Monday, February 25, 2019

Dream Crazier

This post promotes the contents of the video, not specifically the brand name Nike.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

A Secret History of 1968 by Ryan H. Walsh

Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968The title of this blog post is actually the subtitle of this book. The actual title, Astral Weeks, probably wouldn't have intrigued you, snagged your attention, unless you were a huge fan of musician Van Morrison's early work.

Published just this past year in hardcover (357 pages) by Penguin Press, Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 may be one of the most mind-boggling, and weird, books I've read in quite some time.

All the events of note take place in 1968 in and around the city of Boston. I spent some time back in the day in Boston and its surrounds: used to hang out in Harvard Square; ate regularly at a grinder shop in Kenmore Square, while watching all the addicts (in the shop!) nod off; when I couldn't snag a bed at the only youth hostel in town, I would kill time all night in a Dunkin' Donuts, buzzing out on coffee after coffee, until the city came awake in the early morn. Made many a hike from Beacon Street across the Mass Ave Bridge -- and back again -- just because....

Some of the "characters" in this book include Jim Kweskin, of the Jug Band fame, who gave up the band for a place in Mel Lyman's Fort Hill Community (aka commune) in Roxbury. Did you know that Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, though from New York, played the Boston Tea Party (music venue) a total of 43 times between 1967 and 1970? The VU cited the Tea Party as their favorite place to play in the whole country! Others in the book include Jonathan Richman (of the Modern Lovers fame) and, of course, Van Morrison, who, at the time, was living in Boston to avoid certain Mafia connections to his music label in New York!

In fact, it was the Velvet Underground who taught Jonathan Richman to play guitar, as detailed in this excerpt:
"Jonathan, can you make this curve with your ring finger? VU guitarist Sterling Morrison asked Jonathan Richman.
     Richman had brought his bingo-prize guitar to the Tea Party and lingered in a corner of the dressing room until members of the band offered him something in the way of lessons. "They physically taught me how to play," he recounted. "That's where I got everything."
     The band eventually took to their sixteen-year-old mascot. "Occasionally, I drove them around in my father's car," Richman recalled. "I would go to some of the parties they'd go to. I was part of this crew."
Astral WeeksThen there was T. Mitchell Hastings, a 1933 Harvard grad, who, in 1954, invented a transistor radio to work in an automobile. Hastings loved classical music, and set up a string of radio stations for classical music; eventually, all the stations failed, except one: WBCN in Boston. Hastings, who kept the station open only during business hours, was talked into renting out the graveyard hours (midnight to 6am) to Ray Riepen, who planned to broadcast free-form rock music during those hours. The very first song played was by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Within two months, Riepen took over programming of the entire station -- and thus FM rock radio was born.

And interwoven throughout the book, and throughout these many events, is the story of musician Van Morrison and the writing and recording of his classic record album Astral Weeks

On April 5, 1968, one day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., cities across the country were like powder kegs, just waiting for the fuse to be lit. In Boston, city officials were brainstorming ideas to keep people off the streets that evening. Singer James Brown was in New York that morning filming a TV special, and he was to perform at the Boston Garden later that evening. Someone proposed:
What if the Brown concert was broadcast live on television? It was an audacious, nick-of-time proposal. Each home viewer would be another person not on the street. WGBH was the obvious choise....

Boston's Mayor White agreed to cover Brown's lost earnings from concert tickets (more money than the city even had in its coffers!), and the show went on.

As rioting in DC came a few blocks from the White House, James Brown took the stage in front of approximately 1,500 souls and launched into "If I Ruled the World," a vision of a better life for everyone.


Reports started rolling in from police officers all around the city: Boston was a ghost town. "The city was quieter than it would've been on an ordinary Friday night."

All in all, 1968 -- in Boston, at least -- was a very good year.

Monday, February 18, 2019

(Whipped) Cream of the Crop

Photo of Pop's Resale, Lexington, KY, courtesy of virgil_caine31

Friday, February 8, 2019

Keith Richards Quote

"Life's a funny thing, you know... Nobody wants to get old, but they don't want to die young, either. You just gotta follow this thing down the path...."
–Keith Richards,
Under the Influence,
a Netflix documentary, 2015

Friday, January 18, 2019

Michael Bloomfield - If You Love These Blues: An Oral History by Jan Mark Wolkin and Bill Keenom

"Michael Bloomfield was so much more than a great guitarist. Raconteur, musicologist, renaissance man, mensch, painter, ultimate appreciator are some of the words used to describe him. I've heard it said often that if you knew Michael, you were changed by him, and that when he walked into a room, his charisma and energy made it difficult to focus on much else."
–Bill Keenom

Bloomfield An Oral HistoryLast summer I read a book entitled Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero by Ed Ward, and wrote about it briefly in a blog post dated July 10, 2018. I've been a fan of Bloomfield's music for decades, and after reading this book, I knew I needed to read more.

