Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tools of the Trade: 'Pictures of Lily' Keith Moon's Custom Premier Drum Kit

As recognizable as the flamboyant drummer himself, Who drummer Keith Moon's custom Premier drum kit, often referred to as the 'Pictures of Lily' kit is the focus of 'Tools of the Trade'  today in the 'rock room'. Moon's drum set ups and specifications were as particular and peculiar as Moon himself. He was often as interested in the aesthetics and destructive capabilities of the drums as well as their ability to disseminate his unique brand of playing. Premier Drums were the manufacturer and the company that Moon often returned to for his kits. The 'Lily' drum set was used by Moon from mid 1967 through the end of 1968. The Who's performance in December of 1968 at the Rolling Stones 'Rock and Roll Circus' show Moon no longer using the drums so I will use that performance as a cut off point.

It's been reported that the first appearance of the drums came in July of 1967 when Moon first received them during the Who's US tour. The drums took six months to create to Moon's specifications and contained many unique features. Who lighting manger and friend John Wofff helped to design the drums and bring Moon's imagery to reality. Everything down to the smallest piece of hardware was developed and ruminated upon by Moon.
The first interesting detail about the kit is that it was completely hooked together as one unit. Each individual drum was attached and the double kick drums were outfitted with the ability to be attached to the stage floor due to Moon's hyperactive rudiments and penchant for destruction. Unfortunately and reportedly none of the originally created kits exist in their complete form due to Moon's explosive stage antics. Although many of Moon's acquaintances report Moon's drum detonations were well planned out and never really destroyed anything but hardware. Reportedly four kits were originally developed by the company for Moon.

 The second fascinating detail about the drums and their defining characteristic are the specially commissioned pop art panels requested by Moon that decorate the kits shells. Psychedelically painted 'Pictures of Lily' as well as 'Who' emblems adorn the outside of the kit. The finest and greatest of these panels contain the moniker, 'Keith Moon Patent British Exploding Drummer' in typical Moon self promoting fashion! The skins covering both bass drums featured the 'Who' logo flying in three dimensional glory and emanating from a head shot of Moon.
The kit was of course subject to change depending on Moon's needs but its original format contained (2) 22' Bass drums, (3) Floor Toms, (3) mounted Toms and a snare drum. As Moon grew older and his demands greater his drums would grow to extravagant sizes, but this set, his most recognizable offered him a fluid movement as well as a flashy instrument to fully compete with his guitar player's on stage antics. Moon's crash cymbals were situated on either side of him in performance with a single ride cymbal sitting at twelve o'clock. His high hat would nestle to the right of the kit in contrast to other drummers (if he used it). In the heat of battle Moon would alternate between the crash cymbals at three and nine o'clock while eliciting a stampeding herd of beasts with his double bass drum feet.

Included at the bottom of this 'rock room' rant is the complete footage of the Who on the Smothers Brothers show in 1967, that features Moon miming with the Lilly set as well as detonating it with a bass drum packed with explosives at the conclusion of the performance. This act has long been rumored to be part of the impetus for Townsend's hearing loss. The incident also imbedded a rogue piece of cymbal shrapnel into Moon's arm. As far as I know there is no other footage that exists of the kit in action, although there are a number of photographs. 
 Mirroring the personality and abilities of its owner and creator, Keith Moon's 'Pictures of Lily' drum set is not only one of the most recognizable in rock history but an instrument completely representative of its manipulator. Moon was a drummer who hated solos but who's playing could often be interpreted as a 'lead' instrument. The 'Lily' kit offered Moon a spotlight piece to not only illuminate his talent but express his artfulness and aggression.

 Smothers Brothers 1967 Complete

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Put the Boot In: Faces- 'Wicked Messengers' - Boston Tea Party 1970

 Playing in the 'rock room' today is a rough and ready soundboard recording of 'Faces', hailing from their first US tour in 1970. The band's debut LP First Step had just been released on March 21, 1970, read about that record here and to support the album the band undertook a 28 date tour still sometimes billed as the 'Small Faces'. This master soundboard recording circulated in 2005 and finds the band in early form playing with fire and attitude. There are a few tunes that quickly disappeared from the repertoire that are featured on this recording that add to the performances relevance. The soundboard has an acceptable balance of instruments, but does suffer from some level fluctuations, hiss and distortion at times. These minor anomalies are minor when compared to the rarity and demonstrated power of the concert capture. With the exception of 'Looking Out the Window' and 'Three Button Hand Me Down' the band plays the entirety of the first album in addition to a down right ornery version of Willie Dixon's 'Evil'.

The band played three nights at the famed 'Boston Tea Party' over March 26, 27, 28, the recording spotlighted here purportedly hails from the 27th, but has circulated under other dates. The enthusiasm demonstrated by the band on this recording is admirable. They play with dynamics, attitude and bank vault tight collaborations. The band would be playing stadiums before they would realize and the popularity of the band (especially their singer) would rocket through the roof within the following 4 years. This capture finds the band young, hungry and with an intimate group of admirers standing witness to their growth. The band was actually second billing to the Lee Michaels Group for these performances, but due to the aptitude and explosiveness of concerts like this one they would soon be filling their pockets with the headlining slots. The band is feeling good and playing well with the slight scent of alcohol permeating the recording.

After a vibe setting ambient view from the stage and introduction by Boston Tea Party MC Charlie Daniels the group detonates Bob Dylan's 'Wicked Messenger'. The opening track of their debut LP, this threatening version holds a knife to the listeners throat with slicing slide guitar by Ronnie Wood and string rattling Ronnie Lane bass runs. The song cascades over its descending riff, thumping over a rocky road to a clandestine hell of its own design. McLagan's organ lends a secular fog over the proceedings, contrasting the fist through the wall percussion and stone sharpened guitars.

