The Final Frontier . . . . : The Grateful Dead’s Dark Star

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”

My musical roots are in what is now referred to as jamband and at the top of that pyramid were the Grateful Dead. There were however extended periods of time when I didn’t listen to them at all. That certainly has not been the case of late. I recently saw the Grateful Dead documentary “Long Strange Trip”. If you’re a deadhead, the movie isn’t going to offer any major revelations but the movie tells the story of the band and particularly Garcia in a way that’s engaging and ultimately heartbreaking. Between the movie and my going to see Dead & Company later this month, I have been listening to the Dead more recently that I have in a long time. The song that I have been listening to the most is the one that was most identified with early Grateful Dead, “Dark Star”.

In the early seventies, one usually became a deadhead almost as a process of mentor ship. My mentor was my older brother. I think I was eleven when one day he brought home a copy of Live Dead. As I looked over the list of songs, the title “Dark Star” jumped out at me. In my previous post about Pink Floyd and Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, I talked about how I was an adolescent science fiction twerp. A song with the title “Dark Star” was like catnip and demanded to be checked out. It was there and then that my young mind was blown. The music was mysterious and other worldly but beautifully melodic. The way the instruments weaved in and around each other didn’t sound like any other music I heard. For me, it changed how I heard music forever.

One of the more amusing parts of “Long Strange Trip” was the interview with Senator Al Franken discussing his favorite performance of his favorite Dead tune, “Althea” (May 16, 1980 at Nassau Coliseum, Long Island,  N.Y.). Deadheads love to analyze setlists and debate their favorite live versions of songs. This particularity among deadheads can be even more intense when discussing such an iconic song like “Dark Star”. Given this intensity, it did not come as much of a surprise to discover the amount of academic scholarship written about the band. I refer to it as Grateful Dead Studies. In hindsight, between listening to the Dead and playing bass in a Grateful Dead cover band, that was my unofficial major in college.

The links below point to a several articles and papers discussing “Dark Star”. The first link is to an article in the excellent web site Grateful Dead Guide. This is a comprehensive discussion of the song and it’s history. Everything you wanted to know about Dark Star but were afraid to ask.

http://deadessays.blogspot.com/2017/03/dark-star-1968-1989-guest-post.html

For those deadheads who actually love reading musical analysis (guilty as charged officer), the link below is to an article that talks about the harmonic aspects of Dark Star. It features mini score transcriptions of several key moments from the Dead’s performance of February 27, 1969, the version on Live Dead that changed my life. The scores have time stamps so you can cue up the performance   and follow the transcriptions. Be prepared for some real technical material. This is some serious musicological geek stuff here.

http://www.lipscomb.umn.edu/rock/docs/Boone1997_GratefulDead.pdf

Grateful Dead – Dark Star (Live/Dead) 1969

Below is a video from a masterclass given by the jazz pianist Dave Franks about Dark Star. It opens with a solo jazz piano performance and begins the discussion at around 7:00.

Grateful Dead master class with Dave Frank: Exploring “Dark Star”

Finally there is Grayfolded, a two CD record by experimental composer John Oswald. Oswald, using a process he calls plunderphonics, used over a hundred different performances of Dark Star to create an audio collage in which 25 years of performances are assembled, layered anf “folded” to produce two large, recomposed versions, each about one hour long of the Dead classic. Well before internet mash-ups became a thing, it’s interesting to note how well it functions as straight-up Dead music.

“Grayfolded” – Grateful Dead & John Oswald (Vinyl Side 1 Audio with Time Map)


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Posted in Grateful Dead, Jam Band, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“It’s Not My Cross To Bear” . . : Gregg Allman (1947 – 2017)

I’ve written in the past about the impact that the Allman Brothers have had on me as a musician so I’m just going to let the music that Gregg Allman made speak for itself.

The Allman Brothers Band – Whipping Post – 9/23/1970 – Fillmore East

 

Allman Brothers Band Midnight Rider – Acoustic Version  – Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, Madison Square Garden, NYC, 4/13/2013

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

Space Is The Place Part 1 – Pink Floyd Meets Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”

“We are not disappointed that you do drugs as much as we are of you for not sharing”.
– Me, sometime during the Seventies. . .I think . . it’s a bit hazy.

As a young teen age boy I was into science fiction which, in hindsight may be one of the reasons I was always attracted to music with an other worldly, mysterious vibe. When I was thirteen, I used some of my bar mitzvah money to buy a bunch of records that would have a big impact on my musical development. Some of them have been discussed in previous posts (Live Evil by Miles Davis) and others will get their deserved attention in due time (Third by Soft Machine comes to mind). Reviews of earlier Pink Floyd records in Rolling Stone magazine piqued my interest so one of the records that I bought was Pink Floyd’s “Meddle”. I must admit that I found the record a bit uneven but I was immediately into the first song of the record, “One Of These Days”, and the composition that took up the entire second side of the record, “Echoes”.

“Echoes” is Pink Floyd pushing the limits of sonic experimentation in the studio. The ping sounds at the beginning of the song were made by amplifying a piano through a rotating Leslie speaker (giving it that “wobbly” effect) and an early tape based echo device. A wind-like sound was created by vibrating the strings of a bass guitar with a steel slide and feeding the signal through the tape echo. The high pitched electronic “screams” heard in the middle of the song were accidentally discovered when the guitar was plugged into a wah wah pedal incorrectly. These sonic experiments were subsequently assembled into a coherent tone poem that holds up amazing well over time.

This brings us to the video below. There are rumors that Pink Floyd was originally offered to do the soundtrack for 2001: A Space Odyssey (not true, Kubrick had actually commissioned a score for 2001 from Hollywood composer Alex North but during post production, decided to use the classical pieces he had used as “guide pieces” for the soundtrack). The Echoes/2001 “connection” isn’t even the only piece of Pink Floyd involved synchronicity that has seeped into popular culture. In the mid nineties, I heard about the mashup of “Dark Side Of The Moon” with “The Wizard Of Oz” (check out “Dark Side Of The Rainbow” here). Nevertheless, the video, which synchronizes Echoes with the final sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ works amazing well. The music and imagery complement each other in surprising ways. The video also serves as an interesting example of how the score really impacts the whole movie.

Pink Floyd – Echoes & 2001: A Space Odyssey

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Somebody To Love” . . . : Bassist Extraordinaire Jack Casady

It came to my attention that Jack Casady, bassist for Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, turned 72 earlier this month. Lately, with everyday bringing news of the death of another musican I grew up listening to and learning from, I wanted to write something about Jack Casady now and not as a posthumous tribute.

In the late sixties and early seventies, Casady was one of the people you thought of when you were talking about virtuoso rock bassists. As a member of Jefferson Airplane, he brought a muscular melodic sense to his bass playing along with a driving rhythmic sense (very much in front of the beat). As a result, he gave a strong push to everyone he played with. And he played with a lot of people. Besides the aforementioned bands that define his career, he played with members of the Grateful Dead, CSNY, Country Joe and The Fish and this guy named Jimi Hendrix. He was also one of the first bassists to be involved with customizing his basses, first with a modified Guild Starfire bass and then a custom made Alembic bass. Later on, Casady helped design, in conjunction with Epiphone, the “Jack Casady Signature Bass”, a 34-inch scale hollow-body electric bass.

One of Jefferson Airplane’s songs that provided a showcase for Casady’s playing was the “The Ballad of You And Me And Pooneil”. The clip below is from an old PBS special “A Night At The Family Dog” which featured perfromances from the Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Santana. Cool moment at 3:12 when you see Grace Slick checking out Jack’s bass solo.

Jefferson Airplane – Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil (1967)


Below is an audio clip of a Jefferson Airplane performance of “Somebody To Love” from The Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, 10/25/1969 in a mix that semi isolated Casady’s bass playing (with a little bit of Paul Kantner’s rhythm guitar and Spencer Dryden’s drums). As I was listening to this clip, I was struck by how good a rhythm section these guys were.

Jefferson Airplane – Somebody To Love (live Casady mix)

 

Hot Tuna started out as a side project for Casady and Airplane lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen in 1969 and has turned out to be most long lasting musical association of Jack’s career, one that lasts to this day. Hot Tuna started out as an acoustic blues unit, then became an electric blues band, morphed into hard rock (with a Hot Tuna show from the late seventies being the loudest concert I’ve ever been to) and now back to a semi acoustic band again. The clip below, from a show that was on the San Francisco NET station KQED called “Folk Guitar”, features the acoustic duo version of Hot Tuna playing a Jorma original instrumental “Mann’s Fate”. These two have a nearly telepathic rapport that is displayed here in full glory.

Hot Tuna – Mann’s Fate (1969)


About that Hendrix dude..
Below is a video of behind-the-scenes footage from the “Voodoo Chile” recording in 1968 featuring Casady alongside Hendrix and the all-star ensemble. The discussion regarding Casady’s contribution starts around the 3:00 mark in the clip that also touches on the follow-up song “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”.

Voodoo Chile / Voodoo Child (Slight Return): Behind The Scenes


Currently, as well as performing with Hot Tuna, Casady teaches bass workshops at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio. How cool is that.

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Posted in Bass, Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” : The Genius of James Jamerson

Many, many years ago, I was at a party when my friend Craig began chatting up this girl. Whether he was being my wing man or just trying to make conversation with her (for his own nefarious purposes no doubt), he mentioned to her that I played bass.  She asked me who my favorite bassist was and I said “James Jamerson”. I was met with a blank, dumb puppy like stare. “Who”?. “James Jamerson”, I said. “He played bass on all the classic Motown records like Heard It Through The Grapevine, I Was Made To Love Her, Dancing In The Street”. There was a faint glimmer of recognition in her eyes but you can tell that she wasn’t impressed. Neither Craig or I got any farther with her.

James Jamerson was possible one of the most important musicians in the second half of the 20th century that most people never heard of. Non-singing bassists usually don’t get much recognition from the public in the first place but even many music geeks aren’t aware of his place in the history of popular music. Motown didn’t credit it’s session musicians before 1971 and it wasn’t until that year, when he was acknowledged as “the incomparable James Jamerson” on the sleeve of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, that his name even showed up on a major Motown release.

Prior to Jamerson, bass playing in the popular music of the day rarely consisted of anything more than simple patterns outlining the chords. Jamerson, who had a solid jazz background, brought that music’s harmonic and melodic sophistication to the bass lines that he played on all those classic Motown tunes but with a rhythmic sensibility that would help define the “Motown Sound”. His playing would go on to influence a incredible number of other bassists including Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, Bill Wyman, Brian Wilson and Bootsy Collins.

The clips below illustrate how amazing Jamerson’s bass playing was (he passed away way too young 1983 at the age of 45) where you can hear how his melodic bass lines created a duet with the vocals. Prepare to be amazed.

JAMES JAMERSON & MARVIN GAYE – WHAT’S GOING ON

 

James Jamerson with Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

James Jamerson & The Temptations – I CAN’T GET NEXT TO YOU

JAMES JAMERSON with The Four Tops – REACH OUT (I’LL BE THERE)

James Jamerson – I Heard It Through The Grapevine

Jamerson was the subject of a 1989 book titled Standing in the Shadows of Motown (that was subsequently made in to a 2002 documentary film). It features a few dozen transcriptions of his bass lines which were perfomed by a who’s who of bassists on an accompanying CD. I could not recommend this enough to any musician, regardless of instrument or the type of music you play.

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Posted in Bass, Music Appreciation and Analysis

Earth’s Ambassador To The Universe: Chuck Berry (1926 – 2017)

Below is an except from a skit on Saturday Night Live that aired on April 22, 1978. It says all that’s need to be said about Chuck Berry’s importance to the universe.

From Saturday Night Live 04/22/1978 

Skit Name…….Next Week in Review
Maxine Universe…..Laraine Newman
Mitzi Molnar…..Jane Curtin
Cocuwa…..Steve Martin
Kreeg Antwoord…..Dan Aykroyd

[ open on futuristic set, with TITLE CARD ]

Maxine Universe: Good evening, and welcome once again to “Next Week in Review”, the show that believes any news is old news if it’s already happened, and dares to predict what’s going to happen next week. [ to her guests ] Well, psychics… you did superbly again last week. You batted 1.000 once more. Mitzi, you predicted that the Panama Canal Treaty would be approves by a 68-to-32 vote… Cocuwa, you predicted that Harry Reasoner would be leaving the ABC News because he didn’t fit in with the plans… and, Kreeg, you predicted correctly that world heavyweight boxing champion Leon Spinks would be arrested for driving without headlights and having cocaine in his hat. Um — but let’s get on to tomorrow’s headlines: What does next week look like? What’s going to be the big story?

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Maxine Universe: Well, uh, Cocuwa — you predicted every Time Magazine cover for the last two years. Um, what’s going to be on the Time Magazine cover this week — uh, next week — the Pope’s cloning, the nuclear dump disappearance, or the Boone-napping?

Cocuwa: NONE of the above, Maxine! You know that my adopted name — Cocuwa — means “To help without compensation” in Hawaiian. And I have NOTHING to gain in ANY way from the personal wealth of my great gift. I believe… next week’s Time cover… will be about the recent communication from outer space.

Maxine Universe: Well, what — you mean a foreign planet will actually send a message next week?

Cocuwa: No! A foreign planet actually SENT us a message last week. Next week, the government will reveal the message to the public.

Kreeg Antwoord: [ coughing ] You see, it all started on August 20th, 1977, when NASA put up a recording of the sounds of Earth on Voyager I. A two-hour long tape included, uh, natural sounds of animals, a French poem by Gaugliere, a passage from the Koran in Arabic, messages from President Carter, United Nations Secretary Kurt Waldheim, music — everything from classical to Chuck Berry.

