Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Could the entire pub rock scene (that eventually gve us Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and the many incarnations of Nick Lowe) have all come from a single Welsh man who could play harmonica, guitar and drums at the same time? Probably not. But Duster Bennett could do all three and write remarkably catchy tunes like this one from his 1970 album 12 Db's.
Bennett was a bluesman at first. He recorded his first solo album with members of Fleetwood Mac and toured the US in 1970 with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Had he not been a blues singer, who knows? As he suggests in this song, he could have been a gambler, a lover, doctor or maybe even president.
Instead he chose to sing the blues. In 1975 Jimmy Page signed Bennett to Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label. On a March night in 1976, after performing with Memphis Slim, Bennett apparently fell asleep at the wheel of his van and collided with a truck. He was 29.
In 2007, Sony released the Complete Blue Horizon Sessions. Now, like so many artists before him, his legacy is there--ready to be discovered-- by future generations.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Often called "The Godfather of Rap", Gil Scott-Heron had a razor sharp eye always on the look out for injustices laid upon America's black community. Word came late today that he passed away at age 62. The man was" righteous" in every definition of the word.
He will be remembered by the masses for "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" but his catalog is worth digging into more deeply.
"The Bottle", from an album he did with keyboardist and flute player Brian Jackson, takes on the rampant alcoholism that has plagued black communities for generation after generation. Scott-Heron himself battled drug addiction. "The Bottle" is just one of the great numbers from the 1974 album Winter In America.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Released in 1983, the single "Owner of a Lonely Heart" is the only #1 hit for Yes in the U.S. It came from the album 90125 which marked the return of Jon Anderson to the band (guitarist Steve Howe was still off on other projects), and featured the production of The Buggles's ("Video Killed The Radio Star") Trevor Horn, who would later form Art of Noise. South African guitarist Trevor Rabin was the newest addition to the band.
Alan: We had Trevor Rabin come into the band and he had a slightly more commercial songwriting style. But we added all those background rhythms and bass parts and keyboard parts and that made it into something else.So (90125) was a combination of being more commercial but still coming up with something different.
Yes recorded the Grammy winning instrumental "Cinema" in one take. But the album barely topped 40 minutes and as sessions drew to an end, the band needed one more song.
Alan: And Trevor Rabin came up to me and said "I've got this song
and it might work. I don't know."
So I went around to his apartment that night and i listened to it and I was like "No, we can do that. Why don't we try it tomorrow?"
And we tried it, and it started to gel, and it sounded really, really good
and Trevor Horn said we needed to do it properly.
To get what would become known as the Art of Noise sound, Horn wanted to isolate Alan's drums not just from the rest of the band, but each drum from the rest of the drum kit. That came as a surprise to Alan.
One of the recording engineers came in and took away the cymbals and I said "What are you doing?"
He said "No. He wants you just to do it with the drums and then we'll put the cymbals in later."
So I said "O.K." and we tried it like that.
Next thing he comes in and he takes all the tom toms away so I had a bass drum, a snare drum and high hat.
and I was playing that and then he came in and took the high hat away.
I just had the bass drum and snare drum and that's how we started the song.
We filled the rest in later.
As we wrapped up our time with Alan, 1001Songs had to admit how impressed we were with his ability to play so many time signatures at the same time. After all 1001Songs can't even tap the steering wheel in time to any song. At all.
Alan:You've got to have independence between your limbs . Number One:
you've got to get this hand to do one thing while the other one does something else and the same with your legs. Then it becomes a mind thing.
You must be able to play one rhythm but listen to another one at the same time.It might be the Gemini in me. it might be the two people inside me, but it's like you just have to split your head and be able to coordinate your limbs and just feel it as well.
Sounds like it might take a lot of practice
Alan: The answer is just to play odd rhythms like 5/4, 7/4, 9/4 but it make it feel like people can dance to it.
I'll get right on it.
Thanks to Alan White. Yes's newest album Fly From Here will be released July 12 in the US.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
In his third year as a session and touring drummer Alan White shared an apartment with Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer recording engineer Eddy Offord. One night Offord invited White to stop by a sewing shop on the West End of London where he met the members of Yes.