With barley a pause except for an off mic 'Yeah' by Stewart, Woody plays the opening riff to 'Shake, Shutter and Shiver' a Lane/Wood composition that would have limited on stage exposure. Similarly to the opening track, Woody's guitar is exemplary driving the band into a steel toed stomp. Lane and Stewart share vocal duties and Kenny Jones deserves mention for his heavy handed firecracker percussion.

Bringing the vibe down to delicate and beautiful the band begins the 'Mayfield' influenced 'Devotion'. Lots of off mic asides and interjections increase the soulfulness of this rendition which culminates in a screeching and stretching Ronnie Wood guitar solo. Bonus point to the always poignant middle section spotlighting Lane and Stewart swapping gentle vocal lines.

My personal favorite highlight of the recording and performance follows with a menacing reading of Willie Dixon's 'Evil'. The song was one of the first tracks ever played by the band as illustrated by the rehearsal take from Summer 1969 included on the band's box set, Five Guys Walk Into A Bar. This version tears through the band's start/stop arrangement, by using dramatic and scratching guitar mutes that interchange with washes of cymbal swells and McLagan's R and B rips. At 3:25 all band members disappear as the entire group melds into one player, a rolling musical maelstrom that deftly drops into a bedtime recitation of the verses. Stewart spits the vocals in inspiring fashion, syncopated and abrasive, so rock and roll. The second instrumental excursion follows and fires the song arrow straight through to its conclusion, but with some unfortunate mix issues appearing on the recording. Regardless, another imposing climax is reached with Lane's bass providing the darkened bedrock before the band ends perfectly united.
Following some on stage diddling Stewart announces the the band is going to play 'Flying'. One of the greatest songs in the 'Faces' catalog, this reading is studio perfect, while still containing some raw Stewart vocal approaches. The concluding jam is triad of musical intercourse, with Lane, McLagan and Wood intertwining their respective melody lines into a tangible object of soaring musical joy.

Mellowing the mood, the rarely played 'Nobody Knows' begins with electric piano, tasteful slide and stirring Lane and Stewart collaborative vocals. The Lane/Wood penned song drifts on an unmistakeable Lane melody line, blissfully ending before it even feels like it begins. The song is representative of the brotherhood of the band during these early concerts and is one of the most underrated of Faces songs.

The Ronnie Wood instrumental 'Pineapple and Monkey' follows after some on stage discussion of how long left the group has to play. A slightly smart ass introduction by Stewart precedes the multifaceted and funky instrumental. Wood takes a couple of crispy solos in addition to his statements of the songs thematic basis, beautifully echoed by McLagan. It amazes me how many solid and virtuous solos Wood takes, knowing that he would not be allowed the same freedoms after joining the Stones in a few years.

Often the groups' basis for improvisation, 'Around the Plynth' follows next, a slippery and undulating slide guitar groove the extends past six minutes and is a Ronnie Wood as well as a Kenney Jones showcase. Jones thumps out a kick drum clinic in which Wood and McLagan drape their sweeping statements. This version is still in its formative stages but spotlights some steely sleek playing by Wood. As has been the trend for the entire show Stewart is posing as rocks greatest vocalist, disseminating a flurry of melodic and edgy vocal lines with glamorous attitude and with no worry for slight pitch variations. The mid point jam of the number peculates with frothing energy, encouraged by Lane and Jones.
Stewart announces the closing track, 'It's All Over Now' as a song from his new solo record, a small sign of divisions to come in the future. The band hits this one over the green wall at Fenway, although the recording cuts off before its conclusion, most of the jam is captured. A fitting and crashing rock and roll conclusion and a swaggering introduction of the Faces to a US audience. Rod sounds slightly fuzzy at this point, but I'm sure the communal bottle was close by. A number of groups such as the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers and Neil Young and Crazy Horse earned their keep in front of the tough Boston crowds, only to emerge better bands. This particular soundboard recording captures the Faces doing the same thing, only coming in as outsiders and foreigners and proving their musical worth to skeptical strangers.

Fans of the Faces owe it to themselves to seek out this soundboard recording and compare it to the other circulating recordings from the bands heyday. In the 'rock room's' opinion this concert compares favorably and only enhances the bands mythology and influence. Take a trip, join the crowd and witness unadulterated rock and roll hailing from a legendary venue in rocks greatest era.

Nobody Knows 1970

Flying BBC 1970

Faces Documentary 1970

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Neil Young and Crazy Horse-'Long Ago In the Museum'-1976 LP Zuma

Imagine two outstretched arms, extracting themselves from a dirty roadside ditch, fingertips dug into the flesh of the earth pulling a hidden body out into the blinding sunlight. This is the imagry representing Neil Young and Crazy Horse's 1976 LP Zuma, recorded following Young's so called mid 1970's 'ditch trilogy', comprised of the records, Time Fades Away, Tonight's the Night and On the Beach and respectively recorded between 1973-1974.

In addition to collecting some of Young's most revolutionary and long standing music, the aforementioned records also set out to shatter the illusions and myths that had surrounded Young since the beginning of his career. The music was an infected flesh wound, some fans had to look away, some listeners opened the door and decended to the basement. During this prolific era, there was also a failed attempt at recording an LP with CSNY, as well as a huge amount of Young music that being recorded but remained shelved. Right up to current days this music has yet to see an official release.

Young was peaking as an artist, suffering as a person and searching for for new ways of expressing his art, even developing films for his restless mind.  Following these creatively hectic days, Young reunited and retooled 'Crazy Horse' for the subject of this 'rock room' rant, 1976's LP Zuma. The original rhythm section of Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot was supplemented by guitarist Frank Sampedro who stepped in for, but never replaced Danny Whitten who was lost to a drug overdose in 1972 and was the inspiration of 1974's Tonight's the Night. The group had last recorded with Young during sessions for 1970's After the Gold Rush and their street cowboy punk attitude was the perfect tonic for Young's musical ill regarding a band..

