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Monthly Archives: October 2011
So my Spirit posting last week brought out some great comments from my faithful readers. First my brother brought up the story that Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin ripped off the guitar intro to “Stairway to Heaven” from Spirits song “Taurus”. I had left this story out because I could not find the song and hear it myself. My brother sent me the song by Dropbox so I’ll share it with you now and let you decide for yourself.
So what do you think? Pretty obvious isn’t it?
Next I received a comment from a reader who goes by the name realgreecer. He is circulating an on-line petition to get Spirit inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I think this is long over due so I signed the petition immediately and I am posting the link to the petition below. Please sign it and tell others you know to do so as well. Let’s get this terrible oversight corrected as soon as possible.
Wouldn’t be funny to have Neil Young be the inductor for Spirit. He and Randy California used to be friends. There is a famous story about one of the reunion tours of Spirit where Neil Young tried to walk out on stage to sing “Like a Rolling Stone” with the band. The keyboard player John Locke had invited Neil to join the band for the encore but Randy didn’t know anything about it. Randy felt Neil was trying to upstage him on his comeback tour so he punched out Neil Young and pushed him off the stage! John Locke got so angry about it that he stood up and announced that he was leaving the band and walked off stage. That ended the 1975 come back tour of Spirit. Last is the synthesizer that Randy California introduced to Jimmy Page called the Theremin. Several readers weren’t sure what I was talking about so I am posting a photo of a Theremin below.
Thanks for all the great comments and keep ’em comin’!
Finally, I am back to blogging about Vinyl! This LP is one of the gems I pulled out of the garage sale mother lode. I think it is a real treasure.
Let’s go back to Los Angles California in 1967 to experience the spirit of Spirit. Spirit was formed by Guitarist Randy California and Drummer Ed Cassidy (a.k.a. Mr. Skin). Ed Cassidy was actually the Step Father of Randy California. Ed Cassidy had been a major jazz drummer and had played with Cannonball Adderly, Gerry Mulligan, Roland Kirk, Thelonious Monk, and Lee Konitz. In addition he had played with blues musicians like Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. Right before Randy California formed Spirt with his step father he had been playing with Jimi Hendrix in a band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. (circa 1966). Additional members of the band were Bass player Mark Andes, Lead Vocals, percussion player Jay Ferguson, and keyboard player John Locke.
Their self titled first LP was released in 1968. It contained two hits that are on this “Best of” LP. The first hit they had was “Mechanical World.” Their first LP also contained their biggest hit “I Got a Line On You.” “Mechanical World” reached #31 on the Billboard 200 and “I Got a Line On You”. The album was a huge hit and stayed on the charts for over eight months. Their second Album was called “The Family That Plays Together” Their third album was released in 1969 and it was entitled “Clear”. Due to Randy California’s personal connection with Jimi Hendrix the band was offered the spot before Hendrix at Woodstock. Their record company executives advised them not to participate because the festival was not going to be significant and so it would benefit the band more to concentrate on their own tour and promoting their new album. I can’t help but think that this band would be so much more well know if they had played Woodstock instead!
This band was heavily influential to so many other musicians. Many guitarist held Randy California in high regard. Jimmy Page worshiped the ground Randy California walked on. Led Zeppelin was the opening act for Spirit at the beginning of their 1969 tour. Randy California introduced Jimmy Page to the Theremin. The Theremin was synthesizer that reacted to heat and the motion of the body. You may recall seeing Jimmy Page use this on stage with Led Zeppelin in the movie “The Song Remains the Same.” Jimmy would wave his hand through the antenna area of the Theremin and make all kinds of strange noises with it. Randy California had one that he mounted to the amplifier of his guitar. During the 1969 tour of Led Zeppelin they even did a medley of songs by Spirit that included the hit song on this “Best Of” LP called “Fresh Garbage”. Spirit is considered to be one of the chief architects of Psychedelic Art Rock. Their masterpiece album is considered to be Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. It is as revered as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. This album contains my favorite song by Spirit Nature’s Way. Spirit also was one of the earliest bands to use brass and strings in their music. You can hear how they influenced bands like Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Chicago, Earth, Wind and Fire, War, The Animals, and the list could go on and on and on.
So listen to the music and then I will wrap up the strange ending to Randy California and the amazing band Spirit.
