Friday, May 24, 2013

Tom's Uncle Frank

[Originally posted in Tony's Rants, Jan 20, 2008]

We were sitting in our cubicle talking about Bill’s latest trip for work. He went to Hawaii and he was telling us about going to the USS Arizona Memorial. He mentioned that he didn’t see any Imburgios or any Rutherfords on the wall, but he did see a few Howards there. This got Tom to tell us a story about his Uncle Frank. He allowed me to share this story with anyone who cares to read about it. Hopefully I can write it as well as he told it. This is an amazing story…

During the late 1930s, Uncle Frank was a bit of a troublemaker in Brooklyn, so much so that his mother wanted to get him out of the house. This being during the Great Depression and the era of FDR’s New Deal, Uncle Frank’s mom decided to enlist him in the Civilian Conservation Corps. He shipped out to Idaho so he could spend his youth cutting down trees to build national parks. Uncle Frank soon grew tired of the outdoor life, so he hitch-hiked all the way back to Brooklyn. This was long before the advent of interstate highways, so to hitch-hike from Idaho to Brooklyn was quite a feat. Uncle Frank showed up back at his house but his mom wasn’t too thrilled to see him, so she took Uncle Frank to the nearest Army recruiter and enlisted her under-age son. This is where the story starts to get interesting…

After basic training, Uncle Frank soon found himself stationed at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. His unit, and others like his also stationed at Schofield Barracks, rotated regularly to the Philippines. Uncle Frank spent a bit of time in the PI. Now, Uncle Frank was pretty good with dice. He got into a crap game and ended up winning over $3,000. This is $3,000 in 1941 money, so you might say Uncle Frank scored big – really big. When his unit was due to rotate back to Hawaii, Uncle Frank went to his commanding officer and asked if he could fly the Pan Am Clipper back to Hawaii instead of taking the normal troop transport ship. His CO told Uncle Frank that if he could show him the ticket, he would take care of the necessary paperwork so Uncle Frank could fly to Hawaii. So Uncle Frank headed to Manila and bought himself a ticket with his crap game winnings for the Clipper. He made the flight with no problem and flew back to Hawaii ahead of his unit. He arrived in Hawaii on Dec 6, 1941. Upon his arrival he met up with some sailors from the battleship USS Arizona. They went out partying, eating and drinking and living it up like they were Romans. When all the fun and games ended that night, his newfound sailor buddies offered to let him sleep that night on the ship. Uncle Frank said “no thanks” and took a taxi back to Schofield Barracks.

Early on the morning of Dec 7th, some of Uncle Frank’s comrades woke him up so they could get an early breakfast at one of the local establishments. Uncle Frank, who wasn’t feeling too well because of his adventures the night before, declined and decided he’d eat at the chow hall on the post when he became somewhat human again. Shortly thereafter, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. They also attacked Schofield Barracks. It turns out the place Uncle Frank’s friends went to eat got blown up by the Japanese. A hangover saved Uncle Frank. I asked Tom whatever became of the sailors from the Arizona that Uncle Frank partied with the night before. His response: they’re still on the Arizona. Uncle Frank cheated death at both Schofield Barracks and Pearl Harbor. I asked Tom what happened to Uncle Frank’s unit that was supposed to come home from the Philippines. He said they never shipped home – they participated in the Bataan Death March. Somebody or something was definitely looking out for Uncle Frank.

During World War II, the Army operated on a points system. Depending on what kind of missions or what kind of hazards you faced, you could earn a certain number of points to get to the required number to be able to rotate Stateside. Uncle Frank decided he was going to volunteer for as much hazardous duty as he could get away with in order to get home as soon as possible. He fought the Japanese hand-to-hand in the jungles of New Guinea. In one engagement he killed a Japanese officer and got his samurai sword for a war trophy. Uncle Frank carried that sword with him wherever he went. Tom told us that he and his brother heard these stories from Uncle Frank, but they didn’t really believe him because they sounded so outlandish. They do have sort of a “Forrest Gump” quality to them. Uncle Frank’s wife took Tom and his brother aside and showed him this box. Inside this box were Uncle Frank’s medals – two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, and a few others. Also included in this box was a picture of Uncle Frank holding up a Japanese flag [see the picture above]. This was another souvenir from New Guinea. Tom told us that there were a lot of “spots” on that little Japanese flag. Those were Japanese blood stains. It soon dawned on Tom and his brother that “damn, Uncle Frank was a no-shit war hero!” Yeah, I think two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars qualifies.

Uncle Frank volunteered for other hazardous duty. In one such instance, he volunteered to become a spotter for naval artillery. The practice during World War II was for the Navy to patrol offshore any island that was targeted for invasion, and then soften up the Japanese defenses with continuous artillery bombardment before the Marines would hit the beach. In one such instance, Uncle Frank and one naval officer was taken ashore in the Philippines in 1944 for just such duty. He and this officer landed during the night [taken there by submarine], and they were hidden by Filipino guerillas until it was time to go to work spotting for the Navy. Shortly thereafter, MacArthur’s army invaded the Philippines. It was MacArthur’s famous "return."

