WHO WAS SPADE COOLEY ? Cocaine & Rhinestones PODCAST

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[DISCLAIMER: This episode o tells an extremely disturbing story. This is not suitable content for children or anyone who shouldn’t read a graphic and detailed account of murder.]

~~~ LISTEN TO THE PODCAST  ~~~

Spade Cooley came to California in the early 1930s, as poor as everyone else who did the exact same thing at the exact same time. Only, Spade became a millionaire. And all he needed to accomplish that was a fiddle, a smile and a strong work ethic. If it sounds like the American Dream, stick around to hear how it became an American nightmare of substance abuse, mental illness and, eventually murder.

Meet Spade

The first 45 years or so of Spade Cooley’s life went more than alright.

Born 1910 in Grand, Oklahoma, with the name of Donnell Clyde Cooley, the official story is that Spade was one-quarter Cherokee. That’s backed up by his attendance at Chemawa Indian School in Oregon, where his family moved when Spade was 4 years old.

Spade’s father played fiddle at local dances and he hoped his son would one day find success as a classical cellist or violinist, a dream that Spade shared as a child and he took his lessons accordingly. Though his classical training did not lead to a classical career, it did eventually lead to paying jobs playing fiddle at local dances, just like his dad.

Spade Cooley studio

 

Performing music and doing a bit of amateur boxing seems to have occupied Spade’s time until he was around 18 years old, which is when he eloped with Anne, a full-blooded Inuk from school and soon-to-be mother of their son, John. A year deep into what is now known as The Great Depression, this young family would arrive in California with nothing but, and I’m quoting Spade here, “a fiddle under one arm and a nickel in [his] pocket.” The year was 1930 and, as it turns out, he didn’t have much to worry over…

Spade Cooley was always the kinda guy to make you feel like his best friend. He called every man he met “son.” He’d put his hand on your shoulder and a smile in your face. When he showed up for a job, he was there to work hard and make sure it got done right. Knowing his way around the fiddle like he did and the ability to sight read sheet music was enough to place Cooley at the top of several call lists for short-notice, pickup gigs. That “down home” good ol’ boy routine helped him move up the ranks of the Los Angeles music scene fast, which is how he came to play with the Jimmy Wakely Trio, Riders of the Purple Sage and Sons of the Pioneers.

Unless you go add it after listening to this, you won’t find Spade Cooley’s name on the Sons of the Pioneer’s Wikipedia page. To be fair, that legendary group is a bigger part of Spade’s story than he is a part of theirs. By the time Cooley came around, they’d already had their signature hit with “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and the group’s breakout star, Roy Rogers, had mostly moved on to work in major motion pictures. But Roy would still come around every now and then. Someone pointed out that Spade Cooley bore a passing resemblance to Roy Rogers. Before you know it, Spade was bringing down some extra cash by serving as a stand-in for Roy on movie sets during the day, while still playing pickup gigs with multiple bands on the L.A. dancehall circuit at night. With one foot firmly planted in each of Southern California’s most desirable professions, Spade was about to find himself a very rich and very famous man.

King of Western Swing (Warner Bros. short)

 

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Who Is Spade Cooley?

Every country music fan with more than a passing interest in Western Swing knows the name Spade Cooley.

It’s like a little bit of trivia for the genre.

There are two facts we associate with that name. One – Spade Cooley was “The King of Western Swing” long before that title was transferred to Bob Wills. Two – Spade Cooley murdered his wife.

Spade Cooley murder newspaper clipping

 

But there’s a lot of story hiding in those two facts.

“The King of Western Swing” was more than just a cool nickname. For most of the 1940’s and 1950’s, Spade kicked as much ass as it was possible for a musician in Los Angeles to kick. It would be difficult to exaggerate his professional success. Not only does Spade Cooley have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame but at the height of his television show’s popularity it’s estimated that 75% of L.A. viewers were tuning in on any given night. Put it this way. In 1951, Frank Sinatra already had over 20 Top Ten singles to his name but his career wasn’t doing so hot anymore. He needed a comeback and part of his plan for that was a singing appearance on Spade Cooley’s hit TV show.

Looking back on it now, we can see things ended up working out pretty well for Frank Sinatra.

Spade Cooley, not so much. Because of that second little piece of trivia.

