Sunday, July 29, 2012

I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees (Robert Johnson)

I recently made my way through the Eric Clapton autobiography and it was a pretty run of the mill experience. Great guitarists are seldom great writers (Keef's Life is the outstanding exception) and sho nuff 'Slowhand' is about right.

Nevertheless there are some good chapters amid the drugs and booze romp - I liked reading the John Mayall and Cream chapters. I'm so familiar with the George, Pattie, EC triangle that I could have written those chapters myself.

The bits I was most keen to read - the Lennon/Ono connections - are the most disappointing. Just gloss. If he was so wary of Lennon why did he play with lennon's Plastic Ono Band so much?? Nothing is revealed.

And it did make me go back to the Beano Bluesbreaker's music and Cream.

As time goes by Cream's version of Crossroads at the  Royal Albert Hall farewell concert becomes more and more impressive. Surely Jack Bruce must be taking the piss when he acknowledges Eric Clapton - for vocals!!

Cross Road Blues was first recorded and released on 78rpm by blues titan Robert Johnson in 1936.

The lyrics explain the narrator's failed attempts to hitch a ride from an intersection as night approaches, and somehow this scenario has frequently been linked to stories of Johnson selling his soul to the devil for the ability to play music (nothing in the actual lyrics indicates this). 

Some writers state that the song refers to the common fear felt by blacks who were discovered out alone after dark; that Johnson was likely singing about the desperation of finding his way home from an unfamiliar place as quickly as possible because of a fear of lynching, in addition, the lyrics could be an allusion to the curfews that were then imposed on blacks in the South. The imagery of the singer falling to his knees and the mention of his failure to find a "sweet woman" suggests that the song is also about something a bit more basic. 

It has been covered by a huge number of bands over the years but two versions stand out for me. Cream takes the song and just makes it their own with some outstanding individual playing, while John Mayer doesn't try to compete with the old versions and goes for a fresh new approach.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Somebody spoke and I went into a dream (The Fabs)

Dear Mojo

Please forgive the tardiness (Nu Zild is still an awful long way from mother England it seems when it comes to magazine deliveries) but I just had to write, having read the book (issue 224) and listened to the cover mount Yellow Submarine Resurfaces CD. Like hordes of yer readers I am a Beatles compulsive/obsessive and I found my Mojo early on (issue 24 appropriately enough).

Now, I normally approach Beatle covers compilations with the overwhelming feeling that they will never beat the originals so why bother but now you've rocked that assumption.

I never thought that the scary, other worldly, creepy menace of Harrison's Long Long Long (mmm I know it's a love song) could be bettered but Howe Gelb has done it. Oh. My. Lennon. His version of Eleanor Rigby seriously sent shivers down my spine! Definitely a case of 'somebody spoke and I went into a dream'. It turned me on man!

Listen not to the predictable naysayers who will surely write and whinge about Beatles on the cover again (or have they admitted defeat). More power to you and Howe!

Love and peace etc.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Honey - the way you play guitar makes me feel so masochistic (Patti Smith)

