All Hail The King

I frequently comment, “Nothing after Exile on Main St”, or “Nothing after Who’s Next”, or “Nothing after Wish You Were Here”, so it shouldn’t be suprising I’ve always maintained “Nothing after the Army” in regards to Elvis.
And that was being generous, because I really meant “Practically nothing after SUN”.

Upon his return from the Army there was a decade of terrible movies with soundtracks full of indifferently recorded shlock like “Do The Clam”, “Harum Scarum”, and “Spinout”.
Then there was the brief moment of the “’68 Comeback”, which showed he could still do it, if he wanted to.
And then it was just “Fat Elvis”, whose stage show seemed as bloated as he’d become.

Here is a review by Bob Claypool for the Houston Post in late 1976:

“Elvis Presley has been breaking hearts for more than 20 years now, and, Saturday afternoon in the Summit—-in a completely new and unexpected way—-he broke mine. The show was awful, a depressingly inchoherent amateurish mess served up by a bloated, stumbling and mumbling figure who didn’t act like the King of anything, least of all Rock n Roll.”

I can think of no other major artist whose catalog has been so ineptly, and hapahazardly managed.
Endlessly repackaged beyond recognition, it’s really hard to get a handle on.
As far as I knew, all you really needed was “The Sun Sessions” and “Elvis Gold Records Vol 1″.
I bought all four discs of “The Complete ’50′s Masters”, even though most of the essentials are on the first two. I didn’t think to bother with the ’60′s or ’70′s.

In the mid ’90′s, I read Peter Guralnick’s awesome two volume biography, “Last Train To Memphis”, and “Careless Love”. I began to appreciate “Supiscious Minds” and “Burning Love”, and became curious about the later sessions, as his new producer, Felton Jarvis heroically tried to salvage what was left of the King’s career.

On August 6th, with a sense of obligation and morbid curiosity I downloaded “Way Down In The Jungle Room”, a new collection of his very last sessions, in 1976.

I remember reading in “Careless Love”, just how hard it had become to get Elvis into the studio.
He was whacked out on pills and knew he wasn’t really up for it.
An improvised studio was set up in Graceland. Elvis kept the musicians waiting for days before coming downstairs.

I just re-read the chapter, and it’s amazing anything was accomplished.

I didn’t bother listening to any of it until Monday night. “Way Down”, the opener, knocked me right out. In fact, nothing sucked. I got the idea for the Weekend mix. I pulled other songs from sessions after the ’68 Comeback.

On Tuesday (August 16), out of curiosity, I looked up his death only to find it was that very day 39 years ago.
Sal posted something about Gungadin and his Bongos. I didn’t see any mention on FaceBook, even though most of my friends are musicians. Elvis had truly left the building.

He didn’t overdub. All the performances were recorded “live”. And it’s worth hearing if only for James Burton’s guitar.

Two of my all-time favorite albums are Gram Parson’s “GP”, and “Grievous Angel”. On them he used the core of Elvis band: James, Ronnie Tutt (drums), Glen D. Hardin (keyboads), and Emory Gordy(bass).
Elvis’ “Never Been To Spain” was recorded at MSG, on June 10, 1972. In September the guys were working for Gram, in his quest for “Cosmic American Music”.

I think He and Elvis represent the Yin and Yang of the same whole. I hear a killer band with two very different singers covering a lot of the same ground. I couldn’t say which was the darker half.

I included a “live” track from MSG in homage to the fake “live” medley of “Cash On The Barrellhead/Hickory Wind” on “Grievous Angel”.

Clearly Gram was influenced by Elvis, who I wish had taken a crack at “Ooh Las Vegas”, and can only imagine what he would have done with “$1,000 Wedding”. The last song here, “If That Isn’t Love”, reminds me of “Hickory Wind”.

I doubt Elvis really knew who Gram was, although I can imagine him asking James, “How’d it go with that hippie boy?”, to which James might have replied something like, “It was okay, but he’s no King of Rock N Roll”. He’s said he didn’t think much of it at the time, but to his surprise, no interviewer since doesn’t ask about working with Gram.

