Wednesday, June 28, 2017

VIDEO: What Miles Davis Taught Herbie Hancock: In Music, as in Life, There Are No Mistakes, Just Chances to Improvise

by Ted Mills, Open Culture:

One of my favorite Brian Eno quotes, or rather one that became an Oblique Strategy, is “Honor Your Mistake as a Hidden Intention.” (Or to be pedantic, the original version was “Honor Thy Error...”).
As a teenager growing up and trying to make art (at that time music and comics) there was no advice more freeing. It was the opposite of what I thought I knew: mistakes were shameful, the sign of an amateur or of the lack of practice. But the more art I made, the more I referenced Eno’s idea, and the more I read and listened, the more I realized it wasn’t just Eno. The Beatles left in an alarm clock meant for the musicians on “A Day in the Life” and the sound of empty booze bottles vibrating on a speaker was left in at the end of “Long Long Long” (along with tons more). The Beastie Boys left in a jumping needle intended for a smooth scratch on “The Sounds of Science.” Radiohead left in Jonny Greenwood’s warm-up chord that became essential to “Creep.” (There’s a whole Reddit thread devoted to these mistakes if you choose to go down the rabbit hole.)
But those examples relate to the recording process of rock music. What about jazz? Surely there’s “wrong” notes when it comes to playing, especially if you’re not the soloist.
In this very short video based around an interview with pianist Herbie Hancock, the master improvisor Miles Davis honored Hancock’s mistake as a hidden intention by playing along with it. It’s both a surprising look into the arcane world of jazz improvisation and a revealing anecdote of Davis, usually known as a difficult collaborator.
“It taught me a very big lesson not only about music,” says Hancock, “but about life.”
h/t Jason W-R

Monday, June 19, 2017

Classic Album Series #19: The Rolling Stones – "Let It Bleed"

Released six months after the death of founding member Brian Jones, Let It Bleed saw The Rolling Stones evolve musically and set the foundation for their next four albums with replacement guitarist Mick Taylor. He only features on two of the songs on Let It Bleed but their sound over the next six years would change drastically compared to what came before and it all started with this legendary album.
Gimme Shelter is the opening song and it can be considered one of the greatest songs of all time without question. Everything about this song is perfect from the delicate opening riff to the roaring backing vocals from Merry Clayton who absolutely nails it. The way the song builds and builds is absolutely exquisite and the song remains to this day their greatest ever album opener. 

A cover of the Robert Johnson song Love In Vain comes next which has echoes of their previous album Beggars Banquet due to the acoustic nature. A lot of artists were covering Robert Johnson songs during this particular period in music history, especially blues/rock bands. It doesn’t quite beat the excellence of Cream’s Crossroads cover but it’s certainly one of the best from this period.

Jagger on lead vocals is excellent as always and Richards delivers a gorgeous slide guitar solo. Mick Taylor makes his first appearance on a Rolling Stones album on the next song, Country Honk, where he plays slide guitar. The band released an electric rock version of the song earlier in 1969 called Honky Tonk Women which is an incredible song, but this country version is how the song was originally written according to Keith Richards.

