The most gifted and accomplished jazz singer of her generation, Cassandra Wilson strikes out in new directions—with spectacular results—on her latest Blue Note album, thunderbird.
Set for release on April 4, 2006, thunderbird is Cassandra Wilson’s sixth Blue Note release, the fifteenth album of her stellar career, and her first collaboration with producer T Bone Burnett.
At first glance, the contents of thunderbird may seem familiar to those listeners who have embraced such albums as Cassandra’s Grammy Award-winning New Moon Daughter (Best Jazz Vocal Performance, 1996). There’s a classic blues, a folk ballad, a couple of entries from contemporary songwriters, and three originals co-written by the artist.
But no other Cassandra Wilson album has had a sound quite like this one: dense, humid, almost tactile, characterized by live-on-the-floor performances accented by studio technology but still retaining their essential organic qualities. An acoustic bass line may play subtly throughout the tack, then move into the foreground with sudden and dramatic impact. A lone slide guitar, intertwined with Cassandra’s voice, can conjure the weight and density of a full band.
Credit Cassandra Wilson with once again breaking free of familiar formulae and easy routes. Credit producer T Bone Burnett with thunderbird’s atmospheric magic, and for assembling an exceptional supporting cast in sessions that took place between November 2004 through January 2005 at various studios in L.A. (Capitol, The Village Recorder, The Green Room, and T Bone’s own Electro Magnetic) and New York (Dangerous Music).
“You know, most modern recording studios are pretty much the same,” Cassandra notes. “That is, unless you doctor them. I think great producers know how to do that, and T Bone Burnett is certainly in that group of great producers.
“He makes certain modifications that I can’t really go into detail about, because I think they’re secret. There are personal techniques that he uses in order to cater the studio, to get the sounds he wants to get.”
(Not for nothing was Burnett named Non-Classical Producer of the Year in the 44th Annual Grammy Awards. That 2002 ceremony celebrated his work on the multi-platinum soundtrack album O Brother, Where Art Thou? and its sequel Down From the Mountain as well as on the album Fan Dance by singer/songwriter Sam Phillips. T Bone has worked with everyone from Elvis Costello to Ralph Stanley, and produced and/or composed music for such films as The Big Lebowski, Cold Mountain, and the forthcoming All the King’s Men starring Sean Penn and Jude Law.)
About that supporting cast: Keefus Ciancia (piano, keyboards, programming) has worked with Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Fishbone, Macy Gray, Allison Krauss, and Elvis Costello, and with vocalist Jade Vincent in the duo Vincent & Mr. Green. Electric bassist Mike Elizondo has become a marquee name on the on the charts through his songwriting and production for 50 Cent (“In Da Club”), Eminem (“Just Lose It,”), and Eve (“Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” featuring Gwen Stefani).
Canadian slide guitarist Colin Linden first worked with T Bone Burnett in 2000, when he contributed a version of Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” to O Brother Where Art Thou? Cassandra Wilson’s thunderbird crew also includes two members of her most recent touring band, Reginald Veal (acoustic bass) and Gregoire Maret (harmonica); guitarists Keb’ Mo’ and Marc Ribot; and the drummers Jay Bellerose, Jim Keltner, and Bill Maxwell.
Cassandra Wilson Talks About Songs From thunderbird
“Go To Mexico” – Cassandra, Keefus Ciancia, and Mike Elizondo created “Go To Mexico” from a studio jam. The vocal sample—the only such sound source heard on thunderbird—came from a vintage recording by the Wild Tchoupitoulas, a legendary tribe of New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians. Cassandra later added lyrics to the instrumental track.
“‘Go To Mexico’ was something we did at the tail end of the sessions. Mike started playing that sample, and we just started playing along with it. The sound and the tempo of those [sampled] voices is not a mechanical thing—it has a very life-like quality, and it became almost like another musician in the room.”
“Collaborating with more than one writer to this extent was a whole new experience for me, and I really enjoyed it.”
“I Want to Be Loved” – Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones recorded this Willie Dixon composition in up-tempo arrangements. But Cassandra’s version is slowed-down and playfully sensual, her voice framed by the guitars of Keb’ Mo’ and Colin Linden and the loose, funky duel drumming of Jim Keltner and Bill Maxwell.
“Colin Linden is someone I’d just met through T Bone, and he is wicked on that slide guitar! Colin turned me on to the song. I like to do these vintage blues songs, to make them part of my projects whenever I can.”
“Closer to You” – Composer Jakob Dylan introduced “Closer to You” on the Wallflowers’ 2002 album Red Letter Days. Cassandra plays acoustic guitar on this beautiful interpretation, with its remarkable Reginald Veal bass solo and Keefus keyboard accents. Even before the release of thunderbird, Cassandra had begun including “Closer to You” in her live shows.
“T Bone introduced me to that song and I fell in love with it. I really fell in love with the lyrics—I learned a lot about intimacy from singing the song and studying the lyrics. I think Jakob Dylan is like his father, an incredible songwriter. There’s so much depth of emotion in his simple words and plain language.”
“Easy Rider” – Cassandra transforms a Blind Lemon Jefferson classic of the Twenties into a dramatic, intoxicating seven-minute blues epic for the 21st century. It’s as close as we’ve ever heard her come—at least on disc—to the sound and spirit of Jimi Hendrix.