In this collection, I avoided familiar hits, and the cluttered bombast of his live shows in order to hear how good “Fat Elvis” really was. I wanted it to sound like a killer double album. What you’d put on right after “GP/Grievous Angel”, in order to extend the vibe.

His voice is always there and the band’s killing it.

It’s noticeable that his studio patter in the early ’70′s, as evidenced by “If I Were You”, was ebullient, while there’s an ugly cranky-ness at the core of the jokester on the last sessions. He was the original redneck opioid addict after all.

I think he still “had it” as a singer until the very end. He was a bonafide musician. He had both rhythm and pitch. Check out his piano accompaniment on “After Loving You” (1969). Rock solid.

He was the greatest and most sadly squandered talent I can think of. Except for maybe Gram Parsons.

All Hail The King

All Hail Too

Enjoy!
-BBJ

Long, Long, Day

“It’ll be easy” I said to myself, “Just throw something together”, I lied. A good mix goes through several permutations. Getting everything to flow, so that it follows a thread, is always a challenge.

Who knew The Hudson Brothers were capable of producing such a slab of prime Pop/Rock, sounding as much like late-period Beatles as Badfinger? This was always the opener and really set the tone.(1974)
Legend was led by Mickey Jupp. The drummer left shortly after this (1971) to join T-REX, where he became known as Bill Legend. Fat bass-line reminds me of Macca.
“Lonely Blue Boy” (1958) is one of those songs everyone should hear. Vocal crick as art.
“The Power Of Your Love”(1969) from the sessions that produced “Suspicious Minds”. The last time Elvis was thouroughly engaged and at a creative peak in the studio. Long Live the King.
“In The Ghetto” was written by Mac Davis and recorded by Elvis in 1969. Given recent happenings in Chicago, it seems particularly relevent. This version by Nick Cave (1984) was when I realized he had a future after The Birthday Party.
“Sam” (1969) is a rare slice of midwestern psychedelia. Unreleased until 2013. It features the singing of Linda Bruner, who recorded 4 songs and vanished.
“Dripping With Looks” (1987) is a massive riff I never get tired of.
“Little Bit Of Magic” (1969) is very rare. Rosco originally recorded for SUN, in Memphis. His early singles featured a piano style which contributed to the formation SKA in Jamaica. Rosco left music during the ’60′s, moving to Queens to run a Dry Cleaners.
In 1969 he cut this single and released it on his own label. In the ’80′s he briefly returned to music, but stayed with his original SUN material. It’s too bad he didn’t make more music like this. What a voice! I imagine Bryan Ferry covering it back in the day.
It’s hard to believe “Electrify Me (1979) was considered punk rock when it came out. I hear a little RT in the guitar breaks.
If Nick Lowe and Rockpile never covered “Move It Baby” (1964) they should have.
The Shazam (2002) drop some classic Big Star style pop/rock. These guys deserve a bigger audience.
I love everything about “Pass You By” (1996).
“Wonderin’” (1983) is the only keeper on “Everbody’s Rockin”. It was written in 1970.
“WPLJ”-Frank genuinely loved Doo Wop and R&B. From “Burnt Weeny Sandwich”. I keep meaning to try it. Not the radio station.
Swamp Dogg, not Snoop Dogg. From “Total Destruction Of Your Mind” (1970).
“I Got It all Indeed” is the only song I know from “Theosophy”, Pete Molinari’s 2014 album.
“Life Is Good” is one of my favorite songs from my favorite Los Lobos album.
“Jimmy Was” is the title music from “Sling Blade” (1996).
I’ve always thought Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus’ voice sounded a little like Jerry Garcia’s, and the gorgeous pedal steel on this song really makes the case.
“Chicken” (2014) by Bill Patton brings things down to a gentle simmer while we get a little introspective.
“I Remember Cissy’s Baby and the noise on the block,
And seventeen policemen that were in a state of shock,
She had it on the pavement she had it on the ground,
out popped the baby with the cops all around,”

-(1970) Jake And The Family Jewels.
Some fine storytelling. It just goes from there.
“Gone Like the Water”(1996) by Freedy Johnston is beautifully rendered. Perfect.
John & Beverly Martyn made two albums. “John The Baptist” is from “Stormbringer”(1970). His early work is some of my very favorite music, but soon he went MOR and made some records I’d rather not think about.
This demo of “Seeing” is far superior to the version which turned up on “Moby Grape ’69″. Featuring Skip Spence’s original vocal.

