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Remembering Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin died forty years ago today.

Forty years? That doesn’t seem possible. But I guess it’s been that long since the first rock’n’roll generation’s stars started dropping like flies – Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Janis. I was but a wee lad when I lived through that carnage, but it was only ten years later a when psychotic gunned down John Lennon in the street.

Janis did everything full-bore, and while her death was tragic it was anything but unexpected. Attractive but not conventionally pretty, she channeled whatever loneliness and pain she felt through her gifted voice and exquisite phrasing and sang everything from deep in her soul. And much like her deceased brethren, she was able to pack a lot of magic into a short window of fame.

Video: “Cry Baby” (live in Toronto)

Hearing her music today is as fulfilling as it ever was, perhaps even more so given the dearth of vocalists at her level over the years. Although I’ve heard the song a thousand times, “Piece of My Heart” still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, as does her incredible version of Summertime“. And her lighter moments – “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Mercedes Benz“, for two – still make me smile and sing along involuntarily.

Thanks to the constant flood of unearthed film footage and studio sessions, Janis’ magic isn’t limited solely to her albums and reputation. I highly recommend picking up the Monterey Pop DVD as well as the recently released Festival Express, both of which capture her in a myriad of emotions. Nine Hundred Nights is a documentary focusing on the Big Brother era and is very good, although not objective. I was even pleasantly surprised by the episode of Biography broadcast by the A&E network; it was one of their best.

And, of course, there’s the original catalogue. If you’re not able to gather the originals, either The Essential Janis Joplin or Box of Pearls is a good place to start. Live CDs from Woodstock and Winterland are also worthy purchases, and there are more on the way.

Video: Ball and Chain” (live at Monterey Pop)

Every generation argues its own timeline, but the last half of the 1960’s might have produced the greatest number of important artists simultaneously at the peak of their game. And even in that competition, Janis Joplin was a beacon.

R.I.P., Janis.

Janis Joplin dot net

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Rockin’ Recollections

I can’t really listen to the radio anymore.

Stations today pretty much suck. Much like chain store record department employees, most on-air people are out of their depth. They don’t have a good grasp of what they’re trying to sell or present. They aren’t lifers. They don’t live and breathe the music. Perhaps that has a lot to do with the fact that they’re not choosing what to play (or in the case of the chain store clerk, they are not there by choice but promoted from the small appliances department).

Oldies radio recycles the same few hits by the same few bands and never play the chestnuts. Hell, most of these stations are farmed in from a few central syndicates anyway, so the concept of a revisiting a regional classic is pretty much gone. Some consultant somewhere is choosing titles from a list of what their contractual rights enable them to play without paying additional royalties. It’s dull, lifeless, repetitive.

Oh, I know there are exceptions. There are a couple of guys in my town who have an occasional 3-4 hour slot that can be very entertaining, but the airtime doesn’t line up with my schedule. And maybe satellite radio would cure me of this low opinion; one listen to someone like Little Steven and you see what a world of difference it makes when the creator of the show is deeply invested in every song and detail. Like a great mixtape, each song brings a nod and a smile; it’s great when you’re on that wavelength.

But I don’t need radio anymore. It hasn’t been able to teach me anything in years…decades, perhaps. But I have a lifetime of music to draw upon, and a continuing pipeline of great music that real artists continue to make regardless of apathy, challenges and obstacles. Bless you, fellow zealots.

S0 this week I present you with ten rockin’ recollections, ten songs that I thought of while daydreaming this morning. There’s no logical sequence, it isn’t a mix, and although the thrust of it hovers in the 70s, it wasn’t by design. Just ten great songs that you’ll probably never hear on the radio, but they put a smile on my face and I hope they put a smile on yours.

Enjoy the weekend!

Graham Parker: “Temporary Beauty“. Nice live version from a guy who has been making one brilliant album after another for thirty-five years; he doesn’t get anywhere near the credit he deserves.

Santana: “Soul Sacrifice“. Michael Shrieve is mindblowing on drums; Santana wowed everybody at WoodstockShrieve, at twenty, looked like Sid Vicious!

The Cruzados: “Bed Of Lies“. Vastly underrated band who had a couple of excellent records in the 80s; even Dylan is a fan. This and “Motorcycle Girl” were my faves.

John Hiatt and Matthew Sweet): “Girlfriend“. From Vh-1 Duets. You know, back when music stations actually programmed music content? They also covered “I Wanna Be Sedated” that night!

? and the Mysterians: “Do Something To Me“. Garage gods! This song wasn’t a hit for them although Tommy James had success with it. They still sound great today.

