Saturday, September 21, 2019

In Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of "The Weight" - Song Around the World / Playing for Change


"The Weight" was written by Robbie Robertson, recorded by his group The Band, and released on the album Music From Big Pink in 1968.

From Rollingstone.com (September 18, 2019):
"What key is it in, Robbie?" Ringo Starr, sitting behind a drum set, asks Robbie Robertson over the phone. Ringo nods. "F-demented!" What happens next is a joyous cover of "The Weight," with Robertson reprising the recording's soulful intro lick. A series of musicians from all over the world – Marcus King, Lukas Nelson, the Japanese guitar virtuoso Char, Congo soul singer Mermens Mosengo and more – all add their own flavor to the classic from different locations.

The project comes from Playing For Change, a group dedicated to "breaking down the boundaries and overcome distances between people." That includes 15 music schools across 11 countries, documentaries and viral videos bringing artists from different cultures together; the group has released videos for "Redemption Song" [Bob Marley], "What’s Going On" [Marvin Gaye], and more ["All Along The Watchtower by Bob Dylan]. "The Weight" was done on an epic scale, a year and a half of production over five continents. "We made it brick by brick, starting with Robbie," says co-founder Mark Johnson, a Grammy-winning producer-engineer who's worked with Paul Simon, Keith Richards, and more. "That's what makes this special. We could never have never assembled this group in the studio. You need to go there, and then when you go there, you're where they feel comfortable....

We had built a mobile recording studio... Now I have little battery packs so we traveled the world with a mobile studio, great equipment and some cameras and this one we started off with Robbie Robertson playing guitar... And then as we traveled the world, we would deconstruct [the track.] So Ringo would replace the drums. Hutch [James "Hutch" Hutchinson”] would replace the bass. Everywhere I go, I'm putting headphones on musicians, and they're listening to whatever preceded them and playing along. And that's how we built it as we went from country to country. I think in this video, we went to about ten different countries.

Learn more about Song Around the World on the Playing For Change website -- and check out all those other videos!



Friday, August 23, 2019

Jeff Buckley - Grace

In memory of Jeff Buckley (November 17, 1966–May 29, 1997) on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of his Columbia Records album Grace on August 23, 1994.

"Hallelujah" (Official Video)


"Lover, You Should've Come Over"
Recorded live at the Middle East Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 
February 19, 1994



Grace






Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Now Reading: The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel

Vinyl Detective 1This is the first mystery I've read in a very long time, and especially one that kept me reading, page after page, wanting to learn what happens next.

The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel (Titan Books, 2016) is the first volume in an ongoing series that currently numbers four -- and I already have book number 2 on order.

Recently, I seem to be selecting books to read that have received a starred review in Kirkus. Those familiar with Kirkus know that even being reviewed by this publication is indeed rare; receiving a starred review nearly requires cosmic intervention.

For those not of the vinyl record persuasion, the "dead wax" of the title refers to the area on a record between the end of the last track and the label. Typically "matrix" information is provided in this runout area, sometimes stamped, sometimes etched, occasionally both: alphanumeric information that pertains to that pressing of the record. Often the only way to tell a first pressing of an album from a reissue is by the matrix runout information.

I was relating some of the story to my wife and I couldn't remember the protagonist's name -- the Vinyl Detective of the title -- so I picked up the book and leafed through what I had read at that point, and realized that his name is never given! Even when he meets up with friends or talks to friends on the phone, no one addresses him by name. He picks up a nickname or two along the way, but we never learn his real name. That I found quite intriguing. I'll have to see if Cartmel's "no name" quirk continues into the next volume.

As to the story: years ago, our protagonist, a rather unassuming record-collecting geek, had handed out business cards at record stores, pubs, and dj gigs. The business card simply read "Vinyl Detective" below his name and address. So much time had passed that he actually forgot about those business cards. Now, years later, one of those cards results in a knock at his door -- and an offer to hire him to track down an extremely rare jazz album from the 1950s, of which only a few hundred were pressed at the time.

This album, as it turns out, is one of fourteen different titles that the record label produced during the course of only one year, before the owner of the label committed suicide and the label ceased production.

Of course, beatings, murders, and mayhem ensue -- this is a mystery, as I said. But, as the subtitle suggests, the secret to the mystery is written in the dead wax -- and to learn that secret, our Vinyl Detective must actually track down all fourteen of those albums.

"An irresistible blend of murder, mystery and music... our protagonist seeks to find the rarest of records – and incidentally solve a murder, right a great historical injustice and, if he's very lucky, avoid dying in the process."
—Ben Aaronovitch, bestselling author of Rivers of London

"Crime fiction as it should be, played loud through a valve amp and Quad speakers. No digital writing here, it's warm and rich. Every delicate pop and crackle adding character and flavour. Witty, charming and filled with exciting solos. Quite simply: groovy."
—Guy Adams, critically acclaimed author of The Clown Service

"The Vinyl Detective is one of the sharpest and most original characters I've seen for a long time."
—David Quantick, Emmy Award-winning producer of VEEP

I haven't had this much fun reading a mystery novel in a long time.

You can find The Vinyl Detective at your book store of choice or via Amazon.com.



Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Final Excerpt: Chapter 22: The Universal Tone by Carlos Santana

Santana - The Universal ToneI have to hope I'm not dulling the senses with all these excerpts from Carlos Santana's autobiography, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story To Light.

Chapter 22 deals with the making of the album Supernatural. Unfortunately the pages are too numerous to excerpt, so if you've read -- and enjoyed -- the excerpts I've posted so far, then please do snag the book for yourself. You won't be disappointed....

At this point in Santana's career, he and the band were still under contract to Island Records, with two albums remaining on that contract. Carlos met with Chris Blackwell, of Island Records, for lunch and simply asked him to release him from his contract. Carlos felt something special was brewing, and Island Records was not the label to be with. Much to Carlos's surprise, Chris agreed, and with no strings attached. (Chris could have made Carlos pay for the remaining two albums, he could have asked that Carlos's next label buy out the contract, etc. but he didn't -- he simply let Carlos go.)

This allowed Carlos and Santana to team up again with Clive Davis, now with Arista Records. Clive was formerly the head of CBS (Columbia Records) in 1968, and he was instrumental in the production of the first Santana album. Clive put together the entire Supernatural album, bringing together all the singers and musicians who performed with Santana on that album. Clive Davis wanted to put Santana back on the radio!

Excerpt from Chapter 22:
It's really hard to describe how it feels when something [Supernatural] hits that big, all around the world, and you're in the middle of it. It's like being that cork floating on a big ocean wave—how much am I controlling, and how much is controlling me? Every day the ego games have to be checked, and you have to find your balance again.
In February of 2000, Clive told me that Supernatural had been nominated for ten Grammy Awards. Deborah started calling me a new name even before we got to the show. "So, Mr. Grammy, how many do you think you'll win?" The kids were like, "Yeah, Dad, how many?" I was feeling that I'd be lucky and happy with one. That's why, when I won the first one during the event that takes place in the afternoon, I thanked everyone I could— Clive, Deborah, my father and mother and the kids. When I won the next one, I was thanking my siblings and the musicians and songwriters. By the time of the evening event, which was on TV, I felt like one of those dogs playing fetch with a Frisbee, and it became something to laugh about: winners in other categories, such as classical music and country, started thanking me for not doing an album in their genres.
The whole thing was a blur, really. The two things that I was most proud of were playing "Smooth" onstage, with Rob Thomas singing and Rodney Holmes [the drummer] bringing everything he had. I hit that first note, and everyone in the whole place jumped to their feet. My other favorite moment was when Lauryn Hill and my old friend Bob Dylan presented the Album of the Year award—that was the eighth and last Grammy that Supernatural won. They opened the envelope, and all Bob did was point to me—no words. I got up to accept it, and suddenly it was clear what I had to say.
"Music is the vehicle for the magic of healing, and the music of Supernatural was assigned and designed to bring unity and harmony." I thanked the two personal pillars who first came to mind: John Coltrane and John Lee Hooker.




The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light is available from your bookstore of choice as well as Amazon.com.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Chapter 20 Excerpt: The Universal Tone by Carlos Santana

Santana - The Universal ToneIf you haven't been keeping up on my blog post excerpts from Carlos Santana's autobiography, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story To Light, then here's a few significant points about the book:

The book was published in 2014 by Little, Brown and Company. NPR (National Public Radio) named The Universal Tone one of its Best Books of 2014. It received a starred review in Kirkus (and anyone who knows Kirkus, knows that it's nearly impossible to even get reviewed by Kirkus!). And the book went on to win the American Book Award in 2015.


So, why aren't you reading this book already?

From Chapter 20:
In a funny way, my life has always been local—everything that happens comes from where I am. John Lee Hooker was living in the [San Francisco] Bay Area at this time. He was the Dalai Lama of boogie. Shoot, he should have been the pope of boogie as far as I'm concerned. We got to know each other. A lot of times we'd be playing, and he'd say, "Carlos, let's take it to the street," and I'd say, "No, John, let's take it to the back alley," and he'd say, "Why stop there? Let's go to the swamp." I miss him so much.
A John Lee boogie pulls people in as strongly as gravity holds them to this planet. He is the sound of deepness in the blues—his influence permeates everything. You can hear him in Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" or in Canned Heat's boogies. That's nothing but John Lee Hooker. When you hear the Doors, that's a combination of John Lee and John Coltrane. That's what they do; that's the music they love.
...
In '89 John Lee was local to the Bay Area. He was living not far from me, in San Carlos, which is near Palo Alto. We met a few times and talked, and at some point he actually invited me to his house for his birthday, which was the first time I really hung out with him. I brought a beautiful guitar to give him.
When I walked in, I saw that everyone was watching the Dodgers on TV, because that's John Lee's favorite team. He was eating fried chicken and Junior Mints. No kidding—Junior Mints. He had two women on the left and two on the right, and they were putting the mints into his hands, which were softer than an old sofa. I stepped up and said, "Hi, John. Happy birthday, man. I brought you this guitar, and I wrote a song for you."
"Oh, yeah?"
"It sounds like the Doors doing blues, but I took it back from them and I'm returning it to you and I'm calling it 'The Healer.'
John Lee chuckled. He had a slight stutter that was very endearing. "L-L-Let me hear it."
I started playing, and I made it up right on the spot—I knew how he did the blues, how he played and sang. "Blues a healer all over the world..." He took the song, and when he recorded it, he added to it in his own way. I said, "Okay, we've got to go to the studio with this, but I just want you to come at one or two tomorrow afternoon, because I don't want you to be there all day, man. I just want you to come in and just lay it. I'm going to work with the engineer—get the microphones ready, get the band to the right tempo. You just show up."
"Okay, C-C-Carlos."
When John Lee showed up we were ready. I got the band warmed up—Chepito, Ndugu, CT, and Armando—no bass, because Alphonso didn't make that gig. John Lee and Armando were checking each other out like two dogs slowly circling each other—they were the two senior guys there, and you could really tell that Armando needed to know who this new older guy was. He was looking at him slowly, all the way from his feet up to his hat. Just sizing him up. John Lee knew it, but he just sat there, tuning his guitar, chuckling to himself.
Armando threw down the first card. "Hey, man, you ever heard of the Rhumboogie?" He was talking about one of the old, old clubs on the black music circuit in Chicago, opened by the boxer Joe Louis back before I was even born. John Lee said, "Yeah, m-m-man. I heard of the Rhumboogie." Armando had his hands on his waist like, "I got you now." He said, "Well, I played there with Slim Gaillard."
"Yeah? I opened up there for D-D-Duke Ellington."
I saw what was going on and stepped in. "Armando, this is Mr. John Lee Hooker. Mr. Hooker, Mr. Armando Peraza."
We did "The Healer" in one take, and the engineer said, "Want to try it again?"
John Lee shook his head. "What for?"
I thought about it and said, "Would you mind going back in the booth, and when I point at you, would you be so gracious as to give us your signature—those mmm, mmm's?" John Lee chuckled again. "Yeah, I can do that." I said okay. That was the only thing he overdubbed that day—"Mmm, mmm, mmm."
"The Healer" helped bring John Lee back for his last ten years. He had a bestselling album and a music video—everything he deserved. We started to hang out more and play together. I would see him in concert, too. He had a keyboard player for many years—Deacon Jones—who used to get up onstage and say, "Hey! You people in the front—you might need to get back a little bit, because the grease up here is hot. John Lee's about to come out!" I have so many stories like that as well as stories about John Lee calling me—sometimes during the day, but, like Miles [Davis] did, mostly late at night.
I remember John Lee opening for Santana in Concord, California, and we had finished our sound check and he'd been waiting for me on the side of the stage. We were done, and he started talking to me while we walked away. The soundman came running up. "Mr. Hooker, we need you to do a sound check, too."
"I don't need no sound check."
"But we have to find out how you sound."
John Lee kept walking. "I already know what I sound like." End of discussion.


"The Healer," John Lee Hooker, featuring Carlos Santana:




Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Chapter 19 Excerpt from: The Universal Tone by Carlos Santana

Santana - The Universal ToneI've been gracing this blog with excerpts from Carlos Santana's autobiography, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story To Light, published in 2015 by Little, Brown and Company. There is so much rich material in this book that I'm actually having difficulty deciding what to post since I don't want the publisher (or Carlos himself) chastising me for quoting too much material! But if you enjoy the music of Santana, if you enjoy autobiographies, if you enjoy reading about a person's spiritual journey, then this is the book for you.