Enjoy!
-BBJ

Long, Long, Day

Glam Slam

With the sad passings of David Bowie, and Dale “Buffin” Griffin, it seemed only right to put together a tribute to “The Golden Age Of Rock n Roll”.

Right away I was reminded all that glitters isn’t necessarily “Glam”. In fact there isn’t that much of it as the whole era collapsed the minute it became a category. But the influence continues. Many elements that seemed new are now standard features.

Glam checklist: Theatrical make-up and stage persona. Image conscious with a fondness for fifties styles and POP Art mashups. Saxophones, female back-up singers, Flashy lead guitar stylist as foil to singer. Muscular rhythm section. Elements of prog.

Even though there is no Glam without Bowie, he doesn’t appear. Instead Bauhaus represents with their faithful, lively rendition of “Ziggy Stardust” (1982, number fifteen on the UK singles chart), illustrating how glam morphed into goth. Just because the dinosaurs are gone doesn’t mean we’re not surrounded by birds. If you know what I mean.

In the valley of The New York Dolls, you mean. Generation X’s “Valley Of The Dolls” is straight up glam. It’s only missing chick singers and saxophones. From their sophomore effort. When they were still a band.

“Rock Star” is from “Velvet Tinmine” a collection of obscure UK singles from the era (1973-5), and is by Bearded Lady. I found a page in wikipedia and there is really nothing to know.

“Needles In The Camel’s Eye”, worked so well for Todd Haynes during the opening of “Velvet Goldmine”. It’s the most successful part of the movie.

A lot of art rock got lumped in with glam, and Kevin Ayers wore the make-up. “Interview” is kind of a bookend to David Essex’s “Rock On”.

Queen knocks it out of the park with “Now I’m Here”. Epic on every level. Sheer Heart Attack indeed.

Enjoy!

Glam Slam

Weed, Whites, And Wine

I’m “Willin’” to admit that Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes” just might be my favorite album of all time.

I’ve written elsewhere about the life changing moment I received “Looney Toons And Merrie Melodies” (1970), a Warner’s Loss Leader’s 3 record set I sent away for.
“Strawberry Flats” was the third song on side one, after Faces “Had Me A Real Good Time”, and Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, and before Fleetwood Mac’s “Tell me All The Things You Do” from “Kiln House”.
I liked the other songs, and I bought all those albums too, but “Strawberry Flats” stood out. So many ideas packed into a little over 2 minutes.

I didn’t know what a record store was. All I knew was the local Target equivalent. They didn’t have “Little Feat”, so I settled for “Sailin’ Shoes” with it’s bizzarre cover art.
From the chiming opener, “Easy To Slip” I liked it. A lot.

I’ve come to recognize it as a perfect encapsulation of it’s time and place. Southern California in the early ’70′s. I hear elements of Country Rock, CSNY, The Eagles, Flying Burrito Brothers, Warren Zevon, Captain Beefheart, and of course, The Mother’s Of Invention.

I’m on my third vinyl copy and have the cd.

This compilation is a tribute to Lowell George, founder and guiding light. He was a tremendously gifted guitar player, singer, songwriter, producer, and bandleader. It recreates the order I first heard them. “Strawberry Flats” followed by “Sailin’ Shoes” in it’s entirety, and then highlights from “Little Feat” and “Dixie Chicken”.

Lowell George met Bill Payne when he was a member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention.
Payne auditioned for the Mothers, but didn’t join. They formed Little Feat along with former Mothers bassist Roy Estrada and drummer Richie Hayward from George’s previous band, The Factory. Hayward had also been a member of the Fraternity of Man whose claim to fame was the inclusion of their “Don’t Bogart Me” on the million-selling Easy Rider film soundtrack.
The name Little Feat came from a comment made by Mothers’ drummer Jimmy Carl Black (The Indian of the group) about Lowell’s “little feet”. The spelling of “feat” was an homage to the Beatles.

