Archive for the ‘compilation’ Category

Album Review: Dave Van Ronk — Inside Dave Van Ronk

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

I’m not a folkie. When it comes to acoustic based music of the folk sort, my tastes are fairly limited: I own a decent-sized stack of Bob Dylan albums, that cat-chewed first Peter, Paul and Mary LP I got from my parents’ collection, and a few Phil Ochs albums. And that’s about it. I prefer the British Isles/European folk styles of Bert Jansch, Richard Thompson, and, well, Donovan.

But I’ve long been familiar with the name Dave Van Ronk, albeit only on a surface level. What I knew of him could be summed up in a sentence or two at most: he was part of that whole Greenwich Village scene, along with people like Rambin’ Jack Elliott. I had never heard a note of music by either of them, though. Still, when the Coen Brothers movie Inside Llewyn Davis was released, and I started hearing Van Ronk’s name more often, I figured it was time to give a listen. (The film takes some of its cues from Van Ronk’s life, I’m told; I haven’t seen the movie.)

As it happens, Concord Music Group, owner of the Fantasy back catalog, shrewdly chose right-about-now as the time to reissue Inside Dave Van Ronk, on vinyl and CD. So availing myself of a copy, I sat down to take in some folk. But first, I turned to my trusty and well-worn copy of the seminal rock-crit treatise, Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia. Wrote Ms. Roxon:

In the sixties, an age of lyric tenors, falsettos and angelic boy singers, Dave Van Ronk, who sings like a combination truck driver-lumberjack, seems strangely out of time and out of place. But if you’ve ever heard him after an evening of Judy Collins-Joan Baez sweetness, and if you’ve heard what he does with Joni Mitchell‘s “Both Sides Now,” giving it the gritty third dimension of a man who’s been there, then you know his time is coming.

Roxon was prescient about a lot of things, but Van Ronk’s time never truly did come. Or maybe it did. While he never shifted a whole lotta units, this was folk music, after all. But he was a respected, revered figure in the folk world, and his twenty-or-so albums are highly regarded within the folk idiom. Allmusic.com rates several of his albums as four-to-five star releases, and not a single rated one is less than three stars.

He began his recording career in 1959, and his fourth LP (recorded in early ’62) was released in 1964 as Inside Dave Van Ronk. On the record, Van Ronk performs unaccompanied acoustic guitar readings of a dozen tunes, all traditional numbers. And to the first-time listener, he sounds a bit like an American version of Nick Drake, albeit with a much gruffer voice and a simpler approach on the guitar. The choice of English folk tunes (“Fair and Tender Ladies,” to name one) alongside more recognizably American ones (“Kentucky Moonshiner”) heighten the similarity.

The Fantasy reissue isn’t a straight reissue f the original LP; no, it also includes the LP Dave Van Ronk / Folksinger (recorded in April ’62 at the same time as the Inside tracks, but released in 1967; go figure). It’s a mix of traditional tunes with some more modern numbers. So the CD features 25 tracks.

The two albums are very much cut from the same cloth, and it makes good conceptual sense to reunite the music all into one place. His reading of Reverend Gary Davis‘ “Cocaine Blues” is more rough-hewn than Drake’s version (included on the bootleg Tamworth-in-Arden). But it honors its source relatively faithfully. Van Ronk plays guitar and sings on the Folksinger tracks; he switches to the more expressive 12-string for Inside, and adds a bit of dulcimer, autoharp and harmonica as well. All the tracks are spare and unadorned, and sound like what they probably are: recordings made in a single pass, with Van Ronk pulling songs from his own repertoire and playing them the same way he would at a Village coffeehouse.

If that description sounds appealing, you’ll likely enjoy an hour-plus of Dave Van Ronk as presented on this set. The music makes no pretense to be anything more than it is: Van Ronk’s not musically arguing for the timelessness of these folk tunes. He’s merely presenting them for you to react however you see fit.

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Album Review: Various — The Del Shannon Tribute: Songwriter Vol. 1

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

The history of rock’n’roll is littered with artists who — for one reason or another – never quite got their due. Del Shannon is on that list. Best known as the man who gave the world the 1961 hit “Runaway,” he also achieved permanent trivia question-fodder status as the first American to cover a Beatles song on record, “From Me to You.” Shannon’s version actually hit the charts before the original did so.

Shannon enjoyed several hits (albeit mostly in the lower reaches of the charts) in the period 1961-67, and then faded from view for many years, due in large part to his alcoholism. Newly sober by the 80s, he enjoyed a brief return to prominence when the now-cult-status TV show Crime Story used “Runaway” as its theme song. Though he was mooted to replace Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys, that never came to pass. A lifelong sufferer of depression, Shannon took his own life in 1990.

His influence has persisted, though, and a new tribute album (with the hopeful subtitle “Volume 1”) is titled The Del Shannon Tribute: Songwriter. As the title suggests, this sixteen-track CD focuses on Shannon’s original works. A who’s who of powerpop and established-indie acts participated in this nonprofit, with proceeds going to the Del Shannon Memorial Scholarship Fund in Coopersville MI, the town in which Shannon grew up.

