Posts Tagged ‘Keith Richards’

“Beggars Banquet” by the Rolling Stones (1968)

I. Torn and Frayed

At nearly four centuries old, Swarkestone Hall Pavilion offers visitors to England’s Derbyshire County in England an opportunity to spend the night with history.

The structure, now offered for accommodations, dates back to 1632, when Sir John Harpur commissioned pioneering architect John Smythson to build a recreational building on the grounds of the family residence. The main house has been in ruins since around 1750, but the pavilion has endured, most recently assisted through efforts by the British building conservation charity Landmark Trust.

The building had stood for more than 330 years when it had its most enduring brush with fame.

In June 1968, photographer Michael Joseph chose the locale for a shoot involving five long-haired, rather scruffy young men from London. They’d been photographed countless times before, and would be so exponentially more in the future. But this session would prove to be among the most memorable, and bittersweet, occasions.

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Billy Wyman, Charlie Watts and Brian Jones met with Joseph in their hometown of London before moving to the more picturesque location in Derbyshire, providing a wealth of images that ended up illustrating two Rolling Stones albums, that year’s “Beggars Banquet” and the 1970 anthology “Hot Rocks.”

By the time Decca Records was preparing the packaging for the latter, one of the subjects no longer was available. Lewis B. Jones, as was his proper name, died July 3, 1969, setting the precedent for the unfortunate spate of rock superstars who have succumbed to the lifestyle at age 27.

The back cover of “Hot Rocks” shows the Stones at Swarkestone, Watts standing front and center on the ground, and the rest of them perched on the massive window sills. Jones is reclining rather precariously, as if he were about to plunge downward, a position that fairly accurately represents the trajectory on which he found himself the last few years of his life, especially with regard to his band.

The “Beggars Banquet” motif that would up being portrayed on the inside of the album jacket shows Brian in a seemingly helpless position, pinned to his chair by a large dog, his facial expression bemused, his hands held skyward in a gesture of surrender. He was only 26 at the time but had the general appearance of a much-older man.

The Joseph sessions represent one of the final glimpses of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. True, he’d appear with the rest of the band on a would-be TV special, “The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus,” filmed in late 1968 but pretty much hidden away for the better part of three decades afterward. By then, he had become but a footnote in the band’s history, with latter-day fans often wondering, “Who’s that guy?”

Those participating in recording sessions for “Beggars Banquet” might have wondered the same thing, considering Brian’s contributions to the project, or lack thereof. He’s credited with playing slide guitar – stunningly, as usual – on one track, harmonica on a few others, and a few assorted, more exotic instruments here and there. But for the most part he had little input toward what turned out to be his last album, save for incidental appearances on a couple of tracks on the followup, “Let It Bleed.”

In another bittersweet twist, critics at the time regarded “Beggars Banquet” as the first truly solid Rolling Stones album, a viewpoint that persists nearly half a century after its release. That’s because Keith Richards stepped up in a big way to fill the void left by Brian, once the band’s showcase instrumentalist, and his slow, steady decline, one that didn’t necessarily have to be irrevocable.


II. Come On

In mid-1962, the late Ian “Stu” Stewart was an easygoing 24-year-old piano player looking to hone his boogie-woogie style with a band of likeminded individuals in his adopted hometown of London.

“So when a little advert appeared in Jazz News – a character called Brian Jones wanted to form an R&B group – I went along and saw him,” Stewart told author Stanley Booth for his landmark biography, “The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones.”

I’ll never forget. He had this Howlin’ Wolf album goin’. I’d never heard anything like it. I thought, Right, this is it. He said, “We’re gonna have a rehearsal.”

Gathering with Jones and Stewart were an assortment of motley characters, among them 18-year-old guitarist Richards. He persuaded his acquaintance Jagger, who was singing with Alexis Korner’s Blues Inc. while studying at the London School of Economics, to drop by one of the rehearsals.

Thus marked the beginning of the Rollin’ Stones, before they added the “g.” The band came close to falling apart right away, though, as Richards recalled:

Brian was living right in the middle of where all the spades live here, in a basement, very decrepit place with mushrooms and fungus growing out of the walls, with (girlfriend) Pat and his kid. Now sometime this summer something really weird happens. One night Mick, who’d been playin’ a gig with Korner, went ’round to see Brian, if I remember rightly, and Brian wasn’t there but his old lady was. Mick was very drunk, and he screwed her.

This caused a whole trauma. At first, Brian was terribly offended. The chick split. But what it really did was put Mick and Brian very tight together, because it put them through a whole emotional scene and they really got into each other, and they became very close.”

Jagger, in fact, was more serious about his education than a music career, until Jones convinced him otherwise. When Bill Perks (Wyman) and Charlie Watts joined the band – originally it was the Rollin’ Stones – it became the vocalist’s going concern.

“At the start of the Stones it was Brian who was the monster head,” Korner told Booth:

Brian was incredibly aggressive in performance. … He used to jump forward with the tambourine and sneer at you at the same time. The aggression had a tremendous impact. Also, he was a very sensitive player. Brian, at his best, could play slow blues exceptionally well. But what I remember him most for is his ‘I’m gonna put the boot in’ attitude.

At the start, Brian was the image of aggression in the Stones much more than Mick.

