Archive for Mitch Mitchell

Jimi Hendrix in Words and Pictures (part 2)

Posted in Education, Music Business, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2016 by theguitarcave

Part 1 is here.

In the second part of this series on Jimi Hendrix I will profile some of the books and DVDs that I have owned over the years. None of the real scandalous type of material is here; I haven’t read it. In my experience, the best and most accurate books on musicians are done from a “musical” angle. Everyone knows trash biographies are a big part of the media industry and there are plenty of people out there who will take every insinuation or conspiracy theory and run with it, no matter how implausible. But the books I’ve listed here are all on the up and up and I recommend them to anyone looking to widen their knowledge on Jimi Hendrix.

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‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky
is the oldest book in my possession. I’ve had it since 1980! That’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment considering how itinerant I was some of those years. Written by David Henderson, the book was an expansion of the original Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child of the Aquarian Age, first published in the late 1970s. Both of these books are still available or have been reprinted multiple times and you can pick them up if you so desire. This book is a fun read and the author deserves a whole lot of credit for being one of the first people to write about Jimi from a positive point of view. However, there are some accountability/accuracy issues with the book, mostly because of the way it is written. Unlike other books, ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky has no footnotes and there are instances when it is unclear who is alleging what happens or the point of view is suspect. This isn’t always the case, but in some instances or at crucial points in the narrative there are no attributions when there should be and it doesn’t appear that this has changed with subsequent releases. I’m not the only person who finds this problematic. For instance:

“…He feels bile coming into his mouth. It takes a superhuman effort for him to sway his body toward the edge of the bed. It is impossible for him to rise. He barely makes it to the edge of the bed. A stream of bile comes through his mouth. His cheek rests against the sheet. The sheet absorbs the bile. His retching ceases. Suddenly he does not care anymore. He falls quickly back into semi-unconsciousness…”

There is no attribute for who is saying this. It’s certainly not Jimi, even though it describes Jimi in his final moments of barbiturate overload. It’s obvious that there is a whole lot of poetic license taken with this passage and it forces the reader to wonder where else this might be occurring in the book. Henderson states in the conclusion that more than five years of research went into the book; hundreds of interviews were conducted and the info was then fused into a “narrative”. This approach and a lot of the 70s language gives the book a very “nature of it’s time” feel, which is great on the one hand. This is the environment Jimi Hendrix lived and created in. However, while a narrative style of writing can paint a nice picture, it can also help sustain unhelpful or even completely inaccurate myths — something that is apparent in other 1960s events like Altamont/Gimme Shelter. ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky does have that funky, New York sass that was pretty awesome at the time and is effective at putting across the druggy, politically paranoid, racially-aware culture of the late 60s-early 70s that was very evident in places like New York City and on the West Coast (Berkeley). JHE_10But, like the Jimi Hendrix film, I find the NYC-centered version of Jimi’s existence to sometimes be more about New York and the people in New York than about Jimi specifically. This would all be fine, well and good if all of the elements of “the story” of Jimi Hendrix had remained accurate and true throughout the 40+ years since his death. That has obviously not turned out to be the case and while I think this is a good book, I think it’s best read as a companion to other books.

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The Hendrix Experience
This is a great book — Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell’s story of his time with Jimi in the Experience and beyond. As a musician, I put a lot of stock in a book like this because it’s written from a musician’s point of view. It doesn’t explore in depth any of the social stresses and ramifications that the previous book deals with (not that those issues aren’t important), but is really all about being in the band. This book is co-written with John Platt who provides the framework for the story while Mitch contributes fun and important anecdotes. Mitch was the longest serving foil to Jimi’s guitar heroics and is, of course, a legendary drummer in his own right. He certainly brought an original approach to everything he ever played on and was a major factor in the success of the Experience. He also knew Jimi and the scene at that time as well or better than anyone. There are some interesting revelations in the book: His opinion of Allen Douglas (which I’ll explore in Part 4), his belief that some shady stuff went down the day/night Jimi died and that Monika Dannemann was not the true love of Jimi’s life. (Only Kathy Etchingham and Devon Wilson could rightfully make those claims, which is pretty much what everyone has known all along). Also Mitch alleges that Buddy Miles was guilty of shooting his mouth off by accusing Mitch of racism around the time of Jimi’s death and he called Buddy on these accusations and got an apology. Unlike some people who speak or write about Jimi and their close relationship with him, Mitch’s legacy has always been undisputed and he remained a legendary performer and valued asset to the Hendrix Legacy right up until his death in 2008. This is a book I definitely recommend — lots of great photos too!

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Are You Experienced?: The Inside Story Of The Jimi Hendrix Experience
I used to have Experience bass player Noel Redding’s book too but lost it a few years ago. His book, co-written with Carol Appleby, was released in the mid-90s and was an interesting read. Though he wasn’t a member of the Experience for as long as Mitch, was not a bass player by choice or trade, and had more of a contentious relationship with Jimi, Noel did keep a diary of those days and was, from the very beginning, the first and loudest guy demanding a serious accounting of the band’s finances. Because of “bitterness”, that I think was partially just Noel’s droll personality, neither this book or his interviews are light, pleasant reading. But he was a smart guy and was justified in some of the bitterness he carried. Neither he or Mitch or Jimi ever got their just financial due for the great music they created, especially considering how many times it was repackaged and resold over the years. This book is best described as a “cautionary tale” as it provides a window into the cutthroat nature of the music business and explores the personal pitfalls that have done in many a musician. It’s almost like the literary version of House of the Rising Sun. I recommend reading any interview or book written or co-written by Noel and Mitch. There are a lot of great stories and some valuable information to be gleaned from their recollections.

