Pops Staples | Nobody’s Fault But Mine

25 01 2011

Here is Pops Staples (as in The Staples Singers & Mavis’ dad) doing an old blues tune called “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” on the Bobby Jones Gospel Hour. Everybody knows that Pops is a mean soul singer but he is one hell of a guitarist too. It’s really cool to see him digging into this solo gospel version of the Blind Willie Johnson classic. I love to hear him all by himself with just a Telecaster guitar and that soulful voice.

You know what they say, you can take the boy out of Mississippi but you can’t take Mississippi out of the boy. Pops truly is a delta legend and one that I have a real soft spot for. Although, the Staple Singers haven’t gotten much love here on The GG, they are a certainly favorite of mine. With that said, you can expect a few  pieces featuring Mavis and the family in the near future. Now check out the video below to see what old Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples was getting into during the latter part of his career. It’s pretty awesome.

There is an additional interview on the end of this video. It’s not really that interesting but if you’re into vintage politics alongside your vintage music, you may dig it.

Advertisements




The Band | The Last Waltz

7 09 2010

The Last Waltz is probably the first of the hand full of spectacular concert films, many even regard it as the “greatest of all time”. Directed by Martin Scorsese back in 1976, it’s an epic film that commemorates the final days of The Band’s touring career by capturing their last live performance, which included a tremendous lineup of distinguished guests from the music community. Many of whom were closely connected The Bands history, like Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan. As well as many others who are just old friends or occasional collaborators, like Van Morrison and Neil Young. Then there are even a few out that make hardly any sense at all, namely: Neil Diamond. That one I always found odd but I recently read it was because Robbie Robertson wanted to make sure the “Tin Pan Alley”  songwriters were represented and hence invited Neil. Apparently, it was weird to the rest of the band to as they have since admitted to objecting to Robbie’s decision… but went along with it anyway. Of all the songs that evening and of all the guest performances, there are a few that will forever stick out.  My all-time favorite (although it’s a tough call) would have to be Van’s appearance, doing the classic “Caravan”. This tune is awesome. Not surprising when you consider the talent. Van, as usual, knocks it out of the park, showcasing that Van The Man charisma and charm. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a must…

I’m also a big fan of Neil Young’s “Helpless”. Neil is fantastic, as crazy as ever. One of the coolest parts is that Joni Mitchell is lying in the shadows off stage singing backup. I always thought that was so weird but, I later read they wanted her eventual appearance to have more impact so they asked her to lay back early in the set. This song is so great, but accompanied by this band it’s larger than life.

There are too many good performances to start listing them all. One that thing that’s hard to comprehend based on the film is the magnitude of the evening. It was not just a concert. It was a major happening. Just consider the major players: Bill Graham, Martin Scorsese, Bob Dylan, The Band, and so on. From the word go, this thing was going to be an evening that would never be forgotten. It lasted all night long, literally. They served dinner early at 5pm, then partook in some ballroom dancing (presumably where the Waltz comes from in the title), the dancing was followed by a live poetry reading and then this very loooooong cocnert began. By the time they got to the encore, a cool version of Marvin Gaye’s “Baby Don’t Do It”, it was almost 3am. Like I said, the entire evening is full of great performances, but some of the best are from the original lineup of players that were being honored that night, The Band. Here are a few great examples:

This is the Rick Danko sung beauty “Stagefright”. I love this tune and Danko, the bass player, is fantastic on all accounts. One of the things I love most about this band is that everybody sings and they all have very distinct voices that alone sound great but in concert with each other become something much greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Of course the classics are always enjoyable. This version of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is accompanied by a huge horn section arranged by none-other-than Allen Toussaint. Drummer, Levon Helm, sings with every once of breath the man has in him. As usual, he’s superb.

There is another “classic” that was shot on an MGM soundstage after the event. Scorsese decided to include this version instead of the live one from that night. I see why. It’s an amazing performance. The Staple Singers are great but more remarkable is the production. The sound quality and the video are noticeably better than the rest of the film’s footage. In the beginning of this clip, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Richard Manuel just finishes telling the story of how The Band got it’s name. If you’ve never heard the story, you got to check it out. It’s simple but Manuel tells it so well.

As I said before, this was a long evening presented in multiple parts. On of which was focused on the blues. I felt I had to include this footage of Eric Clapton guesting on “Further On Up The Road”. The song is nothing too spectacular but there is this moment that I love. At  about 30 seconds, Clapton takes the solo but about half a chorus in his guitar strap comes off and he yells “hold on”. Like true professionals, Robbie Robertson jumps right in and picks up where Eric left off. Robbie even tries to mimic Clapton’s style a bit. It’s pretty cool and I, frankly, I would regret not mentioning it.

