music friday: gang of four

40 years ago today, I saw Gang of Four. They were touring behind their stunning debut album, Entertainment! I loved the album (still do), and made sure I caught them when they came to the Bay Area. The venue was the American Indian Center.

The opening act was BPeople, and honestly, I don't even remember seeing them:

Gang of Four was a rather bizarre blend of genres. They played post-punk, they played funk, they had political lyrics. There were plenty of groups that did one of those things, maybe even two, but Gang of Four managed to work all three into the mix. I didn't know what a great dance band they were until I saw them.

Here's "To Hell with Poverty", live in 1980:

And "He'd Send in the Army", also from 1980:

Here's a link to the audio from the show I saw:

music friday: fillmore west, may 15, 1969

51 years ago today, three bands started a four-night run at the Fillmore West.

The opening act was Allmen Joy. You can get lost in this kind of excavation. The Allman Brothers Band were famously known as The Allman Joys in one of their earlier configurations, but by May 15 of 1969, I'm pretty sure they were already The Allman Brothers. Turns out, there was a local psychedelic band in the late-60s called Allmen Joy, and they were the ones who opened the show. There is even a bootleg of a show they played in Denver in 1967, of which this is one song, a cover of the 13th Floor Elevators:

Next up was The Youngbloods. Known today primarily as the band who had the biggest hit with the evergreen hippie anthem "Get Together", in 1969 they released their third album, Elephant Mountain, which some of us think was their best. That album included their finest track, "Darkness Darkness", heard here from a March 1969 show:

"Darkness Darkness" has been covered by a variety of artists, including Mott the Hoople, Eric Burdon, Richie Havens, Screaming Trees, Golden Earring, Robert Plant, Cowboy Junkies, and Ann Wilson.

Santana was the headliners. In May of 1969, they were recording their first album. They were managed by Bill Graham, who got them a spot at the Woodstock festival three months after this Fillmore West gig. The rest, you could say, was history. (The video quality on this isn't the greatest, but it includes the entire "Soul Sacrifice" ... in the movie, the song was truncated.)

Santana's first album had yet to be released. They were known in the Bay Area ... Graham made sure of that ... but unknown on the other side of the country. I believe they were the only band to appear at that famous concert who did not have a record out. Drummer Michael Shrieve had just turned 20 (Wikipedia says he was the second-youngest performer at that show).

If you haven't had enough yet, here is the version of "Soul Sacrifice" that Shrieve himself says is the best. (I agree, although Woodstock gets points for its iconic status.) I believe the maracas player's name is Rico Reyes.

I never saw Allmen Joy. To be honest, until I started this post, I'd never heard of them. Never saw The Youngbloods, although I saw Jesse Colin Young solo in 1974. Finally saw Santana in 1977.

rip it up

Back when I was an English professor, I had a thing where I'd explain why I thought it was silly to treat rock songs as poetry. My main example was "Tutti Frutti". The words on the page, the words as they might appear in a poetry anthology, are more than a little silly. (There's also the eternal problem that no one can agree on exactly how to spell that immortal first line.)  My point, though, was that without Little Richard's impassioned vocal, the lyrics on the page were incomplete. The lyrics didn't belong on a page. They belonged on a record player.

music friday: muddy waters

The legendary Muddy Waters died on this date in 1983, at the age of 70. Muddy had more than a dozen top ten hits on the R&B charts in the 1950s. One song that didn't make the charts, "Rollin' Stone" in 1950, led to the names of Rolling Stone magazine and the band The Rolling Stones. Chess Records released a compilation album, The Best of Muddy Waters, in 1958. That album, along with 1960's Muddy Waters at Newport 1960, were hugely influential, especially with the emerging blues bands in England. In the late 70s, one of the men he had influenced, Johnny Winter, produced two studio and one live album that marked another resurgence for Waters. He won six Grammys over the years, including the three with Winter. Also noteworthy was his appearance at the final concert of The Band in 1976, released on record and as a Martin Scorsese-directed film in 1978.

We saw Muddy once in 1980 at the Keystone Berkeley, which no longer exist. John Lee Hooker opened the show. The Keystone was intimate: it had a capacity of only 435. A tale I've told too often: after the show, I went up to Muddy Waters and shook his hand.

Here's "Long Distance Call". Not sure of the date ... late 60s-early 70s:

Here he is at the Last Waltz:

And here's Muddy in 1981 with "Champagne and Reefer", on stage with the band that named themselves after one of his songs:

Bonus: Here is John Lee Hooker with "Boom Boom", recorded in 1979 but released in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers:

music friday: the mahavishnu orchestra and the screaming gypsy bandits

On this date in 1972, I saw a concert that is in the running for the loudest show I ever attended. (Only competition I can think of is Neil Young and Crazy Horse at the Cow Palace, which you can see/hear by watching the movie Rust Never Sleeps.) The opening act, The Screaming Gypsy Bandits, were a highly-regarded local band (I was living in Bloomington, Indiana at the time) led by singer Caroline Peyton, who remains in the music business ... she recorded an album as recently as 2014. Here are a few excerpts from a 2016 interview with Michael Bourne, who played with the Bandits for a time and spent a lot of time in Bloomington (a college town ... Indiana University is there).

Caroline was a wonderful singer. She could've been a bigger star if she was handled right. But we all fell apart in the studio, like I said. They could've gone on to great things. But she did go on to greater things - she did come to New York and started working in the theater.

It's a very odd thing when you think about her career. She was this really wild hippie girl with a great voice, and then she ended up singing in musicals and operas in New York, then ended up in Nashville with a church choir. It was a complete ark of all these different styles of music....

It was just an extraordinary time. When you look at it politically, Indiana was a red state, but Bloomington was a blue city. Music was involved in all the politics of the time. It connected to everything in every way, from the Women's Liberation movement to Civil Rights. People were naked everywhere. All this sex was happening everywhere. There were people writing poems who were never creative at all. People were getting involved politically. It was remarkable how much the music scene did.

Here is a track from an album of unreleased material the band put out in 2009:

It was the Mahavishnu Orchestra that was extremely LOUD. Don't know how much I need to say about that band. "Mahavishnu" was the brilliant guitarist John McLaughlin, who had played on several crucial Miles Davis albums (including In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, and probably my favorite Miles album, Jack Johnson). He could play at blistering speeds, and Billy Cobham was the perfect drummer for those speeds. The band also including Jan Hammer, who gained fame later for his music on the television series Miami Vice.

I am not a jazz aficionado, by which I mean, I know what I like, but I don't know much about the music in general. When I think jazz, I think improvisation, and McLaughlin and Cobham, at least, were capable of that. But as I heard the music of the Orchestra, it grew out of repeated segments, and live, they sounded pretty much like they did on record. Of course, that's how rock bands worked, and their first album, The Inner Mounting Flame, was an amazing early example of jazz fusion, and a fairly "easy" listen for fans raised on rock.

Here is "Awakening" from that first album. P.S. TURN IT UP!