Louie Armstrong on RMP skiing yesterday’s new powder. J.R. photo
Louis Armstrong. Satchmo. A trumpet played with a sound like no other. An inimitable singing voice resonating life, joy, humor and strength. An improvisational genius of jazz. The name, the nickname, the horn, the voice and the artistic imagination would never be mistaken for anyone besides the man we know as Louis Armstrong.
His music is an integral part of the fabric of American life and culture. As with many Americans and jazz fans from all over the world, Armstrong has been a presence in my life for as long as I can remember. In many ways he is the quintessential American icon, part myth, part legend, completely human and as vital as a heartbeat.
Sometimes his music arrives in the mind while I’ve been working early in the morning or late at night. In that peculiar way of all music and genius musicians particularly, the sound of Louis Armstrong loosens the imagination, warms the heart, and entices the mind to wander into memory and away from the task at hand. Whether this phenomenon contributes to or damages the work in progress is, maybe, something to consider; but it is unquestionable that the music of Louis Armstrong enhances the lives of his listeners.
Though Armstrong died in 1971, I use the present tense because, in truth, the music never dies. His music speaks to the present moment as clearly and with as much vitality as the day it was played.
Even if you haven’t heard of Tony Joe White, you’ve probably heard his music. His songs have been performed by Elvis, Ray Charles and Tina Turner. He’s even been sampled by Kanye West. Host Scott Simon talks with White about his distinctive swamp rock sound, and his new album, Hoodoo.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Tony Joe White is an original. Known for popularizing swamp music, he’s written songs that were performed by Elvis, Ray Charles and Tina Turner. Kanye West has borrowed from him, too. His swamp rock sound is a mix of Delta blues, Cajun, country, and, of course, rock ‘n’ roll. Now, nearly 40 years after he started recording, Tony Joe White’s latest album is out. It’s called “Hoodoo.” He joins us from Nashville. Thanks so much for being with us.
King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band in Chicago in 1923
Imagine that all of your favorite music — from Wynton Marsalis to Kanye West — was released by the same record label. Well, if you were African-American back in the 1920s, odds are that was the case. What makes the story even more interesting is that this record label was launched by a company that made chairs. Its name was Paramount Records and its roster eventually included Ma Rainey, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Ethel Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson — most of the top African-American blues and jazz performers of the day. Despite that firepower, the label folded after just 15 years in business. Now, a new reissue project tries to recapture some of the Paramount magic.
Novelist and teacher Scott Blackwood wrote a book about Paramount that’s included in the reissue package. This is a portion of it:
“1917. A young black man on a train moving up the Illinois Central Line to Chicago. Outside the window, a great emptiness crosshatched with railroads, threaded by a river. A few no account towns. A sea of prairie. He opens his trombone case across his knees. The brass glints. He feels the promise of the slide between his fingers. All that space out there concentrated into this.”
“My goal was to really find the real visceral stories that told us who these people were,” Blackwood says. “How this tremendous music came about and who the Paramount people were.”
They were, for the most part, a bunch of white guys in Port Washington, Wis., who made furniture — chairs and cabinets for phonographs. Sam Brylawski, editor of the American Discography Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says they got into the music business for the same reason some of today’s entrepreneurs have.
In early 1968, country singer Johnny Cash gave one of the defining performances of his career when he played for inmates at California’s Folsom State Prison. Robert Hilburn, a music critic early in his career at the Los Angeles Times, was the only reporter to cover that legendary concert.
Hilburn continued to follow the singer throughout his career. The author’s new biography, Johnny Cash: The Life, goes further in documenting Cash’s dark side than the 2005 biographical drama filmWalk the Line. The new book also chronicles Cash’s last years — and the redemption he sought before his death in 2003.
“Johnny Cash was a good man,” Hilburn tells NPR’s David Greene. “He tried to live up to his faith. It was just difficult. He struggled, and that was the great drama of Johnny Cash. And I think John Carter, his son, said it best. He said, ‘My dad’s life was a struggle between darkness and light, and in the end, the light won.’”
On Cash recording while his health deteriorated in the ’90s
“That was the salvation. That was the thing in his life that always brought him comfort. And he wanted to try to regain his legacy that he thought he had lost. It was just an act of tremendous courage, those last few albums. And he would even go into the studio some days, and he would record two lines of a song and then he’d have to stop and catch his breath. Sometimes, he’d have to lay down and rest for 10 minutes, and then he’d get up and do the next two lines of the song, and they would splice it together. And Rick Rubin was great about that, because he thought he was making a documentary of Johnny Cash. So if John’s vocal was off-key or something, it didn’t matter — because, again, this was the struggle of a man.”
On the ‘Hurt’ video
“It’s such a heartbreaking video to see him so frail that June Carter didn’t want him to put it out. The fascinating thing is June is very sick. And in the video, she looks very sad and vulnerable herself. She’s looking down at John, and when you see the video the first time, you think she’s thinking, ‘My gosh, he’s going to die. What am I going to do without him?’ What Rick Rubin and the director of the video didn’t know was June had learned the night before that she had a serious heart problem and she was going to have to go back into the hospital. She had a premonition she was going to die in the hospital. So what was really going on when she was looking at John from the stairways is, ‘What’s he going to do without me?’”
