Tuesday, January 31, 2017

John Wetton: My Tribute

The first time I remember hearing John Wetton was by seeing a video by a new band called Asia on MTV, with a song called "Only Time Will Tell", sometime in the fall of 1982. I seemed to have had a small knowledge of who was in this band, having been familiar with Yes and ELP for a while, but the singer was not familiar to me. I liked his voice, as it was rather captivating. Not long after that, I remember going to the local Kmart store with Dad, where he bought the single of "Heat Of The Moment", and sometime after that, he bought the self-titled album through the old Columbia House record club. Very cool cover image by Roger Dean, although I had been used the dragon in the sea being pink, not blue!

About a year afterwards, there was the "Asia In Asia" concert, beamed from Japan, via satellite. What we didn't know until the last minute was that John Wetton wasn't with them, and Greg Lake was now in his place. He did a fine job of standing in for him on such a short notice, and although I enjoyed the show, I wanted to see and hear the real guy I'd been hearing for a while.

A few years after that, in sixth grade, I remember looking at the back of an album cover by Uriah Heep, which charted out the various members that had come and gone by the time of the album's release. I saw Wetton's name as being the most current bass player. I'd seen the name "King Crimson" around a couple-few times, and eve had a small knowledge of Greg Lake having once bee in the band at one point as well. I thought, Both of those guys were in that band? I'm going to have to check them out someday!

I didn't get to it until the eleventh grade, when I brought home a used vinyl copy of In The Court Of The Crimson King, and it changed pretty much everything for, about and within me. Hands down, it was the best musical-listening decision I ever made. I then set out to look for and get any- and everything that I could by them. I tried to go in sequence as closely as I could, and try not to get too ahead of myself.

One item that I came across was a double-album compilation entitled The Young Person's Guide To King Crimson, which had a booklet with lots of text, and pictures of the various lineups from the first album, all the way to the original era's end. I didn't have a lot of money on me at that time in order to get it. I rummaged around the house, gathering up all of the loose change I could find, taking it to the bank up the street, and changing it into dollars. Then I walked the four-mile trek to House Of Records, bought it, and walked all the way back home again with it.

I was familiar with most of what was on side one, but side two is where it got interesting: not only had I not heard any of it, but John Wetton was on the whole side (even if it was only two compositions). The first one, "Red", was a heavy power-trio instrumental with lots of distortion and tritone chords, not to mention hammering drums and fuzz bass. The next cut, "Starless", was a 12-minute epic with lots of Mellotron, plus it seemed to be a three-part suite. After the vocal section, there was a slowly-building section with repeating guitar notes that made me wonder where it was going to go next, and then--BANG!--it slammed headlong into a fast ad heavy 14/16 time signature, restated the opening theme with heavy layers of Mellotron and saxophone lines, and it was over. When the record-player clicked off, I sat and stared at it for about five minutes in complete and stunned silence. I had never heard anything like that before, and I was completely blown away.

Well! After that, I went and got everything Crimson that I could get my hands on. I could not believe that a band with such a history, discography and a stylistic musical language all of its own was not being played on the radio. I holed up in my room for most of my eleventh-grade year (and the subsequent summer), listening to the albums again and again. In fact, aside from Crimson, I also played Yes, Black Sabbath, and Pink Floyd. Hardly anything else came in between those four. In fact, I particularly played Larks' Tongues In Aspic (1973), Starless & Bible Black (1974) and Red (1974).

At the beginning of my 12th grade year, I picked up the self-titled album by U.K., a sort of successor to Crimson, which featured Wetton and Bill Bruford alongside Eddie Jobson and Allan Holdsworth. I especially liked the first side of the album, and played that quite frequently when I came home from school. They were not together terribly long, and the only other thing I'd found by them was their second album, Danger Money. I was a little reluctant to pick that one up, as I really enjoyed Bruford's work on the first album; plus, the band on this was now a guitar-less trio.