Time for Part Two in my top twenty favourite guitarists and crunch time for Slowhand – will he make the cut?
From my first cut list of 65 ace guitarists we have 55 left in the running:
Jimmy Page; Leslie West; Alvin Lee; Chuck Berry; Keith Richards; Lenny Kaye; Muddy Waters; Stephen Stills; Pete Townshend; Roger McGuinn; David Gilmour; James Burton; Peter Green; Joni Mitchell; Ernie Isley; Richard Lloyd; Joe Satriani; Eddie Van Halen; The Edge; Angus Young; Johnny Marr; John Squire; Dicky Betts and Duane Allman; Pat Travers; Robby Krieger; Nick Drake; Jorma Kaukonen; Jerry Garcia; John Fogerty; Martin Barre; Ted Nugent; Chris Squire; Robin Trower; Dave Hill; Bill Frisell; George Benson; John Petrucci; Tom Morello; Andy Powell and Ted Turner; Billy Corgan; Adam Jones; Steven Wilson; Mikael Akerfeldt: Jesse Cook; John Mayer; Ron Wood; Stuart Adamson; Stone Gossard and Mike McCready; Lowell George; Billy Gibbons; Matthew Sweet; and Eric Clapton.
11 Jimmy Page has a unique sound. He is responsible for some of the best blues rock guitar ever produced and his acoustic guitar is immediately recognisable as well. Black Dog on the fourth album is my favourite Zeppelin song. I love this hurdy gurdy guitar sound that he also employs on Misty Mountain Hop and Four Sticks from the same album.
12 I never get tired of listening to Alvin Lee. I have raved about his playing in the blog a few times already. Again it's hard to pick just one song but his playing on One Of These Days from A Space In Time and especially on Recorded Live is outstanding. His bluesy guitar is way under-rated in my opinion.
13 Keith Richards (Keef) is the human riff and the coolest man (somehow) still alive from the sixties. He's built up a massive body of work but the early seventies Stones one two punch of Sticky Fingers and Exile are definitely HIS Stones albums. You want just one song? Wild Horses!
14 Running close to Keef for coolest man status is Dave Gilmour. Check out that photo! How cool is he?? Pink Floyd without Dave doesn't bare thinking about.  Dave, for me, IS the Pink Floyd sound.  The Meddle album is drenched in Gilmour guitars.
15 Leslie West has been featured on the blog recently with his trademark thickly textured sound.  Mountain's best of CD is a great place to start. Every song is a winner.
16 Stephen Stills is freakishly talented. He is a lot like many of my favourite guitarists in that he plays fantastic acoustic guitar, sings and also excels on electric guitar! These guys are really talented (where are the women? Only Joni makes my rough list I'm afraid) and his guitar prowess alongside his occasional guitar foil Neil Young is an additional pleasure. Can't go past that first Crosby Stills Nash album with the great Suite: Judy Blues Eyes setting out his stall so wonderfully.
17 Joe Satriani is a genius. The vast majority of his material is instrumental which immediately focuses all attention on the lead instrument – his guitar. He is so adventurous and inventive - I have a lot of his music and no two songs are the same. Remarkable. Having said that, it is work with Chickenfoot (Sammy Hagar on vocals) that is equally as wondrous.
18 Jorma Kaukonen is like Stills – an immediately recognisable guitarist on acoustic and electric forms and a great vocalist. Like Ritchie Blackmore, Jorma has excelled in two bands – Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. Like Rory it's his brilliant guitar work on a live double (Double Dose) that I come back to again and again.
19 Eric Clapton. Yes – he made it, just. I will post next time on the Cream version of Crossroads. Suffice to say here that he makes it for his early work with John Mayall, Cream, and Derek and The Dominos rather than anything post 1971.   
20 I briefly toyed with the idea of putting John Mayer higher up in the list but (and I realize it's stooped to regard this as a competition but hey – it's fun to speculate) better than Clapton? Regardless of all that he's a major talent with so much going for him – great voice, fantastic acoustic style and an already formed electric style of his own (echoes of Clapton, Hendrix, and the blues greats in there for sure). Best place to start is one of the live albums although you need to ignore the between song banter which is NOT his strong suit.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I look at the world and I notice it's turning while my guitar gently weeps (The Beatles)

I recently blogged about the dire Eric Clapton autobiography on my Wozza's Place blog ( and mentioned that EC would probably make my top 20 guitarist list so I thought I'd put that to the test here.

So right off the bat I have to include on my rough list before getting down to 20:
George Harrison and John Lennon; Hendrix, of course; Jimmy Page; Leslie West; Alvin Lee; Chuck Berry; Keith Richards; Lenny Kaye; Muddy Waters; Neil Young and Stephen Stills; Pete Townshend; Roger McGuinn; David Gilmour; James Burton; Frank Zappa; Peter Green; Carlos Santana; Tony Iommi; Ritchie Blackmore; Joni Mitchell; Ry Cooder; Ernie Isley; Richard Lloyd; Joe Satriani; Eddie Van Halen; The Edge; Angus Young; Johnny Marr; John Squire; Dicky Betts and Duane Allman; Pat Travers; Rory Gallagher; Robby Krieger; Nick Drake; Jorma Kaukonen; Jerry Garcia; John Fogerty; Martin Barre; Ted Nugent; Chris Squire; Robin Trower; Dave Hill; Bill Frisell; George Benson; John Petrucci; Tom Morello; Andy Powell and Ted Turner; Billy Corgan; Adam Jones; Steven Wilson; Mikael Akerfeldt: Jesse Cook; John Mayer; Ron Wood; Stuart Adamson; Stone Gossard and Mike McCready; Lowell George; Billy Gibbons; Matthew Sweet.

