Friday, December 19, 2014

Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete

It all started with a motorcycle accident.  Bob Dylan and The Hawks [later to become The Band] toured the world during 1965-66.  For Dylan it was a mind-frying experience.  Martin Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home documented Dylan’s transformation from acoustic folkie into an electric rock performer.  His fans were not pleased.  For a bunch of enlightened leftists who demanded social change, they were very intolerant of the change in the direction of Bob Dylan’s music.  People purchased tickets to his shows for the expressed purpose of booing him.  This culminated in a show performed in Manchester, England in May 1966 [captured in its entirety on The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert].  As with all shows during this tour, the show was split into two parts.  The first set was a solo, all-acoustic affair.  His audience listened in silent reverence during the first half.  He brought out the Hawks for the electric second half.  The fans heckled and they booed.  They clapped between songs to throw off his timing.  Between Ballad of a Thin Man and Like a Rolling Stone you can hear one fan yelling out “Judas!”  Another fan shouts out “I’m never listening to you again, ever!” to which Dylan retorts “you’re a liar!”  After all this, Dylan turned around and you can hear him telling the band “play it fucking loud!” and off they launched into Like a Rolling Stone.  It was that kind of tour.

After the world tour finished, Dylan’s seminal Blonde on Blonde was released.  Dylan was faced with the prospect of repeating the experience he just endured.  As fate would have it, Dylan had his motorcycle accident in July 1966.  Rumor had it he broke his neck and several other things.  I don’t know the extent of his injuries, but Dylan retreated to Woodstock, New York to recover.  He also took the time to concentrate on raising his young family out of the spotlight, and he escaped the clutches of “the machine.”  This meant there would be no more touring in 1966, which was just fine with him.  Nine months later Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson joined Dylan at his house in Woodstock on worked on new music.  When things got too loud for Dylan’s house [I’m sure he got some grief from the Missus for waking the children], Dylan the Hawks relocated to a house in West Saugerties, New York, a house that became known as Big Pink.

Dylan’s songs from The Basement Tapes (1975) original release:

Odds and Ends, Million Dollar Bash, Goin’ to Acapulco, Lo and Behold!, Clothes Line Saga, Apple Sucking Tree, Please, Mrs. Henry, Tears of Rage, Too Much of Nothing, Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread, Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood), Tiny Montgomery, You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, Nothing Was Delivered, Open the Door, Homer, This Wheel's on Fire

Orange Juice Blues [Blues For Breakfast], Yazoo Street Scandal, Katie’s Been Gone, Bessie Smith, Ain’t No More Cane, Ruben Remus, Don’t Ya Tell Henry, Long Distance Operator

What was the reason for the recordings in the first place?  Was it music therapy for both Dylan and the Hawks as they dried out and detoxed?  Was Dylan creating demos for other people?  I suspect it was a bit of both.  When one looks at the complete song list of “the Basement Tapes,” one finds that Dylan and company covered a lot of musical ground just for the hell of it.  There are songs from A.P. Carter, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Hank Snow, John Lee Hooker, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ian & Sylvia, Pete Seeger, Tim Hardin, Bo Diddley, and Curtis Mayfield, as well as quite a few traditional songs from the public domain. 

Several songs from these sessions ended up being recorded and released by other artists.  Dylan and his manager Albert Grossman were co-owners of Dwarf Music, a music publishing company that provided songs for other people.  The Byrds recorded You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere and Nothing Was Delivered for 1968’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo.  They later recorded This Wheel’s On Fire for the follow-up, 1969’s Dr. Byrd & Mr. Hyde [my favorite version of this song – if you can find it, get it!].  When the Hawks got their own recording contract [and became The Band], three of these songs found their way onto Music From Big PinkTears of Rage, I Shall Be Released, and This Wheel’s On Fire.  Manfred Mann recorded Quinn the Eskimo [The Mighty Quinn].  Fairport Convention did Million Dollar Bash, while Peter, Paul & Mary did Too Much of Nothing.  These were among a fourteen-song demo that made the rounds to people who might be interested in recording them.

