Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tools of the Trade: 'Jingle Jangle Morning' Roger McGuinn's 1964 Rickenbacker 360-12/370-12

 It was the sound of the Rickenbacker 360-12-/370-12 guitars that encapsulated the sound of the 1960’s for many. The ringing bell and sustained tone of the Rickenbacker twelve strings (and six strings) are as notable for guitar aficionados as a rare bird call for an ornithologist.  In 1964 after watching George Harrison play a similar model in the film A Hard Day’s Night, folkie and aspiring electric guitarist Roger McGuinn purchased a Maple-Glo Rickenbacker 360 twelve string guitar for his own unique brand of ‘electric folk music’. By chrome coating traditional folk melodies in electric attitudes this simple guitar purchase would turn the tides of popular music in the 1960’s. Today the ‘rock room’ takes a look at this iconic guitar and its handler.

The definitive early ‘Byrds’  tracks ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, ‘Feel a Whole Lot Better’ , ‘Bells of Rhymney’ are only a few of the many recipients of McGuinn’s  chiming and resounding guitar tone. Already well familiar with performing on twelve string acoustic guitars as well as playing banjos, McGuinn immediately developed a unique signature tone on guitar, a sonic fingerprint completely unique from any other guitarist. While McGuinn was not in the class of say an Eric Clapton, his folk sensibilities and knowledge of electronics and sound enabled him to develop a unique approach to his playing while conjuring a special aural personality. The Rickenbacker 360-12, then the 370-12 assisted McGuinn while he revolutionized rock and folk music as well as the sonic expression of 1960’s electric guitars. 

In addition, the use of Rickenbacker’s by the Beatles, Who, Searchers and then McGuinn’s own Byrds’ also helped the guitar’s namesake company to become one of the biggest in the world by increasing visibility and profitability. Every garage rock lad at least dreamed of holding a Rickenbacker. The name fit soon fit comfortably with contemporaries Gibson and Fender.
The 360-12, then later the 370-12 guitars are both comprised of premium maple and rosewood and feature semi hollow body construction. The guitars weigh about 8lbs and have a 40’ length. Another special feature of the instruments is that the usual twelve string configuration of string pairs found on normal twelve string guitars was reversed to a player would strike the low string first. Rickenbacker also streamlined the head stocks on their twelve’s by mounting the tuning pegs on the back and side of the head.  There was/is four volume/tone knobs in addition to Rickenbacker’s ‘5th knob’ that usually controlled the middle or neck pickup also dependent on any custom wiring.

McGuinn fell in love with the instrument and it became inseparable from him, acting as the perfect disseminator of his art.The Rickenbacker’s slim and sleek rosewood neck and low action allowed McGuinn to include his folk guitar techniques in an arena that not only suited his abilities but expanded the frontiers of rock music.
 One development to the original Maple Glo 360-12 was McGuinn’s installation of a third pickup to the original two pick up setup. This was also a feature added to the 370-12 Rickenbacker that was custom made for McGuinn after his original Maple-Glo was stolen in 1965/66 after a show.  The following 370-12 replacement guitar was updated, offered three hi-gain pickups and included some additional modifications to McGuinn’s specifications including some unique wiring configurations.
McGuinn has stated that the original 360-12 was the guitar that played the iconic openings of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’. He also stated that these musical statements were played only using the treble pickup of the guitar and the tube driven compression of Columbia Studios. Compression is the key to the Rickenbacker’s sustain per McGuinn who had his later signature guitar fitted with an on board compression rig to arrive at his unique tone. In the early days McGuinn only used a Vox Treble Booster ‘jimmy-rigged’ into the instrument and a rack unit compressor for any sort of on stage compression. He also employed flat picks as well as finger picks for unique soling as can be found on the jagged guitar introduction of ‘Eight Miles High’.
 The 370-12 that replaced McGunn’s stolen 360-12 was also unfortunately taken at some point and replaced with another Maple Glo 370-12 that McGuinn still owns and plays today. McGuinn currently has a signature edition guitar that is offered by Rickenbacker, a testament to his revolutionary ideas, his extraordinary talent and his prowess regarding the instrument. Both Maple Glo 370-12’s and Fire Glo 370-12’s are now synonymous with McGuinn, his tone forever echoed down the stone halls of rock. Who knows how many Rick’s he has acquired over the years? What is certain is that like Hendrix’s ‘Strat’ and Lennon’s own Rickenbacker the instrument he made popular is now as recognizable as he the musician.

The Rickenbacker 360-12/370-12’s unique construction and reverberant ‘jingle-jangle’ tone helped to create and disseminate an entire sub-genre of rock music. Roger McGuinn, after being influenced by the Beatles and Searchers, implemented his sonic ideas and dreams through the Rickenbacker and in the process created a long lasting musical identity and legacy. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Put the Boot In: David Bowie -'I Never Did Anything Out of the Blue'- May 18, 1983 Brussels-Serious Moonlight Tour

 Returning to the live stage after a layoff of five years, David Bowie and his collected group of friends and musicians embarked on 1983’s Serious Moonlight tour. Before the tour started proper Bowie played two nights on May 18th and 19th 1983 at the Voorst Nationaal in Brussels, Belgium. Jamming in the ‘rock room’ today is a field recording made of the first two hour performance. What is also of note with these concerts as they contain tracks rarely performed on the rest of the dates and  contain an early sense of enthusiasm and experimentation. The recording playing in the ‘rock room’ is purported to come from a master cassette and while slightly lacking bass features a well rounded sonic spread with an nonintrusive crowd. Bowie had reached his peak popularity during this era with the acceptance of his smashing single ‘Let’s Dance’ causing the aforementioned tour to be moved from theatres to large scare arenas. Bowie’s touring band was comprised of Earl Slick and Carlos Alomar on guitars, Carmine Rojas on bass guitar, Tony Thompson on drums, Dave Lebolt on keyboards and Steve Elson, Stan Harrison and Lenny Pickett on horns. George and Frank Simms were enlisted for backing vocals. This opening night features an early set and infectious enthusiasm.

