Posts Tagged ‘blues’

“East-West” by the Butterfield Blues Band (1966)

David Crosby’s ramblings between songs during the Byrds’ set at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 17, 1967, have become the stuff of legend.

As bandmates Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke listened very bemusedly, Crosby talked into the microphone at length about such topics as sanctioned drug use and the John F. Kennedy assassination. Probably not coincidentally, Crosby was an ex-Byrd a couple of months later.

One of his statements, though, resonated with many of those in attendance at the festival:

Man, if you didn’t hear Mike Bloomfield’s group, man, you are out of it, so far out of it.

The group in question, the Electric Flag, had performed earlier in the day, making its live debut, in fact. And much of the attention at Monterey was focused on Bloomfield, whose instrumental prowess had won him acclaim as perhaps the most highly regarded guitarist in rock music at the time.

Perhaps the performances of the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend (and to some degree, Jerry Garcia) the following night opened some eyes to the next wave of guitar stars. But as of Crosby’s proclamation, Michael Bloomfield was at the top of the pyramid.

He continues to be widely respected decades after his death on Feb. 15, 1981. Rolling Stone has ranked him as high as No. 22 on its periodic, and extremely fluid, lists of all-time greatest guitarists.

But his impact in the pre-Hendrix days seems to be little remembered.

As a teenager, Bloomfield already showed enough talent – and balls! – to walk onstage and play with many of Chicago’s top blues acts. After recording some sessions for Columbia Records in 1964, he joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which was among the first American groups to combine the blues with the harder edge of rock. Butterfield and company, including second guitarist Elvin Bishop, quickly became a top national draw with its exhilarating live performances, and the band’s first album, “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” released in 1965, is considered a cornerstone of blues-rock.

Bloomfield, who’d grown up as a blues player, meanwhile was exploring other influences, including jazz and especially Eastern modal music. The latter – along with a dose of LSD, according to music critic and author Dave Marsh – inspired Bloomfield to compose what became the title track of the Butterfield Blues Band’s second album.

“East-West” is one of two instrumentals that take up roughly half the album’s playing time and went a long way toward establishing Butterfield and company as pioneers in exploring the possibilities of rock music. The rhythm section of bass player Jerome Arnold and Billy Davenport, the supporting instrumentation of keyboard player Mark Naftalin and guitarist Elvin Bishop, and Butterfield’s powerful, foghorn-like harmonica all build a solid foundation for extensive jamming. Then there’s Bloomfield’s guitar, which really carries the proceedings into previously uncharted territory.

The band’s cover of cornetist Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” which wraps up Side One of the LP, represents an early foray into jazz-rock, for the most part following the standard hard-bop version until Bloomfield begins his solo, building the intensity as he shows off his fluid playing, transforming the easy-paced tune into a virtuoso guitar showcase.

Prior to the release of “East-West” in August 1966, few rock songs had ventured past the four-minute mark by anyone who was not Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa or the Rolling Stones. And none of their material sounded anything like “East-West,” the composition: 13 minutes of mind-melting intensity, courtesy of Mr. Bloomfield’s guitar. He set the stage for extended rock instrumentals, but few, if any, ever matched what he and the Butterfield band put on record.

“East-West” is built on a modal format, eschewing chord changes to give the soloists a platform for jamming, as grandly exhibited with Miles Davis’ landmark “Kind of Blue” and subsequent work by Davis’ tenor sax player at the time, John Coltrane. The theme is introduced by the band, with Bishop contributing a spirited guitar line to start proceedings, demonstrating him to be quite a capable instrumentalist, even as a bandmate of Bloomfield.

After about a minute and a half, Butterfield joins in on harmonica, doing a creditable job with his lung power of making his instrument the aural equivalent of an amplified electric guitar. The band chugs along behind him, bringing proceedings to a an early climax shortly before the 3-minute mark.

Then it’s Bloomfield’s turn. The title of “East-West” comes from his combining musical styles from different sides of the globe, and his “East” portion features a minor-scale counterpoint to the modal D, with Bishop eventually joining him as Butterfield and Naftalin help create a wall of sound leading up to an abrupt change in the action.