“There are two different blues songs known as ‘Easy Rider’—the one that’s often titled ‘C.C. Rider,’ and this one. I gravitated towards Blind Lemon’s song because of the lyrics, which are very strong, very powerful, and not typical: ‘There’s gonna be a time when a woman don’t need no man/So hush your mouth, stop raisin’ sand…’
“I’m a big fan of Blind Lemon Jefferson and that whole Texas crowd. I like to study all those different country blues styles—from the Delta, from southern Mississippi, from Louisiana and East Texas.”
“Lost” – This romantic ballad, with its echoes of Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday, is one of two tracks (along with “Strike a Match”) composed by T Bone Burnett for the Wim Wenders film Don’t Come Knocking (2005, with Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange). Co-produced by J.D. Foster, the song is perfectly rendered with nothing more than Cassandra’s tender vocal and Marc Ribot’s electric guitar.
“’Lost’ is definitely from that ‘standards’ school of songwriting, and this track was a whole performance with Ribot—a master, one of my favorite guitar guys.
“I always work from an entire performance. If you have problems with the sound—say, if there’s leakage—then you might have to go in and fix something. But I try not to go back and change that performance, because you can feel the difference even if you alter one line.”
Cassandra describes the thunderbird recordings as “a blueprint for the way these songs will be performed live. I still consider myself a jazz musician and a jazz vocalist, so improvisation naturally becomes a part of whatever we do on stage.
“You want the songs to grow in public, to develop a life apart from the recording—and I’m sure they will.”
On his classic 1967 album A Man And The Blues, Buddy Guy sang:
I think I’ll move back down South, where the weather suits my clothes
I done laid ’round this big city so long, man…oooh, until I almost done froze
On his new album Sweet Tea (Silvertone/Jive), Buddy Guy moves his music “back down South”–turning loose his incendiary guitar and powerfully expressive voice on a set of dirt-road rural blues originating from the hill country of North Mississippi.
This style of hill-country blues is separate and distinct from the Mississippi Delta blues pioneered by pre-war performers like Robert Johnson, Son House, and Charley Patton, and later amplified (literally and figuratively) by such Delta migrants to Chicago as Muddy Waters and Robert Nighthawk. In contrast to the familiar 12-bar blues pattern, the North Mississippi style is characterized by elongated bar lines and one- or two-chord modal forms. There is a kind of trance-inducing drone quality to these blues that seems to draw upon the music’s deepest West African wellsprings.
This album could be subtitled “Buddy Guy Sings Fat Possum,” for seven of its nine songs are taken from the repertoires of hill-country stalwarts like Robert Cage, T-Model Ford, and the late Junior Kimbrough. The musical careers of these men—along with those of R.L. Burnside, Paul “Wine” Jones, and Robert Belfour, among others—were either initiated or revived by the iconoclastic Fat Possum Records of Oxford, Mississippi. Today, Fat Possum’s catalog encompasses both raw field recordings (Junior Kimbrough’s Most Things Haven’t Worked Out, Johnny Farmer’s Wrong Doers Respect Me) and startling collaborations by country blues elders with contemporary remixers and rappers (R.L. Burnside’s Mr. Wizard, the various-artists collection New Beats From The Delta).
Jim “Jimbo” Malthus is a founding member of Squirrel Nut Zippers and the sure-handed rhythm guitarist on Sweet Tea. A native of Oxford, Mississippi, he notes that until the first Fat Possum albums arrived in 1991, “people that lived 20 miles from R.L. Burnside in Mississippi didn’t know about his music. I used to deer hunt in Holly Springs [Burnside’s home town] every year of my life, and I never knew about any juke joints around there.”
From the solo acoustic moan of “Done Got Old” to the last searing strains of his own composition “It’s A Jungle Out There,” the droning force of the hill-country style and the alternately ecstatic and agonized delivery of Buddy Guy make for one intense combination. Bassist Davey Faragher locks in with Jimbo Malthus on the hypnotic rhythms and heaving chord changes, pushed relentlessly by one of three drummers on the album—either the indigenous blues veterans Spam (of T-Model Ford’s band) and Sam Carr, or Los Angeles import Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello & the Attractions, John Hiatt).
Together, they can make the 12-minute workout “I Got To Try You Girl” seem to go by in half the time, and take Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp” to a place beyond not only his original 1967 version but those of Otis Redding and Salt-N-Pepa as well. The razor-sharp mix by album producer Dennis Herring and Clay Jones creates an almost palpably humid atmosphere, with Buddy’s voice and guitar cutting through it like summer lightning in the Mississippi night.
Born in the hamlet of Lettsworth, Louisiana on July 30, 1936, Buddy Guy has lived in Chicago since 1957. But the sound of Sweet Tea “takes me way back,” he says. Back to Lightnin’ Slim, who sat on the porch of the Lettsworth general store and played the first electric guitar Buddy ever heardback to his own early years on the rough Baton Rouge club circuit, as a fledgling guitarist in the bands of “Big Poppa” John Tilley and blues harp master Raful Neal.
“It reminds me of some of the things in the beginning—the Smokey Hoggs, the Sonny Boy Williamsons, the Lightnin’ Hopkins,” Buddy recalls. “All those people just playin’ for a drop of the dime in the hat. The Saturday night fish fries—you had fun, you woke up the next morning with a headache, you just drank the wine or the beer, grab the guitar and go doin’ it again.”
Yet Sweet Tea is not necessarily the album this artist would have made on his own. Beginning with Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues in 1991, the four-time Grammy Award winner (including Best Contemporary Blues Album in 1991, 1993 and 1995) has recorded contemporary songs by John Hiatt and Denise LaSalle alongside blues classics by Jimmy Reed and Charles Brown. His five Silvertone albums have featured guest appearances by friends ranging from Travis Tritt and Paul Rodgers to Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. (Guy’s fourth Grammy Award—Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1996—was for “SRV Shuffle,” an all-star jam track from A Tribute To Stevie Ray Vaughan).
