Monday, September 29, 2008


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Relaxin' at home on a Friday night = time to put all 831 of my Dead mp3s on shuffle. Oops, first two songs played are two different versions of "Brown-Eyed Woman." Not a bad song, but not the hottest way to start a sesh. Song three gets it back on track a little, one of those slow-ass versions of "Friend of the Devil" they started doing in the later 1970s, this one from the decent official live Dead Set album, recorded in 1980, released in '81. Mydland's fake-Hammond organ solo isn't helping too much but I really do like this exquisitely slow arrangement, even if Garcia got the idea only after hearing Kenny Loggins himself do the song that way. Another reason I really like this slow version is, believe it or not, Donna Jean's gorgeous harmony vocal on the chorus. She actually was considered a great studio singer for the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama (she's on Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman" and Elvis's "Suspicious Minds"!), but apparently she just never felt as comfortable as a live singer. Of course, there were other adjustments she had to make too: "In Paris, stoned on acid, I found myself lying under the piano, digging the Grateful Dead - and then realized, 'Oh, no. I sing with this band! How am I possibly going to be able to get it together to do that?'" Back to here on earth, hmm, this hasn't been the most exciting Dead shuffle so far - now it's playing a 20-minute "Franklin's Tower" from 1979... it is from a fairly renowned two-night stand at the Cape Cod Coliseum, but this tune, even though it always has some great moments, is ultimately too monotonous for me... the song only has two chords and it never lets you forget it... next up is "China Cat Sunflower" from 1974... it's great, but it's gonna take just a little more than yet another China Rider from 1973-1975 to get me going tonight... in other words, I'm gonna cheat a little and shuffle ahead... oh I know, I'll just play "Operator" from American Beauty, what a beautiful wistful song, a Pigpen composition and he sings it so well... "She could be hangin' round the steel mill/Workin' in a house of blue lights/Ridin' a getaway bus out of Portland/Talkin' to the night/I don't know where she's goin'/ I don't care where she's been/Long as she's been doin' it right"..... hell yeah, that should recharge things... and indeed, up next is a "Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad" from 1974 that sounds just right. Sweet laid-back boogie tune. It's one of those Dead tunes that seem like it could be totally hateable in an 'I need a miracle to take me to the promised land but it's all good Jack Straw' kinda way, but it wins me over every time with that soft boogie, every bit as chill as what J.J. Cale was doing around the same time.

Alright, enough Dead though, I'm going to put another band on shuffle that I have almost as many mp3s of (757): Sun City Girls. Should be a slightly different vibe. First up is a great forgotten number off of Kaliflower, "Archaeopteryx in the Slammer." Recorded outdoors, probably overseas, 'non-traditional' instruments, I can hear Alan's droning chant vocals over the top, but who knows who is or isn't playing on this one. Next is "Electric Bovine Method," from the 'late-mid-period' soundtrack Dulce, released on vinyl in 1996, just reissued on CD in 2008. Pretty stunning improvisational mood-piece, deep electronics, harsh lightly effected dirge violin (probably by Eyvind Kang), instrumental except maybe those are some deep-reverb hummed vocals, or maybe that's more violin, the whole thing sounds almost as serious as AMM or MEV themselves... then it's into a couple spoken word type tracks from their late-period 'radio show' sequence (CFR's #11-14 to be exact), when a good 66.666667% of each album didn't even seem to be music, more like 'broadcasting,' brief blast-collages, straight-up spoken word, or answering machine messages like the one that just played from Harmony Korine (aka Laird Henn)... and from that right into "Theme 5" from Box of Chameleons, stately but ramshackle 2-minute piano theme, then right into another piano tune, this one a Gocher-crooned ballad from The Handsome Stranger (CFR #8) called "The Calcium Kiss," which Al & Rick were playing on this year's Brothers Unconnected tour... then it's right into another song they were playing on that tour, Gocher's epic "Book of Revelations," originally the final track on the beyond-epic double-disc Dante's Disneyland Inferno, this mp3 being a recording of the only time they ever played it live as Sun City Girls, which was on March 30, 1996, at Moe's in Seattle. This has never been released, but I've got it because SCG heads have been passing this audience recording around for awhile... just like Deadheads, eh? What's next, oh man, "Sun Suck Town," a song that definitely finds them in their 'skatepunk joke band' guise, except that it's better than literally 99.9% of all skatepunk joke bands. "Who's your favorite president?" they ask over an extreme no-minded lunkhead repeato-riff that never breaks for a second. "Mine is a secret/No I guess I'll tell you it's CALVIN COOLIDGE!!!" Oh shit, next is the Torch of the Mystics version of "Cafe Batik." They played this song at the Empty Bottle in November 2002, I was there, and that version sounded even better than this one, Alan nailed every single note. I remember sitting on my couch in 1994, right after buying the Torch CD used for ten bucks somewhere, playing this for J. Merritt of the Cheyntara band (now with U.S. Scientists) and we were just flipping out at the blaring Asian/Venusian falsetto vocal. "WEIRD!" I remember J. exclaiming, and this was a guy who knew weird... next is the 15-minute dust-metal guitar/bass/drums psychedelic instro jam "Libyan Dream," the title track and album closer for the CFR #7 CD, one of the best of the CFR series, "originally released as 50 cassette copies dropped in cassette vendors racks in various cities throughout SE Asia in 1993".... man, more great shit after this... I'm still surprised by the breadth and depth of this band, really... and it's all "punk rock" maaan...