After the MC’s introduction Bowie jive sang a line from ‘Jean Jeanie’ before streaking across the night sky with a shooting ‘Star’. The band is in peak running condition as the tight corners of the Ziggy track are negotiated with stunning accuracy. An molten opening to Bowie's reintroduction to the performing stage.

With only a brief pause Bowie again sings a few lyrics in a differing context before beginning ‘Heroes’ to great applause. One of Bowie’s most beloved songs, ‘Heroes’ is the lucky recipient of impassioned Bowie vocals, soaring Slick guitar work and bombastic playing by the band. This is a towering rendition and acts as a definitive statement announcing Bowie’s musical return. His vocals are inspiring and heartfelt, chill inducing.
A standout song from Bowie’s 1977 Low LP, ‘What In the World’ follows and disseminates a groovy dance vibe, before it explodes into a definitive and breathless double time conclusion. The opening tracks of the concert are well chosen and offer no respite.

The dramatic ‘Look Back In Anger’ from 1979’s Lodger is another ace set list choice, sounding like a space bound electric orchestra the band churns as Bowie froths above them. An even better set list choice is the following ‘Joe the Lion’ in one of its only two appearances on the tour. The sound on the recording dips slightly but returns quickly clearing up in the process. The song expresses a s twinkling soul and offers up a celebratory glam review. Carlos Alomar’s sudsy guitar work throughout the track is of note. A rare cut and early highlight of a breathless performance.

Another rare cut making one of its four tour appearances is ‘Wild Is The Wind’, offering the concerts first cool drink of water for the evening. Bowie croons beautifully, reaching successfully skyward with strength and vibrato.

Tour standards follow next with a punky ‘Golden Years’, a gaudy ‘Fashion’ that segues using the 'Twist and Shout' bridge into tour money maker and nitrous powered ‘Let’s Dance’, the triad of tunes driving the crowd into an expected frenzy. The sound issues return here with some volume swells and static but nothing to make me toss the recording out. 

Another track from Lodger appears with ‘Red Sails’ and like the preceding ‘Look Back in Anger’ the song permeates the room with the smell of fire. The band is careening on the edge with sharp synths and slamming percussion. A relatively rare track this song appeared in roughly a quarter of the tour performances. The Lodger songs are injected with a juice not present on the studio versions, any fan of that particular LP needs to search out these renditions.
‘Breaking Glass’, a favorite from Low is given a horny introduction and is played at high velocity, the band confidently smashing out every window on the street. Slick continuously solos under Bowie’s vocals with perfect clarity. Woah, what a concrete performance.

The earliest Bowie track to be featured in the retrospective set list follows with ‘Life on Mars?’ allowing for a brief respite but also getting some of the greatest applause of the evening. The McCoy’s ‘Sorrow’ keeps the cool down period going before keeping the dramatic anticipation going with a dynamic version of ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’. A Bowie soundtrack piece properly recorded for ‘Let’s Dance’ gets the crowd clapping along in perfect time.

Iggy Pop’s ‘China Girl would appear in every concert of the tour relatively unchanged, here it is given a typically great and true reading to its 1983 studio rendition. Staying in the then current decade, Bowie follows ‘China Girl’ with ‘Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)’ from the 1980 LP of the same name. ‘Scary Monsters’ stays true to the theme of the concert, high speed, electric and kinetic. The tale of insanity and madness is given a deranged reading highlighted by Bowie’s exaggerated vocal attack.

Segued into ‘Rebel, Rebel’ through an emphasized transitional bridge, ‘Rebel’ becomes a wide eyed mantra circling the glowing central riff. Background vocals shout, the saxophone wails and Bowie acts the punk. 'China Girl' and 'Rebel Rebel' make for a rare and interesting pairing.

Staying true to the previously displayed Mod/Punk attitude Bowie pulls out the Vespa and pays tribute to his contemporaries with a swinging version of The Who’s, ‘I Can’t Explain’. The melody is halved like a fruit and slowed down, enabling the chorus to be crooned expectantly by Bowie. In total contrast a hot to the touch version of The Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light/White Heat’ follows and appears overflowing with undulating horns and wailing distorted guitars. ‘White Light’ may contain the highest RPM’s of the evening whining in joyous overdrive with smoke pouring from the doors. Two well picked covers settling from opposing poles.

The ‘thin white dude’s’ persona then makes an appearance, landing in the alien smoke during the ‘Musique Concrete’ introduction of ‘Station to Station’. Appearing from the rubble are the pointed darts of the duke heading straight for the heart of their musical target. Heavy stepping boots morph into a horny disco outro that bursts with scattered lights and powders.  ‘Station to Station’ provides a jaw dropping take off point for the second half of the performance.
The sucking and f@#king of ‘Cracked Actor’ follows in a hard hitting rendition. The keyboards and horns collaborate, balanced on the descending aural axis as Bowie spits the lyrics through lipstick. Kudo’s again to Earl Slick who throughout the evening does a superior job of disseminating the licks played on Bowie’s LP’s by many amazing players (Fripp, Belew, Ronson) Bowie would often don shades and hold a solitary skull while performing this song. The kind reader can visualize this eventuality while enjoying this bootleg.