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Black Gold: The Lost Archives of Jimi Hendrix
This book
is probably the most thoroughly-researched recent book I’ve seen! I enjoyed it and definitely learned a few things reading it. The author, Steven Roby, has written a few books on Jimi, which you can peruse here and has also worked with Experience LLC, which gave him access to important data and documents. He used to have a WordPress type of blog, which is no longer active, unfortunately. But here is a pretty good interview with him. With Black Gold, Roby makes an attempt to document all of Jimi’s lost sessions, gigs, appearances, and recordings. What a HERCULEAN feat that is, lemme tell you! While I think the book succeeds, I would not agree with the promo copy that I see online that says this is the first book to do this. It it not. The final book on this list was the first and is in some ways, even more exhaustive. But Roby’s efforts are great and everything is notated so you know you’re getting the real deal as far as info goes.

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Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy
This is one of the best biographies and probably the most thorough musical profile I have ever read. Very impressive. I’ve had this book for twenty five years and it is still a reliable source of information (except for that stuff which is outdated of course). Written by Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek, the book was updated in 1995 to reflect the new information on Jimi’s death. So, no matter what version you pick up, it is well worth the price. I believe it is the only Hendrix book to rate 5 stars and it is really an impressive effort. Not only is Jimi’s life well-researched and then factually told, guitarists will find that every guitar, effect, amp, pick and string ever used by the master is documented, along with Jimi’s impossibly large discography. This is the only book I’ve seen that is as thorough as Black Gold for listing gigs, recordings, tv/video appearances and equipment. There is a section that tries to figure out the very complicated and convoluted mess of The Experience’s finances. It also has a whole lot of great photographs of Jimi from the time he was a youngster all the way through his years of fame and fortune. In short it is pretty much the only book you will ever need on Jimi Hendrix! Highly recommend. They seriously don’t come any better than this, whether you’re a musician, guitarist, or just a fan. I will also be referring to these last two books a lot in Part 4 of this series, but if you’re a fan of Jimi’s and you haven’t read this, you should just get both of them. You will not be disappointed.

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In the next post of this series I will write about the guitar-specific stuff I know to help you get your inner Jimi on! Of course, I can’t cover everything and I encourage anyone and everyone to purchase any of these books. They are all very entertaining and paint a great picture of a mighty man and a mighty band. Also, for younger readers, they are a good look into a period of time that is rapidly fading into history.

Jimi Hendrix in Words and Pictures (part 1)

Posted in Education, Music Business, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2016 by theguitarcave

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Over the years I have amassed plenty of Jimi Hendrix reading and listening material and I have decided to share it. (I also wanted to use this shade of blue in one more post) Jimi is easily one of the most important guitarists to have ever picked up an axe, and, like Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, and Eddie Van Halen — there was pre-Jimi and then there was everything after. His influence lit up the music world, no doubt about that! So I’m gonna use a couple of posts to show some of the cool photography and say a little bit about the paraphernalia I have. (All of the pics that follow come from the following books: ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky by David Henderson, Jimi Hendrix • Electric Gypsy by Harry Shapiro and Caeser Glebeek, Black Gold by Steven Roby and Mitch Mitchell’s, The Hendrix Experience). While it is true that Prince, the recently departed (and may he rest in peace) Paisley Park hero was a great guitar player, Jimi was the original king of purple style and sound.

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Before the books though, let’s talk music …briefly. Here is how I would rate the Jimi Henrix material that I’ve heard or had or both over the years.

Are You Experienced? ***** Brilliant. Probably his best. I’ve reviewed in the right column as an essential disc. Never gets old even though I have probably played it well over 500 times in my life.

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Axis: Bold As Love ****1/2 A very close second to Are You Experienced? Jimi, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bass player Noel Redding expanded on the brilliant music that made them famous and redefined rock and guitar playing. There are a couple of numbers that are derivative (Ain’t No Telling, Little Miss Lover) but the best ones (If 6 Was 9, Little Wing, Spanish Castle Magic, Up From the Skies, Castles Made of Sand and the title cut) are amazing and Jimi’s use of the studio and new pioneering effects makes this as much of a groundbreaking record as the first.

Electric Ladyland **** While many people think this is Jimi’s magnum opus, I disagree. Side 4 is brilliant, Side 2 is very good and combined with Side 4 would’ve made a great (single) third disc. Side 3 is kind of boring; the sound painting tale of Mermanism is dated and Side 1’s 15-minute blues jam Voodoo Chile is too long and has likewise very dated lyrics. Is the album ambitious? Yes. Some great tunes? Absolutely! All Along the Watchtower, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Crosstown Traffic, Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland), Gypsy Eyes, Still Raining, Still Dreaming, and House Burning Down are all classic Jimi. But it’s just not the solid double album it could’ve been, unfortunately.

