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An Untold Story about Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks

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Violence Inherent in the System

Fun recollection from an assistant engineer, Glenn Berger, who worked on the infamously scrapped Blood on the Tracks sessions…

In 1974, Bob Dylan was looking for renewal. His marriage to his wife, Sara, was headed for divorce. Over the previous few years, he’d left Columbia Records and the music he was making was indistinct and not well received.

That year I was working at A and R Recording Studios in New York City. Phil Ramone, the owner and “R” in A and R, was to eventually go on to become a legendary producer after working with Billy Joel on “The Stranger.” At that point, he was merely one of the world’s greatest recording engineers. I was his personal assistant engineer.

In September, Phil came to me with exciting news. Dylan was coming in to record his new album with us. The record marked Dylan’s return to Columbia. He would celebrate his renewal in other ways as well. We’d begin recording on September 16th, the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. The recording was to take place in the studio where he had recorded his first.

A and R’s studio A-1 was on the 7th floor of 799 7th Avenue on 52nd Street in New York City. It had once been Columbia’s studio, where Dylan had done his early work, but they had sold it to Ramone and company in 1968. This was Columbia’s earliest recording room, operational since the 1930’s. The walls rang with the echoes of sessions with artists from Sinatra to Streisand. Not least of the astounding hits recorded there was “Like a Rolling Stone,” Dylan’s signature.

(click here to continue reading Shrinky | Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks: The Untold Story.)

Conceptual Silence

Written by Seth Anderson

April 28th, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Posted in Music

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Interview with Founder of The Meat Puppets

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Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets answers a lot of questions for Andrew Perry, including:

You were the fourth or fifth band on Greg Ginn from Black Flag’s label, SST — was it a chaotic operation?

We were there real early on. We were from Phoenix which is like a faraway suburb of L.A., in our minds at least. It’s 400 miles away, it’s where you’re always looking when you’re kid. Disneyland is there, Hollywood is there, the ocean. We would go over there and play, and what Black Flag saw in us was, we were way more pissed off and crazy, and played a lot faster than all the other punk-rock bands around. We weren’t even that good, we just played really fast, and were completely out of our minds.

But we weren’t typical, in that none of us were aggressive bruisers. We would play stuff from Broadway shows, and stuff that I really liked from my childhood, like The King And I, then we’d go as far out on the other limb as we could, and just really try to hurt people mentally. It’s all completely valid in the art realm, and we could see that — there’s just so much canvas here to cover, we can do anything. It’s still that way. I don’t like to repeat myself ever. So we did a screaming punk-rock record, then I just went, “I can’t do that again.” Then I heard Metallica, and I was like, “Fuck, let them do it!” But you know, they didn’t have to keep doing it.

Was country music a big influence?

We always knew about it, and had dabbled in it — we did “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds” on our first record. Then I was just like, “Know what, we could use this stuff to really hurt punk rockers’ feelings.” Because I was starting to hate them. Like, “Oh yeah, freedom? As long as we don’t leave your box!” It has to be loud, fast, pissed off. It’s just like more classifications, that don’t really do you or your art any good. So, what we really need to do is not just be defiant, we have to actually hurt these people’s feelings. Let’s just do this as ass-backwards as we possibly can — like we thought Jimi Hendrix did it — get fucked up, and make a fucked-up fuckin’ record, exactly the way you want to.

How did the new direction go down with SST themselves?

They got it. They always got it, even Black Flag. Greg Ginn and Chuck [Dukowski] and The Minutemen and Hüsker Dü were all our best buddies — and are still some of my best friends. They had to be taken seriously as punk rockers. Then you got Rollins. Then it’s, Look out! Things get real serious. Everything was drawing a lot of mosh pit stuff, but they liked it, because we could open for them, and their crowd would just spit all over us, and hate us, and they’d be good and pissed off by the time Black Flag came on.

They figured it out, too, though — like, “This is funny, you guys came in like a punk rock thing, but you’re so not,” so it was part of actually the growing ethos that that label had. The Minutemen were doing it. We just tried to take the jock, macho element out of our thing, initially. What I saw with punk rock, especially in L.A., it was becoming like an athletic event for people to slamdance to. So it was like, let’s just play stuff that’ll put these people to sleep. That’s when people were going [aggrieved dullard’s voice], “Pink Floyd! Neil Young! Grateful Dead!” I was like, “Yeah, I like that stuff!”

You recorded Up On The Sun in three days flat. You wouldn’t have believed at the time that you’d be playing it in full at a festival in 2011, at the behest of one of the world’s coolest bands, ATP curators Animal Collective…

I would’ve said no! We hardly ever played it live that much. I see why we didn’t. There’s a lot of guitar parts on it, and it’s very artsy, it needs to be examined. Once again: more thought than I like to put into something when I’m onstage. I don’t know: God bless Animal Collective, I don’t know ’em, I don’t know what their motivation is here, probably self-indulgence — they just wanna sit there and drink beers and hear Up On The Sun played live.

(click here to continue reading eMusic Q&A: The Meat Puppets – eMusic Spotlight.)

The Meat Puppets were one of my favorite SST bands back in my UT – Austin days, especially their second album (wikipedia entry). I liked them for the fact that they weren’t afraid to abandon the jock-rock aggressive music template and play some unusual genres.