But Sweet Tea would be a brand-new bag for Buddy Guy, conceived and organized by his long-time fan Dennis Herring. In 1997, this well-respected producer of best-selling albums by Counting Crows and Jars of Clay had relocated his Los Angeles studio back to his home state of Mississippi.
“I just found myself getting steeped in that sound,” explains Dennis, who grew up in a small town near Tupelo. “I saw a T-Model Ford show, just him and Spam, that blew me away. You’d hear that music everywhere, almost in a subliminal way, like part of the water—yet it was a kind of music that even the general blues audience hadn’t really been exposed to.”
Herring continues: “I’ve always been a huge Buddy Guy fan, though I felt that in recent years his records had gotten very ‘studio-like.’ But about three years ago, I heard him on a live radio broadcast and he sounded so incredible”
“So in the back of my mind was the wish for Buddy to make a record in a setting that was older, more real, that would capture the energy and intensity he still has. And I wanted to see an outside artist come in and expose this hill-country style to a whole new audience. Finally, it all just clicked.”
“Buddy was a little out of his element at first,” Jimbo Malthus recalls. “He would say [referring to his classic Chess Records sessions of the early Sixties], ‘Well, the Chess brothers would make you have at least four verses before you cut a song.’ Whereas a lot of this stuff is more repetitive, more of a feeling than a particular lyric or verses, and sometimes very idiosyncratic. It would have been daunting for anyone who wasn’t familiar with the style, but Buddy just jumped right in.”
“Every time he came in the studio, it was like a gift he was pouring out. We played five or six hours straight, every night, all in one big room.”
The Sweet Tea sessions took place over ten days in July 2000, with band and producer rehearsing the songs—but not too much—for a few days before Buddy’s arrival.
“I was feelin’ just like I felt when Muddy Waters and them would call me to come in and make a session with them,” says Buddy about the deceptively casual but relentless playing of the Sweet Tea band. “I never did go in and rehearse with the Wolf, Muddy or Little Walter. They would have these other guys ready to make this session, and they would say, ‘Well, I know who’ll play it right. Call Buddy.’ And sometimes they would get me out of bed and I would go in.”
“So when these guys was brought in, I’m listenin’ at this and sayin’ “Wow, I can play this—I feel good behind this!” And whatever the song was, the guys played great.”
Buddy employed his trusty Fender Stratocaster on “80 or 90 per cent” of Sweet Tea. He loved the selection of vintage amplifiers assembled by Dennis Herring.
“He went back and pulled out some of these old amps,” Buddy enthuses. “I said, ‘Man, leave that right there!’ That’s the way amplifiers used to be—all you had to do was just go in the studio and plug it in. Those things got a tone, a tone like you can’t find in amplifiers anymore now. When Dennis brought those amps out down there, the hair stood on my head.”
In 2001, Buddy Guy is still the king of Chicago blues. But Sweet Tea shows how much more of the blues—how much more music—lives within in him, more than 40 years into his amazing career.
“You never lose things like that,” says Buddy Guy of this vivid, vital, down-home sound. “That’s the way music was before it got too much tech and too many people. People just learnt it, man, and you’d just go on and on.”
“If you came up in that time like I did, you don’t lose that, ever.”
For the Allman Brothers Band, the road goes on forever. But when spring comes around, the veteran touring group pulls into the venerable Beacon Theatre in New York City for its annual “March Madness” run of SRO performances.
On March 24, 2002, the Brothers played the ninth and final show of their 2002 Beacon Theatre series. With this performance, the band extended its record to a total of 112 sold-out Beacon shows since the inception of “March Madness” with four shows in 1989.
The month of March is a significant one in the Brothers’ history. On March 26, 1969 in Jacksonville, Florida, guitarist Duane Allman convened a jam session with bassist Berry Oakley, guitarist Dickey Betts, and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks. It was the first musical meeting of the group, which—with the addition of Duane’s younger brother Gregory Allman on vocals and Hammond organ—would become The Allman Brothers Band—one of the most acclaimed and influential groups in the history of rock and roll. In addition, “March Madness” coincides with the anniversary of the March 12-13, 1971 re¬cording of the band’s landmark double live album, At Fillmore East.
Thus, the annual Beacon Theatre run serves as both a commemoration of the Brothers’ incredible history and a testament to their creative vitality. Now, the sounds of “March Madness” are captured on Peakin’ At The Beacon, the new live album from the Allman Brothers Band (Epic Records/Sony Music) , recorded over 13 nights (March 9-25, 2000) at the Beacon Theatre. These performances were dedicated to the memory of the late Joe Dan Petty, the Brothers’ long-serving guitar tech, who died in January 2000 in the crash of his private plane near Macon, Georgia.
In compiling this 74-minute collection, the band members made a conscious effort to select songs not previously performed on the live albums At Fillmore East (1971), An Evening With the Allman Brothers Band (1992), and Second Set (1995). Indeed, the ten songs on Peakin’ At The Beacon bring the Brothers “back where it all began” with no less than four tunes from their self-titled 1969 debut album. These include the opening medley of instrumental rave-up “Don’t Want You No More” and Gregg Allman’s slow blues “It’s Not My Cross To Bear,” and the blues-rock classic “Every Hungry Woman” and “Black Hearted Woman.”
