Saturday, June 25, 2011

#34 Nick Lowe "I Love My Label" 1977

The lead off track to the 1977 Stiff Records compilation A Bunch of Stiff Records, Nick Lowe's " I Love My Label" is getting a lot of  attention more than 30 years later because Wilco has chosen to cover the song as the B side to their new single "I Might".

   Among the lines in the song:

 They always ask for lots of songs/Of no more than 2:50 long/So I wrote 'em some
They never talk behind my back/And they're always playing my new tracks/When I come along

  It's probably safe to assume the lyrics shouldn't be taken at face value. On the other hand, Lowe helped establish Stiff Records ( and the careers of The Damned, Wreckless Eric and Elvis Costello) . On the other other hand he left Stiff the first chance he got. On the other other other hand, he never found great success as a recording star. But on the fifth other hand, after Curtis Stigers recorded his Brinsley Schwarz era tune "What' So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding" Lowe may have fallen in love with business all over again.

  He made a remarkable trip to the mailbox, opened a letter, read the numbers on a check and discovered he was a millionaire. The Stigers version appears on the soundtrack to The Bodyguard which sold between 15 and 17 million copies.

  Of course Wilco has had its share of label problems. In 2001 Reprise rejected Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The album would go on to win the Village Voice Pazz and Jop critics poll for best album of 2002. They seemed to have a decent relationship with Nonsuch since then, but this year Wilco will release an album on their own label: DBpm Records.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Interview with Lee Oskar of War

Lee Oskar, a founding member of the 70's pop-funk-jam band War, grew up in Denmark where he was given his first harmonica on his sixth birthday.

I remember the first time I breathed on it it would literally play me.
It would sound just like a symphony
I got hooked and that's where it all started

At 17, virtually pennyless, Lee moved to the US where his virtuosity on the harmonica and his easy-going nature eventually led to his friendship with Eric Burdon. Burdon had recently left The Animals and wanted to find a new band.

They drove around LA until they found a funk band in a dive bar. Together they would all form War. A strange name in the age of peace signs and flower power.

Everybody walks around saying "Peace!" and I always said "Peace? Nobody is at peace within themselves. The war within ourselves is what makes us be creative" and somebody pulled that out of my conversation and said "Hey let's call it WAR!" and that's how I remember it coming about.

From the very beginning War discovered the songs that worked best were the ones that came out of long improvisational jams. That suited Burdon just fine.

We would get on stage and we would basically improvise.
Eric might even set up a scenario "Ok guys, we're gonna go on a rocket ship and we're gonna fly to the moon and you're gonna be the captain"

In 1970, One of those jams landed at #3 on the U-S pop charts. It was called "Spill the Wine" and its chorus is one of those classics nobody knows the real words to.

You spill the wine and you take the pearl.
Not girl.
Pearl. --which was acid back in those days so he was talking about spill the wine.Take the pearl.

After Burdon left, the band played on. War scored more Top Ten hits. Among them, "Why Can't We Be Friends?", "Low Rider",The Cisco Kid, and "Slippin' Into Darkness". All of them emerging from jam sessions.

We were never successful when we tried to tell anybody what to play.
There would be an argument or fight or something.

The music stayed fresh even as the question the press asked Lee grew stale.He couldn't avoid being asked what was it like being the only white guy in a band of brothers.

I didn't have a hang up about stuff that I noticed a lot of people had
I remember one time somebody yelled "Hey Brother!" like that and then comes up close to look at me and asks "Are you a brother?"
So there were all these clich├ęs between white and black and all that and I hated that frankly.I thought it was pretty arrogant or whatever.

That wasn't his only frustration.
Lee had trouble finding good harmonicas.

I would literally take every dime I had and buy every harmonica.
Hopefully I would find one out of ten that was good or something.
That was my passion: to be surrounded by my tools.

So Lee teamed up with a Japanese company to make Lee Oskar harmonicas.
How good are they?
Bluesman Junior Wells was buried with a tray of Oskar harmonicas.
Magic Dick of J Geils Band says "I just think, as a musical tool, they're a great musical tool so I can't think of a better endorsement to give them than that."

