Thursday, July 31, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Jewels of July 1974

No longer available, innit ?

Another generous sampler from the funkiest and steamiest month of 1974. Included are a few tunes from albums we did not discuss. Phoebe Snow's debut, Jesse Winchester's Learn to Love It,  and Frank Sinatra's Some Nice Things I've Missed which features a diabolical cover of Jim Croce's "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" and the line "All the downtown ladies call him Tree Top Lover/ All the studs they call him Sir."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Death of Mama Cass

   On July 29, 1974, "Mama" Cass Elliot was found dead in Harry Nilsson's London flat. She was 32. 
As a member of the Mamas and the Papas, she sold 40 million albums and sang on such hits as
"California Dreamin'" , "Monday Monday" and "Creeque Alley". Cass was the first member of the group to release a solo album, 1968's Dream a Little Dream.

When the group broke up for good, Cass also tried to break away with her "Mama" image. RCA signed her and let her record as "Cass Elliot".
It was during a two week stand at the London Palladium, rewarded each night with standing ovations, that she and former manager Bobby Roberts walked by a photo of Judy Garland.
   "Cass said 'I know what it must have meant to that lady to be a hit here, because I know what it means to me.", remembered Roberts who also told Rolling Stone  "She was overweight, but she carried off like she was a beauty queen."

    The story of "Mama" Cass's death has taken on mythic proportions. It was widely reported , as Rolling Stone did, that she choked on a ham sandwich "while lying in bed and from inhaling her own vomit". Actually she died of heart failure probably caused by a condition known as "fatty myocardial degeneration" due to obesity.
   Four years later, in the very same flat, Keith Moon died of a drug overdose.

Monday, July 28, 2014

40 Year Itch: You Can Pee On Me!

  Standing On the Verge of Getting It On, released in July of 1974, captures Funkadelic at maximum sustained-funk. In many ways it is the ultimate Funkadelic album. Guitar phenom Eddie Hazel, who has barely been present for the last two albums, comes back strong here, co-writing all of the songs on the album with George Clinton. The epic closer, "Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts" will remind listeners of Hazel's "Maggot Brain" workouts.

Hazel and George Clinton have also enlisted some other outstanding musicians including future Talking Heads mainstay Bernie Worrell on keyboards and the "World's Only Black Leprechaun" , Cordell "Boogie' Mosson shines on bass. 

By this point, Funkadelic had become one of the ultimate concert acts: Clinton might be seen jumping out of a coffin and conducting the audience through catch phrases.There was always someone running around in a diaper and someone else simulating sex acts.

  Just married, in an onstage ceremony to Kathy Silva at sold-out Madison Square Garden, Sly Stone released Small Talk, his seventh and final album with the Family, in July of 1974. It was met with mostly negative reviews like this one from Rolling Stone's Vince Aletti:

I'd call Small Talk disappointing but that would assume I had some expectations left for Sly and the Family Stone.

Those reviews pretty much doomed Small Talk until recent years, when music fans couldn't believe the album following the critically reappraised Fresh had nothing on it worth hearing.

To these ears, the best tunes are the ones that could have been on Fresh. I like the horns on "Holdin' On" and the muted funkiness of "Can't Strain My Brain". That doesn't say a lot for Sly's originality. But maybe with a newborn crying all the time ( like on the wretched first cut), Sly really couldn't strain his brain.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

40 Year Itch: The Boy is Strange!

On July 26, 1974 The Rolling Stones released the single "It's Only Rock 'n'Roll (But I Like It)" which featured the immortal lyrics : 

If I could stick my pen in my heart, 
And spill it all over the stage; 
Would it satisfy ya, 
would it slide on by ya, 
Would you think the boy is strange? 
Ain't he strange?  

  While songwriting credits for the song are credited to Mick and Keef, the song was actually written by Mick and future Stone Ron Wood at Woody's home one night in '73. They recorded a demo with Bowie singing back up.