Now, I don’t know how so many people are comfortable using a simple word like “murder” to sum up Spade Cooley’s actions on the day of his wife’s killing. This was not a domestic argument that got out of hand. Not an accident with a dangerous weapon. Not a so-called crime of passion. This wasn’t even an isolated incident. It was a savage and deliberate execution which many people had to have seen coming.

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Trane of No-Thought: How Meditation Inspired Jazz Great John Coltrane by Sean Murphy ~ Lion’s Roar

In the 50th-anniversary year of the death of John Coltrane, Zen teacher Sean Murphy looks back at the jazz icon and how meditation practice and a deep interest in Eastern traditions informed his monumental late-period work.

One predawn morning in 1964, the already-legendary saxophonist John Coltrane was sitting in meditation in his Long Island home when the structure and themes of his masterpiece, the album A Love Supreme, came to him in its entirety. “It was the first time I had it all,” he said, as reported by his wife, pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane, with whom he shared a practice of meditation and a deep interest in all things spiritual.

This was not the first time that Coltrane, who came to consider his musical improvisation a form of meditation in itself, experienced what he thought of as divine grace. He’d sweated out addiction — his first, failed path to transcendence — in 1957 after what he described as a “life-changing spiritual experience” that helped him overcome heroin and alcohol and set him on a search for other means of transcendence, through meditation, prayer, and music. His search would also profoundly influence the jazz world, and the cultural landscape of western society itself.

“There are always new sounds to imagine: new feelings to get at. And always, there is a need to keep purifying these feelings and sounds so that we can really see what we’ve discovered in its pure state.” —John Coltrane

Fifty years after his death in 1967, Coltrane remains a cultural and spiritual icon, exerting an influence over jazz that is impossible to escape — so much so that it has given rise to a strange phenomenon, surely one of a kind: the Saint John Coltrane Church. Based in San Francisco, the SJCC is an actual community of worship that continues to this day, using A Love Supreme, Coltrane’s signature work, as scripture and hymnal.Before Coltrane, jazz had largely been regarded as a sensual, even risqué form of expression, linked as much to libation as to liberation. But jazz and spirituality have always been linked.

Jazz is an improvisational art form — it requires the moment. Total immersion in it, that is. I have long been struck by the unusual purity of the best of this music, despite the fact that it was so often developed under the most impure of conditions: smoky clubs, alcohol, drugs, and the inescapable burden of racial prejudice. How could this be possible? As a Zen practitioner/teacher and musician myself, I feel the answer lies in a brand of what we in Zen call working samadhi – an immersion in moment-to-moment activity so complete that it becomes essentially a meditative state. Improvisational music, at least at the level of complexity exhibited by jazz, requires a putting aside of the ego — if you start thinking of good or bad, try to impress, become distracted by the flubbed note of the last moment, try to anticipate the next moment, or give yourself over to anything else but what’s happening now, you’re lost. To play truly great improvisational music, you have to lose yourself.

The best musicians, like Coltrane, are able to summon an immersion in the moment that can transcend even the worst environments, personal problems, or state of health. Of course, this doesn’t mean that certain players don’t inflate themselves after the fact, building themselves up and taking credit for what in essence, had passed through them — via, perhaps, the greater power to which Coltrane often alluded. But Coltrane was not one of these.

Coltrane’s challenging later albums were intended to be 100% spiritual testament, the communication of an ongoing, endless spiritual quest into the great mystery.

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First Listen: John Prine, The Tree Of Forgiveness ~ NPR

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John Prine’s The Tree Of Forgiveness comes out April 13 on Prine’s label, Oh Boy.

Courtesy of the artist

 

If John Prine is the favorite quirky uncle whose visits have become regrettably rare, The Tree of Forgiveness is the sound of that beloved avuncular figure finally pulling up to your doorstep in his old jalopy and knocking on your door with several weeks’ worth of luggage. In fact, the introductory track on his first album of new material in 13 years is indeed titled “Knocking on Your Screen Door.”

The 71-year-old troubadour has hardly been sitting on his hands since his last batch of original tunes, 2005’s Fair & Square. He’s cut two covers albums, one with bluegrass legend Mac Wiseman and one with a host of female duet partners, and released Beyond Words, a book of anecdotes, photos, and lyrics. But adherents to his masterful way with words have been hungry for some fresh meat to sink their teeth into.

Both he and we have been through a lot since 2005, from Prine’s second victorious scrap with cancer to the 2016 election that sent the whole nation into turmoil. And there are songs here that seem informed by both of those experiences.

John Prine, The Tree Of Forgiveness

The Tree of Forgiveness comes out April 13 via Oh Boy Records.

Prine tends to favor the universal over the strictly topical, but given the timing, it’s difficult to hear the ominous, minor-key “Caravan of Fools” as an entirely apolitical statement. And the amiably loping “The Lonesome Friends of Science” feels primarily like a lament for the fate of our increasingly devalued scientific community in a growing environment of climate-change deniers and conspiracy theorists. Of course, Prine being Prine, he detours into some gleefully absurdist flights of fancy, keeping things from getting too grounded in the quotidian.

The wistful, bittersweet ballad “Summer’s End” bears a gentle air of mortality, while the good-time singalong “When I Get To Heaven,” replete with kazoo and barroom piano tinkling, directly addresses Prine’s afterlife agenda with characteristic cocked-eyebrow humor. But between those tracks and the goofy old-age home antics detailed in “Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone),” it’s important to recall that the ever-empathetic Prine has been singing about that phase of life’s journey since his 1971 debut, on tunes like “Hello in There” and “Angel from Montgomery.” So perhaps it’s unwise to get too presumptuous about his motivations of the moment.

Time’s effect on Prine’s process notwithstanding, the years have undeniably had an impact on his voice. Over the years, some combination of cigarettes, the aforementioned health issues, and simply the clock’s tick-tock conspired to deepen and roughen the songwriter’s naturally creaky pipes. But the age-appropriate vibe of Prine’s vocals only serves to deepen the impact of his lyrics, especially when he employs the kind of deadpan delivery that’s always been one of his secret superpowers.

Given the more subtle singing style Prine’s currently employing, anything approaching an overly busy production would have proven disastrous for The Tree of Forgiveness. Fortunately, he wound up with what might be the most sympathetic producer in his hometown of Nashville. Dave Cobb has earned a mighty rep over the last several years as the man behind the boards for Prine disciples like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell(the latter guests on three tracks here). And he gives Prine the most suitably sparse arrangements he’s had since the early ’70s. At a crucial juncture like this, it’s exactly what’s needed to help spike the football.

And in the same way Prine’s big heart famously shone through early on in his career, with his poignant portraits of senior citizens on “Hello in There” and Vietnam vets on “Sam Stone,” “Knockin’ on Your Screen Door” is another compassionate first-person tale of a marginalized character. It’s sung from the perspective of an unlucky soul scrambling for basics like food and shelter. The perennially easygoing Prine’s never been one to force a message down anybody’s throat, but with the song’s refrain — “I’m thinkin’ it’s your business, but you don’t got to answer / I’m knockin’ on your screen door in the summertime” — he subtly informs us that we’re all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Given the weary world awaiting The Tree of Forgiveness upon its release this Friday, it’s a welcome reminder.

 

‘Talking About Heaven’: John Prine Proves That Old Trees Grow Stronger

John Prine never really liked his singing voice. “The only reason I figured out I didn’t like my old records to listen was I could hear how nervous I was, and how uncomfortable I was,” the venerated musician says. “And who would want to sit around and listen to yourself being uncomfortable?”

Today, Prine is releasing The Tree of Forgiveness, his first album of new material in 13 years, to an audience that spans generations.

The gravelly timbre he has on the album isn’t something Prine gradually aged into: In the mid-1990s, he underwent treatment for neck cancer. He’s made his peace with the results. “I think I’ve finally, after 72 years, gotten used to my voice, and it sounds like a friend now instead of an enemy,” Prine says. “I sound like that old guy down the street that doesn’t chase you out of his apple tree.”

The songs that became The Tree of Forgiveness started their lives jotted down in pieces and parts on yellow legal pads. Prine finally finished several of them at a downtown Nashville hotel last summer; anyone who’d been there when he arrived for his weeklong stay would have reason to remember him.

“I looked like Howard Hughes checking in. I had like twelve boxes and four guitars and a ukulele,” he says, laughing.

Prine has a perfectly nice house in Nashville, but his wife and manager Fiona Whelan Prine and son and label head Jody Whelan decided the singer-songwriter would be more productive if they booked him a suite. “They know that I work better out of a hotel, after 45 years on the road,” he says.