Other highlights include Gregg’s moving and mournful soul ballad “Please Call Home,” from the 1970 album Idlewild South; and Dickey Betts’ vocal feature “Seven Turns,” the title track from the Brothers’ 1990 comeback album and Epic label debut. Peakin’ At The Beacon closes with the incredible instrumental journey known as “High Falls.” The song first appeared on Win, Lose Or Draw (1975), but this version—nearly 30 minutes in length—explores the full range of its melodic and rhythmic potential, including an extended break featuring ABB drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks and percussionist Marc Quiñones. “High Falls” garnered a nomination for Best Rock Instrumental in the 43rd annual Grammy Awards.
The Brothers’ 2000 shows marked the Beacon Theatre debut of Derek Trucks, who replaced Jack Pearson in the lineup in the summer of ‘99. The 21 year-old slide guitar prodigy is the nephew of drummer and founding band member Butch Trucks. When not on the road with the ABB, Derek tours tirelessly with his own Derek Trucks Band, which has released two albums (The Derek Trucks Band and Out Of The Madness). Derek has toured as a member of Phil Lesh & Friends, and has recorded with Gregg Allman, Gatemouth Brown, Johnny Copeland, and Junior Wells. On stage, he’s sat in with Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, and Susan Tedeschi, to name a few.
In May 2000, the Brothers announced that guitarist Dickey Betts had been replaced by Jimmy Herring for the remainder of their 2000 touring season. The following spring, Warren Haynes had rejoined the group as its lead guitarist. The Brothers toured relentlessly in 2001 as Warren juggled his own band Gov’t Mule and a prior commitment to gigs with Phil Lesh & Friends. March 2002 finds the Brothers’ lineup solidified, with Haynes entrenched in the guitar slot along with slide guitar sensation Derek Trucks. The band debuted new songs at the Beacon this spring from an album that is already partially recorded for release in the near future. The “Peach Corps” of ABB fans have made this year’s nine shows an instant sell¬out, running the band’s career total to 112 sold-out nights at the Beacon Theater
The Story So Far
The Allman Brothers Band defined Southern Rock. The originators of a sound that continues to be hugely influential on contemporary rock, they spawned a host of bands that drew on their model—proving only that the genius of the ABB could be imitated, but never duplicated.
In 1969, Florida-born guitarist Duane Allman left Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where he’d established himself as an in-demand session player on recordings by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, King Curtis, and Boz Scaggs, among others. Seeking to form his own dream band, Allman recruited bassist Berry Oakley and guitarist Dickey Betts from a Jacksonville, Florida band called The Second Coming.
He also tapped not one but two drummers: the r&b veteran Jaimoe (then known as Jai Johanny Johanson), who had worked with Otis Redding, Joe Tex and Percy Sledge; and Butch Trucks, late of a Jacksonville folk-rock group, The 31st Of February. Hammond B-3 organist and lead vocalist Gregg Allman had recorded two albums with brother Duane as part of the LA-based band Hourglass, and was developing into one of the finest white blues singers of all time.
The Allman Brothers Band’s sonic trademarks were all in place by the time their self-titled debut album was released in 1969 (see discography below). Driven by the relentless propulsion of Jaimoe and Butch, Gregg’s colorful keyboard comping and Berry’s deep, melodic bass lines, Dickey Betts and Duane Allman crafted a unique twin lead guitar approach which took its cues from both jazz horn players (particularly Miles Davis and John Coltrane) and the twin-fiddle lines of western swing and bluegrass. Together, they rewrote the rulebook on how rock guitarists could play together, and paved the way for every two- and even three-guitar band that followed in the ABB’s wake.
“Most fans had never heard anything quite like the mercurial solos and meticulous counterpoint effortlessly unreeled by Duane Allman and Betts,” wrote author Joe Nick Patoski in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll (1992, Random House). “In many respects, indeed, the Allman Brothers Band had become one of the most impressive bands in the country.”
On their first four classic recordings—The Allman Brothers Band, Idlewild South, At The Fillmore East, and Eat A Peach—the ABB perfected a sound that effortlessly combined rock, blues, country and jazz on such unforgettable original tunes as “Dreams,” “Revival,” “Midnight Rider,” “Melissa,” and “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed.” By 1971, they were poised for superstardom. Even the tragic deaths of both Duane Allman (on October 29, 1971) and bassist Berry Oakley (on November 11, 1972) in eerily similar motorcycle accidents couldn’t stop the band’s upward trajectory.
The success of the No. 2 Pop single “Ramblin’ Man” was the start of a mid-Seventies run (with the four surviving original members joined by bassist Lamar Williams and keyboardist Chuck Leavell) that ended only when internal conflicts sundered the group in 1975. A third incarnation of the ABB was formed in 1978 for the album Enlightened Rogues but after two further albums, the group disbanded once again.
Yet the pull of their roots proved too strong for the Brothers to remain apart forever. In the summer of 1989, the Allman Brothers Band launched a 20th Anniversary Tour with Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe complemented by slide guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody (percussionist Marc Quiñones joined in 1991). Signed to Epic Records, the new lineup returned to the recording studio with Tom Dowd for three studio albums and two live sets. (Dowd is the legendary producer and engineer who manned the controls for Idlewild South, Eat A Peach, and Enlightened Rogues.) Of the ABB’s Epic label debut Seven Turns, The New Yorker wrote: “The Brothers play with the energy of teenagers and the ornery wildness of veteran blues men.”
In an increasingly predictable world of prefabricated pop, the ABB’s peerless musicianship and extravagant flights of improvisation earned the group a new audience—one that transcended generational and regional boundaries. Their lengthy annual tours grew to include multi-night stands: six shows at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, five nights at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. In October 1989, the Allman Brothers Band headlined the Beacon Theatre in New York City for four nights, inaugurating a live performance tradition.