1. 1984: This song never appeared on a Spirit album until this one. Prior to the release of “The Best of Spirit” in 1973 the song was only available as a single. The Band had challenged Randy California to write another hit like I Got a Line On You. At first it looked like he had done it and the song rose up the charts. But it stagnated at #69 on the Billboard chart. It’s still a really great song. I had forgotten all about it till I heard it again. The song is almost symphonic. It has that very dramatic opening. It’s a great cut to start their “Best of ” LP with. It also features a great psychedelic lead guitar solo by Randy California.
2. Mechanical World: This is the song that started it all for Spirit. It was released in 1968 and got to #31 on the charts. It was a very long song for radio at that time. It clocks in at over 5 minutes when most songs that made it on the radio at that time were only 2 to 3 minutes. This song sounds like it could have been a song by Jim Morrison and The Doors. It underscores a great gift of this band. They had a great ability to make lyrics an integral part of each song. Note the strings in this song. It is interesting that they were used so successfully on their first album but they never went back to that sound on any other LP they ever made. Great Fuzz guitar work again on this cut. Also, great keyboard work from John Locke. Jay Ferguson is probably the most under appreciated lead vocalist in Rock n Roll history.
3. Natures Way: This is one of my favorite songs. I love everything about it. The use of Tympani Drums by Ed Cassidy is brilliant. It creates a highly dramatic effect. This song echos the great song by Ten Years After “I’d Love to Change the World…” The quite guitar starts out, then the tympani come in, next the cow bell. There is the eerie sound of Randy California’s distorted guitar. The uneasy sound of the overlaid vocal lines as they reprise the message and build to the climax “…it’s natures way of telling you somethings wrong…” The only problem with this song is it’s too short.
4. Animal Zoo: This song is also from “Twelve Dreams of Doctor Sardonicus.” What a very 70’s sounding song. This song was released as a single but never made it past #69 on the charts. Note the use of the Moog Synthesizer.
5. Fresh Garbage: This song is from Spirits first album. This is one of the songs that Led Zeppelin used to cover. The lyrics are part of the overall theme that used to permeate a lot of their songs. Environmentalism. They were pioneers in the use of music to promote environmental issues. I can hear how groups like War, Santana, The Animals, The Doors, Chicago, etc… all were influenced by this great music. I love the jazzy keyboard solo in this song. It’s kind of Ray Manzarek like.
1. I Got a Line on You: This is the best known song of all of Spirits great music. It originally appeared on their second album called “The Family That Stays Together” I love it too. It immediately takes you back to the early 70’s. Can’t you just hear this song blaring out of an A.M. radio? I know I can…I know I did… This song just rocks and makes you want to dance! What else needs to be said?
2. Prelude – Nothing to Hide: This was the first song on the album “Twelve Dreams of Doctor Sardonicus”. Thus the reference to Prelude. This is the prelude of a concept album. Spirit was one of the forerunners of this type of album rock. The song features a wild guitar solo from Randy California.
3. Uncle Jack: This was the second cut on the first Spirit album. It has a very progressive art rock sound. No one sounded like these guys back then. After they made this record a lot of bands started sounding like this. Spirit actually invented a kind of L.A. sounding rock.
4. Morning Will Come: This song was the 11th cut on “Twelve Dreams”. It almost sound like Glam Rock. I love the horns in the background. It just has a great jazz influenced rock sound. Randy California again has a great solo in this song.
5. Dark Eyed Woman: Dark Eyed Woman was the first cut on their album called Clear. It has a moody atmospheric opening. I love Randy’s guitar sound. This should have been a big hit. It is a tightly constructed multi part song. It is somewhat experimental for it’s time. Again this song is too short.
6. Mr. Skin: Mr. Skin is the nick name of Drummer Ed Cassidy. He was famous for his shaved head and, like Johnny Cash; he was famous for wearing black. (Note the two Photos of the Album). Mr. Skin was the sixth cut on “Doctor Sardonicus”. It has great horns on it. It also features great percussion from “Mr. Skin”. This is a very cool sounding song. It swings and is very easy to listen to.
