Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna hear the new Petra Haden album?

Petra Goes To the Movies, out now on Anti. You know what to do.

Allen Lowe

My fave writer on American music (author of American Pop and That Devilin' Tune, compiler of encyclopedic CD anthologies, maximalist jazzman) now has a blog. About time.

R.I.P. Jef Lee Johnson

The guitarist Jef Lee Johnson passed on Monday in his hometown of Philadelphia. He was 54.

Looking at his extensive discography, I realize that he played on an album by singer Miles Jaye that I had back at the ass-end of the '80s. But while his C.V. included sessions and tours with a long list of artists ranging from Rev. James Cleveland to McCoy Tyner to Esperanza Spalding, I only knew of him through his '90s work as a member of Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society.

Shannon remembers him this way:

"I'm a short dark skin ugly Black man". This is what Jef Lee Johnson use to tell me, with that no nonsense look of his, when I was trying to get him to come out of his hotel rooms in Le Mans and Rennes France. I had to go out and bring him food so that he would have enough energy to play the concerts. Playing and recording with Jef Lee was like watching/hearing/feeling the time delayed blossoming of a dozen roses coming from a six string guitar. He sung the melodies I wrote with such warmth passion and humor that it made me laugh play and cry at the same time inside. 

Jef Lee first appeared on record with Shannon on 1990's Red Warrior, in a blazing guitar triumverate (the other two guitarists were Stevie Salas and Jack DeSalvo) that imbued Shannon's melodies with the cry of the blues. On 1993's Raven Roc, he spearheaded Shannon's most rock-oriented ensemble, a two-guitars-bass-and-drums lineup that also included guitarist Dave "Fuse" Fiuczynski, while on 1995's What Spirit Say, he's featured in another stripped-down quartet with multi-reedman James Carter and bassist Ngolle Pokossi.

My own favorite bit of recorded Jef Lee comes from Shannon's 1997 album Shannon's House, recorded in Fort Worth with a band that included locals Thomas Reese and Rachella Parks. On a version of the "African-American national anthem" "Lift Every Voice and Sing," Jef Lee deconstructs the familiar melody the way Sonny Rollins might re-imagine a Tin Pan Alley standard or Hendrix did "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, filling every interstice with blues-drenched testimony and squealing harmonics. It's a virtuoso performance and a fitting epitaph for the man who created it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Johnny Case February gig schedule

Friday – Feb. 1: Louise Rowe & Texas Playboys @ Texan Kitchen in Euless. 415 Main St., Euless, TX 76039   817-358-1787

Saturday – Feb. 2: Johnny Case Trio featuring guitarist Keith Wingate @ Lili’s Bistro, 1310 W. Magnolia. 6:30–10:30. When making reservations, ask for the piano room. 817-877-0700.

Wednesday – Feb. 6:  “Jazz Night” - Johnny plays solo keyboard @ Sapristi on Forest Park Blvd.   7:00–8:30 PM.

Friday – Feb. 8:  Louise Rowe & Texas Playboys @ Texan Kitchen, 415 Main Street in Euless, Texas, 76039, 817-358-1787.

Saturday – Feb. 9: Johnny Case Trio w. Wingate @ Lili’s Bistro, 1310 W. Magnolia.

Thursday – Feb. 14:  Special Valentine’s Day @ Lili’s Bistro with Johnny Case Trio. 6:30–10:30   Make reservations EARLY, and ask for piano room. 817-877-0700.

Friday – Feb. 15:  Louise Rowe & Texas Playboys @ Texan Kitchen, 415 Main in Euless.

Saturday – Feb. 16:  Johnny Case Trio @ Lili’s Bistro, 1310 W, Magnolia in Ft. Worth.

Sunday – Feb. 17:  Johnny Case, Steve Story & Russ Rand play an afternoon concert  of “TEXAS SWING JAZZ” at St. Stephen Presbyterian Church, 2700 McPherson Avenue, Fort Worth, TX 76109, 817-927-8411. 3:00–4:30 PM. Free to the public!

Wednesday – Feb 20: solo keyboard for “Jazz Night” @ Sapristi on Forest Park 7:00-8:30

Friday, Feb 22:  Louise Rowe & Texas Playboys @ Texan Kitchen, 415 Main in Euless.

Saturday, Feb. 23: Johnny Case Trio @ Lili’s Bistro, 1310 W. Magnolia in Ft. Worth.

Sunday, Feb. 24: Johnny Case with vocalist Carla Norris-Hopkins, bassist Lou Harlas, drummer Duane Durrett @ Free Man Cajun Café, 2626 Commerce Street in Dallas, Texas. 2:00-5:00 PM. No cover.
Wednesday, Feb. 27 @ Sapristi
Friday, March 1 @ Texan Kitchen
Saturday, March 2 @ Lili’s Bistro

Wire Nest

Dig the new ambient/electronic project of ex-Sub Oslo magicians Frank Cervantez and John Nuckels. Digital album only three bucks via Bandcamp.

My scrawl on Polish Jazz

A review I penned of a recent CD by a quartet co-led by Poland's Oles Brothers is online now.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Stuffs 'n' such

Don't have the attention span to write this week. Just making a note of a few things.

1) Stuff I can't afford: Seven-disc Duane Allman box set coming on Rounder, compiled by his daughter. I may have to start collecting live ABB recordings with Duane. Also, Peter Frampton and Jerry Shirley are apparently preparing a "complete Rockin' the Fillmore" release.

2) Lately I've gotten in the habit of shopping for stuff that's available on Amazon for a penny. Just got Dylan's Modern Times that way, and am currently awaiting delivery of Love and Theft. Recently read a "jam review" that my pal Phil Overeem (aka Reverend Wayne Coomers) and his compadre "Dr. Filth" did back when it was new. Apparently lots of folks used that album to get through the days after 9/11 (coincidentally its release date), which seems a better idea than staying glued to the TV for two weeks like I did -- the media equivalent of mainlining all the negative emotions from that day. Nice to know Bob's done something of merit musically since Blood On the Tracks.

3) Listening to Dylan (the aforementioned Modern Times, Biograph, and Greatest Hits Volume II), conjunto (the Arhoolie soundtrack to Les Blank's documentaries Chulas Fronteras and Del Mero Corazon), and Humble Pie's Town and Country and trying to come up with something coherent to say about folk processes and music that soothes the soul.

4) Also reading Peter Guralnick's Sam Cooke bio and listening to Portrait of a Legend. Struck by the connection I perceive between the ex-gospel singer from Chicago and Charles Hardin Holley of Lubbock. Also, when one considers that Sam was chasing Harry Belafonte, Johnny Mathis, and Sammy Davis, Jr., the extent to which he truly was the primary influence on Rod Stewart really becomes evident. And there's less "gospel" mannerism in Sam's voice than any of his followers -- even with the Soul Stirrers. Phil recommends Arthur Kempton's Boogaloo and says Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music "is, without exaggeration, a religious experience in reading about music." Sounds good to me.

5) Having fun with the Wreck Room Stories Facebook page -- our way of emptying out the closets so we can say so long to those days before we get on with what's going on today and tomorrow.

6) Here are the details on the li'l Stoogeband's last hurrah.