A fidgety ‘Ashes to Ashes’ is revealed from under the concert’s charred remnants, Bowie referred to the song as a nursery rhyme that wrapped up the decade of 1970’s for him in compositional form. The song fittingly closed the 1970’s for Bowie while opening the doors of time to a new decade. Here, an airtight version acts as a perfect prelude to the crowd pleasing and set concluding ‘Space Oddity’.  The pairing a pleasing bow placed on top of the musical gift presented by Bowie to his adoring crowd.

Bowie expresses his love for the stage and his thankfulness in returning to performing for his fans. He then introduces the musicians on stage before beginning the end with a lovely and buoyant ‘Young Americans’. The premier concert of Bowie’s return to stage now hits a drag racing straightaway and allows the band to hit full throttle on the open road.

Ziggy makes a welcome and quick appearance with performances of ‘Soul Love’ and a careening ‘Hang On to Yourself’ sung like a drug fueled auctioneer from Mars. Time removed from performing has done nothing but increase Ziggy’s intensity as the dirt is removed and the grave is unearthed, revealing perfectly preserved hair and makeup. ‘Fame’ is locked into a perfect set placement and acts as the final creamy topping to the brief Ziggy appearance, its lyrical statement definitive as well as a commentary on previous Bowie musical personas.
 Before the crowd can gather themselves, Bowie and the band point the finger at the picture box with a groovy seductive dance called ‘TVC15’ from 1976’s Station to Station, followed by the mammoth funkiness of ‘Stay’ from the same LP. This one two punch is highlighted by Slick and Alomar’s funky scrubbing and the empty oil drum banging by Tony Thompson. The crowd is slack jawed and sweaty, being pushed against the wall by Bowie and band. The sound issues on the recording return here, but act as more of a slight annoyance than having a huge effect on any enjoyment of the show.

Sandwiching the show with a reprise, ‘The Jean Jeanie’ crosses her legs real high and licks her cherry red lips, showing her face for the first time since the show’s opening. Bowie scats seductively pushing his nails into flesh, the band pounds out the hammer and nails groove in which Earl Slick signs in deep dark ink. A crashing and multifarious conclusion to a diverse closing series of songs.

The recording now changes sources allowing for the final encore to be included. While a bit muffled, the encore can be enjoyed in similar sonic quality to the preceding tunes. “Modern Love’, the opening song from Bowie’s 1983 Let’s Dance LP acts as the finale for the evening here and for the majority of the tour. Thompson’s drums pound out the tribal opening of the song as the band closes out the first show of a legendary tour with a textbook reading of Bowie’s third single from Let’s Dance. Fittingly the song would gain momentum and popularity as the tour continued, Bowie aware of this eventuality placed it in the encore slot.

David Bowie’s 1983 Serious Moonlight tour introduced a new Bowie to the world, mainstreamed by his current popularity Bowie was still an artist who refused to compromise himself or his art. The concerts of the tour were the perfect encapsulation of his career up to that point sampling pieces from all aspects of his records and performances. The arrangements are cutting edge and racing beyond Bowie's contemporaries of the same era. There are multiple recordings both official and pirated from this exciting time in Bowie’s career to review. This particular opening show from the 96 performance tour finds Bowie anxious and excitable, while offering a few songs that would not make their way through the entire tour. Historic and diverse, Bowie’s 1983 performances are a wealth of powerful return renditions. Start here, from the very beginning and witness the genesis of the tour in this premier show straight from the 'rock room'.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rolling Stones:'Wherever I Go They Treat Me the Same'-From the Vault Hampton Coliseum 1981

The debut release from the Rolling Stones new From the Vaults series has finally been given to their hungry and eager fans. From the Vaults: Hampton Coliseum 1981 captures the Stones at the conclusion of their massive 1981 tour in support of Tattoo You. This featured official release hails from the first evening (December 18) of a two night run to close the tour which also happens to be Keith Richards birthday! The Stones proceed to play one of the finest concerts of their illustrious career, playing an expansive set that surpasses two and a half hours and spotlights multiple eras.

The audio and video of the performance has been lovingly re-mastered by Bob Clearmountain resulting in a definitive and awe inspiring document of the ‘greatest rock and roll band in the world’. Besides one barely noticeable edit taking place (see if you know where), the focus is on clarity and detail. Every nuance of Bill Wyman’s nimble bass playing, the string resonance of ‘Keef’s’ ringing Telecaster’s and the thump of Watt’s woody kick drum are all displayed in crystalline quality. This was a nationwide ‘Pay per View’ broadcast so the pro shot video contains every nuance available, while the re-mastered sound is multifaceted in its sonic spread. The instruments speak with sparkling tone and confidence, while Jagger sings well and does so while leaving behind his 1970's practice of shouting for the majority of the concert.

At the time, the 1981 tour was the most successful North America tour the band had ever undertaken. The coliseum sized stage set up, a standard of all Stones tours was minimized for the ‘intimate’ confines of the Hampton Coliseum.  As evidenced by the existing video, the Stones were fashionable and influential creating their own undeniable style and approach.. The vibrant color pallet and ragged chic of the era is in no way representative of the dark unbreakable rock solid grooves and bluesy guitar weaving mechanization's that take place on this evening.  

