Friday, April 30, 2010

Quicksilver Messenger Service - Winterland - December 29, 1967

By this point in the band's history, Quicksilver Messenger Service had whittled themselves down to a four-piece. Gone was Jim Murray along with his occasional lead vocals and rhythm guitar and harmonica playing. For some fans, it was good riddance. While I never thought Murray had been absolutely integral to the group's sound, his contributions were not completely without merit. Be that as it may, his departure encouraged John Cipollina and Gary Duncan to focus on the distinctive one-two punch of psychedelic guitar work that would come to characterize their best two albums, the self-titled debut LP and Happy Trails.


Although this is unfortunately not a complete concert recording, it still shows how much the band had evolved since the November 5, 1966 show that I posted earlier this week. As part of an end-of-1967 series of gigs held at Winterland (a former indoor ice skating rink), Quicksilver was teamed up with Chuck Berry and Big Brother & the Holding Company for what must have been quite a pair of shows to have attended. Although this is a soundboard recording, limitations of the era's technology are apparent. Because of tape limitations, we are able to enjoy only the last minute-and-a-half of the heavily-amplified folk rock of "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You." The occasionally-played "Walkin' Blues" makes a welcome appearance here, while "It's Been Too Long" is a nod to their just-recorded-but-at-the-time-unreleased first album. Clearly still a work in progress at this point, "Who Do You Love" does not quite achieve the same psychedelic heights its spliced counterpart does on Happy Trails, but you can tell that the band was well on their way to getting there. Further tape limitations prevent us from hearing an otherwise breathtaking performance of "Gold and Silver" in its entirety, but we should be thankful for the nearly 12 minutes that we do have. Based on Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," this instrumental had always been the jazziest number in Quicksilver's repertory. But with the added bonus of guest musician Steve Schuster on saxophone and some fine contributions from bassist David Frieberg and drummer Greg Elmore, this version crosses the border from jazzy to jazz. With the exception of Moby Grape, no other Haight-Ashbury band was capable of doing improvisational work like this in 1967. And just when you think it could easily go on for another 12 minutes, the tape apparently runs out, and things end in a somewhat abrupt manner. While it lasts, however, this could very well be the best rendition of "Gold and Silver" that QMS ever did.

1. Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You (incomplete)
2. Walkin' Blues
3. It's Been Too Long
4. Who Do You Love
5. Gold and Silver (incomplete)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Quicksilver Messenger Service - Fillmore Auditorium - February 5, 1967

More vintage early Quicksilver Messenger Service for your enjoyment...

It was still the pre-Summer of Love era when these sets were recorded at the Fillmore Auditorium on the last day of a three-date series of shows which also featured Jefferson Airplane and Dino Valenti. At this point, the Airplane were the only Haight-Ashbury Group to have recorded an LP, so they obviously headlined the bill. Quicksilver still featured their original five-man lineup with Jim Murray on these performances that compare favorably with the material from the November 5, 1966 show I had previously posted. Much of the material is the same or cut from a similar cloth: blues and early rock covers ("Suzy Q," "You Don't Love Me," "
Smokestack Lightnin'," "Walkin' Blues," "Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut," "Hoochie Coochie Man," and "All Night Worker"), psychedelicized folk and/or tunes that were later recorded for the Revolution soundtrack ("I Hear You Knockin'," "Codine," and "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You"), and songs that would eventually appear on their first album ("Acapulco Gold and Silver," "Dino's Song," "It's Been Too Long" [which they called "Drivin' Wheel" at the time], and "Pride of Man"). Whereas the version of "Stand by Me" featured in the previous post was pretty inept, the band had obviously improved upon their ability to perform this more sensitive Dino Valenti-penned number during the intervening months. It's actually pretty cool to hear bassist David Freiberg play the viola on this rendition, and he doesn't do a bad job on the vocals, either. Of further interest are two rarities, the almost garagey "Dandelion" and a decent instrumental, "Happy Song," both of which spent only a brief time in Quicksilver's repertory.

Early Show

1. Suzy Q (incomplete)
2. I Hear You Knockin'
3. Dandelion
4. Acapulco Gold and Silver
5. You Don't Love Me
6. Codine
7. Happy Song
8. Smokestack Lightnin'

Late Show

1. Dino's Song
2. It's Been Too Long
3. Walkin' Blues
4. Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You
5. Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut
6. Hoochie Coochie Man
7. All Night Worker
8. Stand by Me
9. Pride of Man

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Quicksilver Messenger Service - Fillmore Auditorium - November 5, 1966

I recently came across a mother lode of soundboard concert recordings by one of my favorite Haight-Ashbury bands, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and I'm going to be posting some of these shows during the remainder of this week. You have no idea how ecstatic such an acquisition would have made me about 15 years ago when my interest in this group was at its peak. But hey, better late than never because I still love these guys. Without a doubt, they were San Francisco's best and hardest-rocking jam band in the 1960s. Sorry, Deadheads, but Quicksilver could and often did blow the GD off the stage back in the day. Old hippies who were there told me as much.

I had about half of these songs on a bootleg cassette many years ago and nearly wore the sucker out by playing it so much. This is one of the earliest known recorded performances, if not the earliest, by the group. They were still a five-piece band at this point, with Jim Murray contributing vocals, guitar, and harmonica. Gary Duncan plays guitar as well, although there may be some numbers on which he only sings. These two sets were taped on the last day of three-date engagement at the Fillmore Auditorium. (The Fillmore East in New York City was still a couple of years away from existence, so this venue was not known as the Fillmore West at the time.) As you can see on the handbill below, the legendary Muddy Waters was the headliner for these shows, and it's very well possible that Quicksilver was inspired to include several blues classics (including two of Waters' own tunes) as a result of being his supporting act. Apparently, the Chicago bluesman performed in between the two sets by QMS that appear here. (If anybody has that concert in their collection, please get in touch with me.)

Overall, this is an outstanding live recording that well represents the band in its early days. Although I've always had a preference for their psychedelic material, Quicksilver actually comes off as a damn good white blues band. "You Don't Love Me," "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Long Distance Call" (which I've also seen listed as "Hair Like Sunshine" as a result of the band's reworking of the lyrics), and "Smokestack Lightnin'" are all done very well, and it's a pleasure to hear John Cipollina's unique guitar sound add freshness to these old standards. The same can be said of the interpretations of the 1950s rocker "Suzy Q" and the Old West-themed folk songs, "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" and "Duncan and Brady." With the exception of a lame attempt at "Stand by Me" (the Dino Valenti song, not the Ben E. King song), the band's early takes on material that they would later record in the studio - a truncated "Gold and Silver," "Pride of Man," "Dino's Song," and "I Hear You Knockin'" - are all quite good as are the Jim Murray showpieces, covers of Mose Allison's "Your Time Will Come" and Rufus Thomas' "All Night Worker."

Set 1

1. You Don't Love Me
2. Suzy Q
3. Hoochie Coochie Man
4. Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You
5. Gold and Silver
6. Stand by Me
7. Pride of Man

Set 2

1. Dino's Song
2. Long Distance Call
3. I Hear You Knockin'
4. Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You
5. Smokestack Lightnin'
6. Your Time Will Come
7. All Night Worker
8. Duncan and Brady

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Byways of Jazz (Origin Jazz Library, 1965)

By request.

This magnificent compilation of hot jazz from the 1920s focuses on bands from the South that were not based in New Orleans as well as those that operated out of Midwestern cities other than Chicago, thus conclusively demonstrating that music of this variety was not limited to the Big Easy, the Windy City, and the Big Apple during this period. The music presented here was recorded at a time when jazz and blues had only recently split off from their common ancestor. So even if you are more of a fan of prewar blues, don't be surprised if some of the melodies in these jazz performances sound somewhat familiar.

Frank Bunch & His Fuzzy Wuzzies should be a recognizable name to anyone who's seen the documentary Crumb. Toward the end of the movie, there is one scene where the artist expresses concern over the manner in which his 78s by this particular aggregation are being packed in preparation for his family's move to France. As for Bunch himself, he was a piano player and leader of this Birmingham group that also included his brother Carl as well as trombonist Joseph Britton, cornetist Hunch Vines, tuba player Ivory Johnson, an unknown saxophonist, an unknown clarinetist, and an unknown drummer. Recorded in 1927, "Fourth Avenue Stomp," "Fuzzy Wuzzy," and "Congo" are all classics of the genre, with the first and last titles being rather spirited in comparison to the more lowdown and bluesy middle number. The jaunty "Now Cut Loose" was recorded by saxophonist Johnny Williams' group, the Synco Jazzers, for the Gennett label in 1927, and more than 80 years later has not lost any of its rhythmic appeal. Although this bandleader was influential in his own right, he was overshadowed by the accomplishments of his wife, piano player Mary Lou Williams, who achieved greater fame during the swing, bebop, and free jazz eras. The most compelling performances on Byways of Jazz arguably belong Montgomery, Alabama's finest, the legendary Black Birds of Paradise. Consisting of trombonist/vocalist Willie "Buddy" Howard, clarinetist James Bell, trumpeter Philmore "Shorty" Hall, pianist Melvin Small, banjoist Thomas Ivery, saxophonist Walter Boyd, tuba player Ivory Johnson (apparently this guy was in great demand), and percussionist Samuel Borders, they bore certain similarities to the aforementioned Frank Bunch & His Fuzzy Wuzzies on the tracks, "Tishomingo Blues," "Sugar Blues," and "Bugahoma Blues." Indeed, music historian Gayle Dean Wardlow writes,
Notice their closeness to the Frank Bunch sound (also on Gennett) - a Birmingham band, some of whose members were also originally from Tuskegee Institute. This sound is almost identical in arrangements and ideas. Thus, it must be assumed that the Negro musicians of Alabama were developing their own individual style and sound, just as were the New Orleans musicians who had been developing jazz in that area for a number of years.
Wardlow's article on the Black Birds of Paradise appears in the second issue of 78 Quarterly magazine, available here.


Indianapolitan trumpeter Syd Valentine led an interesting trio that also included James "Slick" Helm on piano and Paul George on banjo. This triumvirate recorded 14 sides for Gennett in 1929, including "Asphalt Walk," which is included here for your listening enjoyment. You can read more about Syd Valentine & His Patent Leather Kids in Duncan Schiedt's informative article from the first issue of 78 Quarterly by going here. Dewey Jackson was another Midwestern trumpet-playing jazz bandleader, although he hailed from St. Louis. The excellent "Go'won to Town" and even better "She's Cryin'" for Me" comprise half of the sides that he had recorded under his own name in 1926. The piano work on the latter title is absolutely sublime.
Banjoist/vocalist Eddie Fennell and pianist Charles "Sugar Lou" Morgan led Texas jazz band the Hotel Tyler Orchestra, which also included saxophonist Adrian Kenney, trombonist Albert Mitchell, and drummer Lee Scott as well as trumpeters Henry Johnson and Stanlee Hardee. Fennel's somewhat effeminate vocals are rather prominent throughout most of the four raucous titles featured here, "Eddie & Sugar Lou Stomp," "Sweet Papa Will Be Gone," "There'll Be Some Changes Made," and "K.W.K.H. Blues," with the last number's title referring to a Shreveport, Louisiana radio station. Out of all the barnstorming territory bands that toured the United States during the 1920s, perhaps none had a better name than the Chocolate Beau Brummels, who operated out of Cincinnati and were led by banjoist Zack Whyte. "Mandy" is arguably their finest moment. Byways of Jazz concludes with the superb "Jackass Blues," a performance from 1927 by another territory band, Alex Jackson's Plantation Orchestra, about whom I can find very little information.

As with other Origin Jazz Library releases, this LP originally came with a booklet
that was unfortunately consigned to oblivion long before it became part of my collection. If I did have it, I certainly would have been able to provide you with more information about these groups. Is anybody out there in possession of this item and willing to scan it and send it to me as an e-mail attachment? If so, please get in touch with me.


1. Fourth Avenue Stomp - Frank Bunch & His Fuzzy Wuzzies
2. Fuzzy Wuzzy
- Frank Bunch & His Fuzzy Wuzzies
3. Congo Stomp - Frank Bunch & His Fuzzy Wuzzies

4. Now Cut Loose - Johnny Williams' Synco Jazzers

5. Tishomingo Blues - Black Birds of Paradise

6. Sugar - Black Birds of Paradise

7. Bugahoma Blues - Black Birds of Paradise

8. Asphalt Walk - Syd Valentine & His Patent Leather Kids

9. Go'won to Town - Dewey Jackson's Peacock Orchestra

10. She's Cryin' for Me - Dewey Jackson's Peacock Orchestra

11. Eddie & Sugar Lou Stomp - Eddie & Sugar Lou's Hotel Tyler Orchestra

12. Sweet Papa Will Be Gone - Eddie & Sugar Lou's Hotel Tyler Orchestra

13. K.W.K.H. Blues - Eddie & Sugar Lou's Hotel Tyler Orchestra

14. There'll Be Some Changes Made - Eddie & Sugar Lou's Hotel Tyler Orchestra

15. Mandy - Zack Whyte & His Chocolate Beau Brummels

16. Jackass Blues - Alex Jackson's Plantation Orchestra

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Bobby Bland - That Did It! / The Duke Recordings Vol. 3 (MCA, 1996)

The appropriately titled That Did It! concludes the exhaustive three-volume series of Bobby "Blue" Bland's complete recorded works for Duke Records that were lovingly reissued by MCA during the 1990s. Although the first disc contains material from 1965 and 1966 while the singer was still in his prime, the second CD documents the slow decline evident during his 1967-1972 period with the label. By this point in his career, Bland was losing his appeal with with black record buyers. The fact that he was not a guitar player and had always released relatively sophisticated records for the genre precluded him from receiving his just dues from white enthusiasts during the blues revival of the late 1960s. And although Bland would bounce back with some fine albums during the following decades on Dunhill and Malaco, there is no doubt that his best work was permanently behind him.

