Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Devil In Disguise

In August of 1968 the Byrds released their sixth album, the seminal Sweetheart of the Rodeo. But this album went in a different direction from previous Byrds albums and was marked by a change in band membership. Singer/guitarist David Crosby and drummer Michael Clarke had departed after album #5, The Notorius Byrd Brothers, and had been replaced by drummer Kevin Kelley and multi-instrumentalist/singer Gram Parsons.
Parson's influence is all over this classic album, an album that took the Byrds in a whole different direction - alt-country (before there was a name for it!). There are conflicting stories on why Parson's vocals were stripped from several songs and replaced by Roger McGuinn's. Some say it's because he had contractual problems with his previous label. Others say McGuinn was unhappy with the degree of Parson's input. Nevertheless, the songs in question were only issued with Parsons vocals 22 years later on the Byrds Set in 1990.

Nevertheless, within a year Parsons and Chris Hillman had formed their own group, the iconic Flying Burrito Brothers with basssist Chris Etheridge, steel guitarist "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow and former Byrds drummer Michael Clarke.

The five released their own album, a natural follow-up to the countrified "Sweetheart", The Gilded Palace of Sin.

Not unlike "Sweetheart" the Burritos LP didn't sell well. Today, however, the 2 LPs are at the top of the alt-country heap and are responsible for influencing such acts as Wilco, Sun Volt, the Jayhawks, Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris who sang with Parsons in the 70s before he died.

Devil in Disguise, from Gilded Palace of Sin was originally called Christine's Tune but was changed because the woman it was written about didn't like her name being used.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Off Beat - Being Green

The song isn't off beat but the performance certainly is. In 1970, Kermit the Frog performed Being Green on Sesame Street. 1970! Geez, I was the ripe old age of 18. I hadn't realized Sesame Street had been around that long. I think Kermit might be older than I am!

Now, I was too old for Sesame Street so I first came across this song on the album Hard Nose the Highway by Van Morrison - a great album by the way - and for years I thought he wrote and was the first to perform the song.

Turns out, the song was written by Joe Raposo specifically for Kermit's character, as performed by Jim Henson, in the first season of the ground-breaking children's television show. The song was meant to teach children to be happy with themselves, starting out with Kermit lamenting his greenness but by the end of the song he's quite comfortable with it, singing "It's beautiful! And it's what I want to be..."

And Van Morrison wasn't the first artist to cover the song. That distinction goes to Frank "It's Not Easy Being Chairman of the Board" Sinatra on the 1970 LP Sinatra & Company.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Magic Fingers

I never saw the movie, but in 1971 I rushed out and bought the double album 200 Motels by Frank Zappa. Why? Because Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan were key fixtures with the Mothers of Invention. Perhaps you know them better as Phlorescent Leech and Eddie respectively. No? Ha ha, okay. Sit back and prepare yourself for a little rock and roll trivia.

Mark and Howard were founding members of the 60s rock group The Turtles who had some decent hits such as Happy Together and Dylan's It Ain't Me Babe. When The Turtles broke up in 1970 Mark and Howard made the switch from a syrupy-flavoured pop-group to a musical outfit completely at the other end of the rock and roll scale - the Mothers of Invention.

But the duo couldn't refer to themselves as The Turtles or use their real names due to a dispute with their former record company White Whale. Hence the moniker Flo and Eddie. The two made four albums with Zappa before striking out on their own. Their third album was the epic soundtrack 200 Motels.

Imagine this. The movie starred Theodore Bikel, Keith Moon and as Zappa, Ringo Starr. The treatise on touring in the 70s was backed by the Mothers and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and was filmed in 11 days at Pinewood Studios in England on a budget of $600,000.

For a 19 year-old in 1971, I was suitably impressed with such song titles as Mystery Roach, Redneck Eats, Shove It Right In and Half A Dozen Provocative Squats. And after a few spins on my turntable I was in Zappa nirvana. Here's Zappa, the Mothers and Flo and Eddie doing Magic Fingers...with a brief intro from Ringo in character...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

That Was Only Yesterday

Formed in 1967 Spooky Tooth was one of the few English blues/prog groups of the time with double keyboards - piano and organ - which played a key role in their distinctive sound. The group disbanded in 1974 after several personnel changes with members going on to play with Mott The Hoople, Humble Pie and Stealers Wheel.

It's most famous offspring was organist/vocalist Gary Wright who went on to a hugely successful solo career and is best remembered for the synth-laden hit "Dream Weaver".

In 1969, Spooky Tooth issued their second album aptly titled Spooky Two, reagrded as the best LP they ever issued. I recently purchased Spooky Tooth - Lost In My Dream - An Anthology 1968-1974 an excellent overview of their discography. I highly recommend it. Anyway, it made me go looking for video performances by the group. Here, from their second album, is a 1969 TV performance of That Was Only Yesterday...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Off Beat - Cocktails For Two

Spike Jones was a wacky musician who led a band called the City Slickers in the 40s and 50s. His satirical covers of popular songs garnered him a huge following. He was kind of like the Al Yankovic of his day. In fact, Weird Al has cited him as a significant influence. He's also said to have influenced such artists as Frank Zappa, the Beatles and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

He was a master of many mediums: records, radio and television. He wrote and recorded a tune in 1942 for a Disney award-winning movie that was originally banned - Der Fuehrer's Face.