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Hilarious Beatles YouTube. (Lennon's bit at the end, damn! He didn't even write "Eleanor Rigby"!) Here's more of the press conference, it's pretty interesting how surly they are.

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Just realizing tonight how much of the great heavy rock music of the 1970s can be described as POST-CREAM. First I was reading about Rush and how their inspiration for the initial heavy trio years was Cream, and then I'm listening to the I'm Gonna Take You Home album by Yahowa 13, and they are clearly also a post-Cream wandering/driving/improvising heavy power trio. Ash Ra Tempel too, of course, side one of their self-titled debut album is like the ultimate post-Cream expression possible... and even the Jimi Hendrix Experience could be regarded as post-Cream, as they were formed just a couple months after Cream's first gigs... Hendrix was reportedly a fan... hell, Iommi/Butler/Ward were probably thinking of Cream too when they started jamming. I don't even think Cream was that great, I think all the post-Cream bands are better. I mean, of course Cream was great, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were a MONSTROUS rhythm section, and the band had plenty of good songs too, which is where these bands fail most often. Of course they would have been even greater with a guitarist that wasn't actually God, like Randy Holden or Billy TK or one of the guys from Socrates Drank The Conium or Alex Lifeson or whoever, you could literally name a couple dozen. Now sure, I know it's hip to say that Eric Clapton isn't that great, and sure, I'll admit he made some good music, even outside of Cream . . . I'll give him maybe 60% of Layla and Assorted Love Songs, I'll give him "Let It Grow" and "Let It Rain," and I'll actually give him all of his mellow J.J. Cale imitation stuff (it's just occurred to me that his overall oeuvre is so basically lame that the 1976 Cale-wannabe album Slowhand is probably the strongest non-Cream non-Layla release of his entire career), but that's IT. Seriously, Eric Clapton was NOT THAT GREAT. He is the single biggest example I have ever seen of the fabled lead guitarist who knows a whole buncha hot licks but has a hard time consistently playing MUSIC.

I give you as evidence this YouTube. It should be all you need. I mean, this is Cream era we're talking about, so it should be Clapton at his raddest, right? I mean the guitar paint job is awesome, right? Then why is this such an incredibly lame guitar demonstration? I mean, he gets ready to show us something called "the woman tone" but then spends at least a full minute rambling on about his tone knobs and pickup settings. When he finally plays something, it's a few brief seconds of un-musical un-melodic blues-rock piffle.

Here's some other examples of mediocrity... "Yer Blues" was never really the greatest Beatles tune, it's more a heavy pop-art statement than a song, and Clapton does NOT manage to set it on fire on this kinda turgid and sloppy version by ad hoc John Lennon group The Dirty Mac (from The Rolling Stones Rock'n'Roll Circus, of course). I mean, sure, Clapton's solo has that undeniable "cutting tone," but once again, he's not even trying to play music, just licks, licks, licks, and half-hearted ones at that. Lennon's solo may be absurdist and minimalist but it's a lot more rock'n'roll, and at least it actually tells a story. Keith Richards, even on bass, is definitely playing music and not licks. (Mitch Mitchell does not impress me on this clip either, he sounds perfunctory on the verses and kinda lost during the raveup section.)

And hmm, after this indifferent 'hot licks' intro, maybe I take back what I said about his J.J. Cale era:

Now just for the sake of comparison, after that lethargic blues piffle, check out this Magic Sam video (as posted on the Arthurmagblog)... Magic Sam is a guy who has probably never made anyone's Top 10 Guitar Gods lists, but just look at this.... jump ahead to 3:30 if you wanna really cut to the chase... picture the guy in the three previous clips next to this and please note that he is NOT holding a candle:

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