And now the rest of the story…
After the tour in 1973 to promote “Doctor Sardonicus” Ferguson and Andes left the group and formed Jo Jo Gunne. The band went through a lot of personnel changes. Solo projects ensued. And things began to com apart. The band disbanded in 1973. Randy California moved to Hawaii. There were some attempt to reunite in the late 70’s. At a concert in Santa Monica California, Randy California punched out an inebriated Neil Young and the keyboard player (John Locke) said “that’s enough” and walked off stage. That was pretty much it for Spirit. They reformed again in the early 80’s with some minor success but again they all went their separate ways. On January 2, 1997 Randy California was surfing in Hawaii with his son when they both got caught in a rip tide. Randy was able to push his son out of the tide to safety but he could not save himself. John Locke also died in August of 2006 from complications of lymphoma. Ed Cassidy is still playing the drums and performing. He is also an actor. Maybe you know him from his time on General Hospital? Isn’t life ironic…
I was going to get back to recording and posting about vinyl but this CD would not leave me alone. It has ingrained itself into my psyche. Quite frankly, it has been a very long time since I’ve heard a CD that I could not quit listening to. I listen to this CD constantly. I have to share it with cyberspace. I saw this band at Austin City Limits Music Festival. They were one of the highlights of the 3 day event. Although The Head and the Heart was formed in Seattle Washington in 2009, most of the members are transplants from California and Virginia. The band has three main singers: Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russel, and Charity Rose Thielen. Jonathan and Josiah play guitar, sing, and play percussion. Charity sings, plays percussion, and violin. The other members are Chris Zache (Bass), Kenny Hensley (Piano) and Tyler Williams (Drums and Percussion). As you will hear, the band is piano driven and three part harmony driven. The blending of Josiah, Jonathan, and Charity is pure magic. This band is pulling off what other bands all over the country are aspiring to. That being the marrying of folk, rock, and country into a true Americana sound. Other bands like Bright Eyes, and Monsters of Folk may be getting more press but no one is accomplishing anything remotely as good as The Head and the Heart. The CD is on Sub Pop Records. The label made famous for it’s role in creating the “Seattle Grunge Sound” with bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney. As great as this CD is, this band is even better in concert. (See my review of their appearance at Austin City Limits Music Festival 2011.) ACL has released 3 YouTube videos of their performance at the festival, so I am going to include them in this blog. I think you will really enjoy getting a flavor for what The Head and the Heart are like in concert. So “Pump up the volume” and get ready to dance, sing along, and drum on your table your your knees or what ever else you can find to bang on; because this music is irresistible!
1. Cats and Dogs: This first song is very short and acts as a prelude to everything you are going to hear. I love the part where Josiah sings ““Fallin’ from the sky, there are raindrops in my eyes, and my thoughts are digging in the back yard. My roots have grown but I don’t know where they are…” All the elements of folk are here. A simple topic, cats and dogs, a mouse in the house. As the song nears it’s close it surprisingly and effectively switches from 4/4 time to triple time then ends suddenly. If you’re not paying attention you will think that the next song is still part of the first song.
2. Coeur D’ Alene: Coeur is the french word for Heart. This piano driven song has a “Martha my Dear…” feel to it. It has a Beatle feel to it. I love the “La da da” chorus. The luxury of having three singers is exploited very well in this song. As one singer finishes a line another singer will start a line over the last word of the other singer. This creates a dramatic effect at the end of the La da da chorus when the vocal “Messes that I haven’t tried to clean up in a while …” overlaps the last …da
3. Ghosts: This is another song about leaving home and blazing your own trail. “When Mary moved all her shit to Chicago, her Mother made sure she took her Bible. But you won’t see her face on Sundays…” Again this song has a very catchy “du,du, du, du, du, du, du…” chorus. I love the refrain “One day we’ll all be ghosts, tripping around someone else’s house. Once day we’ll all be ghosts, ghosts, ghosts…” Then the du,du, du’s change to “Ba Dap, ba dap, ba, ba, da, da…” This is also kind of Beatle sounding somehow. There was a time in rock history that they believed if you had a da, da type chorus it was a guaranteed hit. This song should be all over the radio. It is infectious and catchy…
4. Down in the Valley: Starting with this song the CD really begins to soar. This is a great song. It starts out simply with Josiah singing with just a guitar “I wish I was a slave to an age old trade. Like ridin’ around on rail cars and workin’ long days. Lord have mercy on my rough and rowdy ways.” This song is full of yearning, regret and the desire to start over. He sings in falsetto and then Charity joins him at the octave. Their voices blend perfectly. The song builds and builds until it becomes a tidal wave of emotion. Then the song ends quietly just as it begun. But the song is now in your memory bank and is unforgettable. It will stay with you for a long, long time. This is also a staple of their live shows. Listen to the song and then watch the video from ACL 2011.
