Wednesday, August 20, 2014

40 Year Itch : Country With A Boogie Beat

The title was almost literal. If with this record we didn't 'break through the bullshit barrier', in Lowell's terms, then that would be the end of the band. Lowell was not very pleased with record companies and their practices at this point. 
-Paul Barrere, quoted in Rock and Roll Doctor

Little Feat has already broken up a few times before meeting at an inexpensive studio outside Washington D.C. where they could take their time and produce an album that would finally sell in the kind of numbers expected by their label Warner Brothers.

Feats Don't Fail Me Now was party record - have a beer or two and dance...that's the frame of mind we were in for that record
Lowell George, quoted in Willin': The Story of Little Feat

As a band they pushed each other. Lowell George, the lead songwriter, singer, guitarist and producer, bet keyboardist Bill Payne he didn't have the chops to write a hit song.

As Payne would later explains " My idea of a hit record then was  basically something with a chorus coming in at 45 seconds . The result was "Oh Atlanta". It was not a hit record, but it is one of those songs that has stood the test of time.

The fact that Lowell George didn't take all the writing credits led Rolling Stone reviewer Ben Gersen to suggest George had lost control of the band:

George hopes he has finally achieved a measure of stability: He is not quite as dominant as he once was -- he has consciously down-played his own authority -- but this may not be the root of the problem. It is almost as if once he decided to cede responsibility to the others, he also decided to make his writing less reflective of his own slant than of the new, corporate Little Feat, a group that he no longer commands.

   Feats Don't Fail Me now really is a great backyard barbeque party album. Lowell George had played with The Meters and was helping Robert Palmer knock out his solo debut Sneakin' Sally. He found an even funkier side to the band. Even with the band revisiting two Sailin' Shoes songs in "Cold Cold Cold/ Tripe Face Boogie" ( in an experimental ten minute trip of a tune) , it's a worthwhile album and it proved to be the hit Warner Brothers demanded. Initial sales of 150,000 exceeded the first three albums combined. Not really because it's any better than Sailin' Shoes or Dixie Chicken. Little Feat toured up and down the East Coast all of 1974 and built up a huge, record-buying following. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

40 Year Itch :Blowing Five Bucks on Baloney

I didn't think ( Here Come The Warm Jets) deserved the good reviews it got. There was sort of a mystique about it which protected it --made you think that if you didn't like something about it, it was your fault, not mine.
-Brian Eno

By the Summer of 1974  Brian Eno's  first solo album, Here Come the Warm Jets, a noisy, weird and inventive onslaught of art-glam that still rewards its listeners every time it's played, began selling in the US. Ads heralded him as "The Non Musicians Musician." Eno had left Roxy Music on June 21st ,1973. The Roxy synth player in charge of "treating" sounds makes his final day sound like one of the best of his life:

    I was absolutely euphoric. I remember leaving my management offices on the King's Road the day I resigned and skipping and leaping down the road in delight.

   He set at once to recording his solo debut, bringing every member of Roxy Music along for the sessions except his nemesis, Bryan Ferry. But his former bandmates had to compete to be heard on an album that also had on hand Chris "Motorbikin'" Spedding and King Crimson's Robert Fripp whose blistering three-minute guitar solo on "Baby's On Fire" is one of 1973's most transcendental moments in music.

   As his diverse musician friends competed for roles in Eno's songs, Eno himself is credited with "snake guitar", "simplistic piano" and "electric larynx". After the tracks were recorded, Eno's real work began: treating the sounds. His approach was playful ( after all the album is named after the act of urination) , and that sense of fun exists forty years later. 

    Listen to "Dead Finks Don't Talk", featuring the fictional back-up singing group "Nick Kool and the Koolaids". Although Eno claims the lyrics were generated randomly, his producer Chris Thomas says the song is about Bryan Ferry ( whose crooning -style is imitated by Eno on the line "You're always so charming/ As you make your way up here".) And listen to the noisy pastiche at the end of the song. How did he do that?

   Most critics raved. In the UK the album peaked at #26. In the US Warm Jets failed to fly above #156 despite the cheers of Creem's Lester Bangs who wrote a few months later:

  Eno is the real bizarro warm factor for 1974. It's like he says in "The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch" : "By the time I got to looking for some kind of substitute/ I can't tell you what kind, but it rhymes with dissolute"...Meanwhile, the drums are pounding and the guitars are screaming every which away in a precisely orchestrated cauldron of terminal hysteria muchly influenced by, though far more technologically advanced than, early Velvet Underground. Don't miss it; it'll drive you crazy." 