Almost every song is extended beyond its normal boundaries and every reading is energized and fire breathing. The greatest aspect of this concert is that each and every song is carefully crafted and expanded with no clock watching by the group. The concert begins and slithers in on the groovy strains of a loose ‘Under My Thumb’ that culminates in an edgy crocheting of guitars. The feeling that it’s going to be a great concert is evident as the band is revealed from the loudly bedazzled rotating stage. ‘When the Whip Comes Down’, strikes without repent followed by a thick and guitar heavy ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’. The band is hot to the touch and do not let up through the first half of the performance at all! A dangerous ‘Shattered’ and aggressive reading of ‘Neighbors’ follow in breathless fashion keeping with the evenings theme of all out hoodlum rock and blues. Woody and ‘Keef’s’ guitars nip at each other and the dual piano attack of Ian McLagan  and Ian Steward keeps the rock rolling with no chance of slowing it down

 Boot to the throat, the only respite comes in the form of ‘Just My Imagination’ which ends up turning into a jam with Saxophone player Ernie Watts blowing the blues away from the dampened outside evening streets. One of my personal favorite segments of the concert occurs next with the bang banging of Eddie Cochrane’s ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ and a tribal nightclub reading of the Miracle’s ‘Going to a Go-Go’. The boys really hit it here, street corner tugging on a smoke after a hot night in the bar; Watts and Wyman lock it up. Quintessential Stones. A major highlight of the collection.

A rare reading of Emotional Rescue’s ‘Let Me Go’ follows and finds Jagger making his way along ramps and catwalks to frolic amongst the crowd. The Stones tear away from their pursuant and adoring followers as they disseminate another definitive version of a jagged and rarely performed classic.

A true cool down period follows with the triad of ‘Time Is On My Side’, ‘Beast of Burden’, and ‘Waiting On A Friend’.  Keith Richard's pours on whiskey soaked backing vocals and strangles out an inspired solo on an ace version of ‘Time Is On My Side’.  Mick dons his beach hat and acoustic for a sunset version of ‘Waiting On A Friend’ that is reason enough for this release. The guitars shimmer in the narrator’s hopeful anticipation, the saxophone elicits knots in the listener’s stomach from its blinding beauty. This may be me waxing poetic, but every damn time I play this track it elicits the same emotions from me.  Richards stands stout, cigarette hanging from his lips, every lick a stitch into the blending instrumental tapestry. 
 “Let It Bleed’ and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ follow and lend the crowd two of the bands beloved classic tracks, with Jagger staying on acoustic for the former. ‘Let It Bleed’ is played by the ‘Country Honks’ with shit kicking boots, spotlighting Woody on his  blue slippery slide and culminating in a fantastic conclusion.  ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ gets an extended performance and a new funky life is injected into this Stones standard.

Richards’ birthday is given its due notice as Jagger introduces the band and drinks are brought out in celebration. A welcome performance of Richards, ‘Little T and A’ is another concert highlight with Woody and Richards going Barbarian and grabbing both cheeks authoritatively on this fiery rendition.

A celebratory ‘Tumblin Dice’ follows with Jagger returning dressed in an American football Eagles jersey inexplicably adorned with tassels. The band knows they got us now and proceed to prove their proclamation of being the world’s greatest rock and roll band. Stratocaster and Telecaster chime in a sexy coalition, leaving the card table behind and leaving with the clandestine lady by the door.

In a performance full of strikes and counter strikes, ‘She’s So Cold’ and ‘Hang Fire’ add an additional 1-2 punky punch before the concluding ‘hits’ run. Both songs run with the RPM’s jacked, Woody swings around the stage euphorically unable to contain himself as Richards’ is down to a shredded T-shirt, eyes closed, metallic riffs sparking from his hands. This segment is also ‘must see’ Stones and lends a great anticipation to what lies in the recesses of the Rolling Stones vault.
                                          Photo John Gellman

The following red light ‘Miss You’ signals the approaching  musical pillars visible on the horizon that comprise the supports of the substantial catalog of the Rolling Stones. The band tslams through ‘Honky Tonk Women’, ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Start Me Up’, ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’ and ‘Satisfaction’ with authority, determination and attitude. Textbook live versions of recognizable standards of rock played with investment and verve. The crowd is ignited; the band sets it in cruise control and release the rocks down the hill. ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Honky Tonk’ see the addition of Stones veteran Bobby Keys’ to the stage and his simpatico with Richards is obvious as the jams lift off of the earth. Mick threatens to get naked through his dress and sprints around the arena in jaw dropping endurance. The concert threatens to tear the venue from its mounts and to rip apart at the seams. 'Jumpin Jack Flash' sounds like the turntable may need a belt adjustment it is so kinetic, finally stretching out to allow for Jagger to play around on a skyline cherry picker.

The following ‘Satisfaction’ features a moment of note and rock myth when midway through the song a fan who can no longer contain their brewing excitement runs on the stage toward Jagger. What follows the epitome of rock and roll cool as Richards’ removes his black Telecaster and takes a home run swing connecting with the crazed fan and allowing security to escort him from the stage. ‘Keef’ places the strap back on his shoulder and keeps playing, in tune and in time.  Richards was later quoted as saying that this was a great advertisement for Fender as the guitar stayed perfectly in tune after striking the rogue fan. This moment is a fitting conclusion to a concert brimming with ‘cool’. Whatever your definition, in the world of rock it does not get any better than this. Description is pointless, go get this video and enjoy it in your own rock room!