That'll do. The most glaring omission is probably Jeff Beck but I only really like some stuff he did with The Yardbirds and I honestly can't add him to the list of my favourites based on a couple of songs.

So how many is that? 64 great guitarists, 65 when EC is included.

Hmm - how to judge them and leave out 45 of them?

Inventiveness, legacy, impact, originality, depth and breadth.

The Top Ten first of all (11 to 20 in the next post).

Obviously Jimi Hendrix is in a category all of his own and is the first name on the team sheet. A freak who like Miles Davis (Trumpet) and John Coltrane (Sax) single-handedly revolutionised his instrument. So many outstanding songs but I can't go past Voodoo Chile (both single and LP versions).

2 and 3 George Harrison and John Lennon. Yes I'm a Beatles/Lennon obsessive but they were also amazingly inventive guitarists. Best George moments come on Revolver and John's sublime visceral guitar on the Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band's Why has to be heard to be believed.

4 Rory Gallagher. I've raved about Rory from time to time in the blog. Best moments come on the Irish Tour '74 album and Cradle Rock in particular.

Tony Iommi defined a whole genre of metal guitar, sludge rock, stoner rock - whatever you want to call it. So many great riffs but War Pigs is my pick.

Ritchie Blackmore is so great he sustained a career beyond Deep Purple into Rainbow. Tie between Rainbow Rising and Machine Head as his best work. P.S. Rest in peace Jon Lord who died this week. His organ guitar duels with Ritchie are part of the signature Deep Purple sound we all love so much.

7 Carlos Santana makes the earth move. Somehow he tapped into chords and sustain that no one else has.

8 Ry Cooder - Jesus On The Mainline contains simply the best slide guitar playing...ever!

9 Neil Young has done it all and seems to be able to play any style he wants - rockabilly, punk, folk, country, blues, and inspired rock guitar are all within his grasp. It's hard to blow past Hurricane but for me the lather he whips up on Southern Man (Journey From The Past) is amazingly succinct - even when he stretches out!

10 Frank Zappa and his Hot Rats album was revolutionary - like a lot of his music, but he was no one trick rock fusion guitarist. No pigeon holes for Frank. Try Watermelon in Easter Hay from the Joe's Garage triple and be prepared to be impressed.

So far - no EC. Will he make the top 20?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hear my thunder (West Bruce & Laing)

I was listening to a multi CD set of 1970s Rock's finest moment type things that you find on the supermarket shelves these days (I'm a sucker for these things) and it struck me how lucky I was to live through the early seventies and listen at first hand to things like Frankenstein (Edgar Winter Group), Radar Love (Golden Earring), Paranoid (Black Sabbath) and so on. This was great great music and a fantastic time to start being a music junkie.

Got me thinking about one of my favourites that has now probably attained secret treasure status.

West, Bruce and Laing were a blues-rock power trio super-group consisting of Leslie West (guitar and vocals), Jack Bruce (bass, harp, keyboards and vocals) and Corky Laing (drums and vocals).

The trio formed in early 1972. West and Laing's previous band was the great Mountain and Bruce, of course, came via Cream.

They toured extensively and released two studio albums, 1972's Why Dontcha and 1973's Whatever Turns You On. They disbanded shortly before the release of their live album Live 'n' Kickin' in 1974.

It's the first one that does it for me. Why Dontcha. No question mark required.

My copy is an Australian one. My family and I went on an Australian holiday in 1973 and I had a shopping list of albums to buy which included: Houses Of The Holy (Led Zeppelin); Made In Japan (Deep Purple); Why Dontcha (West, Bruce & Laing).

When I got back home I was really disappointed with the latest Led Zep opus but Why Dontcha was seldom removed from the turntable.

It's a case of delivering on expectations. Leslie West plays guitar like he's chipping away at a mountain of granite with a sledgehammer, Jack Bruce is an amazingly distinctive and innovative bassist and Corky...well he plays drums.

It really is a great album, where the individuals combine into a stunning band performance.

There are some great rock songs on the album (Why Dontcha and The Doctor are stand outs); some blues showcases for Jack (a la Cream), most notably on the harp fest that is Turn Me Over (think Rollin and Tumblin), a rolling piano lead workout Shake Ma Thing (Rollin Jack), the slowish blues of Third Degree; some wonderfully soaring vocals by Jack (Out Into The Fields), an acoustic guitar and piano driven ballad with more of those soaring vocal harmonies and some great dobro picking by West (While You Sleep) and then there is the classic heavy guitar wig out for Leslie West - Love Is Worth The Blues.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A melody is like a pretty girl (The Magnetic Fields)

I'm not a big folkie fanatic but I do love the music of Steeleye Span.

I was going to do a post on my five favourite folk songs and then I realised they'd probably all be songs by the Span or Maddy Prior (June Tabor would have snuck on with her awesome rendition of And the band played Waltzing Matilda) - so I might as well do a post on them instead.

Steeleye Span is one of those bands (like John Mayall's Bluesbreakers) that has had a revolving cast of characters but I guess that's natural given they've been at it since 1969 and don't appear to be retiring to a cottage in Hampshire any time soon.

I think it's the evocative nature of their music that wins me over - those earthy rough voices - nothing too pretty about a lot of their music. I spose there are more authentic folk outfits out there but when they get going acapella style on Rosebud in June (track two side one on Below The Salt) I don't really care how authentic or not they are. I'm transported down the eons of time via my imagination.

The jigs and reels side of their music is equally as entrancing. I can't help the toes tapping and the head bobbing along with the mandolins, fiddles, banjo and spoons. Joyous music.

My favourite Steeleye Span moments are Blackleg Miner, The Blacksmith, Thomas The Rhymer, All Around My Hat, and I love their version of John Barleycorn with Tim Hart's vocals a standout.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Distant ships sailing into the mist (Bob Dylan)

Jumpin' At The Woodside was a hit for Count Basie and his orchestra in 1938. It must be part of my DNA.

By the time I was a teenager in 1970 I had heard this (and many other Swing toons) many many times for a decade - bound to seep into the pores.

It popped up on the shuffle t'other day and I couldn't help but grin and think of my folks - the Swing fans.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I'm here to stay (Haken)

Two recent acquisitions to report on in this post.

Prog magazine is one of my favs and their latest edition to hit the Otane bookshops (ha ha - there aren't any, a trip to Waipukurau is required) has a sampler with a great track from Haken on it, called Deathless.

Haken is a London-based Progressive rock/Progressive metal band formed in 2007. At the moment they have two released albums, Aquarius, released 2010, and Visions, released 2011. I have neither...yet.
Deathless is a great track - nothing metallic about it but the Rick Wright style keyboards certainly add to its appeal.

The second is the latest CD from The Jayhawks who I have had some time for in the past. Their country rock sound has its moments. Mark Olson and Gary Louris have been the two main figures in the band. Of the two I'm definitely in the Mark Olson camp. He left the band in the mid 1990s and among other things formed a supergroup of a sort called Golden Smog.

I actually much prefer Golden Smog to The Jayhawks. Olson rejoined his mate and band a few years ago and Mockingbird Time is the latest result. It is amazingly good, in fact I'd say it's the best Jayhawks album yet. Mainly because the two voices mesh together really well (like on Tiny Arrows below).

I picked it up for $3 from a farmer's market that takes place every Sunday in my sleepy little Otane hometown. What a find!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Make love on my dyin' bed (Jimi Hendrix)

The purdzilla-pod shuffle threw up the distinctive start to Midnight Lightning recently. It was the posthumously released live version from the Isle Of Wight live set rather than the after the fact appearance of the song in 1975 on another posthumous release, also called Midnight Lightning. Get all that?

It's such a brilliant song and I think those are the only two appearances of it in the Hendrix collection. As it appeared in Jimi's 1970 set at IOW it must have been performed elsewhere but I don't recall any other appearances of the song on Hendrix albums. Happy to be proved wrong.

Anyway - the live version is where it's at. The lyrics of the song are nothing to write home about - calling long distance on a public saxophone? Not Jimi's most considered work.

So why is it so special? Four reasons - the guitar solos are outrageous - even for Jimi, his singing is impassioned, Mitch Mitchell plays the hell out of it on drums and Billy Cox is the perfect bass foil.

The other thing I love about it is the low fi nature of the recording, the radio feedback on the track and the fuzzy bass sound. It all makes for a cinema verite effect. Magic!