March 1st at the Grotto:

6PM How's My Driving
7PM Travis Tripp Mathis
8PM Merkin
9PM Stoogeaphilia
10PM Prophets of RAGE
11PM Addnerim
12AM Year of the Bear
1AM Sally Majestic

$10 Cover with all proceeds going to Addison Gem Gree!
Tons of raffles and doors open at 3PM!!!
Come out and support this little girl and help us work towards finding a way to fight CLOVES syndrome stands for: Congenital, Lipomatous Overgrowth, Vascular malformations, Epidermal nevi, and Skeletal/Spinal/Scoliosis abnormalities. — at The Grotto.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see Frank Zappa's last public performances?

Scott Morgan box set available for preorder

...via Easy Action Records. About $22 American and worth every penny. If you haven't already, read all about it here. You owe it to yourself.

My review of Cretin 66's "Demolition Safari"

This review, from the I-94 Bar, kept me on Steel Cage Records' promo list for many years. I think it's the funniest thing I've ever written, and in a certain way, it prepared me for my first encounter with the mighty Me-Thinks a couple of years later.

Thinking about the Allman Brothers

The nonstandard grammar in the Allman Brothers Band singer-organist's autobiography My Cross To Bear (thanks, Big Mike!) puts me in mind of the '71 Rolling Stone profile by Grover Lewis that was my introduction to the band. Lewis painted them as ignorant rubes, and the band hated the piece. But Allman's My Cross To Bear, cowritten with Allen Light, is an honest, plain spoken, and engaging read that does a good job of capturing the triumphs and tragedies of a roller coaster career.

The story of the Allman Brothers is the story of the pure joy of playing music, destroyed with astonishing rapidity by narcotics, alcohol, and the trappings of success. Formed in Florida in 1969 from the ashes of a commercialized blues band (Hour Glass), a psychedelic band (Second Coming), and a folk-rock outfit (31st of February), they peaked two years later with At Fillmore East, maybe the greatest live rock album of all ti-i-ime. Their music featured twin lead guitars: Gregg's brother, Duane Allman, and Dickey Betts trading solos and playing harmonized lines that suffused their sound with golden warmth -- a quality I miss in rock music today, when all I hear is craft. (My fault or the music's? You decide!) For me, melodic rock soloing begins there.

The guitarists' blues-based and modal improvs floated, jazz-like, over a rhythm section (with two drummers!) that actually possessed some subtlety and swing. (Gregg writes that Duane could easily have made a power trio with bassist Berry Oakley and drummer Butch Trucks, but he was looking for something different, inspired by influences as disparate as Curtis Mayfield, King Curtis, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.) Golden-locked Gregg, who claims Little Milton Campbell as a primary influence, sang with the rasp of Ray Charles and the roar of Bobby Bland; it was no wonder Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler dug the Allmans.

As pure and beautiful as they sounded, though, the band members were strung out to a man on cocaine and heroin. Gregg recounts an episode where Ertegun and Wexler confronted him and his brother on their addictions, and the band's initial attempts to clean up. The wheels came flying off, though, with the motorcycle accident deaths of Duane in 1971, and Oakley the following year. The band regrouped and scored their greatest commercial success in 1973 with the album Brothers and Sisters, with Dickey Betts, previously eclipsed by Duane and Gregg, writing the bulk of the material and assuming de facto leadership. The drug-riddled band stumbled on through the '70s, dissolving and regrouping before folding the tent in '82.

They came back strong in '89 in a lineup built around guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody, who both departed in '94 to form Gov't Mule. Butch Trucks' nephew Derek Trucks, a slide virtuoso from the same mold as Duane, joined in '99. Dickey Betts, who penned many of the band's most popular songs but whom Gregg describes as an increasingly unreliable and abrasive bully, was replaced in 2000, the same year Allen Woody died of a drug overdose. Warren Haynes resumed touring with the ABB that year, and the version of the band with him, Derek Trucks, and bassist Oteil Burbridge in the front line is the strongest since the original lineup.

I was vaguely familiar with the Allmans via radio exposure (including the FM radio simulcast of the closing of the Fillmore East, which they headlined) when I was supposed to go see them play at the 1973 Watkins Glen festival and wound up spending the weekend at some kid's house instead, where my best buddy from junior high and I had access to large quantities of some drug and some musical equipment, and wound up jamming all weekend rather than attending the concert. (I've always said I'd rather play than watch anybody. Twenty-five years later, however, I was actually in a band that played "Liz Reed" for a minute. Hooray!)

At Fillmore East was inescapable at the "party house" where I hung out through high school (the cat that lived there had lost his mom the year before, and his dad was the night custodian at our school). As a result, the Fillmore versions of "You Don't Love Me," "Elizabeth Reed," and "Whipping Post" are indelibly etched on my synapses. It's still a record to conjure with, whether you prefer the original vinyl or the double CD Fillmore Concerts, which includes all the live stuff from Eat A Peach but, maddeningly, uses different versions of "One Way Out" and "Elizabeth Reed" than the originally released ones.

Gregg points out that "Southern rock" was a misnomer: the blues-based but improv-prone Allmans were as different from the Marshall Tucker Band ("country") as both of those bands were from Wet Willie ("R&B") and all of the above were from Lynyrd Skynyrd (the real American Rolling Stones -- forget Aerosmith and GnR). I remember seeing Marshall Tucker in Albany once, and the most memorable part of the show was the tiny, four-foot-something girl who danced vigorously through their entahr set, every part of her body in violent motion while this stoned-out dude sat right behind her, his nose three inches from her ass, nodding his head the whole time. As for the band's performance, it had an air of minstrelsy about it that was absent from the ABB.

While I hadn't thought about the Brothers in years, in the early '90s, I dug Col. Bruce Hampton's Aquarium Rescue Unit, an ABB-inspahrd outfit led by the Beefheartian frontman from Atlanta dadaists the Hampton Grease Band, whose 1971 double LP Music to Eat is reputedly the worst-selling album in the history of Columbia Records. Hampton went on to play a bit part in Sling Blade, while a couple of his musos -- guitarist Jimmy Herring and the aforementioned bassist Burbridge -- went on to play in the ABB itself.

In '99, I took my guitar-slinging oldest daughter to see the ABB at what was then Starplex in Dallas. Gregg was a muted presence, but within ten seconds of Derek Trucks' first solo, the entire crowd was on its feet, screaming. Then poor old Dickey still had to follow him in the same way as he'd had to follow Duane. Young Trucks was quite formidable, and not just "for his age." His eponymous debut solo album -- released when he was all of 18 -- blew my face off with Indian-sounding microtonal slide wonderment on tunes by Coltrane, Miles, and Wayne Shorter. (Gregg notes the eerie similarity between the young guitarist's physical presence and his late brother's.)

I tried hard to like Warren Haynes' Gov't Mule, but while I'm a sucker for power trios and appreciated that their range encompassed everything from Coltrane to Neil Young to Black Sabbath, their music impressed, but didn't move me. But when Haynes re-upped with the ABB in the Oughts, he produced 2003's Hittin' the Note, which a lot of people (Gregg included) will tell you is their best post-Duane album. That same year, they released a live DVD that was filmed during one of their epic stands at New York's Beacon Theater.

While people who care about such things might say that Herring, Derek Trucks, and Haynes are all technically superior to Duane -- particularly Haynes, who's an all-rounder, singing and writing as well as playing -- they're all still following a map that Duane drew. It seems a sad waste that his career trajectory (excluding the obscure early stuff) lasted only two years -- even shorter than Hendrix's -- and ended when he was just 25. Now, I want to go listen to "Mountain Jam" again...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Stuffs 'n' such

1) Teague once asked at Stooge prac if I'd ever heard Sun City Girls -- not an unreasonable question, since they'd been around since '81. I hadn't; all I really knew was that they had a discography of absurdly gargantuan proportions, and were beloved of Thurston Moore and Byron Coley (I keep wanting to say England Dan and John Ford Coley), at whose behest (in the pages of Arthur) I'd given Sunburned Hand of the Man a whirl. Wha-wha.

Then, more recently, Valderas hit me with a digital copy of SCG's Torch of the Mystics album from 1990. On it, Richard Bishop's guitar is redolent of McGuinn's on "Eight Miles High" and Uncle Lou's on "All Tomorrow's Parties," but transplanted into a potently lysergic brew of unusually authentic-sounding Near Eastern and East Asian ethnic musics. Head-spinning stuff, enough to make Trout Mask Replica sound like Abbey Road. Makes me want to investigate further, but I'm going to have to wait to scratch that itch, as their stuff is muy expensive.

2) I was recently overwhelmed with vinyl envy, seeing the contents of local studio folks/Year of the Bear bandmates Robbie and Jennifer Rux's Bo Diddley collection on Facebook. The man whom the NYT referred to as "Mr. Diddley," who once used Ron Geida's Twin to play the Ridglea Theater, has undergone a resurgence of popularity since departing the corporeal plain in 2008, if the pricing on his vinyl catalog is any indication. Myself, I hadn't owned a Diddley album since 16 All-Time Greatest Hits, which I parted with the first time I sold my collection, before heading off for college when I was 17. His Chess box is digitally Amazon-available for under 20 bucks; I stumbled on a Euro double CD with 53 songs for six and change.

There's a lot more to Bo than the shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits beat that people associate with his name, and the Delta echoes of "I'm A Man" (although he recycled both innumerable times). Besides serving as a primary influence on the Pretty Things, Stones, Yardbirds, Velvets (Mo's thump and Uncle Lou's late fondness for amp tremolo) and Stooges, he was an early importer of Latin riddims into rockaroll, his experiments with amp effects and aleatoric soloing predicted Hendrix and Sonny Sharrock, and the street corner jive of tracks like his biggest hit "Say Man" prefigured Morris Day and Jerome Benton's shtick with the Time, not to mention hip-hop's braggadocio. This is R&B Out Dere enough to spin back-to-back with Sun Ra's The Singles.

3) I'm the world's shittiest record collector. As alluded to above, I've always been a cheapskate. I started out buying from cutout bins, and bought a ton of stuff out of the used bin at the store I worked at through high school. After I dropped out of college, I kept working in stores because it was easier than getting a "real job," but also to get promos and employee discounts. Whenever I've gotten strapped for coin, the record collection is the first thing to go.

During the early oh-ohs, when I was attempting to make a living as a freelance writer (a fool's errand) and was still on lots of promo lists from my previous life as an amateur internet scribe, there was a group of young men who worked at CD Warehouse on Hulen for whom my arrival in the store was like simultaneous visits from Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Camel girls. The collection I really miss, though, is the one my ex-wife donated to Goodwill in Shreveport "by accident" after movers broke my turntable. In recent years, with the kind indulgence of my current wife (who shares my opinion that music is food), I've been able to replace most of what I lost back then.

I'm not a completist fool; there are only a couple of artists whose entahr oeuvre I've gotta have on vinyl. In many cases, there are certain albums by favorite artists that I can't stand to listen to, thanks to either classic rock radio or my own earlier listening proclivities. A lot of times, there's a single album that encapsulates everything I like about an artist to the point where owning the rest of their stuff would be redundant.

Since I've gotten back into vinyl, I've noticed the prices creeping steadily up to the point where I can't afford to buy records on a regular basis anymore. When I want to hear something I don't have, the operative question has become, "What's the least expensive way for me to hear this?" -- which, these days, usually means CD or digital formats. I'm fortunate to have buds with similar tastes I can share stuff with, and since Youtube started allowing people to upload whole albums in video form, I "audition" a lot of stuff there. Neil Young might not approve, but it's where I am right now. Is this the future?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Wreck Room Stories" on FB

So there's now a web presence for the book my sweetie 'n' I did back in 2007 in honor of our favorite rock dump of all ti-i-ime, which closed in September that year. While I'm disinclined to spend a lot of time on this, eventually we'll pub all the text as "notes" to the page, and upload all of her pics that were originally included, plus a whole lot more (including many in color). What we have in mind is for folks to use the page as a repository for their stories, pics, and vids of that place and those times. If you were there, you're invited.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Bad Times' "Why Are All the Kids Crying?"

Bad Times is the latest vehicle for Alex Atchley, who once scared the absolute hell out of me while performing as the one-man band Naxat. Sure, that trick's been done before, by Nathan Brown, Professional Juice, and New Fumes, to name just three, but there's an intensity that Atchley brings to everything he does that's noteworthy.

On their debut full-length, he sings 'n' strums over the roiling riddim section of Donovan Ford's bass and Ryan Schefsky's drums -- a muscular combo that goes straight for the throat and leaves plenty of blood on the floor.  Says Atchley, "Our main influences are proto/early and post-punk. We're simultaneously trying to be like the Wipers and late '70s power pop."

To these feedback-scorched ears, "Every Game Becomes A Drinking Game (When You're Around)" sounds like a pop-punk version of Led Zep circa Houses of the Holy -- something about the way the chords ring. Atchley's affectless, detached-sounding, somewhat pitch-challenged vocals make for a striking contrast with the aggressive backing.

"A Song Your Daddy Would Like" utilizes the almost-forgotten Chuck Berry chug, motivating along like a less-drunk Replacements or less-opiated Johnny Thunders until a singalong chorus seals the deal. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a sonic meltdown like the one from Pere Ubu's "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" steers the Airmobile into the ditch. "Sometimes we make that noise freakout painfully long," says Atchley, "which ends up [making the song] like 3:30." Then the song returns, with Atchley intoning the refrain, "I will wipe you off the counter / mop you off the bathroom floor / I will drive you up the driveway / I'll be gone when he opens the door."

These guys are onto something. Hey Alex -- Never sell yourself short, dig? On Bandcamp or anywhere else.

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see the Who live in 1966?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"The $100 Guitar Project"

As an electric guitar player, I dislike the fetishization and commodification of work tools. Collectors drive the price of vintage axes into the stratosphere, but in my observation, every player has a set of frequencies that he/she wants to hear, and will tweak any piece of wood/box they're using to obtain that sound. This idea is borne out by The $100 Guitar Project, a double CD of 69 original tracks recorded by 64 different guitarists -- some famous, some obscure -- using a no-name axe that curators Nick Didkovsky (who takes the finder's privilege of playing on no fewer than six tracks) and Chuck O'Meara bought online, sound unheard, and started passing around the country in October 2010. The result is a fairly comprehensive survey of the state of the art of the guitar at the end of the 21st century's first decade.

