Saturday, August 27, 2016

Guitarist Randy Bachman Demystifies the Opening Chord of The Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

by , Open Culture:

You could call it the magical mystery chord. The opening clang of the Beatles’ 1964 hit, “A Hard Day’s Night,” is one of the most famous and distinctive sounds in rock and roll history, and yet for a long time no-one could quite figure out what it was.

In this fascinating clip from the CBC radio show, Randy’s Vinyl Tap, the legendary Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive guitarist Randy Bachman unravels the mystery.

The segment (which comes to us via singer-songwriter Mick Dalla-Vee) is from a special live performance, “Guitarology 101,” taped in front of an audience at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto back in January, 2010. As journalist Matthew McAndrew wrote, “the two-and-a-half hour event was as much an educational experience as it was a rock’n’roll concert.”

hard days night chord

One highlight of the show was Bachman’s telling of his visit the previous year with Giles Martin, son of Beatles’ producer George Martin, at Abbey Road Studios. The younger Martin, who is now the official custodian of all the Beatles’ recordings, told Bachman he could listen to anything he wanted from the massive archive - anything at all.

Bachman chose to hear each track from the opening of “A Hard Day’s Night.” As it turns out, the sound is actually a combination of chords played simultaneously by George Harrison and John Lennon, along with a bass note by Paul McCartney. Bachman breaks it all down in an entertaining way in the audio clip above.

You can read about some of the earlier theories on The Beatles Bible and Wikipedia, and hear a fascinating account of one scholar’s mathematical analysis of the component sounds of the chord from a few years ago at NPR.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

BOOTLEG SERIES #15: Eric Clapton – Frost Amphitheatre, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, USA // 9th August 1975

Eric’s return to to the stage in 1974 saw him free from a certain demon for the first time since his Dominos period but a new demon had taken it’s place in the form of alcohol. As a result, there are a number of bootlegs from shows in 1974 that show Eric at his very worst. Unable to sing in key, unable to play like he once did, it’s one of the saddest things to listen to as a Clapton fan. 

But there were a number of shows where things came together brilliantly and this show at Frost Amphitheatre at Stanford University on the 9th August 1975 is one of them.

The band open with Layla which Eric originally recorded with Derek and the Dominos five years earlier. Compared to versions from bootlegs in 1974, Eric is on form vocally and the band sound incredibly tight. I don’t think any version of Layla post-1970 can be compared to when Derek and the Dominos played the song live on tour due to the lack of Jim Gordon and Duane Allman, but Clapton and George Terry manage to do the song justice.

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door is the second song which, personally, is an odd choice. It’s a good rendition but after six minutes of explosiveness in Layla it kills off any kind of momentum the band gathered since beginning the show. Tell The Truth manages to save things magnificently though and you immediately get the feeling that this should have followed straight after Layla

The opening guitar riff sets the tone well and Clapton sounds great on vocals, as does the rest of the band on their respective instruments. The guitar solo sections sound great and Carl Radle’s trusted and solid bass playing drives the song further and further towards blues/rock heaven.
  1. Layla
  2. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
  3. Tell The Truth
  4. Can’t Find My Way Home
  5. Key To The Highway
  6. Carnival
  7. Take Me Down To The River
  8. Badge
  9. Better Make It Through Today
  10. Blues Power
  11. Ramblin’ On My Mind
  12. Let It Rain
  13. Eyesight To The Blind (with Carlos Santana)
Things then turn acoustic with a laid back version of Blind Faith’s Can’t Find My Way Home. The song picks up brilliantly as it goes on with a well played harmonica solo in the mix. 

It’s followed closely by Key To The Highway which at this point is the third song to feature from Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos period. Whereas the version that featured on the Layla album contained explosive guitar playing from Clapton and Duane Allman, this version is more laid back. Clapton sounds good on vocals and when he takes a guitar solo mid-way through the song it resembles some of his former glory with the Dominos resulting in a thoroughly enjoyable performance. The song builds and builds over its near nine minute length after which the willing crowd roars its approval. 

The song Carnival follows which would feature on Clapton’s next studio album No Reason To Cry a year later in 1976. He introduces it as a “new one” before the band perform an extremely enjoyable rendition of the song, cemented by Jamie Oldaker’s superb drumming. The guitar playing on this track is nice too and you can sense the enjoyment coming from the band.

After Carnival comes Take Me Down To The River which takes the show in a different direction, but sadly the song is nothing more than a filler track. The band sound great but it pales in comparison to Badge, the song that follows. Clapton is in fine form here and the instrumental section is one of the highlights of the entire show with each member of the band firing on all cylinders. When you think things come to an end near the five minute mark, you’re hugely mistaken, because Clapton re-enters with that downward chord progression that makes Badge so enjoyable to listen to. 

Things then head in a more mellow direction with Better Make It Through Today from 1975’s There’s One In Every Crowd album. The song begins beautifully with Clapton singing from his soul before he turns things up a notch with a wah drenched solo mid-way through the song. The band and their ability to change the tone of this song is superb as they end it the way it begin, laid back and mellow before immediately feeding straight into Blues Power from Clapton’s debut 1970 solo album. 