Band of Gypsys *** This disc is just so-so and the band was likewise. To me, anyone but Mitch Mitchell playing with Jimi was akin to anyone but John Bohnam or Keith Moon playing with Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend, respectively. Also, some of the “songs” are really just jams that are trying to be Sly and the Family Stone or something. This era is often heralded as Jimi searching for a new sound or a change in direction, but I think in many ways he was floundering. Machine Gun and Them Changes are great and if nothing else this disc shows that Jimi’s capabilities as a live guitarist were never in doubt even if everything else was.

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Everything released after Band of Gypsys is suspect because Jimi died in September of 1970. The studio product is especially crappy, except for a few bright spots. It’s important to remember that Jimi was a perfectionist in his writing, playing, and even his live sound. He would be totally bummed at some of the stuff released after 1970 that, of course, he had no control over.

The Cry of Love ***1/2 This a pretty good record and has some really great tunes: Freedom, Angel, Ezy Rider, In From the Storm, Drifting and Straight Ahead. Completed post-1970 by engineer Eddie Kramer and Mitch Mitchell it might not be exactly what Jimi would’ve done had he still been alive to complete it, but it is close. There are also no obvious acts of sabotage or douchebaggery that would appear on subsequent releases. An important thing about this disc is that it proves that right up until the end Jimi was playing some absolutely amazing guitar and bringing great riffs into the studio and that is a great legacy.

Rainbow Bridge **1/2 A mix of studio and live stuff that sounded maybe ok in 1971. Much better stuff would emerge later. Dolly Dagger, Room Full of Mirrors, and Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) are good rips but I don’t think they were completely finished. Some great guitar nonetheless. Incidentally, the movie of the same name as this album, which was seen by every Hendrix fanatic at a stoned-out midnight movie showing circa 1975-1985, was one of the dumbest things ever put to celluloid.

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War Heroes ** A friend had this album but we didn’t play it much. More for the outtakes pile.

Hendrix in the West ** Live album. Weak set list but the performances aren’t bad. It was obviously getting to the point where anything that could be milked was. Does anyone need to hear Jimi playing Blue Suede Shoes given the wealth of live material that was obviously available and would be released later? I think not.

Crash Landing * The first of the Allan Douglas-produced albums. Worthless and criminal considering Douglas brought in session musicians to fill out what was already substandard material and then claimed co-writer credit on 5 songs. Without Jimi’s name and picture on the cover no one would’ve bought this pile of shit.

Midnight Lightning * See above. Douglas hacks his way to another shitty Hendrix album, this time aided by Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin Tony Bongiovi. I never bought either of these albums, but a roommate had them, so I’ve heard them and then promptly never listened to them again.

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The Essential Jimi Hendrix Volume Two *** I bought this because it had the Experience playing a cover of Them’s Gloria in the studio on an inserted 33 1/3 single with the album. It was actually pretty genius packaging. The song was a bit of a disappointment though and the rest of the album had already been released.

Jimi Hendrix: High, Live and Dirty *1/2 Also known as Bleeding Heart, or Woke Up This Morning and Found Myself Dead or…any of the other 14 names it was released under throughout the years. Basically Jimi’s private jam tapes from The Scene in 1968 that were stolen when he died. Or not…These jams included many rumored people but one person definitely there is a very drunk Jim Morrison yelling various obscenities. Supposedly, Janis Joplin was also in the audience that night. Talk about the planets aligning. Johnny Winter was long alleged to be the second guitarist but he swore to his dying day that he never met Jim Morrison. So it might’ve been Rick Derringer. The thing is…for a boot…some of this stuff is pretty good. I had the record while I was in college. The version of Red House and Tomorrow Never Knows have a lot of great guitar goin’ on. Interesting, but ultimately exploitative.

Kiss the Sky **** A fairly good compilation. I bought it on cassette for my car. Has some of my favorite Jimi songs including Third Stone from the Sun, All Along the Watchtower, Are You Experienced?, and Purple Haze. Also contains the b-side Steppin’ Stone from the Izabella single, the live Killing Floor from Monterey and a slammin’ live version of I Don’t Live Today from San Diego 1969.

Jimi Plays Monterey ****1/2 Yes! This is what I’m talking about. Jimi and the Experience taking the US by storm at the Monterey Pop Festival. Great versions of Killing Floor, Hey Joe, Can You See Me?, Like a Rolling Stone, Wild Thing, Foxy Lady, Purple Haze, and Rock Me Baby. Then and now a totally live wake-up call to anyone who plays guitar.

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Radio One/BBC Sessions ***** Two things: The best Jimi stuff post-1970 was previously unreleased live stuff because 1) he was dead so he wasn’t making any new material and 2) it is really Jimi and the Experience (mostly) at the height of their creative powers, not a bunch of disco musicians hired by Alan Douglas to fill out Jimi’s studio sketches. Also, pretty much all of the stuff released by artists who appeared on some program associated with the BBC (The Beatles, The Stones, Zeppelin, Yardbirds) has been great and the Jimi Hendrix Experience is no exception. Fantastic versions of many songs, including never before released stuff like the supremo guitar workout, Driving South. I have both of these discs and they are phenomenal.

