Monday, November 27, 2017

What Was It Like to Play With Guitarist Roy Buchanan?

Roy Buchanan might have been the quintessential “guitarist’s guitarist,” earning the respect and admiration of contemporaries such as Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, yet never achieving mainstream success. But one defines “success” on one’s own terms. As the artist himself said in the 1971 PBS documentary Introducing Roy Buchanan: The World’s Greatest Unknown Guitarist: “I didn’t care whether I made it big…all I wanted to do was learn to play the guitar for myself. 
You’ll feel it in your heart whether you’ve succeeded or not.” By the time of his untimely — and, some say, suspicious — death in 1988 he’d done much more than “learn to play,” having established himself as one of the premiere American electric guitarists. His pioneering use of the full musical and sonic capabilities of the Fender Telecaster especially influenced the generation of guitarists who followed. Bass guitarist Jeff Ganz toured with Roy in one of his final lineups, a power trio also featuring drummer Ray Marchica. I had a conversation with the veteran NYC bassist recently, in which he shed some light on Roy Buchanan, both as man and musician.
Q: When did you first become aware of Roy Buchanan?
A: I was made aware of him like everybody else, watching the PBS documentary on television. When I heard him, he was always in a very traditional surrounding, like in a 4-piece rhythm section. But it was polite, swinging, rockabilly-oriented rhythm section playing, with his brand of guitar: everything that became popular that you could do on a Telecaster later, (only) he was doing it in 1959!
Q: How did the band come together?
A: I was recommended to be a local musician, which was his paradigm in the mid-‘80s; there were different versions of his band that didn’t last very long, and then it became not a band at all because he could make more money with “pickup” guys, because the people were not there to see anything but him. The fellow who produced the PBS documentary was named John Adams, and a mutual friend of ours named Scott Kuney recommended me to do the gig, and asked if I could get a drummer. So I recommended Ray Marchica. Ray has a very diverse resume, everything from Broadway pit work, to Dan Hartman, the Ed Palermo Big Band…this is a total musician, and one of my closest friends. The only time we ever got together to rehearse was the very first time he was checking us out on December 7th, 1984 at RCA Studios in New York.
Q: How was it that first time you played with him?
A: Analogous to what John Paul Jones said about the first day of Led Zeppelin, the room just exploded! ‘Cause you’ve got New York guys who are listening and adapting to the situation, and are being asked to contribute their own ideas; all of that happened very simultaneously. Our first gig was the next day at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ, opening for Robin Trower. To be honest with you, it went so well that we got some heavy, heavy reviews in the Newark Star Ledger; the guy really liked the band! Also, because Roy knew about this band’s versatility, even from the first gig he started to experiment. Like, he goes “Hey Jeff, do you know ’The Lady Is a Tramp?’” I said, “Yeah!” He says, “Well, can you sing it?” And that’s what happened on the first gig: I sang “Lady Is a Tramp,” and it sounded like “I Saw Her Standing There,” with Roy trying to cop that exact groove! So he started trusting this band right away.
Q: What was the most fulfilling aspect of your experience with Roy?
A: My personal thing was when he was able to rip into a solo without a lot of accompaniment, when it was just me and the 8-string bass with him. So there was a lot of room to do what he did and experiment, and then Ray and I kind of music-directed him with “stop time” and stuff like that, but never really took him out of what he did. When you’re playing with a more “traditional” blues band, you play your solos and then you stop and you’re comping behind somebody else. That isn’t really what happened in our band. It was him, and arrangements on the spot. There were a lot of things going on in my head simultaneously: it was like, I’m doing a gig, but I’m being asked to be me! Now I’m feeling 14 again, and idealistic about why I started!
Q: Roy gained the admiration of many legendary guitarists, but not their level of fame or recognition. How come?
A: The difference between Roy and those guys is that Roy was not the least bit conscious of his own image. He would get onstage and wear whatever he wanted to wear; he was not interested in any visual trends, he was strictly a real guitar player, you know what I mean? There were times when Ray and I wanted to leverage him into something bigger, and he simply wasn’t interested in pursuing it. It was a different kind of mind set; he just wanted to play the guitar, but he wanted to play his way. He was the antithesis of “showmanship.” He wasn’t lighting his guitar on fire, making himself look a certain way, or playing licks over and over to impress the crowd, like so many people are now. I think he was one of those guys who just wanted to work, but he was stuck being a genius! And with that came a lot of the demons.
Q: So he wasn’t conscious of his “brand?”
A: Hard to say…it seemed that way to me, but how do I know? He took all the real answers with him.
-Interview by John Montagna
Writer’s Note: Mr. Ganz’s comments have been edited for brevity and consistency.
PS. Some thoughts on technology and the guitar. And some other low-key heroes of the music scene.
Photo of Roy Buchanan by Tom Morton of the Hochberg Photo Collection