  1. Gimme Shelter
  2. Love In Vain
  3. Country Honk
  4. Live With Me
  5. Let It Bleed
  6. Midnight Rambler
  7. You Got The Silver
  8. Monkey Man
  9. You Can’t Always Get What You Want
The fourth song is Live With Me, the second and final song on the album to feature Mick Taylor who plays rhythm guitar. This song is definitely more in the Gimme Shelter template that the two previous acoustic tracks, and that’s extremely welcome. Richards lays down some catchy riffs and Wyman on bass shows why he was and is one of the most respected bassists of all time. It’s a great track with Bobby Keys supplying a gorgeous sax solo. 
The title track, Let It Bleed, follows which takes the same acoustic route as two of the previous four songs. It’s a nice song but it’s probably my least favourite on the whole album. 
Midnight Rambler injects the album with another dose of electric blues. This song is my second favorite on the album after Gimme Shelter, but it’s a close one. The song really gives another good indication of where the band would go musically on the next few albums, with thick guitar sounds, wailing harp, driving bass alongside Jagger’s flourishing front man performances all front and centre. It’s superb, especially when you bare in mind that Taylor doesn’t even feature on this song. It does feature Brian Jones on congas though, although his influence on their songs at this point was minimal to none.
Keith Richards sings I Got The Silver, the first time he’d take lead vocals on a Rolling Stones song without help from Jagger. The slide guitar playing on this song is very good, one of the highlights from the whole album without a doubt. And Richards taking lead vocals adds another dimension to the album, something that would continue on future albums the band would release. 
Monkey Man is the second to last song which has a chord progression to die for. The bass and piano intro adds to the overall flavour, before guitar and then drums come in to complete the mixture. This probably isn’t one of the songs that immediately stands out when you think of Let It Bleed but in my opinion it’s definitely one of the best. 
The final song is You Can’t Always Get What You Want which at times you almost forget is on the album, as it’s definitely more well known as a standalone single. But it’s a great song nevertheless and acts as a fantastic album closer. Let It Bleed would be the last album the Rolling Stones released in the 1960’s, and their songs wouldn’t sound this innocent ever again. The addition of a choir adds that innocent feel to the song. The 60’s were ending and the 70’s were about to begin. It’s a great song to listen to when you have that in mind. A perfect ending not only to the album, but to the decade.
Let It Bleed is an excellent album. Even though Mick Taylor only features on two of the nine songs, the new direction the band takes is obvious to hear. Brian Jones was such a huge presence in the band during his tenure so his absence was obviously going to cause the band to go in another direction. That direction included stinging riffs, electric blues solo guitar, wailing harmonica and Jagger stepping up and demanding the attention of everyone in the audiences. It all started with this album.

Monday, June 12, 2017

VIDEOS: Muddy Waters and Friends on the Blues and Gospel Train, 1964

One of the most unique and intimate concerts from the British blues revival of the 1960s was the "Blues and Gospel Train," filmed in a suburb of Manchester, England. In 2011 we posted an excerpt featuring Muddy Waters singing "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had." Today we're pleased to bring the whole show--or at least most of it.
The "Blues and Gospel Train" was staged on May 7, 1964 by Granada TV. Fans who were lucky enough to get tickets--some 200 of them--were instructed to meet at Manchester's Central Station at 7:30 that evening for a short train ride to the abandoned Wilbraham Road Station in Whalley Range.

When the train pulled in at Wilbraham Road, the audience poured out and found seats on the platform, making their way past Muddy Waters, who was singing "Blow Wind Blow." The opposite platform, decorated to look like an old railway station in the American South, served as a stage for a lineup of now-legendary blues artists including Waters, Sister Rosetta SharpeSonny Terry & Brownie McGheeCousin JoeOtis Spann and Reverend Gary Davis.
The complete concert is available on DVD as part of American Folk -Blues Festival: The British Tours 1963-1966. The version above is not of the greatest quality, but it's still interesting to watch. Rev. Gary Davis's contribution appears to have been cut, but much of the show is intact. The taping was interrupted by a heavy downpour. Fittingly, Sister Rosetta Tharpe begins her set with a performance of "Didn't It Rain." Here's the full list of performances, in order of appearance:
  1. Muddy Waters: "Blow Wind Blow"
  2. Cousin Joe: "Chicken a la Blues"
  3. Cousin Joe: "Railroad Porter Blues"
  4. Sister Rosetta Tharpe: "Didn't It Rain"
  5. Sister Rosetta Tharpe: "Trouble in Mind"
  6. Muddy Waters: "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had"
  7. Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee: "Talking Harmonica Blues"
  8. Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee: "Rambler's Blues" medley
  9. Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee: "Walk On"
  10. Sister Rosetta Tharpe: "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands"
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Monday, June 5, 2017

VIDEO: Jerry Garcia Talks About the Birth of the Grateful Dead and Playing Kesey’s Acid Tests in New Animated Video

by Josh Jones, Open Culture:

Before the Grateful Dead recorded their classic eponymous country psych album, before they were the Grateful Dead, they were the Warlocks, “playing the divorcees bars up and down the peninsula,” Jerry Garcia tells us above. Their booking agent “used to book strippers and dog acts and magicians and everybody else.” Their first few gigs “sounded like hell,” says Garcia, “very awful.” In this Blank-on-Blank-animated 1988 interview with former Capital-EMI record executive Joe Smith, Garcia gets into the origin of their name (a story involving the East Coast Warlocks, who might have sued. What he doesn’t mention is that the Velvet Underground—inventors of East Coast psych—also played at that time as the Warlocks.)
Smith was with Warner Bros. when the Dead were signed in 1967. His relationship with the band then was frustrated, and he went so far as to call the recording of their second album “the most unreasonable project with which we have ever involved ourselves.” But this conversation is a funny, cordial exchange between two very affable people with surprisingly good memories of the time (Smith also once said the Dead “could have put me in the hospital for the rest of my life”). Jerry tells the story of their invitation to Merry Prankster and psychedelic genius Ken Kesey’s acid test parties in La Honda, California. It’s more or less the history of the West Coast acid rock scene and its apotheosis at Haight-Ashbury, so kind of essential watching, I’d say, but at less than six minutes, you can afford to be the judge.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Road Goes on Forever: RIP Gregg Allman
by Tom Caswell: 
I’m filled with great sadness as I write this knowing that one of my musical heroes, Gregg Allman, has passed away. The Allman Brothers Band are one of my favourite bands of all time and the world has certainly lost a visionary.
Gregg’s work with The Allman Brothers Banda band formed by his older brother Duane in 1969, is exceptional on every level. And it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question to call him one of the greatest singers of all time. When you listen back to live recordings of the Allman Brothers from 1970/1971 it’s hard to imagine that experienced, raw and steady voice is coming from a 24 year old. But it is, it was. His talent put him ahead of the pack as a singer and as a songwriter he was excellent as well.
Gregg leaves behind a wealth of material that includes twelve studio albums with The Allman Brothers, six studio albums as a solo artist, and numerous live albums. Some of his most well known songs include Dreams, Melissa, Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’, Queen Of Hearts, Wasted Words, Come And Go Blues and Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More to name just a few. Even though The Allman Brothers Band would go through numerous lineup changes over the years, starting in 1971 after Duane’s death, Gregg’s influence remained and lasted throughout every incarnation of the band right up until their last show in 2014.
One of Gregg’s finest songs is Midnight Rider which was released on the second Allman Brothers studio album Idlewild South in 1970. I don’t think there any any words to describe how great this song, it’s best just to listen to it.
When you look back at certain decades there are always a number of musicians or bands that stand out over the rest, the poster bands for the decade. The 60’s include The Beatles, Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The 70’s include Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers Band. Gregg Allman was at the forefront of the success the band acquired with his songwriting, singing and hammond organ playing being a major part of some of the best music ever recorded and played.
I end my post with one of my all time favourite performances by anyone, ever. An acoustic version of Come And Go Blues which Gregg performed on the TV show Flo & Eddie. The first time I heard this I was blown away and every time I listen to it I get goosebumps. The world has lost a music legend.
RIP Gregg Allman. 8th December 1947 – 27th May 2017.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Jimi Hendrix Plays “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for The Beatles, Just Three Days After the Album’s Release (1967)