This record would eventually become responsible for permanently casting the 'Crazy Horse' sound and providing Young with his most trust worthy and surefooted medium of musical dissemination. The band's rough hewn and gritty attitude locked in puzzle piece syncopation with Young's artistic sensibilities, allowing him a freedom and challenging creative outlet. The 'Horse' may have been simple, but they were always real. Raw electric emotion has always mattered to Young more than musical showboating and self important ideals. Zuma would develop into a representation of Young's new direction, a swinging electric bar band armed for sonic assaults and based in melody and big guitars.  The conglomerate of compositions and ideas Young had strewn around his mind collided with a group hungry to back him. The results are documented as explosive and definitive, The band would stand witness to these ideas providing a charged and quaking musical backdrop. The band equal to a well oiled road machine of unparalleled power, rattling windows as it travels down the back roads, pipes exposed.

The album opens with the country thunder of 'Don't Cry No Tears', a song developed from a melody that had been rebounding around Young's head since he was a youth. The track introduces as well as encapsulates the 'Crazy Horse' sound, illustrating a creaky swinging rhythm and weaving dual guitars that glistening with a chrome luster. Edgy instrumentation and wildflower melodies, the perfect harmonious combination for Young's eclectic band of brothers..

'Dangerbird' is the song the truly reveals what the 'Horse' was truly about and what they would become, to be illustrated in full glory on 1978's Rust Never Sleeps. Unfortunately faded out on the official LP release, the song illicits memories of the formative Horse excursions such as 'Cowgirl In the Sand' and foreshadows the upcoming musical travelogues like 'Cortez the Killer'. The song reveals itself on a bass pulse and feedback note, its slow metallic dirge opposing the imagery of flight. The first solo flaps furiously over scratchy guitar support, Young's notes quaking with a nervous vibrato. The music fights gravity, struggling to become airborne, its silvery sonic streaks shedding weight, aiding its levitation. Young's second solo soars in spite of being made of solid stone, lifting, then finally fracturing into a dizzying array of quaking riffs.

The following song, 'Pardon My Heart' lowers the dynamic with an acoustic rendition of a track that had been floating around Young's songbook since early 1974. He plays all of the instruments on this recording except for bass guitar which is played by Tim Drummond. Young's vocals are picture perfect, at one point answering his own plaintive backing calls. Reminiscent of the future Young composition, 'Will To Love' in its recording approach and vibe, I will always classify 'Pardon My Heart' as a 'lost' classic.

"Lookin For A Love 'is a cloudy ray of sunlight bottled inside a lean melodic country lilt. What sounds to me like Young's glorious Gretch White Falcon, the notes ring out in harmonic intercourse with Sampredro's crisply picked rhythm. The Horse play it straight and let the well traveled melody lines carry all of the heavy lifting. The last tracks allow for a nice respite from the stampeding and anxious Horse.

The first side of the record concludes with the quintessentially Neil Young, 'Barstool Blues'. In my humble opinion one of the finest tracks on the record, 'Barstool's' lyrics flash fleeting spectral glimpses of Danny Witten next to the bar, the passing scent of Young love interest Carrie Snodgrass and the blurred imagery of a darkened head in hand establishment. The vocals are live and upfront on this studio track, and the music reminisces as well as forebodes. Young's shaky solos sing in a voice that match his own rattling throat. Slam the door, take a gulp and get rowdy for this one.
Side two opens in audio verite' fashion with the sludgy beginning of 'Stupid Girl' that slickly shifts into double time as the verses begin. The blunt accusations of 'Stupid Girl' are slightly disconcerting, but brutally honest and that's why we love Neil. The song spits out insult on a dry bobbing lick and concludes on a highly lyrical solo of contrasting beauty and forgiveness.

'Drive Back' follows and ups the intensity with abrasive soloing and late in the evening back road tire scorching. The song wants to lend a feisty hand of encouragement but cannot help but display its clandestine knife edge. This is the place where the 'Crazy Horse' plays best, there is the overwhelming smell of gasoline, Poncho is smoking a cigarette and the band is holding a burnt match.

The definitive 'Neil Young and Crazy Horse' epic 'Cortez the Killer' comes next, its historic genesis born from this record. The song would soon be extended and twisted into smouldering heaps on later concert tours, but here it sits in its purest unadulterated form. The introduction of the song slowly bobs past three minutes on Young's patient exploration of the watery theme. Young reportedly built the song based on a history lesson learned at at school, the lyrics both tell a tale and portray a heavy mood. The songs basic structure is custom build for expansion and development through extended guitar soloing. A well deserving and recognizable classic.

Always the master of moods and contrasts, the LP gently concludes with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash making an appearance for the airy 'Through My Sails'. Unable to get it together for their own LP, Young must have not wanted to waste the possibilities presented in this beautiful song. A sweet, even optimistic composition from Young, closes the door on one era in his career, revealing a time where the 'Horse' would become old dependable and CSN quite dispensable.

Zuma is a record that further entrenched Neil Young's electric identity by providing another, yet familiar avenue for his creative expressions. The LP would prove to be a formative foundation in the explosive performances yet to come from Young and the Horse. The rest of the 1970's would find Young morphing yet again into uncharted musical realms, but always having the 'Horse' in the stable awaiting his return. This continued gravitation back to a comfortable pair of sonic shoes for Young would remain the catalyst for the groups deep and lasting musical relationships. These enduring friendships, forged deeply during the recording of Zuma, continue right on into the present day.