The first five tracks - "Reach Right Out," "Angel Girl," "Building a Fire with Rain," "Ain't Nobody's Business," and "Fever" - sound like a seamless continuation of the material presented on Turn on Your Love Light / The Duke Recordings Vol. 2, easily the best title in this series. Recorded in Chicago during 1965 and produced by trumpeter and bandleader Joe Scott, these songs feature the redoubtable Wayne Bennett's sublime guitar as well as Bland's monologue skills ("Angel Girl") and ability to interpret tunes such as "Business" and "Fever," which are generally associated with other performers. "Let's Get Together" (not the Dino Valenti song), "Dear Bobby (The Note)," "Sweet Lips of Joy," and "I Ain't Myself Anymore" are fine enough songs but display an increasing reliance on female backing singers. In fact, the uncredited accompanying vocalist on "Dear Bobby" is really more of a co-lead singer, although her identity remains a mystery. In addition to these four tracks, three others were also recorded in Detroit around the same time, including a clunker, "Too Late for Tears," and two more, "These Hands" and "Playgirl," that are back up to Bland's lofty standards. The elegant "I'm Too Far Gone" marks the end of 1965, while 1966 gets off to a very strong start with the the introspective "Deep in My Soul and the robust trio of "Good Time Charlie, Part 1," "Sweet Loving," and "One Horse Town." On these selections, the girl singers are gone, while Bland's patented vocal squalls and Bennett's guitar make a welcome return to the fore. A brief session in Houston yielded the stately "I Can't Stop" and the driving "Back in the Same Old Bag," but it is the performances that close the first CD that are truly the standout tracks. Taped during three separate recording dates in Chicago, the material ranges from uplifting ("You're All I Need" and "A Piece of Gold") to bluesy ("Poverty" and "Driftin' Blues") to jaded from too many bad relationships ("That Did It," "Sad Feeling," "Shoes," "Gettin' Used to the Blues," and "Road of Brokenhearted Men").


Disc 2 starts off with a trio of performances from a 1967 session in Memphis - "Lover with a Reputation," "Touch of the Blues," and "Set Me Free" - which all compare favorably with other excellent southern soul records from the same period. The following year found Bland back in the city in which Duke Records was based, Houston, where there seems to have been a concerted effort to update the artist's sound. Not that "Save Your Love for Me," "Wouldn't You Rather Have Me," "Rockin' in the Same Old Boat," "This Time I'll Be True," "Baby I'm on My Way," and "Ask Me About Nothin' (But the Blues)" are bad songs by any stretch of the imagination, but they don't always sound like they are totally compatible with the singer's long-established style.
In some cases, however, the experimentation works out quite well; check out the almost psychedelic guitar and horn arrangements on "Rockin'," for example. Many of the songs recorded during a February 1969 session in Chicago ended up on Bland's most polished album, Spotlighting the Man, including the pop standard "Georgia on My Mind" as well as "Who Can I Turn To," "Since I Fell for You," and "You Ought to Be Ashamed." Similar lush arrangements can be heard on the singles "Gotta Get to Know You" and "Chains of Love," the latter of which was a cover version of the Ahmet Ertegun song made famous by Big Joe Turner. Although the previously unreleased "Yum Yum Tree" was evidently recorded on the same date, it's definitely the odd one in the bunch here. A return to Chicago later that year produced two more orchestrated sides, "If Loved Ruled the World" and "If You Got a Heart." The listener is advised to wade through the remaining tracks at his or her own risk. Although recording at Muscle Shoals probably seemed like a good idea at the time in 1970, only one of the two songs recorded there, "I'm Sorry," works. The other, "Keep on Lovin' Me," may be the nadir of Bland's career at Duke. 1971's material was a mixed bag. "The Love That We Share" and "Do What You Set Out to Do" are both decent enough, but the awkward intro to "Shape Up or Ship Out" sorta dooms the song from its very beginning. Bland's final trio of songs for the label were waxed in 1972 at an unknown location and actually aren't that bad, but the arrangements from his classic days were unfortunately no longer in vogue. Thus, "I'm So Tired," "I Don't Want Another Mountain to Climb," and "That's All There Is" (a great title for a closing track, by the way) lack the heavy-hitting impact of his earlier material. Still, it had been a remarkable 20-year run for Bobby "Blue" Bland at Duke Records.

Be sure to check out Vol. 1 here and Vol. 2 here.

Disc 1

1. Reach Right Out
2. Angel Girl
3. Building a Fire with Rain
4. Ain't Nobody's Business (aka 'Tain't Nobody's Business if I Do)
5. Fever
6. Let's Get Together
7. Dear Bobby (The Note)
8. Sweet Lips of Joy
9. I Ain't Myself Anymore
10. Too Late for Tears
11. These Hands (Small but Mighty)
12. Playgirl
13. I'm Too Far Gone (To Turn Around)
14. Good Time Charlie, Part 1
15. Deep in My Soul
16. Sweet Loving
17. One Horse Town
18. I Can't Stop
19. Back in the Same Old Bag
20. You're All I Need
21. Poverty
22. That Did It
23. A Piece of Gold
24. Sad Feeling
25. Shoes
26. Driftin' Blues
27. Gettin' Used to the Blues
28. Road of Brokenhearted Men

Disc 2

1. Lover with a Reputation
2. Touch of the Blues
3. Set Me Free
4. Save Your Love for Me
5. Wouldn't You Rather Have Me
6. Rockin' in the Same Old Boat
7. This Time I'll Be True
8. Baby I'm on My Way
9. Ask Me About Nothin' (But the Blues)
10. Georgia on My Mind
11. Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)?
12. Gotta Get to Know You
13. Chains of Love
14. Since I Fell for You
15. Yum Yum Tree
16. You Ought to be Ashamed
17. If Love Ruled the World
18. If You Got a Heart
19. Keep On Lovin' Me (You'll See the Change)
20. I'm Sorry
21. Shape Up or Ship Out
22. The Love That We Share (Is True)
23. Do What You Set Out to Do
24. I'm So Tired
25. I Don't Want Another Mountain to Climb
26. That's All There Is (There Ain't No More)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fiend's 45s Vol. 1

Truth be told, I'm really not much of a 45 collector.
Vinyl was on its way out and compact discs had still not hit the marketplace when I was coming of age during the late 1970s and early 1980s. As a result, a lot of my early album-listening experiences were with cassettes or hand-me-down LPs, which conditioned me to getting my music fixes in 35-minute to 50-minute or so doses. To this day, I still feel a little antsy when something that I'm listening to reaches what seems like the halfway point, and I prepare myself, in a rather Pavlovian fashion, to turn the thing over to the other side regardless of whether the act is even necessary in the first place. My primary quibble with 45s is that just as I've settled into my recliner chair to enjoy the music, it's practically time to get up and flip the thing over on my turntable. Yeah, I can be a lazy bastard.