Nearing 7 minutes into the song, Bloomfield breaks into the melodic, relatively easygoing “West” section, switching to a more-recognizable major scale for his solo. Then, as David Dann writes in his essay “Beyond the Blues: A Critical Look at ‘East-West'”:

At 08:32 Bloomfield introduces the now-familiar Motive A, a four-note scaler run consisting of D-E-F-F#, and creates from it a marvelous compound phrase that twists and turns for a full 60 seconds, only resolving back to D some 40 bars later at 09:38. It’s no overstatement to assert that the coherence, clarity and Bach-like motion of this passage, “the 40-bar phrase,” establish Michael Bloomfield as one of rock’s greatest soloists. Certainly no one else before him had exhibited such musical virtuosity.

Bishop again helps provide a stunning dual-guitar attack as the song reaches its conclusion, the band breaking into a punctuated, bluesy rhythm that wraps up with an extended final note, with a quick Butterfield harp flourish serving as the final note.

Unfortunately, that also served as Bloomfield’s finale with Butterfield as far as studio recordings. He left the band the following spring to embark on the Electric Flag project, and later he worked on the well-regarded “Super Session” album.

After a so-so venture as one of Columbia Records’ featured solo artist and a brief Electric Flag reunion, Bloomfield released a number of uneven albums, the last being “Crusin’ For A Brusin’,” which came out on John Fahey’s Takoma label shortly before Bloomfield was found dead in his car in San Francisco.

Photographer-filmmaker Deborah Chesher recently compiled her work of deceased musicians into a fascinating volume called “Everybody I Shot Is Dead.” The first chapter is on Michael Bloomfield, whose death probably touched her the most among the dozens of subjects in the book. She wraps up the chapter with:

If you’ve never heard him play, find his CDs and listen. Michael Bloomfield was an exceptional musician. He was also intelligent, mischievous, curious, crazy and a whole lot of sweetness. I was lucky to know him.

The other half of the “East-West” album contains more stellar examples of the Butterfield band’s groundbreaking forays into blues-rock, including a definitive reading of Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” and a cover of Michael Nesmith’s “Mary Mary,” before he did his own version with the Monkees. Also featured is Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out of My Life Woman,” which the band had issued as its debut single the previous year.

The songs with vocals make for good listening, certainly. But if you enjoy rock instrumentals, “East-West” is a must.

“At Fillmore East” by the Allman Brothers Band (1971)

The first two albums by the Allman Brothers Band drew plenty of critical acclaim, and the latter, “Idlewild South,” rose to No. 38 on Billboard. But the main knock on those efforts was that, as good as they were, they hardly captured the concert experience.

Perhaps taking a cue from other bands in similar situations – the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service come to mind – the Allmans opted to record live for their third album. On March 12 and 13, 1971, the tape rolled at New York’s Fillmore East, capturing a couple of performances. The reels went to producer Tom Dowd, who did some tweaking to come up with two LPs’ worth of material.

The results were better than anyone could have anticipated, given the Allmans’ propensity to stretch out songs and the relatively primitive recording technology available. “At Fillmore East” captures what may have been the most dynamic rock band of the time, and that certainly was when giants roamed the earth.

The Allmans and Dowd divided the LPs thematically: The first consisted of blues covers, the second of originals. In this band’s case, the term “cover” is used loosely; each of the first four tracks is given a treatment that defines it as an Allman Brothers standard.

The album kicks off with its most radio-friendly song to this day, Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues.” Willie never would have envisioned the power of Duane Allman’s opening slide guitar licks, punctuated by the rest of the band playing the main riff, launching into an eminently memorable blues-rock groove. Gregg Allman, though just 23 at the time, nails the half-boasting, half-pleading attitude of the tune’s narrator.

“Done Somebody Wrong” – credited to Elmore James, Clarence Lewis and Bobby Robinson – follows in a similar vein, with the Allmans giving the song a much grittier reading than the version did as “I Ain’t Done Wrong” several years earlier. Guest Thom Doucette complements the performance on some well-played harmonica.