There are three stories about the genesis of Little Feat.
One has it that George showed Zappa his song “Willin’,” and that Zappa fired him because he was too talented to be a sideman, and he should form his own band.
The second version has Zappa firing him for playing a 15-minute guitar solo with his amplifier off. The third version says he was fired because “Willin’” contains drug references.
On October 18, 1975 at the Auditorium Theater in Rochester New York while introducing the song, George commented that he was asked to leave the band for “writing a song about dope”.

In any version, Zappa was instrumental in getting George and his new band a contract with Warner Bros. Records. The eponymous first album delivered to Warner Bros. was recorded mostly in August and September 1970, and was released in January 1971. When it came time to record “Willin’,” George had hurt his hand in an accident with a model airplane, so Ry Cooder sat in and played the song’s slide part.
“Willin’” was re-recorded for “Sailin’ Shoes”, this time with guest Burrito “Sneaky Pete” on pedal steel. It’s the the first Little Feat album to feature cover art by Neon Park, the artist responsible for Zappa’s “Weasels Ripped My Flesh” (On which Lowell is a member of The Mothers).

Despite good reviews, lack of success led to the band splitting up, with Estrada leaving to join Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band (And even more lack of success).

In 1972 Little Feat reformed, with bassist Kenny Gradney replacing Estrada. Also added was second guitarist Paul Barrere, a friend of Lowell’s from Hollywood High, and percussionist Sam Clayton (brother of session singer Merry Clayton). As a result the band was expanded from a quartet to a sextet.

I was so excited when “Dixie Chicken” came out, until I played it. They had 3 new people in the band and it tilted towards New Orleans, and lite funk, which was not what I was looking for.
However, the title is a classic and “Fat Man In The Bathtub” is one of their finest moments.
I didn’t hate the album.
Then came “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now”. Another Neon Parks cover, and a reworking of two songs from “Sailin” Shoes” played as a medley. Which I now understand was made to better reflect their live shows at the time, for which they were getting quite a reputation, but to my ears was a travesty.
I didn’t buy any more of their albums after that.

George continued to produce the albums, but his songwriting contribution diminished as the group moved into jazz fusion, a style in which he had little interest. In August 1977, Little Feat recorded a live album from gigs at the Rainbow Theatre in London and Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC. “Waiting for Columbus” is considered by many to be one of the best live albums of all time, despite the fact that significant portions of George’s vocals and slide work were over-dubbed later in the studio. It was released in 1978, by which time it had become apparent that Lowell George’s interest in the band was waning, as was his health.

In an interview with Bill Flanagan (for the book Written in My Soul) conducted eleven days before his death, George made it clear that he felt the demise of Little Feat was due to his having allowed the band to be run democratically, with the result that Payne and, to a lesser extent, Barrere, had a presence as songwriters and in production which was disproportionate to their abilities.

Nowhere on the wikipedia page I reworked for some of this does it mention that Lowell’s drug use was a contributing factor to his abdication of leadership in the band. Or that Zappa fired him for smoking dope.

His only solo album, “Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here” (1979) is mostly covers. I’ve never heard it.

Too bad there isn’t more of this.

Link In Comments

The Curse Of The Mekons

The Mekons should be better known. They are so much more interesting than Radiohead, or Oasis, for instance.

They were briefly signed by A&M, and released one great album, “The Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 1989, but the fit was poor, and they were soon back to indie purgatory.
Their next, “Curse Of The Mekons”, which is even better, didn’t even see a US release initially.

I used to gauge a new record store by how many Kevin Ayers albums they had. Then I’d check for Roy Harper and Lee “Scratch” Perry. A quick indication of the depth of their catalog.
In the early ’90′s I added The Mekons to the list. Their cd’s were pretty hard to find, but over the years I managed to collect a baker’s dozen. This compilation covers from 1987-2002.

