100 Great Guitar Moments – #90 to 81

Time for another 10 in the list – an eclectic mix ranging from jazz through rock to psychedelia.

The Shadows – The Savage: There’s nothing wrong with a simple job well done, but sometimes, musically, it can be a tad lacklustre. That’s how I normally feel about the Shadows, but this track is an exception. Employing a strange, rather percussive tone, Hank Marvin plays his socks off on this track and takes a fantastic solo at 0.55. The rest of the band is great, too – especially Bruce Welch’s rhythm playing.

 

 

Martha and the Muffins – Echo Beach: This was the first song I ever knowingly heard with a chorus effect on guitar, and the fretted and open string riff that opens and punctuates is one of those ‘That’s nice – how did he play that?’ moments. It’s simple, but effective, and just one of those things that encapsulates 1980 for me, when you still had punk attitude, but the music was getting a little less basic.

 

Jimmy Smith – Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Hammond magnificence from the late Jimmy Smith set against a superbly-arranged (much kudos to Oliver Nelson) backdrop of horns and a rhythm section. This includes some sterling rhythm work from guitarist Quentin Warren which could well have been played on a Stratocaster as the live video posted here shows him playing one. Unusual in jazz, especially in the early 1960s. Warren kicks the whole thing along really well with a lot of funk feel and choppy chords.

 

 

Magic Sam – Lookin’ Good: A bit of an obscure one, this. Magic Sam Maghett was a young blues guitarist hotly tipped for fame when he died soon after his breakthrough appearance at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969. If you want to hear the original of this, then you’re on your own, as it’s not on YouTube or Spotify. However, YouTube does have a similar and equally brilliant version of this tune at 2:40 in. It’s like John Lee Hooker on speed and played on a borrowed guitar – the late Earl Hooker’s who was, coincidentally, a cousin of John Lee…it gets incestuous, don’t it?

 

Charlie Christian – Solo Flight: Seminal stuff, this. Although it might sound a tad ‘polite’ to those raised on rock and distortion, Christian’s playing is both raw and adventurous, with his melodic but bluesy lines charting the transition from swing to bebop. Also of note is the way he plays across the rhythm and leaves plenty of space inside and between his lines. It took a long time before jazz guitar re-emerged from the blandness that followed Christian and regained its freshness and vibrancy, even though the price it largely paid was selling out to ‘fusion’.

 

The Cars – Tonight She Comes: A pop band with rock and punk sensibilities but also a true grasp of melody. Eliot Easton is a very tasty player indeed and his solo in this song both soars and twists with some particularly fine use of the whammy bar at 2:00 in on the video below. Nice to hear the ‘idiot stick’ used to add to a line, rather than dominate it gratuitously.

 

 

David Grissom – Video end titles music: You’ll have to go on YouTube for this as it’s taken from the end of a tuition video that Grissom made several years ago. OK, it’s just a jam but, with that tone and feel, he could record nursery rhymes and they’d sound fucking fantastic. Very bluesy, but with country flourishes, he’s another player who makes you ask, ‘What the fuck did he do there???’ A descending lick at about 0:55 in the first video below is the first of many such moments. Also, listen to the chords Grissom uses – lots of open strings.

 

Davy Graham – Angi: Ask people who wrote Angi and most will say Bert Jansch or, perhaps, Paul Simon. However, it was Davy Graham and this is the original version, played by the composer. Simple – it’s not the most challenging piece – but effective and it’s all down to the execution of the composition. Here, Graham gives it a bittersweet quality by combing the melodicism inherent in the chord structure with a very bluesy feel.

 

The Lemon Pipers – Through With You: Obscurity time again, with the band most famous for ‘Green Tambourine’ playing perhaps the best song the Byrds never wrote or recorded, and stretching out into a 9 minute raga rock piece with wah-wah 12 string electric guitar, delay effects and panning. Add to that vocals which sound very like Keith Relf of the Yardbirds and you have something very special indeed.

 

Pantera – Walk: The late Dimebag Darrell could be a very quirky player and his solo in ‘Walk’ is one of my all time favourites. It’s just plain loopy, but in all the right ways, played with great skill, feel and an almost classical sense of melody, with that diminished run towards the end.