Cortez the Killer-Zuma

Through My Sails-Zuma

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Eric Clapton - 'Beautiful Thing'-1976's No Reason To Cry LP

 Spinning on the turntable today in the 'rock room' is Eric Clapton's 1976 LP No Reason To Cry. Highly underrated in the spectrum of Clapton's catalog, the record contains a plethora of special guest musicians, co-writers and friends lending to the boozy celebratory vibe of the record. Recorded at 'The Band's' Malibu clubhouse 'Shangri La' studios, the record offered Clapton his long standing wish to become a default member of 'The Band'. All members of the 'Band' appear on the LP in some form as well as Clapton cronies, Bob Dylan, Jessie Ed Davis, Billy Preston, Ronnie Wood, George Terry, Georgie Fame, Yvonne Elliman and Marcy Levy among a host of others. The famous story that emanates from these sessions is of Bob Dylan camped out in a tent at the bottom of a hill near the studio and popping in to offer musical assistance or songs to Clapton.

These were heady days never to be witnessed again, resulting in a recorded document of friendship and collaboration featuring the some of the most respected musicians of the time. It's a low key affair, light on guitar fireworks but stewing with a smoky and boozy soul. Soon, Clapton's next LP, 1977's Slowhand would overshadow this particular record, producing three huge singles and rocketing up the charts. So, No Reason To Cry  remains a clandestine member of Clapton's discography; birthing only one Top 40 single, his fourth solo LP stands a wonderful collection of good time music, drenched with Jim Beam and soaked in comradery. It has some soft spots, but the payoff is worth the wait. While only containing three true Clapton compositions, the LP still contains some gems. Co-produced with long time Clapton comrade Carl Radle and Band associate Rob Fraboni, this is the record that had to be created in order for Clapton to make the next natural move in his career.

The record begins with the Manuel/Danko composition 'Beautiful Thing' originally composed around 1966 in the late days of 'The Hawks' and the formative days of 'The Band'. There is a delicate and beautiful demo recording of the track on 'The Band's', A Musical History box set coming from 1966 which illustrates the songs early beginnings. Unfortunately, Manuel or Danko could never shoehorn the song onto a 'Band' record, holding on to it for ten years until Clapton used it for the opening song on his own record. Churning on a instantly recognizable Richard Manuel piano melody the music drips with watery lament, dressed in overlapping slide guitars and secular organ lines. The chorus is sung by the collaborative ladies visiting the studio eliciting all of the emotion from Manuel's original intent. Clapton's whiskey and cigarettes voice is the proper fit for a song that precariously balances on hopefulness and loneliness. Clapton would fulfill his wish to become a member of his favorite group with the multiple collaborations with the principals of 'The Band' on this record. Ronnie Wood and E.C. both play dueling slide on the track, intertwining their licks into a cloudy swell.
The second track of the record is a jumpy fairground calliope of music, with the Clapton composition, 'Carnival'. The song opens on a shouted 'Oye!' that sounds suspiciously like Ronnie Wood. Settling into the groove of what would later be mined for 'The Core' on 1977's Slowhand, 'Carnival' is comprised of flashing organs, chunky rhythms and expletive percussion. The lyrics are very simplistic, an invitation for a chosen lady to take a late night night to walk through the midway. Not Clapton's finest lyrical moment, but the song is more about the groove than any deep philosophical content. The construction of the song illustrates the upcoming musical developments and approach developed on future Clapton releases.

The acoustically rooted Bob Dylan composition 'Sign Language' follows next and is a charming result of Dylan's visits to the recording sessions when leaving his tent. In typical Dylan fashion the song places the listener into a developed scene with minimal effort, highlighted by Robbie Robertson's fluid guitar work and flexing tremolo bends.The rhythm track shifts with bellowing acoustic rhythm and syrupy dobro slithering.The solos are an absolute chill inducing blend of swells, picked harmonics and plucky punctuations. Dylan and Clapton share lead vocals (no easy feat) encouraging the mind image of them standing at the microphone arms around one another, bottle hanging by their side. Dylan's vocals still retain the 'Rolling Thunder' era push and are a highlight to crane an ear for.

The bluesy stomp of the Alfred Fields song 'Country Jail Blues' originally released in 1941, follows and finds Clapton at home with a straight blues stomp. The song would stay with Clapton for years, making an appearance on stage during his 1994 Blues tour. Here it is Clapton's comfort zone, a straight forward campfire blues, shackled ankles and black and white stripes. The song swings on what sounds like heavy left hand Richard Manuel piano and multi-tracked electric and wooden slide guitars. Billy Preston's organ underlines Clapton's sing/speak vocal approach and his dagger sharp guitar solo.
The first side concludes with another fine collaboration with a member of 'The Band'. The song, 'All Our Past Times' is a co-written number by Rick Danko and Clapton which would later be revisited during the 'Last Waltz' and performed by Clapton with the 'Band'. The song is unfortunately tucked away at the end of side one on this often forgotten LP, but did end up with some longevity. Toward the end of his life Danko would resurrect the track for one of his own solo recordings. This is a straight up 'Band' song minus Levon Helm, featuring Eric Clapton and full of sensitive playing and a reflective ambiance. Danko and Clapton trade lead vocal duties and Robertson and Clapton flip guitar solos on this song that reflects on the forging of deep and lasting friendships regardless of the passing of time. Golden.

Side two in my humble opinion is slightly inferior to the first, but still contains fine moments of note. 'Hello Old Friend' is the big single from the record and is a good representation of the sought after sound of the LP and the direction in which Clapton's music was traveling. A harmless but very catchy song, 'Hello Old Friend' welcomes the listener with hearty backing vocals and a cascading chorus piano. A positive beginning to side two of the record for one of Clapton's more recognizable numbers.

