“Lost In The Ozone Again” . . : George Frayne (aka Commander Cody) 1944 – 2021

Being a young Deadhead in the early Seventies, I was familiar with other bands that could be fitted into that very loose genre known as country rock. Actually, it didn’t matter very much if you were a deadhead or not, it was all over the rock radio in the early seventies. There were The Eagles, Allman Brothers (debate if they were country rock or not, Ramblin’ Man could definitely be considered country rock), Poco, The Marshall Tucker Band and others. Then there was Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.

Unlike other country rock bands who took their cues from folk rock and bluegrass, Commander Cody mixed their rock with Western swing, rockabilly, Bakersfield honky tonk and jump blues, all built on the boogie-woogie piano of George Frayne, aka Commander Cody, who sadly passed away last month at the age of 77.

Compared to the more commercially successful bands mentioned above, Commander Cody were much (for the lack of a better word) rawer and became something of a cult favorite during its ten year existence, with constant touring, usually playing bars and small venues. Their 1974 album Live From Deep in the Heart of Texas, recorded at Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, was once ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 albums of all-time.

When the band released its first album, “Lost in the Ozone” in 1971, it spawned a surprise hit with “Hot Rod Lincoln,”, a cover of Charlie Ryan’s 1955 rockabilly song. But having what was essentially a novelty song as your first hit is also a death sentence. The success of “Hot Rod Lincoln” basically got them pigeonholed as a novelty band.


Having seen the band, I can attest to how good they were live with the Commander being one hell of a boogie-woogie piano player.

RIP George Frayne, aka Commander Cody.

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

“Reacting To The Reactor’s Reactions” . . . : Professional Musicians React

If you’re a music nerd like yours truly and you spend a decent amount of time on YouTube in say, the last three years, then you have no doubt come across a music reaction video. Most of the time it basically boils down to someone who falls under the category Gen Z (and yes, I had to look up what differentiates a millennial from a Gen Z from a whatever, all I know is that I’m old) “reacting” to a classic rock song.

In the beginning of this trend I watched a bunch of these videos but I quickly tired of them. Boomers may want to feel the need to have their musical tastes (and therefore themselves) validated by non boomers. Personally I don’t need someone to tell me what I like is good. It’s what I like, that’s good enough. I also can’t help but feel their is an intrinsic dishonesty to the process. The people who put out these videos are aware of the all powerful You Tube algorithm. If you put out a video with an unfavorable reaction to a favorite band/song than you risk getting a dislike and hurting your video’s possibility to be recommended to other fans of said artist. That can have a direct economic impact on the You Tuber. The whole thing reeks of five day old click bait.

But besides these misgivings the biggest reason I stopped watching these videos is that for the most part, these reactors were, how do I put this delicately, oh I know, IDIOTS! Please note that I think there are some exceptions but for the majority of the videos I watched, I stand by my assessment.

Maybe it’s because of my interest as a musician but I would much rather watch something that will point out something new about a classic song, not just reaffirm my taste and tell me what I want to hear. That brings me to the videos below from a fairly new You Tube channel Professional Musicians React.

With a semi rotating panel of professional musicians, the videos dissect some classic songs (as well as songs from contemporary artists such as Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift), discussing aspects of the song like it’s harmony, composition, vocal performance, production and other cool things for music geeks to dig. Like the panel, you now notice little things about a song you heard so many times but now realize you never really listened to before. Another thing I like about these videos is how they will explain a technical term for the layman. When they refer to things like gate, sidechain or low pass filter, they make a point of explaining it.

Professional Musicians React – Stevie Wonder Superstition

Professional Musicians React – The Beatles – Here Comes The Sun

Professional Musicians React – NirvanaSmells Like Teen Spirit

If this whets your appetite for a deeper appreciation of great music by people who actually know what they’re talking about then go check out their channel at https://www.youtube.com/c/Professionalmusiciansreact/featured

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Charlie’s good tonight, ain’t he?” . . : Charlie Watts (1941 -2021)

There’s not much I can to say that really matters so I’ll leave it to these snapshots of a life well lived.

From the Keith Richard’s memoir “Life”


Shot by Martin Scorsese in 2006 at New York’s Beacon Theater.A Charlie Watt’s view of it all.

Charlie Watts / Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Charlie Watts / All Down the Line

Just one of the many examples of the genius of Charlie Watts. The isolated drums/percussion track of Gimmie Shelter (Jimmy Miller on güiro).

Charlie Watts – Gimmie Shelter Isolated Tracks

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Posted in Blues, Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis, Uncategorized

“She don’t remember the Queen of Soul”. : Aretha Franklin’s Rock Covers

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.

Satisfaction

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.

Groovin’

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.

The Weight


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.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Stuck Inside A Mobile” . . : The 1969 Memphis Country Blues Festival

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

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Posted in Blues, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Play Dead”. . . : Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast Talk Dead Cover Bands

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/ and https://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.

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/grateful-dead-lithuania-olympic-games/

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

“I Could Drink A Case Of You” . . : Joni Mitchell’s Blue At 50

Picking up on a thread from a previous post (https://roymusicusa.com/2021/05/26/no-regrets-coyote-joni-mitchells-hejira/), Joni Mitchell’s iconic masterpiece ‘Blue’ celebrated it’s 50th anniversary recently. As part of celebration, the Joni Mitchell Archives put out a five song EP of demos and outtakes called, appropriately enough, Blue 50 (Demos & Outtakes).

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

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Seven Year Twitch” : A Long Strange Trip and The Debut Album of Wire Wood & Steel

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.

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

“Skull & Roses” . . : The Grateful Dead As We Know Them Today

I have written previously about The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast, the official Grateful Dead podcast (see https://roymusicusa.com/2020/10/12/playing-to-the-tide-the-good-ol-grateful-deadcast-deep-dive-into-workingmans-dead/). The first two seasons went into deep dives of the classic Grateful Dead albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty respectively. For season three, the podcast continues chronologically with the Dead’s next record, the live album officially called The Grateful Dead but for is all intents and purposes known as Skull & Roses.

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

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

“No Regrets Coyote” . . : Joni Mitchell’s Hejira

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”.

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis, Uncategorized
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