During my 1989-2000 tenure at Epic Records/Sony Music, one of the nicer people I worked with was Epic VP of Marketing Al Masocco.
Our offices were on opposite coasts (me in NY, Al in LA) so I didn’t get to know him as well as I might have. But Al always seemed to be throwing himself into one marketing campaign or another, and usually had some complicated, hair-raising tale to tell, whether it was about gaining the co-operation of the Tragnew Park Compton Crips for an MC Eiht video shoot in South Central or negotiating with wary officials of the Cuban government to stage and film an Audioslave concert in Havana.
Al Masocco was (and still is) a completely unpretentious person who never seemed to care if anybody else — Spin, Rolling Stone, some joker at KCRW or MTV — thought his acts were “cool” or “hip.” With his boundless enthusiasm and non-stop chatter, Al struck me as a throwback to the even-older-school record biz guys of the Fifties and early Sixties. He understood implicitly that his job was not to sign, style, or song-doctor his acts but to sell the shit out of them, which is exactly what he did, day in and day out.
After a long stint at Epic/Sony and a shorter one with mega-management company The Firm, Al founded his own marketing venture Pulsebeat. He also established himself as a campus motivational/professional speaker, and I can attest that anyone who pays Al Masocco to talk will get more — much more — than their money’s worth.
I know that Al is a major rock memorabilia collector, especially of Beatles material, although as yet I haven’t had the pleasure of touring his closely guarded holdings. But until we spoke last month, I didn’t know he’d also amassed a collection of 140+ electric guitars, basses, and miscellaneous stringed instruments. It includes some very odd- and/or cool-looking instruments by manufacturers like Wurlitzer, Hayman, Kawai, Supro, Teisco, and Dwight — see sample photos posted on this page.
Al is now renting out these axes for film, TV, video, and still photo shoots. Guitar freaks and even some, er, regular people will enjoy the slide show — complete with a “Super Riff Medley” soundtrack — that he’s created for Pulsebeat Guitars.
One bright morning in July 2008, on a stroll through my East Village neighborhood, I stopped at the corner of Second Avenue and East Sixth Street. Lying on on the sidewalk next to a municipal trash can, I found a collection of hand-painted metal signs advertising various jazz soloists and groups. The signs were (are) of uniform size (30″ x 6″) with a small hole punch in each end so they can be hung for display. There are eighteen different signs, including ones for groups led by alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, bassist Mickey Bass, and trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater. I took the signs home, added them to our ever-growing collection of musical detritus, and have tried sporadically to determine their age (probably late Seventies) and provenance. Here are my photos of some of the signs along with explanatory notes:
(1) Al Grey & Jimmy Forrest Quintet – AllMusic.com states that trombonist Al Grey (b. 6/6/1925) spent his first professional decade in big bands including those of Jimmie Lunceford, Lucky Millinder, Benny Carter and Lionel Hampton. Grey and another big band veteran, saxophonist Billy Mitchell, formed a co-op band in 1962. I have a copy of their Argo LP Night Song (recorded November ’62 and issued under Grey’s name), on which the group is joined by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. Al Grey served three separate stints in the Count Basie band; when the last one ended in 1977, the trombonist formed a group with saxophonist Jimmy Forrest (b. 1/24/1920). This was 25 years after Forrest had a Number One R&B hit with his immortal “Night Train,” but I’ll bet he still played it a lot. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Al Grey and Jimmy Forrest were still playing together when the latter died 8/26/1980; Grey lived another 20 years and died of diabetes-related illness on 5/24/2000.
(2) Vera Auer – The Austrian-born vocalist (b. 4/20/1919), who also played vibes and accordion, was the grand-niece of the noted Hungarian classical musician Leopold Auer. In Vienna circa 1949, she formed the Vera Auer Combo, a trio with guitarist Attila Zoller that for a short time included pianist Joe Zawinul, later a founding member of Weather Report. In 1954, Vera moved to Frankfurt, Germany, where she worked with trumpeter Donald Byrd and drummer Art Taylor. In 1959, Auer married an obscure American musician named Brian Boucher, and the couple moved to the US the following year. In her Stateside career, she “was associated not only with boppers such as trombonist J.J. Johnson and tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, but with a modern breed of blower including trumpeters Cal Massey and Ted Curson,” wrote Eugene Chadbourne for AllMusic.com. “In the late Seventies she co-led a group with yet another trumpet player, Richard Williams, resulting in in an album release with the cheerful title of Positive Vibes.” Vera Auer died 8/2/1996.
(3) Chuck Wayne/Joe Puma – I would’ve enjoyed hearing these two fine though little-remembered guitarists as a duo. Chuck Wayne (born Charles Jagelka, 2/27/1923) started out as a teenage mandolin player and switched to guitar in the Forties when he began to make the 52nd Street scene. An early exponent of bop, he recorded seminal sides with Dizzy Gillespie and Little Benny Harris; worked with the Woody Herman band in 1946-47, and joined pianist George Shearing’s quintet for three years, 1949-1952. Wayne toured with Tony Bennett from 1954-57, then came off the road to concentrate on Broadway, studio, and TV gigs. He released a half-dozen albums as a leader, and later taught at Westchester Conservatory in White Plains, NY. Chuck Wayne died 7/29/1997; his recording of “My Baby Just Cares For Me” was including on the 2005 Sony Legacy box set Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar.
Born into a family of guitarists, Joe Puma (born 8/13/1927) was a professional musician by 1949. He played with more “name” musicians than I can list here, ranging from Artie Shaw to Gary Burton, and also recorded as a leader for the Bethlehem, Dawn, Jubilee, and Columbia labels. The New Grove Dictionary states: “Puma formed a duo with Chuck Wayne in 1972, which appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in New York in 1973; when the duo broke up after five years, Puma led his own trio.” Joe Puma died 5/31/2000; sadly, he was left off that Sony Legacy box set.
YouTube: “Bernie’s Tune” – Mike Morreale Quartet featuring Chuck Wayne (date/location n/a)
(4) Bob Cunningham/Kenny Barron/Scoby Stroman – Considering the hazards and rigors of the jazz life, I’m pleased to report that two out of three members of this group are alive and still gigging regularly.
Born 12/23/1934 in Cleveland, bassist/composer Bob Cunningham moved to NYC in 1960. On his Web site, Bob says he played with Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Abbey Lincoln, and Sun Ra; with Yusef Lateef, he traveled the world and appeared on Seventies Lateef LPs like Gentle Giant. Among other Bob Cunningham credits, AllMusic.com lists Ken McIntyre‘s Way Way Out (’63), Walt Dickerson‘s Impressions of ‘A Patch of Blue’ (’64, with Sun Ra on piano), Freddie Hubbard‘s Backlash (’66), and Sam Rivers‘ Crystals (’74). The bassist may still be leading Monday night jam sessions at the headquarters of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) on West 48th Street in Manhattan.
Pianist Kenny Barron played Jazz Standard just last week (January 7-10, 2010) but unfortunately I missed the gig. Born 6/9/1943 in Philadelphia and a professional musician since his teens, the nine–time Grammy Award nominee — it seems he’s never actually won the damn thing — has a six-page list of album credits posted at AllMusic.com. The discography includes sessions with Dizzy Gillespie (1962-1966), Freddie Hubbard (1966-1970), Yusef Lateef (1970-1975), and Stan Getz (late Eighties) as well as five discs under the leadership of his much older brother, saxophonist Bill Barron (1927-1989). Kenny Barron served on the music faculty of Rutgers University from 1973 to 2000; was an original member of the Thelonious Monk tribute group Sphere, founded in 1982; and more recently co-founded (with Joanne Klein) an independent label called Joken Records.
YouTube: “People Time” by Kenny Barron and Stan Getz (live in Munich, 1990 – Getz’s final concert performance)
Drummer C. Scoby Stroman‘s NY Times obit noted that he was tap dancing at age five: “As an adult he became known as a master sand dancer and an innovative leading performer of scat dancing, a softshoe rhythm-dance that involves the upper body as well as the feet and legs and draws on American popular dancing and African and Brazilian ethnic styles.”
So far, pretty mainstream…but if AllMusic.com has it right, Scoby also played drums on at least two Sun Ra LPs (Secrets of the Sun and Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy) and also on College Tour, the second ESP-Disk album by the pre-Diamanda Galas gonzo vocalist Patty Waters. (“Contorted shrieks and wails that could be downright blood-curdling…Waters has to be acknowledged as a vocalist who has tested the limits of what the human voice is capable of…” Thus sayeth Richie Unterberger of AllMusic.com) Scoby Stroman must have been quite a showman and character, one of the many artists I caught up with too late. He died 3/28/1996 from complications of a stroke.
