Archive for March, 2009

28
Mar
09

Sly and The Family Stone – There’s a Riot Going On

slyriot

A while back, my girlfriend seemed a little upset that there weren’t enough television shows that we could watch together…aside from “Family Guy.”


I’m just happy that I found a girl who’ll watch “Family Guy” with me.Besides that and “Lost,” I don’t watch an incredible amount of TV.But I’d like to take a moment to point out that HBO has just put out one of the best series I’ve ever seen on the tube.I’m referring, of course, to Danny McBride’s genius “Eastbound and Down.”


Written by McBride and produced in part by Will Ferrell, it is hands down better than 95% of the shit out there right now.I know my friends are already sick to death of hearing this from me, but fuck ‘em.This is too good not to share.


Danny plays Kenny Powers, former MLB star pitcher who let drugs and ego destroy his career.Thrown out of professional baseball, Powers heads back to the small town where he grew up to take a job as the grade school PE teacher. You get baseball, drugs, booze, a large dose of inappropriate behavior and …uh…swearing…you get lots of swearing!But what you really get is McBride’s brilliant ability to create flawed characters that just resonate with the everyman in all of us.If you’ve seen “The Foot Fist Way” you’ll know what I’m talking about.


If you haven’t seen it…go now…I’ll wait.


So aside from the regular album of the week knowledge that I’m dropping, take my advice and seek this out.If you don’t have HBO, you can watch it on the web. Now on to our next story of another man with a drug problem…summed up pretty well in Sly and the Family Stone’s seminal 1971 masterpiece “There’s a Riot Going On.”


Sylvester “Sly” Stewart grew up in a very religious family in Texas.    When the family moved to Vallejo California in the mid fifties, the Stewart kids Sly, Freddie, Roe and Vaetta formed a singing group called the Stewart Four and released a 78rpm record of gospel songs.  It was the beginning of the family’s life in professional music. After playing in a slew of high school bands and recording several singles, Sly hit the big time in 1964 when he scored the DJ job at the bay area’s KSOL and changed his name to Sly Stone, all while working as a producer for local bands.



In 1966 Sly formed a band called Sly and the Stoners, while his brother formed a group called Freddie and the Stone Souls.  Luckily, saxophone player Jerry Martini suggested that the two groups merge…and Sly and the Family Stone was born.  Since both Sly and Freddie both played guitar, it was decided that Freddie would be the band’s guitar player while Sly taught himself to play the organ.  But sister Vaetta wanted in as well.  She and her friends had a group called The Heavenly Tones and were soon inducted into the band as Little Sister, the backing vocalists.


The group was soon signed to Epic records and in 1967 released their debut “A Whole New Thing.” The album made a great impact on the music scene, but failed to chart…which is poison in the music industry. Despite the critical acclaim, label executive Clive Davis urged the band to come up with a sound that was a little more commercial.  Begrudgingly the band delivered “Dance to the Music” the following year.  The band wasn’t too fond of it, but it produced a highly marketable single and got them on the charts…and right before it’s release, Sly’s other sister Rose joined the band.



By the time the band released it’s next album, “Life”, the Sly Stone sound had begun to change the music scene.  The Motown sound that had dominated the soul scene was out – the era of psychedelic soul was in…and thanks to the brilliant bass playing of Larry Graham, the slap happy thump of funk had evolved.  When they released “Stand” in 1969, they had cemented themselves  as one of the biggest bands out there, scoring a prime spot at Woodstock and headlining a series of amazing tour dates.  Working politics and social commentary in their act had worked wonders, the album scored a number of hits like ‘Stand,’ ‘I wanna take You Higher’ and ‘Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey.’  But success had come at a price.



A lot happened between “Stand” and “There’s a Riot Going On.”  The Black Panthers demanded that Sly become more militant and fire the white members of his group.  The band began to splinter over creative and personal differences, and drugs began to figure prominently in all Sly’s activities.  Rumor has it that he travelled with a violin case full of drugs wherever he went.  Pressure from the label to produce more music had only resulted in one single ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),’ and they had to resort to releasing a greatest hits compilation.


Recorded almost completely by Sly himself in his Saulsolito studio and attic of his Bel Air.  It was almost entirely overdubbed and had the unusual inclusion of a drum machine on most of the tracks.  But what sets the album apart is the sound.  It’s not the frenzied, upbeat driving sound of the sixties…it’s the sound of confusion, paranoia, and depression.  I think that the single negative review on Amazon sums it up best.


I bought this CD and listened to it on the drive home – I thought my ears were playing tricks on me! I couldn’t make out the vocals. They were mixed very low, and were murky. Well you know, sometimes you need headphones. But at home I tried headphones, in vain.
The only songs with audible vocals were Family Affair and Running Away.”

It’s true, too. You can’t hear most of the vocals.  It wasn’t until years later when I picked up a copy of 331/3’s dissection of the album that I found out what the actual lyrics were. (if you want a really in depth description of the entire story of the album, I highly recommend picking up that book!) Here is a portrait of an artist in the middle of a complete breakdown…and one that would basically end his career.  I love it as a sort of demented counterpoint to Marvin Gaye’s  “What’s Going On.”  Because after “Riot” dropped, things did change.  In the world of music as well as the world at large.


Sly was simply there to document the fall.

19
Mar
09

Tom Petty – Full Moon Fever

fullmoonfeverSo my life is a little hectic right now.

A few months ago I made the jump and asked my girlfriend to move in with me.  In order to facilitate that, I had to get on the ball and start the home renovations that I would need to make the idea work.  My condo is nice and big,  but I’ve also had 8 years to fill it up with my crap so storage is key.  As I write this, my man Danny is building my new walk in closet downstairs.  He already scraped the ceiling, and after the closet he’ll paint everything, toss up some crown molding, and build me a storage cabinet .  He’s a machine.

But what this means is that everything that once lived in my closet and in my bedroom is now stationed in my living room and I am sleeping in my loft with my records.

It’s kind of like camping…but in your own house…and not nearly as fun.

But anyhow while I was up here I came across one of my favorite albums of all time.  Tom Petty’s fucking awesome solo album from 1989, “Full Moon Fever.”

I remember it fondly because it was one of the first CD’s I ever owned and I transferred it to cassette so I could play it in my walkman (for the younger audiences out there, a walkman was like an mp3 player…before mp3s) and I played that shit out while I mowed the lawn or rode my bike.  Good times.

Born and raised in Gainesville Fla, young Tom’s life was changed forever when an uncle who worked in the film industry invited him to the set of Elvis Presley’s “Follow that Dream.”  It was then that Tom knew he had to rock.  Soon after, he watched The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and decided that he could rock even harder if he was in a band. He started taking guitar lessons…some from Don Feldman of The Eagles fame.

Tom worked in a lot of early bands before he started The Heartbreakers.  Bands like The Sundowners ,The Epics and a little band called Mudcrutch…where he would end up meeting future Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench.  The band formed around their 1976 debut album titled “Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers,” but despite the strength of the single ‘Breakdown’ the album was not popular with the US audience.  It was re-released at the end of 1977 and by the next year it had broken the top 40.

It seemed that after that, Tom Petty could do no wrong.  The follow up album “You’re Gonna Get It” was their first top 40 album. 1979’s  “Damn the Torpedoes” went platinum soon after release and was so full of hits like ‘Refugee’ and ‘Don’t Do Me Like That’ that I almost chose it instead “Full Moon Fever.”  (If  you don’t own it, I highly recommend it as well.)

Tom kept  it up all though the 80’s, releasing four more great albums and touring with the likes of Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead, as well as performing at Live Aid.

Then, on a fate full day in  1988 Bob Dylan was having lunch in Malibu with Jeff Lyne, George Harrison and Roy Orbison when they decided to form a band.  As fate would have it, Harrison needed a guitar he had let at Petty’s house and Tom became the fifth member of super-group The Traveling Wilbury’s.  What a lucky bastard.  It was during this period that Tom began writing songs with Lyne and wanted to record them.  His only issue was that they didn’t sound like Heartbreaker songs and Lyne was soon moving back to the UK…and so to the chagrin of all, he went solo.

I love this fucking album.  The fact that I love it just as much now as I did in 1989 only goes to show how awesome it is.  His bandmates may have been a little peeved that their name wasn’t on the cover, but the album did produce some their biggest live hits.  This album is so good it feels like a greatest hits album.  It shows a maturing Petty retuning to his roots with a cover of the Byrds  ‘I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better’ and giving a nod to Del Shannon in ‘Running Down a Dream.’  Most of the Wilbury’s appear on the album too…which I guess kind of makes it the lost Vol 2 in the Wilbury cannon.  Add that to the fact that there appears to be no filler material in this CD at all and you’ve got a prime album that everyone should own.

As good for lawn mowing as it is for loft camping…that’s for sure.

06
Mar
09

Joe Cocker – Mad Dogs and Englishmen

joe-cocker

I really wish more bands would learn a few cover songs to add to their repertoire.

When you go see The Rolling Stones, they obviously don’t need to ’cause they have 50 some odd years of material to play with…but with the newer bands out there it would really help.  It’s really disappointing to go see a hot new band and all they can play is the songs off their only album. I’ve sat through a couple of shows that ended like this:

“Sorry, that’s all the songs we know!  Goodnight!”

And I’m sitting there in the audience thinking “Really?!?! What kind of musicians are you???  You only know ten songs???” It’s at this point that the concept of the cover song becomes necessary.

So, if you are a musician in a band that is touring, learn some extra material.  Not only will it help stretch out your set and show your range, but it also gives you an encore when your album set is over. It’s such a no brainer that I have a hard time figuring out why more bands don’t do it.

And no one understood the concept of covering a song better than Joe Cocker.

Born in Sheffield in 1944, he made his first public performance on stage at age 12 with his brother’s skiffle band.(Is it just me, or was every UK musician required to be in a skiffle band at the time?)  A few years after, Joe formed his own band, The Cavaliers, but broke it up after a year when Cocker left school to pursue music full time.

By 1961, Cocker had taken on a new stage name and was playing local venues under the moniker of Vance Arnold and the Avengers…mostly doing covers of Chuck Berry and such. They reached their apex in 1963 when they opened for The Rolling Stones at a concert at City Hall.  Cocker was soon signed to Decca Records and released his first single, a cover of The Beatles ‘I’ll Cry Instead,’ but despite a huge promotional push by the label,  the single fell flat and he was dropped. This led to Joe’s dropping of the Vance Arnold name and forming a new band, Joe Cocker’s Big Blues…but after a tour of France, that band too was disbanded for lack of funds.  Cocker decided to take some time off from the music scene.

By this point Cockerwas well known for his gravelly vocals and high energy performances, and in 1966 he formed The Grease Band with friend Chris Stainton. After a string of local Sheffield performances, The Grease Band caught the attention of Procol Harem producer Denny Cordell, who brought a solo Cocker into the studio to record another single, ‘Marjorine.’ Soon the Grease Band was disbanded and Cocker and Stainton had moved to London where they would soon have a residency at the Marquee Club.

‘Marjorine’ proved to be a modest success, but Cocker soon hit paydirt with his classic rendition of the Beatles ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ which featured Jimmy Page on guitar and Steve Winwood on drums.  I’ll say this much, when Joe Cockercovers a song, he covers a song. The band went on tour with The Who in 1968, and after a early 69 tour With Gene Pitney, Joe and his band headed to the states for a tour of their own. His album “With a Little Help From My Friends” was released around the same time and soon went gold.

While on the tour, Cocker and his new Grease Band hit some big name shows like the Denver Pop and the Newport Rock Festivals, and so they were likely candidates to play at Woodstock. When the band arrived, they had to be flown in by helicopter due to the crowds, and played a legendary set that culminated in a rainstorm.

Cocker was on a roll.  Almost immediately after Woodstock he released his second album “Joe Cocker!”   His work on “Friends” won him fans like George Harrison and Paul McCartney who were happy to let him use ‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’ and ‘Something’ for his latest work. He hit the TV circuit and soon cemented his reputation as a dynamic performer…but by the end of 1969 Joe was burnt out.  Not wanting to do another tour, he dissolved the Grease Band again.

Unfortunately for Joe, a US tour had already been booked and He had only days to get a band together. Luckily, Leon Russell heard of his plight and offered to help put the group together.  By days end they had a band of ten people…including Russell and Stainton.  After four grueling days of twelve hour rehearsals and the addition of eleven back-up singers, someone suggested they film the tour.  The result was “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.”

Filmed on March 27th and 28th at the legendary Fillmore in 1970, the album captures not only Cocker’s energy, but the feel of the merry band of 43 musicians, family, and crew that made up the group as a whole.  This is the way Joe Cocker was meant to be heard.  You get all the hit’s: The Beatles covers, ‘Delta Lady’ and ‘The Letter’… but also quieter pieces like “Bird on a Wire’ and the Russell song ‘Girl From The North Country.’

The group disbanded two months later…as tensions in the band and Joe’s drinking began to get out of hand.  It’s a fitting close to the Woodsstock era…but the album captures that brief moment in time when it seems like it was all going to be alright.

The album is a must…and so is the DVD if you’re into that sort of thing.




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