Being an occasional post wherein I go into the vault and dig out tunes I’ve featured before so that they don’t permanently wind up in the deep hole of perdition.
Back in the 70s, the Mahavishnu Orchestra was about as popular as a fusion band could be. My chums and I saw them a couple of times and on my one and only real trip to the UK, I saw them, Billy Cobham and Weather Report on the same bill at, I think, the Hammersmith Odeon. The encore was all of them playing together and it was a totally cacophonous clusterfuck. But those were the days.
Anyway, the band was a real firecracker and consisted of John McLaughin, one of the world’s greatest guitarists; Rick Laird, bass; Billy Cobham on drums; Jan Hammer – who later collaborated with Jeff Beck -on keyboards; and violinist Jerry Goodman. They call this fusion but my buddy Steve – who has inexplicably stopped listening to music like this in favor of bluegrass – used to call this “rock ‘n roll to the max.”
Here’s the title track from their 1973 album Birds of Fire:
Interestingly, McLaughin is a contemporary of all those other British guitarists who came of age in the ’50s and ’60s. Yet he went in a completely different direction. One of his peers – who called McLaughlin the “best guitarist alive” – is a guy who’s no slouch himself – Geoffrey Arnold Beck.
I’ve yet to do my workup on Beck but you know, one day. But the short story is that the prodigious Mr. Beck kicked around the early ’60’s London blues scene eventually replacing Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds. He was with them for a couple of years then got sacked for being a pain the ass.
So in 1967, he formed the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, and drummer Mickey Waller. (Woody played bass on their first album Truth,) I didn’t grow up listening to blues. My oldest sister listened to opera and classical, my next-oldest loved music, didn’t much care for the blues.
I started hearing about Truth via reading about it in publications like Rolling Stone and Creem. I thought, well, I gotta hear this. To this day it’s one of my favorite blues-rock albums (but I could live without Rod the Mod’s version of “Old Man River” for quite a while.)
Listen to “Let Me Love You,” which I personally think is one of the best blues tunes ever recorded. Everything works here but I think that Ronnie’s bass steals the show. Just tasty as fuck all the way throughout.
And now for something completely different. As I said of this band when I wrote about them, “So it was refreshing, in 1971, to discover an album called We Came To Play by a band named The Persuasions.* Play was an entirely a capella album with large measures of soulful doo-wop. According to the book Doo-Wop Acapella: A Story of Street Corners, Echoes, Three-Part Harmonies, this album “established the Persuasions as the premiere acapella group in the world.”
Give a listen to “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home,” a great tune written by the late Joe South who probably deserves his own post. No instruments. No dancers. No pyrotechnics. No bullshit. Just the naked, unadorned, unprocessed human voice, as good as it gets:
Bonnie Raitt holds, I think, a fairly unique spot in rock and roll and blues history. Her father was Broadway and movie star John Raitt and so her family was fairly musical. She went to Radcliffe College in Cambridge, MA which at the time was a women’s liberal arts college. (It later fully merged with Harvard.)
Being socially conscious her plan was to “travel to Tanzania, where President Julius Nyerere was creating a government based on democracy and socialism.” However, her plans took a turn in a slightly different direction when she instead started getting into the local country blues scene.
She’d been playing guitar since she was a kid and through folk and blues got into playing bottleneck guitar. Today she’s one of our finest slide players. That is part of why I say she’s unique as she had to work her way up through – and gain respect from – a doubtless bullshit bunch of macho guys who were less interested in her music and more interested in, well, her. (But she could drink with the best of them.)
Here’s a nice funky, bluesy piece called “Million Miles.”
Dan Hicks – as a member of the Charlatans – was part of the San Francisco scene that spawned bands like the Dead and the Airplane. But not only did he not reach their commercial heights it’s not even clear to me that he ever tried or much gave a shit.
As I said when I wrote about Dan and his Hot licks some four years ago, “Their sound is best described – and I quote here from Wikipedia – as “cowboy folk, jazz, country, swing, bluegrass, pop, and gypsy.” (Allmusic calls it “hipster acoustic swing” while Hicks himself says his first loves were jazz and folk music.)
When I listen to a tune like “Walkin’ One and Only” to me it sounds like the Andrews Sisters meet Bob Wills. If you’ve never heard this band then you’ve never heard anything like them. Right CB?