I finally said "heck with it" at Golden Oldies, and bought a copy of it, took it home, and slapped it on the turntable. Whoa! This one was harder and tighter than the first album, with Eddie Jobson's Hammond C3 organ being the lead keyboard on many of the songs, which were much more straightforward this time around. I played this album nonstop for months on end. And then I found a cassette copy of their third (and last) album, a live set called Night After Night. I was amazed at how "big" they sounded for being just three guys, and when songs like "Time To Kill" and "In The Dead Of Night" were played, it was easy to forget that they ever had a guitarist in the band to begin with.

Another thing I got my hands on was the 4-CD King Crimson boxed set The Great Deceiver, which was an anthology of live shows by the 1973-4 lineup. Again, I pored over the liner notes, and played this whenever I had any time to myself, imagining myself actually being there and seeing them live. It was said that Wetton's bass was so loud that he overwhelmed the mixing board, and most of the musicians onstage. It was great to hear live versions of "Starless", months before they recorded it for Red, and to hear different lyrics in the verses. It was also quite a treat to hear an unrecorded song, "Doctor Diamond".

Over the next number of years, I collected any- and everything by this lineup that I could get my hands on. They never played a song the same way twice, let alone an entire setlist. Songs like "Exiles" and "Easy Money" in particular had different intros or outros, sometimes leading into an extended instrumental improvisation.

Through it all, he had been a major source of inspiration, from his bass playing, songwriting and singing. Especially the latter. My own voice was rather similar in range and tone, and I saw that I could sing along to the Crimson and UK songs, and almost match what I was singing to.

In 2016, I noticed that he had a Twitter page, and although I wasn't sure if it was someone else handling it, I "followed" it anyway, and "liked" posts that would appear here and there. After a few visits and posts, it began to dawn on me that it was indeed the man himself posting, re-tweeting and commenting. He told one particular anecdote where Crimson had been booked at some place, billed as "King Curtis", and the owner of the place was baffled to see four white guys walk into the place (he seemed to be unaware that King Curtis had been dead for over a year by that point!).

I would find pictures of Crimson, UK and interesting pictures of Wetton himself and post them on my page, tagging him in them. Imagine my surprise one morning when I got a notification that he was "following" me on Twitter! That really made my day. I also got to meet some very interesting fellow fans from different corners of the world, and enjoying posting all kinds of pictures on his page, and occasional story on there. Someone posted a picture of the three-piece lineup of UK on there, and he commented: "It was a neat little band". I looked forward to seeing his posts on there, and sometimes whenever I'd post something, he'd give it a thumbs-up, or re-tweet it on his page. I wanted to write him a personal note, thanking him for all of the great music and inspiration for all of the past years, but I simply just enjoyed getting to bang it back and forth whenever something interesting came up.

We'd heard the news that he'd been fighting cancer for a while, and there was some concern for a while when his page went silent for a while. He finally emerged, with pictures of himself and his wife Lisa (whom he'd married just after Thanksgiving), and also explaining that he'd been fighting sepsis in addition to his cancer. We all sent him our warmest thoughts and regards. He posted that an upcoming tour with Asia would be commencing without him, due to doctors' insistence that he not go out on tour. Around Christmastime, he'd posted a few shots of himself with Lisa, and Robert Fripp at a Christmas party, which was very touching to see.

In mid-January, I found a picture of him with a tortoiseshell cat, and posted it on my wall, with him tagged in it. On January 14th, he posted the following:



This was/is Peggy, an angelic, frighteningly loyal,half-wild cat with a heart of feline gold.

And then it was silent again for a while.

On January 31st, I logged onto Facebook, and saw a post by my friend Henry Howard, which broke the news that John Wetton had peacefully died in his sleep in the night. My eyes immediately welled up, and that stinging feeling erupted between them. That was it. He was no longer with us. I really felt as if something had just been taken out of me. Apart from being a very important influence on my playing and writing music, he had also become somewhat of a friend on Twitter, and now he would no longer be there. I seriously regretted never having ever sent that fan letter in which I wanted to tell him how much he'd inspired me over the years, but what I've written here is pretty much the crux of what I would have sent to him.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

FRANK ZAPPA / THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION: Uncle Meat (1969)



January, 1995. Over at Tower Records, Dad found this one on cassette. I'd seen this one a couple of times over the years, but the older albums by Frank Zappa were always priced pretty high at the used-vinyl places. I really hadn't heard anything from it, and since we were really enjoying exploring Frank's works, this one was added to the collection.

