Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Symphony that changed the world…

So one day I’m talking to my wife about music and I tell her I have this great idea for a book.  She listened with half an ear.  My idea was to write a book about the Beethoven 9th and it’s impact on music and world history.  “Oh great honey.  You should do that…”   Well, I was already too late.  The following Sunday I pick up the Arts section of the Dallas Morning News and what do I see?  A review of Harvey Sachs book “The 9th Beethoven and the World in 1824.”  I have to admit I was furious!  It’s funny how suddenly I felt like I had been wronged.  Like I would have actually written the book myself? 
In any case I’m glad the book has been written and I’m glad it was written by Harvey Sachs.  Harvey wrote a great book I read some time ago about Artur Rubinstein. “Rubinstein: A Life”
The book is divided into four parts.  The first section is the history of the writing and the debut of the Ninth Symphony.  There is fascinating detail here.  Where Beethoven lived at the time, the arrangements for the performance, the debut itself, some debunking of myth surrounding the first performance, and it’s aftermath.
Part Two is called “1824 or how Artist internalize Revolution.”  Sachs discusses how the defeat and disappoint of Napoleon led to the birth of the “Romantic” period in music, art, and literature.  Havey credits Marie-Henri Beyle, a.k.a Stedhal with being the first person to perceive the relationship between “death of the Revoluion and the birth of Romanticism.”  He decusses the impact of Romanticism on the philosphy of G.W.F. Hegel who said “Philosphoy my expect attention and love again; when this science, stricken dumb, can lift up its voice again and hope that a world which had become deaf to it may lend an ear to it once more.”  Sach states that if you change “philosophy” and “science” to “music’ and “art”, Beethoven himself could have said this.
As monarchy’s re-solidified there hold on power after the defeat of Napolean, poets, artists, and musicians looked to bold statements like the ninth to inspire them to rage against empirial rule.  “All Men Are Brothers” the finale of the 9th proclaims.  Lord Byron even stated that he was “fighting freedoms battle.”  Sachs concludes that “the hidden thread” that connects the other important works of 1824 is the quest for freedom proclaimed in the choral finale of Beethoven’s Ninth.  This is one of the most interesting parts of the book as Mr. Sachs tries to connect Beethoven’s Ninth to the works of Heinrich Henine, Byron, Eugene Delacroix, Nietzsche, and Goethe.
Part three of the book is entittled “Imaging the Ninth.”  I recommend reading along with a score of the ninth and a recording.  If you don’t have a score then at least listen to the ninth as Harvey Sachs gives you a verbal discription in painstaking and engrossing detail.  This is a fantastic section.  I am reminded of the movie about Beethoven “Imortal Beloved” In the movie there is a performance of the finale of the 9th and it turns into a fantasy sequiece of what Beethoven may have been imagining when he wrote it.  I love Mr. Sachs verbal discription of  this amazing work!
Part 4 of the book is about how music and musicians moved forward after the debut of the 9th.  Every great composer after Beethoven talked about how intemidating it was to compose a Symphony after the 9th.  Beethoven had an enormous impact on Hector Berlioz.  By the end of Berlioz life he had become know as “The French Beethoven”.  His shadow towered over Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Malher just to name a few.  His impact on Wagner is also discussed.
This is just a highly readable, very informative book by a highly skilled writer.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves music.  You do not have to be a trained musician to enjoy this book.  It will benefit the novice as well as the highly informed musician.

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“The Big Man” is now in “The Promised Land”

Clarence Clemens
Clarence Clemons on Stage with the E Street Band

Rock ‘n Roll has lost a Giant in every sense of the word.  Clarence Clemons died yesterday of complications from a stroke he had about a week ago.  The E Street Band has lost its heart and soul.  I’m sure they will continue on but to me it’s like when John Bonham died and Led Zeppelin disbanded because they could not imaging playing without him.  Can you image Bruce Springsteen on stage without his pal? 

