Friday, November 9, 2007
Rock Redeemed (Part 2)
I regret never having attended performances by many of America's heavy-hitters... Magic Sam, Howling Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson (the later, touchy one); Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk, and John Coltrane do all come to mind.
But for rock at any time between the mid-Sixties and the Nineties, I tried to see every act that mattered--the Beatles on their 1966 tour, moptop-cute but impossible to hear above the din of fans; the Stones many times over the years, never so right as during their Banquet-to-Exile period; Dylan with and without the Band, and later on too--but ignoring his team-ups with Tom Petty or the Grateful Dead, both groups always better on their own whether rockin' out or noodling cosmically. (Wish I'd been somewhere when Dylan sang "Blind Willie McTell," if he ever did it live. Certainly one of his greatest songs, too little known because held back for so long. But I do have an unlikely bootleg from Japan where Bob actually sang a few other major numbers with a symphony orchestra!)
I saw Hendrix and the Who at Monterey Pop, and the Who later for Tommy and then also after Keith Moon's death. Missed the Byrds but got to the Flying Burrito Brothers three times and the Doors twice; Crosby Stills and Nash with and without Young, who wowed me more both in Buffalo Springfield and then on his own tours (Rust Never Sleeps, yes!); Winged and band-running Paul McCartney in his cheery heyday; the Beach Boys with Glenn Campbell in place of Brian Wilson, but the harmonies still intact; Sonny and Cher when she was 18 and astonishingly gorgeous and he was in a tux, trying to Go On from The Beat.
I followed the changes for both Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, the latter soul-voiced kid graduating from "Stevie" in the Spencer Davis Group (yes, they played Seattle) through "Steve" in the hallowed days of jazz-tinged Traffic, to some other, more adult but kinda boring Winwood years later on his own. He also figured briefly in the shortlived Blind Faith with Clapton and Ginger Baker, both of whom I'd already gawked at in Cream. And guitar-god Eric just kept on cruising after that, first with Delaney and Bonnie and then scoring brilliantly as Derek and the Dominoes, and forever after in various solo ventures. (Backing up for a moment, I once had an interview scheduled with Delaney and Bonnie which was suddenly canceled, because Duane Allman had just been killed and Delaney was jetting back South. Loved that Southern soul duo for as long as they lasted together, and their cohorts like Leon Russell, whom I watched in amazement as he plunked funky piano while conducting the massive backing for Joe Cocker on that infamous Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour.)
Running somewhat parallel to Winwood and Clapton, I regularly checked out both Van Morrison's latest incarnation and Jimmy Page's Led Zeppelin (well, Zep twice only)--that long-gone quartet about to reunite just this month for a huge one-off fundraiser in Los Angeles (which only the celebrity charity price keeps me from travelling to see), and Robert Plant having just released his surprising and splendid duet album with perfect vocalist Allison Krause. But Van the Man was really more my style, and I love almost every one of his albums, though I gave up on him live after a couple of near no-show performances, once when he had a cold and the other time when he just didn't feel like singing!
Another major vocalist and band back then was the no-longer-Small Faces with Rod Stewart and pre-Stones Ron Wood. The group came to Seattle riding the crest of their wave and put on a high-spirited show that I remember as less raggedy than the critics always accused them of being. Rod the Mod was in fine gravel voice on song after song, and he did his other specialties, fencing with the mic stand and kicking soccer balls into the crowd. I had an interview scheduled backstage that night, not with the Faces but with opening act Family. But en route I did get to shake hands with cheerfully friendly Ron Woods and then sort of wave at totally exhausted Rod, slumped in a chair looking almost exactly like the cover of one of his great early albums! He just grunted at me.
The bigger names kept touring, but their ticket prices kept rising too, so from the mid-Seventies on I focussed more on new or lesser-known acts--for example, early cheap-price tours by snarling Elvis Costello and the rhythmic Police, before either had exploded into their well-deserved global fame; and around then too, Los Lobos ahead of their Will-the-Wolf-Survive break-out, at a student-sponsored concert on the U.W campus. Needless to say, they rocked the house. I danced more that night than I had for years, and I still try to see the band almost every time they hit Seattle, even though I don't dance as much these days! (Coincidentally, Los Lobos' producer/saxman Steve Berlin lived up here on Vashon Island for several years; and big David Hidalgo came into my bookstore one time, bought some small item I've forgotten, maybe a Billie Holiday bio, and had me special-order a poetry book for him. And did I get his autograph on a pair of albums? Oh yes.)
I would also particularly like to thank the music gods for the Clash (and the Punk Explosion in general), waking up the turgid, torpid music industry around 1977-78 and some after. I caught the Clash during their suddenly-triumphant London Calling tour, and the show was a barnburner, rousing us punters to the rafters, but also providing an enlightening Reggae experience courtesy of a black deejay playing hot cuts between the acts.
Speaking of reggae, two life-affirming concerts I was fortunate to get to were Toots and the Maytals in all their soulful, high-stepping glory, and this one: the pairing of Jimmy Cliff and headliners Bob Marley and the (non-Tacoma) Wailers. Cliff came on a half hour late or so, which was standard practice back then, and did a fine opening set ranging from slow to fast, misses to massive hits. And then we waited... and waited... and waited...
Finally, about midnight, out danced spliffed-up Marley and his I-Threes and the Barrett Brothers-led band; and Bob and friends proceeded to put on an eye-opening, body-shaking, soul-enhancing object lesson in making music and working the crowd. In minutes he had the whole two-tiered sitdown-theater crowd up and dancing in the aisles, beside and atop their seats, all of us trying to keep up as Bob tossed his dreadlocks and his body every whichaway, still playing rhythm guitar and singing his Redemption songs. More than just a night to remember, those two Wailer hours marked a never-to-be-equaled moment in spirit and time...
((Next time, a few other such moments, Merle to Bruce to Mac--no, not Fleetwood--and a possibly hopeless attempt to sum things up.))