Written by Seth Anderson

April 26th, 2011 at 8:15 am

Posted in Music

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Spoonful

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Electricity Comes from other Planets

An all time favorite blues. But what does the spoonful refer to? Heroin? or…

Howlin’ Wolf favored a sexual metaphor—or rather, he literalized one when he played the song in his shows. He’d grab a big cooking spoon that drummer Sam Lay bought him at a flea market and brandish it at crotch-level, engaging in blatantly phallic monkeyshines. Wolf would work this raunchy shtick no matter the crowd. On two occasions—a benefit for a black Little League team, the other the International Jazz Festival in Washington, D.C., before an audience of gowned and tuxedoed dignitaries—many were not amused. At the benefit, someone closed the stage curtains on Wolf to spare the kiddies the sight of him getting busy with a kitchen utensil.

Howlin’ Wolf recorded “Spoonful” in 1960, backed by a top-notch studio band comprising the guitarists Hubert Sumlin and Freddie Robinson, pianist Otis Spann, Fred Below on drums, and Dixon on the double-bass. But its origins, like those of several other Dixon compositions on Rocking Chair, go back several decades further. It’s adapted (loosely) from Charley Patton’s 1929 “A Spoonful Blues”, which derives from Papa Charlie Jackson’s 1925 recording, “All I Want Is a Spoonful”. The song’s tailor-made for Wolf; like his own “Smokestack Lightnin’” and “I Asked Her for Water”, it’s the kind of modal chant with which he crafted his incomparable brand of gripping drama.

(click here to continue reading Rocking Chair Blues: Howlin’ Wolf – “Spoonful” < PopMatters.)

 

Written by Seth Anderson

April 25th, 2011 at 10:33 am

Posted in Music

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The Year Punk Broke Finally Coming to DVD

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I did not own The Year Punk Broke on VHS, but I did see it, and would like to see the film again.

If you were one of those kids who grew up on alternative rock in the 1990s, there’s a very good chance you owned a VHS copy of 1991: The Year Punk Broke, a documentary about Sonic Youth touring Europe back in the days right before alternative rock became the sort of thing your parents asked you about at the dinner table. Nirvana, Sonic Youth’s openers on that tour, were all over the movie, and it also featured footage of Dinosaur Jr., the Ramones, Babes in Toyland, and Gumball. Now, Slicing Up Eyeballs reoprts that the film is finally coming to DVD.

According to director Dave Markey, Universal Music is planning an extended 20th anniversary edition of the movie later this year. It will include a 42-minute film called “(This Is Known As) The Blues Scale”, which contains bonus performances from Sonic Youth (“Inhuman”, “White Kross”, “Orange Rolls/Angel’s Spit”, and “Eric’s Trip”) and Nirvana (“In Bloom”). Watch clips from “(This Is Known As) The Blues Scale” here. The DVD will also contain footage of a 2003 panel discussion with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley, Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, and Markey, as well as more performance material and commentary from Markey and Moore.

(click here to continue reading Pitchfork: Sonic Youth/Nirvana Tour Documentary Film 1991: The Year Punk Broke Finally Coming to DVD.)

 

Written by Seth Anderson

April 19th, 2011 at 8:17 am

Posted in Film,Music

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The Real Dylan in China

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Exit, Zimmerman

Maureen Dowd whined in the Sunday NYT that Bob Dylan is a sell-out becaused he agreed to play in China, and didn’t denounce the Chinese government on stage.

Sean Wilentz counters

In 1964, Irwin Silber, the editor of the lefty folk music magazine Sing Out!, notoriously blasted Dylan for daring to lay aside his protest material. A product of the Popular Front Communist Left, Silber was offended that Dylan had ceased writing and performing narrowly political songs. Now Maureen Dowd, of the august liberal New York Times, is offended that Dylan failed to perform these same songs during his recent shows in Beijing and Shanghai. Apparently, unless Dylan performs according to a politically-correct line, he is corrupt, even immoral. He is not allowed to be an artist, he must be an agitator. And he can only be an agitator if he sings particular songs.

Dowd isn’t angry that Dylan performed in China. She is angry that he apparently agreed to do so under certain conditions, that he didn’t sing “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” and that he didn’t take the opportunity to denounce Chinese human rights policies.

I don’t know exactly what Dylan did or did not agree to. (I don’t think Dowd does, either.) But whatever the facts are, Dylan knows very well—as I tried to tell Dowd when she interviewed me for her column—that his music long ago became uncensorable. Subversive thoughts aren’t limited to his blatant protest songs of long ago. Nor would his political songs from the early nineteen-sixties have made much sense in China in 2011. Dowd, like Mr. Jones in “Ballad of a Thin Man,” is as clueless about all of this as she is smug.

How much more subversive could Dylan have been in Communist China? Especially when he went on to sing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and, most unnerving of all, “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Depending on whatever agreement he made with them, I’d argue Dylan made a fool of the Chinese authorities, while getting paid in the bargain. He certainly made a fool of Maureen Dowd—or she has made a fool of herself.

(click here to continue reading News Desk: The Real Dylan in China : The New Yorker.)

Dowd should stick to doing what she does, making up imaginary conversations with political figures.

And like I’ve said before, artists shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than everyone, and everything else. If it isn’t forbidden to trade with China, eat Chinese food, it shouldn’t be forbidden to play there either.