There are many ways to celebrate a new album from a band you admire. You can have a listening party alone. You can have a listening party with friends. You can learn the title track in a couple days and play it onstage while the band you admire sits in the audience. That last one might be overkill. Unless you’re Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was so excited after the UK release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 that he opened a set at London’s Saville Theater with his own, Hendrix-ified rendition of the album’s McCartney-penned title song. In the audience: McCartney and George Harrison.
It’s a loose, good-natured tribute that, as you might imagine, made quite an impression on the Beatles in attendance. “It’s still obviously a shining memory for me,” McCartney recalled many years later, “because I admired him so much anyway, he was so accomplished.”
To think that that album had meant so much to him as to actually do it by the Sunday night, three days after the release. He must have been so into it, because normally it might take a day for rehearsal and then you might wonder whether you’d put it in, but he just opened with it. It’s a pretty major compliment in anyone’s book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career.
McCartney frequently reminisces about that night. See him do so in the clip above from an August, 2010 concert. Macca gushes over Hendrix’s solo, then tells the audience how Jimi—having thrown his guitar out of tune during the solo with his whammy bar dive-bombing—asked Eric Clapton to come onstage and retune for him. Clapton, who McCartney says was actually in the audience, demurred. It’s a story he continues to tell–in fact, as recently as this weekend at Oldchella.
One lingering question is whether or not Hendrix knew there were Beatles present that night. NME and the BBC both say he did not. In a recreation of the moment, above, from the 2013 fictionalized biopic Jimi: All is by My Side, Hendrix (played by AndrĂ© Benjamin) knows. Not only that, but he decides to open with “Sgt. Pepper’s” right before the gig, with no rehearsal, over the strenuous objections of Noel Redding, who thinks the Beatles might be insulted. It’s highly doubtful things went down that way at all. (The scene takes other licenses—note the Flying V instead of the white Stratocaster Hendrix actually played). But it makes for some interesting backstage drama in the film.
In any case, I’d guess that Hendrix—“the coolest guy in the world,” as Benjamin called him—would have pulled off the cover with panache, whether he knew McCartney was watching or not. There may be little left to say about Hendrix’s brilliant guitar theatrics, completely innovative playing style, onstage swagger, and powerful songwriting. But his “Sgt. Pepper’s” cover is an example of one of his less-discussed, but highly admirable qualities: his genuinely awesome rock and roll collegiality.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017

Hunter S. Thompson Gets Confronted by The Hell’s Angels: Where’s Our Two Kegs of Beer? (1967)

In 1965, the editor of The Nation asked Hunter S. Thompson to write a story about the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club, as they’re officially known. The assignment eventually yielded the article, “The Motorcycle Gangs” (read it online), which became the basis for the 1966 book, Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible SagaIt was Thompson’s first book, and America’s first real introduction to Thompson’s Gonzo-style journalism. Reviewing the book for The New York Times, Leo Litwak wrote:
Hunter Thompson entered this terra incognita [the world of the Hell’s Angels] to become its cartographer. For almost a year, he accompanied the Hell’s Angels on their rallies. He drank at their bars, exchanged home visits, recorded their brutalities, viewed their sexual caprices, became converted to their motorcycle mystique, and was so intrigued, as he puts it, that “I was no longer sure whether I was doing research on the Hell’s Angels or being slowly absorbed by them.” At the conclusion of his year’s tenure the ambiguity of his position was ended when a group of Angels knocked him to the ground and stomped him…
Hunter Thompson has presented us with a close view of a world most of us would never dare encounter, yet one with which we should be familiar. He has brought on stage men who have lost all options and are not reconciled to the loss. They have great resources for violence which doesn’t as yet have any effective focus. Thompson suggests that these few Angels are but the vanguard of a growing army of disappropriated, disaffiliated and desperate men. There’s always the risk that somehow they may force the wrong options into being.
This clip above, which aired on Canadian television in 1967, describes the circumstances that led to the Angels giving HST a beat down. The misogyny that’s on display as the biker tells the story will make you shudder. Even worse are the laughs from the 1960s, buttoned-down crowd.
As for whether the Angels ever got their two kegs of beer, I don’t know.
Note: You can download Thompson’s Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga as a free audiobook if you sign up for a 30-Day Free Trial with Audible. Find more information on that program here.
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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Which of These Groovy Solo Trips Worked? 10 Members of Great '60s Rock Bands Who Went Solo

by Mitchell Cohen, Music Aficionado:!/article/10_groovy_solo_trips_by_mitchellcohen


