Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Things we like: Al Green, Allan Holdsworth, furthur down the Dead rabbit hole

1) Is there a sound possessed of more human warmth than Al Green's voice? I'm a-thankin' not. According to my wife, the last of the great Memphis soul men (I used to drive by his church on my way to work at the Sound Warehouse on Elvis Presley Boulevard, which I moved there to open in late '81 and got shitcanned from right after New Year's '82) owns the word "Baby" the same way Keanu Reaves owns "Du-u-ude!" and Harvey Keitel owns "Fu-u-uck!" These days, Fat Possum owns his catalog, and in the tradition of up-marketing reissues (as Chuck Berry's Greatest Hits gave way in turn to Golden Decade, The Great Twenty-Eight, and The Ultimate Collection), the LP and CD incarnations of Al's Greatest Hits and the 34-track The Absolute Best have been superseded by a 42-track double CD with the belt-and-suspenders title Al Green Greatest Hits: The Best of Al Green, which is as close to all his music we'll ever need as we can get this week. Like Sam Cooke, Al embodied the dichotomy of sacred and profane and even sang about it in songs like "Take Me To the River" and "Belle." Sometimes I wonder if the reason why fundamentalists are always getting caught in sexually compromising positions might not be that the folks driven to religious sanctimony are also the ones who struggle the most with their inner urges (apologies to Joe Henderson).

2) The big sleep claimed another estimable muso this week. The preternaturally fleet-fingered guitarist Allan Holdsworth, whom I saw in '76 with the New Tony Williams Lifetime and in '78 with UK, passed on Saturday at age 70. Holdsworth also performed with Soft Machine, Jon Hiseman's Tempest, Pierre Moerlin's Gong, Jean-Luc Ponty, and a great Bill Bruford band that also included Annette Peacock. He went on to lead his own bands for 30 years, often in the company of ex-Zappa drummer Chad Wackerman. The quicksilver fluidity of his lines was even more hornlike than John McLaughlin's and Sonny Sharrock's approaches. I always assumed he was hammering, but Thinking Plague guitarist and Holdsworth aficionado Bill Pohl maintains that Allan "picked way more notes than people realize." Worthwhile listening: Williams' Believe It, Bruford's Feels Good To Me and the Rock Goes To College DVD, Wackerman's Forty Reasons, and Holdsworth's own I.O.U., Metal Fatigue, and the live Then! A week before Holdsworth's passing, Manifesto had just released a pair of retrospectives of the guitarist's work: the comprehensive 12-disc The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever and the more concise 2-disc Eidolon.

3) Spurred on by Valderas' mid-jam "Other One" quote of a couple of weeks ago, I descended further down the Grateful Dead rabbit hole, reading bassist Phil Lesh's 2005 autobiography Searching for the Sound: My Life With the Grateful Dead and checking out a sampling of the treasure trove of Dead audio and video that's available online. After reading a Rolling Stone int with Lesh around the time of the last set of reunion shows, it occurred to me that being in the Dead was probably a lot different than anybody outside the band imagines, an impression borne out by Lesh's highly readable recollections. As much as the Dead's mystique came from their ability to create an improvisational gestalt -- proof positive that in music, the whole can be much more than the sum of its parts -- and the celebratory gathering of like-minded individuals, Lesh reveals that they could be a fractious lot. While they were still developing their experimental approach (as in the 2.14.1968 set, dedicated to the just-deceased Neal Cassidy, where they solidified the running order for their classic Anthem of the Sun LP), they were also talking about firing founder/early focal point Pigpen and Bob Weir, who'd go on to become an important contributor as they became more song-focused. Watching their 4.21.1972 performance for the German Beat Club TV show, I experienced transcendent moments during two different performances of "Playing in the Band" and one of "The Other One" that made me think my late friend Mike Woodhull was on target when he quipped, "The secret to being a Deadhead is knowing when to wake up."


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