Posts Tagged ‘Big Brother & The Holding Company’

Alvin Robinson

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

Listen: Down Home Girl / Alvin Robinson
Down Home Girl / Alvin Robinson

I saw The Rolling Stones for the first time on October 30, 1965 at the Syracuse War Memorial. I had forged a press pass, a typed note actually, on letterhead from a weekly paper in my little hometown. My Dad had set me up with the pompous owner of it, as I wanted to interview the band for a feature.

Looking back it was quite a good idea on my part, but this self celebrating fellow was nasty and dismissive. Even though I ended up meeting the band, I still loathe him for his attitude, not towards me, but towards my Father. He was so busy being busy, running in and out of his pathetic office, that I just reached over and grabbed a few pages of letterhead when he wasn’t looking. I shook with fear at what I’d done. I was still a good Catholic boy, but too late, I’d done it. So he tells me, “We don’t need a piece on this dirty English combo”, and that was that, or so he thought. Indeed, they didn’t need a a kid in his late single digits writing a review.

To be exact, this was the Canastota Bee Journal, as close as you can get to Mayberry. He and the paper, I’m guessing, are long gone. Still, I composed this laughable letter, claiming to be a writer on assignment and needing to interview them for a feature.

In those days, arenas were filled with hysterical, screaming kids, so how I managed to slide backstage so easily still baffles. An usher fell for that forged letter, and brought me back, where Bill Wyman was wrapping up his cords. Bill reads it, stares me straight in the eye and says in hindsight with a knowing smirk, “Come on and we’ll meet the rest”.

Holy shit. Is this really happening? It was the first time I nearly blacked out. I seriously remember that vividly. We are suddenly walking up the steps to the dressing room, knees weak, where in years to follow, I would meet, more like pester, (here goes, I know this is all a bit name droppy, but it really, really happened. I met all these bands and I’m proud of it): The Mindbenders, Them, The Moody Blues, The Nashville Teens, The Ikettes, The Who, The Pretty Things, Manfred Mann, The Kinks, Humble Pie, Heads Hands & Feet, Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Steppenwolf, Canned Heat, Caravan, Toe Fat, Derek & The Dominoes, Jethro Tull, Grand Funk Railroad, Frampton’s Camel, Traffic, Wild Turkey, The Faces, Badfinger, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Mother Earth, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Chambers Brothers, Sly & The Family Stone, Savoy Brown, Iron Butterfly, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, even Vivian Green, who I worked with decades later, was in that very room when on tour with Maxwell. Talk about coming full circle.

The management knew me and my friends well early on, they must’ve gotten a kick out of these crazy little kids, who’s Mom’s & Dad’s would wait patiently for until the shows ended. Our parents befriended the office staff, and in turn, those nice ladies always let us backstage.

The Rolling Stones were great, so nice. No one was in their dressing room except the band, and one other guy, I’m guess Ian Stewart, the tour manager. No food, nothing but bottles of Coca Cola. They signed my copy of 12 X 5, it probably lasted all of a minute but I still can relive it to this day. Here I was, with this exotic band from England that changed my life, which prior I could only see on TV every three to four months tops. I thought at that very moment, “This is the life for me”. I’m completely convinced it led to my career in music. No question.

Their current album at the time, THE ROLLING STONES NOW, was not a real album at all. In those days, the English labels released singles and EPs, in addition to albums. Not only were the EP tracks not on the LPs, but the singles weren’t either. So the US companies were always dropping off intended LP tracks to make room for the singles and sometimes strong ones from those EPs. For this particular release, London Records basically cobbled together some singles and EP songs, as well as unused UK LP tracks. Remember, the UK LPs were 14 songs compared to our 10-12, thereby creating even more choices.

Probably by coincidence more than design, THE ROLLING STONES NOW actually works as a proper LP. It was certainly a big success, slowly but very solidly scaling the US LP charts and staying Top 10 for ages, as it deserved to. The record’s filled with dark, minor key classics like ‘Heart Of Stone’, ‘Little Red Rooster’ and ‘Pain In My Heart’ which they played on that night, Brian sitting at a huge B3 organ, wailing away.

It’s ok if you’re getting tingles. Take your time. You’ll need it. They were back, nine months later, during the AFTERMATH tour, and that’s whole ‘nother post waiting to be written.

This all leads us to ‘Down Home Girl’, a song on THE ROLLING STONES NOW. Little did I know then that it was a cover. I don’t even think I knew what that meant. They were all Rolling Stones songs to us. Years and years later I wised up, seeked out the original, and became a dangerous Alvin Robinson fanatic.

Here’s his version. Get any of his other releases. all of them actually.

Big Maybelle

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Listen: I’m Getting ‘long Alright / Big Maybelle
BigMaybelleGettingLong.mp3

I can not lie. I get weak around any Okeh single, particularly in it’s matching stock sleeve. This certainly must have something to do with purple foil and paper wrapped chocolate bars from that first trip to Ireland when only in my single digits. We spent the summer with my aunt and grandmother in the house where my Mom grew up. Ballymoney, County Antrim. I don’t recall much, except for getting caught dipping my hand into a neighbor’s purse. The result was most unpleasant, but I needed a Cadbury marzipan bar, a flavor long since discontinued. The experience dented my brain permanently.

This Big Maybelle single from 1954 still glistens as a true visual artifact of color and design, and it’s a frequent choice when flipping through the wall shelves looking for something to play.

As with Bessie Smith, I became smitten by Big Maybelle soon after discovering both Janis Joplin and Tracy Nelson. Big Brother & The Holding Company were just releasing their first singles on Mainstream Records then, with Mother Earth, Tracy Nelson’s band also based out of San Fransisco, doing the same on Mercury shortly thereafter. Given they repeatedly name checked Bessie Smith and Big Maybelle as inspirational influences, my curiosity ran high.

