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Posts Tagged ‘Woodstock’

By Joel Francis

Charles Mingus – The Clown (1957) Jazz bass legend Charles Mingus’ second album for the Atlantic label was also his second masterpiece in a row. There are only four songs on The Clown, but as with any Mingus release, they leave plenty to unpack. The Clown opens with a Mingus bass solo before the rest of the band joins in on “Haitian Fight Song.” Mingus described the song as a contemporary folk number, but it reminds me of Jimmy Smith’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” the way the song starts simply before the horns swagger into the forefront. “Bee Cee” is a piano-driven blues number. Side two opens with “Reincarnation of a Lovebird,” Mingus’ tribute to Charlie Parker. You can hear different pieces of Parker’s melodies fly past in the song. Mingus revisited this song several times throughout his career. The title track concludes the album. Actor Jean Shepherd – who narrated and co-wrote the film A Christmas Story based on his life – tells the story of a clown who worked hard to please everyone but wasn’t appreciated until after his death. Mingus said the clown was meant to be a stand-in for jazz musicians. There’s a lot going on for an album that lasts a scant 28 minutes, but Mingus always rewards repeated listens.

Buddy Miles Express – Electric Church (1969) Former Electric Flag drummer Buddy Miles got an incredible assist on his second solo album from guitarist Jimi Hendrix. At the time, Hendrix was expanding the Experience to incorporate the players that would become the Gypsy Sun and Rainbows group that performed at Woodstock. Somewhere around this time, Miles was asked to join Hendrix’ new trio Band of Gypsys. Before that, however, Hendrix produced half the songs on Electric Church and played on several cuts as well. Putting aside the long shadow Hendrix casts over this album, Electric Church is a good slice of R&B. The horns on the first cut, “Miss Lady” wouldn’t have been out of place on a Stax release (and place Hendrix’ wah-wah guitar solo in a unique context). Hendrix’ fingerprints are also all over “69 Freedom Song.” The Memphis soul connection is made more explicit on Miles’ cover of Otis Redding’s “Cigarettes and Coffee” and a live version of Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s “Wrap It Up.” Side two kicks off with “Texas,” a slow blues number written with former Electric Flag bandmate Mike Bloomfield. There might not be enough guitar pyrotechnics to entice Hendrix fans to sit through the entire album. Likewise, fans of soul music might be put off by the acidic rock explorations. Somewhere between the two camps, however, Miles was able to carve out a nice little niche.

Van Morrison – A Period of Transition (1977) Van Morrison’s ninth album certainly lives up to the title. The gypsy soul that characterized early albums like Tupelo Honey and Moondance was coming to a close, but the jazzier, lengthier contemplations exemplified on Common One and Beautiful Vision had not yet arrived. Pianist Dr. John plays on every track here and co-produced the album, giving the songs his native New Orleans shuffle, particularly on the swampy opener “You Gotta Make It Through the World.” The single “Joyous Sound” shares a spirit and feel with “Domino.” Elsewhere, “Flamingos Fly” and “Heavy Connection” point to the jazzy, adult contemporary direction Morrison would later take on Avalon Sunset and Poetic Champions Compose in the late 1980s. The intro to “It Feels You Up” sounds like something from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, but the song remained a concert staple for decades. Of most interest to this Cowtown boy is “The Eternal Kansas City.” A gospel choir carries the meat of the melody while Morrison namechecks Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Jay McShan and other local luminaries. Incidentally, everyone Morrison honors in the verse was still alive at the time, except for saxmen Bird and Lester Young. Morrison must have liked “The Eternal Kansas City” enough to re-record it with Gregory Porter on his 2015 album Duets: Reworking the Catalog. A Period of Transition is far from essential, but dedicated Morrison fans will want this to see how he got from A to B.

Rare Earth – Get Ready (1969) The late 1960s were the time of meandering hard rock epics that encompass an entire album side, like “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” After transforming the landscape of pop music with their Motor City soul, Motown decided it wanted a slice of this acid rock pie as well. Get Ready contains five other songs, including covers of “Tobacco Road” and Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright,” in addition to the title song, but the 21-minute cut on the second side is clearly the selling point. These types of lengthy, meandering jams aren’t really my thing, but the live audience on the album is eating it up. I don’t think the band is saying anything with the album version that they don’t articulate on the two minute, 50 second single. Then again, I’ve never dropped acid or seen a show at the Fillmore. If you like drum solos or extended organ parts, this is for you. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here with the Temptations.