To listen to Lee play today is quite astonishing if you've never heard a harmonica played as a jazz instrument. He has, in his lifetime, expanded the possibilities of what conventional harmonicas can do.

But Lee isn't all business. He's always looking for a chance to play. Especially with other War veterans, who for legal reasons have to call themselves The Low Rider Band.

The integrity of the music and the jam band that we've always been
That's still there
That's the real deal
That's what The Low Rider Band is.
Nothing homogenized.

Lee can even be found jamming around Seattle these days.
That six year old who got a magical harmonica for his birthday still needs to find a play.

I get grouchy if I don't eat.
I get grouchy if I don't play music.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

#33 The Jam "Tales From The Riverbank" [Fan Club Version] 1981

In the year between Sound Affects (1980) and The Gift (1982), The Jam teased its legion of fans with singles and b-sides that revealed a band exploring new sounds.
"Funeral Pyre" had the power to rock stadiums. "Absolute Beginners" sounded like brassy R&B celebration unless you listened closely to the lyrics: Come see the tyrants panic see their crumbling empires fall/
Then tell 'em we don't fight for fools, 'cos love is in our hearts!

I'm assuming anyone who has stumbled on this site has at least a greatest hits album by The Jam. ( They put out a new one every six months). So Song #33 is the fan club version of the B-Side to "Absolute Beginners".( Yes, 1001Songs can get nerdy about its Jam).
"Tales From the Riverbank" is a nostalgic look back at more innocent times, accompanied by a menacing bass line. Rather than fade in as the original B side does, this funkier version kicks off with drums and features horns. It's much closer to the live version above and was only made available in 2002 on CD 5 of the box set Direction Reaction Creation.

Exciting news. I've contributed my second guest post to the popular music blog,  Star Maker Machine

Friday, June 17, 2011

#32 Flamin' Groovies Yesterday's Numbers 1971

In 1971, The Rolling Stones hit the UK Charts with three great Stonesy hits "Brown Sugar", "Wild Horses" and a re-issue of "Street Fighting Man".
The album Sticky Fingers featured more great riffs in "Bitch" and the epic "Can't You Hear Me Knocking". And yet, it could be argued, the tune with the greatest Stonesy feel of 1971 didn't come from The Rolling Stones at all.
Rock critic Greg Shaw recalls the sessions for The third Flamin' Groovies album Teenage Head as a non stop party. Not one of the San Francisco-based Groovies ever truly mastered their instrument. Not one of them could sing. They were raw garage rockers who, in the right moment, were capable of recording classics like this, and years later, "Shake Some Action".

When Teenage Head failed to get them ahead, co founder/singer Roy Loney left the band. Guitarist Cyril Jordan moved the Groovies to England where Shake Some Action (1976) is said to have inspired the burgeoning punk movement. Listen for yourself:

By the way, "Yesterday's Numbers" closes with the line "All's well that end's well", the name of a Shakespeare play that heralded a string of great works. It was followed in order by Othello, Hamlet and Twelth Night.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Interview with Don Wilson of The Ventures

Before Kurt Cobain grinded out grunge...
Before Jimi Hendrix made his six stringer sing psychedelic...
the first guitar heroes of the Northwest were a pair of clean-cut brick layers from Tacoma.

"We're the band that launched a thousand garage bands," Don Wilson says.

In 1960, Don Wilson and Bob Bogle kick started the biggest selling instrumental group in music history with a home-made single called "Walk Don't Run".

Now more than 50 years and 110 million records sales later, The Ventures can claim a place in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The adventure of The Ventures began on Seattle construction sites when brick-layers Bob and Don decided rock and roll had more to offer.
They each bought a guitar in a Tacoma pawnshop.

DON: We would pick up the guitar and play ten hours a day just playing. Rehearsing.
" No that chord's wrong. That chord's wrong".

They met bass player Nokie Edwards.
From a Chet Atkins album called Hi-Fi In Focus, they discovered a track that would change their lives:
"Walk Don't Run".

He played it in a classical jazzy style and we couldn't play it like that. We weren't good enough. So we decided to make our own arrangement of it and simplify it and that's how that happened.