Be that as it may, I still like these little seven-inch plastic objects in the appropriate setting. They certainly are nice for DJing, and I can still get pretty excited by particular non-album B-sides. And of course, there were some musicians who were primarily singles artists, making their recordings on 45s sometimes more easily obtainable than their LPs. So what I've done here is assemble 25 of my favorite sides for your listening enjoyment. Just like the blog itself, Fiend's 45s Vol. 1 is a mixed bag and contains an assortment of musical styles - rock, blues, psych, jazz, country, funk, calypso, etc. Some of these items are rare and might not be available elsewhere in the blogosphere, while others might be fairly common and/or posted elsewhere. For me, the most important consideration is how much I like the music, and I like all of these sides enough to put this compilation in its entirety on my next iPod playlist.

The first batch starts off with the driving "Kerry Dance," a soul jazz piece that features the talents of criminally underrated Shirley Scott and the better-known Kenny Burrell respectively on Hammond B-3 organ and electric guitar. Betcha didn't know that Epic actually tried to push a few songs from Kak's eponymous psychedelic masterpiece as singles. Well, they did, and you can listen to this single edit of "Everything's Changing" in glorious mono as proof. "Losin' Boy" is excellent southern soul by Eddy Giles on the tiny Murco label from 1966, which the singer cut again for Stax in 1971. I like this version - which sounds like something bluesman Magic Sam could have done - better. If you ever wondered what the "T.S.U." in the T.S.U. Tornadoes stood for, it's Texas Southern University, a historically black college in Houston, where the band members were students. "The Goose" is a heavy funk instrumental that was licensed from Ovide Records for distribution on Atlantic. From further up north, Chicago's early 1970s funk scene is well represented by the Pharoahs' infectious "Freedom Road."

"Hey Liley, Liley Lo" is a rousing interpretation of an old American folk song done skiffle style by English actor Bill Maynard in the late 1950s. He acquits himself quite well as a singer on this one. My all-time favorite electric blues guitarist, Earl Hooker, lays down a great instrumental on "Dynamite," in spite of the dropouts caused by a nasty scratch on the original 45. Deal with it. The sublime "Half-Time" comes from one of the greatest jazz albums from the mid-1960s, Nat Adderley's Little Big Horn. Whenever I find myself whistling a jazz tune, it's either Miles Davis' "Freddie Freeloader" or this piece. Exotica aficionados will certainly recognize the name Korla Pandit, an electric keyboard pioneer and onetime television star who communicated strictly through his music. "Trance Dance" comes from a 45 album of selections from his Grand Moghul Suite and provides some interesting noodling on the organ. Lonnie Youngblood's intense "Soul Food" supposedly features a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar. But with or without him, it still kicks ass.

Waxed in 1953, "Going in Your Direction" was one of Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2's last recordings for Trumpet. In addition to being one of the harmonica wizard's finest efforts for the label, it is also notable for its inclusion of saxophone, a somewhat uptown touch for such a downhome musician. Fans of the kind of rock and R&B records that Atlantic was putting out in the late 1950s will definitely like Clyde McPhatter's "Lovey Dovey," while garage-heads will eat up the fuzz-laden "I Need Love" by Peoria, Illinois' the Third Booth. Is it just me, or does the guy doing the vocalizing (it's not singing because there are no words) on "Horse Fever" sound very similar to Larry Graham from Sly & the Family Stone to you as well? At any rate, this number by Cliff Nobles & Co. is a funk killer. I can't really tell you anything about Bahij Mikati other than he must be a Lebanese oud player what with his 45 appearing on the Voice of the Cedars label. His six-minute "Taksim" is simply breathtaking in its stark beauty.

Yeah, Shuggie Otis' singing may be a little awkward on the funky "Ice Cold Daydream," but the amazing instrumental arrangements definitely make up for any vocal shortcomings. "'Fats' Shake 'M Up - Pt. 1" is fine late-period (1968?) calypso from the obscure Claude "Fats" Greene Orchestra. In the wake of Janis Joplin's posthumous success with Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee," there were probably hundreds of bar bands across the United States during the early 1970s doing covers of this song of varying quality. June Sage and Red Thompson (whoever the heck they were) perform one of the better versions that you're likely to hear if you can forgive the tics during the first few seconds of the record. Sly & the Family Stone side project Little Sister had a pretty big hit with "Somebody's Watching You" in 1971 after an earlier version of the song had appeared on Stand! Although it is significant for featuring an early drum machine, my copy is even more interesting by virtue of it being a Canadian Atco pressing instead of the more common stateside release on Stone Flower, Sly's Atlantic-distributed imprint. Although "Flight from the East" doesn't quite measure up to the work that Gary Yoder did with Kak, this is still first-rate 1970 psychedelia with superb guitar work and a brain-searing ending.

"Hard Times" was a well-deserved pop instrumental hit in late 1957 for Noble "Thin Man" Watts that features his honking saxophone and outstanding lead guitar from an unknown accompanist to good effect. Lots of musicians had success in covering Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man," but Mongo Santamaria's rendition might just be my favorite. Moby Grape really could do anything and do it well. While Bob Mosley cast his "Gypsy Wedding" as convincing blue-eyed soul on his first solo album, the band converts it to a thunderous biker rock piece on 20 Granite Creek. This mono single version sounds even heavier. Angel-voiced blues guitarist Fenton Robinson teams up with harmonicist Little Mac Simmons on "Cryin' the Blues" from 1974 and turns in a rawer performance than the kind of material he had recorded for Alligator on his Somebody Loan Me a Dime LP from around the same time. Please forgive the slight sound glitch near the beginning. And last but not least, we have Steve Akin's "I'm Tripping Alone." The singer and guitarist was apparently a veteran of Houston's 1960s garage band scene and cut this fantastic Hendrix-influenced (to my ears, at least) ode to solo LSD usage in 1970.

1. Kerry Dance - Shirley Scott & Kenny Burrell
2. Everything's Changing (single edit) - Kak

3. Losin' Boy - Eddie Giles

4. The Goose - The T.S.U. Tornadoes

5. Freedom Road - The Pharaohs*

6. Hey Liley, Liley Lo - Bill Maynard

7. Dynamite - Earl Hooker

8. Half-Time - Nat Adderley Quintet
9. Trance Dance - Korla Pandit
10. Soul Food (That's a What I Like) - Lonnie Youngblood
11. Going in Your Direction - Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2
12. Lovey Dovey - Clyde McPhatter
13. I Need Love - The Third Booth
14. Horse Fever (instrumental) - Cliff Nobles & Co.
15. Taksim - Oud - Bahij Mikati
16. Ice Cold Daydream - Shuggie Otis
17. "Fats" Shake 'M Up - Pt. 1 - Claude "Fats" Greene Orch.
18. Me and Bobby McGee - June Sage and Red Thompson
19. Somebody's Watching You - Little Sister
20. Flight from the East - Gary Lee Yoder
21. Hard Times (The Slop) - Noble "Thin Man" Watts & His Rhythm Sparks
22. Watermelon Man - Mongo Santamaria
23. Gypsy Wedding - Moby Grape
24. Cryin' the Blues - Fenton Robinson*
25. I'm Trippin' Alone - Steve Akin

All tracks monaural, except (*) stereo.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The John Berberian Ensemble - Music of the Middle East (Roulette, 1966; Universe, 2001)

After recording two thoroughly excellent LPs for the Mainstream label, Expressions East and Oud Artistry, John Berberian followed his benefactor, A&R man Peter Spargo, to the notorious Morris Levy's Roulette Records, where he waxed this standout album. Recorded in 1965 or 1966 and released around the same time, Music of the Middle East continues the oud master's progressive interpretations of traditional Armenian, Turkish, Greek, and Arabic material. Indeed, one can view this record as a logical transition between his previous releases and the trailblazing psychedelia of Middle Eastern Rock. There is more of an emphasis on the instrumentalists here compared to the Mainstream albums what with the numerous solos and taksims (improvisations) that grace many of the performances. In fact, only one track on Music of the Middle East features vocals.


Many of the same musicians who appear on Expressions East and Oud Artistry play on this album as well, including Souren Baronian on clarinet, saxophone, and bongos; John Vartan Valentine on guitar; Steve Pumilian on finger cymbals and dumbeg; and Bob Tashjian on dumbeg and vocals. However, this album is also notable for featuring the talents of veteran Turkish kanunist Emin Gunduz, clarinetist Hachig Kazarian, and, most notably, bassist Chet Amsterdam. The latter was a New York City jazz musician who had played with a large number of other Middle Eastern performers throughout the 1960s and clearly had a feel for this kind of material. Berberian's recollections are that Amsterdam used an electric bass during the recording sessions, making Music from the Middle East one of the first, if not the first, album in the genre to feature such an instrument. However, if this is correct, it sounds as if it were recorded at a much lower volume level than the Fender bass he plays on Middle Eastern Rock. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Baronian, the clarinet player on Berberian's first two records, is for the most part a percussionist on this album, with Kazarian handling the responsibilities for the aforementioned woodwind instrument. All of these factors contribute to an LP that is neither better nor worse than its predecessors, just a bit different.


The following are John Berberian's comments about each track from interviews that I conducted with him in April and May 2009:

1. Dale Dale - "A Turkish song. What it means, I don't know, and it's probably just a manner of speaking."

2. Hijazker Longa - "A Turkish classical piece in the mode of hijazker, similar to that of a sazsemi (a classical instrumental piece) but a different rhythmical form. (It is) often found in this type of fugue which would contain three or four types of pieces. The whole group of pieces is further identified as a 'fasil' in Turkish. The fasil is the overall name for a group of classical pieces including a taksim, a sazsemi, a longa, and sometimes what's called a 'pesver.' Hijazker would be more like D minor, but this is not exactly our Western D minor. This one has a couple of sharps or flats that don't really belong in our D minor scale system."

3. Chifte-Telli - "This literally mean 'two strings.' 'Tell' in Turkish is 'string,' and 'chifte' is 'two,' It is always instrumental, although you might have someone chanting on top of that rhythm. It's basically (like) the piece that I was saying followed the oud taksim on Expressions East. That's what it is: one instrument generally leads a group that accompanies with rhythm. It is basically a taksim to rhythm. It's an improvisation from beginning to end. In some cases, you'll have a clarinet chifte-telli, oud, violin...all will be different instruments that will lead the way, and (the musician will) be the soloist in that rhythmical form."

4. Nehevent Longa - "Here's one similar to the 'Hijazker Longa.' The piece is the same rhythmically. Nehevent is a Turkish classical mode, and this would be our Western D minor scale. Whereas I said hijazker was similar but not quite, nehevent is D minor."

5. Oud Solo - "This I believe was originally a Greek piece. I learned it from a fellow oud player many, many years ago, and it was popular then. It's after a Greek dance called a 'hasapiko.' That's about all I know about it. It's sort of passed down. I don't know where it originated, but I did hear it and liked it."

I suppose I should take this opportunity to mention that this is my favorite track on Music of the Middle East. Peter Spargo's liner notes do not exaggerate in describing this performance as a "tour de force." When I asked John to elaborate on Spargo's comment about the "strong American influence" on this instrumental, he replied, "Armenian music in America takes on certain American traits. I think that what Peter was getting at was, 'Here's a guy that's born in America. He plays an instrument of the old country.' I agree that I am an American-Armenian oud player. A lot of the influence in my music is progressive. I like the inclusion of chords and harmony, rhythmic syncopation, and things that are not found in the music of the old country."

6. Gamavor Zimvor - "This is an Armenian piece which means 'brave soldier.'"

7. Tsamiko - "That is a Greek dance. That's about all I can say about that one."

8. Samra Ya Samra - "I'm sure that means something in Arabic, but I'm not sure what. (It's an) Arabic popular piece." This track is the only one on the album that features Bob Tashjian's magnificent vocals. In response to my question about the singer's ability to understand lyrics in other languages, Berberian explained, "Bob Tashjian spoke Arabic fluently. He was from Aleppo, Syria. He was born and brought up there (and) came to this country at around the age of 25 or so. He also spoke and understood Turkish fluently. That's why he's also singing Turkish songs on the albums and as well Armenian. Anyone listening to those songs on my albums would definitely understand that this person is pronouncing these words correctly."

John Berberian - Concerts and Oud Workshop at the Old Town School of Folk Music - Chicago, Illinois - Wednesday, April 28 & Thursday, April 29, 2010

I am very excited to announce that I have helped arrange two concerts and an oud workshop for one of my musical heroes, the legendary John Berberian, at Chicago's equally legendary Old Town School of Folk Music on Wednesday, April 28 and Thursday, April 29. The first show will be part of the School's ongoing World Music Wednesdays series and will start at 8:30 p.m. Amazingly enough, this a free concert with a suggested donation of $5. More information here.

If you can't make this show, consider coming out the second concert, which starts at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 29. It's not free, but tickets are only $5. More information here.

And for those of you who are musicians and would like to attend John's instructional oud workshop at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 29, go here for more details. It will set you back only a mere $20 for 80 minutes of Middle Eastern music pointers from one of the few to have earned the title Udi (oud master). If you ever wondered how to play a taksim, here's your opportunity to learn from an expert of the form. As of this writing, five of the 25 openings have already been filled. The remaining 20 spots are sure to go quickly, so don't miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Call Old Town at (773) 728-6000 to reserve your tickets for these events.

John will be accompanied on keyboards and dumbeg by local Chicago musician, Kraig Kuchukian, at both concerts. I have also been informed that John might be participating in an after-hours jam session at a local restaurant following the oud workshop on Thursday evening. I'll post additional information as it becomes available. Feel free to e-mail me or leave a comment if you have questions about any of these events. I plan on going to all of them, so if you want to say "hi," ask for the...uh...I guess "promoter" would be the most appropriate description of my role.

If you live in the Chicagoland area or are within driving distance, please come out and treat yourself to what promises to be "kef," Armenian for "good times" or "celebration."

Note: A big "thank you" to PCW for doing the wonderful artwork to help promote John's upcoming appearances.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Valiants - This Is the Night for Love (V.O.S.P., 2008)

This is actually an unusual item in my collection since I'm not really much of a doo-wop (or, if you prefer, vocal group harmony) aficionado. I don't have anything against the genre, but my preference has always been for guitar-based rock 'n' roll, blues, and R&B when it comes to music from the 1950s. What inspired me to purchase this CD was the fact that the Valiants included several future members of the band Africa, who would go on to record the landmark Music from "Lil Brown" LP, one of the greatest black psychedelic albums from the late 1960s. Like many of you, I always feel compelled to explore the roots and branches of of my favorite bands, regardless of how many titles they have in their discographies.


A Los Angeles group named after the Prince Valiant comic strip, the Valiants consisted of Sheridan "Rip" Spencer (tenor), Brice Coefield (baritone), Billy Storm (nee Spicer, tenor and bass), and Chester Pipkin (tenor and guitar) when these songs were recorded in 1957 and 1958 under the supervision of Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, a one-time A&R man for Specialty Records. Although he was never officially their manager, the music industry veteran did help them secure several independent studio sessions in an attempt to get them a recording contract. Marv Goldberg's booklet notes cite a disagreement between Blackwell and his employer at the time as the reason that the Valiants never recorded for Specialty. His efforts first led to a lone 45 that came out on Aladdin (or perhaps its Lamp imprint) with the group's name, however, being changed to the Gents. After that single went nowhere and Blackwell left Specialty for Keen Records (also bringing Sam Cooke in tow), the Valiants were finally able to record and have releases issued under their real name.

Blackwell utilized a number of top-notch studio musicians during recording sessions including drummer Earl Palmer as well as pianists Ernie Freeman and Googie Rene. It is possible that they appear on some of these tracks in various combinations. What is certain is that the 1957 session (which yielded the first six songs on this CD) included Don Harris and Dewey Terry (of Don and Dewey fame) respectively on bass and piano/overdubbed guitar. The title track is absolutely majestic. Although Storm's lead vocals and the group's harmonies are superb, it is the work of the backing musicians that help distinguish "This Is the Night" from other similar recordings from the era. Interestingly enough, Blackwell was the co-author of "Good Golly Miss Molly." Although Little Richard's better-known hit version was recorded earlier while Bumps was still with Specialty, the Valiants' take on this classic bears the distinction of having been released first. Although this might be sacrilege to some, I think their rendition is better. Storm's singing is great, but it's Terry's incendiary guitar solo that puts this one over the top. "Lover, Lover" and "Walkin' Girl" both feature prominent Latin influences in their rhythms, resulting from Blackwell's association with a Nicaraguan instrumental group. These are about the only instances where the Valiants noticeably sound similar to Africa - the band into which they would eventually evolve - who also incorporated Latin percussion instruments into their distinctive Los Angeles sound. The intense "Frieda, Frieda," featuring more scorching guitar leads, sounds as if it were cut from the same cloth as "Miss Molly," while the sweet "Temptation of My Heart" is in the same bag as "This Is the Night." The two songs from the group's last session in 1958, "We Knew" and "Please Wait My Love," on the other hand, come off as a bit too saccharine for their own good. The vocals are great, but these performances could sure use some more instrumental hooks, don't you think?


In addition to the Valiants' eight sides for Keen, this CD also includes warts-and-all session tracks for each of these titles. In certain cases, there are multiple complete alternative takes of the songs, which allows the listener to hear how they developed over the course of the recording session. Some may find all the false starts and sonic imperfections difficult to wade through, but hardcore doo-wop fans will probably consider these last eight tracks to be a fascinating listening experience.

1. This Is the Night for Love
2. Good Golly Miss Molly
3. Lover, Lover
4. Frieda, Frieda
5. Temptation of My Heart
6. Walkin' Girl
7. We Knew
8. Please Wait My Love

9. Lover, Lover
10. This Is the Night for Love
11. Temptation of My Heart
12. Walkin' Girl
13. Frieda, Frieda
14. Good Golly Miss Molly
15. We Knew
16. Please Wait My Love

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Raphael Boguslav - Songs from a Village Garret (Riverside, 1956)

For most people who were not old enough to have lived through it - myself included - it is easy to forget that the folk revival of the early 1960s was merely an extension of the postwar folk revival that began around 1948 or so with the formation of the Weavers. Although a lot of people are familiar with Bob Dylan's early years in New York City, most of them would be hard pressed to name any significant coffeehouse musicians who proceeded him. Indeed, the 1950s scene in Greenwich Village and many of the performers who populated it are almost all totally obscure figures today.

A significant number of pre-Dylan folk singers fell by the wayside after having had a taste of success. Some, such as Fred Neil, simply didn't have the right kind of personalities needed to succeed in the music industry. Others, such as Bob Gibson, allowed their substance abuse problems to get the better of them. Yet another category, however, included those who possessed additional artistic talents and chose to focus on them instead of their musical abilities. Such was the case of Raphael Boguslav, born in 1929 on Long Island to Russian immigrant parents. Although he was proficient on both guitar as well as piano, had been a member of Harry Belafonte's backing group, and recorded two folk LPs (one as "Ray" Boguslav), he ultimately decided to concentrate on a career as a calligrapher and graphic designer, where he enjoyed significant success by creating the logos for Borg-Warner, New York Life, and other well known corporations.


Songs from a Village Garret
was Boguslav's first album, having been recorded in 1956 for Riverside, a label primarily known for its jazz artists. It features an earnest collection of British Isles and early American folk material, a song list that was probably typical for the genre's performers of the time. Despite the cover photograph showing Boguslav with what appears to be some type of mandolin (?), throughout the record he plays respectable guitar without any apparent accompaniment on almost every track. As for the material's origins, Dean Gitter's liner notes explain, "The songs (Boguslav) sings come from various sources, including books, records, manuscripts, and other folksingers. The instrumental arrangements for these songs are his own creation." Some of these tunes - "Rambling Boy," "Buffalo Skinners," and "Wagoner's Lad" - already held prominent positions in the folk music canon, and it is always interesting to hear other variations on these themes. The opening cut, "MacPherson's Lament," is an execution ballad from the early 1700s in which Boguslav effects a passable Scots brogue, while "Bowling Green" is an adaptation of an Appalachian banjo piece. "Tobacco's but an Indian Weed" (great title, by the way) can trace its history back to 17th century British broadsides, and the similarly ancient "High Germany" had evidently been collected by noted music scholar Cecil Sharp. The two brief instrumentals, "Moneymusk" and "Year of Jubilo" nicely display Boguslav's prowess on guitar, and "Crows in the Garden" in addition to the rollicking "Weevily Wheat" are compelling interpretations of songs from America's rural South that were originally transcribed by John Lomax. "The Flying Dutchman" relates the tale of the infamous doomed sailing ship that is certainly familiar to most of you. "Turtle Dove" seems to be an amalgam of lyrics from various British and early American romantic ballads. The swaggering ode to the Land of Lincoln, "The State of Elanoy," should not be taken entirely seriously and instead be viewed as a bit of Illinoisian chest-thumping mixed with just a bit of irony. It is of little surprise then that Boguslav got it from Carl Sandburg's American Songbag, an important touchstone of the early-period folk revivalists.

**Addendum: My thanks goes out to an anonymous commenter who identified the instrument that Boguslav is playing on the album cover as a Pollmann mandolin banjo. According to one source, "it has a delicate and enchanting sound more like a small guitar or lute." Now I'm beginning to rethink my assertion that Boguslav plays guitar on this LP and wonder if on some, if not all, of the tracks he is instead using that mandolin banjo. Can any musicians with trained ears tell me what they think?

1. MacPherson's Lament
2. Bowling Green
3. Tobacco's but an Indian Weed
4. Moneymusk
5. Crows in the Garden
6. The Flying Dutchman
7. Rambling Boy
8. Weevily Wheat
9. High Germany
10. Turtle Dove
11. Year of Jubilo
12. The State of Elanoy
13. Buffalo Skinners
14. Wagoner's Lad

Sunday, April 4, 2010

John Byrd & Walter Taylor (1929-1931) (Story of Blues, 1991)

This is an interesting CD that collects the recordings of two notable performers from 1920s-era Louisville, Kentucky, John Byrd and "Washboard" Walter Taylor. Although the city is best known for jug bands among its notable early 20th-century black musicians, its location made it a logical stopping place for many African Americans migrating from the Deep South. Indeed, what little information we have about John Byrd suggests that he was a transplant from Mississippi. Judging by his estimated birth date (likely during the 1890s, if not earlier), eclectic repertory, and preference for the 12-string guitar, it is probably most accurate to classify him as a songster. Even less is known about Walter Taylor (almost definitely the same person as Washboard Walter), a singer, washboard player, and leader of a string band in which Byrd often played.

The opening tracks find Byrd operating under the guise of Rev. George Jones and Congregation with the vocal assistance of Sister Jones, a probable pseudonym for singer Mae Glover, with whom he also recorded a few double entendre blues sides that are unfortunately not included here. At least one of the two sermons seems somewhat farcical at times. "That White Mule of Sin" could be construed as an attack on moonshine or commentary on mistreatment by whites, depending on how one looks at it, while "The Heavenly Airplane" references aviator Charles Lindbergh at one point. "Narrow Face Blues," "Insurance Man Blues," "Overall Cheater Blues," and "Disconnected Mama" are engaging duet performances that highlight Taylor's pleasant vocals and Byrd's deft touch on guitar, although the surface noise gets a little excessive at times. During the recording session for the latter three titles, Paramount Records encouraged the two to come up with a tribute to the recently deceased Blind Lemon Jefferson, resulting in "Wasn't It Sad About Lemon." "Billy Goat Blues" features Byrd's churning 12-string guitar to good effect in a solo setting. "Old Timbrook Blues" is one of many American variations on the 18th-century English racehorse ballad "Skewball." On these shores, however, the cast of characters changes, with the song relating the story of the famed 1878 Kentucky race between Mollie McCarty and Ten Broeck. Fellow songster Henry Thomas also recorded a version of this tune as "Run, Mollie, Run."

The remaining titles feature Taylor without Byrd and accompanied instead by various incarnations of his string band. The first 78 offers the listener a fascinating opportunity to hear two pieces generally considered to be part of the hillbilly idiom interpreted by black musicians. Some of you may be familiar with the rollicking "Thirty-Eight and Plus" by virtue of the Panama Limited Jug Band's "38 Plug," and Deadheads will recognize "Deal Rag" (aka "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down") as "Deal." Of course, the originals presented here are superior. "Corrine Corrine" and "You Rascal, You" are yet additional versions of these oft-covered songs that are as old as the hills, while "Yo-Yo Blues" bears similarities to the similarly titled "My Baby Got a Yo-Yo" by the Two Poor Boys. As its title suggests, "Broadcasting Blues" deals with music on the radio. "Diamond Ring Blues" seems to be in the "Betty and Dupree" family of songs, although I am not able to make out any references to the story's two main characters in the lyrics of this interpretation. "Coal Camp Blues" and "Do You Love Me Blues" are arguably this disc's most lowdown performances, and both feature superb mandolin and banjo work from unknown accompanists.

1. That White Mule of Sin - Rev. George Jones and Congregation
2. The Heavenly Airplane - Rev. George Jones and Congregation
3. Narrow Face Blues - Washboard Walter and His Band
4. Wasn't It Sad About Lemon - Walter and Byrd
5. Insurance Man Blues - Washboard Walter
6. Overall Cheater Blues - Washboard Walter
7. Disconnected Mama - Washboard Walter, John Byrd
8. Billy Goat Blues - John Byrd
9. Old Timbrook Blues - John Byrd
10. Thirty-Eight and Plus - Walter Taylor
11. Deal Rag
- Walter Taylor
12. Corrine Corrine
- Walter Taylor
13. Yo-Yo Blues
- Walter Taylor
14. Broadcasting Blues
- Walter Taylor
15. You Rascal, You
- Walter Taylor
16. Diamond Ring Blues
- Walter Taylor
17. Coal Camp Blues - Taylor's Weatherbirds
18. Do You Love Me Blues - Taylor's Weatherbirds

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Inside Star Trek featuring Gene Roddenberry (Columbia, 1976)

OK, I admit it: I'm a Trekkie, but a very selective one. I really only like the original series in addition to the second, third, fourth, and sixth movies. So don't be a smart ass and come up to me asking who my favorite captain of the Enterprise is, or I'll give you a Vulcan nerve pinch.

Anyway, this is a relic of my childhood, a little worse for wear perhaps, but a beloved part of my record collection all the same. Apparently, it came out in 1976, although I seem to remember getting this when I was in kindergarten, which would have been a few years later. Whatever relative gave this LP to me probably thought it was one of those story records with an accompanying picture book. It isn't, but it does have some story-telling elements to it. Instead, Inside Star Trek seems to have been something of a promotional item, with its release roughly coinciding with the time during the mid-1970s when there was talk of reviving the show as Phase II. The fact that Leonard Nimoy did not participate in this audio project and was not included in plans for the series' continuation lends further credence to this theory. Of course, Phase II was ultimately scrapped in favor of the underwhelming Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released in 1979.


The record is primarily a spoken word affair, with Gene Roddenberry, the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, serving as narrator and interviewer. At the beginning, he states, "Star Trek. How did it happen? When did it start? What are the people, the things we couldn't say on television? What are the stories which haven't been told? These are the voices of Star Trek, the way we think, some of what we think about, some of what we talk about in private." In between the interviews and Roddenberry's philosophical waxings are selections from an extensive speech that he had presumably given at a fan convention in which he describes what it was like dealing with the NBC television network while the show was in production.

The interviews are more interesting than one might initially think. The always hammy William Shatner details his approach to the role of Captain James T. Kirk, relationship with Leonard Nimoy, and opinions on when the show was at its best. Things get a little ridiculous, however, when he and Roddenberry take a trip down memory lane by listening to the show's signature sound effects. Next up is a discussion with Mark Lenard in the role of Ambassador Sarek, Spock's father, in which the story behind the conception, gestation, and birth of his son - who seemingly was the first ever half-Vulcan/half-human - is described in a very graphic fashion. For example, did you know that such hybrids ordinarily abort after the first month? And that the only way to have ensured a successful birth was to remove Spock's fetus from his mother's body, allow it to develop further in a laboratory test tube for several months, and then reinsert it back into the uterus for a conventional delivery? Poor Amanda. Since all of this comes from a production in which the show's creator was directly involved, I suppose it makes this information canon, although I don't know if it has ever been referenced in any of the more recent series and films. "The Questor Affair" concerns the pilot for a Roddenberry project that was never picked up as a TV show and allows him to further articulate his frustrations resulting from having to deal with narrow-minded network executives, as does
"The Enterprise Runs Aground." Some of DeForest Kelley's comments in "McCoy's Rx for Life" are especially relevant at the present time what with the recent overhaul of America's health care system: "When millions of inhabitants on any planet can't afford medical care, then it's obviously too damned expensive. Like anything else, medicine reflects the society it's part of. I think our medicine today has too often tried to find its answers outside the human body." Pretty sensible stuff coming from a guy who only portrayed a physician on TV. The segment that features Isaac Asimov allows Roddenberry to recount the humorous story of him shushing the science fiction giant during a convention screening of the series' first pilot, although the author also gets a chance to offer a few insights about the literary genre that he helped pioneer. The remaining tracks deal with the Great Bird's thoughts on the meaning of Star Trek's guiding principles as well as another example ("A Letter From a Network Censor") of how the corporate suits at NBC were opposed to the show's ahead-of-its-time ideas. All in all, an informative listen for the historically-minded Trekkie.

If anyone out there has the 1999 CD reissue of Inside Star Trek (complete with bonus tracks), please get in touch with me. Hailing frequencies are open.

Friday, April 2, 2010

High Mountain Hoedown (Atco, 1970)

Not only have there been a couple of requests for this particular item, but I have also noticed on Site Meter that a number of visitors have stumbled across this blog while using Google and other search engines in an attempt to find the album posted somewhere in the blogosphere. Intrigued by its desirability, I added this title to my list of LPs to acquire if I ever came across it during my regular visits to local secondhand music stores, thrift shops, and garage/estate sales. Lo and behold, I got lucky a few weeks ago.

The brains behind High Mountain Hoedown (or, according to some sources, simply High Mountain) was Texas native Jerry Lynn Williams (1948-2005), a singer and guitarist who got his start as a teenage member of Little Richard's touring band in the mid-1960s. It was during this time that he also apparently received pointers from the group's lead guitar player, a young Jimi Hendrix. He never made it big as a recording artist but was a very prolific songwriter, with the list of musicians who covered his material including B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Delbert McClinton, Taj Mahal, Dave Mason, and many others. Although there is a fair amount of information available out there on the Internet about Williams, I haven't had much luck finding anything specifically about High Mountain Hoedown. Their lone album does not include any liner notes to crib from, either. So if there are any readers who can enlighten me with details about this band, please be sure to leave some comments.

High Mountain Hoedown was evidently a trio, but I can't even tell you who the two other members of the group were. Williams definitely was the lead singer and guitarist. I've seen photos of him playing keyboards, so I'd be willing to bet that he handled these instruments on the album as well. Whoever the group's bassist and drummer were, they certainly do not come off as slouches and were additionally capable of providing good backup vocals. There is also an uncredited horn section that appears on particular songs, which further adds to the mystery surrounding the group's personnel. As an interesting side note, the photography for the album was done by Steve LaVere, best known for his research on blues legend Robert Johnson.


This LP is very much a product of its time and falls into the category of rural rock, a genre that was retroactively created by record collectors and music historians much in the same way that the term "freakbeat" was developed. Stylistically speaking, it occupies some of the same territory inhabited by the Band, Crazy Horse
, the James Gang, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Buffalo Springfield. (Indeed, High Mountain Hoedown was produced by Charles Greene, who also did production work for the last mentioned band.) So if you dig any of those groups, I think that you'll enjoy at least some of the songs featured on this record. The opening cut, "My Thoughts," is one of its best performances and sets the tone for the rest of the album. The lovely ballad "Pickin' Berries" perfectly complements the preceding track, which made the two compositions logical choices for the solitary 45 that was released from High Mountain Hoedown. "Nellie" features some sweet harmony vocals, while "Song #8" is a rocker that seems to be loosely based on the melody from "Rollin' and "Tumblin'." The exquisite "I'll Finish My Song" is the album's only original tune that was not written by Williams, although it is unclear whether its composer, J. McDonald, was another member of the band or not. At any rate, this shuffle comes off as the LP's most overtly country track and contains some superb acoustic guitar work. Side one concludes with a nice fuzzed-out version of Lead Belly's "Goodnight, Irene." Things resume with a decent cover of "The Weight," followed by my favorite performance on the album, the majestic "My Lady." "Nadine" and "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," are capable enough Chuck Berry covers, I suppose, but I have yet to hear anyone surpass the father of rock 'n' roll's originals. To my ears, the exceptional "Voodoo Woman" sounds like neo-swamp rock akin to CCR's "Born on the Bayou" and features lyrics that offer as much praise to Dr. John as they do to the black magic lady in the song's title.

Overall, High Mountain Hoedown falls short of being a masterpiece but is still a worthwhile and enjoyable listening experience.

1. My Thoughts
2. Pickin' Berries
3. Nellie
4. Song #8
5. I'll Finish My Song
6. Goodnight, Irene
7. The Weight
8. My Lady
9. Nadine
10. Voodoo Woman
11. Brown Eyed Handsome Man