Kelley Ryan’s reading of “Drop Down and Get Me” has a pop-country (in the best way) feel that’s reminiscent of Jackie DeShannon or Marti Jones (the latter of whom also has a cut on this set). Her arrangement completely removes anything that would peg the obscure song as having been written decades ago.

Randy Bachman’s version of “Runaway” wisely steers clear of the original arrangement; instead, it’s a breezy, acoustic flavored tune that sounds like a modern number as well. Son Tal Bachman (who did “She’s So High” in 1999 and then all but disappeared) assists. The tune has a toes-in-the sand, cocktail-in-hand vibe.

Pixies singer/guitarist Frank Black turns in a dark, moody interpretation of “Sister Isabelle.” Like most of the artists on this collection, he makes the song his own. It’s a testament to Shannon’s songwriting skills that these songs nearly all up sounding like originals; his song construction allows each artist to sculpt the songs to their own aesthetic.

While Marshall Crenshaw is an esteemed songwriter himself, he often records thoughtfully-chosen covers. “The House Where Nobody Lives” is catchy, with subtle flavorings of Vox organ. The result sounds not wholly unlike a laid-back version of “Runaway” (it shares a similar structure and chord pattern).

Dave Smalley will be familiar to powerpop fans thanks to his work with The Choir (“It’s Cold Outside”) and The Raspberries. But the country flavor with which he imbues “Restless” might come as a surprise. It sounds more like something The Eagles (or Against the Wind era Bob Seger) might do.

The aforementioned Marti Jones turn in a two-step countrified “You Still Live Here.” Her clear-as-a-bell voice shines through on this old-fashioned weeper.

Back in the 90s, Nash Kato was one-third of Chicago scenesters Urge Overkill (that band is back together, sources say). A feedback-drenched high lonesome reading of “Silver Birch” continues in the countrified style that pervades this record.

Carla Olson and Peter Case pick things up with the ebullient “Keep Searchin’,” with all of the energy – albeit in acoustic fashion – one finds on Plimsouls records. Yes, it’ll probably remind you of “Runaway,” but it’s great anyway.

The Brittanicas are an American/Australian act (yup, technology allow such things) that have been covered in this blog before. Guitarist Joe Algeri (working as The JAC)’s latest EP Love Dumb is well worth seeking out. Here they tackle I Got You,” a melancholy number that’s well suited to their jangling approach.

I first met my pal Patrick Potts at 2012’s Americana Music Fest, while together we enjoyed the tribute to a band we both love, Big Star. So it’s no surprise that Patrick’s band The Drysdales takes on a chiming, catchy number like “I Go To Pieces,” one of the strongest tracks on this entire disc. Listen for a brief yet tasty guitar solo, and lots of George Harrison-esque rhythm guitar work.

I’m totally unfamiliar with husband-and-wife duo StayStillPills, but this Irish band’s take on the riffy rocker “Move it on Over” (a cowrite with Dennis Coffey) is another contender for the album’s best cut. Note to self: find out more about this act.

Joe Glickman & the Zippity Doo Wop Band are equally unknown to me. Their yakety-sax version of “So Long Baby” is gimmicky and retro; they sound like a cross between They Might Be Giants and Sha Na Na. Tracks like this are why the “skip” button was invented. The track is redeemed – if only slightly – by the participation of Max Crook, Musitron player on the original “Runaway.”

Lovely electric 12-string adorns Richard Snow’s cover of “Over You.” Snow played and engineered every sound heard on the track.

The Rubinoos take a retro approach to “Hats Off To Larry,” but in their capable hands, the backward-looking approach works. The tune is a joyous, fun-filled couple of minutes, featuring the par excellence vocals of Jon Rubin, and a tasty horn section. And though it might seem a bit odd, the drum throne is ably filled on this track by Nick D’Virgilio, former drummer/lead singer for America’s best prog band, Spock’s Beard.

Overlord is the third totally-unknown-to-me act on this set. They turn in a gentle, Merseybeat flavored cover of Del Shannon’s “Kelly.” While everything about the tune is well done, it’s the vocal harmonies that truly excel.

Pop auteur Don Dixon wraps up the disc with “Distant Ghost.” The subtle, midtempo number ends the album on a suitably melancholy note.

The Del Shannon Tribute: Songwriter (Volume 1) is a belated sampler of the underappreciated songwriting talents of this American artist, as interpreted by an excellent collection of sympathetic acts influenced by him. Recommended.

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Hundred-word Reviews: Deluxe Packages

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Each of these is a multi-disc set collecting archival (and sometimes previously-unreleased) music, but other than that, there’s little to connect these releases in any stylistic fashion: Celtic soul, proto-funk/pop, hard rock, comedy spoken word, and psychedelic post-punk. All have been sitting on my desk awaiting review for far too long. So, here ya go.

Van Morrison – Moondance (Expanded Edition)
Moondance was released in 1970, and several tracks – “Crazy Love,” “Caravan,” “Into the Mystic” and the title track ( a de rigueur dance-band number) – have since assumed “standard” status. And that kind of over-saturation can result in people forgetting just how good the album really was/is (see also: Led Zeppelin’s fourth LP). A new 2CD set appends eleven outtakes – all previously unissued – to the album. The outtakes add to the listener’s understanding of the album as an organic whole, and there’s even a 4CD version (with more unreleased goodies) available as well.