The search took me a while, but eventually I tracked down a copy of Michael Bloomfield - If You Love These Blues: An Oral History by Jan Mark Wolkin and Bill Keenum. My hardcover copy was missing the compact disc that is supposed to accompany the book. The paperback edition doesn't have a CD, but the publisher, Hal Leonard, provides a URL on the back cover so that the reader can access the music online. One problem: The URL is not valid. I've written to the publisher about this, but so far, a week later, I have not received any response.

The subtitle of this book is "An Oral History": the entire book consists of excerpts from interviews with Bloomfield's bandmates, producers and promoters, roommates and friends, and family (including his ex-wife). And, of course, the guitarist himself. The majority of these interviews were conducted by the book's authors, but some, as in the case of Bloomfield, were from prior interviews as the book was published in 2000, and Michael passed away in 1981. But what makes this book unique is that the interview excerpts are provided in chronological order, with excerpts from two or more individuals regarding specific events so that the reader can experience this from multiple viewpoints.

I just counted the markers -- nearly 20 of them -- I placed on various pages in the book denoting quotes that just had to be shared when I wrote this post. Obviously, far too many, but I'll see what I can do about narrowing them down to a very important few.

"When I came back through Chicago in '62, [Michael] took me down to the South Side to hear some music. He said, 'Man, you've got to meet Muddy.' So we go to Pepper's Lounge, and Michael walked right up to the bandstand and said, 'Hey, Muddy.' Muddy says, 'Hey, Michael, how're you doing?' And Michael says, 'I'd like you to meet my friend John Hammond.' I felt like I was going to fall down. And then, in the middle of Muddy's show, he calls Michael up to play with him. I was mind-boggled. And Michael was great. He knew all the details of cool stuff. He was a wonderful guy. I valued his friendship more than I can ever say. He was just a terrific person."
–John Hammond Jr.

"...There were other musicians, but Michael was the first one that I befriended and who befriended me. He was a Chicago guy, I'm a New Yorker, and we hit it off, personality-wise. Michael was quick and very witty. And we were able to jabber on easily....[Michael] always had somebody that he was pushing. It if wasn't the Staple Singers, it was Albert King or B.B. King or Otis Redding or Howlin' Wolf. He, more than any single musician, kept bringing me records and mentioning groups to me. Prior to 1965, I knew nothing. I wasn't in the rock & roll world. It wasn't part of my private life. I'm a Latin music fan, a jazz fan of sorts, but I never listened to blues much or rock & roll at all. I think the music industry owes Michael far more than they realize. Besides being a very special musician in what he brought out of the guitar and how he made people feel. I don't know if I would have been that successful early on if it wasn't for Michael, his knowledge and his awareness and his prodding me to bring these artists to the Bay Area. So, as great a guitar player as Michael was, he was really a teacher."
–Bill Graham

"When Michael first came to San Francisco, for some reason, he befriended me. I had just started to play with the Jefferson Airplane, and I'd never played electric guitar before, really. He showed me how to bend notes, and to feedback and sustain things, and I was really thrilled. Because in those days some of the East Coast guitar players were very guarded about their secrets and the way they did stuff. I knew guys who used to turn away from you when they played so you couldn't see how they were doing it. Michael was a really sweet guy and a brilliant guitar player, and he was really instrumental in getting me into being an electric guitar player."
–Jorma Kaukonen

"Around December 1968, Michael and Nick Gravenites helped Janis Joplin set up the Kozmic Blues Band. Janis had left Big Brother. She was very frightened about what she was going to do about putting a band together....They came in, and Michael took the time to make everyone feel good, and they whipped that band together really quick. He was kind of like an A&R man. He selected the tunes—a lot of them were Nick's—and then he went on and made sure everyone could play them. We had other music directors who were really unessential. Michael was really the one who put it together. Michael played on a few of the Kozmic Blues tracks. I still get people come up to me, if they're real sharp, young guitar players, and they'll say, 'Was that you playing on "One Good Man"?' I'll say, 'No, that was Michael,' and they'll go, 'I knew it! I knew it!'"
–Sam Andrew

"When I was 17, I thought I was good enough to gig in black places and hold my own. You had to hold your own. If you shucked, then you had no business being there. You'd not only be a white kid, you'd be a fool. You'd be a punk and a fool....Several guys took me to be almost like I was their son—Big Joe Williams, Sunnyland Slim, and Otis Spann. They took me to be like their kid, man; they just showed me from the heart. They took me aside and said, 'You can play, man. Don't be shy. Get up there and play.' What I learned from them was invaluable. A way of life, a way of thinking, a whole kind of thing—invaluable things to learn. I used to hear Elmore James, Sonny Boy, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Albert King—way before they were known anywhere but the ghetto....I was interested in it from a musicological standpoint. I was trying to discover where the old blues singers lived. I met cats like Washboard Sam and Jazz Gillum and Tommy McClennan and Kokomo Arnold. I used to have a band with Big Joe Williams....By then it was a scholarly thing. Like Paul Oliver and Sam Charters, I wanted to know the story of the blues, and the best way for me to learn was to actually meet the guys."
–Michael Bloomfield