This song was one of the most explosive when played by Derek and the Dominos, especially on their US tour of 1970, and the explosiveness returns in full force here, albeit in a slightly different form due to the larger band. Clapton shows why he is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time magnificently well here with a fine solo beginning at around the three minute mark.

Clapton then goes back to basics with a rendition of the Robert Johnson number Ramblin’ On My Mind, a song he first recorded with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers nearly a decade previously. The song is completely different to the Mayall version but Clapton’s heart and soul remain the same, resulting in a fantastic performance. This version actually resembles The Sky Is Crying from There’s One In Every Crowd when it comes to song structure. Same beat, same guitar, very similar indeed. But still great.  

Let It Rain comes next with those familiar opening chords before the full band come in, with Clapton arguably giving his best vocal performance of the entire show. On some songs you can hear the difference in his voice compared to that of five years previously with Derek and the Dominos, but with this version of Let It Rain he sounds exactly the same in delivery. 

The whole song is a fine band effort and a fantastic way to bring the show to an end, but only until they re-appear with Santana in tow for a run through of Eyesight To The Blind from The Who’s film Tommy. It’s fantastic to hear these two guitar greats go at it and at one point you can hear Clapton lay down a few licks from the song All Your Love from the Bluesbreakers album. Very special.

Overall it’s a fantastic show and a great quality bootleg. Clapton shows during 1974 and 1975 were very hit or miss but this one at at Frost Amphitheatre at Stanford University is one of the best available with Clapton on fine form and at the top of his game musically and vocally. A joy to listen to.

CLASSIC ALBUM SERIES #4: John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers – Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton

Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton
Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

July 22nd 1966 saw the release of what has become the greatest British blues albums of them all, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. 

The album set the benchmark for all blues albums that followed, cemented by Clapton’s explosive guitar tone thanks to the majestic bonding between a Gibson guitar and a Marshall amplifier. 

Not only is it the greatest British blues album but it’s also one of the great albums of all time, period.

The album opens with the Otis Rush number All Your Love, a cracking way to begin. The song manages to capture everything great about the Bluesbreakers from Mayall’s unique vocals, Clapton’s explosive guitar, McVie’s pounding bass and Flint’s driving rhythm that is the back bone of the entire song. 

It’s followed by Hideaway which has arguably become the standard version of the song, the original of course being by the late great Freddie King who Clapton was hugely influenced by at the time. Even though it’s a song largely dominated by Clapton’s guitar, the entire band shine brightly and showcase their abilities as Britain’s premier and best British blues band. 

The first Mayall penned track comes next in Little Girl. Apart from Mayall’s vocals, Clapton again takes centre stage with a blistering guitar solo over the ruthless rhythm section of John McVie and Hugh Flint, both of which really take this song to another level. Another Man is pure Mayall drenched with some of the best harmonica playing you’ll ever hear.
  1. All Your Love
  2. Hideaway
  3. Little Girl
  4. Another Man
  5. Double Crossing Time
  6. What’d I Say
  7. Key To Love
  8. Parchman Farm
  9. Have You Heard
  10. Ramblin’ On My Mind
  11. Steppin’ Out
  12. Ain’t It Right
Things then slow down a tad with Double Crossing Time, a fantastic number written by Mayall and Clapton. It’s a wonderful slow blues which clocks in at just over three minutes in length which is the only downside as you feel it deserves to go on for at least another few minutes. 

The opening riff of What’d I Say, originally by Ray Charles, is next and this particular version remains one of the most exciting ever recorded. Mayall gives one of his best vocal performances and it’s the first time on the album so far where you’re able to bask in the magnificence of Hugh Flint’s drumming, as he plays a superb solo section halfway through the song. 

The rest of the band then return with a Day Tripper-esque riff to bring the song to a close. Next up is Key To Love which is another Mayall original. Flint is an abslute force of nature with some of the best drumming you’ll ever hear, and Clapton returns for another ear drum attacking guitar solo.

The great Parchman Farm comes next which was originally recorded by Bukka White in 1940 and then covered by a host of musicians including Mose Allison, Johnny Winter, Bobbie Gentry and Hot Tuna to name just a few. Mayall is a man possessed on harmonica here, arguably giving his finest musical performance of the entire album. 

The slow blues number Have You Heard then takes things in a slower direction, at least at first. When it comes to electric guitar solos this song certainly contains one of the finest ever recorded with Clapton showing exactly why the nickname “God” was so fitting. The things he managed to do with a guitar during this song are second to none in my opinion, firmly placing him as the greatest British blues guitarist of all time.

Ramblin’ On My Mind remains to this day as one of Robert Johnson’s most well known songs, helped by the legendary status of this version featuring Clapton on lead vocals. And it’s the fact that Clapton took lead vocal duties on this song that made it so legendary, after all this is the first time he ever sang lead on a song. Even though he used to sing backing vocals with The Yardbirds it’s a strong vocal performance with guitar accompaniment including a tasty solo, backed up by Mayall on piano. It’s probably the most pure blues song of the whole album and a song that opened up Clapton both vocally and musically, as he would go on to call Robert Johnson one of his main influences and as a eventually record Me & Mr. Johnson, a tribute album to his idol, in 2004.