  What does the song --and all of its suicidal imagery--mean? Jagger says:

"The idea of the song has to do with our public persona at the time. I was getting a bit tired of people having a go, all that, 'oh, it's not as good as their last one' business. The single sleeve had a picture of me with a pen digging into me as if it were a sword. It was a lighthearted, anti-journalistic sort of thing."

The song peaked at #10 in the UK and #16 in the US and raised expectations that the next Stones album, due in October, would be better than Goats Head Soup. Spoiler alert: It's not.

Friday, July 25, 2014

40 Year Itch : Can I Sit Next To You, Girl

    Out of the gates, AC/DC came across as a down under Glam rock band with a preening lead vocalist who liked to wear scarves. Like Elvis.  Dave Evans stuck around for one single, "Can I Sit Next To You, Girl" and one promotional video. On October 24, 1974, 28-year old Bon Scott, despite still recovering from a motorcycle accident,  replaced Evans. In 1975, AC/DC re-recorded the song ( a minute longer and without the comma). That version appears on the Australian only release of T.N.T and the international compilation High Voltage. By then AC/DC were on their way...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

40 Year Itch : Partly Fish, Partly Porpoise

    July of 1974 saw three major albums from artists who were, to use the Eyewitness News phrase, "lucky to be alive". Fulfillingess' First Finale was Stevie Wonder's first album since a car accident that put him into a coma. 461 Ocean Boulevard was Clapton's comeback album after years in which he had disappeared into his heroin addiction. And then there is Rock Bottom, released July 26, 1974, by Robert Wyatt 13 months after a fall left him paralysed from the waist down. Of the three, my feeling is Rock Bottom offers patient listeners the most rewards.

   The opening cut, "Sea Song", a love song straight-forward enough to be covered by Tears For Fears, reveals Wyatt's beautiful sense of melody.  Even more interesting than the lyrics to his future wife, the album cover's artist Alfreda Benge (When you're drunk you're terrific/ When you're drunk I like you mostly late at night/ You're quite alright But I can't understand the different you in the morning) is the way Wyatt uses his voice as another layer of instruments. He's non-verbal and yet says so much. There's not a note of self-pity to be found ( despite the album title).

   Rock Bottom works on a subconscious level too. The rhythmic panting of "Alifib" reminds me of a final night, bedside next to a dying loved one. I don't believe that's Wyatt's intention. Most of the letters that make up ALIFIB can be found in his future wife's name ( they got married on the day of Rock Bottom's release).
  I suppose my point is Rock Bottom is an album that may take you places other music never has.

   I'm not sure I want to dig deep enough to learn the artists's intentions. You won't find another word about Rock Bottom's history here. Just a piece of advice :  let this album work its magic.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

40 Year Itch: Brighter Days Ahead

        For Stevie Wonder, the 1973 car accident that nearly killed him ended Chapter One of his life. Fulfillingess' First Finale, released July 22, 1974, wraps up the story so far. The album cover features images of Little Stevie, JFK, MLK, The Motortown Review bus, his high school graduation and multiple Grammy Awards. Musically, this mostly somber, personal album retains the synth masters of TONTO's Expanding Head Band ,producers Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil, so there is a consistency in sound with his other early 70's classic albums. It is said that the accident made Wonder more spiritual and more personally aware.

     Considering all the work he had done for other artists this year ( producing and writing much of Syreeta's album, producing Minnie Riperton's Perfect Angel, giving Rufus "Tell Me Something Good" and Aretha "Until You Come Back To Me"), it's remarkable to think Wonder had enough songs for a double album.

        The first single is  the funky, political jibe-packed anti-Nixon "You Haven't Done Nothin'" which would hit #1 the month of Nixon's resignation. At the time Stevie said:

   I don't vote for anybody until after they have really done something that I know about. I want to see them do something first.

   The Doo Doo Wop refrain is sung with the Jackson 5.