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice (2017) The prolific Kurt Vile had been releasing laid-back, guitar-centric indie rock albums for nearly a decade when the Australian songwriter Courtney Barnett dropped her debut album. Barnett has a knack for inserting little details into her lyrics that tie her songs together without appearing like she’s trying too hard. In other words, she and Vile shared a laconic approach to songwriting and guitar skills that outpace the songs each write. For their first album together, Barnett and Vile create a level of relaxed comfort where they are able to swap lines like “What time do you usually wake up?/Depends on what time I sleep” (on “Let It Go”) without coming across as lazy or phoning it in. At just nine songs and 45 minutes, Lotta Sea Lice knows not to overstay its welcome. Hopefully we’ll get another collaboration at some point down the road.

Old 97s – Graveyard Whistling (2017) On their previous album, the Texas alt-country quartet turned their amps up and returned to their roots with the raw, profane Most Messed Up. The band appeared to be at a crossroads heading into Graveyard Whistling, their 11th album. While the production is slicker and the songwriting is less self-referential, the 97s are still fully committed to having as good a time tonight as possible and dodging the consequences of it tomorrow. Singer Rhett Miller acknowledges as much on “Bad Luck Charm,” the jig “Irish Whiskey Pretty Girls, the lonesome “Turns Out I’m Trouble” and the bloody “Drinkin’ Song.” Elsewhere, the boys turn theology into a pickup line on “Jesus Loves You” (sample lyric: “He makes wine from water/but I just bought you a beer”), stare into the afterlife with the help of Brandi Carlyle on “Good With God,” and wax nostalgic on “Those Were the Days.” Ultimately, Graveyard Whistling isn’t as essential as Most Messed Up, but it is a very good album from a band with a great run.

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(Above: Even thousands of miles and dozens of years removed from Woodstock, the message of Jimi Hendrix – musical or otherwise – still resonantes with those who did not attend.)

By Joel Francis

Exactly 40 years ago this weekend, an estimated 450,000 music fans, druggies, hippies and people looking to get laid packed Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York. In retrospect, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair has become the de facto Boomer event, but for every person who attended – or claims to have attended – dozens of their peers were either ignorant or indifferent to the happening… and have no regrets about their absence.

“My impression at the time was very negative,” said Sanford Beckett, then 23, recently married and living in Kansas City, Mo. “It was all about drugs, sex and the anti-war movement.”

Although his brother’s time in the army changed Beckett’s perspective on the Vietnam War, the culture of sex and drugs kept many others away as well.

“I’m glad I didn’t attend,” Dave Glandon, then 18, said. “It just wasn’t my lifestyle.”

Geography and responsibility kept Tom Rambo, then 18, from attending. He liked the music, but was getting ready to start his second year of college at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University.

“I think I realized something a little bit bigger than a concert had occurred,” Rambo said. “But the reality was Woodstock was something that happened half a country away from me.”

Woodstock made icons of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and others, and crystallized their status in the eternal playlist of existing fans. Those who didn’t appreciate the music then, though, remained indifferent.

“The whole thing just sounded fantastic,” said Mark Brasler, then 24 and living in Chicago. “I still listen to many of the artists who appeared.”

Many rank Woodstock as the greatest musical event of the decade – ahead of the 1967 Monteray Pop Festival and 1965 Newport Folk Festival where Bob Dylan created chaos by going electric – but the event didn’t have the resonance of John Kennedy’s assassination or the moon landing.

“I will always remember where I was – in junior high health class – when our class was interrupted with the news of President Kennedy’s assassination,” Glandon said. “Woodstock does not have a role in my memories of the ‘60s.”

Rambo remembers Woodstock and the moon landing as positive events in a sea of unrest and a time that can never be restored.

“Attempts to recreate Woodstock are a joke,” Rambo said. “We’re too cynical for that kind of ‘what the hell, it’s a free concert from now on’ way of thinking. People crashing the gates would be tasered today.”

But even from thousands of miles and nearly two generations away, Woodstock stands as the brief moment when the counterculture forced its way into the mainstream and inserted a younger voice into the national discussion.

“Looking back, I think Woodstock brought together the nation’s youth,” said Ward Francis, then a 21-year-old college student. “It solidified the thinking of a whole generation.”

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Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

(Above: Woodstock Festival organizer Michael Lang’s hand-drawn layout of the festival grounds. The drawing is part of a new exhibit celebrating the 40th anniversary of Woodstock at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. All photos courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.)

By Joel Francis

The enduring image of Woodstock is iconic: a fringed performer – Jimi Hendrix, Roger Daltrey, David Crosby or Sly Stone – onstage, in front of a staggering mass of people. But how did the performers get to the stage, and where do all the fans answer nature’s call?

“Woodstock: The 40th Anniversary,” a new exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, sheds light on the logistical side of America’s first and greatest rock festival.