In another such instance of volunteering for hazardous duty, Uncle Frank discovered there were openings to become gunners on the then-new B-29 bombers. Uncle Frank volunteered, went through the training, and then became a B-29 crewmember. He flew on two or three missions over Japan without incident. The next mission didn’t go so well. Uncle Frank’s plane was shot down over the Pacific. He spent a couple of days in a life raft waiting to be rescued. Once he was rescued and returned to home base, Uncle Frank decided he’d had enough of air duty and went back to being a ground-pounder. I guess this was Uncle Frank’s last brush with death. He didn’t bring his samurai sword home with him, though. He had his war trophy with his gear ready to ship out to go home when the war ended. But when he was reunited with his gear at journey’s end, the sword was gone. Someone had stolen the sword that Uncle Frank took from that Japanese officer he killed in New Guinea. He’s still pissed about that – hell, after what he went through to get it, I’d be pissed off too.

Uncle Frank is one lucky man. I wonder if he’s ever played the lottery… Thanks Tom for letting me share a part of your family history. Of course, thanks to Uncle Frank, a genuine war hero.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ray Manzarek - RIP

The Doors were unique.  They had a front man who was part Elvis Presley, part Frank Sinatra, and part Arthur Rimbaud.  Their guitar player started out playing flamenco.  The drummer’s roots were in jazz.  They didn’t have a bass player.  And they had a keyboard player schooled in classical music, bebop jazz, and the blues.  I don’t know if Ray Manzarek is one of the more influential keyboard players in the history of rock, but he is definitely one of the most recognizable.  Within four notes, once you heard him you knew who it was.  In the studio he’d play any number of keyboard instruments.  Such is the magic of overdubbing.  On stage, his right hand was The Doors’ keyboard player, while his left hand was The Doors’ bass player.  While it is true that Ray Manzarek went on to do other things after The Doors closed in 1973, rightly or wrongly he will be best-remembered for the music he created with John Densmore, Robby Krieger, and Jim Morrison.  Ray Manzarek quietly slipped into the big sleep today [as I write this] at the age of 74.

Words – how would I describe Ray Manzarek’s playing?  Trippy, carnivalesque, hypnotic, whirling, bluesy, barrelhouse, psychedelic, jazzy, gentle, creepy, moody.

Tools of Ray’s trade – Ray Manzarek colored his music with many different kinds of keyboard instruments.  Some of the tools in his toolbox included:  Vox Continental, Gibson G101, tack piano, Hammond C-3, Fender Rhodes Piano Bass, Wurlitzer piano, grand piano.

Tony’s favorite Ray Manzarek bits.  It could be a solo, it could be a riff that drives the song, or just background music.  But these are the bits [in the order that I thought of them] that immediately come to mind when I think of Ray Manzerek.  Some of the songs were hits, some of them are very deep tracks, but here they are:

Moonlight Drive [Strange Days, 1967] – This is the song that started it all.  One day in 1965 at Venice Beach, a shy Jim Morrison sang an original song to Ray Manzarek, a fellow student at the UCLA Film School.  Ray liked it and convinced Jim they needed to form a band.  They did just that, on the spot.  The band was The Doors.  This was that song.

The Crystal Ship [The Doors, 1967] – Ray played the tack piano a lot, but this is one of those times when he played a grand piano instead.

End of the Night [The Doors, 1967] – Ray’s organ at its most creepy can be heard here.

The Unknown Soldier [Waiting for the Sun, 1968] – This one’s pretty creepy too.

Strange Days [Strange Days, 1967] – Not only is there Ray’s organ, but some kind of synthesizer thrown in for more color.

Summer’s Almost Gone [Waiting for the Sun, 1968] – This piano solo isn’t creepy – it’s pretty.  That’s not a word one would normally associate with a Doors song, but in this case it fits.

You Make Me Real [Morrison Hotel, 1970] – A catchy piano/guitar riff that showed The Doors could still play balls-to-the-wall rock and roll.

Love Her Madly [LA Woman, 1971] – It’s Robby Krieger’s song, but Ray’s all over it with the tack piano.  He plays a cool organ solo in the middle too.  Bruce Botnick did the 5.1 mix with the piano in the left ear, and the organ in the right ear.  Very cool…

Break On Through [The Doors, 1967] – one of the best organ solos I ever heard Ray Manzarek play.

Light My Fire [The Doors, 1967] – The Doors’ first #1, and probably the song for which most people who aren’t fans associate with The Doors.  The first notes you hear on after the crack of John Densmore’s drums is Ray’s organ.  Many people my age can play the organ solo in our heads note-for-note without even hearing it. Iconic.

Hyacinth House [LA Woman, 1971] – Jim Morrison’s song about wanting to get away from it all and not have anyone depend on him.  Ray plays a wonderful organ solo in the middle that quotes Chopin.

Spanish Caravan [Waiting for the Sun, 1968] – I like this song for Robby Krieger’s flamenco playing, but at the end Ray plays a pretty wacked-out solo on either an organ or a synthesizer.

Waiting for the Sun [Morrison Hotel, 1970] – Psychedelia!  This one’s all about mood, and Ray’s organ provides it and then some.

The Spy [Morrison Hotel, 1970] – Thirteen years before The Police scored a monster hit with a song about stalking [Every Breath You Take],The Doors did this quiet, disturbing blues. 

Riders on the Storm [LA Woman, 1971] – Ray’s electric piano is the dominant instrument on this last song from LA Woman.  He also came up with the bass line.  Though it was easy for Ray to play on the keyboards, it was hard for Jerry Scheff to play on the bass, but Jerry somehow managed.

LA Woman [LA Woman, 1971] – Ray plays a great solo on the tack piano.  He’s also playing the Wurlitzer lower in the mix, matching Robby Krieger note-for-note.

Roadhouse Blues [Morrison Hotel, 1970] – Here’s where the word “barrelhouse” fits in.  This is The Doors at their bar-band best.

My Eyes Have Seen You [Strange Days, 1967] – see Roadhouse Blues.  More tack piano.

Maggie M’Gill [Morrison Hotel, 1970], The Changeling [LA Woman, 1971], The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat) [LA Woman, 1971] – the Hammond! To my untrained ears I think these are the only songs on which Ray played the Hammond.  I wished he played that instrument more often.

When the Music’s Over [Strange Days, 1967] – there’s no specific reason I can point to why I like this bit.  Ray and Robby are good counterpoints to each other.  This one does have a mad, carnival-like atmosphere at the end.

The End [The Doors, 1967] – This song is The Doors at their most hypnotic.  Ray’s organ has a lot to do with putting the audience in a trance. Isn’t that enough?

When asked in 2008 how he’d like to be remembered, Ray had this to say:

I want to be remembered by my family as a husband, father and grandfather. A brother. But it doesn’t matter… I think the last thing in the world that you are going to be concerned about when you’re gone is what people think of you here [laughter]. This LSD talking man, when you die, you go into infinity. You could care less about this quick snap shot in time, this little moment in infinity… You’ve moved on to a new existence, and that existence is called infinite. You become one with the energy itself. That energy is called God. We become one with God. You are God...  You could care less about what “they” think about a human entity called Ray Manzarek that existed between 1939 and, let’s say, 2030… Who cares!  Just a grain of sand on the beach. Just a drop of rain in a thunderstorm. That’s all you’ll be. It won’t matter at all… The joy, the good times that you are having here and now… That’s what it is all about!  I don’t want to be “remembered.” I want to live this life and have a great time occupying this fleshy form.” 

The music’s over…turn out the lights. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Tony's Guitarist Picks - Eric Clapton

“Guitar?  Eric Clapton?”  Robbie Robertson uttered these words when introducing Eric Clapton during The Last Waltz.  It is not a stretch to think that the man’s name and the instrument he plays are synonymous.  During his time with John Mayall in the mid-1960s, graffiti of the slogan “Clapton is God” popped in London.  EC was embarrassed [and still is] about that slogan.  He stated he wants to be the greatest guitar player, but he isn’t it.  He may not be God, but he has influenced more guitarists than anyone can count.  His importance cannot be discounted nor underestimated.

It seems like Eric Clapton has been around forever.  That’s probably because his career as a professional musician is just a few months shorter than the time I’ve been alive and kicking, so for me it has been “forever.”  His resume reads like a Who’s Who of the rock era – The Yardbirds, John Mayall, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek & the Dominos, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Stephen Stills, Roger Waters, the Allman Brothers Band, The Band, Pete Townshend, JJ Cale, Buddy Guy, BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers, George Harrison, John Lennon, Carlos Santana, Taj Mahal, Bob Dylan, Sting, Elton John, Jeff Beck, Steve Winwood, Phil Collins, Mark Knopfler, Sonny Landreth, Freddie King, Dr. John, Delaney & Bonnie, Billy Preston, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Toots Hibbert, etc. etc.

Several years ago, Rolling Stone magazine asked contemporary musicians to write about “The Immortals – The Greatest Artists of All Time.”  Steve Van Zant got the honors to write about Eric Clapton.  He wrote the following:

Eric Clapton is the most important and influential guitar player that has ever lived, is still living or ever will live. Do yourself a favor, and don't debate me on this. Before Clapton, rock guitar was the Chuck Berry method, modernized by Keith Richards, and the rockabilly sound -- Scotty Moore, Carl Perkins, Cliff Gallup -- popularized by George Harrison. Clapton absorbed that, then introduced the essence of black electric blues -- the power and vocabulary of Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin and the three Kings, B.B., Albert and Freddy -- to create an attack that defined the fundamentals of rock & roll lead guitar.

Maybe most important of all, he turned the amp up -- to eleven. That alone blew everybody's mind in the mid-Sixties. In the studio, he moved the mike across the room from the amp, which added ambience; everybody else was still close-miking. Then he cranked the fucking thing. Sustain happened; feedback happened. The guitar player suddenly became the most important guy in the band.

