“You Know You Know” . . . . . : The Mahavishnu Orchestra

There were records that were pivotal in my wanting to play music: Allman Brothers Live At The Fillmore East and Eat A Peach, Grateful Dead Live Dead and Europe 72 and Mahavishnu Orchestra Inner Mountain Flame and Birds Of Fire. 

The Mahavishnu Orchestra was formed in New York City in 1971 by the English guitarist John McLaughlin. McLaughlin had already earned a reputation from from his role in Tony William’s Lifetime and Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. Besides McLaughlin, the band consisted of drummer Billy Cobham, bassist Rick Laird, keyboardist Jan Hammer, and violinist Jerry Goodman. This initial lineup lasted from 1971 through 1973 in which time they made the aforementioned Inner Mountain Flame and Birds Of Fire, a live album (Between Nothingness And Eternity, recorded live from a two night run at Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park, I was at both shows) and a third studio album that was eventually released in 1999 as The Lost Trident Sessions.

I first heard of John McLaughlin from reading about him in The Village Voice and Rolling Stone, in particular Rollings Stone’s review of an earlier McLaughlin album, the acoustic My Goals Beyond. Then I saw ads for the first Mahavishnu Orchestra album, The Inner Mountain Flame. When I bought the album it totally blew me away. If I had to describe it I would would say it was a cross between Led Zeppelin, Ravi Shankar and Igor Stravinsky. Their second album, Birds Of Fire continued in the same vein as Inner Mountain Flame with the instrumental pallet being expanded by the introduction of the Minimoog synthesizer by keyboard player Jan Hammer. My love of the band only grew when I was finally able to see them live and McLaughlin came out playing a double neck 12 string/6 string guitar. So cool!!

I could go on about the complexity of the music and the incredible virtuosity of the players and all that is true. But as I was re listening to this music the one thought I kept getting was “my god, these guys kicked ass”. They could also play with great delicacy and there was usually a point in the shows where McLaughlin would play acoustic guitar. In those instances, the quieter dynamics allowed for a more focused virtuosity.

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Live at the BBC 1972 – Meeting Of The Spirits/You Know You Know

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Live at the BBC 1972 – A Lotus On Irish Streams

Mahavishnu Orchestra – The Dance Of Maya


Hope/One Word – The Mahavishnu Orchestra – Live at Bananafish Gardens, Brooklyn, N.Y. 1973

I was luck enough to see this version of the band five times in their brief existence and they were never less than amazing. They were one of my big “gateway drugs” to making music. I hope they inspire you as they did me.

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Posted in Music Appreciation and Analysis, Jam Band, Jazz, Improvisation

“She Caught The Katy” . . . : Taj Mahal

I don’t know about you but I can use some music that puts a smile on my face. . .

Most of the time when people think of the blues, they think sad music about suffering. Then there is Taj Mahal (real name: Henry Saint Clair Fredericks). Maybe it’s because he comes from the folk blues tradition as opposed to the electric blues of Chicago, Memphis or Texas. Maybe it’s because he often incorporates elements of world music into his works. Whatever the reasons, Taj Mahal is uniquely different from what you think is your basic blues.

That is not to say that his impact is insignificant. On the contrary. His debut album, Taj Mahal, released in 1968, had a stripped-down approach to vintage blues tunes and was unlike almost anything else at the time and is now considered a classic of the ’60s blues revival. Featuring guitarists Jesse Ed Davis and Ry Cooder, the album contains updated versions of early blues songs by Sleepy John Estes, Robert Johnson, and Sonny Boy Williamson II. Most importantly, it included an adaptation of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues”. which directly inspired the Allman Brothers Band version of the tune.

 

Taj Mahal Statesboro Blues

 

TAJ MAHAL – Leaving Trunk

 

Celebrated Walkin’ Blues

 

“She Caught the Katy”  was written by Taj Mahal and James Rachell and appearred on Taj Mahal’s 1968 album The Natch’l Blues and is one of Mahal’s most famous tunes. It has since been covered many times and was in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers (the song plays over the opening credits, as Jake Blues leaves prison). Side Note: The “Katy” refers to the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad.

 

She Caught The Katy – Taj Mahal (Original Studio Recordings – 1968)

In later records, Taj Mahal began focusing on country and folk blues. I remember seeing him live, opening up for The Mahavishnu Orchestra in Central Park as part of the Shaffer Music Festival. Here he was, playing solo on an old National Steel guitar in front of a NYC audience there for high powered electric jazz fusion. I remember seeing similar situations and it was never pretty. He had the crowd eating out of his hand by the end of the first song.

Taj Mahal – Fishin’ Blues


Taj Mahal – Queen Bee

 

Nobody’s Business But My Own

 

Taj Mahal – Cakewalk Into Town 1973

 

Hearing this music makes me smile. I hope it does the same for you.

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Posted in Blues, Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

Bowie Via Brazil . . . : Songs From Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”

I’m a fan of Wes Anderson films. Let me clarify that. I’m a big fan of some Wes Anderson films. There are moments form his movies Rushmore, The Royal Tannenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel that move me in ways that I don’t understand but I cannot deny (like a lot of great art). He also makes great use of popular music in his movies. Check out his montage sequence in Rushmore to The Who’s Happy Jack or the thematic use of Kink’s songs in his movie The Darjeeling Limited.

That being said, I’m not a fan of all of his movies. Among those that underwhelmed me was ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’. It didn’t do it for me. But one of the things that I thought was really cool was Brazilian guitarist, singer, actor Seu Jorge singing David Bowie songs in Portuguese solo on an acoustic guitar. Additionally, instead of having Seu Jorge lip sync to prerecorded versions of the songs, Anderson filmed Seu Jorge actually performing the songs live. Watch it all in the video below.


Seu Jorge Performs David Bowie Live From The Movie Set (video)

0:00 Starman
3:56 Oh! You Pretty Things
7:42 Changes
11:45 Rebel Rebel
15:00 Lady Stardust
18:51 Rock N Roll Suicide
23:03 Five Years
26:44 Life on Mars?
30:57 Suffragette City
34:21 Qucksand

The songs were recorded and released in 2005 as The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions. Bowie approved. In the liner notes for the album, Bowie wrote, “I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.”

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Posted in Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Playing To The Tide” . . . : The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast Deep Dive Into Workingman’s Dead

This past June was the 50th anniversary of the seminal Grateful Dead album Workingsman’s Dead. This was my introduction to the Dead. My brother and I had spent the summer at a bungalow colony up in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York so when we got back to the city we bought a bunch of records that had come out during the summer. I don’t remember how exactly my brother wound up buying Workingman’s Dead but in hindsight it turned out to be a pivotal moment in both our lives. The first song of side one: Uncle John’s Band (remember when there was actual sides to records? Remember records? I’m so old). The moment that the Dead sang the chorus acapella I was hooked.

Many Deadheads, myself included, tend to be a little dismissive of the Dead’s studio albums. After all, the band was known for their live performances and even the Dead were not particularly thrilled with the studio but with Workingman’s Dead (and it’s companion piece, American Beauty) the Dead crafted one of the truly great albums of the Seventies. This was the beginning of what I (and many others) consider to be the Dead’s most creative periods with the songs being written by Garcia and Hunter at this time providing the foundation of their repertoire for the rest of their long career.

In celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary there is a new expanded edition of Workingman’s Dead (this seems to be the new standard practice for classic rock albums) The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast, the official Grateful Dead podcast, has launched a series that focuses on Workingsman’s Dead with a deep dive into each song on the album along with podcasts that talk about Jerry Garcia’s relationship to folk music and the band’s relationship to Stanley Owsley, their early audio engineer and recreational chemist. I found these podcasts fascinating with interesting insights into the origins of these songs and the creative process that brought them into existence.

The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast 

 

Also, as of this writing, the second season of The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast has started in which they start their deep dive into American Beauty. Enjoy

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Posted in Classic Rock, Country/Bluegrass, Grateful Dead, Jam Band, Music Appreciation and Analysis

The Other Great Classical Guitarist . . . : Julian Bream (1933 – 2020)

Last month, classical guitar legend Julian Bream passed away at the age of 87. Chances are that unless you’re a serious guitar geek (such as yours truly) you have never heard of him. Of the small amount of people who can actually name any classical guitarists, that would be Andre Segovia. However, it could be argued that Bream, even more than Segovia, established the guitar’s position as a serious solo instrument in classical music. Instead of the Romantic period style phrasing that Segovia used, Bream developed a more modern style of phrasing. Bream’s playing was both virtuosic and expressive, with an eye for details, and with strong use of contrasting timbres. He also expanded the classical guitar repertoire by showing that the instrument was just as suited to German, French and English works as pieces that emphasized the guitar’s Spanish and Latin American roots, as well as more contemporary music that the more conservative Segovia avoided.

The first video is from a recital in 1978 featuring works by Bach, Villa-Lobos, Albeniz and Britten that took place in a chapel at Old Wardour Castle in England.

Julian Bream Concert 1978

The video below is a BBC documentary (year unknown) that shows Bream to be a pretty laid back guy. Dig the car he’s seen driving at the beginning of the video.

Julian Bream at the BBC

R.I.P. Julian Bream

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Posted in Classical, Music Appreciation and Analysis

Wire, Wood & Steel – An New Acoustic Music Project

I had previously announced the start of a new music project that would focus on acoustic music called Wire, Wood & Steel (see https://roymusicusa.com/2020/05/11/what-i-did-on-my-permanent-vacation-new-music-project/) starting with a video of myself playing an original song on the dobro.  I’ve now added two more videos and created a YouTube playlist (see https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLogHrynqXOvQSNc5Je3Etu_VlTaNHFo6x ). I hope to begin recording an album under the Wire, Wood & Steel moniker before the end of the year. In the meantime here are two new original tunes performed on the dobro. Hope you like them.

Wire, Wood & Steel – New York City Country Blues

 

Wire, Wood & Steel – Dobro Song # 3

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Posted in Country/Bluegrass, Improvisation, Jam Band, Music Appreciation and Analysis

Quail’s Eggs . . . : “Crazy” – The new single from the band Quail

I written previously about the band Quail (see https://roymusicusa.com/2019/12/15/im-verklempt-blue-sky-by-quail/) when they released their first single, Blue Sky. They recently put out their second single, Crazy and I can’t help be impressed by the talent on display. Written by bassist Anna Young and lead vocalist Madison Carrol, it’s a great “kiss off” song that starts as piano based pop and morphs into horn riffing soul. Don’t take my word for it, just listen.

Quail – Crazy (Official Audio)

 

Below is a beautiful cover of Yebba’s Evergreen that features some wonderful vocal harmonies. Close your eyes and be moved.

Evergreen – Yebba (Quail Cover)

 

This final video is something a little different. It was featured as part of the New Music Ensemble program of the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art here in NYC (also known as the “Fame” school) of which both Anna Young and her brother Nicky were part of. Needless to say, this year’s program was different from those in the past. Written by Nicky, arranged by Anna (who also did the video editing for both Evergreen and the video below), it’s a haunting neo soul tune that captures the weird existential dread that was/is Covid-19 NYC. It’s also a great tune that “earworms” it’s way into your head.

LaGuardia High School of Music & Art New Music Ensemble 2020 – No Such Thing As Saturday

As I’ve said in my prior post on Quail, I’ve known Nicky and Anna literally their entire lives. I’ve seen them grow up into amazing musicians and more importantly, amazing people.

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Posted in Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Don’t Ask Me What I Think Of You”. . : Peter Green (1946 – 2020)

I always said that one of the advantages of being a bassist is that you can get to the opportunity to play and learn from some good guitarists (if you’re lucky). A great guitarist who I played with a great deal in the nineties, Frank Capeck (see https://roymusicusa.com/2020/01/27/a-blast-from-my-past-cpy-at-the-lone-star-roadhouse/) turned me on to the greatness that was Peter Green.

Born Peter Allen Greenbaum, Peter Green was never as well known to American audiences as the other great English blues guitarists of his time (the usual suspects: Clapton, Beck, Page,  etc.) but in England and to many musicians, he was right up there at the top of the list. B.B. King proclaimed that Peter Green “has the sweetest tone I ever heard. He was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.”

In the short span of four years (1966 – 1970) Peter Green replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers for A Hard Road, and then formed the original blues band version of Fleetwood Mac. During his time in Fleetwood Mac, Green recorded three albums and a string of singles that including the original version of the Santana hit ,“Black Magic Woman” (written by Green), the Santos & Johnny inspired instrumental “Albatross,” and the awesome “Oh Well Pt. 1 & 2,”.  During his time with Fleetwood Mac, you can see Green’s evolution from hard-core blues to a music capable of both deep introspection (“Man of the World”) and psychedelic experimentalism (“The Green Manalishi”).

In 1970, while going through a time of emotional crisis complicated by LSD use, Green quit the band, who by then were a staple of the British pop charts. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Green (who was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia) unraveled, going through extended periods of mental illness and destitution, Eventually in the nineties, Green recovered sufficiently that he began performing again under such labels as the Peter Green Splinter Group or Peter Green and Friends.

Green was at his best when playing a slow minor blues and it doesn’t better than this performance of “I’ve Got A Mind To Give Up Living” from New Orleans, 1970.