Big Maybelle singles were easy and inexpensive finds for years. Album culture was fully prevalent during the late 60′s so singles simply became passé to most music aficionados of the day. This presented me with great joy as the pickings were euphoric. Marked down 7″ records being commonplace meant you could acquire the most amazing titles for a nickel or a dime. This single was one such find.

Her voice, great. The sound quality of these recordings, great. The subject matter, wow. So many Big Maybelle singles just reeked of sex. And comically presented. Surprisingly, Janis Joplin never nicked the idea, or more likely, conservative Columbia Records wouldn’t allow it.

I have to believe a sausage lyric version exists somewhere, with this cleaned up chicken take recorded specifically for the single, given ‘I’m Getting ‘long Alright’ was it’s A side.

Listen: My Big Mistake / Big Maybelle
My

‘My Big Mistake’, being formula bar room blues, allowed her to stomp and bully through the song in presumably very few takes. I recall hearing Fred Perry and Harry Fagenbaum play this straight into Mother Earth’s ‘Down So Low’ on their overnight college radio show, when underground album rock began overtaking the FM dial. WAER, Syracuse University’s student station gave all night shifts to nocturnal speed freak students who thankfully proceeded to pollute our ears with the wildest and most eclectic records around.

I bought Mother Earth’s LIVING WITH THE ANIMALS album the very next afternoon, a Sunday. We made our weekly trip to the SU campus, hanging around Discount Records or Record Runner on Marshall Street for hours, juggling what to buy. It became my purchase choice that weekend. Once home I discovered Mother Earth had modeled the majority of the album after Big Maybelle’s delivery style on records like ‘My Big Mistake’. maybe even that very song.

Spirit

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Mechanical World / Spirit

Listen: Mechanical World / Spirit
Mechanical World / Spirit

Luckily, despite the revolution in stereophonic sound that was going hand in hand with the album format of 1968, most singles were still issued in mono. Such was the case for Spirit’s first release, on both the promo (listen above) and stock copies. ‘Mechanical World’ epitomized the dark side of the LSD generation, and defined late night radio. I always had fantasies of this and many tracks by The Doors being the soundtrack to driving through a pitch dark desert in the early hours. God knows why, I’d never even been to a desert. There wasn’t one near Syracuse although I certainly felt like I was growing up somewhere equally deserted, hence the possible connection in my brain.

I loved Spirit from the get go. They didn’t sound English which was a strict requirement, but thankfully they didn’t sound Americana either. Plus they looked good. LA bands tended to.

Spirit / I Got A Line On You

Listen: I Got A Line On You / Spirit
I Got A Line On You / Spirit

Somehow rather quickly, Spirit had a hit with their second 45, ‘I Got A Line On You’. It was welcomed. Their albums were great and hearing them on Top 40 radio made us all feel liberated. Things were pretty good on the airwaves. The Who and The Cream were getting some play, as were Big Brother & The Holding Company, Iron Butterfly and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. I was rather content.

Dark Eyed Woman / Spirit

Listen: Dark Eyed Woman / Spirit
Dark Eyed Woman / Spirit

‘Dark Eyed Woman’ was the lead track and first single from the difficult 3rd album CLEAR. Difficult (as a second album is known to be these days) because they’d had a hit despite the ‘album band’ and ‘live band’ habitat from which they came. Top 40 was developing it’s evil lack of loyalty way back then, and ‘Dark Eyed Woman’ didn’t get much play. But FM radio, much like today’s Sirius satellite stations, made up for it. Touring in support of it’s release, I finally got to see the band live. Despite how fantastic they were, and believe me, fantastic is putting it mildly, I was reeling from the support act that night (October 19, 1969): The Kinks.

It was The Kinks first US tour after the three year musician’s union ban. They had just released ARTHUR, much of which they played along with tracks from THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY, ‘Waterloo Sunset’, ‘Autumn Almanac’, ‘Sunny Afternoon’, ‘Death Of A Clown’ and ‘Til The End Of The Day’, their opening song. Jawdropping. I walked out of the venue never to be the same again.

I digressed, sorry.

1984 / Spirit

Listen: 1984 / Spirit
1984 / Spirit

Spirit released ’1984′, a non LP single, next. This was not a common move in the day. Still, it’s forever attached to Spirit’s CLEAR era, being of same time period. Actually, ’1984′ only ever appeared on LP once BEST OF SPIRIT was issued years later. The year 1984 seemed an eternity away on release and the record contributed to a political and ecological slant the band had taken from inception. Remember ‘Fresh Garbage’ from that first album?

Animal Zoo / Spirit

Listen: Animal Zoo / Spirit
Animal Zoo / Spirit

Many rightfully consider the original lineup’s fourth and final album, THE TWELVE DREAMS OF DR. SARDONICUS, to be their art rock pinnacle. At least I read something to that effect recently. The two singles released from it are seminal. In fact the first, ‘Animal Zoo’, came out seemingly months prior to the album. I swiped it from a local album rock station whose late night dj occasionally let me visit. I honestly don’t remember their call letters, and he was a rather unpleasant know-it-all. I once recall him adamantly arguing with me about Humble Pie, claiming all their members, instead of just one, were from The Small Faces (wrong) and that none were from The Herd or Spooky Tooth (wrong), which I desperately tried to point out as incorrect for his benefit. He wasn’t having it, his loss. Nonetheless, I would tolerate him to get the records.

Mr. Skin / Spirit USA

Listen: Mr. Skin / Spirit
Mr. Skin / Spirit

This became mine one summer night’s visit a month or so later, along with the Juicy Lucy, Sea Train and Vivian Stanshall singles.

The Mothers Of Invention / The GTO’s / Wild Man Fischer

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

WPLJ / The Mothers Of Invention

Listen: WPLJ / The Mothers Of Invention
WPLJ

In the late 60′s and early 70′s, it wasn’t only The Beatles and The Rolling Stones who started their own labels, Frank Zappa did as well. In fact when he left Verve and joined Warner/Reprise, they gave him two imprints: Straight and Bizarre.

I think The Mothers were one of the few west coast, Los Angeles to San Francisco, groups that interested me at the time. I was admittedly loyal to the British bands back then. They looked better. It may have been the beards that put me off the US acts. Admittedly, Blue Cheer and Big Brother & The Holding Company always looked great, and so too did Love and especially The Seeds, all coincidentally beard free. But despite the beards and various repulsive elements, I loved The Mothers Of Invention. They looked menacing, and dirty and just plain seedy. The cover of MOTHERMANIA is a particularly fantastic shot. Musically, give me WE’RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY, and many of the early singles and songs as well like ‘Wowie Zowie’, only being a let down in that it never got issued as a 7″.

Frank Zappa always applauded his self love of doo wop, as is exampled on this track from BURNT WEENY SANDWICH, ‘WPLJ’. The style, dreadfully out of step at the time, made for a terrific single. There must have been a radio station with those call letters somewhere….if only they’d played it, which I’d bet they didn’t.

Frank Zappa was obviously an insomniac. I mean who has more double albums? And then to constantly tour and put together two labels. Amazing. Alice Cooper debuted on Straight, Tim Buckley moved there from Elektra. Even Keith joined the roster post ’98.6′.

Circular Circulation / G.T.O.S

Listen: Circular Circulation / G.T.O.’s
Circular

Two of his earliest signings are on singles featured here: The GTO’s and Wild Man Fischer. I always got a kick out of both these tracks, hearing them initially on one of the many $2.00 Warner/Reprise samplers that were everywhere in those days. Both acts had great album sleeves too.

We may want to blame The GTO’s for giving license to a whole slew of twee female singers hiding behind indie rock as an excuse for minimal vocal ability, but ‘Circular Circulation’ is an absolute out of jail free card.

Merry Go Round / Wild Man Fischer

Listen: Merry Go Round / Wild Man Fischer
Merry

Wild Man Fischer has a story and a half going on. Google him – I don’t have enough time to write it all…….but ‘Merry Go Round’ is tops. Sounds like David Byrne picked up some vocal tricks from him.

The Seeds

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Can’t Seem To Make You Mine / The Seeds

Listen: Can’t Seem To Make You Mine / The Seeds
11 Can't Seem To Make You Mine.mp3

GNP Crescendo not only possessed a great label name, turns out they were one of the small indies with enough taste to issue several of their singles in quality color picture sleeves. Biggest sellers, The Seeds, certainly benefitted most.

Not unlike London’s maraca drenched blues knockoffs epitomized the English sound, The Seeds ruled roost as to what life sounded like in L.A., at least to a little kid growing up in small town New York State.

Never did I hear The Seeds on daytime radio when current, but certainly heard them at night. Whether by choice or reality, my recollection associates the band with summertime ’67, when The Seeds original debut single, ‘Can’t Seem To Make You Mine’ got re-released. Yes, late night, warm weather airplay, when the AM Top 40′s went all underground rock in the evenings. Those non hits by Lothar & The Hand People, Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Leaves and Country Joe & The Fish rubbed shoulders with The Seeds on every nighttime playlist that summer, both locally and as far off as WBZ from Boston and WOWO in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The band’s interest was peaking, certainly in the world of radio. Depending on the market, each were playing The Seeds, whether it being ‘Mr. Farmer’, ‘Pushin’ Too Hard’, their latest, most psychedelic record yet, ‘A Thousand Shadows’ or ‘Can’t Seem To Make You Mine’.

Just imagine this intro beaming through my transistor for the first time. I tell you in all honesty, the memory is as plain as day. It, and the song, were one listens. I desperately needed the record on the spot.

Praise be, the thrill of finding it in my weekly pile of airplay rejects from WMCR that very Friday. Yet another single which didn’t fit into their adult, easy listening format, much to my miraculous luck.

Pianist Daryl Hooper, already carving the initial model of playing bass on a separate keyboard, not only dominated the overall sound of The Seeds, he also wrote some of their most powerful hooks, all based on simplicity. In my fantasy world, that break in ‘Can’t Seem To Make You Mine’ soundtracked driving through the desert by night, heading into the creepy unknown, speeding west on Route 66, just like The Doors long keyboard middle in ‘Light My Fire’. Hearing both for the first time, late on hot summer nights, clearly left deep impressions.

Alabama Shakes / The Cramps

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Listen: Mama / Alabama Shakes
Mama

Never did I think a band would magically marry The Cramps to early Big Brother & The Holding Company. But lo and behold, Alabama Shakes have done just that with ‘Mama’. Now I love this band, and I’m rooting for them big time. I want them to win. Some of the same folks who championed these kids seem to already be dismissing their debut album for not being up to snuff. Trust me, that’s a crock of shit.

Angus Baskerville tipped me to Alabama Shakes last November, urging me to see them when they came through New York. Best advice I’ve had on a new band in years. I won’t miss them live ever.

‘Mama’ is the second of two songs hidden on the B side of their ‘Heavy Chevy’ 7″. I’ve played it about twenty times this past weekend. Wow, ‘Mama’ is beautiful but badly recorded, although not in my world mind you. To me it’s ugly and perfectly documented, just as I like it. Chances are the former may be how the pros in the know heard it, hence ending up as a throwaway B side.

Listen: I Can’t Hardly Stand It / The Cramps
I

‘I Can’t Hardly Stand It’, with one of Lux Interior’s most priceless vocals, was slotted as song two on side B of their ‘Drug Train’ single. It became one of the band’s classics.

