“I Be Cold” by Yusef Lateef
You are currently browsing the archive for the Uncategorized category.
We’ve heard that actor Don Cheadle is currently working on a Miles Davis biopic to be titled Kill the Trumpet. We’re sure the music will be incredible — we enjoy Miles’ albums immensely, but no one here is really eager to spending a couple hours (or more) with his abrasive, arrogant, often unlikeable personality. It’s hard to imagine how this new film could be any more unappealing after a series of recent musical biographies that celebrate condor killers and junkies.
Why is it that Hollywood only celebrates the lives of drug addicts? How about highlighting an American legend who’s long, healthy life has been filled with exciting stories and collaborations with great musicians? Maybe one who has responded to success with humility and charity, rather than a life of decadent excess? See, we’ve been listening to a lot of our favorite Quincy Jones albums lately — the incredible big bands he led in the 60s that were brimming with talent, the awesome 70s jams he produced that virtually burst out of the stereo, and his incredibly varied and sophisticated film scores.
So in the more dignified tradition of inspirational musical biopics (Like the 1955 Benny Goodman Story), we’ve worked out a brief treatment of a story we’d enjoy. There are many opportunities for cameo appearances, so the movie stars can line up to audition for roles ranging from Count Basie to Michael Jackson. It also has the potential to have an awesome soundtrack…
We take the text for our story from his own recollections in an interview with Alex Haley in the July 1990 issue of Playboy.
Part I, Scene I: Quincy Jones grew up on the south side of Chicago, until his family moved to the Pacific northeast in 1950. A montage introduces his early influences, including a childhood neighbor, a grandmother, Count Basie and Ray Charles.
“Jitterbug Waltz” by Fats Waller
When I as five or six, back in Chicago … There was a lady named Lucy Jackson who used to play stride piano in the apartment next door and I listened to her all the time through the walls. And we used to listen to the songs my grandmother in St. Louis would play on her old windup Victrola — Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, all the greats.
I met Count Basie when I was thirteen years old, when he was playing at the Palomar Theater in Seattle. At the time he was the biggest and best big band leader in the world, but he took me under his wing and we formed a relationship that lasted the rest of his life. He was my uncle, my father, my mentor, my friend — the dearest man in the world. And his trumpet man, Clark Terry, practically adopted me. He taught me and talked to me and gave me the confidence to get out there and see what I could do on my own.
When I was about fourteen I went over to Bump’s house one night and there he was — This sixteen-year-old blind kid playing piano and singing “Blowin’ the Blues Away…” He already had his own apartment, he had all these women, he owned four or five suits. He was doing better than me, and he was blind man. So I just attached myself to him, and he became like a big brother to me. Taught me how to read and write music in Braille and how to voice horns and to deal with polytonality, and that opened up a golden door for me.
Part I, Scene II: 1952. Quincy joins Lionel Hampton’s band as a trumpeter and arranger, touring the United States and Europe
When I was fifteen [Lionel Hampton] gave me the chance to blow trumpet and write some arrangements for the band. Well, that was all the encouragemenet I needed to pack up and get on the bus. Only before we could pull out, his wife, Gladys, caught me on board and yanked me back onto the street. ‘That boy’s gonna finish his schooling before he gets back on that bus,’ she told Hamp. So I was highly motivated to finish high school so I could go join that band.
I was eighteen and [New York] was like heaven for me, because that’s where my idols were. Oscar Pettiford was like my big brouther and he introduced me to all of them: Miles, Dizzy, Ray Brown, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus, all the bebop dudes. They were the new generation of of jazz musicians, and they thought it was unhip to be too successful…But when they went into bebop we lost some of our greatest warriors, because the public rejected them and they didn’t make a dime, not one dime. They lived from day to day.
I got my first real exposure to segregation in the raw, and it just about blew my head apart. Every day and every night, it kept hitting us in the face like a fist.
Once, in Texas, we pulled into this little town around five in the morning and there was an effigy of a black person with a rope around his neck hanging from the steeple of the biggest church in town. Man that just fucked my mind up. I didn’t know how to handle it.
“The Chase” performed by Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra (from the 1954 LP Wailin’ at the Trainon, recorded shortly after the Orchestra’s European tour)
You’ll find the same attitudes in Europe as you’ll find anywhere else in the world. But in this country jazz and blues had always been looked down as the music of the brothel. In Europe, they were mature enough to understand it from the beginning for what it was: one of the true original art forms to come from America.
Part I, Scene III: 1057-60. Quincy lead his own band in two tours of Europe. Stranded with the band, Quincy struggles to make ends meet until he’s rescued by a friend, Irving Green, from Mercury Records. There he finds critical and commercial success producing jazz and then pop records.