So between April and October of 1967, Dylan and the Hawks recorded all of these songs.  When they were done, they sat unreleased.  These songs were all of demo quality.  Some of the recordings are pretty rough.  They weren’t intended for release.  But in 1969 there appeared a Dylan bootleg called Great White Wonder, some of the songs of which came from the Basement Tapes.  Once the songs from 1967 saw the light of day, so began the mythology of this great, mysterious treasure trove of unreleased Dylan music.  While the music from the Basement Tapes was unintended for release, they did show that Dylan was heading in a different direction with his music, as is evident on 1967’s John Wesley Harding.  The music, some of which was re-recorded by The Band for their debut Music From Big Pink, shows a group of musicians going against the grain in 1967.  This was the year of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, the debut of The Doors and all other kinds of psychedelia.  Such was the effect of Music From Big Pink that once he heard it, Eric Clapton decided to leave Cream.  The Beatles did the White Album, and the Stones started their four-year winning streak of great releases with Beggars Banquet.

The tapes sat unreleased until 1975, when Robbie Robertson compiled the original release.  I don’t know his motivation for including the songs from The Band on this release.  These songs were recorded in a professional studio in either New York or Los Angeles, not in Big Pink’s basement.  One can find these very same recordings on the expanded releases of Music From Big Pink and Cahoots.  The 1975 release was just the tip of the iceberg.  Some prominent songs were missing - I Shall Be Released and Quinn the Eskimo [The Mighty Quinn] come immediately to mind.  Why did Robbie Robertson leave those songs off?  Only he knows.

There are two versions of The Basement Tapes released in November 2014.  There is the behemoth, six disc version [The Basement Tapes Complete] that contains 139 songs [there are multiple takes of several songs].  This version is for the uber completest.  If you’re like me and can’t afford this monster, there is a two disc version [The Basement Tapes Raw].  The Basement Tapes Raw contains all the Dylan songs from the 1975 release.  These songs come are either alternate takes, “restored” versions, or “without overdubs.”  The alternate takes are self-explanatory.  Some of the songs on the 1975 release received some overdubs from The Band.  Those overdubs were removed for the 2014 release.  Other songs from the 1975 release were “restored” to their original state.  In this context that means they had the echo removed, and they were restored to the original stereo mixes from the mono versions that appeared in 1975.  Unless you’re hardcore and listen very closely to each and every track on headphones, the differences between what was released in 1975 and what was released last month are negligible.

One Too Many Mornings / I Don't Hurt Anymore / Ain't No More Cane / Dress It Up, Better Have It All / I'm Not There / Johnny Todd / Quinn the Eskimo / Get Your Rocks Off / Santa-Fe / Silent Weekend / I Shall Be Released / Minstrel Boy / All You Have To Do is Dream / 900 Miles From My Home / One For the Road / I'm Alright / Blowin' In the Wind / You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere [Alternate Version] / Folsom Prison Blues / Don't Ya Tell Henry / Baby, Won't You Be My Baby / Sign On the Cross

While some of these songs are released to the public for the first time, some of these have been released before, to include:

  • Minstrel Boy first appeared on The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969–1971)
  • I Shall Be Released and Santa-Fe first appeared on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991
  • I'm Not There first appeared on the I'm Not There soundtrack in 2007

Interesting takes: 

  • A six-minute, full band shuffle of Blowin’ in the Wind
  • Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues
  • Sign on the Cross
  • I Don’t Hurt Anymore
  • Get Your Rocks Off [very silly]
  • Ain't No More Cane [Levon Helm sang the version that appeared on the 1975 release]
  • Don’t Ya Tell Henry [Levon Helm sang the version that appeared on the 1975 release]
  • Full band version of One Too Many Mornings [originally appeared on The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)]

Unlike the 1975 release where Dylan and The Band received equal billing, this is a Bob Dylan release.  This begs the question – is there a bunch of unreleased music from The Band?  Perhaps time will tell.  The Basement Tapes Raw is a good companion to The Basement Tapes from 1975, but if I was going to compile The Basement Tapes Raw, I would not include any titles that appeared in 1975 or on any other releases.  As it stands now, of the 38 titles released on The Basement Tapes Raw, 16 came out in 1975, 4 came out on other releases.  That’s 20 more previously-unheard/unreleased songs that Columbia could have put out.  I guess that’s their way of getting you to buy the big box.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Allman Brothers Band - The Final Show

Back in January of this year, both Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks announced they would be leaving the Allman Brothers Band at the end of 2014.  Shortly thereafter I asked the musical question – was it the “end of the line” for the Allman Brothers?  This lineup has been together since 2001 – the longest-lasting lineup for this storied band.  I thought then as I do now that the daunting task of finding not one but two new guitarists would be too much to overcome.  Apparently Gregg Allman came to the same conclusion as he announced the band would stop touring after 2014.  Since the band no longer records [their last studio album Hittin’ the Note came out in 2003], no more touring meant it was the “end of the line” indeed.

