Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Father and Son

 My father was into sports. He had very little interest in music. In fact, I'm not sure he ever owned an album or a CD in his life. I remember trying to introduce him to the music I liked back in the late 60's. Once I played him all four sides of Blonde on Blonde in one sitting. That didn't go over that well. "That guy can't sing" was his take on Bob Dylan. His reaction to the picture of Jimi and the band on the cover of Are You Experienced was the 1968 equivalent of WTF? That was the beginning of the realization that my music was not going to be our music.

Fast forward 40 years and I am now the father trying to get the kids interested in my music. This hasn't been easy. They are developing a taste in music from YouTube videos, the Disney channel and their mother. Nothing good there. I am trying to have an impact, but it has been hard so far.

With mom out of town, I saw an opportunity for the kids to have a live concert experience. This past Saturday we went to the J. W. Marriott Hill Country. Robert Earl Keen was playing a show as part of the Texas Open festivities. After a day at the pool, it was show time.

 It was a beautiful night to be outdoors in the Hill Country. Robert and the band seemed fired up and I think the kids had a great time. When my son wasn't begging to go out into the crowd, he did sit in front of the stage and seemed to enjoy the music. My daughter wanted to hear Ready For Confetti and "that song about Toby Keith." Robert played both of those as well as Man Behind The Drums, which is his tribute to Levon Helm. It was very moving under the circumstances.

It was a great night. Hopefully I got my two students on the right track. I'm thinking of starting them on the Basement Tapes next.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

LEVON HELM 1940-2012

Levon Helm at the Electric Factory 1969

It is very sad that Levon Helm died today. I was lucky to see The Band twice early on in their history. The first show was at the old Electric Factory in Philadelphia in the spring of 1969. The second was at Tufts University in the fall of 1970. Both times the music was excellent and I was lucky to see them in very intimate venues.

 My love affair with The Band began after a trip to Roberts Records in New London, CT with Guitar Johnny Nicholas in the summer of 1968. I was already a committed Dylan fan at the time, so an album by his former backing band was a natural fit for me. Johnny had seen Dylan play in Hartford in 1965 and had met Robbie and some of the other band members after the show, so he knew the album had a good chance to be great. He was right. On his recommendation, I bought the record.

I took home Music From Big Pink with a lot of anticipation and immediately fell in love. From the opening notes of Tears of Rage, I was drawn into The Band's slice of musical Americana. Although at the time I didn't know or understand the background and relationship between the music on Music From Big Pink, John Wesley Harding and the Basement Tapes, I knew I liked what I heard on that record.

 The first Band records took a lot of listening. Although the music was simple, it was also dense and complex at the same time. There were layers of instruments with multiple voices that needed to be sorted out over time. Rick and Richard often sounded alike, but from the beginning there was no mistaking Levon's vocals. He was the voice that made The Band unique. Although he only sang lead on The Weight on the first album, he left his vocal mark with that classic song.

Later, his vocal contributions on Rag Mama RagUp On Cripple CreekThe Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, King Harvest (Has Surely Come) and Strawberry Wine defined the sound and the soul of the group. Levon was the heart of the rhythm section, but he was more than that. He was a symbol of the connection of the group to America and the rural values and events that they sang about so well. No song captures this better than King Harvest:

Recently I had a chance to go to the Ramble when Robert Earl Keen and his band played there. I didn't do it. I am really kicking myself now. Let's all have a drink tonight for the Man Behind the Drums and remember all the great music he left us. Thank you, Levon.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Isle of Wight: Bootlegs & My Life Part 6

It was August of 1969 at the Isle of Wight. Bob Dylan was in his white suit. With The Band at his back, he took the stage and opened with She Belongs to Me. After the first song, he uttered the famous words of his comeback: "Thank you very much. Great to be here. Sure is."

 Except for a short appearance at the tribute to Woody Guthrie, three songs on the Johnny Cash show and a cameo with The Band in 1969, Bob had been off the stage since the Tour 66 ended in April of 1966. Three years is a very long time in the Rock and Roll business.

His performance at the Isle of Wight was greatly anticipated and was covered widely by the English press. The audience of 150,000 included the cream of English rock and roll royalty: all of the Beatles except for Paul, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, and Eric Clapton. It was even front page news in the New York papers. I can remember reading all about it. It was very exciting time for a Dylan fan who was starved for live music or news from Bob.

Bob played a 17 song set that mixed his old songs with two covers: Wild Mountain Thyme and Minstrel Boy and five songs from John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline: I Threw Is All Away, I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine, I'll Be Your Baby Tonight, Lay Lady Lay and I Pity the Poor Immigrant. Although the entire show lasted less than 60 minutes, it was well received by the crowd and sounds very good today.

My first taste of the concert came when Self Portrait was released in June of 1970. That controversial Dylan record included four songs from the show.  The complete set was not available in the United States until this bootleg was released on the TMQ label in 1972. The sound quality of the record reflected the improvement of the bootleg industry. Bootlegs had come a long way since the Great White Wonder.

I can remember listening to this record at Floyd's hotel. Being a big fan of The Band at the time, I loved the playing between Bob, Robbie and the rest of the group. There is some great energy on the Mighty Quinn. I love when Bob calls out for Robbie's guitar part after the third verse and Robbie blisters it.

 When I listen today and compared these tracks to the frightened, speed freak versions of many of the same songs that were delivered on the 1974 tour, the Isle of Wight tracks sound like gold to my ears. Bob might have been rusty that night, but he delivered a great show.

If you don't own this record or have a turntable to play it on, the concert can be found on several different bootleg CDs. There is a copy called the JTT Master Reel Copy that has very good sound. That's the version that I have on my ipod.

 Here is some audience video from that night. It starts with The Band playing The Weight, but stay tuned the Bob tunes come next:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

If my last name was King, maybe I could play this damn guitar

Albert King in Boston at Nightstage in November 1986

It is a strange coincidence that three of the best blues guitarists of all time share the same last name. B.B., Freddie and Albert King have recorded albums that are the gold standard for modern blues guitar. If you are not a big fan of the blues, you may be a little confused about who is who between the three. Let me see if I can help in a short post.

B.B. King is probably the most well known of the trio. Born Riley B. King in 1925 on a cotton plantation in Berclair, Mississippi, King began recording in 1949 and is still active today. His break out moment came when he opened for the Rolling Stones on their 1969 tour. After that exposure to a younger audience, he began to get the recognition he deserved.

 His best known songs include The Thrill is Gone, which won a Grammy in 1970, Every Day I Have the Blues, and Sweet Little Angel. One essential  B.B. King album is Live at the Regal.

Albert King was born Albert Nelson on a cotton plantation in Indianola, Mississippi in 1923. Standing at least 6'4" and weighing 250 pounds, he was a imposing figure, particularly with his trademark Flying V guitar.  After some early records, his breakout album was recorded in Memphis on the Stax label in 1967.

Backed by Booker T and the MGs, Albert's Born Under a Bad Sign is one of the best blues albums ever recorded. Containing the title song as well as Crosscut Saw, Oh, Pretty Woman, and Personal Manager, the record is one of my favorites. Albert played many of these songs for the rest of his career. I was lucky to see Albert in 1986 at a club in Boston. He died of a heart attack in 1992.

The third member of the King trio is Freddie, who is the lesser known of the bunch. Born in 1934 in Gilmer, Texas, Freddie was the youngest of the three and the first to die when he passed away at age 42 in 1976. Although born in Texas, Freddy's family moved to Chicago in 1949. At an early age he was exposed to the music of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin' Wolf who were all playing on Chicago's South Side at the time.

King's instrumental Hide Away reached #5 on the R&B charts and #29 on the pop charts in 1961, which was quite a feat for a blues instrumental. It is very recognizable to all blues fans and was even covered by John Mayall and the Blues Breakers on the "Beano album" in 1966. Freddy's other big hits were Have You Ever Loved a Woman, You've Got To Love Her with a Feeling and Country Boy. All of these songs came be found on Hide Away: The Best of Freddy King. It is one of my favorite blues albums.

That's it in a nutshell. You now have three albums to download:
1. B.B. King Live at the Regal
2. Born Under a Bad Sign
3. Hide Away: The Best of Freddy King