Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sir Paul at the Tobin Center

It's been dark here at the blog for many moons, but I saw a show last night that demanded a return to print. After all these years, I finally saw my first Beatle live. Before I go into those details, I'll digress a bit.

I bought With the Beatles in December of 1963. I liked the album a lot, but at that point I was not particularly caught up in the whole Beatlemania thing. You have to remember that news was traveling a lot slower than it does today and the giant Beatle tidal wave had not yet hit the American shores. That all changed when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday February 9, 1964.

That weekend we were on a family ski trip to the Poconos with friends of my parents and their two daughters who were roughly the same ages as my brother and I. The two girls were all over the Beatles and went screaming around the resort all weekend in anticipation of the show on Sunday night. We watched the show back at their house on Sunday night. When their enthusiasm was added to seeing the Beatles live with my own eyes, I was hooked too. It was the beginning of a long love affair with the music of this very special band.

Since I wasn't going to many concerts when I was 12 years old, I never got a chance to see the Beatles live. I never made the effort to see any of the members play solo in the years following, until last night. In July I got wind of the opening of this fabulous 200 million dollar arts center in San Antonio where the kick off event was going to be Sir Paul playing in a 1700 seat venue. That was all I needed to know.

At 8 last night, Mrs. V and I walked over from the bar of the hotel next door to the most amazing venue. The Tobin Center is absolutely beautiful and one of the best places to hear music I have ever seen. It was a very civilized crowd with many in attendance with sport coats and even neckties. Things you don't often see a rock concert.

 At about 8:30, Paul and the band came out and launched into Eight Days a Week. Over the next two hours, Paul, looking trim and very fit for his age, alternated between his signature Hofner bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, grand piano, upright piano and even ukulele for a version of George Harrison's Something. Over a 28 song set, he moved easily from Beatle classics to Wings songs to his newer material. He played great guitar including a verse of Foxy Lady on his psychedelic painted Les Paul. His voice is still amazingly good.

 His enthusiasm for the music was evident and there was a great vibe and connection with the audience. The band complemented his music and also looked like they were having a great time.
There was something that was quite surreal about being less than 20 feet from a star of Paul's magnitude. Highlights of the set for me included Day Tripper, Lady Madonna, and a great version of Back in the USSR.

In an interesting twist, the man in seat next to me is the President of the Surf Ballroom and Museum in Clear Lake, Iowa. This was the site of Buddy Holly's last show before the tragic plane crash. In fact, Holly's plane went down on his family's farm where the crash monument is located today. Waiting for the show, we got into quite a conversation about Holly's influence on Paul and the early Beatles music. We also discussed the connection of Holly to Bob Dylan and the famous night when Holly looked into Dylan's eyes from the stage at the Duluth Armory. A story that Bob mentioned in his Grammy acceptance speech.

All in all it was a great night.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Steve Winwood at the Majestic

I saw Steve Winwood at the Majestic Theater in San Antonio last night. The Majestic is one the best music venues anywhere. Built in the 1920's, completely renovated and reopened in 1989, it is beautiful inside and has excellent sound. A great place for a show.

Winwood opened with the classic Spencer Davis hit I'm a Man and from the first notes he had that Hammond B-3 singing. His voice is still pitch perfect and as recognizable as it was in 1967 when I'm a Man was all over the radio.

From there, he covered Can't Find My Way Home, which is one of my favorites from the tiny Blind Faith catalogue. After the first few notes, I turned to my friend and said: "Hearing this, I can die a happy man."

Another highlight was a spirited Low Spark of High Heel Boys which segued into Empty Pages, a standout from 1970's John Barleycorn Must Die. Taking up a mandolin, Winwood came to the front and led an inspired Back in the High Life Again. An extended version of Light Up or Leave Me Alone gave the band a chance to stretch out and show their licks. Every player in the band was amazing.

The first encore was a hard rocking Dear Mr. Fantasy with Winwood playing an excellent lead guitar. The show finished with the other signature Spencer Davis hit Gimme Some Lovin', which had the 60 year olds dancing in the aisles.

I left the Majestic in awe of the musical genius of Steve Winwood and realizing that the last time I saw him was a Traffic show at the Boston Tea Party in November of 1970. That's just over 42 years ago. Fuck, I am older than dirt.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Covered By Bob: Big River

From the Basement Tapes, here are three Johnny Cash songs that Bob and the Band covered at Big Pink in the summer of 1967.

Big River

Written by Cash and recorded at Sun Studios in 1958, Big River went to #4 on the country charts. It has been covered by the Grateful Dead, Hank Williams and many others.


 This is an obscure Cash song that was also recorded at Sun Studios in 1957.

Folsom Prison Blues

One of the most recognizable Cash song, it was originally recorded in 1955 at Sun Studios.  Released again in 1968 as part of the At Folsom Prison album, it went to #1 on the country charts.

There is a lot of history between Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. They reportedly met several times during the 1960's, including at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964. There Dylan played Cash It Ain't Me, Babe and Mama, You Been on my Mind which Cash covered on his 1965 release Orange Blossom Special.

In Dylan's movie of Tour 66, Eat the Document, Cash turned up backstage before a show at the Capital Theater in Cardiff, Wales. As I remember it, Cash looked a little jumpy and resisted Bob's suggestion of a impromptu duet in the dressing room.