Let’s end this trip down ME memory lane by giving a spin to Toots and the Maytals. Wikipedia: “They are a Jamaican musical group and one of the best-known ska and rocksteady vocal groups. The Maytals were formed in the early 1960s and were key figures in popularizing reggae music. Frontman Toots Hibbert’s soulful vocal style has been compared to Otis Redding and led him to be named one of the 100 Greatest Singers by Rolling Stone.”
Everyone has done “Pressure Drop” but I especially dig this version from their 2007 album True Love. With the ubiquitous Eric Clapton on guitar.
*Frank Zappa, an aficionado of doo-wop, discovered and first recorded The Persuasions.
25 thoughts on “My Back Pages – Six From the Vault – Vol. 2”
That Persuasions track was interesting – I’ve never really heard them mentioned much outside of your blog.
No, in the grand scheme of things, not very well known. But in places like Philly and New York where a capella was popular you’ll find fans. I love ’em. Great to hear just voices sometimes
Truth is absolutely one of my favourite albums. The talent in that group was phenomenal. Bonnie Raitt is an understated talent; she quietly goes about her business & can throw off a lick with the best of them. And Toots And The Maytals? I have to admit I missed ‘em when they first came out, but I did catch up!
It’s all of a piece, eh? Funky, bluesy. It took me a while in the beginning to get into reggae but I sure did eventually. I
I don’t recall how I got turned on to the Mahavishnu Orchestra about ten years ago, but I’m glad it happened. “Cacophonous clusterfuck” – may I use that?
Oh yeah, knock yourself out. It’s not trademarked. :-0 Yeah I remember it all too well. Each band sounded great but they forget to rehearse an encore. Just a total mishmash like most unplanned jams.
That looks like Evel Knievel’s vault.
3 of my absolute favorite records – Birds, Truth and Striking It Rich. Just hearing that beautiful noise from Mac and the boys gets me every time. You said you were working on a Dan piece. I have a couple new ideas that I have ready to go and Dan plays into them. I always liked ‘Walking One And Only ‘ as my theme song (A little self centered). Its always good to hear Bonnie. She’s the real deal. I just dont listen to her enough. Had no idea on the Toots cut but yeah I like it and I like Eric’s work. Dont hear that kind of guitar in reggae/ska. Very cool. Great take Doc.
Yeah, that vault is where I keep my old 78 gramophone records. Yeah, the ” Dan piece” was really just yanking them back out of obscurity. CB is truly the walkin’ one and only when he walks, listens to music and smokes a cee-gar. The men stand back; the ladies just sigh.
Always loved Eric with Toots. Totally works. Reggae brings me back to the ’70s for some reason.
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A song of that Hicks album is going to be the first in a series. You know the lyrics to ‘One And Only’, classic DH.
First time I head the EC and Toots. Is Eric on the whole album? Or did you mention that already?
There’s a boatload of guests on that album, True Love. Willie Nelson, Bonnie, Beck, Ben Harper, Keith Richards.
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Forgot The Persuasions. I love that stuff when done like this. Some more FZ leads.
You know my love for ’50s music. I drive around and listen to my Spotify playlists and think, “How can I not throw some of this great stuff back up on ME?” Especially since I posted a lot of it from back when I had two followers and one was my mother.
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I love that stuff also but you know that.
Yep. Great stuff. Nice to know I can dial it up whenever I feel like it.
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Truth – as I’ve often told him – is Jeff’s greatest album
And then you kicked the shit out of him.
Nah, just singing “hi ho silver lining” does the trick
Whoa, a beating is one thing but that’s just fucking cruel.
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BTW, much as I love ‘Truth,’ I think that ‘Blow by Blow’ is Jeff’s best album.
That’s the one with ‘Constipated Duck’ isn’t it? I dig it but the jazz-fusion stuff has never been my preferred brew of coffee
It is. But listen to this and tell me it isn’t one of the most beautiful things you’re ever heard. He captures the sadness of the relationship.
An undeniable highlight that one
If you’re ever in the mood, give that album another spin. It’s one of the more accessible fusion albums. Plus Jeff will come to your cookouts again.
Given it a spin while working (back to it this week and it’s killing me) – I think I enjoy a good 75% of it.
Jeff refuses to come until we can do away with the 2 metre thing – he’s a both a close-talker and a hugger when he’s had a few
The other 75% will grow on you. As to work killing you, well, let’s hope your’re being hyperbolic.
As to our mutual buddy, well, fuck him. Next time tell him Clapton and Page are way bettr. That’ll fuck him up.
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