Written by Seth Anderson

April 11th, 2011 at 8:37 am

Posted in Music,politics

Tagged with ,

Random Friday Shuffle -Accidentally Like a Martyr edition

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Fierce

Haven’t played this game in a while, so here is what my iTunes randomizer coughed up this morning.

  1. Zevon, WarrenAccidentally Like A Martyr
    Excitable Boy

    Warren Zevon ballad that gets me every time. The hurt gets worse, and the heart gets harder . From his 1976 debut album chock full of gems, including this song, Werewolves of London, Lawyers Guns and Money, etc. Apparently Jackson Browne and J.D. Souther contribute background vocals, though that matters less than the tune itself. Sentimental, not maudlin.

  2. Clarence Frogman HenryAin’t Got No Home
    Chess Rhythm & Roll

    Famously covered by The Band, sung in alternatively falsetto and “frog” croak voice. Swinging tune, R&B as it used to be constructed, full of sly humor and danceable rhythms.

  3. The Velvet UndergroundAll Tomorrow’s Parties
    Velvet Underground and Nico

    A Nico song, famously loved by Andy Warhol. Nico is predominant, Lou Reed and John Cale let her take the spotlight. In fact, Nico often sang it sans accompaniment when she played this song in later years.

  4. Thompson, RichardBeat The Retreat
    Pour Down Like Silver

    For a while, this album was out of print, maybe because it was the last album Richard and Linda Thompson recorded before joining a Sufi group, and didn’t have any top 40 hits on it. Down beat, and yet joyous. Music for a rainy day.

  5. Jens LekmanBlack Cab
    Maple Leaves

    The opening bars sound a lot like a Planxty song, or something similar. A bit of a shaggy dog story about NYC nightlife and cabs without medallions, but catchy all the same.

  6. Nelson, WillieBlue eyes crying in the rain
    Super Hits

    One of my favorite Willie Nelson songs in fact. Originally from Red Headed Stranger, which everyone should own a copy of, btw.

  7. Gil Scott-Heron & Brian JacksonThe Bottle
    Winter In America

    Gil Scott-Heron often pegged as a proto-rapper, which is sorta, sometimes true. He does chant his poetry more often than sing on some songs, but not on this stellar autobiographical song about alcoholics. Obviously from the mid-70s, as evidenced by the flute trills.

  8. SeedsCan’t Seem To Make You Mine
    The Seeds

    Sky Saxon recently died, this song will remain part of the soundtrack for a specific era of garage rock.

  9. Little Stevie WonderCastles In The Sand
    Hearing Is Believing: the Jack Nitzsche Story 1962-1979

    Wonder if Jimi Hendrix realized how close the title of his song was to Stevie Wonder’s 1964 version1. I’d assume yes, even though the songs are much different in execution. Stevie Wonder’s voice is much higher octave than later in his career, but still sings the heck out of the track. A little too much buried in strings for my taste, but not bad.

  10. Max Romeo & The UpsettersChase The Devil
    Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas K-JAH

    The Grand Theft Auto videogame franchise have quite excellent diegetic soundtracks2, including this classic reggae cut from Max Romeo, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and the Upsetters.

  11. Adams, RyanCome Pick Me Up
    Heartbreaker

    Usually my favorite Ryan Adams album. Folksy, for the most part, and strong lyrically. Such as this song with its chorus:
    I wish you would
    Come pick me up,
    Take me out,
    Fuck me up,
    Steal my records,
    Screw all my friends,
    They’re all full of shit,
    With a smile on your face.
    And then do it again…

    ha! I think he means it!

  12. Stevens, SufjanDecatur, Or, Round Of Applause For Your Stepmother!
    Come On Feel The Illinoise!

    My favorite song on this oddly compelling album about Illinois.

Previously I might have linked to Amazon, but since they don’t want to pay sales tax in Illinois, or elsewhere, screw those guys.

 

Footnotes:
  1. Stevie Wonder was 14 []
  2. diegetic in the sense that the car radio play these songs []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 8th, 2011 at 11:05 am

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Ivy and the Wicker Suitcase

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I am an official backer of this project, mostly because Glass Eye was one of my favorite bands when I lived in Austin1. Seems like they often came to the Magnolia Cafe too, which happened to be the place that, indirectly, paid my tuition, but that might have been more because the drummer was dating a fellow employee there. Memories fade over time, what I do remember is seeing Glass Eye perform live multiple times, over a multi-year span, and always enjoying it.

Anyway, not the point.

Here’s what Brian Beattle says about his project:

I’ve written a musical called “Ivy and the Wicker Suitcase”. It’s an epic surreal musical audio drama, a low tech extravaganza whose story is told complete with tunes, dialogue, sound effects and incidental music, packaged inside a beautiful 31 page fully illustrated book, not unlike the old Disney gatefold Buena Vista records. My wife, Valerie Fowler, drew the book, and I’m making the record.

The story is based in Austin, Tx., in 1938. The first day of summer vacation. Hidden away down in her favorite creek, 10 year old Ivy Wire sits with her battered guitar singing to the birds and the trees. Suddenly the sky darkens and she follows a mockingbird into a nearby cave. She hears a monstrous roar and sees a tumbling wall of muddy water rushing towards her. “FLASH FLOOD!!”. She barely escapes by scampering into a hole, but she immediately starts plunging into darkness. Thus begins her descent into the Underworld.

