? Standards? I Shot The Sheriff, Redemption Song, One Love, Three Little Birds, No Woman, No Cry, sure, but are his songs covered regularly, in the way that standards are? Marley’s number 211 on the SecondHandSongs database, a pretty comprehensive list of the most-covered songwriters, some way below Ozzy Osbourne and Marvin Gaye.

I Can Hear That Whistle Blowin’
My friend Steve Way on Duquesne Whistle: “Dylan vid weird. Like Bob is doing a phone ad song, and the director is doing a Sundance lo-fi Korean remake.” True say, Steve, but the world may be a better place for having this song in it—the chorus and thick, dirty riff are just joyous. Duquesne is a city along the Monongahela River in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Earl Hines, legendary jazz pianist, was born there. He signed my autograph book once.

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…

“Even Cathy Berberian Knows/There’s One Roulade She Can’t Sing.”
The wonderfully titled Berberian Sound Studio featuring Toby Jones opens this week, named for Cathy Berberian, American soprano of the avant-garde. With Umberto Eco she translated works by Jules Feiffer and Woody Allen into Italian. You couldn’t make that sort of detail up. Eco nicknamed her magnificathy. Steely Dan paid their own tribute in the lyric above, from Your Gold Teeth on the Countdown To Ecstacy album.

Musical Marylebone
A few streets separate Joe’s monstrous urban flyover and John’s rather luxe pad. Of course, John’s background was rather more flyover than Joe’s…

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