  It's interesting to note how often Stevie Wonder talks about and sings about "seeing". The opening lines of the lusty second single, "Boogie on Reggae Woman" are

         I'd like to see both of us
         Fall deeply in love - yeah
         I'd like to see you in the raw
         Under the stars above

  Among my favorite deep cuts is "It Ain't No Use". As on most  cuts, Wonder is playing everything: keyboards, Moog-made bass and drums. He only needs some sweetening on the back up vocals provided courtesy of Minnie Riperton, Deniece Williams and Lani Groves. This could fit on that magical Side Two of Songs in the Key of Life.
    Fulfillingess' First Finale topped the Pop Album charts in the US for two weeks and won three Grammys including Album of the Year.

       That same day Motown released Machine Gun, the debut  album from The Commodores. Perhaps unconvinced  the band would ever record a ballad good enough to be a hit single, Berry Gordy asked for an album full of nothing but funk. The title cut may have been composed off a blueprint of Billy Preston's recent hits ( Outa-Space, Space Race) but the song put The Commodores on the hit making track, peaking at #7 on the R and B charts and #22 on the pop charts.

The second single, "I Feel Sanctified", was popular with fans of the Bump Dance craze.

By the way, the Commodores did have some success with ballads. Future Top 10 hits include "Just To Be Close To You", "Easy" and "Three Times a Lady".

Monday, July 21, 2014

40 Year Itch: Back on the Stompin' Ground

Rory Gallagher : Walk on Hot Coals

God bless any rock and roll act that followed Rory Gallagher and his band's blistering tour of his troubled homeland. On the double-live album Irish Tour, released on July 21, 1974,  Rory, long-haired drummer Rod de'Ath, shaggy bassist Gerry McAvoy and keyboardist Lou Marin sound united by ESP or at least a mission to give the Irish a 70-minute break from the Troubles. 
   A day before the Belfast show, one of three recorded for this album, ten bombs went off throughout the city. People thought Rory would cancel. Instead, as journalist Roy Hollingworth reported, he gave them the show of his life:

 "I've never seen anything quite so wonderful, so stirring, so uplifting, so joyous as when Gallagher and the band walked on stage. The whole place erupted, they all stood and they cheered and they yelled, and screamed, and they put their arms up, and they embraced. Then as one unit they put their arms into the air and gave peace signs. Without being silly, or overemotional, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. It all meant something, it meant more than just rock n' roll, it was something bigger, something more valid than just that."

  The tour was captured on film by Tony Palmer ( who also documented tours by Zappa, Ginger Baker and Leonard Cohen). Let's forgive him for not addressing the troubles because watching it, you'll see Rory Gallagher for who he is : just a decent, gentle soul . A flip gets switched when Rory gets on stage. And he becomes one of the most dynamic entertainers you'll ever see.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Bucolic Frolic


   On July 20, 1974,  Van Morrison, The Allman Brothers, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Tim Buckley, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and The Doobie Brothers all appeared at Knebworth Park, Stevenage, England. A special PA system was used for the event, claiming to be the best ever for an outside show, weighing 12 tons and needing five technicians. 60,000 people attended the show. For years to follow, Knebworth would hold the title "The Stately Home of Rock" as the biggest bands in the world performed there including Pink Floyd (1975), Led Zeppelin (1979) and Queen ( 1986). For eyewitness accounts and more , visit here

Saturday, July 19, 2014

40 Year Itch: No Hassles Guaranteed

The Ozark Music Festival can only be described as a disaster. It became a haven for drug pushers who were attracted from throughout the United States. The scene made the degradation of Sodom and Gomorrah appear mild. Natural and unnatural sex acts became a spectator sport. Frequently, nude women promoted drugs with advertisements on their bodies
   -Missouri Senate Committee Report

   An "ocean of youth" showed up at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia for a weekend of rock concerts that began on July 19, 1974.

   Concert organizers promised "no hassles guaranteed" in a full page ad in Rolling Stone. They were expecting 50-60,000 people to show up. Instead at least three times that number overran the fest.  Traffic backed up 17 miles. 

