Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Song of the Week: "Inside-Looking Out", The Animals

{right click here to listen to the song in another window while you read this article}

The last Song of the Week for the decade! And without doubt or hesitation or even a semblance of second guessing, I can tell you emphatically that our SOTW, this week, is my favorite Animals song ever. It is, I dare say, a perfect song. The song is called Inside-Looking Out and was recorded for Decca Records in 1966.

Let me tell you how I came to this song. Back in my high school days (or more likely shortly thereafter) in the 80s, I went out to a party with some of my lesser quality friends. The party was a dud and I sat in the living room with my mates picking through our hosts' father's records. As was always the case back then, it was a repository of 60's dinosaurs, and a few faded 70's soft rock records. I don't really recall, but he probably had the typical crappy Herb Alpert albums (though I always linger of the Whip Cream and Other Delights album cover) and the Herman and the Hermits dung heaps. But one could usually still find a good album like a Ray Charles or The Beatles Rubber Soul album. On this particular night, we ran across the US pressing of The Animals' Animalization album. I'm sure that in our always diplomatic way, we yanked off a Duran Duran or Howard Jones album and stuck this on. Just what the teens of the 80's wanted to listen to, right? Well, skip ahead a few hours and this album somehow ended up in the car with us as a newly adopted record. Liberated from it's lesser cousins in this forgotten stack and given a rebirth on a Marantz turntable just a few short blocks away. At home I was able to understand just how damn good this record was. Don't Bring Me Down and See See Rider as the first listen stand-outs. About the same time I picked up my newest issue of Ugly Things, the Mike Stax published fanzine. This would have been something like issue No. 3. In the back, Stax had a Top 10 list of songs that he was digging. One of them was...Inside-looking Out. So I put it on and gave it another listen. Who doggie. That is one hot number.

Inside-Looking Out was recorded as a stunning double sided single in the UK (the uber cool Outcast is the flip-side) and appeared in the US on Animalization and as a single where it flopped like New Coke. It's one of the last recordings with original drummer John Steel and well after band leader and organ player phenom Alan Price had left the band to be replaced by Dave Rowberry. The song was written by the Lomax brothers with Eric Burdon and bassist Chas Chandler. It tells the tale of an incarcerated man who keeps his will to live by dreaming of the day he will be released and, like the record I had in my hand, given a rebirth to live again.

Ice cold waters running in my brain/and they drag me back to work again. Pains and blisters on my minds and my hands. From living daily with those canvas bags/thoughts of freedom they're driving me wild/and I'll be happy like a new born child. We'll be together, girl, you wait and see/no more walls keep your love from me.

Besides Eric Burdon's beautiful pained performance, the song is driven by Chandler's powerfully melodic Gibson EB-2D bass and Hilton Valentine's stabbing guitar work.

It's getting louder. Can't you hear it? I'll be home soon. Whoa!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Video Diary: "1-2-5", The Haunted

Montreal's The Haunted deliver one of the most infectious grooves to come out of the 60's garage scene. This is a different version than I've heard, with the organ here doing the main riff sans guitar and the recurring single guitar strum more prominent and chimey.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Busker Days: Reuben, "Anok", "Blowin' in the Wind"

If you were like me, when Flip-Side Central announced its first anniversary, you quietly clicked play, lit a single candle, listened with a grateful smile, then blew out that candle and wished for many more insightful posts. But, you were also acutely aware that Flip-Side West's Busker Day first anniversary fell on a different date (somewhere in December). Yes, this is the moment some of you were waiting for: Flip-Side's first anniversary celebration of street musicians everywhere as Busker Days turns one !
You may recall that in the very first Busker Day post I mention a busker singing a song in tagalog, the official language of the Phillipines. The busker's name is Reuben, a very kind man who, with harp braced and ready, puts his songs out in a wide arc and very emphatically. You might also recall that I mention in the comments to that post that I play harmonica with him on his rendition of Blowin' In The Wind. Well, today we reach deep in the archives to pull out each of those tracks.

The first track, whose title I've translated as Anok (accent second syllable), was apparently a very big hit in the Phillipines. It tells of a young man who has tried to stay on a good path but has gone astray, fallen to drugs and ended in prison. In total despair, all he can do is cry for his mother, and his mother cries in return. If anyone knows more about this song, please join in below.

Blowin' In The Wind needs no introduction. Avid fans will recall that I pulled my G harp out at Reuben's request and joined him. You might also notice that I'm with him on the chorus too.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Song of the Week: "Stratosphere Boogie", Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant

Today the giant imaginary finger that floats high in the sky and gently descends on our computer to pick the Flip-Side Song of the Week, has landed ever so deftly on a Capitol Records number from 1954. The song is from country guitarist and session-man whiz, Jimmy Bryant and his willing cohort, pedal steel player, Speedy West.

The two head spinning musicians worked together like two conjoined twins in a freak show carnival. These two cats were doing something so incredibly different from everyone else, that it is a wonder the two of them coexisted at the same time. While they are both "country musicians", a quick listen to our SoTW, Stratosphere Boogie, will tell you that they were traveling far from the traditional country idiom.

