Oteil Burbidge – Master of the Jam Bands

There is a rich and healthy seam of music coming out of the US right now. Amidst all the doom and gloom of poor album sales, abysmal streaming deals, and scant few quality artists breaking through the TV manufactured talent show pop, a more mature, highly musical scene has grown, partly out of the Jam Band scene, partly out of the desire from audiences and musicians alike to be playing great live music. Simultaneously contemporary sounding, yet steeped in heritage styles, these bands are taking back control over their music by delivering it regularly to eager fans across the planet.
Among the acts successfully ploughing this new, old furrow are Joe Bonamassa, Alabama Shakes, the Temperance Movement, Tedeschi Trucks band, and the movement has also seen the return in a new guise of one of its 60’s originators, Bob Weir with Dead and Company.
When Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann set out with John Mayer in Dead and Company there was only ever going to be one choice to fill the bass chair. Someone who not only had that ability to play long stretched out improvised pieces, learn one of the largest, varied repertoires, and fill that crucial bass playing role of locking in with the drummer (when there’s two of them)! That of course was Oteil Burbidge.
Oteil Burbidge is a fascinating player. He has the jaw-dropping virtuosity of players such as Victor Wooten (with whom he has shared stages) and can hold down simple but effective shuffle with the Allman Brothers Band. Qualities that are essential when you are replacing, and playing the lines of a creative, somewhat maverick originator like Phil Lesh. Oteil has obviously relished the challenge, and has risen to it so perfectly that he has won the approval of the man himself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JeUOGa9Yd8

But Dead and Company is just one highlight in an incredible, ongoing career. As mentioned, Oteil Burbidge had a great run in the Allman Brothers Band, and joined fellow member Warren Haynes into Govt Mule, replacing at short notice the late Allen Woody. Then he followed another Allman Brothers bandmate, Derek Trucks, and became a founding member of the wonderful Tedeschi Trucks Band.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFOYoluPF20
In the Tedeschi Trucks Band Oteil formed another great rhythm section partnership with yet another pair of drummers (seems to be a theme forming here), this time with Tyler Greenwell and JJ Johnson. I don’t know what it is with this set up but it really seems to work for Oteil. It was also in this band’s debut recording, Revelator that Oteil’s songwriting was highlighted on Love Has Something Else to Say.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IgabzOEmDw
There are often arguments about the merits and demerits of certain styles of bass playing, with Victor Wooten’s virtuosity coming in for equal criticism as Adam Clayton’s conservative root notes in U2’s work. What Oteil Burbidge shows is that there is a right kind of bass playing for every situation, and he must be one of the finest at being able to execute them all to the highest standard.

200 Essential Bass Players Part 1

Bass–an essential part of much of the last 70 years of popular music, yet often overlooked (or the listened equivalent) by both music fans and casual listeners. The idea here is to build up a collection of 200 bass players that have either graced many hit records, were an essential part of a band, and that band’s sound, were innovators, or have taken bass to places many others wouldn’t dare.

This is an antidote to “greatest” polls, which, by their very nature can be far too subjective and divisive, and goes against the very nature of the players who, at their own admission, want to be there to serve the song, not grab the limelight. There will of course be a few coming along to contradict that last idea, but they’ll probably get their own ego-zone section!

I will break the list up into what I see as being natural groupings. I’m not  a great one for genres, but for at least that will give some order to what could just become a rambling list.

Five Giants of Reggae

First of all, for a musical style so reliant on a great rhythm section, reggae throws up very few big name players. Possibly down to the way that the studio system worked, with session musicians producing thousands of top quality recordings, often uncredited, in an almost production line manner, there was no chance to make a name for yourself outside of the particular studio that booked you. Here are five that were among the handful who did get their richly deserved recognition:

Lloyd Brevett, a double bass player who co-founded the Skatalites, and helped define the Ska bass sound. A true pioneer whose sound paved the way for what was to follow.

Boris Gardiner was one of the more surprising names to come up. Gardiner had a UK number one hit single with the terribly cheesy “I want to Wake up With You”, but in a parallel universe he was also genius reggae producer Lee Scratch Perry’s go to man for bass sessions, appearing on recordings for Marcia Griffiths, the Upsetters, and Gregory Isaacs.

Aston “Family Man” Barrett is probably one of the best known names through his tenure, with his brother on drums, as the rhythm section for Bob Marley & the Wailers. Defining one of the most instantly recognizable sounds in pop music more than justifies his place in bass playing history.