"In 1969, I produced the Fathers and Sons album. We brought in all these great players: Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, and this great band—all in the Chess studio. I had Michael, Paul Butterfield, Buddy Miles, Duck Dunn, Sam Lay, and every blues musician in Chicago. Michael named it. He said it should be called Fathers and Sons, because that's how he related to Otis Spann and Muddy. He gave me that title, and he insisted that that's what it be."
–Norman Dayron

In my previous Bloomfield blog post, I state that the guitarist died alone in his car from an apparent cocaine and methamphetamine overdose: two drugs that Michael would never touch. So the question remained: Why?

In this book, through interviews with Christie Svane, Michael's girlfriend at the time of his passing, I learned what may have driven the guitarist further into the darker realms of loneliness and despair. And Norman Dayron speculates as to why cocaine was found in Michael's system after his death, a drug that Norman knew Michael absolutely refused to use. Again, it's all speculation, but indeed quite plausible.

Michael Bloomfield - If You Love These Blues: An Oral History by Jan Mark Wolkin and Bill Keenum (Miller Freeman Books, 2000, 280 pages).

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Book Received: That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound by Daryl Sanders

The Thin, Wild Mercury SoundSo I asked for, and received, a copy of Daryl Sanders's recently published tome, That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound (Chicago Review Press, October 2018), from my daughter and son-in-law for Christmas. (I learned years ago that one needs to provide a Christmas "wish list" to family, otherwise one ends up with questionable -- and often impractical -- tchotchkes as gifts. This way, one always gets what one wants! So, a huge "thank you" to my family!)

The book's subtitle: "Dylan, Nashville, and the Making of Blonde on Blonde" sums up exactly what this book is about. Blonde on Blonde was Bob Dylan's seventh studio album, released on June 20, 1966 -- and holds the distinction as the first rock double-album.
Blonde on Blonde SACD

To accompany my reading of this book, I had previously purchased a copy of the limited release of Mobile Fidelity's Original Master Recording of Blonde on Blonde: a stunning three-LP box set mastered at 45 RPM. This LP release is no longer available (except on the secondary market), but the Super Audio CD (SACD) version is still being sold at retail, and that is the link I've provided.

"Detailed and diligent, Daryl Sanders has played local detective, seemingly digging up every Nashville cat who was in Studio A when Dylan did it his way in 1966, changing country and rock for good."
–Clinton Heylin, author of Trouble in Mind: Bob Dylan's Gospel Years and Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited

"Major victories like Blonde on Blonde often seem inevitable and easy. But Daryl Sanders has interviewed the survivors, noted the casualties, and pondered the battlefield strategies that conquered a country."
–Daniel Wolff, author of Grown-Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913

Sunday, December 23, 2018

"Vinyl Sucks, But I Love It."

"Any REAL audiophile or home theater enthusiast knows the truth...that vinyl sucks. It does. It sucks, but I love it. Here's a fun little video explaining why vinyl sucks and why it still matters."
–Andrew Robinson, Tech Writer

Friday, December 21, 2018

Book Received: The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

I have received my comp copy of The Labyrinth Index, courtesy of Lauren Hougen, Associate Managing Editor at St. Martin’s Press. It's always a joy to receive an actual physical copy of a book I have worked on, especially this series, which is so near and dear to my heart, going back to WorldCon 60 in 2002, when I first met Charles Stross....

You can read about my work on The Labyrinth Index in my blog post on April 8, 2018.

And if you are new to Stross's Laundry Files series, or haven't picked up a title in a bit, you can catch up with a recap of the series to which I have provided a link in my blog post on November 17, 2018.

"Imagine a world where gnarly Lovecraftian demons are all too real yet are routinely neutralized with high-tech wizardry by a supersecret British spy agency, and you'll get an inkling of the genre-bending territory Stross explores in the Laundry Files novels."  –Booklist

Monday, December 3, 2018

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of the Jefferson Airplane by Jeff Tamarkin

Got a Revolution!Here's a trivia question for you: Who was Jefferson Airplane's first female singer?

So I was reading the recently published (August 2018) autobiography Been So Long: My Life and Music by Jorma Kaukonen, founding member and lead guitarist of both Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna -- and the book was fairly boring, focusing more on Jorma's drug abuse and marriage problems than I would have preferred. So I sought what I hoped would be a much better read and found it in Got a Revolution! by journalist and music critic Jeff Tamarkin (Atria Books, 2003, 408 pages). The subtitle, "The Turbulent Flight of the Jefferson Airplane," truly sums up the career of this band: in-fighting, relationships, drugs, arrests, etc. -- but unlike the Kaukonen book, the music was always the focus.