Duane introduces “Stormy Monday” as a Bobby “Blue” Bland song before correcting himself to credit composer T-Bone walker, who called it “Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just As Bad).” Some notable rock versions included those by early hard-rockers Cream and Mountain, but the Allmans ended up with the definitive version, a slow blues that allows Duane and fellow guitarist Dickey Betts to show off their chops. Dowd cut about three minutes off the song for the LP; the full version later was released on the compilation called “The Fillmore Concerts.”

“You Don’t Love Me” is another popular blues-rock numbers of the ’60s, recorded by the likes of Kaleidoscope, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and the Al Kooper-Stephen Stills “Super Session” project. Those versions of the Willie Cobbs song are minor efforts compared with the Allmans’ behemoth: 19 minutes of guitar virtuosity, the likes of which hadn’t been heard on vinyl to that point, especially Duane’s lengthy unaccompanied turn. No wonder he was one of the most-demanded session guitarists of the era, in addition to his regular gig.

A relatively compact instrumental, “Hot ‘Lanta,” follows, a group composition that shows the Allmans’ collective knack for adapting melodic hooks to more complex arrangements, this time by way of bass player Berry Oakley. The outro seems to go on just a bit long, but it does give percussionist Butch Trucks an opportunity to display his skills on timpani.

Betts’ “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” which appears on “Idlewild South” as the band’s first original instrumental, doubles its length for the live version. The song demonstrates the band’s ability to seamlessly incorporate jazz elements into its repertoire, to a point that the musicians have drawn favorable comparisons to the work of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, which in as of itself is quite a feat. Trucks and fellow drummer Jai Johanny Johanson team up for an extended percussion duet, one that would grow in length in concerts over the decades.

The LP’s four side starts with one of rock’s classic artist-audience discourses.

Duane: “Berry starts her off.”

Fan: “‘Whipping Post’!”

Duane: “You guessed it.”

Oakley’s thundering bass in 11/4 time opens the epic, with the other instruments reaching a crescendo before Gregg begins wailing his tale of woe: “I’ve been run down, I’ve been lied to, and I don’t know why I let that girl make me out a fool/Took all my money, wrecked my new car, now she’s with one of my good-time buddies, they’re drinking in some cross-town bar.”

After the chorus, Duane takes an extended solo prior to the second verse: “My friends tell me I’ve been such a fool, and I had to stand back and take it, baby, all for loving you/I drown myself in sorrow as I look at what you’ve done/Nothing seems to change, the bad times stay the same, and I can’t run.”

Betts then solos before he and Duane take the song up the scale to its climax, where listeners to the debut album, “The Allman Brothers Band,” would expect the song’s finale. Instead, the band immerses itself into improvisational mode, seemingly drawing from the New Thing school of jazz before Betts comes up with a tidy guitar lead against well-assembled backing. Finally, Gregg’s vocal closes the proceedings …

… but not so fast. The group experiments again, with Duane throwing in a bit of the familiar “Frere Jacque,” for several more minutes before Gregg groans the actual finale, “Lord don’t you know, that I feel, like I’m dying.” The band wraps it up before Trucks starts rolling on the tympani to signal the start to another song.

Those present at the concert, itself, knew what followed. But it wasn’t until the release of “Eat a Peach” the following year that album listeners learned that the 22-plus minutes of “Whipping Post” segued into 33-plus minutes of “Mountain Jam.” The two later were linked in that manner on “The Fillmore Concerts,” after CD technology made such a pairing possible.

“At Fillmore East” spreads nearly 80 minutes of music over only seven tracks, but even critics who usually complain about extended compositions seem to agree that the Allmans provide one of the few examples in which more actually is more.

The record-buying public agreed, sending the album to No. 13 and establishing the Allman Brothers Band as one of the hottest acts going.

On Oct. 29, 1971, Duane Allman was riding his motorcycle in his hometown of Macon, Ga., when he struck the back of a flatbed truck that had stopped suddenly in the middle of an intersection. He died a few hours later, just 24 years old.