Nineteen ninety-four was a banner year, though not an untypical one, in the recent history of the Allman Brothers Band. The group made five live network television appearances; played 90 live dates including the H.O.R.D.E. tour, which the Brothers headlined; turned in one of the best, most exciting sets of Woodstock ‘94; and was voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in its first year of eligibility. “In terms of sheer creativity, they’re experiencing the strongest second wind of any act,” noted The New York Daily News. “For sheer soloing ability, not only do the Allman Brothers run circles around any¬one of the present generation, they outperform anyone of their own…Their road deserves to go on forever.”
In the 38th Annual Grammy Awards held in February 1996, the Allman Brothers Band won the first Grammy in its 27-year history: Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Jessica,” a track from the acclaimed live album 2nd Set. This 16-minute improvisation may be the longest single non-classical performance ever to win a Grammy. (Another track from 2nd Set, “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed,” was also nominated in the Pop Instrumental category.)
In the spring of 1997, Warren Haynes and Allen Woody left the Allman Brothers Band. Their successors were Oteil Burbridge on bass and Jack Pearson on guitar. Acclaimed by critics and fans alike as the rising star of electric bass, Oteil also performs with his own band, the Peacemakers, and on occasional reunion shows by his former group, Aquarium Rescue Unit.
[Warren and Allen, along with drummer Matt Abts, found an eager audience for their new band Gov’t. Mule. Sadly, Allen Woody died at the age of 44 on August 26, 2000. In September, the Brothers organized and performed at “One For Woody,” an all-star benefit concert at Roseland Ballroom in New York. The evening featured over five hours of music by the Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh & Friends, The Black Crowes, and special guests Little Milton, Leslie West, and Edwin McCain.]
In June 1998, Epic Records released Mycology: An Anthology. This collection features eight tracks culled from the Brothers’ Epic catalog: “Good Clean Fun” and “Seven Turns” from Seven Turns; “End of The Line” and “Get On With Your Life” from Shades Of Two Worlds (1991); “Nobody Knows” from An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band (1992); “Sailin’ Cross The Devil’s Sea” from 2nd Set (1995); and “No One To Run With” and “Back Where It All Begins,” from Where It All Begins (released 1994, certified gold in November 1997). In addition, Mycology includes two bonus tracks: a live acoustic version of “Midnight Rider” from the limited-edition benefit CD for the Rhett’s Syndrome Foundation; and a previously unreleased version of “Every Hungry Woman,” recorded live at the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival by the original lineup of the Allman Brothers Band.
The Brothers have toured nationally every year since 1989, averaging over 60 live shows per year. The tradition continues in 2002 when the Allman Brothers Band returns to the Beacon Theatre for the next installment of “March Madness.”
Perhaps no one has said it better than Willie Nelson in his induction of the Brothers into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:
“The Allman Brothers Band took what moved them and merged it into something unique that audiences love: a sound that redefined the direction of rock and roll, and opened the doors to a spirit of experinentation that continues in today’s music.
“The Allman Brothers Band were and still are one of the most exciting live bands ever to hit the stage. They became road warriors with a vengeance and left devoted fans wherever they went…[The ABB is] a band that reflects so many of my sentiments about music: originality, a determination not be confined musically or stylistically but instead to forge your own way and make music that moves you, a devotion to the road, and understanding that beyond pleasing yourself as an artist, the only other consideration should be the people, the fans who come to hear you.
“And so with pleasure, I give you rock and roll’s greatest jammin’ blues band, the Allman Brothers Band!”
On a visit to my former Sony Music office circa 1999 from his adopted city of Stockholm, the one and only Izzy Young entrusted me with a reel of analog tape containing his one and only recording of Tim Buckley’s first New York concert. Appearing March 6, 1967 at Izzy’s Folklore Center in Greenwich Village. Tim performed a lengthy set for an estimated 35 listeners accompanied only by his own 12-string acoustic guitar.
For the next eight or nine years, I made sporadic unsuccessful efforts to get this tape released by a legitimate record company. Finally, in 2008, my good friend Josh Rosenthal of Tompkins Square stepped up to the plate with a reasonable financial offer; the determination to navigate a minefield of clearances and permissions, and — most importantly — an innate understanding of the power, beauty, and significance of this remarkable performance. In contrast to all previous posthumous releases (Live in London from ’68, Honeyman from ’73, etc.) Folklore Center is the only solo live Tim Buckley recording that has emerged to date. “He plays sixteen songs,” Josh Rosenthal marvels, “and never hits a wrong note.”
Josh and the staff of The Magic Shop have worked small wonders of engineering to improve the sound of Izzy’s one-microphone recording, and the result is not only a must-buy for any fan of Tim Buckley but perhaps the most important non-box set archival release of 2009. This RollingStone.com article is the first shot in what will surely be a fusillade of media acclaim (deserved, for once) for Tim Buckley – Live at the Folklore Center, NYC – March 6, 1967.
The premier country music venue in New York, the Texas-themed Lone Star Café opened in February 1976 and was recognizable for many blocks by the 40-foot sculpture of a spiny iguana (created by artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade) that sat on the roof of the building. In the narrow, rectangular interior, a winding staircase at one side of the low stage led to additional seating in the balcony where patrons craned their necks for a better view of the show.