“One of the things that interested me the most in putting this exhibit together was just seeing what went into planning of the festival,” said Jim Henke, chief curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “There was a massive amount of planning involved, and a lot of it had to be done at the last minute because the city fathers of Wakill, N.Y. didn’t want that many people to descend on them and made the organizers move the site.”

Festival organizer Michael Lang didn’t get much rest in the weeks leading up to the Woodstock and as evidenced in the “Woodstock” film, Lang had his hands full throughout the event as well. Lang made quite the statement on film making several last-minute arrangements, deals and accommodations in a hand-designed leather vest, also fringed, of course. The vest is just one of several items Lang loaned to the hall for the exhibit.

“Lang’s vest is still in decent shape today,” Henke said. “I’m sure he didn’t get any sleep during that period, but it seems like for whatever reason he was able to keep it together.”

Other clothing in the exhibit includes the tie-dyed cape and jacket John Sebastian wore during his five-song set, and the spectacles Robbie Robertson wore during The Band’s performance.

Rock & Roll Hall Of FameSurrounding the garments is the contract Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s performance contract, drawings and layouts of the festival grounds, Lang’s handwritten management and operations plan, and an early press release stating the original location of Wallkill and that “Woodstock does not figure on gate crashers.”

“One of the more interesting items we have is a letter from Apple offering the services of James Taylor and Billy Preston for Woodstock,” Henke said. “It turned out Lang and the others didn’t get it in time, so no one appeared.

The letter offered the services of the Plastic Ono Band, which it described as “a series of plastic cylinders incorporated around a stereo sound system.”

“The letter didn’t say John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band,” Henke said, “so I’m not sure if he would have been there or not. I do know Lennon played the Live Peace festival in Toronto a month later, so it could have been a possibility.”

“Woodstock: The 40th Anniversary” appears in the museum’s Ahmet M. Ertegun Main Exhibit Hall through November. The museum will be showing an edited version of the restored Woodstock film in the theater adjacent to the exhibit.

“In addition to having an amazing musical lineup, Woodstock was also the culmination of the anti-Vietnam war movement and the peace and love movement. It was a natural merger that pushed them of being underground movements,” Henke said. “For some of our visitors, this exhibit will bring back memories. The younger audience may not know as much going in, but hopefully they will learn how one of the seminal moments in rock and roll history came about.”

For museum hours and ticket and general information, visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Website.

Keep Reading:

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Bruce Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part one)

Bruce Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part two)

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Above: “True Love Ways” is The Daily Record’s favorite Buddy Holly song.

By Joel Francis

Fifty years ago this week, the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed in an Iowa cornfield, claiming its passengers and 22-year-old pilot Roger Peterson.

The event became known as “The Day the Music Died,” but the fact people were still talking about it 12 years later when Don McLean memorialized the moment with the song “American Pie” proves that music indeed survived.

The rock landscape had changed a lot between 1959 and 1971. The pioneers of the rock and roll were having hard time. Chuck Berry had bounced from Chess to Mercury and back and was seven years removed from his most recent Top 40 hit (although the No. 1 “My Ding-A-Ling” was right around the corner). Carl Perkins was performing as a sideman in Johnny Cash’s band and Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino and Bill Haley dismissed as washed up. Only Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis retained a whiff of their ’50s fervor, but it took a televised “comeback” special and a genre hop to country and western for them to manage the trick.

That Holly was not only remembered, but celebrated in the aftermath of Woodstock and Altamont, in an era where rock’s excesses were just starting to steamroll, was not pure nostalgia.

Far from killing rock and roll, Holly planted the seeds that allowed it to flourish. Holly was one of the first artists to recognize the recording studio as creative environment, by experimenting with double-tracking and overdubs. He was the first songwriter to pilfer the Bo Diddley beat for “Not Fade Away.” He was the first rock and roll star to play a Fender Stratocaster, the guitar of choice for Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and countless others.

Although the Beatles often receive credit for being the first group to write their own material and put strings on a rock album, the truth is, Holly did both nearly a decade before them. It’s not a big leap from Holly’s “Raining In My Heart” to McCartney’s “Yesterday.”

But the most amazing of Holly’s feats is that he did it all by 22, an age at which Bob Dylan was just emerging from his Woody Guthrie fixation, Brian Wilson was begging out of tours because of stage fright and Neil Diamond was still trapped in the Brill Building.

Few mourn other ’50s rock casualties, like Eddie Cochran, who died a scant 14 months later, but Holly’s influence continues to be felt today. It’s  in Elvis Costello’s spectacles, Weezer’s Top 5 1994 hit, and the myriad of bands – ranging from the Rolling Stones to the White Stripes to the cover band in the bar around the corner – who regularly drop “Not Fade Away” into their sets.

The day the music died? Not even close.

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