Monday, 27 October 2008

Back to the funk: funk you should buy...

When I ripped Beefheart's Decals album I also ripped my vinyl copies of RAMP's Come Into Knowledge (at the time only available new on vinyl), WAR's Younglood OST (from a cassette!), and Grover Washington's Mister Magic (vinyl). All to 192 kbps MP3. I'd love to post those entire rips, but ethics prevent me: I said I'd only put up out of print or otherwise unavailable material, so I'll stick to that principle. However, if I can't put up the whole albums, I will at least try and find a legal way of putting up taster tracks:

RAMP's fabulous album has oft been visited by compilers, particularly for the two super mellow nuggets 'Daylight' and 'Everybody Loves The Sunshine', admittedly the two best tracks on the album. There are lots more goodies on display here tho', like the title track, and 'Try, Try, Try'. RAMP have even enjoyed something of a renaissance thanks to the interests of global crate diggers and funk freaks, playing London's Jazz Café recently. In addition to the aforementioned delights of this album, if you feel you need more reasons to be tempted to shell out for it, then check try and get a listen to 'American Promise'. It's the other end of the sonic spectrum from the aforementioned tracks: a hard grooving single riff from start to finish. Assuming you can track it down, then turn it up loud and enjoy the grease of this hard fonkin' groove! Buy the Blue Thumb Originals CD reissue from Amazon (UK) here. Ramp were (and possibly still are): Landy Shores (Can that possibly be a real name? It's fabulous! Somehow I suspect it might be a contractually requisite pseudonym.) on guitar, Nate White on bass, John Manuel drums, and Sharon Matthews and Sibel Thrasher singing. It's gotta be Roy Ayers who's pitching in, uncredited, on keys. The horns aren't credited either. There's a good article on the band at

'Flying Machine' is my favourite track from WAR's Youngblood OST, with an almost Afrobeat/Samba rhythm, reminiscent of Tony Allen's mega-funky grooves for Fela Kuti, served up by drummer Harold Brown. He cooks up a beat so tasty my mouth waters just thinking about it! Lonnie Jordan's keys work is fabulous, mixing a Latino vibe in with his funky soulful jam-band feel, and Charles Miller's flute solo really cooks. You can buy the album new, and very cheap, from Amazon (UK) here. Other cool tunes include 'This Funky Music Makes You Feel Good', which lives up to the promise of the title, the cool walking bass jazz groovin' of 'Superdude', complete with film dialogue, the super-mellow sounds of 'Youngblood and Cybil', and another feel good gem 'Sing A Happy Song' which has a fantastic broken up minimal groove in the verses.

Grover looks so, ummm, cool on this cover! So cool that Ty has gone and ripped off the idea for album Closer... Hmmm!? But neither of these covers can match the bonkers Provisao Do Tempo by Brazilian genius Marcos Valle, where the one time bossa wunderkind has transformed into a sub-aqua bearded hippy freak... Now that really is cool! Title track 'Mister Magic' really is the nuts: you just gotta love it! Eric Gale's super funky/bluesy guitar is wonderful. I just love his style and feel, and what a soulful solo! And Harvey Mason on tubs... it doesn't get any better than when the Harv' is laying it down! 'Earth Tones' gets pretty damn cosmic too. Get it cheap, on a shiny new CD, from Amazon (UK) here.

Different Drummer vs Mama Heartbeat: an interview with John ‘Drumbo’ French

I interviewed John French back in mid 2005, when he was fronting a reformed Magic Band, and touring in support of their CDs Back To The Front, and 21st Century Mirror Men. I did the interview off my own bat, hoping to get it published in the drumming magazine I regularly write for, but they didn't run the piece. Sad really, as French is a real underground and under-sung drum hero, in my mind at least. I guess this is old news now, but rather than let it languish, and since it contains info about French and the whole Beefheart/Magic Band story I've not read elsewhere, I thought people might be interested. So, here's the article as it was submitted to the magazine (I cut quite a lot: this article is approx. 2,000 words, whilst the full transcription is close to double that!). I hope you enjoy it!

Achieving cult status with Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, John French has, over twenty years since they disbanded, reformed The Magic Band, causing Simpson’s creator Matt Groening to weep for joy. After seeing them in action at The Junction in Cambridge, I caught up with French to discuss drums, life with the Captain, and why he’s put the Magic Band back together.

What got you started on the drums?

“I loved music, and my family was very musical. My father played guitar, and my uncle played guitar and violin, and was very good on both. During Prohibition my father was a bootlegger. They’d have weekend parties where they turned the house into a café, have people over and entertain them. When I was thirteen I saw an Elvis Presley movie called Kid Galahad, I was very impressed by this dude who kept time by slapping his knees! Simultaneously a school chum started playing drums. Watching him, I saw that the snare drum was played with the left hand, the ride cymbal with the right, and the kick drum with the right foot. I learned how to play by slapping my knees!