5. Rivers and Roads: This is the song that The Head and the Heart always end their live shows with. Here they are a brand new band and they already have a traditional end er. It took the Rolling Stones years to get to the point where they had a song that they traditionally ended their shows with! (Jumpin’ Jack Flash) After you hear this song you will understand why they end their shows with it. This song underscores the need for more featured vocals from the only woman in the band Charity Thielen. Listen to what she does in the live performance at ACL. She sings like a woman possessed. She is frenetic. It blew me and the crowd away. This is a show stopper!
6. Honey Come Home: This song starts out with beautiful 3 part harmony. A song about a broken home. A beautiful song with beautiful lyrics.
7. Lost in my Mind: This is their hit. This song just makes you want to sing along and dance your ass off. Which is exactly what happens in the video at ACL. A group of people got on stage and danced with the band during the song. If you watch carefully in the video you can tell the band is totally surprised but they go right along with it and have a blast with their fans. After the song was over Charity asked Jonathan: “Who were they? ” Jonathan says: “I have no idea” Charity asks “Where did they come from” Jonathan says: “I don’t know, but that was a lot of fun!”
8. Winter Song: This is a folk song that any folk singer would have loved to have written. This song also highlights the point made earlier that the band needs to give Charity more opportunity to feature her unique vocals.
9. Sounds Like Hallelujah: This is a beautiful song that almost becomes a prayer. From the count off that starts the song to the beautiful finale this song has heart. I love how the song changes meter in the middle with the “mama don’t put that gun in my hand..” refrain then it switches to the Hallelujah chorus…
10. Heaven Go Easy On Me: Just when you think that a CD could not possibly have anymore great moments this CD stuns you with an unbelievable final song. The singer talks about the wind blowing through your window and your front yard and the music gives you that feeling of the breeze blowing through your window. The leads singers tells the listener “Don’t follow your head, follow your heart…” Then the singers begs “Heaven go easy on me…” The song would be fairly normal but just as the CD starts with a Prelude (Cats and Dogs) it ends with a truly incredible Coda. The piano begins a repetitive motif and the guitar begins to strum and the magic happens. “It’s damn good to have met you. I hope that you’ll stay. We’re well on our way, we’re well on our way…” The band takes full advantage of having three great singers as they layer three lines over each other, each singing different lyrics at the same time. The effect is magic. “All these things go rushing by…” While another sings “We’re well on our way…” and then the last singer sings “All things must end daring…” the singers fade away one at a time until all we hear is Charity’s violin and a cello in a beautiful string quartet for the end of time. The CD ends and I just start it over again.
Bottom line? Go out and buy this CD now! The new Seattle sound is Folk Rock. Check out Fleet Foxes as well. Don’t miss them when the play David Letterman on October 28th. You won’t be disappointed. Personally I love this Americana sounding music and of all the bands that pursue this style of music, The Head and the Heart affect my Head and my Heart!
Martin Scorsese has struck again. First he made the documentary “The Last Waltz”: a film about the final concert of The Band. Then he makes a documentary about the early career of Bob Dylan called “No Direction Home”. Now he gives us this amazing documentary called: “George Harrison – Living in the Material World”.
The documentary aired last week on HBO. The documentary is in two parts and is a total of about 4 hours long. Scorsese was given exclusive access to George Harrison’s private archives by his widow Olivia Harrison. Much of the material has never been seen before.
Part one starts with his childhood and ends with the making of “The White Album”. Some of the highlights of part one were the discussion with Paul McCartney about how George auditioned for John Lennon in the dead of night on the top deck of a Liverpool double-decker bus. There are a lot of very interesting storys, pictures, and video about their early years in Germany provided by their long time friend Klaus Voorman. The best moment of part 1 is right at the end when they interview Eric Clapton about playing on the song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Eric tells how George insisted that he play on the cut. Eric says that the song is about the slow disintegration of the Beatles from George’s perspective: “I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping; while my guitar gently weeps.” That was a wow moment for me. I had never heard that before. Now it seems so obvious.
Part 2 covers the break up of the Beatles and continues the story of George’s exploration of eastern religious thought. Highlights include interviews with Phil Spector, Ringo Starr and his last wife Olivia Harrison, as well as his son Dhani. There is a riveting conversation with Olivia about the night a nut broke into the Harrison home and attacked and stabbed George. Also, her description of the moment of his death.
This documentary is well worth the time invested to watch it. You can catch the reruns on HBO or it is available on demand at HBO GO.com.