A farmer reported 30 pigs stolen by the ravenous crowd. 

   They came to see bands like The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Aerosmith who played as temperatures hit triple digits with high humidity. Clothing was optional as photographer David Mann documented.

When it was all over, one concertgoer was dead, 1000 overdoses and $100,00 in property damage. But there was a baby born. His name: Wolfman Johnson.

Following State Senate hearings and Grand Jury probes, it was pretty much decided there would be no more rock concerts in the Ozarks. I hope that helps explain why Branson is such a cheeseball country music town. Cuz I got nothing else.

Friday, July 18, 2014

40 Year Itch: Night of the Butterflies

On July 18, Zoo World: The Music Magazine related the story of how Peggy Lee wound up recording a song written by Paul McCartney.

Los Angeles – What do you do when Peggy Lee asks you to dinner? Well, if you’re Paul McCartney, you just don’t buy a bottle of rare champagne to show your appreciation. You sit at your piano and compose her a song. That’s what Paul did when the McCartneys were to meet Miss Lee in London earlier this year. And that’s why he and a most flattered Peggy – one of the greatest pop vocalists of the era, whose name is certainly known to as many people as the Beatles – were at the Record Plant studios one day the first week in June: McCartney was producing his song, "Let’s Love," for the title track to what must be Peggy Lee’s fortieth album.

  After a hard day’s work, Paul, unmustachioed and dressed sharply in a black satin shirt and washed-out blue jeans, and Peg, looking trim in a tan suede suit (having recently taken off some weight) and youthful, though at 54 years of age she could be Paul’s mother, held a mini press conference/photo session around Studio C’s grand piano. In high spirits, they casually sang a couple of songs together, elaborated on their surprising collaboration and then took the small mob into the control room to hear the finished track.

  "Well, of course," said Peggy to Paul, "I was a fan of yours before you knew about me."

  "No, that’s not right," answered McCartney. "No. I was a fan of yours before you knew about me, Peggy."

 "Yeah, I used to have records of Peggy. I did ‘Til There Was You’ because I had Peggy’s record of it [see Latin a la Lee]… So I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time, you know. And she came to London and she invited us for dinner over at her hotel. So I thought ‘I’m going along to dinner. Well, I’m either gonna take a bottle of champagne or a song…’"

  "I’d rather have a song anytime," added Peggy. "I can always get some champagne, but it would be very difficult to get a Paul McCartney song – written especially for me."

   "So I took a song along and Peggy said, ‘Great. Let’s do it.’ So we got a hold of Dave Grusin (who with Peggy is producing the rest of the album). And really that’s all there is to it." The logistics were no problem.  

"I was delighted, naturally," said Peggy. "And Linda didn’t mind."

  "Let’s Love," recorded with Paul on piano, is a simple romantic tune with characteristic McCartney production. From the lone piano introduction, strings and woodwinds enter in stages as Peggy sings in her rich, becalming tones: "Lover, let’s be in love with each other / Tonight is the night of the butterflies / Let’s love…"

  When the new album (her first on the Atlantic label) – and "Let’s Love" in particular – are released sometime in August Peggy Lee may very well have another hit in the Hot 100 charts. "I hope so," she said, speaking in her lavish – but not opulent – Beverly Hills home. "I am so thrilled about the whole thing. The material is strong and I love the one Paul wrote. And to think that he would go to all that trouble. He said it was his way of returning an inspiration… You know I met him and Linda in London an it was instant friendship. And somehow I feel that with all the great things Paul has done, his talent is just growing and growing."

Despite its lazy lyrics, the single did hit the mid 20's in the Easy Listening charts the Thanksgiving week Neil Sedaka's "Laughter in the Rain" held the the top spot.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

40 Year Itch: The Slow Boogie Roll

No album from 1974 means more to me than Rejuvination. All nine songs take me right back to my years as a college student in New Orleans. The chicken scratch guitar lines, the funky drumming, the bass runs and keyboard padding are the sounds that inspire other senses. Listening to the album I'm reminded that spending humid Summer days in the city is as close as you may ever come to learning what it's like to breathe underwater. At night you feel like you're walking through spider webs. The sight of cockroaches darting for the shadows of your shoes.