Soon to become a concert showcase of Clapton's, 'Otis Rush's 'Double Trouble' follows and again finds Clapton with the seat back, driving the blues to his true home. This studio reading is no slouch exhibiting a shredded vocal attack by Clapton and a smoke blue backing. This song also features the first 'big' soloing of the record with Clapton exhibiting his usual form. The rendition is a highlight of side two without a doubt.

Clapton then introduces collaborators for the next two songs, the Marcy Levy/Clapton penned, 'Innocent Times' and the Sims/Levy track, 'Hungry'. Levy sounds invested and powerful on 'Innocent Times', a slow waltz and country swing that suits her voice well. The following tune, 'Hungry', while containing interesting instrumentation, sounds too much like a poor rewrite of 'Keep on Growing' from Layla and Assorted Love Songs to these ears. Check it out and decide for yourself.

The album closes with the unassuming Clapton deep cut, 'Black Summer Rain'. Clapton reveals the Richard Manuel influence by singing in a sweetly strained falsetto. The lyrics are direct, pastoral and self deprecating. The song contains within a slightly extended outro jam that contains crisply understated and taffy sweet riffing played by Clapton. The organist contributes some cinematic and swirling church organ that drives Clapton to even greater heights. (it sounds like Billy Preston to me) The album certainly redeems itself here, (if it had to) by closing with a smoothly inspired and slightly 'lost' classic.

The 1976 LP No Reason To Cry was a communal attempt by Clapton and his associates to make a great record while still helping to define the next direction in his career. The record works in some spots and struggles in others. What cannot be denied is the soulfulness of its best songs. The collaborations are timeless and the' music as therapy' approach is tangible. Clapton would soon be approaching greater fame and dealing with more intense struggles. But for these captured musical moments it was all about 'work as play', with mostly positive results. Worth searching out alone for the diverse combinations and unique approaches contained within.

Black Summer Rain

Beautiful Thing

No Reason To Cry-Entire Record

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tools of the Trade: 'Every Night I Want to Play Out' Paul McCartney's 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S

One of the most iconic instruments in rock and roll history is Paul McCartney's Hofner violin bass guitar. Not quite as recognizable, but equally important is McCartney's 'other' bass, his Rickenbacker 4001 bass guitar. The Rickenbacker was first presented to McCartney on the Beatles introductory American tour in 1964 due to the fact that both Lennon and Harrison obviously used Rickenbacker guitars on stage. McCartney originally showed no interest in the instrument, possibly because of the dependability of his trusty Hofner and also rumored to the fact that no one at Rickenbacker took the time to notice that Macca was a left handed player. Later, during the Beatles performance at the Hollywood Bowl in August of 1964, McCartney was presented a left handed model, its construction started in January of 1964. The instrument would stay silent until the year 1965 when McCartney got to spend some proper time exploring its features.

In contrast to his Hofner bass, the Rickenbacker was a larger and heaver bass guitar. It's solid body weighed in at ten pounds and its maple and rosewood neck at 33 1/4" was much longer that the Hofner at 30". The longer through body neck and solid form gave the Rickenbacker a deeper more elastic tone and a more complex resonance than the Hofner, which according to McCartney also had a hard time staying in tune. The bass was fitted with a pair of robust 'toaster top' pick ups, one covered with a large chrome hand rest.When McCartney received the instrument it was decorated in a sharp 'fireglo' finish and featured two regal horns that protruded from the top and bottom of the instrument, in addition to volume and tone knobs for each of the pick ups respectively.

As the Beatles touring days came to a conclusion and their radical studio explorations drew closer, the Rickenbacker became McCartney's go to instrument for his increasingly revolutionary melodic approaches. The switch to this aforementioned instrument coincided with McCartney's discovery of the magic of counter melodies and a new guitar players approach to the instrument.  These factors should be taken into account with McCartney's new found experimentation with the avant garde as well as with drugs, as this new bass provided the perfect platform for the Beatles arising musical directions beginning in 1965.
While not definitive, it has been reported that the Rickenbacker was used on the Rubber Soul track 'Think For Yourself' (By George) as well as the 1965 single 'Day Tripper'. It sounds like it. There is  also documentation that the bass was in the studio for these sessions. Following the sessions and moving forward, McCartney took the bass along as a back up instrument on the Beatles final US tour in 1966, while it never did appear on stage. What is interesting about this era of McCartney's bass playing is that his evolution and development as a player coincided perfectly with his slow defection from the Hofner to the 'Ric'. It is the 'rock room's' opinion that the instrument allowed McCartney a new freedom on bass, as well as a new sonic approach that the forward thinking McCartney was constantly searching for. It was the perfect instrument for the right time. As an aside, it has also been recorded that Macca was working with a capo while experimenting with sounds on the bass during this time period (see pic below).
The next definitive sonic appearance of the Rickenbacker 4001 was on the Beatles 1966 single 'Paperback Writer' B/W' Rain'. The fat and taught tone of the instrument is easily recognizable taken in contrast to the usual soft tone of the hollow bodied Hofner. McCartney's approach is that of a lead instrument, the bass lines slither colorfully underneath the Beatles blossoming musical horizon. The band now sounded different and McCartney's new instrument was on of the factors contributing to this eventuality. The Beatles experimentation with compression, echo, overdubbing as well as their willingness to leave the usual recording tactics behind on the record Revolver also contributed to the current flavor of the shifting instrumental attack.