They saved $300 and recorded "Walk Don't Run", which they released in the Fall of 1960 on their own Blue Horizon label.
Nothing happened.
Until moths later... when legendary Seattle DJ Pat O'Day used "Walk Don't Run" as his news theme.
The requests came pouring in and the song took off, eventually reaching #2 on the US pop charts.

To cash in quickly, the label put out the debut album before The Ventures ever got a chance to pose for the cover.

Don: These are all stock boys. That's not even us.

Nokie moved over to lead guitar. Bob took over bass playing duties. In 1963 Mel Taylor, a part Russian/Part Cherokee drummer, joined the group.
He'd just played on the Bobby "Boris" Pickett hit "Monster Mash" and with Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass.

Don:He was one of the best drummers I've ever heard.

That's a commonly held opinion. Watch The E Street Band's Max Weinberg duel with Mel on "Wipeout".

The Ventures recorded concept albums long before any other rock act did.
The Colorful Ventures (1961) featured songs with colors in the title. The Ventures in Space (1964) had a sci fi theme.

Their first Christmas album (1965) ranks among the very best.
Here's"Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"" mp3
At the height of Beatlemania, The Ventures were met at the Tokyo airport by thousands of screaming fans.

You couldn't go anywhere. You had to stay in the hotel. There were big crowds outside the hotel.

Because they played mostly instrumentals, The Ventures had no language barriers to break. So the Tacoma boys reportedly outsold the Beatles in Japan two-to-one...even as they played Beatle covers like "I Feel Fine" mp3

In 1965 they recorded perhaps their most influential album: Play Guitar With the Ventures. The first of seven instructional albums.
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith says "I think I was ten when I learned "Tequila" off of that album and the booklet was so well laid out and so easy to learn I don't know why nobody ever did it again."

A 1969 hit cover of the "Hawaii Five-O" Theme would be the Ventures's last big hit in the U-S.

But even as their stars faded stateside, The Ventures sold 50 million albums in Japan where they toured relentlessly.

One year we did 106 concerts in 78 days without a day off and that will do you in.

Tragedy would strike on the 1996 Japanese tour.
Doctors found a malignant tumor in Mel Taylor's lungs and told him to go home.

He couldn't even talk to us. He was in tears so he just turned around and walked away in the elevator and that's the last time I saw him.

11 Days later Mel died.
Somehow, even after hearing the news, the band found the courage to perform that night.

It's amazing what you can do when you have to. You just got to shut it off and when the show's over, it's back to the real world. But grown men do cry.

Mel's son Leon has taken the drums. He was there when The Ventures finally got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 with the help of John Fogerty.

Many thought the honor was long overdue, but that just made the whole thing sweeter for Don Wilson.

I think even if we had gotten in earlier than this it would have been forgotten about by now.
When I think about buying those two guitars in a pawnshop, recording "Walk Don't Run" that this would happen fifty years later... It's mind boggling.To me it's great!

Bob Bogle passed away two years ago this month but Don Wilson is willing to play The Ventures' signature tune until he can no longer pick up a guitar.

People say "Don't you ever get tired of playing "Walk Don't Run"? I don't. I wonder how many times I've played "Walk Don't Run". I don't get tired of it because people love it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

5 Albums I Brought to Boarding School 1978

With no bigger brother to point me in the progressive art rock direction leading to Yes, Pink Floyd and others, this future music snob brought cassettes of the following albums to his boarding school.

Actually you never know when the Theme to Rocky might come in handy.

Queen News of the World
I probably bought this for "We Are The Champions".In my entire athletic career, there has never been an opportune time to crank this song in triumph.

Wings London Town Not their best. But  "Backwards Traveller "still sounds great. And I liked McCartney's mullet. Had the insert poster on my dorm room wall.

10cc Bloody Tourists
Bought this not because of "Dreadlock Holiday" but because I decided way back in 1976 that 10cc was the greatest band in the world. They had me at "I'm Mandy Fly Me".