Willie Nelson and Roy Orbison made their first New York appearance in many years at the Lone Star, in 1979 and 1981 respectively. John Belushi and Dan Akroyd debuted there as the Blues Brothers in 1977. Other Lone Star headliners included Carl Perkins, Delbert McClinton, Memphis Slim, Bobby Bare, Roy Buchanan, Jerry Jeff Walker, Albert Collins, Irma Thomas, and Ernest Tubb. Singer/songwriter and 2006 Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman was long-running attraction, and his 1987 detective novel A Case of Lone Star is set in the milieu of the club.
When the Lone Star Café closed in April 1989, owner Mort Cooperman already had opened the larger Lone Star Roadhouse at 240 West 52nd Street. The scene of Garth Brooks’ first New York appearance, it was shuttered circa 1992.
Trying to precisely define the term describing black music performed by white artists can be a slippery slope — while some of the genre’s greatest practitioners are among its most obscure.
One night in early December, I sat with music-business veteran and fellow Hall of Fame voter Gregg Geller in a Manhattan nightclub. When the conversation turned to the topic of this essay, he reflected: “ ‘Soul’ as a vocal quality is timeless, eternal. But ‘blue-eyed soul’ is a moment in time.”
Gregg was referring to a pop-music phenomenon whose rise and fall paralleled that of African-American soul music itself. Among its spiritual predecessors were Bing Crosby (“The first hip white person,” according bandleader Artie Shaw); Johnnie Ray, whose histrionic style borrowed heavily from black gospel and early rhythm & blues; and Elvis Presley, who scored across-the-board hits on the pop, country and R&B charts alike.
When I e-mailed some twenty music aficionados around the country, informally soliciting their favorite “white soul” artists and recordings, their enthusiastic replies cited nearly seventy artists, spanning the musical alphabet from Mose Allison to Timmy Yuro. A New York label entrepreneur’s all-British list included Tom Jones, the Bee Gees and Simply Red. A Georgia journalist named prewar jazzmen Bix Beiderbecke and Jack Teagarden. A New Jersey memorabilia dealer vouched for Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad and the Four Seasons’ Frankie Valli.
But soul music “has a beginning and an end,” noted another respondent, Dan Hodges of Berkeley, California, in his provocative three-thousand-word (!) response. “I’m unwilling to call something ‘white soul’ that wasn’t recorded during the historical period of soul music. Whatever else, for example, the Beastie Boys may be, I don’t consider them blue-eyed soul.” In awarding his soul seal of approval to the Motown recordings of the little remembered singer Chris Clark and Dusty Springfield’s landmark Dusty in Memphis, Hodges established two compelling criteria for the sound:
“One . . . is that the white singer and song should ‘fit’ with what we recognize as soul music already. It would mean that, for example, the white soul singer was recorded by a record company that released soul records and that the records were made as they would have been with a black singer.”
“Two . . . is that the white singer’s performances should be accepted as soul music since they would be so accepted if sung by blacks [italics added] . . . and [that] if a black singer recorded the song, it would be considered soul. In contrast, whether a white group or the Supremes made an album of Rodgers & Hart show tunes, it wasn’t soul music.”
Dan’s definition would accommodate such exponents (whether famed or forgotten) as the Righteous Brothers, the Magnificent Men, Roy Head, Eddie Hinton, Len Barry, Billy Harner, Roland Stone, Bob Brady & the Con Chords, Bob Kuban & the In-Men—even Lulu (in her Muscle Shoals period) and Charlie Rich (whose version of “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” predated that of Sam and Dave). But it would exclude Hall of Fame inductees the (Young) Rascals, as well as the Box Tops, Tony Joe White, Bobbie Gentry, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Sir Doug Sahm, Laura Nyro, and the Spencer Davis Group featuring Stevie Winwood – to mention just a few more names that came over my Internet transom._
[Gregg Geller’s personal favorite, Aesop’s Fables, were from Huntington, Long Island. “Performing Stax, Motown and especially James Brown’s hits of the day,” he recalls, “their lead singer Sonny Stiles was one of the greatest live performers it has been my privilege to witness. To complicate matters (this is America, after all), Sonny was Puerto Rican – which I guess makes him a brown-eyed blue-eyed soul artist.”]
Wayne Cochran, the Rationals and the Temptones are three classic examples of the profound impact of soul music on a generation of white performers.
Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, Wayne Cochran may have done more than any other single white performer to spread the gospel of Southern soul music – and he did so without having anything close to a hit record.
Born in Thomaston, Georgia, in 1939, Cochran was a close friend and frequent performing rival of Hall of Fame inductee Otis Redding in the early Sixties. (Wayne played bass on Otis’s second single, “Shout Bamalama,” in 1962.) In 2001, Cochran described his red-dirt upbringing to author Scott Freeman in the Redding biography Otis!: “Father a cotton-miller and moonshiner. Grandfather a paid-up member of the KKK for life. . . . Music just takes all that away. You appreciate someone’s talent and they become your idol. Who cares what color?”
His imposing six-two figure topped by a towering white-blond pompadour, Wayne fronted a skin-tight, horn-heavy band known as the C.C. Riders that served as an incubator for such gifted musicians as bassist Jaco Pastorius, later of Weather Report. In a 1994 essay, writer James Porter noted that throughout the Sixties, Cochran regularly performed in “the same places as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. At a time when Black soul acts who played that circuit . . . were reduced, in their heyday [italics in original], to doing stuff along the lines of ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business,’ the fact that Cochran could get away with performing maximum r&b for a blue-haired audience is significant.”