To answer the trivia question above: Signe (pronounced "Sig-nee") Anderson was the first female singer in Jefferson Airplane. She appears on the first Jefferson Airplane album, Takes Off, released in 1966 by RCA Victor (catalog number LPM 3584 (mono) and LSP 3584 (stereo)). However, her husband was having ongoing conflicts with other members of the band, so when Signe became pregnant, she decided to leave the band to raise her family.

The band The Great Society had opened for Jefferson Airplane during many of their concert appearances. The band members included Grace Slick, her husband Jerry Slick, and Jerry's brother Darby Slick. Marty Balin, one of the founding members of the Airplane, was intrigued by Grace's singing and stage presence, so when Signe left the band, Marty asked Grace to join -- and she said yes immediately. (Note: Two of the Great Society's band members had recently left for India to study Indian music, so the band was essentially defunct anyhow.)

Grace brought with her two songs: "Somebody to Love" (written by Darby Slick and originally titled "Someone to Love") and "White Rabbit," written by Grace herself. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Jeff Tamarkin, on the band's recording of their breakout album, Surrealistic Pillow (RCA Victor, LPM-3766/LSP-3766, 1967):
...The next session that day was for the other song Grace imported from the Great Society, "Somebody to Love." With that group, Darby Slick's composition was played almost as a midtempo shuffle. The first change the Airplane made was to virtually double the tempo, cranking it out at a breakneck pace that remains nearly static from verse to chorus. The Airplane version is tightly reined, placing Grace front and center and leaving no slack...
The second change was lyrical, a reference to "in bed" being softened to the more radio-friendly "in your head."
All told, it's a tour de force performance and, upon its release in early 1967, it would become, along with "White Rabbit," one of the defining recordings of the era.
Surrealistic Pillow was a tight, in-your-face, commercial endeavor, which may be difficult to comprehend considering this was the Jefferson Airplane, one of the premier psychedelic San Francisco bands. The average song length on the album was approximately 3 minutes, with only one song tracking in at just over 5 minutes. Where the band stood out, however, was during their live performances, when Jorma, Jack Cassidy (electric bass), and Spencer Dryden (drums) would get into a groove that could last for 10 or more minutes. This Jefferson Airplane can be heard on their first (and best) live album entitled Bless Its Pointed Little Head (RCA Victor, LSP-4133, 1969).

But getting back to the song "White Rabbit" the book, Jeff Tamarkin details how Grace Slick wrote the song:
Inspired, Grace sat down to write a new song of her own. Drawing on her love of all things Spanish, she fashioned a snaky bolero rhythm. Then, thinking back on her childhood fantasies, she suggested a correlation between the mystical worlds of those timeless tales and the quests that she and her fellow seekers were undertaking as young adults:

One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small
And the ones that Mother gives you don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice when she's ten feet tall.

There had never been another song like "White Rabbit." Originally called "White Rabbit Blues," it was Lewis Carroll meets Ravel meets Sketches of Spain [Miles Davis]. Electric guitars and snare drums piled atop one another, blatant drug allusions crossed paths with bedtime stories, all climaxing in a smashing crescendo, a bellowing Grace inventing a catch phrase for her generation, "Feed your head! Feed your head!"

Throughout the book, Tamarkin also covers the side projects -- solo albums, bands, book projects, etc. -- of each of the Airplane members: the original members as well as the band members that followed in each of the band's later incarnations, including Jefferson Starship, Starship, and Hot Tuna. For example, in 1987, Paul Kantner spent time with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in support of their revolution. He self-published his experiences in Paul Kantner's Nicaragua Diary (Little Dragon Press, 1987, 113 pages). His other band members had refused to journey with him to Nicaragua at the time because they felt it was too dangerous.

And, drummer Spencer Dryden eventually joined up, in 1982, with bassist Peter Albin (Big Brother & The Holding Company), guitarist John Cipollina (Quicksilver Messenger Service), guitarist Barry Melton (Country Joe and the Fish), and keboard player Merl Saunders (Jerry Garcia) to form the band Dinosaurs. Their first self-titled album was released on the Relix Records label (RRLP 2031) in 1988.

"Go ride the music...."

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Recap of Charles Stross's Laundry Files Series

The Labyrinth IndexFor those who have been with me on More Red Ink over the long haul, you know that I have been involved in all nine volumes of the Laundry Files series by Charles Stross: acquiring the first two volumes for Golden Gryphon Press, then working on volumes three through seven for Ace Books, volume eight for Macmillan UK, and the current volume, The Labyrinth Index, for Tor/St. Martin's Press. [1]

In preparation for the release of this latest volume, author Charles Stross presented, on, a "five-minute orientation briefing before Human Resources take over for your induction paperwork. Please try to pay attention: there won’t be an exam, but your life may depend on it."