There was a time, in the late ’60s, when Prine got some of his best writing done while delivering mail in Chicago. It didn’t occur to him that other people would like the funny little songs he came up with, but “Sam Stone,” “Paradise” and “Hello In There” became folk-country classics.

Those songs have had a profound influence on songwriters half his age; Jason Isbell is among them. Isbell grew up with Prine’s albums, and insists that it’s still a big deal to him to share the stage with the elder artist.

“I love hearing him sing, still. I still can’t listen to ‘Hello in There‘ without cracking up and getting a tear,” Isbell says. “It still happens every time. And it’s been probably 100 times that I’ve heard him play it live now.”

Isbell and Prine both live in Nashville. Prine was making his home there by the early ’80s, where he started his own independent label, Oh Boy Records, and got accustomed to a footloose lifestyle. A decade later, his outlook changed drastically, when he married for a third time and became a family man.

John Prine

Danny Clinch/Courtesy of the artist

“I thought I was grounded. I thought from my kinda blue-collar outlook on life that I would call myself a grounded person. I was not,” Prine says of that time. “I was like a balloon flying around in the air. And as soon as our first child was born, boom, my feet came right down to the ground. And I found out that I knew a lot about songwriting, but not a lot about anything else. [For] everything else, I just kind of used my imagination.”

Prine contemplated retirement after he lost his manager and friend of 43 years, the late Al Bunetta. Instead, he decided to put his son and wife in charge of the business.

“I’m a wife, and I’m very protective of his time and of making sure that he gets his rest,” Fiona says. “And then I’m also his manager and I’m pushing him: ‘No, John, I really think we need to do this.’ That can be difficult, but I think we do OK. That fact that we’ve been together so long, I think, helps. We’re not afraid of each other at this point, so we can push and shove and be OK at the end of the day.”

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Behind the Masterpiece: Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks at 50

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Van Morrison on Boston Common, April 20, 1968

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If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dream
Where immobile steel rims crack
And the ditch in the back roads stop
Could you find me?
Would you kiss-a my eyes?
To lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again

So begins Astral Weeks, the sublime, eight-song album released in 1968 with little fanfare, though it endures 50 years later as Van Morrison’s very finest achievement.

Why does it strike so many as almost perfect?

“Astral Weeks, insofar as it can be pinned down, is a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend,” the legendary rock critic Lester Bangs wrote on the 10th anniversary of its release. “It is a precious and terrible gift, born of a terrible truth, because what they see is both infinitely beautiful and terminally horrifying: the unlimited human ability to create or destroy, according to whim … one moment’s knowledge of the miracle of life, with its inevitable concomitant, a vertiginous glimpse of the capacity to be hurt, and the capacity to inflict that hurt.”

And that is enough to know for enhanced listening.

But we revisit the album as part of an ongoing look at all things about the United States as it was in 1968. In what milieu was this singular, much beloved album born?

One of the most particular answers is offered in Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968, a newly published book by Ryan H. Walsh that takes readers back to the beginning of that year, when Van Morrison began living and working near Boston. The Irish-born singer, then 22, had fled New York City with his new wife, Janet Rigsbee. He was frustrated at his failure to break though in its music scene––he was mostly unknown despite recording his first hit, “Brown Eyed Girl”––and eager to escape the mob-connected men who owned a bad record contract he had signed.

Boston was attractive in part because of its famous folk music scene, though that turned out to be a shadow of its former self by the time Morrison moved into his Cambridge apartment. One local favorite, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, wasn’t the same once Mel Lyman quit and dedicated himself to leading an eccentric hippie commune. Other acts broke up or decided to try their luck in New York City or on the West Coast.

And rock and roll was ascendant.

The zeitgeist was arguably shaped most that year by events in San Francisco, Chicago, Memphis, and Washington, D.C. And yet, greater Boston was not insignificant.

Noam Chomsky of MIT and Howard Zinn of Boston University were outspoken participants in the movement against the Vietnam War. Timothy Leary had earlier embarked on his LSD experiments through the Harvard Psilocybin Project, and Boston remained a hotbed of attempts at psychedelic enlightenment. Richard Alpert had returned from a sojourn to India as the spiritual teacher Ram Dass.