I must say, I find it hard to disagree with Little Steven.  My first guitar hero was George Harrison.  All you need to know about George is this – he was the lead guitarist in The Beatles. ‘Nuff said.  But George had to please three other guys in the band, so he couldn’t play long guitar solos.  Clapton never had that problem.  In the bands he played [John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominos], HE was the star. 

John Mayall gave EC the room to stretch out and play.  In Cream, he was in a band of his peers with Jack Bruce [bass] and Ginger Baker [drums].  He had to play out of his mind night after night in order to keep up with those two.  EC had first envisioned Cream as a blues trio with a singing and composing bass player.  The first Cream album, Fresh Cream [1966], was split between blues covers [Spoonful, From Four Until Late, I’m So Glad, Rollin’ and Tumblin’] and originals [N.S.U., Sweet Wine] written by Jack Bruce or Ginger Baker.  It was a fairly bluesy affair with a jazz feel.  However, their second album, Disraeli Gears [1967] was a mixture of the blues, jazz, psychedelia, and hard rock.  One song, Outside Woman Blues, was not written by the band.  This is the album with Sunshine of Your Love, a song with a hard rock riff so indestructible and recognizable you know what it is in only four notes.  This is the album where one hears the wah-wah for the first time on songs like Tales of Brave Ulysses and World of Pain.

In Blind Faith, he chose to downplay the whole “guitar hero” thing.   His final band before disappearing for three-years because of a serious heroin habit was Derek and the Dominos.  He was the front man/leader for the first time, he could play what he wanted to play [the blues], he had a fellow traveler and blues enthusiast in Duane Allman to prod him and kick his ass, and he had a muse: Patti Harrison.  There is nothing quite like the feeling of unrequited love to spur a songwriter to create art.  The art form that is the blues is full of stories of heartache, loneliness, pain, betrayal, and the only album recorded by Derek and the Dominos, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, has blues to spare.  The Layla album is Clapton’s masterpiece.  On EC originals like Layla and Bell Bottom Blues, and on blues standards like Key to the Highway and Have You Ever Loved a Woman, the guitar took center stage.  The Layla album is a guitar lover’s dream.  The interplay between EC and Duane Allman was somewhat competitive, but only in the sense that each player made the other reach down and bring out his “A-game” to impress [not upstage] the other.

After three years of self-imposed drug exile, EC finally got around to making records again.  But there was a change.  EC downplayed his guitar hero image.  He preferred a more song-oriented, laid back approach.  He could still burn when he wanted to, but then it was clear that the halcyon days of Cream and Derek & the Dominos were well behind him.  The 1980s was somewhat of a guitar revival for EC.  This coincided with him getting sober.  Until then he had traded one addiction [heroin] for another [alcohol].  But with albums like Money and Cigarettes [1983], August [1986] and Journeyman [1989], EC’s playing regained a vitality that had been missing since 1974.  Regardless of your opinions of his material during this time, the fire for playing rekindled.  After his son died in 1991, EC’s music descended into what I call “Adult Contemporary Hell,” where he is currently stuck.  Every now and then he would emerge with blues albums [From the Cradle, Me and Mr. Johnson, Sessions for Robert J],  reunions [Cream in 2005, Steve Winwood in 2009], or collaborate with others [JJ Cale, BB King, and Wynton Marsalis].  Outside of those projects, his current music makes his 1970s output look lively.  But I come here not to damn his records, but to marvel in his playing.

Influences:  Robert Johnson, The Three Kings [BB, Freddie, & Albert], Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin.

The solos.  So many great solos, so little time…[yeah, I’m a big fan of Cream…]