YouTube: “Scoby” by the Rick Stone Trio (live at Bar Next Door, NYC, 1/15/2009)
Paul Sanders Jr. and Henry (Hank) Neuberger are two old and dear friends of mine who, like me, grew up in the New York City suburbs of Westchester County. I attended Mamaroneck High School and didn’t meet Paul or Hank until our college years, but the two were close friends in the Class of 1969 at White Plains High School (WPHS) in White Plains NY. This is the story of how, in early 1969, Paul and Hank came to promote a memorable and groundbreaking show by Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy at WPHS — or “Buddy Guy High,” as the two teenage impresarios hyped it to anyone and everyone in the weeks leading up to the gig.
George “Buddy” Guy was born 7/30/1936 in Lettsworth, LA and moved to Chicago in 1957; the following year, he released his first two singles on the Cobra label (Otis Rush and Magic Sam also recorded memorably for Cobra). Beginning in 1960, Buddy recorded a string of fine singles for Chess Records, with “Stone Crazy” becoming his only Billboard R&B chart hit (#12 in ’62). Buddy’s breakthrough to the white audience began in 1968 with his Vanguard debut LP, A Man and The Blues, produced by Sam Charters and abetted by Otis Spann‘s peerless piano playing. Unless Chess, Vanguard was well-entrenched in the progressive folk/rock market (with Joan Baez, Country Joe & the Fish, et al), and the success of A Man and The Blues led to Buddy appearing in East Coast clubs and on rock ballroom bills such as the Jefferson Airplane show I saw at Fillmore East in November 1968.
In 1969, WPHS was a three-year school with an enrollment of over 2000 students. By tradition, its annual Senior Prom was free to all students, with all costs covered by various fund-raising events created by members of the class throughout their graduation year.
Paul Sanders: “In 1966, the WPHS senior class raised so much money that they were able to book Smokey Robinson & the Miracles for the prom. In ’67, the class said ‘okay, we’re getting the Temptations‘ — which they did — and the class of ’68 followed with the Four Tops…The Buddy Guy show was part of the fund-raising effort for our prom.”
Hank Neuberger: “This was Paul and Hank educating our peers about the blues.”
Paul: “We had A Man and The Blues but that was it. We hadn’t gotten hold of any of the Chess singles yet…We became aware of the blues and of artists like Buddy Guy–”
Hank: “–the same way Mick and Keith did!”
Paul: “I’d already seen B.B. King with Big Brother & the Holding Company in ’68, and Albert King at the Village Gate on a bill with King Curtis & the Kingpins.”
Hank: “We were hipper than the room, so to speak. We were ‘the music guys,’ we were setting the tone. The fact that we were gonna promote a Buddy Guy show meant that it was a happening thing and that the kids should come — and to our amazement, they actually did! For the whole month leading up to the show, WPHS was ‘Buddy Guy High.'”
Hank and Paul booked the show through Buddy’s manager Dick Waterman, whose Avalon Productions also represented Skip James, Son House, and Junior Wells (and shortly Bonnie Raitt). Buddy’s fee was probably about $2500; his band likely included bassist Jack Myers, saxophonist A.C. Reed, and his brother Philip Guy on rhythm guitar. The show also included an opening act, the Cream-inspired Fluid (more like a Cream cover band, really), most of whom were classmates of mine at Mamaroneck HS. (Two members of this band, bassist/guitarist Steve Love and drummer Bryan Madey, later found some measure of fame if not fortune in the group Stories, whose “Brother Louie” became an out-of-nowhere Number One hit in 1973.)
Hank: “The WPHS auditorium was jammed to capacity, which was about 1200. Fluid played their Cream numbers for 30-40 minutes through their Marshall stacks. No one in the audience other than Paul and I had any idea who Buddy Guy was or what his music would sound like.”
Paul: “These were 15-16-17 year-old white suburban kids and this was their first encounter with the blues. To call his appearance ‘a shock to the system’ would be an understatement.
“The curtain goes up, Buddy comes out, he plugs in, opens up — maybe it was ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ [from A Man and The Blues] — and immediately goes into his second song. And after about two minutes, this big puff of white smoke started to rise from his amp. I think it was a Fender Super Reverb–in any case, it started making all kinds of noises and then just quit cold.”
Hank: “Buddy’s hittin’ it hard, kids are standing on their chairs — and when that amp blew, all the excitement just drained right out of the room. It went from screaming excitement to nothing.”
Of course, neither the promoters nor Buddy had a spare amp on hand. (“Maybe he had some extra guitar strings,” Hank recalls. “He definitely didn’t have another amp.”) But Fluid guitarist Jon Lehr stepped into the breach and graciously offered the loan of his Marshall amp for the remainder of the set.
Paul: “It may have been the first time Buddy Guy had ever plugged into a Marshall — and he made good use of it, I can assure you! Combined with his use of a 300-foot guitar cord, he had those kids in the palm of his hand.”
Hank: “The auditorium had three sections of seats. He ran up one aisle, out the right rear door, back in the left rear door, down the other aisle, and back up onto the stage — and he never stopped playing.”
Paul and Hank’s Buddy Guy show was a resounding success. It raised enough money for the WPHS senior prom committee to book not one but two national acts: The Tymes, a smooth-voiced Black vocal group who had three Top 20 Pop hits in ’63-’64 including the #1 “So Much In Love”; and the Elektra Records quasi-supergroup Rhinoceros, of “Apricot Brandy” fame. [Paul Sanders: “These acts were chosen by a vote of the whole class from a list of available acts, including Jethro Tull.”]
Two decades later, Hank Neuberger was chief engineer and studio manager at Chicago Recording Company when Buddy Guy arrived at CRC to cut some tracks. “He came in, I introduced myself, and I said: ‘Buddy, I just wanted to tell you that I promoted a show with you way back when — and I’ll never forget it, because your amp blew up five minutes into the show.’
“He looked at me and said: ‘White Plains High School?’
“And I said, ‘Well, yeah — but why would you remember that gig, more than 20 years later?’
“And Buddy said: ‘Because when your amp blows up on the second song, you’ll remember the show.”
BUDDY GUY – “MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB” [Live, 1969]
With Jack Bruce (bass), Buddy Miles (drums), Dick Heckstall-Smith (saxophone)
“Mink DeVille knows the truth of a city street and the courage in a ghetto love song. And the harsh reality in his voice and phrasing is yesterday, today, and tomorrow — timeless in the same way that loneliness, no money, and troubles find each other and never quite for a minute. But the fighters always have a shot at turning a corner, and if you holler loud enough, sometimes somebody hears you.
“And truth and love always separate the greats from the neverwases and the neverwillbes.”
I didn’t know Willy DeVille, who died of pancreatic cancer on 8/6/09 in Manhattan. I interviewed him on one occasion in the Mink DeVille days, probably for New York Rocker, and remember him as guarded, suspicious of the press, and quite intimidating — with his hard shell and heroin hauteur — to this relatively clean-living, upper-middle-class kid from Westchester County. (I wouldn’t have guessed that we were the same age or that he’d grown up in Stamford, Connecticut.) At that time, Willy was inseparable from his girlfriend Toots — she may have the been the first tattooed woman I ever met, this was long before you could get inked at any suburban mall. Pehaps I should’ve brought along some vintage R&B records to break the ice for that interview: Back in ’77-’78, there weren’t too many people on the C.B.G.B. scene giving props to James Brown and Ben E. King the way Willy always did.
I saw him live at least three times, a long time ago: at the Longhorn Bar in Minneapolis and at C.B.G.B. with the original band, then with a new lineup at a coke-sodden Upper West Side club called Tracks (Trax? Traxx?) where he was showcasing for a new label. Ahmet Ertegun showed up that night and Willy signed with Atlantic in 1981.
Until William Grimes mentioned it in his NY Times obituary, I’d forgotten that Willy had formed the first version of Mink DeVille in San Francisco, then relocated the band to New York in 1975. But my friend Sally Webster of the San Francisco Mutants remembered him well:
“Mink DeVille was the first band I saw at [SF punk rock venue] the Mabuhay Gardens and that show made a huge impact on me and some of the other people who later formed the Mutants. The band wasn’t really that good musically but Willy had attitude and presence like you wouldn’t believe — he showed us how far that could take you. People would be surprised to hear it, because our sound was nothing like his, but Mink DeVille was a major impetus for the Mutants coming together as a band.”
Upon his pasing, Willy’s French booking agent, the excellently named Caramba Spectacles, told Agence France-Presse (AFP): “Willy DeVille this night joined Edith Piaf, Jack Nitzsche, and Johnny Thunders” — pretty good company, I’d say. “Sing on, brother — play on, drummer…”
All portraits of Jimmy Page found at Flickr.com.
My on-and-off association with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame goes back more than two decades — initially as a voter, then more significantly as managing editor (for a few years) and contributing writer (ongoing) to the program book published for the Hall’s annual induction dinner. I could write at great length about this organization’s pros and cons, ups and downs, and why (The Stooges) (The Hollies) (Jan & Dean) (the New York Dolls) (KISS) (Insert Your Favorite Band Here) still have not been inducted. For the moment, suffice to say I’ve had some memorably great times at these events. The ceremony held April 5, 2009 in Cleveland was no exception — beginning the day before when, entirely by happenstance, I met Jimmy Page at the Rock Hall itself. This post is based on the notes I took immediately following our encounter.