Elvis Costello My Aim is True
Thanks to Elvis and other musicians, I decided to go through life as an anti-hero. It's been fun. but it's no way to make a good living.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

5 Albums Every Boarding School Kid Had in 1978 (except me)

It was the fall of 1978. I was 13 years old. My dad dropped me off at my boarding school. I had what he had when his father dropped him off: six Brooks Brothers button down shirts, three white, three blue; two pairs of gray flannels and three pairs of khaki trousers, a tweed jacket, a blue blazer, half a dozen ties.
One pair of loafers. One pair of sneakers. An extra pillow. A bathrobe.
As my dad was leaving, a limousine pulled up. Another 13 year old emerged. He watched the chauffeur carry in suitcase after suitcase, boxes upon boxes and a stereo system so immense he could only carry one component at a time.
Man, I was in over my head from day one.
As I struggled with my studies, I heard the muffled sounds of the same five albums emanating from every room. Here now: the 5 albums every boarding school boy owned in the fall of 1978.

1.Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

2. Yes - Fragile

3. Led Zeppelin - ZOSO

4. Boston -Boston

5. Fleetwood Mac - Rumours

OK So there aren't any surprises here. It's a sensible list of sensible albums, exactly what you might expect from future Wall Street titans, lawyers, doctors and CEO's. And they all sounded amazing on those monumental stereo systems.
How did I know I was in trouble?
My 1978 collection of cassettes (that I played in mono) a future post....

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

#31 Lee Dorsey "Get Out of My Life Woman" 1966

And the crowd goes wild. Well, maybe not. I would hope it's because they're German and don't understand what Lee Dorsey is singing or they've been told to sit still UND DUNT MOVE EINE INCH BECAUSE VE HAFF VAYS OF MAKING YOU ...( never mind)
.This footage is from a 1967 show, headlined by Sam & Dave, from Offenbach in 1967.

Born in New Orleans ( and raised in Portland OR where he eventually boxed as "Kid Chocolate") Dorsey is best known for "Ya Ya" "Ride Your Pony"(see below) and "Working In a Coalmine". But hipsters have long known there's a whole lot more to the Lee Dorsey oeuvre than the obvious pop hits.

Produced by Allen Toussaint, "Get Out of My Life Woman" hit #44 in the American pop charts in 1966. #5 R&B and #22 in the UK. Beck sampled the drums in "Where It's At". ( Biz Markie, De La Soul and Wu Tang Clan also sampled elements of "Get Out of My Life").
Dorsey continued to work into the 1980s, until he was stricken with emphysema. On December 1, 1986, Lee Dorsey passed away in New Orleans, Louisiana, at the age of 62, three weeks before his 63rd birthday.

BONUS: ride your pony

BONUS BONUS: four corners (recommended by Planet Mondo )

Monday, June 6, 2011

Talk Talk Talk is 30 Years Old

Gimme all your paper ma
gimme all your jazz
give me something that I need
something I can have
Mrs. London's coming round
she's coming with her son
gimme all your paper ah
so I can get a gun
she has got it in for me
yeah I mean it honestly
she's so mean
--"Dumb Waiters"

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Rickie Lee Jones Interview

In the more than 30 years since "Chuck E.'s In Love" made her a household name and earned her a Grammy Award for Best New Artist, Rickie Lee Jones has continued to follow her own beat. Her recording career--like her astonishing voice-has hit all kinds of highs and lows.

Rickie: I'd like to hear me on the radio again someday. I don't know what radio that would be.

 She spent most of her teenage years in Western Washington. In 1969 15 year old Rickie had already run away from home several times when her family moved to Lacey, a small town outside Olympia.

It was mostly farms and some trailer parks. Some massage parlors. There was nothing to do there. There was one restaurant. The Rib Eye. Everybody went there after school, smoked cigarettes and ate fish sandwiches and the rest of the time we drove around and smoked cigarettes.

Rickie got kicked out of three high schools for talking back to teachers.
She wrote songs and found refuge in records.
I brought some CDs from my house.
She passed over Joni Mitchell's Blue with no comment.
Then she picked up Neil Young's second album.

This was the one. This was so beautiful. I loved this record.

Even the title of Young's album--Everybody Knows This is Nowhere--seemed to apply to Rickie's life at the time.

I think I started out imitating Neil Young, you know. I sang "I seen the needle and the damage--" kinda high up there and my mother would go "Oh that must be a Neil Young song right?"
 Cuz you could always tell when I was trying to sing like Neil Young.
And it took quite a few years to quit trying to sing like Neil Young to tell the truth.

She sang like Neil and dressed like Neil, buying Pendleton shirts made in Oregon. Then, at a Salvation Army store in Olympia, she found a Coleman Hawkins album called Today and Now.

Wow! What a wonderful thing to accidentally find. And for me he's so melodic....coming out of pop music it was a really gentle way to be introduced to jazz.

But the records weren't enough to keep Rickie Lee Jones in her one track town.

I left on my 18th birthday. The day I turned 18.

Legend has it she met Tom Waits and they slept under the Hollywood sign. She sang in L-A clubs. After five years she got her break and recorded the debut album featuring "Chuck E.'s in Love".
A song she'd rather not talk about.

Rickie: I can't escape from it because it's me.
If I could have done anything I would have sung it another way.
It just was the way I was.

The albums that followed reveal an artist consistently exploring new sounds. Some have sold well. Some have not. At a time when many artist will use their private lives to publicize albums, Rickie has taken a higher road.

I don't want to sell it to you and I won't do it. I'll show up so you know I'm here. And I'm really tired of people going "Are you still making records?" because yes, I'm still making records.
I didn't sell it then and I'm not going to sell it now.

I wish it could come to people through osmosis so this (interview) is my contribution to osmosis.

I still think that if you make a beautiful piece of music they might not all run to it in the first six months but they will find it and that's what you came to do

While you can't hear her songs on the radio as much these days, you can often hear Rickie's influence. Jewel for one.

Sometimes it feels like I'm getting ripped off.
Sometimes I feel flattered. And sometimes I don't.
Jewel doesn't bother me at all because she's a little kid and you can really go "Wow. She just really really..that's the specific time and place --ME. And then it became her and now she's doing it the way she sees it.

Sheryl Crow doesn't get off so easy.

Sheryl Crow, you know I feel a little ripped off by Sheryl Crow. Sheryl Crow's older and should have known better. She's like a professional singer who decided to do other people. Jewel was just really really influenced.

A year after our 2000 interview Rickie decided to move back to LA. On her website she let it be known her house was on the market.

I love being here in LA, in
the warm sunshine and the cars and the people. Tacoma just
was too darned cold.
We are trying to sell our house up there in Olympia. It's on
the waterfront, three acres, extraordinary beauty and it's
cheap! The Nisqually Delta, where we have lived for so many
years, is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
I hope someone buys it soon and is happy there. I am ready to
let it go.

Rickie Lee Jones will be joining Bob Dylan's Israel concert, which will be held at the Ramat Gan Stadium on June 20.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

40 Years Ago: John and Yoko perform with Zappa June 6, 1971

On June 6, 1971 John and Yoko joined Zappa and The Mothers on The Fillmore East stage for a guest appearance at the end of the concert.
First they performed an Olympics cover called "Well". (The Young Rascals took The LA band's 1965 tune "Good Lovin' to Number one; NRBQ recorded their "Same Old Thing" for Yankee Stadium ).
The rest of the songs were jams, including one called "Scumbag".
Yoko, as usual, is very present.

Zappa gave Lennon tapes of the show. John and Yoko included the concert as a bonus on their 1972 double album Some Time In New York City. For a variety of reason, this did not sit well with Zappa.
The way Phil Spector mixed the tapes was dishonest. (Flo & Eddie vocals both left out of the mix; cheers and applause edited in)
But what truly pissed Zappa off is that John and Yoko took full songwriting credit for "Jamrag", which included elements of Zappa's "King Kong" from the Uncle Meat album.
Years later, Zappa would still be grinding his teeth about that move:

Today Some Time is an interesting time capsule. John and Yoko at their most political. Not always at their most musical.
Upon its release Milwaukee Sentinel music writer Stuart Wilk wrote "John, Yoko and The Plastic Ono Band have produced another shrill, superficial look at trendy leftist politics and have plunged even further into their endless echo chamber."

By the way: How many Turtles were on the stage that night?
The answer is three:
Flo (Mark Volman), Eddie (Howard Kaylan) and bass player Jim Pons.