~~~  KEEP READING  ~~~

How Robert Earl Keen Became a Country and Americana Cult Hero

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With his raspy voice and truth-forward songs, Robert Earl Keen has amassed a passionate following among country and Americana fansDavid Simchock/ZUMA

Raspy-voiced Texas songwriter has endeared himself to George Strait, Lyle Lovett and countless fans with his irreverent style

 

Robert Earl Keen ought to be sick of Christmas. He hasn’t had a break from the holiday for the past 24 years, thanks to “Merry Christmas From the Family,” a wildly irreverent song that’s taken on such a life of its own that he has trouble sticking to his rule of playing it only after Labor Day. But you won’t hear Keen complaining about it.

“I’m not going to get out of here alive without playing the Christmas song, so I might as well make it bigger,” says Keen, as he relaxes on a bench outside a practice space in Austin, Texas. His red cheeks are framed by a bushy, pepper-gray beard and a beret that he wears cocked and turned backwards on his head. “I feel lucky enough to write songs and have people request the songs I write. Why would I want to turn my back on that?”

Keen, who lives on a ranch near Kerrville in the Texas Hill Country, made the two-hour trek into town on this November day with his daughter Clara to rehearse for his Fam-O-Lee Back to the Country Jamboree. The annual holiday tour, first held in 2012, is the latest spinoff of “Merry Christmas From the Family,” joining a sequel song, a coffee-table book, and numerous covers that came before it. Montgomery Gentry earned a Top 40 country hit with their version in 2001.

“I live for hearing his Christmas song. I never go through the Christmas season without listening to it at least once,” says Nanci Griffith of Keen’s 1994 original, a Clark W. Griswold-worthy satire of family dysfunction and drunken, intolerant in-laws. “It’s just funny and you can relate to it personally because it’s like, ‘Oh no, we’re all stuck here together.'”

Each holiday tour features a different theme. The 2017 run saw Keen’s band members, most of whom have been with him for 15 years or more – the longest serving, guitarist Rich Brotherton, has logged nearly a quarter century – play Christmas-costume dress-up to sing covers of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Dwight Yoakam. Kitschy props that reference lyrics from “Merry Christmas From the Family” adorned the stage, like the “box of tampons” that evokes an awkward sing-along and a pack of Salem Lights.

“It escalated to where we could play as much in December as we wanted to. But it was always strange because it wasn’t like a regular show. Pretty much all the people were waiting for that one song,” says Keen. “After a while, we got to thinking: ‘We got to do something more than this. We got to have more fun ourselves.'”