Going solo is an ancient musical tradition. Probably there was a Gregorian monk whose yearning for the spotlight made him think, "I can do this chanting better on my own." Louis Armstrong's genius couldn't be contained by the Creole Jazz Band, Sinatra left the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Dion parted from the Belmonts. But the end of the 1960s ushered in a golden era for the solo project.
Bands fractured and fragmented. Some groups broke up, leaving their members free to venture out. Some artists just wanted to have temporary flings, take side trips into different genres, work with different musicians. Some felt confined by the internal dynamics of their bands, and needed space to stretch out unshackled, maybe earn some additional publishing money. And out of all this chaos came some of the period's most intriguing albums. Everything was getting more loosely defined, musicians were forming temporary alliances, record labels were investing in spin-off LPs, indulging all kinds of creative whims because the late '60s/early '70s was a boomtime for the LP and you never knew what might click.
Some of the era's more eccentric solo excursions—Skip Spence's Oar, David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name, Syd Barrett's The Madcap Laughs—have since become justly celebrated. Others, like Jim Capaldi's 'Oh How We Danced' and John Entwistle's 'Smash Your Head Against the Wall', have gone missing. Below are 10 lesser-known albums, all released between 1968 and 1972, in which a well known artist decided to venture out of his usual fold. Sometimes it worked well. And sometimes... it didn't.

Jack Bruce – Songs For A Tailor (1969)

Songs for a Tailor was the second solo album Jack Bruce recorded, but the first one released. While he was still in Cream, he cut an instrumental jazz album, Things We Like, with guitarist John McLaughlin, drummer Jon Hiseman and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith. It's kind of a ball; they're all cutting loose, and it's not like a lot of jazz-rock coming from the rock side where it's blaring and corny and dumbed-down for audiences more accustomed to things like, say, Cream. You can see why it was kept on the shelf for a while, held back until Bruce could come out with an album that had a little bit more in common with Disraeli Gears, which was Songs for a Tailor (Bruce has said that a couple of the songs were submitted to Atlantic for that Cream LP, but were deemed not worthy). While his former Creammates Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker were slogging it out on the road with Blind Faith, Bruce released his album in the U.K. (it hit U.S. stores about six weeks later), and although guitarist Chris Spedding's playing is relatively restrained, probably to evade Clapton comparisons, and drummer Hiseman isn't as flashy as Baker, the music—all written by Bruce and his lyricist Pete Brown—is a smooth progression from Cream. (The Clearout does sound like a 'Disraeli Gears' castoff, and you can mentally superimpose Clapton riffs on Theme from an Imaginary Western, later done by Leslie West's band Mountain.) If your tolerance for Brown's pseudo-poetic wordplay is low, you might wince at tracks like Weird of Herminston and To Isengard, but it's nice to hear Bruce backed by the peppy horn section on Never Tell Your Mother She's Out of Tune (George Harrison is playing guitar on it, but practically inaudibly) and The Ministry of Bag (If you can forget the song is called "The Ministry of Bag.").

Zal Yanovsky – Alive And Well In Argentina (1968)

In the Lovin' Spoonful, Zal Yanovsky wasn't just the nimble, inventive lead guitar player and occasional vocalist. He was like a musical Marx Brother, wild and disruptive, always in motion on stage. Although the Spoonful made some excellent records after he left (Six O'ClockShe Is Still a Mystery), some air went out of the balloon. Yanovsky's only solo album, Alive and Well in Argentina, came out a year after he and the group parted ways. He produced it with the guy who replaced him in the Spoonful, Jerry Yester, and it's a wacky artifact: he plays Floyd Cramer's piano instrumental Last Date on guitar like it's a distant cousin to Santo & Johnny's Sleep Walk (which it was), sings Little Bitty Pretty One in a nutty falsetto, unearths the Joe Jones novelty hit "You Talk Too Much." The title song is bizarre square-dance rock, and he does a sloshed version of the George Jones lament about divorce, Brown to Blue, which contains the perfect country couplet, "He changed your name from Brown to Jones, and mine from Brown to blue." After the album had been out for a while, it was repackaged, and the label added Zal's single As Long As You're Here, by the usually reliable hit-writers Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon (Happy Together). It was pop cacophony: big horns, girl singers, Jew's harp, a fleeting Dylan impression. At the end, the background singers ask, "Is it a hit, or a miss?" Well, a miss, but a joyous mess. On the flip side of the 45, it was the same recording, only played backwards.

Al Kooper – I Stand Alone (1969)

Al Kooper

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Before I Stand Alone, Al Kooper had been at the center of two important East Coast bands, the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat & Tears. The notion of forming a rock big band with horns was his, and BS&T made a wildly impressive and eclectic debut, Child Is the Father to the Man, which combined soul, jazz, and Brill Building pop, and songs by Harry Nilsson, Goffin and King, Randy Newman, Tim Buckley, and Kooper. It was brassy in every sense. Kooper was elbowed out of his own band, replaced as lead singer by a lumbering hambone named David Clayton-Thomas. Kooper rebounded with the Super Session album that teamed him with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills, and then he made his official solo debut. 'I Stand Alone' is the real continuation of the first BS&T album, far more than the hugely popular second album by the group that kept the name. Kooper picked up on another Nilsson song (One, a hit for Three Dog Night), covered a couple of R&B songs by Gamble & Huff and Hayes & Porter, did Traffic's Coloured Rain with the Don Ellis Orchestra, and easily surpassed BS&T.2's rendition of Traffic's Smiling Phases. Some of the tracks, including the title song, were done with Nashville studio guys that Kooper had worked with on the Dylan Blonde on Blonde sessions, and on Camille (cowritten by Kooper and Tony Powers), Charlie Calello's arrangement is like a beautifully berserk pop pastiche of the Four Seasons and the Four Tops (I'm betting it's Pretty Purdie on drums and Chuck Rainey on bass driving this runaway train). The whole album is over the top, overindulgent, and completely entertaining.

Bob Weir – Ace (1972)

Bob Weir

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When is a solo album not so much a solo album? Warner Brothers gave the members of the Grateful Dead the leeway to do things individually, and a few of them did. But Ace is a Grateful Dead album with all the songs sung and cowritten by Bob Weir (only one was written on his own), and that's fine. How you feel about 'Ace' depends entirely on how you feel about the Dead in the early '70s. Critic Robert Christgau called it "the third in a series that began with Workingman's Dead and American Beauty," and although it's not quite that (as you'd expect, the songwriting isn't as consistent) a bunch of the songs—CassidyLooks Like RainBlack-Throated Wind—wouldn't be out of place on either of those first-rate Dead LPs. Where 'Ace' stumbles is on the more rocking tracks; I realize that One More Saturday Night and Playing In the Band became mainstays in the Dead repertoire, beloved by fans, but on their studio versions they come off as stiff and calculated. And as jaunty as Mexicali Blues is, this attempt by Weir to come up with his own El Paso or Me and My Uncle exposes a side of his writing (it's on things like Sugar Magnolia also) that's tone-deaf to its misogyny. Also, the whole "girl who's just fourteen" thing? Not cool. Sexism aside, there's just the klutziness of the writing. "All the French perfume you'd care to smell"? Still, 'Ace' is really the last Grateful Dead studio album of their Warner Brothers years, as a band they were at their peak, and almost all of these Weir–John Barlow and Weir–Robert Hunter songs were folded into the band's shows (check out any of the sets from the epic European tour of '72).

Colin Blunstone – One Year (1971)

Colin Blunstone

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The Zombies had bad timing. They decided to call it quits after their 1968 album Odessey and Oracle—now considered a psych-pop classic—didn't connect with the public, so when that LP's Time of the Season became a surprise hit, the group didn't exist anymore. Band member Rod Argent formed a band that he bestowed his surname on, and lead singer Colin Blunstone vanished for a little while before resurfacing with the beguiling 'One Year', the closest thing to a sequel to 'Odessey and Oracle'. Smokey Day, written by Zombies Rod Argent and Chris White, was a leftover that would have been on a subsequent group album (It surfaced on the boxed set Zombie Heaven), and you can certainly hear how Her Song and She Loves the Way They Love Her, both Argent-White compositions, would have made ideal Zombies tracks. Blunstone, who didn't write very much for the group (although he did come up with the terrific Just Out of Reach for their cameo film appearance in Otto Preminger's Bunny Lake Is Missing), contributes four originals, including the lovely Caroline Goodbye, and his breathy tenor is perfect for Tim Hardin's Misty Roses and Denny Laine's Say You Don't Mind.

Ringo Starr – Beaucoups Of Blues (1970)

Ringo Starr

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Ringo Starr was the first Beatle to release a non-avant-garde solo album, unless you consider his plunge into pop standards on Sentimental Journey a conceptual art-prank on the Yoko level (but give him credit for being decades ahead of Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan; Dylan is just now getting around to Stardust and Sentimental Journey). His second album came out in September 1970, a few months after Let It Be put the punctuation at the end of the Beatles' story, and between McCartney and John Lennon/Plastic Ono BandBeaucoups of Blues is a modest, casual collection of newly written country songs, cut in Nashville with producer Pete Drake and a crack lineup of studio sidemen, and although no one would ever consider Ringo's vocal abilities a threat to George Jones, the material crafted for him takes all that into account. Nothing too taxing here. The only hitch is that the songs aren't particularly memorable; they feel dashed-off by writers, including Chuck Howard and Sorrells Pickard, on deadline (Howard's Love Don't Last Long is a little reminiscent of the Bobby Goldsboro hit Honey, and that's not a good thing). The title song, a country waltz penned by Buzz Rabin, is the best track, and there's some nice guitar playing on $15 Draw (Jerry Reed?), but most of the others—Woman of the NightWine, Woman and Loud, Happy SongsFastest Growing Heartache in the West—are by-the-book. Bringing Ringo to Nashville wasn't a bad idea at all; what would have made it a better one was if he'd rummaged through the country catalog for better material. Maybe some Harlan Howard, Johnny Cash, or Buck Owens?

Tracy Nelson – Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country (1969)

The debut album by Mother Earth, 'Living With the Animals', introduced a back-to-the-roots blues-rock band, with a singer, Tracy Nelson, who could belt and sob. They delved into the Allen Toussaint catalog, covered Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim (whose song gave the band its name, and on which Mike Bloomfield played some stinging guitar), and on Nelson's signature song Down So Low, she proved that there were few singers who had her blend of power and nuance. The band may have been overshadowed on the San Francisco scene by Big Brother and the Holding Company, but in some key ways they were better. There wasn't much of a country influence on that first LP, so it was kind of surprising when the album Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country came out. A lot of artists were dipping into country in 1969, but Nelson's solo debut was the real thing. There are no production or musician credits on the original LP, but she made the album with producer Pete Drake (who later brought Ringo Starr out to the farm Tracy and her fellow Mother Earth members bought outside of Nashville; that's where the cover photo for 'Beaucoups of Blues' was taken), and among the musicians who contributed were the great fiddler Johnny Gimble, guitarist Scott Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana from Elvis' band, and the Jordanaires. Tracy Nelson is one of the lost singers from that era, and this album is a testament to her gifts as an interpreter. She has the moxie to tackle material that was the property of Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline, and holds her own, and there are excellent songs by Chuck Willis, Boz Scaggs, and Hank Williams. The country theme spilled on to one side of the second Mother Earth album, 'Make a Joyful Noise', with three Tracy-sung tracks, Williams' You Win Again, Doug Sahm's I Wanna Be Your Mama Again and Toussaint's Wait, Wait, Wait, that all would have fit snuggly on 'Tracy Nelson Country'.

Sam Samudio – Sam Hard And Heavy (1971)

