Monday, June 21, 2010

Frank Turner at Bonnaroo

Back on May 1, 2007, in the early days of this site, I posted a video of English folk-punk singer Frank Turner performing his song "The Real Damage" on a barge in South London.  At the time, Frank had just released his first studio album.  I don't remember how I originally happened upon the video, but I remember being immediately taken with his impassioned acoustic performance of the song he'd written about waking up in a strange house, among strange people, with a dead cell phone and no memory of what he'd done the night before.

Three years later, after gaining increasing popularity around the world, Turner played at this year's Bonnaroo  in one of the festival's smaller tents, the Troo Music Lounge.  Just prior to the Stateside gig, Frank played a concert in Israel and earlier in 2010 he played shows in faraway countries like China and New Zealand. Even though he wasn't on one of the proper stages at Bonnaroo, his booking is recognition that his stock is rising in America.

One of the songs he performed at the festival is called "Nashville, Tennessee." No, he didn't write it specifically for the festival.  He's actually been performing it since at least 2006 (evidenced by YouTube). Watching the video, its pretty cool seeing him finally performing the song inside of the state that inspired the title. He seems to being enjoying that fact as well.

"Nashville, TN" features the lyrics:

From the heart of the Southern Downs, to the North-East London reservoirs,
From the start, the land scaped my sound, before I'd ever been to America.
And if I knew anybody who played pedal steel guitar,
I'd get them in my band and then my band would get real far,
But I was raised in middle England, and not in Nashville Tennessee,
And the only person in my band is me.

Photo Monday

The Band chilling in their kitchen in Williamsbur...I mean, Saugerties, New York (Photo by Elliott Landy, 1968)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Father's Day: My Father's Eyes

With Sunday being Father's Day, I decided for tonight's post that I would do some searching online for an appropriate song to commemorate the occasion. Combing through the results, I concluded that: "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" is a little too funky and "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" is just downright incorrect. Despite reviewing pages of search results, in my head, I couldn't get past Eric Clapton's "My Father's Eyes" from his 1998 album Pilgrim. This is an album that my parents bought for me while I was in college. It's the one that featured Eric's duet with Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, "Change The World," that's been inescapable on radio ever since.  The album got a good number of spins on my stereo before finding its permanent home in my Pro Logic CD book.

One song on the album that always stood out to me was My Father's Eyes. The lyrics are moving, Clapton's vocal is soulful and strong, and the guitar riff is clean and memorable.  One negative, which doesn't totally detract from the song, is that the production is a little too slick; a little too perfect. Despite that complaint, I still do enjoy listening to it since it reminds me of the days where I actually flipped through my Pro Logic CD book looking for something to drop into the Discman to soundtrack my walk to class.  It also happens to be an emotional song about the relationship between a father and a son, with the lyrics touching on both Eric never meeting his own father and the tragic loss of his son Connor.

As is many times the case with YouTube, this evening I stumbled upon a video that I never expected to find, since I never knew its contents took place. Even though My Father's Eyes wasn't released until 1998, on Pilgrim, it was in fact performed six years earlier by Clapton and his band on January 16, 1992 at Bray Film Studios in Windsor, England.  This was the session where Clapton resurrected his career by performing a set of acoustic songs for MTV's Unplugged series.  As a result of this night's taping, Clapton won six Grammy's including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Best Rock Male Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song, with the majority of those accolades received for "Tears In Heaven".

I learned tonight that a number of songs that were played that night did not make it onto the album. One of them was an early version of My Father's Eyes.  Fortunately, the video of this performance has made its way online.  It contains all of the emotion of the original and drops the slick veneer.

Please take a listen to the unplugged My Father's Eyes performed by Eric Clapton and his band at the legendary 1992 session for MTV and remember to wish your dad a Happy Father's Day on Sunday. [The song starts at 1:38]:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Old Grey Whistle Test

The Old Grey Whistle Test was a British music television program running from 1971 to 1987 on the BBC2 channel which featured interview segments and in-studio performances. The acts were chosen not for chart position, a la Top Of The Pops, but rather for the quality of their songwriting and performing. A good number of very successful artists' first British television appearance took place on OGWT, so its clear that the show was both very willing to take chances on relatively unknown acts and had very very good taste. According to Wikipedia, in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programs compiled by the British Film Institute in 2000, The Old Grey Whistle Test ranked 33rd. Three volumes of DVDs have been released featuring performances that took place on the show.

I have compiled a few of my favorite videos from the The Old Grey Whistle Test:

1. The Wailers featuring Bob Marley and Peter Tosh performing Stir It Up in 1973. This performance took place one year before Eric Clapton had his only #1 hit with  I Shot The Sheriff.  The quality of the audio on this video is stunning:

2. John Lennon performs Stand By Me for the show in 1975. Lennon recorded this in a New York studio City because he couldn't leave the States due to his fight with US Immigration. During the song, John gives out a hello to Julian and everyone in England.

3. ZZ Top perform I Thank You and Cheap Sunglasses in 1980. This is a very rare glimpse at the band performing without their trademark cheap sunglasses, which eventually come out in time for the latter tune.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Three Years Ago On A Warm Dark Night

Q: What do Gram Parsons and Back Fence superstar Mark West have in common?

A: The influence of George Jones and Lefty Frizzell

Our regular readers will remember that three years ago our WeightStaff field reporter snagged an interview with the elusive, notoriously media-shy Mark West. Mark is the bass player and vocalist in the Vinnie Ferrone Band, which performs regular gigs at The Back Fence bar in Manhattan's West Village. West was featured in our very rare "Ten Questions With..." series back in June 2007. Question Five (of 10) inquired about Mark's influences. Surprisingly, he responded with traditional country music performers George Jones, Lefty Frizzell, and "old Kenny Rogers". I've always been surprised by this response, but it makes me respect the man even more. I superficially would have expected him to say Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Ray Charles. But Mark's response demonstrates his ability to appreciate real music from all directions.