So if you are getting ready to read The Labyrinth Index and looking for a recap of what's gone on previously in the series, then look no further than

Speaking of which, when you read the "five-minute orientation" and you come upon the name " X-Division of the Special Operations Executive," just pretend it actually reads "Q-Division. (We won't remind Charlie that it's always been a "Q"....)
Q-Division (formerly Q Department in earlier volumes) – the Laundry’s official name; originally part of SOE during WWII.
The Labyrinth Index was officially released on October 30 and is available from Amazon, or your bookseller of choice.


[1] You can read about my work on The Labyrinth Index in my blog post on April 8, 2018.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Now Reading: What's Big and Purple and Lives in the Ocean? The Moby Grape Story by Cam Cobb

What's Big and Purple and Lives in the Ocean?One of the premier San Francisco bands during the '60s was Moby Grape: 4 guitars (including bass) and drums, in which all 5 members of the band wrote original music and sang on one another's songs. One of the tightest, rocking bands in the entire San Francisco scene. They should have been big -- HUGE, in fact -- but the universe conspired against them. Of course, the immaturity of the band members themselves and the idiocy of the Columbia Records PR department didn't help any, either....

The band was originally formed by manager/promoter Matthew Katz and musician Alexander "Skip" Spence, both previously associated with the Jefferson Airplane.

When the band finally signed with Katz, they should have read the fine print in the contract. And they also should have consulted a lawyer. (Not that any bands did in the '60s....) Katz had gotten them regular gigs at The Ark club in the Bay Area, and they were satisfied with his efforts and just happy to be performing regularly, so they signed the agreement without hesitation. But when they signed that agreement, unbeknownst to them, they also signed away ownership of the name "Moby Grape" to Katz. That clause would come back to bite them in the ass big time.

The entire history of Moby Grape has been thoughtfully written by Cam Cobb in his book What's Big and Purple and Lives in the Ocean? (Jawbone Press, 2018). Cobb has interviewed the surviving band members, plus he has pulled together previous interviews from other sources, and he has placed the events surrounding Moby Grape within the history of that time and place.

For the cover of their first Columbia Records album, simply titled Moby Grape, the band drove around various Bay Area locales for hours, with their photographer, trying to find just the right setting. And by the time they finally did find that perfect setting, Don Stevenson was so burnt out and pissed off, that he gave "the finger" during the photo shoot. In addition, the band selected an American flag as a prop in the scene, but given that this was 1967, the era of the Vietnam War, the Columbia Records execs got skittish and painted the flag in orange so that it wouldn't stand out. Later, after the album was released, and these very same execs saw "the finger" on the cover, they had the finger air brushed out on future cover printings. The original release also came with a fold-out 22-inch x 28-inch poster of the front cover, with Don Stevenson's "finger" in all its. glory.

The album was released on June 6, 1967, in both mono (CL 2698) and stereo (CS 9498); Sundazed Music reissued the album on both CD and LP (in mono) in 2007, but both reissues are currently out of print as well.

Author Cam Cobb on that first Grape album:
....It isn't simply an album of contrasts, however. It's a dialogue. The songs unfold in a sequence that represents a lyrical and stylistic conversation. The singers dialogue with one another from song to song, and within the songs themselves. As the album charges forward, it's filled with sharp, unexpected turns in speed and style, jumping from one genre to another, blending genres, changing tempo, changing key, and all the while holding everything together. It's an album of alchemy and exuberance. Moby Grape is an album made by five musical alchemists–six if we include producer David Rubinson. It's also an album of joyful exuberance, from the first note played on the guitar, and the first moment the band starts to sing. This is one of those rare albums that's both of its time and timeless.
But back to Columbia Records and 1967: At the time, the Beatles were dominating the singles chart simply because their songs were so strong, so popular, that they remained in the Top Ten for many weeks. Columbia's PR idiots thought that they could duplicate this phenomena by releasing five singles off the Moby Grape album simultaneously (that's ten of the album's twelve songs), thus being able to dominate the charts. The problem they didn't anticipate is that radio stations, receiving five singles at once, didn't know which one to play, and some stations chose not to play any Grape singles at all. Does the word "overhyped" come to mind? The singles essentially bombed, and the overhype resulted in the album receiving a number of undeserved mediocre reviews.