The first [tour in Europe] was a gas, the second a disaster. I was asked to be the musical director for Barclay Records, a very innovative company in Paris that was run by Eddie Barclay and Nadia Boulanger. Before she went into the record business, Nadia had been the musical mentor to some of the greatest composers in the world — guys like Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky — and I can’t begin to tell you the lessons she taught me, not only about music but about living. It was through her that I got to meet incredible people such as James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Francoise Sagan, Josephine Baker, Pablo Picasso, even Porfirio Rubirosa. That year was wonderful.
“For Lena and Lenny” performed by Quincy Jones and his Orchestra (from The Quintessence)
They say you learn more from your setbacks than you do from your successes, so I guess I consider [the next tour] a triumph … When we got to Paris, the Algerian crisis had practically paralyzed the country and the show [The harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer musical Free and Easy] folded. We got stranded in Europe for the next ten months. Every week, I had to scuttle to cover the five thousand-dollar payroll, and I wound up hocking all my publishing companies to cover the nut. The pressure of trying to keep everybody afloat finally got so bad that once I seriously considered grabbing a handful of pills and just checking out. But that very night, Irving Green of Mercury Records, who was a friend of mine, telephoned and gave me the faith and courage I needed to hang in there.
“Soul Bossa Nova” by Quincy Jones, featuring Roland Kirk (from Big Band Bossa Nova)
I got an offer to join him as an A&R man. A&R stands for Artists and Repertoire — Which means you’re in charge of the people you pick and what they sing. So I had to put on a suit and go in to work every day at nine, but I got to do what I love, and I learned a lot about the business side of the music industry. Irving Green took me to school, man. I was producing people like Dizzy, Sarah Vaughn, Art Blakey, and they were getting great records.
“It’s my Party” performed by Leslie Gore
I was tired of producing jazz music that got great reviews, only nobody was buying it. So I produced a song — “It’s my Party” — for Leslie Gore and it went to number one on the charts… Then I started to conduct for Sinatra, and we made a record together and we worked the Sands in Vegas.
Part I, Scene IV: Producing film and television scores take Quincy to California.
It had been a dream of mine since I was fifteen, and I finally got my chance. I had scored a film for the Swedish director Arne Sucksdorff, and then Sidney Lumet asked me to write the music for The Pawnbroker, which got me an offer to score Mirage, my first picture for a major Hollywood studio. So I came out to LA and the people at Universal freaked when they got a look at me because they didn’t know I was black…And they tried to bail out of it. But Henry Mancini, who was a friend of mine, told them, ‘Hey fellas, this is the twentieth century. Don’t be stupid, and don’t strangle the baby in the crib — He can handle it.’ And I did.
Thanks to Benny Carter, who wrote the music for M Squad, I got to do the music for a few TV series and that led to movies like In the Heat of the Night and In Cold Blood.
“In the Heat of the Night” performed by Ray Charles (from In the Heat of the Night soundtrack)
“Whipping Boy” performed by Quincy Jones, featuring Roland Kirk (from In the Heat of the Night soundtrack)
Part I, Scene V: After several years of over-work, Quincy has two severe aneurism in 1974, nearly dying from the complications. Believing he will not survive, his family and friends arrange his memorial service, which he attends with a neurologist at his side in case of emergency.
“Money Is” performed by Little Richard ($ soundtrack)
I was pushing myself too hard, as usual. I’d been up for three days working and I was at home in Brentwood, in bed with my wife, when all of a sudden I felt this blinding pain, like somebody had blown a shotgun through my brain. It was just the worst pain I’d ever felt in my whole life and I was streaming, I didn’t know what was happening to me. Peggy called the paramedics but by the time they got there I had blacked out and gone into a coma.
I’d had an aneurysm. The main artery in my brain had popped and was pouring into my brain, which had swollen up so big they had to wait eight days to operate on me.
“Smackwater Jack” performed by Quincy Jones (a rare vocal appearance) (from Smackwater Jack)
That was the moment I realized for the first time that I didn’t have a three-pronged cord plugged into my body I could turn on at any time, whenever I wanted. Coming through all that — being blessed enough to come through that alive, it really was a miracle.
Tune in next week for Part II of The Quincy Jones Story!!!
150 years ago today Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Since we do not have a recording of it (we suppose today the sixteenth President would likely look out on a sea of raised cell phones) we will listen to this recording from Johnny Cash’s America: A 200 Year Salute in Story and Song.
Minnesota has a rich history of independent record releases and unique record labels. An A&R man from Numero Group once told us he thought the Twin Cities was the “private pressing” capitol of the world (private press is a record-guy term for self-released music). We certainly do have a lot of unusual local releases going back into the sixties, and more coming out every month it seems!
Last month the City Pages’ music blog named Minnesota’s top ten record labels in a post that also included a variety of “honorable mentions.” We were a little disappointed our friends at Piñata Records (Southside Desire, Narco States…) weren’t mentioned, and genuinely shocked that Minnesota’s most original, unique record label was also not added at least to the second list. We’re talking about Roaratorio Records, of course, which has released everything from avant garde jazz and modern classical to noisy indie rock and lost sixties psychedelia, all in dynamic, beautiful jacket. Listening to each album on this label has been an unexpected surprise. Today we’ve assembled a playlist of some tracks from favorites of ours.
The first Roaratorio release was an album by soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, a genuine jazz legend who took traditional jazz attitude into the avant garde beginning in the 1950s. We’ve never seen a copy, let alone heard it. The album was limited to 399 copies and each was painted by Judith Lindbloom (you can see several samples on the Roaratorio site).
By the time we started carrying Roaratorio releases here at Hymie’s copies of that first album, Sideways, were selling for big bucks to serious jazz collectors. The label’s most recent release then was not a limited pressing, but it was a pretty awesome treat for record collectors anyways — Family Evil is the first release of recordings by a “lost” California band from the 60s, Crystal Syphon. It’s hard not to compare them to the Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver, but they really had their own sound.
“Have More of Everything” by Crystal Syphon
Although Roaratorio doesn’t seem to be in the business of digging up old, unissued recordings, it’s pretty awesome they took on this one. Family Evil is sort of a psych rock version of what archival labels like Numero Group (or the Twin Cities’ own Secret Stash) are doing. Here’s another album of “lost” recordings they collected.
The songs on My Pipe Yellow Dream are composed and arranged Rodd Keith, but were issued under a variety of names and feature a variety of lyricists — he is considered the best known figure in the strange world of “song poem” production. Take a look at this advertisement we found in a 1978 issue of Batman.
Basically, you’d send your poem in to this address, and they’d let you know they liked it and could produce it for a fee. You’d send them a check and they’d give your poem to a guy like Keith, who would compose and produce an arrangement to suit it. Then they’d press a few 45s and send them to you. Sometimes your song was collected with those of others on an LP. As you can imagine these records are pretty hit-or-miss. Sometimes there’s a lazy disinterest to the arrangements, other times a stunning intensity. The lyrics are about what you’d expect for amateur poetry. These records are as rare as they are unusual, and Rodd Keith is considered to “the ‘Mozart’ of the song poem genre” (we found that on wikipedia). There have been several collections of his work including an earlier CD on Roaratorio, and it seems possible given the scarcity of many of these singles, that there’s more to be found.
My Pipe Yellow Dream is a surreal document of this musical subculture — it wasn’t quite a scam, because the people who sent poems, and then money, eventually got what they expected: their poem as a song on a record. It might have had absolutely no chance of ever becoming a hit, or of even being sent to a radio station as often promised, but there it was. Your song.
“You Don’t Have to Alibis”
Gussie is one of the best Roaratorio releases, but it is almost as impossible to find as the Steve Lacy album. It was limited to 436 copies, each with an original pencil drawing by Anne Elias on the cover. We have always loved the artwork on our copy, but can’t remember ever seeing another. Bet they’re all really cool looking. The album inside is just as unique as each jacket for this limited edition — the recording of George Cartwright’s Curlew was made in 2001 at Gus Lucky’s Gallery (which is no longer open) and is completely improvisational. They didn’t even start with a planned set list. Davey Williams performance on electric guitar is particularly awesome throughout.
“Hang your Hat”
A couple years later George Cartwright connected with Andrew Broder for another live recording (that’s the same Andrew Broder who recorded the Hymie’s Basement album in the old record shop with Yoni Wolf). In all the years we shopped at the old Hymie’s, before taking over the business, this was the one of the only new LP we ever bought there (the other was Willie and the Bee’s Out of the Woods). Although it is sort of electronic-based, the Broder/Cartwright collaboration is most appealing for its intimate qualities. At times it sounds like the Sam Rivers/Dave Holland recording from the 70s, at other times almost classical — like Schubert’s Moment Musicaux or something. This is a great lazy Sunday morning album.
Excerpt from side one of Andrew Broder/George Cartwright
Scraps and Shadows is our favorite jazz album on Roaratorio. There is another Joe McPhee and Chris Corsano album on the label (Under a Double Moon, recorded two years earlier) but it doesn’t have the same intensity and focus of this one. Maybe it’s that each track of its seven tracks (recorded at the Sugar Maple in Milwaukee) are dedicated to people, nearly all jazz musicians. Some are well known, others not so much. “For Paul Flaherty” is for the saxophonist with whom Corsano has worked and is the most exciting track. For this post we chose “For Jim Pepper” because, in part, we’re huge fans of his music as well.