Fortunately, the guitar in question -- with a spring-loaded tailpiece and a single pickup by the bridge that looks like the ones from my late, lamented Harmony Silvertone (the guitar in my blog icon pic) appears to have good intonation and a sound that can be dark and warm or thin and wiry. The informative booklet provides as much biographical background and as many specifics on techniques, treatments, trials and tribulations as the performers cared to furnish. As is my custom with releases like this, I'll provide a three-word summary of each track -- a challenge in this case, as some of the pieces, brief as they might be, are astonishingly developed miniatures. As if two and a half hours' worth of music weren't enough, they're paying royalties on every sale to the global humanitarian organization CARE, so you get to help fight world poverty while you're tickling your cochlea.

Disc A:

Chris Murphy: Odd-metered boogie shred.
Amy Denio: Brief, incandescent chiming.
Greg Anderson: Bombastic porch breakdown.
Alex Skolnick: Saturated slide overdubs.
Josh Lopes: Dreamlike rolling arpeggios.
Nick Didkovsky: Oppressive dark maelstrom.
Biota: Slithering modal pulse.
Caroline Feldmeier (of Paracuta): Pastoral tremelo interval.
David Starobin: Nagging aleatoric tension.
Taylor Levine: Musique concrete simulacrum.
Nels Cline: Brutal pounding assault.
Andy Aledort: Fluid bluesy vibrato.
Ron Anderson: Thunderous Crimsonoid explosion.
Mark Hitt with BCTD: Tortuous scalar gymnastics.
Rhys Chatham: Percussive microtonal drone.
Zwerm: Murky underwater descent.
Nick Didkovsky: What the heck?
Joe Berger BCTD: Beck meets Holdsworth.
Han-earl Park: Tune that radio!
Shawn Persinger is Prester John: Eclectic ear movie.
Del Rey: Loping fingerstyle blues.
Marty Carlson with Joe Bouchard: Satrianiesque surf-metal.
Mike Lerner: Stately court melody.
Marco Oppedisano: Contrasting textural study.
Jon Diaz: Clockwork minimalist Orientalism.
Mike Keneally: Lilting Martian country.
Mark Solomon: Oscillating long tones.
Larry Polansky: Gentle ambient gesture.
Julia A. Miller "jseq_a": Barely discernable motion.
James Moore: Lyricism defeats static.
Bruce Zeines: Filigree tapped doublestops.
Chuck O'Meara: Warped cliche phrasebook.
Karl Evangelista: Disembodied melodic waves.
Bill Brovold: Beefheartian chordal sketch.
Teisco Del Ray, with Bob Spalding: Rising surf house.

Disc B:

Colin Marston: Ethereal sonic streams.
Fred Frith: Shimmering dulcet tones.
Thomas Dimuzio: Cathedral organ swells.
Janet Feder: Bass string bells.
Marco Capelli: Hum plunk orchestra.
Barry Cleveland: Sinister gypsy caravan.
Kai Niggemann: Dreamtime heartbeat march.
Roger C. Miller: Pulsating plane crash.
Nick Didkovsky: Scratch that itch.
Jesse Krakow: Subverted folknik balladry.
Blancah: Distressed atonal wails.
Nick Didkovsky: Industrial perceptual minefield.
Steve MacLean: Isn't this Synclavier?
Jesse Kranzler: Incandescent shifting matrix.
Michael Bicrylo: Clicking whirring vortex.
Hans Tammen: Echolalic pentatonic mantra.
David Linaburg: More radio interference.
Nick Didkovsky: Slow motion dance.
John Shiurba: What's this triggering?
Bruce Eisenbeil: Scraping metallic chatter.
Henry Kaiser: Whisper to scream.
Wick Hijmans: Zen for melody.
Ken Field: Spectral somnambulent tango.
Juan Parra Cancino: ECU sonic space.
Ava Mendoza: Avant Peter Green.
Elliott Sharp: Mutant harmonic language.
Kobe van Cauwenberghe: Something's cutting out.
Keith Rowe: Wow and flutter.
Raymond T. Kallas: Singsong nursery rhyme.
Phil Burk: Game arcade sirens.
Nick Didkovsky: Blind man's bluff.
Mark Stewart: Bailey's diddley bow.
Tom Marsan: Sterno Hook boogie.
Matt Wilson: Abbreviated chicken reel.

My statistically insignificant Village Voice critics poll ballot here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Melissa Sanderson's "Cocktail Party"

Wow. Matt Hickey in a dance video. Now I've seen everything.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

JATSDFM - "Bob Hoskins' Shower Scene"

The final (!) offering from Matt Hickey's solo alter ego Joe and the Sonic Dirt From Madagascar. What's next? Only Hickey knows, and he's not talking. Yet.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see a Zappa documentary from '71?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

1.10.2013, FTW

1) Revisionist history. Was thinking about deleting all those old blog posts where I eschewed capitalization, a silly affectation I was recently mortified to discover I was still using as recently as 2010 -- can I really have been that burnt out from writing on spec? My sweetie talked me out of it; her take: "It's a work in progress." I finally figured it'd require too much effort. There sure is a lot of bad writing here, though. Sigh.

2) Read a good article by Peter Guralnick on Elvis Presley, challenging the post-Chuck D conventional wisdom that El was a racist. My take: There's danger in mistaking marketing for the performer's intent. Seems to me that Presley was an omnivorous music fan who had the knack for transforming stuff in his own image; in American Pop, Allen Lowe (who's considering self-publishing his long-threatened rock 'n' roll book in electronic format) quotes a Goldmine interview with Wanda Jackson where she recalls him showing her how to hillbilly-ize a blues tune via vocal and riddimic inflection. Elvis didn't copy the styles of the performers he covered, nor did he steal their copyrights, which is more than, say, Jimmy Page can claim. I've been remiss in keeping up with Guralnick's output since Lost Highway and Feel Like Going Home. I need to catch up this year, perhaps starting with his two volumes of Presley biography.

3) As alluded to in an earlier post, one of my projects this year is to spend more time investigating pre-rock musics. Lately I find that whenever someone pulls my coat to something new, it invariably reminds me of something old that I'd rather listen to. Conversely, when I start investigating stuff from before I came in ('50s and earlier), I find more that I find of enduring worth. It's like the bibliophile who, sensing his own mortality, tries to read all the great books before he checks out -- a fool's errand.

My current obsession o' the moment is Roscoe Holcomb, a singer, banjo picker, guitarist and harmonicist from Kentucky, discovered during the '50s folk boom and recorded by John Cohen for Folkways in '61, '64, and '74. I first learned of Roscoe and his "high lonesome sound" in an Eric Clapton Rolling Stone interview, of all places; Clapton later recorded a version of "Motherless Children," which Roscoe performs on the compilation CD The High Lonesome Sound I've been listening to continuously for the past few days (thanks again to Hickey). This is, I suppose, what's meant by the term "mountain music;" Hembree, who grew up in rural Tennessee, pronounces it "the real deal."