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Creme de la Creme of Cream’s Jack Bruce

by John Montagna, Culture Sonar:

Legendary bassist, vocalist and composer Jack Bruce passed away just over three years ago. His groundbreaking work with Cream in the 1960s made him a household name and bonafide rock star. But his unpredictable, genre-defying solo catalog is where the real goodies are to be found. 

Originally hailing from the tough streets of Glasgow, John Symon Asher Bruce began his career as a jazz bassist in his teens. Later he studied cello and composition at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, but the Academy frowned upon its students playing jazz; they demanded he choose between school and his jazz gigs. Fortunately Jack (wisely) quit school and ultimately made his way to London and its vibrant jazz and R&B scene. 

Keeping company with top players such as Alexis KornerJohn MayallGraham Bond, and (of course) Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton, his bold, melodic approach on acoustic AND electric bass set him apart from the pack. 

It is that spirit of adventure and experimentation that makes Jack Bruce’s solo work so captivating and addictive. He was equally adept at the fearless improvisation of jazz, the raw power of the blues and rock and roll, and harmonically rich compositions that reflect his early classical training. He was also unconcerned with the commercial potential of his solo recordings, choosing instead to follow wherever his muse led him. 

With such a rich and eclectic body of work it’s difficult to choose which of his albums to start with, but in my opinion these three are the purest examples of Jack Bruce at his essential best. If you’ve only heard him with Cream, you don’t know Jack.

A Question of Time (1989)
An excellent primer, possibly the closest Jack ever came to making a “mainstream pop” album. But don’t let the smooth, streamlined production fool you. 

The full spectrum of Jack’s unique musical language is represented here, from head-banging rock (“Life On Earth”) to greasy funk (“Grease The Wheels”), down-and-dirty blues (“Blues You Can’t Lose”) and a dreamy, soulful ballad based on an old Scottish folk song (“Make Love”). 

Jack glues it all together with thick bass lines from his Warwick fretless (some of his most potent playing on record) and his then-45-year-old voice, still strong and full of emotional power. Guests include Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, P-Funk’s Bernie Worrell, legendary jazz drummer Tony Williams, blues master Albert Collins, and his old Cream mate Ginger Baker. A stunner.
Things We Like (1970, recorded in 1968)
Jack’s solo career is marked by bold choices. His first move after the demise of Cream was a return to the upright bass for this frenetic “free jazz” session featuring drummer Jon Hiseman, saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, and guitarist John McLaughlin (yes, THAT John McLaughlin). 

Egged on by old mates from his London jazz days, Jack mercilessly attacks his upright like Charles Mingus after a quart of Irish coffee (one wonders why he didn’t record on upright more; he’s a monster!).

Jack claims to have written most of the tunes on TWL when he was twelve years old, and the quartet gets right down to post-bop business using them as springboards for some mind-blowing group improvisation. Lean, mean and uncompromising, Things We Like is (dare I say it) far more compelling than the “live” half of the double Wheels of Fire album!

Harmony Row (1971)
In 1970 Jack toured sporadically with Tony Williams’ Lifetime, but the pioneering fusion group only saw marginal success. Returning home to London, Jack wrote an entire series of songs in one afternoon, and by January 1971 he was committing them to tape at Command Studios with ace session guitarist Chris Spedding and Soft Machine drummer John Marshall. 

The music on Harmony Row is unlike anything Jack (or anyone else) has produced: atonal harmonies, unorthodox song structures that allow for fiery group improvisation, and abstract lyrics by Jack’s longtime collaborator Pete Brown about post-war Britain, societal decay and complicated relationships.