Look soon for a review of the second installment of the Rolling Stones From the Vault series containing audio and video from the Stones 1975 L.A. Forum run. This first edition has set the standard high with one of the finest examples of the Rolling Stones live on stage a fan can find. No matter the environment or the era what can be guaranteed is that the Stones will play rock at 100 miles an hour. In an era of slick production and sometimes questionable values the Stones remained relevant by creating their own style and always staying true to their roots. The Hampton 1981 release finds the band at the peak of their second era of popularity, features a diverse set formed from all walks of their early career and performed with a vehemence and attitude. Start here if you are probing the live catalog of the Stones and start here if you’ve been with them all along, because this is one of the best nights with the Stones that you can find.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bob Dylan and the Band 'Bunch of Basement Noise' - The Bootleg Series Volume 11-The Basement Tapes Complete

Years of hyperbole, conjecture, rumor and myth surround the sessions that took place in the smoky hills of Woodstock in the Spring of 1967. The excitement stirred by the recordings made by Bob Dylan and the Hawks (soon to be the Band) has developed decades of bootlegs, inferior collections and multi-generational pressings of many of the songs cut during these historic sessions. A quick background for those unfamiliar with the tale: About to collapse from the pressure of drugs, touring, fame and the illusion of being a musical martyr, Dylan retreated to Woodstock, NY for a period of contemplation and reflection. After a motorcycle accent the self imposed exile became extended and Dylan was soon joined by his pals in the Hawks who were on retainer from his 1966 world tour.

The resultant recordings made from the Spring of 1967 and into early 1968 find the collaborative effort between the men creating some of the most organic, spring water music that has ever been poured over rock. Dylan reached into his back pages to introduce his band to the substantial roots folk, country, haunted Appalachia, sea chanties and field hollers of his consciousness. Likewise, his Canadian friends would continue to school Dylan in the funky navigation of R and B and blues played with electric boozy swagger. Many of the original tracks cut during this time were given to other artists, many songs were practiced cover versions played for the joy of musical exploration and dissemination.Countless songs were lost to the passage of time and to undiscriminating hands of band hanger on's. What cannot be denied is that the music created in Dylan's home, Danko's home and in the basement 'Big Pink' is magical and mystical and worthy of further and continuous inspection. The music developed offers ancient melody lines discovered only to be discarded, tales of murder, hookers and theft, songs of salvation hope and foundation, creation distilled to its individual elements. Quirky instrumentation, comic book characters and barroom gossip only a few of the ingredients that make up the diverse landscape of developed and collaborative art. A cornucopia of influence, tradition and inspiration and multifaceted talents running parallel yet still opposing  contemporary influence.

Dylan's ongoing archival release series The Bootleg Series has finally, with the help of Band keyboardist and Basement Tape engeneer Garth Hudson compiled all of the existing recordings from Hudson's own collection as well as other sources into the definitive statement of Basement Tapes. Released in a two disc version labeled 'raw' and the six disc 'Complete' version reviewed here the final word can be stated on these historic and mysterious sessions. In most cases the recordings hail from Hudson's source tapes, there is a detailed explanation in the liner notes about the schematics of sources, tapes, labeling methods and restoration processes. Plainly put this collection puts any of the previously circulating bootlegs or official releases to shame. Even the official 1975 release was subject to sonic tampering and overdubs, while Hudson's original 'wide-Stereo' recordings were often crushed into a dull mono. This collection is definitive, sonically satisfying and very well one of the finest archival released to ever become realized.

Now with these updated recordings, the ringing of Manuel's acoustic piano reverberates against the cement walls of the Stoll Road basement, Danko's voice soars in support of Dylan, the wood burns and the grooves churn. Detailed ambiance reveals the performances to be even more enigmatic than once thought. The set follows the arc of a circle chronologically due to Hudson's foresight of a detailed labeling system. By midway through the set the listener can feel the groups confidence grow, the originals blossom into poignant statements and The Hawks start to leave the nest ready to soar with Dylan's encouragements. Laid back and chewing on a sliver of straw the band feels no rush nor any reason to disturb the neighbors with silver daggers of guitar lightning. It's a campfire singalong with the Salvation Army band, a group of close knit comrades who have been to war and back and now relive the past and contextualize the future through song.

Sixteen reels of tape were filled with the sounds of Woodstock, most of that sound stuck using the adhesive of magnetic tape and thankfully collected, organized and now ready to be discovered again in a new context and with a fresh sonic landscape that only increases its power and grace. While Dylan's contemporaries were painting their guitars, hating parents and melting wax, Dylan and the Band were donning overalls, taking family portraits and reaching into the midst of yesteryear for inspiration and direction.
Disc one begins in Dylan's 'red room' at his home in Byrdcliff in the painted artist hills just out of Woodstock. The tentative beginnings drift through stoned recitations of Dylan's multifarious influences. Those familiar with the bootleg snapshots of these recordings will immediately stand back in shock when faced with the improved quality and separation of the instruments. Johnny Cash gets a name check when the group explores their love for his catalog through dusty and funky readings of 'Belshazzar', 'Big River', and a steamy 'Folsom Prison Blues'. Dylan's metamorphosis from  screaming electric prophet to mellowed country troubadour is on full display in the series of wonderful clips captured by 'Spanish Is the Loving Tongue', 'Cool Water' and Po' Lazarus' The sound quality improves over the course of the first two discs, probably due to the fact of the musicians becoming comfortable with their gear and environment.