On why the unveiling of Cash’s affair with June Carter’s sister haunted him
“I didn’t know if I should tell it. I didn’t know if I should tell people that Johnny Cash had an affair with his sister-in-law while his wife was pregnant. How much does the public need to know about a performer? The main purpose of the book is talking about the artistry of someone, so how much of your personal life do you need to know? You realize it’s important, the personal life, because you see how the personal life shapes the artistry. You see things in his music that’s a reflection of the pain he has in his private life.”
His name would spin around and around on the vinyl, the writer of a thousand songs: Doc Pomus. As the man behind smash records including Elvis Presley‘s “Viva Las Vegas,” Ray Charles‘ “Lonely Avenue” and The Drifters’ “This Magic Moment,” he shaped the early sound of rock ‘n’ roll.
Pomus died in 1991. His story — one of intriguing reinvention and determination — is told in the new documentary A.K.A. Doc Pomus, which was co-directed by Peter Miller.
Born Jerome Felder, Pomus was a Brooklyn native. At the age of 6, he was diagnosed with polio and lost the use of his legs. Facing a difficult life of disability, Pomus was inspired to lead a life of music.
“When he heard Big Joe Turner‘s song on the radio, called ‘Piney Brown Blues,’ it just absolutely transformed him,” Miller says in an interview with NPR’s Melissa Block. “He realized that the blues is what had the greatest meaning for him, and he turned himself into a blues singer. This handicapped, white Jewish kid found himself singing in African-American blues clubs.”
Felder became Doc Pomus in part to keep his new escapades a secret from his mother. In a vintage clip featured in the film, he explains that “Doc” was a nod to blues singer Doctor Clayton, while “Pomus” simply seemed to roll nicely off the tongue.
After recording dozens of blues sides, Doc Pomus created a potential hit called “Heartlessly.” The track was picked up by pioneering rock ‘n’ roll DJ Alan Freed. But as things were starting to heat up for the record, Pomus hit a wall.
“The record company that acquired this recording discovered that Doc was a 30-something-year-old, disabled Jewish guy on crutches,” Miller says. “And I think their hopes for him becoming a pop star dimmed, and they didn’t release the record. So I think at some point along the way, Doc realized that he had to pursue other ways of getting his music out there.”
Pomus turned to writing, kicking off a career as one of the most prolific songsmiths of the 20th century. Miller spoke with Melissa Block about what came next: Pomus’ years as a Brill Building hit-maker, his struggles in the age of Bob Dylan and The Beatles (who found success writing their own songs) and his rebirth late in life as a mentor to younger artists. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.
David Bromberg’s new album, Only Slightly Mad, is out now.
Only Slightly Mad, David Bromberg‘s new album, marks a substantial return for the multi-instrumentalist. In the late 1960s, Bromberg developed a reputation as a “first-call” guitarist, meaning that when artists — including Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Carly Simon,Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and John Prine, to name a few — needed someone to record or play live with them, Bromberg was at the top of the shortlist.
The highly sought-after musician enjoyed years of collaborations with many of the music world’s biggest players. But after a little over a decade, something changed.
“I got burned out in 1980,” Bromberg says. “At one point, I was on the road for two years without being home for as long as two weeks, and I was too dumb to realize that it was burnout. I just felt I had to stop. I decided I was no longer a musician, if I had ever been one. But maybe the intelligent part of it is that I didn’t want to be one of these guys who drags himself onto the stage and does a bitter imitation of something he used to love.”
NPR’s Robert Siegel spoke with Bromberg about his musical influences and how he occupied himself after a self-imposed hiatus from life on the road. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.
Roger Hawkins, a member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (also known as the Swampers), is just one among the many musicians captured in this documentary about the famous town.
Most fans of ’60s soul know of Muscle Shoals, the tiny Alabama town that produced huge hits. But only the genre’s most studious followers will be able to watch Muscle Shoals without being regularly astonished: Even if it sometimes gets lost in its byways, Greg “Freddy” Camalier’s documentary tells an extraordinary story.
There’s a mystical aspect to the movie, which opens with arty nature shots and the voice of U2′s Bono, bombastically extolling the magic of this backwoods arts colony. Muscle Shoals — where once were both shoals and mussels — is on the Tennessee, which local Native Americans used to call “the river that sings.”
The overstuffed, somewhat baggy movie will return to such musings, but at this point Camalier wisely changes his tune — to the irresistible “Land of 1000 Dances.” It’s time to introduce Muscle Shoals’ auteur, Rick Hall, who in 1960 founded FAME Studios, whose name is short for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises. He turns out to be as grandiose as Bono, if less upbeat.
The songwriter-producer-entrepreneur grew up dirt poor and suffered the premature deaths of his brother, father and first wife, as well as abandonment by his mother. A driven man, Hall over the years broke with many of his business and musical partners, yet never seems to have doubted he was right — about everything.
He started producing records with local musicians, including singers Percy Sledge and Arthur Alexander. His first crew of studio musicians left after a few years to become Nashville’s top session players. Hall replaced them with another gang eventually known as the Swampers.