The 4001 bass was now a permanent fixture in McCartney's arsenal. In 1967 the Rickenbacker locked down the bottom end on the Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP as well as featuring the Beatles singles during this era. 'Penny Lane' and 'Lovely Rita' are fine examples of the timbre of this instrument in action, as well as McCartney's multifaceted and influential approach. The bass got a facelift in 1967 when Paul had it psychedelically painted in addition to a few of the other Beatles instruments undertaking this change. A nice representation of the 4001 on video with its acquired paint job is on the available 'All You Need Is Love' broadcast footage, the 'Hello Goodbye' music video and the 'I Am the Walrus' performance from the Magical Mystery Tour film.
The bass would remain in high use throughout the White Album, noticeable to these ears on 'Dear Prudence', and remain available until the Beatles ended their working relationship in 1970. During this time, Paul would play the 'Ric', return to the Hofner while also using a Fender jazz bass. The 'Ric' was eventually stripped back to its original wood, removing the psychedelic luster and returning the instrument to its natural state.

Post-beatles it would figure heavily in the multitude of buoyant bass lines comprising the 1970 solo LP McCartney, the 1971 album Ram and the 1973 'Wings' album,  Red Rose Speedway. While never becoming his 'main' instrument, it appears that when ever McCartney required a hearty tone with a chunky and cutting attack he would return to the 'Ric'. The 4001 slowly became identifiable with McCartney, as it did  become his preferred on stage bass.
By 1975 the bass was tailor made for the arena era band, the instrument sliced through smoky concert air and offered a heavy footed thump to larger venues. On the video included below the bass flexes its aural muscle with the band on the 1976 tour. McCartney was distancing himself from his 'Beatles' past with 'Wings' and no longer used the Hofner on stage. It was only during his late 1980's touring renaissance would McCartney return to using the Hofner full time. Instead, during the 70's he used the 'Ric', outfitted with a Red Rose Speedway sticker at one point and easily recognizable on the existing footage from these tours for its clarion call and sleek design.

McCartney's Rickenbacker 4001 bass is still working today, Giles Martin, producer on McCartney's 2013 album New revealed that the bass was used during the making of the LP on one track. The 'rock room' has not been able to confirm or deny this track as of yet. The bass has been McCartney's trusted companion for 50 years, never completely replacing the iconic Hofner in the eyes of fans, but always on a rack waiting for its moment to sing. Rickenbacker's have a discernible sound popularized in the 60's and still disseminated today. Combining this sound with the artistic prowess and revolutionary thinking of Paul McCartney equatedto the documented musical success. From its beginnings and creation in the ambiance of creativity of the 1960's, McCartney's Rickenbacker bass has now become inseparable from McCartney himself in the annals of rock history.

Wings-'Rock Show/Jet' 1976

Beatles-All You Need Is Love-Broadcast

Beatles-Lovely Rita

Hey Bulldog -Isolated Bass Line (For Fun)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Put the Boot In: Ten Years After - 'Strings On My Fingers' December 3, 1969 Helsinki, Finland

 Live from the 'rock room' today comes a beautifully balanced FM broadcast soundboard recording of  British blues/rock/jazz masters 'Ten Years After' live in 1969. Fresh off of their career defining performance at Woodstock in August, this recording finds the band strutting with attitude and not letting up with the musical blues bombardment. This recording illustrates the group full of confidence, prepared for fame and playing an hour long set of salacious blues rock. This concert is in support of the band's 1969 LP release Ssssh.

While there are a few defining official releases of the group available for purchase, I would consider this particular recording an essential addition to viewing the musical palette developed by the group. The crowd is rowdy, the band is hot and they continuously ring the bell with their smoky interpretations of rock, jazz and blues sensibilities. The band consistsof founding members, Alvin Lee (Guitar, Vocals), Leo Lyons (Bass), Chick Churchill (Keyboards) and Ric Lee (Drums). This is the era that defined the group and their developing popularity which would soon reach its nexus.

The concert begins with the simmering shuffle of 'Spoonful', a dramatic reading of a tune many, if not all British blues bands from the 1960's tried their hand at covering. The song is an absolute standard of the blues idiom. The first highlight of the recording comes during Alvin Lee's introductory solo when he releases a charged blue hum of feedback that rings out as the rhythm section churns underneath his sonic manipulations. He follows to unleash a golden daisy chain of notes, so true one can only shake ones head in amazement.

Unbelievably, following the opening 'Spoonful' the band now turns up the burners with the band showcase reading of Count Basie's, 'I May Be Wrong, But I Wont Be Wrong Always'. This high octane jump blues is a swinging nine minute clinic with each band member illustrating their own personal instrumental prowess. At 3 minutes in Alvin Lee falls off of the steep precipice of the amusement park coaster for a roly poly and euphoric array of riffs that seamlessly lead into Chick Churchill's series of dissonant, yet icy cool sliding of the keys. One thought that enters by mind here is how modern day guitar god Warren Haynes' discovered his own sound and how it had to have been pulled from the grooves of early 'Ten Years After' records. His own technique was obviously influenced by Lee's mastery of tone and resonance. It genesis is witnessed here as Lee gallops across the fretboard for a plethora of fuzzy kazoo glissando's, revolutionary in his approach, disorienting in its effect. A jazz club bass breakdown of heavy exclamations continues the groove before falling back into the main theme of the track. Breathless jamming to be found inside of this particular track.

Ric Lee's recognizable drumming takes center stage for a reading of 'Hobbit,' a jam constructed in the fashion of previous popular drum excursions such as Ginger Baker's 'Toad' and John Bonham's 'Moby Dick'. Lee's showcase is a tom-tom and hollow snare extravaganza, a series of melodic and pounding tribal statements. Lee raises the tension slowly and then pulls out the carpet so all that remains is a wash of cymbals and golden swells. This particular drum clinic is unique and is less about showing off abilities and more about building a towering wall of rhythmic statements and dynamic grooves.

