Monday, May 31, 2010

Dave Rabbit - Radio First Termer Broadcasts, Vietnam, 1971

The music of Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler never did much for me. So in order to do a military-themed post in recognition of Memorial Day, I'm instead going to discuss underground disc jockey "Dave Rabbit" (a pseudonym for an Air Force sergeant) and his legendary Radio First Termer broadcasts from the Vietnam War. I initially became aware of "Rabbit" as a result of hearing excerpts of his shows that were included on the
U-Spaces comps being circulated through the Internet back in the pre-music blog days. Around the same time, the man himself came forward to tell his fascinating story of bringing "hard acid rock music" to the troops, although to this day he apparently keeps his real name a closely-guarded secret, and understandably so. Nevertheless, his reemergence has led to a new career as a podcaster as well as being interviewed for the excellent Vietnam War documentary Sir! No Sir!


Even though there has been some disagreement over whether or not the individual who currently claims ownership of the "Dave Rabbit" alter ego is the same guy who had served in Vietnam, enough evidence seems to exist that supports his contention. One question, however: If the name "Dave Rabbit" was made up and had been a tribute to Dallas DJ Jimmy Rabbit (as indicated in this interview), why does that particular surname appear on the man's uniform in the photo at the very top of this post? Was it perhaps added during a Photoshop alteration that covered up his real last name? Be that as it may, the "Dave Rabbit" story as it's currently understood is a fascinating one, even taking into consideration those who question its veracity. In his own words, he started the Radio First Termer project in response to the crappy music and disinformation being broadcast to US soldiers by Armed Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) radio and as a tribute to a friend who had been killed in the line of duty. "Rabbit" had volunteered for the Air Force in 1967 to avoid the possibility of being drafted for frontline service in the Army
and spent the bulk of his time stationed on bases or in Saigon. Aware of the tougher assignments that his counterparts out in the jungle faced and having had experience as a studio engineer, he felt compelled to give a little something back to the people who were in combat zones on a regular basis. Calling their show Radio First Termer in reference to soldiers on their first tours of duty in Vietnam, "Rabbit" and his trusty sidekicks, "Pete Sadler" (a Barry Sadler reference?) and "Nguyen" set out to educate the new arrivals about the realities of the war as well as providing soldiers with much-needed comic relief and music deemed too controversial for AFVN. The shows originated from a makeshift studio in a Saigon brothel and, with the assistance of sympathetic technicians who worked at radio relay stations, could be heard by US forces throughout the war-racked country. In all, 63 hours of programming aired during the first three weeks of January 1971 before "Rabbit" shut things down fearing that the military authorities would severely punish him and his associates if they were caught.

For a show that existed for a mere 21 days, Radio First Termer had a profound influence as it was fondly remembered by many Vietnam War veterans and led numerous writers to label "Rabbit" as the "Godfather of Pirate Radio." What we have here are four approximately 50-minute long MP3 tracks of segments from Radio First Termer shows that I found on "Rabbit"'s podcast website a couple of years ago. He might have uploaded more segments since then. A warning about the sound quality, or lack thereof: The bit rate is as low as 48 kbps on some of these tracks. However, considering the recordings' historical importance, I hope that you can look past such sonic limitations. In the interest of authenticity, it is worth pointing out that these MP3s probably aren't too far removed from how they originally sounded coming from the transistor radios of soldiers out in the field. Although the music is often described as "hard acid rock" or "psychedelic," aficionados of really obscure 1960s and 1970s mind-expanding music might come away a little disappointed. Some of the featured musicians and bands include Bloodrock, the James Gang, Steppenwolf, Donovan, Cactus, the Who, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Sugarloaf, Santana, Vanilla Fudge, the Byrds, Eric Burdon and the Animals, and other types of "dad rock" that you're likely to hear on your local oldies radio station. Even with the occasional unexpected cut like "My Flash on You" from Love's first album, most of this material will probably rank pretty highly on your overfamiliarity meter. But if that's all you care about, then you're missing the point since the music simply provides a context for the hi-jinks of "Rabbit" and his assistants. Although certain elements of Vietnam War humor may have lost their impact over time, it's still pretty hard at least not to crack a smile at some of the program's phony commercials and public service announcements or recurring features like "Captain Pansy's Daily Weather" and "Swap Shop." Especially fascinating are recitations of notable graffiti left on latrine walls (e.g. "While I'm home, my wife is my right hand. While I'm away, my right hand is my wife.") as well as updates for carousing soldiers about which Saigon whorehouses and drug dealers to avoid, the type of PSAs that were probably considered to be far more useful than what was featured on AFVN. In short, a fascinating listening experience for the historically-minded head.

If anyone else has additional recordings of "Dave Rabbit" broadcasts from 1971 and/or knows the exact dates of the tracks that correspond with this post, please get in touch with me.

1. Radio First Termer Broadcast segment #1
Radio First Termer Broadcast segment #2
Radio First Termer Broadcast segment #3
Radio First Termer Broadcast segment #4

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Jesse Colin Young with the Youngbloods - Two Trips (Mercury, 1970)

Although they're far from my favorite 1960s rock group, I'll concede that the Youngbloods did have some fine moments. Their folk rock sides were always more convincing than their attempts at psychedelia, and they never really recovered from the loss of guitarist Jerry Corbitt before the release of their third album, Elephant Mountain. That's not to say that bassist and erstwhile folk singer-guitarist guitarist Jesse Colin Young was without talent, but as his sweet voice and correspondingly similar songs came to dominate the Youngbloods' sound, the band became a little too soft for its own good.


Despite the fact that Two Trips was an exploitation job of old material released by Mercury to cash in on the belated success of "Get Together," it's actually my favorite album by Young and the Youngbloods since it neatly encapsulates that transitional time when folk music was morphing into folk rock. Indeed, the tracks on this LP were apparently recorded during the pivotal year of 1965, when the 1960s as we understand the decade today seems to have really begun. Side A features demos by an embryonic version of the group that does not always include the contributions of pianist Lowell "Banana" Levinger, while side B includes approximately half of the songs from Young's Youngblood album, which came out earlier that same year. The Youngbloods tracks are cut from a similar cloth as the material from their first two albums, pleasant if unspectacular East Coast folk rock. The beginning of "Hey Babe" sounds like it wants to become "Get Together," but never quite does. The mellow "Sometimes" contains some nice harmony vocals, and "Rider" is a raved-up version of an acoustic song by Young that had previously appeared on Youngblood. The country rocker "Another Strange Town" has a welcome grittiness to it, but "No More Pain" is arguably the most compelling and distinctive performance in this group of songs.

The tracks from Youngblood are fascinating in that they can be described as folk on the verge of becoming folk rock. Even though the songs' arrangements do not employ electric guitars and other amplified instruments, some tunes are notable for featuring percussion and for having a palpable rhythmic quality. My favorite number on this album is a first-rate cover of Mississippi John Hurt's "Nobody's Dirty Business," which is itself an interpretation of Bessie Smith's "'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do." If it bears similarity to the Lovin' Spoonful, it's because that's John Sebastian you hear blowing the harmonica. Man, I love this song. "Summer Rain" is sickly sweet and a bit overly earnest for my tastes, not to mention that the piano sounds almost out of tune. "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" reveals itself to be a better than expected performance of an old Tin Pan Alley composition. The next two tracks are thoroughly excellent: Young's convincing "Walkin' Off the Blues" as well as a version of "Doc Geiger,"
which is graced by Peter Childs' lovely dobro playing. In spite of its title, "Lullabye" manages to avoid the pitfalls of being too mushy, which was unfortunately the bane of Jesse Colin Young's post-Youngbloods solo career.