Steppin’ Out is the second guitar lead instrumental after Hideaway and a song Clapton would continue playing with Cream up until their final active year in 1968. It’s a superb number with Clapton yet again showcasing his guitar abilities fantastically. The final song is It Ain’t Right which sees the album end on a wonderful note. Originally recorded by Little Walter, Mayall lays down some fine harmonica while the rest of the band hit hard like a freight train. A perfect way to end the album.

Overall it’s a faultless album, a solid 10/10 if there ever was one. Not only do you get to witness the evolution of Eric Clapton but you get to listen to British blues at it’s very finest. The band as a whole were fantastic. John Mayall, Eric Clapton, John McVie, Hugh Flint. Four of the finest musicians to ever play and the blues is richer today because of them.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Rolling Stones Introduce Bluesman Howlin’ Wolf on US TV, One of the “Greatest Cultural Moments of the 20th Century” (1965)

by Josh Jones, Open Culture:

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Howlin’ Wolf may well have been the greatest blues singer of the 20th century. Certainly many people have said so, but there are other measurements than mere opinion, though it’s one I happen to share.

The man born Chester Arthur Burnett also had a profound historical effect on popular culture, and on the way the Chicago blues carried “the sound of Jim Crow,” as Eric Lott writes, into American cities in the north, and into Europe and the UK.

Recording for both Chess and Sun Records in the 50s (Sam Phillips said of his voice, “It’s where the soul of man never dies”), Burnett’s raw sound “was at once urgently urban and country plain … southern and rural in instrumentation and howlingly electric in form.”

He was also phenomenal on stage. His hulking six-foot-six frame and intense glowering stare belied some very smooth moves, but his finesse only enhanced his edginess. He seemed at any moment like he might actually turn into a wolf, letting the impulse give out in plaintive, ragged howls and prowls around the stage.

“I couldn’t do no yodelin’,” he said, “so I turned to howlin’. And it’s done me just fine.” He played a very mean harmonica and did acrobatic guitar tricks before Hendrix, picked up from his mentor Charlie Patton. And he played with the best musicians, in large part because he was known to pay well and on time. If you wanted to play electric blues, Howlin’ Wolf was a man to watch.

This reputation was Wolf’s entrĂ©e to the stage of ABC variety show Shindig! in 1965, opening for the Rolling Stones. He had just returned from his 1964 tour of Europe and the UK with the American Folk Blues Festival, playing to large, appreciative crossover crowds. He’d also just released “Killing Floor,” a record Ted Gioia notes “reached out to young listeners without losing the deep blues feeling that stood as the cornerstone of Wolf’s sound.”

The following year, the Rolling Stones insisted that Shindig!’s producers “also feature either Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf” before they would go on the show. Wolf won out over his rival Waters, toned down the theatrics of his act for a more prudish white audience, and “for the first time in his storied career, the celebrated bluesman performed on a national television broadcast.”

Why is this significant? Over the decades, the Stones regularly performed with their blues heroes. But this was new media ground. Brian Jones’ shy, starstruck introduction to Wolf before his performance above conveys what he saw as the importance of the moment. Jones’ biographer Paul Trynka may overstate the case, but in some degree at least, Wolf’s appearance on Shindig! “built a bridge over a cultural abyss and connected America with its own black culture.”

The show constituted “a life-changing moment, both for the American teenagers clustered round the TV in their living rooms, and for a generation of blues performers who had been stuck in a cultural ghetto.” One of these teenagers described the event as “like Christmas morning.”

Eric Lott points to the show’s formative importance to the Stones, who “sit scattered around the Shindig! set watching Wolf in full-metal idolatry” as he sings “How Many More Years,” a song Led Zeppelin would later turn into “How Many More Times.” (See the Stones do their Shindig! performance of jangly, subdued “The Last Time,” above).

The performance represents more, however, than the “British Invasion embrace” of the blues. It shows Wolf’s mainstream breakout, and the Stones paying tribute to a founding father of rock and roll, an act of humility in a band not especially known or appreciated for that quality.

“It was altogether appropriate,” says music writer Peter Guralnick, “that they would be sitting at Wolf’s feet … that’s what it represented. His music was not simply the foundation or the cornerstone; it was the most vital thing you could ever imagine.” Guralnick, notes John Burnett at NPR, calls it “one of the the greatest cultural moments of the 20th century.” At minimum, Burnett writes, it’s “one of the most incongruous moments in American pop music” - up until the mid-sixties, at least.

Whether or not the moment could live up to its legend, the people involved saw it as groundbreaking. The venerable Son House sat in attendance - “the man who knew Robert Johnson and Charley Patton,” remarked Brian Jones in awe.

And the Rolling Stone positioning himself in deference to “Chicago blues,” Trynka writes, “uncompromising music aimed at a black audience, was a radical, epoch-changing step, both for baby boomer Americans and the musicians themselves. Fourteen and fifteen-year-old kids … hardly understood the growth of civil rights; but they could understand the importance of a handsome Englishman who described the mountainous, gravel-voiced bluesman as a ‘hero’ and sat smiling at his feet.”