By the Summer of 74 The Meters were due. Guitarist Leo Nocentelli sums up why in the Sunburst reissue of the CD's liner notes ( written by Bunny Matthews):

We were the in-house rhythm section for Allen Toussaint when he was hot. We got the opportunity to perform behind Robert Palmer ( Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley), Patti LaBelle ( Lady Marmalade) and Dr John ( In the Right Place) . 

The Meters with Cyril Neville: Leo Nocentelli, Cyril, Ziggy Modeliste, Art Neville, George Porter

We did some things with Lowell George . Actually, I'm proud to tell people this bit of trivia because I don't think it was even mention of the Rejuvination album cover: Lowell came with Robert Palmer to do "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley" and "Hey Julia" --he brought in Lowell to play slide. We did that session and Lowell had a couple of songs from Little Feat that he wanted to record so he made a trade with me. He recorded on two of The Meters' songs ( "Just Kissed My Baby" was one of them) in exchange for The Meters recording on two of his songs for Little Feat.

Out of the gates, Rejuvination was hailed as a "Crescent City masterpiece" by Rolling Stone. The first RS Record Guide would give the album 5 stars. ( The most recent deducts half a star and wrongly suggests you go with the anthology Funkify Your Life first). The album didn't sell in the numbers dreamed up by the Meters and Reprise/Josie. In fact it never even made the R and B album charts. But down in New Orleans Rejuvination remains the must-own album of all time.

    That Rejuvination went out of print for decades is unfathomable. I taped my copy from a crackling WTUL record. In the mid-90's, I ran into George Porter who confessed he lost his last copy. 

   Big Chief Bo Dollis and the Mardi Gras indians who make up The Wild Magnolias also released an album of New Orleans music in the Summer of 74. Willie Tee and guitarist Snooks Eaglin provide support on what is otherwise a lot of street chanting and percussion.

 Their 1975 follow-up album ( They Call Us Wild originally released only in Europe) and the 1976 Wild Tchoupitoulas album ( produced by Allen Toussaint with The Meters) are better examples of what can happen when Mardi Gras indians get the right back up. Even so, seeing them live is the best way to experience the scene.
  How much do I like the Wild Tchoupitoulas album? I didn't have to look up how to spell "Tchoupitoulas".

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

40 Year Itch : Pissin' in the Wind

  Weeks into the big Crosby Stills Nash and Young reunion tour, Neil Young released On The Beach, an album he described as "probably one of the most depressing records I've ever made". Early reviewers seemed to agree. The album failed to make the Pazz and Jop Critics Poll that year. When the record industry entered the CD age, On the Beach was one of the few albums Neil Young didn't bother to release to disc. Until 2003.

     "It was only a reflection of what I was going through at the time." Young shrugged when he was asked why the album hadn't come out.

      It was something America was going through at the time. The hippie dream was over. It ended in a series of massacres conducted by Charlie Manson and his followers. It ended in the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. The drug overdoses of young artists and musicians. In the uptick of the divorce rate. The disillusionment of rock stardom and despair over various political crises from the Oil embargoes to Watergate.
      And Neil was closer to a lot of that shit than most of us. 
      He'd met Manson at Dennis Wilson's house.

    And , though he didn't it know at the time he wrote "Motion Pictures ( "I'm deep inside myself,/but I'll get out somehow/And I'll stand before you/and I'll bring a smile to your eyes") he and wife Carrie Snodgrass weren't going to save their marriage. He was a man standing alone on a Malibu beach.

    "Vampire Blues" takes on the oil industry "suckin' blood from the earth".
      "For the Turnstiles" is about moving merchandise and "Singing songs for pimps with tailors/who charge ten dollars at the door".

