Friday, March 27, 2015

Fingerpickin' Good: Renbourn Free

Hello and welcome to a Folky Fingerpickin' Friday. It's another tribute post to another departed legend today, I'm afraid.
It is my sad duty to inform you, if you don't already know, that guitarissimo John Renbourn passed away from a heart attack at age 70 yesterday morning. Needless to say he leaves a legacy and reputation as one of the greatest instrumentalists of ours or any other lifetimes.
Fingerpicking virtuoso, Pentangle co-founder, solo artist, teacher, storyteller. All that needs to be said is if you leave behind the kind of beautiful footprint from your being alive that John Renbourn has left us from his, you'd have led a very rich and impressive life indeed.
I spent all day yesterday working on a remaster that might be worthy of such a seminal, watershed performer and musician... JR could be a tough one to showcase on his own, as he was always surrounded by other luminaries onstage at almost all times. I decided upon this gorgeous solo set, captured beautifully by Australian radio in 1987, that features John at center-stage and at the absolute peak of his formidable six-string Samurai powers.
This didn't need much at all, believe me... all I felt was a tad lacking was the high end attack transients of the guitar, which were slightly muted by the Dolby B used on the original cassette. I used some Sound Forge 9 Graphic Dynamics groove juice (with a splash of goofa dust) and that was all... I always try to do as little as I feel is required and this was already in tip-top condition. I also moved one track marker so the DJ intro (which I patched at the start to begin with a somewhat complete sentence) can be skipped; the fade-up of the applause that begins the show is now at the start of Track 02.
John Renbourn
RSL Club
Balmain Hotel
Sydney, Australia
   September 1987   

01 DJ introduction
02 My Sweet Potato
03 Great Dreams from Heaven
04 Lord Franklin
05 Watch the Stars
06 The Cannonball Rag
07 Little Niles
08 The Lazy Farmer
09 The West Wind/The Blarney Pilgrim
10 Lindsay
11 Sandwood Down to Kyle

    12 The Lament for Owen Roe O'Neill/The Mist Covered Mountains of Home/The English
13 Cherry
14 The White House Blues
15 Candyman
16 DJ outro

Total time : 1:15:55

John Renbourn - acoustic guitar, effects, vocals
Mitch Greenhill - electric guitar on Tracks 14 & 15

2nd generation FM cassette, remastered by yours truly
It's an incalculable loss, but JR has joined Bert Jansch in the Great Beyond, and of course we have the endless wellspring of standard-setting music he leaves us as he exits our world. Pull this undercirculated gem down -- it really is a rare glimpse into the songbook of John's solo repertoire, on a gig where for once he wasn't in the company of various other heavyweights and he could command the stage alone -- and enjoy it forever as a tribute to one of the most seminal and skillful guitarists that will ever live, in full free flight and shining bright three decades ago Down Under.--J.
8.8.1944 - 3.26.2015

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Furious George: Benson Burns Bremen

Happy Sunday to you and welcome to today's post, which is here to commemorate the 72nd anniversary on Earth for another truly legendary musician.
From his beginnings 50 years ago with organist Brother Jack McDuff to his stint in the late 1960s with Miles Davis to his explosion as a crossover superstar in the mid-1970s to today, no one does it quite like George Benson.
I was just reading something so sad, which was saying that jazz is, as of 2015, the least popular musical genre in the country of its inception, the USA. It wasn't always this way. At one time, you could pluck a master guitarist with a good singing voice out of Creed Taylor's million-selling CTI operation, put him out front of his own group, and create a massive superstar. Those days are so long gone, there's a puff of record industry smoke (and perhaps some mirrors, too) where they used to be.
I remember being a kid back then, ten or twelve years old, and this guy was everywhere. This Masquerade, Breezin' and Affirmation were on pop radio so often, you could tune across the dial and hear a different cut of his on every station simultaneously. A formerly fairly straight-ahead jazzbo playing the role of pop hitmaker may sound impossible now, but just 40 years ago it wasn't unusual at all for the George Bensons and the Donald Byrds and the Bobbi Humphreys to have hits, and for someone like GB to find the kind of success usually reserved for Rock Stars.
So this is a heavyweight dude of our lifetimes and he deserves a tight share... let me step up to the plate here with an absolute beast of a set, recorded in the Spring of 1978 (no one knows the exact date) for German TV's Musikladen Extra long-form program and featuring GB tearing six tunes to shreds out front of a monster group that also includes keys legend Ronnie Foster and drummer extraordinaire Dennis Davis. This is a PAL DVD sourced from a 2013 digital rebroadcast and unless it ever gets issued legitimately (don't hold thy breath), this is as pristine and awesome as you're ever going to see it look and hear it sound.
George Benson
Musikladen Extra
Radio Bremen Studios
Bremen, Germany
Spring 1978

01 Unknown tune
02 El Mar
03 Take Five
04 Here Comes the Sun
05 Affirmation
06 Breezin'

Total time: 44:09

George Benson - guitar, vocals
Jorge Dalto - keyboards, clavinet, piano
Ronnie Foster - keyboards, synthesizers
Dennis Davis - drums
Stanley Banks - bass

PAL DVD from a 2013 satellite rebroadcast
Look out for a ridiculously funkified blast through Dave Brubeck's Take Five and stellar renditions of the aforementioned radio stalwarts Affirmation and Breezin' to close out this electrifying 45 minute set. George also sings one song, which is written by another George and is called Here Comes the Sun. All in all it's a tasty birthday tribute to this most fantastic of musicians, snatched from the realms of jazz (dubbed by Frank Zappa "The Music of Unemployment") to become a megastar of popular music, and born on this day in 1943!--J.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Birthday Party Out of Bounds

Welcome to Thursday and a birthday tribute to an unsung hero who deserves more recognition than he gets.
You probably don't know who that is in that picture, but the music he helped create has been a source of huge Joy to millions of people for decades... even though he himself has been gone from us for 30 years now.
If you look at the next picture, you'll see he had a rather distinctive and individual approach to the guitar. He better have, because the lines he played and the arpeggios he came with under the auspices of his unusual stringing and tuning of the instrument form the basis of timeless songs like Rock Lobster, Private Idaho and Planet Claire.
His name was Ricky Wilson and the band he helped form was and is called the B-52s. Right now, as you read this, people somewhere are dancing their mess around to a song he helped architect. Because they had no bass player, he had to cover a lot of ground, so his playing is really the bedrock on which this most unique and fun of groups made their reputation.
He also was one of the first celebrities to die from AIDS, and his bandmates had no idea he was dying until days before he passed. He claimed he didn't tell them because he didn't want them to fuss over him. I remember crying when I heard he had passed and why. He deserves to be remembered a lot more than he is, so that is why I am writing this through tears right now.
When he died, the others were so devastated that they disappeared for several years from the public eye. When they returned, their drummer (and Ricky's best friend) had switched to guitar and learned all of his friend's tunings as a living tribute to him.
I write this not just because of Ricky's amazing contributions to music and guitar, but also because as gay people we struggle with identifying heroes and role models of the past, as the ones we might point to in history as representative of us weren't allowed to live openly and thus never were able to establish that cred and that responsibility to pass down the generations. That he must have suffered silently for those years when AIDS was still a stigma and its sufferers still social pariahs only drives me to bring his story into the light even more.
It makes me feel good that people still get down to the B-52s so enthusiastically, and that Ricky's music and playing continue to inspire people to go crazy and have a great time. I saw them play in Central Park in NYC in 1990 for Earth Day and there were one million people there, literally that many. I hope that wherever he is, Ricky knows that what he helped bring into the world is still shining a light and bringing a sense of happiness and delirious abandon to millions.
To mark what would have been only his 62nd birthday today, I am putting up this PAL DVD, from station masters, of a 1/2 hour B-52s set from the German TV show "Rockpop," taped in 1983. This has come out on several unauthorized releases over the years, but none are legitimate so I am gonna boot-bust it here so you all can get a glimpse of the original band at the peak of their powers, and with Ricky in full five-string assault mode. Watch out for the horn section, which contains my friend Mr. Ralph Carney (I never knew Ralphie could dance like this!) on tenor sax!
"Rockpop" Fest
Dortmund, Germany

01 Song for a Future Generation
02 Planet Claire
03 Mesopotamia
04 Big Bird
05 Dance this Mess Around
06 Rock Lobster
07 Party Out of Bounds

Total time: 32:09

Kate Pierson – vocals, synthesizer, percussion
Fred Schneider – vocals, transistor radio, piano book, toy sax, percussion
Keith Strickland - vocals, drums
Cindy Wilson – vocals, percussion
Ricky Wilson – vocals, guitar, bass
Ralph Carney - tenor sax
David Buck - trumpet

PAL DVD from station master tape
Ricky is long gone but never forgotten, and everything I've ever heard about him since I was 14 and got into this band indicates that he was among the loveliest, most humble and sweetest people ever to live. Today is a sad day, certainly, but it's perhaps also a day to remember upon someone you maybe never think of, but who brought and continues to bring a tremendous amount of Joy and pleasure to the lives of so many people, even though most don't know his name. So pull this down and Party Out of Bounds for a half hour or more... Ricky Wilson -- one of the more underrated and unique guitar players of our lifetimes -- would want it that way.--J.
3.19.1953 - 10.12.1985

Sunday, March 15, 2015

All In the Family: Birth Stone

It's Funk Sunday and time for the second half of our weekend birthday extravaganza, this time featuring a true O.G. of The One.
Yes, today's honoree is a little left of center... but who worth their weight in Funk isn't?  Without his innovations, there's simply no such thing as the music of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Once upon a time, there was no such thing. Rock, Soul, Funk, Jazz and R&B were discrete, separate genres with almost entirely separate audiences. You most certainly almost never saw a racially- and gender-integrated group amalgamating them, and such a thing most assuredly wouldn't have ruled the charts and fueled the explosion of funky music we take for granted as The World We Live In today, right?
Nope, there was no such thing... until there was. Until this man put together this group and (this is in NO way an exaggeration) completely changed the world. Don't let the idea that the twin demons of the music business and drug use drove him out of commission later detract from the impact of the fact that this guy and this band are among the most important ever to play instruments.
At one time, they were literally (not figuratively... this shit was coming out of radios worldwide) the soundtrack of the planet, and you could name a dozen or more of their songs that will be funked to when you, me, and everyone we have ever known will be long gone from here.
There isn't even a need to explain it all because this man and this band are interwoven into the DNA of this world now. All the music we know and love of the last 45 years runs through what they accomplished. Did he show up for TV appearances higher than any other single human being in the history of television? Yep. Did he fail to show up for 1/3 of the gigs on some tours? Uh-huh. Did his bass player -- himself the inventor of that slap-and-pop, thunder-thumbs style every single bass player since has copied -- once allegedly hire a hit man to take him out? Does it matter? Not in the slightest. That's all part of the fun! It's all in the Family.
Sylvester "Sly Stone" Stewart's story is well documented so I will bore you no further with pathetic attempts at description of the sublimely indescribable. Sly and the Family Stone left a mark or three on contemporary music that will never end and never stop informing the music of subsequent generations. Period.
That said, today's share is a rare thing, indeed. In the Summer of 1969, a huge, multi-week event called The Harlem Cultural Festival was put together, concurrent with and in the spirit of all the other festivals going on at the time like the first Isle of Wight one and the mothership Woodstock in August. This one was happening all that summer to promote Black artists and showcase African-American music in Uptown NYC. These events took place over the course of the whole summer, culminating in the street fair in September that Jimi Hendrix famously headlined. This is an NTSC DVD, sourced from a U-Matic master tape, of a film crew's documentation of the Sly and the Family Stone set that took place in Mount Morris Park in Harlem at the end of June of 1969, as part of the Harlem Cultural Festival, and has never been issued in any form.
Don't be distracted by the U-Matic logo in the middle of the screen... after about two minutes you forget it's there and this becomes an utterly fascinating document in a million different ways. The whole atmosphere is like watching a slice of life from the distant past and to be honest it's just as interesting to watch the crowd take it all in. You can almost sense the "what the heck is this???" vibe as the audience (there's probably 20,000 people there) wonders what to make of the outrageously-dressed multi-cultural circus act The Family whips on them over the course of the 43 minute performance. It may seem tame today, but at the time this was about the most outrageous, boundary-shattering pop group going.
Sly and the Family Stone
Harlem Cultural Festival
Mount Morris Park
Harlem, NY

