Random Notes (October 2017)

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.


Related imageMoney, 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 !


Image result for jason isbell 400 unitThe 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.


Image result for tales from the tour busI’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.


Image result for tales from the tour bus johnny paycheckI 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.


It’s The Truth That The Truth Makes Them So Uptight (Sly and the Family Stone)

The stories about Sly Stone, tales of drug related paranoia & craziness, have become legendary. The will he/won’t he show up for the show, trouble  when his bass player, Larry Graham, hired a hit man to sort out some differences. Luckily Sly was adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen of cocaine & PCP to keep his mind limber. None of this business should deflect from the fact that Sly, with his group the Family Stone, created trailblazing, innovative music which fused musical & social trends into something unique & then sold by the shed load. Sly & the Family Stone did not break the barriers they just ignored them.

How beautiful is this clip ? The band are on prime-time US TV to promote the 1968 #1 single “Everyday People”. After some sound advice from Sly,”don’t hate the black, don’t hate the white. If you get bitten – just hate the bite”, they rock into a medley to which even Ed Sullivan’s audience know, resistance is futile. This band could play. Yes they were multi-racial, yes the women were not just backing singers, the band took current trends in soul, funk & rock & cooked up their own irresistible groove. Whether you were sitting in the Sullivan audience, listening to the radio or tripping your tits off at Woodstock, Sly & the Family Stone were gonna take you higher.

The early hits were strictly positive vibrations, simple songs about everyday people having hot fun. The sunshine of a brave new world was clouded by money, fame, drugs & a move from their San Francisco base to Los Angeles. Sly’s increasingly erratic behaviour led to conflict with the band & with promoters. Between 1969 & 1971 there was only one new single released. It was a #1 hit while the “Greatest Hits” release was the 60th best LP ever made according to Rolling Stone. Sly Stone was alone in either his home studio or a specially built room in the Record Plant working out his personal demons. The result was “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” a remarkable blend of the social & personal implications of the death of the 60s. It is, wrote Robert Christgau, “darker than the Velvet Underground & Nico & funkier than shit”. The first single from this stygian funk classic was at #1 in the USA for 3 weeks…of course it was.

♫It’s A Family Of Bears♫ as my friend Mo would chirrup in the greatest example of a misheard lyric I know. “Family Affair” , a spare reflection on luv & Haight , is as perfect a pop song as  you can find. The Family Stone were barely functional at the time. Sister Rose duets with Sly who programmed this new drum machine toy he had (this is the first #1 to use such a thing). Friends Billy Preston & Bobby Womack made contributions too. Because the band were elsewhere, bass player Larry Graham (inventor of the slap-bass) left to form Central Station, drummer Gregg Errico played with Weather Report & Bowie, there are no clips of “Riot” being given the proper treatment. There is a charming & restrained duet between Sly & Rose here.

“There’s a Riot Goin’ On” is a murky masterpiece. Sly, singing while lying on his bed, can no longer summon the optimism of 1968. Lyrically there is cynicism, even pessimism, but musically he still hits the spot. The closing 7 minute long “Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa” is funkier than a junkyard dog & is a delight. This was the commercial peak for Sly. The following records were still good, especially “Fresh”. However, an addict’s world gets smaller & he never caught the moment again like he did in 1971.

He did though get the band back together in 1974 & this clip from “Soul Train” is another thing of wonder. “Thank You(Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)” was that one record released in 1970 & this jam captures the magic of Sly’s loose groove. Brother Freddie is still around, as are the beautiful Cynthia Robinson & sister Rose. There’s a new rhythm section, Rusty Allen & Bill Lordan, while that’s gotta be Sid Page off of Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks on funk violin proving that Sly Stone was still listening & still moving his sound forward.

Sly Stone has been so very influential on so many musicians. Miles Davis got funked up on “On The Corner”, Parliament/Funkadelic & the Isley Brothers brought new guitarists forward. Prince just fell in love with the whole deal. Hip Hop samples ? Just the few thousand. In fact LL Cool J’s “Mama Gonna Knock You Out”, based on “Trip To Your Heart” still sounds good. When any art is said to be ahead of its time there is an implication that the rest of the world took some time to catch up. The music of Sly & the Family Stone was ahead of anyone else but it was creating the future for an audience which accepted & were carried along by it. For a time there the most innovative music was also the most popular. Different world now ? Maybe.

Sly Stone is recognised for his artistry but has been down on his luck for some time. He only makes news when there are money or drug problems. Man, you wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I wish him luck in the future.