1.      Crossroads [Cream - Wheels of Fire, 1968] – Clapton at his best
2.      While My Guitar Gently Weeps [The Beatles – The Beatles, 1968]
3.      Go Back Home [Stephen Stills – Stephen Stills, 1970] – the “take” was EC practicing:  Stills loved it and kept it
4.      White Room [Cream - Wheels of Fire, 1968]
5.      Sunshine of Your Love [Cream – Disraeli Gears, 1967]
6.      Tales of Brave Ulysses [Cream – Disraeli Gears, 1967] – EC introduces the world to the wah-wah pedal
7.      Strange Brew [Cream – Disraeli Gears, 1967] – copped note-for-note from Albert King
8.      Sitting on Top of the World [Cream - Wheels of Fire, 1968]
9.      Badge [Cream – Goodbye, 1969]
10.  All Your Love [John Mayall – Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, 1966]
11.  Hideaway [John Mayall – Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, 1966]
12.  Steppin’ Out [John Mayall – Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, 1966] – Cream smoked on this one as well…
13.  N.S.U [Cream – Fresh Cream, 1966]
14.  Sweet Wine [Cream – Fresh Cream, 1966]
15.  Presence of the Lord [Blind Faith – Blind Faith, 1969]
16.  Let It Rain [Eric Clapton – Eric Clapton, 1970] – he made it rain at Red Rocks – I know, I was there…
17.  I’d Have You Anytime [George Harrison – All Things Must Pass, 1970]
18.  Bell Bottom Blues [Derek & the Dominos – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, 1970]
19.  Key to the Highway [Derek & the Dominos – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, 1970]
20.  Have You Ever Loved a Woman [Derek & the Dominos – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, 1970]
21.  Double Trouble [Eric Clapton – Just One Night, 1980]
22.  Cocaine [Eric Clapton – Just One Night, 1980]
23.  Further On Up the Road [Eric Clapton – Just One Night, 1980]
24.  The Core [Eric Clapton – Slowhand, 1978] – EC awakens from his 1970s slumber…
25.  Little Red Rooster [The Rolling Stones – Flashpoint, 1991] – EC “punks” Mick Jagger, and Mick knows it.  Keef loved it.  The look on Mick’s face says it all…[see video below]
26.  Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right [Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration, 1992]
27.  Here in the Dark [Taj Mahal – Phantom Blues, 1996]
28.  It Hurts Me Too [Eric Clapton – From the Cradle, 1994]
29.  Five Long Years [Eric Clapton – From the Cradle, 1994]
30.  Stormy Monday [Cream - Royal Albert Hall London May 2-3-5-6, 2005, 2005] – even Ginger Baker said “wow!” when EC was done…
31.  Voodoo Chile [Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood – Live From Madison Square Garden, 2009] – Hendrix!

Little Red Rooster – The Rolling Stones w/ Eric Clapton [Live, 1989]

The Blues.  Eric Clapton’s biggest influence is the blues.  He left The Yardbirds because For Your Love was too commercial for his taste.  He formed Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker with the idea that he could be Buddy Guy with a blues trio [it didn’t quite work out that way].  Since his early 1970s battle with heroin addiction, EC has focused more on playing songs rather than being a guitar god, but he has always kept one foot in the blues.  One will usually find at least one blues song on Clapton albums from the 1970s.  Polydor made a compilation of these songs [Blues] in 1999. 

He made three blues albums on his own [From the Cradle, Me and Mr. Johnson, Session for Robert J], collaborated with BB King on another [Riding With the King], and JJ Cale on yet another [The Road to Escondido].  Unplugged is mostly blues [for the record, I hate what he did to Layla on Unplugged – enough said].  Though Clapton’s blues singing sounds exactly like what it is [a rich white English guy trying to sing the blues], his guitar playing more than makes up for it.  The productions of his blues records are slick, but the material he works with are far and away much better than the “Adult Contemporary Hell” stuff he’s done for the past twenty years.  His playing on From the Cradle is the grittiest, nastiest playing he’d done in many years.  He put away the Strats and pulled the Gibsons out of storage, and the results speak for themselves.  He played electric slide for the first time in a long time.

His two biggest riffs aren’t his.  The riff from Sunshine of Your Love was written by Jack Bruce.  One night in 1967 Jack Bruce and EC attended a Jimi Hendrix Experience concert.  After the show, Jack Bruce went home to write with Pete Brown.  Jack came up with the riff on a double bass.  The riff from Layla came from Duane Allman.  While recording it, the song needed an intro.  Duane had an idea – he took the vocal melody from Albert King’s song As The Years Go Passing By and sped it up.  Voila!

EC’s Guitars.

1.      The Fool – A 1964 Gibson SG was EC’s main guitar during the Cream years.  The guitar got its nickname because it received a psychedelic paint treatment from a collective of Dutch artists named The Fool.  EC gave the guitar to Jackie Lomax, who later sold it to Todd Rundgren for $500.  Rundgren later auctioned it for $150,000.   It was auctioned again to another collector for about $500,000.

2.      Brownie – The “Layla” guitar, and his first Stratocaster.  It’s a 1956 Fender Stratocaster with a two-color sunburst finish and a maple fingerboard.  He bought it secondhand in 1967 for £150 just before going to New York to record Disraeli Gears.  He recorded both his solo debut Eric Clapton and Layla with this guitar. EC later auctioned Brownie for $497,500, the proceeds of which go to his Crossroads Centre.  Paul Allen bought it and put it on display at the Experience Music Project in Seattle.  Fender builds a custom Brownie line, and for a cool $15,000 you too can own one.  I’ll pass, thank you…

3.      Blackie – In 1970, while in Nashville, EC bought six Fender Strats.  He gave one each to George Harrison, Pete Townshend and Steve Winwood.  He kept the other three, took the best parts from each and assembled “Blackie.”  This was EC’s main guitar for the rest of the 1970s.  EC finally retired Blackie in 1985.  Like Brownie, EC auctioned Blackie, again with the proceeds going to the Crossroads Centre.  The Guitar Center payed $959,000 for Blackie.  Fender made 275 replicas of Blackie.  Good luck buying one though – they’re sold out.

