Tag Archives: Eric Clapton

T.G.I.F. – Ten for Jim McCarty

What’s the difference between Detroit and Upstate New York?

On any given Friday night I can hit a bar and find a bunch of middle-aged guys playing covers. In Detroit, my buddy Sue can do the same thing, except the guitar player is Jim McCarty.

McCarty blazed on axe for Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels. Jammed at Electric Ladyland with Hendrix. Played toe to toe with Buddy Miles. Took Cactus into the stratosphere. Kicked ass all over again in The Rockets. Recently rocking again in The Detroit Revue, The Hell Drivers and finally, the 2010+ reincarnation of The Rockets.

But all the way through, he kept playing the blues, often on a Friday night in a Detroit bar, with friends.

I’ve been listening to this guy for over forty-five years and two things always come to mind – (1) holy shit, is he great, and (2) why is he not mentioned in the same breath as Blackmore, Page, Clapton, Beck, Gallagher and other consensus giants? He can blow your doors off or lay it bare. He can play anything, anytime, anywhere. I’m not going to argue with you.

I’m going to prove it to you.

Here are Ten Titanic Jim McCarty Tunes for this week’s TGIF.

(01) “No Need To Worry” / “Parchman Farm” (live at the Atlanta Pop Festival, 1970)

(02) “Taking It Back” (The Hell Drivers, live in Detroit 2009)

(03) “Hoochie Coochie Man” (live with Mystery Train and Willie D Warren!)

(04) “See See Rider” (live with the Detroit Rock Revue)

(05) “Oh Well” (sitting in with The Reefermen!)

(06) “Turn Up The Radio” (The Rockets, 1979)

(07) “Evil” (Cactus, live in Buffalo, 1971)

(08) “Goin’ Down” (live with Smokin’ Moses, 2008)

(09) “Let Me Swim / Long Tall Sally” (Cactus reunion, NYC, 2010)

(10) “Rock and Roll” (The Hell Drivers, 2009)

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Layla at 40

One hit wonders, iconic albums, career peaks…you could file Layla under every one of those categories.  And while words like classic and timeless are tossed around too often, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – the sole studio effort by supergroup Derek and The Dominoes – fits that bill.

I’ve worn the damned thing out in almost every conceivable format; I’ve heard several boots of outtakes and demos and even spent many an hour sifting through the live albums (both official and not) over the years. But the twin guitars of Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, the piano section from Bobby Whitlock that even Goodfellas couldn’t rob, the constant battle over which of the four sides (that’s album talk, kids) was actually superior…these are memories and images that have stood the test of time.

I’m not a big fan of these highly priced reissues that expand original albums beyond belief; for some they are a true testimonial of respect while others are a transparent cash grab. But that’s not my wallet in your pocket; I’m just here to pass the word. Looks like there will be a two-CD edition and a fully loaded motherlode version which includes books, vinyl, DVD-audio and more. I’m probably shooting for the former, since it contains some great live material on the second disc as well as a remastered version of the original masterpiece. From the press release:

THE 2CD DELUXE EDITION features:

 • Six exciting performances from what was to be Derek and the Dominos’ second album, all remixed by the original session engineer, Andy Johns. The highlight of the six tracks is “Got To Get Better In A Little While” – the group’s last recording – presented in this collection both as a mesmerizing jam version and as the first-ever release of the fully produced studio version, finally completed by founding member Bobby Whitlock on keyboards and vocals.

 • All four audio performances from Derek and the Domino’s sole, historic television appearance on The Johnny Cash Show, November 9, 1970 – including Clapton’s famous jam on “Matchbox Blues” with Cash and rockabilly legend Carl Perkins.

 • The two tracks produced by Phil Spector in early summer 1970 that amounted to the first release by Derek and the Dominos: “Tell the Truth” and “Roll It Over,” the A- and B-side of a single that was quickly pulled from circulation by the group.

 • The Layla session out-take “Mean Old World”: the legendary acoustic duet performed by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman.

