Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's 53 miles to Laredo, but it's 153 miles back.

I have always said there are two types of hunting guests. Most are like Charlie Robison and they immediately grasp the concept of 53 miles to Laredo and 153 miles back, but some are like The Rooster and they never do. I guess it's one of those things that you either get or you don't.

Of all of the border towns in Texas, Laredo has been the most celebrated in music and literature. There is a good reason reason for this. For generations, trips across the border have been a right of passage into manhood for many young men in South Texas. Ranch hands, hunters, frat boys, even high flying bankers are part of countless stories that involve crossing the border in Laredo and enjoying the thrills found in Nuevo Laredo. Regardless of who you are, the fun begins when you cross that international bridge.

Unfortunately, the trouble caused by the narco-terrorists in Mexico has spilled over into Nuevo Laredo and spoiled this fun for everyone. Most of the bars and shops in Nuevo Laredo have closed. I have not been across the border in over 6 years. Until I hear that my friends in Laredo are going again, you will not find me over there.

In the old days, a road trip from the hunting camp to the Cadillac Bar was part of the South Texas hunting experience. Once at the Cadillac, it was a quick run over to Boy's Town, which has been called the adult equivalent of Disneyland. I will refrain from further discussion of Boy's Town, since this is a family blog.

Laredo has been mentioned in many songs. Cowboy's Lament (Streets of Laredo) has been covered by many artists including Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Chet Adkins and Marty Robbins. This is the Marty Robbins version which is my favorite:

Streets of Laredo

Willie Nelson’s great song Me and Paul has a verse about Laredo. Here is a live version from a Kris Kristofferson show:

Me and Paul

Doug Sahm recorded a song with the Texas Tornadoes called Laredo Rose which was a big hit. A few friends of Doug invested in the session that produced the song. When Laredo Rose became a big hit, we thought that we would be entitled to some of the profits. Later we heard that the hit wasn't the version of the song that we had invested in. Welcome to the music business.

Here is Laredo Rose

A song by Charlie Robison on his album Good Times mentions Nuevo Laredo and one of the most famous tourist attractions of Boy's Town. It is a very unique little club called Dallas Cowboys. I have told Charlie several time that I never thought I would hear a song that mentions that club on a major label release. Thanks to Charlie to keep this South Texas tradition alive. Have a listen to

New Year's Day.

It was an incident on the International Bridge in Laredo that led to a jail term for Timothy Leary. In December of 1965, Leary attempted to cross into Mexico from Laredo. After being refused entry into Mexico, he returned on the bridge to the United States. At the check point, marijuana was found in his car and Leary was arrested. In 1966, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


On Sunday night, I watched the 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert on HBO. The four hour show featured performances from the two shows at Madison Square Garden. There was a lot of very good music that gave me an number of ideas for the blog.

Jeff Beck, who was a substitute for Eric Clapton, was excellent. Eric had an medical emergency and was unable to play at the last minute. Watching Jeff Beck play made me think about this classic album.

Truth was released in August of 1968. That fall I was a prisoner at the Pottstown School for Wayward Boys. I can remember listening to Truth with Neil Ayer in his room in Upper School. We were listening to a lot of guitar based blues and hard rock at that time. Jimi Hendrix, Cream and later Blind Faith were big on our playlists. This album from Jeff Beck fit nicely with that group.

The players on this album included Jeff Beck (guitar), Rod Stewart (vocals) Micky Waller (drums), and Ronnie Wood (Bass). There were also contributions from Nicky Hopkins, Keith Moon, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.

The album features Beck's excellent guitar and Stewart's vocals, which were never better. The track list is an eclectic mix of original songs and some nice covers including Willie Dixon's You Shook Me and I Ain't Superstitious. Here are two of my favorite cuts from the album:

Truth is available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues from Tour 66

The next song from my archives is Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues from Dylan's World Tour 66. Recorded in Liverpool on May 14, 1966, it was the b-side of the single release of I Want You.

For most Dylan fans, this song was the first hint of the power and the magic of the music from the 66 Tour. Released long before any bootleg, it is a recording filled with the sound of Bob and the band that shocked the audiences across the world in 1966. From all accounts, these shows were so loud that many in the audience were freaked out.

Well before I knew anything about this tour, I was blown away by the sound of Bob playing this song live. Once I got this 45, I played it to death. Listen to the desperation in Bob's voice and the playing of the band as he barks out the famous line in the last verse: I started out on Burgundy, but soon hit the harder stuffffffffff:

Always one of my favorites from Highway 61 Revisited, this song features Dylan's surreal lyrics at their best. The story of Dylan's characters in Juarez, Mexico is told backed by the excellent playing of the band. This version reveals the power and weariness of that tour.

This particular track was taken from the essential box set of the tour called Genuine Live 66. If you like the music from this part of Bob's amazing career, you should own a copy. It is often available on eBay under the Bob Dylan listings.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Songs from my archives: My Babe by Little Walter

This post is the start of a weekly series on songs from my archives. I plan to feature music and artists you may not be familiar with. I hope you like what you hear.

The first song is classic Chicago blues from the great Little Walter. My Babe was written by Willie Dixon for Walter in 1955. Recorded with Robert Lockwood, Jr (guitar), Willie Dixon (bass), and Fred Bellow (drums), it features Walter's killer harp and vocals. This version went to number 1 on the R and B charts in March 0f 1955. It was later covered by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, The Animals, and many others.

Little Walter is considered by blues fans to be one of the best players ever to pick up a harmonica. His unique style and tone came from playing through a microphone and amplifier. He was one of the first to distort his sound in this way. Besides his own records, he can be heard on many of the Chess records of that era.

If you like what you hear, there are several Little Walter collections available. The Best of Little Walter and Little Walter: The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection are on iTunes or Amazon.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guitar Whispering: Robert Earl Keen

I really enjoyed this article from The New Yorker about Robert Earl Keen. It is well written and really captures Robert's personality and sly wit. I am happy that the new album, The Rose Hotel, has been very well received by critics and fans. It is nice to see Robert getting the kind of recognition he deserves.

Robert has been busy the last two months. After attending the Malta bird hunt and reverse wine tasting with notables such as Tequila Bob and Perry S., he went out on tour with Todd Snider and Bruce Robison. The tour was a departure for Robert. He left the band at home to play solo with these two great songwriters. It was REK unplugged, if you will.

Although I didn't see the show myself, I have gotten several reports. Tony from Freer said the show in Wilmington was excellent. He did wonder why there wasn't a 4th stool on the stage. Wait for the show in Hebbronville, Bump. Scott F*g*n was in the audience at Town Hall in New York with some friends. He said: "The show was good."

After that show, Robert and the band were on Imus in the Morning. They played three songs including The Man Behind the Drums. The music sounded great and Imus was quite enthusiastic.

If you don't own The Rose Hotel, you need to pick it up. It is available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Bob Dylan at Bonnaroo 2004

I have been flying around a lot in the last few weeks. This has given me a chance to listen to my iPod rather than my satellite radio. I rediscovered this classic bootleg from Bob's performance at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival on July 11, 2004. I got these tracks a while back from BobCat Numero Uno, who is the king of the bootlegs. Thanks for the loan.