Live at Woodstock **** Iconic and pretty good, even though I think the band at this performance was lacking and it’s not terribly well recorded. It was a great Jimi performance, however and obviously this version of The Star Spangled Banner is one of the most defining 5 minutes of the whole 1960s decade. Other bright notes are Izabella, Spanish Castle Magic, Hear My Train A Comin’, and Villanova Junction, which I always liked for its jazzy, minor key overtones. Overall, not of the caliber of Monterey or BBC for sheer guitar awesomeness, but important nonetheless.

The Ultimate Experience **** An interesting, if slightly flawed compilation. The track listing was the result of a poll of his most popular recordings in Europe. My girlfriend has this disc and it has some of Jimi’s classics mixed in with lesser known songs like Wait Until Tomorrow, Angel, Highway Chile, Long Hot Summer Night, and Gypsy Eyes. It also includes Wild Thing from Monterey and The Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock. I think the disc flawed only because it omits some better material from all of the studio albums in favor of some of what I just listed (minus Angel and Gypsy Eyes) and also includes Burning of the Midnight Lamp, which is my absolute least favorite song Jimi recorded.

Blues ** I wanted to like this, but unfortunately I didn’t find it that enjoyable and it contains more Douglas hackery (splicing various takes together, pulling out stuff Jimi probably never would have released, etc, etc). Anyone who has spent more than a month listening to Jimi Hendrix knows he could play the f*ck out of the blues and that many of his songs were based around very bluesy motifs. Guitarists especially know this. That’s what makes all of the popular acclaim for this album stupid. It doesn’t deal with the fact that it was just another cynical ploy to extract money out of people for Hendrix material that was average at best.

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Jimi Hendrix ***1/2 — Another Midnight Movie Treat for many years and I’ve also had it as a DVD for a long time. It’s a pretty good movie and features a compilation of performances from throughout Jimi’s career and interviews with interesting people: Jimi, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Fayne Pridgon and The Ghetto Fighters and not interesting people like Lou Reed (did he and Jimi even meet ever?). All of the time Jimi appears onscreen playing guitar is movie gold though and for many years it was all that was available.

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Woodstock and Live at Berkeley *** — I have both of these DVDs. From a guitarist standpoint, there is something educational in watching any performance Jimi gave, of course. There is some blistering guitar work to be found but there is a spark missing from these later-year performances that was definitely there in 1967, early 1968. Jimi seemed very tired, physically and spiritually. Both movies are very instructive for how they illustrate the messy backdrop of the times that Jimi is immersed in and one can only imagine how that affected his mood and the performances. The Live at Berkeley movie especially has a lot of the political stuff that had completely overtaken any and all counterculture conversations (especially in Berkeley) by early 1970. Definitely worth viewing as an education, but not necessarily the best music Jimi ever played.

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So that’s it for Part 1…hope you enjoyed it. There will always be new Jimi Hendrix releases and I’ve heard some here and there, but I’m not fanatic about hearing every version of Hear My Train A-Comin’ that he recorded or played. The early stuff is what I return to again and again, although I did recently get some enjoyment out of listening to Cry of Love for the first time in a long time. Part 2 in this “series” will deal with the books I have and two others I had at one time and Part 3 will be very guitar specific, and Part 4 will cover some of the enduring myth and controversy (good and bad) that still surrounds Jimi Stay tuned!

Cream

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2013 by theguitarcave

CREAMwas an awesome band — The first SUPERGROUP and a total powerhouse of over-the-top PSYCHEDELIC-BLUZE-ROCK excitement. I really dug all of their stuff in my younger days and really don’t think Eric Clapton ever did any better except for maybe some of what happened in Blind Faith and, of course, Derek and The Dominos. Very bold statement I know, but I don’t think I’m the only one who holds that opinion. Cream became one of the highest-power draws in the psychedelic era, a period of music I enjoy quite a bit and one that was extremely influential in a way that still resonates even now. Most of the people I’ve known in NYC were not fans, but the whole 60s era and everything was so controversial and so much of its time, I don’t blame those who don’t get it or don’t like it for feeling that way.

I don’t think it’s necessary to regurgitate the band’s biography, but a couple of items are very important to know. The three members of Cream were all major musical stars in England before the band was formed. Clapton’s reputation, developed with stints in The Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers led to graffiti on London streets proclaiming him “GOD”. He certainly was one of the most tasteful and fiery practitioners of blues guitar and he had a tone and a touch that was simply too good to believe. Keep in mind the guy was only 24 when Cream broke up in 1968! Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were also ninjas on their respective instruments and Bruce had a pretty amazing range as a vocalist, a fact that would serve Cream well, especially in live performances. One of the big problems, once they were signed however, was the music business. In 1966 record companies and managers were still looking for “hits” and tried to groom and encourage every band to be the next Beatles. You can see this in the early Cream (mimed) television appearances. I Feel Free is not a bad song, especially the instrumentation. But the insistence on the band to be pop stars would rankle especially Clapton who, at the time, considered himself a “blues purist.”

A major game-changer would arrive in England in 1966 in the form of an outstanding American guitarist who was a big fan of Eric Clapton. His name was Jimi Hendrix. While I certainly don’t mean to imply that Hendrix had much effect on the record industry (the pop format focus would dog Cream throughout their very short career) he affected all of the musicians in England in a very profound way. His first album, Are You Experienced? would push people like Cream to new heights and the psychedelic era would take off in full flight. One of the first things Hendrix did when arriving in England was try to sit in with Cream.