A pretty sprawling set, this one, plus it was a double album, so there was quite a bit to digest in one sitting. The opening overture "Uncle Meat: Main Theme" got me right away, very rhythmic, with loads of marimbas by Ruth (Komanoff) Underwood here, and throughout the pieces. I can't go on enough about how this one piece of music changed and influenced my own playing; before this, it was rather loose and formless, but now it would have some sharp timekeeping.

Frank was really going all out with what the recording studio offered at this point. Instruments such as clarinets, saxophones and other woodwinds were filtered, compressed and recorded at varying speeds, and ended up sounding like weird little trumpets. This was also the first album he did where he mixed studio and live recordings together on one album, including the famous rendition of "Louie Louie" played on the pipe organ at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Some of the vocal songs had some funny references in them, like "Sleeping In A Jar", "Electric Aunt Jemima" and "The Air". During "Dog Breath, In The Year Of The Plague", the line "fizzy dice, bongos in the back" reminded me of that bit from the first Cheech & Chong album, where they're watching a Chicano used-car salesman's commercial...is that where they got that from?

Later on, I eventually found a nice original vinyl copy on the Bizarre/Reprise label. it didn't have the booklet that was included in it, but I was more concerned about the music. These were the originals mixes; the cassette had the 1987 re-mix on it, but I still liked it, although I never played it after hearing the original album.

The album was subtitled Most of the music from the Mothers' movie of the same name, which we haven't got enough money to finish yet. Apparently, this was going to be a documentary about the Mothers, but Frank had broken up the band beforehand, and the ex-members suddenly wanted nothing to do with the project. A few years later, down at Stadium Video, I found the 1987 video that Frank put out, but it was rather disappointing, save for a few montages of the Mothers clowning and goofing off for the camera, and the scenes with "Motorhead" Sherwood and Cal Schenkel were a total riot.

Friday, October 7, 2016

FLEETWOOD MAC: "Seattle, 1972"



After finding and listening to a lot of Peter Green-era shows by Fleetwood Mac on YouTube, I wanted to see if there was any live stuff from the band after his departure. One that stuck out was a show from the Paramount Theater in Seattle from March of 1972, in support of the Bare Trees album.



It was taped from a broadcast of the concert, recorded by a new station called KISW-FM, which is still on the air today. Interesting to think of them doing live broadcasts of shows, but that was pretty popular back then.

A great show all the way through, everyone is in fine form. Danny Kirwan and Bob Welch were an interesting dual-guitar team, and played rather well here. Not a hint of dissention to be heard here, and nothing to suggest that Kirwan would soon be on his way out the door, due to his growing dependence on alcohol, and introverted personality. Christine McVie is also in fine form here, sticking to her songs from the past couple of albums they'd done.

In fact, most of the show consists of cuts from Kiln House (1970), Future Games (1971), and 1972's Bare Trees, though they end the show with "Black Magic Woman", and then conclude with a surprisingly heavy rendition of "Oh Well", introduced by Bob Welch as "one of the greatest boogie songs".

Quite a shame that this era of the band is (for the most part) neglected and unjustly forgotten, except by those who were there at the time. But for those of us who knew the band via Rumours and Tusk, this era comes as quite a revelation, and rather fascinating at how good they were here, even without any discernible "hit songs" to be heard here.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Jethro Tull: "M.U." / "Repeat"

I've always heard Jethro Tull around the house for as long as I can remember. I would also pore over the covers to the albums, many of them with colorful gatefold sleeves, pages of pics of the guys in the band, and even the cutout of the guys in the Stand Up album.



One in particular caught my attention. It had a white cover, with a simple line drawing of the Flute Guy on the front, standing on one leg, playing the flute. I couldn't tell if he was standing in place while playing it, or if he was hopping on that one leg. Dad had colored the drawing on his copy with colored markers, giving it a little "color" to a rather plain cover.