01 intro/M'Lady
02 Sing a Simple Song
03 You Can Make It If You Try
04 Everyday People
05 Dance to the Music
06 Music Lover
07 Higher
08 announcement
09 Higher (reprise)

Total time: 42:50

Sly Stone - vocals, organ, percussion
Cynthia Robinson - trumpet, percussion & vocals
Jerry Martini - saxophone, percussion & vocals
Larry Graham - bass & vocals
Gregg Errico - drums
Freddie Stone - guitar & vocals
Rose Stone - electric piano, percussion & vocals

NTSC DVD from U-Matic masters, with timecode, pro-shot by The HCF in 1969 and never issued
By now, your mind has penetrated this rambling, incoherent screed and you've been able to discern that it is Sly's 72nd birthday today, born as he was in 1943. But that really doesn't matter; Sly transcends time and space and mere revolutions around The Sun. Yack this DVD down and toss it on, and that'll be all the proof you need for a Funk Sunday, trust me.--J.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Piece of Pi: Happy Birthday to Q!

The weekend brings us the birth anniversaries of two absolute giants of modern music, so let's kick things off with the 17th letter of the alphabet, Pi Day (3/14) and one of Earth's greatest arrangers, producers and musical masterminds.
Quincy Jones is as responsible as any single human being of the last 50 years for the music of our lifetimes... there, I said it. When I was researching this post there were all these pictures from Grammy ceremonies of the last half century, showing him weighted down with so many trophies he needed a wheelbarrow every year. And unlike many who take home such "industry" awards, the music of Q is actually well beyond extremely worthwhile.
The laundry list of movies and TV shows he's scored is endless and several stand out as definitive, if not genre-defining works: In the Heat of the Night and Ironside, where he invented, out of whole cloth, the modern "cop show" theme; the epic score to the seminal mini-series Roots; The Streetbeater, probably the funkiest TV theme of all time (from Sanford and Son)... and that's just a small sampling from the film/TV sideline he's had going for five decades.
He started as a trumpet player in Lionel Hampton's band -- is it me, or did a whole ton of heavyweights start there? -- and proceeded to join Dizzy Gillespie's group in the mid-1950s. He then studied with Nadia Boulanger (!) and Olivier Messaien (!!) in Paris before striking out on his own. Concurrent with this, he was taken under the wing of the president of Mercury Records, Irving Green, who groomed him to become VP of the label (Q did so, in 1964). That same year, he was invited to score Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker, and a star was truly born.
That was 50 years ago, and he's only gotten starrier since. In the 1970s & 1980s he scored more huge movies, made his own stunning records full of huge hits, and produced some of those decades' best albums, from the debut of his discovery The Brothers Johnson to several by this guy someone told me was pretty good called Michael Jackson.
I mean, he produced MJ's three best records -- Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad -- three of the hugest records in the history of living things in the Universe that people will marvel upon in 1000s of years from this moment. And this sort of thing has pretty much gone on for 50 years, like I was saying... Q has blazed a trail of exemplary music that has thrilled billions of people on this planet. If there was ever such a thing as a legacy artist whose footprints will be on his field forever, this is that guy. We Are the World, indeed.
So what can I bring you to adequately honor this megamastermind of modern music, what fills the rather large shoes of a giant? I decided upon this 1981 concert filmed in the Budokan in Tokyo and never released, for whatever reason, on DVD. It features a cast of thousands playing some of Q's most revered repertoire and is sourced from a 1988 laserdisc (remember those?) so it's top-notch in terms of how it looks and sounds.
Quincy Jones & Friends
Tokyo, Japan

01 introduction by Q & Bruce Swedien
02 Theme from "Ironside"
03 What's Goin' On
04 Just Once
05 Razzamatazz
06 Killer Joe
07 Bluesette
08 Brown Ballad
09 Manteca
10 Ai No Corrida