About 2 years ago, when the bottom really dropped out and the economy tanked, I got the spark of the idea. I started, much to the chagrin of my family, to watch depression era musicals every single night. By late summer 2009, my “spark” was named “Ivy and the Wicker Suitcase”. I’ve been working on it on and off since then, and I’ve been lucky enough to enlist my “Dream Cast”.

Daniel Johnston plays “the Big Boss”, the Lord of the Underworld.

Bill Callahan Plays “Everything”, a supreme deity.

Will Sheff is “Mister Kirby”, the Chief Admissions Officer of the Eternal Incarceration System.

K. McCarty plays “Celia Wire”, Ivy’s momma.

James Hand plays “Cosmo Wire”, Ivy’s daddy.

Brian Beattie plays the “Omniscient Serenader”, and also “Org”, an employee of the Eternal Incarceration System.

Grace London plays “Ivy Wire”, the hero. She’s 11. I met her at the Zilker Elementary talent show, where she turned a bunch of dozing parents into a standing ovation.

The record also features performances by Amy Annelle, Matt the Electrician, and my daughter, Ramona Beattie.

As of right now, 14 and a half of the 16 songs are recorded. The artwork is almost completely finished as well. If we meet our kickstarter goal, you will have financed the finishing of the project, which includes the composition and recording of the incidental music, finishing the dialogue/ foley work (the elements which make this an “ear movie”),  paying musicians, the finalization and scanning of the drawings, and the mixing and mastering of the record. Mostly, it will involve a good 3 months of straight work for me, and I need to finish or I will tear out my remaining hair. All of the composition and most of the playing is done by me all by my lonesome, so it’s mostly just a matter of me slugging away at it for a little longer here in my home studio.

If we exceed our goals, the money could go towards making videos based on Valerie’s drawings, and supporting the book and record store tours Valerie and I will be going on to support the record. We are soon going to look for a wonderful, savvy label to release the actual product, but if it seems appropriate, and if our kickstarter is very successful, we could release it ourselves.

Thanks for your curiosity. Please tell someone about “Ivy and the Wicker Suitcase”.

Project location: Austin, TX

If you’ve got a buck or two extra, throw it his way. What were you going to do with anyway? Piss it away on beer? Oh, that’s just me…

Footnotes:
  1. from 1981-1994, for the record []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 6th, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Posted in Arts,Music

Tagged with

Robert Wilkins | That’s No Way To Get Along

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Patience please

Heard this song today and thought, gee, these lyrics sound quite familiar. I was right, but had never heard why. I have listened to Beggar’s Banquet thousands of times, and never realized they lifted the song, its style, its lyrics, its mood, from Robert Wilkins. I hope they sent him flowers or something…

Eugene Chadbourne reports:

It is quite obvious to anyone with functioning ears that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had heard the late-’20s song entitled “That’s No Way to Get Along” by the Reverend Robert Wilkins, because the Rolling Stones album track “Prodigal Son” is a direct copy, at least to the point in the road where the imitation of Wilkins’ guitar style hits a technical roadblock. Yet the early pressings of the Stones’ cover listed the writers as Jagger and Richards, a deception that was only corrected following legal action. According to the Stones, the mistake was inadvertent and happened because the original artwork for the Beggars Banquet album had to be redone. Because a publisher connected with the original Vocalion label had nabbed the actual collecting rights to the song, this unfortunately did not result in a financial windfall for Wilkins. And although he took great advantage of the ’60s roots music revival and performed both concerts and new recordings in the absolute prime of his musical power, there is no way that every pimply high school kid who sat around listening to the Stones’ “Prodigal Son” actually was lucky enough to get a taste of the real thing.

A mix of Afro-American and Cherokee Indian, Wilkins hailed from De Soto County, MS, famous stomping grounds for Delta blues.

(click here to continue reading Robert Wilkins | AllMusic.)

Here’s the audio that someone uploaded to YouTube:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ki_Jcxv2nRg

 

Written by Seth Anderson

April 3rd, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Posted in Music

Tagged with ,

Group Doueh – Treeg Salaam

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Feeding My Addiction

Desert blues news from all over…

Western Sahara’s story is a sad but typical one for a post-colonial land with bigger, stronger neighbors. In the ’70s, a nearly century-long episode of Spanish occupation gave way to bruising jockeying for possession between Morocco (which currently holds sway), Mauritania, and the homegrown Polisario movement of nationalist liberation. Episodes of war have generated a civilian diaspora that’s spread from refugee camps in neighboring countries to Cuba, but life for the people who have stayed behind carries on like it does anywhere. Folks still like to marry and party, and if they do so in the coastal city of Dakhla, they’re likely to hire Group Doueh to bring the tunes.

The group is part of a family entertainment business run by Doueh, a Dakhla native whose birth name was Salmou Baamar. As a youth, he took a shine to the sounds of James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, which he heard on cassettes imported from Spain. His first experiences as a professional musician playing at local parties coincided with Mauritania’s occupation of Dakhla, and you can hear both Western rock sounds and Mauritanian rhythms in his music, which he’s been performing throughout the region and marketing on cassette for over a quarter century. Doueh plays the tinidit (a.k.a. tidinit), a Moorish four-stringed lute, and electric guitar; according to a recent Wire article, he favors a Fender run through a few pedals. The rest of the group includes vocalists Bashiri Touballi and Halima Jakani (his wife) and keyboardist Jamaal Baamar (his son). Rhythm duties are shared between collective handclaps, Halima’s tbal (a hand drum), and the keyboard’s drum programs.

