Wednesday, March 21, 2012

REPOST: The Charlatans - From the Red Dog to Straight Street - Live in the 60s (Bootleg, 2003)

The Charlatans are on the list of my top three favorite San Francisco bands from the 1960s. While some critics will argue that the group was more important historically than musically, I still think the sum is greater than the parts. The Charlatans' mixture of rock, folk, blues, country, cannabis, and LSD essentially created West Coast psych and Haight-Ashbury as we understand it today. Authoharpist George Hunter's vision and guitarist Mike Wilhelm's virtuosity still don't receive enough accolades.


When I first started really getting into psych, I had to make do with crappy sounding bootleg recordings of the Charlatans. By the mid-1990s, I was overjoyed when their unfairly dismissed Philips LP from 1969 was legitimately reissued and Big Beat Records released the thoroughly excellent The Amazing Charlatans CD. So imagine my excitement when I heard about this collection of live tracks that came out about six years ago. Unfortunately, it's mostly a bum trip. "I Saw Her," "I Always Wanted A Girl Like You," and "When I Go Sailing By" are among the few songs in the band's repertory that never really did much for me, and these live versions don't change my opinion. "Folsom Prison Blues" is a competent version of the Johnny Cash classic. "Lulu's Back In Town" is an unremarkable instrumental that clocks in at barely more than a minute. "Interview" is an audio clip featuring, if I remember correctly, George Hunter from the documentary The Life and Times of the Red Dog Saloon, which is definitely worth a rental or download. "Wabash Cannonball" is a fraudulent track that the album "producers" would have you believe was recorded at the aforementioned landmark watering hole in Virginia City, Nevada during the legendary summer of 1965. While the onstage banter before and after the music seems legitimate (and provides evidence of the technical problems that seemed to plague the Charlatans at many of their live performances), the song itself is obviously cut from the Philips LP and pasted into the audio file. Even though I love that version of "Wabash Cannonball" - where Mike Wilhelm weaves together the disparate threads of psych, the Carter Family, and Chuck Berry - even bootleggers shouldn't try to pass off a studio track as a live recording. Caveat emptor.



So what are we left with? Three live versions of the Charlatans' signature tune, "Alabama Bound." Actually, it's only two versions since tracks 2 and 10 are identical, although the latter seems to be a higher fidelity recording, relatively speaking. Track 2/10 to my ears sounds the same as the live version that appeared on the Alabama Bound LP on the notorious Eva label from France. According to the less-than-reliable liner notes, this recording dates from a Family Dog event on June 13, 1969. It is performed by the third lineup of the group, and is pretty much the same arrangement as it appears on the Philips LP. This rendition gets pretty far out there and contains a great part where you can hear Richard Olsen playing his effects-laden woodwind instrument and foot-pedal bass simultaneously. Track 3, an earlier version apparently from 1967, features the Charlatans' original lineup and is very similar to the Golden State Recorders version featured on The Amazing Charlatans. Yeah, it's a bit ragged and Wilhelm's amp sounds like it's bleeding feedback, but it still takes me to the promised land every time I listen to it in the right state of mind.

So the sound overall is not great, and there are really only two exceptional tracks here. But if you're a Charlatans completist like me, you'll still want this. To make up for the other somewhat lame tracks, I've also included a PDF version of Jud Cost's exhaustive "The Saga of the Amazing Charlatans" article from the second issue of Cream Puff War in the file for your perusal. It's a fascinating piece on the band, the Red Dog, and early Haight-Ashbury. Definitely worth a read for the historically-minded head.

Be sure to check out the superb documentary The Life & Times of the Red Dog Saloon, produced and directed by Mary Works. 

1. I Saw Her
2. Alabama Bound
3. Alabama Bound
4. Folsom Prison Blues
5. Lulu's Back In Town
6. I Always Wanted a Girl Like You
7. Interview
8. Wabash Cannonball
9. When I Go Sailing By
10. Alabama Bound


Other Charlatans Live Bootlegs?


If you read "The Saga of the Amazing Charlatans" (included with the corresponding download for the post above), you'll see a discography at the end of the article which includes track listings for two soundboard recordings from shows at the Matrix.

April 17, 1966

1.We're Not on the Same Trip
2. On the Road Again
3. She's Movin' On
4. I Got Mine
5. By Hook or by Crook
6. By and By
7. Mojo

July 28, 1966

1. Sweet Lorraine
2. Canned Music
3. On The Road Again
4. Alabama Bound
5. Codine
6. 32-20

Anybody out there have these shows and is willing to share or trade? Please let me know as I'm dying to hear them.


The Big Reboot Project and Other News

Yeah, I'm still alive if anyone wants to know. It's been a long time since I've posted an album review or really anything else for that matter. The cause of my recent inactivity is threefold. First, my day job has kept me really busy during the last six months with no sign of things letting up until possibly this summer. That's a good thing. When I started this blog three years ago, I was hardly working at all due to the lousy economy, which meant that I had plenty of free time to devote to Record Fiend. Now the opposite is true. Although I don't think that I'll ever again be able to post as frequently as I did in 2009 and 2010, having a steady cash flow is a fair tradeoff. The second factor that contributed to my absence was the MegaUpload debacle, an incident that sent some major shock waves through the music blogging community. Some of my fellow electronic scribes threw in the towel after deciding that the environment was just too hostile to continue operations. Others, perhaps most notably the late lamented Holy Warbles (best regards if you're out there, brother owl), had their sites taken down by whatever hosting entity they were utilizing, actions that were more likely deliberately preemptive than coincidental. While we are fortunate that SOPA and PIPA were never enacted by Congress here in the US, the realist in me views this victory as only a temporary setback for the bloated entertainment industry. If it feels like it's just too risky to keep this thing going, I'll probably have to retire from music blogging on a permanent basis. That said, I'm willing to test the waters and see what happens. The final reason for my hiatus from Record Fiend has to do with the publishing opportunities in print media that this site has provided for me. Having contributed two articles to Ugly Things magazine and with a third piece in the works, I'm finding that I now have to budget my time for writing projects, regardless of whether they're attributed to yours truly's legal name or my more colorful blogging moniker. I also have some contributions appearing in the debut issue of Flashback magazine, which hits the newsstands next month, and am very proud to be part of what promises to be an outstanding periodical that primarily covers mind-expanding music from the 1960s and early 1970s. And then there's a blues-related labor of love that I've been working on since last summer but is regrettably moving at a snail's pace. The long and short of it is that having to multitask several different writing assignments has also been a major reason why there hasn't been a lot of recent activity in these parts.


As many of you have astutely noticed, the aforementioned MegaUpload affair significantly affected this blog, and I will start addressing that issue with a major reboot of Record Fiend. This will involve reposting every album review and, where necessary, making new CD and vinyl rips in a lossless audio format. Of course, there will be a few other tweaks here and there, all with the purpose of contributing to your reading, viewing, and listening pleasure. I will be going back to the very beginning and reposting the reviews in the order in which they originally appeared. A number of you have e-mailed me or left comments requesting that I repost something in particular that is no longer available for sharing. I ask that you excuse me for not having the time to respond to these queries. Rest assured that everything will eventually be restored here, but the reposts will be appearing in the fashion that I previously detailed. As a result, some of you will have to be a little more patient than others, and I hope that you will understand my decision to handle matters in this fashion. There are also still many albums in my collection that I would like to review and share for your benefit in the future. When time is available, I will try to include some new material among the reposts during this big reboot project.