 

Well, 20 down…80 to go…

100 Great Guitar Moments – #100 to 91

Well, here goes…

Mansun – Wide open Space: Although I rate this song very highly – likewise the band and their brief recorded career – it’s the guitar intro that particularly appeals to me. Dissonance is the key here, with an alternately-picked guitar going from an unsettling E played against an F to a totally harmonious major triad. It sets the whole song up very nicely and suits the subject matter very well.

 

David Bowie – Drive-in Saturday: Sometimes the guitar can be used orchestrally, as in this example. The stellar Mick Ronson (RIP) plays some big beefy lines and chords in the chorus – starting at 0:54 – that could have been played by a string section using mainly cellos and double bass but weren’t, thank goodness. A better-known example from him is the title track from the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ album, but I prefer the guitar in this song.

 

The Smiths – This Charming Man: Again, it’s all in the intro with Johnny Marr playing a mutated mix of African High-Life music and the Byrds, although the whole track is an exercise in creative rhythm guitar playing. Who needs a solo when you’ve got guitar playing like this?

 

The Beatles – And Your Bird Can Sing: I’m not a Beatles fan, but the harmony guitars throughout are a reminder that Wishbone Ash didn’t invent the concept. George and Paul play the lines on a Lennon composition that he described as "another of my throwaways…fancy paper around an empty box". In which case, I’m very happy with the paper, bugger the absence of a present…

 

 Frank Zappa – Zoot Allures: This time: the whole damn track! From the beautifully-bizarre arpeggiated chord at the beginning, through the controlled feedback to the plaintive concluding solo, this is probably as good as rock guitar playing gets and it’s not bludgeoning its way into your consciousness with speed, volume and distortion all the time.

 

Al Stewart – Rocks in the Ocean: Time for a solo – and one from one of my many guitar heroes, the highly-talented Tim Renwick. I love the melodicism that he puts into his playing and this solo is a prime example at 3:06. His playing soars on this and it’s definitely one of those guitar moments that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

 

Eric Johnson – Cliffs of Dover: I used to get ‘Guitar Player’ magazine every month back in the 1980s and one of the great things about it was the free flexi-discs that used to accompany it. Often exclusive recordings, this very track was featured one month. Johnson re-recorded it for his second album, but it wasn’t a patch on this version. Again, melodicism is at work and amidst all the technical skill, there’s a tuneful thread weaving its way through the piece, constantly changing and shifting. Beautiful playing!

 

 Blind Blake – Blind Arthur’s Breakdown: Time for some acoustic goodness with a stunning piece of ragtime guitar from 1929. Yes, that’s just one guitar, although you could swear that sometimes it’s two players going at full chat. The guy was a true genius and some 90 years later, there’s still no-one to better him!

 

King Crimson – Red: Say ‘power trio’ and people immediately think of Cream or the Jimi Hendrix Experience. However, during the final stage of the first flowering of Robert Fripp’s King Crimson, they were ‘reduced’ to a line up of Fripp on guitar (and occasional keyboards), Bill Bruford on drums and John Wetton on bass and vocals. Not that this caused their output to suffer any decline in quality. This track has that dissonant quality that few people can use effectively and as a written guitar instrumental is a million miles away from what most people expect one to be. Nothing flashy, just very muscular playing.

 

Django Reinhardt – Limehouse Blues: I’m a sucker for Jazz Manouche. There are many great gypsy jazz guitarists, past and present, but all roads ultimately lead to Django and this is one of my favourite pieces of his. Sounding as fresh as it must have done way back in the 1930s, this has it all. Sublime soloing from Django, great violin by Grapelli and that rhythm – la pompe. Who needs a drummer? I especially like the dischords Django plays at about 1:50 and then he solos again, along with Grapelli. Stunning stuff and, above all, such happy music!

 

Well, there you go.

That’s the first 10 and only 90 to go.

The next 10 will come just as soon as I can make the time.

Meanwhile, enjoy the choices and try and find more by all these people to listen to. It’ll be worth it!

Another good one gone…Bert Jansch RIP

A person would be a moron not to appreciate McLaughlin’s technique. The guy has certainly found out how to operate a guitar as if it were a machine gun. But I’m not always enthusiastic about the lines I hear or the ways in which they’re used. I don’t think you can fault him, though, for the amount of time and effort it must have taken to play an instrument that fast. I think anybody who can play that fast is just wonderful. And I’m sure 90% of teenage America would agree, since the whole trend in the business has been "faster is better."

