Friday, April 29, 2016

Weekend Mix: Weed, Whites, and Wine

I'm "Willin'" to admit that Little Feat's "Sailin' Shoes" just might be my favorite album of all time.

I've written elsewhere about the life changing moment I received "Looney Toons And Merrie Melodies" (1970), a Warner's Loss Leader's 3 record set I sent away for.
"Strawberry Flats" was the third song on side one, after Faces "Had Me A Real Good Time", and Black Sabbath's "Paranoid", and before Fleetwood Mac's "Tell me All The Things You Do" from "Kiln House".
I liked the other songs, and I bought all those albums too, but "Strawberry Flats" stood out. So many ideas packed into a little over 2 minutes.

I didn't know what a record store was. All I knew was the local Target equivalent. They didn't have "Little Feat", so I settled for "Sailin' Shoes" with it's bizzarre cover art.
From the chiming opener, "Easy To Slip" I liked it. A lot.

I've come to recognize it as a perfect encapsulation of it's time and place. Southern California in the early '70's. I hear elements of Country Rock, CSNY, The Eagles, Flying Burrito Brothers, Warren Zevon, Captain Beefheart, and of course, The Mother's Of Invention.

I'm on my third vinyl copy and have the cd.

This compilation is a tribute to Lowell George, founder and guiding light. He was a tremendously gifted guitar player, singer, songwriter, producer, and bandleader. It recreates the order I first heard them. "Strawberry Flats" followed by "Sailin' Shoes" in it's entirety, and then highlights from "Little Feat" and "Dixie Chicken".

Lowell George met Bill Payne when he was a member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention.
Payne auditioned for the Mothers, but didn't join. They formed Little Feat along with former Mothers  bassist Roy Estrada and drummer Richie Hayward from George's previous band, The Factory. Hayward had also been a member of the Fraternity of Man whose claim to fame was the inclusion of their "Don't Bogart Me" on the million-selling Easy Rider film soundtrack.
The name Little Feat came from a comment made by Mothers' drummer Jimmy Carl Black (The Indian of the group) about Lowell's "little feet". The spelling of "feat" was an homage to the Beatles.

There are three stories about the genesis of Little Feat.
One has it that George showed Zappa his song "Willin'," and that Zappa fired him because he was too talented to be a sideman, and he should form his own band.
The second version has Zappa firing him for playing a 15-minute guitar solo with his amplifier off. The third version says he was fired because "Willin'" contains drug references.
On October 18, 1975 at the Auditorium Theater in Rochester New York while introducing the song, George commented that he was asked to leave the band for "writing a song about dope".

In any version, Zappa was instrumental in getting George and his new band a contract with Warner Bros. Records. The eponymous first album delivered to Warner Bros. was recorded mostly in August and September 1970, and was released in January 1971. When it came time to record "Willin'," George had hurt his hand in an accident with a model airplane, so Ry Cooder sat in and played the song's slide part.
"Willin'" was re-recorded for "Sailin' Shoes", this time with guest Burrito "Sneaky Pete" on pedal steel. It's the the first Little Feat album to feature cover art by Neon Park, the artist responsible for Zappa's "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" (On which Lowell is a member of The Mothers).

Despite good reviews, lack of success led to the band splitting up, with Estrada leaving to join Captain Beefheart's Magic Band (And even more lack of success).

In 1972 Little Feat reformed, with bassist Kenny Gradney replacing Estrada. Also added was second guitarist Paul Barrere, a friend of Lowell's from Hollywood High, and percussionist Sam Clayton (brother of session singer Merry Clayton). As a result the band was expanded from a quartet to a sextet.

I was so excited when "Dixie Chicken" came out, until I played it. They had 3 new people in the band and it tilted towards New Orleans, and lite funk, which was not what I was looking for.
However, the title is a classic and "Fat Man In The Bathtub" is one of their finest moments.
I didn't hate the album.
Then came "Feats Don't Fail Me Now". Another Neon Parks cover, and a reworking of two songs from "Sailin" Shoes" played as a medley. Which I now understand was made to better reflect their live shows at the time, for which they were getting quite a reputation, but to my ears was a travesty.
I didn't buy any more of their albums after that.

George continued to produce the albums, but his songwriting contribution diminished as the group moved into jazz fusion, a style in which he had little interest. In August 1977, Little Feat recorded a live album from gigs at the Rainbow Theatre in London and Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC. "Waiting for Columbus" is considered by many to be one of the best live albums of all time, despite the fact that significant portions of George's vocals and slide work were over-dubbed later in the studio. It was released in 1978, by which time it had become apparent that Lowell George's interest in the band was waning, as was his health.

In an interview with Bill Flanagan (for the book Written in My Soul) conducted eleven days before his death, George made it clear that he felt the demise of Little Feat was due to his having allowed the band to be run democratically, with the result that Payne and, to a lesser extent, Barrere, had a presence as songwriters and in production which was disproportionate to their abilities.

Nowhere on the wikipedia page I reworked for some of this does it mention that Lowell's drug use was a contributing factor to his abdication of leadership in the band. Or that Zappa fired him for smoking dope.

His only solo album, "Thanks, I'll Eat It Here" (1979) is mostly covers. I've never heard it.

Too bad there isn't more of this.