“For Jim Pepper” by Joe McPhee and Chris Corsano
Drummer Kevin Shea gives The New Nixon Tapes a little more rock & roll drive than the McPhee/Corsano albums. Talibam! tears through two exciting side-long tracks on this free jazz jam. Daniel Carter, who alternates between the flute, trumpet and alto sax, is joined by Ed Bear, who is credited as playing tenor and “feedbacksaphone.” There is a synthesizer played by Matt Mottel working in between them — the results are sometimes chaotic and confrontational, and other times beautiful and melodic. This passage below is from the end of the second side, which, like the songs on Scraps and Shadows, is a tribute of sorts.
Excerpt from “Organist Dick Hyman, whose Art Tatum Studies Crowdsorcerers Swallow the Cornucopian Logic Of…”
The Knife World album is probably the best-selling Roaratorio Records release — it’s a guitar/drums duo (think thrashier Bloodnstuff) with a knack for infective early indie rock-sounding riffs. And the best part is the album’s incredible b-visual 3D jacket! It’s not the first album with a 3D cover (we’re not certain but we think that was the 1974 Grand Funk Railroad album Shinin’ On) but it does have a unique feature in that the viewing glasses are contained inside the album’s label!
“Salutations from Ancient Cum”
The following excerpts are copied from the back of Roaratorio’s release of Pauline Oliveros’ orchestra work, To Valierie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation. The album collects two performances of the piece, its 1970 debut and a 1977 reproduction.
Shortly after it was published in 1968 the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas fell into my hands. Intrigued by the egalitarian feminist principles set forth in the Manifesto, I wanted to incorporate them into the structure of a new piece that I was composing. The women’s movement was surfacing and I felt the need to express my resonance with this energy. Marilyn Monroe had taken her own life. Valerie Solanas had attempted to take the life of Andy Warhol. Both women seemed to be desparate and caught in the traps of inequity …
In the score all players have a non-hierarchical role. The parts for the piece are the same for each player and within the given guidelines each individual interprets their part differently. If any player starts to dominate the musical texture, the community that is created by the piece absorbs the outstanding sounds back in to the collective.
You can read Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto here. It was received as a satire along the lines of Swift’s “Modest Proposal” until she shot Andy Warhol at his New York studio, the Factory, on June 3rd, 1968. You can, of course, find most of Marilyn Monroe’s films online and we’ll leave it up to you whether she deserves more recognition, as Olivaros has written, as an actress. We think she does, but we’re not big fans of her singing.
If you’re interested in Pauline Oliveros, you can find out more about her forty year (and going) career in music on her official website. She is a highly regarded accordionist, the author of five books about music, and a pioneer of electronic art music. Important Records recently compiled a twelve-disc collection of her experimental electronic music from the 60s (and it’s already sold out!).
Part I of the 1977 recording of To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation
So there’s a short tour of Roaratorio Records. Most of these titles are still in print and we have them in stock at the shop — you can also buy them direct from the label if you’re reading this from outside the Twin Cities (check out their site here). They have just released a new Rodd Keith collection (their third) and will soon put out a Sun Ra album (Other Strange Worlds, which we are very excited about — hopefully it’s a sequel to the Strange Worlds collection of the BYG/Actuel albums and contains similar, awesome recordings from 1970-1).
The second of J.S. Bach’s six Partitas, composed for the harpsichord between 1726 and 1730. They were published under his personal direction (a first) as a set titled Clavier-Übung (“Keyboard Practice”) in 1731. Practice indeed, as they are some of his most demanding works for keyboardists.
The incomparable Wanda Landowska recorded the piece on a Pleyel harpsichord in the late 30s for Victor Records (hear the Sinfonia here). The harpsichords designed by the Pleyel company of Paris in many ways revived the antiquated instrument — they were modeled in part on a grand piano and in part on a traditional harpsichord. Landowski’s popular performances added to the instrument’s revival.
This recording is by Martha Argerich, who is best known for his recordings of 20th century works by composers like Oliver Messiaen and Serge Prokofiev, rather than Bach. Regardless, the private, somewhat enigmatic pianist is recognized as one of the contemporary greats, and her several recordings of the Partita No. 2 are considered tops by connoisseurs. We like it, too.
Can’t say we always agree with Questlove, but his book was a really great read — full of good stories (meeting KISS, roller skating with Prince, playing “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” for Michelle Bachmann) and interesting insights. The title hints at the 1990 Spike Lee movie, Mo’ Better Blues, specifically the scene where Denzel Washington laments the fact that his audience, as a jazz musician, didn’t include black people anymore. A younger musician, played by Wesley Snipes, counters his complaints, saying, “People don’t come because you grandiose motherfuckers don’t play shit that they like. If you played the shit that they like, then people would come, simple as that.”
