Friday, August 26, 2011

Jethro Tull

There was once a band formed in 1962 called The Blades. The Blades consisted of  Jeffrey Hammond on bass, John Evans on drums, guitarist Michael Stephans and a fellow who possibly didn't even know how visionary he was yet, vocalist/harmonica player Ian Anderson.1963 came and John Evans switched from drums to keyboards, which brought Barriemore Barlow in on drums. This band evolved in time into a seven-piece RnB band called The John Evan Smash. Hammond insisted that "Evan" sounded much cooler than "Evans". By 1967 the band had broken up, leaving only Anderson and the bassist who had subsequently replaced Hammond, one Glenn Cornick. They joined forces with drummer Clive Bunker and guitarist Mick Abrahams. A booking agency staffer suggested they name themselves Jethro Tull, after the 18th century agriculturist. Ian Anderson, frustrated by his inability to play guitar like Eric Clapton, purchased a flute,of all things, and by 1968, his flute playing was featured on the band's first album, This Was. The album also featured blues, hard rock and Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Serenade To A Cuckoo. With this, one of the most unique and spectacularly progressive bands in rock history was on it's way.

Abrahams did not get along with Cornick and chafed at the band's busy work schedule, eventually leaving the band to form Blodwyn Pig, a band more suited to his blues purism. Tony Iommi, guitarist with Earth (soon to be Black Sabbath) filled in for a short time as did David O'List, formerly with The Nice. The spot was filled at last by Martin Barre, who had just left Noel Redding's Fat Matress. He remains the longest running member next to Anderson. This line-up released Stand Up, which featured songs all written by Anderson with the exception of a jazz-rock arrangement of the fifth movement of Bach's "Bouree In E Minor". This became the band's only U.K. #1 album, branching out even further stylistically, placing them firmly in the category of progressive rock along with the likes of Yes, King Crimson and Genesis. In terms of diversity, however the band was and would continue  to be in a class by itself, invoking jazz, folk, classical and hard rock in a seamless style all their own.

One of the band's best-known songs, "Living In The Past" was written in 5/4 time in an attempt to keep it from becoming a pop hit. The attempt failed miserably, as the single went to #3 in the U.K. charts

By 1970, John Evan rejoined his mates in the band and he appeared on that year's LP release Benefit. Glenn Cornick was fired for mysterious reasons and eventually formed Wild Turkey. He was replaced by another Blade alumnus, Jeffrey Hammond. Hammond is mentioned in several Jethro Tull songs such as "A Song For Jeffrey" and "Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square" as well as in the lyrics to "Inside". He is listed at times as Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond as a reference to the fact that his mother's maiden name was Hammond, though no relation to his father.This line-up released Jethro Tull's best-known work, Aqualung in 1971. This album featured strong opinions about religion and Anderson has maintained that it was not a concept album. Drummer Clive Bunker left the band after the album's release to spend more time with his family, to be replaced by yet another former Blades member, Barriemore Barlowe.

1972 saw the release of Thick As  A Brick, an album consisting of one song running 43:46 split over both sides of the record. It became the first of the band's albums to reach #1 in the U.S. The band seemed unable to avoid the top of the charts despite its best efforts. The following year's A Passion Play, another single -track concept album also went #1 in the  U.S. War Child followed in 1974, containing the radio mainstays "Bungle In The Jungle" and "Skating Away (On The Thin Ice Of A New Day). This was followed in 1975 by Minstrel In The Gallery.

The band ended the decade with a trio of heavily folk-infuenced albums, Songs From The Wood, Stormwatch and Heavy Horses. Many line-up changes ensued, as well as further musical explorations including electronic rock. In 1989, the band was awarded a Grammy for Best Heavy Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental, beating the favourite Metallica. This was a controversial win because of the fact that Jethro Tull are not considered hard rock, much less heavy metal, though their music contained hard rock as one of the myriad of styles the band has employed. Their nomination was seen as a fluke by the band, and sincerely believing they had no chance of winning, no one from the band even attended the ceremony. When asked about the award in an interview, Anderson quipped "well we do play our mandolins very loudly".
The band continues to make truly great music to this day, led as always by Ian Anderson, the man who among many other things, introduced the flute to rock and roll. And we are all better for it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

