JUST FOR FUN (Something I NEVER Do…)

There’s evidently a meme going around (or perhaps Terry Teachout is trying to start one) called Seven Albums to Know Me By….

I just picked the first seven that came to mind…but I bet if I thought about it a long-g-g-g-g time, it wouldn’t look much different:

The Impressions The Vintage Years (1958-72, released 1977)

The greatest album ever assembled and the history of Black America from the late 50’s to today…in 28 impeccable sides.

The Go-Go’s Talk Show (1984)

Well, it did save my life. Funny: Beauty and the Beat, which I’ve listened to far more often, wouldn’t tell you a thing about me. Art is funny that way.

Elvis Presley From Elvis in Memphis (1969)

Not even really the cream of the greatest vocal sessions ever recorded. But programmed as its own kind of perfection…and “Long Black Limousine” carries E’s you-lookin’-at-me-lookin’-at-me-lookin’-at-you-lookin’-at-me ethos, evident as far back as the Sun sessions, to its natural conclusion. Living in two minds and observing one’s self from afar–these things I am in touch with.

The Persuasions: Chirpin’ (1977)

The greatest album cover. The music? No words. Nothing defines you quite like that which leaves you speechless.

Al Green The Belle Album (1977)

He brought me safe thus far…through many drunken country bars.

My spiritual autobiography even though I’ve never been near a drunken country bar. Art being funny again.

The Four Seasons Story (1962-70, released 1975)

Absurdist high harmonies and drums loud enough to lock the world out. If you know that much about me, you know me very well. There have been greater collections on CD, but this was there when I was in survival mode.

The Byrds Greatest Hits (1965-66, released 1967)

If not for this…who knows about the rest?

(If seven had been ten: Shangri-Las ’65, War Greatest Hits, Dusty in Memphis).

…and now back to the Democratic Primary Season! bwahahahahahahahahaha!

McGUINN-HILLMAN SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO 50TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR–SANDY SPRINGS, GEORGIA, OCTOBER 21, 2018…A HANDY TEN

How it was on at least one night of a tour that keeps getting extended. If it comes near you, see it if you possibly can.

1)  The band comes on. Then McGuinn and Hillman walk in from the wings and launch into the opening chords of “My Back Pages,” which turn out to be as recognizable as “Mr. Tambourine Man” or “Turn, Turn, Turn.” I’m not sure why this surprises me.

2) McGuinn turns out to be the (even) better story teller. First story of the night involves the first time he heard the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face.”

“Sounded like bluegrass to me….”

3) Turns out he also does a killer Bob Dylan imitation. Anyone who hears him do it just before he demonstrates how he changed the dynamics of “Mr. Tambourine Man” completely (and made it a groundbreaking hit–and one of the most important records of the twentieth century–in the process) will no longer need to labor under the illusion that, in forging the Dylan/Beatles combination that came to be called folk rock (and which everyone thought was as natural as breathing the minute after it happened), the Byrds were somehow lesser.

4) Chris Hillman: “It is true that Gram Parsons and I met in a bank….” I don’t remember if that was before or after he explained how he wrote his first song when he came home from a jazz session with Hugh Masekela’s band. He does not explain why it came out a country song (“Time Between”) except to say that he does not know. This leads to other stories about actually going to Nashville with Gram in tow. The best involves McGuinn demonstrating a riff on the three-finger banjo to one of Nashville’s top session men.

You better let me do that, the fellow said.

5) Marty Stuart’s band is in support and Marty steps out in front a few times. His first memorable moment is just after the intermission when he comes out to warm up the crowd for the second half and plays something from his new album that incorporates the basic riffs from “Eight Miles High” and “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.”

Which turn out to be as instantly recognizable as “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” And “My Back Pages.”

6) Then it’s on to Sweetheart material proper and McGuinn’s complete intro to “I Like the Christian Life.”

“When we recorded this song, I didn’t know what it meant. I do now.”

7) And, of course, the umpteenth retelling of being given the cold shoulder by Ralph Emery. Still funny. Still painful. Still suggestive of lost possibilities for American music for generations to come. (He who shall remain nameless McGuinn says. Ralph! the crowd shouts.) Followed by a version of “Drug Store Truck Driving Man” that should be no more than a goof and instead, stings like a rattler. The record sounded like a petulant whine. The version I heard Sunday a week ago was tougher, meaner and funnier. By a factor of ten.