It was the Surf era: The Beach Boys were out, and there were lots of instrumental Surf bands, like Dick Dale and The Deltones, and The Surfaris. I listened to a lot of that, and most of it was the same beat. I got into it because by talking about music you could relate to girls. Then somebody gave me Time Out, by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. I started trying to play along and realised I couldn’t. So I learned how to play in 5/4, 7/8 and all these odd time signatures. This was all before I had a [drum] set. I was still slapping my knees! Then I got some drumsticks, and started playing on the bottom of a plastic trashcan, it was yellow, and really ugly! My parents bought me a second-hand kit for $75 at Ed & Mary’s Fix-It Shop. They didn’t know anything about drums, neither did |! It was three toms, a bass drum, and a hi-hat. No snare! I started listening to Sandy Nelson, because he used toms a lot! He’d do these solos loosely based around a Gene Krupa style. It was all tom-toms, and I really loved it! I’ve always liked incorporating the toms into patterns.

I got involved in school bands, and the drum and bugle corps. I had the same music teacher as Frank Zappa. My father worked with Doug Moon, one of the original guitarist’s with The Magic Band. Doug came to the house and he kept asking me “why don’t you come to this jam?” I’d say, “No, the guys’ll make fun of my kit”. Later on my father bought me a brand new set of Slingerlands. I’d heard of Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band by then, and I knew Doug. They needed a bass drum pedal once, so they borrowed mine. I didn’t want to join the Beefheart band at the time. I was dismayed by the heavy drug use; they were all older, and they seemed dysfunctional.

Despite his reservations, John did become the drummer for The Magic Band. He went on to tell me more about that experience.

Don [Beefheart’s real name] would be in bed ‘til noon, one o’ clock, when I’d come over to rehearse. His mother would be trying to get him out of bed; he lived with his mother and his grandmother. It seemed like everything at that point was a dead-end. I was facing Viet Nam. I figured I was gonna get drafted and probably die when I was 19! I was thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?” Don was taking a lot of drugs. Several times he thought he was dying. We’d rush him to hospital, and it’d turn out it was an anxiety attack, but he thought he was having heart attacks! I was thinking, “What have I got myself into?” But I was determined to tough it out and see if it would go somewhere. I started feeling better when Safe As Milk was released, and we actually got a contract. I thought, “Maybe we have a chance, ‘cause we’re getting radio airplay”. Ry Cooder had joined, but at our first real performance Don walked off the stage, and Cooder quit the band. I realised this was a big mess, and was probably not going to get any better. But I was 18, and the prestige of being in the band [they’d already tasted regional success, scoring a local hit with ‘Diddy Wah Diddy’] overshadowed a lot of other things.”

So you persisted…

“Don was a very persuasive salesman! On the drums I did pretty much what I wanted. Don maybe wrote twenty percent of the drum parts. He’d vocalise, or sometimes sit down [at the kit] and attempt to play. I’d get the idea of what he was going for. He could have been a good drummer! When you see the big change [when Beefheart’s music morphed from slightly psychedelic blues rock into full on musical surrealism] is when Don started writing on piano. He would write sections and I would transcribe them. As I transcribed these parts I became very keen on the rhythms he was using. I’d been introduced to Salvador Dali’s work, and I loved how some of his paintings had a dual image, it’d be two nuns walking through a gate, but it’d also look like a skull. I thought that was a great idea, to have more than one thing going on, so why not do that with music?

I would notate parts, things that were impossible to just sit down and play, and I’d make myself go through them very slowly. Sometimes I’d spend 6 or 8 hours on one measure. I’d take the main gist of a guitar part, and use that for one part of the rhythm. And if the chord was ringing, I’d use the hi-hat to ring along with the chord, and then I’d combine that with the rhythm of another part. It’s a very unique style that nobody else has really attempted to do. It’s very hard, and it’s not a commercial commodity that’s gonna put money in your pocket!”

That was the Trout Mask Replica period. How about Lick My Decals Off, Baby, when you had two drummers in the band?

“I’d been kicked out of the band and replaced by a guy who didn’t even play the drums, who was given my name! Then he was replaced by Art Tripp, who’d left The Mothers. I came back into the band because Art refused to play my drum parts, and Don felt that they were integral to the music, so he asked me back. Art wasn’t the kind of guy to sit down and learn complex rhythms on the drums; he spent most of his time playing pool! He was a trained musician, so he could read anything. When he looked at my drum parts he realised it would take ages to develop the co-ordination, and it wasn’t something he wanted to do.

Bullied and brow-beaten, and, on one occasion ejected bodily from the band, French has been in and out of Beefheart's orbit numerous times. Here John recalls how this love-hate relationship worked.