Even though this episode was devastating for Clapton at the time, he and the rest of London (and soon the world) came to realize that Jimi was what he was. None of the British guitarists, save for Pete Townshend (who was also a Jimi fan), was as upfront and “wild” as Jimi was perceived to be. It’s important to realize that there was a “respect” issue in play. Clapton saw himself as a disciple of the blues masters and he was playing THEIR music. So it was natural that he would be a little restrained about how he played and performed. He was/is a more reserved person in general. Jimi, on the other hand was playing HIS music; he’d played with Little Richard, The Isley Brothers and, of course, was not British and not a white guy. He could afford to be as free with the music and performances as he wanted and his character/persona was much more outgoing, to the point of volatility sometimes. He also heard manifestations of the blues that no one at the time could’ve put across (Third Stone From the Sun, Are You Experienced) so in the end any comparisons were pretty pointless. However, to the very end Jimi would be one of Cream’s biggest fans, launching into an impromptu and basically unwanted (at least as far as BBC executives were concerned) version of Sunshine of Your Love on The Lulu Show after Cream played their last gigs in 1968.

The competition that did exist was good for all involved because as many people know — if you want to be a great musician, hang with other great musicians. There was the other benefit of all kinds of new sounds and technology being made available to guitar players like…the wah-wah pedal! How many great songs have a wah-wah as part of the sound? As people who knew Cream have pointed out, Jack Bruce wrote the riff to Sunshine as a homage to Jimi one night after attending a Hendrix gig. Eric Clapton quotes the song “Blue Moon” in the first few bars of the solo and recorded it on his far-out and trippy-decorated 1964 Gisbon SG. The drum part originated with Ginger Baker who came up with the idea of playing African rhythms on the “1” and the “3”. He and Mitch Mitchell, drummer for the JHE, would “make” many songs for their respective bands and propel Jimi and Eric to new heights because of what they brought to recordings and performances.

While the pressures from the label and management would never dim, onstage Cream became a force for improvised blues-based rock with elements of psychedelia. While Jimi Hendrix would blow up the USA at the Monterey Pop Festival, which Cream’s manager passed on so they would have “bigger impact,” Cream finally did arrive as headliners in the fall of 1967 and quickly established themselves as a very impressive musical force. They gained a very sympathetic following among The Love Generation and were encouraged to embark on long improvised jams that would sometimes pass the 20-minute mark. At the ceremony to induct the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the mid-90s, ZZ Top drummer Dusty Hill related that back in the late 60s EVERY drummer in Texas had their kit set up like Ginger Baker and tried to cop some of what he was doing for their own sound. The same, of course, was true of Eric Clapton and his blazing Gibson through a Marshall stack sound. In some ways, at least at the time, what Hendrix was doing was so far beyond many people (even what he was hearing, nevermind playing) Eric’s approach was much more attainable: Learn how to play tasteful blues licks, plug in, crank to 11. There are many accounts of their tours of the US that detail not only how LOUD the band played, but how GREAT the guitar sound was. Even before Cream, Eric Clapton knew how to get the great guitar tone that was the envy of many players. His sound had a lot to do with his touch, his vibrato, his rolling the tone pots on the guitar back and forth to achieve different levels of brightness and contrast in the tone of his licks. Outside of the wah-wah he eschewed other effects that would compromise the quality of the sound between guitar and amp. While he would switch to Fender Stratocasters by the time he got the Derek and the Dominoes project going, he used Gibson guitars, mostly the SG, a Les Paul, and the ’63-65 Firebird and the ’64 335 that are played at the 1968 Farewell Concert. All of these guitars gave him that big fat tone that became a staple in rock music and it would not be too much of a stretch to say that all started with EC. Here’s a nice collection of pics with the Firebird. Here’s a great site with a really heavy analysis of Clapton’s guitars! Here’s one of my favorite Cream songs…Tales of Brave Ulysses. While there was always a lot of tension in Cream (especially between Bruce and Baker) they all look like they’re having a good time on this one. Also…sometimes the Youtube comments are genius… like the first one on this video:

“Okay gentlemen, here’s the plan … we bring in the three pre-eminent musicians of our time, we put them on an empty stage and let them play their hearts out with no limits, have them really going for it, exceeding even their own preconceived limits, and we film it (with excellent audio) for posterity … what’s that? Cameras? No, we only need one camera, that should be fine.”

Prior to their post-break-up Goodbye album, Cream released three highly-acclaimed discs: Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears, and Wheels of Fire, which incidentally was the first ever platinum-selling double album. Both Wheels of Fire and Goodbye combined sides of studio recordings and various live tracks the band recorded in the US. This created an interesting mix between the shorter, almost pop-oriented format of the studio releases and the furiously improvised live numbers that stretched out to epic lengths (for the time). Notable covers of blues material included Sittin’ On Top of the World, Rollin’ and Tumblin’, I’m So Glad, Spoonful, Born Under a Bad Sign, and Cat’s Squirrel, which although it never received the live workouts the others did, is a great song complete with great harmonica lines courtesy of Bruce and a brilliant guitar breakdown. Personally I always liked the vibe of the studio versions of Sittin’ (the tone of the guitar is awesome) and I’m So Glad where Clapton plays the entire solo on the “G” string. Of course the live versions were simply balls-out and furious, demonstrating the best of Cream’s unbridled energy and instrumental prowess.