So said the late, great Frank Zappa about fellow guitarist John McLaughlin in 1977.

Frank had a point as it seems, since then, that one only has to plug in an electric guitar, strike a few dramatic poses, gurn a lot and play very loud and very fast and you too can immediately become a guitar god.

Remember the worst excesses of shred?

For every talented shredder like Steve Vai…

 

…there were several of these…

 

…and, if you were really very fucking unlucky, one of these sorry-ass motherfuckers…

 

But what if you never went electric in the first place?

Well, that question can be answered by going back some dozen years before Uncle Frank said it like it was.

Never mind guitar gods, I’m talking the Holy Fucking Trinity here…

Davey Graham, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn.

I’ve blogged about Davey here already on the sad occasion of his death, and now he’s been joined by Bert.

Together with Renbourn they represented the flowering of solo steel string acoustic guitar playing that came to prominence in the early to mid 1960s and established the instrument as a worthy antidote to some of the excesses of the electric guitar.

Jansch and Renbourn teamed up as a duo, in fact, and then went on to form an acoustic band called ‘Pentangle’, which gigged alongside the usual suspects, including a certain Jimi Hendrix, and in the same haunts both in the UK and the US.

 

 

But back to Bert – solo.

Less jazz, blues and classically orientated than Graham, and less mannered than Renbourn, Jansch adopted a more melodic and lyrical approach towards the instrument and used it a lot to support his vocals, as he was a prolific songwriter.

My favourite Jansch recordings are mainly his take on traditional tunes. You may have thought that Jimmy Page’s solo showcase with Led Zeppelin was original, but he actually ripped off Bert’s arrangement as on the second clip here…

 

Are you listening, Jimmy?

In my own personal context, I was listening to Bert alongside Clapton with Mayall, Bloomfield with Butterfield, Dylan – newly gone electric – and Simon and Garfunkel.

The electric guitar dominated my formative playing years, so Bert’s influence was minimal – for one thing, I lacked the ability to copy him and the skill to try. That’s still the case, but it’s not stopped me enjoying the man’s music for over 45 years and for those with more proficiency on the acoustic guitar than I have, his influence is destined to last a lot longer.

One last one from Bert…

 

Climb up on my knee…

CCF06302006_00001

It’s a sad fact that with the recent death of Dave ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards, the genre of music called ‘the Blues’ lost someone who was probably our last link with the people who have made the music what it is today and enriched its legacy out of all proportion to its humble beginnings.

Honeyboy was the last of the Delta bluesmen – as far as we know – and he actually knew and played with people like Robert Johnson. In fact, he stated that he was actually with Johnson when he drank the poisoned whiskey that allegedly killed him.

RobertJohson

Having said all that, the world of the itinerant black blues musician in the 1930s and 1940s was so badly recorded (indeed, why would anyone grasp the significance of musical events at this time and preserve it for posterity?) that rumour, speculation and even lies have often obscured the real version of events.

What we’re left with is a mish-mash of anecdotal histories and biographies that both fascinates and frustrates.

Take a blues great like Elmore James, for example.

ElmoreJames(in color)

James was a seminal figure in the Blues, with his trademark slide riffs, his poetic lyrics and his frail but commanding voice. He cut dozens upon dozens of sides for a multitude of record labels – often recording the same songs or slightly adapted versions – and learned his craft in the company of Johnson and other Delta notables of the 1930s and 40s.

However, dig just a little deeper and an interview with his elder cousin ‘Homesick’ James casts some doubt on how much kudos Elmore should really have. Homesick claims that he taught his younger cousin how to play slide, that he either co-wrote or wrote classic Elmore James songs like ‘Dust my Broom’ and played as much, if not more slide as Elmore on record and at gigs.

Quite how much Homesick is to be believed is hard to say. There are obvious financial incentives to be economical with the truth, and no-one ever wrote down what actually went on at the time.

Thus, we’re left with stories that may or may not be true but can never be verified.

And that’s part of the pleasure I get from early blues music and the study of its proponents.