Various – Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound
The Diminutive Purple One didn’t spring forth fully formed; the Minneapolis scene had long been a breeding ground for all kinds of r&b talent. And while most never broke out in any major way (Morris Day being a notable exception), they left behind a cache of music. Those crate-digging folks at Numero Group have unearthed the best of these and compiled them in three formats (2CD w/book, 4CD w/book, MP3). It’s really more of a book with a soundtrack than the reverse; at 144pp, one can delve deeply into the history of African-American modern r&b out of the Twin Cities.


Deep Purple – Now What!? (Gold Edition)
You can be forgiven for initially looking upon this release with skepticism. After all, Deep Purple’s high water mark came in the very early 1970s. Like so many hard rock bands of their ilk, they floundered creatively (and commercially) in the 1980s and beyond, releasing little of note and becoming somewhat faceless. So it’s some great surprise to learn that the group (comprised mostly of prime-era members) has roared back with their best album in decades. Now What!? sounds and feels like the Deep Purple of old, and a bonus disc of live tapes show that it’s not sessioner trickery.


The First Family – 50th Anniversary Edition
The early 1960s was a golden era for the comedy LP; releases from Bob Newhart, Allan Sherman and others enjoyed success in the marketplace. While those vintage LPs make for quite the dated, quaint listen today, they’re fun nonetheless. The First Family capitalized on craze for all things Camelot, when the public couldn’t get enough of the Kennedy clan. A followup album (cut five months later) got much less notice, and when JFK was killed in November of that year, most people quietly shelved the first LP. Both are gathered together with some bonus material for this 2CD anniversary set.


Red Temple Spirits – s/t
This package has an extremely high “boutique” quotient; how else to describe a set that places CDs in what look like embossed, wax-paper sleeves, encased in a gold-toned envelope? This is one set that won’t fit on your CD shelf, nor will it stand alone like some box set. And the music – post-punk from the late 1980s – isn’t the sort of pretty, filigreed stuff you’d expect to get this kind of treatment. It will appeal to fans of Public Image Limited; though RTS was California-based, vocalist William Faircloth added a veddy British vibe to the goth-rock proceedings.

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Here Come the Small Faces, Part Three

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Continued from Part Two

Ian McLagan relates an amusing story, one that illustrates his old band’s far-reaching influence. “When working on The Small Faces DVD a few years ago, I was doing an interview with Rob Bowman, the guy who wrote the definitive book on Stax Records [Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records]. We listened to a CD of previously-unreleased cuts by Booker T. & the MGs and The Mar-Keys. One of the tracks was called ‘Carnaby Street.’ I mentioned that track to him – how much I loved it – and he said, ‘No, you were first.’ ‘What?’ I said. ‘That lick,’ he told me, ‘was from “Tin Soldier.” So you did it first.’” McLagan pauses a moment to let it sink it. “Can you imagine? Your idols. It just blows my mind.”

A big fan of all things Memphis (“Stax is Mecca for me”), McLagan recalls visiting the Stax Museum a few years ago. “There’s big sign on the tape machine that reads, ‘Do Not Touch the Scully.’ I slapped my hand on that thing so fucking fast: ‘ I am touching the Scully. Fucking sue me!’” he chuckles.

McLagan tells me he has an album in the can, called United States. He expects it to come out in the spring. A live DVD has also been completed; its release will likely be sometime after United States is released. “And I’ve already got a bunch of songs ready for the following album,” McLagan says.

Meanwhile, there’s a treasure trove of previously unreleased, alternate, outtake type material on this new Here Come the Nice box set. Like fans, Both McLagan and Kenney Jones are hearing these cuts for the first time. “I was listening to the outtake of ‘Tin Soldier’ and remembered on hearing it that Steve [Marriott] had originally had a guitar intro that we dumped. But,” he laughs heartily, “we had worked so hard on it!” Jones adds that “listening to some of the studio banter is really a thrill. You feel like you’re back in the studio again. You can almost smell the hash and smoke!” He goes on to observe the “real” feel of the sessions, in vivid contrast with many modern recording which he finds too clinical, too rigid.

As far as the new compilation, McLagan is very pleased with the results. “Rob Caiger [box set producer] has done an amazing job; kudos to him for working so hard on it for such a long time. He’s a great ferret for having located all these master tapes from America and London, from fans, and so on.” McLagan relates the story – chronicled in Here Come the Nice‘s book – of how many studio master tapes had been abandoned in a skip [Americans call it a dumpster], to be retrieved and hidden away for many years by fans.

Ian McLagan provides further evidence of Caiger’s uncanny ability to find long-lost material: “He’s discovered film from the Marquee Club, live footage of Jimi Hendrix, The Small Faces, The Who and others. When the Marquee closed, someone just took all the stuff home with him. Nobody was interested in all these film cases. So he’s discovered loads of stuff! Hopefully, eventually there’ll be a Marquee DVD.”

But what about further unreleased material from The Small Faces? “I don’t think there’s any…” McLagan interrupts himself. “Well, people always ask me about The Ronettes song; there’s one track that often comes up in interviews. But I don’t remember having ever heard, having ever recorded it. But apparently we cut ‘Be My Baby’ at some point. I don’t remember. But then I don’t remember cutting ‘Get Yourself Together,’ either! Paul Weller told me about that one,” he recalls. “No memory of it. And now I play it every show!” [That track was released as the French b-side to “Here Come the Nice,” and as an a-side in, of all places, Thailand. – bk] For his part, Jones hopes and believes that the multi-track masters for Ogden’s will someday turn up. And when that happens, he’d like to “remix the album with Glyn Johns.”

Jones says he has mixed emotions when listening to these long-lost tapes. “The great thing was really being able to go back in time. It’s like a window, an opportunity to step back into The Small Faces’ atmosphere. And he’s especially pleased with the remastering done on this new collection. “Existing technology has allowed us to add more bass [frequencies] and lead and top where it should be,” he says. “Over the years, with [other] people re-releasing it, they have not even cared what it sounded like. But now, it’s really brought out Ronnie Lane‘s bass playing. You can now hear what a great bass player he really was.” Kenney Jones believes that, with the release of Here Come the Nice, “wrongs have been put right.”

More information on Ian McLagan can be found at ianmclagan.com. Kenney Jones tweets at @KenneyJones. The official Small Faces website – with details on the new box set – is here. And that new 4CD box set – Here Comes the Nice – is available exclusively from Amazon.com

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Here Come the Small Faces, Part Two

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Continued from Part One

Kenney Jones believes that The Small Faces‘ four-way collaborative process affected the songs to a large degree. “A lot of ideas…if I was saying something, it might affect what they’d do. Steve [Marriott] or Ronnie [Lane] might come up with a hook based on what I’d said.”

Ian McLagan recalls the songwriting process that the band used. “Because we were on the road a lot, Steve and Ronnie were writing all the time. Particularly in the early days, Kenney and I shared a room, and Steve and Ronnie shared a room. So they would be working in their room. We didn’t spend much time apart; we loved each others’ company, and all we wanted to do was play music. So after a gig, we played guitars in the hotel rooms. But sometimes Steve would come in with a song – we didn’t do demos, really, not until later – like ‘All or Nothing.’ That one pretty much wrote itself, and it’s mostly him. And some were more Ronnie’s, and some were more of a collaboration.”

“Because Ronnie and Steve wrote together,” Jones says, “when we all lived together, we were all involved somewhat. When everyone moved into their own flat, that encouraged us all to work on our own a little bit more. So everyone would come in [to the studio] with half-finished ideas, and Ronnie’s idea might fit into Steve’s, or one into the other.” He adds, “it’s a healthy way to do things, I think.”

“It was very quick,” McLagan says. “It boggles the mind, and reminds me a bit of how Lennon and McCartney worked. How much stuff, how much great music they recorded in such a short time. You get into a place, and you never really go there again. I loved those days. I look back very fondly on all those laughs we had, and all that music. I was reading the liner notes of this new box set, and I saw where it said, ‘take 14.’ Fourteen? I’d never do fourteen takes these days! Three, four, maybe five. Then move on to another song, and come back to it. You lose the looseness of it when you start thinking of playing. Then you’re not really playing a song; you’re being Ian McLagan playing the keyboards on something.”

These days, the music that McLagan does with The Bump Band seems to follow logically from the kind of music he did with The Small Faces, drawing upon the influences of American forms like soul, r&b and honky tonk. “And New Orleans, too,” McLagan suggests. “Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and James Booker, all those great players. And I’m flattered to think that my slip is showing, that those influences come through.”

“My influences haven’t really changed, ever,” McLagan says. “First of all, it was Buddy Holly. He was everything to me. I was lucky to have a brother who was two years older than me; he had a record player. And a girl who lived two doors away, who was almost like a sister to me, also had a record player and a record collection. And I still listen to that stuff today.”

The most celebrated of all original Small Faces albums is 1968′s Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. It’s one of those curious albums of the 1960s: it was massively popular in the UK, and has endured as a critics’ favorite, but despite that acclaim, it was for many years all but unknown in the USA (it briefly charted at #159). “We didn’t know that!” laughs McLagan. He suggests that the band’s absence as a touring entity in the USA might have contributed to the albums lack of success. “It would have been good to have toured, but there you are.”

Ogden’s won’t be unknown for much longer,” Jones suggests. He’s working on making the story into a full-length animated film. He notes that the album “has a bit of a cult following” in the USA, and believes that had The Small Faces toured America, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake “would have sold like hotcakes.” Jones chuckles and observes that “in America, people tend to get stoned a little more. And the very best way to listen to that album is…stoned.”

Jones explains that “one side of Ogden’s tells a story of a character called Happiness Stan. The lyrics tell the story. But when you write out the lyrics, it’s readily apparent that the story line is incredibly thin. It works all right on record, but it doesn’t work if you try to tell the story.” (At this point I consider asking him if he feels the same way about Tommy, but instead I bite my tongue.) “So,” he continues,” you need to beef it up. Especially if you’re going to make it into a film. So without losing respect for the album and the songs and the content, the plan is to enhance the story line by inventing a few characters to it. No one can mess with the original, and I like to think that if we had stayed together, we would have reworked it anyway. Very much like The Who did with Tommy.” (There! He brought it up so I didn’t have to!)