Jack later referred to HR as his favorite album, and it’s easy to see why. Taking the album’s title from a tenement street in Glasgow not far from where he grew up, the nod to his humble roots and the personal nature of the music make Harmony Row a singular artistic statement by a singular artist. It feels like the musical heart of Jack Bruce: restless, always exploring new territory, sometimes dangerous and confusing, other times beautiful and profound.
PS.  A meditation on a legendary musical instrument and how it shaped rock and jazz … and an interview with another English blues-lover who shaped rock music.
Photo: Pierre Manevy (Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Monday, November 6, 2017

10 Things You Didn’t Know About “I Am The Walrus”

This November marks the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus.” Written primarily by John Lennon for the TV movie Magical Mystery Tour“I Am The Walrus” features a cryptic Lennon lyric with a bizarre chorus, an innovative arrangement from producer George Martin that includes sprechgesang (don’t worry, I’ll define it in a moment), studio trickery from engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott, and an excerpt from Shakespeare’s King Lear. All of this adds up to create The Beatles’ psychedelic masterpiece. Here are ten things you may not know about “I Am The Walrus.”
1. The song owes a huge debt to Lennon’s favorite hallucinogenic…
Lennon wrote the bulk of the song during several LSD trips. During one trip, he heard the two-note pattern of a police siren passing by. The sound morphed into the opening notes of “I Am The Walrus.” They are even mimicked in the two note motif in the verse (“Mis-ter ci-ty p’lice-man…”).
2. … And to Quarry Bank High School
“He has too many of the wrong ambitions and his energy is too often misplaced.” That was a description of John Lennon written by the headmaster of Quarry Bank High School in 1956. Just ten years later, a student at Quarry Bank wrote Lennon to tell him that they were analyzing Beatles lyrics in class. Lennon decided to give the students (along with music critics) something a little more difficult to analyze. So, he turned an old playground nursery rhyme that he sang as a child (“yellow matter custard/green slop pie/all mixed together with a dead dog’s eye”) into the line “yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye.”
3. The Mysterious Eggman
The title of the song was based on the poem “The Walrus and The Carpenter” by one of Lennon’s favorite authors, Lewis Carroll. It wasn’t until later that John realized that the walrus was the bad guy in the poem! There is no “egg man” in the poem, although Humpty Dumpty does make an appearance in Through the Looking Glass. Surprisingly, Eric Burdon, lead singer of The Animals, stepped forward to claim that he was the egg man referenced by Lennon. Burdon was known as “Eggs” to his friends, due to his strange fetish of breaking eggs over naked women.
4. The Beatles Were Crying
At the end of each verse, Lennon sings “I’m crying.” The Beatles had been doing a lot of crying around this time, since their manager Brian Epstein had recently died. In fact, “I Am The Walrus” was the first song The Beatles recorded after Epstein’s death four days earlier. “I’m crying” could also be an allusion to one of The Beatles’ favorite singers Smokey Robinson who had sung the same phrase in the 1965 song “Oooh, Baby Baby”.
5. A Vocal from the Moon
Lennon, one of rock’s best vocalists, was always frustrated by the sound of his voice. For “I Am The Walrus,” he asked engineer Geoff Emerick to make his voice sound like it was coming from the moon. As always, Emerick turned Lennon’s strange request into the perfect effect. Violating EMI’s strict rules, Emerick had Lennon record his vocals using a low-fidelity talkback microphone (typically used by an engineer in the control room to “talk back” to musicians in the recording studio). This helped create one of rock music’s first distorted lead vocals.
6. The Human Click Track