The band scheduled their usual March Madness at the Beacon Theatre in New York.  They were scheduled to play 14 shows, but they managed to play only 10 of them because Gregg Allman came down with bronchitis and couldn’t sing. The band played two of those 10 shows without Gregg, but then they postponed the remaining four shows until a later date.  Gregg has his own Gregg Allman & Friends band, Derek Trucks records and tours regularly with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Warren Haynes has Gov’t Mule.  Given the busy schedules of the individual band members, the “later dates” came in October.  In addition to the four make-up dates, the band tacked on two more shows.  The final date – October 28th.

I belong to the official Allman Brothers web forum, Hittin’ the Web with The Allman Brothers Band.  As soon as the dates for the final shows were announced, much speculation about who would be there commenced.  The biggest topic was Dickey Betts.  Would he or wouldn’t he be there?  Would there be any other guests like Beacon runs of the past?  The answer to both questions turned out to be “no.”  The band decided they would do this run themselves.  However, according to Gregg Allman, they reached out to Dickey, but he was “on a hunting trip.”  Derek Trucks confirmed the band tried to get Dickey, but Dickey’s manager called “bullshit.”  So who to believe?  It doesn’t matter – Dickey didn’t show.  There were three musical “guests” – they just weren’t people.  Three of Duane Allman’s guitars, two of which are owned by daughter Galadrielle, were in the house.  Warren and Derek played them during the run.  The next subject of speculation was “the final song.”  What would it be?  Opinions varied between Whipping Post, One Way Out, No One To Run With, and Little Martha.  I thought it might be Little Martha – the only song Duane Allman wrote.  But in the end, the band had a surprise – more on that later.  A theme emerged during the final six shows – Will the Circle Be Unbroken.  The old gospel hymn that was sung at Duane Allman’s funeral crept into the set lists one way or another.  On one night it might be just an instrumental tease, other nights Gregg and Warren would sing a verse or two.  But every night, that theme was there.

A couple of days ago I received my copy of the final show from Hittin’ the Note.  Most of the shows that I bought were 3 CDs, some are only 2.  This show has 4.  When the original six members were all in their twenties, the length of their shows became legend.  When they closed the Fillmore East in July 1971, they went on-stage at 2am and came off-stage at 6am.  Butch Trucks often tells the story about that show.  When they finished the show you could hear a pin drop.  No applause, just all smiles.  And then the doors opened, the first rays of the new morning sun came in, and this New York crowd quietly walked out.  Butch quotes Duane as saying “God damn!  It’s like leaving church!”   This final show wasn’t like that.  The band was “hittin’ the note,” and the crowd was amped up.  They played three sets instead of their usual two.  It’s become cliché that whenever a sports team plays the game of their lives, it’s referred to as “leaving it on the field.”  In the musical context, sometimes the Allman Brothers Band “left it on the stage,” and sometimes they didn’t.  That’s not to say that the shows where they didn’t leave it all there were bad.  On the contrary – they’re just old and can’t do it like they used to night after night four decades ago.  But having listened to this show, I can honestly say these old guys lived up to their legend.  So enough of the qualitative, here’s the Joe Friday “just-the-facts” scorecard:

The final setlist:

Set One:
Little Martha >
Mountain Jam >
Don't Want You No More >
It's Not My Cross to Bear >
One Way Out
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
Midnight Rider
High Cost of Low Living
Blue Sky
You Don't Love Me

Set Two:
Statesboro Blues
Ain't Wastin’ Time No More
Black Hearted Woman
The Sky is Crying
Don't Keep Me Wonderin'
In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed

Set Three:
Mountain Jam >
Will The Circle Be Unbroken? >
Mountain Jam

Whipping Post
Trouble No More

After the thunder and frenzy that was Whipping Post, the band all gathered center stage and Gregg, usually a man of few words began to speak:

“A few years ago, just a few years ago, I was called to come and meet these guys in Jacksonville, Florida.  And it was kinda like, a little stiff in the room until one of them handed me a lyric sheet and said “Sing!”  And this was about 3:30 in the afternoon in Jacksonville, Florida, March 26th, 1969.  Never did we have any idea that it would come to this.  We give you a heartfelt ‘thank you.’  And now we’re gonna end on the first song we ever played, that broke the ice.” 