Jimmy Bryant was born in rural Georgia where he used to play fiddle as a kid. He served in the Army in the European theatre during WWII until he was injured and sent back to Washington DC to convalesce. He brought back with him a bunch of shrapnel and a few gypsy jazz records by Django Reinhardt. He took up guitar and a year later, in 1946, moved to LA to become a session guitarist. Yep, one year on guitar and he became a session musician blending his native country music with the gypsy jazz of Reinhardt and the be-bop jazz so popular in Washington DC (Duke Ellington being a native). Speedy West was born and raised in Missouri while being spoon fed a steady diet of hillbilly music. Like Bryant, he moved to LA in 1946 to make his mark as a session man. Both men met while playing on the same night in neighboring clubs and peeking in on each other to check out the competition. They would also start to run into each other when two local would-be guitar makers started seeking out the young and innovative West and Bryant to demo their newest equipment. Those two luthiers to-be were Paul Bigsby and Leo Fender. When Speedy turned a few heads on a 1950 session backing Tennessee Ernie Ford while using his new Bigsby triple neck pedal steel, Speedy cashed in on his new-found reputation to suggest that future sessions include Jimmy Bryant, who was one of the first, if not the only guitarist playing a new Fender Broadcaster (later renamed the Telecaster). And so it was, the two did sessions backing singers like Ford and Kay Starr as well as recording their own instrumental albums as Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant.

Today's SoTW is one of those. It is a Bryant composition entitled Stratosphere Boogie. And as the name implies (and I have already hinted at), the song soars far beyond any country restraints. It features West and Bryant sharing a single microphone placed in between their instruments and riffing back and forth with spacey pedal steel riffs and mind blowing jazzy guitar runs. The unique recordings of the two would go on to influence a new generation of guitarists such as Danny Gatton and Bill Kirchen who would blend Jazz and country into a fusion they would wryly call Jazzabilly.

As a bonus, I'm linking here a video of Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant backing up Tennessee Ernie Ford on Kissing Bug Boogie. I own this song on a 78rpm record and I must say the first time I played it on my old Victrola I did an about face when I got to the Bryant and then West leads. They sounded so modern and so ahead of their time that I couldn't believe it was coming out of a 70 year old Victrola. Watch the video and I think you'll agree, the whiz session men were clearly destined to be conjoined in a different stratosphere.

Enjoy your week and keep flippin' like a flag on a pole.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Video Diary: Marty Robbins, "Singing The Blues"

I don't know how anybody could have the blues if they owned a blue leather guitar protector with their own name on it...and wore a matching suit to boot. One of my all time favorite songs.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Song of the Week: "Deuces Wild", Link Wray

{Right click here to listen to Link Wray perform our SoTW, Deuces Wild, while you read this lovely article.}

Have you ever seen the diminutive little primate from Madagascar they call the Aye-Aye? It's one strangle looking creature. It doesn't look like a primate, but it's not quite a rodent and it's not quite a feline either. It's so strange as to make you stop and take a look. Invariably you make an audible query to no one in particular: "What is that? It looks like some sorta missing link or sumpin'." (in this theoretical conversation, you speak with a poor colloquial American accent, sorry.)

What the hell does an Aye-Aye have to do with our SotW you ask? Good question. An Aye-Aye, I propose, is like our artist this week. That artist is primitive guitarist Link Wray who, in his day, sounded nothing like anyone else. How refreshing is that? Link Wray and his Raymen -- brothers Doug and Vernon and bassist Shorty Horton) first appeared in record bins in 1958 with their instrumental hit, Rumble. The song was tagged as subversive and banned. (Take a second to let that sink in. An instrumental was banned! I know of no other instrumental that has ever been banned.) Suddenly Link Wray and his Raymen were in demand in the clubs of their adopted home of Washington, DC.

Let's back up a bit. Link Wray (born Fred Lincoln "link" Wray Jr.) was perhaps the most unlikely person to become a pop star. Link was the son of two preachers, one caucasian, the other a Shawnee, who grew up in rural Dunn, North Carolina. After a stint in the Army, Link landed in Norfolk, Virginia where he hooked up with his brother Vernon who was trying to make it as a singer. The band relocated to Washington, DC around 1957 where they got a gig as the house band on Milt Grant's House Party, a local teen dance show. By now they were playing as Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands. It was here that they improvised the rough strewn song that would become known as Rumble to cover the intro and outro of a commercial break. The record took off locally and the band was now known as Link Wray and the Raymen (also, the Wraymen).

For the next few years Link Wray and the Raymen would record numerous singles, and the occasional album filled with gritty and beautifully sloppy, under-produced instrumentals (with the occasional vocal number thrown in) in their own recording studio which was actually a converted chicken coop. Link preferred the cheaper guitars and had a special affinity for the easy to overdrive Danelectro Longhorn played through a small Premiere 71 amp. As he was also largely deaf, he liked to play loud. Today's SoTW, is illustrative of such a recording. It's Deuces Wild, the 16th single from Link Wray and the Raymen, and it's a wild romp of a song recorded in the sweltering summer heat of Washington, DC in 1964. That's right, this torture device of a song was recorded in 1964. The Beatles had just played their first ever gig in America just down the street from where Link Wray recorded in his chicken coop. The Kinks and The Who were for the first time ever entering the British studio with American producer, Shel Talmy. Things were about to change in America. But in the chicken coop, the Raymen were running through yet another of Link's demented instrumental compositions. These didn't rely on a deft right hand like Dick Dale's numbers, they didn't require exquisite production as did those of The Shadows, and they didn't rely on undeniable melody lines as did the songs of the Ventures. Link Wray and the Raymen did it with brute force. They performed with the primal force of an Aye-Aye (okay, Aye-Aye's aren't known for primal force, but I need to circle back and wrap this puppy up...so work with me). Link Wray's work became hugely influential to the next generation of songwriters such as Ray Davies of The Kinks and Pete Townshend of The Who. Pete Townshend noted in 1970, "He is the king. It if hadn't been for Link Wray and Rumble, I would have never picked up a guitar."