8) The musical highlight of the evening…out of nowhere: “You Don’t Miss Your Water” with McGuinn, Hillman and Stuart in three-part harmony. I’ve only been to the one show so I don’t know if they capture this every time out, but for one night in Atlanta, at least, it was beyond even the Everly Brothers. If Brian Wilson had been there he wouldn’t have needed LSD to see God again.

I wasn’t alone in thinking so. The crowd consisted largely of aging hippies. I think it’s safe to say they had, on average, a minimum of three beers apiece in them by then. And if anyone had dropped a pin between first note and last, it would have sounded like an atom bomb. (Avoid the versions available on YouTube which have spotty sound and barely hint at the quality of what I heard.)

9) For an encore: Proof that, on the right stage with the right sound system, “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star” rocks as hard as anything that has ever hit the air. Then the inevitable Now people tell us we sure do a great version of that Tom Petty song…which segues nicely into a tribute to Petty, the highlight of which is Stuart and his band doing a bluegrass version of “Runnin’ Down a Dream” that builds and builds and lays to rest any question of whether Tom Petty was a genius.

10) A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late….

Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman have lost none of their formidable musical skills and they both sing far better than they did in any clips from the sixties I’ve come across.

These days they’re master showmen as well, but, better than that, they’re Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, the surviving core of the greatest band assembled on American shores after Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens. Just to be in a hall with them was a life-defining experience for me. That there would be so much real magic was almost too much to hope for.

Brother, I’d do it again.

And I confess I didn’t realize this was as close as they would get to either Waycross (Gram Parsons’ principal childhood home) or South Carolina (of the many tall pines)….but, looking back, there might have been a ghost or two wandering about.

FROM THE ROAD…

I’m on laptops so posts will be brief.

Suffice  it to say that McGuinn and Hillman were all I hoped they would be.

When you have as few heroes as I do, the only question that  matters when you’ve spent forty years wondering if you would ever share a brief space with them on  this plane is whether it was worth it.

It  was worth  it. Every minute.

STARTING AROUND FRIDAY…

…I’m going to be busy for a while.

Friend’s birthday party Friday night. High school reunion (hurricane damage permitting) Saturday night. Sunday, I leave for a nine-day trip in which I’ll be visiting North Carolina (my brother), Nashville (my nephew) and Memphis (my oldest sister). On that first Sunday, good Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise, I’ll be in Atlanta to catch the tail-end of Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman’s tour celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

I’m looking forward to all of it but especially the concert. McGuinn and Hillman are in their seventies. Though both still tour a good bit on their own, they don’t get together all that often. Any time might be the last time. My bucket list is pretty short (limited to my living heroes: them, Mary Weiss, a truly reunited Go-Go’s and Al Green’s church…that’s about it). Knocking off even one of them is a big deal.

The plan originally involved catching the show at the Ryman in Nashville (see nephew above) on the 8th. Then Durham on the 15th became a possibility (see brother above). In the end, between work schedules (my nephew’s and mine), my brother’s travel plans (he and his wife took a New England cruise for his 75th birthday), and being priced out of various venues (the Ryman went from $35 to $400 while I was trying to get my act together–eventually came down but it was too late by then), Atlanta became the only option. Looks like a great venue and the ticket was $50 so it all worked out.

I say all that by way of explaining why I may be away from the blog for long stretches between now and the end of the month. If I can get to the blog and have a chance to post from the road I will…and I plan to post on a regular basis between now and Sunday, time and energy permitting.

But, in any case, I don’t want you to think I won’t be thinking of you! Because without all who visit, comment, suggest and make me smile, I’d be diminished more than I can say:

BELIEVER (Marty Balin, R.I.P.)

Marty Balin: 1942–2018 (Founder of the Jefferson Airplane. Member 1965–71…when he was gone, they were gone.)

When I was an English major at FSU in the early eighties I had what’s called an Article and Essay class. We studied the finer points of grammar and wrote essays on the subjects of our choice which were then subjected (anonymously and randomly) to class critique. Later on, whether there was a public appraisal or not, we would each meet privately with the professor and he would tell us what was really wrong. We had to submit nine essays during the semester and he told us up front that he only gave one or two papers an A per semester.

Sure enough, on my nine essays, I got a mix of B and B+ grades. (I got an A for the class due to acing my grammar tests, thus preserving my 4.0 average in my major by the miracle of doing spectacularly well in the one area where I was generally haphazard, preferring, as I did, to make up my own rules–turned out all they had to do was make it an actual test).

I had two papers critiqued publicly. The first passed with the general positive commentary from the less shy students (my habit, in that class and every other, was to offer no word, good or bad, at any time), a gentle admonishment or two from the professor and a good nod all around.

The second was about my favorite band, then and now, the Byrds.

If you’ve ever been in one of these type classes, or any of the real world situations for which they are supposed to prepare you, you will be familiar with the blood-in-the-water concept that can overtake even the nicest people.

English majors, as it happens, are not the nicest people. Not the worst by any means–but not the nicest.

Especially when everybody knows the subject under discussion wasn’t produced by them.

For whatever reason–and my own surly professor later assured me it really had nothing to do with the quality of my paper (which he gave the usual B)–he and the rest of the class decided the blood-in-the-water moment for that semester of Article and Essay was going to be dedicated to ripping apart the only paper I wrote in my entire, illustrious college career (there were awards, I assure you, not to mention the nearly-automatic one-per-semester instance of hearing one of my papers read aloud by yet another teacher who had decided mine was the example everybody needed to hear so they would know how it was done) which I cared about.

The professor started in.

Then all the students who usually spoke up and some of those who didn’t, started ripping away, not at any aspect of the writing, but at the arguments I had actually made, which they didn’t find convincing, somehow, and where was my evidence and who were these Byrds anyway? Raga-rock? Was that really a thing? How come nobody ever heard of it? Wasn’t country rock more like the Eagles?

“Yeah,” my professor said. “1968. That’s about when I stopped listening to the radio.”

I didn’t bother to point out, then or later, that 1968 was just about when the Byrds stopped being played on that radio he stopped listening to. Why bother, when the real kicker had been my assertion that the Byrds, who were psychedelic before the San Francisco groups (like, you know, the Jefferson Airplane), were also the source of many gentler, more melodic sounds associated with the West Coast (like, you know, the Jefferson Airplane).

All those kids who never heard of the Byrds, circa 1982, had sure heard of the Airplane.

And what kind of boob thought they were ever gentle or melodic (and, okay, I think I threw the word “meandering” in there for contrast–I wasn’t being entirely generous toward any band who wasn’t the Byrds in that piece, because, circa 1982, my whole point was the Byrds were the Byrds and everybody else was just a band).

None of that brought me out of my personal space, either in class or in conference with the professor.

I was just there to get a grade.

These days, if I think about those days, I mostly just smile and shake my head.

Hey, it wasn’t as bad as the time in Ju-Co History Class when a kid argued “Herman’s Hermits and them” had invented rock and roll (by way of proving the Beatles had not).

Life goes on, etc.

But somewhere tonight, I hope Marty’s with Gene Clark, writing a few brand new songs together.

And singing a few of those he left behind.

TRACK-BY-TRACK: THE BYRDS PLAY DYLAN

The Byrds Play Dylan (2002)

“What really got me most was Dylan coming up to me and saying, ‘They beat you man,’ and he lost faith in me. He was shattered. His material had been bastardized. There we were, the defenders and protectors of his music, and we’d let Sonny & Cher get away with it.”

Roger McGuinn  (on Dylan’s response, circa 1965, to Sonny & Cher’s version of “All I Really Want To Do” besting the Byrds on the American charts–interesting insight into the spirit of the times!)

Playing Dylan was only a fraction of what the Byrds did, but there’s no denying Roger McGuinn, especially, had a knack for bringing something new and exciting to Dylan’s music almost every time he touched it. This compilation, released decades after their heyday and years after the final Byrds’ studio recordings in the early 1990s (occasioned by their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the release of a box set), is one of my favorites in a genre I sometimes affectionately, sometimes sardonically, refer to as Grab Bag.

Such albums are usually assembled for only the most cynical purposes–record labels looking to exploit familiar product one more time. But every once in a while the approach bears fruit.

This is one of those times.

At twenty tracks, The Byrds Play Dylan is expansive enough to include some illuminating live performances, alternate tracks and obscurities which manage to re-contextualize the familiar anthems from their early days (and to be re-contextualized themselves for Byrds fanatics who may have experienced the obscurities in less convincing circumstances elsewhere–that’s what a record company can do for you).

It’s not perfect–such things never are. But it’s been my go-to album by my favorite band in the Age of Trump. I wouldn’t suggest it’s as mind-blowing as their first five albums, as epochal as Sweetheart of the Rodeo or even Ballad of Easy Rider (an album McGuinn made with his third best band that’s worn better than the movie that inspired it or that movie’s fine soundtrack) or any sort of replacement for The Byrds’ Greatest Hits (nothing could be).