Clarence had a unique “do wop”  R & B style that is so unique it could never be duplicated.  and his sound was huge like the man it came from.  Clarence was one of the oldest members of the band and played on every album all the way back to their first LP:  “Greetings From Asbury Park”.  His Sax solo’s are the trademark of many of the E Street Bands biggest songs.  “Spirit in the Night”, “Thunder Road”, “Born to Run”, and on and on it goes…  Clarence was only 69 years old.  I for one will miss him.
There are many versions of the story of how Clarence Clemons met Bruce Springsteen.  But here is the story straight from Clarence himself:  “ One night we were playing in Asbury Park. I’d heard The Bruce Springsteen Band was nearby at a club called The Student Prince and on a break between sets I walked over there. On-stage, Bruce used to tell different versions of this story but I’m a Baptist, remember, so this is the truth. A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band were on-stage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, “I want to play with your band,” and he said, “Sure, you do anything you want.” The first song we did was an early version of “Spirit In The Night”. Bruce and I looked at each other and didn’t say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other’s lives. He was what I’d been searching for. In one way he was just a scrawny little kid. But he was a visionary. He wanted to follow his dream. So from then on I was part of history.” 
He is indeed part of history.  Here is my favorite example of his art.  The song “Jungleland”  a 10 minute plus tour de force with an extended Sax solo in the middle.  At one point you think the solo is coming to an end but then “The Big Man” soars again and again.  When mear mortals ran out of idea’s he was just getting started.  Listen and enjoy.  Please send your comments.  What is your favorite Clemons solo?

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Who The **** was The Siegel-Schwall Band!?!?!?

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Great Question.  This album was loaned to me by my neighbor Ray.  He has the most interesting taste in music.  This was another little gem from his collection.  I also really enjoyed researching this LP.

So who was the Siegel-Schwall Band?  Corky Siegel and Jim Schwall met in college at Roosevelt University.  They had an idea of combining  country music with blues.  Jim Schwall was into country and Corky Siegel was into blues. They became the house band at Pepper’s Lounge on Chicago’s south side.  They became a mecca to great blues musician’s.  There was no telling who would show up and set in with the band from night to night.   (Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Little Walter, Junior Wells, etc…)

The Band was made up of Corky Siegel on Harmonica and piano, Jim Schwall on Guitar, Rollow Radford on Bass (Rollo had played with Martha Reeves and the Vandrells and also Sun Ra) and Sheldon Ira Plotkin on drums and percussion.  They signed their first record deal in 1965 with Vanguard Records and made four albums.  During that time the Paul Butterfield Blues Band started touring the country and left an opening at Big John’s in Old Town.  They were becoming more popular so they launched their first national tour in 1969.  Although they were not as popular as Paul Butterfield or John Mayall they still played some large halls like Fillmore West.  In the early seventies they signed with Wooden Nickle Records. A local Chicago label that was distributed by RCA.

953 West was the third album released on Wooden Nickle.  It was recorded in 1973 in Chicago.  I can’t find what the title meant.  There is a poem on the back of the LP written by Eddie Balchowsky. (Who also did the art work on the LP jacket.)

“Standing in the doorway

of 953 West, –

The afternoon sounds

and the shadows,

The reflections –

and the momentary silences

All press one into

A motionless observer,

No thoughts or feelings

Disturb the Anesthetic

of this reality.”

Next to the word “doorway” is a quote from Lao-Tzu: “He who knows where to stop in naming things has security.

Next to the word “Sounds” is a quote from Engels: “Freedom is the recognition of necessity.”

Next to the word “reflections” is another quote from Lao-Tzu: “The best way to do is to be.”

Next to the word “observer” is a quote from Buddha:  “Be ye lamps unto yourselves.”

Next to the word “anesthetic” is a quote from the poet himself Balchowsky: “It’s the same for everybody.”