Jones was the de facto leader of an energized sextet with a sound and stage act that attracted a multitude of customers to London’s Crawdaddy Club, along with a teenage entrepreneur named Andrew Loog Oldham. He and business partner Eric Easton took over the Rolling Stones’ management and signed them to Decca Records. On May 10, 1963, the band cut two songs for its first single, Chuck Berry’s “Come On” and Willie Dixon’s “I Wanna Be Loved,” and soon after the Stones played the former on a TV show called “Thank Your Lucky Stars.”

“They wore matching houndstooth check jackets Oldham had provided to make them look more like a group,” Booth wrote, “and there were only five of them.”

“This is where Brian starts to realize things have gone beyond his control,” Keith said. “Before this, everybody knows that Brian considers it to be his band. Now Andrew Oldham sees Mick as a big sex symbol, and wants to kick Stu out, and we won’t have it. And eventually, because Brian had known him longer than we, and the band was Brian’s idea in the first place, Brian had to tell Stu how we’d signed with these people, how they were very image-conscious, and Stu didn’t fit in. …

“By now, the Beatles have seen us play, and we’ve been to see them at the Albert Hall, and we’ve seen all the screaming chicks, the birds down in front, and everybody can’t wait, you can’t wait to hear the screams.”

That’s what Jones wanted, and as the band started traveling throughout England, that’s what he got, albeit in a rather raucous manner. Stewart, who’d been relegated to roadie after Oldham’s intervention, told Booth about the general atmosphere of an early Rolling Stones concert in the hinterlands:

“No dressing rooms, no stages, no electricity, no security, fuck-all, used to be a hell of a bloody fight every night. They all said, ‘We’ve had the Beatles here; we can handle anything.’ You’d say, ‘Well, you haven’t had the Stones yet. You wait,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, we can handle everything,’ so everything used to get destroyed.

“The boys themselves never used to help matters much, because they resisted for a while the idea of all traveling together. Brian had something to do with this. Nobody wanted to be in the same car with Brian for any length of time. He began to feel he’d been eased out. He became difficult to live with.”


III. Shattered

On Aug. 27, 1963, during a whirlwind tour of England, the Rolling Stones performed at the Star and Garter pub in Windsor. Richards was the only guitarist that night; Jones was ill and sat that one out.

His status as the group’s leader already was eroding. In the beginning, he handled the cash and paid the other band members. Eventually, they received their money from the management office.

Also eventually, Jagger and Richards starting writing songs together, “though we didn’t like anything we wrote and we couldn’t get anybody else in the band to play it,” Keith recalled. But after other artists started scoring hits with their material, most notably Marianne Faithfull’s “As Tears Go By,” the Stones started recording more Jagger-Richards material, solidifying the partnership when “The Last Time” hit No. 1 on the UK singles charts.

Jones wrote songs, too, but none ever would be recorded by the Rolling Stones, which had become almost on par with the Beatles as a top rock ‘n’ roll attraction. Their American tour in late 1965 grossed $2 million in a month and a half, and their string of hit singles continued into 1966 with “19th Nervous Breakdown,” which contained what appeared to be a reference to mind-altering drugs: “On our first trip I tried so hard to rearrange your mind/But after ‘while I realized you were rearranging mine.”


Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival, June 1967

The lyrics have applied to Jones.

“He had to outdo everybody, do more,” Richards recalled. “If everybody was taking a thousand mikes of acid, he’d take 2,000 of STP. He did himself in.”

He still could be the band’s premiere instrumentalist, when he wanted to: Jones “sat for hours learning to play sitar, put it on ‘Paint It, Black’ and never played it again,” Watts recalled. In early 1967, on “Ruby Tuesday” – containing the line “Lose your dreams, and you will lose your mind” – Jones played “ethereal, not to say haunting, flute. The last thing, Stu said, Brian ever did for the Stones,” Booth wrote.

That summer, the Rolling Stones went to work on the album that eventually arrived as “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” a psychedelic mishmash that seemed to be highly derivative of such work as the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and Pink Floyd’s “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” Jones, who was enduring court proceedings related to drug arrests, was pictured on the LP cover, but that may have been the extent of his involvement.

In the spring 1968, the Stones finished work on a new single, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” that went on to score the band its first No. 1 hit in two years. On May 12, the Stones gave a surprise performance at the New Musical Express Poll Winners’ Concert at London’s Wembley Stadium. Booth wrote:

It was just like the old days, girls screaming, cops with linked arms holding back hysterical fans. The Stones did “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Satisfaction,” and Mick threw his white shoes into the crowd.

Nine days later, four days before “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was released, Brian was again arrested for drugs. He had heard the screams for the last time.


IV. “Beggars Banquet”

When the Rolling Stones gathered in March 1968 to start work on a new album, one of the first songs to emerge was “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and its success seemed to give the band a renewed sense of energy in the wake of Jones’ musical inactivity. He did contribute to some of the tracks that eventually surfaced on “Beggars Banquet” – chief among them is his bottleneck slide on “No Expectations” – but the album stands as a testament to the band’s ability to soldier on without its founder.

The opening track, “Sympathy for the Devil,” is at once a startling foray into an adventurous musical direction and a lyrical challenge to pop conventions. It starts with guest percussionist Rocky Dijon joining Wyman on maracas to create a tribal motif, over which Jagger provides echoed, ethereal yelps before he launches into his narrative:

Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year, stole many a mans soul and faith
I was around when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate

That’s strong stuff, even 44 years after the fact.