For me, one of his most memorable songs was perhaps Cocktails For Two. Wikipedia explains:

The romantic ballad "Cocktails for Two", originally written to evoke an intimate romantic rendezvous, was re-recorded by Spike Jones in 1944 as a raucous, horn-honking, voice-gurgling, hiccuping hymn to the cocktail hour. The Jones version was a huge hit, much to the resentment of composer Sam Coslow.

As with all Spike Jones tunes, the performance was as key as the arrangement...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

All Right Now

For my money Paul Rodgers and Queen just aren't a good fit. No one can replace the flamboyant Freddie Mercury. But there was a time I really dug Paul Rodgers and that was the early 70s when he was lead singer of the British blues outfit Free.

When the band formed in 1968 Rodgers, at 18, was the oldest member in the band. Bass player Andy Fraser was all of 15 and had already spent some time playing with John Mayall's Blues Breakers.

Free released 2 so-so albums but in 1970 their third release Fire and Water took off largely on the strength of the hit single All Right Now.

The group began to fall apart in 1971 due to chemical differences and finally broke up in 1973. Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke went on to form Bad Company.

But here's where it all started...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Walk Don't Run

They served as an influence to the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Stephen Stills and John Fogerty, among others. When asked to name the most influential rock guitar solo, Joe Walsh said he would have to include the entire song "Walk Don't Run" because it changed so many guitar players' lives.

Formed in Tacoma, Washington in 1958, the instrumental group the Ventures' first hit came in 1960. They'd originally heard Walk Don't Run on a Chet Atkins album and rearranged it. Some say it opened the door to surf music. It certainly opened the door for the Ventures who had a string of hits throughout the 60s including the theme from Hawaii Five-O.

The Ventures have made hundreds of albums and have sold over 100 million records throughout their career. They're associated with the surf music genre but are quick to say they aren't a surf band. While their popularity in the States faded in the 70s they remain wildly popular and continue to tour in Japan. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.

Here's a 1964 performance of Walk Don't Run from Japan...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Off Beat - Leningrad Cowboys

This week's "off beat" feature takes a bit of a different twist focusing on a group, not so much a song. A buddy of mine got me interested in The Leningrad Cowboys several years ago and I've been a big fan ever since.

The group was born as a fictional band in the 1989 film Leningrad Cowboys Go America. Who knew they would catch on? But they did and they've been going strong for 20 years.

Funnily enough, the Leningrad Cowboys aren't from Russia. They're from Helsinki Finland. But their Russian stage shtick, their unicorn pompadours and their half-metre sharp, pointy shoes have helped make them the cult favourites that they are.

In 1993, the Cowboys performed a concert with the full 160-member Russian Alexandrov ensemble in Helsinki, Finland. A film of the concert, Total Balalaika Show, was released the following year. One of the songs from the film was Knockin On Heaven's Door...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Don't Touch Me There

In the early 70s a bunch of transplanted musicians from Arizona got together in San Fransisco to form an odd little collective called The Tubes. Their self-titled first album was produced by Al Kooper and contained the absurd anthem White Punks On Dope. The song and the album would set the stage for what was to come.

Lead singer Fee Waybill (an alias) led the group through elaborate live concert performances that cost a pretty penny to produce. But expensive or no, they resulted in the Tubes garnering a reputation as the best live rock act ever.

Throughout their career their producers included the aforementioned Kooper, Todd Rundrgren and, wait for it, David Foster.

It was their second album, Young and Rich in 1976, produced by Ken Scott that yielded my favourite Tubes recording Don't Touch Me There. The song was arranged by Jack Nitzsche. Here's a live performance from 1979.

If you're interested in what The Tubes are up to today visit their website.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dirty Water

In the summer of 1966, I was a 14 year-old Yohawk-wannabe wandering the streets of Ottawa with my skateboard in search of the perfect sloped roadway. The other youth "gang" in those days was the Squirrels. We were kinda like Ottawa's answer to Britain's Mods and Rockers - without the violence. One of the coolest songs from our summer of tight faded jeans and suede desert boots was Dirty Water, a shuffling bluesy tune about Boston.

But guess what. The group that sang with such authority about the river Charles was an outfit from Los Angeles. The Standells formed in 1962 and finally in 1966 hit the charts with Dirty Water. It would be the biggest hit of the Standells' career.

A little trivia: Singer Dick Dodd was the group's drummer. In his younger days he was a Mouseketeer. Prior to the group's break-up in 1968, future Little Feat founder Lowell George played guitar with the group.