The Siegel-Schwall Band has another unique claim to fame.  In 1968 they became the first blues band to play with a major symphony orchestra.  They performed “Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra” by William Russo.  Russo was the genius behind the Stan Kenton Orchestra and was a major figure in Jazz music in America.  Siegel-Schwall also recorded the composition for Deutsche Gramophone.  Both the live performance and the LP were recorded with Seiji Ozawa and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Let’s hear the music and then we will wrap up the story of The Siegel-Schwall Band.  Wooden Nickle records were cute in that instead of “Side 1” and “Side 2”  they had “Heads” and “Tails” soooo….


I’d Like To Spend Some Time Alone With You Tonight My Friend

A great opening cut. Real Funky piano by Corky and great slide guitar from Jim Schwall.

Traitor From Decatur

Funky almost Cajun feel Alla Little Feat, Neville Brothers. Great harp from Corky and once again nice guitar work from Jim.  Plokin’s percussion is also a standout on this cut.

Good Woman

Definitely Dixie Land Jazz.  The brass section is referred to on the LP as John Payne on Soprano Sax and Friends of New Orleans:  Philly, Fred & Dave Paquette.  I like the reference to “a pick up Bar on Rush Street”.  That is still the part of Chicago where the party is!

Just Another Song About The Country Sung By A City Boy

I really like this song.  It’s just another great boogie beat R&B song.  I guess I’m a city boy that likes to sing songs about the Country too.   Great Boogie Woogie Piano by Corky.

When I’ve Been Drinkin’

What would a blues record be without at least one good drinkin’ song?  I love this stuff!  The harmonica and the acoustic guitar.  Schwall is laying down that great blues guitar and great vocals while Siegel sing with the mouth harp.  Priceless!


Old Time Shimmy

The Title says it all!  Great blues vocal by Radford.  I love the whole band doing the echo chorus.  Another Chicago reference in the lyrics to “Belmont Street”.  The middle section is really kind of wild.

Off To Denver

Nostalgic blues.  Great piano and vocal by Corky Siegel.  It could have been written in any time.  A great example how traditional, folk, blues, country are really branches of the same tree.

I Think It Was The Wine

This is one of my favorite cuts on the LP.  It is really a nice boogie blues song.  Plus it’s about drinking wine!  That can get anybody in trouble!  Especially during the full moon.  Great harmonica solo by Siegel.  What a funny line: “Last night I thought I scored an angel, but I woke up with a Clown.”

Another great drinking song…

Reed Zone (Psychiatric Institution Blues)

The song starts out with a great blues harmonica solo by Siegel.  A slow blues…  Solid back beat laid down by Radford and Plotkin.  “Bring my Whiskey babe, Bring me my sleepin’ pills.  If the angels don’t want me babe… you know the devil will…”  then the harmonica wails it’s lonesome cry.

Blow Out The Candle

“If can’t light it at both ends honey, I’, goin’ to blow out the candle..”  This song features an instrument called a Ratjug.  Not sure what that is.  The all female chorus features Jim Schwall’s wife Cherie Schwall.

So here’s the rest of the story…

The band broke up the next year (1974).  In 1987 they reunited and recorded a new album on Alligator records.  They went on tour and followed that up with a live album in 1988.  In 2005 they recorded another record on Alligator records called Flash Forward. It made the Billboard top 15 Blues record charts!  Siegel later formed a group called Chamber Blues. The unusual band is made up of  a string quartet, tabla, and harmonica/piano.  Corky  Siegel is still living in Chicago and plays a large roll in music education for Chicago public schools.  What a great legacy to leave behind!  So, who was the Siegel-Schwall Band?  Just a very influential band from the south side of Chicago.  One of the trailblazers of melding popular music with traditional symphonic music.  All in all, not a bad legacy and a really enjoyable record to boot!  Thanks Corky and Jim.  Keep blazing the trail.  What do you think?  Let me hear from you.  do you know the meaning of the title 953 West? If you think you have some insight let me know.

Thus ends another tale from the turntable…

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Posted in Blues Music, Vinyl | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments