It came up that earlier this week was the three year anniversary of Aretha Franklin’s death with numerous Internet music websites marking the occasion. One of them was UCR (Ultimate Classic Rock) who I want to thank for this one. . .
Aretha Franklin sang everything great. Her roots were in gospel. Her early Columbia records had her sings jazz and songs from the Great American Songbook (Gershwin, Cole Porter, etc.). Her classic Atlantic recordings cemented her place as the Queen of Soul. She even once kicked ass singing opera as a last minute replacement for Pavorati on the Grammys. Aretha Franklin had broad musical tastes and throughout her long career recorded more than her share of rock songs, many of which are classic versions in and of themselves.
From Franklin’s second album for Atlantic Records with Muscle Shoals’ Swampers for backup and a horn section led by King Curtis.
The Young Rascals’ song has blue-eyed soul meet the Queen of Soul. Backed up once again by the Muscle Shoals studio musicians known as the Swampers with backup vocals from Cissy Houston and sister Carolyn Franklin.
Franklin takes the Beatles to church with gospel choir backup vocals and a sax solo. This was also the first version of the song to be released commercially, as the Beatles’ single did not come out until two months after Franklin’s.
Let It Be
Featuring Duane Allman on National Steel guitar and King Curtis leading the horn section. I find it interesting that Franklin’s version puts a more R&B spin on the Band classic rather than the more gospel tinged version The Band later did with The Staple Singers on The Last Waltz. In the end it doesn’t matter what I think, it’s still f**king amazing.
From Franklin’s epic record Live At The Fillmore West, one of the greatest live records of all time. If you haven’t heard it, then do so ASAP. You’re welcome.
Love the One You’re With (Live at Fillmore West, San Francisco, February 5, 1971)
Aretha Franklin debuted her gospel hymn-like treatment of the Simon & Garfunkel tune at the 1971 Grammy Awards where the original Simon & Garfunkel version won Record and Song of the Year. Franklin’s single went gold and won its own Grammy in 1972, for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
The video below, courtesy of blues label Fat Possum Records is of the fourth (and last) Memphis Country Blues Festival. Taking place from June 6 through 8, 1969 in what was then known as the Overton Park Shell, the film is a fascinating snapshot of a time, a place and it’s music. This is one year after Martin Luther King was assassinated, being held in a site that hosted at least one Ku Klux Klan rally. Yet it shows the area’s hippie culture coming out to support the music.
Gene Rosenthal, head of the indie blues label Adelphi, filmed roughly 17 hours of performances, but the cost of processing the film basically exhausted his budget so the raw footage sat in his basement for decades. Years later, Rosenthal mentioned the film in a casual conversation with Bruce Watson and Matthew Johnson, founders of the blues label Fat Possum, and with their help finished the project.
With it’s fly-on-the-wall cinema verite style, “Memphis ’69” evokes other classic concert documentaries like “Woodstock” and “Monterey Pop”, such as when there is a public call for donations to help bail out a musician whose “old lady” had been busted by the police for drinking “a quart of beer” in the park, outside the concert venue. Classic.
Time codes for specific performances are below. Enjoy.
Memphis ’69: The 1969 Memphis Country Blues Festival –
03:14 Rufus Thomas with The Bar-Kays 08:01 Bukka White 09:58 Nathan Beauregard 12:01 Sleepy John Estes & Yank Rachell 14:00 Jo Ann Kelly & “Backwards” Sam Firk 17:20 Son Thomas 20:20 Sleepy John Estes & Yank Rachell 22:07 Lum Guffin 23:21 Rev. Robert Wilkins & Family 26:09 John Fahey 28:56 Sid Selvidge with Moloch 30:53 John D. Loudermilk 35:43 Furry Lewis 42:35 Bukka White 43:53 Piano Red 47:05 Jefferson Street Jug Band with John Fahey and Robert Palmer 50:26 Insect Trust 52:25 Moloch 56:22 Johnny Winter 01:02:40 The Salem Harmonizers 01:05:34 Mississippi Fred McDowell
This is not the first time I’ve talked about the Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast (see https://roymusicusa.com/2020/10/12/playing-to-the-tide-the-good-ol-grateful-deadcast-deep-dive-into-workingmans-dead/andhttps://roymusicusa.com/2021/06/13/skull-roses-the-grateful-dead-as-we-know-them-today/) but the two recent episodes below hit a particularly special note with me (pun intended). They talk about the Grateful Dead as a genre unto itself and the bands that play it. Yes, we’re talking about the world of Dead cover bands, something I know personally. I went to college on Long Island in the Seventies and played in Dead bands and saw many other such bands during that time. One of those bands were The Zen Tricksters who are one of the bands discussed in the podcasts below. The Trickster’s Jerry clone was Jeff Mattson who now does the same for Dark Star Orchestra. Then he was playing the Right Track Inn in Freeport, L.I., now he’s playing Red Rocks Amphitheater (for what it’s worth, I was in a Dead band with Jeff’s brother Matt).
