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Posts Tagged ‘Impulse Records’

(Above: The Stooges do “1969” in 2007.)

By Joel Francis

When Ron Asheton started playing electric guitar in the mid-’60s, there were no signs pointing the way he wanted to go. The Beatles were just starting to experiment with feedback and backwards instrumentation on their albums; Pink Floyd was buried in the London underground and Andy Warhol had yet to champion the Velvet Underground (not that many were paying attention anyhow).

The closest things to the sounds in his head were Pete Townshend’s guitar riff on The Who’s “My Generation,” the surf guitar instrumentals of Dick Dale and the dirty blues of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds.

By the time Asheton, his brother Scott, and their longtime friend Dave Alexander hooked up with fellow Ann Arbor, Mich. musician Jim Osterberg there were a few more road signs. Home state natives the MC5 had kicked out their jams, and the free jazz freak-outs of John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders were regularly released on the Impulse label. But there still weren’t many fellow travelers on the Asheton brothers’ weird road during the Summer of Love. Osterberg, who would soon call himself Iggy Pop, was one hitchhiker they had to pick up.

Four years later, it was mostly over. In retrospect, it’s amazing the band lasted that long. The Stooges two albums, released in 1969 and 1970, were rawer than razor burn, more violent than the 1968 Democratic Convention and as combustible as the Hindenburg. When it was over, Asheton’s guitar work pointed the way that nearly every guitarist since has followed, or at lease acknowledged.

It’s difficult to imagine the furious stomp of the White Stripes and the six-string perversions of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr without the expanded palette Asheton created. The Sex Pistols and the Damned both covered “No Fun” in concert. Heck, the blueprint of the grunge movement was mostly hijacked from the Stooges’ designs.

Of course David Bowie prodded the Stooges to reconvene in 1973 for “Raw Power,” but it wasn’t the same. Iggy’s name was out front and Asheton was confined to the bass guitar by Ig’s new best bud, James Williamson. There was even a piano player! Asheton’s rightful place on lead guitar was restored when the Stooges reunited a generation later for a couple guest shots on Iggy’s solo album, an R.L. Burnside tribute and, finally, an album of their own, but by then they were no longer leaders.

Ron Asheton’s name rarely comes up in “Guitar God” discussions. The music he made nearly 40 years ago remains difficult to assimilate by mainstream tastes. And like his long-overdue adulation, it took people a while to figure out he was gone. Six days after dying from a heart attack, Asheton’s body was discovered in his Ann Arbor apartment.

There was no obituary in the New York Times and little mention on the 24-hour news channels, but somewhere in heaven a white cloud is tarnished with soot and Asheton’s scary noise is driving the harp-plucking cherubs out of their minds. Which is as it should be.

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By Joel Francis

The unlikely pairing of Dave Brubeck and Charles Mingus at a London film studio should have been a collision of worlds on par with the big bang.

In the early sixties, Brubeck was rewriting the jazz songbook with his legendary quartet that featured Paul Desmond, drummer Joe Morello and bass player Eugene Wright. Signed to Columbia Records, home to both Miles Davis and Doris Day, their “cool jazz” was both critically acclaimed and extremely accessible. In other words, it was jazz both hardcore fans and housewives could appreciate.

Charles Mingus, on the other hand, was the dark prince from the underbelly of the genre. His dense, avant-garde approach carried discordant melodies and boasted nearly impenetrable titles like “Pithecanthropus Erectus” and “If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger, There’d Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats.” He was on the threshold of a three-album deal with Impulse Records, the jazz label John Coltrane helped transform into the bastion of cutting-edge, experimental music.

Although Mingus and Brubeck’s music was world apart, the bassman and pianist first crossed paths in the post-War San Francisco jazz scene. The two met again in 1962 at Pinewood Studios in London.

The unfathomable union of Brubeck and Mingus occurred under the most commercial circumstances. Brubeck had been hired to write the score for “All Night Long,” a modern telling of “Othello” starring Richard Attenborough. In the liner notes to the 1991 Brubeck box set “Time Changes,” he describes their encounter.

“My contract for the film specified I would not play with Charlie Mingus, because I knew how demanding Charlie could be and I just wanted to avoid it. It was out of respect,” Brubeck said.

“And fear,” he added.

Mingus, who had also been hired to score certain scenes, kept bugging the director to play with Brubeck. Finally, Brubeck relented – with three stipulations: no rehearsal, no synching and no overdubbing. Everything had to be live and off-the-cuff.

With those rules in place, the pair decided upon a Mingus composition. “Non-Sectarian Blues” begins with Mingus thumping borrowed bass, walking the beat as Brubeck joins in on the piano. Mingus can be heard grunting and shouting encouragement to Brubeck as the pair play off each other with staccato piano riffs and pulsing, aggressive baselines. The result is so natural and engaging it’s hard to believe these men came from such seemingly disparate camps.

Although the song was recorded in1962, the performance remained unheard outside theaters until the Brubeck collection “Summit Sessions” was released in 1971.

“When it was over, Charlie picked me up off the floor and gave me a bear hug,” Brubeck said. “It was wonderful.”

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