I’ve Got A Mind To Give Up Living/ All Over Again (The Warehouse, New Orleans, LA  01/31/70) –

 

Not many people realize that Santana’s take on Black Magic Woman was a cover of the Fleetwood Mac tune. I hear a lot of Peter Green in Carlos Santana’s playing. As an interesting side note, both Fleetwood Mac and Santana were inaugurated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the same year with Green being included as a founding member of Fleetwood Mac Rather than perform with Fleetwood Mac, Green played “Black Magic Women” with Santana.

FLEETWOOD MAC – Black Magic Woman

Early Fleetwood Mac sported a formidable triple guitar) lineup. Along with Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer, they kicked some serious butt. As exhibit A, I submit the following: after the short opening instrumental, “World In Harmony”, they tear into “Oh Well”. As the announcer warned in the beginning, those with weak hearts should leave.

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – World In Harmony & Oh Well

Given his subsequent mental health issues, Green;s performance of “Jumpin’ At Shadows” is downright eerie.

Jumpin’ At Shadows {live 1970} ~ Fleetwood Mac {Peter Green}

Finally some guitar geek stuff about Green’s Les Paul guitar (now owned by Kirk Hammett of Metallica) as well as a breakdown of Green riffs.

Peter Green Guitar Riffs and Tone | Reverb Learn to Play

R.I.P. Peter Green

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Posted in Blues, Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Once Upon A Time” . . . : Ennio Morricone (1928 – 2020)

OK, memory lane time . . .

I remember it was summer. I must of been around eight years old. We would be at a bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. I was reading the latest Spider-Man comic. My father had recently bought a “fancy” transistor radio (AM, FM and Short Wave!!) and it was playing in the background. Then this song came on that was different from the Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett that was usually played. There was no singer but there was this cool whistling and harmonica. I immediately has a picture in my head of Spider-Man swinging thru the buildings of NYC. I learned much later that the tune I heard was the theme from the movie ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and it was composed by the Italian film composer, Ennio Morricone who passed away earlier this month.

The film genre known as Spaghetti Westerns was pretty much created by Sergio Leone’s mid sixties trilogy of film classics: ‘A Fistful of Dollars’, ‘For a Few Dollars More,’ ‘The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly’). As Leone defined the film genre with those three films, Ennio Morricone pretty much created the template for it’s accompanying music.

Before Leone, Hollywood Westerns à la John Ford featured orchestral arrangements of Western standards. Leone’s budget did not allow for such things. Morricone used gunshots, cracking whips, whistle, voices, jew’s harp, trumpets, and the new Fender electric guitar giving the soundtrack a cool and gritty feel.

Below are two of my favorite Morricone tunes, the aforementioned theme for ‘The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly’ and the other is from a favorite film ‘Two Mules For Sister Sara’ (with Shirley McClain and Clint Eastwood from 1970, definitely a fun watch worth checking out).

 

The Good the Bad and the Ugly • Main Theme • Ennio Morricone

 

2 Mules For Sister Sara – Theme by Ennio Morricone –

 

The video below (courtesy of Reverb) is for the music nerds/guitar geeks (my peeps). It offers a cool insightful analysis of the Spaghetti Western musical style with examples from both ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ and ‘For a Few Dollars More’.

 

Why is Spaghetti Western Music So Cool?

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“Oh, Say Can You See” . . . : Jimi Hendrix and The National Anthem

When does a musical performance become much more than just a musical performance? When does such a thing become iconic? Hendrix’s rendition of the National Anthem at Woodstock is certainly on most lists of iconic rock guitar performances. What’s interesting is that it was seen by only a small fraction of the Woodstock audience, the majority having left by that point. It’s lasting cultural impact must be credited to the fact that it was captured on film for posterity.

The more things change . . .

Then as now, the world seemed crazy. Hendrix was not known for political statements but he made a big one without saying a word. Then, as now, people placed a lot of importance on symbols that were suppose to define your identity, both as an individual and as part of a greater community. Any version of the National Anthem that did not conform to “acceptable standards” was considered a venerable act of treason. During the 1968 World Series, Jose Feliciano’s version of the anthem generated significant backlash for what we today would consider a pleasant folk rendition of the tune. Given that benchmark, Hendrix’s version would just blow their fuckin minds . . .

Of course, the moment that truly makes this version memorable occurs at the phrase “the rocket’s red glare”. It is then that Hendrix goes off on a tangent, using his guitar to generate a cacophony of sounds, mimicking the chaotic sounds of war, before returning to the melody. When words fail, there is music . .


Jose Feliciano performs the National Anthem – 1968 World Series Game 5

 

Jimi Hendrix – The Star-Spangled Banner

 

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis
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