The Wah-Wah pedal.  Before there was the wah-wah pedal, there was the “tone pedal,” which George Harrison used on Beatles tracks like Yes It Is and I Need You.  But the tone pedal evolved into the wah-wah pedal.  EC first acquired a wah-wah pedal from Manny’s Music while Cream was in New York recording Disraeli Gears.  He put it to immediate use on Tales of Brave Ulysses.  The wah-wah is all over White Room [Wheels of Fire – 1968].  EC pioneered its usage, and guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughan ran with it.  EC doesn’t use it in the studio anymore, but he still gives it a workout when he plays live.  Witness this live 2004 version of Got To Get Better in a Little While, a track from the never-completed second album from Derek & the Dominos:

Got To Get Better in a Little While

The Leslie Speaker.  The earliest usage of a Leslie speaker with a guitar that I can remember is Badge, which appears on Cream’s Goodbye album.  He used it on Doing That Scrapyard Thing from the same album.  This effect is usually associated with George Harrison, who used it on You Never Give Me Your Money, Carry That Weight, and Let It Be.  But as he was with the wah-wah pedal, EC pioneered the use of the Leslie rotating speaker with the guitar.  He hasn’t used it since.

The Woman Tone.  This was the guitar tone he used while with Cream.  With a Gibson SG guitar, roll the tone all the way down [either “0” or “1”] and the guitar volume all the way up.  On the amp, max out the treble, mids and bass controls as well as the distortion.  This tone is all over Disraeli Gears, most especially Sunshine of Your Love and Outside Woman Blues.

The slide.  EC doesn’t play slide much.  When he does it’s usually with an acoustic to play acoustic blues.  Every now and then he’ll use it with an electric, as he did on several tunes on From the Cradle.  I saw him use it once live – Tulsa Town and Motherless Children was the one-two opening punch the second time I saw him at Red Rocks in 1985.  He should do it more often.

The acoustic.  Prior to his Unplugged album, EC didn’t play acoustic much.  He used it on a handful of songs prior to 1992 – Anyone For Tennis [Cream], Can’t Find My Way Home [Blind Faith], Mean Old World [EC & Duane Allman], I Am Yours [Derek & the Dominos], Easy Now, Give Me Strength, Please Be With Me, Let It Grow, Better Make It Through Today, Pretty Blue Eyes, We’ve Been Told [Jesus Is Coming], High, Alberta, Mean Old Frisco.

Where the nickname “Slowhand” came from.  While he was in The Yardbirds, whenever EC broke a string he’d stay onstage to replace it.  Audiences would respond with a “slow handclap.”  Giorgio Gomelsky, who managed The Yardbirds, gave him the nickname “Slowhand.”  It was a play on words.   It had nothing to do with EC’s ability to play guitar.

Ubiquitous Songs That Can Be Retired [and I won’t care…].  There are some songs in his repertoire that have been played [and played, and played…] on the radio.  If I never hear them again it won’t bother me.  They are:  Layla, I Shot the Sheriff, Wonderful Tonight, Lay Down Sally.

He’s still got “it.”  His studio albums have long since become bland snoozefests from Adult Contemporary Hell, but live he’s still the real deal.  The man is 68 years old and he’s still got “it.”  The “it” I’m referring to is the ability to play jaw-dropping solos and school younger players.  I saw this for myself last week when watching videos of the Crossroads Festival in April.  EC got onstage to play with the Allman Brothers Band.  The song they played was Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad [from Layla].  Warren Haynes [who is no slouch on the guitar] had his eyes glued to EC’s fingers when he took a solo.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon

The Dark Side of the Moon has been out forty years now.  Much has been written and said about it in that time.  What could I write that hasn’t already been written?  I’m not sure but I’ll give it a try.  My own experience with this album started in the spring of 1981.  I was getting ready to graduate from high school when my brother showed up and gave me a $50 bill to buy whatever I wanted.  I bought four albums that day – two from The Doors [LA Woman and Morrison Hotel], and two from Pink Floyd [DSOTM and The Wall].  I have been hooked on both The Doors and Pink Floyd ever since. 

A couple of years later when I was a sophomore in college, I went to visit a female friend of mine.  She lived in an apartment off-campus, I was in the neighborhood and I dropped by.  When I walked in, there was one wall in the “dining room” that was a mural of the DSOTM album cover.  In the dining room was another girl named Carol.  I saw her and the mural at the same time.  I was kind of taken aback by the mural and when I asked who painted it, Carol said that she did it.  “Wow!” [I thought…someone who likes something I like!]  I never came back to the apartment, but I never forgot the girl who painted the mural.  Little did I know then that Carol and I were going to get married four years later.