It’s a sort of mythology and as long as you’re content to accept that much of it has little basis in truth then it’s as fascinating, in its way, as any Greek or Roman tale of heroism and divine machination.

One of the most interesting characters in blues history – and one who epitomises everything I find engrossing about it – is Sonny Boy Williamson.

To be exact, Sonny Boy Williamson II.

Actually, to be even more exact, Aleck or Alex or Willie Rice Miller or Ford.

(When I say exact, I mean as exact as Sonny Boy II wanted to be about himself…)

He was also known variously as Sonny Boy Williams, Willie Williamson, Willie Miller, Little Boy Blue, The Goat and Footsie, but that’s another whole shitload of stories that’ll have to keep for another time…

However, I hear you ask, if Aleck was known as Sonny Boy Williamson II, was there a Sonny Boy Williamson I?

To which I can truthfully reply, yes there certainly fucking was.

Sonny Boy the First was actually born John Lee Curtis Williamson in 1914, dying in 1948.

Sonny Boy Williamson sonnyboy_3

Like Sonny Boy II, Sonny Boy I was a harmonica player and singer who pioneered the instrument as a solo player, had a great deal of success with his many recordings and kept such illustrious company as Muddy Waters throughout his relatively short professional life.

So, Sonny Boy I and II were both significant harp players and singers, but they weren’t even remotely related.

Why then did Sonny Boy II ‘borrow’ Sonny Boy I’s stage name?

Well, if you thought “money”, then you’ve guessed the reason.

As this very informative article puts it:

By the early ’40s, he was the star of KFFA`s King Biscuit Time, the first live blues radio show to hit the American airwaves. As one of the major ruses to occur in blues history, his sponsor-the Interstate Grocery Company-felt they could push more sacks of their King Biscuit Flour with Miller posing as Chicago harmonica star John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson.

It was a rather clumsy deception, but it obviously worked as the name stuck with Miller and there don’t seem to have been any lawsuits. Although the Insterstate Grocery Company didn’t actually pay him much, they allowed him to plug his gigs on air and this helped push up his earnings by getting bigger crowds to see him.

Indeed, such ruses involving aliases and stage names weren’t uncommon, with such luminaries as the late, great John Lee Hooker recording for different record companies under a variety of names early on in his career.

As well as his own name, he recorded under the names of Texas Slim, Delta John, Birmingham Sam and his Magic Guitar, Johnny Williams, The Boogie Man, Johnny Lee (getting slightly less imaginative now), John Lee, and even John Lee Booker and John Lee Cooker.

The latter two names must have taken fucking ages to think up…

Anyway, to his grave, Sonny Boy II dubbed himself the ‘real Sonny Boy Williamson’, in spite of appropriating Sonny Boy I’s stage name whilst #1 was at the height of his career.

It probably helped both men that Sonny Boy #2 didn’t start recording until long after #1 was dead and buried, although his recording career didn’t exactly set the world alight. In fact, somewhat ironically, it wasn’t until his contract was sold on to Checker Records – a subsidiary of the famous Chess Records Company – because he was so difficult to work with that he started to get blues chart success.

Recording with the likes of Willie Dixon and Robert Lockwood Jr, Sonny Boy II wrote and released many songs which have become blues standards – all marked by witty, sometimes desolate lyrics, a quavering baritone and sharp piercing harp lines. Notable successes include ‘Eyesight to the Blind’, ‘Help Me’, ‘Checkin’ up on my Baby’, Nine Below Zero’, ‘Don’t Start me to Talkin’’ and ‘Bring it on Home’, the latter covered by Led Zeppelin on their second album, but attributed to Page and Plant…

Sonny Boy II was a real showman. He’d play with the harp inside his mouth and up his nose.

Here he is from the early 1960s:

He spent a lot of time in Europe towards the end of his career and acquired a rather eccentric image for which he sported a chequerboard suit, a bowler hat, a furled umbrella and a briefcase which held his harps and a bottle of whiskey.

Sonny Boy Williamson  4

sonny boy

And yes, Sonny Boy #2 liked a drink…in fact, as well as being a drinker he was a gambler, conman, brawler (wiry, but 6 feet tall and often armed with a blade) and ladies man, with a wicked sense of humour,

He was backed by some of the early UK beat groups when he toured the country and dubbed the Animals the ‘Mammimals’ and, with reference to the Yardbirds, he had this to say:

“These British want to play the blues so bad…and they play the blues so bad!”