Now sit back and enjoy the human Aye-Aye, Link Wray, perform his 1964 composition, Deuces Wild. This is some wild and wooly stuff.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Video Diary: The Ventures, "Diamond Head & Caravan"

Happy Friday to all. Two, that's right, two Ventures videos in one. Plus a creepy ad.

Hey kids, want to be cool this weekend? I thought so. If for some freak of nature reason you actually get invited to a party, get-together or, even better, one of them soirée parties that I've read so much about in them vintage swinger magazines, just throw out the following sentence: "I've always believed that Nokie Edwards is criminally underrated as a guitarist. How about you?" I promise you, Ventures loving members of the opposite sex are going to be knocking down your door with pipeline love.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Song of the Week: "Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)", Earl King

This song has had me flippin' like a flag on a pole ever since I caught Ron Silva and the Monarchs performing it in San Francisco last month. It's Earl King's original composition (but second recording of the song), Come On (parts 1 and 2) as recorded for Imperial Records in 1960. Many of you may know it from Jimi Hendrix's cover of the song as recorded for Electric Ladyland, or from Stevie Ray Vaughan's cover of Hendrix's cover. Or some hipsters may know the cool and mellow Alvin Robinson version. It doesn't much matter, they're all damn good.

I don't know all that much about Earl King other than he had a residency at the infamous Dew Drop Inn in his hometown of New Orleans and played with Guitar Slim and even played as Guitar Slim after Slim was temporarily knocked out of action by a nasty little auto accident. (Earl King also played with Irma Thomas who got some love from On The Flip-Side a few months back.) Earl King became a mainstay on the New Orleans stage for years until his passing in 2003.

Come On not only has an undeniable groove that will get your tail feather shaking and some wicked little guitar riffs (this writer is particularly smitten with the guitar riffs at 3:40), but this song also has some great lyrics. Lyrics like, "I love you baby like a miner loves gold", "you've got me flippin' like a flag on a pole", and "so many people live in make-believe/they keep a lot of dirt up their sleeve." I'm not even sure I know exactly what is meant by that last one, but I like it.

PS, turn your lamp down low, you know I love you so.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Original Song Project: "God's Crooked Smile" The Itinerants

Hello - My name is Hollerin' Hank McCloskey and I would like to offer up a song to your listeners. We are The Itinerants, a two brother Pentacostal band out of Omanik Maod, Georgia. We are preachers in our rural church and we perform for our congregation while handling snakes.

The song we offer up is called God's Crooked Smile. It is about a godless killer with a split personality who is confronted with his horrendous crime and now looks to Jesus for redemption. Both myself and my brother, Jeremiah McCloskey, sing in this song -- each representing a different personality of our killer.

I hope your listeners will give us feedback and maybe join us on a Sunday at our Church. Thanks for your willingness to share our cautionary tale with your listeners. With respect and God's love, Hollerin' Hank.

[ed. note: I have changed some of the words and spellings from the original email, with permission from Mr. H. McCloskey.]

Monday, November 2, 2009

Song of the Week: "The Last Kind Words", David Johansen and Larry Saltzman

For your listening pleasure, we present this week, David Johansen and Larry Saltzman performing their rendition of the obscure Geeshie Wiley blues song, The Last Kind Words. This was recorded for the filming of the documentary, Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus. Put it on your Netflix list. Trust me.

This song reminds me -- both musically and lyrically -- of the more famous St. James Infirmary.

Click here to listen to the full version of the song.

An abbreviated version of the song, as it appeared in the documentary, can be viewed right here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Busker Days: Jeremy DuBois, "Before, During and After"

Jeremy DuBois came out west from Connecticut recently, following his muse, making his go at music.  "Where better to do that than San Francisco?", he added.  I happened upon him on one pleasant September day sitting down crooning at what has to be one of the all-time prime SF busking locales.  I'm talking about Powell Street BART, of course, just below the cable-car turn around. It's a sure bet for free lunchtime music (toss 'em a dollar or two though!).  Jeremy has a penchant for Lennon-crafted Beatles tunes and he did a nice version of In My Life, requested by a certain listener.  He also has some original work.  Here he is playing a beat-up 1952 Airline acoustic guitar singing his original composition, Before, During and After. Enjoy!

NPR: "You Heard It Here"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Song of the Week: "Can You Tell Me", The Milkshakes

Flip-Side's Rocky Mountain HQ is still rocking to the sounds of the 60's beat revival that arose in the 1980's. One of the earliest in this movement was a group out of Medway, England who called themselves The Milkshakes.