The recording of “I Am The Walrus” was incredibly complex, ultimately taking 25 takes to complete. On one of the earlier takes, Lennon was playing an electronic keyboard called a Hofner Pianet (some sources say it was a Wurlitzer electric piano) and was making a lot of mistakes. Ringo was having trouble keeping a steady tempo — understandable, considering the song was long with a slow tempo. On top of all this, emotions were high due to Epstein’s recent death. George Martin was getting frustrated and his temper was beginning to show. McCartney jumped into action and saved the day by playing tambourine next to Ringo, acting as a human click track to keep Ringo in sync with Lennon’s keyboard.
7. What the Hell Am I Supposed To Do With This?
When Lennon first performed “I Am The Walrus” for George Martin, he asked Martin for the producer’s opinion. “Well, John, to be honest, I have only one question,” Martin said. “What the hell do you expect me to do with that?!?” Luckily, the always inventive Martin came up with an innovative orchestral arrangement that fit the song perfectly. It features eight violins and four cellos, three French horns, and a contrabass clarinet — a rare member of the clarinet family that was a favorite of Frank Zappa. In fact, Zappa loved “I Am The Walrus,” and played it often in his concerts.
8. Stick It Up Your Jumper
Martin’s arrangement didn’t stop with the orchestral instruments. He clearly felt that Lennon’s song needed something more. So, he hired the Mike Sammes singers, known for their work on Disney films and TV themes. Rather than create a standard vocal arrangement, Martin took advantage of the singers’ excellent score reading skills and created a sprechgesang arrangement. Sprechgesang, which means “spoken singing”, is a vocal technique halfway between singing and speaking. In his score to “I Am The Walrus,” Martin had the Mike Sammes singers make whooping sounds, laugh, snort, and shout phrases like “Oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper!” Nothing like this had ever been heard on a popular music recording.
9. Thou Hast Slain Me
At the end of the very complicated mixing sessions for “I Am The Walrus”, Lennon had an idea that made Martin roll his eyes — mixing a live radio broadcast into the recording. It took some engineering work from Geoff Emerick (plus some paperwork to get permission from his bosses at EMI) to patch an AM radio into the console. During the mix, Ringo manned the radio while John instructed him when to turn the knobs. Coincidentally, Ringo stumbled on the BBC production of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Lear. The broadcast was at the point of Act IV, Scene VI, where the steward “Oswald” is killed.
10. Walruses in White Satin?
Many artists have claimed that they were part of a Beatles recording even though no proof exists. A few years ago, Ray Thomas of the Moody Blues claimed that he and Mike Pinder sang backing vocals on “I Am The Walrus.” This claim is not backed up by any other source. (Thomas also claimed that it was his idea to put harmonicas on “The Fool on the Hill” and that an adventure with a groupie inspired McCartney to write “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.”)
Bonus: Who IS the “Walrus?”
When John wrote and recorded “I Am The Walrus,” it was weeks before he donned the costume for the famous sequence in Magical Mystery Tour. Mysteriously, the soundtrack album included a comment below the song listing: “’No, you’re not!’ said Little Nicola.” John confused things even more when he sang, “The walrus was Paul” in the White Album song “Glass Onion.”
Some conspiracy theorists claimed that the walrus was a symbol of death in Greek and Eskimo mythology. The fact that this was blatantly false didn’t matter. It was one of the clues (along with the King Lear death scene) that helped to create the “Paul Is Dead” myth.
Eventually, Paul had the last laugh when he wore a walrus mask for the video to George Harrison’s 1988 song “When We Was Fab.” Finally, he was the walrus.
PS. He was invaluable in shaping one of their most colorful albums.  Plus, read more about the legends, stories and tall tales behind many Beatle tracks.
Photo: Keystone, courtesy Getty Images

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bootleg Series #21: Jack Bruce & Friends: Fillmore East, New York, NY, USA // 31st January 1970

Jack Bruce has long been one of my all time favourite bassists due to his work with Cream but I’m ashamed to say that aside from his 1969 solo album Songs For A Tailor, I’m not overly familiar with the rest of his solo career. However that changed after hearing this excellent recording of a show he played at Fillmore East in New York with Jack Bruce & Friends, which includes Mitch Mitchell on drums, Larry Coryell on guitar and Mike Mandell on organ. The band only played seventeen dates together between the 24th January and 1st March 1970 and sadly there are less than a handful of live recordings of them. Thankfully, however, this late show recording from the 31st January is one of them.
The band open with the Cream song Politician. Immediately it’s obvious that Bruce has no hesitation in playing old material from previous bands unlike Eric Clapton who refused to play any Cream songs in Blind Faith aside from the odd track when the crowds demanded it. From Bruce’s point of view, he wrote them, so why shouldn’t he play them? While this version of Politician lacks Clapton’s explosive lead guitar work you can really get a sense of how the song sounds with an expanded lineup and the addition of a keys player. Mike Mandell on organ doesn’t do anything extraordinary here but he manages to lay down beautiful tones behind the bass, guitar and drums that gives the song a steady foundation that perhaps wasn’t there in the Cream version. It’s an extremely enjoyable listen which makes me wonder if this is what Cream’s sound would have gone on to become had they invited Steve Winwood to join them.
  1. Politician
  2. Weird Of Hermiston/Tickets To Waterfalls
  3. HCKHH Blues
  4. We’re Going Wrong
  5. The Clearout
  6. Sunshine Of Your Love
  7. Smiles And Grins (Jam)
A two song medley follows Politician which features two tracks from Bruce’s 1969 debut album Songs For A Tailor. The first is Weird Of Hermiston which is one of my favourite tracks on the album. Before listening to this bootleg I hadn’t heard a live version of this song before and while parts of the song are a little different in a live setting, I absolutely love it. Bruce’s strong vocal performance dominates the song and manages to control the band and audience perfectly. The band themselves are on top form here and you can really sense they are starting to get into things as they go straight from Weird Of Hermiston into Tickets To Waterfalls. The two songs are actually the other way around on the studio album but the rotation works perfectly and the band kick it up a notch in the process. The jam sections of this particular song are some of the best from the whole show and emphasise how great the band sound together, even though they were only a unit for a short amount of time.
The fourth song is taken from Bruce’s 1970 solo album Things We Like which was actually recorded when he was still with Cream in August 1968. The album wouldn’t be released until late 1970 in the UK but the band performed the song HCKHH Blues at Fillmore East. Whereas the studio version is all jazz the band transform the song into a blues/rock monster reminiscent of Cream with the addition of a more jazz based guitarist and an organ. It’s a wonderful track with an incredible amount of energy from start to finish. This is the first time you get to fully appreciate Mitch Mitchell on drums who lays down some incredible grooves from start to finish in a way only he can. It’s a sublime performance that lasts just short of nine minutes and even though the track changes directions numerous times the band never lose the energy or focus. We’re Going Wrong comes next which gives the show a needed mellow moment after the previous track. It’s impossible to compare these Cream numbers to when Cream actually performed them because they are just so different. The music may be the same, the lyrics might not have changed, but the way the songs are performed are different with Jack Bruce & Friends. It’s a really good rendition with the organ playing a key role although it’s sometimes difficult to hear on this particular recording.
After a brief break the band return with a song Bruce originally wanted to include on Cream’s 1967 album Disraeli Gears called The Clearout. This song can be heard being played by Cream in the studio on the expanded set Those Were The Days which was released in 1997 but it was left off and eventually included on Bruce’s debut Songs For A Tailor. It’s a great track and to be honest suits his solo album a lot more than Cream so I think it was the right choice in the end, although I would have liked to have heard a finished Cream version. While the album version is just two minutes and forty three seconds long the band here extend it to seven minutes which really gives it the life and depth that it deserves as a song. It’s great. Then, out of nowhere, the explosive riff that could only be Sunshine Of Your Love sends tremors through the auditorium and the crowd goes wild. The organ here sounds excellent paired with the bass and guitar, giving the riff some added depth. Mitch Mitchell on drums lays down the kind of grooves that he did when performing the track with Hendrix and then it hits you that two members of arguably the two best trios of all time are playing together on stage. It’s a monumental moment.
Nine minutes later the final song begins called Smiles And Grins, a song which wouldn’t be released in studio format until Bruce’s 1971 album Harmony Row. The studio song itself wasn’t recorded until a full year after this show so this is an early jam rendition which rounds the show of perfectly. In 1970 there were a lot of bands that copied Cream’s lead of jamming entire songs like The Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead so it’s great to hear Bruce do what he did best in Cream once again. I’ve long thought that jamming brings out the best in musicians to the point where they have to think things up on the spot and this is exactly what happens here. The audience obviously feels the same as they explode with applause as the song comes to an end, capping off a magnificent show.
Peter Iacontino – Audience Member: “I was at that show. Mountain was also on the bill, we went to see Jack. I think Jack opened the show, Mountain was the headliner. Jack and the band were good. Played about one hour, I remember it filled the whole 60 minute tape. It was a more jazzy show with Larry Coryell on guitar, Mitch Mitchell on drums and Mike Mandel on organ. I think Jimi Hendrix was at the show also! It was a great night for music!
The cassette recorder I used for the show was new technology for 1970. It had a built in mic. The reason I’m telling you is because we had first row seats. I put the recorder on the stage. No one said anything. The Fillmore East was such a cool place to see concerts!”
I’d spoke to Peter previously about other concerts at Fillmore East including Derek and the Dominos, so to find out that this recording of Jack Bruce & Friends was his was very special. There are a vast number of great bootlegs recorded at Fillmore East and it was obviously a very special place not only to go and see bands but also to bootleg. As Peter says, no-one said anything to him when he put his recorder on the stage. And as far as recordings go it is extremely good to the point where a bit of remastering could result in an official live album, or at least some kind of official bootleg release like The Allman Brothers Band have done over the years.
This particular period of Bruce’s career isn’t widely talked about which is disappointing given the great music the band played right here on this bootleg. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Jack Bruce & Friends weren’t together for that long and less than a handful of good recordings are known to exist. But thankfully Peter brought his cassette recorder that night because it was a great show. We can’t thank him enough.