When they aren’t playing at local festivals and weddings, Doueh runs a cassette dubbing shop, and that’s where Sublime Frequencies’ Hisham Mayet located him after a search up and down Morocco to find the musician responsible for “Eid For Dakhla,” the raucous, backbeat-heavy ruckus that opens Doueh’s first LP Guitar Music From the Western Sahara. That record also kicked off Sublime Frequencies’ series of vinyl-first releases of contemporary guitar music heard around the Maghreb. Although Group Doueh’s music enjoys the same no-budget recording quality as the rest of the series, it differs significantly from the Touareg-rooted approaches of Group Inerane and Group Bombino. The music of the desert interior sounds like the blues, sometimes jacked up to rock distortion and intensity; Doueh’s has a more complex rhythmic underpinning, closer to the Master Musicians of Jajouka or flamenco, and adheres to traditional Mauritanian modes that spin the melodies down different paths than those of their deep Saharan brethren, more elaborate but less open-ended.

(click here to continue reading Dusted Reviews: Group Doueh – Treeg Salaam.)

Interview:

It’s hard to imagine what the four Muslim members of Group Doueh thought about their first gig outside Western Sahara, playing inside an Anglican church that served cold lager within the gay neighborhood of one of the most flamboyantly gay cities in Europe, Brighton, England. A couple of hours beforehand, Terminal Boredom got a few moments to sit down with the band in the church basement after sound check as the musicians ate takeout chicken and tabouli. Sublime Frequencies Co-founder Hisham Mayet translated from English to Arabic and back: vocalist Bashiri Touballi provided answers on the band’s behalf while guitarist Salmou “Doueh” Baamar stood squarely in front of and pointed a video camera directly at their English-language-only interviewer. Outside, a peculiar mix of middle-aged, upper-middle-class world music fans and scruffy weirdos on drugs lined up — an audience peculiar for most bands, sure, but not a Sublime Frequencies one.

 

(click here to continue reading Terminal Boredom – DOUEH.)

I’d usually link to Amazon’s copy of this album, but since they ended my affiliate program in a tax-dispute snit with the State of Illinois, I’ll let you discover the album on your own, from wherever.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 24th, 2011 at 9:55 am

Posted in Music,Suggestions

Tagged with ,

Hal Blaine the Wrecking Crew

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The secret behind many hit songs of the 1960s and 1970s – Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew:

Hal Blaine put his hand on my shoulder. “This is going to break your heart, but much of the music you heard in the ’60s and early ’70s wasn’t recorded by the people you saw on the album covers,” he said. “It was done by me and the musicians you see on these walls.”

Talk about a “Wizard of Oz” moment. Last week I traveled to Mr. Blaine’s home here to talk about his prolific career as the Buddy Rich of rock and pop recordings. I also wanted to know more about his role as the ringleader of the Wrecking Crew—an ad hoc group of about 30 highly skilled Hollywood studio musicians who played the instruments on thousands of hit records released between 1961 and 1976.

Many baby boomers still remember the outrage that followed a magazine’s revelation in 1967 that the Monkees didn’t play on all of their recordings. It turns out that neither did the Beach Boys, the Mamas & the Papas, the Byrds, the Association, Jan & Dean and dozens of other rock groups of the era. That honor belongs to Mr. Blaine and the Wrecking Crew, whose members included Glen Campbell and Leon Russell.

If rock is about a beat, and a beat is about the drums, then the 82-year-old Mr. Blaine is arguably one of America’s greatest living rock musicians. Wednesday marks 50 years since he recorded his first No. 1 hit—Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Mr. Blaine went on to appear on 38 additional chart-toppers, including the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the Mamas & the Papas’ “Monday, Monday,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and the Carpenters’ “(They Long to Be) Close to You.”

Those represent just a fraction of his output. Mr. Blaine’s beats set hips twisting on upward of 5,000 songs—many of them also hits. He even was the drummer on the Grammys’ “Song of the Year” for six years in a row from 1966 to 1971. In this regard, Mr. Blaine has no living peer. On Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, Mr. Blaine’s nearest rival is the Beatles with a measly 20 No. 1 hits.

(click here to continue reading Hal Blaine, the Wrecking Crew | Who Else Made More Hit Songs? | Cultural Conversation with Marc Myers – WSJ.com.)

From WIkipedia a list of #1 hits that Hal Blaine played on:

#1 hits

plus a list of songs that he played on (damn, he was busy!)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 23rd, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Music

Tagged with

Artists and Payoffs

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Romans Discussing Motor Scooters 1993

Justin Moyer tries to point the finger at artists who play for “undesirables”

Paul Robeson penned a tribute to Stalin. Bob Marley played for Robert Mugabe. And Paul Simon and Queen performed in apartheid-era South Africa. Chart-topping musicians don’t just win Grammys and score endorsement deals – they get paid mega-bucks to perform in unsavory places for unsavory people. Usually no one pays attention.

But not last week. When the big paydays that R&B stars got from the Gaddafi family became public, critics lashed out faster than Naomi Campbell denying taking blood diamonds.

(click here to continue reading Beyonce and Mariah Carey sang for the Gaddafis. Now they’re changing their tune..)

Well, except all of the examples Justin Moyers cites were big deals. I had heard of all of them, and so did you too in all probability. Not to mention that these incidents took place in the quaint era before internet gossip rags, and before the 24 hour cable news networks set the agenda.