Next comes a shady and sinister reading of the Sonny Boy Williamson classic 'Good Morning Little School'. The band hooks the jumpers to the terminals for a weighty and electric interpretation of this classic blues. Designed around a boulder heavy riff that pulls from the proprietary melody, the song splits open midway for a exposed deconstruction of the song. The drums drop out leaving only the hi-hat metronome click and the interweaving of Lyons bass and Lee's clean syrupy 335 tone. Like a stone skipped across a lake, Lee's well of spring water lines glides across Lyon's diffused riffing. Lee's playing becomes visceral, tumbling over rocks, leaving a glistening trail in its wake, only to disappear from the directed and created heat of the rhythm section. The drums return bombastically, initiating the jazzy groove into a over driven and tumbling improvisation.

Bringing the vibe down slightly and keeping the increasingly rowdy crowd in check, Lee introduces the next song as a track they 'haven't done in a while'. The band begins the cobwebbed and haunted blues of 'No Title', hailing from 1969's Stonedhenge. It's roots reaching back to a classic Delta blues, Lee's vocal line and his guitar melody run side by side down a darkened two track country road. Like a vintage blues man Lee growls in heady syncopation about the contemporary state of the hippy blues man. This is the illustrated strength and power of 'Ten Years After', their ability to attach a modern approach to a vintage and respected past through any song they tackle. The song starts by slithering quietly, restraining an obscured strength, singing the the real blues. From out of the roadhouse dust and debris rises a shifty progressive sounding instrumental introduced by a shimmering extended Lee guitar line. At four minutes the band begins to unravel, Churchill holding down the jam with funky keyboard exclamations. Lee rides the undercurrent with profound soloing that bites, soothes and rolls across the landscape uncontrolled, subject to the gravity of the world. Following Lee's exposing of the songs interior, Churchill takes a pulsing and extended organ solo that peeks through a crack in the door at private quivering jazz lines, celebratory baseball stadium organ and thematic secular wonder. The journey takes a 90 degree turn, faces its accuser and drops perfectly into the sparse blues that began the song, ending appropriately on the single strike of a ringing bell of a ride cymbal.

A short break follows with the assembled crowd refusing to let the band leave the stage through shredded yells of encouragement. Lee announces that this will be their final song, though it will be 'five hours long'. The band then viciously concludes the evenings performance with a prelude of 'Scat Thing' which segues seamlessly into 'I Can't Keep From Crying'. 'Scat Thing' illustrates Lee as Mel Torme on acid, an animated guitar/voice marriage where Lee's love for jazz improvisation is on full display. The perfect conglomerate of talent, humor, improv and musical knowledge allows Lee to use his voice articulation and rhythmic mastery in conjunction with his clean and buttery guitar attack.

The band slides into 'I Can't Keep From Crying' like a clandestine lover slipping between the sheets, the groove a cross between the Butterfield Blues Band meeting the Doors at a British corner pub. The first solo spot by Lee is constructed of slippery phased block chords, distorted and linked together into a buoyant feathery musical chain. This metaphorical musical chain settles on the cloudy blue musical turbulence stirred by Lyons and Ric Lee's thunderous collaboration. Churchill initiates the slightest musical turn signal with whispered influence and Lee follows without question, goes clean and races around the corner to pull away from the group. 
The band lowers the temperature slightly when Lee returns, leaving room for him to space out with Morse Code licks, springy trills and creaking string trickles and tickles. Just when the jam is going to float off into the unknown never to return, it explodes into the atmosphere with a hyper and kinetic 'Bo Diddley' alien groove. This jam becomes superimposed into a bipolar excursion that swings between multiple poles first quoting 'Sunshine of Your Love' and then 'Foxy Lady'. As 'Foxy Lady's dress is blown up from the exhaust, Lee glances back red faced before an obscene and muddy rutted guitar solo appears from the earth. Down tuning mid jam, Lee sinks the band into soft earth, burrowing with a substantial and guttural tone composed of the thickest mud and gravel. The group forms a circle around Lee ass he strangles thick blobs of sound, ringing the notes from his ax like hands squeezing a balloon full of water to its breaking point. Churchill again signals a change in the attitude of the jam with a quick musical clue, giving the rhythm section a slight goose in the behind. This institutes a herky-jerky sideways climatic ascending jam that reaches a peak, then descends only to attempt another towering summit. Rising again and then eliciting shattering glass, slamming doors, glitter guns and euphoric improvisational attitude this central jam is a highpoint of the song and of the evenings performance. The band carefully navigates their way back to the body of the song through a musical mine field before returning to the verse briefly, then departing on a final concluding funk jam that allows Lee to free form vocally while the band percolates behind him. The band brings it way down, dimming the lights to dusk, before concluding on a horny wave of bull horn feedback. The crowd erupts in rapt amazement and adulation as the MC announces the end of the performance while the existing tape concludes.

The circulating recording of 'Ten Years After' from the Kulttuuritalo in Helsinki, Finland December 3, 1969 is well worth the search for any fan of the British blues explosion, as well as any admirer of psychedelic or improvisational music. The well known and diverse musical styling of guitarist Albert Lee, who's playing smooths the edges of multiple genres, is instrumental in driving the band into their amazing blues interpretations as well as into differing realms of jazz, and bebop and boogie. This perfectly balanced soundboard recording will be a welcome addition to the collection of any lover of  edgy blues and jazz based musical explorations. It's clarity and ambiance only magnifies the incendiary performances to be found upon review.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Put the Boot In: The Who-'The Simple Things'-August 24, 1968 Oklahoma City, OK

 Windmilling in the 'rock room' this evening is an amazing audience recording hailing from the Who's second American tour in August of 1968. On August 24th the Who played an early and a late show at Wedgewood Amusement Park in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. According to notes the band played on a grandstand in front of the main building and across from the 'Tornado' roller coaster. Audio documentation by Pete Townsend referring to the sun 'bearing down on their necks as well as beaming in the audience's eyes point to this recording as coming from the afternoon performance. The group's LP Magic Bus had just been released in July and the band toured in support of the record, with the schizophrenic visions of Tommy already visible on the horizon.

This recording is biting and raw, an amazing capture for a tape made on somewhat still primitive recording devices. The personality of the individual instruments is sharp and in focus. The hallmarks of any forty plus year old tape in existence are slight anomalies and sonic reediness. But it the case of this recording, the capture is an absolute pleasure and makes one forget the few issues. Only thirty minutes exist of this tape, so I am certain it is only a partial recording. What is available is a crushing display of a band starting to discover what they were capable of as writers and stage performers.

The master recording hails from a silver bootleg disc called 'Cry Blue Murder' and begins with the opening strains of the performance, as some tuning is captured before the band thrashes into the blinding opening lick of 'Substitute'. There is some muffling to the recording as the taper presumably adjusts his gear for optimal operating parameters, but this dissipates quickly. What is most striking about the sound quality is John Entwistle's elephant bass tone underpinning Townsend's violent guitar strikes, these features comes through on the tape as elastic and warm for the bass and as violent exposed power lines for the guitar respectively.
The band pauses briefly before launching into the kinetic syncopation of 'I Can't Explain'. Shouts from the stage can be heard on the recording increasing the intensity. This tune is performed a proto-punk garage mod kick in this face. The brisk youthful energy as well as Moonie's over zealous kick drum comes through loud an clear on the tape, placing you center stage. (actually slightly toward the Ox's side) The music washes from the performers in charged electric waves invested with the ambient fairground afternoon from all those years ago. Daltrey growls over the collaborative falsetto backing vocals, a street tough hippie in training. There are some slight sonic issues on this track, but they are outweighed by the stellar performance.

A short pause for Townshend to explain that the next song is one of the band's most requested numbers and then the band initiates the haunted and thumping opening to 'Boris the Spider'. Townshend's horror flick vibrato surf guitar shimmers across the thick bass lines of aural webbing strung across the doorways of the song by Entwistle. This rendition is truly demented containing shadowy vocals and laboratory experimentation with off mic chuckles. The song ends with a deep burp lending some more comedic relief to the intense performance of a fan favorite.
 In my opinion the highlight of the performance, as well as many early Who concerts follows next with the mini-opera, 'A Quick One, While He's Away'. This track is broken into many movements and is Townshend's first foray into composing a 'rock opera'. Reaching ten minutes this version flawlessly navigates all of the various segments of Townshend's tale of seduction. A precursor to Tommy, which is still on the horizon, 'A Quick One' is Pete's formative, yet successful attempt at the extended rock tale. The band romps hornily through a version very close in intensity to the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus rendition still to be played in December. What makes this one so amazing is the ambiance and personality that translates from the tape. Raw and gritty, there is no processing on this bad boy. Entwistle is sneaky in his clattering helicopter lead bass lines, even slightly overshadowing Townshend's shimmering Stratocaster assault strikes. The 'Remedy' section of the movement is celebratory in its status. The closing 'We Are Forgiven' section is unwavering in its aggression and finds Townshend experimenting with distorted silver static readings of the melody lines. As the finale reaches its vigorous conclusion the bands overlapping three part harmonies peak with Entwistle's definitive falsetto statement bringing the band to a proper conclusion.
After an introduction by Daltrey the band enters into the recently released 'Magic Bus', introduced by Moon's clickety-clack wood blocks. A twisted 'Bo Diddley' groove develops out of Entwistle's plump bass groove and Townshend's brittle scrubs. The resonance of Pete's guitar in this segment is a fine jewel placed under perfect illumination for inspection. Teetering on the edge of psychedelia Moon's drums cascade into an explosive 'rave up,' the unbelievable moment to follow is captured flawlessly by the enterprising taper. Townshend's guitar and Entwistle's bass are two Goliath's wrestling for control of the apocalyptic jamming. Beneath it all Moon thrashes his kit into submission with a constant hearty series of rolls. Townshend starts to abuse his guitar covering the crowd with a sonic wash like a blanket over a bed. Entwistle's bass takes the lead, pounding out the rhythm through amplified rubber bands and hearty bends, initiating a complete avalanche of  musical noise crushing everything in its path. This musical maelstrom is jaw dropping in its muscle flexing tonal strength

After properly destroying the mountainside and surrounding communities, without a pause the band segues into the 'Johnny Kidd and the Pirates track, 'Shakin All Over'. While not as mature as the version to be featured on the future Live at Leeds record in 1970, this version slams doors and breaks windows of the garage it was born from. Daltrey struts with an attitude, a young punk on the prowl, honing his craft, soon to be a 'golden god' of the stage.
This short but plentiful slice of primal 'Who' from 1968 belongs on a list of definitive tapes available of the band 'Pre-Tommy'. The priceless recording places you front row center for the fleeting but intense moments otherwise left to drift on the unattainable breezes of rock and roll history. The group is bursting at the seams and full of confidence while developing the stage craft that would make them one of the pillars of rock. You can experience the feeling of discovery permeating the band as they deconstruct 'Magic Bus', or witness the elicited enthusiasm of Keith Moon's off mic shouts of joy prior to detonating a tune on the stage. For rock fans who are dependent on sound quality you will find issues with this recording. For Who fans and bootleg fans who want to get inside an evening of music that took place of forty years ago through sonic time travel- there are multiple gifts awaiting for you, all you have to do is listen.

A Quick One-8-24-1968

Magic Bus-8-24-1968