   But the highlight, for me at least, is "Revolution Blues", the darkest song to come out of LA since Jim Morrison got fat and moved to France. Though Manson and his family are not mentioned by name, the lyrics could have come from a letter left on his doorstep by homicidal hippies camping on his lawn.

I see bloody fountains, 
And ten million dune buggies comin' down the mountains.
 Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars, 
But I hate them worse than lepers
 and I'll kill them in their cars.

No doubt that Young had met his shared of confused, unwashed people who discovered secret personal messages in his lyrics. It reminds me of John Lennon's meeting with a starry eyed hippie in England:
     "So we met. I'm just a guy. I write songs".
  Maybe it's no coincidence, an NME editor compared On the Beach to Lennon's primal scream therapy era. On the Beach is certainly on of the first 5 Neil Young albums you should own.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

40 Year Itch : Coast to Coast

  Of all the bands to emerge from England's pub rock scene, Ducks Deluxe was thought to have the best chance to breakthrough in the US. Something neither Brinsley Schwarz nor Bees Make Honey could do. Despite decent reviews, comparing them favorably to Dave Edmonds,  Ducks Deluxe is now best known for what its members did after the band broke up. Singer/guitarist Nick Garvey and keyboardist Andy McMaster formed The Motors. Sean Tyla formed The Tyla Gang while guitarist Martin Belmont formed The Rumour, with Brinsley Schwarz and Bob Andrews, and backed Graham Parker. But take a listen to the debut album, and you'll hear the link between 70's rock and New Wave/Punk.

Monday, July 14, 2014

40 Year Itch: Feeling the Fire

   On July 14, 1974 Ron Wood and his famous friends gave fans at London's Kilburn Gaumont State Theatre a preview of his upcoming all-star affair, I've Got My Own Album to Do. The show was recorded, filmed and released in 2007 by the name The First Barbarians. Woody has Keith Richards by his side throughout the night and his old Faces mate Rod Stewart shows up to help sing "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody". In a snarky comment around this time, George Harrison said First Barbarian Willie Weeks is the best bass player he knew ( Take that, Paul!) Andy Newmark plays drums. Ian McLagen is on keyboards.

        The album, released in September, is loose and sounds like it must have been fun to record. Among the stars who showed up for the sessions: Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, George Harrison ( who gave Wood "Far East Woman"), Keith Richards and, reportedly, David Bowie. The A side of I've Got My Own Album To Do is one of the very best of 1974. The B side is okay. Wood --who helped pen "It's Only Rock'n'Roll" with Jagger--would soon join the Rolling Stones.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

40 Year Itch: Spirit in the Tables

I think I was more in a morass mentally than Yoko was. If you listen to Walls And Bridges you hear somebody that is depressed. You can say, ‘Well, it was because of years of fighting deportation and this problem and that problem,’ but whatever it was, it sounds depressing. The guy knows how to make tables, but there’s no spirit in the tables. I’m not knocking the record. But I’m saying it showed where I was. It’s a reflection of the time.
-John Lennon

    On July 13-14, 1974, at the tail end of his self-described "Lost Weekend" and after producing Nilsson's Pussy Cats,   John Lennon and his band entered New York City's Record Plant to go over new tunes--most of which would appear on Walls And Bridges. Lennon was not only rehearsing the songs but he banned alcohol and drugs from the studio. This Beatle was all business. Guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, bass player Klaus Voorman and drummer Jim Keltner would eventually be augmented by other musicians ( among them Nicky Hopkins on piano and vocals from both Harry Nilsson and Elton John) as well as heavy production that --to the ears--weighed down the final product. Lennon had a great voice. He was one of the few who never appreciated that fact. The only song recorded that day to not appear on Walls And Bridges is "Move Over Ms. L" which was pulled from the album at the last minute. In 1975, another version became a B side to "Stand By Me".