Formed in 1977 by a group of Leeds University art students: John Langford, Kevin Lycett, Mark White, Andy Corrigan, and Tom Greenhalgh (Gang Of Four and Delta 5 came out of the same group of students). I just now found out that they took the name from the Mekon, an evil, super-intelligent Venusian featured in the British 1950-1960′s comic Dan Dare.

The band’s first single was “Never been In A Riot”, a satirical take on The Clash’s “White Riot”.
They’re debut album, “The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen”, was recorded using the Gang Of Four’s instruments, and due to an error by the Virgin Records art department, features pictures of that band, instead of The Mekons on the back cover.

Through the years, the band’s musical style has evolved, incorporating country, folk, rock, and occasional experiments in dub. These days, The Mekons are often described as a post-punk, cowpunk and/or alt country band.

The Mekons
Jon Langford
Tom Greenhalgh
Sally Timms
Sara Corina
Steve Goulding (The Rumour)
Susie Honeyman
Rico Bell
Lu Edmonds (The Damned)
J. Mitch Flacko

Past members
Ben Mandelson
Dick Taylor (original Rolling Stone and Pretty Thing)
John Langley
Kevin Lycett
Mary Jenner
Robert Worby

Mekons Mekons Mekons

Enjoy!
-BBJ

I highly recommend the terrific documentary, “The Revenge Of The Mekons”

Mekons Mekons Mekons

Jazz For Haters

“I’ve got no kick against modern jazz,
Unless they try and play it too darn fast,
And lose the beauty of the melody”

-Chuck Berry nailed it in 1957

This collection is for people who don’t think they like Jazz. I’m one of them, after all, because I think a great deal of it is boring. Too many notes going nowhere as fast as they can. Where is the tune?

Shane Theriot hails from New Orleans and is currently guitarist and musical director for “Live At Daryl’s House”. His “Sanford and Son” (2000) seemed like the perfect place to start.
“Jungle” (1995) by Jef Lee Johnson is one of several tracks featuring vocals. Purchased as a cut-out from Sal back in the day. The rest of the album, “Blue” is just as good. Unfortunately he passed away at 54 in 2013.
“Elephant Walk” (2009) by Israeli guitarist OZ Noy is the funkiest and loosest of grooves in the best possible way.
“Kimotion” (2001) Composed and conducted by guitarist Kimo Williams is pure exhiliration.
You’re excused for thinking “You Can’t Sing, You Can’t Dance” (2013) by Serbian guitarist Dusan Jevtovic is Hard Rock. More like mid-period King Crimson than standard Jazz. One of the baddest songs I know.
“Pineapples & Ashtrays” (2015) is best described as “Surf Noir”. Led by Saxman Bryan Beninghove, the Hangmen are an incredible live act. Highly reccomended
James “Blood” Ulmer got his start with Ornette Coleman but really made a splash in the early ’80′s with his angular idiosyncratic guitar style. “Black Rock” (1982) somehow manages to sound like both Captain Beefheart and James Brown.
“Sacred Emblems” (2014) is more Surf than Jazz. From “Psychomagia”, the second album by Abraxas, led by Shanir Exra Blumenkranz, performing compositions by John Zorn.
“Keep The Bugs Off Your Glass And The Bears Off Your Ass” (2003) The Bad Plus. They’ve been called a “jazz power trio with a rock n roll heart.” The melody is as much fun as the title.
Singer, musician, songwriter, producer Cassandra Wilson’s take on “The Last Train To Clarksville” (1995) is one of my all-time favorite covers.
Bill Frisell, an incredibly versatile guitarist contributes the only ballad. A lovely rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman”(1992)
“Footsteps”(2012) by The Fretless Brothers truly unique exploration of microtonal guitars and tunings makes this track wonderfully disorienting.
“Storm The Reality Asylum” (1982) features the vocals of a very young Neneh Cherry with her stepdad Don sitting in on trumpet.
“Silent Land” (1981) Material, formed by Bill Laswell in 1978, went on to become an integral part of, and define the post No Wave downtown Jazz scene.
“Breathe” (2014) from a Big Band reinterpration of the Pink Floyd classic, “Dark Side Of the Moon”.
“Tobago Tango” (1986) Art Ensemble Of Chicago were the first Jazz band I really loved, Probably because they annoyed many Jazz fans by playing music that seemed like anti-Jazz. This is their most accessible moment.
“Come As You Are” (2003) Pink Freud. From Poland. Nirvana cover.