But it is a statement worth hearing.

“All I Really Want To Do”–Dylan was being a little harsh. (And why did Lonesome Hobo Bob* care so much about the charts anyway?) “All I Really Want To Do” is a long way from either his most inspired tune or their most inspired interpretation. But it’s a nice opening day curve-ball for a collection that throws a lot of them (“Mr. Tambourine Man” would have been the obvious choice). And you can measure how great he and they were by listening close and realizing how far past nearly everything else it still is.

“Chimes of Freedom”–As great as any cover of Dylan or anyone else. This album could also have been titled McGuinn Sings Dylan. His voice was always the one best suited for Dylan (hell it was often better suited for Dylan than Dylan, a claim that can me made by exactly no one else). But they were also inventing a new kind of harmony and, considered as a clarion call, this might be their pure pinnacle (the competition is stiff). It remains a mystery how they, and they alone, managed to intertwine so much passion with so much detachment. They really did sound like they were soaring above the earth, catching a glimpse of something over the horizon that was not yet visible to ground control–and, given what’s happened to ground control in the half-century since, still isn’t.

“It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”–Recorded in the sessions for the band’s second album, this version wasn’t released until 1996, as a bonus track for a reissue of Turn, Turn, Turn. It’s inclusion here is a little odd, since McGuinn’s later band did a superior, beautifully re-imagined version for the official release of Ballad of Easy Rider. This is fine. It sustains the collection’s developing mood and gains by the company. But I think the later version would have done the same, only better.

“Lay Down Your Weary Tune”–This, on the other hand, is a track that always struck me as pedestrian on Turn, Turn, Turn. Here, though, it takes hold. The lyric still sounds like Dylan learning to imitate himself, but there’s no better example of McGuinn’s early Rickenbacker magic and his disorienting technique of plying dissonance under the verses, then ringing out rhythmic, anthemic chords in the fills (the opposite of what everyone else does, then and now). After a while (okay, a long while, but still), the lyrics even start to sound….inspired?

“Lay Lady Lay” (Single Version)–A single from the Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde sessions which didn’t make the album (which ought to say something). In many ways misbegotten–a female choir that doesn’t work, overbearing late-sixties uber-production style, jarring juxtapositions between the lyric and the chorus. Notable for one element: A dry, pleading McGuinn vocal which makes it sound as though he sees the lady laying across the big, brass bed in human, rather than mystical, terms, as though he might be speaking to someone specific with whom he had been through a lot of changes. That quality alone guaranteed it wouldn’t be a hit up against Dylan’s lovely original, but gives it a poignance not found in any other version, including the one below, which, for all I can tell, is the same vocal with a different, more conventional backing. In this context: Odd and disorienting, as I’m sure was intended.

“Mr. Tambourine Man”–The first official Byrds’ single, a natural Number One and one of the most important records of the twentieth century. Here, it sounds almost off-hand, as though the startling new thing were no more spectacular than breathing. The marriage of Dylan and the Beatles was nowhere near as inevitable as McGuinn (the only Byrd who played on the track due to the record company’s lack of faith–soon rendered laughable–in the young band’s musical prowess) made it sound. As always happens when some visionary renders the far-fetched inevitable, the world–including Bob Dylan, who laid down Highway 61 Revisited as this sat atop the charts–went “Of Course!” (And it’s a fine segue: straight from the human-scale “Lay Lady Lay,” to the era-defining anthem that made this album’s concept possible in the first place.) Why should you wait any longer for the world to begin, this record asked, years before Dylan wrote the words to that other song.

“My Back Pages”–Another in competition for Greatest-Ever Dylan cover. It has–impossibly–grown with the years, precisely because those years have failed to catch up to it.

“Nothing Was Delivered”–A highlight from Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It’s worth remembering that Sweetheart inspired reams of musicians, not one of whom ever came close to sounding like the original–maybe because no one else really thought Dylan and country music belonged together, no matter that Bob made the greatest albums of his life in Nashville.

“Positively 4th Street” (Live)–This is where the concept comes in handy. This isn’t the kind of song where Roger McGuinn or anyone else could go toe-to-toe with Dylan and come out ahead. And McGuinn, in particular, never did anger (or spite) well. But, here, his ability to turn the concept around is put to the test–and passes. Suddenly, I hear You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend as a plea, even a world-weary sigh of regret. I’m not saying I like it better, or even as well, but who else could come so close to Dylan’s timbre and completely reverse his meaning?