Born in 1912, Roscoe spent most of his life doing hard physical labor -- coal mining, construction -- and by Cohen's account, enjoyed doing such work (putting me in mind of Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness: “I don’t like work, no one does, but I like what is in the work, the chance to find yourself”). He only played at square dances and in church; he was never a "professional musician" until his discovery in middle age. Roscoe suffered from black lung and emphysema, the damage from which was further aggravated by heavy smoking. You could say that his musical career killed him: he never recovered from a day-and-night-long bus ride in the winter of '78, returning home from a tour with a stuck-open bus window, and died three years later.

Roscoe's singing is keening, high, and nasal; his cadences reverberate in Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska," and practically every note Levon Helm ever sang. Ralph Stanley has some of the same sound, but this feels more organic; you can hear how people could be consoled by this music. His accompaniment is solid, but not as virtuosic as bluegrass would become (blame Bill Monroe for hiring Flatt & Scruggs) -- a good thing, to these feedback-scorched ears. I remember learning "Old Smoky" as a small child via the sanitized version recorded by HUAC name-namer Burl Ives, and "House In New Orleans" is the same song as the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun." I got a smile of recognition listening to "Married Life Blues" and hearing a phrase that Rod Stewart borrowed to write "Gasoline Alley." And "Trouble In Mind" flashed me back 15 years, to when I used to play that song with Hosea Robinson.

The vibe I get from listening to Roscoe is similar to what I get from listening to Skip James -- in the same way that I get similar sensations from listening to Robert Johnson and Sun Elvis. This music comes from a different world than the one we live in.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Hey, kid! Wanna be a fly on the wall at a party at Frank Zappa's house in 1993?

Ben Watson wrote about this night in The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play: A party at the dying FZ's house with his family, the Chieftains, Tuvan throat singers, Jim Sherwood, Terry Bozzio, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, L. Shankar, and more. Pretty interesting stuff.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Stuffs 'n' such

1) Streaming WFMU: Our new holiday music. Over four or five days, we heard free jazz, garage rock, psychedelia, blues, R&B, country, mountain music, gospel, Afrobeat, Asian pop, and lots more. Almost a viable alternative to record collecting, and leading inexorably to...

2) Allen Lowe's American Pop and That Devilin' Tune: Lowe's OCD explorations of pre-rockaroll American musics in these two tomes lead down a myriad of fascinating rabbit holes, and could conceivably make 2013 the year when I finally do something affirmative to reduce my ign'ance of pre-rock arcana like Dock Boggs and Arizona Dranes.

3) Andrew Solomon's Far From the Tree: I don't read many NYT bestsellers, but this journo's extensive study of parents of children with "horizontal identities" (e.g., conditions which connect them to others outside their biological families) like deafness, dwarfism, Downs syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disability, musical prodigy, birth from rape, crime, and transgenderism provides more food for thought on identity, parenting, and what it is to be human than any book I've read in the last 20 years.

4) Ian McLagan's All the Rage: Forget Townshend, Young, and Richards. The Small Faces-Faces-Bump Band keyboard tickler's book, written on his own without a ghostwriter or, um, research assistants, is the most unpretentious, fun, and engaging rock memoir of all ti-i-ime. Now eBook available, too. Leading inexorably to...

5) Faces - Five Guys Walk Into A Bar: One of my favorite artifacts to emerge from the CD era (along with Sun Ra's The Singles and Funkadelic's Music For Your Mother). It's better than all of their real records. Long on demos, rehearsals, and BBC sessions, as well as all the 'riginal classic sides, it's like having four shit-hot live sets at your fingertips, proving (as annotator Tom Wright points out) that while they were always relaxed, the Faces were never sloppy. For my money, the best box set of all ti-i-ime (although I don't own Bob Marley's Songs of Freedom or the VU's Peel Slowly and See). As much as I love Steve Marriott, the Rod Stewart era's booze-sodden, goodtimey R&B-based rockaroll holds up better than the Small Faces' psychedelic whimsy (if not their early rockin' Mod soul). Ronnie Lane's leisurely lope on bass was an unlikely influence on Sex Pistols songsmith Glen Matlock, who supplanted Lane in the latter day, Mick Hucknall-fronted reunion lineup. I can keep spinning these discs back to back, over and over again. Just like I can...

6) Butterfield Blues Band - Live: Recently rhapsodized over by me, the used copy I ordered from Amazon for a five spot to exhaust a gift card (thanks, Hickey!) arrived yesterday and hasn't been off the turntable yet. Alone among the '60s white blues guys, Butterfield never did anything embarrassing. If he'd stuck around longer, maybe it'd be him instead of Charlie Musselwhite decorating Tom Waits' records today. After the hotshit guitarists left, his band was as tough and tight as Albert King's and Bobby Bland's, and that's saying a mouthful. It's also interesting to hear David Sanborn before he went on to SNL/smoove jazz fame.

7) Cold Heat: Heavy Funk Rarities, 1968-1974, Vol. 1: Also thanks to Hickey, we've been diggin' this CD compilation of Uber rare funk 45s from the heyday. This is the kind of music I cut my teeth playing, and hearing sides like Amnesty's "Free Your Mind," the Dayton Sidewinders' cover of War's "Slippin' Into Darkness," and the Ebony Rhythm Band's "Drugs Ain't Cool" sure takes me back, even though I never heard 'em back in the day. Sadly, the price war between two Amazon sellers on Kashmere Stage Band's Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974 ended before they hit my price, but I'll keep stalking.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Scott Morgan's "Three Chords and A Cloud of Dust"

i. 10.18.2012

This time it's personal.

Scott Morgan is one of my very favorite musicians on Earth, a diminutive white Midwesterner with improbably powerful soul pipes, a knack for hard rock and R&B songwriting, and a dedication to music that's kept him treading the boards for 50 years in relative obscurity. But while most American listeners remain unaware of his existence, he's revered by those who know in places as far from his Ann Arbor, Michigan home as Australia and Sweden.

I've been a fan of his music since 1971, when I stumbled on a copy of the Rationals LP in the bargain bin at E.J. Korvettes, about a year and a half after its release. It quickly became one of my favorite records, and remains so today. I dug it so much that in 1997, when I didn't even own a record player, I bought a copy through an ad in Goldmine and had my buddy Larry Harrison tape it for me. (Larry was an old-school record man who hooked me up with Scott's latter-day recorded output.) A couple of years after that, I met Scott at SXSW and got him to autograph it for me.

Scott had made a detour in Austin enroute to L.A. from Ann Arbor. He was going to make a guest appearance with Wayne Kramer, and I had the pleasure of driving him around for a couple of days. In the event, I missed the BellRays' set listening to Scott discuss with Frank Meyer what MC5 songs he might sing with the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs (he wound up singing none), and Scott only got to sing the first two verses of "Kick Out the Jams" before Wayne took it back. It was still worth it for me for the chance to hang out with Scott and hear the rough mixes of the first Hydromatics album on his van's cassette player in the motel parking lot at 3 o'clock in the morning. Scott also gave me a copy of a cassette with five songs he'd recorded with his L.A. band, the Jones Bros. Later, he sent me a dub of the Rationals legendary "fan club album."

