A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Friday, June 28, 2002

Well..I was as blind-sided by the news report as anyone...another great musician has passed away. I refer, of course, to John Entwistle..the rock-solid bassist for The Who. He was found dead in his hotel room in Las Vegas yesterday..a night before The Who were to start their latest reunion tour--the initial suspected cause is heart failure, he was 57. Yeah, you can say that it's *all* been a bit of a cash-in ever since Keith Moon, the band's legendary drummer/rock n' roll wild man, died in 1978...but Entwistle always showed a lot of class..must be the English bass player thing...because John Paul Jones had much the same role in Led Zeppelin..the quiet, classy one in the group full of hooligans--O.K., O.K...Ian 'Lemmy' Kilmister from Hawkwind/Motorhead is an exception to that rule.
Entwistle helped found The Who with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey in 1964..after the trio's original "mod" combo, The High Numbers, split up with just one single under their collective belt, "I'm The Face". They recruited Moon from a local R&B/surf (!) band and took on Kit Lambert's services as band manager. They landed a record deal and Lambert set up his own label, Track Records, to exclusively release The Who's singles and albums. Their debut single, I Can't Explain in 1965, is considered to be one of the finest starting points in English rock...the pressure was so great for the band to have a hit that Townshend was only allowed to play the guitar solo break, which he modeled after The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" solo (Jimmy Page, later of The Yardbirds and Led Zep played the rhythm guitar on the track). What stands out in the song, though..is Entwistle's propulsive bass line, Moon's "machine-gun" drum fill right before the choruses come in and Daltrey's slurred vocal delivery. Entwistle was perfect for the band in that he was probably the *only* bassist who could adapt to Moon's frenetic drumming style--a mixture of surf riffs, R&B back-beat and rock n roll agility. Moon would have been too "all over the place" for Paul McCartney, not bluesy enough for Bill Wyman and not jazzy enough for Jack Bruce. Entwistle was one of the first rock bassists to use bass chords, which was aboslutely unheard of in 1964/65--he would come up with complex structures that would be found more in jazz than in pop, but they sounded *deceptively* simple--try playing one of his bass lines if you don't agree. He also got the *defining* moment on The Who's My Generation single, their most well-known and trademark song--they get to the middle eight for the solo...but instead of Townshend ripping through one of his feedback ridden excursions..Entwistle plucks out some low bass notes..then does a descending fluid pattern of notes after Townshend plays a bluesy break..voila..rock's first bass solo! Onstage, while Townshend would be smashing his guitar, Moon kicking over his drumkit and Daltrey scraping the microphone on one of Moon's dislodged cymbals...Entwistle would stand in front of his bass cabinet..playing various scales right through the chaos around him.
He also provided some of the Who's more humourous moments..like the deep voice on Boris The Spider (besides the excellent bass riff)..played the French horn on Cobwebs And Strange, which gives it that marching band/oompah quality...and, of course, his shining moment in The Who's recorded output, My Wife, from their quintessential 1971 album, Who's Next. There's a rumour that Daltrey fought with Entwistle over who would get to sing on the track..but I'm glad Entwistle won out..his "woe-is-me"/"down-on-me-luck" yobbo voice fits the lyrics (about a man running from his wife after he got too drunk and caused some unpleasantness--I *still* can't figure out what he sings after "All I did was have a bit too much to drink..") in a way that Daltrey may have over-dramatized. His bass lines are up-front all over that album, like the nice little riffs he provides in Gettin' In Tune and Goin' Mobile. On the two major "concept" albums The Who made, Tommy (about a deaf, dumb and blind boy who becomes a modern messiah) and Quadrophenia (about a "mod" named Jimmy who journeys to Brighton to find disillusionment), he was happy to sit back and let Townshend and Daltrey take the glory, while he just plugged in and played. His work on "Tommy" is over-shadowed by the vocals and Townshend's guitars and nearly buried in the mix, except on a couple of the tunes (We're Not Gonna Take It, Pinball Wizard), but his bass is given a more prominent position in the mix of "Quadrophenia", and he came up with some of his best stuff..nearly getting fonky..like on The Real Me and 5:15. He made a couple of solo records during The Who's hiatus from 1975 to 1977 and toured as well. The punk explosion took place in England in 1976/77..but The Who were one of the few 60s bands not to be slagged off by the new pack of bands--"No more Beatles, Stones or Elvis in '77", I believe was the rallying cry of The Clash. This was probably due to the The Who's anti-establishment/working-class stance from the beginning--though Daltrey and Moon were the two working-class lads in the group. When they re-grouped to make Who Are You, Moon's addictions were catching up to him and it's been said that a session drummer played most of the backing tracks on the album. Moon passed away in 1978, ironically from an over-dose of the medication that was supposed to curb his alcohol consumption. The other three decided not to split--but to continue on with old friend, ex-Small Faces drummer, Kenny Jones.