The song, of course, became one of the best-known in the Stones’ extensive canon and became the band’s unofficial theme for a while, until the Satanic overtones clashed with events at the Altamont concert in December 1969, when a man was stabbed to death directly in front of the stage.

Following the raucous jam of “Sympathy for the Devil,” which lasts more than 7 minutes, the Stones turn down the volume for the acoustic ballad “No Expectations.” Influenced by Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain,” which the band later recorded, the song probably represents Jones’ last musical stand:

“We were sitting around in a circle on the floor, singing and playing, recording with open mikes,” Jagger said in a 1995 interview for Rolling Stone magazine. “That was the last time I remember Brian really being totally involved in something that was really worth doing.”

“Dear Doctor” draws its influence from country music, resulting in a tongue-in-check tale of a young man who’s about to marry, against his will, “a bow-legged sow.”

“There’s a sense of humour in country music,” Jagger explained, “a way of looking at life in a humorous kind of way, and I think we were just acknowledging that element of the music.”

The band returns to its blues roots for “Parachute Woman,” which also kind of returns to the band’s sonic roots: It was recorded onto a cassette recorder and double-tracked, to give it a bit of depth. The song puts Jagger’s penchant for not-too-subtle sexual innuendo on display: “Parachute woman, will you blow me out? Well, my heavy throbber’s itchin’, just to lay a solid rhythm down.”

On “Jig-Saw Puzzle,” Jagger’s lyrics are willfully obtuse, perhaps his take on a Bob Dylan epic, as he introduces a variety of characters: a tramp, bishop’s daughter, family-man gangster and 20,000 grandmas, along with the queen who kills them. And then there’s his telling portrait of the Rolling Stones, themselves:

Oh the singer, he looks angry
At being thrown to the lions
And the bass player, he looks nervous
About the girls outside
And the drummer, he’s so shattered
Trying to keep on time
And the guitar players look damaged
They’ve been outcasts all their lives

For an album that contains “Sympathy for the Devil,” it would appear to be difficult to top that as far as generating controversy. But “Street Fighting Man” did the trick, with lines like this: “Hey, said my name is called Disturbance/I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the King, I’ll rail at all his servants.” The student uprising in France during the spring of 1968 inspired the song, but Jagger admits about his own country: “in sleepy London Town there’s just no place for a street fighting man.”

Jones contributes sitar and tamboura to a relatively muddy mix, which subsequent remastering jobs haven’t been able to correct too much, for good reason. As Richards recalled in a 1971 Rolling Stone interview:

The basic track of that was done on a mono cassette with very distorted overrecording, on a Phillips with no limiters. Brian is playing sitar, it twangs away. He’s holding notes that wouldn’t come through if you had a board, you wouldn’t be able to fit it in. But on a cassette if you just move the people, it does. Cut in the studio and then put on a tape. Started putting percussion and bass on it. That was really an electronic track, up in the realms.

Mississipi-born Robert Wilkins wrote “Prodigal Son,” originally titled “No Way to Get Along,” back in the 1920s, and the Stones tackle the song as a primitive blues, with sparse instrumentation. In 1969, Jagger and Richards performed the song as an impromptu duet during a power outage at the band’s concert in Oakland.

“Stray Cat Blues” owes a debt to the Velvet Underground’s early catalogue, in its sustained introduction, which Jagger said was influenced by the VU song “Heroin,” and in its subject matter: The protagonist propositions a 15-year-old girl – on the live version released on “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out,” she’s 13 – to “just come on upstairs.” And then he ups the ante:

You say you got a friend, that she’s wilder than you
Why don’t you bring her upstairs
If she’s so wild then she can join in, too

The song’s conclusion is a lengthy, modal drone that also is reminiscent of the Velvets’ work, demonstrating the then-obscure New York City band had won some fans in high places.

“Factory Girl” is a folk-oriented offering, with the recording featuring an unusual assortment of musicians: Dijon on congas, Ric Grech of Family on violin, Dave Mason of Traffic on Mellotron (sounding like a mandolin) and Watts on tabla. As Charlie noted in Dora Loewenstein and Philip Dodd’s “According to the Rolling Stones”:

On “Factory Girl,” I was doing something you shouldn’t do, which is playing the tabla with sticks instead of trying to get that sound using your hand, which Indian tabla players do, though it’s an extremely difficult technique and painful if you’re not trained.

The album closes with “Salt of the Earth,” which the Stones apparently intended as the band’s grand epic: They concluded “The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus” with a performance that included a sing-along with everyone in attendance. The studio version features the Los Angeles Watts Street Gospel Choir adding a dramatic flair, an effect the band would repeat on its much better-known “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” the following year.

The release of the album was delayed because of a dispute over the cover art, which the Stones delivered as a graffiti-covered bathroom wall. An invitation to a “Beggars Banquet” was substituted, and the original art didn’t surface until the CD version became available in the ’80s.

Brian Jones, of course, wasn’t around to see it.

“Sweetheart of the Rodeo” by the Byrds (1968)

The cover of the Byrds’ fifth album, “The Notorious Byrd Brothers,” famously features the image of a horse in place of David Crosby, who’d either left the band or been fired during recording sessions, depending on whom you believe.

