Friday, October 16, 2015

Elizabeth Cotten

My heavens, this FolkSeattle fellow has some amazing videos on the ol' youtube.  Some of these I'd seen before (this Lightning Hopkins one in particular is a must), but somehow I only just stumbled upon this:

My god.  I don’t listen to as much of this kind of thing as I should.  Garcia was a devoted fan and played "Freight Train" with Grisman a few times over the years.  And "Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie," of course.  "Freight Train" also made one solitary surprise appearance at an electric JGB show to cover some time while Kahn changed a bass string.  Blah blah blah.  Just watch this.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Dark Star, Oct 1986

I finally got around to reading David Browne’s recent GD bio So Many Roads which, as you may have heard, freshens up the story by structuring it around a series of dates and events (shows, mainly) instead of the usual straight-through narrative.  It allows him to touch down in places that many other GD/JG books have glossed over (gasp, 1984!), and he’s a fine enough writer to pull it off, but he has this thing for always keeping one eye on the dark clouds gathering on the horizon.  The book starts in 1962, when Garcia and his girlfriend go for a walk to the beach at the height of the Cuban missile crisis to wait for the end of the world, and by the time they hit 1972 (and 5/26/72, no less), it’s mostly all strictly downhill.  Browne is able to maintain that balancing act between the perpetual troubles ahead and the perpetual "chance of redemption [that] still hung in the air" (which he says of Built to Last), but honestly it just gets a little exhausting after a while.  It's still a good book and deserves a spot on a discerning deadhead's bookshelf, but man, it was still a little bit of a downer.

Nevertheless, there are some gems.  One that I particularly liked was in his chapter on the post-coma Dead’s resurgence (with ominous shadows of In the Dark just around the next corner, naturally), as he reports on the Dead’s bumpy return to form.  After a frighteningly unencouraging start to rehearsals in October 1986, bandmembers and employees are left wondering if Garcia was ever really going to get it back (his coma was in July!).  However:
Finally in late October, Hart returned to the office again and was smiling.  "We just did a really good Dark Star," he told them, adding, "It's back."  The Dead's ticket office booked comeback shows that same day...
Whoa.  Dark Star.  This was the same guy who had to relearn the guitar chord by chord?   If it's true, then talk about a missed opportunity for a good study!  Mirror Flashes: Dark Star and the Rebuilding of Neural Pathways.  Too bad Dead scholarship was still in its embryonic stages in 1986.

post-script: Chronology is a bitch, but it's worth pointing out that Garcia had already been "back" enough to play at least five gigs with the JGB that same month, including one at the Kaiser on Halloween, which is a good show.  Then again, maybe we have that Dark Star to thank for the lightning recovery.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

RIP Wilton Felder

RIP to Wilton Felder (Sept 27), who was a great saxophonist and a monster bass player.  How monstrous?

(and that’s Paul Humphrey on drums)

To name a few more: Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On (Paul Humphrey again!) and I Want You, Joni Mitchell (Court and Spark, Hissing of Summer Lawns), John Cale (Paris 1919), 70’s soft-rock staples like “Piano Man” and “Summer Breeze”, and a personal guilty pleasure fav of mine, Michael Franks’ The Art of Tea.  He’s on Grant Green’s wonderful Live at the Lighthouse, another funky jazz record that’s near to my heart.

But his main gig was playing tenor sax with the (Jazz) Crusaders.  I’ve heard that Felder wouldn’t play sax with anyone else, saving himself solely for the group’s sound — and they definitely had a sound, soulful and funky, that never endeared them to the jazz cognoscenti despite recording a load of successful albums.  I guess you'd call them underrated these days, but I’ve never heard a bad record of theirs (although, to be honest, I’m not crossing the 1974 line).  Scratch is a stone classic with at least one tune that may be of interest to JGBheads circa 1979-1980.  I contend that the Crusaders’ sound (and instrumentation) was a key influence on Kahn and Saunders as they created Reconstruction.  Phil Lesh was about as far from Wilton Felder as bass players got, but I'd bet you anything he was one of Kahn's favorites.