Cochran recorded sporadically for such labels as King, Chess and Mercury, but his closest brush with the Hot 100 came when his version of Bob and Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” bubbled under for a few weeks in late 1965. As a songwriter, however, Wayne had better luck. In the fall of 1964, his classic tale of teen tragedy, “Last Kiss,” became a Number Two pop hit for J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, obliterating Cochran’s original version on King. Thirty-four years later, Pearl Jam cut the song in one take at a pre-show sound check and pressed it up on a seven-inch single as a fan club giveaway. Radio programmers picked up on the track, which took on an unexpected poignancy in the wake of the April 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. By the year’s end, “Last Kiss” had reached Number Two and become Pearl Jam’s highest-charting song to date.
Wayne Cochran retired from the music business in the early Eighties and today is a pastor at the Voice of Jesus Christian Center in Hialeah, Florida. “In the end, it wasn’t music to me – it was a cause,” he told Scott Freeman. “. . . What we did, we took soul and r&b music and dressed it up like Las Vegas. And while they weren’t lookin’, we snuck up behind them!”
In 1965, four Temple University students – Daryl Hall, Paul Fogel, Ken Halpern and Brian Utain – were performing around Philadelphia as an a cappella vocal quartet called the Temptones. After Fogel enlisted in the Air Force, another Temple student, Barry Glazer, replaced him.
The new lineup recruited a rhythm section and shifted its repertoire away from doo-wop revival standards toward contemporary soul music, with a particular emphasis on the songs of their idols, the Temptations. A typical Temptones set might include the Spinners’ “I’ll Always Love You,” the Miracles’ “Ooh Baby Baby,” and such Tempts favorites as “I Wish It Would Rain” and “My Girl.”
“The Temptations’ harmonies were tighter and more melodic than [those of] the doo-wop groups,” says Barry Glazer. “Daryl, who was a music major at Temple, did all the vocal arrangements and was our main lead singer.”
When the Temptones finally met the Temptations, backstage at Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater, the Motown stars were impressed by the white group’s unaccompanied rendition of an early Tempts ballad, “Farewell My Love.” Temptation Paul Williams became a solid supporter, buying the white kids some new stage clothes and later arranging for an audition with Smokey Robinson (a Motown recording contract was not forthcoming, however).
When the group took second place in a James Brown Talent Show at the Uptown (coming in behind the Ambassadors but ahead of the Delfonics!), WDAS jock Jimmy Bishop brought them to local indie Arctic Records. On their 1966 sessions, the Temptones were backed by many of the session players who would later form MFSB – the musical backbone of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records.
Barry Glazer and Daryl Hall co-wrote the group’s first single, “Girl I Love You,” as well as the followup, “Say These Words of Love.” “‘Girl I Love You’ went Top Twenty on some local radio charts and got us on TV shows with the deejays Hy Lit and Jerry Blavat,” Glazer recalls. “We also played two Freedom Shows, big concerts sponsored by the NAACP. We almost always played with black acts.”
Neither disc did anything to extend the Temptones’ appeal beyond their home turf. A second Freedom Show at Convention Hall would have been the group’s last gig but for the thunderous reception that greeted their rendition of “Old Man River” (in the Temptations’ arrangement, naturally). This led to a showcase for the Ashley Famous Agency at New York’s Village Gate, where the Temptones’ rhythm section included one John Oates on guitar. It was the first time he and Daryl Hall had ever performed onstage together.
Following some personnel changes, the Temptones disbanded for good in 1969. “John and Daryl started doing music together,” says Barry Glazer, “and the rest is history.” (Hall and Oates released their debut album, Whole Oates, in 1972.)
“But the Temptones were pretty damn good and very unusual for our time,” he adds with a chuckle. “We didn’t even like the Beatles. I mean, we really wanted to sound black!”
Of all the white teen rock & roll bands to emerge from the Great American Garage in the mid-Sixties, none interpreted contemporary soul music with more skill and passion than the Rationals, from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Scott Morgan (vocals) and Steve Correll (guitar), fellow students at Forsythe Junior High in Ann Arbor, formed the embryonic Rationals in 1963 and were joined within a year by Terry Trabandt (bass) and Bill Figg (drums). By then, their focus had shifted from guitar instrumentals to a blend of hip British Invasion covers (Pretty Things, Them, et al.) and promising originals. Meanwhile, Morgan recalls, “Steve Correll’s mother would drive us to the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit to see the Motortown Revue shows with Little Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, everybody. We’d be among the few white kids in the place.”
Jeep Holland was the group’s manager, the founder of the A2 (A Squared) label and a dedicated collector “extremely well-versed in rhythm & blues,” says Scott Morgan. “Jeep was the one who turned us on to songs like ‘I Need You’ by Chuck Jackson, ‘Listen to Me’ by the Esquires and ‘The Entertainer’ by Tony Clarke.” In late 1966, Holland chose an Otis Redding song called “Respect” for the Rationals’ third A2 single. This recording anticipated Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” by nearly a year and – in light of its local-hit status in her hometown of Detroit – likely influenced the Queen of Soul’s own arrangement.
Creeping to Number Ninety-two, “Respect” became the Rationals’ sole Billboard chart entry. Several more intense and soulful singles followed; none broke nationally, despite heavy regional airplay. The Rationals commanded a loyal following in the 1967–69 heyday of Detroit’s Grande Ballroom scene but gradually lost momentum. Only months before the group broke up, in August 1970, New York label entrepreneur Bob Crewe finally released their self-titled debut album. It’s an uneven LP, but the Scott Morgan–Steve Correll duet on “Temptation ’Bout to Get Me,” in its raw power and desperate yearning, actually cuts the Knight Brothers’ hit version. (“Hijackin’ Love,” an obscure 1971 single by Morgan’s next band, Lightnin’, is likewise a more thrilling record than the Johnnie Taylor original.)