What grabbed my attention were the labels, which had a outline of the same image, except as a white silhouette, with a tan background, on both sides. It was fun to gaze at the label while the record was playing. I was knocked out by the opening section of "Thick As A Brick", which segued directly into "Bungle In The Jungle", another early favorite. And everything else on Side 1 was great...so much so that Side 2 was not played as much back then!

This was another album that disappeared after a while (it s successor was a newer compilation called Original Masters, which had many of the same songs on it), but was re-acquired on cassette in the summer of 1987, from the Hilltop Pawn Shop. I played it many times that summer, including the second side this time, and discovering things like "Fat Man" and "Nothing Is Easy".



I never knew what the title M.U. meant or stood for until years later, when I found it was a jokey reference to "Musicians Union", also referencing to the various guys in the band who'd came and went since the first album.

Over a year later, at the place up the street called Faubion's Fabulous Junk, in one of the many boxes of albums there, I came across the second best-of volume, Repeat: The Best Of Jethro Tull, Volume II. I may have seen this one before, but this was the original copy of the album, which had the title in raised lettering, repeating itself (hence the title) all over the front, and some on the back as well. It cost me three dollars, but it was well worth it.

This one had some good cuts on it, including a couple of edit pieces from Thick As A Brick and A Passion Play, which were my favorite parts from those albums. They had put out a couple of albums since the first volume (Minstrel In The Gallery and Too Old To Rock And Roll), and the title tracks from each of them were on there, plus an unreleased cut called "Glory Row", which closed the album.





There never was a third volume, though there was a compilation in Spain called The Best Of Jethro Tull, Volume III, but it contained some of the songs from the previous volumes (did no-one have a copy of the other ones?), and even borrowed an image from the Living In The Past booklet!

This was one of Dad's favorite bands back in the '70s. In fact, he saw them in 1972, 1974 and 1978 in Seattle, and--like I said--I heard them many times in the house in my preschool years, and they really grew on me. Flash forward to August 10th, 2010, when Geoffrey was just past six months old. I was with him in the front yard of the house, and Dad brought out the little Soundesign radio/tape-player. Since the day was Ian Anderson's birthday, he celebrated it by putting in a cassette copy of M.U., and played it in its entirety, while it was just the three of us in the yard, enjoying it. A very pleasant moment and memory for me, one that would be all too brief.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

CHUCK BERRY: "Live At The Fillmore Auditorium" (1967)



The first I'd ever heard of this album was in passing within the liner notes of the Steve Miller Band compilation, The Best Of, 1968-1973. I'd never heard of an album featuring Chuck Berry being backed up by the Steve Miller Band...what could that have sounded like?

This was recorded during Chuck's tenure on Mercury Records during the '60s, which was prolific, but didn't turn out any memorable hits, aside from a Greatest Hits album, with the classics newly recorded. I'd never seen it in any of the used-album shops, and I didn't have much of a title to go by, so I kept it in mind in case I did any looking, but eventually forgot about it.

In July of 1996, at Camelot Music, I was looking through the cassettes, and--sure enough--there was a reissue of the album on something called Rebound Records, which was a short-lived budget-line reissue label distributed by PolyGram.

I got it home, put it on, and was amazed at the recording quality. Then again, it was recorded by Wally Heider, and with him involved, it was bound to be good. The band backing up Chuck at this point was still a straight-ahead blues band, and although they sounded a little stiff and nervous backing up a legend, original bassist Lonnie Turner holds it all together throughout the performance. Steve himself plays the harmonica on a few of the songs, and sings a duet with Chuck on the choruses of "It Hurts Me Too".

Closing the second side of the tape were renditions of "Reelin' And Rockin'" and "My Ding-A-Ling". The latter was a hit for Chuck five years later from the legendary London Sessions album, but I wondered why it wasn't a hit back then. Well, a while later, I got my hands on an original copy of the album, and those songs were not on there. In fact, the reissue I had was a re-release of the 1988 CD reissue, where the album was remixed, and included about six unreleased tracks.

Playing the original album was a bit of a revelation, though. It has a share of mostly 12-bar blues instrumentals, which are well-played, but nothing that really stood out. Maybe those two songs should have been on the album, and maybe it would have livened it up a little. Also, I noticed Bill Graham's introduction of "The Steve Miller Blues Band" (as they were known at the time) was scissored out at the end. Maybe it was because they had already scored their deal with Capitol by that time; indeed, they are credited on the album as simply "The Miller Band".



