Little Stevie Wonder had hit the scene at the tender age of 13 with a song called “Fingertips – Part 2.” This was an exciting early hit for Motown. But going chronologically from my last post, I’m instead going to go with one of my favorites by Stevie, “For Once in My Life.” I feel like I’m giving Motown short shrift here but you can see my series on that great label starting here.
Now the very interesting inflection point here is that after my parents split up, my mother and I moved to New York City. My uncle had some work for my mother – his sister – so off we went. My sister who had done so much to influence my musical tastes stayed back in Philly.
New York in general for me was a major inflection point. I gave up on AM radio and went headlong into rock and blues with a great, great assist from my new New York friends who seemed to have some kind of radar for this stuff. During my four years there, the bands we saw and the music we heard was just incredible. No one, I mean no one, avoids playing New York City.
I didn’t see most of the first and second generations of rockers. (I did see the Airplane at Fillmore East which was a great experience). It was only much later that I saw the Stones or McCartney or for that matter, Stevie Wonder.
A partial list of bands I got into when I was in NYC would include Bad Company, Yes, Allman Brothers, J. Geils, Black Sabbath, B.B, King, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Elton John. With the exception of B.B. and Bad Company, I saw all of them at that time. (I later saw B.B. a number of times but not then).
So, B.B. Up until then, probably the only blues I had really heard was white (mostly British) blues bands largely playing the music they loved, all of which came from the US.(I later heard Paul Butterfield). I knew very little about the history of the blues nor any of its bands. But one day – I don’t know when or how – I did discover B.B.
And it was a revelation. My fellow blues guitarist Bill and I agree that B.B. was the alpha and omega of blues – sing, perform, write, came from that background. And boy, did we – and do we – love his vocal-style guitar playing. Everybody but everybody copied him. And he still, hands down, has one of the best vibratos.
“Sweet Little Angel” is from what is considered to be one of the best live blues albums ever, Live at the Regal. (B.B. considered it just another night.)
See, now shit is starting to get real as they say.
But I have to digress here and genuflect a little bit to Woodstock and that great live album. This album had a tremendous impact on me and I listened to it relentlessly. At least from what we heard, there were no better bands at that event than Santana, Ten Years After, and Sly and the Family Stone. (My ubiquitous sister was, of course, there).
Tough choice here but I’ll go with Santana because Carlos is so great and has been so inspiring to me over the years. And this was the introduction for me (and a lot of other people) to Latin rhythms.
Here’s “Soul Sacrifice.”
One of my friends loaned me an album called Led Zeppelin. I listened to it and didn’t get it. He asked for it back and I said Let me Give it one more spin. And I was fucking hooked. Rolling Stone wrote a shitty review which I recently heard Jann Wenner disavow in a Howard Stern interview.
What’s interesting is that “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” is a folk song that Jimmy Page was inspired to cover after hearing Joan Baez sing it. Both he and Robert Plant were big folkie fans and worshiped Joni Mitchell. (You won’t find any Joni or Neil Young on my lists as they have both pulled their songs from Spotify. But they are both definitely part of my musical journey if not as impactful on me as some of the others.)
If memory serves, there was a college station in New York City that was running a fund-raising marathon. Back then I had more time to attend to such things. And they kept playing one particular song over and over again. It was like nothing I’d ever heard and had this great, passionate singing and playing, culminating in a gorgeous piano solo.
To this day, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is one of my top ten albums and it will ever be thus. The album pulled it all together – great rock, blues, soul, and acoustic numbers. Bobby Whitlock said that he and Clapton modeled their singing after the great Sam and Dave. Duane Allman came up with the lick from a vocal melody in Albert King’s “As The Years Go Passing By.”
The other important thing here in my own journey is that all this guitar-oriented stuff inspired me to want to get back into playing guitar. But for whatever reason, I wasn’t quite ready yet. That would be a couple years away.
By the early Seventies, the Beatles were a spent force. But not so rock music. Not at all. What the Beatles (and the British Invasion) wrought continued in earnest. I think of the early to mid-70s as a time of blues-rock but that was not entirely true. James Taylor and Elton John – just for two- came out of this time and both still sound great.
Why is Traffic important? Well, firstly, look at the instrumentation – keyboards, guitar, drums, woodwinds. You’d often hear sax in bands, rarely as a key component of the band. And consider the bluesy/R&B/folkie/jazz nature of what they did. You just don’t hear that today. Maybe, to a certain extent, in the Dave Matthews band.
From John Barleycorn Must Die, here’s “Glad.”
Confession – I am not much of a country fan so I did not warm up to bands like the Byrds, Poco, or New Riders of the Purple Sage. But I did like country rock when I heard the Stones or Allmans play it. And I grew to appreciate that genre more with the Eagles. And I loved CSN&Y who seemed to fit no particular genre. I did not much like the Dead but I’ve grown to appreciate them over time.
But alas, for space reasons and because I’m focusing on my major inflection points, I’m going to here go with the almighty Allman Brothers Band. (My obsession is well-known). I think that what was happening for a lot of us who were (ahem) music enthusiasts is that we increasingly started to appreciate not just the song but the virtuosity. Not for its own sake mind you but in service of the song. And I think we were looking for a band that would pull together all the disparate pieces- blues, jazz, country, even pop.
At Fillmore East by the Allman Brothers fucked me up permanently (as did, BTW, Led Zeppelin). This band was a force that could not be denied. Here’s “Done Somebody Wrong.” The difference between ABB and most bands? They swing. And I’m happy to say I saw this iteration of the band and then in 2014, one of their very last shows at the Beacon, same night that Jack Bruce died:
I originally did not have Bowie on my list. But after thinking about it I realized I had to. How could I not? He was a game changer. A true artist, we didn’t know if he was “a boy or a girl.” His music and his pushing of boundaries was unique. In fact, a very young Madonna snuck out of her house, saw his live show, and said, “That’s what I’m gonna do.”
Don’t let my lack of mentioning prog-rock thus far throw you off. We loved (and saw) bluesers-turned prog, Jethro Tull. And one of my friends – a bassist who I’ve mentioned before later played with Suzanne Vega – was such a huge Keith Emerson fan that we seemed to endlessly be going to see ELP. He got us into Yes, Genesis, and King Crimson as well.
It pains me not to have a Yes tune here but if I’m gonna go prog, it’s gotta be Floyd. We are so far from Elvis and the Monkees that it’s almost like we’ve set the controls for the heart of the sun. And of course, no drugs were involved even though there is one year in there that is kinda shaky:
Next (and last) up – we get jazzy and on into the present.