Rock critic Paul Williams [1], editor of Crawdaddy magazine, wrote the following in the June 1967 issue:
Well, it took me a long time, but I finally figured out who Moby Grape remind me of: The Everly Brothers. Also Buddy Holly, Buffalo Springfield, middle-Beatles, Byrds, New Lost City Ramblers, The Weavers, Youngbloods, Daily Flash, and everybody else. Above all, the Grape give off this very pleasant sense of déjà vu. Rock has become so eclectic you can't even pick out influences–you just sense their presence. I don't really know why the Grape remind me of The Everly Brothers. But it's a nice feeling. Moby Grape is one of those beautifully inextricable groups with four guitarists (including bass), five vocalists, five songwriters, and about twelve distinct personalities (Skip Spence alone accounts for five of them). The Grape is unusual for an SF group in that it does not have an overall, easily identifiable personality from song to song. Their music is always unified; it's their album as a whole that's schizoid. In fact, much as I like it, I enjoy the songs even more one at a time (for your convenience, Columbia has issued almost the entire album on singles–which is particularly nice because the mono mix is far better than the stereo, which must have been done too fast).
Ten days after the release of Moby Grape, the band arrived at the Monterey International Pop Festival, having been invited earlier to perform that weekend. This is the festival that introduced the world to Otis Redding, The Who, Janis Joplin, and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. The Grape had one of the coveted Sunday slots until, that is, their manager Matthew Katz had words with two of the promoters of the festival, record producer Lou Adler and John Phillips (of The Mamas & The Papas). Katz wanted over a million dollars for Moby Grape's appearance in the film that the promoters were shooting during the festival. Not only did he and the band not get their million, but the promoters got so pissed at Katz they demoted the band to the opening slot of the entire festival, when attendees were still being seated, etc. And not only did the band not appear in the film, but their set wasn't including in the official audio release of the festival either. In fact, it wasn't until 2010 that some of the songs from the band's Monterey performance finally appeared on a "Live" compilation release from Sundazed Music.

This misstep by Matthew Katz, along with other ongoing issues, finally led the band to sever its relationship with their manager. The problem, however, was the ownership of the band's name as previously mentioned. Within a few months, Katz was managing -- and promoting -- another band by the name of "Moby Grape."

Venues were booking this bogus "Moby Grape" thinking it was the original band. Lots of confusion and frustration ensued for the band, for promoters, for venues. The situation got so bad that some venues started advertising the original Moby Grape as the "Columbia Records Recording Sensation" as a way of convincing ticket buyers that this was the "real" band.

Cam Cobb actually begins the first chapter of What's Big and Purple and Lives in the Ocean? with a discussion of Moby Grape's first reunion album, 20 Granite Creek [2], which was released by Reprise Records (the band was no longer with Columbia Records) in 1971. Sort of a jump forward before starting at the beginning of the band.

During one of Cobb's many interviews with Grape guitarist Jerry Miller, Miller had this to say about the band:
See, what we had with the Grape, the whole idea–I never had the idea of playing with three guitars before Moby Grape. And then, if you've got three blues guitars, it doesn't work. But we had Peter, who played the nice flngerpicking beautiful stuff. And Skippy would lay down this awesome rhythm. He put the palm of his right hand on the strings back by the bridge, and when he'd play it would give kind of a popping sound. They used to do that a lot in Texas. It gives a good percussion effect.

Bob and Don were tight with the drums and bass. Then Skippy would build the next rhythm level. Then Pete would play some pretty flngerpicking stuff, and I'd figure out how to glue them all together. With some little hot licks, some blues licks, and a few little jazz licks. You couldn't put three blues guitar players together and make it that easy. But it was easy, because nobody stepped on each other's toes.


[1] Paul Williams, a personal acquaintance of mine, passed away on March 27, 2013. I did a relatively brief memorial blog post on April 16 of that year, in which I link to some major newspaper obits. Paul was an amazing individual, and if you're not aware of all that he accomplished in his too-short life, please check out this post.

[2] 20 Granite Creek -- a century-old mansion -- was the address in the Santa Cruz (California) mountains where Moby Grape holed up to record the album of the same name. The front cover of the album was designed to look like a postage stamp, with the band name and album title in the cancellation mark.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Read Chapter 1 of The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

The Labyrinth IndexIn my blog post on April 8 I wrote about my work on the newest Laundry Files novel, The Labyrinth Index -- volume 9 -- by author Charles Stross.

You can now read the entire Chapter 1, courtesy of the author and I'm going to post the first few paragraphs here, and -- assuming you are intrigued by the story line as much as I am -- simply click on the link following this excerpt to be whisked away to the full chapter on

By the way, the POV speaker is Mhari Murphy. You may want to read my blog post first, the one mentioned above, before reading the excerpt.

Chapter 1

As I cross the courtyard to the execution shed I pass a tangle of bloody feathers. They appear to be the remains of one of the resident corvids, which surprises me because I thought they were already dead. Ravens are powerful and frighteningly astute birds, but they’re no match for the tentacled dragonspawn that the New Management has brought to the Tower of London.

These are strange days and I can’t say I’m happy about all the regime’s decisions—but one does what one must to survive. And rule number one of life under the new regime is, don’t piss Him off.

So I do my best to ignore the pavement pizza, and steel myself for what’s coming next as I enter the shed, where the client is waiting with the witnesses, a couple of prison officers, and the superintendent.

Executions are formal occasions. I’m here as a participant, acting on behalf of my department. So I’m dressed in my funerals-and-court-appearances suit, special briefcase in hand. As I approach the police checkpoint, a constable makes a point of examining my warrant card. Then she matches me against the list of participants and peeks under my veil before letting me inside. Her partner watches the courtyard, helmet visor down and assault rifle at the ready.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Now Reading: And on Piano...Nicky Hopkins by Julian Dawson

And On PianoI've been reading And on Piano...Nicky Hopkins by Julian Dawson (Plus One Press, 2011). Actually, this is my second read-through this year alone of this "extraordinary" biography of "The Extraordinary Life of Rock's Greatest Session Man." That's the subtitle of the book, by the way, and as I read about Nicky Hopkins, I can only shake my head in wonder and awe at the mark this incredible musician has made on the history of rock music.

But I wouldn't be surprised if readers of this blog post have never even heard of Nicky Hopkins. And though you may not have heard of him, I have to believe that if you listen to rock music regularly (not dance music, not R&B music, not metal or electronic music, but ROCK music), then you have, indeed, heard him.

Let's see...Do you recognize any of these songs? The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Street Fighting Man." The Beatles' "Revolution." John Lennon's "Imagine" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." George Harrison's "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)." Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers" and "We Can Be Together." And Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful."

As you may have guessed, Nicky Hopkins was behind the piano on each of these best-selling singles, just a few of the hundreds of singles, and albums, on which he appeared. In fact, at the end of the book, the author presents a Nicky Hopkins Discography -- 28 small-print pages listing all the albums, singles, live performances, and film soundtracks on which the pianist performed.

Here's a YouTube vid of the man at work:

In the book, Julian Dawson shares a story: while Nicky was touring outside the U.S. someone began impersonating him at various recording studios. Once word got out about this impersonator, session producers learned to ask "Nicky Hopkins" to play his song "Edward," which would reveal soon enough if this person was indeed the real Nicky Hopkins. This is an audio-only vid featuring the song "Edward (The Mad Shirt Grinder)," which Nicky wrote while a member of Quicksilver Messenger Service, for their album Shade Grove (Capitol Records, 1969) -- however, this vid is a live performance of Quicksilver at Stony Brook College, New York, in 1970. A studio recording can always be overdubbed, etc., but one can't overdub a live performance:

Nicky was born in Middlesex, England, on February 24, 1944, during an air raid! He suffered throughout his entire life with health issues, most likely caused by an undiagnosed (at the time) case of Crohn's disease. In fact, at age 19, he spent more than a year in the hospital, recovering from a life-threatening illness from which the doctors never expected him to survive. And, sadly, he passed away at the age of 50, on September 6, 1994, in Nashville, Tennessee, from complications from that life-long battle with the disease.

John York, formerly with The Byrds, from the book:
"I gave [Nicky] a ride to a Jack Bruce session and when we got there Ginger Baker was just leaving. The engineer asked [Nicky] to go in and get a sound and Nicky started playing...and we all sat there and listened to him playing. It was when he was working on music for films and it was like listening to Rachmaninoff or something; at a certain point Nicky stopped, took a last drag on his cigarette, put it out, and said, "OK, mate," and then started playing like some 65-year-old Black guy from the Delta. It was unreal."

Julian Dawson, from the book:
Nicky delivers one of the most elegant and perfectly conceived performances of his career on Let It Bleed's quietest track, "You Got the Silver." Keith Richards' love song to Anita Pallenberg was his first outing as sole lead vocalist and his heartfelt singing, acoustic slide and guitar tracks are perfectly underpinned by Nicky's understated organ and gentle piano. Over the years Nicky often referred to the song as one of his top five favourite performances, a sentiment echoed by Keith and others...."

And one last, albeit lengthy, quote from Julian Dawson:
"Imagine the voodoo groove of the Rolling Stones' 'Sympathy for the Devil' without its driving piano, 'Angie' or 'She's a Rainbow' without their gorgeous fills; the Beatles' 'Revolution' without its perfectly formed solo or the Who's explosive first album without its breakneck keyboard accompaniment. Picture Joe Cocker singing his hit 'You Are So Beautiful' alone and a capella, or try to imagine the strident call-to-arms that is Jefferson Airplane's 'Volunteers' without its keyboard riffs. Imagine...well, 'Imagine' stripped of its beautiful piano work; Lennon's 'Crippled Inside' without the perfectly tailored honky-tonk flourishes or 'Jealous Guy' without its haunting and delicate piano decorations. These are just a handful of classic tracks all played by one man's hands."