Maxine Universe: Uh — and you’re saying that the, uh — another civilization has found the tape?

Cocuwa: Yes. They’ve sent us a message that actually proves it. It may be just four simple words, but it is the FIRST positive proof that other intelligent beings inhabit the universe.

Maxine Universe: Uh — what are the four words, Cocuwa?

Cocuwa: The four words that came to us from outer space — the FOUR words that will appear on the cover of Time Magazine next week — are: [ he holds up the magazine” “Send More Chuck Berry”.

[ the audience applauds enthusiastically ]

Here’s a link to the full sketch on SNL 04/22/78:

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/next-week-in-review/3008107

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Posted in Classic Rock

Call To The Higher Consciousness . . : Larry Coryell (1943 – 2017)

I was literally on my way out of town when I heard the news that guitarist Larry Coryell passed away. Nowadays, I am reluctant to write posts on the latest musician to pass away since it seems that every week another musical hero leaves us but this one felt personal. Coryell was one of my favorite guitarists in the early Seventies when I was starting to play guitar and his playing and several early records of his had an enormous impact on my playing and musical development overall.

I’ll leave the biography to other sources like Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Coryell) and instead talk about my favorite records of his and the live performances of his that had the biggest impact on me.

I first heard of Larry Coryell via reviews in Rolling Stone and The Village Voice as one of the handful of musicians who were developing this new music called Jazz Rock. I remember my brother having a copy of his first record Lady Coryell which has one of my favorite guitar solos on the tune Treats Style (I wrote about this solo in my post “How Blue Can You Get . . .” : Some Lesser Known Blues Solos Worth Checking Out here:  https://roymusicusa.com/2014/07/11/how-blue-can-you-get-some-lesser-known-blues-solos-worth-checking-out/).

I think the first Larry Coryell record that I bought was Barefoot Boy (Flying Dutchman Records, 1971). The record was a bit unfocused but the highlight was the Coryell tune Call To The Higher Consciousness (such a sixties title). The clip below is not the version from Barefoot Boy. Frankly, that version is marred by a long boring drum solo in the middle. The one below is a much shorter, more concise version that still has that early seventies hippie jazz vibe and great playing from Coryell.

Larry Coryell – Call to the Higher Consciousness –

The following year Coryell released Offering (Vanguard, 1972) with his band Foreplay (not to be confused with the later fusion group Fourplay). This is one of my all time favorite records. I know it’s not a brilliant, amazing, history making record but it just continues to speak to me forty five later. There is a loose jazzy interplay within the group (Steve Marcus, soprano sax, Mike Mandel, keyboards, Melvyn Bronson, bass and Harry Wilkinson, drums along with Larry Coryell, guitar) with a unforced rocking energy that I find missing in later Fusion groups. Again, Coryell’s guitar playing is great. He freely mixes a jazz vocabulary with rock and blues guitar articulations and attitude. At this time, he’s playing a big Gibson hollowbody jazz guitar loud, resulting in a very cool overdrive tone. I remember seeing this band several times, notably opening for Captain Beefheart at Town Hall in NYC in October of 1972 and then as part of of the Newport In New York Jazz festival in June, 1973 in Wollman Skating Rink, Central Park, both times totally blowing me away. Below are clips with my three three favorite tunes from the tunes from the album.

Larry Coryell – Foreplay

Larry Coryell – Offering

Larry Coryell – Scotland I

In 1974 Coryell formed a new band, The Eleventh House, featuring trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Alphonse Mouzon. This band always struck me as sounding a little more of what we now associate as Fusion. Not as much improvisational interplay within the band, more of a soloist/accompanist texture but they  still rock out while putting out some impressive playing. The record benefits greatly by having some pretty good tunes with actual melodies and hooks. Here, special mention must be made of keyboardist Mike Mandel, the only holdover from Coryell’s previous group, Foreplay. Mandel contribute my two favorite tunes on the record, Adam Smasher and Joy Ride. They’re not complex compositions but they provide great springboards for some inspired playing from the band. Those two tunes are followed with clips of two more songs from the record, Coryell’s Low-Lee-Tah, with a cool flanged guitar intro and Funky Waltz, a Alphonse Mouzon tune with a great beat and hook.

Larry Coryell & The Eleventh House – Adam Smasher

Larry Coryell & The Eleventh House – Joy Ride

The Eleventh House with Larry Coryell – Low-Lee-Tah

Larry Coryell & The Eleventh House – The Funky Waltz

After these records, my own musical interests took me elsewhere but these records and shows were integral part of who I am now as a musician. Thanks.

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Posted in Jazz, Music Appreciation and Analysis
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