Interestingly enough, even though this album was never reissued on compact disc, a CD version of Youngblood was released in the late 1990s, which included all of the early Youngbloods material featured here as bonus tracks, with the curious exception of "Rider."


The Youngbloods
1. Hey Babe
2. Sometimes
3. Rider
4. Another Strange Town
5. No More Pain

Jesse Colin Young
6. Nobody's Dirty Business
7. Summer Rain
8. Brother Can You Spare a Dime
9. Walkin' Off the Blues
10. Doc Geiger
11. Lullabye

Thursday, May 27, 2010

John Berberian Concerts and Oud Workshop at Old Town School of Folk Music Photos

A few readers inquired about last month's John Berberian concerts and oud workshop at Chicago's Old Town School of Music. I am pleased to say that both the evening concert on Wednesday, April 28 and the daytime concert on Thursday, April 29 were very successful. The first show was especially well attended, and John remarked that he had never before signed so many autographs. Next day's performance featured an audience that was predominantly made up of mostly attentive grade schoolers. Approximately ten people took part in the workshop. I had never seen so many oud players at the same time, and it was very interesting to see how each instrument was unique and to hear how different an Arabic oud sounded in comparison to an Armenian-Turkish model.

All in all, it was a fantastic time, even when just doing mundane things like picking up John up at Midway Airport or having lunch with him and some of his local friends. I got to meet a lot of nice people from the Chicagoland Armenian community, and it was good to see that my favorite oud player has quite a few fans in this area. I've already been turned on to some hitherto unknown local ethnic music events thanks to my newfound connections for such matters.

John (left) and Kraig Kuchukian practicing on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 28 in Lincoln Park, Chicago (click to enlarge)

John on a solo flight, Wednesday, April 28 at Old Town School of Folk Music - I apologize for the darkness of the photo, but flash was not allowed (click to enlarge)

John and Kraig
, Wednesday, April 28 at Old Town School of Folk Music (click to enlarge)

John and an admiring student compare instruments at the oud workshop, Thursday, April 29 at Old Town School of Folk Music - the seated man's last name also is Berberian, although he is an Algerian of Berber descent (click to enlarge)

John shows his attentive class how it's done, Thursday, April 29 at Old Town School of Folk Music (click to enlarge)

Frummox - Here to There (Probe, 1969)

The most difficult thing about today's post is figuring out how to classify this record. I scored it last summer at Record Dugout - one of the last decent old school record stores on the South Side of Chicago (although I admit that it can be very hit or miss) - not knowing what the hell it was. The photography on the album sleeve definitely piqued my curiosity, however, so after arranging a bulk discount with the proprietor, I included it with a sizable stack of vinyl that I brought home on that particular day. It's gotten regular play on my turntable ever since.

Frummox was the collective name for two Texas singer-guitarists, Steven Fromholz (pictured in the first photo above) and Dan McCrimmon (the fellow wearing glasses in the second photo). Although McCrimmon wrote three of the tunes that appear on Here to There and co-authored another, Fromholz is the more significant artist with his songs having been covered by the likes of Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Hoyt Axton, and Jerry Jeff Walker as well as being named Texas' poet laureate by the state legislature in 2007. Indeed, some music writers consider him to be an important founding figure of Austin's Outlaw country music scene and view the album as a precursor to the records in this sub-genre that would appear during the following decade. So, how to classify Here to There? Something along the lines of proto-Outlaw country with a touch of rock and psych would seem to be the most appropriate.

Although acoustic guitars predominate, some tracks feature more production than others. The inner gatefold notes list the names of several supporting musicians, most prominently Eric Weissberg (best known for supplying the banjo music to the soundtrack of the movie Deliverance), who contributed guitar, pedal steel guitar, bass, mandolin, and fiddle to this project. Upon first listening, I took Here to There to be a concept album, but now I think it is more of a thematic piece than one with a definite plot. To my reckoning, the songs concern themselves in various ways with a tradition-heavy part of the US coming to terms with the changing times of the 1960s. To wit, the LP begins with a spoken word introduction that beautifully sets the mood for the next 35 minutes:
We'd like to take you travelin' with us, cross country through the desert Southwest: Arizona, New Mexico, especially Arizona. It's a hot day and as we drive along, we can't help thinkin' that a cold beer and sandwich sure would go good. So we pull up and stop in front of the only saloon in a dusty little town. Sign over the door says "Harold's Cave Creek Corral." Push our way inside. Few people there, singin', drinkin' beer, maybe playin' the jukebox once in awhile. Up at the bar is a cowboy. He's about two sizes larger than life. He's talkin' about the way things used to be.
Thus the stage is set for the beautifully atmospheric "Man with the Big Hat." "Kansas Legend" tells the story of Bill Orr, "the youngest, toughest dirt farmer on the Kansas border land" who chose death over letting the bank foreclose on his family land. Judging by its title, "Song for Stephen Stills" seems to be a tribute to the more famous musician whom Fromholz had befriended and apparently played with at one time before pursuing a solo career, while "Jake's Song" is simply a lovely, gentle ballad. The album's most profound moments, however, belong to the "Texas Trilogy" suite, a stirring recollection of Texas small town life inspired by Fromholz's childhood memories. "There You Go" deserves recognition as first-rate country psych nugget what with its mind-expanding arrangements that effectively feature both twangy guitars and sighing strings. I'm not sure what the cryptic title of "Weaving Is the Property of Few These Days" means exactly, although I think it may be a metaphor for composing songs. Had Nick Drake been a Texas troubadour, this is what he might have sounded like. "Lovin' Mind" is another soothing ballad that serves as a perfect closing track, even if you find yourself thinking that this album comes to a conclusion just a bit too soon.

1. Man in the Big Hat
2. Kansas Legend
3. Song for Stephen Stills
4. Jake's Song
5. Texas Trilogy A) Daybreak
6. Texas Trilogy B) Trainride
7. Texas Trilogy C) Bosque Country Romance
8. There You Go
9. Weaving Is the Property of Few These Days
10. Lovin' Mind

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Blues Images Presents...1920s Blues Classics Vol. 4 (Blues Images, 2007)

This collection is the best one yet in the series of CDs that accompany the superb Blues Images calendars, famous for their reproductions of prewar blues advertisements. Not only are the calendars filled with great artwork from a bygone era, but the discs feature the corresponding songs (plus four bonus tracks) in excellent sonic fidelity that rivals even the high quality of Yazoo releases. What makes this volume from 2007 so special? Read on.

Things start out on a drug-related theme what with "Dope Head Blues" and "Cocaine Habit Blues" being the opening tracks. On the former, singer Victoria Spivey is backed by Lonnie Johnson on guitar. In spite of the advertisement (featured on this CD's cover) that shows a woman holding what appears to be a rolling paper curiously devoid of marijuana, most blues scholars consider it to be a song about blow, in similar fashion to the Memphis Jug Band's "Cocaine Habit Blues," which features Hattie Hart on vocals. Melodically based on Jim Jackson's "Kansas City Blues," "Gonna Move to Alabama" is one of Charlie Patton's most hillbilly-sounding songs, especially with the addition of Son Sims' screechy fiddle. Alabamian songster Marshall Owens' lone 78, "Texas Blues" b/w "Try Me One More Time," makes you wish he had recorded more, while "'Fore Day Creep" and "Blues the World Forgot" respectively by Ida Cox and Ma Rainey will appeal to folks who enjoy the works of classic female blues singers. I've never been a big fan of Blind Lemon Jefferson, so I can't get too excited about "Black Snake Moan No. 2." Although you're not likely to mistake it for a hot jazz side, the mainly instrumental "Jazzin' the Blues" by the Beale Street Sheiks (Frank Stokes and Dan Sane) does display some impressive guitar improvisations. Toward the end, you can hear Stokes shout out the keys in which he wants Sane to play, another example of the kind of minutiae that prewar blues fans often find so fascinating. Charlie Spand is the prewar blues pianist of whom I have the highest regard, and next to "Soon This Morning Blues" and "Hastings Street," "Back to the Woods Blues" is my favorite side of his. That's probably Blind Blake accompanying him on guitar. Cognoscenti generally consider Bumble Bee Slim's earlier material for Paramount to be his most interesting recordings, with the slide guitar-heavy "Chain Gang Bound" providing compelling support for this perspective. I'm not exactly sure whose sleep might be disturbed as described in the lyrics of the Mississippi Sheiks' "Don't Wake It Up." But knowing them, it's probably just double entendre for something that was deemed to be unspeakable at the time it was recorded. As is Blues Images' custom, the twelfth track of each of their CDs corresponds with the month of December, meaning that it will be a holiday-themed number. This time around, it's "Lonesome Christmas Blues" by Blind Blake, who is also the guitar player on "Stingaree Man Blues," a record that Irene Scruggs waxed under the pseudonym "Chocolate Brown."

As great as the aforementioned material is, the final two tracks are what really make this CD worth having. Presumed to be consigned to oblivion, Son House's missing Paramount 78 from 1930, "Mississippi County Farm Blues" b/w "Clarksdale Moan," finally became available to be heard by the general public a few years ago. Blues Images head honcho John Tefteller explains,
It's a mystery why it took 75 years from the time it was first recorded to the time it was first heard again by record collectors and Blues fans. Even more intriguing are the circumstances of its reappearance. In October of 2005, Chicago record collector Mark Blaesing revealed to Richard Nevins of Shanachie/Yazoo Records that he had the long-lost Son House record. This surprise announcement came during a discussion with Nevins about the wild and woolly aftermath of an eBay auction of a similarly scarce country record. Country music collectors were abuzz over the reappearance of a long-lost record by the Georgia Pot Lickers and out of that came news that "Clarksdale Moan" by Son House also had been unearthed. Blaesing, a very nice low key guy, would not reveal where or how he obtained the record except to say that he did indeed get it from someone else who wished to remain anonymous. He also hinted that the record was found "in the South." Nevins was blown away by the news and immediately made arrangements with Blaesing to have the record remastered at his studios in New Jersey.
Yes, "Mississippi County Farm Blues" and "Clarksdale Moan" are both magnificent (with my preference being for the former) and are arguably House's greatest prewar recordings. Now if only someone could locate Willie Brown's fabled "Window Blues" b/w "Kicking in My Sleep Blues" 78...

Dope Head Blues - Victoria Spivey
2. Cocaine Habit Blues - Memphis Jug Band
3. Gonna Move to Alabama - Charlie Patton
4. Texas Blues - Marshall Owens
5. 'Fore Day Creep - Ida Cox
6. Black Snake Moan No. 2 - Blind Lemon Jefferson
7. Jazzin' the Blues - Beale Street Sheiks
8. Back to the Woods Blues - Charlie Spand
9. Chain Gang Bound - Bumble Bee Slim
10. Don't Wake It Up - Mississippi Sheiks
11. Blues the World Forgot Parts I & II - Ma Rainey
12. Lonesome Christmas Blues - Blind Blake
13. Try Me One More Time - Marshall Owens
14. Stingaree Man Blues - Chocolate Brown
15. Mississippi County Farm Blues - Son House
16. Clarksdale Moan - Son House

Monday, May 24, 2010

Calypso Pioneers 1912-1937 (Rounder, 1989)

With the unseasonably warm, almost tropical weather that we've been experiencing here in the Chicagoland area during the last couple of days, it's put me in the mood for some vintage music from the Caribbean. Calypso Pioneers 1912-1937 is another magnificent album from Rounder's series of releases focusing on this genre. However, as its title suggests, it focuses primarily on musicians who recorded before the mid to late 1930s heyday of prewar calypso records.


This music has a fascinating history and traces its origins to the 19th century when African, Spanish, and French cultural traditions synthesized into something uniquely Trinidadian. Calypso as we know it today emerged from pre-Lenten carnival celebrations that British colonial officials attempted to abolish. Nevertheless, the fetes persisted as the participants found ways to adapt to the laws designed to suppress them. Thus, by 1900, material with lyrics in English had largely replaced more traditional songs that had utilized an Afro-Creole patois. Additionally, rivalries between carnival participants that had previously been resolved in stick-fighting bouts was manifesting itself as contests between competing tents that featured the factions' own musicians. It was during this era in Trinidad's history that the music of carnival season became known as calypso. We are fortunate that record companies started documenting some of the original performers as early as the 1910s, predating even the first blues and jazz 78s in the United States.


Lovey's Band had been performing in Trinidad since at least the 1890s, and it was during a visit to New York City in 1912 that their enchanting instrumental "Mango Vert" (patois for "green mango") was committed to wax. It can essentially be considered the genesis for all of the music from the English-speaking Caribbean that followed in subsequent years. Record companies visited the island in 1914, resulting in pianist and band leader Lionel Belasco's first side, the instrumental "Germaine" as well as one of the earliest calypso performances with vocals, "Iron Duke in the Land" by Julian Whiterose, who sadly was never recorded again. It would be another nine years until any calypso musicians would return to the studio, and when they did, the performers would include expatriates living in New York such as violinist Cyril Monrose ("Old Lady, Old Lady") and Guyanese vaudeville singer Phil Madison, whose "Caroni Swamp" details an ill-fated attempt to drain the largest mangrove wetland in Trinidad. Another non-Trinidadian calypsonian, pianist Walter Merrick of St. Vincent, recorded the stomping hot jazz-like instrumental "Married to You" in 1925, the same year that vaudeville singer and actor Sam Manning (who, in contrast, did hail from Trinidad) waxed the allegorical "Sly Mongoose." Manning also later released "Lieutenant Julian," a tribute to his fellow countryman and US resident Hubert Julian, who was known as "the Black Lindbergh" for his 1929 flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Lionel Belasco updated "Germaine" as "Caroline" in 1927, while Wilmoth Houdini (pictured on the album cover and another expat from Trinidad living in Harlem) recorded a version featuring vocals that same year. "Carmelita" is a sweet instrumental from 1933 performed by Gerald Clark's Orchestra, a band notable for providing accompaniment to Trinidadian singers who visited New York City for recording sessions during the commercially successful mid to late 1930s period. Bill Rogers' "West Indian Weed Woman" describes a seller of herbal remedies and is another performance by a singer from Guyana. The aforementioned Houdini was apparently despised by most of the calypso stars back on the home island, with his response to their disdain being the provocative "War Declaration" from 1934. Not to be outdone, the Executor provided a sly rebuttal with "My Reply to Houdini" three years later. Atilla the Hun's "Graf Zeppelin" from 1934 commemorates the airship famous for its "Round-the-world" flight in 1929, and while the subject matter is interesting, the song unfortunately is not.
That shortcoming, however, is rectified with the last track, the compellingly exotic "Congo Bara" by the Keskidee Trio, an aggregation that included Atilla the Hun, Lord Beginner, and the Tiger. Although relatively speaking it is the most recent song (1935) included here, it brings things full circle since the lyrics are sung in the patois that had almost completed disappeared from Trinidadian music by the turn of the last century.


Mango Vert - Lovey's Band
2. Germaine - Belasco's Band
3. Iron Duke in the Land - Julian Whiterose
4. Old Lady, Old Lady - Monrose's String Orchestra
5. Caroni Swamp - Phil Madison
6. Married to You - Merrick's Orchestra
7. Sly Mongoose - Sam Manning
8. Caroline - Wilmoth Houdini
9. Caroline - Belasco's Orchestra
10. Lieutenant Julian - Sam Manning
11. Carmelita - Sam Manning
12. West Indian Weed Woman - Bill Rogers
13. War Declaration - Wilmoth Houdini
14. My Reply to Houdini - The Executor
15. Graf Zeppelin - Atilla the Hun
16. Congo Bara - Keskidee Trio

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ian and Sylvia - Nashville (Vanguard, 1968)

By request.

An unfairly disregarded part of Ian and Sylvia's discography, Nashville actually predates the Great Speckled Bird album as an excursion into country and country rock territory, although the rock element is not as pronounced. As a former rodeo rider and Canadian cowboy, Ian's affinity for this kind of music came honestly enough, and upon further review, the material on this LP does not sound as forced as it may have to certain ears when it first came out. Recorded in 1967 and issued the following year, Nashville was the last album that the pair recorded for Vanguard, although it was apparently released after their first record for MGM, Lovin' Sound, had already hit the shelves. My initial exposure to some of the songs that appear here was back in my college days when I had acquired a very reasonably priced used copy of their Greatest Hits CD and came to the conclusion that the tracks from Nashville were among the most interesting on that compilation. With my curiosity suitably piqued, it was a pleasure to find this LP in the bins of what used to be one of my favorite used record stores before it closed down several years ago. And as an added bonus, I found the entire affair to be quite listenable from beginning to end.

Surrounded by esteemed Nashville studio musicians such as guitarists Fred Carter and Jerry Reed, steel guitarist Pete Drake, bassists Bob Moore and Norbert Putnam, and drummer Ken Buttrey, the erstwhile folk duo seem to have been positively influenced by their surroundings and accompanists as they sound considerably more inspired than they do on their spottier predecessor, So Much for Dreaming. Let's give Ian and Sylvia credit for being among the first to record versions of Bob Dylan material that would eventually appear on The Basement Tapes and for doing rather engaging countrified versions of "The Mighty Quinn" and "This Wheel's on Fire" to boot. Fortunately, they don't blow their collective wad on these two superb opening tracks. "Farewell to the North" and "Taking Care of Business" are fine original compositions from Ian, with the latter sounding like something that could have been a hit for Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton or another similar country twosome. Sylvia's "Southern Comfort" covers a great deal of musical territory in five minutes, and with its combination of contrasting sections, lengthy instrumental passages, and somewhat off-kilter vocals, the song can be enjoyed as a superb country psych piece, although this very well may not have been how it was intended to be interpreted. Drake's steel guitar work is especially notable on this performance. "Ballad of the Ugly Man" is a collaborative tune and sounds more akin to the straight-ahead folk material that the two did on their earlier Vanguard albums albeit with more updated musical backing, while "90 x 90 (Ninety Degrees by Ninety Degrees)" is distinguished by the fiddles of Tommy Jackson and Buddy Spicher. "She'll Be Gone" and "London Life" come from Sylvia's songbook, with my preference being for the latter title. Written by Ian, "The Renegade" seems to be an outlaw ballad and a rather good one at that. Once again, Drake contributes some commendable steel guitar. With its orchestrated arrangements and definite non-rural vibe, "House of Cards" - in spite of its merits - comes off as a bit out of place when compared to the preceding songs and is somewhat of an odd selection to have been included on this LP, let alone to have been chosen as its closing track. Overall, however, Nashville is quite good, and it's time for the album to be given the proper reassessment that it deserves.

1. The Mighty Quinn
2. This Wheel's on Fire
3. Farewell to the North
4. Taking Care of Business
5. Southern Comfort
6. Ballad of the Ugly Man
7. 90 x 90 (Ninety Degrees by Ninety Degrees)
8. She'll Be Gone
9. London Life
10. The Renegade
11. House of Cards

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hank Crawford - Memphis, Ray and a Touch of Moody (32 Jazz, 1997)

When it comes to jazz, I've always had a preference for the earthier artists - the ones with a closer connection to blues and other forms of African American roots music - over practitioners of sub-genres such as fusion, for example. Little wonder then that I would have such an appreciation for saxophonist Hank Crawford, a Tennessee native who proudly wore his Southern musical heritage on his sleeve. He was best known as a member and director of Ray Charles' band from 1958 until 1963, and while this greatly increased his exposure, it also probably cost him some points with jazz purists who felt that his employer was too much of a pop musician for their tastes. Thus, many of the albums that he recorded under his own name don't get enough of the accolades that they deserve, which is rather unfortunate. Noted producer Joel Dorn put it best when describing Crawford's collaborations with Charles in stating:
That band, the legitimate child of Louis Jordan and Count Basie, was the newest old band you ever heard, and they could play anything - jazz, blues, their own brand of rock and roll, Latin, whatever. It was a bored and stroked V-8 that took no prisoners. Hank led the band, wrote the charts, pumped out those patented shuffles of his and cry-sang ballads for Ray the way Johnny Hodges used to do for Duke.

I really like that bit about "the newest old band you ever heard" because that in essence describes Crawford's approach to the music presented on Memphis, Ray and a Touch of Moody, which compiles four of his Atlantic LPs recorded between 1960 and 1965. More Soul came out during a time when the term "soul" was still in development and did not have the meaning that it currently possesses. For liner notes writers, it was used to describe jazz that focused on emotional communication with the audience as opposed to the musicians playing only for themselves and for the sake of virtuosity. From a technical standpoint, what makes More Soul distinctive is its three-saxophone lineup, with Crawford on alto (as well as piano on some tracks), David "Fathead" Newman on tenor, and Leroy "Hog" Cooper on baritone. Any way you slice it, this is moving music, whether we're talking about renditions of Erroll Garner's "Misty" and James Moody's "Boo's Tune" and "The Story" or Crawford's own "Four Five Six." Les Davis' liner notes for From the Heart describe the musician as "grass-roots, funky, soulful, down-homer," all words that could also be used accurately to characterize the music on From the Heart. This album once again features the aforementioned triumvirate of saxophone players but is most notable for not including a pianist, which was uncommon for septets and octets. Almost half of the tracks - "Sweet Cakes," "Sherri," "The Peeper," and "Stoney Lonesome" - are Crawford's own works and ably demonstrate both his composing and playing skills. "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand," is, of course, a nod to Ray Charles, and of the pieces that include the sublime guitar of Sonny Forrest, "Don't Cry Baby" is arguably the LP's finest moment.

The strings that prominently appear on Soul of the Ballad may be too syrupy for some peoples' tastes, but I think that they are rather appropriate for the material overall. Most of these titles should be recognizable to you, even if you're not a jazz connoisseur. After all, these are standards. Although this easily could have been a project that a man with Crawford's talent could have sleepwalked through, he never lets the familiarity of the material get in the way of his inspiration. Indeed, these may be among the best renditions of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," "Stormy Weather" (this one especially), "Stardust," and "There Goes My Heart" that you're likely to hear. As for the remainder, it makes for excellent make-out music at the very least. Dig These Blues is my favorite album on this collection. As its title indicates, the selections consist primarily of instrumental blues, with some of the tracks being bold and vivacious, while others have more of a melancholy and/or lowdown feel. In similar fashion to From the Heart, a significant number of the tunes are Crawford's own, including the title track, "Banana Head," the self-referencing "H.C. Blues," "Hollywood Blues," and the walking blues of "Bluff City." Other numbers, such as winning interpretations of Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and Charles Warfield and Clarence Williams' "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" (originally recorded by Bessie Smith in 1923) help make Dig These Blues a superb combination of originals and well-chosen covers.

Disc One

More Soul (1960)
1. Boo's Tune
2. Angel Eyes
3. Four Five Six
4. The Story
5. Dat Dere
6. Misty
7. Sister Sadie

From the Heart (1962)
8. Don't Cry Baby
9. Sweet Cakes
10. You've Changed
11. Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand
12. Sherri
13. The Peeper
14. But on the Other Hand
15. Stoney Lonesome
16. What Will I Tell My Heart

Disc Two

Soul of the Ballad (1963)
1. Blueberry Hill
2. I Left My Heart in San Francisco
3. Stormy Weather
4. Sweet Slumber
5. If I Didn't Care
6. Stardust
7. Any Time
8. Whispering Grass
9. Time Out for Tears
10. I'm Gettin' Sentimental Over You
11. There Goes My Heart
12. Have a Good Time

Dig These Blues (1965)
13. Dig These Blues
14. Don't Get Around Much Anymore
15. Banana Head
16. H.C. Blues
17. It's a Sin
18. Hollywood Blues
19. Baby Won't You Please Come Home
20. New Blues
21. Bluff City Blues

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ghost World - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Shanachie, 2001)

Ordinarily, a movie about two girls who come of age during the summer after their high school graduation would not appeal to me. However, with one of my favorite directors (and noted 78 collector), Terry Zwigoff, at the helm combined with the creative involvement of comic artist Daniel Clowes, I eagerly awaited this film's release back in 2001. It did not disappoint in the least bit, and seeing it during that fateful summer is the last thing that I distinctly remember before 9/11, the day that changed the world forever. Although Ghost World marked a departure from Zwigoff's previous movies, Louie Bluie and Crumb - both documentaries, it maintained his delightfully cynical worldview that resonates so strongly with me. That is, the planet is populated mostly by cultureless idiots, and it is only the true freaks and misfits of our sick society that really have anything of value to offer.

This is not a movie review, so I'm not going to give you a synopsis of the plot here. If you have not seen this film - and especially if you're a fan of old-time music and/or have misanthropic tendencies - you need to because I think that it will strike a chord. I strongly relate to the Seymour character (Steve Buscemi), a frustrated record collector, and always had a thing for artsy high school and college girls like Enid (Thora Birch), with whom he falls hopelessly in love. Buscemi and Birch are both thoroughly excellent in their roles. To this day, my mind still nearly accepts Seymour and Enid as real people. Birch was at the peak of her career at this point, having previously appeared in the acclaimed American Beauty, and even received top billing over co-star Scarlett Johansson, which today would be unthinkable. Poor girl. The last time that I saw her was in an awful-looking made-for-television movie on Lifetime while channel surfing over at my girlfriend's place. But I digress...


Ghost World
the soundtrack is just about as magnificent as Ghost World the movie in that it's an unlikely combination of ingredients that produces a compelling end result. The music from the film's opening sequence, "Jaan Pehechaan Ho" by Mohammed Rafi, comes from the 1960s Indian film Gumnaam and is fine Subcontinental rock 'n' roll, while "Graduation Rap" and the so-awful-it's-funny-and-therefore-almost-good "Pickin' Cotton Blues" (by Blueshammer!) are Clowes' and Zwigoff's interpretations of how terrible most modern-day music is. The director utilized his vast 78 collection for other material featured prominently in the movie, such as Skip James' undisputed prewar blues classic "Devil Got My Woman" (how many of you guys out there wish that your girlfriend would get as excited about this record as Enid did?), the more upbeat "Let's Go Riding" by Freddie Spruell, and calypso sides by Lionel Belasco, including "Miranda," "Las Palmas de Maracaibo," and the mesmerizing "Venezuela." For good measure, Zwigoff also includes several other favorite 78s that were not featured in the movie - "Fare Thee Well Blues" by Joe Calicott, "Bye Bye Baby Blues" by Little Hat Jones, "C.C. & O. Blues" by Pink Anderson and Simmie Dooley, "C-h-i-c-k-e-n Spells Chicken" by the McGee Brothers, "That's No Way to Get Along" by Robert Wilkins, and "So Tired" by the Dallas String Band. According to his booklet notes, the director considered using "Fare Thee Well" or "Bye Bye" as the concluding music for Ghost World, but in the end, neither was chosen. Craig Ventresco provides a latter-day take on prewar music on the guitar showcase "Scalding Hot Coffee Rag." Zwigoff also wanted to use several classic hot jazz sides for particular scenes, but the licensing fees proved to be prohibitive. Consequently, he contracted the revivalist band Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks to perform King Oliver's "I Must Have It" and "You're Just My Type," Tiny Parham's "Clarice," and Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell's "Georgia on My Mind" instead. These performances are nearly as good as the originals. And finally, there is the "haunting, distant yet moving" (Zwigoff's own words) "Theme from Ghost World" by David Kitay, which provides closure for this CD as well as it did for the movie itself.

Anybody out there care to share their interpretation of what happened when Enid got on the bus at the film's conclusion? I considered it to be a metaphor for suicide, but I'm interested in reading some other opinions.


1. Jaan Pehechaan Ho - Mohammed Rafi
2. Graduation Rap - Vanilla, Jade and Ebony
3. Devil Got My Woman - Skip James
4. I Must Have It - Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks
5. Miranda - Lionel Belasco
6. Pickin' Cotton Blues - Blueshammer
7. Let's Go Riding - Freddie Spruell
8. Georgia on My Mind
- Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks
9. Las Palmas de Maracaibo - Lionel Belasco
10. Clarice
- Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks
11. Scalding Hot Coffe Rag - Craig Ventresco
12. You're Just My Type
- Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks
13. Venezuela - Lionel Belasco
14. Fare Thee Well Blues - Joe Calicott
15. C.C. & O. Blues - Pink Anderson and Simmie Dooley
C-h-i-c-k-e-n Spells Chicken - McGee Brothers
17. That's No Way to Get Along - Robert Wilkins
18. So Tired - Dallas String Band
19. Bye Bye Baby Blues - Little Hat Jones
20. Theme from Ghost World - David Kitay

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Final Solution - Live at the Matrix 1966

Outsiders even in a city full of outsiders, the controversially-named Final Solution were one of the most interesting "lost bands" of 1960s San Francisco. More garage than psych - and definitely not hippies - this outfit could occasionally be found as a supporting act for other more prominent groups at various Haight-Ashbury venues in the early days of the scene, although by their own reckoning they played a total of only 50 or so shows during their existence. The personnel included (shown from left to right in the photo above) lead guitarist Ernie Fosselius, rhythm guitarist-vocalist John Yager, drummer John Chance, and bassist Bob Knickerbocker, most of whom spent time as students at San Francisco State University. In contrast to their contemporaries, the Final Solution played mostly foreboding, minor-key material, with the lyrics of their original compositions coming from the pen of Knickerbocker. Making a concerted effort to be different from other Bay Area bands, they played music that was not meant to be danced to and dressed in a manner that did not give off a peace-and-love vibe. Stylistically, they seemed to have something resembling a garage-folk-raga rock sound, while the group to which they bore the closest similarity was the Great Society, although you might hear bits of pre-Janis Big Brother & the Holding Company, the Oxford Circle, and even the Velvet Underground in some of their performances. As for their eyebrow-raising name, Alec Palao explains:
They'd also christened themselves the Final Solution, derived from the the cryptic but meaningless epithet "There Is No Final Solution." With their solidly middle-class backgrounds, none of the group had any idea of the slogan's implications. "We knew vaguely somewhere back in history it was heavy," (explains Fosselius). "I'm embarassed to admit I didn't realise how much the name could mean to a Jew, especially one (like Bill Graham) with direct experience of the concentration camps. I have so much respect for him in retrospect, how cool he was about it. He'd just say 'Oh, that's your name, huh?'"
You can read more about the Solution's story in Palao's excellent article in the first issue of Cream Puff War.


Other than some all but apocryphal rehearsal tapes (is there anybody out there who has these tracks and is willing to share them?), this recording of a show at the Matrix from sometime in 1966 remains the only audio document of the band's legacy. And it was almost something that didn't happen as indicated by the announcer's introduction in which he explains that they were appearing in place of another band that had apparently canceled at the last minute. Although the audience doesn't sound incredibly enthusiastic, the group lays down an engaging set with mostly original songs, starting with "Tell Me Again" and "Bleeding Roses," two compositions with probing guitar work and ragged harmony vocals that recall some of the Great Society's live material on Conspicuous Only in Its Absence and How It Was - minus Grace Slick, of course. "If You Want" features Fosselius performing a seriously twangy solo on a homemade instrument, a mandolin with a Harmony guitar neck, which he would alternate with his more conventional axe during performances. Derivative as it may be, the garagey "You Say that You Love Me" contains some blistering lead guitar work and rocks hard before segueing into a so-so interpretation of "Got My Mojo Working." "Time Is Here and Now" is another fine original, and the instrumental "Sandy Nelson Meets Bo Diddley" sounds exactly like its title indicates.
The percussionist Chance handles the vocals on a lackluster cover version of Dave Dudley's "Truck Drivin' Son of a Gun," which is redeemed by the subsequent number, another outstanding original, the fuzz guitar-laden "Just Like Gold. "Misty Mind" is actually quite catchy and would have been a logical choice for a single had the band been given such an opportunity. By virtue of its inclusion on Pebbles Volume 22, the rave-up "So Long Goodbye" may be the Final Solution's best-known song, and - with its wicked guitars and snarling vocals - rightfully so. The set concludes with a brief instrumental take on "America the Beautiful," which is as representative of 1966 as Jimi Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock is of 1969.

1. Intro
2. Tell Me Again
3. Bleeding Roses
4. If You Want
5. You Say that You Love Me
6. Got My Mojo Working
7. Time Is Here and Now
8. Bo Diddley Meets Sandy Nelson
9. Truck Drivin' Son of a Gun
10. Just Like Gold
11. Misty Mind
12. So Long Goodbye
13. America the Beautiful Part 1
14. America the Beautiful Part 2

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cream Puff War Issue #1 (1991; 1995)

Although it existed for only a brief two-issue run in the early 1990s, Cream Puff War remains my favorite psychedelic, folk rock, and garage rock magazine of all time. In spite of its title, this publication is not a Grateful Dead fan periodical but rather a collaborative effort from Jud Cost and Alec Palao that focuses on some of the lesser-known but no-less-interesting San Francisco Bay Area bands from the mid to late 1960s. Those two writers would respectively go their separate ways to work with the Sundazed and Big Beat labels before the planned third issue could be completed. While Cost and Palao have written several sets of outstanding booklet notes for the aforementioned reissue specialists, I miss their scholarship from appearing in article form on a semi-regular basis.

The first issue of Cream Puff War came out in 1991, although what's presented here is a reprinting from 1995. What a collection of articles! Since the Bay Area was my favorite music scene from the 1960s, it's little wonder why this magazine appeals to me so much. Palao contributes in-depth histories of two of the earliest first-wave San Francisco groups, the Great Society and the Mystery Trend, as well as a feature on the extremely obscure Final Solution.

Cost's article on Jan Errico covers her time with both the Vejtables and Mojo Men, while his other pieces focus on the earliest days of the Flamin' Groovies and Palo Alto garage legends William Penn and His Pals. Throughout, fascinating photographs and ephemera lavishly illustrate the magazine and help bring the stories related within to life. As an added bonus, this issue concludes with a reproduction of a program from the San Francisco Band Bash '66 (which includes a gallery of captivating and sometimes humorous portraits of the wide range of groups who participated in the competition), a short list of collectible 45s by notable Bay Area garage bands, and reviews of new releases and reissues circa 1991.

All in all, a most informative reading experience.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

ronnie james dio, 1942-2010

no, regular record fiend readers, that headline is not a joke. and, as a regular reader, accustomed to our fare that is decidedly not heavy metal, i am quite familiar with the expression you're likely making at this moment. it's one i've seen time & time again, whenever i encounter fellow collectors that know of my voluminous psychedelic collections, respect my musical opinions, and then finding out that i also have pretty much the entire recorded works of ronnie james dio, the diminutive, legendary metal singer who sadly passed away sunday at the age of 67. he's one of my very favorite artists--and the dichotomous nature of that fandom is something i wear with pride, and without irony (yet, that said, also fully seeing the humor in). so, allow me a moment of indulgence to eulogize an idol of mine, and then we can safely return to our regularly scheduled programming.

i'm not going to run through a history of ronnie's career. nor am i going to debate the merits of black sabbath MK1 vs MK2 (though, i will say this: classic sabbath is godly, but at least ronnie never did a bottom-feeding reality show...; ahem). i can't even wholeheartedly defend much of the man's discography. there's plenty of it that sure is awfully unlistenable. and yet, i've never cared. he's still a hero to me.

i was a pretty big metalhead in high school; that's all i listened to, before discovering classic rock, then, later, psychedelic music. i went to see (the band) dio play live at the uic pavillion--one of my first concerts--when i was 15, on the "dream evil" tour, with megadeth & savatage. about all i can remember of the show is ronnie fighting a gigantic robotic spider on stage in between songs, and, yes, it was pretty ridiculous. but my teenage self thought that was just about the coolest thing i'd ever seen. he sang songs about dragons, castles, demons, witches and magic--and when he spoke in interviews, he was clear, lucid, and intelligent (anyone who's ever followed metal--particularly in the 80s--knows this is somewhat rare). i still have a poster of the "dream evil" album cover i bought from the dio fan club, signed by the band. i bought every one of his albums the day it came out, and a decade ago, on my new computer, some of the first things i sought out on the interwebs were his earliest recordings, like the "ronnie & the prophets" and "dio at domino's" LPs i'd long read about, or recordings by the electric elves. along with my (long lost) fellow dio-worshipping friend brian mitchell [are you out there, man?], i was beyond ecstatic when ronnie got back together with black sabbath in the early 90s for the "dehumanizer" album & tour, and over the years i've played "stars" by hear'n'aid, the "we are the world" for the heavy metal set, which he organized, to anyone who will listen. it's epic, bombastic, hilarious, and pretty great. one of my more heinous what were you thinking??-stories from college (the pre-internet days) involved me driving two and a half hours north (at eight o'clock pm on a weeknight, the day before i had a midterm i hadn't studied for, no less) to chicago to buy his newest import-only album; no one in my town had it, and i had phoned a record store there that said they did. in my haste, i neglected to tell them to save a copy for me. suffice it to say, there was no cd there when i arrived (at close to eleven o'clock), so i turned around and went back home. a five hour drive overall, and all i got in return was a funny story, and even more of those aforementioned "for a dio album??!!?" faces.

his music, his career, was like one of my oldest, closest friends. someone, something, that would always be there. i've never been a fan of anything else for as long. i certainly don't listen to him every day, probably not even every half-year anymore. but i threw on "heaven & hell" (the song) tonight after i heard the news, and i'll be damned if i didn't shed a wee tear as i sang along. was it for ronnie, and a particularly apropos passage of the song? a little, of course. but it was also because a big piece of my youth is now gone; getting older really does suck sometimes. i'm going to miss my friend.

his albums are all over the place online (and, still in print); but, see the comments for one of my favorite tracks by the man, "wonderworld", from his early band elf. it's a great song; sweeping, majestic, epic, a little silly, and, now, just a whole lot more melancholic. goodbye, ronnie. be at peace.

and, long live rock and roll.

--the north star grassman

Friday, May 14, 2010

Muddy Waters & Howlin' Wolf - London Revisited (Chess, 1974)

While no lost masterpiece, this vault-scrounging job still contains some interesting leftovers from Muddy Waters' and Howlin' Wolf's British rock star-studded London recording sessions respectively from 1971 and 1970. Back in the days before CDs and bonus tracks, labels would often throw together LPs made up of previously unreleased material that had initially been deemed unsuitable for public consumption. Such albums are typically hit-or-miss affairs, but record labels have misjudged the work of their artists frequently enough that it is still possible to come across some hidden gems on these kinds of records.

Although The London Muddy Waters Sessions is the lesser of these two British supergroup-backed LPs, it is the outtakes from that album which are, strangely enough, more interesting. The supporting musicians here include Carey Bell on harmonica, Steve Winwood or Georgie Fame on keyboards, Sam Lawhorn and Rory Gallagher on guitars, Rick Grech on bass, and Mitch Mitchell on drums. "Hard Days" resurrects one of Muddy's earliest pre-Chess recordings from 1946, while the drum-less "Highway 41" allows the elder Chicago bluesman to stretch out on slide guitar during its seven-minute duration. He doesn't sound entirely comfortable doing Ivory Joe Hunter's "I Almost Lost My Mind" (which would have not sounded out of place on the Brass and the Blues LP from 1966), but it still can be appreciated as a novelty if nothing else. "Lovin' Man" is a fine update of a song that Waters had originally recorded in 1953. As far as I know, the only other place where you can find these songs is on the Blues Blood LP on the German Bellaphon label. Although it's very well possible that they are also available on some British or Japanese Muddy Waters box set with which I'm not familiar.

I'll be honest and tell you that the Howlin' Wolf tracks are not very good. To be fair, the man was in ill health when The London Sessions were recorded. I recall reading somewhere that Wolf had good days and not-so-good days in the studio. These songs must have been from his not-so-good days, while what made it onto the aforementioned album is mostly brilliant. Willie Dixon's spoken word introduction is conspicuously absent on this inferior version of "Goin' Down Slow." Remakes of "Killing Floor" and "May I Have a Talk with You" (titled "I Want to Have a Word with You" here) just don't sound very inspired. Even guitarists Hubert Sumlin and Eric Clapton, bassists Bill Wyman or Klaus Voorman, and drummers Charlie Watts or Ringo Starr seem to be just going through the motions, probably feeding off of Wolf's lack of energy. Still, we can cut the blues legend some slack. These tracks, plus a bonus disc of alternate takes and mixes, are also available on a cool two-CD deluxe edition of The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions.

Muddy Waters
1. Hard Days
2. Highway 41
3. I Almost Lost My Mind
4. Lovin' Man

Howlin' Wolf
5. Goin' Down Slow
6. The Killing Floor
7. I Want to Have a Word with You

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Del Jones' Positive Vibes - Court Is Closed (Hikeka, 1973)

Best known for his writings and activism, Del Jones (1946-2006) often used the title "War Correspondent" to describe himself. Viewing the world as a battleground of an ongoing racial and cultural war in which whites have systematically oppressed and stolen from blacks and other groups, he produced a provocative body of written work including books such as Culture Bandits, The Black Holocaust: Global Genocide, and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Hi-Tech Barbarians. His recurring theme in these dissertations is that essentially everything came from Africa and that whites and other races stole and took credit for these innovations. Supporter of multi-culturalism that I consider myself to be, I can be sympathetic to his views up to a point. There is no doubt that certain whites have done terrible things to certain people of African descent. But to blame one race for every evil and to claim that another single-handedly invented every aspect of civilization as we know it before allegedly having it ripped off doesn't really help anyone in the long run. It just perpetuates resentment and hatred. But what do I know? I'm just some middle-class white guy who grew up in the suburbs. Be that as it may, I don't have to agree with one's politics in order to appreciate and admire their art.


And such is the case with the Del Jones' Positive Vibes LP Court Is Closed. A true cri de couer from the black ghetto of Philadelphia, this album will set you back a ton of money if you can ever get your hands on an original copy. I'm content to have this reissue that Jones himself put out a few years before his death. Fortunately, the performances on this record don't veer into "kill whitey" territory (at least not overtly) and instead focus more on the injustices and horrors of a system that have prevented many blacks from achieving the American Dream. Side one includes two tracks, "Court Is Closed" and "Times Are Hard, Friends Are Few," that are basically spoken word pieces in which Jones launches into his raps (although not anything like rap of the modern-day variety) about the oppression faced by his people. On "Inside Black America," the author sings lyrics (actually fairly credibly) that try to convey the challenges of being an African American. Regrettably, it sounds like the least inspired performance on this LP. Side two, however, really delivers the goods. Although "Prelude ta Hell," "Needle 'n Spoon," and "Cold Turkey" make up a three-part anti-drug suite, it still doesn't prevent them from collectively being one of the most mind-blowing pieces of black psychedelia committed to wax. Seriously, this is some heavy shit, man. Although Jones' range is somewhat limited, he sings his heart out on these tracks, with the uncredited band providing extremely suitable accompaniment throughout the proceedings. It's a shame that the personnel are unlisted even though there are numerous photos of the musicians on the back of the album jacket. The two guitarists alternately lay down wicked wah-wah rhythms or searing leads on all of the performances, while the rhythm section, flautist, and occasional horn players supply just the right amount of musical support. Overall, I would say that this album is stylistically somewhere between Funkadelic and Gil Scott-Heron, which is a really good place to be in my book.


1. Court Is Closed
2. Inside Black America
3. Times Are Hard, Friends Are Few
4. Prelude ta Hell
5. Needle n' Spoon
6. Cold Turkey

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Crazy Horse - Scratchy: The Complete Reprise Recordings (Rhino Handmade, 2005)

I'm guessing that the majority of you are familiar with Crazy Horse's story, so I'm not going to go into great detail describing their origins. Of course, they are best known for their work with Neil Young and as the backing band who, in my opinion, brought out the best in that particular musician. Although they will forever be linked to ol' Shakey, their own material holds up rather well in its own right as Scratchy: The Complete Reprise Recordings convincingly demonstrates. This first-rate collection compiles their phenomenal eponymous debut LP, the underrated followup, Loose, previously unreleased material, and an early 1960s 45 from pre-Crazy Horse vocal group, Danny & the Memories. While the rest of the band's ouevre has its merits, these performances from 1971-1973 are the most definitive and essential.

Prior to joining forces with Young for the masterpiece Everybody Knows this Is Nowhere, guitarist Danny Whitten, bassist Billy Talbot, and drummer Ralph Molina had provided the core to aggregations such as the aforementioned white doo-wop group and scuzzy Los Angeles rock band the Rockets. Unlike other musical outfits, these guys learned to sing before becoming proficient with their respective instruments. Thus, in contrast to many other groups, they could rock hard and belt out killer harmony vocals at the same time. Crazy Horse came about in the wake of This Is Nowhere and After the Gold Rush and should have been huge. However, in spite of the superb contributions from guitarist Nils Lofgren (who was playing hooky from his band Grin during the recording sessions), pianist-producer Jack Nitzsche, guitarist Ry Cooder, and fiddler Gib Gilbeau, it failed to make a significant commercial impact. Crazy Horse's sound was unique: roots-based country rock filtered through a drug-addled, post-1960s perspective of lost innocence. Prewar blues even shows its influence in songs such as the awesome opening track "Gone Dead Train" (although it sounds like the band only borrowed the title of King Solomon Hill's best 78) and the lovely "Carolay" (which contains verses lifted from Robert Johnson's "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom"). "Dance, Dance, Dance" is a fine bit of ersatz Cajuniana from the pen of mentor Neil Young, while the anthemic "Downtown" inexplicably never became the massive hit that it could have been in a more just world. The phase shifter featured on the melancholy "Look at All the Things" and the rocking "Beggars Day" give both songs an early 1970s psychedelic sheen. Cooder's exquisite slide guitar is the icing on the cake for the heartfelt and beautiful "I Don't Want to Talk About It," which stands in stark contrast to the menacing and tough "Dirty Dirty." "Nobody" sounds more upbeat in tone as does "I'll Get By," which also features some enchanting group vocals. And finally, Nitzsche takes a rare turn handling lead singing duties on the Rolling Stones-like "Crow Jane Lady."


Crazy Horse was a tough act to follow, especially considering that Whitten's heroin problems led to his departure from the group after its release. Nitzsche and Lofgren also bailed out, leaving Talbot and Molina to recruit former Rockets bandmate George Whitsell to fill one of the guitar slots. Keyboardist John Blanton and guitarist Greg Leroy rounded out the lineup that recorded Loose. Unfairly slagged by many, the band's second album does pale in comparison to their debut but only because its predecessor is so thoroughly excellent. Had Loose been a privately pressed LP released by a more obscure country rock band, I can guarantee you that it would be more highly regarded in certain record collecting circles. Yes, Whitten's distinct guitar and vocals are noticeably absent, but that does not mean the listener cannot derive enjoyment from rockers and blues-influenced numbers like "Move," "All the Little Things," "I Don't Believe It," and "One Sided Love." Tracks such as "Hit and Run," "Try," "Fair Weather Friend," "You Won't Miss Me," and "And She Won't Even Blow Smoke in My Direction" have a more palpable country influence and are all good performances if sometime a bit too laid back for their own good. "One Thing I Love" features a nice combination of instrumentation and vocal harmonies making it my favorite track on this album. While "All Alone Now" has a nice good-time vibe to it, the ballads "Going Home" and "Kind of Woman" are a bit too soft for my tastes.

With these two albums being squeezed onto this set's first CD, the second disc contains some interesting supplementary material from the recording sessions for Crazy Horse including an alternate take of "Dirty, Dirty" and a stretched-out version of "Downtown" that clocks in at nearly 11 minutes. "Dear Song Singer" is a moving solo piece from Whitten, while "Scratchy" is an unfinished instrumental whose main riff seems to have been recycled for "Move" on the second LP. "Susie's Song" simply sounds like Lofgren messing around on the piano and does not amount to much. "When You Dance You Can Really Love" is a Neil Young song recorded in 1973 by the Loose lineup as a possible single but was never released. I've always been a fan of radio spots, and the one included here is pretty cool. "Can't Help Loving that Girl" and "Don't Go" represent the lone single recorded by the previously mentioned Danny & the Memories in 1962, with the latter being the more interesting of these two tracks. Although neither song bears any similarities to the material Whitten, Talbot, and Molina would later record in Crazy Horse, they give the listener an opportunity to hear how far these musicians had come from their vocal group origins.

With a limited run of only 2500 copies, this two-CD set
is long out of print. If you don't feel like paying collector's prices, you might consider purchasing the British import The Complete Reprise Recordings 1971-'73 instead. It's essentially the same thing as Scratchy, minus the two Danny & the Memories tracks.

Disc One

Crazy Horse (1971)
1. Gone Dead Train
2. Dance, Dance, Dance
3. Look at All the Things
4. Beggars Day
5. I Don't Want to Talk About It
6. Downtown
7. Carolay
8. Dirty, Dirty
9. Nobody
10. I'll Get By
11. Crow Jane Lady

Loose (1972)
12. Hit and Run
13. Try
14. One Thing I Love
15. Move
16. All Alone Now
17. All the Little Things
18. Fair Weather Friend
19. You Won't Miss Me
20. Going Home
21. I Don't Believe It
22. Kind of Woman
23. One Sided Love
24. And She Won't Even Blow Smoke in My Direction

Disc Two

1. Dirty, Dirty (alternate version)
2. Scratchy (takes 1-3)
3. Dear Song Singer
4. Downtown (unissued long version)
5. Susie's Song (takes 1-5)
6. When You Dance You Can Really Love
7. Radio Spot
8. Can't Help Loving that Girl - Danny & the Memories
9. Don't Go - Danny & the Memories