The Milkshakes formed when the punk band, the Pop Rivets flitted away into the atmosphere. Pop Rivets frontman, Billy Childish hooked up with his roadie, Mickey Hampshire, and the punks dived deep into their mutual love for primitive 60's garage rock and 50's rockabilly. The Milkshakes were around for but a brief blip of time, but in that three year blip the band put out a staggering nine albums and a stack of killer singles. "Wait a minute Mr. Flip," you may ask, "how can a band put out nine albums in three years?". Good question. The answer is that they didn't spend a whole lot of time monkeying around in the studio. The albums are studies in low-fi brilliance. I think the recordings went something like this:
  • Mickey: "Okay, I've got my Burns nu-sonic guitar plugged into my Vox AC30."
  • Billy: "Yeah, I'm getting a little buzz out of my Hofner Club-20 guitar through my Tru-Voice 15 amp, but I don't think it matters much."
  • Producer: "Microphones are on? Check. Going into the red, but we'll power through. Russ, I hear your Framus Star Bass fine. Bruce, just a couple of taps on your snare...great. Okay, we're ready.
  • Mickey: "1 and a 2 and a 1-2-3-4!"
  • (Milkshakes play a song for 2:41 seconds)
  • Producer: "And...perfect. Okay, next song is called what?"
On a personal note, this group had a huge influence on this writer. At a time that I was running into the wall on California Hardcore and punk, I sought out something that had that aggressive edge, but, gasp, had a melody. The Milkshakes, Naz Nomad and the Nightmares, The Chesterfield Kings and a handful of other bands pointed me in a new direction. Back in 1982, I played The Milkshakes' originals-filled 14 Rhythm & Blues Greats album so much that my momma warned me that I would break it if I wasn't more gentle. Prudence be damned, I spun that record 1,000 more times before the night was out. Mickey writing and singing the more melodic and constructed numbers. Billy screaming through absolute minimalist compositions. A perfect match. There wasn't a groove left on that record before I was done.

Today's SoTW is from that flawless album. It's called Can You Tell Me? and features both Mickey and Billy wailing away and singing with what sounds like a couple of terrible head colds.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Original Song Project: The Dirt Floor - San Joaquin

The Dirt Floor is a five piece band out of Mendocino County (Willits, to be precise) playing our own special type of acoustic electric miscellanea.  We're bluegrass...folk-country...tight minor key gypsy instrumentals or loosely-played punkgrass, from the transcendental to the irreverent.  We've been playing and writing for some five years now and we do it all with guitars, banjos, mandolins, harmonicas, bass, drums and three singer-songwriters. I'm on banjo in the picture above. Join us for our slightly insane take on music and watch us freak out, if you want.

Here's a tune I wrote, San Joaquin.  The music for San Joaquin came together out of an intro in one key and a main riff in another key.  Either of the components could have been played in a different key to make them work together, but in the end they were joined by extending the intro and shifting minor and major chords to resolve in the key of the body of the song.  The first verse, spontaneous and improvisational, was left in and ended up setting the tone for the song, which is about getting older and trying to deal with holding on to the ones you love in a treacherous world.  In many cases it is treacherous because of one's own deeds.  Thanks for listening. - Jeff S.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Song of the Week: The Tell-Tale Hearts -- Crawling Back To Me

For a brief blip in time, in a miniscule circle inside a small corner of the world, you would have thought 1985 was 1966. Some marketers called it the Paisley Underground. Those living it just called it "the scene". Whatever "it" was, it was a music, culture and style movement that stiff-armed the hair metal/MTV culture of the 80's and embraced -- with startling revisionist accuracy -- a mythical 60's culture.

But not in the peace, love and understanding way. In this 60's culture, there were no crappy bands like Gerry and the Pacemakers or The Union Gap. There were no flaky hippies dancing with imaginary butterflies or unseen unicorns. There was no Vietnam War or runaway inner-city crime problem or racial tensions. Nope. Instead, this culture was based on a very narrow, idealized sliver of time: 1964 to early 1967 to be exact. In this re-imagined world, bands like The Yardbirds, The Elois, The Mourning Reign and The Pretty Things won every battle of the bands. And every black eye-liner wearing, hairbangs-sporting, white patent-leather boot and polka-dot dress wearing girl, could drive a stick shift '64 Plymouth Valiant while spouting off intricate knowledge of Cuby + The Blizzards' record catalogue. Pretty ideal.

If there was a true epicenter of this imaginary world it was...wait for it...San Diego, California. Seriously. It came to be, perhaps, because of one Ron Silva and his talented cohorts who created a remarkably high quality, groundbreaking band called The Crawdaddys. But as quickly as they were created, they were disbanded. From those ashes rose many bands including one of the best bands of the worldwide 60's revision movement, The Tell-Tale Hearts. The Hearts were Dave Klowden, Eric Bacher, Ray Brandes, Mike Stax and Bill Calhoun. Stax had been a member of the Crawdaddys and published a kick-ass fanzine called Ugly Things out of a small, Grolsch Beer soaked apartment on 1st street in San Diego's Hillcrest neighborhood. (He is still publishing Ugly Things to this day!). Brandes came to the TTH from a stint in the promising band, the Mystery Machine.

In 1984 the Hearts went to Los Angeles to record their first record. Despite a production and engineering bungling that rivaled the work of Custer at the Little Bighorn, and some inappropriate album artwork by Voxx's crack staff artist, The Tell-Tale Hearts walked out with a pretty good album. The quality of their songs survived the production and in some cases thrived despite the production. The best song on that shot heard 'round the world album was the first song, Crawling Back To Me, written by the bands' singer, Ray Brandes. Brandes screams over his manic maraca work, "You've been stealing all my records and my clothes!". (This was an unforgivable infraction back then). Bacher's chop-chop effects-free guitar (I think he was playing a single pickup avocado green Gretsch Anniversary back then) comes to glorious life on his energy raising guitar lead. Calhoun's swirling Vox Continental organ work shines strongest on the time changes. Klowden's floor-tom heavy drum work and Stax's vrooming Harmony H22 bass show why this band had the best rhythm section in town. (dig on that crazy bass work under the guitar leads).

Unlike contemporaries like the Bangles, The Long Ryders or the Three O'Clock, The Tell-Tale Hearts never broke out of that miniscule circle in their small corner of the world. Truth be told the TTH were too spot-on and too doctrinaire to make it on MTV. But i think that's the way they wanted it. If they had "made it" by industry standards of the day, they would have failed. For better or worse, they were built to be big fish in a small, but cool, pond. Ultimately the water in the pond began to stagnate. Bacher left the band for personal reasons and was replaced by the extremely gifted Peter Meisner, himself a Crawdaddys alumnus. After recording just two stellar songs in this line-up, the band fractured with Meisner, Klowden and Brandes joining with bassist Tom Ward to form a Gram Parsons influenced band called the Town Criers. Stax and Calhoun continued on with a new line-up (and old, as Bacher made a small come back), but it never felt quite the same. How could it? In fact, the San Diego scene never seemed to be the same. Coincidence or not, I don't know.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The First Flip-Side Birthday!!!

Can it really be? Yep, it's true. One year ago today the brain trust at Flip-Side International posted it's very first Song of the Week. It was the song that drove us to create On The Flip-Side. A song so beautiful, delicate and rare that we couldn't help but climb to the virtual roof top and scream out loud: "you've got to hear this song!" That song was the 13th Floor Elevators' sublime recording of their own composition I Had To Tell You, from their second album, Easter Everywhere. As first postings tend to go, that song was largely overlooked. We're still so in love with that song (and always will be!), that we urge you to go back and listen to it again. Click here to revisit that very first post.

In this first year of On The Flip-Side we have had quite a bit of action. More than we had ever hoped for to be honest. For instance...
  • We've never missed a week's submission of Song Of The Week. How cool are we! Thinking back on the 52 Song of the Week submissions we've done, we think we are most fond of this one from January 3, 2009. It's about the Irish band, The Undertones and their kick ass song of false bravado and lust. It's of course Teenage Kicks. Clicky here for a look/listen back to that SoTW posting.
  • And we've also had ten never before heard songs presented by four different unsigned artists as part of On The Flip-Side's Original Song Project. Songs that can't be heard anywhere else (unless you happen to live in the basement with one of these artists...and if you do, be very careful if they start fattening you up and taking measurements. It's not a good sign). We're smitten with all of the songs but we would like to draw your attention to two in particular. The first is the first song ever submitted. It's by the Street Preachers and the song is called Last Dance At Ipatiev. The second is by River Jack and it is a beautifully finger-picked number he calls Olivia Is Here.
  • And we've also had specials, like our Seven Days of Summertime which featured a distinct take on the George Gershwin classic. You can revisit that here.
Lastly, we would like to complete the circle of our anniversary by giving you the option to hear another song from the artist and album that started the entire idea of us giving you the gift of music. So, without further pause, we present the 13th Floor Elevators performing their original number, (I've Got) Levitation. Enjoy and thank you for taking a look, a listen, and most of all for taking time to join the conversation and leave a comment.

See you on the flip-side.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Song of the Week: "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground", Blind Willie Johnson

Words can't describe the sublime nature of this song from itinerant busker, Blind Willie Johnson. So we'll let his humming and strumming on the late 1920's recording of Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground do all the talking. If you like it you can put a coin in his cup (tied to the head of his guitar) and leave a comment here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Song of the Week: "Silly Girl", Television Personalities

Sometime around 1980, an off-key whimper of an album hit the record bins in the UK. A simple white album cover with a picture of the boob-tube characters, The Avengers was accompanied by the black and white words: Television Personalities. The backside of the album had photos of cops, hands, cats, Syd Barrett, "Alex" from A Clockwork Orange, Pete Townshend, The Creation and a pudgy kid holding a monkey. It looked much like the wall of most teenagers of the day (with the exception of the tilt towards 60's mod pop/psychedelia). The album is entitled And Don't The Kids Just Love It. It's the first output from the do-it-yourself band, Television Personalities, a band centered around the work of singer and songwriter Dan Treacy.

Television Personalities were amateurish (at best). But that was the intrigue of the band. Treacy played warbly, poorly tuned guitar and, at times, sang so far out of key in his thick British accent that you had to wonder if he was doing it on purpose. Despite, or because of, his musical limitations, Treacy made an impact in Britain. Here was a kid and his friends who wanted to make music. So they did it. They wrote songs, recorded those songs themselves, designed the album cover themselves and released it on their own label. No more A&R suits swilling gin and tonics telling you how unmarketable you are. Go straight to the record stores yourself and sell the record yourself.