“Spanish Harlem Incident”–Back to the beginning and a reminder of how rife with possibilities it was. This sounds like they did it on their lunch break–and fifty years haven’t worn it out.

“The Times They Are A-Changin'”–From their second album, where, like “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” it came across as a bit of a letdown. One wonders if they were being careful not to become too tied to Dylan’s material as he matched, then eclipsed, their fame. Then again, this wasn’t the only take–see below! This one is saved, barely, by the usual impeccable harmonies and McGuinn’s witty guitar licks, which made it sound like Dylan was Stephen Foster’s natural heir (amplified by his take on “Oh Susanna”…but that’s what the original albums are for).

“Wheel’s on Fire”–The opening cut from Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, their weakest album from the sixties (and if you want to know how great Roger McGuinn was, listen to Dr. Byrds sometime and consider he made seven better albums with three different bands in five years). I prefer it to the Band’s contemporaneous version. Still, the era-bound production tricks don’t really work and this lumbers more than it should. The concept wavers a bit….

“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”–And then snaps right back in place. I’m among those who think the real strength of Sweetheart of the Rodeo (from which this is the opener) is the juxtaposition of McGuinn and Parsons’ sensibilities. Of course, that’s not at play here, so this is a completely different context…which works every bit as well.

“It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” (Live)–It took a while but this one has grown on me. This is one case where Dylan’s original is so definitive it doesn’t seem to leave any room for anyone else to breathe. McGuinn’s voice isn’t nearly as commanding….but once more a human, conversational tone lets the song gain a new dimension. It isn’t the prophet proclaiming. It’s the poor boy figuring things out without being the least bit certain he likes what he sees. Plus some fine harp work.

“Just Like a Woman”–Nice enough. Maybe too nice. All the qualities I mentioned before about McGuinn cutting down the scale are present, but, somehow, the song doesn’t offer the same rewards. Until you notice the country phrasing of her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls is right where you least expect it. At which point, I believe it’s time for us to quit offers a reward all its own.

“Lay Lady Lay” (Alternate Version)–Straightforward alternative to the tricked up version above. More tasteful without necessarily being more effective. Somewhere in the middle, a great version might have been waiting. For the purposes of this collection, a tease that doesn’t distract.

“The Times They Are A-Changin'” (Early Version)–I like the charge they put into this version better than the tongue they put in their cheek on the released master (which nonetheless had its values, see above). Still not as good as the Beach Boys’ complete subversion on Party! and, oddly enough, it doesn’t sound like anything is changing at all.

“Mr. Tambourine Man” (Live)–From ’70. The old anthem sounds tired, the new guitar dynamics show-offy. And it’s a lesson in how much those harmonies in the original group really meant and how rarefied they were that their absence speaks louder than anything present here. Still, if you wanted to hear this as a symbol of how things had gone astray, I wouldn’t argue with you.

“Chimes of Freedom” (Live)–From ’69 and the harmonies are still missed. But McGuinn at least sounds committed and, while it’s almost too bad they didn’t substitute the more poorly recorded, but near-desperate version heard here, this still pushes back hard enough for what comes next to feel like a setup they earned.

“Paths of Victory”–After listening to later versions of the band wander around a bit, perhaps even lose the plot, this summoning of the old magic by the survivors, harmonies intact one last time, puts a smile on my face every time. A tired smile maybe, but at this point in the American Experiment, I’ll take what I can get.

More than that, it always makes me want to go back and listen from the beginning and maybe ask one more time just what it is I see flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight?

God bless them, every one. Yes, David, even you.

*Hat tip Nik Cohn and Rock Dreams.

WHAT I MIGHT BE ABOUT TO GET UP TO….

I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. The hardest part about blogging (for me at least) is deciding what to write about. I always have a few longing posts incubating. Some sit for months or even years before the mood to polish them off strikes.

But mostly, ideas come and go. Several times a day. Sometimes more. The hardest part is avoiding politics. I know I write about them here and there, especially the Age of Trump, but it’s not what I want this blog to be about. If I ever decide to go heavy on it, I’ll start another blog–probably called No Comfort here. That should put me at the top of the charts!

