Posts Tagged ‘Quicksilver Messenger Service’

“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.

“After Bathing at Baxter’s” by Jefferson Airplane (1967)

Following the success of its breakthrough single, “Somebody to Love,” Jefferson Airplane entered the studio in May 1967 to record its third album.

After “White Rabbit” hit the Top 10, too, RCA Victor was eager to cash in on further Airplane success. So the company pretty much gave the band carte blanche for the next batch of what the executives hoped would be hits.

The first single from the resulting album, “The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil,” didn’t even make the Top 40. Even to listeners who were feeding their heads, so to speak, the song must have sounded as weird as its title. Starting with a blast of feedback, “Pooneil” launches into fuzztone-driven, primordial hard rock and ponderous lyrics: “If you were a bird and you lived very high/You’d lean on the wind when the breeze came by/Say to the wind as it took you away/That’s where I wanted to go today.”

RCA would have preferred to release a Grace Slick-sung track, following her elevation to superstar status with the year’s previous hits. But her “Two Heads” wound up as the B-side to “Pooneil,” as Slick’s composition is even more arcane: A Middle East-flavored melody frames lyrics like “Wearing your comb like an ax in your head, listening for signs of life/Children are sucking on stone and lead, and chasing their hoops with a knife.”

No matter the era in which that was written, it’s just plain bizarre.

As is most of “After Bathing With Baxter’s,” which was released in November 1967 after the Airplane blew through about $80,000 of RCA’s money in studio time. That was 10 times as much as the cost of its predecessor, “Surrealistic Pillow.”

“Baxter’s” is presented as a series of suites, which isn’t an entirely accurate portrayal, as unrelated songs merely segue into one another other. The opener, “Pooneil,” careens into a short sound collage concocted by the band’s drummer, the late Spencer Dryden, called “A Small Package of Value Will Come to You, Shortly” and inspired by some of Frank Zappa’s more avant-garde material.

“Value” wraps up with the words of wisdom “No man is an island … He’s a peninsula!” as the opening of “Young Girl Sunday Blues” bubbles up for Marty Balin’s only lead vocal on the album.

Balin, the band’s featured singer in its early days, had been pushed into the background by mid-1967, with the Airplane’s co-founder, Paul Kantner, dominating the songwriting. Along with “Pooneil,” Kantner contributed “Wild Tyme (H), a paean to the anything-goes San Francisco scene with the key line, “I’m doing things that haven’t got a name yet”; “Martha,” inspired by a girl who hung out with fellow Bay Area band Quicksilver Messenger Service; “Watch Her Ride,” relatively atonal love song that nonetheless was released as the album’s second single; and the closing “Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon,” with its reference to “acid, incense and balloons.”

Lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen contributes “The Last Wall of the Castle” as his first Airplane songwriting effort; he eschews his blues roots to keep up with the absurdities being perpetuated by Kantner.

Speaking of whom, Grace drew on another literary figure for her other “Baxter’s” composition. Following Lewis Carroll for “White Rabbit,” she chose James Joyce for “rejoyce,” a song that’s every bit as strange as you’d expect from something based on the tale of Bloom in “Ulysses.”

“Baxter’s” contains one more track: nearly 10 minutes’ worth of a late-night jam by Kaukonen, Dryden and bass player Jack Casady. The instrumental was dubbed “Spare Chaynge,” based more or less on the constant mantra of many a youngster wandering around San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District during the alleged Summer of Love.

Jefferson Airplane reined in the insanity a bit for its subsequent releases, leaving “After Bathing at Baxter’s” as a lasting document of major experimentation by a major rock band at an appropriate time and place.

It’s a challenging listen, but an honest one. As Casady is quoted as saying in Jeff Tamarkin’s “Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Fight of Jefferson Airplane”:

“To us, (‘Baxter’s’) was a performance and artistic success because, as spoiled little brats, we got to do whatever we wanted to do. But I say ‘spoiled little brats’ with a certain amount of fondness.”

“Back Into the Future” by Man (1973)

Around 1976, when most of my “peers” were listening to disco and/or other current music trends, I steeped myself in the sounds of the previous decade.

One of my first great interests in that regard was Jefferson Airplane, because I’d seen a vintage “American Bandstand” performance of “White Rabbit” and was intrigued not only the the minor-key structure of the song and the psychedelic trappings surrounding the TV presentation, but, of course, the gorgeous brunette who was singing.

My Grace Slick crush led me to learn more about the band, such as that it hailed from San Francisco and hung out a lot with other groups like the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service. And so I became interested in those acts, as well.

The least-known one I’ve mentioned is Quicksilver, but the musicians involved were among the most talented in the Bay Area in the late ’60s, especially guitarist John Cipollina (1943-89).

Decades later, well after Cipollina’s death, I learned he’d collaborated with a band called Man, which was described as the “Welsh Quicksilver Messenger Service.” I couldn’t resist, so I started seeking out Man albums.

“Back Into the Future” is a half-studio, half-live collection, originally a double LP, that straddles its psychedelic, jam-oriented ’60s roots with a progressive edge, with enhanced incorporation of keyboards and advanced melodic structures.

The studio material makes for a good listen, but the live stuff really catches my attention, probably because two of the three concert tracks near or exceed 20 minutes.

The exception is “Sospan Fach,” an odd little ditty performed by a Welsh men’s choir. Those gentlemen’s voices are put to good use during the ensuing track, “C’mon,” a rousing composition that transitions from riff-driven rock ‘n’ roll to a somber interlude reminiscent of part of Pink Floyd’s “Atom Heart Mother.”

Side Four of the original album was devoted entirely to 21 minutes’ worth of something titled “Jam Up Jelly Tight/Oh No Not Again (Spunk Rock ’73).” The latter part refers to the band’s signature song at the time, which gained a lot of attention when 20 minutes of it appeared on a compilation called “The Greasy Truckers’ Party.” (Reportedly, no one turned on a recorder until 10 minutes into the song.) At any rate, if you’re inclined toward lengthy guitar workouts, sit back and enjoy.

And by the way, Cipollina’s collaboration resulted in an album called “Maximum Darkness,” released in 1976. It’s decent and all, but I’d recommend “Back Into the Future” if you’re curious about Man. (Man the band, that is; no wisecracks!!!)