Lloyd Parks is one of two legendary session musicians featured here, whose work includes sessions with Bob Marley and the Wailers when Barrett wasn’t around, but also with a later generation including Dennis Brown and Maxi Priest. His playing also underpins a masterpiece of Roots era reggae, Culture’s classic, Two Sevens Clash.

Robbie Shakespeare rounds up our selection. With his partner in rhythm, drummer Sly Dunbar, it has been claimed that Sly & Robbie have made over 50,000 recordings. There work includes some of the greatest reggae recordings ever made, including Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey, Peter Tosh and Black Uhuru. They were also in great demand by non-reggae acts including Madonna, Robert Palmer, Grace Jones and Mick Jagger. Along with Barrett’s, Shakespeare’s playing, even if not his name is probably the most widely known.

I’ll leave you with a slightly unusual taster of Robbie Shakespeare at work, with Sly, and here, two great pioneers of Jamaican music, guitarist Ernest Ranglin and pianist Monty Alexander – Surfin’:

Standing in the Shadows – Bob Babbitt, Bass Underdog

“Throughout my career, I’ve been asked to be Jamerson or Chuck Rainey or Joe Osborn. This was the way producers communicated with me. I had never really thought about it. It used to bother me, but I came to realize the only way I could deal with it was to try to accommodate everyone while waiting for those occasional dates when a producer would just let me play”.

Thus spoke Bob Babbitt, the “not quite legendary” session bass player. Called into Motown when their go to man, James Jamerson was having problems with drink, Babbitt initially received a luke warm reception from the rest of the crew, and, was of course under great pressure to provide bass lines that were a direct replacement for their man’s exceptional repertoire. Babbitt not only survived this baptism of fire, but flourished at the label, and became good friends with the ailing Jamerson.

Babbitt however, probably deserves much greater recognition than those he was called upon to emulate due to the wide range of styles and artists he was asked to work for.  Unlike Jamerson, who was pretty much straight down the line Motown soul and funk, Babbit’s work encompassed extremely fine soul from both Motown and Philly, through some of the biggest hits of disco, through to Barry Manilow, Frank Sinatra and, later on, a spell in Nashville.

With such a far reaching career there will obviously be much disagreement on which his finest recordings are, but I think that these few would probably grace most people’s list:

Gladys Knight & the Pips—If I Were Your Woman

Babbitt cites Midnight Train to Georgia as one of the tracks where “the real me comes out”. I’m pretty sure this is the real thing on another of their classic recordings, but in this instance with a really predominant bass line.

Smokey Robinson & the Miracles—Tears of a Clown

This is a classic Motown factory production with Babbitt earning his stripes.

Marvin Gaye—Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)

More Motown, but a very different style, a Marvin Gaye leads the studio into a more serious, album marketplace. The bass on this sparse arrangement is something very different, and for me, really highlights the quality of Babbitt’s playing.

Three more of Babbitt’s choice where he is being his own man:

Diana Ross—Touch Me in The Morning

Elton John—Are You Ready for Love

Dionne Warwick & the (Detroit) Spinners—Then Came You

There is so much more to choose from, but hopefully the above selection gives a strong first impression of a truly great, yet woefully unsung session man.

Did Punk Help Create Modern Dance Music?

On first impressions, dance and punk could easily be viewed as polar opposites, and musically, at the surface, this certainly seems the case. Punk, with its simple line up of guitar, bass and drums thrashing out fast, furious, short bursts of anger. Dance music even needed a new format, the 12” single, to accommodate longer tracks. Dance music tempos became strictly controlled (James Hamilton would have had a nightmare working out the BPM (somewhere from mid 130s to over 150 but in no particular order) for the Sex Pistols’ Holidays in the Sun, and angry vocals spat out by untrained vocalists would have no place next to some of the finest, yet often uncredited voices that dance producers set out to find to grace their recordings.

But that surface really does only need the gentlest of scratching to reveal some striking similarities. First up is how punk went out to decry one particular genre, the stated enemy was the established world of rock. Classic, heavy, and worst of all, prog-rockers were all the target of great disdain from punks. They railed against the corporate, capitalist, established elite that was Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and Yes, and the huge major label budgets that these acts consumed. Punks recorded their own music in small studios, or blagged downtime in larger establishments. They became their own labels, or signed to one of the many tiny new independents. The records were sold through clubs, fanzines and specialist shops, and then by distributors like Spartan Records, who specialised in MOR Irish records, but saw an opportunity with punk. This distributor came up with a novel marketing strategy – they just sent the records out to shops, without any orders. Despite being inundated with calls from irate record shops receiving records they didn’t want, the strike rate of those shops having sold the record before the returns authorisation had been sorted was high enough for the poor sales staff to endure the wrath of their customers.

Technology, not Attitude

While dance music never fought in the same way against its predecessor, disco, there was no way the big production numbers by the likes of Henry Belolo and Giorgio Moroder would survive the economic downturn the international record companies faced in the late 1970s. The big studios that could house the string and horn sections were closing and the genre didn’t return lucrative album sales required by the major labels. Fortunately, technology, rather than attitude, came to the rescue, with Moroder being at the forefront of bringing in synthesisers and drum machines to pave the way for the next wave of dance music.

And as the recording process became simpler and more accessible, the promotion and distribution also took on punk’s DIY ethos. 12” white labels were sold, much like the punk singles, from the back of a car or van, promotion came through a network of club DJs and specialist shops saw sales booming.

“Rave was more punk than punk”

Underworld’s Karl Hyde has a point. By the late 80s, dance music, and the rave scene in particular, had become so anti-establishment that laws were being passed in parliament to stifle the movement. Illicit parties being held in fields, pirate radio stations, and one of the biggest drug scenes the UK has ever had – with nearly 50% of young people in the late 80s/90s having experienced drugs compared with just 10% in the 70s. Rave also saw elements of rock coming into dance with the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets all blurring the boundaries between gigs and clubs.

Taking Punk Ethos to the Next Level

Dance music has taken punk’s ethos to a level that the originators couldn’t have even dreamt, and has got to the stage where more established DJs and producers, like Thomas Cox of Pittsburgh Tracks Authority are now running scared of the part-time, bedroom warriors who they feel are threatening their status. Perhaps they should look to the longevity of the Who, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, all bands, that for a short while had been silenced by the new order, but who returned, becoming even more a part of the establishment than before.

What Makes Wichita Lineman a Good Record?

I am writing this in response to a post I saw from a musician that absolutely stunned me. He claimed that Wichita Lineman had “not a single redeeming feature”. From someone who plays popular music I found this quite shocking, but it also posed a deeper philosophical question, how do we judge what is good rather than what we like?

I can fully understand people not liking certain songs, artists, or even musical genres (although for the latter I feel there must be an element of not being very open-minded). I am the same with art–the work of John Constable is undeniably fine, but I really do not like it. But I wouldn’t, for one moment claim that The Haywain (the epitome of my dislike for his work) has no redeeming feature. I can see the skill involved, his use of light and new colours, and his pioneering realism is all masterful. I just don’t like it!

And so, I feel, it should be with the Wichita Lineman. The song was written by Jimmy Webb, who does seem to have the knack for polarising opinions, with one of his biggest hits being the love it or hate it MacArthur Park. But even in the light of Webb’s ability to split opinion straight down the middle, there can be no denying the calibre of his work, with his songs being performed by some of the biggest (Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Diana Ross) and most credible (Arlo Guthrie, REM, Isaac Hayes) artists in pop music history.

The song’s singer, Glenn Campbell, was also no slouch as a musician. As a member the famous Wreckin’ Crew group of session musicians Campbell played on countless 1960’s hits, and was one of the “go to” guitarists of the day.

So with two musicians involved, let’s take a look at some of Wichita Lineman’s redeeming features:

First up, is the arrangement, by Al De Lory. The strings are superb, and the little Morse code motif at the end of each chorus is genius. The other highlight from the strings is the outro, where they seem to take you off elsewhere, away from the song, somehow adding to the overall feeling of melancholy.

Next up then, let’s look at that melancholy. Such an important part of pop music over the years, Wichita Lineman really delivers–subject matter, Campbell’s voice, the strings, the guitar break (played by Campbell on a baritone guitar, tuned lower than standard) all enhance the plaintive lyrics.

Which leads neatly on to the lyrics, which came in for criticism by the poster who sparked this piece off. Again, I feel this is the big difference between something truly bad (Owen Paul’s My Favourite Waste of Time) and something not to your taste. The lines “And I need you more than want you, And I want you for all time” have the most perfect meter, leaving space for yet more magic from the string arrangement.

So I find myself with an unanswered question, which is, are there parameters by which good music, art, or writing can be judged? Part of me feels yes, as outlined above, but another part of me says no, in that many of the rougher blues, punk and folk performances that are well loved by many would not pass these tests. Answers on a postcard (or a reply below) as I really don’t have a clue!

The Blues & Gospel Train Manchester 1964

7th May 1964 (two days after this writer was born, which I know is completely irrelevant, but gives me some sense of affinity towards the show) Granada TV filmed one of the most unusual concerts the Blues (and possibly music in general) had ever seen. The Blues & Gospel Tour visited Manchester as its only UK stop on during the 1963 European tour. At this stop, an enterprising producer, Johnnie Hamp booked the tour for a TV show on the return the following year.

Manchester had a strong reputation for the Blues. The Twisted Wheel, which later became a beacon for the Northern Soul scene was at the forefront of what was very much an underground scene. And of course, Manchester was where graphic artist John Mayall sowed the seeds of the British Blues Explosion.

When the 64 tour arrived the previous year’s success meant it could make stops throughout the UK on top of a triumphant return to Manchester, where the TV appearance was arranged.

Johnnie Hamp as a producer was obviously steeped in the traditions of “light entertainment”. His TV producing CV includes such highlights as the Wheeltappers & Shunters Club, The Comedians and shows by Frank Sinatra, Benny Hill,, Max Bygraves and Henry Mancini. For the Blues & Gospel Train show, Hamp had organised a bizarre setting–Wilbraham Road Railway Station, a derelict victim of Dr Beeching’s infamous cuts to the British rail network. Hamp had contacts with the railway having previously used a couple of trains as the backdrop for Little Eva to perform The Locomotion. To compound the crimes against good taste, the station was then decorated to look like it was in the southern US, and the train that brought some of the audience and the artists to the station was complete with a cowpusher! Sister Rosetta then faced the indignity of arriving on the platform for her performance on a horse drawn cart.

OK, so I may have been a bit disparaging above, and yes, times and tastes change, but what you can’t take away from Hamp is the absolute technical brilliance of the show. The quality of the recording (albeit now suffering with the passing of time and degradation of being copied) was excellent, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s amazing voice being captured in all its glory by a radio microphone, buried in a huge woollen overcoat (well it was Manchester in May) as was Muddy Waters, captured walking along the tracks, bag in hand, real hobo style! The playing as well is an absolute treat, to hear Sister Rosetta let rip on her Gibson SG is just wonderful, no wonder Chris Rea cites her as one of his earliest influences, very possibly from seeing this show.

The full Granada show is currently available here, with a better quality version of Sister Rosetta’s performance here.

 

History Repeats for Former Gipsy Kings Leader

CHICO & THE GYPSIES
Triumphant International Return for Founder of Gipsy Kings

Something quite remarkable happened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on November 30th 2014. History started to repeat itself when Chico Bouchikhi, founder of the Gipsy Kings, stepped foot on stage to play to a sell-out crowd with his band, Chico & the Gypsies. This show, and the reaction to it had all the hallmarks of what happened back in 1998, when Chico introduced the rest of the world to France’s best kept musical secret, the Neuvo Flamenco of the Gipsy Kings.

With Chico at the helm, the Gipsy Kings were transformed over a period of ten years from playing the beaches in St Tropez, becoming the favourites of the jet-set via the patronage of Bridget Bardot, to becoming the first French group to be awarded a Platinum Disc in the US. They ended up becoming the biggest World Music Crossover act ever, with an estimated worldwide sales of 20 million, well ahead of the Buena Vista Social Club.

Following the success of their two albums, Gipsy Kings and Mosaïque and triumphant live shows in London, Los Angeles, Moscow and Tokyo, Chico began asking awkward questions about royalty statements and payments. The best English speaker and the most financially astute member of the band, he also queried the extortionate percentage their management received for their services. When the other Gipsy Kings sided with manager Claude Martinez, Chico found himself out on a limb and in 1991 was ousted from the group he had co-founded and named. The legal repercussions rumbled on for years, costing Chico dearly in time, money and effort.

For many this would have been the end. But one leading characteristic Chico shares with his adopted Gypsy family (Chico is in fact of Moroccan descent, married into the Reyes family) is resilience. Not content to rest on his laurels, Chico set out to recreate his success with the Gipsy Kings, and 25 years later, having once again conquered French audiences, is on the cusp of enjoying the same levels of stardom around the world. This resilience is the result of one of the most incredible back stories in pop music, which has seen Chico being feted as a musician by everyone from George Michael to Jimmy Page, but also becoming a UNESCO special envoy for peace. In 1973, just as Chico was embarking on his musical journey, the most dreadful tragedy fell on his family, when his older brother, Ahmed Bouchikhi, working as a waiter in Lillehammer, Norway, with his wife expecting their first child, was assassinated by agents from Mossad, the Israeli secret service. They had mistaken him for Ali Hassan Salameh, one of the Black September group responsible for the massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. “It was a clear case of mistaken identity. They killed him in cold blood. It’s the hardest thing to forgive when it’s your own flesh and blood,” reflects Chico about the tragedy, and the wound that would take over two decades to heal.

But heal it did. In September 1994, Chico & The Gypsies were invited to join Harry Belafonte, Montserrat Caballé and orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta for a UNESCO concert held to coincide with the signing of the Oslo Accords by Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. Shaking hands with the Israeli foreign minister and the Palestinian leader on stage at the end of the show brought Chico a sense of closure. “It was unexpected, like a gift from the Gods. A symbol of what is possible,” he reflects. This reinforced his belief in the power of reconciliation and the role music can play in that process. “When it comes to music, there are no frontiers, no borders. Music can be a bridge, a link between people,” states the guitarist who has taken Chico & the Gypsies to Israel, Palestine and the Festival Mawazine in Morocco and headlined events promoting tolerance and understanding in Arles and Ramallah.

This commitment to peace and reconciliation through music has driven Chico for over 40 years and is now once again exciting international audiences with the vibrant, inclusive, joyous music of his inter-generational band of Gypsies.

Chico, Mounin, Joseph, Kema – Tané, Kassaka, Babato, and, Rey, (Babato and Rey being nephew and grandson respectively, of Flamenco royalty, Manitas De Plata) will be touring the UK in October 2015. The album, Fiesta is available now.

Willie Dixon—Giant of Modern Music, a Blues Loving Bass Player’s Appreciation

There are numerous Blues artists who have been afforded legendary status, many quite rightly. The women vocalists who highlighted the style within Jazz—Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, the early Folk and Country Blues artists including the great Leadbelly, and those that defined the genre in its early days, Robert Johnson and Charlie Patton. All worthy of the plaudits bestowed upon them. As were the later artists who brought this music out of the restricted world of the Race Records charts into homes throughout the world. Artists like Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Albert, BB and Freddie King, and those younger musicians that opened the door for them, Alexis Korner, John Mayall, Chris Barber.

So what do you call a legend’s legend? Someone who all the above would recognise as a true great? Well, in Willie Dixon’s case it is easy. At 6’4” and some 300 pounds, the man was a giant in stature as well as one musically.

Willie Dixon had a fascinating life, a short but highly successful boxing career and imprisonment as a World War 2 conscientious objector would shape many lives, but for Dixon they are just part of the back story of a man whose bass playing, producing and songwriting transformed the Blues, and therefore the shape and sound of all that followed in its wake.

1915       Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi

1929       Moves to Chicago doing demanding, physical jobs like onion picking or ice deliveries. Sees Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway in local concerts. Regularly writes lyrics or poems.

Moves briefly back to Vicksburg to support his mother when his father gets killed at work. There he sold his first two songs “Lonely Man” and “The West Ain’t Wild No More” to local Country acts. During this time he also wrote “The Signifying Monkey” which was to become his first big hit for Cab Calloway.

1931       Starts boxing in ropeless ring fights in Vicksburg Park. Success here led him to try his luck once more in Chicago.

1936       Back in Chicago Dixon started training and became Joe Louis’ sparring partner. He went on to win the 1937 Golden Gloves, turning pro and winning his first five fights. There seems to be some uncertainty as to what happened next, but in an interview later in life Dixon admitted to being more concerned with “hanging about and drinking” rather than training and taking the fighting seriously. There are also tales of his being ripped off by his manager, leading to his reluctance to use one later in his musical career.

1940       First recording with the Five Breezes, My Buddy Blues  the lyrics of which are far too appropriate in Dixon’s case as the very next year,

1941       Jailed for refusing to join the US army. Claimed in court to be a conscientious objector, although some reports say that Dixon was politically motivated in this, claiming as a black American he wasn’t treated as a citizen of the United States, rather a subject, without full rights.

1946-50 Dixon forms The Big Three who make recordings in their own name and also back numerous acts including Robert Nighthawk and Rosetta Howard, with whom they had a Race Records #8 hit, and this from Sonny Boy Williamson, Mellow Chick Swing,  a record that really sets itself firmly in the modern Blues camp, and pre-dates the advent of Rock & Roll by a good number of years. Compare this to Arthur Cruddup’s That’s Alright  from the same period and you will hear how ahead of its time this track was.

During this period, Dixon also started working with the Chess brothers, writing and recording for their artists, including this from Jimmy Rogers, Out On The Road, with definite hints towards a heavier sound of tracks to come later on

1954       Writes and plays bass on one of the most important Blues records of all time, Muddy Waters Hoochie Coochie Man.

1955       Tops the Rhythm & Blues Chart (by now, at the suggestion of writer and producer Jerry Wexler, the Race Records Chart had been renamed) with Little Walter and My Babe. Also has the only hit under his own name with Walking Blues.

From then on, a whole raft of recordings that would be picked up by the next generation of rock bands came along – 1956 Otis Rush with I Can’t Quit You Baby, 1960 Howlin Wolf Back Door Man, and then for the same artist in 1961, Little Red Rooster. 1962 saw You Need Love and You Shook Me.

As a bass player, Dixon recorded with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Elmore James, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Fleetwood Mac, Otis Rush, Koko Taylor, Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Rogers, Jimmy Reed and JB Lenoir to name just a few. As a writer of over 500 songs, other significant hits not already mentioned include Etta James’ I Just Wanna Make Love to You, I Want to be Loved, covered by the Rolling Stones, and Spoonful, covered by Cream, Ten Years After, Canned Heat, George Thorogood and the Allman Brothers. In fact, when you look through his catalogue, so many of them are such staples of the Blues repertoire it is hard to comprehend they were all written by one man, a giant of modern music, Willie Dixon.

Five Great Guitar Solos Where You Wouldn’t Expect Them

I’ve always been intrigued by unusual guitar solos–either one that doesn’t seem to fit with the song it is in or one that fits but you really weren’t expecting it. There have been some great examples, with a lot seeming to come in the 80’s where there was almost a desperate attempt to keep some classic rock motifs in an otherwise new style of music. David Bowie’s Let’s Dance album is a great example, and the first time the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan came to the public’s attention. Steve Lukather’s (Toto) discography of the time is full of such excellent appearances, and one of them, featured later here, took everyone’s breath away when the song first hit the unsuspecting airwaves.

I’ll start with my two favourites, both really out there on the cheesy scale but two wonderful solos.

The Carpenters were a fairly mellow act, and Goodbye to Love would be at the mellowest end of their repertoire would it not have been for Richard Carpenter to have imagined a Fuzz guitar solo to lift the song towards the end. We are talking pure Fuzz here, not overdrive or distortion (a nice explanation available here). Guitarist Tony Peluso was brought in specially for the job and couldn’t at first believe what he was being asked to do. Eventually Richard Carpenter persuaded him and the magic followed. Peluso then became the Carpenter’s regular guitarist until Karen’s death, going on to work for Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and Michael Jackson at Motown, moving on to engineer and produce such artists as Kenny Loggins, Seals & Crofts and BoyzIIMen. Goodbye to Love (guitar solo at 2:48).

Next up is in a similar vein, another song that would fall into the M.O.R. bracket, and more Fuzz. This time the track is the Commodores, Easy, and the soloist the band’s co-founder, Thomas McClary. What is wonderful about this is the delicious hint from McClary about 20 seconds before the solo comes in, and again in the turnaround immediately before it. This is one of those classic guitar solos that listeners commit to memory as well as any lyric, one that without it, the song just does not have the same impact. Easy (fun starts at 2:23)

Next up, some jangly 12 string Rickenbacker from Roger McGuinn on the Byrds, Eight Miles High. The psychedelic sound and the high references on this song soon got it into hot water with DJ’s accusing the band of promoting drugs. Instead, what can sound like a ragged mess of a solo is in fact a brilliant homage to Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, who was in turn attempting to play sitar lines on his sax. With this in mind the solo suddenly makes much more sense, although it can still be hard work if it comes on as background music–it really needs to be listened to! There’s an interesting piece by McGuinn in the Guardian which also links to the Coltrane track, India.