Edgar Winter Group: “Queen of My DreamsDan Hartman goes all Led Zeppelin on us. He was the soul of this group and an incredible talent.

Montrose: “Bad Motor Scooter“. Still smokes 36 years later. Sammy had poodle hair, Ronnie Montrose left Edgar Winter after “Frankenstein”.

J. Geils Band: “Lookin’ For a Love“. Best. Party. Band. Ever. Saw a clip of them from a recent reunion and Peter Wolf can still work that stage like a scarecrow jacked up on coke.

Van Duren: “Grow Yourself Up“. Underknown pop giant who was part of the Memphis scene circa Big Star and came up to Connecticut to record at Big Sound Records. New album in 2010.

Johnny Winter: “Jumping Jack Flash“. With Floyd Radford and Randy Jo Hobbs, although they’re just hanging on for dear life. Johnny owns this song!

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Airplane Crash

Toasters? Or just plain toast?

Jefferson Airplane was an intriguing band, capable of dynamic music, political boldness and spectacular performances, thanks to a combination of members who both illuminated each other’s strengths and compensated for each other’s gaps. Paul Kantner’s songs  could be calls to arms or mythic space oddities, but either way the fluid bass playing of Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen’s ethereal guitar added another dimension to his vision. There were usually multiple musical odysseys taking place within the same song, and when they were on, they were on

Although not the original lead singer, Grace Slick was the point person for the most popular edition of the group. Beautiful and powerful, she was mesmerizing to watch and a siren on record, not to mention incredibly alluring to a young boy coming of age. San Francisco was exploding and I was on the wrong coastline, but I could start to imagine to what it was like anytime I heard her voice. 

(I will always remember approaching the department store record counter and telling the clerk I want “Somebody To Love“. The girl leaned over the counter and looked me straight in the eye. “Me too“, she cooed. As she laughed and walked away to get the record for me, I tried to close my mouth, which had been left hanging open to match the deer-in-the-headlights look in my eyes. Someday I would have ten snappy comebacks for that flirtatious taunt, but that day I was pre-teen toast.) 

But I digress… 

 

Soon enough, the 60’s would stumble to a yang and yin conclusion with Woodstock and Altamont, two large festivals where the Airplane would make an appearance. The latter was a disaster of epic proportions (and a subject for another time) but Woodstock was magnificent. A series of albums called The Woodstock Experience have been released pairing an artist’s studio album with their live – and often unreleased – sets from the Festival. For Jefferson Airplane fans, this is a godsend and an example of the band at the height of its powers. 

Unfortunately, just a few years later, it would all fall apart. Anyone who doubted the unraveling of the band or the total abandonment of their principles need only listen once to Thirty Seconds Over Winterland

If you want to know what was going on with Jefferson Airplane when they took the stage for their final concert in 1972, consider the cover art that was used for this live document. Seven toasters, unplugged, flying in formation despite displaying clocks with different times. Or, if you will, seven burnt-out musicians doing their best to keep up appearances despite having completely separate agendas. This band had once—along with the Grateful Dead—spearheaded the psychedelic rock movement and the San Francisco music scene with dynamic live performances and a catalogue of material that was both populist and intricate. Now there were basically three factions under one roof vying for control. 

Read the full review at PopMatters

Backatcha, babe.

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Happy Birthday, Johnny Winter

 

When you consider all the auspicious starts to legendary recording careers, it’s tough to top a pair of albino brothers playing blues in a black club in Texas. 

John Dawson Winter turned 66 today, and thankfully he’s still around to celebrate the moment. There have been several times during his career when I didn’t think he’d last the week, but although a bit frail, he’s still out there delivering his unique style of blues and rock. 

My first encounter was the legendary Johnny Winter And concert where he and Rick Derringer squared off like it was a (friendly) duel to the death. I’ve waxed poetic about that concert tour and the live album that captures it;  still one of the five best live albums in rock history. 

His tone and slide technique is strong and powerful. Combined with his trademark growling vocals, his versions of Rolling Stones songs were arguably better than the originals. “Silver Train” became his the minute he recorded it, and you’re not likely to find a more incendiary version of “Jumping Jack Flash” than Winter’s. 

Have Cape, Will Sling.

Before he went back to the blues he released some killer rock albums for Columbia in the 70’s including a covers project with brother Edgar, I have many fond memories of blasting those sides over and over. Unfortunately, his abuse issues resurfaced, and I soon witnessed an attempted performance so bad that it has gone down in local history as “the bottle throwing show”. I truly believed that night if the crowd didn’t kill him – and they would have, if they caught him – the needle would. 

