I’m late with this, the past week has been spent with friends of over 40 years standing & we have stopped counting. Along with the nourishment that comes from hanging with people who know each other so well it was refreshing to step away from the Matrix for some time (I don’t do smartphones & it’s rude to ask for someone else’s password). Returning to the Lincolnshire edgelands & to the e-world, a lot of stuff & even more nonsense, I resolve to keep my distance from everyone’s favourite waste of time. Yeah, that’ll work.
An F-book thread marking the 50th anniversary of the release of Love’s LP “Forever Changes”, a noteworthy landmark of our music, was hijacked by the naming of favoured “great” albums. Maybe 40 titles were checked off (I think some people carry their lists with them) & the link was that they were all made by white people. I mean what the actual Eff ! It’s OK, listen to & rate whatever you want to but if you really do think that “Searching For the Young Soul Rebels” by Dexys Midnight Runners is better than Sly & the Family Stone’s “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” then please don’t say it out loud, make an appointment with an otolaryngologist & don’t come around here no more.
What a clip this is. A performance from the Dick Cavett Show prettied up & linked to the stereo recording of “Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)”. Has any band looked so good & sounded so great ? It’s unlikely. “Thank You…” is one of a string of megahits from the group at the end of the 1960s. Sly, Sister Rose & Brother Freddie made it a family affair. Bassist Larry Graham. along with Bootsy Collins off of the J.B.’s, was taking the instrument from Soul to Funk while the brass section, Cynthia & Jerry, knew when to blaze like the Memphis boys & when to make the appropriate punctuation. Greg Errico’s drums completed a band that was greater than the sum of its impressive parts. Their intelligent positive songs found a massive audience. Sly & the Family Stone were deservedly a big deal at the time.
Money, drugs, ego, paranoia, politics, the usual stuff, came with the success. Sly became known for not showing up at gigs, locking himself away in his studio. missing deadlines for an album the record company expected. When that record finally arrived, in November 1971, the bright psychedelic Soul had been ousted by a stoned, ominous, prophetic Funk. “Thank You….” had become “Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa”, a fuzzy, even sluggish, righteous groove that could last an hour & not be too long. “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” is Sly’s masterpiece. This month I’ve been listening to a live broadcast of the Family Stone from Dutch radio in 1970. It’s raw, ragged, joyous & the funkiest 30 minutes it’s possible to have.
On the final day of October I finally got to see Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. I couldn’t make his last two UK visits & I’ve had tickets for this tour since April. I don’t go to many big gigs nowadays & forward planning is not my thing but this was much anticipated & not to be missed. Jason’s last 3 records have been the most played new music round our house, his blend of Roots, Country & American Rock continues a tradition of names that are not to be used lightly (The Band, Neil Young, Springsteen…there I’ve done it!). On this tour his wife, Amanda Shires, was absent & perhaps a little texture & light was lost. What we did get was Southern Rock at its finest by an outstanding band who if not at the top of their game then watch out !
The set included 8 of the 10 tracks from “The Nashville Sound”, a record where Isbell has expanded his lyrical palette, mixing the political with the personal. These are strange, serious times. What can a poor boy do? I’ve spent more time with “Southeastern” & “Something More Than Free” but “The Last of My Kind”, “Tupelo” & “White Man’s World” are certainly starting to hit those same spots. The showstoppers were a powerful, transformed “Cover Me Up” & his Drive-By Truckers classics “Decoration Day” & “Never Gonna Change”. The Birmingham Symphony Hall is as grand as it sounds, a beautiful room with perfect acoustics. It’s maybe not the best place for Rock & Roll but the staff were not too precious about their venue (I’m looking at you, the Barbican in that London) & I had a very, very good time.
I’m up for anything that Mike Judge puts his name to on my telly or for a bigger screen. I’ve also spent too much time watching Rock documentaries, the good, the bad & the what’s the point of this ? “Mike Judge Presents: Tales From the Tour Bus” hits both these spots, I’m the target audience, at the front of the queue for each 30-minute animated episode. I knew some of these stories about legendary Country crazies. Jerry Lee Lewis’s announcement, having been warned about profanity, at his Grand Ole Opry debut that ” ladies and gentlemen: I am a rock and rollin’, country-and-western, rhythm and blues-singin’ motherfucker!” is well chronicled but it is recounted, like everything else with irreverence & affection. The correct people are interviewed, I found the views of Myra, Jerry Lee’s teenage bride to be particularly interesting.
I knew little about Johnny Paycheck, the subject of the opening episode. Man, he was a mean motor scooter & a bad go-getter, suitcases full of cash & cocaine, the gun in the dashboard glove compartment never far from his hand Johnny P was the worst thing around, “a hillbilly with a hit”. Judge’s “Silicon Valley” is the best of recent US sit-coms & “…Tour Bus” gets another thumbs up from me.