Each time I rejoined the band there was this honeymoon period, but then the ugly demons would start to rise, and the control would start. For instance, Don insisted during rehearsals for Doc At The Radar Station that we spend several hours listening to Chinese opera! We only had six weeks to put this album together, and it was a very difficult album for me because I was playing guitar. I was just gritting my teeth. It was either that, or his tantrums and personal attacks. Rehearsals with Don were often talking sessions, like a cult situation. He’d turn on someone and put them in the barrel, humiliate them in front of the rest of the band.

He said, “You guys gotta realise, the public wants me, they don’t care about the rest of you”. This feeling was pervasive throughout the entire time I worked with Don. I didn’t mind so much that I wasn’t being interviewed, or getting any attention (I didn’t even get credited for being on Trout Mask Replica!). What did bother me was the internal relationship Don had with his players: he didn’t have enough respect for what they’d done.”

How was it, seeing Beefheart and the music being critically lauded, but, within the band, being bullied and financially insecure?

“I think the initial “I’m gonna control this music” thing had to be a sort of bully-ish approach. But once he had people like Bill Harkelroad, Jeff Cotton, Mark Boston and myself, that was no longer necessary. He should’ve realised he could’ve backed off with the dictatorial B.S. and dropped the macho attitude, and just been a normal human being. We were working all day long on his music; we were definitely on his side! At the time of Trout Mask I was saying to Don, “why don’t we do something more accessible, make some money, and take the audience with us”. But he was mooching off his mother, and wasn’t aware that we were all bankrupt! He realised too late. But because of what he’d already done, it was a disappointment [when Beefheart released the more accessible albums Blue Jeans & Moonbeams and Unconditionally Guaranteed] to the small fan-base he already had.

He was in competition with Frank Zappa, I think that’s one of the reasons he went so far out. Frank was actually playing accessible music. Another thing was that being in Frank’s band had a sort of prestige, the instrumentalists would go on and play in other groups, they were wanted. Who was going to want a Beefheart musician? Half the public didn’t even think we knew how to play!”

And post Beefheart?

“When I left the band the last time I felt I was totally useless to the world. There really wasn’t anywhere for me to go. Henry Kaiser liked my drumming, and was a big fan of the Beefheart band. I did a couple of things with him. But Henry didn’t have the discipline to sit down and learn difficult parts. He was doing something new every six weeks. It seemed like the focus was on quantity, not quality! He associated himself with people like myself, people considered to be critically acclaimed or whatever, and sorta used that to boost his own name. I like Henry, but after a while I became disillusioned with that. It was obvious that he didn’t have the same purpose or motivation that I did.”

And now, in a strange twist of fate you’re fronting the Magic Band, in Beefheart’s place, singing and playing harmonica, as well as drumming.

“That’s very fulfilling, that’s what I want to do. But what I’m most interested in now is doing something, sort of an extension of what the Magic Band did, trying to pick up the mantle, but at the same time making it more accessible.”

Why go back to this music now?

“There’s nothing out there like this going on. Nobody’s taken up the mantle. A lot of bands say they’re influenced by it, but I don’t hear it in their music. It’s a whole area of music that’s never been explored. So I’m gonna go back and explore it!”

John French recommends:

Let There Be Drums - Sandy Nelson: "Heavily influenced my playing because of the use of toms and melodic drums that played patterns rather than rat-a-tat solos to dazzle and impress".

Alone Together - Max Roach & Clifford Brown: "'Mildama' by Max Roach amazed me".

Cozy & Jack - Jack Sperling and Cozy Cole: "Sperling did it all, big band, Dixieland, staff drummer for NBC, and studio work. His set was in the studio when we recorded Safe As Milk, which I took as a good omen”.

Live at Carnegie Hall - The Dave Brubeck Quartet: "[They] looked like geeks, but played so well together, and experimented with odd time signatures, introducing me to completely new concepts".

Live At Birdland - John Coltrane: "My intro to Coltrane. Just about anything with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones in the rhythm section shows a one-ness seldom found in groups today".

For more on the Magic Band and John French visit the website: [Sadly it appears The Magic Band's website has become defunct!]

Footnote: the band I saw at The Junction, comprised mostly of Beefheeart alumni, was: French on vocals, harmonica and drums, with Michaell Traylor on kit most of the time (Traylor was the only band member at The Junction who hadn't been part of a Beefheart fronted Magic Band), the amazing Gary 'Mantis' Lucas on guitar (he played with Jeff Buckley on Grace), with Mark ‘Rockette Morton’ Boston on bass and Denny ‘Feelers Rebo’ Walley on second guitar. They played excellently, to a poor but enthusiastic house, but - due to the absence of the original power crazed maverick megalomaniac weirdo known as The Captain - it was a bit like admiring a vintage car that has had its engine removed... a bit odd!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Joni Mitchell - Live at Club 47, Cambridge MA, 1968

Ah... mo' sweet Joni for you! This time it's that good ol' stuff I was talking about in the previous post. This is actually a gig released not long before her first album came out on Reprise, an impending event she mentions on the gig. The sound's pretty good overall, with a few wobbles and glitches, but pretty amazing considering the age/provenance of the recordings. It's also interesting to realise how old some of these songs are: here she is performing 'Morning Morgantown', in '68, and yet it didn't get onto an album until Ladies Of The Canyon in 1970. Joni is flying solo here, the audience appears to be spellbound, and who can fault them for that? Joni is the embodiment of musical magic, for my money at any rate.

She sings and plays fabulously, but also with a sweet human frailty, of a piece with her whole vibe. Her talk between songs is great too: she seems relaxed and easy, and clearly enjoys giving some background to her compositions. Of special interest to Joni lovers will be the songs not available on mainstream releases, like 'Gift Of The Magi', 'Ballerina Valerie' and 'The Way It Is'. Whilst these less well known numbers are a pleasure to discover, they're not quite mind-blowing lost gems, but neither are they sub-standard. No, really they're just further confirmation that her talent is and was a bountiful and o'erflowing thing.

Tracklisting:  Cactus Tree / Conversation / Morning Morgantown / Gift of the Magi / Chelsea Morning / Song to a Seagull / I Had a King / Night in the City / Ballerina Valerie / Pirates of Penance / The Way It Is / Dawntreader / Both Sides Now

Joni Mitchell - A Day In The Garden, Yasgur's Farm, Bethel, NY 15/08/'98

In the long run I want to go back to Joni's earlier stuff: as with Waits I prefer the first flush of youthful talent, musically speaking, but, again like Waits, she's a real artist, and as they both continue to produce wonderful art, well, you gotta love 'em! Anyway, this was the first one I found in my archives, and after a listen I thought, well, dang-nab it, it may be more modern Joni, but it's bloomin' marvellous, so up it goes! The band is: Larry Klein bass, Brian Blade drums, Mark Isham trumpet, and Greg Leisz on pedal steel and lead guitar.

As well as her own fabulous originals, which, as proven by 'Happiness Is The Best Facelift', continue to be strong both musically and lyrically, there are a number of jazz standards. But, and very refreshingly, they are treated in anything but a standard way. Just taking the first two alone, 'Come Love' and the much covered 'Summertime', Joni and her magnificent band manage to make these songs spookily personalised. She really is an artist, and I love her for that.

As mentioned in her intro, and referencing her own absence from the original Woodstock, it took Joni 30 years to "get back to the garden", and lot of muddy water passed under the bridge in those years, but it has to be said, better late than never! The audio quality of these recordings is fabulous. I've posted them as 192 kbps MP3 and they sound fine to me. I might re-post at higher res if I get the time and the demand.


1 Hejira
2 Comes Love
3 Happiness Is The Best Facelift
4 Summertime
5 The Crazy Cries Of Love
6 No Apologies
7 Sex Kills
8 The Magdalene Laundries
9 Black Crow
10 Moon At The Window
11 Slouching Towards Bethlehem
12 Just Like This Train
13 Big Yellow Taxi
14 Trouble Man
15 Woodstock

I have to mention the 'Crazy Cries of Love', because it's a fabulous thing to write a song about: she introduces the song with sufficient candour and clarity to leave us in no doubt as to exactly what kind of crazy cries of love she's singing about! Even in this post-hippy, post-Kinsey, and supposedly highly permissive society, it speaks volumes of our sexual culture that we're all so buttoned down. But not all of us are: I have memories of being woken by the sounds of untrammelled passion way back in the London days of my youth on a number of occasions... right on lovers!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

"Woe Is Uh Me-Bop!" Lickin' Captain Beefheart's Decals Off, Baby.

I ripped mp3's from my vinyl of this way back, in the days when I had a functioning turntable, before I'd heard of blogs, or even knew what 'ripping' was, in cyber-techno-audio-speak! I did it via Logic and a Tascam two-track AD converter, i.e. my super-micro mini home studio set-up. The resulting files were 192 kbps MP3, and sound alright to me! Other bloggers will have posted this, but as it's my own rip, and as I love this album with an almost proprietary jealousy, I'm putting one of my ripped tracks up, via Soundcloud, anyway ... so there!

If you dig this, and you know you ought to, then you might also like this. It's some out-takes (band without vocals) from the sessions for the album. Also worth checking is the short promo film, allegedly produced to promote the album, but so off-kilter that it ended up being banned! And shown below is an image of a promo sticker that was included with some versions of the album. I bought mine second hand, in a record shop in Cambridge's Silver Street, long gone now (anyone remember the name of that shop?), and there was, alas, no sticker.

I love this album: it's more focused, precise and together than Trout Mask, and more intense and playful too. Gallons of ink have been spilt on describing it, so, if you need to know more check here & here, or better yet here (allmusic, wikipedia and respectively). All I want to say is that this is brilliant, original, and uncompromising music, played supremely well by excellent, sensitive players. Particularly noteworthy are John 'Drumbo' French's brilliant brittle drums, Art Tripp on marimba and traps - what a dude! - and those fabulous guitar instrumentals. Wow man, it's mind blower! In fact, as everybody in the band does such a sterling job, let's give them due props, and acknowledge who they are/were:

Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) - vocals, harmonica, saxophone
Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad) - guitar, slide guitar
Rockette Morton (Mark Boston) - bass guitar
Drumbo (John French) - drums, percussion
Ed Marimba (Art Tripp) - drums, percussion, marimba

Tracklisting: Lick My Decals Off, Baby / Doctor Dark / I Love You, You Big Dummy / Peon / Bellerin' Plain / Woe-Is-uh-Me-Bop / Japan in a Dishpan / I Wanna Find a Woman That'll Hold My Big Toe Till I Have to Go / Petrified Forest / One Red Rose That I Mean / The Buggy Boogie Woogie / Smithsonian Institute Blues (Or The Big Dig) / Space-Age Couple / The Clouds Are Full Of Wine (Not Whisky Or Rye) / Flash Gordon's Ape

A Lewis Taylor Miscellany

I'm pretty sure not everyone will agree with me on this, but, for my money Lewis Taylor is as close as the UK has got to a Jeff Buckley type of polymath muso-genius in recent times (Taylor covered Buckley's 'Everybody Here Wants You, on Lewis II). I'm surprised to find myself sharing a position - oo-er - occupied by Elton John (he tried to hype Taylor some time back). Anyhoo, my biggest gripe with Lewis is that he's such a control freak and perfectionist he can't work with anyone else. At least, that's what I've heard, and what I surmise from his music mostly being written, arranged, sung and played all by his bad self. It's also a massive indictment of the industry that it doesn't cultivate, nurture and facilitate a talent like Taylor's. It seems he's one of those mavericks who seem unable to get himself across. Perhaps he should've just been put in a gilded cage, fed through some kind of tube, and allowed to create, perhaps even being cloned, so he could have a band?

These tunes are numbers that (as far as I know) didn't make it onto any official album releases. Some appeared on b-sides and the like. I actually think that some of this stuff is his absolute tip-top best. 'Cherry Blossom', 'Lewis III' and 'Waves' are all, in my perhaps less than humble opinion, the work of someone cursed with a gift of singular fantabulousness ... if you get my drift. My only real criticism of any of this music - far outweighed by the merits it has in abundance - is the rhythm programming: should've had real drums Lewis! Such deliciously organic music, with guitar, bass, keys, vocals and everything all being so fluid and real... real drums would've been the best bedrock. But hey, I'm a drummer, whaddya think I'd say!

Most of the world has missed out on this precious gorgeousness, don't you be a schmuck too!

Tracklisting: A Little Bit Tasty / Cherry Blossom / Got Me Thinking / I Dream The Better DreamI / Lewis III / Pie In Electric Sky / Trip So Heavy / Waves

I was also contemplating posting Taylor's homage to Captain Beefheart: a reworking (it's perhaps a partial or incomplete project ... don't really know much about it) of the legendary Trout Mask Replica album. Just like Lewis to do something most people wouldn't even consider, or, having thought of it, would dismiss as not 'viable product', but Lewis, like Beefheart before him, marches to a different (and sadly in Lewis' case, synthesized) beat! But, as the link above will show, jinkzmusings has already uploaded it. If his link ain't working shout me and I'll post the tracks. Not for the faint hearted! I will however be posting Beefheart's next album - the phenomenal Lick My Decals Off, Baby - when I get the time.

Tom Waits - WMMS Coffee Break Concert - 1975

Another Tom gem for you, and one of his final solo outings... I could listen to these tunes over and over, and hey, so can you now! This time he's on the air for Cleveland station WMMS, on their Coffee Break show. Unlike the Howard Larman interview for KPFK, the interviewer here, Kid Leo ("sitting in for Matt The Cat"), in attempting to strike up a cool rapport with Waits elicits the first signs of the ornery mule familiar to so many who've had the privilege/misfortune of interviewing him. In using phrases like "laidback Lenny", and with attempts to buddy up to Waits, we can sense Tom bristling a bit, which seems to almost cause an allergic reaction, as Tom coughs and snivels throughout the interview sections, and he's noticeably resistant to Kid Leo's requests for certain songs. That said, he does open up quite a bit, and that makes this a great document of the young Waits.

The performances, both musical and verbal, are impeccable, and the audio quality is great (this was originally taken from a sound-board recording, and is presented here as 192 kbps MP3). In a quick verbal detour with the DJ, when discussing influences, Waits uses a favourite phrase: "passing out wolf tickets". In trying to find out what the hell he meant I discovered that, in an interview for Playboy in 1988, he attempted a definition himself: "Another one I like is wolf tickets, which means bad news, as in someone who is bad news or generally insubordinate. In a sentence, you’d say, “Don’t fuck with me, I’m passing out wolf tickets.” Think it’s either Baltimore Negro or turn-of-the-century railroadese." This is from his 'nocturnal emissions' period, where his shows featured a lot hipster beat-speak raps, his verbally florid monologues in which his gift for wordsmithery and the alchemy of imagery get full rein... and it's great!