Not so simple, really, as Questlove points out the conversation “is a dialectic in the classic sense; a way of setting an idea against its negation in the hope of finding a ray of light.” The drummer is a famously enthusiastic record collector, but most of the albums he writes about in Mo’ Meta Blues are getting pretty old. Hip hop itself is old enough to suffer from the same identity crisis that has crippled jazz for a generation or more. This book doesn’t really offer any solid answers, but it did remind us of just why we’ve enjoyed the Roots’ albums so much. Here’s some quotes that stuck out.
Just as I passed the elevator, the doors opened. Bing. Eight years old. And what I saw there was my worst nightmare come to life. It was Ace, Paul, Gene and Peter, all in the elevator, with bodyguards … I was excited and terrified and generally overloaded, so I let out the most high-pitched, blood-curdling scream you can imagine. I dropped the soda and ran so fast that I went past the elevator three times. The neighbors woke up. I was the little boy who cried KISS. (p. 22)
Every Monday there was a new rap single, so my goal was to find thirty-two dimes within a seven-day period so I could buy the next twelve-inch. If I saw a dime on the floor, it went into my pocket and I was one tick closer. If my mother asked me if I had put the dimes in the collection plate at church, I said “Yes, ma’am,” but they were in fact going to another higher power: a fund to help me buy records. And just like that, my record-buying obsession began. (p. 25)
Everything I learned about sex was from Prince. (p. 44)
I wish I could be there for every band’s label audition. I wish I could serve as a kind of fairy godperson. What I’d tell them is that all those tricks you’re thinking about using, all that razzle-dazzle — set it aside. Leave your innovations at the door. All a label wants are songs they can sell. (p. 98)
I have since learned that it’s a tricky thing to meet your idols, and even trickier when the thing you want from them is the thing that they do in public, but, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t do in private. IF you met Michael Jackson and asked him to moonwalk in front of you, you’d be disappoint. If you meet Prince and you want him to do a kickass guitar solo in front of you, well, that’s not going to happen. Most comedians I have met are quiet and depressed … Stevie Wonder is the exception to this rule. He knows you want him to sit down at the piano and launch into a brain-expanding version of “Ribbon in the Sky” and that’s exactly what he does. (p. 117)
You hear so much about the tortoise and the hare, and the beauty of that story is that the hare is always going to come smoking out of the gate but you know that eventually you’re going to see his car set up on the side of the road as the tortoise moseys past on the way to the finish line. But what if you’re the tortoise and you keep being passed by other tortoises? (p. 125)
You’d think at this point there’d be an understanding that I’m not faking, that I love music of all kinds. (p. 175)
As a young man I had practiced [DJing] at Philadelphia clubs … where I learned that sometimes bad records are just as important as good records. In other words, if I want to get an orgasmic response out of playing the horn intro to Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You,” then maybe it’s wiser if the two records just before aren’t as familiar or iconic. The mind adjusts to those other records, it relaxes.There’s a refractory period. I’ve tried things the other way, with nothing but peaks, but it backfires. By the nineteenth record people are worn out. They’re numb. (p 181)
The way were were treated by the critics, our unkindest reception yet, was also a tip-off that we were witnessing a sea change in the music-press establishment. We were now officially in the era of online critical sites, especially Pitchfork. Rich and I obsessively read every review of the album, and saw that many of the publications were using the same language as Nick Sylvester’s review for the site. For the first time, alternative weeklies around the country didn’t seem to be listening to the records themselves. (p. 211)
Roller skating at Prince’s party was cool. Watching Prince roller skate was cooler. (p. 224)
People had combed through every last lyric of every single Roots album, looking for a smoking gun — something violent, something misogynistic — and found nothing. There was no story there. Finally, the politically correct, mindful hip hop that we had been practicing from the beginning — the same thing that had maybe kept us off the charts or kept our posters off the walls of teenagers’ bedrooms — had worked to our advantage. (p. 264)
In February we posted some tracks from Whiskey with Goliath, a new EP by Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade, who were our big “band crush” at the time (that post is here). The disc is still on solid rotation here in the shop, and of course a couple months later Brian and his band were invited to open up the 39th Avenue stage at our third annual Record Store Day block party. More recently they played an awesome set during Hymie’s employee Tyler Haag‘s residency at the Nomad World Pub.
And this past week Brian Laidlaw dropped off a copy of his latest disc, which he recorded with Danny Vitali in Telephone Studio in San Francisco. The five-track Echolalia arrived just in time, a welcoming warm listen for a bitter cold, damn Monday morning. Where Whiskey with Goliath was marked with grandeur — exploring the American landscape, taking us on a trip across the continent in the first track alone — this disc is distinguished by its intimacy. Here the explorations are of the topography of the heart.
“The Bitterest Seed”
Stripped to simple arrangements as it is, Echolalia still bears much in common with Whiskey with Goliath. Laidlaw’s talent for turning a phrase in often unexpected directions is as sharp as ever. In the EP’s opening track, “The Bitterest Seed” and “Prodigal Son” he turns his insight to themes of aging and family. Both reminded us of songs that John Hartford had written on the same subjects (“In Tall Buildings,” “I Didn’t think the World Would Last this Long,” “Before they Tow my Car Away,” etc). Laidlaw’s take on the heavy stuff is similar; wistful maybe, a little bittersweet, but hardly gloomy. “The Bitterest Seed” builds steadily like the opening track of Whiskey with Goliath, “Drugstore Hucksters,” Laidlaw employing inflection to make up for the lack of a backing band, to good effect. The song’s repetition hits a sweet spot — it seems like a lot of Laidlaw’s songs have you singing along even the first time you’ve heard them.
Funny we didn’t sooner notice a similarity between Laidlaw, left, and Hartford (from the back cover of his 1969 self-titled album) because we love their songs for some of the same reasons. Both can be a little wordy — you’re going to have to listen to most songs a few times to really wrap your head around what’s going on — but both are really writing about simple, down-to-earth feelings. What’s especially loveable about Laidlaw is his singing. We’d like to see one of his songs launch him to a life of luxury and steamboat captaining (or whatever), like “Gentle on my Mind” did for Hartford in 1968, we just can’t imagine anyone else singing “Clotheslines” (or any other Laidlaw song for that matter).
No one else could have sung “Call Your Old Friends” without sounding like a sap — Where Hartford often comes off as sardonic, there’s an aching sincerity to Laidlaw’s honey-sweet voice. How he could write and so movingly perform the role of a father wishing for his son to return to the farm is beyond our imagination, and “Prodigal Son” is surely the saddest song he has yet written. Yep, consider our hearts broken, if only by its final line. Time to call home. And in it (“Every minute that you’re here repays a decade you were not”) we realize the song is not only referring to the parable of the prodigal son, as suggested by its title, but also the parable of the workers of the field (Matthew 20:1-16 if you’re looking for it). We are all so fortunate for the time we have together, whether its with friends of family, and we should be thankful for the grace that has provided it for us rather than looking around to see if life has been fair. If you are not a spiritual person it may just as well the be grace of your mother and father for all they have done for you, or the grace of the friends who have long forgiven you in your worst moments to be there with you at your best.
Echolalia lacks the energy of Laidlaw’s backing band, the Family Trade, making it a somber fall-time listen. In that its got the warmth of a familiar favorite already. Singer-songwriter is a tough role to play because so many people expect you’re going to be James Taylor or some other dinosaur shit and compare your every song to “Carolina on my Mind” while forgetting all the filler on 70s albums. Even Tapestry had a dud (“Way Over Yonder”) and if you ask us most James Taylor albums were 1/2 filler. We would love to hear a full-length album where the two sides, the epic feeling of songs like “Drugstore Hucksters” and “State Motto” and the intimacy of this new disc, meet. There hasn’t been a filler track on either EP (maybe that’s why they’re so short!). We’re guessing there’s many more songs yet to be heard. Hard to imagine Brian Laidlaw is ever at a loss for words.
Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade will perform at the Hymie’s-sponsored night of the Republic Bar’s new “American Roots” music series this Thursday, October 17th, at 9pm. Ellie Bryan (Crow Call) will perform an opening set. Our friend Patrick Harison has created the series (below is the entire bill for October) — Hymie’s will be back to spin records on Halloween along with Jack Klatt and the Cat Swingers.
You really can’t live in Minnesota without accepting the ever-changing seasons — those folks complaining about the weather are wasting your time. If you don’t like it just wait ’til tomorrow. Spring is welcomed and just as soon gone, replaced by those over-hot afternoons and dry, dormant lawns. Summer in its August glory gives way all too quickly to the cool evenings of September. Soon enough you’re huddled inside, sipping Cider and watching the neighbor across the street shovel his walk.
My own feelings for the seasons seem delayed. Never do I long to walk in a snowstorm more than the second week of May, and at no other time of the year would I more enjoy chasing the ice cream man with the kids than right around Thanksgiving. And right about now? I’m thinking about summer storms.
You’re in the garden, doing a mid-summer chore like weeding (you haven’t given up yet) and there’s a sudden quickening of the breeze. You can hear it in the trees. Soon you can feel an energy in the air as the sky gets darker. It even smells different. And then a few drops, a few more, and then its storming so wildly you scarcely have time to gather your tools and close the shed door before you’re soaked. Or maybe you’re in bed and the rustling of the leaves wakes you. You look out in time to see branches bending, a flash of light and a sudden sheet of rain filling everything out your window.
So many records have songs about the rain it would be impossible to come up with a definitive playlist — we’d never agree. “Rain” was one of the last subjects of Theme Time at the Turf Club, hosted by Pocahontas County, and I had a lot of trouble picking the songs to spin between sets, simply because there were so many…
Songs about the rain offer so many different things — it is one of the most varied ‘themed’ playlists you could create out of any record collection. From ELO’s bombastic “Concerto for a Rainy Day” (side three of Out of the Blue, which happily concludes with “Mr. Blue Sky”) to Pinhead Gunpowder’s “Mpls Song” (posted some time ago here), there is an incredible range. John Coltrane’s evocative “After the Rain” (on Impressions) has always been a favorite of mine, as has Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head.” Surely you have favorites, too.
None capture the majestic spectacle of a summer storm — how could something so majestic hold the same power over a single sense? If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know where we turn at times like this…
A couple years ago we featured a post called “Too Much” (here) about artists who released multiple albums on a single day, including Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, and, of course, KISS — All of them are entirely surpassed by a single concert on December 22nd, 1808, when Ludwig van Beethoven debuted his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna.
Many things distinguish Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony in F Major, although its premier was a disaster. It is one of only two given a title by its composer (The Pastoral Symphony) and it is a rare example of explicitly programmatic composition in his oeuvre. Another unique quality is that it is presented in five movements, the final three of which are a seamless program (the tracks run into one another, you know, like in The Wall).
The first movement’s richly developed theme is one of the most memorable in all of classical music, setting the scene for the countryside which the composer often visited while working in Vienna. In the second movement, set around a brook, Beethoven uses woodwinds to represent bird calls, much in the way the French composer and amateur ornithologist Oliver Messiaen would (he was recently featured here on the Hymie’s blog). Beethoven even identifies the birds in his score: the flute representing a nightingale, the clarinet a cuckoo and the oboe a quail.
The third, fourth and fifth movements are, as mentioned before, a continuous program. All three are in the symphony’s main key of F major. The third is often the subject depicted on album covers, such as this early 60s (date anyone?) recording by George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra. Beethoven titled it “Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute” (Merry gathering of country folk) — It is the symphony’s scherzo, or it’s light-hearted and fun passage, depicting a dance in the countryside. It grows and grows until a sudden interruption.
In one of the most sublime moments in all music, Beethoven interrupts the gathering with a summer storm. First a few drops from the strings, then with a striking intensity (especially from the double basses) comes the rain. It sounds as though the celebrants struggle to gather themselves and their things before they’re soaked, only to be inundated by the crashing thunder (tympani providing the only percussion) and waves of windy rain.
And in a stunning three minutes it’s passed, giving way to the Allegreto finale, the “Shepherds’ song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm,” as described by Beethoven. The passage transforms the Sixth from a mere portrayal of pastoral life to an episode within it.
(This track includes the coming of the storm, the storm, and its aftermath — the end of the third movement, the entire fourth, and the entire fifth — from an exceptional early 60s recording by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell)
And in a stunning three and a half minutes it is passed, giving way to the Allegreto finale, the “Shepherds’ song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm,” as described by Beethoven. The passage transforms the Sixth from a mere portrayal of pastoral life to an episode within it.
Other composers have created storms — Haydn ended his Symphony no. 8 in a similar fashion and Vivaldi naturally included one in his Four Seasons — But Beethoven’s cloudburst is the closest thing on record to the real thing. Now that the season has passed — September storms being simply cold and cruel — it’s all I have until I find myself wishing for a walk through fallen leaves by with Nillson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.”
“Superstition” may be one of the most universally beloved songs on record – few and far between are the freaks who won’t freely admit Stevie’s mastery of funkiness.
Remarkably, Stevie Wonder – strangely inured to his own genius – nearly gave the song away to instrumental rocker Jeff Beck. The well-known guitarist is credited with creating the drum part which opens and propels “Superstition”, although it is of course Stevie who played the mysterious and awesome instrument that gives “Superstition” is magical properties.
The question is why do we love “Superstition” so much? In a larger sense what is it about Stevie’s seminal 1970-1972 albums (Signed, Sealed & Delivered, Where I’m Coming From, Music of my Mind, and the boy wonder’s magnum opuses Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale)? Believe it or not the answer to our questions is first found in the music of the Baroque period…
Although the clavichord was invented in the fourteenth century, it was during the Baroque period that it achieved it’s greatest popularity, especially in Bohemia, the Iberian Peninsula, and Scandinavia. It’s assumed that many of the leading composers of Baroque music enjoyed performing on the clavichord in their homes, even if little music was specifically composed for the instrument.
Clavichords are too quiet for the concert hall, unfortunately. They are also among the most expressive keyboard instruments because the player has so much control over the duration and volume of each note. Pressing a key on a clavichord causes a hammer to strike the string in a way more similar to a guitarist’s “hammering” technique than a similar action inside a piano. The hammer remains in contact with the string, and as the player’s finger releases the key the string is dampened and thereby silenced. This allows the performer to create a punchy, percussive – potentially funky – sound on the instrument. See where this is headed?