The podcasts cover a lot ground. From the global phenomenon of Dead bands in England, India, Japan and other lands to Dead tribute record Dedicated and other such recordings to a interesting discussion on the degree of faithfulness a given band approaches the Dead’s music.
The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast: Season 3 – Episode 7: Skull & Roses 50: Playing Dead, Part 1
The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast: Season 3 – Episode 7: Skull & Roses 50: Playing Dead, Part 2
As a side note, with the delayed 2020 Summer Olympics coming up, this article surfaced with a timely reminder of why my favorite band is so fucking cool.
The EP features the song “Hunter,” that previously was only released on the live album Amchitka, the 1970 Vancouver Greenpeace benefit where Mitchell performed with James Taylor. The EP also contains alternate takes of “River” and “Urge for Going,” as well as demos for “California” and “A Case of You,” the latter of which features slightly different lyrics.
Blue is an incredibly personal albums and fifty years later, it’s still one of the most open, and candid, albums ever made. Yet, anyone who’s ever loved someone can recognize and relate to these songs. Informed by Mitchell’s exit from a long relationship with Graham Nash as well as shorter but very intense affairs with James Taylor and Leonard Cohen, Blue is a song cycle dealing with themes of loss and transformation as well as the conflict between love and freedom. It marks the end of one era in Mitchell’s career and the beginning of the another. Blue‘s creative structures and lyrical vulnerability opened up her songwriting and an empowered artistic fearlessness that would go on to produce such future landmark album like Court and Spark and Hejira.
Joni Mitchell – Blue 50 (Demos & Outtakes)
Track Listing – 1. A Case Of You (Demo) 0:00:00 2. California (Demo) 0:04:00 3. Hunter (Outtake) 0:07:30 4. River (Outtake with French Horns) 0:10:25 5. Urge For Going (Outtake with Strings) 0:14:27
I realized this month that I’ve been writing this blog for seven years with at least two post a month without a break. Why have I done this for that long? Because I’m a music nerd and one thing that I’ve noticed that music nerds love to do is turn people on to music that they think is cool. Yeah, I’m that annoying friend who made tapes (remember them?) for other people of bands they should check out or the one who wants to go see some weird band they read about.
But do you know what is really cool? Seeing that someone from another part of the world found something I wrote to be worth the time to read. Hopefully, something I put out there will lead some aspiring musician to listen to a someone who will inspire them the way my musical heroes inspired me.
With that said, I would like to announce the release of the debut album of my newest musical project, Wire Wood & Steel. It’s an acoustic music based instrumental project featuring myself on guitars, dobro and bass playing original music and featuring my cover of the classic Grateful Dead tune “Friend Of The Devil”.
The complete album is embedded below so please check it out. Hit the Like button, share it with others and do all that internet stuff you’re suppose to do.
Skull & Roses for the first time presented to the world at large the template for what the Dead sounded like on a typical night. There was the spacey improvisation of songs like “The Other One” but there were also covers of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”, Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man” and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”. The record further displayed the amazing growth of Dead’s songwriting with the debut of three original compositions, “Bertha”, “Playing in the Band”, and “Wharf Rat” with all three going on to become concert staples.
Originally release as a double album, the podcast has each episode discuss a ‘side’ of the record. As part of this thematic structure, there are stories of the legendary Fillmore East, the origins of the Dead’s most-performed song, “Me & My Uncle,” an experiment in dream telepathy involving the audience and more.
The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast: Season 3 – Episode 1: Skull & Roses 50 Side A
The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast: Season 3 – Episode 2: Skull & Roses 50 Side B
The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast: Season 3 – Episode 3: Skull & Roses 50 Side C
The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast: Season 3 – Episode 4: Skull & Roses 50: Side D
This one is for my dear friend Carol (the biggest Joni fan I know) . . .
Hejira, Joni Mitchell’s eighth studio album, is where (IMO) she cut the ties for good to her earlier musical styles. There is no “Big Yellow Taxi” or even the jazz-pop of Court and Spark. Her previous record, “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” began the push toward less structured, more jazz-inspired sound but there was still remnants of the lush pop sounds of Court and Spark with “In France They Kiss on Main Street“. Hejira was arguably Mitchell’s most experimental album to that point and with it Joni truly set off to new lands.
The music gives the impression of simplicity when it is anything but. It’s an album of subtle textures and atmospheres. Arrangements are sparse, yet surprisingly varied, one of the many highlights being the one used on “Amelia.” The video below, part of Rick Beato’s What Makes This Song Great series, breaks the song down in glorious detail.
What Makes This Song Great?™ Ep.91 Joni Mitchell
Of course the thing that bassists go crazy for is the work of jazz virtuoso bass guitarist Jaco Pastorious. His playing on Herija is some of his best work (IMO). Jaco appears on four songs, the opening track, “Coyote”, the atmospheric “Hejira”, the guitar-heavy “Black Crow”, and the album’s last song “Refuge of the Roads”. His playing bypasses the normal conventions of bass and becomes more like a horn intertwining with Joni’s voice. The video below discusses the bassists who contributed to Hejira.
From the Bottom: The Bassists of HEJIRA (1976)
Mitchell herself believes the album to be unique. In 2006 she said, “I suppose a lot of people could have written a lot of my other songs, but I feel the songs on Hejira could only have come from me”.
As a guitarist, I’ve was never that much into open tunings. I had enough of a time understanding the guitar in standard tuning to be bothered with learning a different one (What is an open tuning? It’s when you tune the guitar in such a way that the guitar plays a major chord when all the open stings are strummed.). That was before I took up the dobro (see my previous post https://roymusicusa.com/2020/09/03/wire-wood-steel-an-new-acoustic-music-project/). The dobro is tuned in what is referred to as “dobro open G” tuning (low to high G-B-D-G-B-D). The open G tuning that is commonly used for guitar is slightly different (low to high D-G-D-G-B-D) due to the guitar neck not being strong enough to handle the extra tension on the low strings. Despite the differences with standard guitar tuning, I was able to adjust quicker that I expected. The second, third and fourth string are identical in both tunings so that provided a base to work off of.
Open tunings are commonly used with slide guitar but the guitarist who is most identified with using open tunings in the context of rock guitar must be Keith Richards. Using a open G tuning with the sixth string removed, Keith came up with some of the most iconic riffs in rock music. We’re talking songs like ‘Start Me Up,’ ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,’ and ‘Honky Tonk Women’.
The videos below delve into Keith Richards and his take on open G tuning. Exploring a new tuning can really unlock some new ideas if you’re feeling like your playing has become stuck in a rut. Definitely worth the effort to check it out.
Keith Richards Demonstrates his 5-String Technique
Riffs in the Key of Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones on Guitar (Open G)
I read that pedal steel guitarist Rusty Young passed away recently. Young was one of the first musicians to integrate the pedal steel guitar, an instrument associated with with country music, into rock. Young’s playing was central to the band’s goal of fusing the two genres. As a founding member of the band Poco, he helped define country rock and establish the pedal steel guitar as an integral voice in West Coast rock.
Formed in 1968, Poco originally included the singer-guitarists Jim Messina and Richie Furay — both formerly of Buffalo Springfield, another pioneering country-rock band from L.A., along with Rusty Young, the drummer George Grantham and the bassist Randy Meisner, a future member of the Eagles. (Timothy B. Schmit, another future Eagle, replaced Mr. Meisner after he left the band in 1969.)
Rusty Young said in a 2017 interview that “the concept was to take rock and roll lyrics and melodies, chord changes, and add country instruments as the color around them, because I play steel guitar and banjo and mandolin, all the country instruments I could add that color and Jimmy played that James Burton, Ricky Nelson-kind of guitar. We could use this kind of country colors palette to choose from, and have it be rock and roll.”
Poco they never had the big hits of the Eagles or the critical acclaim of the Flying Burritos Brothers but they gave off a good-time, crowd-pleasing vibe that was best captured on their 1971 live album Deliverin‘.
After the first three albums I lost track of the band as they evolved into a soft country rock sound but those first three records are pretty good with a bunch of excellent songs to be found.