Rolling Stone's Gordon Fletcher wasn't so taken :

   His record is annoying because it doesn't do anything. The songs aren't strong enough individually or collectively to merit more than a passing fact the whole album may be described as tepid, and the listener must kick himself for five bucks on baloney.

Monday, August 18, 2014

40 Year Itch : Funky White Boys

In August of 1974 , Scotland's funky Average White Band released their breakthrough album, the chart topping AWB

     Made up entirely of white Scottish musicians, some of whom backed black artists touring the UK, the Average White Band "doesn't merely sound like a soul band " wrote Bud Scoppa for Rolling Stone. "It is a soul band; there's no question about that, although there's the obvious question about how in the world the sextet got to this level of proficiency and emotional involvement in a culturally alien idiom."

  AWB is the band's second album following 1973's poor-selling Show Your Hand. Clapton's tour manager Bruce McCaskill saw something in AWB when they opened for Clapton's comeback concert. He moved them to Los Angeles and got them a record deal with Atlantic. The album was recorded in Miami and New York City.

   This is my favorite album released in August of 1974. AWB is a self assured soul and funk album that is ten times better than you'd ever guess. Best known for the #1 instrumental "Pick Up the Pieces", it also features the Stevie Winwood vocals of Alan Gorrie and the falsetto of future McCartney band mate Hamish Stuart, then sporting an outrageous Scotchfro. Also: The Dundee double threat on horns. And the drumming of Robbie McIntosh. In LA, they were joined by top notch session musicians like the Brecker brothers on horns and Ralph McDonald on congas.

 It's not easy to pick a favorite. The entire Side A is essential...including the Isley Brothers cover "Work to Do".

   No wonder it sold so many copies.

   Drummer Robbie Mcintosh would never see that success. On September 23, the band attended a party in honor of Gregg Allman at the home of millionaire Kenneth Moss. McIntosh snorted what he thought was cocaine. It was heroin laced with morphine. Nice party. 

      Realizing what they'd inhaled the rest of the band were able to eject the contents from their bodies. On advice from her gynecologist , Cher walked Gorrie around to keep him from lapsing into a coma. McIntosh was taken back to a North Hollywood motel to sleep it off. He never woke up. Moss pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served just three months.

Robbie strapped us to the groove. He understood it better than any of us. He had an arranger's mind. He was the catalyst. It wouldn't have happened without him
-Hamish Stuart

With new drummer, and first black member , Steve Ferrone, the Average White Band had to pick up the pieces. The follow up Cut the Cake would also be a big hit. The band still tours.

Friday, August 15, 2014

40 Year Itch : One Hand Clapping

On August 15, 1974 Paul McCartney and Wings gathered at Abbey Road Studio 2  to shoot "One Hand Clapping", a follow-up to the "James Paul McCartney" TV special. With Geoff Emerick at the board, the band is simply taped rehearsing new and old tunes and doing interviews. The reason the show never aired is McCartney had canned drummer ( and karate aficionado) Geoff Britton , who'd gotten into arguments with Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch. I guess there was no editing around him.

    Among the highlights are rocking versions of the B side "Soily", the single " Hi Hi Hi"  and hearing McCartney playing "1984" on solo piano and singing in the studio with a cigarette.You may have some Let It Be flashbacks

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

40 Year Itch : Brazil '74

(zip file)

If you need a mood enhancer, here's some instant joy courtesy of the glorious Brazilian artists of 1974. 

Rolling Stone ranked this the 6th greatest Brazilian album of all time. It's a trippy album even if you don't understand the lyrics ( about dancing, about aliens, about philosphy etc.) The must-own of the albums in this post.

To these ears, this is a return to the infectious, heavy strumming sounds after the disappointing Novos Baianos FC. This is the final album made with founder Moraes Moreira. If this blog does nothing else it should convince you to buy 1972's brilliant Acabou Chorare.

Album #2 from Secos and Molhados features more dramatic music and the high pitched, womanly, counter-tenor voice of Ney Matogrosso. Is this better than the debut? A common debate among Brazilian music fans. 

Brazilian folk with touches of psychedelia. Beautifully arranged.

Beautiful tunes from the sensual songstress Gal Costa. You won't be able to get "Barato Total" out of your head. 

Samba legend Martinho Da Vila sings about the joy of song in the title cut from Canta, Canta Minha Gente:
Sing, sing, my people, let go of the sadness
 Sing strong, sing loud, cause life is going to get better

Brazilian vocalist Elis Regina makes a lifelong dream come true, recording an album of Tom Jobim songs with their writer, Tom Jobim, in Los Angeles. The sessions on this classic album must have been pure joy . You can hear Elis smiling widely and nearly laughing on "Águas De Março (Waters Of March)". 

The Father of Brazilian Rock , Raul Seixas borrows the Rolling Stones melody from "No Expectations" for one of his biggest hits, the title cut from an album that sold 600,000 copies in Brazil.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Legend of Tommy Bolin

  In August of 1974, the James Gang released Miami, the band's second and final album to feature guitarist Tommy Bolin. 

   Joe Walsh had recommended the hard-living Iowan for the job. Bolin had played on Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Billy Cobham's breakthrough jazz fusion album Spectrum before joining the Gang. Self-taught ( if you discount 4 lessons as a kid) ,  Bolin had it all: good lucks, good chops. He could play jazz and he could boogie. He attacked the guitar rather than laying like most UK blues-fed guitarists.

   Following the Miami tour, Bolin, feeling restless,  left the James Gang . He played on a few more albums, including his solo debut Teaser,  before replacing Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple.

   Bolin only played with Deep Purple for about a year, recording just one album Come Taste the Band in 1975.  When the DP disbanded, Bolin recorded his second solo album Private Eyes. Just before a December 1976 concert a reporter finishing up his interview told Bolin  “Take care of yourself,” to which Tommy replied, “I’ve been taking care of myself my whole life. Don’t worry about me, I’m going to be around for a long time.”

 Bolin died that night of an overdose of heroin and alcohol, cocaine and barbiturates.

The James Gang lasted for two more albums. But this is the final one worth hearing.

Monday, August 11, 2014

40 Year Itch: Two-Bit Psychiatrists and Electro Shock

   Lou Reed was firmly caught up in the rock 'n roll machine by the time Sally Can't Dance, his highest charting album, was released in August of 1974. Launched into stardom by the Bowie-produced Transformer, Reed then released the concept album Berlin , followed by a tremendous live recording, Rock 'n Roll Animal. 

Compounding the hectic schedule ( all but "Kill Your Sons" were written in a single month) was Reed's own all-consuming heroin addiction.

Former Blood Sweat and Tears guitarist Steve Katz produced the album. He recalls:

As an artist Lou not totally there...He had to be propped up like a baby, with things done for him and around him . Clearly, this was the situation he wanted. The drugs were becoming just too much for me to deal with. 

Late on he started giving out interviews claiming he was 'surrounded by schlock artists'. Not so...He simply refused to be there. Most of the time he was in the bathroom shooting up. 

Not the kind of thing Reed admitted to openly, telling the Australian press "I don't take drugs. I want people to take drugs".

    40 years later, Sally Can't Dance sounds like an album for which Lou Reed has been miscast. This might have been a good album for Alice Cooper, but there are few highlights for Reed. The ten year old, autobiographical rocker,  "Kill Your Sons", is the best thing on Sally Can't Dance but I have a soft spot for a few other tunes including "Baby Face" which probably gives us some insight into Reed's drug issues and relationships with transsexuals.

Famed rock poster illustrator David Byrd did the cover:

   The most that I can remember about doing this album is that I met with Lou Reed at The Ninth Circle, an old gay bar on Christopher Street where Edward Albee drank, as well as my very own self. He brought a shoebox filled with SX-70 Polaroids of various drags and transexuals in all forms of undress, some even tightly swathed in Saran Wrap. One of these was Sally, who can't dance. I put her face reflected in a close-up of his sunglasses on the back of the album. He was a handsome man, in a damaged sort of way. 

 When the album hit top 10, Reed--who was touring Europe during the final mixes-- dismissed it, saying ,

 "It seems like the less I'm involved with a record, the bigger a hit it becomes. If I weren't on the record at all next time around, it might go to Number One." 

RCA would churn out another live collection before Lou Reed would have his revenge: 1975's Metal Machine Music.