Thursday, January 22, 2015

With This Post, It is Happy Trails to You

WARNING: Potential Old Hats Ahead

Is there a more boring exercise than using a rowing machine? Really, it is more mind-numbing than a Justin Bieber concert, but if you live in Portland, Oregon and you need to get the heart moving and you don't feel like getting soaked, there aren't too many options in the winter time.

Fortunately, when we bought one I had the good sense to put the damned thing in front of the TV and invest in a pair of wireless headphones, so when I row I can watch a game or a movie, and suddenly the rain outside ceased to be a pain in the ass.

By far my favorite accompaniment has been the five-disk collection of The Beatles Anthology. I remember seeing the movie when it aired on TV, but they've filled out each disk with more footage and added a disk of extra material on top of that. You can get it on Amazon for not too much dough, and it's worth every penny.

A couple of neat tidbits that I'd forgotten or hadn't seen before: In "Hard Days Night," the great scene of Ringo wandering about came to be because one morning during the filming he showed up so hung over from a night of partying that he told them he was no good to do any of the scenes that were scheduled for that day. He suggested that instead they take a camera out and follow him while he gets some air.

* When the Beatles met the Queen, she thought that Ringo was the one who formed the group.

* George's interviews for the film are great. I'd forgotten that despite all his Hindu, give me peace awareness, the guy was as acerbic as hell. And when the three of them get together to chat you can see the tension between George and Paul. It bubbles up to the surface as Paul is explaining how John virtually invented feedback when he left his guitar in front of an amp and it started to vibrate on its own (used first with "I Feel Fine"). George tries to say something but Paul interrupts him, and you can just about see the steam coming out of George's ears. And that scene in "Let it Be" where George gets pissed off when Paul tells him how to play? Apparently Paul had been doing that since George joined the band.

* Another Ringo: One of the reasons why he hated touring was that they would only play a half hour a night, and the reason why he joined the band was because more than anything he loved to play live, and the Beatles were the best live band in Liverpool. He simply lives to play with great musicians, which puts the annual All-Starr tours into perspective. He also said if you watch them live, he's purposely barely doing anything on the drums because the screaming was so loud the other three couldn't hear him, so he had to stick with the basics in a desperate effort to keep them all together.

That's one of the things about the film that is rather sad. Here's a band that achieved everything the four of them could ever have hoped for and more, and yet their live shows were really a "what if." Can you imagine what they would have been like live if they had been allowed to extend themselves to even an hour and a half or if they had had even the basic sound equipment that would have let them hear their own music? Of course, they played extended sets in Hamburg as kids, but imagine "Helter Skelter" or even some of the songs from Revolver live with great sound and the freedom to play as long as they wanted.

Of course, they could have ended up ingesting enough LSD or smoking enough weed so that the songs went on too long. For example, give this take of "Revolution" a listen.

But there are also some great examples of what a terrific live band they were, even while being confined to shorts sets and the expectation that they only play their hits. For example, watch John and George, free from vocal duties, having a blast while Paul earnestly plugs away at "I'm Down" during the Shea Stadium concert.

And wow could they play fast. This version of "Can't Buy Me Love" during the NME Awards program smokes. The anthology also has a good chunk of their Paris show from 1965, and here's their version of "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" with George's phenomenal live guitar work, all the more remarkable because due to the noise they could only figure from memory what the others were playing and singing.

As for Ringo, even with the constraints that they complain about, the 1964 Washington concert should dispel any notion that he was anything less than a brilliant drummer. Youtube has most of the show, but watch Ringo at about twelve minutes into the film. He's incredible. But can you imagine, they played that concert in a theater in-the-round. After every song they had to turn the drum kit 90 degrees. You also see the police patrolling the aisles. God forbid someone would get up to dance, they end up in the can.


With this post, I hand the reins back to Brother Sal. After just three of these, my energy and ideas are exhausted. How he does this six days a week is beyond amazing.

Ok, one more before I go. The Paris clip reminded me of a great tale that I tend to tell at the drop of a hat. Oops, there goes my hat, so here's the story. I have a cousin who is a London cab driver. He was raised on rock and roll in the 50s. If you ask him about a hit song from that era he can tell you the label it was recorded on, who the musicians were and how high it landed on the charts. Whenever he'd get a famous musician in the cab, he'd ask for an autograph (and sometimes get one for me).

I remember one story about this little old man who got in the cab with his wife. The whole trip she was screaming at him for this and that reason, and the guy just kept shrinking further and further into his long overcoat to escape the abuse. At one point, David took a close look at them through his rear view mirror and realized the poor fellow was Charlie Watts.

Anyway, David's favorite singer was Carl Perkins. He loved Perkins so much that he saved up his money for months so he could come to the US and take a Greyhound bus to Jackson, Tennessee just to visit the Carl Perkins museum. We put him on the bus in NY, and he rides overnight to Jackson, but when he gets there, the museum is closed! Not only closed, but it's empty. Completely miserable, he goes next door to a bar. Hearing his accent, the owner engages him, and David tells him his sad story. The guy says to him, "I'm so sorry. I own the museum, but I closed it and cleaned it out because we're moving it into a larger building. I'd show you what we have, but everything is in storage."