The re-vamped Who made two studio records and a live album..and endured one of rock's biggest tragedies when several fans were killed in a stampede of people trying to get into a Who concert in Cinicinatti in 1979. They split for good in 1982, after the It's Hard record was released. Townshend continued his solo career he had started in 1978...Daltrey took up acting for a bit...and Entwistle chilled out for a while. He did appear on a PBS series in the late-80s, an educational show aimed at kids to teach them the fundamentals of music theory. The three remaining members worked together in the studio in 1988, the first time since 1981, for Townshend's Iron Man record..two tracks called Dig and Fire. This led to a full-on Who reunion and they toured for the first time in nearly ten years in 1989--which coincided with the 20th anniversary of both "Tommy" and the 1969 Woodstock Festival, where The Who performed a large portion of "Tommy" and are featured in the film performing a bit of it. Entwistle stayed active in the 90s..doing both solo tours and a couple more with The Who. They have been relatively quiet the past few years, aside from Pete Townshend's various solo efforts popping up here and there (the re-mastered Scoop, the complete Lifehouse boxed set--which was to be a concept record like "Tommy", but it fell apart and the scraps became "Who's Next"). It was announced earlier this year that The Who would be touring in the summer--but sadly..another original member is gone now, so it looks like The Who are officially dis-banded for good, at least I would hope Townshend and Daltrey wouldn't think they could carry on even without Entwistle--that would be disgusting. Here's to John Entwistle, who most definitely expanded the bass guitar's vocabulary in rock and roll..he didn't have the jazz licks of say, Jaco Pastorius, or the star quality of McCartney...but he could play like a champ and he was very humble for being one of the best bass players around!

Sunday, June 16, 2002

I begin with some Schizoid Man farewells to Janusz Torbicz, our man Temple's father--who passed away suddenly last week after a long, hard-fought battle with cancer..so some hearty Father's Day cheers and big-ups to him...Rest In Peace, Mr. Torbicz--a 21 guitar-riff salute to you. And a Happy Father's Day to me own Da--I bought him a couple of military history books 'cause that's his bag..but don't think I wasn't going to buy him the Psychedelics Encyclopedia as a gag gift..no, that one ended up in my possession.