Disc two continues with the exploration of numerous songbooks, though according to the liner notes the proceedings move to 'Big Pink' with the takes of 'I'm a 'Fool For You' that conclude disc 1. Finally, after years of fighting sonic artifacts and residue the true air of the Summer basement can be felt through the existing tapes. Sonically transparent takes of 'Kicking My Dog Around' and 'See You Later Allen Ginsberg' let the band work up their chops as well as let loose with some high times. Songs of note are the bounding cover of Ian an Silvia's 'Song for Canada', a nod by by Dylan to his group and the irresistible Band snap, crackle and pop of 'Baby, Wont You Be My Baby.

By disc three of the set a distinct change in the musical seas can be felt as Dylan's new originals start to appear on the tapes and often contain numerous attempts at perfecting an arrangement. Recognized takes from previous releases now appear brand new, crystalline and antiqued wavy glass now offering a perfect view after years of inclement weather and particles are removed to reveal a greater beauty than once thought. Spectral acoustic guitar strums once textural are now acknowledged, while Garth Hudson's hide and seek Lowrey keys become whirling and swirling  swells, turning from Sepia portraits to technicolor dreams.
The band switches instrumental seats throughout the collection, Manuel often acting a defacto drummer in the absence of Levon Helm who returns to the band in October of 1967. On this box Helm's appearance and return can be noted on the three swinging but differing takes of 'Nothing Was Delivered'. Legendary and poignant Dylan composition 'Sign on the Cross' can also be found on disc four in amazing clarity in addition to a series of feisty an fun performances. The stomping versions of 'Odds and Ends', the stringy 'Clothes Line Saga' and the sweet running nectar of 'Apple Suckling Tree' capture not only amazing performances, but good time expressions by all participants involved. See the swampy pie eyed versions of 'Don't Ya Tell Henry' and 'Bourbon Street' that close the disc for an staggering example of the impromptu Band horn section in action.
Revelations abound with disc five, a disc that contains music unknown and unheard until now. Music that was discovered, found on the flip side of brittle two sided tape stored in Upstate New York for decades. Helm is back in the fold as the group plays astonishing electric concert arrangements of 'Blowin In the Wind', 'One To Many Mornings' (with a Manuel verse) and 'It Ain't Me Babe'. The fantastically groovy 'Mary Lou, I Love You Too' is a lost Dylan composition that foreshadows the musical flavor to be mined much later on Desire. The 'Band' are at their best here, with Helm back on drums the music smiles and the rhythms screw down tight, allowing each member to do what they do best. Danko is especially active and playing with a buoyant enthusiasm as with Helm back on the stool he is no longer the responsible metronome for the band. 'Silent Weekend' is highlighted by creaky Danko vocals and is a recipient of the reunited and joyus rhythm section. Other highlights are a soulful 'One Kind Favor' sung by Dylan straight from a Nashville juke and featuring either Manuel or Helm on moaning train harp. I believe that all of these particular recordings hail from Danko's home on Wittenberg and obviously follow Helm's return to the fold

The sound quality drops slightly for the reveal of 'Wild Wolf'' a long rumored Dylan track which in this reviewers opinion lives up to the question and hype regarding its existence. The twilight melody is shaded with exquisite Danko bass and a perfect Hudson breeze. I still need to absorb all of the lyrics, but I know the song is a weighty slab of Dylan perfectly framed by dramatic instrumentation and foreboding drumming. Followed by 'Goin To Acapulco' this two song series is inspired, amazing and truly stirring. The improved sound on the aforementioned 'Acapulco' is stunning. Not much more can be said, it is representative of the eye bugging nature of the entire set.  Also of note is the percussive and stoic cover of Tim Hardin's 'If I Were A Carpenter' featuring Danko and Dylan sharing vocal duties. Classic. The existing tapes and fifth disc conclude with two takes of the slick soul groove of Dylan's 'All You Have To Do Is Dream', a song right up the Hawk's backstreet musical alley.
The sixth and final disc of the collection is compiled of tracks that did not quite live up to the sonic standards of the other songs of the set. The surprises and reveals are still there to be enjoyed. The notes offer that they are historically important but questionable in their aural qualities. The culprit on the first five tracks seems to be a severely hot keyboard and/or vocal microphone. 'Hallelujah, I've Just Been Moved' is a celebratory gospel romp with group vocals that really capture the spirit of these special recordings. 'She's On My Mind Again' finds Dylan unable to control his laughter during the lyrics and the piano heavy rendition of 'Goin Down the Road Feeling Band' is slightly strange and oh so enjoyable. Two versions of a possibly alcohol influenced 'Spanish Song' close the collection amidst twinkling pianos, rattling tambourines and slighty demonic whoops and hollers. A fitting reminder to not take the myths and mystery of the Basement Tapes too seriously..... The additional sixth 'bonus' disc of this set is a welcome reminder of what was available previously to us sonically through bootlegs as well as what the true intentions behind the original sessions was. Companionship, music, laughter and discovery.