Jazz For Haters

Enjoy!
-BBJ

Acid Washed Weekend

I didn’t buy a copy of the original double lp”Nuggets” as compiled by Lenny Kaye in 1972.
I never really sought this stuff out before getting Bowie’s “Pinups” in 1973. At first I preferred his versions because the sound was so much better. I thought the Kink’s original “Where Have All The Goodtimes Gone?” sounded weak and thin by comparison. On the other hand, Syd’s “See Emily Play” had something that Bowie’s did not.

Neither of those are here, however.

Only “Lies”, “Open My Eyes”, and “Farmer John” appeared on the original 1972 “Nuggets”.
The rest are from the much expanded Rhino versions, and a few from various other sources.
I included the best, and most obscure songs I know, while mostly avoiding the usual suspects.
While I’m sure some of this is familiar territory, I hope it’s the surprises that really get you.

Enjoy your trip!

-BBJ

Acid Washed Weekend

The Road To Ruined

I approach singer/songwriters with caution. It can be a rabbit hole of disfunction with boring musical accompaniment. Mix that with Jazz and I really worry.
Maybe because John Martyn’s “Solid Air” is both, and works so beautifully is why it’s been one of my very favorite albums for over 40 years.
It was the first record I played on my first real stereo system, which I bought by working as a busboy at a Marie Callender’s in 1974.
When I was putting this together, I couldn’t bring myself to interupt it’s flow, so tracks 7-15 are 1973′s “Solid Air”. The first six come from “The Tumbler” (1968), “Stormbringer!”(1970)*, “The Road To Ruin”(1970)*, “Bless The Weather”(1971), and the last eight are mostly from “Sunday’s Child”(1975), with the final song taken from “One World”(1977).
He was an incredible guitar player, fantastic singer, and songwriter.

But he had no shortage of demons. I hear many of his love songs as heartfelt apologies for bad behavior.
That’s why they ring so true.

In the ’80′s he morphed from underground folk artist into adult contemporary soft jazz blandness.
And then proceeded to gain about 300 lbs.

I’d Rather Be The Devil

The Act You’ve Known For All These Years

This has been a popular idea for some time.
I first encountered it in the ’70′s when critic Robert Hilburn suggested in the LA Times that although they’d broken up, you could assemble virtual albums from their solo work.
This can be done for every year they all made albums.
The first possibility is most interesting to me.
Almost all of these songs, except for the selections from “Plastic Ono Band” (which include Ringo), were at least written while they were still a band, if not rehearsed during “Let It Be”.

 

It’s clear they were all moving in different directions, but that was also apparent on “The White Album”.

Enjoy!

-BBJ

Beatles ’70

Here Comes The SUN

If Elvis is Jesus then Sam Phillips is GOD. I’ve read Peter Guralnick’s terrific two volume biography of Elvis, as well as “Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians”, so I look forward to his latest, “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock N Roll”.

All the songs on this collection come from the accompanying 2 CD set curated by the author.
I don’t have a single argument with his selections. These are my favorites sequenced by me.
Everybody should stop off in Memphis on their way to New Orleans. When I had to pick one or the other I chose Nashville, and I don’t regret it, but next time will be Memphis.
In the ’80′s I had a friend working in a record store who routinely sold me fancy imports at her employee discount. I discovered SUN through Charly Records, and their top-shelf reissues. They all look and sound great. I still have a lot of them including a 9 record set of SUN Blues.

I dug the brief post- punk Rockabilly revival of 1980 (culminating with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love), and even formed a band with a childhood buddy which went on without me to get a record deal and everything(Jimmy And The Mustangs).

I know all these songs like I wrote and played them myself and you should too.
The music speaks for itself. Regardless of the weather have a SUNny weekend!

Here Comes The Sun