Alan: They were actually rehearsing for Close To The Edge and they were playing and (drummer) Bill Bruford had to leave because he was going to dinner with somebody.And Eddy said "Well Alan can play the drums.Why don't you play the song (Siberian Khatru) so everybody can go through it?" So it's basically bar of 8, bar of 7 intro and I was quite used to that because of the band I was playing in so I just got into it and played it and they all kind of went "He knows how to do this stuff".
Skip ahead two to three week later: Bill Bruford has left the band to join King Crimson. Alan is finishing up a European tour with Joe Cocker when he gets a phone call.
Alan:(Jon Anderson said) "We want you to join the band. We know you can do this. Just listen to the music", and he said "This is the set list."
He said "We've got a gig on Monday in Dallas, Texas" and I said "Are you joking? I can't learn all this stuff in that time."
He said "We just have to go for it" so that's what I did.
Alan smack in the middle of Yes, 1973
By this time Yes had already recorded five albums including two classics, The Yes Album and Close to the Edge. Alan had his work cut out for him.
Alan: It's not like riding a bicycle like some songs.When you play songs like ( the 19 minute )"Close to the Edge" or "Tempus Fugit" from Drama, those songs are just a whole thing you have to go through. Lots of mood changes and different tempos. You just have to,over the years, get it into your head.
It always seemed a bit unfair to Alan that Yes recorded its three disc live album (Yessongs) and concert film on his first tour. But as he approaches 40 years with the band, he says he doesn't spend much time looking back.
Alan: Yes has always been a great vehicle for me to study and move forward. This is the kind of band that doesn't look at the horizon. They always try to see over it and try to create something new. And that, to me, presents a kind of challenge that I like to take on. I always like something new to go for.
Next: "Owner of a Lonely Heart"
Monday, May 23, 2011
Well, she's got Jet Pilot eyes from her hips on down.
All the bombardiers are trying to force her out of town.
She's five feet nine and she carries a monkey wrench.
She weighs more by the foot than she does by the inch.
She got all the downtown boys, all at her command
But you've got to watch her closely
'cause she ain't no woman
She's a man. (1965)
A Dylan toss-off from the Highway 61 Revisited sessions, the melody would be revisited for Tombstone Blues. Al Kooper remembers Al Kooper explains: "The songs changed all the time. We would try different tempos, he would try other words. Most of the songs had different titles. It was a long time, for example, before I realised It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry was not called Phantom Engineer".
Happy Birthday Uncle Bobby!
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Though it's only been 40 years, there's a lot of confusion about who played what instrument on what track of George Harrison's epic triple album ALL THINGS MUST PASS. The album lists 5 drummers/percussionists for instance... and it's quite the all-star cast: Ringo Starr, Ginger Baker, Phil Collins, Jim Gordon and Alan White. Alan says he played on the title track, the hit "My Sweet Lord, "Isn't It a Pity" and "Wah Wah" (among others) but he understands the confusion,
ALAN: About twenty people turned up every day, and we decided who was going to play what, and which song and what you do and if you weren't needed, you weren't needed.
George would play the songs and we'd all get into it. And then we'd all organize it a bit more and a bit more until we finally had a take.
From a drummer's point of view Harrison's #1 hit ( and the first #1 hit by any ex-Beatle), "My Sweet Lord", doesn't offer much to talk about. It's a pretty basic beat but you don't hear the drums until 1:45 into the song.
ALAN: The drums actually come in earlier than that and on the record they faded them in very slowly. It actually worked but it was all (producer)Phil Spector's idea at that time.
Next: Siberian Khatru by Yes
Friday, May 20, 2011
"Imagine" has long been considered the greatest peace anthem in rock history, but how many fans realize John Lennon is "imagining" a utopia full of atheists and anarchists? Lennon has called "Imagine" "Working Class Hero" with sugar on it for conservatives. Future Yes drummer Alan White, now a dedicated member of the Plastic Ono Band, can be seen in the above clip hearing Lennon play "Imagine" for the first time. He tells 1001Songs the story behind Imagine
Actually John just sat down and played it on the piano and sang it for everybody. And everybody was just, you know, amazed. Just such a fantastic song with so much meaning--words that still mean so much today.