Crosby had been increasingly at odds with fellow founding members Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, who chafed at Crosby’s spaced-out ramblings between songs during the Byrds’ set at the Monterey Pop Festival, as well as his guest spot spelling Neil Young in Buffalo Springfield.

Crosby, in turn, opposed the others’ song selections for “Notorious,” arguing that his ode to a menage a trois, “Triad,” should be on the album, and Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Goin’ Back” should not.


Roger McGuinn

At any rate, he was gone as of October 1967, and McGuinn and Hillman coaxed former lead singer Gene Clark back into the band. He’d left the previous year – the classic “Eight Miles High” was prompted by his fear of flying – but decided to return for an appearance on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” and a short tour of the Midwest. After only a couple of weeks, he bowed out again.

Drummer Michael Clarke wasn’t far behind. A Columbia Records CD re-release contains a section of studio chatter that puts the rest of the Byrds’ dissatisfaction with Clarke on full display, with Crosby taunting him with crybaby sounds. Clarke stuck around long enough to finish the LP, but by the time it was released in January 1968, the Byrds effectively were a duo.

While two other groundbreaking bands with personnel problems imploded that same year – Young, Richie Furay and Stephen Stills went their separate ways, as did Jimmy Page and the rest of the Yardbirds – McGuinn and Hillman decided to carry on and went about recruiting new members.

McGuinn’s concept at the time – he never would quite see a Byrds’ concept album to fruition – was an overview of American popular music, exploring bluegrass, country, jazz and blues, all the way up to Moog synthesizer experiments, such as he had tried during the “Notorious” sessions.

Kevin Kelley, Hillman’s drummer cousin, came aboard to get proceedings going, and a potential fourth member auditioned in March. In his book “Hickory Wind,” Ben Fong-Torres describes the scenario:


Gram Parsons

“Gram Parsons wasn’t exactly bursting with credentials when he came up for consideration as a member of the Byrds … His first album was flopping; he wrote a song that Peter Fonda had recorded; and he had a few flickers of a bit part in (the Roger Corman movie) ‘The Trip.’ He was just the kind of dilettante that a guy like Chris Hillman should have snubbed.”

The two had hit it off a few months before, though, when they met while waiting in line at the bank. He invited Parsons to rehearsal, where McGuinn asked him if he could play jazz piano.

“Gram, as he recalled, faked a blues figure of some sort, sang, played some guitar, and seemed like a nice guy who’d fit in with the band. Roger, in classic ’60s, laissez-faire style, hired him on the spot,” Fong-Torres wrote in his Parsons biography.

McGuinn’s rumination remains an integral part of Byrds lore:

“I had no idea he was Hank Williams Jr.”

Parsons’ recently released album, “Safe at Home” by the International Submarine Band, combined elements of rock and country in a manner that some bands – the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield were among them – had dabbled in a bit. But the ISB’s lone long-player stands as the first example of the two styles melding together as a seamless whole.

What’s fascinating in retrospect is how Parsons was able almost immediately to convince McGuinn to concentrate solely on the country component of his American music vision.

“Soon, the band decided to cut its next album in Nashville: Music City, USA. And not only would they be the first long-haired folk-rock band from California to invade Nashville, they would crash the temple of all that was good and backward about country music, the Grand Ole Opry.

The March 10, 1968, performance is legendary for Parsons’ blowing off the Opry producers and launching into his own composition “Hickory Wind” instead of the Merle Haggard song that host Tompall Glaser was expecting.

“The other Byrds looked at each other,” Fong-Torres wrote. “They had gotten stoned backstage, and they weren’t ready for a plot twist like this. They just managed to catch up with Gram, and the song proceeded smoothly.”

Just 21 years old at the time, Parsons apparently had become de facto leader of the Byrds, and sessions for what would become “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” proceeded accordingly. Studio musicians assisted the band for the March sessions in Nashville, and recording continued in Los Angeles during April and May.

Meanwhile …

The International Submarine Band was under contract to LHI Productions, owned by Lee Hazlewood, the guy who wrote and produced “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” for Nancy Sinatra. According to Fong-Torres:

Hazlewood had worked hard to establish his first record company, and he didn’t like watching the Submarine Band fall apart just as its first album was being issued. Nor did he appreciate the leader of that band wandering off to another group. He decided to get hard-nosed. He contacted CBS Records to inform the company that LHI Productions still owned the rights to Gram’s vocal performances, if not to his compositions or to his work as an instrumentalists.

Parsons had sung lead vocals on several of the songs on which the Byrds were working. But, Fong-Torres wrote:

After Lee’s call, Columbia ordered Gram’s voice stripped off the album and replaced it with Roger’s and Chris’. Roger got to work putting his own voice, with a brand-new Southern acent, where Gram’s had been.


Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons

Eventually, the two companies settled.

“We were just about to scratch ‘Hickory Wind’ when somebody ran in with a piece of paper,” Parsons, who died of an overdose in 1973, recalled in an interview. “That’s the last one they saved.”

According to at least one source, the whole Hazlewood controversy just may have served as an excuse for McGuinn to do some reconsidering.

Gary Usher, who produced “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” told a publication shortly before his death in 1990 that McGuinn had overdubbed some songs because of the legal issue, but that the differences were resolved early in the process.