He died in 1965 soon after he returned to the US, but even his gravestone is somewhat ambivalent – not about his name, but about the year of his birth. Although it states 1908, Sonny Boy #2 claimed it was 1899, although census evidence suggests it was 1912.

If it was 1912, then 53 years of hard living had certainly taken their toll!

However, amongst all the hard living, subterfuge and other roguish antics, Sonny Boy II was generous when it came to helping his fellow players. He mentored a young Howlin’ Wolf – who seems to have been his brother-in-law – and also helped spread the word about a guitarist and singer who went on to be known as BB King.

So, Sonny Boy II was many things throughout his life, but his constant was his music.

As usual, to conclude this post by letting the music do the talking, here’s Aleck, Rice, Sonny Boy II, whoever he was, with one of his classic compositions.

Just him and his harp…

Firebirds and hair

Whilst ferreting about on YouTube trying to find videos to illustrate yesterday’s post about Glen Campbell, I stumbled across a video clip I’d never seen before and that I’d only heard.

It features Cream guesting on the Glen Campbell Show in 1968 performing ‘Sunshine of your Love’ live and was something I’d only ever heard on the Cream box set retrospective ‘Those Were the Days’.

It’s an interesting piece of footage for several reasons.

Clapton is the hairiest he’s ever been and looks somewhat like this:

Eric Clapton eric_clapton_cream

The guy’s a bit like a human chameleon – he’s gone through what seem like dozens of ‘images’ and never seems to look the same for very long.

He’s also toting a Gibson Firebird – as in the photo above.

Here’s a better picture:

eric18ps

There are lots more photos of a Cream-era Clapton with his Firebird here.

Associated with Les Pauls and SG Les Pauls up until then, Clapton seemed to like his Firebird a lot. He used it extensively in Cream’s last two tours right up until the RAH gigs in London when he used it for the early show, switching to the red ES335 for the late show – which is the one I saw.

It seems pretty obvious that the producer of the Glen Campbell Show told the band to play quietly – or at least turn it down – as Clapton’s tone lacks the distortion which was part of his signature sound at that time. In fact, it’s downright wimpy and takes all the OOOMPH out of the performance which was by the band at its height – after they’d been gigging extensively in the US and before their badly-rehearsed farewell tour when they seemed to be going through the motions.

Anyway, here’s the video in question – a fascinating document that I didn’t know existed, but fascinating for the wrong reasons!

To make up for the rather lacklustre performance, here’s a bit of video someone has cobbled together, featuring some interesting photos and a performance of ‘Sunshine’ that’s very early and very energetic! In fact, the band’s on absolutely blinding form – on fucking fire – with Bruce playing some great bass and Clapton freewheeling all over the top of it.

Stunning!

Glen Campbell – more than just a rhinestone cowboy

Mention the name ‘Glen Campbell’ to most people and they’ll probably say ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ or ‘Wichita Linesman’.

However, there’s much, much more to the guy than a few hit records.

I’m prompted to write about Glen because of the sad news that he’s just released what will be his final album and is just about to embark on his last tour because he has Alzheimer’s and won’t be able to do much of anything eventually.

But what is it about him that raises his significance above a few hit records?

Well, you’ve probably heard him more often than you realise because he started off as a session guitarist.  Here what his Wikipedia entry has to say about him:

In 1958, Campbell moved to Los Angeles to become a session musician. He was part of the 1959 line-up of the group the Champs, famous for their instrumental "Tequila". Campbell was in great demand as a session musician in the 1960s. He was part of the studio musicians clique known as "the Wrecking Crew", many of whom went from session to session together as the same group. In addition to Campbell, Hal Blaine on drums, Tommy Tedesco on guitar, Leon Russell on piano, Carol Kaye on bass guitar, Al Casey on guitar were part of this group of session musicians that defined many pop and rock recordings of the era. They were also heard on Phil Spector’s "Wall of Sound" recordings in the early 1960s.

You had to be a consummate musician to be part of the Crew – not just technically brilliant, but able to record track after track as quickly as possible.

He also played on various Beach Boys sessions, including those which produced the sublime Brian Wilson masterpiece ‘Pet Sounds’.