This show also finds Waits slagging of The Eagles when discussing their cover of 'Ol' 55', which, according to Barney Hoskyns, in his great book Hotel California: Singer-songwriters and Cocaine Cowboys in the L.A. Canyons 1967-1976, Waits regretted later on: "I was a young kid... corkin' off and being a prick... I talked to Don Henley about that, and I apologised and I took it all back and we patched it up". Humility and contrition from Mr Waits? We like it! He further elucidates the Catch-22 of youthful aspirations to stardom and consequential ego issues succinctly thus: "It was saying "Notice me" ... followed by "Leave me the fuck alone", sometimes in the same sentence". He's an articulate ol' bugger our Tom, and you gotta love him, warts and all.

Tracklisting: Drunk on the Moon / Interview / Eggs and Sausage / Interview / Better Off Without A Wife / Interview / Putnam County / Ol 55 / Interview / Nighthawks Postcards / Interview / Warm Beer and Cold Women / Ghosts of Saturday Night / The Heart Of Saturday Night

Charles Kynard - Your Mama Don't Dance - 1973

I actually have this record in storage somewhere, but with no turntable I can't digitise it just yet. I mention this 'cause this posting is taken from some .flac files I found (here, here, and here). Obviously .flac files are intended to help with audio quality, but these are nonetheless quite noisy... hi-res dirt in the grooves I suppose. Still, this was such a formative album for me, I had to put it up. For now I'm posting 320 kbps AAC files. If/when I get a new turntable I'll try and post a cleaner version.

My dad bought this at a car-boot sale at the old folks home where my grandpa lived out his last years. I think he paid 50p for it, what a bargain that was! This was the first place I heard the delectable grooves of 'The World Is A Ghetto', 'Summer Breeze' and the mightily funkalistic 'I Got So Much Trouble On My Mind'. This all instrumental album starts and finishes with Stevie Wonder covers: first up a great version of 'Superstition', with Kynard taking the melody on his fat and greasy Hammond, and closing with a nice reading of 'You've Got It Bad Girl'.

Recorded in 1973 for Bob Shad's Mainstream label, the cast for the album is a dream ticket who's-who of funky cats: as well as Kynard himself, there's bass-meister Chuck Rainey, who I grew to know and love through his work with Steely Dan (check his nifty bass solo here on 'So Much Trouble'), guitarist Arthur Adams (wicked throughout, you gotta love his volume knob-twiddlin' solo on 'Superstition'!), and groove assassins Paul Humphreys and Ray Pounds on kit. Dunno which of the two drummers played on which tunes, but the slinky grooves of 'Mama Jive' and 'Zambezi' are pure rhythmic pleasure, and I love the buzz rolls at the end of 'Summer Breeze'. There's some fulsome horn charts too, courtesy of Richard Fritz, which lean towards soundtrack/big band vibes in places, with unison figures, stabs, punches and the like, kind of karate horns if you will.

Tracklisting: Superstition / The World Is A Ghetto / Momma Jive / I Got So Much Trouble On My Mind / Your Mama Don't Dance / Zambezi / Summer Breeze / You've Got It Bad Girl

I should mention the tremendously groovy Shad Shack blog at this point, curated by the ever resourceful 'cheeba'... what a great site! I love the trend for these discog style blogs. There are others too, so be sure to check these: Impulse, Flying Dutchman, CTI/Kudu, Strata East, MPS, and Muse. There are possibly some others out there as well, if you think I'd be interested, leave me a message in the comments section. The blogosphere is where it's at!

I'd like to say how much love and respect I have for the people whose passion for music leads them to spend so much time and energy sharing it with us all. Of course - and as a musician I've really got to say this - if you really love the artists, then buy their product where and when you can.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Earth Disciples - Getaway Train - 1969

UPDATED 18/12/09 - Most of the text below is 'as was' when written, but since some things have changed, here's a quick update: EMI have made this album digitally available via iTunes (and probably other outlets too). I think that the band were long ago cut out of any money from the album, as the label it was on has changed hands on numerous occasions. I'd still like to see their follow up found and the whole lot put out as a 'Complete Earth Disciples' package, but that looks fairly unlikely, as even the guys in (or connected to) the band, can't locate masters. I've updated the Four Brothers Beats' link, as they've moved their blog here: 4BB. I'm not sure that the album is available anywhere in blog-land right now, but since it can be bought... go buy it! And anyone with info on masters or acetates for the follow up, please get in touch.

I can't take credit for discovering or sharing this fabulous album, that goes to Soulbrotha and co. over at the exceedingly tasty Four Brothers Beats blog.