Likewise, ‘Mama’, also song two on side B of a single, will be regarded similarly in the world of Alabama Shakes. Yet another detail in common with The Cramps. Looks like the stars are lining up for greatness to me.

May 21 and 22 at Roseland Ballroom can’t come quick enough.

The Buffalo Springfield

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Listen: Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing / The Buffalo Springfield
Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing / The Buffalo Springfield

West coast soft rock, not a fan. It was the anti-christ to British music. Even as some of the UK bands got fascinated by it, started copying it, I still wasn’t buying in. But initially, The Buffalo Springfield looked as though they may have had promise. I wanted badly to hear their first single ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’. The title made me curious, and I wasn’t sharp enough to be put off by the band’s name. There was Lothar & The Hand People, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & The Holding Company, these guys seemed to fit into the nonsensical band name pocket just fine.

Digging through a massive bin of drilled, 39¢ closeout singles, I found a copy only a few months later. This was just before their third 45, ‘For What It’s Worth’, got traction and went Top 40. I got home and did not love this record later that night.

But I did like that a) it was a Bubbling Under The Hot 100 flop (#110), b) was on Atco and c) was an unlikely single.

a) There’s nothing like the endless gems that never reached the Top 100. In retrospect, countless seminal classics populated and peeked on BILLBOARD’s Bubbling Under The Hot 100 chart, within it’s #101 – 135 range. All struggling for airplay that never came. Where was the expertise programmers supposedly had in the 60′s and 70′s, we now wonder. Proof that some things never changed.

b) Atco was cool. The younger, but prettier step sister of Atlantic. Amongst it’s early roster of bands that never made it / looked like they weren’t going to: The Vagrants, The Who, The Groupies, The Spencer Davis Group, Julie Driscoll/Brian Auger & The Trinity and The Cream. Yes, this was in the day before groups like The Pink Floyd, The Cream and The Buffalo Springfield managed to drop ‘The’ from their official professional name.

c) There are few things more inviting than a single that made no sense being a single. Like just about any jazz 7″, certainly edited versions of tracks from Miles Davis’ BITCHES BREW album. Not that ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’ came close to such an extreme, but it was a real surprise on first spin.

The Buffalo Springfield have now reformed, sans ‘The’, with the remaining living original members, and I would bet the whole house of cards they are not playing this first single live. Just like the setlist for The Cream’s reunion (sans ‘The’) omitted ‘I Feel Free’.

So I won’t be attending, but all said and done, I ended up liking ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’ a lot.

Update (6/11/11): John Poole emailed to say they did play ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’ during their first reunion appearance at the Bridge Benefit Concert last year. How awesome is that?

Big Brother & The Holding Company / Janis Joplin

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Down On Me / Big Brother & The Holding Company

Listen: Down On Me / Big Brother & The Holding Company
Down On Me / Big Brother & The Holding Company

There are two things about Janis Joplin that annoy me. Neither are her fault.

Firstly, there is so little footage that really captures her power and that the media uses. The clips on a short lived US pop music show, MUSIC SCENE, are the best ones. That was with her Kozmic Blues Band lineup. Then to be fair, the Ed Sullivan and Dick Cavett shows were great as well. But the media always use that shit footage from the Monterey Pop Festival, when she hadn’t yet exploded vocally or visually. By the time she left the Bay area and was playing nationally, her voice was rasp and tortured; and she was visually a ball of color and fire. So heads up: seek out some of the aforementioned performances.

The second is Clive Davis. Why people line up to credit him with her success sickens me. Yes, he signed Big Brother & The Holding Company. And yes, he’s done a lot of things. His resume looks way better than mine. For instance, he let Ray Davies make two awesome Kinks albums, SLEEPWALKER and MISFITS, when most felt he and the band were washed up, signed The Patti Smith Group and let her make two great ones initially as well, plus gave both Lou Reed and Iggy Pop shots on Arista.

But masterminding the break up of Big Brother & The Holding Company with Albert Grossman is not a creative stroke of genius and is definitely unforgivable. How fucking dumb can you be? Their CHEAP THRILLS album soared to #1 in the Billboard charts being a blisteringly perfect document of her and the band’s magnetism.

Big Brother & The Holding Company were the ultimate acid rock group, probably of all time. They were raw and ragged but had swing, a lethally positive combination. Listen to James Gurley’s solo on the version of ‘Down On Me’ I’ve posted. By the time this was released, after her death, Columbia didn’t even have the courtesy to credit the band on the label. I assume the plan was to polish her for mainstream acceptance. Please. The whole point was her wild abandon.

Big Brother & The Holding Company live were an experience I’ll never forget. Friday October 11, 1968. Syracuse University presented the band at The War Memorial, but you had to be a student to get in. I wasn’t an SU student, in fact I was a little boy; no way could I even pass for a college kid. My friend Denny and I begged a security guy to let us in, bless him cause he did! Changed my life.

Big Brother & The Holding Company / Syracuse War Memorial / October 11, 1968

Above and below: Big Brother & The Holding Company / Syracuse War Memorial / October 11, 1968

Janis, October 11, 1968

These two pictures are from that night, snapped with my crap camera. I wish I had the negatives as the prints are fading. Check out how little equipment is up on stage. Still it was loud and out of control. Fantastic. Luckily, Janis played my area many times. I got to see all her line ups through the years. She was amazing. It’s not because I was young and impressionable. Janis Joplin was truly a living legend. And the lasting effect she has over everyone, not just me, proves it.

Johnny Winter And

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Listen: Jumpin’ Jack Flash (Mono) / Johnny Winter And JohnnyWinterAndFlash.mp3

Please remember, this came out at a time when blistering acid blues guitar solos were still pretty new and defiant. Mix that up with a skinny, skinny, skinny albino, silky straight white hair, a bloodless complexion, blue velvet jacket and voila: recipe.

Having made a few tame, more traditional blues recordings for labels like Imperial, Johnny Winter signed to Columbia during their great late 60′s renaissance. A time period that saw Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Chambers Brothers, Moby Grape, Al Kooper and Pacific Gas & Electric added to it’s roster.

The first two Columbia albums were pretty much in that trad blues vein, a touch more electrified. The touring to support them included making the rounds of Fillmore type venues in the US.

By album three, Johnny Winter, the artist, became Johnny Winter And. By infusing more Little Richard style wildness and covering a handful of RnR standards, they band and idea blew up.

They were so powerful live, that for a short time, I’m not sure anyone could top them at their game. Despite being consistently out of tune on stage (a result of the mania specific to this live show), no one cared. It was a tornado of sound and action. You couldn’t take your eyes off them nor sit still.

JOHNNY WINTER AND LIVE became the time tested true documentation of that period. Definitely one of the most exciting live recordings in my collection. The mono 7″ excerpt of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ edits out the second solo, a real shame. Definitely check the full length for that. Meanwhile, a single, like the live show from which it came, has rarely been hotter.

The Stone Poneys / Linda Ronstadt

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Stone Ponies - Different Drum

Listen: Different Drum / The Stone Poneys StonePoneysDifferentDrum.mp3

Ok, so a follow up single isn’t always better than the hit preceding it, as was maybe the case with ‘Up To My Neck In High Muddy Water’. It’s hard to top ‘Different Drum’. In fact, Linda Ronstadt never did. At least I don’t remember her doing it, possibly due in part to my general lack of interest toward country leaning music back then.

‘Different Drum’ was indeed another story though. It became a radio staple not long after Jefferson Airplane’s somewhat similar sounding ‘White Rabbit’, and at the same time as both ‘Itchycoo Park’ by The Small Faces and ‘Zabadak’ from Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich.

‘Different Drum’ felt a bit psychedelic, even though it wasn’t. Maybe it was by association. Nick Venet was the producer and his work covered many genres. As a Capitol in house employee, seems he was handed all their youth culture signings of the day, thus slotting The Stone Poneys sessions between The Leaves, Lothar & The Hand People or Hearts & Flowers. It was one of many historic times at the Capitol Tower.

Stone Ponies - Up To My Neck picture sleeve

Listen: Up To My Neck In High Muddy Water / Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys StonePoneysUpToMyNeck.mp3

Long before Simon Cowell, the ruthless corporate machine gnawed it’s way through bands, carving out the superstar for investment and mainstream marketing, leaving the other members to survive somehow. As when Clive Davis butchered Big Brother & The Holding Company for Janis Joplin, so too, it seems, did Capitol decimate The Stone Poneys for the asset now known as Linda Ronstadt.

‘Different Drum’ by The Stone Poneys was literally still on Billboard’s Top 100 when ‘Up To My Neck In High Muddy Water’ was released as Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys. Housed in a full color sleeve, big things were expected. The record stalled at #93, but the setback was only temporary. She skyrocketed. It’s a great single despite the misery.

Linda Ronstadt was particularly critical of The Ramones, having gone to CBGB’s, catching an early performance and trashing them the very next day in a local New York paper. It was a hurtful moment that they talked about on occasion. So when Elektra threw a rather lavish party for her in New York, upon release of a successful new album, CANCIONES DE MI PADRE, the mischievous idea of inviting the band was impossible to resist and they were happy to attend.

We all met at Paul’s Lounge on 3rd and 10th, now a drug store, for a drink, then proceeded uptown to the event. Monte of course came along, Michael Alago and Arturo Vega did too. Everyone cleaned up on designer Mexican food, the album theme being traditional Mexican folk songs, and waited patiently for her to make the rounds, greeting her guests. The moment when she turned towards our table was classic, but it was too late to turn back. Obviously, she’d not been forewarned. Her look was priceless. DeeDee smiled and stared very menacingly, John just glared. Joey, after about five or ten seconds, decided to break the silence with “So Linda, long time no see”.

Nervously: “How are you guys doing?”

“We’re fine” replies John before she’s even finished her last word.

Incredible singer, successful artist but at that moment, Linda Ronstadt was stumped. Wincing, she backed away and slithered into the crowd.

Touché.

Lorraine Ellison

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Stay With Me / Lorraine Ellison

Listen: Stay With Me / Lorraine Ellison LorraineStay.mp3

I was thinking about my previous post (The Exciters) and a whole lot of Bert Burns details kept coming to mind, like one of his reportedly last songs, written with Jerry Ragovoy, being ‘Piece Of My Heart’. After being made super famous by Big Brother & The Holding Company, there really was no point in trying to compete with a re-recordings, although some did. Janis Joplin clearly had a definitive knowledge of the great RnB singers at that time. I remember her being interviewed by Dick Cavett and mentioning her favorite being Tina Turner. Neither he nor the silent audience knew who that was. She dug up and recorded greats by Garnet Mimms, Bobby Womack, Howard Tate and obviously Jerry Ragovoy (who wrote many of the aforementioned); undeniably making them hers.

There’s a cd compilation currently available, TIME IS ON MY SIDE – THE JERRY RAGOVOY STORY 1953-2003. I highly suggest getting a copy. It overviews an impressive array of styles, but mostly pure RnB. One of the songs it includes is ‘Stay With Me’ by Lorraine Ellison. Now oddly enough, I love her version even though I don’t love love love her voice. I like her an awful lot, but prefer a bit more husk. When combining her with Ragovoy’s songs though, it always works.