Friday, July 11, 2014

40 Year Itch : Strength To Carry On

   I'll state it right out front: 461 Ocean Boulevard is not a great album. But it is immensely better than anything Clapton had given us in the three years leading up its release in July of 1974. In those three years, we heard nothing but silence from Clapton. Well, we heard rumors that he had become a heroin addict. But outside of the Bangladesh tribute and Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert in 1973, an unimpressive affair that probably saved our hero's life, we were all left wondering: what happened to "God"? In a 1974 Rolling Stone interview Clapton admitted he was trying to live the life of a secret junkie.

Also, when you're on H the last thing you want is to be bothered by people. A telephone ringing or a doorbell drives you up the wall.

   By the time that interview ran, a healthy looking Clapton was on a 23 date US tour to promote an album that would shoot up the charts to #1. His cover of Bob Marley and The Wailers' "I Shot the Sheriff" would also hit #1. What made the difference? Well, Clapton did spend some time working on a farm in Wales. But my guess is Layla probably had something to do with his renewed interest in life. After years of being in love with Pattie Boyd, she finally left George Harrison for him in 1974.

    In any case Clapton wanted to get back to work. He didn't have any songs but he wanted to make an album. His manager Robert Stigwood suggested Miami.There, in a studio surrounded by Tulsa musicians and Hellmann's Mayonaise scion Yvonne Elliman, Clapton jammed and jammed until he came up with most of the songs on the album. 


To hear these songs in their best light, you need Give Me Strength, The '74/'75 Recordings box set. Not only do you get the original 461 Ocean Boulevard cuts remixed and remastered, you also get seven cuts of Clapton and the band "getting acquainted". I prefer hearing the band knocking out these instrumental jams to what the songs eventually became: three minute numbers like "Motherless Children", "I Can't Hold Out" and "Steady Rollin' Man". 

   At the end of the day you've got an album with seven covers sung by a man who wasn't yet confident about his voice. ( But , hell, he must have been thinking, if J J Cale can sing on his records why can't I?) Rolling Stone critic Ken Emerson said the album " suffers from timidity" and..."is easier to appreciate than it is to enjoy". 

    No 461 Ocean Boulevard isn't a great album...but it IS great seeing Clapton standing in the sunshine on the album cover and hearing songs that proved he was very much still alive.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

40 Year Itch : Rocking His Gypsy Soul

    On July 10, 1974, a week after the Montreaux performance in which he played mostly songs unfamiliar to the audience, Van Morrison appeared on the German version of Rock Concert, Musikladen. He played "Warm Love" ( from Hard Nose the Highway) and "Into the Mystic" ( from Moondance) as well as a few of the tunes he played in Switzerland. When the upcoming Veedon Fleece met with a collective shrug from fans, Van would take a three year hiatus from recording.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

40 Year Itch : CSNY Begins Doom Tour in Seattle

“It was insane.We were completely high every moment. Cocaine, marijuana – oh, and sleeping pills, too, because you have to come down."
       Graham Nash

     On July 9, 1974, in Seattle, Crosby Stills Nash and Young began a notorious  two month 31-concert, 24 city stadium tour that has just been documented in a new box set called CSNY 1974. ( You can stream four tracks here. )

  Rehearsals lasted for three weeks at Neil Young's Broken Arrow ranch in La Honda. Stills told Crawdaddy's Cameron Crowe:

“Neil built a beautiful stage right across the road from his studio. We get out there in the sun and play for about four or five hours a day. We haven’t done the old tunes in years, man, it’s almost like playing them for the first time. Everybody’s a better musician. And there’s plenty of new songs too. We’ve all been writing a lot, especially Neil. It’s been tons of fun and no hassles. 
The concerts were epic affairs, especially the first one which began at 9 and ended well after one in the morning and consisting of up to 40 songs ranging from the expected "Ohio" and "Our House" to solo cuts like Neil Young's "Revolution Blues" and Stills' "Change Partners".

      There are also rare cuts on the new box set like "Goodbye Dick", performed five days after Nixon 's resignation. 