Monday, July 30, 2018

Now Reading: Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards by Al Kooper

Backstage PassesThis book was originally published in hardcover as just Backstage Passes in 1977, covering the years 1958-1968. You may think, What could Al Kooper have done, between the ages of 14 and 24, that demands an entire book?

Al Kooper scored his first professional gig at the very young age of 14 as a guitarist in the band the Royal Teens. He later joined the avant-garde blues-rock band Blues Project as a keyboardist in 1965; and after leaving that band, he then formed his own band, Blood, Sweat & Tears, in 1967. And let's not forget the Monterey Pop Festival, also in 1967, and something called Woodstock in 1968....

Let's see, what else: Al Kooper co-wrote the #1 pop song "This Diamond Ring," recorded by Gary Lewis and the Playboys when, I believe, he was just 20 years old. When Bob Dylan went electric in 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival, that was Al Kooper on the stage, playing Hammond organ in Bob's backing band. Kooper had just finished working with Dylan on the recording session for his iconic song "Like a Rolling Stone," so Dylan asked Kooper to join his backing band at Newport.

Following the festival, Kooper then went on to play on the sessions for the rest of Dylan's highly successful album Highway 61 Revisited. Al Kooper was 21. (Note: During those recording sessions, Al Kooper met guitarist extraordinaire Michael Bloomfield; the two later recorded together the albums Super Session and The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, both in 1968.)

Speaking of the recording session for "Like a Rolling Stone," Al Kooper actually bluffed his way into that session -- he had never previously played a Hammond organ until then. Here's just a bit of what he writes about that experience:
"Imagine this: There is no music to read. The song is over five minutes long, the band is so loud that I can't even hear the organ, and I'm not familiar with the instrument to begin with. But the tape is rolling, and that is Bob-fucking-Dylan over there singing, so this had better be me sitting here playing something. The best I could manage was to play hesitantly by sight, feeling my way through the changes like a little kid fumbling in the dark for the light switch. After six minutes they'd gotten the first complete take of the day and everyone adjourned to the control room to hear it played back.
If you listen to it today, you can hear how I waited until the chord was played by the rest of the band, before committing myself to play in the verses. I'm always an eighth note behind everyone else, making sure of the chord before touching the keys...."
So, what do you think? Is that ten-year span sufficient to fill a book? And though I've mentioned just the cursory points, the author goes into depth on the bands and musicians, the songs, the sessions, the cities and the places, and the events of the day.

Twenty years after this book had been published, and long since out of print, Al Kooper found a new publisher willing to reprint the book as a trade paperback. But, the author chose to revise those first ten years (with more pointed detail) as well as adding his personal experiences over the next thirty years. And with the reprint came a new, more descriptive title: Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock 'N' Roll Survivor.

But wait, there's more! The book was reprinted yet again, in 2008, to cover additional years from 1998 through 2007. Al Kooper had to deal with some very serious health issues by this time, which he faced with aplomb.

According to Wikipedia, Al Kooper had a sixty-eighth birthday celebration at the Regatta Bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on February 4, 2012. And, I assume, Kooper is still performing to this day.

"...The other amazing thing about cutting that album [Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde] was the firsthand knowledge that you were making history. After I cut the Highway 61 Revisited album, I heard those songs everywhere. I will probably hear them all my life, anywhere I go. They were instant classics because they were prime Dylan. Imagine how it felt playing on a session where, by virtue of the fact that you had already done it once before, you knew that whatever you played would last forever. That's a heavy responsibility for a punk from Queens. Thank you, Bob, for giving me that opportunity."
–Al Kooper, Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards

Here are a few album recommendations for those who might like to pursue the music of Al Kooper -- most, but not all, should be available on CD (and again, I can't speak to streaming as I prefer the physical media). By the way, this list is excerpted from a full eight pages of Kooper's body of work.

As musician–
  • The Best Of The Blues Project (Rhino Records, 1989)
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears - Child Is Father To The Man (Columbia, 1968)
  • Al Kooper - I Stand Alone (Columbia, 1968)
  • Mike Bloomfield / Al Kooper / Stephen Stills - Super Session (Columbia, 1968)
  • The Live Adventures Of Mike Bloomfield And Al Kooper (Columbia, 1968)
  • Soul Of A Man: Al Kooper Live (MusicMasters, 1995, 2-CD)

As producer/arranger–
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd ‎– (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd) (MCA/Sounds of the South, 1973)
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd ‎– Second Helping (MCA/Sounds of the South, 1974)
  • The Tubes (A&M, 1975)
  • Nils Lofgren - Cry Tough (A&M, 1976)
I would have included some of Al's more recent works but, sadly, they saw limited release and are currently out of print. His last (so far) solo album, White Chocolate (A Minor Record Company, 2008), would certainly have been on this list.