Although their greatest recordings have never been legally reissued, the Rationals are partially represented on Medium Rare (Real O Mind, 2001). This Scott Morgan rarities compilation features the group’s last studio recording alongside tracks from their 1991 reunion sessions, including Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time” and Darrell Banks’s “Open the Door to Your Heart.” For thirty years, Scott Morgan has continued to perform and record with such groups as Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, Dodge Main and the Hydromatics. A still vibrant survivor of a legendary music scene, he remains (to quote David Fricke) “one of America’s Great Voices.”
[Thanks to all Blue-Eyed Soul Survey participants. Special thanks to Gregg Geller, Geoff Ginsberg, Barry Glazer of the Temptones, Daniel M. Hodges, Scott Morgan of the Rationals, Phast Phreddie Patterson and Don Waller.]
The world’s most famous rock club opened in December, 1973 when musician/actor/nightclub manager/concert impresario Hilly Kristal took over the decrepit Palace Bar and christened it CBGB & OMFUG (Country, Blue Grass, Blues & Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandizers). Beginning in early 1974, as Richard Hell later wrote, CBGB “housed the most influential cluster of bands ever to grow up — or to implicitly reject the concept of growing up — under one roof,” including Blondie, the Dead Boys, the Dictators, the Heartbreakers (with Johnny Thunders), Richard Hell & the Voidoids, the Ramones, Suicide, Talking Heads, and Television.
Tens of thousands of performers—from multi-platinum rockers Pearl Jam and Guns ‘N Roses to country superstar Alan Jackson—played CBGB until October 15, 2006, when the club closed for good following a protracted rent dispute. The Patti Smith Group headlined the last show, and PSG guitarist Lenny Kaye told the NY Times: “When I go into a rock club in Helsinki or London or Des Moines, it feels like CBGB to me there. The message from this tiny little Bowery bar has gone around the world. It has authenticated the rock experience wherever it has landed.” Hilly Kristal died August 28, 2007 at age 75 from complications of lung cancer. In April 2008, designer John Varvatos opened a boutique in the former CBGB.
Harold S. “Nappy” Grossbardt and his partner Sidney Turk founded Colony Records in 1948 after Grossbardt’s former employer, Colony Sporting Goods, went out of business at Broadway and West 52nd Street. The store’s extended hours and prime location made it popular with musicians, theatergoers, and nightclub patrons. In 1970, Colony moved to the Brill Building, at 1619 Broadway, where it continues to do a brisk business in the sale of sheet music, soundtracks, and Broadway memorabilia.
The Brill Building was erected in 1931 and named for the Brill Brothers clothing store that occupied its corner retail space. During the Depression, a paucity of commercial tenants forced the owners to rent space to music publishers, and by 1962 the Brill Building’s eleven floors housed an estimated 165 music businesses. These included record labels and small recording studios, but most of the offices were occupied by songwriters and publishing firms including Hill & Range, Arc Music, and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Trio Music; and composers Neil Diamond, Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich, Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman, and Burt Bacharach & Hal David. The Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love,” The Drifters’ “This Magic Moment,” and “Don’t Make Me Over” by Dionne Warwick are among the many pop classics that represent the Brill Building scene at its early-Sixties peak.
When the American Federation of Musicians moved its union offices to 50th Street and Sixth Avenue, the time was right for saxophone salesman Manny Goldrich to open Manny’s Music on West 48th Street in 1935. Manny’s quickly became the instrument retailer of choice for the many musicians who filled the ranks of the big bands and Broadway show orchestras. The arrival of the Beatles and the soaring popularity of the guitar (acoustic and electric) further enhanced Manny’s reputation. Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend, and the Beatles all patronized the shop; 14-year-old Paul Simon accompanied his father to Manny’s to pick out his first guitar. After Manny Goldrich died in 1964, ownership of the store passed to his son Henry Goldrich (co-author of The Wall of Fame: New York City’s Legendary Manny’s Music) and then to Henry’s two sons in 1998; the following year, the 20,000-square-foot store was sold to its long-time West 48th Street competitor, Sam Ash Music. It continues to operate under its original name, its walls still papered with hundreds of photos autographed by everyone from Count Basie to Madonna. “Manny’s was a place where you could almost feel the spirit of those musicians whose photos adorned the walls,” said Carlos Santana. “I treasure my experiences in this wonderful place.”
The fourth Manhattan building to be known as Madison Square Garden opened February 11, 1968 with a “Salute to the USO” concert starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Rock and roll arrived November 27-28 when the Rolling Stones headlined two sold-out shows at the 19,000-capacity venue. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Elvis Presley all performed at MSG; indeed, Presley’s four shows in June 1972 were his first and only New York performances. Every former Beatle has played The Garden: George Harrison and Ringo Starr at The Concert For Bangladesh in 1971; John Lennon as the surprise guest of Elton John in 1974 (Lennon’s last live performance); and Paul McCartney as recently as 2005. The last concert ever completed by Bob Marley & the Wailers took place at The Garden on September 20, 1980.
In 2008, Billy Joel held the record for the most number of shows performed in a single MSG run (eleven, in 2006). But close behind him are Bruce Springsteen (ten shows, 2002) and the Grateful Dead (nine shows, first in 1988 and again in 1991. On March 25, 2007, Elton John celebrated his 60th birthday by playing the sixtieth MSG show of his career—and setting a new record for the most appearances by any artist or group at “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”