During the Nashville Skyline sessions in February of 1969, Cash joined Dylan in the studio. They sang a series of duets on country standards. When the album was released the Cash/Dylan version of Girl From the North Country was the first track on the album.

Later that year, Dylan was a guest on the first episode of the Johnny Cash TV Show. He sang I Threw It All Away, Living the Blues and Girl from the North Country with Cash. I remember watching the show very clearly. Bob looked great. Here is a clip from that night:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Covered By Bob: You Win Again

When you are the most prolific songwriter of this century, there is little need to cover the songs of other writers. After his first album, Bob Dylan recorded 9 albums before he put another cover song on an official release (Self Portrait 1970). That said, there are many unofficial Dylan recordings that pay homage to Bob's musical taste and early influences.

With that thought in mind, I would like to inaugurate a new series of posts on the blog called Covered By Bob. To start off, let's turn to a song from the legendary Basement Tapes. This version of You Win Again was recorded with members of The Band in the summer of 1967 at the little house in Woodstock, NY that was later immortalized by the album Music from Big Pink.

It is a classic tune by Hank Williams, who was on of Dylan's earliest music influences. Dylan mentions Williams in Chronicles Volume One: "Even at a young age, I identified with him. In time, I became aware that Hank's recorded songs were the archetype rules of poetic songwriting." There is a good chance that Bob was listening to 78rpm versions of Hank's hit as a boy in Hibbing, MN

 You Win Again is great example of Hank's sad songs of heartbreak and unanswered love. It is a personal favorite and always a choice when I hit the jukebox at Frank's Cafe.

 Ray Charles covered the song on his groundbreaking country album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Bob occasional plays it live on the Never Ending Tour. There is a live version from Bonneroo 2004 in circulation.

You Win Again

Monday, October 29, 2012

Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran

If you have been reading this blog, you know I am a big fan of Jamey Johnson. He is one the few country artists around today who is writing and making music that has a connection to the great country music of the past. With his music, Johnson has been quick to acknowledge the great artists that influenced him and with this album he recognizes one of the great songwriters of all time Hank Cochran.

In my post from Dec of 2008, I wrote: "Stop the presses. I have found the country album of the year. It is That Lonesome Song by Jamey Johnson. As much as I hate to admit that anything good could come out of Nashville, this album has and it is the real deal."

In March of 2009, I had a chance to see Jamey live and this is part of what I wrote at the time:
"In 1974, Jon Landau saw 25 year old Bruce Springsteen play at the Harvard Square Theatre. Afterward in an often quoted article in the Real Paper, he wrote: " I saw rock and roll's future and it's name is Bruce Springsteen." Well, tonight I saw the future of country music and his name is Jamey Johnson. 

This past week, Jamey released his tribute to the great songwriter Hank Cochran called Living For a Song. On the record, Jamey duets with the likes of Alison Krauss, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Elvis Costello, Leon Russell and Willie Nelson on 16 classic Cochran compositions. Every song on the record is stunning.

Cochran who died in 2010 at age 74 is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and is the author of many country classics. I Fall To Pieces, Make The World Go Away, The Chair, It Ain't Love (But It Ain't Bad) are among his 30 Top Ten hits. Along with Harlan Howard (his co-Author on I Fall To Pieces), Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson, Cochran set the standard for the modern country ballad. Cochran songs are concise, lyrical and often heart-wrenching. His ability to convey the subject with a minimum of words is the root of his genius. His influence is heard in almost every song Johnson has written.

Fans of traditional country music will love this album. If you are curious about this genre, there isn't a better place to start. Available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Long Black Veil

 Since I first heard  Long Black Veil on Music From Big Pink in the summer of 1968, it has been one of my favorite songs. I have heard it played many times by many artists and it always sounds good. It is close to being the perfect country song. Long Black Veil was featured in a post I wrote in July 2008.

 Written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, the song was originally recorded by Left Frizzell. It went to #6 on country charts for Lefty in 1959 and has since been recorded by Johnny Cash, The Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and of course, The Band.

While researching a post about Jamey Johnson and his new tribute album to Hank Cochran, I came across this video of Jamey, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson playing Long Black Veil at a recent Merle Haggard show. The video has some focus issues, but it is worth checking out. My post on the Hank Cochran record is coming soon.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Larry Keenan 1943-2012

I just read that Larry Keenan died on August 12th. Keenan was the photographer who took the iconic picture of Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Michael McClure and Allen Ginsburg in the alley behind the City Lights Books Store on Dec 5, 1965.

There is a great story behind the session. Keenan was a 22 year old art student who got a call from McClure to shoot a portrait of Bob Dylan for his soon to be released album Blonde on Blonde. Dylan was in San Fransisco playing his first tour with an band behind him.

 Although none of Keenan's shots ultimately made the album, he did capture a wonderful moment in time that day. Jim Marshall, another famous rock and roll photographer, was there as well, but Keenan came away with the best images.

In 2001, I found Keenan's information on the Internet and gave him a call. I was interested in adding one of his prints from that day to my rock and roll photo collection. He was very friendly on the phone and mentioned that he had a shot that included Robbie that had never been published. The most reproduced photo from the session is this one which crops Robbie out on the left side:

The one of a kind photograph which includes Robbie hangs in my man cave today. It is one of my favorite rock and roll images.