So deeply did Campbell impress Wilson and the rest of the band, that when Brian decided to give up touring and just work in the studio, Campbell joined the band on bass and falsetto harmonies.

 

Beachboys

From L to R – Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Glen Campbell, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine

During this period, he also contributed to a whole slew of cheapo instrumental albums which spotlighted the guitar – this being a very guitar-orientated time in music. This is actually when I first became aware of him as a friend had an LP (remember those?) with Campbell featured on 12-string guitar, which was all the rage then due to its use in folk as well as by the Beatles and the Byrds.

After his stint with the Beach Boys, Campbell embarked on a very successful solo career. Fortunately, he had good taste in material and covered songs by people like John Hartford, Allen Toussaint and, most notably, Jimmy Webb.

It’s fair to say that Campbell has had his fair share of demons with a recurrent drink problem which came to a head when he was arrested for leaving the scene of a road traffic accident when drunk and assault on a police officer – the latter charge was dropped.

His career had a bit of a renaissance in 2008, after several years going through the motions on the usual circuit of venues demanding the ‘golden oldies’, with the release of a new album that once again showed his great taste in covers:

It was announced in April 2008 that Campbell was returning to his signature label, Capitol, to release his new album, Meet Glen Campbell. The album was released on August 19. With this album he branched off in a different musical direction, covering tracks from artists such as Travis, U2, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Jackson Browne and Foo Fighters. It was Campbell’s first release on Capitol in over 15 years. Musicians from Cheap Trick and Jellyfish contributed to the album as well. The first single, a cover of Green Day’s "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)", was released to radio in July 2008.

As good as this album is, I don’t think it’s up to the standard of his latest and last offering, ‘Ghost on the Canvas’. This is available from iTunes at a good price and is well worth the download, especially with 2 bonus tracks.

The material is great, with ex-Jellyfish Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. contributing a lot of songs and the session players include all manner of people – listed here.

But back to what originally started off what is a long and successful career – his guitar playing.

Here he is – in 2008 – playing some very nice country style licks:

Great octave work and a very fluent left hand.

How about this – jamming with Steve Lukather on acoustic?

 

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OK, a bit corny I know, but here’s Glen with the late, great Jerry Reed, who Steve Lukather mentioned in the preceding video:

 

To end with, Glen on electric 12-string doing what is very difficult on one of them. No, not fretting it (although for anyone with normal-sized fingers that’s tricky enough!) but bending the strings. Audio only, I’m afraid…

 

Thanks, Glen, and good luck where you’re going.

4 dusty gems from the 1970s

I don’t know about you, but one of the most rewarding ways of spending a few idle moments is a good old fussock around YouTube looking for musical gems.

Here’s a few that I’ve bookmarked recently…

10cc…they were always a bit too clever-clever for me, but I seem to have become a real fan of late. ‘Rubber Bullets’ is a great song – witty lyrics, an interesting chord structure and great ensemble playing. This is a live version with a nice jam at the end…note the changed lyrics…

 

Another fantastic 1970s band were Be Bop Deluxe, with the sublime guitar playing of Bill Nelson.  I used to play this tune in a band called ‘Spud and the Fabs’ – and sing it too…

 

The early to mid 1970s were great musically – it was still OK to be able to play your instrument well, as the Edgar Winter Group show in this 10 minute version of ‘Frankenstein’. It was OK to look as if you were actually enjoying yourself, too…

 

I’ve always had a soft spot for Mott, with Ian Hunter’s flawed yet consummate ability to live and breathe rock and the way that the band were so shambolic yet never quite fell apart.  Incidentally, Mrs Shark went to school with two of the band – Buffin and Overend Watts…and yes, he really does sing ‘cock in hole queen’, the rude little monkey…

 

Free – the best band ever?

Having found the lead that connects my laptop to the TV, I’ve been able to watch YouTube videos in large-screen luxury.

In the course of viewing last night, I found some superb video showing the band Free in their magnificent heyday.

Arriving on the scene a little too late for the mid 1960s ‘British Blues Boom’, Free had a lot in common with the movement and were named by the late, great Alexis Korner – sort of. He suggested ‘Free at Last’, which was shortened to ‘Free’. Or did he suggest they shorten the name? Fuck knows…

What a lot of people don’t know is how young Free were when they started playing together.