The show had a great set list and the recording has good sound for a bootleg. Larry Campbell was still in the band. He does a great job on guitar, particularly the pedal steel on Pancho and Lefty

Bob did two great covers as part of his set. First up was Merle Haggard's Sing Me Back Home, which has always been one of my favorite Haggard songs. Next, Bob took on the classic Townes Van Zandt song that Merle and Willie made famous: Pancho and Lefty.

There has always been a connection in my mind between Bob and Merle. This may be because they are two of the best songwriters touring today or it may be because I have seen Merle open for Bob on two occasions (see my post from Feb 2, 2009). Have a listen to these two tunes:

I was also blown away by this song from the 1997 Grammy winning album Time Out of Mind. This is my favorite song from the album and one that Bob doesn't play live very often. I have never been lucky enough to hear it live. Have a listen:

Much has been made of Bob's reduced singing capabilities. On this song, he sounds better than usual. Of course, I am a fan regardless of his singing. It is just good to have him still out there on the Never Ending Tour.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Phillies Baseball, Dock Ellis and LSD

Although the Yankees have been raining on our parade the last few nights, this lifelong Phillies fan is still very excited about the World Series. It is great to have the Phillies back in the Series after winning it all last year.

All Philadelphia sports fans can be described as long suffering and I can testify to that pain. At the tender age of 12 years old in 1964, I was in 6th grade when the Gene Mauch coached team blew a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games to go and lost NL pennant on the last day of the season. You talk about painful. At the time, I thought my young life was over.

I still can remember listening on my AM radio to the game that began the slump of all slumps. We were playing the Cincinnati Reds when Chico Ruiz stole home in a 1-0 loss. It was the beginning of the end.

Years later after the Phillies had won the World Series 1980, I ran into Mike Schmidt at a golf event. In front of my good friend George Smith, I launched into a long story to Mike about how the '64 collapse had scared my childhood, but he and the 1980 team had made it up to me. Mike looked a little surprised by all this and afterward all F**ty could say to me was: "What the hell was that all about?"

Until I head the song about Dock Ellis on the latest Todd Snider album, I had forgotten about Dock's amazing feat. On June 12, 1970, thinking that he had the night off, Dock Ellis arrived at the ballpark under the influence of LSD. Much to his surprise, he was actually the starting pitcher. He then proceeded to throw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres.

As Dock later recounted the night, he wrote:

"I can only remember bits and pieces of the game. I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I thought I was pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix, who to me was holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate."

Have a listen to this great song by Todd Snider:
America's Favorite Pastime


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

STEALIN': Bootlegs and My Life Part 3

By the time Stealin' was released in the fall of 1969, bootlegs had come to the suburbs. To purchase my first copy of The Great White Wonder (see post from April 23, 2009), I had to navigate the wilds of downtown Philadelphia. This time, I was able to pick up a copy of Stealin' at my local record store next to the train station in Bryn Mawr. That was very convenient.

My copy, which can be seen in the photo, is an original blue label Har-Kub copy. The funny thing is that I can remember clearly buying it 40 years ago this month. In those long ago days, a trip to the record store after school would sometimes be rewarded with the latest Dylan bootleg. It is hard to describe the excitement that came from each of these new releases. By late 1969, I had played the regular albums to death, so it was a big deal to have some new material to enjoy. In those early days of bootlegs, no one had any idea of the vast amount of Dylan's music that would surface over the next few years.

Stealin' was the next glimpse into Dylan's unreleased catalogue after The Great White Wonder. As you can see from the photo, there was not any improvement in the packaging. The difference was that the sound quality was excellent and the material was very well chosen. Most of the songs were outtakes from the albums that were recorded at the height of Dylan's early creativity. For these reasons, it is thought to be one of the very best of all Dylan bootlegs.

The album kicks off with Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window, which is one of my favorite Dylan tunes from 1965. Even though this song was released as a single, at the time it slipped through the cracks, probably because it was never on an album. This is one of the two different versions from the Highway 61 Revisited sessions. The single version was recorded later with The Band and has the distinctive cowbell percussion and Garth's swirling organ. Have a listen here to the Highway 61 outtake, which is the high spot of Stealin': Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window

Side one continues with two more cuts from the same sessions. There is an alternate version of It Takes a Lot to Laugh and a little throwaway riff, that has been widely bootlegged, called Sitting on a Barb Wire Fence. The rest of the side contains one outtake and two alternate versions from the Bringing It All Back Home sessions: If You Gotta Go, Go Now, She Belongs To Me and Love Minus Zero/No Limit.

Side two begins with another outtake from Bringing It All Back Home: It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, as well as three songs from The Times They Are A-Changin' sessions: The Cough Song, New Orleans Rag and That's All Right, Mama. These are followed by four songs from the 1961 Minneapolis tape, which was featured on The Great White Wonder. They are Hard Times in New York, Stealin', Wade in the Water and Cocaine.

My second favorite cut on the record at the time was That's All Right, Mama. Bob's piano playing on the track is great and it was cool to hear him covering a song that was the first single released by Elvis Presley. In the dark days before Self Portrait, no one knew that Bob would ever record anything other than his own material. Have a listen to this:
That's All Right, Mama

Even after thousands of bootlegs have been released, Stealin' stands out as one of the best of all. If you owned it in those early days, you know why I am writing about it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Levon Helm: The Man Behind the Drums by Robert Earl Keen

One of the best songs on The Rose Hotel, which is the great new album from Robert Earl Keen, is his tribute to Levon Helm called The Man Behind the Drums. All of the songs on the album are excellent, but this one has special meaning for me. As anyone who reads this blog can tell, I am a huge fan of The Band (see posts from Sept 20, 2009 and April 14, 2009). It is treat for me to hear Robert singing about my favorite drummer Levon Helm.

The song was written by Robert and his bass player Bill Whitbeck about the night they played at Levon's Midnight Ramble. Hope you enjoy it. Listen here to The Man Behind the Drums
I know a little bit about the origins of this song. In September of 2008, Robert played two dates in New York. The first was in the City and I was lucky to be in attendance that night. The next night, they played in Woodstock as the opening act at Levon's Midnight Ramble. I had planned to go, but changed my mind at the last minute. Robert and his band had a great time that night. They even got to join Levon on stage for the ultimate camp fire sing-a-long The Weight. As you can imagine, I am still regretting not tagging along.

If you like what you hear on this track, check out the rest of the music on The Rose Hotel.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

KERN RIVER by Merle Haggard

As I get ready to head to Malta, Montana for the TBob/Perry S. birding extravaganza, I am thinking about Merle Haggard. There has been a lot of Haggard's music on Outlaw Country this week, which is always a good thing. Also, Rolling Stone had a great article about Merle in the last issue. I encourage you to read it if you are a fan.

Reading the article made me think about the large contribution Merle has made to country music during his long career. The article also reminded me of the colorful life he has led. Haggard has had more lives than your average cat.

In my last post on Merle from Feb 2, 2009, I wrote that one of my all time favorite Haggard songs is Kern River. Imagine my surprise when I read in the article that both Bob Dylan and Dave Alvin agree with me. I'm flying in some pretty good company. This what they both said about one of Merle's classic songs:

"Merle is the voice of another California." Alvin singles out "Kern River" — about a girl drowning in the treacherous waters that separated Bakersfield from the Okie settlements — as one of the great evocations of place and class in the Golden State. "It's amazingly deep and complicated," he says. "I hear a lot of California in those two and a half minutes." Dylan loves "Kern River" too, but for other reasons. "Sometimes you forget about how much natural-born heartbreak there is in a Merle Haggard song, because of all the boomtown oil-well Dust Bowl honky-tonk imagery of his music," he says. "I mean, 'Kern River' is a beautiful lament, but let's not forget it's about his girlfriend dying."