Now the following is a true story. If someone were to tell it to me, I wouldn’t believe them – it’s so far fetched. About 8 years ago, I went down to the village to meet Kate Hyman for lunch. She was looking at a small, really run down (needed gutting to be exact), brownstone and suggested we meet there (just off Carmine Street), have a look and go eat. I love looking at property and she knew it – so bang, we had a plan. A mutual friend, Glen Schiller, was the agent and he walked us through the then rotting, water damaged debris of a home – now renovated and clearly worth a fortune. I was a little timid about going up the stairs but followed along. There was literally nothing, and I mean nothing, in the building except a perfect, US promo copy of Lorraine Ellison’s ‘Stay With Me’ (the second issue – pictured at the top) propped against a bedroom wall. I know – you think I’m lying. I swear on my Mother’s life – this is true. I couldn’t believe it. There should have been a faint sound of ‘magic’ or ‘angels’ or ‘fairydust’ backgrounding my arm reaching down and chiming when as fingers met the sleeve, just in the movies.

This copy was mint. The sleeve factory fresh. What the fuck was this doing here? I asked Glen – he didn’t have a clue and said “Take it”. Well you only need to say that to me once. I did. So there you go – meant to be.

Tim Hardin

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Listen: You Upset The Grace Of Living When You Lie / Tim Hardin TimHardinGrace.mp3

There was once a great revolution in US radio programming, when all the underground music in the 60′s – like album tracks and singles by album type artists – started getting aired on FM stations.

Top 40 back then was a life saver compared to now, but was pretty quick to avoid anything considered too colorful or probably drug related. So off the Top 40 airwaves stayed Traffic, The Move, The Nice, early Jimi Hendrix Experience, early Cream, definitely early Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother & The Holding Company, etc. Still many of the major market Top 40s (I got WBZ/Boston clear as a bell) would open up in the evening and definitely after midnight. And to be fair, some acts got converted to regular play.

But it’s those late night listening memories I’m touching on here. Like Joey sang in ‘Do You Remember Rock n Roll Radio’: “Do you remember lying in bed / With the covers pulled up over your head / Radio playing so no one can see”. All of us that were addicted did this nightly – especially in the summer when you could sleep in the next day. This is how I discovered The Seeds (‘Mr Farmer’ and ‘Pushin Too Hard’ are still night time records for me), Jefferson Airplane (‘My Best Friend’ is a big favorite), Blue Cheer, Tim Rose (his version of ‘Hey Joe’ was the first I heard and clearly the template for the Jimi Hendrix version) and especially Tim Hardin. Yeah, I was bitten by this haunting single ‘You Upset The Grace Of Living When You Lie’. I even liked that the title was too long and the untimely fade out.

Folk was hip, I always wanted a smattering beyond Bob Dylan and I guess others did too. Did anyone really dislike Joan Baez, Richie Havens or Buffy St. Marie like they pretended? Probably not. But Tim Hardin hasn’t gotten his deserved props either. Listening with one ear attached to my transitor and the other hearing the ambience of late night, small town, upstate NY: crickets, the New York Central freight trains way off in the distance, the occasional drifting of the cars on Thruway also out there. The whole thing still comes right back to me every time, and I mean every time, I play this.

Them

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

Richard Cory / Them

Listen: Richard Corey / Them
Richard

Wolf Chart 6-25-66

I religiously collected local radio station charts placed in all the record shops and record departments at the variety stores. Every town had them. They’re really fun to scour nowadays for the national non-hits as well as being a great snapshot of the music you could hear at that given moment. If you search ‘music survey’ at eBay, there are always a bunch listed for auction.

I recall WT Grants on Salina Street in Syracuse had a huge record department, and stocked everything you could want, especially as WOLF, one of the town’s two Top 40 stations was pretty adventurous, playing a lot of obscure English rock and US RnB. This was a God send for me from ’65 – ’67, until they buckled and went all Billboard on us. That said record department had a soda counter attached to it, up a few steps with typical glittery colored American Graffiti style booths looking down on the hustle/bustle of kids pawing through and buying records (today you see the same activity at an Apple store or Game Stop), and they had a great jukebox. It was jammed with all the latest up and comers. I remember investing a dime to hear ‘Bend It’, well not only hear it but watch the single spin round on the store’s lavender/purple Rock-ola, at the same time admiring a factory printed Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich jukebox tab to accompany it. I wonder where that tab ended up. Hate to think.

My only problem with WT Grants or Walt’s being there were so many choices, and not enough money to buy them all on my $1 a week allowance and some cash from mowing lawns. I still get cold sweats hearing a lawn mover. I would literally walk up and back neighbor’s yards behind their mowers deciding what record this torturous act would earn me and I distinctly remember suffering through several yards earning enough to buy The Cream FRESH CREAM. I went cheap, and sprung for the mono pressing as they were $1 less. Who knew then that monos would end up way more valuable than their stereo counterparts. Man, am I happy I bought them: The Pink Floyd PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN, The Jimi Hendrix Experience AXIS: BOLD AS LOVE and Big Brother & The Holding Company CHEAP THRILLS to mention a few that reaped incredible returns. Well if I ever decide to sell them that is. I soon figured out other ways to get all these records and more for free. That saga is covered in my Jack Dupree post for the more curious of you.

Meanwhile, the one record that got played by WOLF (and I bet only by WOLF in the whole of the US as I’ve never seen it on any other local chart, ever) but not stocked, was ‘Richard Corey’ by Them. It’s actually a Paul Simon cover and Van Morrison reportedly hated it.

If you couldn’t find something at Grant’s there was also Walt’s Records, just down a block and right next to a peanut shop, freshly roasting their wares.

Walt’s was a great shrine to obscure stuff, and very RnB heavy. The place smelled fantastic, a constant mixture of vinyl and those roasted nuts. Like Grant’s, I was told they “couldn’t get” this single by Them either. “Couldn’t get”, what the hell does that mean? Turns out the lyric “He went home last night and put a bullet through his head” was a big deal….I’m guessing neither outlet dared stock it just in case. Guns were not cool once. It’s a shame that’s changed. And it took me years to find this as I’m sure not many were pressed. How WOLF got away with playing ‘Richard Corey’ heavily for several weeks without a problem is surprising, but they did.

Eddie Floyd

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

eddiefloydraise, eddie floyd, steve cropper, stax, janis joplin

Listen: Raise Your Hand / Eddie Floyd EddieFloydRaise.mp3

It wasn’t hard to love Eddie Floyd’s ‘Raise Your Hand’. The pure grit of his voice would have you enjoying the phone book if he decided to sing it. Like all things Stax, you got the added value of Booker T & The MG’s on backup, and many times Booker T and/or Issac Hayes producing. In the ‘Midnight Hour’ groove of the day, it was a big favorite. Along comes Janis Joplin and her Kozmic Blues Band to hurricane it into a riot inciting opening live number. That’s just what happened on May 2, 1969 at the Syracuse War Memorial. Already an hour and a half late on stage, due, as I found out many years later, to a heroin slump that had tour manager and band dunking her head in buckets of ice water usually reserved to keep the dressing room drinks cold.

Yeah, she had a really great manager, Albert Grossman. Praise has been showered on this many for his guidance of Bob Dylan and The Band. But when it comes to Janis Joplin, it sure does have a stink all over it. Clearly, he didn’t help her, just put her on tour to rake it in. Why not, he’s already destoyed Big Brother & The Holding Comapny with cohort Clive Davis, what’s the point of stopping now?

Well when she hit the stage, the place errupted. There was no stopping the mayhem, even after she pushed a sercurity officer right into the crowd (the world’s first stage dive?) who by now, with about ten others, had engulfed she and the band to try calming the crowd by threatening to end the show early. Not a smart move. Great fun to see as a youngster.


Watch: Raise Your Hand / Tom Jones & Janis Joplin

Just to prove the power of her delivery, check out the above clip with Tom Jones from his 1969 US TV series. Tom’s undeniably a great soul singer, but by the end, even he was indeed no match for Janis. Still hugely powerful on both parts.

eddiefloydbringuka, eddie floyd, steve cropper, stax

Listen: Bring It One Home To Me / Eddie Floyd EddieFloydBring.mp3

I always had a soft spot for Eddie’s ‘Bring It On Home To Me’, despite it’s tame formula. Let’s face it, Stax became a dependable assembly line. Even despite that reality, this was of favorite.

Mother Earth / Willie Nelson & Tracy Nelson

Friday, July 17th, 2009

motherearthmeusa, mother earth, tracy nelson, mercury

Listen: Mother Earth (Single Edit) / Mother Earth MotherEarthEdit.mp3

motherearthdownsolowusa, mother earth, tracy nelson, mercury

Listen: Down So Low / Mother Earth MotherEarthDown.mp3

motherearthdidmypartuka, mother earth. mercury, wille nelson, tacey nelson

Listen: I Did My Part / Mother Earth MotherEarthIDidMyPart.mp3

A best friend in high school, Mark, literally fell in love with Tracy Nelson. This wasn’t just fandom. He wrote her letters, and when Mother Earth finally came to the Northeast playing Syracuse with Three Dog Night. For some unexplainable reason, the mere idea of being in a room with her, despite the other nine thousand strong concert goers, gave him the shakes. To be young and in love with your idol is a great combination.

Mother Earth’s debut album, LIVING WITH THE ANIMALS spawned the perfect 7′s: the band’s namesake signature ‘Mother Earth’ and one of the greatest white gospel/blues songs ever ‘Down So Low’. The chances of them being hits were slim, but to focus your trusty overnight stoner underground radio DJ on just the right LP tracks to spin, they did the trick. Hearing both ‘Down So Low’ and ‘Mother Earth’ from the transistor stuffed in my pillow gave them a far away exotic attraction, coming off even more stripped down than early Big Brother & The Holding Company. Tracy Nelson and Janis Joplin captured and held down the white blues fort. Plain and simple: none of the other female voices in the US underground movement could touch them.

Tracy Nelson was beautiful and her country blues voice was not to be messed with. All of her recordings with Prestige, Mercury, both as a member of Mother Earth and solo, as well as Reprise are permanent fixtures in my library.

motherearthrevolution, mother earth, tracy nelson, united artists, revolution soundtrack

Listen: Revolution / Mother Earth MotherEartRevolution.mp3

Likewise Mother Earth’s theme song to the REVOLUTION film on United Artists. UA seemed to be home of the soundtrack albums (Goldfinger, Dr. No, Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush), which they always released singles from. ‘Revolution’ was perfect political slant for the band, given their kind of dark blues image.

tracynelsonwhiskey, mother earth, mercury, wille nelson, tracy nelson

Listen: Whiskey River / Willie Nelson & Tracy Nelson WillieTracy.mp3

In ’74, I suddenly found myself holding a 45 by her and Willie Nelson. Many times a year Jack Riehle, the WEA salesman for upstate NY, unloaded his boxes of unwanted 7′s my way. Those were much anticipated bi-annual moments as I do recall. With no warning, here was a fantastic two sider, and my first thought was they must be related, Not true. It’s B side, ‘Whiskey River’ became our favorite. Corinne and I named our first cat Whiskey, and I’d play it over and over for him, ears always perking on Willie’s first deep ‘Whiskey’ intro. We still smile about that.