Well, that doesn't raise David's spirits, so the guy then says, "Look, Carl is out of town. Why don't I at least take you on a drive by his house so you can see where he lives."

David sorrowfully agrees. The guy disappears for a minute and comes back with the keys to his car, and they drive over to a nice little suburban house. But it's just a house. Then suddenly, the door opens and Perkins himself comes down the path. He walks right up to the car and says, "Hi, David, welcome to America."

Of course, when the bar owner had left to get his keys he had called Perkins to tell him David's story, and for the next half hour or so, David and Carl just stood there and chatted about music, and from what David told me Perkins couldn't believe how much David knew. He even gave David a pick that he said he used to record "Blue Suede Shoes" (my guess is he had a hundred of those).

David, of course, is so high for the rest of the trip he doesn't need a plane to fly back to England. A few months later, there was that special on TV, in which Perkins went to England and played with Ringo and George, Dave Edmunds and Clapton. It's on youtube. David got himself a ticket, although he had to talk his way inside because they didn't want the cameras to show any older fans.

The stage was floor level, and at intermission, Perkins was just standing around chatting. David walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. Perkins turned around and exclaimed, "My god, it's the cab driver! You follow me everywhere."

He then introduced David to the others and after that, whenever Perkins came to England, David would drive him around. Here's a shot of the two of them in front of Perkins's hotel:


William Repsher said...

I'd put forth that Paul was no more or less off-putting to George than John. It's just that they had a personal relationship/knew each other before the band formed and probably took it more personally as a result. From various accounts, John would often make himself scarce or not even show up in the studio when it came time to record George's occasional tracks. McCartney took more heat because he tried to fill the void after Brian Epstein's death, which was a mistake, but at least he correctly sensed how directionless they were afterwards and tried to do something about it.

Their post-Beatles relationship, too, seemed a little thorny. Isn't it the case that George didn't even mention either of them in his autobiography?!

I'm done with Beatles books! Must have read at least a dozen since the 1970's, only rivaled by The Stones and Dylan. Now reading about CCR, and it's the age-old story of teenage friends finding each other, growing, making great music, then getting strange and dislocated after success. The rock-and-roll template.

jeff said...

I think you're right about the relationships between them. I imagine anyway, you toss four different people from tough backgrounds into that kind of pressure cooker and it will combust pretty quickly. They could be the best of friends -- and they were -- and not be immune to those kinds of tensions and differences.

I just finished Marky Ramone's book. No real surprises in it, but a pretty good read. The CCR book I have is pretty hostile to Fogerty. I think it's called Bad Moon Rising but I'd have to dig it out to be sure.

A walk in the woods said...

Another excellent post, Jeff. I got married right when that Anthology series was originally airing - October 1995 - and remember it was SO good, I couldn't tear away from it, even though I needed to be doing other stuff to help get ready. I'm glad you reminded me of it here, I'll have to get it because our boys would LOVE it too.

I'm a Paul defender - probably because I see some of my bad habits in his. A bit manipulative and overcompensating sometimes, he could be. In a way, it's amazing the four lasted as long as they did. Maybe Ringo was the neutral ballast that kept it together.

cmealha said...

Great Carl Perkins story

buzzbabyjesus said...

I've read this story before, absent the photos, maybe as far back as 2008, and maybe on another blog. Worth reading again.

jeff said...

Well, as I said I'm out of new ideas and I tell that story whenever I have a captive audience, so it's very possible I did elsewhere.

My cousin is actually winding down his driving career. I think he did tell me he had McCartney and Harrison in his cab. He sent me a letter he once received from Scottie Moore.

He also came here in 1986, and I took him to see the Mets. After he went back to England, if he got someone from New York in his cab, he would put on his Met hat and ask them, "So, how is Mookie Wilson doing?" Then he would try to convince them to buy a copy of my book about New York. He was a very good salesman.

Dave said...

I remember the Carl Perkins story, too, but at least you're consistent, Jeff! I welcome Sal back, of course, but I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed all three of your posts.

You are an exceptional writer. I couldn't help but notice the note on the taxi that said "Good luck on your book." Can you tell us about that?

Dave F.

jeff said...

I think at the time I was thinking about writing a book on rock 'n roll in New York in the 1950s. I remember a great interview with the bass player for Bill Haley and the comets, as rock around the clock was recorded on west 70th or 71st at the pythian temple. David must've told Robbie Robertson about it. The book never came to be. It morphed into a book about the 60s called "generation on fire." there's a bit of music in there with a long interview I did with Barry Melton of country Joe and the Fish.

daudder said...

thta was a great post, and the david/carl perkins story was fab.

dogbreath said...

Hadn't heard the Carl Perkins tale before - loved it. Much enjoyed your tenure on BW & the posts nearly rivalling "War and Peace" for length! And just imagine if the Fab Four had called their tune "Six Days A Week"

buzzbabyjesus said...

I've shared this before, maybe here, but it's relevant to the post. Here are the bickering Beatles live at Twickenham studios proving that once they were playing the tension lifted.
A tantalizing look at what might have been. It's superior to the version on "All Things Must Pass" in many ways, especially when all the voices come in.