War / The Lowrider Band

In 1962 a group was formed in Long Beach, California by guitarist Howard E. Scott and drummer Harold Brown called The Creators. Not long after, percussionist Papa Dee Allen, harmonica player Lee Oskar, bassist Morris "B.B. Dckerson, saxophonist Charles Miller and keyboardist Lonnie Jordan became members of this group. After recording several single on Dore Records with Tjay Contrelli, former saxopnonist with the band Love, The Creators changed their name to Night Shift and in 1968 found themselves working as the backup band for Deacon Jones, whose Hall Of Fame career as one of pro football's premier defensive ends somehow qualified him to be a singer. Producer Jerry Goldstein caught one of Deacon Jones' performances at The Rag Doll in North Hollywood and was impressed, needless to say, by the band. Goldstein, along with ex-Animals singer Eric Burdon came up with the concept of War, and making it the band's name, recorded an LP called Eric Burdon Declares War. The collection's best known track "Spill The Wine" became a hit and off they went.

The band toured extensively in the U.S. and Europe with Eric Burdon getting much  positive feedback from audiences and the press. Burdon left the band in the middle of their European tour, but not before they released a second LP, The Black Man's Burdon in 1970. After finishing the tour without him, they set to work on their self-titled follow-up album. That one tanked, but the next LP, All Day Music, went to #1. This one included the singles "Slipping Into Darkness", which went gold selling a million copies, and the title track which was also a hit.

The following album, The World Is A Ghetto did even better. It went to #1 and was the top selling LP of 1973. The single from that collection, "Cisco Kid" shipped gold. Deliver The Word followed up with another pair of hit singles, "Gypsy Man" (#8) and "Me And Baby Brother" (#15) and moved two million units. Why Can't We Be Friends continued the trend with the singles "Low Rider" and the title track becoming two of their most successful releases. The 1967 greatest hits release included a new track, the stunningly beautiful composition "Summer".

After the release of a one-off jazz album for Blue Note Records and the album Galaxy with its hit title track in 1977, saxophonist Charles Miller was replaced by ex-Sly And The Family Stone member Pat Rizzo in 1979. Tragedy struck when Miller was shockingly  murdered in 1980. Another great loss was suffered when percussionist Papa Dee Allen died of a heart attack onstage in 1988.

You might have noticed the title of this post mentions The Low Rider Band (pictured top right-hand side). There is a good reason for this. It seems in` 1996 the band desired a change in management. In their attempt to separate from Jerry Goldstein they found themselves unable to retain the name War due to the fact it was a trademark owned by Goldstein and Far Out Productions. Consequently, the band adopted the name The Low Rider Band, which of course was a reference to one of their biggest hits. All except keyboardist Lonnie Jordan who opted to remain with Goldstein and put together a whole new band calling itself War. Given that The Low Rider Band contains all the surviving members of the group that made all of the artistic and commercial achievements of War, while the present band named War contains only Lonnie Jordan and a bunch of other guys, I felt that to write about War required that I reference The Low Rider Band because with Scott, Dickerson, Oskar and Brown as members, The Low Rider Band essentially is War. The present band named War is pretty much just Lonnie Jordan's War tribute band.

The musicians of War, Jordan included, left a huge indelible mark on the landscape of popular music. Thankfully, both bands are currently active.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Classic Axes - The Gibson Flying V

One of those axes that were just ahead of their time, the Gibson Flying V took a little while to be appreciated for its radical, made-for-rockin' design. The prototype, made of korina wood, was built in 1957 courtesy of designer Ted McCarty as part of a line of guitars along with the Futura and the Moderne, that was intended to add a more futuristic aspect to Gibson's image. The line was Introduced commercially in 1958 made of mahogany and rounded in the back. Sales were poor, and the line was discontinued in 1959. Gibson then changed the back, making it cut out instead of rounded which  made it lighter. Thus changed, blues-rock guitarist Lonnie Mack and blues legend Albert King started using the guitar immediately. By the mid-late sixties artists including Ray Davies of The Kinks and Jimi Hendrix used them looking for a distinctive looking and powerful sounding instrument. This created new interest in the guitar, prompting Gibson to re-issue the model in mahogany with a larger, more stylish pickguard and a stopbar bridge similar to the company's other guitars changed from the original bridge which strung the guitar from the back. Some models featured a short Vibrola  Maestro tremelo arm. This became the standard for all future Flying V guitars made by the company. Like all Gibson guitars the headstock is angled at 17 degrees for optimal string tension an sustain.
The guitar became a mainstay in rock circles with many other guitar companies offering variations on its design. The 1957-1958 korina wood models are one of the most valuable collector guitars in the world, worth between $200,000 and $250,000. A bass version was introduced in 1981 with only 375 being produced.
To follow are some notable Flying V users.


Friday, August 5, 2011

My Jimi Hendrix Experience Top Five

Another day, another list. This time I'd like to indulge my humbly opinionated self by sharing what I feel are the top five songs by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and why. You'll notice that I refer in this case to the band as opposed to Hendrix's later solo achievements. It seems that the
phenomena of his music is most often dealt with in terms of Hendrix himself while the other band members get the short end in terms of attention. Sure, they weren't Cream...but then they weren't supposed to be, were they? The Jimi Hendrix Experience was formed in a totally different way for totally different reasons no matter how much the two bands are compared with each other. Cream were three virtuosos who decided to play together while The Experience were recruited to back up Mr. Hendrix. Even so, Mitch Mitchell provided quite incredible drum work and Noel Redding performed the thankless job of providing melodic counterpoint to a brilliantly instinctive guitarist while holding the rhythm down with a rather busy drummer...on an instrument he never intended play, no less!
So here we are, my top five from the band in order of last to first.

"Remember" is from the British release of  Are You Experienced. A beyond tasteful, masterfully crafted pop song. It just doesn't sound much like pop because it was written by Jimi Hendrix.

"Little Wing"...a song of uncommon beauty topped off with an equally gorgeous solo. No wonder everyone wanted to cover it.

"Up From The Skies". Here the band nails a shuffle and makes it like no other. Credit the rhythm section on this one. Noel grips the song with an iron hand while Mitch delivers wickedly clever fills throughout.

"Manic Depression". One of the most distinctive songs in rock. The ascending tension-filled main riff, the innovative guitar and bass figures on the verses, The never-since-duplicated drum part Mitchell plays, the 6/8 time signature...all dead on.

And at #1..."Purple Haze". One has to marvel at the mind that places that nightmare intro line, that utterly psychotic guitar and bass figure following each verse, and that pleasantly disturbing guitar solo...all in the same song. An evil, evil masterpiece.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Buckinghams

British look, British name, all-American sound. That's as good a way as any to describe The Buckinghams, a rock-pop band formed in 1965 in Chicago, Illinois. This band was absolutely huge...for exactly one year, 1967.
The band was formerly known as The Pulsations and were the house band for WGN-TV's variety show All Time Hits in 1966. The show's producers suggested that the band adopt a name and look reflective of the British Invasion bands that were currently so popular. A security guard at the station suggested they call themselves The Buckinghams (obviously the station believed in giving EVERY employee a say in running the organization.) The band, as history shows, took the guard's suggestion with quite positive results.

The band signed to the locally-based USA Records in early 1966, and recorded a total of twelve songs including a Beatles cover "I Call Your Name",and "I'll Go Crazy",which was originally recorded by James Brown. It wasn't until the release of a song called "Kind Of A Drag", a composition by Chicago-based songwriter Jim Holvay, that they hit pay dirt. The song spent two weeks at #1 in February of 1967,sold over a million copies and went gold.
At this point the group consisted of Carl Giammarese on guitar, bassist Nick Fortuna, drummer John Polous, Marty Grebb on keyboards and vocalist Dennis Tufano. This was the line-up during their most successful period.

The band certainly wasted no time from that point, producing a total of five top 20 hits all in the year of 1967. These hits included 'Hey Baby They're Playing Our Song, "Don't You Care", "Susan" and a cover of "Mercy,Mercy" ,a composition of jazz legend Joe Zawinul and made famous by another jazz icon, Julian "Cannonball" Adderly. A very interesting choice for this very pop-oriented group.

The band got together with producer Jim Guercio, who helped get them signed to Columbia Records in early 1967, and as their producer developed the brass-oriented sound evident on the band's recordings. Guercio worked with them until mid-1968 when he left to further explore the "brass-rock" concept with Blood,Sweat and Tears and later on with the band Chicago.
Without Guercio, the band was unable to carry on the success they enjoyed in 1967. Several attempts at a hit and more than a few line-up changes preceded the band's dissolution in 1970.

The Buckinghams, as most of these bands tend to do, re-formed in 1983. They played numerous nostalgia tours and notably performed at one of George W. Bush's inaugural balls in 2005 as well as an inaugural ball in Chicago for president Barack Obama in 2009. Truly a non-partisan band, those Buckinghams. They still perform regularly for festival audiences and at the games of Chicago sports teams performing the National Anthem. As for me, my favorite Buckinghams song is "Susan".