Monday, November 26, 2007
Here's an old Fusion piece from 1972 that I really enjoyed "researching" and writing (edited now to remove much of the record reviews stuff); if you read it, you'll understand why...
Like most other aging rock 'n' roll enthusiasts, I grew up watching Ricky Nelson grow up. As a TV actor, Ozzie and Harriet's youngest may never have been a blooming precocious Olivier, but he was about my/our age, he dressed right, and he displayed a clever/serious mien that turned out to be more than a little charismatic. I don't think we ever really believed in the platitudinous, Eisenhower Era good life the Nelsons and their chums professed to live--I mean, Ozzie and Thorny and them goofing on the tube while we huddled in the halls for school A-bomb tests, right?--but Ricky was okay: he seemed to be one of us, much less awesome and godlike than, say, Elvis.
Well, me and the world are a decade-and-a-half older now ((make that several decades!)), I'm nearing thirty though I don't feel particularly "grown up" ((nor at 64)), and terra's still going to hell in a handbasket or applecart or Volkswagen (even if we've given up on the Civil Defense bit--you can crouch in my shelter if I can crouch in yours; I said that). As for younger-than-that-now Rick, he's still growing--as a musician, I mean, as well as merely older. Eric Nelson's landed square in the middle of country rock 'n' Western roll, and on him it looks, and sounds, mighty good.
Actually, nobody should be surprised by that Late-Sixties development. After all, Rick admits he got interested in music during Presley's rockabilly Sun-days; subsequently, besides the hit ballads and Fats Domino covers, he cut numerous tunes penned by other solar celebrities like Cash, Perkins, and Lewis, plus stuff from Hank Williams and the Burnette Brothers (by the way, anybody want to sell me a copy of Johnny and Dorsey's old album together, on Coral?); and, of course, Rick's back-up band in those days was built around the high-class country picking of the ever-inspirational James Burton. As a result, many of Rick's hits had a Southern twinge if not twang, up to and including the pair of straight country albums he did for Decca during the middle-Sixties' eclipse of his stardom.
So where's the big surprise? It's 1972, and over-thirty Rick just keeps churnin' out good-feelin', good-knowin', good-ol'-boy, close-up-the-honks rock 'n' roll. Let's talk about his Stone Canyon Band instead: some rock youngsters like Allen Kemp, Pat Shanahan, and Randy Meisner, longtime musical cohorts from the Denver area (Randy's bass, of course, was featured in Poco for a while), plus Missouri-bred pedal steel guitar wizard-king Tom Brumley, who joined Rick after six years backing Buck Owens. Needless to say, the group's views on grass, peace, and police are widely divergent, but the members have managed to coexist and cohere for about three years now.
And in that time have backed three quite nice, rather rocking releases with headman Eric. The album that signaled the arrival--or return--of Rick Nelson, Country Rocker, was one recorded live at the Troubador (Rick Nelson in Concert, Decca 75162), on the heels of his smash engagement there that set the L.A. scenesters to hopping and marveling and good-mouthing. And the one cut that best announced the "new" Rick--he wrote it too--also opened the album with a welcome bang: "Come On In." While the guitars jangled and Brumley's steel danced, Rick and the dudes with their version of high lonesome harmony issued this clarion invite: "Come on in, look around/ Try to see what's goin' down/ We're gonna sing our songs for you/ Hope they make you feel good too..." With a whoop and a holler, a swoop and a foller-me-boys, there he was, back and proud....
Then too, another Dylan tune demonstrated the Nelson touch with ballads--in this case, a live version of his out-of-nowhere AM hit, "She Belongs to Me," with bubbling acoustic and cascading steel and the now-mature Nelson voice releasing all the "wonder, hurt... and love" (the phrase is Eric Anderson's) from Dylan's strange and striking song. An even better example of Rick's fresh, confident vocalizing was Anderson's own "Violets of Dawn"--starting with a soft acoustic flow, drifting through the steel's chiming like a fourth harmony part in the vocal, building at last to an overpowering rush, molten auroras of sound and light.