If you are not familiar with this great song, here is another chance to hear it: Kern River

I can assure you there will be plenty of Merle Haggard on the iPod around our Montana camp fire this weekend. Catch you on the flip side.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Judas Meets Jingle Bells: Dylan's Christmas Album

Before I get to Christmas in the Heart, I want to recite some of my Dylan credentials. I have been buying Bob Dylan albums since August of 1967. I have owned all of his early releases on vinyl, 8 track tapes, cassettes and later on CD. I have played and loved all of his 33 studio albums except for Knocked Out Loaded, Down in the Groove and the two acoustic mistakes Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong. I even liked Self Portrait when it was released and still play it to this day. His music has been the background of my life for over 40 years

When it comes to bootleg albums, I probably could have bought a small house or a large car with the money I have spent. It started with the Great White Wonder (see my post from April 23, 2009). Since then, the collection has progressed from reel to reel tapes to vinyl and later to cassettes and CDs. In the early days, I even bought cassettes from the infamous Dylan Garbologist A.J. Weberman. Recently, thanks to the Internet, the great Moe has been the source of many rarities.

I still have the scrapbook of clippings of all things Dylan that I started in 1968. I have collected as much 66 tour memorabilia as I could get my hands on. My library contains almost every book published on Bob. The walls are covered with vintage photographs by Barry Feinstein, Jerry Schatzberg and many others. It is a veritable shrine to my favorite musician.

Starting with the 1974 tour, I have seen Bob in every major live phase except for the Rolling Thunder Revue and the Christian Tour of 1979. Although I haven't been a crazy BobCat who follows the tour around, I have managed to catch a show on the Never Ending Tour every year since it started. You can read about my recent experiences in posts from August 16, 2008 and July 22, 2009.

I have seen many memorable shows including one in Houston, Texas in 1981 that included Al Kooper on keyboards. Another show in the summer of 1997, just before the release of Time Out of Mind, signaled the beginning of the last great comeback. I have seen a few bad ones as well. A show in Corpus Christi with G.E. Smith in the band, in the low times of the hoodie and mushroom tea, was awesomely bad.

With this as background, you can imagine that I was quite interested when the first rumors of a Christmas album surfaced. Having just been to a live show which made me familiar with the current state of Bob's vocal talents, my first thought was: "Oh No!" This is a disaster waiting to happen. Bob can't sing these songs.

Now that I have heard the audio clips, I am afraid my worst fears have been realized. Bob, what were you thinking? I know this is a for a charitable cause and I salute that, but it is going to be a critical barbecue. When the critics hear the entire album, there is going to be a blood bath.

I can remember the bashing that Self Portrait took when it came out. Bob was King in those days and even Rolling Stone lowered the boom on him over that one. My prediction is that this album is going to make Self Portrait look like Highway 61 Revisited. I love you Bob, but not for Christmas. There isn't enough eggnog in the world to make this record sound good. It Ain't Tree, Babe.

If you want to own a great Christmas album, check out A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector buy it. It is the gold standard of Christmas albums.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Rose Hotel by Robert Earl Keen

I have been listening to an advance copy of this album for the last month. After many, many spins, I can say with conviction that this is the best album of Robert Earl Keen's celebrated career.

The record really displays Robert's impressive songwriting talent. With each new album, it becomes more apparent that Robert is keeping alive the tradition of great Texas songwriters. The torch has now been passed from Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver to Robert Earl Keen. There are very few modern writers who consistently turn out songs of this quality.

These original songs, which include Rose Hotel, Something I Do, Throwin' Rocks, Village Inn and Wireless in Heaven are all good examples of the clever song pictures that come from the mind of REK. A number of different influences are found in his songs. There is a mix of traditional country themes, Robert's twisted humor and a dash of the darkness of Cormac McCarthy combined in his personal view of the world. Robert is able to take common events and turn them into songs that say a lot about the world we inhabit. He is able to avoid the cliches that are found in most modern country songs being written in Nashville these days.

With the release of Farm Fresh Onions in 2003, Robert began to break somewhat with his singer songwriter past. On that album, his band got more involved in the record. Although the more alt-country sound was a little hard and edgy and certainly puzzled some of his frat boy fans at the time, I think the album holds up very well today. His 2005 release What I Really Mean continued this process of growing his music into more of an ensemble sound. Once again, the band played a bigger role on the record. The banjo by Danny Barnes added a lot and was hint of what was coming on The Rose Hotel.

Having been familiar with most of the original songs on the album in earlier acoustic versions, it was exciting to hear them with the backing of the band. If you have seen Robert's live show, you know that the players in his band are very talented. Rich Brotherton (guitar) and Bill Whitbeck (bass) are fans and students of great music and their playing reflects it. Marty Muse has great touch on the steel guitar. Tom Van Schaik always lays down a solid foundation with the drums. Their inspired playing at the live shows has finally been captured on an album.

Here are some of my impressions of the new songs. The album opens with Rose Hotel, which contains some vintage REK story telling. In this song, I see a picture of the hotel along the border in No Country for Old Men. I really like the chorus of Sometimes you run/Sometimes you fall/stall. An insightful Keen comment on the ups and downs of life. There is some nice work from the band, particularly the transition on the break from Rich (lead) to Marty (steel guitar). A good choice to open the disk.

Robert has always great taste when it comes to choosing songs to cover on his albums. His versions of James McMurtry's Levelland and Out Here in the Middle and Dave Alvin's Fourth of July have been high points on previous albums. I know Robert has a great affinity for the work of Townes Van Zandt. It is a treat to hear another Townes' song on one of his albums. Flyin' Shoes really fits his voice and the playing of the band. Bill's bass kicks it off and the band drives the song along. One of my favorites from the Van Zandt song book and well covered here. Compare this cut to the Steve Earle's covers on Townes and Earle's work is exposed for the boring crap that it is. Well done!

Thowin' Rocks sounds like it could have been on Farm Fresh Onions. The song has great keyboards and backup singing. The band really gets into this one. I am looking forward to hearing it live.

I have heard Something I Do several times in the acoustic version. The band adds a lot to these sweet lyrics. A nice example of Robert's whimsical songwriting and great work from the background singer. I especially like when she sings back: He kinda likes doing nothing. I also like the Beatles reference and the accordion at the end.

The Man Behind the Drums. What's not to like about REK singing about Levon Helm? This song was inspired by Robert playing at Levon's Midnight Ramble in Sept of 2008. I was at the show in New York City and had planned to go to The Ramble the next night. Unfortunately, I didn't end up going. That was a bad choice. This is a great song.

Village Inn is a beautiful little song. It is probably the best song ever written about a motel. Another example of Robert's ability to take everyday life and turn it into a song. It has a very pretty melody that reminds me of Road To Nowhere/Carolina on Walking Distance. I love the verse that starts: Midnight thunder storms/Blowing into town/Wind is kicking up/Rain is falling down. It might be my favorite song on the whole disk.