This week been more interesting than most, because I’ve become self-conscious about the process. Here I sit wondering whether I should write next about Cyndi Lauper (or just She’s So Unusual, or maybe Twelve Deadly Cyns, or just “Money Changes Everything,”) except I really need to get back to John Ford or Elvis and I’ve got that Handy Ten on Golden Age Westerns to finish off plus my favorite Various Artists box set (Philly Soul) and six or seven other topics to consider, when all of a sudden, just this morning (early, before the sun came up), I’m listening to the Byrds and thinking This, this is what I should be writing about, and then Vivien Leigh pops into my head and I ask myself how it’s possible I’ve been writing this blog for six-and-a-half years without ever attempting to do her justice (given that no one else has managed it, should’t I at least try)?

And, you know, the chances are at least fifty-fifty, the next thing I write about won’t be any of those things.

It probably won’t even be about the paradigm shift I see happening in the two major political parties which will either lead to a reversal of voting bases (like 1980) or priorities (like 1932) or the elimination of one or the other to be replaced by something new (like 1860).

It probably won’t even be my response to Terry Teachout’s long interview about the Band, where he opined, among other things, that their first two albums were the only “adult” music being made at the time (1968-70) in what I like to call Rock and Roll America.

Boy, will I have something to say about that some day….unless, by chance, all the “some days” become consumed by all those other things I’m sure I’ll have something say about…

TO THE AGE WHEN FOLKS GOT THEIR NEWS FROM NEWSPAPERS…(Late Night Dedication)

…the way God intended, and, unlike now, when the CIA approves everything first, we were easily deceived:

Oates (Colonel William C.) and Wadell (his adjutant) ate with a family where one of the young women, while expressing her loyalty to the Union, thought that the best way to stop the war would be for the armies to hang both President Lincoln and President Davis. According to the Alabama colonel, the people were “remarkably ignorant” of the causes of the war and thought it a quarrel between “two ambitious men.”

(from High Tide at Gettysburg, Glenn Tucker, 1958)

Thankfully, with the Age of the Internet, we’ve moved beyond that kind of uninformed thinking.

PATHFINDER (Hugh Masekela, R.I.P.)

Given the mellow nature of his career-defining hit, an instrumental version of “Grazing in the Grass” that topped the Pop and R&B charts in 1968, it was easy to take Hugh Masekela for granted. But for a very long time, he was the most famous musician from South Africa on the world stage and one of the most famous people. And he kept his country’s issues on the minds of anyone who would listen and walked the line between entertainer, artist and citizen of conscience better than a lot of others who were far more prone to making a big deal of never letting you forget how hard they were working at all three.

He was probably best known as a trumpeter, but he played several other instruments just as well, besides being an affecting (if occasional) vocalist, a formidable bandleader….

composer…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDb_h8PTWho

and lyricist.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Jg2w9H38gw

Of course, for a lot of rock and rollers, his signature moment is probably his indelible trumpet playing on the Byrds’ “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.” There’s no shame in thinking so…as signatures go, few musicians ever left a finer one.

He died of cancer last week at 78, in Johannesburg. If there’s any cosmic justice he’s in that place where no one’s lying to the races, blowing up a storm.

 

DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Sly and the Family Stone Up)

“Soul Clappin’”
Sly and the Family Stone (1969)
Unreleased
Recommended source: Sly and the Family Stone: The Collection

Sly and the Family Stone worked at such a white hot pace in their 1967-72 heyday that, like the 65-67 version of the Byrds and the 75-79 version of Fleetwood Mac, they left an album or two worth of fine material in the vault and still laid a claim on being the best band of their time.

The Family’s extras emerged from the shadows in 2007, when their first seven albums were remastered and released as a box set.

I’ve been giving the albums a close listen for the first time this week (Stand and There’s a Riot Goin’ On having been longtime favorites–mine and everybody’s) and what struck me about the nature of the extras is that, where the Byrds and Fleetwood Mac were prone to leaving off their oddball stuff, Sly and company were more likely to leave off their straight stuff.

Hence, “Soul Clappin'” (sometimes, for no evident reason, listed as “Soul Clappin’ II”), which is “Dance to the Music” slightly straightened out….and just about as pleasurable. “Dance to the Music,” one of the most revolutionary records ever, is worth its own essay. But “Soul Clappin'” carries its own weight. It suggests that if Sylvester Stone had been so inclined, he could have included “the hippies and the squares”–instead of telling all the squares to go home–and gone toe-to-toe with Stax and Motown on their own turf….instead of pulling them onto his.

Genius is like that, sometimes.