Yet even "Violets" was topped by Rick's incredible "Easy to Be Free"--acoustics and sticks and Tom's steel skipping and slipping up and down your spine: great, glimmering bursts of instrumental beauty while Rick's voice simmered with promise: "Did you ever want to go where you've never been before?/ Did you ever want to know things you've never known before/ I'll take you there with me/ And maybe then you'll see/ It's easy to be free/ It's so easy to be free..."
Who'd have believed it possible a decade ago--the best songs on Rick Nelson in Concert actually composed by the ex-wunderkind of TV himself? But the proof was in our ears. And added proof for the skeptics lay ahead with Rick Sings Nelson (Decca 75236), a whole album of originals....
((Part 2 in a few days, detailing how I got to meet and hang out with Nelson during a remarkable club engagement in suburban Seattle.))
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Thinking of Classical Music adventures for my previous post, and now reading a compelling new book detailing the history of such music over the course of the whole 20th Century--The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross (music critic for The New Yorker)--have reminded me of many favorite composers whose music I have been neglecting for recordings of Jazz, Reggae, and whatever else, Dvorak to Mahler, Debussy to Sibelius, Weill to Shostakovich, Copland to John Adams.
The whole of Ross's book is brilliantly written, erudite yet anecdotal, remarkably jam-packed with information, yet easily grasped and just plain fun to read--among the most interesting segments, his discussions of Charles Ives and George Gershwin; Weimar Berlin; the WWII years in the U.S., Germany and Russia; and the diverse and avant-garde Fifties and Sixties; plus his canny acknowledgment of the impact of Jazz, Ellington to Coltrane, on recent Classical composers like Steve Reich. And the detailed back-of-book notes make it clear that he has studied and absorbed thousands of scores, recordings, and pertinent ur-texts, and conducted, er, scores of interviews. An astonishing feat of scholarship and lucidity, convincingly demonstrating the Joy of Music--even the works that some might deem "noise"!
One passage in his chapter on Sibelius ("Apparition in the Woods") caught my attention in a beyond-music way: "Sibelius lived to the age of ninety-one.... One September morning in 1957, he went for his usual walk in the fields and forest around Ainola, scanning the skies for cranes flying south for the winter. They were part of his ritual of autumn; back when he was writing the Fifth Symphony, he had noted in his diary, 'Every day I have seen the cranes. Flying south in full cry with their music. Have been yet again their most assiduous pupil. Their cries echo throughout my being.' When, on the third-to-last day of his life, the cranes duly appeared, he told his wife, 'Here they come, the birds of my youth!' One of them broke from the flock, circled the house, cried out, and flew away."
Birds sometimes haunted my youth too. Generally ignorant of their lives, and certainly no serious birdwatcher, I still found them appearing in my dreams, often compelling lyric pieces from me. Poems are a kind of music too, of course, the music of words; and they may become busily noisy or lapse into silence. A lovely sentence of Ross's speaks to this: "Then he ((John Adams)) goes back to work, chipping away at the silence of everything that remains to be composed."
Here are two such poems published some years ago:
The Cypress Swamp
The cypress swamp, west
Of here, is mostly water--
Sometimes an oily grey—
And forty-odd cypress trees.
Forty-odd cypress trees
Growing up from the swamp,
Each with its maze of roots
Searching downward, like fingers
Anchoring into the mire.
Anchored like pillars in the mire,
My tough cypresses ache
Upward, tall and barren,
To clumps of moss and sticks
Where cranes are nesting.
Where cranes are flying,
They scrawl swamp messages,
Clumsy stick letters
That tell of the lives of birds
Across the slate sky.
Up in the slate clouds
Light jumps and flashes,
The afternoon sun reflecting
On a bomber’s wings: the glint
Of a catfish in motion.
Where a catfish moves,
Silvery in the dark depths,
Like a ghost that stirs and fills
A whole room with its presence,
Ripples splinter the water.
Ripples shatter the mirror
When a kingfisher splits the air
And smashes the water’s surface;
Bubbles and tiny insects
Dance in the golden light.
I dance in golden light
Though only my eyes move--
Near the cranes and barren trees,
The catfish and the moss, here
By the cypress swamp, growing.
Anchored on sea-winds,
easily riding the air,
the white osprey balances,
mortally still and sure.
Talons arced, he stands,
a parlous barb of white,
poised there to cry praises
of his haggard sun’s glare
or shriek the lure of night.
He scans long miles of air,
tangent to sky and sea,
then leaps to hurtle freely
down turbulent piles of light.
A graying blur, the osprey
plummets. Slashes a way,
fighting each buffet of air,
piercing through to his fish
that turn in water-light.
No reflective barrier,
no bubbling gift of tongues,
can check his gleaming stare:
the killer dips and catches.
Now screaming arrogant songs
he strides back up the wind,
feeling the elements flow—
his air that burns all finned
and seaward things to ashes.
High where the dive began,
the writhing catch flashes.
On the nacreous beach below
I chafe my cold bones,
and wish, and grope for
dying fish among the stones.
Down below, I have supplied a link to Alex Ross's equally wonderful blog for anyone curious to discover more.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
I've been pondering the futility of trying to convey in a few paragraphs the richness of hundreds of music-going experiences over the course of 50 years. Trying to hit the highlights just leaves a long list of "not-mentioneds" as other memories surface--for example, I failed to include the powerhouse Gil Evans Orchestra conquering a club in Copenhagen, and the transcendental experience of Bill Evans curled over the keyboard, his fingers barely flicking the keys yet creating cathedrals of beauty. (Seen at the basement club where Miles Davis, Bill's Kind of Blue employer, held forth as well.)
And what of Classical Music? I spent several years with full-series tickets, attending concerts by the Seattle Symphony and guests, both before and during Gerard Schwarz's fabled tenure, as well as many chamber music events heard from here to Edinburgh and Salzburg--the grandest of those with Yo Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, and a young violinist powering through Dvorak's rollicking Dumky Piano Trio. And on a different Edinburgh visit, I dreamed through Mahler's heaven-scaling Symphony No.2, the splendid orchestra that day (was it the London Philharmonic?) led by Klaus Tennstedt--though even that experience was dwarfed by the Mahler Second conducted by Leonard Bernstein, filmed in an English or Scottish cathedral, that I only ever saw on television, but that still can raise my spirits and the hairs on my neck whenever I simply think about it...
Country Music too has figured in my life all along, whether I was listening to the car radio or seeking out some "Outlaw" favorite up close and personal: Waylon Jennings (and beautiful wife Jesse), Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, all of them seen back in their prime of age and performance, as was mandolin-man extraordinaire and Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe, still splendidly indomitable and proud--not to mention the many lesser hitmakers who came and went, county fair to covered dome, from John Anderson (my cousin Joe Spivey played fiddle with John for decades) to Winona Judd and her lovely Mom when they were slimmer and straight out of the chute, so to speak; wandering backstage at one performance, I nearly collided with Naomi as she stepped out of her dressing room, charmingly arrayed in a wrapper and haircurlers!
But the country woman who pushed all my buttons, and still does... Emmy Lou Harris, of course. I missed her arrival on the scene as Gram Parson's harmony-duets pal, but have been to her ever-new shows many times over the years since, whether backed by Rodney Crowell or Ricky Skaggs or Albert Lee, whether by solid bluegrass players or the alt.country Buddy Miller/Spyboys. She can do no wrong, I say, dancing, singing, or just smiling out at the always-adoring crowd. (And a word here for brilliant quirky producer Daniel Lanois, who at different times revitalized recordings by Emmy Lou, Dylan, the Nevilles, and others... not forgetting his work on U2's all-time best The Joshua Tree.)
Mention of the Neville Brothers brings back the life-affirming concert I saw by those Big Easy giants around the time of the Yellow Moon album. Wow! and wow again--Meters funk, Aaron's angelic tenor, second-line showmanship, they had it all (and likely still do). The second time I caught up to them, at New Orleans Jazz Fest, wasn't quite as stunning, but decidedly danceable fun.
Jazz Fest... only got there once, in the pre-Katrina days, but it was amazing, especially the unknown-to-me NOLA gospel groups and funk groovers and traditional Jazzsters. (By a great twisted coincidence, our lodging was a fest-time-only, not-quite-b&b run by Gram Parson's stepmother Bonnie.) I've already blogged about some major rock festivals, but I owe a big thanks to Seattle's own massive event, every Labor Day weekend, called Bumbershoot. Back in the earlier days, a weekend pass cost less than $20, and you could see scores of major and minor acts, blues giants and aging soul masters, singer-songwriters and pop stars of the moment, ranging from the Eurhythmics to Steve Earle, Ray Charles to Clifton Chenier, Joan Jett to Joe Jackson, Smokey Robinson to Bonnie Raitt, the Police to the Pogues.
I haven't been to Bumbershoot lately--too pricey, too ultra-hip and mass-crowded to suit these aging bones and ears, and now offering fewer of the older music greats--but I recommend it still to any reader of this three-chapter catalog of music's grand parade. Any given year, there will be a dozen acts worth seeing.
My idea to wind down this long parade requires revisiting three memorable events in particular--the first back in 1975 when I saw Bruce Springsteen for the first time, maybe a week after his twin covers on both Time and Newsweek, "I'm just a prisoner of rock 'n roll," "too late to stop now" (borrowed maybe from Van Morrison), and other shouted phrases still echoing in my head, along with visions of Bruce running the aisles, climbing atop the amps, leaping into space playing his electric, and collapsing against Clarence Clemons just for a breath or two... A couple of days later I made up buttons with the "prisoner" quote on them that I gave away to friends! Yes, I too saw the future of rock 'n roll that night and have been a confirmed "Brooooce" fan ever since, even if the greatest concert moments now are often just Springsteen and his guitar as he delivers some heartbreaking, quietly political ballads.
Back in the later Eighties, I finally managed to get to a Dr. John gig for the first time, though hooked years before that by--rather than the voodoo gris-gris hokum--his Gumbo album of New Orleans oldies plus follow-up LP with the Meters. That night he was elegant and funky both, street-cred clever and musical to his toe-tips, and always stylish (seen over the years since) with hat and cane handy. An amazing life, that of Mac Rebennack, proving to all that a white boy could fit in perfectly with the mixed-color bag of New Orleans music, could for 50 years thrive and often take the lead and these days help resurrect. (Didn't his old hit "Storm Warning" prove too right?)
So I prize the two items I have that Dr. John autographed: my copy of Gumbo plus his spacey autobiography--the LP and book both graced by wild and woolly, and way lengthy, verbal riffs on whatever-the-hell Mac felt like writing at that moment, whole pages of rambling poetic prose (sort of his own Deep South, "Dew Drop Inn" version of Jim Morrison's drugged attempts at spontaneous poetry maybe).
Which could be said of my own musical reminiscences I guess. So let's wrap it... The four recent club sessions I enjoyed most were these: Chris Hillman, ex- of the Byrds and Burritos and Desert Rose Band, together with his lifelong friend Herb Pedersen doing their patented country/rock/gospel harmonizing; saxmaster James Carter blowing his sidemen off the stage and us audience every which way but loose; the mighty big band of composer-conductor Maria Schneider filling Jazz Alley with sounds sweet and blue, borne aloft by clouds of brass; and just weeks ago, a ticket (courtesy of friend Tom Wasserman) to see the inimitable Richard Thompson, which proved to be the third landmark event I want to convey.
Someone reading this may recall that during the summer I flew to England for the latest Cropredy Festival, this year featuring the 40th Anniversary celebration of Fairport Convention's classic Liege & Lief album. Acknowledged guitar-god and ace songwriter Thompson was the linchpin of all those events just as he was in Fairport's fairest early days. But his recent concert here in Seattle dwarfed those festive sets--the band was tighter and more spirited, and RT full of grit and fun as well as his patented doom and gloom, whether lambasting the U.S. mistakes in Iraq or rocking the fate of some ill-mannered lover. And his guitar work alternately caressed and metal-shredded even the tenderest song, with one lengthy solo showering chunks of most all he'd picked up in 40 years of playing, bits of Link Wray and Dick Dale, Blind Willie Whichever and Shadow Hank Marvin, avant-garde Henry Kaiser and homegrown Davy Graham, plus John Coltrane sheets of sound and eerie Chinese-sounding scales.
RT rules; remember that. And see him whenever the opportunity arises. I'll likely be there too... can't stop the music.
Friday, November 9, 2007
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.))
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Over a 50-year stretch of time, I've managed to see a goodly number of historically important musicians. Writing about a few of them may be of interest...
As I noted in an early blog chapter, I was living in Montgomery during the Bus Boycott and the rise of Elvis, whose original rockabilly music and later more pop-oriented records I still love today. But sadly, stupidly, I never managed to catch him live until his sorry, unhealthy later days. Still, by the mid-Fifties I was buying Long Play albums rather than 45s (Fats Domino's great Rockin' n' Rollin', The Johnny Burnett Trio's amazing lone release, the first Little Richard and Bo Diddley LPs, and Elvis's first two are a sample), but living overseas from 1956 to 1958 kept me away from the classic concerts and tours that were crisscrossing much of the U.S. in the first great explosion of rock 'n roll.
By the time I returned to the States, music was already moving on into its Folkie period, with the Kingston Trio, Harry Belafonte, and others (I did catch Harry live then but I don't remember anything besides his fine voice and polished stage show). The most satisfying of my first live events instead was a pair of high school dances, one with Tacoma's original Wailers of "Tall Cool One" fame playing--two Wailers were students at the same school I was attending--and the other a Prom night with the astonishing, brass-blaring Stan Kenton Orchestra alternating between (to my uneducated ears) dissonant Jazz and simpler music for dancing. Also, while in San Francisco, briefly checking out the Beat Scene (I was 16), I did venture into the Hungry i for an evening of Lenny Bruce, back when he was still uproariously funny rather than stridently political, plus Barbara Dane and Glenn Yarbrough (pre-Limeliters).
Came Fall 1960 and I was off to college in the Chicago area, where I soon heard Bob Dylan on the radio, but didn't actually see him live until a serendipitous few minutes at a Joan Baez concert a couple of years later, when the pure-voiced singer brought him out from the wings for a few duets. He was cool and Chaplin-charming in his cap and black leather gear that night, vindicating (so I arrogantly thought) my early interest in his records.
I still hadn't learned enough to know Chicago as the center of urban, electrified Blues, so the only concerts I remember from that scholarship-student, 1960-1962 period were a pair situated in an odd warehouse-like venue I had heard about somehow. A ticket holder arriving at this North Side location saw a brick building with windowless facade and a ground floor door, minimally signed, which led to a long, narrow flight of stairs heading up to a large, echoing open space filled with folding chairs. But once there I got to see both ends of the popular Black Music spectrum: Ray Charles and His Orchestra, and The Modern Jazz Quartet! Margie was still a Raelette then, and the band's arrangements were brilliant and oh-so-soulful, with Ray doing his patented swaying on the piano bench. Greatness. And I loved the elegance and carefully arranged chamber Jazz of the John Lewis-led MJQ. (Saw Milt Jackson alone many years later, but his mallet control had diminished some by then.)
I soon transferred to the University of Washington, and then began writing rock criticism, so my live-music outings increased fourfold. Best to organize these "greatest hits" by genre maybe, starting with rockabilly originals I saw over the next decade or so: Jerry Lee Lewis tearing up the place, pounding the piano with his feet, dancing on top of it, and kicking his bench across the stage; garbed-in-black Johnny Cash in his great heyday touring with boppin'-the-blues Carl Perkins, June Carter Cash, and the Tennessee Two; plus Eighties wannabes like Robert Gordon and the Stray Cats.
Blues greats... While I missed out on Chicago, I did see Muddy with Johnny Winter years later, and Bo Diddly (I actually cut a commercial with Bo); and over the years I caught powerful sets by Bobby Blue Bland (his choke/snort vocalizing a soulful treat), B.B. King (in fine voice, still on his feet in those days to wrest bluesy cries from Lucille), and Ice-cool guitarman Albert Collins--Robert Cray too when his album with Collins enabled Cray's own breakout. But more importantly, in the mid-Sixties, thanks to the U.W.'s Ethnomusicology Department, a handful of Country Blues giants journeyed out to Seattle, and I got to stare flabbergasted at separate performances by elders Son House, Bukka White, and Furry Lewis, all still up to much good. (These shows were videotaped and many years later became major archival sources for Blues historians.) Lightnin' Hopkins was in there too, lazily drawling his crafty story-songs. And gravel-voiced Blues-revivalist Taj Mahal still comes to Seattle yearly.
The U.W. also hosted some amazing Jazz concerts over the decades, with the two standouts being the Charles Lloyd Quartet back when Keith Jarrett was the pianist, and the stunning earth-to-space music of the post-Ornette Coleman group known as Old and New Dreams, that great quartet of Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell, plus Dewey Redman valiantly filling in for Ornette. In a similar Free Jazz vein, I swung and swayed through a rousing, high-stepping performance by the World Saxophone Quartet--David Murray, Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill, and Hamiett Bluiett--at a U.District tavern.
For some reason Seattle has always been a good place for Jazz--starting way back with Jelly Roll Morton, through Big Band visits in the Swing era, to Ray Charles and Quincy Jones, both of whom lived here for periods of time, to Stan Getz who got arrested here in his Fifties junkie days, and still later to local-boys-made-good Larry Coryell and Jimi Hendrix (who could play Jazz as well as every other guitar sound). Many clubs came and went over the years, but Jazz Alley's three different locations (starting back in 1979) make it the longest-lived holdout now. As a newly divorced man (1980 on), I spent many a night hanging out at the Alley in all its locations, eyes and ears opened wider, mesmerized by sets from Dexter Gordon, Art Pepper, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner... and many many others over the ensuing three decades of the club's existence.
But I'll end today's jaunt down music's Memory Lane with two remembrances of Miles Davis... The first time I saw him was in the mid-Sixties, at a basement club in Seattle's Pioneer Square area, his backing group the famous second quintet with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams--titans all. The music was complex and sometimes stop/start jagged, but it swung me into better health, even when Miles amusingly pulled his regular stunts of turning his back on the audience, leaving the stage during other players' solos, and so on.
The second event was even better, or maybe I just mean stranger: this was about 1969 or '70, and Miles had moved on, helping to solidify Fusion Jazz. His group by then had Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, John McLaughlin, Michael Henderson, Airto, and other now-familiar names--basically the band that played the famous Cellar Door Sessions. And in retrospect, now familiar with those players, I remember most of them here for his concert at Seattle Center's original Arena, with the band set up theater-in-the-round fashion.
When the lights dimmed, all the cats strolled out one by one (no Miles yet), sat down or settled into place, and started tuning up, just tootling around--or so we thought--except that they continued on, found a groove, and then out came Miles, joining right in with his spare tone and few notes placed... just... so. The one tune went on and on, maybe 40 minutes without pause. And then Miles stopped and sauntered off, and one by one so did each player, until drummer DeJohnette hit a final snare or whatever, got up and left.
The concert was over. No bows, no encore, the end! Just so cool. Miles always knew how to play a crowd...
((Next time the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, and whoever--Cream to Clash, Marley to Emmy Lou.))