The album closes with a nice piece of REK wit, Wireless in Heaven. Can't have an REK album without a few laughs. After all, this is the man who wrote Merry Christmas from the Family, which is the definitive dysfunctional Christmas song. I love the verse:

The pretty little cashier girl looks up and smiles at me.
She says it is an honor. She knows who I am.
Her Grandpa plays the guitar and he's my biggest fan.

Once again, the band really shines on this cut. Marty rocks on his steel guitar. I really like the country rave up before the last verse.

If you are already a Robert Earl Keen fan, you are going to love this album. If you are not familiar with his music, this is a good place to start. Available on iTunes or from Amazon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I Shall be Released and Richard Manuel

I have been overwhelmed by the response to my last post on Richard Manuel. Evidently, there are a lot of music fans who have the same strong feelings for The Band and the singing of Richard Manuel that I do.

Enjoy this clip from the movie of the Festival Express tour. It was a 1970 train tour across Canada that included The Band, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and others. The film is available from Amazon and is worth checking out.

Richard's singing on this song is really beautiful. It is nice to hear him in his prime.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Poor Richard: Thoughts on the Life of Richard Manuel

The first time I saw The Band live in May of 1969, I was mesmerized by Richard Manuel. At the time, part of the uniqueness of The Band was that there was no lead singer. Although that was true on their records where everyone contributed on vocals except for Garth, when The Band played live it was a different story. Richard was definitely the lead singer.

At the live show, there was a lot to like visually about The Band. My eye keep jumping between Levon looking like a cracker with a scruffy beard behind his vintage drum kit; Robbie with his conservative look and flashy guitar work; Danko rocking forward with the bass blowing out his cheeks; Garth looking like a big old bear behind his Lowrey Festival organ and Richard. For me, the sight of Richard on his piano was the focal point. Some combination of his wild hair, the hawk-like nose, and that wonderful high piercing voice made him the highlight of the stage show. He also sang lead on the two best songs from the show that night: Tears of Rage and I Shall Be Released.

Richard's contribution to the music of The Band was never more evident than on Music From Big Pink. The album opens with Tears of Rage, which he co-wrote with Bob Dylan. Richard's plaintive, soaring vocals on this song were the world's first hint of the distinctive sound of The Band. Never ones to follow convention, The Band choose this mournful ballad to open their first album. It wasn't a song for AM radio.

Three other Manuel songs were included on the record. On We Can Talk, the group's ensemble vocals are on display as the singers take turns and Richard sings: One voice for all/Echoing around the hall. In A Station, which begins with beautiful keyboards, showcases Richard's dreamy lyrics and his falsetto. Lonesome Suzie, a haunting portrait of loneliness, fits Richard's falsetto like a glove. You can feel his own pain in the vocals backed by Robbie's subtle guitar licks and the organ. The album closes with the Dylan classic from the Basement, I Shall Be Released, which Richard makes his own. It is still one of my favorite songs of all time.

Although his songwriting talent was drying up, Richard again played a key role in the music of the next album. Once again, his lead vocals open the album on Across the Great Divide. He also handles the lead on Rockin' Chair, Whispering Pines, and Jawbone, which he co-wrote with Robbie. Each of these songs is well suited to his voice. His unique and wonderful drumming can also be heard on Rag Mama Rag and Jemima Surrender

He also sings lead on the masterpiece of the album King Harvest (Has Surely Come). Richard's vocals combine with Robbie's beautiful guitar to tell this moving story of the American farmer. A wonderful song and perhaps The Band's finest moment on record.

As The Band's fame grew from the success of first two albums, Richard's appetite for booze and drugs was growing as well. The combination of fame and the temptations of the rock and roll lifestyle in Woodstock, began having a major effect on the harmony of the band. By the time The Band started recording Stage Fright, the guys were going in different directions and there was much less of an ensemble feel to the record.

Although Stage Fright was not of the same impossibly high quality as the first two records, it does contain some great music. Richard's contribution of the beautiful Sleeping is certainly one of the high spots of the album. He also sings Whistle Stop and the very appropriate The Shape I'm In, which probably said a lot about his condition at the time. His singing on the ensemble vocals on The Rumor is excellent as well.

Although The Band would continue to make albums and tour until The Last Waltz in November of 1976, Richard's health and fragile mental state began to be more and more of a problem. By 1975, he was reportedly drinking eight bottles of Grand Marnier a day as well as using an assortment of dangerous drugs. He also was involved in a car accident and later a boating accident in Austin, Texas, which forced the cancellation of several dates on their last tour.

Listen to these tracks from a show at the Carter Baron Amphitheatre recorded on July 17, 1976. This show was recorded 4 months before The Last Waltz. Although the music is excellent, it sounds like the weight of the world is on Richard's shoulders when it is his time to sing. It is almost painful to hear his voice strain to hit the notes in these classic Band songs.


I never saw The Band live after the 1974 tour with Dylan. Although they played many great shows through the mid-70's, I'm just as glad I never saw them again. After attending two shows when they were in their prime (The Electric Factory in May 1969 and Tufts University in November 1970), it might have been better for me to stop with those memories. I can still remember vividly sitting on the floor in Cousens Gymnasium as The Band played their hearts out a few feet in front of me. What a night.

The idea of seeing the reconstituted Band playing their greatest hits at down market venues never sat well with me. It just seemed so sad that musicians of this caliber would be reduced to playing that kind of a tour.

Richard's suicide in 1986 at the Winter Park Quality Inn after a show at the Cheek To Cheek Lounge brought this all home to me. It is hard to imagine that this wonderfully talented musician could have fallen to such a low and lonely place. I was shocked when I heard the news.

As The Band's music continues to be enjoyed and analyzed, I think that the appreciation of the contribution of Richard Manuel will only continue to grow. He played a key role in the creation of some of the best music of a generation.

If you do not have the albums mentioned above, you have a hole in your iPod. All are available in remastered format from iTunes and Amazon.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Ellie Greenwich died on August 26th. She was a very talented songwriter who played a key role in what later became known as the Brill Building Sound.

Named after the building located at 1619 Broadway in New York City, these songs was written by a talented group that included Ellie and Jeff Barry, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, Carol King and Gerry Goffin, Burt Bacharat and Hall David and Phil Spector.

Collectively they were responsible for much of the music that was played on AM radio in the early 60's. Before the Beatles and the British Invasion in 1964, most of the top ten hits of the day had their songwriting origins in this building.

Ellie wrote or co-wrote her share of 60's hits including Be My Baby (The Ronettes), Da Do Ron Ron (The Crystals), Leader of the Pack (The Shangri-Las) , Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (Darleen Love), Do Wah Diddy (Manfred Mann) and River Deep, Mountain High (Ike and Tina Turner).

I was a perfect age for this music in the early 60's. I was just getting my feet wet with an AM radio. How lucky to be hearing songs of this quality. One of her songs that I remember well from those days was Be My Baby which went to #2 on the Pop charts for The Ronettes. Produced by Phil Spector, it was one of the early examples of his Wall of Sound. Have a listen:

Ellie co-wrote two great hits for the Crystals. One was Da Do Ron Ron which was a big hit at The Hill School and went to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Another was Then He Kissed Me which Ellie also wrote with Jeff Barry and Spector.

