Saturday, May 14, 2016

Things we like: Paul Butterfield, Orgullo Primitivo, Greg Tate on Hendrix

1) Reading some ign'ant ancestor bashing from a guy that looked like Ayn Rand's idea of a blues guitarist on Facebook sent me back to the bootleg of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band live at Boston's Unicorn Coffee House in '66, due for release June 3 by Real Gone Music as I Got A Mind to Give Up Living.

As I've written elsewhere, the Butter band's influence was significant, transforming folkniks into bluesniks, giving kids who'd only heard blues via Brit Invasion wannabes a taste of something more authentic, and laying the template for the Guitar Hero via Mike Bloomfield's yeoman fretwork. But as producer Paul A. Rothchild admitted in the liner notes to Rhino's belated reissue of The Original Lost Elektra Sessions, it took three tries for erstwhile folkie label Elektra to capture the Butter band's amplified heat on tape (including one version that made it as far as the pressing plant and a failed attempt at cutting them live in a club).

By the time sophomore disc East-West rolled around in '66, they'd figured some of that stuff out, but the band was still much hotter live than in the studio (as the club tapes keyboardist Mark Naftalin released in the '90s as East-West Live attest). From the opening instrumental medley to the familiar songs from the first two LPs to a handful they never got around to recording -- "One More Heartache," the Elvin Bishop-sung "Coming Home Baby," and a couple (Percy Mayfield's "Memory Pain" and Muddy's "Walking By Myself") that I first heard via Johnny Winter's versions -- the Unicorn set cooks with abandon and invention that takes off from where the studio recordings peaked.

Bloomfield particularly shines on Nat Adderley's "Work Song" -- which has a false start and a solo that takes a chorus to get going due to tuning problems, then burns with incandescent fire -- and the title track. Elvin Bishop's solos remind me of the time I saw him wipe the floor with the top-billed Marshall Tucker Band, the same wobbly vibrato audible in his guitar lines as his voice. The confluence of the guitars and Mark Naftalin's organ puts me in mind of my teenage faves the Blues Project. Butter and the Jerome Arnold-Billy Davenport rhythm section are their classic selves.

2) Brothers Aaron and Stefan Gonzalez are deeply rooted in North Texas' heavy/freaky/experimental music community, dating back to the days when they'd host punk and noise shows at their parental home in Oak Cliff. Together, they form the grindcore duo Akkolyte, as well as the rhythm section for free jazz trio Yells At Eels (with their father, trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez) and jazz-rock juggernaut Unconscious Collective (with estimable guitarist Gregg Prickett). Now, Aaron's label Inner Realms/Outer Realms has released Textures of Falling Out, an LP by Stefan's solo project Orgullo Primitivo/Primitive Orgasm.

The words "drum solo" can evoke images of an athletic event or exhibitionistic display, but percussionists like Milford Graves and Han Bennink have proven that such performances can be both musical and expressive. (Ronald Shannon Jackson did it -- and recited Shakespeare -- on Pulse.) Stefan Gonzalez has learned from some of the greatest creative artists in his field -- Alvin Fielder, Famoudou Don Moye, Louis Moholo-Moholo, Tatsuya Nakatani, Jackson -- but always uses his music as a vehicle for catharsis. So his polyrhythmic constructions, on traditional and non-traditional instruments, are accompanied by growled metal vocals that spew bile, vitriol, and spleen through a tightly constricted larynx.

Stefan's a superb technician, but it's the emotion behind the roiling maelstrom of sound he creates that you notice. The net effect is primal, tribal, ecstatic, and cleansing. What's missing from the recorded artifact is the visceral effect of seeing the leather-clad artist slinging sweat as he pummels the living hell out of his percussion array. On the closing "Lords of Lust," Jay Jernigan adds synth flourishes, and you can actually imagine folks at some disco of the damned shaking booty to the resultant groove.

3) Back when I still had a subscription to the Village Voice, Greg Tate -- who went by Gregory "Ironman" Tate back then -- was one of the village voices besides Hentoff and Giddins that I heeded the most. His anthology Flyboy in the Buttermilk, pubbed in the year (1992) I got out of the service, is an essential text as much for his use of language (in which academic jargonese rubs shoulders with hip-hop argot in service of a unique vision of the culcha) as for what he had to say about crucial stuffs like George Clinton, Miles Davis, Don DeLillo, Samuel R. Delany, and much more. He's got a follow-up, Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader, due out in August, so while I was waiting, I figured I'd check out his 2003 tome Midnight Lightning: Jimi Hendrix and the Black Experience.

I always say Jimi was The Water I Grew Up Swimming In; when he died, my mom came and picked me up from middle school to give me the news. It took me years to even comprehend that all the sounds on Are You Experienced? or his Woodstock "Star Spangled Banner" (in the original movie, he appeared as a giant head; I had to wait for his full set to make it to DVD some 30 odd years later to see what he was really up to) were guitar. His Monterey "Like A Rolling Stone" and the Royal Albert Hall versions of "Little Wing" and "Voodoo Child" from a quasi-legit Brit soundtrack called More Experience were the first recorded artifacts I heard that enabled me to begin to wrap my head around his genius -- an investigation that's ongoing, 40-plus years later (interrupted for about a decade after college, where I met too many people who'd fucked themselves up on acid in an attempt to "be like Jimi," including one cat that had all the same equipment and could make all the space noises but couldn't play a lick of music).

Sure, the story's been told innumerable times before. For my money, the best Hendrix tomes remain David Henderson's, which was first with the mostest, even though a lot of it was cribbed from the October 1975 Hendrix issue of Guitar Player that my last college roommate and I studied more diligently than we did any of our assigned texts, and Charles Shaar Murray's, which contextualizes Jimi nearly every way you can think of. Except one.

Tate looks at Jimi as a black man, from a black perspective, and it's more poetic and spiritual than I'd have expected from Greg when he was young and still overflowing with the critical theory they taught him at Howard. He also draws liberally on the testimony of Hendrix familiars the Allen twins aka the Ghetto Fighters (previously heard from in the '73 Joe Boyd doco), NYC guitarist Ronnie Drayton, Xenobia Bailey (who places Jimi in the context of Seattle's black community, an underexplored aspect of his bio), record producer Craig Street, and astrologer Stefanie Kelly (because, well, why the hell not?). A quick read, an essential additional addition to the canon, and all the excuse I needed to spin Band of Gypsys and Axis: Bold As Love yet again.


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