Today's SoTW, is one of those songs off of that first album. It's one of their more accessible songs and it is entitled, Silly Girl. It features Treacy strumming frantically on guitar as the bass plays an overly complicated run. Ghostly noises fill out the aura of the song.

Television Personalities never broke the charts, but they did influence deconstructionists bands like Scotland's the Jesus and Mary Chain and Stockton, California's Pavement.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Song of the Week: "New Rose", The Damned

For reasons of ignorance only, the Sex Pistols are regularly assumed to have been the first UK punk band. But they were not. That honor (?) goes to the Damned who pierced the airwaves with their song, New Rose, in October of 1976. While it is certainly true that the excellent Sex Pistols were kicking up some dust at the same time as The Damned -- and even receiving top billing over The Damned at shows around London -- the Sex Pistols couldn't seem to make it into a studio to record. So while the Sex Pistols were blowing through record deals faster than a baby goes through diapers, the Damned got signed and actually made it into a studio. What a freakin' novel idea Mr. McClaren!

On September 20, 1976, guitarist Brian James, bassist Captain Sensible, singer David Vanian and drummer Rat Scabies (not his real name me thinks), walked into Pathway Studios in London to work with the brilliant producer and always hip to new music, Nick Lowe. (for those of you who are into connections, that is the brilliant producer and always hip to new music Dave Edmunds playing guitar in that video). The product of that day's labor is our SoTW, New Rose, an original composition by the band's young guitarist, Brian James. New Rose is not just historically significant, it is also great. New Rose is relentlessly driven by the propulsive drums of Rat Scabies (drummers haven't gotten nearly enough kudos here at Flip-Side) and marked by the damn catchy barre chord riff laid down by James and his highly compressed, distorted 1961 Gibson SG through what we will assume is a Marshall amp. Those of us at the Flip-Side's Rocky Mountain offices can't get enough of that killer drum and guitar break at 1:41 and that little yelp Vanian gives out at the end of it. Nothing before (but many things after) sounded like this on the UK radio. The Damned had taken that first giant step for punk-kind in the UK, influencing bands like the Buzzcocks and the Undertones.

So on this September morning, 33 years and 8 days after this was recorded, we celebrate The Damned's New Rose as our SoTW. Click here to enjoy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Busker Days: Emily Bonn, "Big Apple"

You know, if you are in need of an upside to your living or working in a big city, the fact that you can regularly see and hear great music incidental to your daily journey should suffice. Listen to this weeks busker edition and you will understand. Here we have Emily Bonn on banjo (yes, banjo two posts in a row!) and Anna Levitt on fiddle playing the Bonn composition Big Apple. They were down in Montgomery Station recently honing their talent in preparation for a northwest mini-tour, and they had my ear instantly. Hope your tour went well!

Here is Emily's myspace page.

Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame Nominees for 2010

The usual R&R Hall o' Fame nominee nonsense begins again. Another list of obvious and questionable contenders. Never know what the 500 person voting committee will do.

There are certain folks past and present (Seymour Stein, Ahmet Ertegun) who have held a lot of influence and have gotten perhaps some less deserving people in while other, more seminal, artists remain shut out. Alice Cooper, The Stooges, The New York Dolls not in Hall, but Percy Sledge and Ritchie Valens are? I am always baffled by exactly what the criteria is to get into this goofy museum. It seems having the right lobbyists helps.

Would love to see such cult-ish types as Love and The Zombies in there, but I am probably dreaming.

The list:

KISS -- Love em' or hate em', they should have been in there long ago.

Genesis-- Same as above.

Stooges-- The godfathers of punk not in Hall, but Sex Pistols and Ramones (both directly influnenced by Iggy and co.) are? C'mon, dummies!

Laura Nyro -- Great songwriter. Cult-ish type artist who is certainly worthy, but not exactly rock and roll. If she makes it, then where is Harry Nilsson?

The Chantels -- Output is pretty slight, even by girl group standards, though they are credited with being R&R's first great female group.

The Hollies -- Great and underappreciated 60's pop group who had tons of hits. If they make it, well deserved.

Donna Summer -- This is disco or R&B, but the "Rock and Roll" moniker hardly seems to apply for this organisation. Miles Davis is in there, for god sakes! Miss Summer certainly sold a ton of disco records in her time.

ABBA -- Again, not what one would call Rock and Roll, but considering they have sold more records than anyone but the Beatles and the fact they cranked out a string of pop classics that for better and worse continue to influence pop music, they should be a shoo-in. If Madonna is in there, then ABBA should definitely be in there.

Red Hot Chili Peppers -- This one may ruffle a few feathers too, but they have had a 25 year career of critical and commercial success. I know, there are those who hate them with a passion, but I have liked some of their stuff and the musicianship from Flea, John Frusciante and Chad Smith is phenomenal. Now if the voting committee can just forget about the socks on cocks episodes or some of Anthony Kiedis' raps, they should be in there.

LL Cool J -- WTF. Another example of the East Coast bias of this organisation. How many rap acts are you going to include in this thing? And if I had to pick 5 or 10 of them for inclusion, I don't think Ladies Love (who has had his moments) would be one of them. Grandmaster Flash and Run DMC are in. Wouldn't The Beastie Boys or Public Enemy be the most obvious next choice?

Darlene Love -- Great girl group singer. Not sure she has accomplished enough to get in, but you never know.

Jimmy Cliff -- This would make reggae artist number two in the hall behind you-know-who. If called upon to induct another reggae artist,would not be my next logical pick. That would probably be Toots & the Maytals. He had a few gems in the early 70's and helped to popularize reggae on an international level, but I just don't think his work warrants inclusion here.

Why should we care? It is a tourist trap that celebrates a populist history of,well not even rock exactly, but popular music of the last 50-odd years. I would like to check it out some day,but would never make a special trip to see it. Strange to see such vibrant music reduced to a stuffy museum exhibit. Does not take into account all of the glorious one-offs or notable but not best-selling acts that have made the music so interesting over the years.

Still, it is nice to see the music taken seriously and some of those old timers commemorated somehow. You and I know Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and so on,but future generations may need some guidance. Will they be looked upon with the same interest or relevance that such legandary but mostly forgotten Baseball Hall of Fame players as Pie Traynor or Tris Speaker are today? At least the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members have something that will endure and can be experienced:their music.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Song of the Week: "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago", The Yardbirds

The Yardbirds are one of those bands whose shadow is larger than the actual profile of the band. They are a band that is revered by musicians and musicologists alike. They were inventive, musically stylish, aggressive, unpredictable and explosive. They are also known for spawning three of the greatest guitarists to step into the limelight in the nascent era of guitar heroes. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page would all be birthed from the ranks of The Yardbirds. But any real follower of The Yardbirds bristles when the group is remembered for this selection of alums alone. The Yardbirds were much more than these three guitar legends.

The Yardbirds started in London with a fine young guitarist at the helm, Anthony "Top" Topham. Top Topham's parents (he was 16) thought little of his future and forced him from the supposedly deadbeat group. Good thing for the other members -- vocalist and harmonica player Keith Relf, drummer Jim McCarty, bassist Paul Samwell Smith, and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja -- they new this introverted and moody kid from art school that used to play at the coffee house. He even was rumored to have a killer record collection. So off the 4 went courting their classmate. That classmate was none other than one Eric Clapton. The year was 1963 and the up and coming band made a play to get the residency at the Crawdaddy Club that was being vacated by a group who had to leave the residency to start touring. That group is of course, The Rolling Stones. The Yardbirds quickly built a following of blues enthusiasts who were attracted to the band for it's overdriven versions of obscure blues songs and the stellar finger work of their young lead guitarist as seen here performing Louise. Clapton was with the group when they recorded one of their finest works, a cover of the Billy Boy Arnold song, I Wish You Would. But Clapton bristled at requests to do the pop song, For Your Love, and departed the group for browner fields in the middle of the recording of their first album.

Half way through the recording of their first album, in steps publicly unknown guitarist Jeff Beck. While Beck was also a blues enthusiast, unlike Clapton, he was not a purist. Jeff Beck ushered in the era of musical experimentation that became the pinnacle of The Yardbirds' existence. The Yardbirds began drawing inspiration from disparate sources such as blues, jazz, country, raga, and rockabilly. (See this Flip-Side post from December, 2008 for an example of Beck's guitar work.) The result was a sonic explosion that sounded like nothing else in the UK or the US and had a tremendous impact on fellow musicians from Love to Jimi Hendrix to Aerosmith. Bassist Paul Samwell-Smith stepped forward as the group's primary songwriter, arranger and eventually producer. With Beck the group was at top form, as seen here in this live rendition of Bo Diddley's I'm A Man.

Shortly after producing the group's second album, Paul Samwell-Smith, tired of the touring, departed the group. In steps session guitarist Jimmy Page to replace Samwell-Smith on bass. The idea was to train Dreja how to play bass and have Page move over to guitar, giving the band perhaps the greatest guitar duo in history. That's where we pick up today's SoTW. It is the best of the three songs the two guitar legends recorded together. The song is Happening Ten Years Time Ago. It features Beck and Page and session bassist, John Paul Jones on bass. It was recorded in the summer of '66 and features some of the finest guitar tone you will ever here as Page and Beck duel with their Fender Telecasters through the lead as we hear distant voices under the siren swells.

This line up lasted for only three recordings and one film session, which can be seen here. Beck began to crack under pressure and left the group while on the road in California. Jimmy Page was left to carry the load for the band, and did a more than able job as the lone guitarist.

But all was not well in Yardbird land. Bad management, the loss of Jeff Beck coupled with the loss of Samwell-Smith and the changes in the music market, saw The Yardbirds playing a high school dance in Illinois one night, and a double theater show performance in Alabama the next night. With little enthusiasm left, in 1967, Relf and McCarty quit the band they founded.

Jimmy Page was still fresh and soldiered on for contractual purposes with The New Yardbirds, morphing the band into his new lineup he called Led Zeppelin (after The Who's Keith Moon stated that trying to keep the band afloat would go over like a Led Zeppelin). They would continue on with The Yardbirds set-list for a few months (as seen here) and eventually, become their own group and have one or two hits on their own accord.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Song of the Week: "Strollin' With Bone", T-Bone Walker

Can it get any better? Nope. Today we listen to T-Bone Walker, one of the most influential guitarists of the 20th Century.