But all three members of the band were capable of writing original songs and write they did! Besides Sunshine of Your Love, I Feel Free and Tales of Brave Ulysses, there are other really cool things in the catalog. SWLBAR, Badge, Deserted Cities of the Heart, Strange Brew, Politician, What a Bringdown, Toad, N.S.U., Sleepy Time Time, and of course, the completely EPIC White Room. I always associate the sound of these songs with SUMMERTIME for some reason. While the music is not the happy pop sounds of Strawberry Alarm Clock, there is none of the cold distance that one hears in The Doors or even some of The Beatles material from that period.

Back in the early 80s, Cream’s Farewell Concert was a staple at midnight movie showings (along with Gimme Shelter, Jimi Hendrix, Woodstock and The Rocky Horror Picture Show). I remember going to see this with a bunch of friends in Pittsburgh and it was party city — a real good time. One of the dudes was a total Clapton fanatic and I’d always say, “yea…but Jimi was better!” When the following portion of the movie came on I still remember him turning around and saying, “See?” If you’re looking to cop some of Clapton’s vibe in your playing there is no better instruction than watching this about 20-30 times and playing along until you get it.

Alas, like many other things during the intense decade of the 1960s, Cream did not survive. The relationship among the band began to sour and the intense pressure and constant touring also began to take a toll. Eric Clapton was gravitating away from the “jam” idea to a more song-based approach and as he has said many times over the course of his career, hearing The Band’s Music From Big Pink completely changed his life and his idea of what he would do with music. In other interviews he also expressed that he was never totally comfortable in Cream, not only because of the strain brought by constant very loud improvisation, but also the pressure brought by the mantle of being a guitar hero in a Supergroup. Interestingly enough, during the same period, Jimi Hendrix was moving in the opposite direction — from songs to jams and a more free-form approach — and would continue on this track right up until his death in 1970. As the 60s merged into the 70s all three members of Cream would go in separate directions, deal with crippling substance-abuse problems and never be a part of something as amazing again. While the Layla sessions and album were/are amazing, this was definitely due to the involvement of Duane Allman who was extended the invitation to join the group but declined. Neither the album or the single, Layla was an instant hit and gained it’s well-deserved accolades long after Clapton had broken up the group and moved on. His understated guitar hero status has been maintained and he has managed to adapt his sound and style to all of the trends that have come and gone since the 1960s. The Blues is universal and works with anything and he became quite an effective songwriter. While some who loved what he did in Cream probably had issues with EC in the 80s and 90s, he acquired a whole new audience of fans and has managed to keep a career and reputation as a guitar icon for almost 50 years, which is no small feat in a very tough business.

While there were always suggestions for Cream to reunite, this didn’t happen until 2005 and just as it was in the 1960s, their time together was very brief. The shows happened and went off well, but some of the acrimony was still present and it’s not like any of them, Eric Clapton included, needed or wanted to be on tour for months on end. I missed going to the shows but bought the DVD and think they did a pretty good job of it. There was a conscious effort to NOT make it like it was in the old days and many people took them to task for this. The thing is I would bet that none of the people who did were there for the first time around and are, like many (younger) music consumers, easily bored. Eric Clapton was 61, Ginger Baker was 66 and Jack Bruce was 62 and fresh off of a liver transplant and surviving liver cancer. I don’t really know why people would expect the experience would be like The Albert Hall 1968. As I said earlier Eric was all of 24 years of age when that happened. Of course they could’ve gone the way of some other bands and brought in a bunch of support musicians, but in the end they did what they always did. Three guys climbed onstage and played. Even though the volume overkill, drugs and insane atmosphere of the 60s was not present and the energy level was a bit subdued, the concerts were a fitting testament to what was a very revolutionary band. Some of the lyrics to Deserted Cities of the Heart, one of my favorite tunes, maybe sum it up best:

I felt the wind shout like a drum.
You said, “My friend, love’s end has come.”
It couldn’t last, had to stop.
You drained it all to the last drop.
It was on the way,
On the road to dreams, yeah.
Now my heart’s drowned in no love streams, yeah.
Now my heart’s drowned in no love streams, yeah.

Pete Townshend and The Who

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2012 by theguitarcave

I often see conversations online from people who wish they could journey back in time to New York City circa 1977 and the beginnings of punk rock. That could be cool, but if I could jump into a time machine I would dial in the late 60s Fillmore East: Jimi Hendrix, early Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Miles Davis, early Allman Brothers and The Who with Keith Moon, John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey and nutcase extraordinaire Pete Townshend, the true Godfather of Punk; decked out in his boiler suit, big boots and slinging a cherry red Gibson SG. While The Who was never my favorite band and I did see them in the 80s, in the late 60s/early 70s, with Keith Moon still alive, they were easily one of the most kinetic and explosive concert acts in the world. Youtube clips from the 1970 “Tanglewood” show have the band at the top of their game:

When I say the band was never my favorite, it’s mostly because I always found a lot of their songs really hard to relate to, especially growing up. The early single hits were easy enough and the band always rocked, but some of their best moments were really off the wall. Take A Quick One, the mini opera that completely kills at The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. The performance is so good that they completely own the Stones, but the whole thing is just so weird to listen to that it’s hard to imagine a testosterone-charged teen looking to rock would want to throw it on when the urge struck. But the clip shows what The Who always had — smart arrangements and writing and an absolutely blistering live execution of their material…and they are funny. You can’t watch a clip with Keith Moon in it and not be entertained…that is flat-out impossible. This isn’t the best visual quality clip, but get The Kids are Alright or The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus DVD to enjoy a spectacular performance.

Keith Richards once said about Keith Moon…that (paraphrase) “he didn’t know a tin pot from a paradiddle, but he could play with Townshend.” This fact appears in many places in rock literature — Keith Moon was the Chico Marx of rock drumming; an amazingly instinctive player who never practiced, didn’t know what he was doing half the time and played in a manner with certain techniques (like his double-kick) that defy convention and common sense. As the band evolved it’s interesting to wonder what kind of effect Moon had on Pete’s guitar style, because it’s not like you could be in a group with a guy like Moon and not be affected somehow.

Since I’ve been doing a lot of coding and trying to think of things in a mathematical/scientific manner (LOL) consider the graphic above. If you compare Townshend to Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page with the extreme left representing the player’s rhythm to lead ratio and the extreme right representing the player’s lead to rhythm ratio, Pete and Jimi are squarely in the middle. Both players integrated chords and fills into their playing much more than Page, who played more single-string riffs and long solos, or Richards (at the opposite end) who played more chord based riffs. This isn’t to suggest that Richards never played lead or Page never played rhythm — Page began using more chord-based riffs as Led Zeppelin’s career progressed and Hendrix started to change his style as his “songs” developed into “jams” later in his career. But Townshend’s style as we know it, is a complete integration of lead and rhythm guitar; he segues from a chord, to a few notes, to some more chords, to a feedback squeal to a loud BOMM on the low E string all in a few measures. He became the master of the rhythm slash and power chord, augmented and accentuated by these “bits” of counter-melodies or noise played on the high strings or single strings. One reason why Pete (and Jimi to a certain extent) differ is that he didn’t come from a blues-based approach growing up, but loved the RnB style of Booker T and the MGs and guitarist Steve Cropper. (Before he hit it big Hendrix put in a fair amount of time on America’s Chittlin’ Circuit playing in RnB bands). In the early days, The Who were known for their MAXIMUM RnB, which meant less solos and more fills, but Towshend’s highly charged, aggressive live approach to guitar and having Moon as the drummer put all of the dance rhythms of RnB on steroids. This is the main reason I think he is the Godfather of Punk as a lot of players in that genre were obviously heavily influenced by him and by the band’s approach to a group sound that minimized individual soloing. This is Keith Richard’s point in the quote above — Townshend and Moon were perfectly suited to playing with each other just as Hendrix/Mitchell, Page/Bonham, Richards/Watts were good combinations. Try to imagine changing those dual combos around and whether that would even work.Townshend/Watts? Richards/Bonham? Kind of hard to imagine. Then factor in how John Entwistle’s bass lines worked within what Townshend and Moon were doing. Together they produced a very busy and explosive sound and that sound defines The Who, at least through the late 1970s.

While some of Pete’s aggression can be written off to his style and personality, part of his artistic background included being influenced by Gustav Metzger, artist and political activist who “pioneered” the concept of creative destruction and auto-destruction in the early 1960s. Metzger would influence other artists and musicians including Cream and Yoko Ono. In the early days The Who were very Pop Art and Townshend certainly was conscious of all of the various things happening in the art world at the time. Yoko Ono has taken a lot of heat over the years as a “singer”, but if one considers what she is doing or some of what she is doing in the same vein, the whole point is not to sing in the standard or beautiful way. Here, let’s look at the following equation:

{\Begin AutoDestruction}
Yoko singing (sometimes) = Pete smashing guitar
{End AutoDestruction/}

See how it all begins to make sense? At the (Yoko) link above Townshend describes being aware of Ono because of his association with Metzger, and describes what she was doing as “insane” but in an admiring way, so I’m not just trying to be funny with the above equation. Townshend was never just a ROCK AND ROLL DUDE!! kind of guy and he didn’t just break things. He was using feedback before Jimi Hendrix came on the scene, combined slashing chords, single note runs, picked arpeggios and extreme volume to bring the sound of violence and destruction to the musical form. Of course, for the actual violence he had a very willing partner in Keith Moon, who absolutely loved breaking things and blowing them up. While some of this was showbiz and some of it was lunacy, the ideas behind it descended from a bona-fide and controversial art movement in the same way that Jim Morrison (and later Iggy Pop (perhaps)) used influences like New York City’s The Living Theater to perform in a way that shocked and moved an audience out of its complacency. It has long been alleged that this is what Morrison (who had been incorporating similar ideas in his performance from the beginning) was trying to pull of in Miami 1969 when he was arrested for indecent exposure and inciting a riot. Below is the entire clip from The Smothers Brothers Show in 1967 when The Who brought auto-destruct to prime-time television. Unbeknownst to anyone else Moon had loaded his bass drum with serious pyrotechnics. Townshend has long maintained his problems with Tinnitus began in the wake of this explosion.

