Random Notes (January 2017)

For much of the time I am perfectly happy listening to music I know so intimately that a molecular transference has occurred & made it part of me. Lately, if I want to hear something previously unknown,¬†there has been much satisfaction to be found in crate digging for Soul & Funk gems from the early 1970s. Whether it’s getting beyond the singles of ex-Temptation Eddie Kendricks & discovering the delights of his 7 solo LPs for Motown or grooving to the gritty Blues-Soul on the 4 records Little Milton made for Stax after leaving Chess, there’s much great music that passed me by at the time.

 

Image result for pinegrove cardinalAt the turn of the year I was checking for a “best of the year” list on one of the few message boards I trust (hey, it’s the Internet, be careful) & I heard something that just knocked me over. I bought the CD within hours &, a month later. have had no reason to regret my impulse purchase. Here’s just 80 seconds of Pinegrove, a song that’s not on their record “Cardinal”, an indie-pop blast that has certainly helped to lighten the mood in the weird times of January 2017.

 

 

 

Pinegrove are from Montclair, New Jersey, out near Paterson, the setting for Jim Jarmusch’s latest film. In 2015 they signed for Run for Cover records, tying up the loose ends of Bandcamp tracks & self-released cassettes on “Everything So Far”. “Cardinal” opens with “Old Friends” & closes with “New Friends”. They have made plenty of the latter with this assured collection. Evan Stephens Hall’s songs combine emotional lyrics with dynamic melodies, changes that are subtle while still having a real belt to them. The all-to-brief “Angelina” brings Teenage Fanclub to mind & that is never a bad thing.

 

 

Congratulations to the good people at Audiofeed who recorded 8 tracks with Pinegrove which are even better than the record. “Aphasia” is just a triumph, the whole band pulling together to make a good song even stronger & getting the sound it deserves. Both of the LPs are on the Y-tube, you can, as I did pay what you like for “Cardinal” at their website. Now over at Pinegrove’s Bandcamp there is the same deal for “Elsewhere”, 8 tracks recorded live on their last tour. Pinegrove are visiting the UK in late February/March. They are not playing too near my house but I will seriously try to go those extra 70 miles to catch my favourite new band.

 

Meanwhile the #1 in my heart for 2016, Whitney, continue to make an impression on the mainstream. I caught their “Golden Days” being used in an infomercial for one of those machines that you shout at & it plays music or turns off your lights. I don’t know what these things are called nor do I care. They monitor every move you & your family make in the name of progress & it’s a no thanks from me. The band also got to play that song again on their US TV prime time debut for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”. Here’s how that went…

 

 

There is, I guess, a touch of alt-country about both of these groups though they are hardly hanging out in the barn or whittling on the porch. It’s emotional Indie Rock that relies on melody & intelligence rather than a run along the effects pedals for impact. I’m hearing a freshness & an energy that I no longer hear in more established artists. I’m ready to put Wilco, Son Volt & Ryan Adams (though not Jason Isbell) on the back burner & look forward to Pinegrove’s & Whitney’s future music. I know…Just kick my ass, okay.

 

Well, that’s enough brand new modern music thank you very much. My album of the month was released in 1968. Joe South had success as a producer/writer for Billy Jo Royal before recording his own debut LP “Introspect”. The second single from the record, “Games People Play”, (you know it…”people try to sock it to ya, singing glory hallelujah”..great electric sitar) became a world wide hit. Capitol Records, wanting to reach this new audience, withdrew “Introspect” & quickly released an LP with the same title as the hit. Only 3 songs were retained, Joe’s versions of his better known songs included. It’s a good record but what the heck do record companies know ?

 

 

Image result for joe south“Introspect” is a Southern Country Soul classic, a little heavy on the strings but enough imaginative production flourishes to still surprise. Joe’s strong voice is matched to lyrics containing a strong element of social commentary (Joe had played on Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde”). “Mirror of Your Mind” & the 7 minute closer “Gabriel” step into Psych-Country Pop, not the most populated genre & South is really good at it. Even “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden”, a syrupy country hit for Lynn Anderson in 1970 & a song I was never too fond of, sounds tougher & better. I was lucky enough to catch Joe playing an acoustic set of his hits, he was a fine songwriter. “Introspect” (again the full works on the Y-tube) could be the template for when Elvis went to record in Memphis. I prefer the one that got there first.

 

He was Butch But I Was No Sundance (1969-70)

I was not the only clever kid at our school. Our whole form was force fed facts so that we could pass our exams a year earlier than others our age. It was some bullshit exercise in school pride but if it reduced the time spent under the archaic, cruel (the cane was still used by the headmaster) & unusual (an English teacher made transgressors write out chapters of Genesis) punitive system then we would go along with it. This meant that I entered the sixth form when I was 15 going on 16. The 17 year old girls in my classes were a lot further on down life’s road ¬†& 68/69 was Peak Mini Skirt as I remember. I was amazed that they would even acknowledge my presence, it was months before I was able to say anything that made any sense back to them. The guys were already drinking at the weekend (only a year underage so…y’know) & that seemed better than the Youth Club. On their 17th birthdays some of them got cars. That was certainly an upgrade on taking the bus !

 

 

Image result for morris 1000Butch had a Morris 1000, a classic car now, cheap & cheerful in 1969. His name was Keith but his Dad had a butcher’s shop on the High St so…His girlfriend, Natalie, worked in the local record shop Rushton’s, a place that sold instruments & sheet music before awkwardly adjusting to the demand for small discs of vinyl. After college Butch & I would drive into town to keep her company for the last hour of her working day. To keep us out of further mischief she gave us free range in one of the soundproof booths to listen to any of the latest records that took our fancy. They didn’t always hit the spot. That second Blood Sweat & Tears album, David Clayton Thomas singing, no Al Kooper, may have sold by the lorry load but it was no “Child is the Father to the Man”. One non-album single with a red Atlantic label, “Comin’ Home” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends featuring Eric Clapton, had us opening up the booth for the other customers to hear & irritating our favourite shop assistant.

 

Image result for delaney and bonnie comin homeDelaney & Bonnie Bramlett had done musical time before they were married, D as a member of the house band of the “Shindig” TV show, B as a fake-tanned Ikette. Their first LP was recorded at the Stax studios in Memphis with Booker T & the MGs. By the time of the follow up they had assembled a smoking band, people who would go on to make a pile of good music. Their brand of Southern Soul, Gospel & Rock attracted an influential friend in Eric Clapton, happy to play the sideman after all the attention attracted by Cream & Blind Faith. Eric brought along the newly ex-Beatle George & his stinging, ringing contribution to “Coming Home” made it more than notable. Delaney’s mate Leon Russell needed to assemble some Mad Dogs to back Joe Cocker on a hastily arranged tour & he borrowed the whole band except keyboard player Bobby Whitlock who left for England to write with Clapton. When these two needed a rhythm section for “Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs” they were joined by Carl Radle (bass) & Jim Gordon (drums) to form Derek & the Dominoes. Now that is a good record !

 

 

Butch lived above the shop, just a walk away from mine & I would go round in midweek to listen to his records. At night the front was closed up & you entered the house through the back of the shop past simmering pots of pig’s heads. Brawn is some kind of peasant jellied terrine (my Mum loved it). It’s apparently called “potted heid” in Scotland & in France “pate de tete” & that sounds no better. Now I’m a Big Meat Eater (yes I am…now there’s a movie you have to see) but I don’t always choose to get that close to its production. I would hurry through that steamy, funky room. Butch had some good records. I particularly remember 3 double LPs, Cream’s “Wheels of Fire”, Jimi’s “Electric Ladyland” & “Streetnoise” by Julie Driscoll, all good long listens as the music got & was taken more seriously. We had a couple of bottles of cider & a coloured light bulb for atmosphere…that’s all. We didn’t know where to buy any hash back then. Our town had not yet done with Modernism. The cool kids were robbing chemists of their good stuff, waking up in the park with blood leaking from their ears. That sounded like not much fun at all.

 

Image result for julie driscollThere were no women like Julie Driscoll in our town either. Julie, with organist Brian Auger, Long John Baldry & Rod Stewart had been part of Steampacket, a Mod Soul-Blues revue who, despite their popular live act, never recorded. In 1968 her & Auger’s take on Dylan’s “This Wheels on Fire”, an urgent psychedelic classic, shifted the ground for British female singers. Her expressive, distinctive vocals put Cilla, Lulu, Sandie, even Dusty in the shade. She became a beautiful, instant icon of cool, replacing Emma Peel as the object of my affections. “Streetnoise” reflects the times, musical boundaries were to be ignored. There are old songs, new songs, Jazz & Blues songs, all given the individual stamp of Driscoll & Auger that still sounds fresh today. “Indian Rope Man”, one of the band’s best, written by Richie Havens, is promoted here on German TV but was only released as a b-side in the UK. Julie married jazz pianist Keith Tippett & stepped away from Rock & Roll to make more experimental music. Whatever she chose to do was just fine by me.

 

 

Image result for family a song for meAh Family…Leicester’s finest. Butch had their 3rd LP “A Song For Me”, released in January 1970 & a Top 5 record. At the end of 1969 the single “No Mule’s Fool”, a gentle daydream of a song had totally hit my spot but only grazed the Top 30. Their debut “Music in a Doll’s House” (1968) was a more than interesting slice of post-Sgt Pepper’s British psychedelia & “Family Entertainment” (1969) consolidated a reputation as a band on the rise. The loss of 2 founding members, multi-instrumentalist Jim King & bassist Rick Grech (he joined the aforementioned Blind Faith) was a setback just as they were ready for prime time. The idiosyncratic, forceful presence of vocalist Roger Chapman made Family’s live show memorable.They were one of the first big concerts I attended & Hull City Hall rocked that night. The new-ish group were possibly less textured, a little more full tilt, than previously. There were 3 Top 20 UK singles, an LP a year until 1973 before diminishing returns & a failure to make an impression in the US called a halt. Family don’t really get the credit they deserve. If you have an interest in psych-prog they merit further investigation.

 

Image result for bath festival 1970We hung out a lot over the next year. The 4 of us (rather surprisingly I had a girlfriend too) tore around in the Morris looking for pubs, parties & places of interest. We both studied Geography & a week’s “field study” in North Yorkshire became an alcohol-fuelled exercise in besmirching our college’s good name. Butch was a good guy to have around, a dry sense of fun & humour, a little more grown-up than the other happy idiots I called friends back then. He was the perfect companion for an adventure to the Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music in June 1970. Over 2 days we joined 200,000 others to see a musical line-up that can only be described as awesome. We saw a lot of things that you didn’t see in our small town that weekend. The Hell’s Angels were cool & the casualties of the purple acid were not. It was a great time, we could see the attractions of this Hippie thing but we were Northern lads, this stuff wouldn’t really fly back at home. I’ll repeat myself, he was the right guy to share the experience with. He drove me there, he got me home & we had approached things correctly.

 

Butch left college that year. I had to hang around to make up for that year I had jumped. The next year I left town & only returned for flying visits to see my family. Keith is actually on Facebook & we live in the same town though we would probably pass each other in the street these days. I’ll send him this & hope that he has the same good memories about the short time that our paths intertwined all those years ago.

 

 

Staying Stoned and Singing Homemade Songs (Bobby Charles)

“See you later alligator…in a while crocodile” was the first song lyric to make an impression on my young self. The reptilian rhyme was smart, snappy & became quite a catchphrase. Bill Haley & the Comets were a Rock & Roll sensation in the mid-1950s. They may not have been the originators, they weren’t, but they were popularisers of this new, rebellious music. In the UK the inclusion of their #1 hit “Rock Around the Clock” in the 1955 film “The Blackboard Jungle” & a subsequent tour in 1957 caused a moral panic when the Teddy Boys made the nation’s front pages, wrecking & rolling cinemas & concert halls. Haley was 30 years old, a great pro but hardly hip to the teenage trip. This swinging sayonara, a hip hasta la vista, was written by a much younger hepcat, someone whose music continues to hit the spot.

 

Image result for bobby charlesBobby Charles (Robert Charles Guidry) was just 17, you know what I mean, when he recorded “Later Alligator”. The song caught the attention of Chess Records who were surprised when a young white boy answered their invitation to Chicago. Bobby was from Abbeville Louisiana, 150 miles west of New Orleans, & it was Fats Domino, that city’s biggest star, who had inspired him to take up with the Rock & Roll. In 1960 his hero recorded “Walking to New Orleans”, a song written for him by Charles, & had his biggest hit for a couple of years. In the following year “(I Don’t Know Why I Love You) But I Do” put Clarence “Frogman” Henry in the Top 10. Bobby continued to record with Imperial Records in N.O. & then with Jewel up in Shreveport but it was as a songwriter that he made his money (never what he was fully due) & earned his reputation. “I Hope”, 2 minutes short & so sweet, is one of the tracks cut for Jewel in 1964.

 

 

In the late sixties Bobby had to leave Nashville when he was caught growing the marahoochie. He turned up in Woodstock NY, famous for a festival that was actually held 60 miles away, home to a community centred around Bob Dylan & his manager Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Records. Bobby was laying low but, back then, if you knocked on a door in Woodstock it was likely that a musician would answer it. With his stories of sessions with Fats, Willie Dixon & Little Walter, his bag full of new songs, he soon had new friends, a recording contract & was back in the studio.

 

Image result for bobby charles bobby charles songs“Bobby Charles” (1972) is known as the album Charles made with the Band, Dylan’s backing musicians for his concerts & responsible for great music in their own right. Sure, bassist Rick Danko co-produced & was joined in the studio by Levon Helm & Garth Hudson (I believe Richard Manuel is in there somewhere, the credits are a little informal) but there’s much more to the record than famous friends. From the slinky Funk of “Street People” to the closing languid Country waltz “Tennessee Blues” there’s a greasy musical warmth matched with Bobby’s smoky rasp that makes the whole record a lovely, leisurely treat. Session guitarist Amos Garrett inserts a handsome elegance whenever he steps forward. Bobby’s roots are still there, you can take the boy out of Louisiana but…his lyrics, mature & magnanimous are, on the best songs, quite perfect. It’s tough to pick just one track but “Small Town Talk”, just Bobby, Levon on drums & the organ playing of Dr John, always does it for me.

 

 

Recording was underway for a follow-up LP in Bearsville when Grossman, who had helped Charles out with his legal problems, wanted to negotiate a new contract. Bobby had been wheeled & dealed before & now had a sharp eye for sharp practice. He walked away from Woodstock with the parting shot, “I can’t say that it was good doing business with you, so I’ll just say adios m—-f—-r !”. In November 1976 he showed out at the Winterland in San Francisco for the Band’s farewell concert. He performed “Down South in New Orleans” but didn’t make the final cut for the movie “The Last Waltz”, possibly because he had refused to go along with director Martin Scorsese’s suggestion that he should play “See You Later Alligator”. Bobby had had it with the business of music, went back to Louisiana. There would be no more new music for over a decade.

 

Image result for bobby charlesBobby still wrote songs, it was what he did. Joe Cocker picked up a couple for a 1976 LP. He had a co-credit with Neil Young on “Saddle Up the Palomino” & there was a song with Willie Nelson. Some of the tunes from the eponymous LP, “Small Town Talk”, “Tennessee Blues”, were covered by other artists. Fellow member of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame Tommy McLain recorded “I Hope” & “Before I Grow Too Old”. Charles became known as a pioneer of Swamp Pop, somewhere musically & geographically between Zydeco & New Orleans. His subsequent LPs, some involving more of his regarded friends, included selections from his extensive catalogue. It was the extended version of the 1972 record, followed by a box set of the complete Bearsville sessions which confirmed the quality of the music he was making at that time. “You Came Along”, not previously released, is a simple, sumptuous, delightful declaration of love with outstanding support on piano from Spooner Oldham off of Muscle Shoals AL.

 

 

Charles chose to live a quiet life in Abbeville, his major concern the pollution caused by the refineries along the banks of the Mississippi. When his house burned down, leaving him with his car & little else he moved to Holly Beach on the Gulf of Mexico. A hurricane found him there & he returned to his hometown where unfortunately, in 2010 he collapsed & died aged 71.

 

His talent was that he merged his many musical influences with his own empathic personality to produce an attractive, individual take on American music. His lyrical facility, direct, honest, almost conversational, has meant that successive generations have found an affinity to his songs. In the UK Ian Dury, no slouch when it comes to vernacular lyrics, selected “Small Town Talk” as a Desert Island Disc. Lily Allen opted for McLain’s version of “Before I Grow Too Old”. That same song, as “Silver & Gold”, was recorded by the great Joe Strummer, appearing as the final track on his final LP with the Mescaleros. Everyone has a favourite Bobby Charles song, maybe it’s just that you haven’t heard yours yet. That great album can be found in full on the Y-tube so get to it. I’ll see you later…