I had to work a shift at the record store yesterday and found an interesting item in the cut-out/cheapie bin. It's by English eccentric Ivor Cutler and the title is Cute, (H)ey?. The disc packaging resembles a small book, which is fortunate because it's part of something called the "Songbook Series", released by EMI Records in 1999. Apparently, the idea was to approach an artist and give them free reign to compile a disc of some music that inspired them or to spotlight certain music that they really felt was under-exposed to their fans. I decided to buy it because, well, the price was right and also I knew Cutler from his guest spot on Robert Wyatt's phenomenal 1974 record Rock Bottom. I don't know much about him, except he's a poet who also dabbles in recording and was on the periphery of the English psych counter-culture inthe late-60s/early 70s. He gives a brief description of the tunes he has selected--such as "That a woman of the calibre of Nina Simone should need to sing the song 'I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free' reminds me that xenophobia is alive and kicking" and on the last page: "That's all, folks, but if you feel I've sold you short, try listening to silence, the music of the cognoscenti. You'll never look back.". I don't feel I was sold short--it's a nice mix of styles. Cutler has included Albert Ammons' "Shout For Joy", a boogie-woogie piano solo from 1939..the Nina Simone tune is excellent..as are the Arvo Part choral pieces, very haunting, but with a calming effect. He also chose some Eastern European music out of due for part of his ethnic background: 6 Romanian Folk Dances, the Bela Bartok piece and two Marta Sebestyen tunes ("Madoscai Szolo-Orzo" and "Edesanyam Rozafaja"). Cutler has a fascination with African drumming so that is represented by a track called Drum Rhythms and he continues the African theme to the track right after, Miriam Makeba singing "Kilimanjaro". He sneaks a couple of his own tunes into the mix: the silly but amusing I Believe In Bugs with Cutler singing and playing harmonium and the similar I'm Walkin' To A Farm--Cutler sings "I'm walkin' to a farm/to grow wheat as a refrain..it's goofy but has a nice drone-y feel--thanks to the harmonium which makes Cutler draw certain words out to fit the drone of the instrument. Robert Wyatt makes an appearance singing on Cutler's tune Grass, a fairly psychedelic track with tabla, piano and something in the back-ground that sounds like a sped-up saxophone or a snake-charmer's horn. The mix is rounded out with Mahalia Jackson's "Didn't It Rain"...Lennie Tristano's poly-rhythmic jazz jam "Turkish Mambo" and a traditional Japanese song "Miyagi Mago Uta". I enjoyed listening to this very much and jumping from a Japanese traditional a capella song to Mahalia Jackson's gospel phrasing wasn't jarring at all...or an Eastern European folk tune into a quasi-psych song that starts with tabla beats--it's first rate! I think the series is out-of-print now and when I checked out a website address they had printed on the back of the "book" to see what other titles were in the series--I ended up at a Virgin Records site with, like, Lenny Kravitz' mug plastered on the screen..Oi..Wot's all this, then?!!
Listening to Ivor's stuff reminded me of another English eccentric, Ron Geesin. Ron is also a multi-instrumentalist/spoken-word artist who got his start in a jazz group playing piano and banjo. He left the band and started to make home recordings featuring his spoken-word observsations and tape experiments. He somehow parlayed that into a record deal with a small label and released his first full-length A Raise Of Eyebrows, in 1967. It's a strange album, even for '67..with Ron saying things like "It's certainly random.. in his Scottish burr and playing high-speed banjo..or the sound of breaking glass, followed by a dim-wit laugh..and a proper English voice saying "There are bricks in your garden..go and throw them at your neighbors" as if from a pulpit. Some of the more avant-garde in the psych counter-culture picked up on Ron's record and eventually he met Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and the two were commissioned to provide the music for a documentary about the human body. Music From The Body was released in 1970 on EMI's "progressive" label, Harvest. I don't have this in my collection yet--so I can't give you any hints on how it stacks up--but Vernon Joynson wrote negatively about it in "The Tapestry Of Delights". I don't completely trust Joynson's opinion..so I will be adding "..The Body" to my collection at some point. Waters invited Geesin to write the orchestral parts for the next Floyd album, Atom Heart Mother, which was in progress at that time. He did an admirable job and you can hear the result in the "Atom Heart Mother Suite", which takes up the whole first side of the L.P. (and is the first long track on the CD re-issue). The orchestral bits give the piece it's flow and smooth the transitions from one part of the suite to the next--I have a live bootleg from the Fillmore West with just The Floyd playing "Atom Heart.." un-accompanied and some of the transitions are slightly rough. After that..Waters and Geesin parted ways as Pink Floyd were going in a more "back-to-basics/four guys jamming" direction without outside frills, so Geesin continued with his solo work. He released an album of experimental electronic music for a record library only--not for the public..but he did issue As He Stands on John Peel's "Dandelion" label in 1973. It's similar to "A Raise..", except he gets more sophisticated with his studio trickery and upgrades to synthesizers for his keyboard sounds. There are some great moments, especially Wrapping A Keyboard Round A Plant and the shout-out to Waters, To Roger Waters, Wherever You Are. Geesin would continue on, releasing sporadic albums and making a lot of music for BBC docs. The best of these are collected on Hystery, released on Cherry Red Records in 1994--it's out-of-print now but pops up on E-Bay every once in a while. The two albums "A Raise.." and "As He Stands" were released on CD on the See For Miles label in the early 90s. That disc is also out-of-print..but you can score that on E-Bay as well. Not for everybody..but if you like outre stuff.. a little spoken-word..some jazzy piano and frantic banjo..all done up with a sheen of psychedelia (and that's just his early records!)...Geesin's your man! I think Ivor and Ron should collaborate--now *there's* an exercise in complete weirdness--hey guys, if you do make a record together--you've got at least *one* guaranteed sale! That's all folks...see ya next time..Peace!

Thursday, June 06, 2002

A short post today...the first week of June 2002 (if you follow the Gregorian calendar anyway). June 1st, 1967 was of course the release date for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the apogee of The Beatles' psychedelic period and a cultural touch-stone of immense proportions. Yeah, it gets blamed by prog-haters (like Julian Cope, for example) as the instigator of progressive rock and the album that gave legitimacy to "concept" albums, the fusion of classical elements in a rock-and-roll context and songs with two or three parts. To be honest, there's truth to that statement..The Beatles were the trend-setters in the late-60s and they spearheaded almost all of the major changes in pop music in the 60s..well, English pop, anyway--and progressive rock is mainly English phenomenon to begin with. Were they the first to create "psychedelic" music? Probably not..but they were the first to popularize it..even before it was called psychedelic..with the B-side of the Paperback Writer single in 1966, called Rain, featuring an expanding/contracting rhythm and backward vocals in the coda. When "Sgt. Pepper's.." was released, it was heralded as being far beyond anything that had been attempted in the pop music realm up to that time--and though 30+ years have dissipated the hype like so much incense n' pot smoke and some of it's more astonishing features have faded, it has assured it's place in the pantheon of rock albums. You can trace a direct lineage from "Pepper" to progressive by way of bands like Procol Harum and their Shine On Brightly record from 1968. The second side of "Shine On.." contains a track called In Held 'Twas In I that is 17-minutes long..but unlike, say, The Velvet Underground's Sister Ray..also the same length and released the same year.."In Held.." has tempo changes and assorted instruments and moods, from pensive to outright madness--whereas "Sister Ray" is 17-minutes of unleashed fury and squalls of feedback, no time for English niceties--Lou Reed wants you uncomfortable and in that room with him--and the rest of the band sound as if they're trying to play louder than each other. Procol Harum took their cue from "Pepper"..adding in sitars and classical elements--also fusing different songs or sections of songs together to form a continuous piece, a la A Day In The Life. Other bands, such as The Nice, featuring rising star Keith Emerson on keyboards, took "Pepper" as a license to "let their freak flag fly" (though it should be noted that they derived as much inspiration from Jimi Hendrix as they did from The Fab Four)..but also fused classical elements in their music, probably because The Beatles had used string quartets on Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby (the latter especially being an influence on the psych era). The Moody Blues introduced the mellotron, a keyboard instrument that used recorded tapes of other instruments to simulate the sound of those instruments--sort of a primitive sampler, into their music after it appeared on The Fabs' February '67 single Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane..and they continued using it long after The Beatles had cast it aside. The Nice, in turn, must have had an effect on nascent progressive groups like King Crimson, who didn't have a flash keyboarder like Emerson, but boasted an ace jazz/classical-tinged guitarist in Robert Fripp. Yes started out performing stretched-out covers of Beatles tunes in their stage show and Genesis used King Crimson's first record In The Court Of The Crimson King as their template when starting out..and on and on through the early 70s. It's easy to pitch stones at "Pepper" nowadays, because it's become such an icon..and later on you find out things like Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention's "Freak Out" was actually the first rock album to have a "gatefold" sleeve--I was thought "Pepper" was the first to use a gatefold (it *was* the first to have the lyrics printed on the outside of the album) Press-related hype aside, I think it's a solid album that does have moments of giddy brilliance and a creative team who were taking leaps of curiosity in and out of the studio (except for resident "straight", George Martin) to a momentous effect. This album is "Pomp And Circumstance" for graduates of Dr. Hoffmann's--as Terrence McKenna said, rest his soul.
Another band under The Beatles psychedelic sway was The Move, an R&B/soul group from Birmingham. They "moved" to London (hence the group's moniker) in 1966 and after a bit, scored a residency at the famed Marquee Club. Roy Wood, the leader, guitarist and singer liked the psychedelic sound of Pink Floyd and Tomorrow and started to write songs that aped the style while not taking LSD or smoking marijuana himself. Trevor Burton, the band's original bassist, did some inner-exploration of his own and regaled Wood about his own trips and that's how Flowers In The Rain and I Can Hear The Grass Grow came about. The group's first album, simply called The Move, was released in late 1967 and sported a groovy cover by The Fool, the Dutch artists' collective that designed the "Sgt. Pepper.." inner record sleeve. The album was a mix of styles..some psych..some straight-up R&B..and even a faux-doo-wop ditty Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart, sung by Bev Bevan, the band's drummer (later in Electric Light Orchestra). Ace Kefford, the lead singer from the Marquee days through the first album..left due to Wood's intense control of the band. Wood took over all lead vocal duties and they recorded Shazam in 1968. "Shazam" leans in a harder rock direction and the psychedelia is limited to just a couple of tracks..though one of those is the superb Fields Of People..written by a coupla blokes surnamed Day and Pierson...it starts out as an almost folky number with acoustic guitars and some jokey spoken-word bits thrown in by Wood..with him asking supposed passers-by if they're going to the pub or saying "There's a bloke 'ere 'oos loookin' fer the band"--as if the group are playing out on a street. The song builds up to a nice crescendo..then ends...so you think..but a guitar fades in playing a raga-like pattern of notes..is joined by a second guitar and they tear into some nice raga-rock with drums and bass included--it's one of The Move's finest moments. Another personnel change brought Jeff Lynne, a Brummie friend of Wood's, who's own psych group The Idle Race had split. They made 1970's Looking On as a four-piece and Lynne's pop talents eased the hard rock sound a bit..not much, though..as Wood favored heavy bass lines and crunching guitar chords, especially on Brontosaurus and the title track. Roy Wood was becoming tired of writing songs that would only fit The Move's parameters and wanted to take the classical/rock fusion to a whole new level. He knew he couldn't accomplish that with The Move, so he and Lynne started planning and writing tunes for what they thought would be a side project. The Move recorded what would be their final album Message From The Country in 1971. On that record, it was Wood, Lynne, Bevan and producer/musician Denny Cordell as the line-up. There are some interesting tunes..It Wasn't My Idea To Dance, the album opener..utilizes what sounds like a hurdy-gurdy for a lead instrument and a box of gravel for a rhythm track...and Lynne's The Words Of Aaron gives you a taste of what his later 70s pop forays will sound like...but it's not as strong a record as it could have been and doesn't compare with "The Move" or "Shazam". The Move finally split in 1972, with the single California Man as their farewell release..which coincided with the first album of Wood and Lynne's new band Electric Light Orchestra. Wood split from E.L.O. after their first record No Answer (that was it's title in the States anyway) to form his glam-rock/50s hommage outfit Wizzard and Lynne would hone E.L.O.'s sound into radio-friendly hook-laden pop and find international popularity along the way.
O.K., gentle readers..that's it for this week--it's my birthday tomorrow...that's right..I'm off to Minneapolis to party with The Purple One, who shares my birthday...I invited M.A.D. along..so be there or be square! Actually, I'll be here--and M.A.D. sent me a mix tape..Yeah! Maybe he put a Prince track on the tape, though..so I'm not too far off...