Aaron Thibeaux Walker grew up in Dallas, Texas in a very musical family and at a very early age began busking on street corners for change. On the streets Walker worked as T-Bone (a play on words from his middle name) and supported and competed with guitarists like piedmont style guitarist Scrapper Blackwell, the jazzy, inventive and sadly overlooked Lonnie Johnson, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, for whom Walker apprenticed. Walker would often accompany Jefferson on guitar but he would just as often perform as the warm up act, the MC, the dancer and the pass-the-hat guy for Mr. Jefferson. T-Bone Walker began working more and more on his own and even recorded for Columbia Records in Dallas as early as 1929!

Walker's guitar and singing skills had him traveling around the country spreading his skills. After a short stint in the Count Basie band, Walker Settled in as the guitarist for the Los Angeles based Les Hite band where Walker started using an amplified guitar as early as 1939. (Some say this is the first instance of an amplified guitar in recording. Others say it is Walker's Dallas protege, Charlie Christian. I don't know.) Regardless, T-Bone Walker was soon using his amplification to get heard in the band and start taking leads (previously the guitar had been purely a rhythm instrument) and began singing leads as well. The writing was on the wall and T-Bone Walker was now a frontman of his own band and his own blend of big band jazz and blues which was newly christened West Coast Blues. Walker's blues was an upbeat, swinging blues with a strong reference to the nascent jazz movement. A style that Lonnie Johnson had been hinting at years earlier. In 1947, T-Bone Walker hit it big time composing and recording a song that has become a "standard". That song is the ubiquitous Stormy Monday Blues, which you can see Walker performing here. Walker was quite the act to catch. He would play with the guitar behind his head while performing the splits and playing leads with the guitar facing straight up as if it was laying flat on a table.

Our SoTW is one of the most rollicking songs of the pre-Rock-n-Roll era that you will ever here. It's the Walker-penned instrumental, Strollin' with Bone. Not only is the guitar work just stellar, but the entire arrangement is just wonderful. The bouncing piano, the exclamation mark of the multiple horn breaks and the jazzy drums. And dig that guitar digging in with those bends at 2:04 right after the third horn break. Do you think Chuck Berry may have owned this record?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Busker Days: Sean Lee, "The Drum Stringer"

Sean Lee. The one man banjo! He's got two hands on a banjo, one foot tapping a tambourine and the other thumping a foot pedal on to a bass drum. The rhythmic possibilities seem to arise naturally from there with Sean, whose muse equipped him with a cunning beat. Add to the mix his honkwood lyrics and a punk pan alley delivery and it's just contagious. Click here to hear him tear it up with his song The Drum Stringer, also the title of his yet to be recorded next album.

Please also check out his music and more here.

Song of the Week: "Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down", Temptations

The Flip-Side is digging a new analog to digital recording set up this week. And that means more vinyl is being raised from the deepest reaches of the analog cave we live in. Of all the vinyl we've been digging, The Temptations' Greatest Hits Vol. II (1970) is catching our attention the most. This is a collection of songs the Temptations recorded from '67-'69 with a new attitude (funkier), new producer (Bob Whitfield), new members of the Funk Brothers (the Motown house band) and a new lead singer (Dennis Edwards). The result was pretty funking cool!

Today we look at The Temptations' 1968 number, Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down. It features some pretty killer wah-pedal inflected guitar work (I never thought I would say that) and great bass work from what we think is brand new Funk Brother, Bob Babbitt who had the unenviable job of replacing one of the greatest bassists ever, James Jamerson. Dennis Edwards, the new lead singer for The Temps, adds a much grittier, more "pentecost preacher on a bender" feel to the band. And of course falsetto king, Eddie Kendricks is still there getting that classic Temptations sound: "Remember that old sayin', 'all the glitters ain't gold.' Take heed, don't ignore it, and to your money tightly hold."

Click here to listen to The Temptations' Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Song of the Week: "Shakin' All Over", Johnny Kidd & the Pirates

The final installment of "under the covers" has us Shakin' All Over. Most people under the age of 60 know this song as one of the more powerful numbers from The Who's legendary Live at Leeds album recorded in 1970. Pete Townshend and his cohorts did a pretty serious rework of the number and it is their version that prevails as the norm today. Under The Who's spell the song becomes a slower, brooding and dangerous song driven by Pete Townshend's Gibson SG with P-90 pickups and a host of funky and obscure chords thrown in.

However, that's not how the song started. The song was hugely popular before The Who turned it into a staple of their live set. In fact, the song was number one in the UK singles charts in 1960 when Johnny Kidd and The Pirates first wrote and recorded it. Johnny Kidd and The Pirates get major props from Flip-Side for wearing piratey outfits on stage and Kidd even sported a pirate eye patch. Argh. No sightings of a parrot, sadly. The Pirates were one of England's first pop rock bands and a major influence on bands like The Beatles and, obviously, The Who. The Guitar work by Joe Morretti, who played guitar on yesterday's selection of Brand New Cadillac, is inventive, clean and catchy as hell. It's what makes this song work. In the rock movement of the early and mid 60's this song became a staple of every band who had a halfway decent guitarist.

Now I must say, neither the original or The Who's version is my favorite. Nope, that honor belongs to a version done in 1965 by West Berlin, Germany band, The Lords. Check that killer version out here from YouTube. "Shakin' down da zee vone!"