“So whoever sang leads on the songs were there because that’s how we wanted to slice the album up,” he said, noting McGuinn was wary “that Parsons was getting a little bit too much out of this thing. He didn’t want the album to turn into a Gram Parsons album. You just don’t take a hit group and interject a new singer for no reason.”

Whatever the true story, Columbia released “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” on Aug. 30, much to the confusion of fans who were expecting more psychedelia-tinged folk-rock along the lines of “The Notorious Byrd Brothers.”

A radio commercial included in a CD re-release plays on the band’s shift in musical direction, as a couple debate whether what’s playing really is the Byrds. The spot ends with the voiceover guy unequivocally announcing:

“The Byrds take 11 trips to the country. Why not fly with them?”

Not too many record buyers did, compared with previous Byrds releases. The album peaked at No. 77 on Billboard, and in the United Kingdom, where the band had a substantial following, it failed to reach the charts.

As far as the LP tracks, the band revisits familiar territory to start Side One, covering a Bob Dylan song. This time around, though, instead of a 12-string guitar lick along the lines of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” this particular tune opens with the unmistakably country-tinged twang of guest Lloyd Green’s pedal steel guitar.

“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” successfully combines Dylan’s amusingly obscure lyrics with a swinging rhythm, all in a two-and-a-half minute package that also came out as the album’s first single. It performed slightly better than the LP, reaching No. 74.

On the second track, the Byrds delve fully into the country genre with the traditional “I Am a Pilgrim.” The choice of instruments veers far off the rock ‘n’ roll path, with John Hartford providing fiddle, Roy Husky on double bass and McGuinn playing banjo.

“The Christian Life” is a song by Charles and Ira Loudermilk, better known as the gospel-country duo the Louvin Brothers. Parsons brought the song to the Byrds, but McGuinn’s lead vocal ended up on the album. A comparison between the two singers shows Parsons, in a version released decades after the fact, giving “The Christian Life” a much more reverential treatment than McGuinn, who seems to put tongue in cheek for lines like “My buddies shun me since I turned to Jesus/They say I’m missing a whole world of fun.”

Stax/Volt singer William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” received an R&B treatment in its original incarnation, as it did on Otis Redding’s cover. The Byrds’ backwoods reading originally featured Parsons’ lead vocal, but McGuinn’s appears on the album, for whichever reason the listener wants to believe. For comparison’s sake, Gram’s version has surfaced on the 1990 boxed set “The Byrds” and re-releases of “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.”

“You’re Still On My Mind” is a honky-tonk-flavored song penned by Mississippi musician Luke McDaniel, a friend of Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. Parsons, who brought the song to the band, ended up with the “Sweetheart” lead vocal, regardless of his own story about the album’s making.

Woody Guthrie wrote “Pretty Boy Floyd” as a romanticized version of the infamous bank robber’s proclivity to play Robin Hood: “Well you say that I’m an outlaw, you say that I’m a thief/Well, here’s a Christmas dinner for the families on relief.” The tune perhaps is the most Byrds-like, at least compared to the band’s folk-rock origins, on the album.

Parsons actually co-wrote “Hickory Wind” with Bob Buchanan, who contributed lyrical input while the two were passengers on a train to Los Angeles. The song combines Gram’s nostalgia for his upbringing in Georgia and Florida with homesickness and disappointment on the part of both musicians:

It’s hard to find out that trouble is real
In a far away city, with a far away feel
But it makes me feel better each time it begins
Callin’ me home, hickory wind

The next album track is another Parsons composition, “One Hundred Years from Now,” although McGuinn and Hillman share the vocal on the finished product. A rehearsal version featuring Gram appears on re-releases.


Clarence White

Veteran country songwriter and singer Cindy Walker wrote “Blue Canadian Rockies” for Gene Autry’s 1952 movie of the same name. Hillman’s vocal carries the relatively straightforward love song, and future Byrds member Clarence White plays guitar.

Merle Haggard’s “Life In Prison” explores a time-honored country theme: The protagonist has murdered the love of his life. In this case, the powers that be won’t execute him, much to his chagrin: “If I die, my pain will go away.” Haggard, a former inmate, has gotten a lot of mileage out of jail-oriented songs, including the better-known “Mama Tried” and “Sing Me Back Home,” both of which were covered by the Grateful Dead.

The original LP wraps up with another Dylan composition that had not been released as of 1968, “Nothing Was Delivered.” As with “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” the dominant instrument is Green’s pedal steel, which opens the song on somewhat of an upbeat note before the vocals begin.

As for the subject matter, Dylan is relatively straightforward in his description of a drug deal gone bad (although nowhere near as graphic as Don “Buck Dharma” Roeser in the Blue Oyster Cult’s “Then Came the Last Day of May”). Bob’s narrator plays it cool, but his message is clear:

Nothing was delivered
But I can’t say I sympathize
With what your fate is going to be
Yes, for telling all those lies
Now you must provide some answers
For what you sold has not been received
And the sooner you come up with them
The sooner you can leave

The outtakes from the album that eventually saw the light of day include three tunes that didn’t make the album: Parsons’ “Lazy Day,” Tim Hardin’s “You Got a Reputation” and the traditional “Pretty Polly.” The latter is the sinister tale of a gambler who “courts” a young girl, then brutally murders her. Perhaps he’s related to the “Life in Prison” guy.