The song lives on. It's been played after every Red Sox Victory at Fenway Park since 1997.

Here's a relic of a lip-synced performance of Dirty Water from back in the day...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Off Beat - Ol' Ben Lucas

He's a true renaissance man. If indeed, someone so politically incorrect could be one. Kinky Friedman started out in a band called King Arthur and The Carrots while a student at the University of Texas. In 1971, he formed his second band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys and gained a following on the coat tails of Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers and other country rock groups.

The difference with Kinky's music was how politically incorrect his lyrics were. Songs like Asshole From El Paso and Get Your Biscuits In the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed had audiences rolling in the aisles. His songs were so out there that in 1975 he and his group taped a show for Austin City Limits that never aired.

In 1976 Kinky toured with Bob Dylan and his Rolling Thunder Review but by the 80s his music career was going nowhere and he turned to writing. He started cranking out detective novels and they're some of the funniest books you'll ever read.

He wrote an ongoing column for Texas Monthly magazine until he ran as an independent candidate for governor in 2006. Rumour has it he'll run as a Democrat in 2010. Asked about his stand on abortion Kinky is reported to have said, "I'm not pro-life and I'm not pro-choice, I'm pro-football".

These days Kinky sells his own brand of cigars and salsa and runs the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. For those who want to visit or drop him a note he can be found at his website. Here's the Kinkster performing Ol' Ben Lucas...

Ol' Ben Lucas had a lot of mucus
Comin' right out of his nose.
He picked and picked till it made you sick
But back again it grows.

Well, ol' Ben Lucas had a lot of mucus
Comin' right out of his nose.
He picked and picked till it made you sick,
But back again it grows.
When it's cotton picking time in Texas,
Boys, it's booger picking time for Ben.
He'd raise that finger mean and hostile
Stick it in that waitin' nostril,
Here he comes with a green one once again.

All right, pick it, Eric!

Ol' Ben Lucas had a lot of mucus
Comin' right out of his nose.
He picked and picked till it made you sick,
But back again it grows.


Ol' Ben Lucas had a lot of mucus
Comin' right out of his nose,
He picked and picked till it made you sick
But back again it grows.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wonderful Tonight

Where does one begin when one tries to highlight Eric Clapton? In the 60s Clapton played with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, Cream and Blind Faith. His solo career has carried him through the decades to the present day. I saw him in concert a couple of years ago and the man's still got it, although he was aided by two supporting lead-guitarists, including guitar phenom Derek Trucks.

But I'm a big fan of the Clapton of the 70s - the period of Derek and the Dominos, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, 461 Ocean Boulevard and so on. And my all-time favourite Clapton song from that era has to be Wonderful Tonight.
Any fan of Clapton knows the background to the inspiration for the song. George Harrison's former wife Patti Boyd and Eric Clapton were living together. He was waiting for her to get ready to go to a Buddy Holly tribute organized by Paul McCartney. In the time it took Patti to get ready, Clapton had written the song. Patti wasn't just Clapton's muse. Harrison had written Something and For You Blue for her too.

Wonderful Tonight was off the 1977 album Slowhand. The 70s were hard on Clapton in terms of his dependence on drugs and alcohol. In his memoirs, Clapton talks about how things got so bad he'd perform while lying down on the stage. He's not lying down in this slowed-down, passionate performance. Close to it but...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Charlie Watts To March To Beat Of Different Drum


On September 5, the source for this story backtracked and a story confirming Charlie Watts WAS NOT leaving the Stones was published by Undercover.com

It's being reported today that Charlie Watts is packing it in as a Rolling Stone. If true, the departure of the 68 year-old "Wembley Whammer" will leave the remaining Stones shattered.

Watts is the original and only drummer for the Stones and together with original band mate and bass player Bill Wyman contributed to the greatest rhythm section in rock and roll.

Wikipedia relates a famous anecdote about Watts.

...in the mid-1980s, an intoxicated Jagger phoned Watts's hotel room in the middle of the night asking where "his drummer" was. Watts reportedly got up, shaved, dressed in a suit, put on a tie and freshly shined shoes, descended the stairs and punched Jagger in the face, saying: "Don't ever call me your drummer again. You're my fucking singer!"

Here's a glimpse of Charlie at work on Monkey Man...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Green River

John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, and Stu Cook met in high school and formed a bar band called the Blue Velvets. Fogerty's brother Tom joined the band and they signed with Fantasy records as the Golliwogs. Lead singer Tom stepped aside for brother John and the group and it's swamp-rock style began to gain popularity. In 1968, the newly renamed band released it's first album, the self-titled Creedence Clearwater Revival.

The group disbanded in 1972 after an output of 7 albums but in the late 60s none could foresee this nor the decades of legal and financial wranglings amongst band members which for years prevented Forgerty from performing his own songs.

But as 1969, drew to a close CCR had undertaken several significant tours, amassed a considerable fan base, performed at Woodstock and released their third album Green River. Here's a performance of the title track.