 The SUPER DELUXE EDITION additionally includes:

 • Newly remastered and expanded 2-CD set of Derek and the Dominos: In Concert, recorded at the Fillmore East and remastered from the original master tapes.

 • Audio only DVD featuring DTS 5.1 and Dolby Surround 5.1 versions of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs mixed by legendary engineer Elliot Scheiner.

 • High-fidelity, 180-gram reproduction of the original vinyl double album, remastered directly from the original UK album masters, featuring slightly alternate mixes of some songs.   

 • A hardcover book, artfully designed with rare and never-seen photographs, and featuring four meticulously researched essays by noted music historian and author Ashley Kahn fashioned from new interviews with Bobby Whitlock, Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks, engineer Ashley Kahn , producer Albhy Galuten, guitarist Derek Trucks; plus historic interviews with Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, and producer Tom Dowd.

 • Facsimiles of Derek and the Dominos concert tickets and various promotional items, including the famous “Derek is Eric” button created to assure fans of the identity of the group’s lead singer and guitarist.

 • Pop-up 3-D artwork and a high quality Layla art print based on the oil painting that graced the original album cover – “La Fille Au Bouquet” by Emile Theodore Frandsen de Schomberg – which has achieved cultural significance in its own right.

 

Or maybe all you really need to do is pull that old vinyl album off the shelf…there’s nothing wrong with that. But either way, one listen will remind you that they just don’t make ’em like they used to.

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #6

The words “country blues” get thrown around a lot; I do it myself when describing music from Steve Earle to the apex of the Rolling Stones catalogue (Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street, Beggars Banquet, Sticky  Fingers). But my god, when the form gets attacked by a band featuring a singer with the pipes of Teal Collins and a guitarist with the amazing chops of Josh Zee, the phrase redefines itself. This is flat-out goosebump material. I don’t recall witnessing Janis Joplin jamming with Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, but I imagine it might have gone down something like this:

Video: “Love Me Like A Man

The Mother Truckers are an incendiary band from Austin who just keep getting better and better. Last year “Dynamite” was my favorite song of the year, and there were three or four on Van Tour that could have made my top ten this year (if I didn’t concede the whole thing to Ce Lo Green). I mean, listen to this guy shred and this girl wail!

Video: “Dynamite

Van Tour, their fourth release, is a concept album of sorts; on the surface there are surreal songs about aliens and invasions, but it’s just a framework for honky tonk cowpunk, roots rock stompers and a master class in getting your jaw to drop. The Mother Truckers ferociously blend Americana, Patsy Cline and classic fingerpicking roadhouse hoedown with the force of AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Rolling Stones. But when Collins wants to get all sweet’n’low, she can simmer a ballad or blues song as well as just about anyone (listen to “Keep It Simple” – it  made my spine sweat!) And if Zee didn’t just launch himself onto your short list of great guitar players, well…

This is first-rate chops-meets-attitude. Van Tour might be their best yet.

Listen to clips on Amazon

Video: “Alien Girl” from Van Tour

The Mother Truckers on MySpace

Zep-KISSing “Hot Legs” and making it sound legit.

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New Album! Rory Gallagher

After Elvis Presley died, there was such a flood of posthumous album releases and collections that even loyal devotees who cried at Graceland that weekend began to wonder if he wasn’t cranking them out from a studio behind that Dunkin Donuts in Minneapolis. The Who aren’t literally dead (although their career might be), but their catalog over the past couple of decades has consisted mostly of repackaging similar groups of hits, a trick The Rolling Stones only exceeded by actually recording them live.

Maybe it takes the artist’s family to intervene and bring sanity. Although the Jimi Hendrix releases aren’t culling a bottomless well of new material, at least love and care are shaping some definitive packages for posterity. And while Gail Zappa might have a wee bit too much stranglehold control on her husband’s name and likeness, every year there’s an intriguing new Frank Zappa release that meets the highest standards; an album that Frank himself would be proud to stand behind.

Donal Gallagher has taken a similar approach when it comes to the legacy of his brother. Rory Gallagher was one of the best guitarists ever to walk this planet (I’ll save you the fawning here as I’ve done it enough over the years). Those who knew him were mesmerized by his performances, but despite a history of heavy touring he still slid under the radar of too many listeners. Recent DVD releases have made great strides to right that wrong, especially Live At Cork and the unbelievably rich Rockpalast Collection (a three DVD set featuring hours of amazing footage). Sure, there have been a couple of “best of” titles over the last twenty years, but gems like the acoustic Wheels Upon Wheels album have been the focus.

The latest releases feature Rory’s live work for Radio Bremen that were broadcast on the German music show Beat Club. Featuring what I feel was his strongest band – the trio with Gerry McAvoy on bass and Wilger Campbell on drums – The Beat Club Sessions is another sizzling testimony to his genius. The CD features many of his best tracks (“Laundromat”, “In Your Town”, “Messin’ With The Kid”) and demonstrates why people are still buzzing about his talent fifteen years after his death. Gallagher was able to play ferociously or delicately with equal skill; a premiere blues soloist and slide guitar player, he also made the mandolin a weapon of choice.

Video: “Goin’ To My Hometown

The twelve cuts (culled from sixteen on the Ghost Blues DVD) feature stomping rockers (“Sinnerboy”), blues workouts (“I Could Have Had Religion“) and acoustic treats (“Just The Smile“). As a  contemporary of Cream and asked to replace Clapton in that lineup after his departure – one wonders why his songs  “Used To Be” never found the acclaim that “I’m So Glad” did, let alone his great interpretations. (His is the definitive version of “Messin’ With The Kid“, and “Toredown” is simply amazing)

I’m expecting my copy of the Ghost Blues documentary any day now and will be certain to have more on that in the near future. And Donal and family are working to secure the full BBC archives as well as work from Rory’s prior band Taste. Eagle Vision is now the official distributor of Rory Gallagher’s work, and if this is any indication of what’s to come, I am thrilled. This is magic stuff.

The Official Rory Gallagher Website

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T.G.I.F. – Ten from 1969

"Set the Wayback Machine for 1969, Sherman..."

If the concept of how quickly time passes hadn’t already stunned me three days ago – realizing that it’s been almost thirty years since John Lennon was killed – an email from my friend Siege would have packed a bigger wallop. But looking at his list of albums that were released in 1969 made me think (1) “holy shit, that was forty years ago” and (2) “wow…that was a great year for music”. 

It was another transitional year for me – less AM and more FM, less singles and more albums, Woodstock, etc. Several artists’ debuts made an immediate impact – CSN and The Allman Brothers along with some on my list below. Some 60’s artists were soon to depart but left great statements like Abbey Road and Turtle Soup. Credence released three albums that year, and The Monkees were already up to Instant Replay. Others like Johnny Cash, Marvin Gaye and The Kinks were shifting their priorities from singles to more thematic works. Bob Dylan released Nashville Skyline

Some artists who would become lifelong favorites were just getting started – Alice Cooper and Pretties For You, Fleetwood Mac with Then Play On, debuts from Yes and Warren Zevon and Mott the Hoople (which would soon see serious turntable time over the next couple of years from this soon-to-be disc jockey). The Moody Blues released two classics; supergroups were forming…I own or owned seventy-two titles on that list, and there are very few that I wouldn’t pull out and play right now. 

Any year in music is a pretty easy topic to research, and certainly the few years on either side of 1969 would also reveal a robust list of favorites and classics. But I took a trip through Siege’s tally and picked out ten that had particular impact on me then and still resonate now. I could easily shift the list on another day – great music being a subjective decision, after all – and your mileage may vary as well. 