In the 1960s Baroque music experienced somewhat of a short-lived revival, both in the classical world and in pop music. One of my favorite composers of the era, Burt Bacharach, began writing elaborate, narrative melodies often orchestrated with traditionally Baroque instrumentation. Bacharach’s orchestrations from this period frequently rely on flugelhorns for accent and color.
Classic psychedelic rock is filled with Baroque influences:
The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds is often identified as the high point of “Baroque pop”, fitting as Brian Wilson had been one of the first to explore the high-falutin’ sub-genre with his elaborate work on the second side of the 1965 album The Beach Boys Today! The era’s other leading acts followed suit: The Rolling Stones with “Lady Jane” and the Beatles with “Eleanor Rigby”, a track on which their voices were backed only by a string quartet arranged by George Martin (like many of the Beatles’ passing fancies, Baroque music was by and by the subject of ridicule, this time via George Harrison’s parody “Piggies” on the White Album).
Sophisticated baroque arrangements became commonplace in pop music, often occupying the upper echelon of the charts (Although remarkably many of the perennial favorite to come out of this era – the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed, the Bee Gees’ Odessa or the Zombies’ Odyssey and Oracle, for instance – would top Billboard’s US albums chart). Although it was enormously popular for a short time, inspiring not one but two Bacharach Baroque albums, the sub-genre faded rapidly as pop music took a turns towards rootsy-er, more basic influences like blues and classic country.
In this brief Baroque flourishing, Hohner introduced the Calvinet, an electronically amplified keyboard instrument based on the clavichord. It used electronic pick-ups in the same way as a guitar, although it was initially marketed at enthusiasts of Baroque and Renaissance music, not rock and soul performers. The Clavinet retained the intimate action of the clavichord as well as it’s percussive potential, and as an electronic instrument could be run through pedals the same as a guitar. It was only a matter of time before this modest, wood-paneled 60-key Baroque instrument would change popular music.
The earliest appearance of this instrument, first introduced by the German manufacturer in 1968, may have literally dropped out of the sky. Sun Ra’s 1969 album Atlantis is of greatest interest to his fans for establishing the framework in which he would work for the following decade with its side-long title track, but two songs on the flip of the disc feature “the solar sound instrument”, something that sounds distinctly like the Clavinet.
With some irony, it is an American-roots band (from Canada) who next fold the new instrument into the rock tableau – The Band’s keyboardist Garth Hudson played the instrument through a wah wah pedal on the group’s hit single “Up on Cripple Creek” the same year Sun Ra was exploring the distant expanses of the deep sea.
With Hudson’s innovative performance in “Up on Cripple Creek” (credited on the back of The Band as the “clavinette”) the potential of this mysterious new machine was revealed. Stevie Wonder was an early innovator, presaging “Superstition” with his reworking of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out”.
Sly Stone tapped into the Clavinet’s potential for subtlety with “Family Affair”, a song also remarkable as an early drum machine experiment.
On the flip side to his hit single “I Wrote A Simple Song” Billy Preston took the instrument to new funky heights in his first piece written for it, an instrumental called “Outta-Space”.
And then there was “Superstition”: All hell broke loose because everybody wanted to use the Clavinet now, yet few could engineer and perform at the level of Stevie Wonder. A year later, his own “Higher Ground” was the closest anyone came to the total awesome-ness of “Superstition”. My choice for a close second? Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time”:
Oftentimes in this period the Clavinet was used to establish a funky backing track, as with several tracks Bob Marley and the Wailer would record in the early 70s. Their first to feature a Clavinet, “Concrete Jungle”, remains one of the best, with the keyboards bubbling with lively energy underneath a searing guitar solo.
The Clavinet never played a central role in jazz fusion, despite the coincidental appearance of each in the late 60s and the instrument’s feature on what I imagine must be the genre’s most popular album, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. The fifteen minute “Chameleon”, not surprisingly a dancefloor favorite then and now, is entirely unimaginable without the Clavinet.
In fact, Hancock is pictured on both sides of the jacket seated at a Hohner D6 Clavinet, the most popular model.
So there you have it: Strange connections, unimagined consequences, and technological innovation driving new creations. I’d be surprised if you didn’t have several of these records on your shelves, or at least several of these songs saved in the computer through which you’re reading these words. Although very different from one another (you can’t get much further apart than Sun Ra and Garth Hudson, can you?) each owes it’s unique sound to an instrument that has not been made for years. In fact, more often than not the only appearances of a Clavinet in pop music are in the form of samples from songs recorded between 1969-1973.
When I tell people that listening to records and collecting them and reading the notes inside the jackets should be fun, this is what I’m talking about.