I went through at least two vinyl copies and two CD copies of this album.  My theory for the reason this album spent over 14 years on the Billboard charts is because of people like me.  After one copy wears out, you go out and get another copy.  What is it about The Dark Side of the Moon that has made it so endearing to me?  Is it the quality of the recording?  Dark Side is one of the most clear, clean, crystalline, ethereal albums one could ever hope to hear.  I “test drive” stereos [both home and car stereos] with Dark Side. Is it the many voices you hear in the background?  The music?  The lyrics?  The singing?  The album cover?  The answer is “yes.”  On this album there was a fine balance between lyrics [Roger Waters] and musicality [David Gilmour and Rick Wright].  There wasn’t too much of one or the other.  For the first time on a Pink Floyd album you could hear female voices singing with the band [not on top of them like on Atom Heart Mother].  Dick Parry and his sax provided Pink Floyd with another lead instrument.  David Gilmour and Rick Wright sang exquisite harmonies.  Roger Waters wrote lyrics that are both thought-provoking and vivid in their ability to paint a picture without talking down to his audience. 

Roger Waters: “Dark Side of the Moon was an expression of political, philosophical and humanitarian empathy that was desperate to get out.” 

David Gilmour: “The ideas that Roger was exploring apply to every new generation. They still have very much the same relevance as they had.”

In 1971, Pink Floyd released Meddle.  Side One included short songs, but Side Two contained  Echoes, which Roger Waters dubbed “an epic sound poem.”  He also said that Echoes was his first expressions of empathy.  They found a direction and wanted more music like Echoes.  The Dark Side of the Moon began as a piece called Eclipse (A Piece for Assorted Lunatics).   The band toured extensively in 1972, and during this schedule they developed Eclipse.  This was back when groups would “road test” their material before they recorded it.  During breaks in touring they’d convene at Abbey Road to record what they refined on the road.  Nick Mason once said "the concept was originally about the pressures of modern life - travel, money and so on.  But then Roger turned it into a meditation on insanity."

The songs:
Speak To Me"...I've always been mad , I know I've been mad, like most of us have. They have you explain why you're a madman even if you're not mad..." Machines, ticking clocks, ringing cash registers, a heartbeat, mad laughter, Clare Torry’s screaming, someone saying “I've been mad for fucking years—absolutely years” – all of this in 1:07.  As brief as it is, it serves as an overture for The Dark Side of the Moon.  Right away you know this isn’t going to be a typical rock album.

Breathe“Don’t be afraid to care/Look around, choose your own ground…”  That’s one way of saying “relax, be yourself, don’t be afraid to speak out about the things of which you care, and choose your own path in life.”  Rick Wright said he came up with the chord sequence from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.  David Gilmour threw in some of his own chords as well.

On The Run – This was a guitar song before Pink Floyd discovered the VSC3 synthesizer.  It was called “The Travel Sequence” then.  This is Gilmour and Waters’ vision of what the future sounds like.  Footsteps -  running away from something, or someone.  Or perhaps it’s just the pressures of traveling, running through airports so one doesn’t miss a connection.  But at the end, a plane crash.  "Live for today, gone tomorrow, that's me ..." - Roger "The Hat" Manifold

Time – This is about wasted time, and time relentlessly marching forward.  At the beginning of your life you have all kinds of time to do the things you want, but toward the end of your life there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  Life is short so don’t waste it.   Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way…  That lyric from Roger Waters gives one keen insight into the English character.  I think it speaks to the “stiff upper lip” quality of the English – one may be going through some kind of personal trauma, but don’t you dare let anyone know about it.  On the inside there could be much anguish and turmoil, but outside there is the façade, the public mask that hides what’s happening inside.  This is the song where the female voices make their first appearance on the record.  When the vocals were mixed they sounded like they were put through some kind of oscillator, which [to me anyway] has the effect of making the voices sound like they were recorded underwater.  Time is also the last Pink Floyd song on which Rick Wright sings lead [he alternates verses with David Gilmour].  He wouldn’t sing lead again until Wearing the Inside Out [on 1994’s The Division Bell].

What does all of this mean?  To borrow a phrase, “time waits for no one…”

The Great Gig in the Sky – “I am not frightened of dying. Any time will do: I don't mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There's no reason for it — you've got to go sometime.”  The music is by Rick Wright.  Clare Torry’s vocal was completely improvised.  The band knew what they wanted – they wanted improvisation, and Rick Wright told her to “think about death, think about horror.”  She did her vocal very quickly but was embarrassed by her performance.  Rick Wright recalled that what she came up with was exactly what they were looking for, that they thought what she did was “wonderful.”  Since there are no lyrics, Clare Torry’s voice is another instrument, and a very effective one.   "I never said I was frightened of dying…"

Money – Quick – name another popular song that’s in 7/8 time!  I’d have to think about it for a bit, but right now it escapes me.  I don’t know how Alan Parsons managed it, but the cash registers are in sync with the beat of the music.  The message of the song is very simple – the guys in Pink Floyd like money, and lots of it.  Most of the song is in 7/8 time, but when it’s time for David Gilmour to solo, the band switches to 4/4 time and it’s time to rock.   I love it when a band can change time signatures [and back] in mid-song and make it look easy.

Us And Them – Rick Wright wrote the music for this one.  The only Pink Floyd song I like better than this one is Comfortably Numb.  When Michelangelo Antonioni made his film Zabriskie Point, Wright had a piece for him that was called The Violent Sequence.  Antonioni rejected the piece because it made him fell too sad.  This was something they had since 1969.  They didn’t use it for Atom Heart Mother, Meddle, or Obscured by Clouds, but they dug it up for Dark Side.  I don’t know why the kept it under wraps for so long, and I imagine they don’t either.  The track itself fades in with Rick Wright’s Hammond as Money fades out.

‘Forward!’ we cried from the rear and the front rank died/The generals sat and the lines on the map moved from side to side… Roger Waters is a lyrical genius here.  Here he congers a picture of generals who are so disconnected from the pain and suffering from those doing the actual fighting.  Those who are making those lines move back and forth are not human.  People who are putting up with things like trench foot, dysentery, typhus, cholera, interminable artillery barrages, poison gas and wholesale death in “going over the top” are an abstract concept to those who are “safely out of range” [a theme Waters would return to on his Amused to Death album].  Anytime I see a war movie like Paths to Glory or Joyeux Noel, where generals are depicted as being clueless to the conditions of the men they command, I am reminded of this lyric.

Any Colour You Like – A spacey, psychedelic jam.  Apparently one of the roadies had a saying about their guitars, something like "you can have it any colour you like." Gilmour admits to nicking his guitar sound here from Cream’s Badge, that swirling Leslie sound that later became identified with George Harrison.  It’s a nice bridge between Us And Them and Brain Damage.

Brain Damage – Gilmour’s guitar riff throughout the song reminds me of The Beatles’ Dear Prudence.  Roger Waters finally gets a lead vocal at the end of DSOTM with this and Eclipse.  Inspired by Syd Barrett perhaps? The bit about “when the band you’re in start playing different tunes” just screams Syd, because that really happened.  Roger Waters once said he had a vision of a piece of grass somewhere in Cambridge, the kind of place where “they” tell you to “keep off the grass.”  The lunatic ignores the sign and enjoys the grass, even though “they” try to “keep the loonies on the path.” 

Eclipse – Life, as seen by Roger Waters –

All that you touch
And all that you see
All that you taste
All you feel
And all that your love
And all that you hate
All you distrust
All you save
And all that you give
And all that you deal
And all that you buy, beg, borrow or steal
And all your create
And all you destroy
And all that you do
And all that you say
And all that you eat
And everyone you meet
And all that you slight
And everyone you fight
And all that is now
And all that is gone
And all that's to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

There is no dark side of the moon really.  Matter of fact, it’s all dark.


The voices – Roger Waters’ idea.  He had questions on cards that he would ask people, like their own roadies, the doorman at Abbey Road, or other musicians who happened to be there recording an album [in this case, Paul McCartney & Wings Red Rose Speedway]. The questions:

Are you afraid of dying?

"I'm not afraid of dying, anytime will do. I don't mind. Why should I be afraid of dying? There's no reason for it. You've gotta go sometime." - Gerry O'Driscoll, doorman at Abbey Road

"I never said I was afraid of dying" - Puddie Watts, wife of Pink Floyd road manager Peter Watts (father of actress Naomi Watts)

"Live for today, gone tomorrow, that's me." – Roger “The Hat” Manifold, Pink Floyd roadie

Do you think you're going mad?

"I've always been mad. I know I've been mad, like the most of us are. Very hard to explain why you're mad, even if you're not mad" - Gerry O'Driscoll

"I've been mad for fucking years, absolutely years, been over the edge for yonks, been working with bands so long, I think crikey." - Chris Adamson, Pink Floyd roadie

When was the last time you were violent, and were you in the right?

"I was in the right! Yes, absolutely in the right." - Chris Adamson

"I certainly was in the right." - Gerry O'Driscoll

"I was definitely in the right. That geezer was cruising for a bruising." - Puddie Watts

"I was just telling him, he couldn't get into number two. He was asking why he wasn't coming up on freely, after I was yelling and screaming and telling him why he wasn't coming up on freely. It came as a heavy blow, but we sorted the matter out." - Chris Adamson, Pink Floyd roadie

"I don't know, I was really drunk at the time!" – Henry McCullough [Wings guitarist]

"I mean, they're not gonna kill ya, so if you give 'em a quick short, sharp, shock, they won't do it again. Dig it? I mean he got off lightly, 'cause I would've given him a thrashing, I only hit him once. It was only a difference of opinion, but really, I mean good manners don't cost nothing do they, eh?" – Roger “The Hat” Manifold

The cover – designed by Storm Thorgerson, who died a couple of weeks ago.  He had simple instructions, especially from Rick Wright – make it simple, make it bold.  Storm came up with seven different cover designs, but each band member picked the Prism immediately.

The clocks – Alan Parsons is responsible for all the clocks at the beginning of Time.  He was making a recording for EMI to promote the “new” sound of quadraphonic, and he recorded all of these clocks in a clock shop.

The Dark Side of the Moon is an ageless masterpiece.  It doesn’t sound the least bit dated.  It’s one of my Desert Island Discs.