Total time: 58:28

Quincy Jones - producer, conductor, keyboards
Jean "Toots" Thielemans - harmonica, guitar
James Ingram - vocals
Patti Austin - vocals
Peggy Lipton Jones - vocals
Louis Johnson - bass, vocals
Carlos Rios - lead guitar, vocals
Greg Phillinganes - synthesizers, keyboards, vocals
Rod Temperton - keyboards, synthesizers, vocals
John Robinson - drums
Ollie E. Brown - percussion
Jerome Richardson - tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute
Peter Christlieb - tenor saxophone
Jerry Hey - trumpet, flugelhorn
Vivien Cherry - vocals
Janna Tyler - vocals
Nobuo Hara and His Sharps & Flats - horns
The NHK Symphony Orchestra
The Cupid Strings

Bruce Swedien - engineer
mixed by Doug Nelson & Larry Sullivan

NTSC DVD, sourced from the 1988 Japanese laserdisc
Quincy Jones, 82 today, has been doing Stuff Like That at a tremendously high level for longer than a lot of us have been alive, so pull this puppy down and take a taste of why exactly that might be. I'll be back tomorrow with something truly exquisite also not sold in stores, but today is a day to honor Q, born this day in 1933 and in no danger of slowing down any time soon!--J.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Gong Show: Dearly Departed Divided Alien

Friday the XIIIth brings news of the negative inevitable, I'm afraid.
This morning, musician, bandleader and Octave Doctor Daevid Allen passed away after a long battle with cancer. He was 77.
The founder of not one but two utterly seminal bands, he leaves an imprint on the music of our world for which there can be no substitute. He started legendary jazz-rock jesters Soft Machine before a visa-related deportation from the UK left him out of that group, but if you don't know about Gong -- the band for which he'll be most remembered -- it'd be next to impossible to describe.
As much a concept in their own right as a music group, the mythology of the Planet Gong goes on and on. I'm not going to recount all about The Pot Head Pixies, the Octave Doctors, their Flying Teapots and Radio Gnome Invisible here... click the link for a start if you're not familiar. 
All that needs to be said is that Daevid's vision of Gong was as developed and as multidimensional as any of the great concept bands like Christian Vander's Magma (which is sort of along the same lines, storywise) for instance, and that he set a kind of standard for imagination and storytelling in Rock music in a certain way that's highly underrated in its influence.
It shouldn't take his going for us to be able to realize that there will never be another Daevid Allen... they just do not make 'em like this guy anymore. So forgive the brevity of this as I bring you something to remember him by.
This is perhaps the most classic (and long out of print on CD) unofficial live Gong recording, released on an unauthorized CD by Mantra Records a full quarter century ago in 1990 and only ever reissued on boot vinyl and a short run of mini-LP CDs since. It's a complete gig from May of 1973 (exact date unknown) -- mere days away from the advent of the premiere installment of their legendary "Radio Gnome Trilogy," Flying Teapot -- which came out at the end of that month. A look at the spectral analysis indicates that this is likely the pre-FM reels from a gig that may have been recorded for French radio, but never broadcast. It might also have been intended for a live album that never materialized.
Le Bataclan
Paris, France
May 1973

01 Introduction: Tout Va Bien
02 Dynamite/I'm Your Animal
03 Tic Toc
04 Taliesin
05 Inside Your Head
06 You Can't Kill Me
07 Flute Salad
08 Pussy
09 Radio Gnome I & II
10 Flying Teapot
11 Wet Drum Sandwich (Encore)

Total time: 1:16:45

Daevid Allen - voices, larynx, glissando guitar, percussion
Gilli Smyth - space whisper, vocals
Tim Blake - synthesizers and keyboards
Steve Hillage - guitars, vocals
Mike Howlett - bass
Pierre Moerlen - drums
Didier Malherbe - reeds and flute

unofficial 1990 Mantra Records CD
It's a sad and inopportune day of course, this Friday the 13th. There's no denying that when someone so loved leaves, it's gonna hurt for those left here to ride out the storms of life. But Daevid wouldn't want us to grieve for him. He'd want us to go wild and have fun in his honor... he had no affiliation to the wretched systems of this world other than a charter membership in the Pot Head Pixie Party. So slide down the Oily Way for a while, and take a trip to observe the history and the mystery of The Planet Gong -- in prime form at what many feel is the peak of their mythological powers. Because Daevid is eternal, friends. You can kill his body, baby... but you can't kill him.--J.
1.13.1938 - 3.13.2015
I'll be seeing you again
I'll be being you again
again and again and again and again