Back in the mid-to-late '70s, I'd read reports in Creem magazine about Sonic's Rendezvous Band, the Detroit supergroup that Scott played in along with Fred "Sonic" Smith from the MC5, Scott Asheton from the Stooges, and Gary Rasmussen from the Up. It'd be the '90s before I heard any of their music, though, after I'd started writing about music on the internet and found my way into the fan pipeline where cassette copies of SRB's music circulated. One of the most knowledgeable people I met through those associations was Geoff Ginsberg, a Philadelphian who'd managed Scott in the '90s. Geoff had a record label, Real O Mind, on which he released a reissue 7" of Scott's first solo single, "Take A Look"/"Soul Mover," and a CD compilation, Medium Rare, that I consider one of Scott's finest albums.

Geoff and I met in the flesh for the first time in April 2002, when I flew up to Cleveland to see Scott's band Powertrane play at the Beachland Ballroom, then rode with Geoff and Powertrane drummer Andy Frost to see the band play at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. The Blind Pig show was an all-star affair, with guest artists including ex-Radio Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek (who was touring with Powertrane for the season), singer Hiawatha Bailey from the Cult Heroes, and one of my all-time heroes, original Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton. It was also one of the best shows I've ever seen in my life. I was so high from the experience that it didn't even faze me when I got shitcanned from my corporate job a week later. Geoff released the recording of that night on Real O Mind as Ann Arbor Revival Meeting.

In 2006, Easy Action Records in the UK released a comprehensive six-CD box set of SRB recordings, using an excerpt from a history of the band that I'd written as liner notes. I got acquainted with Easy Action honcho Carlton Sandercock, whom I later learned was instrumental in releasing the Yardbirds' BBC sessions and the essential Page-era Yardbirds document Cumular Limit on New Millennium (not to mention MC5, Stooges, Steve Marriott and Marc Bolan on his own label), and we collaborated on a couple of other projects. This past August, Carlton reached out to me with the idea of doing a full-on Morgan anthology. Scott had been diagnosed with severe liver disease at the end of 2011, and Carlton wanted to move fast. Unfortunately, I had to bow out of the project a month later due to a family matter, but not before introducing Carlton and Geoff.

Now it's a month later, and I have the mastered tracks on my iTunes. Three Chords and A Cloud of Dust is a labor of love, and I'm in awe of the efforts that Carlton and Geoff put forth to make it happen so quickly. Geoff’s detailed insider’s liner notes tell the story much better than I could, but here’s my two cents anyway.

ii. The details

So here's what you get: Three CDs. Sixty-two tracks, 20 of them unreleased, with five more appearing on CD for the first time. More to the point, you're not going to find most of the previously available stuff without searching really hard, because most of Scott's releases have been on small labels that didn't stick around long enough to repress them.

The glorious exceptions are the Rationals material on Ace/Big Beat, the SRB stuff on Easy Action, and the Scott Morgan solo album on Alive. The Rationals are represented here by five tracks. Garage rock nazis prefer the earlier, Brit Invasion-influenced stuff; myself, I'm a sucker for the Rationals' sweet and sophisticated soul harmonies. (There's also a track included from the Rationals' early '90s reunion.)

The first great discoveries here are four tracks from Guardian Angel, the band Morgan and Terry Trabandt formed in the wake of the Rationals' demise: solid rock from back when blues and R&B were essential elements of that equation, with stinging lead guitar from Jeff Jones and assertive drumming from Morgan's brother David. A piano triplet-driven version of Morgan's "Cool Breeze" and a guitar-heavy cover of Wilbert Harrison's "Let's Work Together" are from a smokin' unreleased 1971 album that should now see the light of day. Johnnie Taylor's "Hijackin' Love," recorded live at the 1971 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, was originally released as a single on John Sinclair's label. Pick of the litter, however, is a Stones-y, warehouse-recorded version of Eddie Floyd's "Things Get Better."

Morgan's debut solo waxings, "Take A Look" and "Soul Mover," were Guardian Angel tracks with overdubbed lead guitar by Fred "Sonic" Smith. Their volatile partnership in SRB lasted from 1975 until 1980, and is represented here by five tracks that include an unreleased basement tape of Morgan's loose-limbed "Mystically Yours" and a Morgan song from late in their run, "Power and Glory," which sounds more like a heartland ballad than the balls-out rock that was SRB's stock in trade. Listeners who want more but can't afford to pony up for the SRB box set are directed to Easy Action's double-disc The Second Chance, from whence the storming "Succeed" was drawn.

Brothers of the Road was an early '80s bar band, but one for which Harry Phillips (ex-Catfish/Mitch Ryder's Detroit) tickled the ivories with wild abandon and Morgan penned tunes like the great "Pirate Music" and the peculiar "Gypsy Dancer." With a couple of personnel changes, including the addition of bluesy guitarist Mike Katon, that outfit morphed into the Scott Morgan Group, which cut demos in '84 including "Come On Baby," an upbeat anthem that could have been a hit in the Springsteen-mad climate of those times.

Paring the lineup down to a foursome (with the Asheton/Rasmussen rhythm section from SRB and second vocalist Kathy Deschaine), Morgan cut the underrated Rock Action album -- his first solo album, just 20 years after the Rationals LP -- for the French Revenge label. While Rock Action gets a bad rap for its '80s production sound, the album wins on the basis of songs like the hometown homage "Detroit," SRB retread "Heaven and Earth," and "Everything," which starts out as Drifters-style Latin-tinged R&B before chiming chords herald a return to rock.

From '92 to '95, that unit worked under the rubric Scots Pirates with a succession of guitar players. Particularly noteworthy are two tracks from an acoustic cable TV performance by Morgan, Rasmussen, and guitarist Brian Delaney: "Josie's Well" (a bonus track on Medium Rare) and "The Road Home," a hardscrabble communique from society's margins. While I'm not a fan of the drum sound on 1993's Scots Pirates (Action Now in its French incarnation), the compilers have picked two of its best tracks. The sound on 1995's Revolutionary Means was more in line with what post-grunge rockers wanted to hear: lots of brutal, fuzz-and-wah-oozing guitars from Morgan, Katon, and Bobby East. In retrospect, that album was probably Morgan's summit up until that time. The two tracks here support that assessment.

A version of the Stooges' "I Got A Right" comes from Dodge Main, the '96 Wayne Kramer/Deniz Tek collaboration on which Morgan sang four songs. Myself, I'd have chosen one of the two MC5 High Time songs, but there's a live version of "Future Now" with Tek and the 3 Assassins (a nom de tour for Italian punkers the A-10) included here. An acoustic take on SRB's "City Slang" by Morgan-fronted cover band Motor Jam sounds better than you'd imagine. And a very pleasant surprise indeed is the inclusion of two tracks with Michigan garage revivalists Fortune and Maltese from a '98 radio broadcast. Scott sings his ass off, and the Farfisa-driven backing lets you hear him.

The Jones Bros. material from '98 ranks with some of my very favorite Morgan stuff. It featured a modern sound and unusual song ideas. "Endless Summer," included here, is the only unreleased song from that session. Inspired by recording in the Beach Boys' studio, it juxtaposes a light, jazzy melody with zooming fuzzy octave runs from guitarist Manny Alvarez.