It was a violently wet and windy Friday afternoon on the shores of Lake Erie, and the museum was crowded — not surprising, given the week-long local buzz surrounding only the second Hall of Fame induction to be held in Cleveland in the event’s 23-year history. I was strolling alone through the exhibits when I spotted a friend, chief curator Howard Kramer, leading a guided tour for a small group.
“Andy!” he hailed me, “Great to see you — have you met Jimmy Page?” In fact, I had not.
I shook hands with the founder of Led Zeppelin, a well-preserved 65-year-old wearing his silver-gray hair in a ponytail. Unprompted, Howard gave me the Big Build-Up, effusively describing my recent work on the Rock Hall’s Soho annex. After some uncontrolled fan-boy babble noting about seeing Led Zeppelin opening for Iron Butterfly at the Fillmore East (1.31.1969) I explained to Pagey that I’d written the site descriptions for the Annex’s 26-foot-long scale model of historic “Rock and Roll Manhattan.”
“You must have Steve Paul’s The Scene on there, I’m sure,” said Jimmy, and I hastened to assure him that this legendary West 46th Street nightspot is included in the installation.
“Great club!” Pagey continued, with genuine enthusiasm. “That’s where I saw Howlin’ Wolf for the first time. He’d been to England a few times but I’d never gotten the chance to see him there. I still remember, he and [guitarist] Hubert Sumlin had had some sort of falling-out and I was a bit disappointed that Hubert wasn’t on the gig that night at The Scene.
“I was sitting there slack-jawed, watching Wolf just tear it up, when Buddy Miles came in. Some guy comes over and says to me, ‘y’know, we can get this guy’ — meaning Howlin’ Wolf — off the stage so that you and Buddy can jam.’ I couldn’t believe it — I’m sure I told him to fuck off!” I asked Jimmy if he’d ever jammed at The Scene on another occasion, but he said no, it was a place he went to hang out and listen rather than play.
“Y’know, Andy, a lot of Mafia punks used to frequent The Scene — these young guys pouring out piles of coke on their tables. Some people wouldn’t go there because of that element.”
Jimmy’s thoughts shifted to another, more short-lived Manhattan venue, the heavily Mobbed-up West Village rock club Salvation. (Salvation only lasted about a year as a live music venue but during that time, it was a favorite hangout for Jimi Hendrix. Although I can’t vouch for the accuracy of his account, author Jerry Hopkins wrote at length about Salvation’s troubled history in Chapter 13 of his 1996 biography The Jimi Hendrix Experience.)
Page: “I may have been there only once but I remember that Jimi came in, or rather was led in by some people” — and here he assumed the heavy-lidded, open-mouthed expression of a very loaded Hendrix. “He was at another table and someone came over and asked if I wanted to join him, as we’d never met before.
“But I said no, because Jimi seemed really out of it and I just didn’t want to meet him under those circumstances. Unfortunately, I never got another chance — really too bad.”
Page seemed happy to go on in this vein for a while: He engaged directly with me the whole time, never looking at his watch, checking his PDA, staring into space, or otherwise signaling that the conversaion was now over. However, photographer Ross Halfin and Jimmy’s female companion (we weren’t introduced) were ready to move on. As we shook hands once more and said goodbye, I urged him to check out the Rock Annex on his next visit to New York. A few days later, the NY Daily News reported that Jimmy Page had toured the Mercer Street museum, stopping at the gift shop to purchase five Led Zeppelin t-shirts (I guess he can afford them).
Sunday night’s Tribute to Wardell Quezergue at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall was a triumph for all concerned, and my hat’s off to Dr. Ike and the Ponderosa Stomp crew for the concept, planning, and execution of this memorable concert. A nine-piece band (including five-man horn section) was assembled and imported from New Orleans to give flawless support to a stellar lineup of vocalists including Dr. John, Robert Parker, Jean Knight, the Dixie Cups, Dorothy Moore, Tony Owens, and Tami Lynn. All these performers had worked with veteran writer/arranger/bandleader/producer Quezergue (on sessions dating back to at least the early Sixties) and all of them showed They’ve Still Got It — “it” being the right combination of vocal chops, enthusiasm for the stage, and the physical ability to deliver an engaging if sometimes too-brief performance.
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.