  It had been four years since all four had worked together ( which led to the Four Way Street recording) But the promise of a big pay day and the success of the Dylan and Band tour had helped convince the guys to get together. Young--barely recognizable after getting a haircut-- had released a few commercial clunkers (Journey Through the Past and Time Fades Away) and agreed to the tour as long as he had his own bus.

The Seattle concert opened with a six minute version of "Love the One You're With" and ran for three and a half hours.

After Seattle, we realized we could hold on to tens of thousands of fans through a diversity of electric and acoustic sets.
-Graham Nash to Wall Street Journal

The rest of the set list looked like this:
wooden ships
immigration man
cowgirl in the sand
change partners
grave concern
black queen
almost cut my hair
suite: Judy blue eyes
helplessly hoping

human highway
prison song
as I come of age
carry me
for free
southbound train
another sleep song
our house
4 and 20
know you got to run
word game
love art blues
long may you run
a man needs a maid
don't be denied
first things first
deja vu
my angel
pre road downs
my favorite changes
long time gone
revolution blues
pushed it over the end
carry on
what are their names/Chicago

Of the camaraderie Crowe wrote:

The hostility between Stills and Young that at one time often stopped just short of onstage fisticuffs no longer hangs threateningly in the air. The same lessening of tensions since the last tour has infused the backstage atmosphere with a good deal of genuine warmth, back-slapping, hugging and verbal repartee.

It was David Crosby that called it "The Doom Tour". Why? You can read this Rolling Stone article for stories of drugs, groupies and inter-band squabbling. The tour was supposed to end in a recording session for a new album tentatively titled Human Highway ( the title cut, "Tonight's The Night" and "New Mama" were all going to Neil's contributions to the album). Obviously that never happened.

For a single soundbite try road manger Chris O'Dell's memory might explain why:

"One time they spilled cocaine on the carpet. They just got down on the floor and sniffed it off the carpet. I just went, 'Oh my God, this is so weird.' I'd never seen anything like it. They probably don't remember that." 

Monday, July 7, 2014

40 Year Itch: That Latin Thing

If Latin music was ever going to crack the mainstream, 1974 was the year it would happen. And Fania, the most important label in New York, was probably going to release it. That fact it never happened is our loss. We settled for whitewashed disco from the likes of KC and the Sunshine Band and the Miami-based Bee Gees instead.

     Among the albums we--as a Nation-- missed out on are Fania All Stars's Latin-Soul-Rock, released a year after 45-thousand fans packed Yankee Stadium. The album features some of the tunes played that night including the precursor to a myriad of 70's disco tunes : "Smoke".

   Fania co-founder Johnny Pacheco provides the grooves for  the legendary "La Guarachera de Cuba" Celia Cruz for a straightforward set featuring the brassy Afro-rumba hit, "Quimbara". This is where your Celia Cruz infatuation should start.

     A tribute to the hard driving tipica sounds of 1950's Cuba, Larry Harlow's Salsa was a big hit on Latin dance floors thanks to high energy horn charts played by some of Fania's best musicians. Harlow studied old 78's to get the 'authentico' sound.  "No Quiero" is sung by Junior Gonzalez. who gave Harlow the nickname "The Jewish Marvel". Harlow--no longer an outsider on the Salsa scene-- would soon put a kid he met in the mailroom a chance to sing with his band. The kid's name is Rueben Blades.


      Recorded at Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios, The Sun of Latin Music fuses Latin dance music with acid rock. The standout cut is the 14 minute "Un Dia Bonito" which begins with a dramatic 5 minute free-jazz piano solo, transitions into a horror film soundtrack, and then launches into a swinging dance number featuring a 16 year old vocalist named Lalo Rodriguez . The Sun of Latin Music is the first salsa album to win a Grammy.

   From Puerto Rico, timbale master Rafael Cortijo along with some young musicians from the University of Puerto Rico play traditional bomba and plena rhythms in support of experimental jazz fusion . According to 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die author Tom Moon, "the result is one of the most imaginative cross-genre eruptions in Latin music history".