Crack In Your Door

Some have expressed difficulty with the link. Here is an alternative:

Alternate Crack


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Heart & Soul

"I met a little girl and I settled down,
In a little house out on the edge of town
We got married, and swore we'd never part
Then little by little we drifted from each other's hearts"

"At first I thought it was just restlessness
That would fade as time went by and our love grew deep
In the end it was something more I guess
That tore us apart and made us weep"

I can hear an acoustic guitar and a voice like gravel. I can see the rave reviews. I know I'll buy the record and be disappointed. This is a story I have heard before. Who cares?
But then this happens.

"And I'm driving a stolen car
Down on Eldridge Avenue
Each night I wait to get caught
But I never do"

I'm not sure I trusted Bruce Springsteen when "The River" was first released. But I trust him now. Trust is everything. And the sucker-punch transition from the first two verses into the chorus is this man's most valuable asset. It is the ability to keep you believing, even when you're feeling as if you're being led down that same path over and over again.

It's his uncanny ability to shove all his shit, YOUR shit, in your face and then somehow ameliorate all fears, by letting go and not caring how you look or sound. It's crying the words "heart and soul" over and over and over in "Drive All Night" until you can't take it anymore, and then wishing it would still go on, once it stops.

"The River" is a special record. It's not without its flaws. But those flaws are manageable. I witnessed Bruce and the E Street Band perform "The River" in its entirety three times. The very first time in 2009. January of this year. Last night. I felt a bit jealous when The Boss let all of Brooklyn know that it was the last performance of "The River" and that the set "would open up" in Europe. Man, you gotta love those possibilities. And yet, if I had another chance to hear it all again, I'd do it all again.
That's because I trust the man. If he's in, I'm in.

I watched half of the arena file out to either piss or get a drink during "Independence Day" and then again during "Point Blank" and again during "Stolen Car." I saw someone Shazam "The River." I did. She actually said, "It's called The River." Ah, so what? It's all about what you take from what he gives. Right?


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Friday, April 22, 2016

It began as a project for everyone. For the first time, Prince would allow song contributions and performances from The Revolution. It could have been the brilliant follow-up to "Purple Rain" the world was waiting for. Of course, as sure as the day is long, inter-band disagreements changed the course of "The Dream Factory." More Prince solo tracks were added to replace Wendy & Lisa tracks. New stuff was written and a 3 LP set, "Crystal Ball" was delivered to Warner Brothers. They said no way. Reconfigured, remixed and retitled, "Sign O'The Times" was released and the rest is history.

This is the masterpiece, believed to be the final configuration of "The Dream Factory.

Dream Factory
The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker
Strange Relationship
Slow Love
Starfish & Coffee
I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man
Sign O'The Times
Crystal Ball
A Place In Heaven
Last Heart
Witness 4 The Prosecution
Movie Star
The Cross
All My Dreams


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sometimes It Blows In April

It started with "Dirty Mind" and a tight, sweaty and loud concert at The Ritz in NYC. 1981, I believe.  I knew then Prince was going to take on the world. He quickly became an obsession.

"1999" from the third row in Radio City Music Hall in 1983. Of course, "Purple Rain." Awards shows. Bootleg "Black Album." Arguably, one of the finest pop/soul/funk records ever released on four sides in "Sign O'The Times." A long summer time weekend visit to Paisley Park. The soundstage. Touching "the motorcycle." More bootlegs.

"The Gold Experience" and "Emancipation," two underappreciated gems from "the only man who could sing about incest and pussy and make me like it," said I to a couple of hundred people who came through the doors of my shop and had no trouble agreeing with me. An artist and a genius who left more gold on the cutting room floor than your average superstar would ever dream of creating. A rock star. An eccentric. Did I say genius? I'll say it again. Genius.

I won't lie and say I was with him until the end. I wasn't. I thought he lost his way musically, and so I went on mine. That only makes me sadder.

David Bowie and Prince, and too many little big ones in between. 2016 is shaping up to be complete shit. My heart can't take much more.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dion: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

I just discovered what has become my favorite album of the week, the 1967 reunion of Dion & The Belmonts. I had no idea this record existed before last week. It's far from perfect, but what's good is insanely good and very little is bad.

One rocker, a Dion original called "Jump Back Baby" is an absolute kick-ass joy. Think "Heat Wave" by Martha & The Vandellas. Actually, it IS "Heat Wave," but I imagine since this record was a flop, no one bothered taking Dion to court. There is a jangly take on Dylan's "Mama, You've Been On Mind," that feels just great. A couple of tracks, "Loserville" and "Movin' Man," both have that psych/folk feel of Dion's solo gem, "Wonder Where I'm Bound." And the track above, which blew my mind, a Dion original called, "My Girl The Month Of May."

If I am late to the party on this one, forgive me.

(h/t Tony S.)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Since April 1st...

I listened to both The White Stripes "White Blood Cells" and David Gilmour's 1978 solo debut and they are a lot better than I remember.

I listened to both R.E.M.'s "Out Of Time" and The Black Keys "Turn Blue" and they are a lot worse than I remember.

I listened to Simon & Garfunkel's "Bookends" and broke down during Side One, as usual.

I think the new Cheap Trick album is the best thing they've done in 30 years.

I bought two Lionel Richie records after seeing him on The Grammys. They have sat unplayed since and will most likely remain that way.

I want to feel bad for Randy California's family and I know it's so cool to hate Jimmy Page, but please....

That's it.