Let’s peek at how big of a deal, via the magic of Google.

  1. Paul Robeson and Stalin yields: about 149,000 hits
  2. Bob Marley and Robert Mugabe: about 47,000 hits
  3. Paul Simon in apartheid-era South Africa: about 382,000 hits
  4. Queen Plays in South Africa: about 15,600,000 hits, some1 of which are about the performing artists who performed as Queen.

So, on to the bigger point: should we criticize the artists who took money from dictators, and bankers, and other undesirables? Or the Medicis, or Bill Gates? Even if the artists are already wealthy, like Beyonce, Usher, Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Lionel Richie, 50 Cent? I don’t like the music of any of these pop stars who took Libyan blood-for-oil dollars, but that isn’t relevant. Unless the National Endowment of the Arts suddenly becomes a pet project of the G.O.P.2, artists should be able to get paid without sniping from the chattering classes.

Footnotes:
  1. most? []
  2. ha ha, I know, bad joke []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 5th, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Posted in Music,politics

Tagged with , ,

Natural Mystics: Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer

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On my reading list:

 

Over one dramatic decade, a trio of Trenchtown R&B crooners, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley, swapped their 1960s Brylcreem hairdos and two-tone suits for 1970s battle fatigues and dreadlocks to become the Wailers – one of the most influential groups in popular music. From youth to early adulthood, they had been inseparable; united in their ambition, through musical harmony and financial reward, to escape Jamaica’s Trench Town ghetto. On the cusp of success however, they’d been pulled apart by the elevation of Marley as first among equals and by the razor sharp instincts of Chris Blackwell, the shrewd and charming boss of Island Records. “I & I: The Natural Mystics” examines for the first time the story of the Wailers, arguing that these musicians offered a model for black men in the second half of the twentieth century: accommodate and succeed (Marley), fight and die (Tosh) or retreat and live (Wailer). It charts their complex relationship, their fluctuating fortunes, musical peak, and the politics and ideologies that provoked their split. Following their trail from Jamaica through Europe, America, Africa and back to the vibrant and volatile world of Trench Town, Colin Grant travels in search of the last surviving Wailer. He unravels the roots of their charisma, their adoption of the cult of Rastafari, their suspicion of race pimps and Obeah men (witch doctors), and illuminates why the Wailers were not just extraordinary musicians, but also natural mystics. “I & I” is a remarkable story of creativity, squandered talent and fierce ambitious rivalry – a mix of reportage and revelatory history by one of our best and brightest non-fiction writers.

And from the Guardian U.K.

Fans of the The King’s Speech could gain a different perspective on its pale-hued study of the British monarchy in the 1930s by reading this vivid biography of the Rastafarian reggae artists the Wailers. Colin Grant includes the story of Leonard Howell, imprisoned for two years for sedition in Jamaica in 1933. His crime? As a believer in the divinity of the recently crowned Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, “Ras Tafari”, he had been urging mass meetings to think of Ras Tafari rather than George V when they sang “God Save the King”. Black Jamaicans were already impressed by reports of white European royals such as the Duke of Gloucester kneeling at the feet of the diminutive black emperor. Were they at last, after centuries of oppression, seeing the beginning of “black man time”?

In fact, the society that produced Bunny Livingston (later “Bunny Wailer”), Bob Marley and Peter Tosh took three steps back for every four forwards in its restless search for an indigenous sense of self-worth. Rastafarians risked alienating other black Jamaicans who believed in more orthodox forms of improvement such as paid work, as well as the white settlers who lived in balmy luxury far from the filthy, overcrowded slums where the Wailers grew up. In Grant’s hands, life in Trench Town in the 1960s is energetic and theatrical, rich in comedy and tragic irony.

When Haile Selassie made an official visit to Jamaica in 1966, the airport was so thronged with would-be adherents that the emperor took one look and went back to his plane. The call went out for the charismatic local Rastafarian leader Mortimer Planno, the Wailers’ spiritual mentor, who climbed the plane’s steps and recited the second psalm to the multitudes. Then he stretched out his arms and said: “His Majesty want to come off the plane now.” The crowd miraculously parted, and Haile Selassie began his visit; but later the same day, Planno was turned away from the official reception at Government House.

(click here to continue reading I & I: The Natural Mystics, Marley, Tosh and Wailer by Colin Grant – review | Books | The Guardian.)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 20th, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Never Heard Of It Grammys

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Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi by The Kalima Brothers

I was amused that so many folks twittered complaining about their lack of knowledge about Arcade Fire that some wag created a tumblr blog devoted to the phenomenon. For the record, if you pay attention to a certain kind of music critic, you had heard of Arcade Fire. I mean, they’ve appeared on the Daily Show and the Colbert Report fer christsakes. But not everyone pays attention to these sorts of cultural signifiers.

Arcade Fire hasn’t sold enough units to be a household name apparently.

Nitsuh Abebe of the New York Magazine’s Vulture blog ruminates why, and what does it mean to be proud of one’s ignorance?

There are some obvious jokes to be made about people with Internet access using Twitter to complain about not knowing something, as opposed to using Google to look it up. But for the most part, this reaction — all these examples cherry-picked from teenage pop fans and bemused adults — is just plain normal. “Never heard of it”: This has been the natural and traditional response of all sorts of ordinary American humans to all sorts of phenomena. It’s not really about knowledge or information. It’s an argument, for the most part, and a faintly aggressive one — a way of insisting that what you pay attention to really does define the world. What you’ve heard of is real, and everything else is marginal. The center holds, and you are that center. You are normal and aware, and not just some tiny atomized entity that can only hope to know one tiny corner of the universe.