The new Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Volume 11 is a collection that soaks into your skin, a collection of timeless music revealed and reimagined through revolutionary musicianship and recently uncovered sonic surprises. The music retains its freshness and warrants numerous listens to enjoy the clandestine nuance and detail.  The instruments are allowed to express their distinct personalities and colorful expressive tones through the uncovered stereo image. Robertson's delicate swells no longer reside under sonic grit, nor do the bountiful rhythms existing in the cracks between piano keys and bass licks. These vital and historic recordings not only increase the mystique of Dylan and the Band but also polish their importance to music while offering a panoramic view of a pivotal moment in rock and in each individual artists' life.

I'm Not There

Robbie Robertson on the Basement Tapes

Odds and Ends Take 1

Bootleg Series 11

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tools of the Trade: 'Torn and Frayed' Keith Richards 1953 Blackguard Telecaster 'Micawber'

One of the most recognizable and iconic instruments in rock and roll history is Keith Richards 1953 butterscotch 'Blackguard' Fender Telecaster. Named 'Micawber' after a Charles Dickens character, the worn and battle scarred guitar is the most famous of the reportedly over 3,000 guitars that Richards owns! Richards first received the instrument in 1971 during the Stones recording of Exile On Main Street, the instrument given to Richards by one Eric Clapton for a birthday gift. The guitar has undergone some changes over the intervening years, but has always been played hard and hot propagating some of the most incendiary licks in rock history. Richards is fortunate to still have the guitar because shortly after he received it in October 1971 a host of thieves made off with many of his most cherished instruments from the Stones French exile of Nelcotte. Thankfully most of the guitars were found, 'Micawber' one of them.

Gear freaks have long ruminated and debated about the internal workings and wiring of the guitar. While the innards of the guitar may never be available for inspection, what is known is that there is a 1950's era Gibson Humbucker pickup in the neck position. There is also a 1940's era Champion lap steel pickup in the guitar's bridge position. There is a stock three way switch outfitted on the guitar. The guitar does not have a visible serial number and the hardware has undergone various replacements and refits over the instruments long stage career. One of the guitars most intriguing details is the wear pattern from Richards aggressive playing found above the bridge pickup. His decades of riffing can be traced like an ancient scroll marked across the woody flesh of the guitar. Similarly to Willie Nelson's acoustic guitar 'Trigger', the nicks and dings are part of the guitars mystique and road warrior aesthetic.
While the electronics are vital to the guitars performance and sound, the instruments famous tone is due to its legendary operator. Reference Richards famous quote, Five strings, two notes, two fingers, one asshole'. Richards plays the guitar like a jagged electric banjo, emanating a big brassy drone. Richards outfitted 'Micawber' with a brass bridge, its sixth string saddle removed for his five string open tuning approach. Richards usually plays this guitar through a pair of rare Fender Tweed Twins. You cannot get anymore vintage than these amazing classic amplifiers. All of the aforementioned factors are a defining element in the Richards/Stones sound. Obviously Richards gear is in constant flux, he says himself that its a continuous experimentation in tone. But the fundamental foundation of his sound is to be witnessed in the aforementioned components.
As recognizable as a fingerprint, 'Micawber's' sound combined with Richards' Chuck Berry riffing and clangorous chords are the hallmark to the Stones bluesy strut. 'Micawber' is the guitar most associated with Richards and due to its influence and use, has to be considered his favorite stage guitar. Richards can also be seen playing a banged up 54' Telecaster named 'Malcolm',that looks very similar to 'Micawber' but contains a natural grain and noticeable hardware differences. 66' and 75' Telecasters are also favored by Richards on the stage and in the studio in addition to a plethora of late era models . I have included a video below that shows an intimate glimpse of a few of Richards guitars right off of the rack. But the standard remains, the special honey blond 53..... as dependable as the sun rising and setting everyday.
Tracks like' Brown Sugar', 'Start Me Up', 'Happy' and 'Tumblin Dice' are some of the more recognizable recipients of  'Micawber' internal components and external sonic expressions on the stage. Footage from the famed 1972 tour show 'Micawber' used stunningly on a number of classic tracks. It's thick honey can be felt all over the Exile LP. At this current point in the Stones and Richards career, certain guitars are tuned and prepared for certain tunes at certain points in the performance. 'Micawber' is still a standard and as irreplaceable as its handler but many other soldiers in Richards guitar army of 3,000 have to get their turn in the spotlight. Any number of classic Gibson's also make nightly appearances side by side with his favorite Fender's, its whatever instrumental personality fits the tale of the song. 'Micawber's' personality is etched in stone, an extension of Richards musicality and reflection of his musical aura, as inseparable from Richards as his own being.

Keef's Guitars

Richards On the Telecaster

All Down the Line 1972

Happy 1972

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Byrds - 'Just Before You Get To The Dream' -Younger Than Yesterday LP 1967

Long loved and often revisited, today in the rock room spins a mono version of the diverse ‘Byrds’ 1967 LP, Younger Than Yesterday. The record is a wonderful document of the post-Gene Clark group, showcasing Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman’s blossoming songwriting and composing skills.  The four piece band would soon fracture due to their increasingly divergent styles and personalities but in the case of this featured recording, the tincture of blended talents equate to a multifarious and spectral slice of mid 1960’s psychedelic, jazz and sonic experimentation.
The record opens cinematically with the famous ‘So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star’ the, luscious mono mix popping with Hillman’s plump and excited bass lines. Jazz star Hugh Masekela blows horn over the undulating percussion driven groove. Hillman’s maturation as a songwriter and bass player has now equaled his fellow Byrds by this point in their respective careers, taking into account his output on this record. Groovy horns, artificial screams, and driving instrumentation make up this famed Byrds track and sly dig at the then current state of the music scene.