The first two groups had something startling in common: They were all white. But Hall had won the respect of Atlantic executive Jerry Wexler, and that label started sending the likes of Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin to Muscle Shoals. After Franklin stiffed at Columbia with a series of prissy pop records, Hall and his players crafted the sound — Aretha calls it “greasy” — that made her a star.
Graham Nash has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice — once in 1997 as a member of Crosby, Stills & Nash, and once in 2010 as a member of The Hollies.
Graham Nash first came to the U.S. as part of the British Invasion with his band The Hollies, which got its start at the same time as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and shared bills with both groups in England. But Nash later helped to define a kind of West Coast sound, singing harmonies as part of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Nash wrote some of the most famous songs by the powerhouse group (who would add Neil Young to its roster in 1969), including “Our House,” “Teach Your Children” and “Marrakesh Express.”
In a new memoir called Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, Nash touches on those memories and many others. He recently spoke with Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross, just a few hours before Crosby, Stills & Nash performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
I’ll Find a Way is the latest album in The Blind Boys of Alabama’s seven-decade run. Left to right: Ricky McKinnie, Paul Beasley, Jimmy Carter, Ben Moore, Joey Williams.
The men behind the new album I’ll Find a Way may be in their 70s and 80s today — but they’re still The Blind Boys of Alabama.
The original members of the gospel group met in the 1930s at at the Alabama Institute for the Blind. Since then, The Blind Boys have won five Grammys and plenty of other awards for their music. Jimmy Carter — the musician, not the former president — was there from the beginning.
“When the Blind Boys started out, we weren’t even thinking about all these accolades and all that stuff,” says Carter. “We just wanted to get out and sing gospel and tell the world about gospel music. But changes came and we had to change with the times.”
That’s no small undertaking, considering the times their music has lived through. They formed in the Jim Crow era, lent their voices to the civil rights movement, and have now witnessed the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“I was never fortunate enough to meet Dr. King, but we were at some of his rallies and I hope that our music helped to change what was,” he says. “We’ve come a long way. We’ve got a long way to go but we’ve come a long way — and I hope that
The Sacred Steel tradition is an integral part of worship. From the House of God Keith Dominion Church, Aubrey Ghent (pictured) helped revive the style in 1990s.
Some say the purpose of church is to deliver the word of God. If so, what’s the role of music in the service?
“The music has always been a part of God’s way of getting people’s attention,” says Bishop Calvin Worthem, pastor at the Church of the Living God in Toccopola, Miss. “Sometimes he speaks through the thunder, the lightning, and sometimes he speaks in the music.”
Music is a kind of delivery mechanism, choir director Mary Worthem says. It not only helps get people’s attention, but it also helps them get the meaning.
“If there’s something they need to be listening to or God is giving a message through the song,” Worthem says, “they need to hear what it’s saying. Not just the sound and the music, but they need to hear the words of it.”
Guided By The Spirit
At the Church of the Living God, there’s another way of receiving God’s message: through the lap steel. It sits on four legs, like the pedal steel used in country music, but it’s simpler to play. It looks kind of like a miniature ironing board, it’s got eight or nine strings, and the guitarist uses a metal bar to glide across them, allowing him to slide between the notes of the scale and mimic the wailing sound of gospel singing.
I was listening to Gram Parsons ‘Grievous Angel’ early this morning. Then i pulled down some Flying Burrito Brothers, then the Byrds, ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ to catch some more of his voice. Finally went to RollingStone to read his biography again… What an influence on the music of his time and others.. j.r.
Though Gram Parsons hated the term “country rock” and the kind of music it came to define, he was undoubtedly one of the genre’s pioneers. A key member of the Flying Burrito Brothers and, briefly, the Byrds, the Georgia-bred singer/songwriter died at 26 in 1973, having already made enough classic music by to become a major influence on artists ranging from Emmylou Harris to Keith Richards to Elvis Costello. Though Parsons was never commercially successful, he has achieved near-mythic status in the years since his death. In the 2000s, Parsons’ work continued to be embraced by new generations of artists, from alt-country musicians such as Ryan Adams to alt-rockers like Beck.
Born Ingram Cecil Connor III on November 5, 1946, in Winter Haven, Florida, he spent much of his childhood in Waycross, Georgia. The son of a Florida citrus heiress and a Tennessee-born World War II vet named Coon Dog Connor, he grew up in the lap of luxury. At nine, he learned to play the piano, but his main musical inspiration was seeing Elvis Presley perform that year at his local auditorium. By 12, he’d begun playing guitar. At that point, however, his life was shattered by the suicide of his father.
The family moved to his maternal grandparents’ mansion in Winter Haven; the next year, his mother married Robert Parsons, who adopted Gram and legally changed his surname. At 14, Parsons began playing in a succession of local rock & roll bands as well as in folk groups. In 1964 his group the Shilohs made some recordings and performed throughout the Southeast. The next year, on the day Parsons graduated from high school, his mother died of alcohol poisoning. Parsons left Florida that fall for Harvard, where he spent more time playing music than studying. After one semester, he dropped out and moved from Cambridge to the Bronx with his new group, the International Submarine Band.
In 1966, with a repertoire of traditional country and R&B-tinged songs, the band played a few shows in New York, then relocated to L.A. after recording an unsuccessful single for Columbia. There, the band got a cameo role in Roger Corman’s The Trip, but by the time Parsons recorded the ISB album Safe at Home (for Lee Hazlewood’s LHI label), the band had broken up, and Parsons made the album primarily with session players. Soon after its release, Parsons met Chris Hillman and through him joined the Byrds [see entry], whose Sweetheart of the Rodeo included two Parsons songs, “Hickory Wind” (cowritten with Bob Buchanan) and “One Hundred Years From Now.” (Parsons’ lead vocals on several songs were not released until 1990, on the Byrds box set.)
After just three months in the Byrds, Parsons quit in summer 1968, refusing to join the band’s tour of South Africa, reportedly because of his opposition to apartheid. In late 1968 he and Hillman (who also left the Byrds) formed the Flying Burrito Brothers [see entry]. Parsons played a strong role on the Burritos’ first LP, but left the band in April 1970, just before Burritos Deluxe came out.
In 1970 Parsons, after recovering from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident, recorded some tracks with producer Terry Melcher that were never released. He spent the next two years indulging in the rock & roll lifestyle, including a stint at his friend Keith Richards’ French villa during the recording of the Stones’ Exile on Main Street. Parsons did not record again until his 1973 solo debut GP, which featured Emmylou Harris [see entry] (who’d been discovered by Hillman); bassist Rick Grech (ex-Blind Faith and Family); a friend from his Cambridge days, guitarist Barry Tashian (of Barry and the Remains fame); and three members of Elvis Presley’s touring band, keyboardist Glen D. Hardin, guitarist James Burton, and drummer Ronnie Tutt.
Following a brief tour with his band the Fallen Angels, Parsons returned to the studio to record Grievous Angel. It had just been completed when, in September 1973, Parsons overdosed on a combination of morphine and tequila while relaxing at a favorite desert retreat near the Joshua Tree National Monument. He was pronounced dead after being rushed to the Yucca Valley Hospital. A few days later, his coffin, en route to New Orleans for burial, was stolen by his friend and road manager Phil Kaufman, taken back to Joshua Tree and set afire. It was later revealed that Parsons had expressed a wish for his ashes to be scattered at Joshua Tree in the event of his death.
Parsons’ legacy lived on as Emmylou Harris toured with his old band and covered and popularized his material, as did many others in later years, including Costello on his country LP of 1981, Almost Blue. Costello also wrote liner notes for a 1982 British compilation of Parsons’ work. Bernie Leadon’s song “My Man,” from the Eagles’ 1974 On the Border, was a tribute to Parsons, and a song Richie Furay wrote about him in 1969, “Crazy Eyes,” was the title track of a 1973 Poco LP.
In 1979 Sierra/Briar Records released an album of early Parsons material with the Shilohs; a live recording of a Fallen Angels gig was released by the label four years later. In 2000 Sundazed issued some of Parsons’ solo acoustic demos as Another Side of This Life: The Lost Recordings of Gram Parsons, 1965-1966, which featured mostly covers of traditional and contemporary urban folk songs but also included an early version of his “Brass Buttons,” a song that had been recorded by Parsons’ Florida buddy Jim Carlton. The Gram Parsons Notebook, also released in 2000, featured bluegrass-style songs composed of music set to Parsons’ lyrics found in one of his journals by former ISB member John Nuese. The 46-song compilation Sacred Hearts and Fallen Angels: The Gram Parsons Anthology arrived on Rhino in 2001, and five years later the label released The Complete Reprise Sessions, which compiled his two solo albums with extra tracks, alternate takes and radio interviews. The archives continue to be plundered for any evidence of unheard Parsons music; in 2007. The Gram Parsons Archive, Vol. 1: Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969, was released by the San Francisco indie, Amoeba Records.
Tribute albums have also kept Parsons’ songs alive. In 1993 Rhino issued Conmemorativo: A Tribute to Gram Parsons, with his songs covered by post-punk artists including the Mekons, Uncle Tupelo, Bob Mould, Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Peter Holsapple, Susan Cowsill, Steve Wynn, and others. Emmylou Harris was the executive producer of the 1999 tribute album Return of the Grievous Angel (Almo Sounds) featuring, among others, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, and Harris duets with Chrissie Hynde, Beck, and Sheryl Crow. A performance by many of the album’s contributors was televised on the PBS program Sessions at West 54th Street in 1999.
Several books and films on the singer have appeared, most notably 1998′s Hickory Wind: The Life and Times of Gram Parsons, by early Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres, and Gandulf Hennig’s 2006 documentary Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel. In 2003 Grand Theft Parsons, a dark comedy focusing on the theft and burning of Parsons’ body, starred Johnny Knoxville (from MTV’s Jackass) as the singer’s cowboy road manager Kaufman.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Mark Kemp contributed to this article.
Reflections on Gram Parsons: The Complete Reprise Sessions
by James Calemine
“In my hour of darkness,
in my hour of need
Oh Lord grant me vision
oh Lord grant me speed.”
(from Return of the Grievous Angel)
A veritable writer once said, “Death is a great career move.” No finer example exists of this statement than the life of Gram Parsons. Arguably, Parsons contends as one of the saddest singers of all time. Rhino Records latest release of Parsons’ final two albums, GP and Return of the Grievous Angel–along with some incandescent outtakes–prove Parsons’ musical legacy continues long after he died at the age of 26 from a morphine and tequila overdose in Room 8 at the Joshua Tree motel on September 19, 1973.
Co-producer Emmylou Harris wrote about this latest release in the opening paragraph of the 45 page booklet: “This collection brings back so many memories for me, of a special time and especially of Gram, an extraordinary young man who, more than anyone else, changed my life and set me on a wondrous road I never would have found by myself. The finished albums GP and Grievous Angel long ago took their place in history, but the alternate takes and overdubbed rough mixes can now be heard for the first time, and I am deeply grateful to the folks at Rhino for unearthing these treasures.
The story of his recorded music ends here, but the genius and soul of Gram Parsons will, thankfully, live on far beyond his tragically short life.”
Parsons’ musical foundation rested upon traditional country music, and he wanted longhairs truckers, kickers, and cowboy angels hearing the same music. “I dream of soul, country, a cosmic—what I call cosmic American music,” said Parsons in the late 60s describing his intention to blend soul, country, gospel, and rock and roll into one glorious sound in a time when music was categorized into divisions. His musical influence has spread far and wide over the years, reaching musicians such as Keith Richards, Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakum, Steve Earle, Elvis Costello, R.E.M., the Eagles, Tom Petty, and the Black Crowes. This Rhino release sounds improved with digital re-mastering that allows unheard qualities on Parsons’ last two landmark records, as well as bare-boned outtakes.
——————————————– ————————- ———————————————-
……………. Gram Parsons Official Web Site …………….
John Fogerty teams up with Brad Paisley, whom he calls one of the greatest guitarists alive, in “Hot Rod Heart” on his new album, Wrote a Song for Everyone.
Imagine you wrote some of the most enduring songs in 1960s rock, but then got so mired in legal and financial issues with those same songs that you felt you couldn’t play them.
That was the story of John Fogerty and the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Today, Fogerty is not only performing his early hits again but has also reinterpreted them with a new generation of rock and country stars on his new album, Wrote a Song for Everyone.
The band Foo Fighters joins Fogerty on the record’s cut of “Fortunate Son.” Fogerty wrote it more than 40 years ago, but the song has hardly aged — partly because, at 68, he sounds remarkably the same and partly because the song’s themes of privilege and class are as current as ever, as Fogerty says.
“When I sing ‘Fortunate Son’ now, part of me is remembering a time a long time ago,” Fogerty says, “and part of me is — I could have walked into my bedroom yesterday or tonight and written the same song.”
Wrote a Song for Everyone features an array of A-list artists playing Fogerty’s songs — like “Born on the Bayou” with Kid Rock, “Long As I Can See the Light” with My Morning Jacketand “Bad Moon Rising” with the Zac Brown Band. The whole album feels energetic and joyous.
“I’m sure that has something to do with how I’m feeling myself these days and how I’m feeling about the songs I wrote,” Fogerty says. “It’s all in a really happy, good place now. I only say that because some of you may have heard I had a few difficulties in the music business.”
In case you haven’t heard, here’s a quick summary: Back in the ’60s, Fogerty signed away the rights to his Creedence songs to Fantasy Records. For decades he battled the label, as well as his former bandmates — including his brother. Fantasy notoriously sued Fogerty for plagiarizing himself. For many years, he refused to play his early hits. To explain, he says he imagined himself singing Creedence songs in a cheesy Las Vegas act, circa 1979.
Thank you Lisa Issenberg for your photo that I took the liberty of altering a bit…
National treasure, genuine classic original… Ramblin’ Jack Elliott hasn’t lost much over the years… I saw him in Berkeley at some dive bar in the late 60′s and a few more times in the 70′s/80′s and I swear he’s gotten better. At 82, his humor is sharply honed, voice about the same, not too worn with the help, I assume of good whiskey. He put on quite a show last night at the Sherbino Theater with a graying audience of 81 strong (T. Hoffman crashed the door), hooting in support of Jack’s quirky, hilarious performance art. J.R.
Sly & The Family Stone in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., in 1968. Left to right: Sly Stone, Cynthia Robinson, Freddie Stone, Rose Stone, Jerry Martini, Larry Graham.
“I think he was looking for good musicians, and he knew quite a few. He sees the heart of a person.”
That’s how Cynthia Robinson, founding member of Sly & The Family Stone, characterizes the charismatic frontman’s choice of backing players. The band, which pioneered a blend of funk, soul, jazz and pop, began in 1960s San Francisco as a kind of blended family: black and white, men and women.
It was something of a first for a major American rock band, whose legacy remains strong and is celebrated on a new box set titled Higher!Robinson, the band’s trumpet player, says she doesn’t think race or gender entered into decisions surrounding the lineup. Saxophone player Jerry Martini, however, says he believes that Stone’s choice of bandmates was intentional.