"Imagine" has one of the simplest kinds of drum rhythms and it's a very simple song but I learned a kind of lesson from that.
It's not really what you play but how you play it and the feeling behind it. Sometimes that makes it what it is and that's what "Imagine" was all about because we only did three takes and then we did backing tracks. And after the third take we all looked at each other and said I guess that was it. everybody in the room knew that was the take for the song.
1001Songs: What was the feeling in the room?
Oh it was one of quietness and looking around and John said "Wonderful."
Alan played drums on six of the Imagine album tracks, among them "Oh Yoko" and "How do You Sleep?", a scathing reply to Paul's "Too Many People" and other perceived sleights, featuring George Harrison on slide guitar.
John gave us all a sheet with the words to "Imagine" and all the songs to the album Imagine and he said "If there's any song you don't feel like you want to play on because of what it's saying, let me know and they were all fantastic so I just played on a bunch of stuff on the album and loved every moment of it.
I didn't realize at the time that I was kind of a part of history. I was just in the studio making another album kind of thing.
This would be Alan's last session with Lennon but he recalls all his Plastic Ono Band recordings with fondness.
Whenever I started doing anything with the band, he used to say "Whatever you're doing, keep doing it!"
He was just really nice to me, always like a person who took me under his wing and he'd say "This is my little drummer."
Tomorrow: George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord"
Thursday, May 19, 2011
John Lennon enlisted George Harrison, Billy Preston, Klaus Voorman and future Yes drummer Alan White on "Instant Karma!". Lennon claims he "wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch, and we're putting it out for dinner."
1001Songs asked Alan about those memorable "fall down the stairs" drum fills. Alan explained he was playing a lot of prog rock at the time and experimenting with time signatures.
I was going through a phase in my life when I thought "Wouldn't it be interesting if a drummer is playing a certain groove and when you get to a drum fill you take it out of that meter into another meter and then come back into the song again?"
So that was what that was all about. And when I first tried it in the studio John said "What was that?" and I said "I had this idea to take it out--"
He said "It was fantastic!" He said "Whatever you're doing, just keep doing it!"
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Best known as the drummer of Yes for more than 30 years, Alan White has also played on some of the greatest recordings in rock history. 1001Songs asked Alan to talk about six of those recordings, beginning with the concert that helped John Lennon decide he didn't need The Beatles anymore.
Alan was only twenty years old when he heard John and Yoko had seen one of his London gigs with his band, Blue Chips.
I got a call the next day saying "I saw you playing last night."
He said "You're really good".
He said "I got a gig for you.Do you want to come and jump into it 'cuz we wont have any time for rehearsals?"
I thought it was a friend of mine just making a joke on me so I put the phone down. I got a call about ten minutes later. He said "No! It's really me." And at that time I almost fell off my chair.
The next day Alan walked into a room and met John and Yoko and bass player Klaus Voorman ( from Manfred Mann. He also designed The Beatles Revolver album)
John said "I forgot to tell you. Eric Clapton's playing guitar and I went (surprised facial expression) "Oh really?"
That day they boarded the plane from London to Toronto.
We went to the back of the plane. There was nobody on the plane
at the back. So two acoustic guitars ( Eric and John). He gave me a set of drumsticks and I played on the back of the seat in front of me and that was the rehearsal for the show.
They landed and got to the Toronto gig with just 45 minutes to spare.
I didn't get any nerves at all about any of that. And I was flung right into this, and it's called "Rising to the Occasion". You just deal with it.
The only thing that perturbed me a little bit is when we got there, Little Richard was on stage, which was incredible, and Gene Vincent was walking around backstage.
The stage crew helped build a drum set for Alan.
John went 1-2-3-4 and that was it.
The set contained a number of rock standards John and Eric knew. "Blue Suede Shoes", "Money" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy". Then Yoko began singing.
That's the other thing I found very strange because we were in the middle of a number and she got in a bag and laid on the floor at John's feet and was screaming into the microphone. I kept thinking it the feedback coming back from the speakers.
TOMORROW: "Instant Karma"
Monday, May 16, 2011
On May 17, 1971 Paul and Linda McCartney released Ram, recorded in New York City with session musicians including drummer Danny Seiwell who would later join Wings. It is brimming with great melodies as well as inspired playful filigree. Without embarrassment I admit it's my favorite of McCartney's solo recordings. I guess I like music that's "incredibly inconsequential" and "monumentally irrelevant" ( as Rolling Stone's Jon Landau reviewed it). "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" will always take me back to the first Summer I recall listening to the radio, on a small sandy spot by the Marina Green in San Francisco. I can even taste the pink popcorn sold at the gazebo there.
Many of the songs on Ram were apparently written on the couple's farm , in the heart of the country, on the Mull of Kintyre.
There are some who wonder exactly how much input Linda had on the album, but whether she was a sounding board, an editor or simply a muse I take Paul at his word that he had a songwriting partner. His feud with Lennon shows up in a line from "Too Many People" (...preaching practices) "That was about John and Yoko telling people what to do,"McCartney admitted." I thought, Bollocks to that.").You might notice the way a pair of Beatles are treating each other below. That's from the back cover.
Radio stations received a rare promotional LP with Ram called “Brung To Ewe By”. It included fifteen radio spot ads with Paul singing “Now Hear This Song Of Mine” to be used by the station as intros for the tracks.
They're silly pastiches not at all consequential.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
The smartest thing The Cars did was wait a few years after Fountains of Wayne's had a hit with "Stacey's Mom", skip past the sound of their debut and go straight to Candy-O style synth pop on their new album.
To celebrate, here's a Ric Ocasek tune from that era that became a Top 40 hit for former Stories lead singer Ian Lloyd. You can hear The Cars provided backing vocals.
It's called "Slip Away".
Here's The Cars demo version:
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Though best known for the sultry slow burner "Me and Mrs Jones" (#1 in 1972), Billy Paul could funk it up too. In 1976, he covered the recent Wings hit, "Let'Em In", replacing some of Paul McCartney's guests (Phil and Don Everly, Keith "Uncle Ernie" Moon, "Brother John" Lennon and some real life relatives) with civil rights activists and African American heroes (Louis Armstrong).
The song also includes inspirational passages from Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and Malcolm X's "The Ballot or The Bullet" speech ("But America is in a unique position. She's the only country in history in a position actually to become involved in a blood-less revolution"). Now "Let Em In" becomes almost as profound a statement for African Americans in the 70's as "Don't Fence Me In" was for interned Japanese Americans in the 40's.
Billy Paul's version hit #26 in the UK Charts. You only get half the song on the Top Of The Pops version above. And as a special bonus: some true down home Philly phunk from Billy Paul.
Because you now have "Let Em In", you should buy 360 Degrees of Billy Paul which contains "Me and Mrs Jones", "Am I Black Enough For You" and some sweet Philly soul like "Brown Baby" and his Carole King cover "It's Too Late".
Friday, May 13, 2011
At the :58 second point in the video something happens that apparently causes the photographer to suffer from a seizure. Rumoured bitter enemies for life David Gilmour and Roger Waters reunited on a London stage for "Comfortably Numb" the other night. ( That said, they did keep their distance at first. There is after all a Wall between them)
For only the second time since the band broke up in 1985, the three surviving members of Pink Floyd shared a stage. Have they forgotten the brew-ha-ha over who could go on tour as Pink Floyd? ( and who says "brew ha ha" anymore?)...or the nasty backstage battles?( "Dave [Gilmour] and Rick [Wright] were kind of insecure," Roger was once quoted as saying. " They'd always try to attack me, saying I sang out of tune or I couldn't really play")...or is this just a stunt timed to promote September's massive reissue of the Pink Floyd catalog on CD, DVD. Blu-Ray, SACD etc etc etc.
No matter. Here's Nick Mason sharing the cheers and applause after joining the pair for the final song of the night, "Outside The Wall" ( at the 3:45 moment)
Could it happen again? Apparently not. Waters broke the news on his blog:
"I should also remind you that tonight is most definitely a one-off. David is not repeating his special guest performance at a later occasion, I'm sorry to disappoint those of you with fingers crossed and tickets for later shows."
Oh, and the best Pink Floyd album? Meddle.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
This week, 40 years ago, Mick Jagger wed Bianca Pérez-Mora Macias at the town hall in the French Mediterranean town of St Tropez. About 100 cameramen and journalists packed the room to witness the event prompting Jagger to announce everyone must go because he did not wish to get married in a "goldfish bowl".
The police said the journalists had every right to be there. As thanks, some journalists came to blows with the police. Nevertheless, a somewhat civil civil ceremony ensued, followed by a religious ceremony and the new first couple of rock n roll made it official to songs from the soundtrack of Love Story.(Yes, that would have been the bride's request).
The marriage lasted eight years and produced one daughter, Jade.
Friday, May 6, 2011
Well endowed in both figure and voice, former folkie Dana Gillespie rocks out on this Donovan penned tune with the help of Jimmy Page. "You Just Got to Know My Mind" contains the entire blueprint of The Bangles sound, though it's from such a rare album (Foolish Seasons) they could probably honestly claim to never have heard it.
Looking at the photo below, you can probably guess how she inspired another Donovan tune "Superlungs (My Supergirl)"
Dana Gillespie played Mary Magdalene in the first London production of Jesus Christ Superstar. She can be heard singing back up vocals on David Bowie's "It Ain't Easy" ( from Ziggy Stardust)
and she starred in some fairly dated movies (The People That Time Forgot comes to mind).
Dana is now an accomplished blues singer. She says "I believe the blues should be sung by an older person because it's about emotions and experience. I couldn't do justice to it when I was younger because my voice didn't have the edge it needed to convey the emotion, nor did I
have the first hand experience to sing about blue themes convincingly."
She's convinced plenty of people, filling stadiums on a tour through India and winning all kinds of polls among British blues fans.
Monday, May 2, 2011
I'm starting this post with a little seen youtube clip of the Fleet Foxes going on a hike, as shot by Robin's brother Sean Pecknold and featuring sister Aja leading the clan through some 70's easy listening jams.
Now it's time to admit I didn't get any access to the very private Robin Pecknold, the band's lead singer.
But I do follow his twitter feed.
And with the excitement building for the official release of Happiness Blues, I had to do something.
So here are 5 songs Robin has tweeted about in the months leading to the release of Happiness Blues.
1. Sagittarius “My World Fell Down”
“One of the best 60’s psych pop records of all time” ~Robin
-This is a studio creation featuring Glen Campbell on lead vocals. The 1968 album Present Tense is adored by many music nerds.
2. The Zombies Butchers Tale (Western Front 1914)
"All of my favorite jams are that one chord progression EM7 to A.
Child is Father to The Man, Reptilia, Cabinessence..."~Robin
-This Zombies cut is from another classic, Odessey (sic) and Oracle. A must own album best known for "Time of the Season".
3. Carl Sagan “A Glorious Dawn” ft Stephen Hawking (Symphony of Science)
“ I think my most listened to song in the last year is that Sagan auto tune. That and ...
4.... Joanna Newsom “Does Not Suffice”.
Newsom’s “Have One On Me”..." is the last record I learned all the words to."~Robin
-Robin toured with the critically acclaimed harpist/songwriter last year. He covered her song "On a Good Day". All three songs come from 2010's Have One On Me.
5. Radiohead “Codex”
"Fuck this new stereo set up sounds so sick. Codex."~Robin
-Robin bought himself a new stereo for his new digs in Portland,OR. "Codex" comes from the latest Radiohead album.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
From one of the great mod groups of the Sixties, a little number to cheer you up. In 1967, before their concept album Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake, songwriters Steve Marriot and Ronnie Lane delivered 3 minute pop treasures like this one ( from the second of two albums titled Small Faces).
Marriot had one of the great rock n roll voices. Lane (in foreground below) is simply a personal hero of mine ( see his Slim Chance albums and his Pete Townsend collaboration Rough Mix)
After Odgens, Steve Marriot quit the band ( onstage no less) and went on to form Humble Pie.Rod Stewart replaced Marriot and the band become Faces. Drummer Kenney Jones would replace Keith Moon in The Who ( as if).
But that's years from the date Small Faces recorded this gem.
So chin up and remember:
Things are going to get better
Times change, better later than never