But Keen is far from some novelty holiday act. While he’s not a well-known figure, he has amassed a passionate fan base of rednecks, hippies, frat boys and country scholars who swoon over his real-life lyrics and give-no-shits attitude. George Strait is a fan and has tapped him to open some of his Las Vegas concerts. He’s also cut Keen’s tracks, as have the Dixie Chicks, the Highwaymen and Joe Ely, among many others. To Keen’s fans, his songs “The Road Goes on Forever,” “Gringo Honeymoon” and “The Front Porch Song” are American classics, helping make him arguably the most important figure to the formation of Red Dirt music as we know it. Still, for all the acclaim and influence, he’s never quite fit into the country music ecosystem.

~~~  READ ON ~ WATCH  ~~~

Dee Dee Bridgewater: Tiny Desk Concert ~ NPR

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~~~  LISTEN TO SOME FINE MUSIC ~~~

 

“This is me coming back full circle in my life,” Dee Dee B told NPR right before this Tiny Desk performance. Ever since her teenage years, she’s wanted to make her latest album, Memphis… Yes, I’m Ready. Now, a gorgeous 67 years young, Bridgewater is connecting openly with her roots, her birthplace and the town she’s loved all her life.

When she was just three years old, her family moved from Memphis, Tennessee, to Flint, Michigan. Years later, Bridgewater could still hear the soul sounds of Memphis on WDIA, the first radio station in America programmed entirely by African-Americans for African-Americans. She recalled, “I could catch it when I was in Flint as a teenager and I would listen to it after 11:00 at night, because that was the only time I could get it — when all the other stations were off the air. I know it was real, ’cause I went through it and these were all songs I heard on WDIA.”

Bridgewater brought three of these songs to the Tiny Desk: First, is the celebrated blues hit, “Hound Dog,” first recorded by not by Elvis Presley but by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in 1952. What makes this presentation special is not only Bridgewater’s sultry and soulful interpretation, but her adorable Daisy, perhaps the cutest “Hound Dog” to ever bless this song.

SET LIST

  • “Hound Dog” (Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller)
  • “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?” (Roebuck “Pops” Staples)
  • “B.A.B.Y.” (Isaac Lee Hayes & David Porter)

Dee Dee Bridgewater’s latest album, Memphis… Yes, I’m Ready, is available on iTunesand Amazon.

~ Harry Dean Stanton ~

Canción Mixteca

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Volver, volver – “LUCKY”

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John Carroll Lynch Speaks On The Film, “Lucky””Lucky” follows the spiritual journey of a 90-year-old atheist and the quirky characters that inhabit his off the map desert town. Having out lived and out smoked all of his contemporaries, the fiercely independent Lucky finds himself at the precipice of life, thrust into a journey of self-exploration, leading towards that which is so often unattainable: enlightenment. Acclaimed character actor John Carroll Lynch’s directorial debut is at once a love letter to the life and career of Harry Dean Stanton as well as a meditation on morality, loneliness, spirituality and human connection.

~~~  WATCH  ~~~

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“And I’ll sit and shut up for a while. Which is really important, and it’s the hardest thing to do.” Joan Baez ~ NYT

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WOODSIDE, Calif. — She’s been performing for six decades and until this month hadn’t released a new album since 2008, but Joan Baez has been picking up momentum.

Taylor Swift brought her onstage, and Lana Del Rey said “Lust for Life,” her most recent album, had “early Joan Baez influences.” Last year, Ms. Baez was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Her 1970 version of the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (her only Top 10 single) was recently featured in the film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Just as the folk music icon and pioneering activist has unlocked a fresh reserve of cultural resonance, however, she has decided to step back. She announced that her new album, “Whistle Down the Wind,” would be her final recording and said that the eight-month-long world tour that kicked off in Sweden earlier this month will mark her farewell to the road.

“It’s a big decision, but it feels so right,” she said, seated in the rustic, sun-drenched kitchen of a house she’s lived in for 50 years here, just a few minutes’ drive from Stanford University and the epicenter of Silicon Valley. “People who know me get that it’s time. When my mom [who died in 2013 at age 100] was 95, I said, ‘I think I’m going to quit,’ and she said, ‘Oh, but honey, what will your fans think?’ About three years later, I said, ‘I think I’m going to quit,’ and she said, ‘Oh, honey, you’ve done enough.’”

 At 77, Ms. Baez certainly doesn’t carry herself as if she has any intention of slowing down. On a recent afternoon, she interrupted a walk around her backyard to unlock her chicken coop and chase a dozen birds through the dirt. After rounding them back up, she was delighted to find a handful of new eggs, which she carefully carried up to her kitchen. In the house, the furniture was well worn, but the rooms felt spare and airy, perhaps because she’s “decluttering” using the Marie Kondo method and is proudly down to three shirts in her closet.
Ms. Baez cautions her younger listeners not to imitate the protest movement of the 1960s. “It’s like trying to have a second Woodstock, which is really stupid, I think.” CreditTed Streshinsky/Corbis, via Getty Images

Doug Sahm & Augie Meyers, Sir Douglas Quintet Perform ‘Mendocino’ Live From Austin … they eventually became The Texas Tornados joining Flaco Jiménez & Freddy Fender

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~~~  WATCH  ~~~

‘Augie Meyers 69-year-old San Antonio keyboardist used his Vox organ to bridge the gap between sixties psychedelia and Tex-Mex and gave the Sir Douglas Quintet its signature sound. In 1990 he and his Quintet bandmate Doug Sahm joined Freddy Fender and Flaco Jiménez to launch the Texas Tornados.’

There are few figures in country music as influential and perhaps as underappreciated in modern culture as Doug Sahm, who changed the climate of the genre when he fused psychedelic San Francisco rock and gritty soul into his breed of Texas music with his band, Sir Douglas Quintet. Now, as part of their forthcoming Live From Austin, TXseries, New West has unearthed archival footage of the band, culled from appearances in 1975 and 1981, with a performance of “Mendocino” premiering on Rolling Stone Country.

 

Reunited with members of the original Sir Douglas Quintet lineup, the video is from a January 1981 Austin City Limits session, and has the band showing how well they melded so many corners of the musical spectrum, both sonically and aesthetically: Sahm, in John Lennon shades and Tom Petty hair, nodding to the rock & roll spirit he hoped to infuse into his music, alongside Augie Meyers chugging on his signature Vox organ.

“Mendocino” was one of the band’s best-known songs, climbing the charts stateside upon its release in 1968 but seeing even more success abroad – and whose influence can still be found in artists like Margo Price, who recently recruited some mariachi players for a performance of “Pay Gap” that conjured up Sahm’s Chicano spirit, or in the psychedelic riffs of Aaron Lee Tasjan. Here, Sahm ends this version of “Mendocino” with a little windmill action on his guitar, the song still resonating as one of the finest, grooviest numbers to come out of San Antonio.

Sahm, a childhood prodigy, died in 1999, and these Live From Austin, TX recordings are a rare contribution to his, and Sir Douglas Quinet’s, catalog. “We thought our band had a lotta soul,” Sahm told Rolling Stone back in 1971, speaking to Chet Flippo about Sir Douglas Quintet.

Live From Austin, TX will be released April 13th via New West, remastered and available on vinyl for the first time.

 

The Miracle of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” By Jon Michaud ~ The New Yorker

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A new book about Van Morrison’s album “Astral Weeks” unearths the largely forgotten context from which it emerged.

Photograph by Ed Caraeff / Getty

Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” has always seemed like a fluke. In November, 1968, the irascible songwriter from Belfast released a jazz-influenced acoustic song cycle that featured minimal percussion, an upright bass, flute, harpsichord, vibraphone, strings, and stream-of-consciousness lyrics about being transported to “another time” and “another place.” The album was recorded in three sessions, with the string arrangements overdubbed later. Many of the songs were captured on the first or second take. Morrison has called the sessions that produced the album “uncanny,” adding that “it was like an alchemical kind of situation.” A decade later, Lester Bangs called the album “a mystical document” and “a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk.” Bruce Springsteen said that it gave him “a sense of the divine.” The critic Greil Marcus equated the album to Bob Beamon’s record-shattering long-jump performance at the Mexico City Olympics, a singular achievement that was “way outside of history.”