It used to be a little easier to get away with that. You could presume that you were an informed person and anything truly notable would have been brought to your attention at some point — and enough people would share your vantage point that you wouldn’t often be challenged on it. (The truer this was, the more attractive it was to pull the reverse move: that of the music aficionado who’s proud to have never even heard of the most popular artists in the country.) I feel like I can remember people acting baffled, twenty years ago, when some “weird” band called R.E.M. won a few Grammys — and this was an act that had multiple top ten singles, videos on MTV, and all the other monocultural perks that are no longer available to any but the most successful musicians. (They would have also had some underground haters looking at them as over-popular, middlebrow college-rock sellouts who’d stopped being good sometime in the mid-eighties; it always goes both ways.)

But that “never heard of it” chauvinism is harder to pull off these days, and it’s a real problem with talking about music. The funny part is that while the Internet tends to make people feel like they’re more aware of what’s happening in music, and what “everyone” else is talking about, it’s just as effective at doing the opposite — sustaining all different kinds of huge and vibrant music worlds, to the point where whichever one you’re aware of is surely just a single weird corner among many, many more. Look at any forum or comments box where random strangers find themselves talking about music, and you wind up peering into some kind of chauvinistic Tower of Babel: so many people fiercely sure that their vantage point is normal, despite being surrounded by so many staggeringly, radically different backgrounds, perspectives, and frames of reference.

(click here to continue reading Arcade Fire, and the ‘Never Heard of It’ Grammys — Vulture.)

For the record, Arcade Fire isn’t my favorite band, but I like them enough to own three of their records, including the one that won them a Grammy.

Written by Seth Anderson

February 15th, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Posted in Music

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Black Eyed Peas Are Horrible

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The Super Bowl’s half time show is always lame, but of all the spectacles I’ve seen1 the Black Eyed Peas was by far the worst. They weren’t even good lip syncers, much less musicians, or anything resembling entertainment. My focus group were laughing hysterically at the Black Eyed Peas antics, and not with them, at them. So bland, so mediocre.

And there was not even a chance at a wardrobe malfunction since Fergie seemed to be wearing some sort of breastplate to protect her nipples from destroying the nation.

Fergie Breast Plate Black Eyed Peas Super Bowl 45.jpg

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Black Eyed Peas began life a decade and a half ago as a socially conscious, dance-friendly underground hip-hop group and are now the ambassadors for hip-hop to the rest of the world. Their fundamental tenets remain — good cheer, movement, gauche taste — even as they churn out supersize, occasionless songs, at breakneck tempos, designed for maximum impact.

Theirs is music that works harder than the performers, which was a liability during the early part of the set, especially on “Boom Boom Pow,” one of the most limber pop songs in recent years, which the group delivered largely standing still, letting phalanxes of dancers around them do most of the work.

Those clusters of bodies were key. Unlike in previous years, in which fans were allowed on the field to suffocate the stage, this year, there were hundreds of dancers in illuminated unitards helping round out the Black Eyed Peas’ space show. They formed arrows to direct the eye to the stage, and during “Where Is the Love?” formed hearts, lit up red and scattered across the field.

After two songs, Slash was inserted into the setup for a jolt of arena rock, playing a crisp version of “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” dodging Fergie’s vocal and physical histrionics. That was for hip-hop novices, even though the Black Eyed Peas know how to service that audience on their own. They played “The Time (Dirty Bit),” which borrows from “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” (the theme from “Dirty Dancing”), and “Pump It,” which samples Dick Dale’s “Misirlou,” popularized in “Pulp Fiction.”

These are the group’s dimmest songs, the ones on which they pander the most. Stiffness aside, “Boom Boom Pow” was better, as was the relentless “I Gotta Feeling,” which opened and closed the set. The show peaked when Usher joined in, performing his hit “OMG,” which will.i.am produced and is featured on. But Usher’s spectacular choreography, including a high leap over a kneeling will.i.am, landing in a split, only highlighted the headliners’ weaknesses.

(click here to continue reading Hip-Hop Comes to the Super Bowl – NYTimes.com.)

At least they didn’t get paid:

In 2010 the group grossed a whopping $81.6 million from touring alone…So it may come as a surprise to learn what The Black Eyed Peas are earning for their halftime show at Super Bowl XLV: Nothing.

That’s right. Fergie, will.i.am, and those other two guys whose names you can never remember (for the record, they’re called Taboo and apl.de.ap) will not be receiving a performance fee for their efforts in Dallas. So why the charity? Because the acts that play Super Bowl halftime shows traditionally don’t get paid. A better question: Why have dozens of other high-profile acts agreed to play the Super Bowl for free?

The simple answer is exposure. At first glance, that sounds preposterous. Turn on any pop radio station and you’ll be hard-pressed to go more than seven minutes without getting the echoey, bass-laden, auto-tuned strains of The Black Eyed Peas firmly implanted in your brain. A remarkable 1.3 million people paid to see the Peas in concert last year alone

(click here to continue reading Why The Black Eyed Peas Aren’t Getting Paid For Their Super Bowl Gig – Zack O’Malley Greenburg – The Beat Report – Forbes.)