Although it tanked sales-wise, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” received critical praise and went on to influence myriad bands that sought to combine rock with country, most notably (from a commercial standpoint) the Eagles.

But Parsons’ stay with the band was brief. The Byrds left for London in July, wowing the crowd at a “Sounds ’68” charity concert at the Royal Albert Hall. From there, it was on to then-segregated South Africa, but without Gram.

“Something a lot of people don’t know about me is that I was brought up with a Negro for a brother,” Parsons later claimed. “Like all Southern families, we had maids and servants, a whole family called the Dixons that took care of us. Sammy Dixon was a little older than me, and he lived with and grew up with me, so I learned at a real close leel that segregation was just not it.”

The other Byrds weren’t buying it.

“It was total garbage,” a still-bitter Hillman told Fong-Torres. “I really wanted to murder him.”

Hillman figured Parsons wanted to hang out with new friend Keith Richards, and the Rolling Stones guitarist confirmed his role in Gram’s decision.

“I was instrumental in his leaving the Byrds,” Fong-Torres quotes Richards as admitting, “because I said, ‘Nobody goes to play in South Africa.'”

Hillman bailed out later in the year, leaving McGuinn, the band’s sole original member, to regroup around White. Drummer Gene Parsons (no relation to Gram) and bass player John York came aboard, but the Byrds had trouble regaining their artistic and commercial heights before breaking up in 1972.

Gram Parsons later talked Hillman into joining a new band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, which recorded the de facto followup to “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” for their classic debut, “The Gilded Palace of Sin.”

White, whose guitar-playing skills made him far and away the best instrumentalist the band ever had, died in 1973. While loading equipment into his car, he was hit by a drunken driver.


Gram Parsons died in Room 8 at the Joshua Tree Inn.

Parsons, who had recorded to “solo” albums with singing partner and future country superstar Emmylou Harris, died a few months later, on Sept. 18. He’d gone on vacation to Joshua Tree National Park in California, staying at a nondescript motel on the edge of the desert.

“Gram wasted little time in making a connection with a heroin dealer in town,” Fong-Torres wrote. “Before scoring, he drank heavily at lunch” with two women. “They sat and watched Gram chain-drink Jack Daniel’s, then drove him back to the Joshua Tree Inn. There, he found his drug connection, and in a room next to the owners’ apartment, he added heroin to his already overloaded system.”

After his death, friend Phil Kaufman, honoring some kind of pledge the two supposedly had made, stole Gram’s casket from Los Angeles International Airport and burned his body at Joshua Tree.

All that drama might have made for a good song on “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.”

“Spirit” by Spirit (1968)

In the summer of 1966, Randy Craig Wolfe was a 15-year-old kid with a strong interest in music and a family to match: His uncle Ed Pearl ran the Ash Grove club in his native Los Angeles, and Ed Cassidy, the man who’d recently married Randy’s mother, had been a professional drummer since the ’30s.

Ed, then 42, had taken his new family to New York City so that he could find more work, and Randy, an aspiring guitarist, started hanging out at the legendary Manny’s Music on West 48th Street. Perhaps he was hoping to see someone famous; according to a New York Times article published when Manny’s closed in 2009, “The store hit its heyday in the 1960s, when British Invasion bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who made Manny’s a must-stop destination upon landing in America. ”

Instead, he met another young, out-of-state guitarist, a black guy from Seattle. As Randy recalled:

He was in the back of the store playing a Strat. Our eyes caught each other, and I asked him if I could show him some things I learned on the guitar. He then gave me the Strat and I played slide guitar. He really liked it and invited me down that night, which I believe was his first night of this gig at the Cafe Wha?

The band, billed as Jimmy James & the Blue Flames, had a bass player who also was named Randy. So the guitarist started referring to them by their home states, Randy Texas (Palmer) and Randy California (Wolfe).

Jimmy James, of course, turned out to be James Marshall Hendrix, and he started teaching Wolfe some of his own favorite chops.

“I know he showed me the chords to ‘Hey Joe,’ because I had never heard that before,” Wolfe reminisced, as quoted in Johnny Black’s “Jimi Hendrix: The Ultimate Experience.”

Cafe Wha? is where Hendrix met Keith Richards’ girlfriend Linda Keith, who in turn introduced Jimi to Animals bass player Chas Chandler, who in turn was looking to get into the management side. The rest is history, as Hendrix went with Chandler to his native U.K. and to superstardom … without Wolfe. As Chandler told Black:

Jimi genuinely wanted to bring Randy to England, but I was adamant that he made space between them. I said, “How the fuck am I going to get a visa for a 15-year-old, anyway? Do you understand what implications there are with something like that? You just don’t do it.

And so Randy was left with this observation:

One day I arrived to find that Jimi’d split for England. That was the end of it.

But Hendrix’s desertion didn’t deter Wolfe from his pursuit of music. After his family moved back to Los Angeles, he met up with some musicians he’d played with as the Red Roosters prior to the extended New York stay. They got back together, this time with Ed as the drummer, and with a new name: Spirits Rebellious, from a Khalil Gibran book. Plus Randy kept the name Jimi had given him, now professionally known as Randy California.