Free

Lead singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke were both 18, guitarist Paul Kossoff was 16 and bassist and keyboard player Andy Fraser only 15.

Within 6 months they’d recorded their first album ‘Tons of Sobs’ which was very blues based, but showed their funky side, which was what made the band stand out from the rather leaden groove that most hard blues/rock bands seemed to fall into.

There must have been real chemistry at work when they got together .

Rodgers on lead vocals had – still has – an amazing voice. With Free he took centre stage and used the mic stand to great effect as he strutted about and indulged in some proper groin-thrusting.

Kossoff on guitar had a great Les Paul/Marshall sound and he played using a very distinctive vibrato. Whilst he didn’t stray too much from the pentatonics, he used them melodically and his rhythm playing was sparse, with some interesting chords using the open strings together with fretted ones. No power chord thrashing for Kossoff!

Fraser on bass was amazing. Using a short scale Gibson bass, he played a heady combination of melodic lines on the upper frets and heavy root notes on the bottom ones. Above all, he left spaces in his bass lines which remind me of reggae bass styles and really let the music breathe.

Making up the quartet was drummer Kirke who always kept it simple, powerful and exciting. Using an extremely small kit – snare, kick, two toms, ride and crash cymbals and hi-hat – he could be almost jazzy at times, which tied in well with Fraser’s syncopated and spare bass lines to create a rhythm section that floated and skipped but never plodded.

The old adage ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ applies to Free very, very well. The combination of the instruments and Rodger’s charismatic and souful demeanour combined to produce a drive that was intense, but never bludgeoning and their use of dynamics was second to none, with the band dropping back when necessary and then cranking it up in complete contrast.

Not only was the band a musician’s delight, but in their glory days, they were a pop phenomenon, too. Live recordings at the time of ‘Alright Now’ (their biggest hit) reveal teenage girls screaming in the same way that the Beatles experienced and the band became pin ups.

But what of the band today?

Rodgers went on to form Bad Company with drummer Kirk, ex-King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell and ex-Mott guitarist Mick Ralphs. He then went solo, joined Queen (a disaster in my opinion; as fine a singer as he is, he’s no Freddie Mercury) and then reformed Bad Co last year. He’s still a force to be reckoned with, solo, but has never regained the success he once had.

Kossoff left Free in a heroin haze. His playing was so erratic that he was sacked. He went on to form Back Street Crawler, which was OK, but then died of a drug realted heart attack at the age of 25. A total waste of a great talent.

After Bad Co Kirke didn’t do too much until their reunion, although today he’s on the Grammy awards committee and still plays in bands.

Frazer has possibly the most interesting post-Free career. When Free broke up, he went on to form the underrated ‘Sharks’, ‘The Andy Fraser Band’ and then …very little else. He contracted HIV, came out as gay and then embarked on a bizarre but pioneering series of projects that culminated in the formation of the McTrax group of companies.

Nothing that they went on to do, however, comes anywhere near approaching the magnificence that was Free, and that magnificence stands out best in a live situation.

Fortunately, a fair amount of footage still exists to illustrate this and there’s one show in particular that captures the band perfectly. Iit was produced by Granada TV and shows the band in a TV studio with a fair-sized and appreciative audience. It’s well-shot, with good sound and the cameramen made sure that they gave equal attention to all four players.

It’s astoundingly good.

Actually, it’s better than that.

It’s totally fucking amazing!

Rodgers struts about like some randy cockerel, Kirke plays his tiny kit with his typical high arm movements, and Kossoff gurns a lot (although I think he means it) and plays some beautiful guitar.

However, it’s Fraser who really shines, as far as I’m concerned.

His body movements and playing just scream exuberance as he rocks back on one foot and just soars over and rumbles under the rest of the band. There’s such deep joy in his playing and I’m certain that he’s not putting on a show. He’s just happy playing what he’s playing, who he’s with and tyhe zone that he’s in.

Enough words.

Here’s some of that footage. Unfortunately, embedding has been disabled on the ‘All Right Now’ video, so you’ll have to go straight to YouTube to watch it. It’s worth the detour though!

Over 40 years old and still as fresh and vital as it was back then.

It really doesn’t come any better than this!

Watch the mercury rise with Mr Dave!

After my mammoth 100 favourite albums blogfest last year, here’s another act that fell through the net.

Of course, my top 100 has changed, so this guy could well have been in the running when I drew up the list, but no matter – he’s worth a considered listen if you enjoy American roots music with a twist.

David_Lindley_Knuckleheads_Saloon

David Lindley is what you might call a musician’s musician. He’s the session player and sidesman of choice for many famous acts.

His incredible discography is here and it reads like a bible of quality rock recordings. His live work is no less an exercise in namedropping.

Multi-instrumentalist David Lindley performs music that redefines the word "eclectic." Lindley, well known for his many years as the featured accompanist with Jackson Browne, and leader of his own band El Rayo-X, has long championed the concept of world music. The David Lindley electro-acoustic performance effortlessly combines American folk, blues, and bluegrass traditions with elements from African, Arabic, Asian, Celtic, Malagasy, and Turkish musical sources. Lindley incorporates an incredible array of stringed instruments including but not limited to Kona and Weissenborn Hawaiian lap steel guitar, Turkish saz and chumbus, Middle Eastern oud, and Irish bouzouki. The eye-poppingly clad "Mr. Dave’s" uncanny vocal mimicry and demented sense of humor make his onstage banter a highlight of the show. His web site has a nice description of his eclectic approach to music:

Here’s ‘Mr Dave’ blasting away on lap steel with a version of ‘Mercury Blues’:

 

There are a few versions of Lindley playing this available on YouTube, and all worth a look.

One of my favourite collaborations involving Lindley is his live work with another US great, Ry Cooder.

Here’s the pair on ‘Mercury Blues’ (again!) – crap video but there’s not much available:

 

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And here’s Lindley with Jackson Browne on ‘Mercury Blues’ once again:

 

Not that Mr Dave can’t play anything else.

How about some classic Warren Zevon ska stylee?

 

Or some reggae?

 

Cajun anyone?

 

And that’s just some of what Mr Dave can do.

Ah, and he’s probably Mrs Shark’s favourite musician and she has excellent taste.

Tiny is as tiny do

Say ‘jazz guitar’ to people and I’m pretty sure that the mental picture they have will be of a chap in a sports coat and tie sitting down playing a big hollow-bodied guitar – possibly a Gibson – and with a tone which might best be described as ‘mellow’:

Of course, I’ve described a stereotype but there’s quite a few such players scattered throughout jazz guitar history and they’ve never interested me much. Yes, I can admire their skill but 5 minutes of someone like Jim Hall

is a bit like aural Ovaltine and gets me reaching for my pyjamas…

Fortunately there are many exceptions to this, and I’m not talking Les Paul toters blasting fusion through Marshalls, either…

…Ladies ‘n’ germs…

…meet…

…TINY!

Tiny Grimes was and still is unique amongst the ranks of jazz guitarists because he played an electric tenor guitar which has only four strings tuned DGBE like the top four strings of a standard 6-string guitar.

Tiny played rough and his swing style makes a great contrast to someone like his chief influence Charlie Christian, for example, who was less ‘polite’ than most jazz guitarists up to the mid 1960s but sounds positively reserved against Tiny.

Some people have described Grimes as one of the forefathers of rock ‘n’ roll and his 1946 recording ‘Tiny’s Boogie’ as the first rock ‘n’ roll record. Well, that’s a moot point but certainly he plays with a very raw tone – slightly overdriven – with plenty of Chuck Berry-style double stop bends and all this before Chuck gave up a life of crime and decided playing guitar was preferable to being a prison bitch.  In fact, Chuck was in prison whilst Grimes recorded ‘Tiny’s Boogie’.

With Tiny’s heyday in the 1940s there’s very limited video footage of him available, but there’s this which features a solo and also one of the strangest dancers you’ll ever see:

So,  check out Mr Grimes – as ever, Spotify is your friend…

And speaking of ‘tiny’, here’s some bonus guitar that has almost nothing in common with Tiny. It’s Uncle Frank with a particularly nasty solo on ‘City of Tiny Lites’. For some reason, Frank always seemed to be able to whip it out in a poisonous manner when playing a German show. The visuals are pretty fucked up but the playing is sublime: