Saturday, December 31, 2016


I was talking about Alex Chilton and the Box Tops a few posts almost a year ago, and how I've gotten re-obsessed with Memphis music, so this is a great time for Light in the Attic to put out the Christopher Idylls record by Gimmer Nicholson. I hadn't heard of him before either, but he was a guitarist who quietly played around the Memphis scene throughout the 1960s (he's not mentioned in the text of Robert Gordon's essential It Came From Memphis, but he is in a photo), and recorded this album of solo instrumentals in 1968 at Ardent Studios, where Big Star would record their masterpieces a couple years later. You might hear "late 1960s solo guitar instrumental" and think "John Fahey," as that is our blessing and curse in this day and age, but Christopher Idylls is a subtly different animal. For one, the guitars are layered, with what sounds like two or three takes going on at all times, one of them using a delay pedal, which album producer/engineer Terry Manning calls "one of the first uses of the electronic repeat as part of the music." Also, these Idylls are more influenced by British music (ancient British folk and classical music as filtered through then-recent British Invasion ballads) than by Fahey's Americana (despite Nicholson being from Memphis). The liner notes do describe Nicholson being in attendance when Fahey played a gig in Memphis, "doing his Blind Joe Death routine," complete with sunglasses and other affectations, which seemed to inspire Nicholson to go in a different direction.   The result was this unique and beautiful album, but it was not to be released at the time. The Ardent label had only released 45s up to this point, and studio/label head John Fry had cold feet about their first long-playing release being an album of calm, spiritual, and potentially unmarketable folk guitar instrumentals. Nicholson himself also balked, saying he didn't like the mix, and didn't like the album cover. It seems that he was the private type, inherently uncomfortable with the idea of putting his music out into the public sphere. Nonetheless, even without being released, it still made a significant subliminal ripple throughout the world of rock music. The youthful Ardent hangers-on in Big Star were clearly influenced by it, learning ways to make their already spiritual power pop chord changes even more church-of-guitar cathedralic; Idylls showed them spaces within their songs where the chords could truly ring out. It also seems to have had quite an impact on none other than Jimmy Page. Terry Manning tells a story recently shared by the Dangerous Minds website: "In April 1970, Jimmy Page was in Memphis for a Led Zeppelin gig, and after the show, Page and his girlfriend spent the evening hanging out at Manning's apartment. Joined by Chris Bell, the four drank wine and listened to the Gimmer Nicholson album over and over again." Sounds like a good hang. Although the writing sessions for the already increasingly acoustic Led Zeppelin III were finished at the time, its recording sessions started just one month later, and when they were finished Page brought the tapes back to Memphis and Ardent in August so that Manning could mix and master. So, even without being released, the album was still a smooth jewelled pebble that sent out long slow ripples that continue to lap onto the shore of musical consciousness every decade or so. (P.S. Talk about ripples, Terry Manning was also the engineer, and Ardent the studio, for ZZ Top's entire run of great albums, starting with mixing and overdubs on Tres Hombres all the way through Eliminator. In fact, Billy Gibbons and Terry Manning are really the only two musicians you hear on Eliminator; if I'm not mistaken, Frank Beard doesn't play on the album at all. Manning, who doesn't have a beard either, did all the drum programming and overdubs, and even played a lot of the bass. This info and more can be gleaned from this great proto-Reddit Terry Manning AMA thread that went down on the Pro Sound Web Forum in 2005:,5689.0.html.)

No comments:

Blog Archive