Given that Gregg didn’t know any of his future bandmates except for his brother when he walked into that first rehearsal, I have no doubt that the “one of them” who said “Sing!” was Duane.  With all of the stories I’ve heard and read about Duane, that way of saying hello would be totally in-character for him.  Oh, to have been a fly on the wall the day a new music genre was invented…

Usually the talkative one who tells the same stories over and over again, Butch Trucks simply echoed what Gregg said.  The band would bookend the Allman Brothers Band with the first song they ever played.

Jaimoe, who usually says fewer words than Gregg [if you can believe such a thing is possible], said this:  “Hello hello, thank you!  Thank you so much.  We couldn’t have done it without you.  Two things I always wanted to do in my life – I wanted to be Mr. America and I wanted to be the world’s greatest jazz drummer.  Well, I gave up on Mr. America, and on my way to New York City I went to Alabama to meet Duane Allman.  And then I was a jazz drummer, that’s when I discovered what that was all about.  So thank God for Duane Allman and all these fellas, and thank God for you!”

The band picked up their instruments and played one final song, which indeed was the first song they ever played as a band – Muddy Waters’ Trouble No More.  Five hours after they took the stage, at 1:30 AM on October 29th, the 43rd anniversary of Duane Allman’s passing, the band came off stage for the final time.  The circle was and is unbroken.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Frank Zappa's Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

It was the first week of December 1971. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were on tour in Europe. Decemberd 4th saw  them in Montreux, Switzerland. They were playing at the Casino, one of the regular venues on the European circuit. Deep Purple were in town to record their next album [Machine Head] with the Rolling Stones mobile studio. FZ’s show was to be the last show at the Casino before it closed for the season. Once they cleared out, Deep Purple would load in and record Machine Head. But it didn’t quite work out that way.

While Don Preston was performing his synthesizer solo during King Kong, somebody in the audience fired a flare gun. The flare got lodged in the trunking in the ceiling, and before too long, the entire place was an inferno. FZ and the Mothers lost all of their equipment in the fire. Deep Purple lost their venue for recording Machine Head. Amazingly, nobody was killed. This incident inspired Deep Purple’s song Smoke on the Water. If you want the details, they’re all there in the lyrics.

Fast forward six days to December 10th. FZ’s tour continued on to the Rainbow Theatre in London. As fate would have it, FZ and the Mothers were playing King Kong when a crazed fan went on-stage and pushed FZ into the orchestra pit. The fall was about ten-fifteen feet onto a concrete floor. FZ suffered severe injuries. He had a crushed larynx, head trauma and multiple fractures. The crushed larynx left him with a lower voice, and the fractures [including a broken leg, broken rib, broken pelvis] left him with a limp and a bad back for the rest of his life. FZ was wheelchair bound for several months, during which time he made the albums The Grand Wazoo and Waka Jawaka.

According to FZ:
“My head was over on my shoulder, and my neck was bent like it was broken. I had a gash in my chin, a hole in the back of my head, a broken rib, and a fractured leg. One arm was paralyzed… I was taken to a public hospital. I remember being in the emergency room which, like the rest of London at that time of year, was freezing cold. They were clearly understaffed - a guy two beds down from me had his balls smashed in a brawl someplace, and was howling, unattended… They couldn't give me any anesthetic because I had a head injury, so after a while I just passed out, and woke up later in a bad-smelling room with beds all around, in a circle, with curtains hung between them. I remember the curtains parting in front of me and a black nurse coming in and seeing my face; like she had just seen a monster. I was pretty mashed up… I was later transferred to the Harley Street Clinic where I stayed for a month. I had a twenty-four-hour bodyguard because the asshole who had hit me was out on bail, and we didn't know how insane he was.”

The guy who nearly killed Frank Zappa is named Trevor Howell. He was wacked out on weed and LSD. He thought he saw FZ making sexual gestures toward his girlfriend, freaked out and pushed FZ into the pit. He did only a year in prison for "assault with malicious intent to commit bodily harm.”