Monday, October 23, 2017

VIDEOS: Watch David Gilmour Play the Songs of Syd Barrett with the Help of David Bowie and Richard Wright

by , Open Culture:

Though he eventually disappeared from the public eye, Syd Barrett did not fade into obscurity all at once after his "erratic behavior," as Andy Kahn writes at JamBase, "led to his leaving" Pink Floyd in 1968. The founding singer/songwriter/guitarist went on in the following few years to write, record, and even sporadically perform new solo material, appearing on John Peel’s BBC show in 1970 and giving a long Rolling Stone interview the following year. He even started, briefly, a new band in 1972 and worked on new recordings in the studio until 1974.
Barrett released two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, in 1970. Like the solo work of Roky Erickson and Skip Spence—two other tragic psychedelic-era geniuses with mental health struggles—Barrett’s later compositions are frustratingly rough-cut gems: quirky, sinister, meandering folk-psych adventures that provide an alternate look into what Pink Floyd might have sounded like if their original intentions of keeping him on as a non-performing songwriter had worked out.
Assisting him during his studio sessions were former bandmates Roger Waters, Richard Wright, and David Gilmour. The band still admired his singular talent, but they found working, and even speaking, with him difficult in the extreme. As Gilmour has described those years in interviews, they carried a considerable amount of guilt over Barrett’s ouster. In addition to the heartbreaking tribute “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” Gilmour has often performed Syd’s solo songs onstage in affecting, often solo acoustic, renditions that became all the more poignant after Barrett’s death in 2006.
In the videos at the top, you can see Gilmour play two songs from Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs—“Terrapin” and “Dark Globe”—and further up, see him play “Dominoes” from Barrett, with Richard Wright on Keyboards. Gilmour has also revisited onstage Pink Floyd’s earliest, Barrett-fronted, days. Just above, we have the rare treat of seeing him play the band’s first single, “Arnold Layne,” with special guest David Bowie on lead vocals. And below, see Gilmour and Wright play a version of the early Floyd classic “Astronomy Domine,” live at Abbey Road studios.
It was, sadly, at Abbey Road where the band last saw Barrett, when he entered the studio in 1975 during the final mixes of Wish You Were Here. Overweight and with shaved head and eyebrows, Barrett was at first unrecognizable. After this last public appearance, he felt the need, as Waters put it, to “withdraw completely” from “modern life.” But the tragic final months with Pink Floyd and few sightings afterward should hardly be the way we remember Syd Barrett. He may have lost the ability to communicate with his former friends and bandmates, but for a time he continued to speak in hauntingly strange, thoroughly original songs.
This collection of videos comes to us via JamBase.

Monday, October 9, 2017

UC Santa Cruz Opens a Deadhead’s Delight: The Grateful Dead Archive is Now Online

by Colin Marshall, Open Culture:

"They're not the best at what they do," said respected rock promoter Bill Graham of the Grateful Dead. "They're the only ones that do what they do." The band developed such an idiosyncratic musical style and personal sensibility that their legion of devoted fans, known as "Deadheads," tended to follow them everywhere they toured. The Dead withstood more than their fair share of classic-rock turbulence in the thirty years from their formation in 1965, but didn't dissolve until the 1995 death of founding member and unofficial frontman Jerry Garcia. The bereft Deadheads, still in need of a constant flow of their eclectic, improvisational, psychedelic-traditional, jam-intensive sound of choice, took a few different paths: some began following other, comparable groups; some would go on to rely on acts formed by ex-Dead members, like Bob Weir and Phil Lesh's Furthur; some made it their life's mission to collect everything in the band's incomparably vast collection of demos, live recordings, and sonic miscellany.
Grateful Dead completists now have another source of solace in the Grateful Dead Archive Online from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Lest you assume yourself Dead-savvy enough to have already seen and heard everything this archive could possibly contain, behold the newly added item featured on the front page as I type this: Jerry Garcia's Egyptian tour laminate. According to the press release, the archive's internet presence features "nearly 25,000 items and over 50,000 scans" from the university's physical archive, including "works by some of the most famous rock photographers and artists of the era, including Herb Greene, Stanley Mouse, Wes Wilson and Susana Millman." Rest assured that it offers plenty of non-obscurantist Dead-related pleasures, including television appearancesradio broadcastsposters, and fan recordings of concerts. Like any rich subject, the Grateful Dead provides its enthusiasts a lifetime of material to study. UC Santa Cruz, a school often associated in the public imagination with the Dead's greater San Francisco Bay Area origins as well as their penchant for laid-back good times, has just made it that much easier to plunge into.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

VIDEOS: The First Episode of The Johnny Cash Show, Featuring Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell (1969)

by Josh Jones, Open Culture:

Whether you hate-watched, love-watched, or ignored last night's Academy Awards, you may be tired today of Oscar talk. Take a break, unplug yourself from Facebook and Twitter, and travel with me back in TV time. It’s June 7th, 1969, and The Johnny Cash Show makes its debut on ABC, recorded—where else?—at the Grand Ole Opry (“I wouldn’t do it anywhere but here”). Featuring Cash ensemble regulars June Carter, the Carter family, Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and the Tennessee Three, the musical variety show has a definite showbiz feel. Even the opening credits give this impression, with a decidedly kitschy big band rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues.” This seems a far cry from the defiant Johnny Cash who gave the world the finger in a photo taken that same year during his San Quentin gig (where inmate Merle Haggard sat in attendance).
But showbiz Johnny Cash is still every inch the man in black, with his rough edges and refined musical tastes (in fact, Cash debuted the song “Man in Black” on a later episode). As daughter Rosanne showed us, Cash was a musicologist of essential Americana. His choice of musical guests for his debut program—Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw—makes plain Cash’s love for folk songcraft. The appearance on the Cash show was Kershaw’s big break (two months later his “Louisiana Man” became the first song broadcast from the moon by the Apollo 12 astronauts). Mitchell, who plays “Both Sides Now” from her celebrated second album Clouds, was already a rising star. And Dylan was, well, Dylan. Even if all you know of Johnny Cash comes from the 2005 film Walk the Line, you’ll know he was a huge Dylan admirer. In the year The Johnny Cash Show debuted, the pair recorded over a dozen songs together, one of which, “Girl from the North Country,” appeared on Dylan’s country album Nashville Skyline. They play the song together, and Dylan plays that album’s “I Threw it All Away,” one of my all-time favorites.
Initially billed as “a lively new way to enjoy the summer!” The Johnny Cash Show had a somewhat rocky two-year run, occasionally running afoul of nervous network executives when, for example, Cash refused to censor the word “stoned” from Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and brought on Pete Seeger, despite the furor his anti-war views caused elsewhere. Ever the iconoclast, Cash was also ever the consummate entertainer. After watching the first episode of his show, you might agree that Cash and friends could have carried the hour even without his famous guests. Cash opens with a spirited “Ring of Fire” and also plays “Folsom Prison Blues,” “The Wall,” and “Greystone Chapel.” And above, watch Johnny and June sing a sweet duet of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe.”