The five-piece band – also including vocalist Jay Ferguson, bass player Mark Andes and keyboard player John Locke – eventually shortened its name to Spirit and started drawing a decent following around the L.A. clubs. In an era of increased musical experimentation, Spirit drew from a variety of influences for a cross between acoustic folk, early jazz-rock fusion, hard blues-based rock, wowing audiences with its ability to mix tight song structures with long, technically advanced improvisation.

One such vehicle for improvisation was a song Locke composed called “Elijah.” Spirit recorded an 11-minute version as part of its demo tape, made available some 25 years later on an anthology called “Chronicle” by an obscure Canadian label. The songs on the tape, although poorly recorded, helped the band draw interest from record companies.

One of those was Ode Records, a fledgling label formed by music entrepreneur Lou Adler after he sold his Dunhill label to ABC. Although he later signed Carole King as a solo artist – she recorded the landmark, top-selling “Tapestry” for Ode – and launched the record- and movie-making career of Cheech & Chong, Adler’s first release for his new venture was Spirit’s debut album.

The album came out in January 1968 amid a wildly eclectic musical landscape, one that had broadened during the decade to embrace all kinds of styles. As such, “Spirit” seemed to have something for everyone, what with its musicians’ variety of influences and, perhaps directly related, the age range of its members (Ed was 44, Randy 16).

Perhaps there was too much diversity within the grooves. The LP did peak at No. 31, but at a time when singles dominated the market, Spirit’s initial offering, an odd dirge called “Mechanical World,” went nowhere.

Among albums released in 1968, though, “Spirit” has aged extremely well, as many of its compositions sound not the least bit dated nearly 45 years later.

The message put forth in the album opener, “Fresh Garbage,” certainly still rings true. The lyrics are short and to the point: “Look beneath your lid this morning/See those things you didn’t quite consume/The world’s a can for your fresh garbage.” Ferguson was inspired by a trash collectors’ strike to write the song, but its environmental implications proved to be ahead of the curve.

Musically, the song features a memorable riff, one that might sound familiar to heavy-duty Led Zeppelin fans: It was used by that band during performances of Garnet Mimms’ “As Long As I Have You” during early Zeppelin concerts, some of which as the opening act for Spirit.

The bridge of “Fresh Garbage” demonstrates that Spirit is no ordinary band. The song abruptly breaks into a peppy, piano-driven section that reaches a multi-instrumental crescendo before returning to the main theme, over which Ferguson repeats the lyrics.

By contrast, Ferguson’s “Uncle Jack” is a relatively straightforward rocker, although what he sings is somewhat enigmatic: “‘So many lives to live,’ I heard him say/’But some people live to give themselves away, to find peace of mind, waiting where they can’t get it'” The song is the only one from Spirit’s August 1967 sessions to make it to the LP; the remainder was recorded between Nov. 9 and 17.

From left: Ed Cassidy (b. 1923), Randy California (1951-97), John Locke (1943-2006)

About “Mechanical World,” California later wrote:

Mark was very ill with the flu and was confined to his room for weeks, making him feel very depressed and mechanical. Towards the end of his sickness, Jay could be seen sneaking in and out of Mark’s room with guitar in hand. When Mark finally came out, there was a brand new song. The group really collaborated on this track, and everyone was happy to see Mark smiling and healthy again.

As for the song, it lurches along spouting lyrics that reflect a sick person’s outlook: “Death falls so heavy on my soul/Death falls so heavy, makes me moan/Somebody tell my father that I died/Somebody tell my mother that I cried.” Even with that baggage and its clocking in at more than 5 minutes, it became the single, perhaps because of the money spent by Adler on its orchestral arrangement.

The orchestra returns for “Taurus,” an instrumental that serves as California’s first solo composition. Since 1971, conjecture has been rampant that Led Zeppelin copped part of the melody for none other than “Stairway to Heaven”; the listener is the ultimate judge. California simply had this to say:

Written for my first love, Robin. She was a Taurus. But I must also mention the perfect astrological balance of the band with two Tauri (Cass and Jay), two Pisces (Randy and Mark) and one Libra (John).

Now, that sounds like 1968!

Ferguson’s “Girl in Your Eye” perhaps is the most 1968-sounding track on the album, with its incorporation of the sitar and orchestral sweeps. California’s pioneering use of feedback sustain, however, is used to great effect to counteract some of the period elements.

“Straight Arrow” is a fun piece that Ferguson wrote about Keith Andes, Mark’s father, an actor who inspired the composition with his performance as Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha.” Again, the song takes a jazzy sidetrack in the middle before returning to its main theme.

The lyrics for the most part evoke a Western-type hero, with one line standing out: “Watch what you do because Straight Arrow watches you.” Spirit would revisit that line of thinking on California’s seemingly paranoiac “1984,” a song that climbed up the charts in early 1970 before radio play ceased for no apparent reason. So, who was being paranoid? …

The “Spirit” album continues with the ultra-heady “Topanga Windows,” which features some of Ferguson’s most catchy wordplay: “People searching for a better season, trying to catch their moment on the run/Always asking wanting what’s the reason, what do you want when you just want to have some fun?” The song’s languid, dreamlike pace picks up substantially in the middle, bolstered by California’s double-tracked guitar, again putting the teenager’s tremendous talent on full display.