It is amazing to think that so many classic songs could have come from one group of writers in such a short time period. A lot of talent was on display at a very key time for modern music.

In a curious connection to music that I grew to love later, Al Kooper was also in the mix at the Brill Building at the same time. In fact, he wrote This Diamond Ring which was a #1 hit for Gary Lewis and the Playboys in 1965. Kooper went on to play on Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited sessions and is credited with making up the signature organ riff on Like a Rolling Stone. See my post on Kooper from August 27, 2008.

Ellie Greenwich and all of these songwriters played a very important part in our musical heritage. Check out their songs when you can.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Texas by Sons of Bill

Following up on my last post on Sons Of Bill, here is a video of them playing a song called Texas from their first album. I think you can get a idea of the energy of their live show from this clip.

You need to buy the album One Town Away, if you don't have it yet. It is excellent.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I have been a little lazy about posting in the last month, but I have been listening to some great music. I have been playing what might be the best album of 2009. It is One Town Away by Sons Of Bill

For once, I am not writing about music I heard on Outlaw Country. In fact, I am calling out my favorite DJ Mojo Nixon for not playing this album. I thought Mojo was keeping me up to date on all the best new country music, but I haven't heard one song by Sons Of Bill on his show. What's a matter with you, Mojo? You missed this one big time.

I am also actually writing about new music for a change. This album was released at the end of June and Sons Of Bill are a relatively newly minted band, having been formed in 2005. Don't tell my good wife that I am listening to music that was recorded after 1966, she will fall on the ground like a Saratoga no-step. I want to listen to new music, but I don't often hear any that is worth listening to.

I received the audio files of One Town Away from their management about a month ago (Ah, the glamorous life of a blogger). Since then I have been playing nothing else. It is the best new album I have heard this year or maybe in many years. The sound is fresh and the lyrics are excellent. It is a pleasure to hear a new band with real talent take the southern rock/country genre and kick it into the modern age.

Sons Of Bill are the three Wilson brothers from Virginia. Their father, who is a professor of theology at the University of Virginia, exposed the brothers to roots and country music at an early age. After a series of diverse musical experiences that included heavy metal, college bars and jazz clubs, the boys come together to form Sons Of Bill in 2005. These diverse musical influences mix well together on this record. Sam and James handle vocals and guitars and Abe is on the keyboards. In addition to the brothers, Seth Green is on bass and Brian Caputo is behind the drums.

James wrote most of the songs on the album. In his songwriting, I hear influences of Townes Van Zandt, Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle, The Band, Jamey Johnson as well as many of the classic country songwriters of the previous generation. Taking simple events in southern life, he paints vivid pictures with these songs. He has listened carefully to classic country songs and used these influences well.

Recorded under the direction of Tom Petty producer Jim Scott, One Town Away blends the bands alt-country/southern roots music with a little bit of Tom Petty guitar based rock and roll. The result is a sound that is modern but also salutes the best of traditional music.

There isn't a bad track on One Town Away. I want to point out some of the musical highlights. The album kicks off with Joey's Arm which addresses life in the modern South and the current meth problem with some insightful lyrics: The South ain't going to rise again/But we are holding out for Jesus/Or so they say on AM radio. The song is different from today's Nashville country music, because it speaks to the dark and dirty side of life not just the usual cliches. Kenny Chesney will not be covering this song anytime soon. It is very well written and played. A good opener for the disk.

The next song Broken Bottles is a great modern drinking song that contains the catchy lyric:

Hank Williams might have been a love sick drinker
but being a love sick drunk doesn't make you Hank

I like the fact that the band gives a nod to some of the greats of the past. They even mention my favorite Townes Van Zandt in So Much for the Blues.

Rock and Roll mixes the band's Alt- country with some great Petty organ and guitar sound. It is the rocker on the album and the band sounds like they are having a great time playing it. Have a listen:

Charleston is more reflective and sounds a bit like a Charlie Robison song to my ear. It is a slower, reflective tune about love and loss that shows off the versatility of the band. It has nice steel guitar playing on it as well.

The Song Is All That Remains reminds me of a Jamey Johnson song. If you have been reading this blog, you know that isn't a bad thing. It is about life on the road for a musician and speaks from the heart. Very mellow and a nice way to close the album.

From what I have read, Sons Of Bill are a great live act as well. I am looking forward to catching a show when they come to Texas. Do your ears a favor and pick up this album. You will not be disappointed. Available on iTunes and from Amazon. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When You're Lost in the Rain.....Bob Dylan in Pawtucket

On a rainy July night, I set off to see Bob Dylan at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. It had been almost a year since I last saw Bob in the luxurious confines of the MGM Theatre at Foxwoods (see my post from August 16), so I was ready for my summer fix of Bob.

In the past, I had been reluctant to go to a show on the ball park tours. I'm not much for general admission gigs. You are either sitting thousands of yards away from the stage and you have to ask your neighbor: "Which one's Bob?" or you are enduring the mosh pit up front. Not my idea of a fun night.

Fortunately, I had Guitar Johnny as my wing man tonight. With him as my backstage ambassador, I had visions of meeting Bob and completing my rock and roll fantasy life. After a very pleasant dinner in the backstage area and a nice visit with a couple of the band members, "Guitar" and I were unsure about our plan. We went up to the back of stage to hear a bit of Johnny Cougar (or whatever he is called these days) and it didn't look like there would be much room there for us when Bob's part of the show began.

The weather was getting worse and I have to confess we were thinking about hitting the road. When we realized that Bob was not coming out of his bus for a stroll around back stage and a personal meet and greet with yours truly, we were really losing interest. Fortunately, we decided to make one more foray through the backstage area. We were hanging around just seeing if we could catch a glimpse Bob before he took the stage.

We did see a few people going up some stairs on the right side of the stage, but didn't think that was in our reach. Suddenly, a security guy was on us and instead of telling us to beat it, he told us go right up those stairs and find a place behind the soundboard. In an instant, we were flying first class.

Up we went and we found ourselves about 25 feet off Bob's side of the stage. After about 5 minutes there was a little commotion to our left and there was Bob with a black suit and white Rolling Thunder style hat standing about 6 feet away.

Bob and the band hit the stage and started into a rocking version of Cat's In The Well with Bob on lead guitar. Next they launched into It Ain't Me, Babe, which was followed by I'll Be Your Baby Tonight. Bob was playing his guitar for all he was worth. We could see Denny looking over at him with a perplexed look trying to follow his lead as they soloed together. Afterwards, Johnny said he thought he was listening to the Allman Brothers with the twin lead guitar sound. Pretty great stuff and Bob had the old chicken scratch working just fine. It made me remember his solos in the old days on Tangled Up In Blue. Chicken Scratch!

I was amazed to see that Bob keep the guitar on for another song. The band started in and after a few notes, Johnny and I looked at each other and said at the same time: "This Wheel's On Fire". One of my favorites from the Basement Tapes and what a treat to hear Bob take those leads. It made my night to hear it.

After a crazy jam version of The Levee's Gonna Break, the music took a little turn for the worse. It may have been our position on the side of the stage, but Bob's organ playing was drowning out every one else in the band. In Johnny's words: "His organ was Gothic." I thought it sometimes sounded like something you would hear at your local skating rink. Nevertheless, Bob was bopping around and laughing with the band between songs. He looked like he was having a good night.

Masters of War and It's Alright, Ma were casualties of this organ sound. The set list then veered to the modern era. It didn't matter, I was a happy man after the first few songs.

As we were driving back on 95 after the show in an absolute monsoon, Johnny was telling me about seeing Dylan and the Band in October of 1965 at the Bushnell Auditorium. Suddenly, we spotted the two tour buses heading down the highway to the next gig. As we passed, I thought about how much I enjoyed the show and how happy I was to hear This Wheel's On Fire. At the same time, I thought about the strange life of Bob Dylan and his Never Ending Tour. I hoped as he rode his bus through the rain and the dark, that he was happy as well. Thank you Bob for a great night.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

White Room, Waylon Jennings and Robert Earl Keen

About a month ago I was driving to the office listening to Outlaw Country on my satellite radio. When I heard Waylon Jennings covering White Room, I almost drove into the bay. I have heard a lot of unusual tunes on that station, but this was way out of the box.

I love the music of Waylon Jennings and I love White Room. I was lucky to hear Cream play it live at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on November 1, 1968. It has always been one of my favorite Cream songs. I never thought I would hear Waylon Jennings play White Room. Two very separate events in my life crashed together when this came out of my radio. It totally blew my mind.

Hearing White Room made me think about the years at Floyd's Hotel. White Room was always our concert shout out. No Free Bird for the hotel staff. It was always White Room or Whipping Post for us. This was a very special song at the time. Listen to Waylon's take on this classic Cream song from an album called Waylon Forever:> WHITE ROOM

In an even stranger coincidence, I found out recently that my good friend Robert Earl Keen opened his show at Bonnaroo with (You guessed it) White Room. When I asked Robert: "What's up with that?" He told me that he and the band decided that they needed a little heavy rock in the set to get the attention of the audience at the big shows.

I have seen the video of the song from Bonnaroo and it is excellent. Rich (guitar) and Bill (bass) are really up to the task on the song and REK does a pretty good job on vocals for a Texas singer songwriter. It is a great version that shows the versatility of Robert Earl Keen and his incredible band.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

DAVE ALVIN and the GUILTY WOMEN Fourth of July 4-18-09

I woke up thinking about this great song that was written by Dave Alvin. Here is a video of him playing it with his new band the Guilty Women. It is one of my favorites Alvin songs. If you haven't heard it already, you should check out his new album called Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women. It is excellent.

I first heard this song on Robert Earl Keen's album Picnic. It is definitely one of Robert's best covers. I always enjoy hearing him play it live. This is what it sounds like:

Forth of July

Hope everyone has a great 4th.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What's Going On by Marvin Gaye

When this album was released in May of 1971, it was a radical departure from the usual Motown sound. Typical Motown songs were made for AM radio with great hooks and lyrics about love and loss like Come See About Me, The Tears of a Clown, Reach Out I'll Be There or My Girl. With the release of this album, Marvin Gaye got as far away from that sound as Dylan did from folk music when he released Highway 61 Revisited. 

Many stories have been written about Berry Gordy's resistance to releasing this album. Fortunately, Marvin Gaye was a star and he was ultimately able to get his way. The music world would be a poorer place without this album.

In the fall of 1971, I was listening to a lot of Dylan (a 65 electric bootleg as well as the rest of the early catalogue), The Band (Stage Fright and the first two albums), and various blues albums. We had a fairly limited play list at Floyd's Hotel at that time.

I can remember going up stairs in Carmichael Hall to the room of a girl we called the Queen of Speed. When I got there, she was listening to a copy of What's Going On. I was familiar with Gaye's earlier Motown music because most of what I knew about music in the '60's came out of an AM radio. This album was completely new to me at the time.

What's Going On had a distinctively different sound from anything I had ever heard on a Motown record. I am not sure of my original reaction to this new sound, but I can tell you now that this has been on of my most favorite albums for the last 35 years. It is a record that was ahead of it's time and still sounds great today.

From the opening of What's Going On, which begins with background chatter, a big alto horn riff and then Gaye's soaring vocal, this was obviously a special album. With a sound that mixes soul, jazz and funk, Gaye sings about the Vietnam war, civil unrest, race and poverty which are common themes today, but were not in 1971 Motown song. Have a listen to the opening track:

Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) is another example of Gaye's forward thinking. Who was thinking about this in 1971, let alone singing about it? It is a beautiful song about a subject that was not common at the time.
Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)

It is a record that is full of great lyrics backed by the excellent playing of The Funk Brothers who were able to stretch out from the usual Motown constraints. From the song cycle that blends from one track to the next, the sound is a unique combination of jazz and soul. Gaye's singing reflects his passion for the material. It is his masterpiece.

If What's Going On isn't on your iPod, it should be. Available on itunes and from Amazon.

Next Post: Let's Get It On.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tour 66: Visions Of Johanna

As I mentioned in my last post, the acoustic versions of the songs that were played in the first set of the 66 Tour were powerful and memorable. Film is from Eat The Document by D. A. Pennebaker

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Before Judas: Tour 66 Acoustic Set

Over the last 30 years, so many articles have been written about the electric portion of the 66 Tour. The hostility of the English fans ("Judas"); the loud sound of the band; the interaction between Dylan and the audience has been well documented in books and on fan sites.

 Lost in this literary shuffle is the brilliance of the first set of acoustic Dylan that opened every show. Each night, Bob would face the audience alone with his guitar and harmonica. The genius of these solo sets can be heard on the official release (The Bootleg Series Vol 4) as well as on many bootlegs including the definitive Genuine Live 1966.

Listening to these songs now, I am struck by the complexity of the lyrics in the set list: Fourth Time Around, Visions of Johanna, Desolation Row and Mr Tambourine Man. These are all classic Dylan compositions, that are full of incredible words. Of all the songs in the Dylan catalogue, these have to be some of the most difficult to perform. For Dylan to come out every night and nail these songs is the sign of a artist at the top of his game.

Much has also been written about the pace of the tour, the drugs and the effect of the lifestyle on Dylan. With this in mind, I think it makes these performances even more remarkable. Without the band, there must have been incredible pressure on Dylan to deliver these songs. If you listen to the recordings, you should agree that he passed the audition.

As the tour moved across Australia and Ireland and ultimately ended with seven shows in England and Scotland, Bob usually opened with She Belongs To Me. This was easiest song in terms of the lyrics and was a nice warm up. Next up was Fourth Time Around (appropriate in England because of it's connection to Lennon and Norwegian Wood). With the flow of words in this one, the stakes were getting much higher. Next came Visions of Johnana which always created a spooky air in the hall. You can feel the attention of the audience to this classic Dylan tale of love and loss.

 5 and a half minutes of It's All over Now, Baby Blue and over 11 minutes of Desolation Row usually filled the next two slots. Again, these are two songs with a lot of words. The set finished with Just Like A Woman and Mr Tambourine Man. Besides the lyrics in the last song, Bob's harmonica is masterful. Think what any BobCat would give to go back in time and hear that set.

Bootleg Series Vol 4 is available at iTunes and from Amazon. Genuine Live 1966 is available from your local bootlegger. Both are highly recommended.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

"I will stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table..." Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt

Steve Earle loves the music of Townes Van Zandt and so do I (see my post from June 19, 2008). Earle once said: "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." I'm not sure I would go that far, but Townes did write some great songs.

Townes, who died in 1997 at age 52, did not leave behind a large body of work. Compared to someone as prolific as Dylan, his output was quite modest. He never wrote a song that you could dance to (well, maybe by yourself). His lyrics usually describe the sadder and darker side of life, yet he wrote many classic songs that pass the test of time. Pancho and Lefty, To Live Is To Fly, Flying Shoes, Snowing On Raton, Tecumseh Valley and If I Needed You are just a few of his great songs that demonstrate the songwriting genius of Townes Van Zandt. It is a shame that his work is not getting more recognition at this time. Perhaps this record will help.

Earle has just released a CD called Townes which is his tribute to Van Zandt. I have been playing it for the last week. Earle's voice and guitar do a nice job capturing the stark intensity of Van Zandt's lyrics.

I was listening to Steve's show on Outlaw Country called Hardcore Troubadour this morning. He was talking a lot about the record and his relationship with Townes. Steve is very passionate about this project and it shows in the music.

The disk begins with Pancho and Lefty which is the most recognizable song in the Van Zandt songbook and my personal favorite. Steve's growl of a voice sounds at home on this tune. It is too bad he didn't bring in Merle Haggard on the "Lefty" verses. It is a great version nevertheless.

He also covers To Live Is To Fly, No Place To Fall and Mr Mudd And Mr. Gold. The latter has Justin Townes Earle on vocals as well. All of these songs are high spots in the Van Zandt song book.

This CD is a good start for anyone who is not familiar with the great songs of Townes Van Zandt. I recommend it highly. If you really want to experience the talent of Townes Van Zandt, you need to hear the originals. There are several collections that are available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Knickerbocker Cafe Grand Opening Weekend

Last weekend was the grand opening of The Knickerbocker Cafe in Westerly, Rhode Island. Three nights of great music, dancing, food and more than a few cocktails marked the rebirth of this historic venue.

 Everybody on the Knick team worked very hard to get ready for this event. The place looked fantastic and a sell out crowd enjoyed the shows.

Saturday night was a blues review featuring Guitar Johnny Nicholas, Duke Robillard, Greg Piccolo and Sugar Ray Norcia. Joining Johnny on the bandstand from Texas were Joel Guzman on accordion, piano and B-3 organ and the incomparable Al Gomez on trumpet. Guitar Johnny was in rare form that night. Beside acting as the MC, his singing and tasty guitar work lit up the room. A great night of blues.

It was a treat to see Duke and Greg back on the stage at the Knick, where the Roomful of Blues made so much history years ago. When Duke and Sugar Ray traded verses on Honey Hush, I was taken back to the night I saw Big Joe Turner play the Knick backed by Roomful. That was a memorable night and I was lucky to be present in The Alcove for both shows.

On Sunday night, Delbert McClinton brought his brand of Texas roadhouse music to Westerly. Backed by a band of young guns, Delbert showed a sold out crowd what real country music is suppose to sound like. You don't hear music like that coming out of Nashville these days. I guarantee Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift will not be playing the Knick. Not even on Sh*T Night.

Besides the locals, there were some real Delbert fans in the house, including a couple that drove from Pittsburgh for the show. I think everyone enjoyed the show. I know I did.

Be sure to catch James Montgomery and J. Geils tonight. It will be another great night of blues at the Knick. I have known James since The Maniac introduced him to the Floyd's Hotel crew in the '70's. He is an energetic player who always puts on a good show.

See you there.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jason and the Scorchers - Absolutely Sweet Marie

The quality of the video isn't that great, but you can get a feel for how well Jason covers this classic Dylan song.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Absolutely Sweet Marie by Jason and the Scorchers

I have been working on a post about Jason and the Scorchers for over a week. When I heard their cover of Absolutely Sweet Marie on Outlaw Country yesterday, I knew it was time to get back to the keyboard.

In 1983, I heard one of my favorite Dylan songs on an album by a Nashville band called Jason and the Scorchers. I was completely blown away by their version. It is not easy to take on a Dylan song from Blonde on Blonde. Those songs are so definitive that most covers sounds like wedding band material. After hearing Sweet Marie, I bought the album and I was not disappointed with the rest of the cuts.

 Formed in 1981, Jason and the Scorchers were a Nashville based band that pioneered the punk/country sound that predated all of the alt-country bands. Led by Jason Ringenberg, their energetic live shows and inventive covers of rock and country classics made them popular with critics and country music fans. They released Fever in 1983 and Lost and Found in 1985. These are now available on a a single CD.

Besides the Dylan song, they play a great cover of Hank Sr's Lost Highway, which sounds like Hank on steroids.  Several original songs by Ringenberg also deserve mentioning. Harvest Moon, Hot Nights in Georgia, and Pray For Me Mama are well written and and show off the energy and style of the band. 

Unfortunately, the band was probably a little ahead of their time and they broke up in 1990. If you like your country with a little harder edge, I would recommend this CD. It is available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Muddy Waters on The American Folk and Blues Festival

As I mentioned in my last post, this is a great cut of Muddy and Sonny Boy Williamson, with Willie Dixon on bass and Otis Spann on piano doing Got My Mojo Workin'. Notice the style of the players and the especially the conk on Muddy. Also, check out the audience in the last shots.

All three DVDs of The American Folk and Blues Festival are full of classic performances like this one. Available from Amazon.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1966

After almost a week, I have finally gotten rid of the mint julep flu. Trust me, it is much more deadly than anything you can catch from a pig. The Derby is a hard road, but it is still the best day of the year.

About two years ago, Guitar Johnny Nicholas turned me on to this series of three videos called The American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1966. If you like the blues, you will enjoy these fantastic DVDs of great American blues artists performing in their heyday.

From 1962 to 1969, a group of top American blues musicians toured Europe. I have written in this blog about British musicians being interested in American blues and roots music. Seeing our best blues players on these tours had a huge influence on the musicians of that day. In the forward to the first volume, Bill Wyman writes: "Things would have been a whole lot different in Britain without the American Folk Blues Festivals; they proved to be a rich legacy for musicians throughout Europe."

This footage, which were unreleased for over 40 years, captures these musicians live in front of a German audience. Wait until you see what a German blues audience looked like in the early '60's. The sound is excellent and the black and white cinematography is wonderful.

The highlight of volume one is Muddy Waters playing Got My Mojo Working with Sonny Boy Williamson on harmonica. Muddy is impeccably turned out in a suit and his hair in a huge conk is perfect. Rounding out the band on this cut is Willie Dixon on bass and Otis Spann on piano.

Other songs on the first volume include Otis Rush singing I Can't Quite You Baby, Junior Wells doing his classic Hoodoo Man Blues, and Sonny Boy playing Nine Below Zero. All of the songs showcase the class and talent of these great artists.

On the next two volumes, you can see T-Bone Walker doing Don't Throw Your Love on Me so Strong, as well as several songs from Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf and Magic Sam. There are also great performances from Big Joe Turner, Buddy Guy, Lighting Hopkins, Big Mama Thornton and John Lee Hooker.

These DVDs are a rare opportunity to see great blues musicians in their prime. Available from Amazon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kentucky Derby, Larry Redmon and Mint Juleps

The first Saturday in May is the best day of the year. It is better than Christmas, birthday, golf weekend or the first day of quail season. If you have to ask what happens on the first Saturday in May.....hit delete now.

The Kentucky Derby is one of the premier sporting event in the world. For 135 years, the race has showcased top equine athletes at Churchill Downs, which is one of the great race tracks in the country. In addition to the horse racing, the Derby is a great spectacle of people watching. On Saturday, over 100,000 people from all walks of life will be at the track. There will be movie stars, rock stars, racing fans, show ponies and drunken college kids in the infield who might not even watch the race. There is a very wide range of fashion on display at the event.

I was lucky to be introduced to Derby in 1983 by a true gentleman and good friend from Louisville, Bill Blodgett. It was a great start on a lifetime of Derby experiences, because Bill has a true love for the Derby and everything that goes with it. Bill had access to a great box and the best parties in Louisville. He showed me the ropes of Derby, included how to "sweeten" a mint julep from a hip flask of bourbon. Over 25 years later, I am looking forward to seeing him at the track on Saturday.

In 1987, I joined the Walmac Derby posse. Since this group is based in Lexington, the Derby schedule is slightly different. It might seem strange to do the Derby from another city (Check with Perry S on this), but it does open up some other social events. When the Madden Party was still in existence, it was the only way to go. I could tell you more about the Madden Party, but this is a family blog. Seriously, it was a huge charity party on the night before Derby every year. Held at Hamburg Place Farm, the party was an extravagant event that included interesting costumes and usually some kind of nudity. Many lasting friendships were made under those big tents.

Part of our Derby routine is going to see Larry Redmon play on Thursday night. I have seen Larry at many places over the years, but recently he has been playing at his own club called Redmon's in downtown Lexington. If you have never heard Larry, you are missing a great live act.

Before a crowd of rowdy college kids with only an acoustic guitar, he holds court. Drawing on a lifetime in the Bluegrass and a love of real country music, he puts together a set that includes original songs like Garth Brooks Ain't Playing Here Tonight, Last Kiss, Another Blue Grass Morning, and Propane. The later is my personal favorite. Sung to the tune of Cocaine, it is a comic tale of white trash country life that includes the memorable lines: When your hands are hot/And your cousin's not/Propane. Redmon's show is a celebration of the music of the American South and it is damn good. He plays real country music and calls bullsh*t on what Nashville is putting out these days.

In the live show, Larry also covers a number of classic songs by John Prine, Chuck Berry, John Fogerty, Steve Earle and David Allan Coe. Every night ends with the unfurling of the confederate flag and a rousing version of Dixie that morphs into Sweet Home Alabama. I hope to see you there on Thursday night.

Being a wine and vodka drinker, I don't drink bourbon during the rest of the year. I guess I am scared if I drink any of that dirty water, I might end up on the ground or dancing that old Saratoga no-step. Mint juleps at the Derby are a different thing. I don't know what they put in those drinks, but they taste good and do enhance the whole Derby experience. I am looking forward to have more than one this weekend.

The Great White Wonder: Bootlegs and My Life Part 2

As we get ready for the release of Bob's 33rd studio album next week, I am thinking about all of the great music Bob has produced over the years. There are many classic official albums as well as so many great songs that would never have seen the light of day without the bootleg industry.

This has all become very commonplace today. Bob plays a live show and within a week or two, you can buy it on a bootleg CD. Ah, the modern world.

This was not always the case. Before September 1969, the only unofficial Dylan material I had ever heard was on the tape featured in a post from March 16th. During the summer of 1969, word filtered out through Rolling Stone that a bootleg album of unreleased Dylan material had been released in California. In September, I went to a record store in downtown Philadelphia and came home with a copy of The Great White Wonder.

It is hard today to describe my excitement at the time to own a double album of Dylan music that was all new to my ears. After playing all the official albums to death over the previous years, it was a big event to have some new Dylan material.

The four sides of the double album were filled with a curious collection of Dylan material. Two sides contained songs from the legendary 1961 Minneapolis Hotel Tape. There was also a sampling of mid-60's outtakes and of course the seven songs from the Basement Tapes.

Although at the time it was a treat to have any new Dylan material, the real joy of the record for me came from the seven tracks from the Basement Tapes that were found on the end of side two and all of side four. These were:
  1. Mighty Quinn (Take 1)
  2. This Wheel's On Fire
  3. I Shall Be Released
  4. Open the Door, Homer (Take 1)
  5. Too Much of Nothing (Take 2)
  6. Nothing Was Delivered (Take 1)
  7. Tears of Rage (Take 2)
First, it was a real improvement to have a few of the songs from the Basement Tapes on vinyl. It was a little easier than cranking up a reel to reel tape machine. Besides that, the highlight was to hear Dylan's version of Tears of Rage. Since it was released as the opening track on the classic Band album Music From Big Pink, Tears of Rage has always been one of my favorite Dylan songs. The fact that it was written with Richard Manuel, who met such a tragic end, makes the the sadness and emotion of the song that much more poignant to me. It is a beautiful song:


The Great White Wonder made an impressive debut as the first of many bootleg albums. I am proud to still have my original copy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


This is my 91st post since I started writing my blog a year ago today. Since I started tracking in June, the blog has had almost 27,000 hits from 77 different countries, including Egypt, Nepal, Bolivia and Saudi Arabia. I am amazed by the international interest in American country and roots music.

There are thousands of blogs out there, so finding an audience hasn't been easy. I have benefited from links at Expecting Rain, Setting the Woods on Fire and Robert Earl Keen. com, which are all great websites. My thanks to Karl, Paul and Robert for their help.

Thanks to everyone who has taken time to read the blog and especially those who have written comments and gotten involved in the process. I hope everyone has enjoyed the reading as much as I have enjoyed the writing. As long as I can get people to listen to good music, I guess I will keep it going a little while longer.

With that in mind, here is one of my favorite songs by Robert Earl Keen. It comes from his album A Bigger Piece of Sky, which you should buy if you don't own it already.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Riding My Thumb to Mexico by Johnny Rodriquez

Riding My Thumb To Mexico was on my satellite radio yesterday. As I drove down the road, I thought about hearing Robert Earl Keen play it live. At that time, I was not familiar with this original version by Johnny Rodriquez. In fact, I'm not sure then I even knew who wrote the song. Now I know it was a number 1 country hit for Rodriquez in 1973 . 

With a little Spanish guitar beginning and some tasty steel guitar behind Johnny's vocal, it is a very nice tune. Give it a listen:
Johnny Rodriquez was the first breakout Mexican country artist. Born in  Sabinal Texas in 1951, Johnny was the youngest of 10 children. After some troubled teen years, he was discovered by Tom T. Hall and Bobby Bare. They encouraged him to go to Nashville. According to the legend, he arrived there in 1971 was $14 in his pocket and an old guitar. He joined Hall's band and began writing songs.

It didn't take long for him to become famous. In 1973, he had two number one country hits with You Always Come Back and Riding My Thumb. In 1975, I Just Can't Get Her Out of My MindJust Get Up and Close the Door and Love Put a Song in my Heart went to number one as well.

Rodriquez has released 26 albums and had 45 singles that made the charts. He was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.