28 September 2011

R.E.M.: Requiem for a Heavyweight Band

I was listening to Lucinda Williams from her 1993 Live at the Filmore (West) yesterday morning early, watching the birds out my back door. I was on one of my reveries, this one about lyrics, Lucinda's Reason to Cry and Fruits of My Labor.

And then the news I'd caught by accident a few days earlier hit home: R.E.M. was gone.

The band announced via its website that as of September 21, 2011, the band would "calling it a day as a band". (Hilton, Robin (September 21, 2011). "R.E.M. Calls It A Day, Announces Breakup" NPR.org.)

A year ago. The end of carrying on since Bill left for his farm in 1997. And all this time I thought they might be hunkered down in a studio. The obits pile up too quickly these days

Think of it this way. We were shiny, happy people in our glory days.

R.E.M. & Kate Pierson rehearse Shiny Happy People - 1991 (for SNL)

And some of us are angry:

Orange Crush (live in Germany, 2003)

And often reflective, as I was sitting yesterday morning, having my coffee and watching the birds in the early morning light.

Nightswimming (Michel Stipe vocals, Mike Mills piano;
Undated, Live in Jool, Netherlands)

Yeah, reflective, like the mood I'm in now. Michael, Peter, Mike and Bill -- to your band R.E.M., Requiescat in Pace.

21 September 2011

Rory Block "Burns It Up" Covering Robert Johnson's 1925 Recording of "Crossroad Blues"

Acoustic Bottleneck Slide Blues Master Rory Block

Wow! Check this out. Somebody's been down to The Crossroads on a "Bad Moon Rising" night.

Rory's an acoustic bottle neck slide wonder -- some very special mojo.

A lot of blues and rock era guitarists can tear down the house with an electric guitar. In the blues / rock world, only a select few can do that with an acoustic guitar (e.g. Son House, T-Bone Walker, Muddy, Django, Jimi, Eric, Duane, Buddy Guy, SRV, The Edge -- and their spiritual brothers and sisters.)

But Rory Block could be the first white Son House.

15 September 2011

"I Wanna Love You but I'm Getting Blown Away": Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane" (1977)

It's hurricane season down here in Florida. As politically incorrect as this is, I can't help but let my mind wander back to the early 60s and all the fun we had teasing women about storms that they shared a first name with. You see, back then feminism hadn't gotten more than a little start progress that that kicked in during the early 70s. Hurricanes not only had women's names but also were referred to, even by TV meteorologists, as "she".

I remember one wicked storm back around '62 named Hurricane Carla -- a storm that shared her name with my dad's best friend's wife. Carla and her ole man got no end to the teasing they had to endure from close friends as that storm battered the Florida west coast. I even fictionalized all this once, shifting both the characters and also the time frame around. Here's an excerpt from my unpublished short story Wrist Shake (in press):
.... Preparing for the [fly rod fishing for tarpon] trip, four of us sat in the living room working on tackle: me, my dad, his comedian/fishing partner Jerry, and my brother Henry.

Jerry was on a roll, teasing as always. My girl Carla and I were fighting, so Jerry had plenty of fresh material. ...

Jerry started in on me. “So what’s the matter, lover boy, Hurricane Carla blow you ashore this evening?”

“Cut me some slack, Jer,” I half pleaded and half barked.

“Lay off him,” Henry said, “he can’t make tackle and weather Carla’s swirling gusts all at the same time.”

Now Jerry starts to croon, “When you’re down, and troubled, and you need a helping hand …

“Please,” now I was pleading, “leave Carole King’s insights out of this.” I struggled to recover, “Don’t you have some shopping to do? That fine new white sport coat in your closet just cries out for a pink plastic carnation for the lapel.”

Dad decided it was time to move things along. We all reacted to the authority in his eyes and his voice: “If you gentlemen can wrap this up, we can still catch the 10:30 [pm] high tide.” We were immediately back on task. ....
Flash forward to the late 70s. Sexism had begun it's slow death and the iconoclastic Neil Young had come up with a worthy follow-up to his power ballad Cortez the Killer (1975), Like a Hurricane (1977) -- a song whose lyrics compared lovin' a woman to enduring a hurricane. Moreover, Neil's trademark power chords and lead riffs between verses do a fine job, metaphorically turning electric guitar solos and chord crashes into what it's like to be in a hurricane. And almost every live album Neil did after '77 contains a version of this song. (The acoustic live versions were even done on a giant antique pump-style pipe organ.)

'Nuff said. Here's Neil Young and Crazy Horse performing the original album cut of Like a Hurricane from Neil's 1977 American Stars 'n Bars album.

09 September 2011

Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra: "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You" (1931)

I first heard this song in 1983, during the "Big Band and Nostalgia" show on Tampa's community radio station, WMNF. I never forgot one of my favorite lyric verses from this recording: "I'll be standin' on the corner high, when they bring your body by, I'll be glad when you're dead you rascal you."

I lost track of what song that was from until I heard another version by Satchmo, without my beloved verse, in a 1932 Betty Boop cartoon of the same name that a friend had in her collection.

Now, all these years later, my understanding of Louis Armstrong's music and influence vastly deeper, I love everything about this song. I hope you dig it, too.

(Editor's Note: Don't bother with the visuals in the clip, other than to check out the 78's record label -- the loop-editing may get annoying. On a more important matter, noted by DRC in the first comment below, is the fine sound quality in the clip. My bet is that, while the clip shows a 78 playing, the audio actually comes from one of the CD reissues of the compilation album Louis Armstrong (1928-1931) (1991), on which this cut appears.)

04 September 2011

The Ronettes: "Paradise" (recorded 1965) -- A Magnificient Rare Master from Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" Era

I discovered the song Paradise many years ago on a box set -- Phil Spector's Back to Mono (1958-1969) (1991) -- that belonged to a now-departed friend. Dear Dana, thanks again!

The Wikipedia contributors, at The Ronettes discography, tell the back story to Paradise concisely:
The Ronettes recorded many songs for producer Phil Spector which were not released until after the group disbanded in 1967. Today, some of their originally unreleased songs are just as critically applauded as their biggest hits. Paradise was not released until after the group broke up [-- on an earlier Spector collection, Phil Spector Wall of Sound, Vol. 5: Rare Masters Vol. 1 (1976)] ....
And let me share just one anecdote, again from the Wikipedia contributors, about when Ronnie met Keith Richards for the first time on The Ronettes first tour of the U.K. in 1964:
On their first night in England, The Ronettes were brought to a party at Tony Hall's house where they were introduced to The Beatles. ... But for Ronnie, one of the biggest thrills was meeting Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, who were the opening act for The Ronettes opening act on their UK tour. ... Richards, who wrote of his relationship with Ronnie: "The first time I ever went to heaven was when I awoke with Ronnie (later Spector!) Bennett asleep with a smile on her face. We were kids. It doesn't get any better than that."
There is no better way to learn more about Phil Spector's groundbreaking "Wall of Sound" than to listen to the original recordings. So give this clip a few virtual spins and you will get a little taste of Paradise -- you may never want to come back.