Ryan H. Walsh’s new book, “Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968,” takes up Morrison’s sui-generis masterpiece and unearths the largely forgotten context from which it emerged. Though the songs on “Astral Weeks” were recorded in New York and are full of references to Morrison’s childhood in Northern Ireland, they were, in Walsh’s words, “planned, shaped and rehearsed in Boston and Cambridge,” where Morrison lived and performed for much of 1968. In documenting the milieu out of which the album came, Walsh also argues for Boston as an underappreciated hub of late-sixties radicalism, artistic invention, and social experimentation. The result is a complex, inquisitive, and satisfying book that illuminates and explicates the origins of “Astral Weeks” without diminishing the album’s otherworldly aura.

What was Morrison doing in Boston? The short answer is that he was hiding out. Stymied but full of ambition, the twenty-two-year-old songwriter had come to New York, in 1967, burdened by an onerous recording contract with the Bang Records producer Bert Berns, who’d worked with Morrison’s band Them, and who had also produced Morrison’s hit single “Brown Eyed Girl.” When Berns died of a heart attack, in December, the contract came under the supervision of a mobster friend of Berns named Carmine (Wassel) DeNoia. One night, Morrison, whose immigration status was tenuous at best, got into a drunken argument with DeNoia, who ended the conversation by smashing an acoustic guitar over the singer’s head. Morrison promptly married his American girlfriend, Janet Rigsbee (a.k.a. Janet Planet), and escaped to Boston.

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The Mystery of Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’

An excellent new book explores how the mob, Lou Reed and the city of Boston led the singer to create one of the greatest albums of all time

 

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In the summer of 1968, Van Morrison was a rock & roll refugee, an Irish blues poet on the run from his homeland after a bitter fling with pop stardom. He wound up down and out in Boston, where he wrote the songs that became one of rock’s most beloved masterworks, Astral Weeks – and then blew town as suddenly as he’d arrived. It’s a mysterious album that stands apart from the rest of his music – or anyone else’s. It didn’t sell squat at the time; for years, it was practically impossible to find. But 50 years after its birth, Astral Weekslives on. The moment when Morrison chants the line “You breathe in, you breathe out” sums up the sound – an acoustic groove tuned in to some kind of cosmic throb.

 

Ryan H. Walsh’s new book Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968unearths the time and place behind the music. Morrison has always refused to explain the mysteries of Astral Weeks – as ornery as ever, the Celtic bard doesn’t give his secrets away. But no matter how well you know him or his music, Astral Weeks is a book full of discoveries. In this fantastic chronicle, Van falls into a Boston underground scene full of outlandish characters – like Mel Lyman, the folkie harmonica player turned cult leader with a tribe of acid-crazed worshippers. Future rock legend Peter Wolf was a radio DJ spinning the blues on the graveyard shift. Lou Reed was often hanging around town, sharing hippie tracts on ritual magic with friends like Jonathan Richman. Walsh even catches up with Morrison’s long-lost flower-child bride Janet Planet, now selling her love beads on Etsy, who tells him, “Being a muse is a thankless job, and the pay is lousy.”

Morrison was reeling from his years on the rock scene, leading the tough Belfast band Them, who blew up with “Gloria.” Under the tutelage of manager Bert Berns (who also brought us Neil Diamond), he came to New York and scored the pop hit “Brown Eyed Girl,” which is probably playing right now at a mall somewhere in your town. Berns saw his protégé as “a rock & roll version of the Irish poet Brendan Behan.” But when Berns died, Morrison found himself owned by the mob. His new bosses were not sensitive to his creative ambitions. One of them, Carmine “Wassel” DeNoia, explains to Walsh why Van left New York: “I broke his guitar on his head.”

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