In the late '90s, Morgan toured and recorded with MC5-inspired Swedish rabble-rousers the Hellacopters, singing on their "Downright Blue" single and covering his '87 shoulda-been hit "16 With A Bullet." Morgan also formed the Hydromatics with 'Copters frontman Nicke Royale on drums and Dutch punk rock pioneer Tony Slug on guitar (who'd had the idea of forming an SRB tribute band and did a credible job of playing Fred Smith's parts). Copies of their debut album Parts Unknown go for over a C-note now; four songs are included here. Their second album, Powerglide, was even better, showcasing Scott's soulful side (see "Tumblin' Down") as well as his rockin' one (cf. "RIP Rock 'n' Roll"), and featuring young Ann Arborite Andy Frost on drums. A live Hydromatics version of SRB's "You're So Great" has different lyrics than both the ones Fred Smith sang and the ones Wendy James made up for her recent cover.

"Satisfier" was cut for Medium Rare in a shambolic Y2K session where journeyman guitarist Robert Gillespie (ex-Rob Tyner/Mitch Ryder/Motor Jam) saved the day. The version here has a different guitar solo than the released version. The Stooges' "1969" from my wish-fulfilling Ann Arbor Revival Meeting show has dueling lead guitars from Ron Asheton and Deniz Tek.

I'll admit that I came late to an appreciation of the Solution, Scott's Swedish soul band, active between 2004 and 2007. While I still don't rate them as highly as, say, Sharon Jones' Dap Kings, their horn-and-background-vocal based R&B sound let Scott's voice breathe in a way the turbo-Rawk of the Hydromatics didn't. There are two songs from each of their albums here, plus a live cut from a 7" and another that's previously unreleased.

Powertrane was Scott's hometown band from 2001 to 2009, with Gillespie and bassist Chris "Box" Taylor as the other constants. Their 2005 album Beyond the Sound barely saw release; its title track is included here. Better still is their unreleased 2008 demo of Bob Seger's powerful antiwar rant "2+2=?" -- unfortunately still as relevant today as it was in '67.

Chris Taylor played his main instrument, guitar, on Scott's self-titled solo album from 2010, in a band of Detroit (relative) youngbloods that included White Stripes producer Jim Diamond. Scott Morgan was the R&B homecoming I'd always dreamed of, with a sound as redolent of Funkadelic as it was of Motown. It's represented here by two cuts and two outtakes, including a haunting acapella version Nolan Strong's "The Wind" that closes the album. Scott's falsetto on the track is as otherworldly as Elvis' on "Blue Moon" and will flat break your heart.

iii. 1.4.2013

Easy Action plans a March 18th release. Welcome home, Scott. And thanks for all the music.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Johnny Case January gig schedule

Thursday, Jan. 3 – Solo piano @ Lili’s Bistro, 1310 W. Magnolia, Fort Worth, TX, 6:30–9:00 PM.

Friday, Jan. 4 – Louise Rowe begins a regular Friday night gig of Western Swing featuring Billy McBay & Joe Baker on twin fiddles & Johnny Case on piano. Louise has the distinction of being the only female musician ever hired by the great Bob Wills. He hired her to play bass with the Texas Playboys. Later when he learned that Louise Rowe was also an excellent vocalist, Wills featured her both as bassist and singer. Come to the all-new TEXAN KITCHEN on Euless North Main St. (just north of Hwy 183 on west side of the street) to see & hear this legendary artist. 7:00–9:00 PM, no cover, BYOB

Saturday, Jan. 5 – Trio @ Lili’s Bistro. (Chris White on bass & Keith Wingate on guitar round out the trio.) 6:30–10:30 PM. 

Wednesday, Jan 9 – Solo piano for “Jazz Night” @ Sapristi Restaurant on Forest Park Avenue.  7:00–8:30 PM. Please call Sapristi for verification of Johnny’s booking:  817-924-7231.

Thursday, Jan. 10 – Solo piano @ Lili’s Bistro, 6:30–9:00 PM.

Friday, Jan. 11- Western Swing by Louise Rowe & Texas Playboys @ Texan Kitchen on North Main in Euless, Texas, 7:00–9:00 PM.

Saturday, Jan. 12 – Johnny Case Trio featuring Keith Wingate and Chris White @ Lili’s Bistro, 6:30–10:30 PM.

Friday, Jan. 18 – Johnny Case w. Louise Rowe’s Western Swing Band @ Texan Kitchen on Euless North Main Street, 7:00–9:00 PM, BYOB.

Wednesday, Jan. 23 – Solo piano for “Jazz Night” @ Sapristi. 7:00–8:30 PM. Please call Sapristi for verification of Johnny’s booking:  817-924-7231.

Friday, Jan. 24 – Johnny Case w. Louise Rowe’s Texas Playboys @ Texan Kitchen, on Euless North Main Street,  7:00–9:00 PM, BYOB

Thursday, Jan. 31 – Solo piano @ Lili’s Bistro, 6:30–9:00 PM.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

In praise of Paul Butterfield

While you may not give a shit about who gets inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an institution which seems anxious to co-opt all of pop music when it's opportune to do so, you might still find it a grave injustice that in 2012, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band failed for the second time (first nominated in 2006) to gain induction into said hall. Sure, Albert King made this year's cut, and Albert was a great blues artist, but for lots of folks back in the '60s, Paul Butterfield was the gateway drug that led to Albert King.

In general, though, posterity has been relatively unkind to Butter and his band. His son Gabe has been trying to get a documentary about his dad made for several years, while B.B. King biographer Charles Sawyer appears to have abandoned his plans for a book on the band.

As the generation with first-hand recall of the first wave of post-Beatle American rock bands that included the Byrds and the Lovin' Spoonful as well as Butterfield dodders toward its 70s, it's worth remembering how influential the Butterfield band was in its day. The racially integrated outfit's eponymous debut LP, released in the fall of '65, provided a harder-edged and more authentic answer to Brit Invasion urban blues copyists like the Rolling Stones, Animals, Yardbirds, et al. Butterfield's lead guitarist Mike Bloomfield was ranked right up there with Jeff Beck and Keef Richards in the early rounds of the "best rock guitarist" stakes, and Sam Lay, who played on the first Butterfield album, was the most individuated of blues drummers.

Bloomfield had played lead on Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone," which, along with the Stones' "Satisfaction," ruled the airwaves that summer, and he, Lay, and Butterfield's bassist Jerome Arnold (along with Al Kooper and Barry Goldberg) had backed Dylan when he alienated much of his folkie fan base by playing electric at that year's Newport Folk Festival. The nervous energy of Bloomer's playing pulled the whole Butterfield band down some exploratory wormholes. The extended instrumental blowouts at the end of each side of the second Butterfield LP East-West (Nat Adderley's "Work Song" and the original raga-rock title track) inspired loads of imitators, from San Francisco's folk-based jammers to legions of teen-snot bands across the Heartland, including future Stooges Jim Osterberg and James Williamson. The moment was short-lived -- after awhile, audience expectations put the damper on Bloomfield's creativity -- but it was a glorious one while it lasted.

