(Pictured: Elton John, circa 1970)
So I went to see this concert a number of years ago at the Fillmore East. Elton John was the headliner and this was his third trip and second headlining tour in the US. He was the guy we primarily went to see. But I knew a little bit about the other bands. And so it occurred to me one fine day recently, why not “recreate” that experience in a blog post? Of course,I don’t have any really strong memory of it. But I do have some. So here we go.
Wishbone Ash formed in 1969 in Torquay, Devon, UK. And they are, apparently, still very much around. But their heyday was clearly in the Seventies. Here in the States I wouldn’t say they were anywhere near massively popular. But my friends and I dug them and they had some level of following.
Like the Allman Brothers, they had a twin guitar sound, in this case, Andy Powell and Ted Turner. But that’s pretty much where the similarities ended. Where the ABB were blues and jazz-based, Wishbone Ash leaned more towards prog-rock. (I barely knew who the Allmans even were at the time, frankly.)
This tune, called “Sometime World,” is from their mega-popular Argus album. It just takes off at one point and despite the great, fierce guitar playing, I found myself getting off on Martin Turner’s bass. Try to sit still when this one gets going:
Seatrain was a band that formed in California in 1969 and lasted till about 1973. (I sometimes think that that’s about as long as a band should last, before all the fighting and finger-pointing get out of hand.) What was distinctive about Seatrain is that for most of the band’s life, they had a violin player. And not just any fiddler, but a guy named Richard Greene who has become a well-regarded Grammy-winning musician.
Their 1970 album Seatrain was the first album produced by George Martin after working with The Beatles. That alone probably got them more notice than anything else. An unlikely offshoot of the groups Blues Project and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band (with Geoff and Maria Muldaur), it’s hard to exactly peg these guys. Wikipedia calls them “American roots fusion,” a mix of bluegrass, fusion, country, and rock:
This tune is called “Song of Job.”* A biblical parable set to a jaunty beat and even including a bit of yodeling. You won’t soon get the “I still have faith in you” melody out of your head:
I lost my cattle, I lost my land
You took my children, too
I’m losin’ my mind and the love of my wife
But I keep my faith in You
I still have faith in You
(Unfortunately, no Spotify version available. Incredibly, I found a live “Song of Job” online from one of the Fillmore nights. I didn’t think the performance was as tight as the studio version so I went with that one instead. But since no Spotify, if the above one doesn’t work, maybe this Fillmore one will.)
I know from reading other blogs that there are a fair number of people who view Elton John as some ancient Las Vegas-style performer who entertains old ladies that have a houseful of cats or something. And who also befriends random celebrities and sings at funerals. Well, ok. He has gotten older and to a large extent, created and owns that image.
But I’m here to tell you that whatever the perception of him might now be, Elton (born Reg Dwight) began his musical life as a rocker. Like his peers, he started out playing blues and rock in grotty clubs around London. (I will save details about old Reg’s life for a later series.) Elton’s second album, Elton John, was a big worldwide hit, largely due to the tune “Your Song.” But the whole album was excellent as was much of his Seventies output.
Right around this time, then twenty-four-year-old Elton and his band did a live show at New York radio station WPLJ.**(I was living in NYC and heard it broadcast live.) They later released it as 11-17-70. This is much what the band sounded like that night at the Fillmore. (Minus, for whatever reason, long-time guitarist Caleb Quaye.) In his prime, Elton was every bit a piano player and performer from the Little Richard/Jerry Lee Lewis school. Hot stuff!
Since Elton’s the headliner, how about an encore? Gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues:
How much did it cost to see a show like this? 7 or 8 bucks. I know. Fucked up isn’t it, that that era is gone?
**It was radio station WABC at the time. A DJ found a song called “WPLJ” on a Mothers of Invention album and liked it so they rebranded the station that. Turns out Frank Zappa was covering a song by a West Coast band named The Four Deuces who had a hit with it in the Fifties. (It would fit in nicely with the Indispensable 150.) WPLJ stands for white port (wine) and lemon juice, apparently a tasty combination.