From Chapter 19:
In 1987, when Sal [Salvador, Carlos's son] was just four, I was jamming in the studio with CT [Chester Thompson, keyboard player] when one of those magic moments happened. But the engineers were still messing with calibrating something, and we wanted to record what we were doing right then. "Hit RECORD right now! Get this on tape, man — I don't care how you do it" So we got it on a two-track reel-to-reel — one track for CT, one for me. Just as I played the last note and it faded, the tape ran out — flub, flub, flub. Years later I found out that one of Stevie Ray Vaughan's blues was recorded exactly the same way — suddenly, on the spot, on a two-track reel-to-reel. And just as he played the last lick, the same thing happened — the tape ran out. The really weird thing? It was the same engineer both times — Jim Gaines.
I have to say a word about Jim and the other engineers Santana has been blessed to have in the studio and sometimes on the road. Fred Catero, Glen Kolotkin, Dave Rubinson, Jim Reitzel — they've all been instrumental in our success through the years, and I feel they all need to be honored. Jim Gaines worked with so many great artists, from Tower of Power to Steve Miller to Stevie Ray Vaughan, before he came to us. He brought a really earthy quality to the sound and did what he did without any ego — he was a pleasure to work with. He was with Santana just as things were going from analog to digital, so he helped with that transition and was as great with the computer as he was with the knobs. Recording technology was up to thirty-six tracks at that time, before Pro Tools came around, but he was really patient and knew what to say and when to say it in a very gentle way that would help make the music a lot more flowing.
After that jam with CT in '87, Jim gave me a cassette of it, and I left it in the car. The next day Deborah [Carlos's wife at that time] went shopping in that car, and when she came back she asked me, "Why don't you play like that?" There was that question again, the one she asked after the Amnesty International concert — sometimes she'd say that and I'd have to think, "What does she mean?" Before I said anything she was already asking me the name of the song on the cassette.
"What song?"
"You know, that song you played with CT. I heard it and couldn't drive. I had to pull over."
I decided to call it "Blues for Salvador," not only for Sal but also because San Salvador was going through some hard times then, with an earthquake and a civil war. That song inspired my last solo album as Carlos Santana. I love it because it has Tony Williams on it, and more of Buddy Miles's singing, and that band — CT, Alphonso, Graham, Raul, Armando, and the rest. I dedicated the album to Deborah, and the song "Bella," for Stella [Carlos's oldest daughter], is on there, too.
"Blues for Salvador" won a Grammy as the year's best rock instrumental performance — the first Santana Grammy, but not the last.

Please feel free to scroll back through my blog posts for previous excerpts....



Saturday, July 27, 2019

Another Excerpt from: The Universal Tone by Carlos Santana

Santana - The Universal ToneAnd yet another excerpt from The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story To Light, an autobiography by musician Carlos Santana.

From Chapter 9 yet again:
I remember one time in 1988 I got into Chicago around five o'clock and was checking in to an airport hotel. The phone was already ringing in my room when I put the key in the door—it was Buddy [Guy]. "Hey, Santana! Listen, Otis [Rush] and I, we're waiting on your ass here. You got a pen? Write down this address and come on over."
The address was that of the Wise Fools Pub, and I didn't waste any time. I got there early enough, when the place was only half full— Otis hadn't actually showed up yet, so Buddy and I took some solos, and we were just killing it. Then suddenly I saw that cowboy hat and toothpick come out of the shadows. It was like a scene in a movie. Otis looked around and walked through the crowd like he was in no hurry at all. This was his turf. He grabbed his guitar and stepped into the single spotlight, which hit his face in a very dramatic way. He leaned into the microphone and said: "Give them a hand, ladies and gentlemen!" Then quietly, almost to himself, he said, "Stars, stars, stars..."
It was like Otis was saying, "Oh, yeah? You think these guys were good?" He plugged in and didn't even sing—he just went straight into round after round of an instrumental blues that showed us who the star really was. He was in the middle of a solo and hit a lick that had Buddy and me screaming like shrimp on a Benihana grill. We couldn't believe what he was able to get out of each note. It was like getting a real long piece of fresh sugarcane and peeling it with your teeth to get into the middle, where the sugar is, and the sound it makes when you suck the sap out of it and the juice starts running down your chin and onto your hands. That's what it was like when Otis was hitting those notes—nothing sounds or tastes better than that!
Over the years I've gotten to know Otis and let him know how important his music is to me. He's not one for compliments, though—the first time we met at the Fillmore, I told him how incredible he sounded. His reply was, "Man, I got a long way to go." What—you? The guy who made "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)" and "I Can't Quit You Baby"? I think he's just one of those brothers who has a hard time validating his own gift, who's distant in his mind from his soul—except when he's playing. Not long ago Otis had a stroke, and he can't play anymore, and I make it a point to stay in touch, send his family a check twice a year, and let him know how much he's loved. He was never really one for words, but he'll still get on the phone and say, "Carlos, I love you, man." What can I say? He changed my life.[1]






---------------
Footnote:

[1] The Universal Tone was published in 2014; blues legend Otis Rush passed away on September 29, 2018.


Friday, July 26, 2019

More from: The Universal Tone by Carlos Santana

Santana - The Universal ToneStill reading -- and thoroughly enjoying -- the Carlos Santana autobiography entitled The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story To Light.

Here's yet another excerpt, this one from Chapter 9:
At Woodstock, I think Santana played a great show, but I do not think Santana was responsible for all that happened afterward. That's like a cork floating on top of a wave in the middle of the sea, bobbing up and down and telling itself it's controlling the entire ocean—that's an ego out of control.
There were a lot of things that nobody planned at Woodstock but that made it work for us. If we hadn't stayed in the town of Woodstock for the week before the festival, we probably would have gotten stuck in traffic and showed up late or not made it at all. And if some groups hadn't been late getting up there, we wouldn't have gone on early in the day and we could have gotten caught in the rain later that day and had our show messed up or even been electrocuted or forced to quit. And if any of that happened, maybe "Soul Sacrifice" would not have made it into the Woodstock movie and nobody would have seen us.
There were a lot of angels stepping in and making a way for us—the more time goes by, the more I can say that with clarity and confidence. I'll say it again: the one angel who deserves the most credit is Bill Graham. He got us the gig when nobody had heard of us. We had just finished our first album, but it hadn't been released. When Michael Lang, who was producing the festival, asked Bill for his help, Bill told him, "Okay, this is a big endeavor. I'll help you with my connections and my people. They know how to do this. But you need to do something for me—you need to let Santana play."
"Okay, but what's Santana?"
"You'll see."





Thursday, July 25, 2019

Rutger Hauer (January 23, 1944–July 19, 2019)

In Memory of Rutger Hauer




I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Still Reading: The Universal Tone by Carlos Santana

Santana - The Universal ToneContinuing from my previous blog post on Carlos Santana's autobiography, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story To Light....

From Chapter 7:
...I had been so excited to see [B. B. King] for the first time in February of 1967. Finally, the teacher I had started with and kept coming back to was coming to the Fillmore! The first time I had heard his music was in Tijuana at Javier's house—all those LPs on the Kent and Crown labels.
B. B. was the headliner after Otis Rush and Steve Miller. Another great triple bill. I was there for the opening night. Steve was great, Otis was incredible, and then it was B. B.'s band onstage, vamping. (Later on, I learned what his close friends call him—just B.—but in my mind he will always be Mr. King.) Then B. walked onstage, and Bill Graham went up to the mike to introduce him: "Ladies and gentlemen, the chairman of the board—Mr. B. B. King!"
It was like it had all been planned to build up to this. Everything just stopped, and everyone stood up and applauded. For a long time. B. hadn't even hit a note yet, and he was getting a standing ovation. Then he started crying.
He couldn't hold it in. The light was hitting him in such a way that all I could see were big tears coming out of his eyes, shining on his black skin. He raised his hand to wipe his eyes, and I saw he was wearing a big ring on his finger that spelled out his name in diamonds. That's what I remember most—diamonds and tears, sparkling together. I said to myself, "Man, that's what I want. This is what it is to be adored if you do it right."
Gregg, Carabello and I saw B. in concert when he came back in December of '67, and I was able to study him almost in slo-mo, waiting for him to hit those long notes of his. I was thinking, "Okay, here it comes—he's going to go for it. There it is. That note just freaked out everybody in the place, man." People were in the hallelujah camp. I noticed that just before he would hit a long note, B. would scrunch up his face and body, and I knew he was going to a place inside himself, in his heart, where something moved him so deeply that it was not about the guitar or the string anymore. He got inside the note. And I thought, "How can I get to that place?"

Friday, July 19, 2019

Now Reading: The Universal Tone by Carlos Santana

Santana - The Universal ToneSubtitled "Bringing My Story To Light," this is musician Carlos Santana's life story. His life began in Autlán, Mexico; he came of age in Tijuana; eventually ended up in San Francisco; and now he inhabits the entire world.

The Universal Tone was published by Little, Brown and Company in 2014. It's a massive book, totaling 536 pages, and that's not counting the numerous pages of photographs, dating back to Santana's childhood. The book was one of NPR's Best Books of 2014 and winner of the 2015 American Book Award. The Universal Tone also received a starred review in Kirkus (and anyone who knows Kirkus knows that it is nearly impossible to even get reviewed by Kirkus, let alone receive a starred review!)

Here are a few select excerpts from the book; these all focus on Santana's music influences and learning:

From Chapter 3:
The blues is a very, very no-nonsense thing. It's easy to learn the structure of the songs, the words and the riffs, but it's not like some other styles of music—you can't hide behind it. Even if you are a great musician, if you want to really play the blues you have to be willing to go to a deeper place in your heart and do some digging. You have to reveal yourself. If you can't make it personal and show an individual fingerprint, it's not going to work. That's really where you find the magnificence in the simple three-chord blues, in the fingerprints of blues guitarists like T-Bone Walker, B. B. King, Albert King, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, and all the cats from Chicago—Otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin.
There's a lot of misunderstanding about the blues. Maybe it's because the word means so many things. The blues is a musical form—twelve bars, three chords—but it's also a musical feeling expressed in what notes you play and how you play each note. The blues can also be an emotion or a color. Sometimes the difference is not so clear. You can be talking about the music, then the feeling, then what's in the words of a song. John Lee Hooker singing, "Mmm, mmm, mmm—Big legs, tight skirt / 'Bout to drive me out of my mind..." It's all the blues.

From Chapter 4:
Charlie Parker said, "If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn." I began to live my life, and my own sound began to come out of that closet and out of my guitar. It took a while—lots of gigs in Tijuana and in San Francisco. Lots of life experiences—growing up, leaving home, and coming back. Then, ultimately, leaving home for good.
When you take your time and listen to the real blues guys, you discover that each one has his own sound and you can recognize them by things they do, all while realizing that they don't repeat themselves. When you really dig into a blues it's like riding a horse bareback in the night under full moonlight. The horse takes off, and he doesn't throw you off. You go up and down and flow with the rhythm of the ride, go through all these changes, and never repeat yourself.

Also from Chapter 4:
I started to learn about phrasing, mainly from singers. Even today, as much as I love T-Bone or Charlie or Wes or Jimi, it's singers more than other guitar players that I like to hang with. If I want to practice or just get reacquainted with my instrument, I think it's best to hang with a singer. I don't sing, but I will put on music by Michael Jackson and I'll be right there with his phrasing, like a guided missile—I'll do the same thing with Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin. Or Dionne Warwick's first records—my God. So many great guitarists play a lot of chords and have great rhythm chops, and I can do that. But instead of worrying about chords or harmony, I'll just try matching Dionne's vocal lines, note for note.
I began to really learn about soloing and respecting the song and the melody. I think too many guitar players forget that and get stuck in the guitar itself, playing lots of notes—"noodling," I call it. It's like they're playing too fast to pay attention. Some people thrive on that, but sooner or later the bird's got to land in the mist and you got to play the melody. Imagine if the song was a woman—what would she say? Did you forget me? Are you mad at me?
I still hear what Miles Davis used to say about musicians who play too much: "You know, the less you play the more you get paid for each note."


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Now Reading: Rythm Oil by Stanley Booth

Rythm OilStanley Booth is a writer, a researcher, a journalist, a chronicler of an era of music...Each of the chapters in this book were previously published in various magazines, including Esquire, Saturday Evening Post, Playboy, Rolling Stone, Atlantic Weekly, and the Village Voice, to name a few. One chapter on Elvis Presley, however, contains an opening paragraph that was not safe for publication in Esquire back in 1976, and thus held back from the original article (and probably wouldn't be safe for publication today, either).


Rythm Oil is subtitled "A Journey Through the Music of the American South": In addition to Elvis, there are chapters on old bluesmen Furry Lewis and Mississippi John Hurt, Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas and daughter Carla Thomas, The Flying Burrito Brothers, the Janis Joplin Revue, and more (I haven't finished the book yet!).

"What became Stax records began in 1958 with a one-track tape recorder owned by a white brother and sister, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton [1], and located in Brunswick, Tennessee, behind the Satellite Dairy, a take-out ice-cream parlor. Estelle was a grammar-school teacher and Jim was a bank teller and a country fiddle player. They had little knowledge of what they were getting into, but they had incredible luck. For one example, Estelle's son Packy rehearsed on weekends at the Dairy with the Royal Spades, a rhythm and blues band of white Messick High School students that would develop into the Mar-Keys, the Stax house band. For another, in 1960 they found an empty movie theater that rented for $100 a month – the Capitol at 926 East McLemore – in a black South Memphis neighborhood. And Rufus Thomas brought the first hit to Stax. Thomas, who had started out on Beale Street at the age of six playing a frog in a show at the Grand Theater, had been a Rabbit's Foot Minstrel, MC at the Midnight Rambles, half the dance team of Rufus and Bones, a local radio announcer, and the first person to have a hit on the Sun label, 'Cause I Love You,' a regional sensation sung by Rufus and his daughter Carla, was followed by the first national hit on Stax – 'Gee Whiz' – a solo by Carla, who had written it when she was about fifteen....

In October of 1962 Stax released its first Otis Redding record, made in half an hour at the end of a Johnny Jenkins session....

There was a feeling in the air that summer [1967] – the summer of Monterey, of Sergeant Pepper, of LSD – that people were coming together, red and yellow, black and white, in peace and love.

In December Otis Redding would record 'Dock of the Bay.' None of us knew what was coming.[2]

In the wake of Martin Luther King's death, the climate for an integrated business in a black neighborhood changed, even on East McLemore Avenue. The front door of Stax, which had always been left open – Carl Cunningham, the Bar-Kays' drummer, had come in one day with a shoeshine kit and stayed to become a musician – was locked. Then one day it was locked for good. Today Stax is a crumbling shell. It was as if Stax had such good luck in the beginning that when at the end the bad luck came it was annihilating."
— Stanley Booth

Rythm Oil was published in 1991 by Pantheon Books. The hardcover edition is out of print, but the book is readily available in trade paperback from Amazon or your bookseller of choice.

---------------
Footnotes

[1] Stax is an acronym formed from the first two letters of Jim Stewart's and Estelle Axton's last names.

[2] Otis Redding died in a plane crash on December 10, 1967, along with the five teenage members of his backing band, the Bar-Kays.




Tuesday, July 9, 2019

50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing on July 20, 1969

8 of the surviving Apollo astronauts got together for the
50th anniversary of the moon landing:

From left to right: Charlie Duke (Apollo 16), Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), Walter Cunningham (Apollo 7), Al Worden (Apollo 15), Rusty Schweickart (Apollo 9), Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17), Michael Collins (Apollo 11), and Fred Haise (Apollo 13). [Photo by Felix Kunze/The Explorers Club]

Read the full article on Business Insider.

And ya gotta love Buzz Aldrin's formal attire!


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Now Reading: Bob Dylan by Anthony Scaduto

Bob Dylan"Highway 61 Revisited was at that time—and may be still today—one of the most brilliant pop albums ever made. As rock, it cut through to the core of the music—a hard, driving beat without frills, without self-consciousness. 'Like A Rolling Stone,' 'Tombstone Blues,' among the finest rock ever recorded. As living poetry the album demonstrated that Dylan's talent had matured to the point that it seemed capable of expressing in word-rhythms the depth of his visions. Despite what the literary keepers of the esoteric flame may say, no matter how much they sneer, Dylan's works are poetry: 'Desolation Row,' for just one example, amply demonstrates that. It is a decent into a modern Inferno, an eleven-minute freak show that portrays a world of alienation ruled by madmen, a world in which humanity has been estranged from its own possibilities, a world in which man's once free mind has been so totally suffocated by the one-dimensional society that it accepts lies as truth and beauty, permits creativity and naturalness and Eros to be perverted by the social 'reality.' Not since Rimbaud has a poet used the language of the streets to expose all the horrors of the streets, to describe a state of the union that is ugly and absurd."
– Anthony Scaduto


Sunday, June 9, 2019

[ENDED] Humble Bundle Science Fiction eBooks

Start Publishing has put together 20 science fiction ebooks -- novels and anthologies (including my Alien Contact!) -- in tiered options: you pay what you want, donate money to charity (Doctors Without Borders) and/or donate money to the authors and editors of the books you've purchased.

This "Humble Bundle" has been going on for approximately three and a half days already. But don't hesitate if this interests you as there are only nine-plus days remaining before this offer goes away.

As of this writing, there have been 3,035 bundles purchased, which is not too shabby indeed.

So, click on the "Purchase" button below and check out the titles being offered. And the great thing about ebooks is that you can read them just about anywhere and on nearly any device.

But time is counting down....



Monday, May 27, 2019

Editing: Unlikely Friends: James Merrill and Judith Moffett: A Memoir

Unlikely FriendsI know, I know... Where have I been these past nearly two months? (Sometimes a guy just needs to veg for a while....) Anyhow, here I am! But let me also add a teaser: I've been busy reading a new manuscript from Charles Stross for the next volume in his Laundry Files series!

In this post, the book that I want to introduce you to is by Judith Moffett. Now if you've read this blog regularly over these past years you will recognize her name, as I have written about her on numerous occasions. In fact, if you scroll down just a bit, in the sidebar on the right you will see the cover for her Hugo and Nebula award-nominated story "Tiny Tango," along with a link to the four-part series on how we turned this story into an ebook. And one of my earliest blog posts on Ms. Moffett's work was back in February 2010 entitled "Aliens Have Entered Mainstream's Orbit." Feel free to search this blog (see Search field on the right) for "Judith Moffett" for a list of all the entries.

In 1988, Moffett won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in the field of science fiction and fantasy. But what you may not know is that, long before writing sf, Moffett was (and still is!) a poet -- and a helluva poet at that. Here are just a few of her awards and honors: (1971) First prize, Graduate Division, in the Academy of American Poets Contest at the University of Pennsylvania; (1976) First Ingram Merrill Foundation Grant in poetry; (1984) National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship Grant; and, even after launching a successful science fiction writing career: (1998) Presenter at the Nobel Symposium on Translation of Poetry and Poetic Prose. But enough of the kudos...you can read the complete list of "Awards, honors, and recognitions" in her Wikipedia entry.

Merrill & Moffett, 1993, International
Poetry Festival, Malmö, Sweden
I bring up poetry because that is the focus of her most recent publication, Unlikely Friends, a memoir of her near thirty-year friendship and correspondence with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill. I had the honor of line editing and copy editing the manuscript: more than 200,000 words of diligently maintained journal entries from throughout that friendship, carefully transcribed correspondence, photographs -- and above all, the personal insight gleaned by the author upon looking back upon those decades.

For those readers in the book/publishing biz, you most likely know that a Kirkus review is difficult to come by: the publication is fairly stingy with its reviews. That being said, imagine how difficult it is to not only get reviewed by Kirkus, but to snag a starred review as well. And that's exactly what Unlikely Friends did: it garnered a starred review -- and, to top it all off, the memoir is self-published! Here's an excerpt from that review:
"Her Merrill scholarship is exhaustive, as she spent years writing a book about his work while finding success with her own poetry. She and Merrill were rarely in the same place, but she lovingly describes a 1973 trip to Greece and moments at his New York City apartment. Both eventually struggled with serious health problems, but they remained close due to their obvious reliance on each other's intellect and their lifelong dedication to their crafts. Moffett's painstaking memoir is epic in length but remains consistently engrossing. Particularly noteworthy is her desire to get to the root of her own fascination with Merrill, and she reaches some surprising conclusions about herself. She tells her own life story of struggle and success with undying fervor, and Merrill's letters show him to be urbane, witty, a bit fussy, and generous when it mattered. The two were different in many ways, but Moffett's account of what they shared is authentic and impressive.

An absorbing, indispensable portrait of poets."
Kirkus starred review, January 23, 2019

If you have access to Facebook, Moffett has been publishing lengthy excerpts and photographs from the book on her FB page.

And as I was writing this, I remembered that in 2016 I had noted in a blog post the receipt of her most recent poetry book (at that time), Tarzan in Kentucky: about life on her farm, grief (the loss of her husband), and other poems of a more personal nature.

Both Unlikely Friends (print and ebook) and Tarzan in Kentucky (print only) are available from your bookstore of choice; the links here will take you to Amazon.com.

"By culling a trove of letters and journals, Moffett has written an account of her friendship with Merrill that somewhat suggests the vivid quality of a novel. In every chapter the events of particular years are given the importance they had when they happenedthey are not simply bridges to some later, more important time, but events in their own immediacy. The dense braid of writing by the various Judys of those years, and the Judy now reflecting and summing up, gives her narrative the four-dimensional effect of deep time. It's a love storylove of literature, of friends, of idealized figures who were also real people. It will send you back to Merrill's poems, and Moffett's too."
–Kim Stanley Robinson, author of The Mars Trilogy and
New York 2140


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