The music is a sublime blend of jazz, funk, soul and rock, and like much great music, really defies categorization, surpassing such pigeon-holing, and existing on an altogether higher plane. The musicianship is of a very high level, with the drums and guitar deserving special mention. The music manages to marry passion and intensity with mellow subtlety and a real lightness of touch... amazing! This is SOUL music in a truly spiritual sense of the term: four guys groovin' on a cosmic sonic trip... hearts, minds and bodies fused into a new single entity.

Talking of a 'single entitly', here's a pic of the single they released from the album, along with a Youtube video of the album's title track (which was also the A-side of the single.

Recorded in 1969 for Sonny Lester's Solid State label (SS 18064), the band comprised Rudy Reid on keys, Red Holloway's son Jimmy Holloway on guitar (and poss keys also), Reggie Austin on bass, and Reggie Harris on drums. I'm researching this album for a forthcoming article, to be published soon here in the UK. I don't want to give too much away just yet tho', so, as the 4BB guys say, let the music do the talkin'!

I made the composite cover aw from pics at Throwback Music, who also had a link to the album at one point, but their blog has been invite only for some time.

Tracklisting: Getaway Train / La Bahemia / Life Cycle / Earth Island Ferry / Bitter End (Pt. 1) / Native Planet / Spirit of the Bells / Rollin' Over / Serenade of a Summer Butterfly / Bitter End (Pt. 2)

Tom Waits, Live – 16/12/75 – ASI Studios, KQRS Minneapolis

Recorded at ASI studios, for the Minneapolis station KQRS, under the auspices of the implausibly named Steve Fingerett, most of the opening seven minutes runs under the ‘Nocturnal Emissions’ title, and features Tom doing a high-octane finger-poppin beatnik rap: “with all due candour, I really don’t do this for a living, I’m really a labour organiser for a maternity ward”. He runs down a whole heap of his metropolitan double-talk, caught halfway between a Kerouack-ian reverie and a stand up comedian’s schtick. Recorded Dec 16th ’75, this is some months after he ‘d waxed the Nighthawks at the Diner album at Wally Heider’s studio, and he draws heavily on that material, jamming it all together. The intro to ‘Eggs & Sausage’ continues the banter, and is as unhealthily pleasurable as the kind of food he’s singing about.

Sound quality is good overall, with only a few bits of unwanted noise during ‘Better Off Without a Wife', and some kind of tape-op glitch in Tom's encore 'Putnam County'. During ‘Semi-Suite’, which has a nice long rambling intro, he slips in a little ‘As Time Goes By’ quote, which he eventually put down as the intro to ‘Bad Liver & a Broken Heart’ on the sublime Small Change album. ‘Spare Parts’ returns to the toe-tapping finger snappin’ beat vibe, and he manages to slip portions of ‘Diamonds on My Windshield into his rap, along with his patented ‘automobile passing by’ impersonation (seeing him do this on the Austin City Limits film is great, track that down if you can).

“’Scuse me, I usually vomit… but this is gonna be a tasteful programme”.

Tracklisting: Intro / Emotional Weather Report / Eggs And Sausage (Intro) / Eggs And Sausage / Better Off Without A Wife / Semi Suite / Spare Parts / Ghosts Of Saturday Night/The Heart Of Saturday Night / New Coat Of Paint / Warm Beer And Cold Women / Virginia Avenue / San Diego Serenade / Putnam County / Ol' '55

Monday, 13 October 2008

Tom Waits, Live at Ebbets Field, Denver - 10/8/74

This is an absolute peach of a recording: Tom’s on top form, and the audience are clearly diggin’ on him big time. This was actually released at one point under the title Dime Store Novels (I got a copy from Amazon, but as it wasn't an official release it got stepped on pretty quickly), but I’m putting up a version I got from the archive of the very generous GG, which has a great little intro not included on the Dime Store CD.

In term of Waits’ delivery, nearly all the songs here are performed fairly close to the officially recorded versions, except that Tom’s performing solo ('Foggy Night' is less relaxed rhythmically, sounding somewhat clipped here). As well as Tom’s inimitable spiel, there’s a song you won’t find elsewhere in his catalogue (least-wise I haven’t heard it elsewhere): the Utah Phillips country tune ’Good Night Loving Trail’, which is excellent in itself, and also benefits from a nice intro: “ah, hush up now I’m trying to sing this damn thang now… I ain’t opening the show tonight!” Some of Herbie Cohen’s gigs for Tom had been hardcore ‘baptism under fire’ scenarios!

Tom sounds quite soused at times, tho’ whether this is stage-sottedness or genuine alcohol oblivion isn’t clear, as he sings and plays very well. This really is good enough to be enjoyed as a solo performance counterpoint to the fabulous Nighthawks at the Diner. All in all, a very relaxed night in with Tom, and highly recommended.

"Operator number please..."

Tracklisting: I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You / San Diego Serenade / Good Night Loving Trail / Diamonds On My Windshield / Ice Cream Man / Please Call Me, Baby / Better Off Without A Wife / The Ghost Of Saturday Night / Big Joe & Phantom 309 / Semi Suite / Ol' 55 / On A Foggy Night / Martha

Tom Waits - 12/8/’73 - KPFK Folk Scene

A youthful Waits for you on this one, playing solo, accompanying himself on keys or guitar (upright bassist Bob Webb was scheduled to appear on the programme with Tom, but couldn’t make it). Between songs Tom’s interviewed by DJ Howard Larman for the programme Folk Scene, a programme he and his wife Roz produced and aired for the Los Angeles KPFK station for many years. Compared with Tom’s infamously obtuse and sometimes surreal responses to interviewers for most of the last 20/30 or so years, Larman gets a fairly open, relaxed, and informal response from the great man, perhaps due to the as yet unsullied innocence of the fresh faced young troubador.

This is an endearing window onto the young Waits at work, and he raps quite freely about his formative years, and the musical processes and influences working on him at that point. I chose the picture of Waits shown here ‘cause I like him with all that hair, and it’s also him pretty much as he was looking on the cover of the Music World magazine mentioned by the DJ. The lady in the pic is Bobi Thomas, and they’re showing off Tom’s first tattoo! Note that the scroll over the heart is at this point blank! The pic’s apparently from early ‘74, so this recording may have featured Tom sporting even more hair! I guess that’s something we can only muse upon, given this is a radio spot…

It’s a great recording, clean and clear, and with good info from Tom about growing up and getting into music and so on. Some of the versions are brilliant, like ‘San Diego Serenade’ and ‘Semi Suite’, whilst others were performed better elsewhere, like ‘Rosie’ and ‘Ice Cream Man’. ‘Depot, Depot’ is outright strange compared to the album version, but that makes it all the more interesting to hear, tho’ it has to be said the reading on Heart of a Saturday Night is far superior. The music is very good overall, and the audio quality is ok, with just a bit of trebly wobble on the piano, but it’s the talk in between that adds a lot of historic interest. Tom signs off with ‘Big Joe’, at this stage admitting that he doesn’t know who actually wrote the song, but telling us that it was “the first real folk song that just knocked me out… gave me the chills”.

Another TW gem for y’all to enjoy!

Tracklisting: Virginia Avenue / Interview / San Diego Serenade / Interview / Ol' 55 / Interview / Semi Suite / Interview / Fumblin With the Blues / Interview / Rosie / Interview / Depot Depot / Interview / Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You / Interview / The Heart Of Saturday Night / Interview / Ice Cream Man / Interview / Big Joe and Phantom 309 and Interview

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Tom Waits - Live @ Ebbet's Field, Denver, 19/2/75

Thanks to the very generous GG - you know who you are - for sharing his FTP booty with me. This is the 'Wolf Remaster', supplied here as 224 kbps mp3. This is a great, very clean recording, with an excellent balance between Tom's voice and instruments (it's just Tom, accompanying himself on guitar and keys), and the audience. Tom's in top beatnik mode here, starting off the night's entertainment with an excellent finger-poppin rap-only version of 'Diamonds On My Windshield', followed by a fledgling version of the 13th/aug guitar chord cycles of the 'Foggy Night' travelogue, with a nifty intro on public transport versus cheap automotion... Then there's the piano based 'Eggs & Sausage', in what sounds like an early incarnation, with some nice bluesy trills.

'Ice Cream Man' and 'San Diego Serenade' keep the piano backing going, and are performed straight up, before a wry spiel: "we'll get to all your favourites... 'I Left My Shorts In San Francisco'...", which leads into a monologue reading of the Red Sorbine nugget 'Big Joe & Phantom 309'. The audience are clearly rapt, and Tom finishes his tale very much in the same way he does on Nighthawks. Classic stuff! Back at the piano, we're treated to a jaunty version of 'New Coat of Paint', followed by the nocturnal emission that is 'Spare Parts', and the ol' favourite and set closer 'Ol' 55'. But they want more, so the MC joins in cajoling Tom back out: Tom drops the low E on his guitar to a D, and raps a while, finally hunkering down for the double whammy of 'Ghosts of...' & 'Heart of Saturday Night'. The segue is, just like the music itself, utterly sublime! They love him so much we get a further encore: "I was right in the middle of pleasurable piss" complains the old curmudgeon, before finishing with 'Nobody', a new number at the time... "kinda naugahyde" he explains in typically elliptical fashion.

Enjoy the genius of Waits here.

Tracklisting: Introduction / Diamonds On My Windshield / On A Foggy Night / Eggs And Sausage / Ice Cream Man / San Diego Serenade / Big Joe And Phantom 309 / New Coat Of Paint / Spare-Parts / Ol' 55 / The Ghost of Saturday Night / The Heart of Saturday Night / Nobody