“I said, ‘You know, I know a lot of other African-American sax players that can justburn me.’ He goes, ‘But you’re what I wanted,’” Martini says. “I didn’t say, ‘Is it ’cause I’m white?’ or anything like that. But I just saw him as a visionary person who knew the group that he put together represented a lot of society.”
Stone himself acknowledged in a 2009 interview with KCRW that he had in mind a mix of race and gender. That mission wasn’t always easy: Jerry Martini says he remembers a point when Stone was pressured by the Black Panthers to kick the white members out of the band.
The star of the TV series House has been acting for his bread and butter. But this Oxford-born, piano-playing Brit has had a long love affair with American blues music. Host Rachel Martin talks to him.
After the huge success of his debut album, Let Them Talk, on which he celebrated and revived classic material from the world of NOLA blues, Hugh Laurie presents his second album, Didn’t It Rain.
Didn’t It Rain sees Hugh Laurie depart the sounds of New Orleans as he follows the trajectory of the blues upstream and into the American heartland. It includes songs dating back to early pioneers W.C. Handy (“St Louis. Blues”) and Jelly Roll Morton (“I Hate A Man Like You”) to more recent artists such as Dr. John (“Wild Honey”) and Alan Price of The Animals (“Changes”).
Again produced by Joe Henry, Didn’t It Rain was recorded at Ocean Way Studio in Los Angeles in January of 2013. Complemented with the heart and accomplishment of his supporting musicians the Copper Bottom Band – Jay Bellerose, Kevin Breit, Vincent Henry, Greg Leisz, Robby Marshall, David Piltch and Patrick Warren with Elizabeth Lea and Larry Goldings – the album also features several lead vocal performances from Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno and soul singer Jean McClain who has previously worked with artists as varied as Jimmy Cliff and Sheryl Crow. The album also highlights a very special guest in the shape of the Grammy-winning blues artist Taj Mahal who contributes vocals to a new take on Little Brother Montgomery’s “Vicksburg Blues.”
The Flying Burrito Brothers
“We’re a rock & roll band that sounds like a country band,” Gram Parsons said of the Burritos, whose first album was an obscure Sixties masterpiece that drew the blueprint for both Seventies country rock and today’s alt-country. Parsons and Chris Hillman formed the Burritos after they both quit the Byrds; in many ways, Gilded Palace picks up where the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo left off. Together, the mercurial Parsons and the levelheaded Hillman concocted a crazily coherent statement of irony-fueled hillbilly anthems, inventive covers and achingly beautiful two-part harmonies, all underscored by Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s radical pedal-steel guitar.
Listening to Gilded Palace this afternoon. J.R.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — “Cowboy” Jack Clement, a producer, engineer, songwriter and beloved figure who helped birth rock ‘n’ roll and push country music into modern times, died Thursday at his home. He was 82.
Dub Cornett, a close friend of Clement’s, said his hospice nurse confirmed Clement passed away surrounded by family after declining treatment for liver cancer.
His death came just months after he learned he would be joining the Country Music Hall of Fame, a fitting tip of the hat to the man whose personal story is entwined with the roots of modern music like few others. He was to be inducted at a ceremony this fall.
“I’ve been walking around for the last hour thanking God for the privilege of knowing Cowboy Jack Clement,” singer Marty Stuart said in an email. “He was one of my dearest friends. To know the Cowboy was to know one of the most original people to ever walk the Earth.”
At the top of his official Country Music Hall of Fame bio was one of Clement’s favorite quotes: “We’re in the fun business. If we’re not having fun, we’re not doing our job.”
Clement could claim as much fun as anyone after a colorful career that left him a famous figure in Nashville, known as much for his colorful personality and storytelling as his formidable place in music history.
A tribute benefit concert to Clement last winter drew video salutes from first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, U2′s Bono and pop star Taylor Swift, as well as performances and appearances by an all-star lineup of fans including Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys and Jakob Dylan.
Clement’s career included stops in Memphis at Sun Records as an engineer for Sam Phillips, where he discovered Jerry Lee Lewis and recorded greats like Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison. He also came through Nashville, where he was a close collaborator of Johnny Cash and many of his fellow hall of fame members, including fellow 2013 inductee Bobby Bare.
As the hall of fame noted, he was a catalyst who always seemed to bring the best out of those he worked with.
For instance, he convinced Lewis to put aside the country material he brought to Sun Records and stretch out with something a little more upbeat. The result? “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.”
And how about this? He convinced Kristofferson to move to town, changing just about everything in Music City.
Kristofferson wrote in an email that Clement was the first person he met when he arrived in Nashville, still wearing his Army uniform.
“He introduced me to Johnny Cash by showing him a letter my mother had written disowning me for resigning my commission to be a songwriter,” he wrote. “To me Jack will always be the embodiment of the Nashville songwriter’s love of the song, regardless of who the writer was.”
Speaking of Cash, it was Clement who came up with the idea of putting Mariachi horns on Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” transforming a fairly sedate love song into an ascendant pop culture moment that would endure time.
“He was the maestro, the ringleader of tomfoolery, and I know Johnny Cash and Sam Phillips are ready to get back to work now that he’s in heaven,” said Cornett, who produced the benefit concert.