The chunky and Hillman penned “Have You See Her Face’ follows and spotlights a full Byrds spectral vocal blend.  Special notice to McGuinn’s fearless and distorted guitar quote, a departure from his usual tone and injecting a crunchy melody that makes the song. The tone is mouthwatering.  This song sways with an absolutely stellar groove and offers the finest contributions from the entire band. Michael Clark pounds the skins with a Rand B fervor that tightens down the bolts. The mono mix of the song is of note, as it is full of groovy details and close mic’d vocal nuance.

‘C.T.A.-102’ develops clandestinely and appears as an extra terrestrial number born from Roger McGuinn’s interest in outer space and futuristic technologies. By the end of the tune the aliens have made contact and the song is transmitted to a distant quasar to which alternate life is perplexed by the earthling’s sonic offering. The tune’s most endearing quality is its mixing of traditional verse construction with far-out electronic manipulations. This album was released in Feburary 1967, so its experiments with sound manipulations spearheaded by producer Gary Usher, were contemporary and cutting edge. Hillman plays with authority once again, disseminating experimental lines that defy the gravity being created in the oscillating waves of found sound.

‘Renaissance Fair’ follows and in my humble opinion is the band’s finest moment on this LP.  McGuinn’s circular and ringing picking signals the tune, Crosby then slashes the starry veil with thick strums, while Hillman struts up and down the fret board in a flowery and glorious syncopation. Clarke snaps the snare and the Byrds velvet blend begins its walk into the dreamy summer season of verses. This song streams, a regal flag that illustrates and distills the essence of the 1960’s into a two minute song eliciting hopefulness and a simplistic flamboyance.
Hillman takes lead vocal duties on ‘Time Between’ another one of his numbers that hold up as some of the strongest in the Byrds catalog. Future Byrd guitarist, Hillman friend and guitar master Clarence White takes a stringy series of sweet ‘B-Bending’quotes under and on top of the verses. Country rock? This is it. One of the first examples of the juxtaposition of the genres in Pop, if that is your thing. This song is so god damn catchy it makes you wonder why it wasn’t all over the FM airwaves. Probably because it was located a bit too far down the overgrown back roads for the mainstream public.

Quintessential Crosby, ‘Everybody Has Been Burned’ closes out the first side with bluesy and dramatic psychedelia. Only David Crosby could compose the idiosyncratic changes and content of a song such as this. It drifts like smoke… transparent yet tangible, only coming into focus when passing in front of light. The song rotates with its eyes closed on McGuinn’s spinning top picking. Hillman swells with a simple but effective statement, over it all Crosby pours warm honey with his tranquil vocal delivery. McGuinn later takes a minimalist solo that scratches every itch through singular chorused Rickenbacker plucks.

The flip side of the record becomes more experimental and slowly reveals its sonic secrets like an aural black light poster. The second side begins with the Chris Hillman penned song and total contrast to ‘Time Between’,Thoughts and Words’.  The ethnic purple paisley sounding verses elicit George Harrison through the vocals and by the chorus turns a groovy garage funk. Backwards guitars leave day-glo paint streaks through the tension filled changes.  When the verses again return the vocals are then embraced with alternating and echoed vocal lines. Ace classic rock goods to be enjoyed here.

‘Mind Gardens’ follows and is the exact type of song that got Crosby removed from the Byrds. Too weird for some of the band members, this is the kind of tune that Crosby fans loves him for. It is written that McGuinn DID NOT want this song on the LP. Over shimmering 12 string guitar Crosby creates vocal melody lines that drone, soar and dissipate into themselves above a constantly shifting river of rhythms and reversed studio created sound. Formless but glowing with color, ‘Mind Garden’s isn’t a song to grace a single, it’s a forward thinking musical creation born of following the muse.
The only Dylan song to be featured on the LP, ‘My Back Pages’ allows the perfect and recognizable triad of Byrds vocals to pyramid from the speakers. The title of the record influenced from the lyrics of this song. As was often their wont the Byrds take Dylan’s poignant declaration and form it into an electrified three part harmony attack. The internal conflicts of the band are illustrated here through a track listing. Crosby’s expansive drug fueled flip outs versus the reliance on the Dylan warhorses to please the masses.

Hillman is given another lead vocal on his own ‘The Girl with No Name’, in my opinion slightly inferior to ‘Time Between’, but nonetheless a solid song well deserving of its position of the LP. Chewing on straw the song slyly gets a country kiss on its rock and roll cheek. Hillman shows off his ability to swindle up a memorable melody line with the best of em.

Crosby’s song ‘Why’ closes the album in a move often questioned because of its inclusion as a ‘B’ side on the previously released ‘Eight Mikes High’ single. Regardless of the motivation, the version featured here contains a quivering ‘raga’ solo by McGuinn during the middle of the song and hula hoop bass licks by Hillman throughout. Crosby is draped in his perfect early career voice that soothes even when crooning aggressively.

With that, the LP reaches its conclusion, a solitary thirty minute volume in the turbulent history of the ‘Byrds’. A fine record by any account, it reveals a group with willingness to experiment and ability to cross pollinate genres while exhibiting a tangible growth as musical artists. The album itself plays beautifully and contains instrumental personality as well as sonic clarity. The mono mix is highly recommended. Enjoyed front to back, the ‘Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday can take the willing listener on a trip through the past, into the present and the thoughtful, onward toward the future.