Butterfield himself was a lawyer's kid from Chicago's ritzy Hyde Park neighborhood who'd gone to private school, studied classical flute, and won a track scholarship to Brown before a knee injury ended his athletic career. He and his buddy Nick Gravenites pulled tight in the folk music scene around the University of Chicago and started playing acoustic guitar blues in coffee houses there. They first ventured down to the blues clubs on Chicago's South and West Sides in 1957, the very year when Norman Mailer published his essay on the phenomenon of white hipsterism, "The White Negro." (Bloomfield got his first entree to those same clubs through the sponsorship of his wealthy family's servants.)

Hearing Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Junior Wells, and James Cotton up close inspired Butterfield to take up the ten-hole harmonica, and with his track runner's lungs, he'd soon learned his lessons well enough to take the stage alongside his exemplars. He could move that big column of air as well as Walter, and used the amp in similar ways to create a robust tone. He even sang with credible power, albeit with less nuance than Walter, Sonny Boy et al. Imagine the sheer effrontery of this North Shore whiteboy, daring to crash, say, Muddy Waters' stage. But he must have had what it took; by the time he formed his own band in the early '60s, he was commercially viable enough in Chicago's clubs to steal Arnold and Lay from Howlin' Wolf's band. When competing bandleader Bloomfield insinuated himself into the lineup, initially on piano, then on slide, before bogarting white Okie college boy Elvin Bishop out of the lead guitar slot, Butterfield was ready.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band exploded out of the gate with Nick Gravenites' "Born In Chicago," powered by Bloomfield's brassy, ballsy, vibratoless Telecaster and Sam Lay's staccato cymbal-and-snare tattoos. "I was born in Chicago, in 1941," Butter blustered. (He really wasn't born until a year later, but Nick the Greek was.) "All my friends told me, 'Son, you had better get a gun.'" (At this juncture, the blues was still social music, describing the passing scene in some pretty rough quarters.) "Shake Your Moneymaker" misses the wild and wooly essence of Elmore James that Brit Jeremy Spencer would do a better job a couple of years later. Bishop takes a highly effective lead break that's the essence of simplicity. The interplay between him and Bloomfield on the cover of Little Walter's "Blues With A Feeling" recalls the early Stones' "guitar weaving." The instrumental "Thank You Mr. Poobah" features Mark Naftalin's cheesy organ. Butterfield showcases his control with big intervallic leaps, bends and wide vibrato.

Big Sam Lay steps into the spotlight for Muddy's signature "Got My Mojo Working;" with Billy Davenport supplanting him on drums, they'd adopt a different rhythmic approach to the tune (audible in the video above). "Mellow Down Easy" is taken at a faster clip than Little Walter's original, without its Latin flavor. Bloomfield's solo predicts Wayne Kramer and James Williamson while flashing some of the chops he'd also displayed on Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. Side Two opens with "Screamin'," a gritty instrumental where everybody gets their licks in, and boasts two slow blues: the original "Our Love Is Drifting" and Little Walter's "Last Night" (Butterfield's best vocal here). Junior Parker's "Mystery Train" (on which Butterfield would later front The Band in Scorsese's The Last Waltz) chugs along as though Elvis Presley had never existed, and "Look Over Yonders Wall" takes things out with an Elmore-inspired fast shuffle.

For my money, East-West is one of the great albums of its time, on a par with the Animals' Animalization and the Blues Project's Projections. In '66 and '67, blues-based rock bands were starting to experiment with eclecticism and instrumental extemporization. On East-West, Bloomfield had traded in his Tele for a Les Paul, and his introductory solo on the minor-key "I've Got A Mind To Give Up Living" is a marvel of dynamics. Mark Naftalin played a lot of piano as well as organ, best heard on the Nawlins R&B classic "Get Out of My Life Woman." Butterfield's in fine voice and harp form throughout.

The album's arrangements are a lot more adventurous, taking a stop-start approach to Robert Johnson's "Walking Blues" and applying a vicious swing to Muddy's "Two Trains Running." Elvin Bishop's laconic vocal on "Never Say No" sounds like Ray Charles on cough syrup, while his solo on "Two Trains Running" is effectively understated in a different way. (I once saw Bishop open for the Marshall Tucker Band during his pre-"Fooled Around and Fell In Love" endearing hayseed phase; even then, his guitarisms packed heavy emotional guns, while seemingly teetering on the brink of chaos.) And yes, "Mary, Mary" is the same Michael Nesmith song later recorded by both the Monkees (!) and Run-DMC.

As great and as influential as those first two Butterfield LPs were, they sound like rock records in comparison with contemporary blues albums like Muddy Waters At Newport, Junior Wells' Hoodoo Man Blues, or even Muddy's Fathers and Sons (one of the more successful attempts at teaming blues originators with their rock progeny, the latter in this case including Butterfield and Bloomfield). Butterfield must have realized this and when Bloomfield quit him in '67, he reconfigured his band to compete with the horn-heavy outfits that B.B. and Albert King were bringing to the rock ballrooms and festivals of the time. To that end, he hired jazz musicians like drummer Phil Wilson and saxophonist Gene Dinwiddie, both veterans of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and a white saxophonist from St. Louis, David Sanborn, who'd studied with with avant-gardists Roscoe Mitchell and Julius Hemphill.

Butterfield played at both the '67 Monterey and '69 Woodstock festivals, although video from those performances remained in the can until the DVD era. (The catchy but unrepresentative "Love March" was included on the Woodstock soundtrack album.) My favorite recorded artifact of the post-Bloomfield Butterfield band is their 1971 live double album, recorded the previous year at L.A.'s Troubadour. To these feedback-scorched ears, the 1970 lineup stands in the same relation to their '65-'66 predecessors as Eric Burdon's War did to the Animals -- they're a lot more rhythmically assured and professional, grooving like a Stax revue on one tune, swinging like a jazz outfit on the next.

(Like Burdon, Butter was softened by acid, but unlike Burdon, he didn't have a string of hits to sustain his career like the one that keeps the diminutive Geordie expat pounding the boards to this very day. Instead, he developed a fondness for alcohol and hard drugs that, sadly, took him out way too young, at 44.)

While there's fine blues on Live -- a bravura workout on Little Walter's "Everything Going To Be Alright," a version of Charles Brown's "Driftin' and Driftin'" (a highlight of Butter's Monterey and Woodstock sets), and a "Born Under A Bad Sign" that's a showcase for B.B.-influenced guitarist Ralph Wash -- the album's great strengths are its jazzy and soulful numbers (the 6/8 "Love Disease," bassist Rod Hicks' proto-funk "The Boxer," the instrumental "Number Nine," the set-closing "So Far, So Good"). Butterfield even nurdles a little on electric piano on the gospel-blues "Get Together Again." The video below captures a performance from around the same time. Dig it.

Improvised Silence live at the Cellar,12.30.2012

Through the magic of Hickey's recorder: What better way to end 2012 than with a three-set extravaganza, featuring HIO, two thirds of Mora Collective, Darrin Kobetich, and John Osburn? Makes me wish I'd been there. Well, my amp was, anyway. Happy New Year!