Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Greg Cartwright: Right as Reign

Listen - Greg Cartwright performs Polly Anne and Time Bomb High School

About a year and a half ago, my wife Jane and I took a no-kids weekend trip to Asheville, NC, to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. At dinner that Saturday at an Indian restaurant I told Jane that one reason I had been curious about Asheville was that Greg Cartwright had relocated his family there from his native Memphis a couple years earlier. Over the past few years I had explored Cartwright’s records with the Reigning Sound (and some of his earlier work with the Oblivians and Compulsive Gamblers), and had been impressed by a Reigning Sound show in DC in 2004, particularly by Cartwright’s impassioned vocals and economical guitar work on a left-handed Gretsch Tennessean.

With Cartwright as the leader and only constant member, the Reigning Sound has put out four studio records and a couple of live discs since 2001. In his spare time he has also done production work for the Detroit Cobras and others, and he wrote songs for and played on the 2007 comeback album by Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las. Since the early 90s he has channeled his vast record collection, heavy on Memphis soul, doo-wop, and 60s garage and girl groups, into dozens of gritty songs and many more sweaty live shows.

On our way out of the restaurant a family waited to enter. I immediately recognized the dad as the man himself. Had he been summoned by our conversation? Cartwright’s wife, kids, and in-laws seemed genuinely shocked that I knew who he was, much less that I was a fan. "This is so cool!" said his young son at the effect his dad's music had on a complete stranger. As we were leaving, Cartwright told us he would be dj-ing at a bar that night. Six hours later Jane and I found ourselves in a dive called The Admiral watching a dozen or so college kids groove to the ultra-obscure (and totally great) soul and garage 45s Cartwright spun from his corner perch. I wanted to beam every music-loving friend I had to that spot right then.

Last year the Reigning Sound released Love and Curses, their best record yet. The finely detailed and compassionate character sketch "Polly Anne" shows the depth of Cartwright's songwriting. The one minute and 36 second title track from the 2002 release Time Bomb High School is a more characteristic blast of punk-inflected rock n roll with a noticeable Memphis edge to the vocal and brief guitar break.

Between family responsibilities and day jobs, the Reigning Sound don't play that often away from their home turf, but if and when they do make it to your neck of the woods, don't miss 'em.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Song of the Week: "You Treated Me Bad", The JuJus

Listen -- The JuJus perform You Treated Me Bad.

Out of Grand Rapids Michigan, from 1965, we present to you The JuJus performing their original song, You Treated Me Bad. This was recorded for the local Fenton label run by a couple of electronics salesman who were looking for the next Beatles. Singer, guitarist and songwriter Ray Hummel and his bandmates put forth a beautiful effort. And, yes, those are his real vocals. This has not been sped up. I first heard this song off of the legendary Pebbles Vol 1. collection that came out some time around 1979. Enjoy.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Video Diary: Undertones, "Get Over You"

The Undertones perform a kick-booty version of their own song, Get Over You. I love the way the bass player, Michael Bradley, nudges Feargal Sharkey back to the microphone at the end of the guitar lead. Have a good weekend flip-outs.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Song of the Week: Love -- Your Mind And We Belong Together/Laughing Stock

Your Mind And We Belong Together
Laughing Stock

In the old Black and White westerns from the glory days of Hollywood, the innocent and earnest rancher who dug deep inside himself to find the courage he never knew he had, would get shot down in the penultimate scene of the movie. Often the rancher's children would bear witness. They would witness something about their father previously unknown to them. He had courage in his restraint. The rancher was never the hero. He was the consciousness of the cause and he embodied for what and for whom the hero symbollically fought. At this moment the hero would run to the rancher's side as the blood spills from said rancher's body, the blood mixing with the mud as it turns to gray. The rancher would choke out a few prophetic last words of motivation. The young son of the rancher would now stand over the hero's shoulder looking down past our hero at his dying father. The boy would shout out a pained "NO!" and the dying rancher would turn his eyes upward, and, with only those eyes, say everything important to that boy that he had never been able to say before. The vengeful hero would rise, and with righteousness and anger, cooly finish-off the gang who slew our moral pillar just seconds prior. And the sun would set in the West.

That is the story of Love. And that is the story of our song(s) of the week today, Your Mind and We Belong Together with a Flip-Side of Laughing Stock. It is the final song released from the original incarnation of Love, one of the most influential but overlooked bands in the history of American Rock-n-Roll.
Love was fronted by a young, handsome, lanky African American from LA named Arthur Lee. His high school chum, Johnny Echols, himself an African American, was on lead guitar. The rest of the band were white, also from LA. A racially diverse band being fronted by a black man was ground breaking when they were formed in 1965. But everything Arthur Lee and Love did was groundbreaking.

When Love burst on the Sunset Strip scene in LA in '65, they immediately became one of the two biggest acts in the city of Angels. The other being The Byrds. But unlike The Byrds, Love seemed more than content to live a life entirely within the smog walls of LA. Arthur Lee refused to tour. He refused to fly. He refused to even play shows in nearby San Diego. Instead he and his bandmates moved into a castle high in the Hollywood Hills where they allowed the party to come to them. The entire band lived in the Castle, rehearsed in the Castle and entertained in the Castle. When they were asked to headline the Monterey Pop Festival, nope, they stayed in the stone walls of the Castle. Their house had become a motel.

Meanwhile, The Byrds, The Mamas and Papas and one of Arthur Lee's many apprenteices, Jimi Hendrix, would go on to make history just a few hundred miles north of the Hollywood Hills. Arthur Lee and his bandmates, Ken Forssi, Michael Stuart, Bryan MacLean and the aforementioned Johnny Echols, holed up doing drugs and composing inward looking music that was quite different than that of their peers. Peers like The Doors. Love was largely responsible for The Doors being signed to Elektra Records and The Doors recorded their legendary 1st album with the same producers, engineers, and in the same studio that Love used.

But as the sun was rising on The Doors, it was setting on Love. Both bands released two of the greatest albums recorded in the entire decade of the 60s in the Summer of '67. The Doors went off and performed their album all over the globe and on every TV show they could find. But Love, finishing the work on their magnum opus, Forever Changes, retreated to the castle on the hill. The band was now too whacked on drugs to play music in the clubs.

Arthur Lee was more isolated than ever. Forever Changes was a commercial flop and often ridiculed by fellow musicians in LA who were turning to much heavier music. Arthur Lee considered the album a failure. In early '68, the original lineup of Love limped into the Sunset Studios to record two last songs. Two natural extensions of the brilliant but unsupported Forever Changes. One was a song called Laughing Stock. Jim Morrison allegedly is in the studio and sings with Lee in Lee's suicide note of a song:
I keep on hiding myself away from everything. What a thing to fix your brain, I guess I want to be where it don't follow me.
The other side of the single, is Your Mind And We Belong Together. It's a masterpiece. Perhaps the best song Arthur Lee ever wrote. Time and tempo changes, beautiful scat singing, etherial harmonies and a powerful gunfight at the end of this epic western. Lyrically, Arthur Lee reflects on his role as the proud rancher. He rose for the moment, but now the moment is over and others are moving on without him:
I'd Like to understand just why, I feel like I have been through hell, but you tell me I haven't even started yet. To live here you've got to give more than you get. That, I know. But they said it's all right. I'd like to understand today, then maybe I would know who I was when I was when it was yesterday. The seasons and the reasons are on display. And I know...
And then the music changes. The voice changes. This is not the same singer. This is not a calm, reflective singer. In these two verses the singer is mentally pained. You can hear it in the voice and the words:
So many people, they just seem to clutter up my mind. And if it's mine, throw it away. Throw it again. Once for my girl...friend. So many voices, don't let them stop between my ears. But it appears, that there they are. Though they are wrong, ten thousand strong.
In between those two alternate voice verses is the wonderful, lonely scat Arthur Lee sings to himself as he walks down the old dirt road into the heart of the fight. The noise of the gunfight, the screaming women and the snarling horses have been shut out.

We radically shift tempo and time again as Arthur Lee sings his last words with the original members of Love.
I'm locking my heart in the closet. I don't need anyone, no, no, no. You find me behind the door, and all of the far-out faces from long-ago, I can't erase this.
And then, the calm before the storm. The unspoken words the rancher seers into the eyes of his son. This fight, for him, is over. It is now the fight of someone else. The gunfight erupts to predestined closure without him. A door will open for someone else to walk through.

Until next time, we'll see you On The Flip-Side!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Original Song Project: "West Virginia Side", Jeff O'Connor

(c2010 Jeffrey O'Connor)

Several years ago I went on a canoe trip with five friends on the upper Potomac river. The first morning was particularly beautiful. It was springtime, unseasonably warm, and just as peaceful and tranquil as you can imagine. After paddling for a while, my friend in one of the other canoes said, "Hey, let's paddle over to the West Virginia side." It caught me off guard, because, until that moment, I hadn't even realized that the far bank WAS West Virginia...I had just assumed that the other side of the Potomac where we put in was Virginia. Even though I am an experienced canoeist, I was not involved in the trip planning outside of renting the canoes, and in the rush to get ready and get out of DC, I'm embarrassed to admit that I hadn't even looked at a map! So, of course, I looked like a total idiot, and we all had a good laugh at my expense as we headed over to the West Virginia side.

The next day it gently rained all morning and we kept paddling on anyway. I loved it. At one point though, the skies really opened up and it began to absolutely pour. However, right at that moment, we were lucky enough to come upon a small bridge, under which we could take cover. So, we parked there, under that old bridge, and waited out the cloudburst while enjoying our fine lunch of Clif bars and Budweiser in cans as the rain pounded onto the river just ten feet away.

That pretty much sums up what this song is about. It originally had lyrics, but I hated them, so into the river they went.

(c2010 Jeffrey O'Connor)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Song of the Week: "Jolene", The White Stripes

Listen -- The White Stripes perform Jolene.

I think you already know a ton about The White Stripes. I bet you either love 'em or hate 'em. So I'm not going to waste a lot of words trying to hip you to the "brother and sister" duo out of Detroit. What I will do, however, is present to you this little song they did in 2004 called Jolene. It's a Dolly Parton penned song from 1973 that was a good hit for her and appeared on her 1974 album, Jolene. Olivia Newton John covered it in 1976.

The White Stripes covered the song in 2004 as the Flip-Side of their single, Hello Operator. One of the things I really like about it is that Jack White didn't alter the lyrics to fit his gender. It gives an interesting twist to the song of a woman pleading with her man's gifted lover to recuse herself from the love triangle.

Here are the White Stripes and Dolly Parton each performing Jolene.