Take a listen to Lefty Frizzell's recording of Long Black Veil from 1959, the original recording of this much-covered track. West's indication of Lefty as an influence makes so much more sense when hearing the soul in his vocal delivery of this dark tune. I can absolutely hear Mr. West delivering a killer vocal on this. I'll be sure to request it next time I watch him perform at The Back Fence.

Bonus Fact:
Long Black Veil appears on The Band's Music From Big Pink album and is the the only non-original (or non-Dylan song) on their first four albums.

Fallen Angel: Gram Parsons and Wild Horses

Over the weekend, I watched an excellent documentary on the musical career and scandalous death of Gram Parsons. From The Byrds to The Flying Burrito Brothers to his work with Emmylou Harris and The Fallen Angel Band, Gram produced some phenomenal music before his tragic death at the age of 26 from a drug overdose. The movie makes clear Gram's love for traditional country music, including singers George Jones, Buck Owens, and Merle Haggard.

Gram brought his vast knowledge of country music songwriting to The Byrds in 1968 when he was invited to join as a keyboard player by Chris Hillman to help offset the departure of David Crosby.  The music Gram produced with them on their Sweetheart of the Rodeo album in 1968 and later with The Flying Burrito Brothers between 1969 and 1970 significantly impacted the infusion of country music into the rock n' roll scene.

While a member of The Byrds, in 1968, through Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn, Gram Parsons met Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.   He began to spend significant amounts of time with them, especially Keith, playing records and teaching them about American country music. As the story goes instead of traveling with The Byrds to perform a charity concert in South Africa, Gram instead opted to remain in Europe with Mick and Keith, which led to Parsons' dismissal from The Byrds.

Over three days in December 1969, The Rolling Stones recorded the song Wild Horses in the famed FAME recording studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The song was shelved by the band due to contractual issues with their record company, but Parsons heard it and requested permission to record it with The Flying Burrito Brothers even though the song had not yet been released. With Mick Jagger's permission, Parson's recorded the song and included it on the Flying Burrito Brothers' second album, Burrito Deluxe, released in April 1970.  Gram honored Mick's request to not release the track as a single. One year later, in April '71, The Rolling Stones recording of Wild Horses was released on their own album, Sticky Fingers.

Take a listen here to The Flying Burrito Brothers' recording of Wild Horses:

Bonus footage:

The Flying Burrito Brothers performing Six Days On The Road as the third band of the day at the infamous Altamont Festival on December 6, 1969. They followed Santana and Jefferson Airplane and preceded CSNY and The Stones. This footage is from the documentary Gimme Shelter:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lyrics As Poetry: Here Comes That Rainbow Again

The following clip is from Kris Kristofferson's appearance on the Elvis Costello-hosted television show Spectacle.  In introducing his own song, Here Comes That Rainbow Again, Kristofferson states that Johnny Cash wrote in his autobiography that this "might be his favorite song."  Heavy praise for a musically simple song with only two verses that runs less than three minutes.  One listen to the narrative lyrics and you'll know what Johnny was talking about.  The song was released by Kristofferson as a single in 1981 and was subsequently recorded by Cash on his 1985 album Rainbow.

Watch Johnny Cash perform the song in a clip from The Late Show with David Letterman from 1985 featuring an appearance from Waylon Jennings: 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

From The Archive: Oysterhead

Comprised of Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, Primus bass player Les Claypool, and Police drummer Steward Copeland, Oysterhead formed in April 2000 for a one-off performance.  They specifically formed for the Super Jam series organized by New Orleans-based Superfly Entertainment during one night of the city's Jazz and Heritage Festival.   Despite their original intention to only perform together one time, the band went on to record a full length album in 2001, called The Grand Pecking Order, and go out on a short tour. I attended their show that year at Constitution Hall in Washington DC and I remember enjoying it, but the band definitely went off into some crazy, psychedelic, freak-out tangents.

Oysterhead reunited on the main stage at the 2006 Bonnaroo Festival, an event partially run by the aforementioned Superfly Entertainment. I was also in the crowd for this festival set, which was even more 'out there' than the show I'd seen in DC and although entertaining for a short time was difficult to stick with in the sweltering heat of the day.

Here's Oysterhead performing Oz Is Ever Floating on the Conan O'Brien show, presumably in 2001.  The man mentioned throughout the song, Dr. John C. Lilly, died at the age of 86, two days before the release of the album.

According to Wikipedia, "In the early sixties he [John C. Lilly] was introduced to psychedelics like LSD and (later) ketamine and began a series of experiments in which he took the psychedelic either in an isolation tank or in the company of dolphins. These events are described in his books Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer: Theory and Experiments and The Center of the Cyclone, both published in 1972."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Familiar Faces

Stars are crawling out of the woodwork to join the band [The Faces] onstage for a reunion tour in early 2011 after their recent reformation. Simply Red frontman Mick Hucknall is taking Rod Stewart’s place as vocalist, and Slash, Noel Gallagher, Kelly Jones from Stereophonics and Chris Robinson from The Black Crowes have all been associated with the tour. “There’s loads of people who have said ‘Oh please let’s sing with you’. And Slash is going to help us on guitar when he can fit in between his promotions,” Guitarist Ronnie Wood told the World Entertainment News Network.

The Faces split in 1975—with members going on to find success elsewhere—and reunited briefly for a charity show last year. Hucknall, Wood, Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan will play their first gig as the reformed Faces in August in the U.K.

Source: Paste Magazine