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]


[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.


[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!