“I’ve asked Pete Townshend to write a song for it,” Jones reveals. “But I’ve got to finish the story and script first. Because even Pete says, you have to write the story before he can write a song to it.”

Ogden’s did get something of an audiovisual presentation on its original release; a BBC special featured the band playing selected songs from the album, interspersed with wacky wordplay readings by Stanley Unwin. “We wanted to play live,” Jones recalls, “but the BBC wouldn’t let us. So we had to mime. And for his narration, Stanley Unwin had a king’s outfit on. That was,” he laughs,” completely not the image we wanted him to portray. He should have looked like Merlin. But they didn’t have any ‘Merlin hats’ in the prop department!”

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Here Come the Small Faces, Part One

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

The 1960s were a staggeringly fertile period for pop music. And – thanks in no small part to the success of The Beatles – a disproportionate (though completely deserved) share of that music came out of the British Isles. Still, owing to any number of factors, several British artists of consistently high quality failed to expand their commercial success beyond their shores. In some cases, that failure was due to bad luck: The Kinks, for example, ran afoul of the Musicians’ Union in the USA and found themselves effectively banned from performing stateside for many years. The Move were perhaps just too topically British in their outlook, a tad ahead of their time in terms of their media-savvy approach.

And perhaps it was that strong whiff of British-ness, and a feeling that it somehow wouldn’t translate to American audiences, that kept The Small Faces off of the U.S. charts. Though they released five albums in the UK in the years 1966-69, only one of those – 1967′s Small Faces, a modified version of which was released in the USA as There Are But Four Small Faces – received anything like proper distribution. So it was that when guitarist/vocalist Steve Marriott left, and the band broke up in 1968 (with their last LP, 1969′s The Autumn Stone already in the can), the event went all but unnoticed by American audiences.

A later version of the group would, however, go on to great success in the States and elsewhere; The Faces rose from the ashes of the old group, with Ronnie Lane (bass), Kenney Jones (drums) and Ian McLagan (keyboards) adding former Jeff Beck Group vocalist Rod Stewart to the lineup. But over the years, the sides cut by the original Small Faces have assumed legendary status, exerting a great influence on many rock bands –most notably, but not exclusively, 90s Britpop acts – who’d follow in their wake.

Steve Marriott – who had gone onto success of his own with Humble Pie – died in a house fire in 1991, and Ronnie Lane – long suffering from Multiple Sclerosis – passed away in 1997. Surviving members McLagan and Jones continued (and continue) to be deeply involved in music; McLagan toured on and off with The Rolling Stones for many years, and these days lives in Austin TX and leads The Bump Band. Jones replaced Keith Moon in The Who for a couple of years, and these days is involved in a number of philanthropic endeavors as well as leading a band called The Jones Gang.

Jones and McLagan recently reunited offstage to help curate a new collection of Small Faces music called Here Come The Nice. This set – available only from Amazon.com – brings together 75 songs: every single the band ever released (both A- and B-sides) plus their EPs are collected on this 4CD set. The first disc collects all of those singles (a more modestly-priced single-CD set replicates Disc One of the box set; it’s housed in a nice hardcover mini-sleeve of its own). The second and third discs feature studio session tapes, and a fourth disc features live versions and outtakes. The package also includes a hardbound coffee table book, color-vinyl 7” EPs, a facsimile of a studio acetate, two posters, and much more, making it essential for the hardcore Small Faces fan. But the music’s appeal is much wider than that.

One of the most distinctive features of The Small Faces’ music was their very prominent use of keyboards within the pop format. True, plenty of other pop groups used electric piano and organ as a sort of filigree, and the more progressive groups would center music around keyboards, but The Small Faces were unique in their ability to use keyboard as a central element in tunes that rocked. “I must say that I always feel that I’m playing in guitar bands,” says Ian McLagan. “So I always think of the guitar as central; I try to find a part that’s different, that accents it without playing the same thing as the guitar. That’s really my job, and I think it’s the job of most keyboard players.” He adds, “The Bump Band’s my band, but I still treat it the same way.”

“When ‘Mac’ joined the band,” says Kenney Jones, “it was such a revolutionary change for us. It gave us a whole new dimension. I had never worked with a keyboard player before. And from my point of view, my drum playing accelerated more under the influence of what Ian was playing.”

Thinking back on The Small Faces tunes, McLagan notes, “Sometimes [at first] I wouldn’t really know what to play. I’d listen to a song, and sit at the piano and figure out what the chords were. Sometimes I’d turn to Ronnie – because he always had ideas – and I’d say, ‘I don’t know what to play on this!’ Especially on his songs. And he might say, ‘Well, there’s that space there [vocalizes a melody].’ I’d try that, and it would give me an ‘in’ to the song.” He adds, “The other guys would always have solid ideas, but they’d leave it up to me unless I asked. And Kenney would feel the same. We liked the same music, so if Steve played something, I’d often know what I’d play with it. It became second nature.”

In the very early days, McLagan often played a Hohner Pianet, an electric keyboard with a sound similar to a Wurlitzer. (It can be heard on The Beatles’ “The Night Before,” among many other popular songs.) “I wanted one because Rod Argent of The Zombies used one. And I still like Hohners; these days I use a Duo, just like Terry [Adams] in NRBQ.”

With a few exceptions, most of The Small Faces’ original material is credited to Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. But as is generally the case with such things, all four band members had a hand in the arrangements. McLagan agrees: “It should always say, ‘Arranged by The Small Faces.’ In fact,” he adds, “’Produced by The Small Faces’ too. Andrew [Loog Oldham] got Steve and Ronnie and said, ‘you’re the writers, so you’re the producers,’ but we were all there, all of the time. But it doesn’t really matter; it’s the music that matters.” He laughs and adds, “You don’t get paid for being a producer on a Small Faces record!”

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DVD Review: Happening ’68 Vols. 1-3 (Part Two)

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Continued from Part One

The aforementioned Aretha Franklin segment is of particular interest, as it shows the off-the-cuff nature of the program. As Lindsay is discussing the soul singer’s career with guest Jackie DeShannon, they note that Aretha was “on Columbia” (also Paul Revere and the Raiders‘ label) for five years, but “didn’t go anywhere.” The clear implication is that Columbia didn’t serve Franklin’s career well. An entire episode (aired March 15, 1969) is devoted to Wilson Pickett, who – unlike most musical guests – appears with his entire band. Pickett tears things up – even though he’s miming like everyone else (though some reports suggest the performance was live; you decide) — and gives a fun if brief interview.

A charming regular feature on Happening was the garage band contest. Local groups from around the country would mime to some or other cover version, and celebrity judges would pick the best. The list of prizes will boggle the minds of modern audiences (a Pontiac Firebird?! $2500 in Vox musical equipment?!) but the truly amazing part of all this is the tunes covered. One might hear a vocal version of Cannonball Adderley‘s 1966 hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” Spirit‘s “Got a Line on You,” a cover of Johnnie Taylor‘s “Who’s Makin’ Love,” and other left-field-for-daytime-TV tunes. Often the judges’ decisions are suspect, but it’s a hoot seeing these often pimply teenagers make their bids for the big time (grand prize included a “recording contract” with either ABC or A&M, but history does not record any great success visited upon whichever band won on Happening).

By 1968 an industry veteran, Mark Lindsay seems quite comfortable and natural in front of the camera. Lindsay comes off pretty well throughout, ad-libbing his way through brief, light interview segments with such stars of the days as Ross Martin (who surprises everyone by telling Lindsay that his show Wild Wild West is simultaneously “in great shape” and cancelled), Jay North (former Dennis the Menace, then star of the TV show Maya, with co-star – and Raider — Keith Allison), James Doohan (Star Trek‘s “Scotty”), Mission: Impossible‘s Greg Morris, and many others.

A “Happening News” segment featuring Teen magazine editor Sue Cameron offers up Hollywood gossip and so forth, presumably priming the teen audience for the adult versions to come in subsequent era in the form of Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and similar shows.

Paul Revere plays the irreverent fool throughout, mugging and offering up endearing slapstick. He often calls Lindsay “Bobo” (huh?) and “my pony-tailed nitwit” and engages in endless in-jokery. Happening seemingly went to production with the barest of scripts, instead preferring to riff on the undeniable chemistry between Revere, Lindsay and their guests.

A nice bonus on many of these episodes is the inclusion of the original commercials. These show – should there remain any doubt – that the program was aimed squarely at teenage girls. But some of the ABC-TV commercials promoting other programs such as The Mod Squad (“Cops: one black, one white, one blonde”) and The FBI are a time-capsule scream.

These DVDs are highly recommended, but be warned that since these transfers are sourced from various private collector caches, the video quality varies episode to episode. These are pretty rare; when I discussed Happening with Lindsay, he admitted that he had only a couple of the episodes in his own collection. (I dubbed copies of some that I had, including a few poorer-quality transfers not found here.) Until DCP sees fit to release legitimate archival copies (assuming they even exist), these DVDs from [redacted] are your only option.

UPDATE: I am told that it’s no longer available.

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DVD Review: Happening ’68 Vols. 1-3 (Part One)

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Though it’s often forgotten today, in the mid 1960s, Paul Revere and the Raiders were just about the most prominent rock’n'roll band in popular culture. Sure, The Beatles had their records all over the charts, and had films like A Hard Day’s Night and Help! And yes, The Monkees had their own weekly television show. But Pacific Northwest-relocated-to-L.A. legends Paul Revere and the Raiders got more screen exposure than The Beatles and The Monkees put together, thanks to their TV show Where the Action Is, televised Every. Single. Weekday. Just after school, Monday through Friday on ABC-TV, the Raiders served as the “house band” for this Dick Clark production. Featuring mimed performances from all manner of musical guests, plus goofy, vaudeville-styled skits, the show was a fixture of teenage viewers’ TV diet.

The show ran its course after a few seasons, but thanks to Raiders manager Roger Hart‘s idea about a vehicle for lead singer Mark Lindsay and bandleader Paul Revereone that, as he put it, took a look at what was happening on the pop scene – the duo scored their own variety show. A pair of shows, actually: Happening ’68 (shortened to Happening for its 1969 following season) was broadcast weekly, and a summer show called It’s Happening was televised daily throughout the summer of 1968.

None of these programs has ever gotten official/sanctioned release on any format; though a stunning-quality copy of the Where the Action Is pilot circulates among collectors, and scattered episodes of WTAI, Happening ’68/Happening and It’s Happening have been preserved in varying quality by fans, Dick Clark Productions has never seen fit to preserve – much less release – these exemplars of 60s mainstream pop culture. As Mark Lindsay told me in a 2010 interview, apparently Clark viewed WTAI in particular as a “red-headed stepchild” and had no interest in it once the show ended its run.

But thanks to those previously-mentioned collectors – and one specific intrepid collector – twelve episodes of Happening ’68/Happening are available on (unauthorized) DVD. Those twelve episodes – spread across three discs – build on the format of Where the Action Is, but put Revere and Lindsay out front as hosts.

The earlier episodes lean more on the duo kitsching around onstage in front of a studio audience; modern-day viewers will likely find those awful-pun-filled bits either charming or dreadful (or somewhere in between). There’s an innocent charm about them, which is not exactly the quality one might expect from pop culture product of 1968. (This was aimed at kids, however.) And the Raiders (with a band name shortened to nudge their hip-quotient back up) only occasionally appeared, miming to their latest single. And in general, said Raiders – especially short-timer bassist Charlie Coe – seemed to pretty well phone it in, barely making an effort at the choreography that had long been a group trademark.

Still, even semi-live-action clips of the Raiders performing “Let Me,” “Cinderella Sunshine” and other late-period singles is always a treat. And in one episode (originally aired May 25, 1968) the band tackles “Free,” a non-single, deep album cut from the band’s Something’s Happening LP. In that same episode – featuring the inimitable Lee Hazlewood doing his “Rainbow Woman” – the Raiders turn in a Spanish-language version of “Mo’reen.” To date, that track hasn’t surfaced on any of the Paul Revere and the Raiders CD reissues.

Other episodes – in mostly good quality black-and-white – feature an assortment of musical guests, ranging from Etta James, Aretha Franklin (on tape), Peter Lawford(!) doing a cheesy MOR tune, and more pop/rock acts that would appeal to most viewers. That last category includes Tommy Roe, The Grass Roots, The Cowsills, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (in a youth voting-themed episode) and any others of note. The Friends of Distinction make their national television debut performing “Grazing in the Grass,” and a Peter Tork-less Monkees trio guests, taking part in an interview segment with Revere and Lindsay that ranks as the most revealing and intimate part of the entire series.

Available HERE. Aha…I am told that it’s no longer available.

The review is continued here…

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Re-Revisiting Creedence, Part Three

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Continued from Part Two

Bill Kopp: With Creedence Clearwater Revisited, you and Stu Cook and the guys pretty much run through all of the hits. You’ve been playing those songs hundreds of times a year for well more than forty years. And you look and sound like you’re having a ball, not merely going through the motions. What keeps it fresh for you?

Doug “Cosmo” Clifford: Well, it really wasn’t forty years. Because we had a 25 year break! Unlike The Beach Boys, who have been playing the same songs since 1962.

Good music doesn’t get old. Especially something that you put your heart and soul into, something that was a childhood dream come to fruition. We look out at the fans and think, “My gosh, there are kids out there!” We have more young fans than we have fans of, shall we say, the older generation. That fan base keeps growing, and it’s a wondrous thing for me.

BK: This is a bit of a pretentious kind of question, so I hope you’ll forgive me for asking it. Where do you see CCR fitting into the history of rock and popular music? What, to you, is the band’s legacy from a musical standpoint?

DC: I think that we were the best garage band in the world.

We came out at a time in which we were really oddballs. Our musical style…certainly in the San Francisco scene, we never really belonged there. But we dominated both AM and FM radio. Our peers called us the boy scouts of rock’n'roll and laughed at us. But I talked to those guys years later, and the guys in The Grateful Dead said they hated us: “We wanted a hit single so bad, but we never got one. And you guys were just popping ‘em out, popping ‘em out.” So they called us sellouts, a Top 40 band.

We had a work ethic; we were straight and sober, whether it was a show in Madison Square Garden or a daily jam. It was a pact we made at the Fillmore, after seeing one of the local bands. They were so high, they weren’t even in tune. And after the show, they were giving each other high-fives: “Man, we’ve never sounded better!” And we agreed we were never gonna do that.

BK: Not Moby Grape, I hope…

DC: No. We loved them! We never had that feeling about those guys. We saw them whenever we could. But three bucks was a lot when we were broke. Either that, or we were working somewhere. But when we had an opportunity to see Moby Grape, we took that opportunity. I think they were one of the most underrated bands; it’s a shame they had such a short life.

BK: You and Stu have been best friends since childhood; you’re arguably one of the longest-running rhythms section in all of rock’n'roll. To what do you attribute your ability, your desire to keep making music together after all these years?

DC: It’s a part of our lives. Stu is like a brother; closer, even than a brother. We are exact opposites. So much for astrology, because we were born 30 miles apart, in less than ten hours apart. But we’re opposites, and I think that’s why it works. The classic Yin and Yang. We’ve been through so much, and we’ve always been the underdogs. I usually root for the underdogs; it keeps that fire in the belly.

BK: Any final thoughts on this new Box Set package?

DC: What I would say to anyone considering buying this set, if you really want to hear the evolution of a group from a very early age, and be able to listen to the growth of the band, paced over a ten-year period, it’s interesting. You can hear the improvements. And even coupled with the disappointments, we kept going. We weren’t going to give up. There were times we came close: Stu and I were going to leave and go to college. And Tom’s wife was having fits with him being in the band. And then we saw The Beatles. And that was a shot in the arm for us. Because if four guys from Liverpool could come out with the same setup – bass, rhythm, lead and drums – then shame on us for thinking that we can’t.

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Re-Revisiting Creedence, Part Two

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: Continuing on that point, if I may. As much as I like the Golliwogs and Blue Velvets material, musically it – especially the earliest tracks – really doesn’t sound a lot like what we’d eventually come to know as the Creedence Clearwater Revival sound. Not just because Tom was singing lead, but the overall musical sound was different. Was it a case of one day hitting on the sound and the light bulb sort of went on, and everybody said “yeah, that’s it”… or something else?

Doug “Cosmo” Clifford: It wasn’t an overnight sensation. It’s evolution, really. When we started making records as Tommy Fogerty and the Blue Velvets, the rock’n'roll style that we were playing was certainly different than what we ended up doing. But the evolution took time; we switched lead singers as well. I was very happy that we went that direction, because I was really heavily influenced by r&b and the black artists of the day. Not leaving Elvis out, or that side of the coin, but I liked the r&b stuff better, as a drummer. It was something that grabbed me.

BK: Everybody knows that it’s John Fogerty‘s name on the composer credits for most of the songs. But as far as the arrangements, how in general did those develop: did he come in with a new song and tell everyone their parts, or did he make demos of them by himself (like Pete Townshend did with The Who)?

DC: It was a combination of those things, really. There were times when John would have ideas, and we’d come in and learn those songs. And there were times – basically, every day – when we were in the process of putting together an album, where we’d come in and jam.

For example, “Suzie Q.” We were playing in the clubs, five sets a night. And we needed to stretch material out! We were a Top 40 band. So we stretched that one out. But what happened is that I came up with the quarter-note feel – it had been a rockabilly song – and that change brought it more into a dance groove. And that’s the same thing that “Born on the Bayou” has: a quarter-note feel with accents. But there, I changed the bass drum parts. Taking out half the notes gave the songs more power; that was a trick I learned – again – from r&b.

I’ll give you an example that will summarize it for you: in the four years that we were Creedence Clearwater Revivial, we had twenty hits or whatever. And once John got rid of the guys who were “holding him back,” he’s had two top ten singles in forty years.

BK: Point taken.

DC: You read stuff [about Stu Cook and me] that says, “all they did was complain; they wanted to sing songs.” That’s bullshit! Tom wanted to sing songs. And Tom should have sung songs. We owed him; he brought us along when we were only thirteen years old, backing him up and starting the recording process. It was Tom’s dream, and he was a guy with a house, and a mortgage, and a regular job. And he gave it all up. It was courageous. And he shared it, handing the reins over to John. And how was he repaid? “Sit down and plan rhythm guitar, and shut the fuck up.”

Stu and I always took Tom’s side, so that put us in the doghouse. We weren’t saying we wanted to write or sing songs. What we were complaining about was the business. John – control freak that he is – had to be in charge of everything. And he lost the most: he doesn’t own his own songs to this day.

When we touch on those issues, I get a bit riled up. Because it was all so stupid.

BK: For both you individually and for CCR as a band, was the goal of live performance to re-create the studio versions, or was it an opportunity to re-frame them, to stretch out a bit, to put more of your own stamp on the songs?

DC: It was to push the album. We didn’t stretch much; the only time we did that was on “Keep On Chooglin’” and it was a sort of repetitive shuffle beat. That was the last song in our shows.

Another classic example of [John] punishing the guys in the band: we were playing a sold-out tour date in a basketball coliseum, somewhere in the Midwest. It was so loud, I thought the building was gonna come down; it was like a freight train, like standing next to it on the track. The building was shaking. We finished the show and went into our dressing rooms. I was pretty pumped up. I get pumped up; I’m a drummer. So we had three encore songs from which we would pick, and I asked, “John, what are we gonna do? What songs?” He said, “We’re not going to do an encore.” I laughed. And he shouted, “We’re not doing an encore! Encores are phony, and from this moment on, Creedence Clearwater Revival will never do another one!”

I said, “You’re wrong. You’re wrong.” and I went blind with rage. He was sitting at a table; I picked the table up with him on it, raised it up and he fell off, rolling against the building. Everything was in slow motion now. I realized that I had the table up over my head. I dropped it, and the legs broke off. I said again, “You’re wrong. You’re wrong.” And then I said, “Beer in the dressing room!” because up to then we weren’t allowed to have beer in the dressing room. I wanted something as a concession, and that was the only thing I could think of.

We never did another encore, and that was the beginning of the end. To me, when you go out [onstage], you’re going out to earn that encore.

 continued

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