But you’re here, so indulge me. Break one or more of these out and savor them; maybe you will relive some great moments of your own. And if you’re young enough to not have experienced these albums, take a plunge. Hell, I gave Death Cab For Cutie a shot, you owe me

So in no particular order… 

40 Years old and still kicking ass

In The Court of the Crimson King (King Crimson) — Still kicking today although they’ve been three or four totally different groups over the years. The album cover was only a mild tipoff compared to the psychedelic prog within; I’ve long argued that Ian McDonald was the MVP of this version of the band. An aural acid trip, an album truly worthy of adjectives like majestic and classic

Blind Faith  (Blind Faith) — Two thirds of Cream adds the bass player from Family and secret weapon Steve Winwood for a one-shot effort. Short and incomplete, its high points are timeless; great songwriting from Winwood and Eric Clapton, especially “Presence of the Lord” and “Can’t Find My Way Home”. 

Let It Bleed (Rolling Stones) — As the Stones weaned their way from Brian Jones and their blues based gameplan, as drugs and Jagger’s control-freak antics started to splinter a band into The Glimmer Twins and the other guys, as the music industry tripped headlong from pop singles into stranger days, the Stones might have fired their best shot across the bow. The bookend tracks (“Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) are career-defining moments, and they didn’t even put their hit single (“Honky Tonk Women”) on it. 

Odessa (Bee Gees) — In which a pop band – already firmly established with a few hit singles – decides to experiment and challenge themselves to move on to the next step. Oh, how I wish they would have stayed this course instead of donning those ice cream suits a few years later. I expound in detail here

Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (Neil Young) — Consider this a club sandwich, with the opening, closing and middle tracks – three stone cold classics – the bread supporting the tasty filling. Hot on the heels of his debut, this first dalliance with Crazy Horse still resonates, soon to be followed up by After The Gold Rush to form one of the best opening trifectas any artist ever managed. Name another song where a one-note guitar solo (“Cinnamon Girl”) is even half as thrilling. 

Dusty in Memphis (Dusty Springfield) — I’ll admit it, I would have been perfectly satisfied with “Son of a Preacher Man” had I not read a review that piqued my interest and sent me in search of the album. Oozing soul (and yes, sex) this was a great marriage of voice, performers and material. (That English bird? Really? Yep.) 

Hot Rats (Frank Zappa) — Little did I know at the time that my initial Frank Zappa fascination would be even stronger forty years later and sixteen years (!) past his death. Because I was a fan of The Mothers of Invention, I was willing to open my eyes to the jazz and fusion I experienced here, although I can’t imagine anyone not loving “Peaches en Regalia”. Timeless majesty. 

The Stooges (The Stooges) — I’ll credit one of my older friends – as well as Creem Magazine, most likely – for making me give this more than one listen. Stereos were getting more sophisticated and progressive rock bands were flaunting daredevil instrumental virtuosity, but the Stooges were salmon swimming upstream. The Stooges first seemed like demonic sludge; the sound made when someone opened the gates of Hell and gave them a broken megaphone to broadcast with. Of course, after the initial shock, I was converted…and remain so. 

Tommy (The Who) — An opera about a deaf, dumb and blind pinball player. Sure Pete – have another toke. But although others (The Kinks, The Pretty Things) already had done it, The Who get credit for creating the first rock opera. Forget the semantics; this remains an incredible musical statement, from hit singles (“Pinball Wizard”) to underrated killers (“Sensation”); even the instrumental breaks and transitions are glorious. Skip the theatre and film musicals and slap on a pair of headphones for the original “Amazing Journey” 

Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin) — I know now that they ripped off old blues riffs and repurposed them; I know now that the band was really just the last version of The Yardbirds with Jimmy Page taking control, and I know that a few years later they would get so self-indulgent that I would sell the vinyl at a used store out of anger. (Ah, the folly of youth). But this first record was a kick in the nuts – this band really hit the ground running and killed on every track. (Rock perfection:  the percussive instrumental “Black Mountain Side” lulling you into a trance and then “Communication Breakdown” interrupting the haze and ripping your jugular apart. Plant’s scream before Page’s solo still makes the hair stand up on every pore in my body.) 

Rock me baby.