Born in Memphis in 1931, Clement picked up music in his late teens and continued to perform after joining the Marines at 17. He invited a young Elvis Presley to sit in his band occasionally after returning to Memphis to attend college, where he picked up the nickname “Cowboy” for his role in a radio show.
He eventually built a garage recording studio with a partner. He took the first records he made to Sun to master and was hired on the spot by Phillips in 1956.
Like with the Lewis sessions, which were conducted when Phillips was away, nimble thinking helped Clement insert himself into another historic moment — the fleeting few hours when Presley, Cash, Lewis and Perkins found themselves together in the store-front Union Avenue studio and decided to mess around a little.
The result was “The Million Dollar Quartet.”
“After a while, Sam went next door to Taylor’s restaurant,” Clement said in a 2010 interview with The Commercial Appeal of Memphis. “And I was sitting in the control room, turning up some knobs and I heard what they were doing. I remember I stood up and said, ‘I’d be remiss if I didn’t record this.’ So I stuck a tape on, walked out in the studio and moved a few mics around, and I just let it run for about an hour and a half or so. Nobody seemed to object.”
He’d run across Elvis and Cash again in Nashville where he served as a producer, engineer and talent scout in Nashville for Chet Atkins during some of country music’s most important years before going out on his own.
Along the way, he boosted George Jones’ career with his composition “She Thinks I Still Care” and had songs recorded by Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings, Tom Jones, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner.
As a producer, he helped break through the color barrier in country music through his discovery of minor league baseball player and aspiring singer Charley Pride, established Jennings with their work on “Dreaming My Dreams” and touched the legendary careers of Louis Armstrong, Albert Collins, Townes Van Zandt and Hank Williams Jr., among others.
He also helped mark a turning point in the career of U2, recording the Irish band’s multiplatinum roots tribute “Rattle and Hum.”
British rockers Led Zeppelin pose in front of their private plane, dubbed “The Starship,” in 1973.
Author Michael Walker says that by the end of the 1960s, you could fairly say there were two generations of baby boomers: those who had experienced that decade’s peace-and-love era of music firsthand, and those who learned about it from their older brothers and sisters.
“So when the early ’70s got there,” Walker says, “this half of the baby boom decided to have their own party, and they wanted their own bands. And they brought to prominence bands like Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, The Who — sort of from both generations. The late-born baby boomers, that was their moment.”
On the Road With Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and the Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born by Michael Walker
That moment is the subject of Walker’s new book, What You Want Is in the Limo: On the Road with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and the Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born. In it, he argues for that year as a tipping point, when big tours — and bigger money — became a defining ethos in rock music. He speaks about it here with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish.
When Django’s music was eclipsed in the 50′s by modern jazz he began to paint.
J.J. Cale, whose songs became hits for the likes of Eric Clapton and Lynyrd Skynyrd, has died at age 74 from a heart attack, his management agency’s website announced.
Cale died at about 8:00 p.m. Friday at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., the Rosebud agency said Saturday.
In 1971, Cale, who was born and raised in Oklahoma, released his debut album, Naturally,while he was already in his 30s. He won a Grammy in 2006 for The Road to Escondido, recorded with Clapton.
But he was always best known as a songwriter for other musicians. His songs “After Midnight” and “Cocaine” became hits for Clapton in 70s and 80s and Lynyrd Skynyrd made “Call Me The Breeze” famous. Johnny Cash, Santana and the Allman Brothers were also among those who covered his songs.
Born in Texas and settled in Nashville, Tenn., Guy Clark has mentored generations of artists, including Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle — all of whom cite his keen editing skills and prize his stamp of approval.
If you want to learn how to write a song — one that’s built to last, with vivid characters and images that plant you squarely inside a scene — listen to Guy Clark.
Songwriters who revere Clark will tell you he crafts songs with the same precision and attention to detail he uses when he builds guitars. But Clark has a simpler, blunter explanation, as he told me with a glint in his eye when I visited him recently at his home in Nashville, Tenn.
Tools line the walls of Guy Clark’s basement workshop at his home in Nashville, where he still builds guitars.
“No bull- – - – means no bull- – - -, know what I mean?” Clark says.
I’ve been listening to and admiring Guy Clark songs for many, many years now: songs that make me feel I know the honky-tonk queen, wino or Texas wildcatter he’s singing about.
Clark’s first album, Old Number One, came out in 1975 and made true believers out of pretty much everybody who heard it. Among them was the Texas songwriterLyle Lovett, who was in high school at the time. Now, he counts Clark as a close friend.
“In a big way, Guy’s first record helped tell me what a song should, what a song could be,” Lovett says. “A song that leaps to mind is Texas 1947: Immediately you’re in the middle of a scene with a 6-year-old boy in West Texas, and you know something is happening. You’re drawn in immediately, and you’re waiting for that next line.”
Clark is 71 now. He’s a tall, imposing man with intense blue eyes; his hair’s gone silver. He smokes hand-rolled cigarettes as we talk.
He’s had health trouble in recent years: He has lymphoma and was treated with chemotherapy a few years back. He moves slowly now, unsteady on his feet, after two knee replacements and leg surgery.
“It affects your balance — just being able to do anything other than walk around with a cane and complain about it,” he says.
Clark comes from the small West Texas town of Monahans. He made his name as part of the vibrant Houston folk scene in the late 1960s. He moved to Los Angeles to write songs, then got a songwriting deal. In 1971, he headed across the country.
“Without even thinking about it, I said, ‘Nashville,’ ” Clark says. “You know, anyplace but L.A. And I knew I didn’t want to live in New York, so — packed up the VW bus and moved to Nashville.”
……………. READ OR LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW ……………
Taj Mahal is credited with helping popularize American blues over the course of his five-decade career.
Taj Mahal has a degree in animal husbandry and agronomy, and planned to be a farmer. Music was just something he did.
“No matter what went down, music was always going to be a part of my life,” the guitarist and singer says. “What ultimately happened is that, over a period of time, I just kind of looked around and when like, ‘Wow! I’m actually making a living doing this.’”
Mahal started making that living in Massachusetts, where he grew up and went to college. He also created a stage name for himself. He was born Henry St. Clair Fredericks, Jr., but he admired Gandhi and Indian philosophy.
“In looking out into the world, it didn’t look all that nice out there,” Mahal says. “And who were the nice people? Certainly Mahatma Gandhi was.”
So, he became Taj Mahal? In 1964, with his new name, Mahal headed for Los Angeles, where he joined up with a group of musicians that included Ry Cooder. They called themselves the Rising Sons and played a mix of blues, rock and country.
Bobby (Blue) Bland, left, with B.B. King, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
Bobby (Blue) Bland, the debonair balladeer whose sophisticated, emotionally fraught performances helped modernize the blues, died on Sunday at his home in Germantown, Tenn., a suburb of Memphis. He was 83.
His death was confirmed by his son, Rodd, who played drums in his band. Though he possessed gifts on a par with his most accomplished peers, Mr. Bland never achieved the popular acclaim enjoyed by contemporaries like Ray Charles and B. B. King. But he was nevertheless a mainstay on the rhythm-and-blues charts and club circuit for decades.
His vocals, punctuated by the occasional squalling shout, were restrained, exhibiting a crooner’s delicacy of phrasing and a kind of intimate pleading. He influenced everyone from the soul singers Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett to rock groups like the Allman Brothers and The Band. The rapper Jay-Z sampled Mr. Bland’s 1974 single “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” on his 2001 album, “The Blueprint.”
Mr. Bland’s signature mix of blues, jazz, pop, gospel and country music was a good decade in the making. His first recordings, made in the early 1950s, found him working in the lean, unvarnished style of Mr. King, even to the point of employing falsetto vocal leaps patterned after Mr. King’s. Mr. Bland’s mid-’50s singles were more accomplished; hits like “It’s My Life, Baby” and “Farther Up the Road” are now regarded as hard-blues classics, but they still featured the driving rhythms and stinging electric guitar favored by Mr. King and others. It wasn’t until 1958’s “Little Boy Blue,” a record inspired by the homiletic delivery of the Rev. C. L. Franklin, that Mr. Bland arrived at his trademark vocal technique.
Bob Dylan performs at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. His set included “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” which he would also play at the 1963 March on Washington.
On this day 50 years ago — June 12, 1963 — Bob Dylan‘s career was just taking off when he heard the news that civil rights activist Medgar Evers had been assassinated. Dylan responded with a song that he eventually performed at the March on Washington and the Newport Folk Festival.
As Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz says, “Only a Pawn in Their Game” leans hard on the idea that Evers’ killer was not the only guilty party.
“The whole point is, the killer is guilty, yes, but he’s not the person to blame,” Wilentz tells NPR’s Audie Cornish. “There’s rather a much larger system that’s out there, and that’s what the song is really about.”
Dylan’s words also scrutinize the era’s white elites, suggesting they enraged poor whites against blacks in order to divert them from their own social and economic position.
“It’s a sort of standard left-wing take on what Southern segregation and racism was all about,” Wilentz says. “It isn’t simply a matter of hatred; it isn’t simply a moral question. It’s a political question and an economic question. The poor white man’s at the caboose of the train, but it’s the system — the rich, the powerful, everyone from the cops on up and down — they’re the ones who are twisting this guy’s head around with racism in order to keep him down.”
In the wake of such a tragic event, the song was a unique undertaking — one that aimed to communicate and understand what was taking place in the killer’s mind.
“It wasn’t a song that played naturally into the moral geometry of the civil rights movement, you know, which was very much about the righteous civil rights workers — black and white — against an obdurate segregationist system,” Wilentz says. “This dug a little deeper and made people think a little bit more. … He’s giving you the sound of what it’s like to have your brain screaming because you’re down, because you’re poor.”
When Dylan wrote the song, the American civil rights movement was well under way, and protest songs such as “We Shall Overcome” were essential to the spirit of the movement. However, as Wilentz says, most protest songs were uplifting and encouraged an “eyes on the prize” mentality.
“Dylan’s writing a different kind of art,” Wilentz says. “Not just in the sense of art because it’s beautifully written, but because he actually had that ability to, as I say, enter into lots of different people’s brains and souls and see them in collision.”