Pete expanded on A Quick One in 1969 with the first full-blown rock opera, Tommy, which was quite an ambitious undertaking at the time. While it has attained legendary status over the years, it certainly wasn’t embraced by everyone when it was first released. Given the nature of the story and some of the themes that appear (infidelity, murder, child abuse, sexual abuse) it really isn’t any wonder that some found it excessively vulgar, exploitative, and casual in its approach to such heavy subjects (boy gets sexually abused by his uncle, plays pinball). But Townshend had a history of bringing taboo subjects into the popular music form (I’m a Boy, Pictures of Lily, My Generation, A Quick One) all done with a British style of humor and eccentricity and Tommy represented a supreme coalescing statement of everything the band had done up to that point and certainly qualifies as a real artistic achievement. What really makes it work is how much of opera revolves around Townshend’s guitar work in a very rhythmic sense. There was no departure from what he and the band were already doing and many of the songs (Pinball Wizard, Amazing Journey, Sparks, Acid Queen, Christmas, We’re Not Gonna Take It and I’m Free) stand on their own as great guitar-driven rock songs. This period of the band, which included performances at Woodstock and Isle of Wight saw them getting the solid recognition they had been working for throughout the 60s and this ranks as my favorite period of their career. Their rave up of Young Man’s Blues from Isle of Wight is as good as rock and roll gets and illustrates perfectly everything I’ve tried to describe about Pete’s guitar style.

The Kids are Alright

While The Who started to lose me a bit around the Quadrophenia years, there were still some good songs on the record and throughout the rest of the 70s, at least until Keith Moon passed away. After that they were a completely different band in the same way that LED ZEPPELIN ended with John Bonham’s death. Pete has had a pretty successful solo career in addition to continuing on with Who projects over the years and he is one of the most influential guitarists in rock music. His use of acoustic guitars over the years has really piqued my interest lately — he definitely uses acoustics like Richards/Page to 1) layer nice textures onto a track, 2) provide nice contrasting parts within the song, 3) fill out what is an otherwise “electric” song with an acoustic mixed low to beef up the sound and, 4) in some cases using all acoustics to give the song a really huge, percussive sound. A really close listen of Tommy demonstrates all four of these methods and Pete (like Jimmy Page and Keith Richards) was always a master writer/producer as much as he was a great guitar player. With this in mind I’ll end this with a great solo version of Drowned from The Secret Policeman’s Ball in 1979. Notice that Pete’s technique is the same whether he is playing acoustic or electric. Like many other great guitar players (Django, Stevie Ray, Jimi etc, etc) he has always played guitar as if his very existence depends on it and that is an attitude and mental state every guitarist should aim for every time the instrument is picked up. The real beauty with all of these players, Pete included, is how they are able to channel the energy, need to play and aggression into something that is stylish and ultimately…artistic!

The Kids are Alright, Isle of Wight and The Rock and Roll Circus are all really great. 4 stars! They are must-have’s in any serious rocker or guitarist library!

Jimi Play the Cave

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2011 by theguitarcave

Well, not really. But this is a super cool bobble-head doll from FUNKO (sounds like RONCO or TELCO or K-TEL doesn’t it?) They have a whole line of toys and bobble-heads including Dee Dee Ramone, Johnny Ramone, Tupac and many more, like the Wonder Woman computer sitter. Grrrrrrowlll! They even have a Ronald Reagan doll but I can’t imagine that someone who would buy one of those would be that much fun to hang out with. It looks like the Jimi Doll has been discontinued…but Elvis is still there!

Jimi Hendrix was a huge influence on me…and, of course many other people. Over the years I’ve tried to cop his vibe on a whole lot of things as you can tell from the short film clip, which features music from one of my favorite projects of all time. The guitar lead was played on my Strat taking a lot from the Master of the Stratocaster himself and maybe it also came from listening to another Jimmy (Jimmy Page) but it’s hard to tell where one influence stops and another starts. (The studio where this was recorded in July of ’99 was so hot the A/C was being rationed and plugs were literally melting in the electrical sockets. Every track sounds like it’s on fire. The week I did overdubs was one of the hottest on record until it was topped this year…FUN WEATHER FACT!) I also still get the occasional jolt out of listening to Jimi’s music. It is interesting to watch as different media shows up all over the web from all of those years ago. Some of it is downright killin’ and other stuff, not so much. I’ve never liked the Isle of Wight concert because Jimi looked really tired, burnt and pissed off. The version of Red House from that show is almost painful to watch. But there is other stuff from those later days scattered about the web that is actually really good. I haven’t checked out any of these official releases…but since Jimi’s family regained some kind of control over his music after so many years, I have heard that this stuff is a treat. While they don’t have any video, Wolfgang’s Vault has a ton of streaming concert audio from Berkeley, Winterland, and both Fillmores (west and east). I’ve listened to most of this stuff and a fair amount is Jimi at the top of his live game. Definitely grrrrrreat! Except for the Band of Gypsies shows, Mitch Mitchell was always part of Jimi’s experience and he has to rank as one of the greatest drummers ever. Together they were a very explosive and innovative team.

Speaking of great, here is Chris Squire, famed bass player for YES telling a fantastically funny tale about opening for Jimi at one of his legendary early London performances (The Marquee Club). Dessert!