“Gramophone Man,” the album’s sole group composition, chronicles a common plight among musicians: meeting with record-company executives who care only about sales, not who might be doing the performing. The message is conveyed in a sly manner: “And watch the time, the world is waiting, give a tune for Mr. Gramophone Man/Jack and Jill falling down off their hill, singing songs for Mr. Gramophone Man.”

Ferguson contributes two brief compositions, “Water Woman” and “The Great Grand Canyon Fire in General,” that lead up to the album’s conclusion. The latter is interesting for its allusions to an actual Los Angeles event, “a big summer fire that burned about half of Topanga Canyon,” California wrote. “Our yellow house was saved, but everyone had to evacuate and spend a week camping at the beach.”

Poor guys.

“Elijah” clocks in at nearly 11 minutes on the LP version, allowing the various members to show their chops. California wrote about its serving as a concert extravaganza:

Some of the more memorable solos I recall were Jay and Mark pulling out two chairs center stage and facing each other doing the “hambone,” a two-man, hand-slappin’, thigh-hittin’ rhythmic affair. On John’s solo, he often would use a hand-held, breath-controlled keyboard that sounded like a sax. …

Sometimes I would do my guitar solo by turning my amp off and playing acoustically right on the microphone. Our audiences were great – you could hear a pin drop.

“Elijah” probably worked better as performance art than as an album track, but it does present a clear picture of each of the musicians’ capabilities. California’s section is a bit disappointing considering his groundbreaking work on most of the rest of “Spirit,” but he certainly acquits himself well, particularly considering his age at the time.

For fans of rock’s psychedelic era, “Spirit” is a real treat in that it doesn’t have to go to great lengths to offer a cerebral listening experience. Even the orchestration, something Spirit never again integrated, is subtle enough to serve pretty much as an auxiliary instrument, rather than tending to drown out the proceedings.

Perhaps it didn’t resonate with the record-buying public, or for posterity, as did the albums recorded around the same time by California’s former bandmate.

But Hendrix continued to hold Spirit in high regard until the end of his life, always acknowledging the role that young Randy Wolfe played in Jimi’s salad days.

“Sticky Fingers” by the Rolling Stones (1971)

Part of the film “Gimme Shelter” shows the Rolling Stones stopping between shows on their 1969 U.S. tour at the famed recording studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala. There, they started work on some new songs, including one called “Brown Sugar.”

“Gimme Shelter,” of course, also captures the stabbing death of a fan at the Altamont Free Concert in the California desert, just a couple of days after the Muscle Shoals sessions. The fatality occurred during the Stones’ performance of “Under My Thumb,” basically in front of the stage.

The Stones weren’t sure exactly what happened until they saw the applicable footage. They did know something major went down, and they weren’t quite prepared to launch into another tune until guitarist Mick Taylor suggested one of the new songs.

And so came the public debut of “Brown Sugar,” the song that eventually opened the Stones’ first new album of the ’70s.

No one was quite sure what to expect in Altamont’s aftermath, but the band delivered its third straight essential long-player, following “Beggars Banquet” and “Let It Bleed.” Taylor’s full involvement on a Stones album for the first time serves as an added bonus for “Sticky Fingers.”

“Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” which also was recorded at Muscle Shoals, still stand as two of rock’s best-known songs. Several others have been stapes of FM radio for more than four decades: “Bitch,” “Sway,” “Dead Flowers” and the extended workout of “Can You Hear Me Knocking.”

Featuring one of Keith Richards’ most memorable licks, “Brown Sugar” reportedly was written by Mick Jagger with his then-girlfriend (and mother of his daughter Karis), Marsha Hunt, in mind. He has been kind of vague on why he sings about a “scarred old slaver” and his women, telling Rolling Stone in 1995: “God knows what I’m on about on that song. It’s such a mishmash. All the nasty subjects in one go … I never would write that song now.”

“Sway” is indicative of Taylor’s influence on the band, putting his guitar talents on full display, particularly during the outro. He also dominates “Can You Hear Me Knocking,” following a stellar saxophone part by Bobby Keys that got him work with the Stones for years to come.

“You Gotta Move,” a blues tune attributed to Mississippi Fred McDowell and the Rev. Gary Davis, also was recorded at Muscle Shoals. That’s appropriate, given the song’s raw, Southern-inspired arrangement.

The second side of the “Sticky Fingers” LP shows the Stones successfully tackling a number of other styles, from the R&B influence of “Bitch” and “I Got the Blues” to the country rock of “Dead Flowers.” The album closes with the ballad “Moonlight Mile,” which references “a head full of snow” and as a result is often thought to be about cocaine use.

“Sister Morphine” is one of the era’s more straightforward songs about drug abuse, with such harrowing lyrics as: “Well it just goes to show things are not what they seem/Please, Sister Morphine, turn my nightmares into dreams/Oh, can’t you see I’m fading fast/And that this shot will be my last.”

Another Jagger ex-girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, won composing credits to “Sister Morphine” after taking Mick and Keith to court. Taylor also has claimed to deserve credits for other material, but so far the legal system hasn’t ruled in his favor.

“Sticky Fingers” might be best remembered among the early ’70s record-buying public for its cover, the Andy Warhol-conceived shot of a male crotch in blue jeans, complete with a workable zipper. The inner sleeve featured the first appearance of the lips-and-tongue logo that have been identified with the Stones ever since.

The album needed no such gimmicks, though. The music continues to sell itself.