Greg Kot writes of the BEP:

The Peas didn’t exactly perform so much as cheerlead, their “Boom Boom Pow” just a centimeter or two removed from “sis-boom-bah.” With lyrics like Madison Avenue slogans plastered over relentless beats, the quartet’s big, proudly superficial music advertised and celebrated itself. It’s not meant to be scrutinized, but blasted over big speakers at Cowboys Stadium or in saloons worldwide hosting Super Bowl parties.

Coming in short minute-long bursts, the Peas’ songs actually benefited from the nervous, jump-cut energy of the medley, exiting long before their repetitiveness and trivality could become apparent. Even the second-tier Peas, Taboo and apl.de.ap, inexplicably got some screen time.

and of the National Anthem, as warbled by Christina Aguilera…

The National Anthem, as pole-axed by Xtina: At least Christina Aguilera looked dignified in a black outfit, in contrast to the dressed-down pole-dancer look she favors in concert and video. But after that things went downhill quickly. She bungled some words, leaving out the line, “O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming,” and instead repeating a line from earlier in the song. She stretched the approximately minute-long song to twice its length by making sure to punctuate just about every phrase with an inappropriate growl or melisma. On the first line, she transformed the word “night” into about seven syllables. On the final “brave,” she lingered on for more than 10 seconds before being drowned out, barely, by jet fighters zooming the stadium. As usual, Xtina managed to make even this most revered of songs sound like it was all about her.

(click here to continue reading Turn It Up: Super Bowl halftime review: Black Eyed Peas, plus pre-game music.)

eww.

Footnotes:
  1. I’ve watched most since 1982 or so, even in the hipster years when I didn’t own a television []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 7th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Music,Sports

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Robert Plant – Ethnomusicologist

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Long, if somewhat laudatory, interview with Robert Plant in Toronto by Ed Vulliamy1

 

Robert Plant’s music-making is like an hourglass. At the source of the process is a wider, more rapacious range of influences than those of any other singer, which converge through the bottleneck of Plant’s remarkable voice and muse, only to widen again into a delta of sound, incorporating and interweaving all of them. Plant once talked about “subliminal flutters passing Beefheart, Son House, Terry Reid and the call to prayer from the minaret of the Koutoubia in Marrakech, all waiting to contribute to the next sound”. “Every 16 bars, we visit another country,” Plant had told me while rehearsing in a barn in Wiltshire with his excellent band Strange Sensation in 2006, and he still does.

It starts with Delta blues, then follows them north with the migrations to southside Chicago, where Elmore James plugged the black man’s blues into the white man’s amplifier. Into that mix add “Jimmy Powell, Chris Farlowe, Steve Marriott and John Lennon” – the latter of whom haunts the Band of Joy’s track “Falling in Love Again”. The trails of Victorian explorer Richard Burton (whom Plant read as a boy) took him to north Africa and the discovery of those Indo-Arabic sound tapestries, and then there’s that often forgotten ingredient, on which Plant draws for his encore in Toronto: the lovely “I Bid You Goodnight”, an a cappella gospel song resurrected in the 1960s by the Incredible String Band. People often forget that Led Zeppelin were a folk band, too, drawing in no small part on the mystical history and song of the Welsh borderlands where Plant grew up and lives (at least nominally) — Celts, Saxons and Britons overlaying one another’s pagan and early mystical Christian roots. But, as Plant says, the String Band got the song from Joseph Spence and the Pindar family, who were Bahamanian.So a conversation with Plant in Toronto about the tributaries feeding the Band of Joy is a wild musicological crisscrossing of the Atlantic.We talk about young Plant in England, the son of civil engineer, with a passion for Wolverhampton Wanderers; but “with receptors wide open to everything”, too, transfixed by visits of Son House and the Delta bluesmen, “though it if it hadn’t been for people like Mike Bloomfield in America, Son House would never have been found driving a school bus, as he was”.

Particular concerts are recalled: Bukka White, Son House, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee at Birmingham town hall between 1963 and 1966. “When I met Sonny Terry,” says Plant, “he was blind, and I had to help him guide the rubber stamp he used to autograph albums”. But American bands of the 60s were meanwhile “doing things with songs like ‘The Bells of Rhymney’, and music that had come to America from the UK and Europe catalogued and collected by Cecil Sharp to Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress”. This is the music that, essentially, became Americana, that rich, mercurial gathering of folk, country, gospel, bluegrass and r’n’b.

In his introduction to Led Zeppelin’s “Gallows Pole” in Toronto, Plant gives the headbangers in his audience a brief lesson in its trajectory as “an English folk song” which came across the ocean “with the Pilgrim Fathers to Virginia, and down into Louisiana, where it was taken and made into a black song. We heard this song by a guy called Lead Belly back in the 60s”. Following three Atlantic crossings, from Plymouth to the deep south via Virginia, back to the Black

(click here to continue reading Robert Plant: the showman must go on | Music | Music | The Observer.)

I am a bit of a fledgling ethnomusicologist myself, and perhaps this is why Robert Plant is still interesting to my ears in a way that others from his era are not. I like his current Band of Joy album, you should give it a spin…

Footnotes:
  1. who admits:

    it was my great honor to be writing liner notes for Plant’s collected solo albums.

    []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 31st, 2011 at 9:54 am

Posted in Music

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