The Allman Brothers Band not only managed to soldier on but still is a top concert draw more than 40 years later, with Gregg, Butch and Jaimoe around from the Fillmore East days. The group has continued to produce quality music, but its third album always will stand as its high-water mark.

As a music aficionado, I’ve made many friends over the years who are exceptionally accomplished performers. And while I’m somewhat envious – hey, I’ve spent decades working on my rudimentary skill set of singing and playing guitar – I really enjoy pulling out their recordings and giving them a listen.

At a recent networking event, I took quick note of that night’s entertainment: a jazz singer with the voice of the proverbial nightingale. (One of her specialties happens to be the standard “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”) It turned out that I’d met her several years earlier, after she recorded a well-crafted compact disc called “Bluebird Fly.”

And so I was reacquainted with the eminently talented and personable Jessica Lee, who just happens to complement her musical abilities with a distinctive knack for entrepreneurship. She’s in her 10th year of hosting a successful and innovative networking group that combines music with the business of business.

I have a long-standing habit of listening to jazz on Sunday mornings, and today I put on “Bluebird Fly.” Actually, jazz is just part of the picture: Jessica mixes it up with ballads, blues and a touch of good ol’ rock and roll to present a comprehensive portrait of the artist as a young woman.

You know you’re going to enjoy the album when it starts with a swinging version of the classic “Why Don’t You Do Right.” Jessica channels the late chanteuse Peggy Lee in presenting the familiar tale of a woman who craves cash, with stellar backing by Danny Shields and Chris Hemingway trading licks on guitar and sax, respectively.

Jessica and company switch gears for Brenda Russell’s “Get Here,” with John D’Amico, who does all the arrangements on “Bluebird Fly,” providing tasteful accompaniment on piano. The vocals put Jessica on display as an empathetic balladeer, imploring her man to “just get here if you can.”

When she sings the blues, Jessica’s precise phrasing comes to the forefront, as evidenced by “Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya” as she’s able to emulate song composer Louis Armstrong’s distinctive style. Shields again provides able backing, playing an extended solo that would make many a Texas bluesman proud.

“Right Place Right Now” and “I Just Wanna Love Somebody” return Jessica to ballad mode. On the latter, written the year the album was recorded by James Slater and Karyn Rochelle, Miss Lee makes the most of her range as a vocalist, hitting high notes during the title refrain in a seemingly effortless manner.

“Weary Blues” contains an interesting segment in which Jessica and John emulate a Victrola-era recording (without the clicks, pops and scratches) to emphasize the song’s ragtime vintage. Again, she proves herself worthy of following the path established by Satchmo and other jazz greats.

The bluesy ballad “Damn Your Eyes,” featuring co-executive producer Roy Ruzika on rhythm guitar, and the tender “Lover Man” precede some forays into the rock milieu.

“Son of a Preacher Man” is given a relaxed treatment compared with the popular version by the late Dusty Springfield, but Jessica’s smooth delivery is just as effective in conveying the message of female desire. Similarly, “My Baby Left Me” is more leisurely paced than what Elvis, Scotty and Bill recorded, and Andy Gabig’s harmonica serves as a pleasant complement to Jessica’s voice.

In between those two songs is the album’s longest track and perhaps its high point, a cover of Sade’s “Jezebel.” Relatively sparse accompaniment by D’Amico and rhythm section Virgil Waters (bass) and Lenny Rogers (drums) allows Jessica to demonstrate fully what she brings to the table as a vocalist.

Closing “Bluebird Fly” is the traditional “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” a duet with Jessica keeping in harmony with John’s piano playing.

Jessica produced the album with Hollis Greathouse, who plays bass on several tracks, and engineer Jay Dudt. Kudos to them for an eminently listenable and enjoyable product, and to executive producers Roy and Joan Ruzika for making it all possible. “Bluebird Fly” is a fine testament to the talents of a vocalist who deserves nothing but accolades.