But he survived that night and his addiction. He soon came back to his roots, recording many acclaimed blues albums into the 80’s and 90’s, avoiding the cape-and-fanfare rock’n’roll that brought him to a wide audience. One got the feeling he was almost being penitent, putting aside less important music for something deeper and more spiritual. Recently Winter has released a well-received series of authorized live bootlegs, and last year’s Live Through The 70’s (a DVD of early performances) is an absolute treasure. Now we finally have the long lost Woodstock recordings as well. What a career!

He’s frail enough that he must sit while playing, but he’s playing. If you have never seen this masterful guitarist, you must. Albert Collins, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Winter…there’s just something special about Texas blues. Happy Birthday, Johnny. 

Johnny Winter website and wiki

Discography at the All Music Guide 

 

** 

And a cake for you too, Captain America.

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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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New Album! Moody Blues

Preaching love to a sea of heads

Preaching love to a sea of heads

When Woodstock is discussed, one of the anecdotes that most often surfaces is how Crosby, Stills and Nash took the stage in front of a mammoth crowd in only their second live gig, and as per the famous quote, were “scared shitless“. Odd to think that a year later and an ocean away, a studio-oriented band like The Moody Blues must have had the opposite feeling their second time around at the Isle of Wight. Crammed in front of The Who’s stage gear to perform for a few hundred thousand people, heads as far as the eye could see, they were at once out of their element and in the moment.

For here were five musicians who despite their massive success, remained very isolated in their process. “All we did was music”, recalls Justin Hayward in one of the DVD’s interview segments, “we were just living the music we were playing every day. It was an expression of what was in our hearts and minds.” Certainly that was a vast change from their start as an r’n’b band playing “Bo Diddley” (an early clip with Ray Thomas playing harmonica is included as an example, although oddly no mention is made of their massive hit “Go Now”). Instead their complex musical arrangements spoke to the open, exploratory nature of the times. “None of us had ever seen a bale of cotton, let alone picked one” mused Grahame Edge. “Didn’t even know what smokestack lightning was“! Obviously reaching within for material worked out well in the long run.

Their performance in 1970 was extraordinary in that they were an album band whose set was largely unfamiliar to the crowd, and as a studio band stripped of overdubs and sweetening they relied on Mike Pinder’s mellotron to carry the load. Indeed the mellotron changed everything for the Moodies and gave them incredible freedom in or out of the studio; Pinder states that he was “the orchestra behind the drums, bass and guitar…the landscape of it all.” (There’s a short clip where Pinder demonstrates how the mellotron functions; I learned more in that thirty seconds than I had ever known before).

The quality of the performance is obviously dated – Hayward was surprised that any footage even existed – but director/producer Murray Lerner (who has been bringing several great films to market) does an excellent job stitching it all together. The first sections of the program mix recent interviews with some related footage before settling down into the performance itself. Sound and visuals don’t always sync – there are several sections where relevant footage is spliced in to cover gaps – but for the most part it’s a solid presentation considering the technical limitations of the time. The seventy-five minute DVD is shot in widescreen and boasts 5.1 sound that more than compensates. And what a visual time trip! Looking young and angelic, Hayward’s ballads are earnest and powerful; Ray Thomas is appropriately animated during “Legend Of A Mind (Timothy Leary’s Dead)” and the rock-oriented numbers like “Question” and “Ride My See Saw” thunder away thanks to John Lodge’s fluid lines and Graeme Edge’s thunder. The sweeping crowd shots remind one of how different the festivals were perceived and experienced in the days before corporate domination.

Thirty nine years later, the remaining members of the band still bring the music to the masses as a whole new generation turns on to their majestic sound. But with Threshold of a Dream, Eagle Vision has captured an excellent snapshot of the band approaching its artistic peak, unafraid to tinker with some arrangements. As the final track plays, a montage of clips from Montreaux, Color Me Pop and a recent US concert drive home the point that great music is timeless, after all.

And Then There Were Three

And Then There Were Three

Eagle Vision link for this title.

The Moody Blues official site

Moody Blues wiki.

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40 Years Ago? Feeling Old.

Rome wasn't built in a day. It took a whole damned weekend.

Rome wasn't built in a day. It took a whole damned weekend.

Soul Sacrifice – Santana announces itself to the world.
The town was Bethel, NY
Be trippy and reminisce
Now it’s commercial? Really?
1969 was cool but the rest (especially 1999) were not.

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