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Blast From The Past: Traffic

Light up or leave them alone

Light up or leave them alone

Having recently been wowed by the latest collaboration between Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, my thoughts naturally travelled back to their catalogue of work over the past forty years. Blind Faith, of course, was among the first bands to earn the moniker supergroup, but they were one and done as far as releases go. Clapton’s work with The Yardbirds is fine, but it’s his work in Cream that shines brightest in hindsight. Around the same time Cream was peaking, the amazing vocals of a sixteen year old Brit knocked me sideways; The Spencer Davis Group’s single Gimme Some Lovin’ is still a jukebox favorite. But when Steve Winwood moved on to form Traffic…ahh, that’s where the magic really happened for me.

Traffic was an apt name for a band that dabbled in so many sonic areas, from folk to blues to psychedelia and jazz, often in the space of the same song, let alone the same album. Before Dave Mason left for the second time, the band juggled his pop sensibilities with the more avant-garde efforts from Winwood and Jim Capaldi; Chris Wood playing the Brian Jones role by dressing up the tracks with inventive instrumentation. Winwood was only eighteen when Traffic was formed (he just turned 61 in May) and the others only a couple of years older. It’s stunning to hear the depth and resonance in their catalogue when you consider their tender ages.

As with most great bands, I recommend you revisit the entire catalogue, as a “best-of” can never really capture the majesty of a long-tenured favorite. Smiling Phases, the out-of-print anthology, contained more cuts (although some argue that even the expanded selection is incomplete) but the audio is inferior to later releases. As single-CD collections go, Feelin’ Alright isn’t a bad one at all.

Here’s the review I wrote for PopMatters several years ago…

Traffic Feelin Alright

The thought of distilling the career of Traffic into a single disc must have been a mind-numbing task. First conceived as a psychedelic English rock group, the band morphed into a soulful blues group, then sailed through a jazz-influenced folk period and dabbled in reggae and American rhythm and blues. Dave Mason was on board for the initial ride, while the latter period drew players like Clapton and the Muscle Shoals studio rhythm section. Each period had its landmark successes, from Dear Mr. Fantasy to John Barleycorn Must Die to Shootout At The Fantasy Factory. In short, how do you boil down a twenty-five year organism to seventy-five minutes?

Well, you can’t, but this collection of “hits” and recognizable album cuts does as good a job as possible. Cutting off after The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys (the full 11:42 track among the inclusions), this disc gathers fifteen songs skewed towards the band’s first two incarnations. The informative liner notes detail how producer Jimmy Miller helped launch the original quartet, inventive and talented players in the right place at the right time. “Paper Sun” and “Heaven Is In Your Mind” find the band in full flowery psych mode, along with Dave Mason’s more single-oriented “Feelin’ Alright” and “You Can All Join In”. Although Mason’s “Hole In My Shoe” is one of the era’s trippiest headphone numbers, leader Steve Winwood sought a denser, more experimental direction for the band, which fellow members Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood also desired. The bluesy “Pearly Queen” and the more daring “Forty Thousand Headmen” found success with audiences as well. Goodbye Dave.

Steve Winwood’s soulful voice is the centerpiece of most of Traffic’s catalogue, and his transitional work with “Shanghai Noodle Factory” set the stage for the trio’s masterpiece, John Barleycorn Must Die. The four tracks included here could be from four separate worlds, yet in context sound seamless (“Glad” remains one of the best rock instrumentals ever recorded). The final two tracks, from Low Spark, feature the first of the expanded lineups the group would use for the remainder of its career. In the studio, each member of the trio played several instruments; with the larger band the complex music they composed could now be recreated on stage.

After Traffic broke up again, Winwood, like Mason (and at a quieter level, Capaldi) enjoyed a successful solo career. Chris Wood died in 1983, but a stripped down incarnation of the band (Winwood, Capaldi and bass player Rosko Gee) reunited in 1994 for Far From Home. While the concept of Traffic now seems to be an open forum for future collaborations, Feelin’ Alright is a solid testament to earlier genius.

(Note: The review was writtem in 2000. With Capaldi’s death in 2005, it’s safe to say that Traffic is now a closed book.)

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