There was one reissue of the album during the early '70s, part of a double-album set, and part of a cash-in to get fans of the Steve Miller Band to pick up on what they'd missed the first time around (you'll notice that the band's full name is on the cover!). Typical move by Mercury at the time.

Those hoping to hear some great interaction or trading of guitar licks between Steve and Chuck are bound to be disappointed, but as long as your expectations aren't too high, it's rather enjoyable, and a great snapshot of the Steve Miller Band in their early days.

Monday, April 25, 2016

"A Clockwork Orange" Soundtrack (1971)



I picked the CD copy of this one up at Hi-Voltage Records on 6th Avenue. It's been out of print for some years, and I'm surprised I never bought it on CD while it was still available.

Wow...what can one say about this movie after all these years? I think we all now what it's about, so we won't go into that here, but I will say that I fist saw it at perhaps way too young of an age, but I thought it was brilliant even then. A number of years later, in the 8th grade, I found Anthony Burgess' original 1962 novel of it at the library, read it a few times, re-discovered the movie again, and that's all I was into for most of that school year. I found a well-thumbed paperback of the book at a downtown used-book store, and it went to school with me fairly regularly.

At St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, there it was...the soundtrack album!!! I was absolutely amazed that there was one, and could barely believe my luck that it was in really good condition, and only a dollar.



Hearing Wendy Carlos' Moog-driven pieces in wide, full-throttle stereo was pretty mind-bending, and even though it was just the music I was hearing, you could still hear Little Alex's voice narrating away during various parts. Very interesting use of an early prototype of the Vocoder, in which vocals and percussive instruments were fed into the synths, which made them sound pretty unwordly.



"The Thieving Magpie" was pretty loud, intense and violent on its own here, with sudden shifts in volume. I didn't have much use for "Pomp And Circumstance", as they sounded like a graduation ceremony to me.



And back to Wendy Carlos' works again. The 3-minute excerpt of "Timesteps" is pretty dark and intense on its own, even without the cartoony violent films that Alex is forced to watch while bound down. And the "Suicide Scherzo" of Beethoven's 9th Symphony is equally as intense, with the ending of the piece buried in deep echo.



A couple of tracks are worth mentioning here. "Overture To The Sun" and "I Want To Marry A Lighthouse Keeper" were originally done by a terribly obscure musical outfit called Sunforest, who made only one album for Deram. Apparently, Stanley Kubrick heard "Lighthouse Keeper" on the radio, and thought it so delightfully silly that he had to put it in the movie somewhere, and he did.



One interesting "might have been" consideration was Pink Floyd's "Atom Heart Mother", which Kubrick had seriously considered using in parts of the movie. Apparently, Roger Waters turned down the opportunity for its use, as Kubrick wanted permission to edit the piece as he saw fit, and the answer was no. A strange decision, considering how little Roger felt about the piece, even back then. Funny enough, when Alex goes into the record store and goes up to the counter, you can see a copy of the album on a high shelf, behind the counter, if you look close enough.



The soundtrack album also had its share of imitators, notably the one on the Pickwick label, with a hilariously bad album-cover picture of a bleeding orange. Looks like something that was in the bargain-bins for years, something the stores could barely give away.



One well worth looking for is Wendy Carlos' album consisting of music composed for the movie, including "Timesteps" in its entirety, a rendition of "The Thieving Magpie" that didn't make the cut (being delivered a day late and a dollar short), and a haunting closing piece called "Country Lane" hat was composed for a part after Alex takes a beating from his old droogs, and is wandering through the back country roads in the rain, not knowing where he was going. Highly recommended to seek out.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

THE DOORS: And then there were three...

March, 1991. Dad and I saw the Oliver Stone bio-pic of The Doors on its opening night (and would see it a couple more times on the big screen), and enjoyed the concert sequences, but a lot of the movie itself was just plain bad. I'd read a lot about the band beforehand, and a lot of the movie itself seemed made up by someone who knew very marginally about them. The less said about it, the better.