Usually in Punk and Post-Punk songs and soloing is kept very short and sweet. When Robbie McIntosh stepped in to replace the late James Honeyman-Scott in the Pretenders he somehow found the space to put a fairly extensive guitar solo into Middle of the Road (is there a theme developing here)? Solo from 1:42 all the way to 2:28!

Finally, this happened, and really did change pop music, confounding all those in the industry that for years had wanted to neatly pigeon hole artists and their music, labelling them and marketing them to a pre-defined audience. When Michael Jackson invited Eddie Van Halen to play THAT guitar solo those barriers got kicked down forever.

I am sure there are many others out there–if you have a particular favourite please do share below.

Are we Loving the Blues to Death?

In the thirty years following Robert Johnson’s original “King of the Delta Blues Singers” recordings the genre thrived and developed, becoming one of the most influential forms of music, being an integral part of American Folk and giving birth to Rock.

Johnson’s work was picked up by the next generation of electric blues artists such as Howling Wolf covering Dust My Broom and then the British invasion of the Rolling Stones Love in Vain, Led Zeppelin Ramblin’ on my Mind and possibly the most influential of them all, Cream with Cross Roads Blues. These tracks demonstrate how the music grew from the original “race” records to becoming accepted globally.

So how comes, over the next fifty years, with just a few notable exceptions, like BB King introducing Soul and Jazz with the Crusaders, Walter Wolfman Washington bringing in Funk, and Brits Dr Feelgood and 9 Below Zero incorporating Pub Rock and Punk, the Blues has failed to move on and no longer thrives?

In the meantime, two other styles have flourished. Country went through its massively commercial transformation into New Country and came back out the other side stronger and more diverse, with young players taking up the old traditional styles and making them their own. Bluegrass, American Folk and Country are all now thriving under the Americana banner with British acts like the Shires sharing the success of the leading US acts such as Alison Krauss and Old Crow Medicine Show. Folk has also had an incredible resurgence, with Mumford and Sons, to the extent that, in the great British tradition of knocking success, they are now one of the most derided bands in the country! Fleet Foxes, Bellowhead and a raft of highly individual, lesser known acts like the Moulettes are making daring, exciting music that is appealing to a diverse audience.

So, how can our love for something be the cause of its demise? Are we, the fans, the promoters, the musicians guilty of stifling innovation and encouraging emulation? In my previous post I queried whether 9 Below Zero’s attempt to move on from their brilliant, but formulaic R’n’B may have been the reason for the band to fold. I have also heard someone talking about an excellent band who played at the well respected Maryport Festival, the Groove Doctors. This person was telling his friend that the band were great but hadn’t gone down brilliantly with the majority of the audience as they were not authentic enough, mainly down to the singer playing a chromatic harmonica, not a blues harp! An excellent Colchester band, Nublues tried extremely hard to create a completely new sound, fusing old school guitar and vocals with sampling and synthesisers. Despite being signed by another great moderniser, Chris Thomas King, who appeared in Oh Brother Where Art Thou, the act failed to make an impact.

I feel it is a shame that many newer artists seem to be so tied to the past, learning from all the greats, but unlike Howling Wolf or Cream before them, not putting their own new stamp on the music. Where is the sampling, the laptops, the new musical influences (Drum ‘n’ Bass and Trip-Hop would both work well). Instead, the biggest young acts all seem to be playing to an ageing audience–Derek Trucks, Joe Bonamassa, the whole raft of young talent that Ruf Records signs up and packages in its Caravan promotions are all delighting audiences that saw John Mayall at Klooks Kleek or Duane Allman at the Filmore.

So can we do anything about it–us middle aged (or older) Blues lovers? Or even, should we? Well, if we would like to think that the genre will survive for another 80 plus years, then yes. It needs to evolve for new audiences to take to it, rather than the current one that will be dwindling due to the inevitable passage of time! We should certainly encourage youngsters to continue to carry the flame, but we should also allow them the opportunity to make it theirs, doing things to it that we don’t like, not encouraging them to conform to our tastes and standards.

There are a small handful of acts that are taking the Blues to a new place, Jack White obviously knows his history, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man is doing some quite extraordinary stuff, and making a significant impact, with an appearance at Glastonbury and a gold album either side of the Atlantic, Alabama Shakes could be the ones to spearhead a new movement. So next time you get the opportunity to introduce a young person to the your favourite type of music, pick wisely, and with the right choice we may be able to see the Blues catch back up with its Folk and Country neighbours!