Sam Samudio

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More than five years after Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs' run of infectious singles that started with Wooly Bully and continued with Ju Ju HandLil' Red Riding Hood, and a bunch of others, Sam Samudio made an unexpected solo comeback with Sam Hard and Heavy. Atlantic Records sent him down to Criteria Studios in Miami to work with producer Tom Dowd (who also recorded Derek and the Dominos down there around the same time), and he was surrounded by an exceptional assemblage of players and singers: the Dixie Flyers, the Memphis Horns, the Sweet Inspirations and, on two exceptional cuts, guitarist Duane Allman. It's a rowdy session, filled with terrific moments: the stomping Tex-Mex of Samudio's Don't Put Me On, Allman's sinuous playing on Relativity, Jim Dickinson's gospel piano on Boz Scaggs' Sweet Release, the Sweet Inspirations channeling the Raelettes on Doc Pomus' Lonely Avenue, the way Sam sings the word "burning" as "boinin'" on the slinky cover of Randy Newman's Let's Burn Down the Cornfield, the blare of the horns on Otis Rush's Homework. There are elements of swamp rock, boogie and blues, and on the whole album Samudio's vocals are raspy and authoritative. The album didn't get much attention at the time (although it did win Sam a Grammy for Best Liner Notes), which is a shame, but it's risen in stature over the years, and was reissued with a bonus cut, Sam doing Kris Kristofferson's Me and Bobby McGee with an assist from Allman. If you're a fan of the album Boz Scaggs made in Muscle Shoals in 1969, or Dr. John's early '70s LPs, or Doug Sahm's 'The Return of Doug Saldana' from '71, Sam Hard and Heavy is something you ought to check out.

Mark Lindsay – Arizona (1970)

Mark Lindsay

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During the mid-'60s, Paul Revere and the Raiders cranked out an impressive string of hit singles, and even in the later part of the decade, their records were compact and punchy: Don't Take It So HardToo Much TalkLet Me. But they hadn't had a top 10 record since 1967's eruptive Him or Me – What's It Gonna Be, and with their rock credibility waning, the decision was made to position lead singer Mark Lindsay as a solo artist while keeping the group, now just called the Raiders, a separate entity. As a marketing strategy, it probably made sense. Lindsay said in an interview that he was told he'd "have a better future as a ballad singer," and he was put in the hands of producer Jerry Fuller, who was a go-to guy for Columbia Records' middle-of-the-road roster (O.C. Smith, Andy Williams, Mac Davis. Gary Puckett and the Union Gap). With the musical support of the Wrecking Crew, Lindsay and Fuller went to the songbooks of Jimmy Webb (an effective First Hymn from Grand Terrace that shows he could have gone down the Glen Campbell road), Bacharach & David, Kris Kristofferson, Rod McKuen. He scored with the Kenny Young song Arizona after the Webb single stalled, and the album named after the hit did pretty well, better than the Raiders album Collage that came out the same year. None of his subsequent solo singles matched the performance of "Arizona," and in hindsight, maybe it would have made more sense to release his Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian), cut with session guys, as a Mark Lindsay single instead of under the Raiders name. That went to #1, and was the last hit they, or Lindsay, had.

Michael Nesmith & The First National Band – Magnetic South (1970)

Michael Nesmith

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On the TV show, Mike Nesmith seemed detached from the other Monkees. He wasn't a goofball like Micky or Peter, didn't have a self-satisfied twinkle like Davy. He seemed mildly irritated by the strained antics, like he was watching his kid brothers act out at a family dinner and just wanted to go back to his room and play his guitar. In any other group, he'd have been the dominant force, writing the songs, steering the musical direction, but in the context of the Monkees, he was allowed only a couple of slots per album. They were usually high points: The Kind of Girl I Could Love on More of the MonkeesYou Just May Be the One and You Told Me on HeadquartersCircle Sky on HeadTapioca Tundra on The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees. When the phenomenon petered out, he was the Monkee best positioned for a solo career, and already had a stockpile of songs. Nearly half of the material on the debut album by his First National Band (Red Rhodes on pedal steel, John London on bass, John Ware on drums), had been at least proposed, if not recorded, as Monkee tracks (versions of Magnetic South songs like Calico GirlfriendHollywood and Little Red Rider are available on expanded album editions and Missing Links compilations). He'd even sung Nine Times Blue with Micky and Davy on The Johnny Cash Show. 'Magnetic South' is a landmark in California country music, with a lonesome prairie sound that's part Jimmie Rodgers (Nesmith even yodels a little on the hit Joanne), part Sons of the Pioneers, part Bakersfield. Its follow-ups, Loose Salute and Nevada Fighter—all three came out between 1970 and 1971—are just as good.