About a week later, we visited the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, where we'd always found lots of cool albums and 8-tracks there for the last few years. Sitting among the stacks of 8-tracks was a copy of the Doors' Other Voices album in this format. I had a small knowledge of them continuing on after Jim was gone, but never actually heard what they sounded like without him. What could this sound like? Paying 49 cents for it would answer that question, and so I did.

Considering that this was recorded not long after L.A. Woman, and with almost the same setup and additional musicians, it sat comfortably next to it, musically. I found that I actually enjoyed it, and played it over and over (after recording the 8-track onto a cassette).

I was familiar with Ray's vocalizing from "Close To You" off the Absolutely Live album, so I knew what I was in for here. "Ships W/Sails" is definitely the centerpiece of the album, and would have really been a gem if Jim was on it. "In The Eye Of The Sun" and "Tightrope Ride" are fun, while "I'm Horny, I'm Stoned" and "Variety Is The Spice Of Life" (both sung by Robby) seem to try to inject a little humor into the proceedings. "Wandering Musician" almost sounded like a country ballad, but was enjoyable, with Ray's jangle piano carrying it through. Although "Down On The Farm" started off with a nice "Riders On The Storm"-type of intro, the choruses and middle section (with "farm music" sounds) are rather on the embarrassing side.



There was one more, Full Circle (1972), but for some reason, this one was rather pricey at any used-vinyl place. That was because of the gimmicky "zoetrope" that was still intact to the album cover, and could be assembled onto the record while it played. I couldn't have cared less about that. The cover was nice, but really didn't fit the Doors (not to me, anyway...maybe a prog-rock band).

On this, their sole self-produced album, we have Ray and Robby pulling the band in two different directions. Ray seemed to be going for a good-time old-fashioned rock vibe, while Robby was going for either something bluesy, or Santana-esque. I almost didn't find much to remember the album by until "The Mosquito" opened side two. The opening bits I could have done without, but once those are done...wow! Now, that genuinely sounds like The Doors, but the only thing was that Jim simply wasn't there. After that, not much else to remember or recommend, other than "The Peking King & The New York Queen" was yet another embarrassing cut.



They toured behind each album...but what did they sound like live?



They hit the road with bassist Jack Conrad, and guitarist/percussionist Bobby Ray. Over in England, they did The Old Grey Whistle Test, and then Beat-Club in Bremen, Germany. Good performances for the TV audience, but what did they really sound like live for a full show, and what songs did they play?

I got a hold of a bootleg CD of a live show they did in Chicago, to kick off the Full Circle tour, in July of 1972 (take from a radio broadcast at the Aragon Ballroom). They did mostly material from the two albums they did, but threw in "Love Me Two Times", and closed the show with "Light My Fire". They didn't sound bad as they were, and the audience actually sounded like they were enjoying it. "Ships W/Sails" had an interesting drum duet/solo in the middle, which was great, considering that John Densmore had never really soloed on stage before.

Hear it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oj7AUrg5uGA The tour came to an end that September, at the Hollywood Bowl. It was a daring and bold move to go on and prove themselves as more than just Jim Morrison's old backing band, but a lot of the public simply didn't share that opinion, and I've heard that the show was rather tepidly received. The band flew to England to promote their latest (as well as the Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine compilation), but decided to split up. And that was it, leaving this misunderstood and forgotten chapter of the band to be exhumed only by hardcore followers and collectors.



On their third attempt, though, they got it right. We had a copy of this album around the house for a while, with Dad having got a small pile of Doors albums from the Columbia House catalog in the summer of 1984, but we never really played this one much until after the aforementioned movie, when certain selections from this album carried some of the dead spots in the movie. However, we did like the now-legendary live version of "Roadhouse Blues" on it, but now the album was being played more regularly after seeing the movie.

Most people say you have to be a hardcore fan to enjoy this one...fair enough. It takes a few listens to get into, but it gets better with each successive play. Makes you wish they'd have thought of this idea a bit sooner, recording new music to Jim's spoken-word poetry. I've often read where Jim had read more than a few hours' worth of poetry; too bad they didn't make at least one more album using the same idea, instead of further remixes/edits of "Ghost Song".