BTW, here are some videos of Jessica and friends performing in January:

“Ain’t Nobody’s Business”

“I’ve Got to Use My Imagination”

“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”

“Blues Helping” by Love Sculpture (1968)

The British blues boom probably reached its apex in 1968, with stellar offerings such as Jeff Beck’s “Truth,” Free’s “Tons of Sobs,” the Groundhogs’ “Scratching the Surface,” John Mayall’s “Bare Wires” and “Blues from Laurel Canyon,” Ten Years After’s “Undead” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Fleetwood Mac” and “Mr. Wonderful.”

Even John Lennon got in on the act, with the Beatles’ “Yer Blues.” And John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant recorded the tracks for their debut album in October, even though “Led Zeppelin” wasn’t released until 1969.

Amid the spate of blues-rock recordings was “Blues Helping,” the debut by a Welsh trio called Love Sculpture. The band scored a U.k. hit that same year with a rock version of Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance,” which brought the guitar work of Dave Edmunds into the national spotlight.

“Blues Helping” is exactly what the title implies, starting with a scorching version of “The Stumble,” during which Edmunds keeps up note-for-note with the song’s composer, the legendary Freddie King (as referenced in Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band.”)

Edumnds, bass player John Williams and drummer Bob “Congo” Jones rip through a set of familiar blues and R&B numbers by the likes of Ray Charles, B.B. King, Willie Dixon and Slim Harpo.

Also included is a reading of the oft-covered “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess,” featuring Edmunds playing a particularly stinging bridge. And in the elongated “Don’t Answer the Door,” Edmunds channels the macho attitude of a true bluesman, commanding his woman to keep her mother, sister and doctor away from the house “when I’m not at home.”

The album closes with the title track, a basic blues improvisation that wraps up proceedings on a genre-suitable note.

Edmunds went on to solo success and at one point teamed with former Brinsley Schwarz bass player for a supergroup of sorts, Rockpile. He’s played some tremendous guitar, but never quite in the same vein as on “Blues Helping.”

“Born Under a Bad Sign” by Albert King (1967)

One of the criteria I’m using for Harry’s Hundred is no compilations.

Unfortunately, that excludes a lot of work from the masters of the blues. I have plenty of collections by the likes of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King, but for the most part they pull together classic singles rather than being proper albums.

But I certainly can go with “Born Under a Bad Sign,” Albert King’s Stax Records debut, cut with the cream of that label’s musicians: Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass; Booker T. Jones on organ; and Al Jackson Jr. on drums. You’ll recognize thagt quartet as the classic lineup of Booker T. & the MG’s, but joining the sessions were the liks of Isaac Hayes on piano and a horn section of Wayne Jackson, Andrew Love and Joe Arnold.

Albert and his Gibson Flying V are the stars, though, and the man and his guitar put on a performance that helped bring the blues into the musical mainstream. As Sean McDevitt wrote for Lifestyle in 2007, the album “not only directly influenced legions of guitar players who studied its every subtlety and nuance, but it would changed the face of American music, modernizing the blues at a time when albums like the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? were galvanizing the face of rock.”

Many of the tracks have become blues-rock standards, starting with Cream’s 1968 cover of the title track. “The Hunter” and “Oh, Pretty Woman” also show up often in various artists’ repertoires, and the nascent Santana performed a killer version of “As the Years Go Passing By,” appearing on an archival release of the band’s December 1968 concerts at the Fillmore West.

“Born Under a Bad Sign” is in the Blues Hall of Fame as a 1985 inductee, and Albert King (1923-92), of course, also is a member.

As a follow-up to a post from last week, here are some videos about the Jazz & Blues Entrepreneurial Thursdays networking group founded and perpetuated by musician-entrepreneur Jessica Lee.

First, a 5-minute video about the networking group:

http://youtu.be/zAtPjE3V8B8

Second, a performance of “Why Don’t You Do Right”:

http://youtu.be/hzZbwm0FU7Q

And third, another performance, of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”

http://youtu.be/Qurbo2lx3B0

I had to play a bit with the audio portion of “Do Right,” so ignore any clicks, pops or changes in dynamics. “Nightingale” is fairly pristine.

Again, if you live in the Pittsburgh area, love music and enjoy networking, you might want to give the group a try.