Lulu & The Luvers

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

luluforgetme, Lulu, Lulu & The Luvvers, Lulu & The Luvers, Decca, Parrot

Listen: Forget Me Baby / Lulu & The Luvers LuluForget.mp3

lulusatisfied, Lulu, Lulu & The Luvvers, Lulu & The Luvers, Decca, Parrot

Listen: Satisfied / Lulu & The Luvers LuluSatisfied.mp3

lulusurpriseuka,Lulu, Lulu & The Luvvers, Lulu & The Luvers, Decca, Parrot

Listen: Surprise Surprise / Lulu & The Luvers LuluSurprise.mp3

With a moniker like Lulu, it’s not too surprising if your powerful voice is overlooked. Shame. Lulu could, well still can, really sing. Does anyone honestly not love ‘The Boat That I Row’ or ‘Me, The Peaceful Heart’?

But even in ’65 the ruthless star making machinery was in aggressive full swing, preceding Clive Davis’ criminal dismantling of Big Brother & The Holding Company for a solo Janis Joplin by several years. Decca’s victims, although not as cleanly disassembled: Lulu & The Luvers or as sometimes listed, Lulu & The Luvvers. Initially known as The Gleneagles with Lulu as one of the vocalists, they played their brand of R&B regularly around Glasgow’s clubs. At 14, Lulu and band had their first hit with The Isley Brothers’ ‘Shout’, making theirs the definitive version in the UK. Pretty quickly peeling her away from a band setting began. But not before one more single as Lulu & The Luvers was released (after a few solo Lulu singles confused the process): ‘Satisfied’ / ‘Surprise Surprise’. They sounded like a hot band, even if they were part studio guys, and I wish Decca had afforded them an album before her solo career commenced. Plus the way their name alliterates off the tongue is just perfect.

Seems even Lulu forgot about the Luvvers, based on her jukebox tab below:

LuLuJukebox, Jukebox Tab, Lulu

Country Joe & The Fish

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine / Country Joe & The Fish

Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine / Country Joe & The Fish

Listen: Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine / Country Joe & The Fish CountryJoeMarthaLorraine.mp3

Who Am I / Country Joe & The Fish

Listen: Who Am I / Country Joe & The Fish CountryJoeWhoAmI.mp3

I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die-Rag / Country Joe & The Fish

Listen: I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die-Rag / Country Joe & The Fish CountryJoeFixin.mp3

Along with Big Brother & The Holding Company, Tim Rose, Moby Grape and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, I finally heard Country Joe & The Fish on Boston’s WBZ very late one night, summer ’67. I would lie awake for hours, a truly twisted little kid, listening to music from cities and towns only reachable after 9pm, when the FCC’s regulations at the time (maybe still) allowed their daytime ‘directional’ antennas to relax, and beam wider and farther. It was a smorgasbord of great late night radio – the kind you only hear about existing so long ago. All this music was actually there for me to hear by searching my pocket sized handheld device. Every kid had one even then: an AM transistor radio.

By summer ’67 I was an old pro at this – the previous spring/summer ’66 brought me the same privilege, but that year the bands were almost exclusively English. Boston and the whole Northeast was pretty UK centric when it came to radio programming. At night you’d hear The Moody Blues, The Small Faces, The Pretty Things, non-hits by hitmakers (Hollies/Troggs/Searchers/Swinging Blue Jeans/Zombies/Them) – loads of stuff. WBZ heavily played Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich’s ‘Hold Tight’ that year, but so did the local Syracuse stations. If it weren’t for Billboard, I’d of had no idea it wasn’t a national smash.

Well by summer ’67 we were at the very front end of what, by ’68, would become FM radio – all the fireside closeness that your pal, the pot head DJ, would exude. But just before it all got commercial, the late night Top 40′s were a Godsend.

I really wanted some records by this band though – and you couldn’t buy their singles for love or money then. Like The Seeds and Moby Grape, they seldom found their way east so it was all about patience in getting any exposure to them – unless you sprung for the album. I finally got ‘Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine’ via my scam with the adult station in town (they’d give me all their unplayable rock singles believing I was indeed from the local children’s hospital). Not until years later did I notice the annoying Farfisa that seemed to be so prevalent. How did I miss it then? I guess they just sat nicely as part of the San Francisco sound due to production and guitar style. Very Quicksilver like tones from Barry Melton (I think it was him).

‘Who Am I’ was the real clincher – hearing this one late at night – it really sounded fantastic. I’d clamp that radio to my ear as soon as it came on. Couldn’t play it too loud for fear of waking up my Mom & Dad – the music battling crickets and the sonic backdrop of the Thruway in the distance. Beautiful ambience.

Woodstock took ‘I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die’ mainstream – FM underground mainstream that is. By then (’69), the band was fried – it didn’t matter. But these singles: classic period pieces.

Quicksilver Messenger Service

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Fresh Air / Quicksilver

Listen: Fresh Air / Quicksilver Messenger Service 01 Fresh Air.mp3

I was somehow attracted to them – as with both Big Brother & The Holding Company and Blue Cheer. All from San Francisco, all sporting super long hair – two things arrogantly against my better judgement at the time, yet I liked them still. Quicksilver were cursed with a forever tinny sound, oddly devoid of any mid-range, negatively enhancing the shrill of Dino Valenti’s vocals. Combine that with Capitol’s nasty habit of using recycled vinyl (ever notice the pops and crackles on all those pressings) and you should have a recipe for disaster but still – I liked them. Now some of their singles (‘Hope’, ‘Bears’) were……so not ‘singles’, that they attracted me even more. And then some were super great ‘Pride Of Man’ (I heard this once on late night Boston radio), ‘Shady Grove’ (shrill overkill) and ‘What About Me’. Lyrically, very period and very Haight-Ashbury. The secret weapon for Quicksilver was undoubtably guitarist John Cipolinna. His sound was so unique, he just scared off any potential imitators. I was lucky enough to see him play a few times in his later years – thankfully nothing had changed, not the hair, clothes, sound or sideburns. Oh, then there was the name: Quicksilver Messenger Service. Names are really important. They are the first thing to get you curious, to invite you in, then ultimately represent. This one really, really worked.