I could go on and on about this memorable night, but I need to end somewhere. I figure this is a fitting end as it kind of sums up what The Band was retreating with their transition from live act to becoming simply a “studio band”. This is Dylan’s performance of “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”. For those that don’t know, The Band used to be Dylan’s backing band (a great one at that). Given the significance of the evening and their relationship, they invited him to do a 4 song reunion set. But, this is where it gets interesting. Bob was reluctant to participate because he had his own film coming out and didn’t want to detract from that release. He agreed nevertheless but negotiations took place all the way up to his appearance on stage… obviously a very sensitive topic of for old Bobby boy. Reportedly, Robertson assured Dylan that the concert film’s release would be delayed until after his film, and with that Dylan relented and agreed to be filmed. As the promoter, Bill Graham was also involved in the talks. As the story goes, “Somebody working with Bob said ‘We’re not filming this.’ And Bill just said, ‘Get out of here, or I’ll kill you’,” Robertson is quoted in the liner notes of the 2002 album re-issue as saying, “It all worked out.” According to Scorsese, Dylan made the stipulation that only two of his songs could be filmed: “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” and “Forever Young”. He added, “When Dylan got on stage, the sound was so loud, I didn’t know what to shoot,” Scorsese later recalled. “Bill Graham was next to me shouting, ‘Shoot him! Shoot him! He comes from the same streets as you. Don’t let him push you around.’ Fortunately, we got our cues right and we shot the two songs that were used in the film.” …and yet it all seems so friendly and simple when you watch the movie.

References:

More info on The Band

More info on The Last Waltz

More info on Martin Scorsese

More info on Bill Graham

More info on Bob Dylan

More info on Eric Clapton

More info on Neil Young

More info on Van Morrison

More info on Joni Mitchell

More info on The Staple Singers

More info on “The Weight”

More info on “Caravan”

More info on “Helpless”

More info on “Further On Up The Road”

More info on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”





Son House

2 03 2010

Eddie “Son” House Jr. is perhaps the father of the Delta Blues. Many say that it was Robert Johnson but in reality even Johnson was influenced by his predecessor, Son House. He even owes House for some of the folk lore and mystique that surrounds his legacy because it was House who spread the idea to young blues admirers that Robert Johnson had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical prowess. The bottom line is, without Son House, there would likely be no Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson. The combination of House’s voice and guitar made his music unbelievably raw, sincere and just plain fascinating. It’s incredible… as is the back story behind the man himself.

House was born in 1902 on a plantation on the Mississippi River Delta. Before the Civil War, Delta plantation owners had been major purchasers of human labor. After being liberated in 1865, the displaced former slaves maintained their musical and storytelling traditions, spirituality, endurance, and humor… all of which had a indisputable voice through the blues.

Still, the music that emerged from these common beginnings was not embraced by all. The Delta blues belonged to only the poorest and most illiterate of folks. It only grew to “sophistication” on street corners and in the rowdy and often dangerous drinking places called juke joints. The performers were usually drifters who could find work anywhere during harvest time. But the most popular became local stars and often infamous as in House’s case. It was once said that the “Blues was so disreputable that even its staunchest devotees frequently found it prudent to disown it”. The church and the blues were not supposed to mix. This was an ethical dilemma that haunted Son House all of his life as he was a churchgoing man since a young boy. By the age of 15 House was giving sermons. By 20, he was the pastor of a Baptist church.  Although he was passionate about his religion, House never committed to a career in the church. He rambled from job to job, picking cotton, gathering tree moss, always looking for “easy street”. Despite the fact that his father and his uncles had their own horn band, Son House never viewed music as a way to make a living.

By 1926, after chasing a girl to Louisiana, House had returned home and was considering going back to the church. Around that time, while doing some rambling and drinking, House had seen a local bluesman named Willie Wilson play bottleneck guitar. He was dazzled. “This boy,” House remembered, “had a thing on his finger like a small medicine bottle, and he was zinging it, you know.” He recalled, “’Sounds good!’ I said. ‘Jesus, I like that! I believe I want to play one of them things.’” With just a buck and a half House went out and bought himself a battered old guitar. Wilson taught him how to tune by ear, another player, James McCoy, gave him lessons, and the rest he picked up on his own.

But House’s distinctive style was not simply a product of his early influences like McCoy or blues great Charley Patton. His history with the church had a hand in it too. Blues Historian, Robert Palmer, noted that, “[House’s] instrument became a congregation, responding to his gravelly exhortation with clipped, percussive bass rhythms and the ecstatic whine of the slider in the treble…. It was stark, gripping, kinetic music that demanded to be danced to and would have left few listeners unmoved.” Son House was preaching the blues.

In those days the Delta was Mississippi’s wild side, a blend of hard times, heavy drinking, and a gun in the possession of almost every man. In 1928, House was sent to a state penal farm for shooting and killing a man at a drunken house party near his home. House had pleaded self-defense as he was merely retaliating after the man opened fire in the confined space (hitting House in the leg). After serving two years, he was released and ordered not to return to the area ever again. And with that, he headed north.

In Lula, Mississippi, he met his hero, Charley Patton, and the two became as close as brothers. House, Patton, and a lesser-known local bluesman named Willie Brown teamed up for gigs and enjoyed some small-time success. In 1930, representatives of Paramount Records ventured to Lula to invite Patton to Wisconsin for a recording session. Patton brought along Son House, Willie Brown, and blues singer and piano player Louise Johnson. The resultant recordings have become classics, and Son House’s “My Black Mama” and “Preachin’ the Blues” are considered masterpieces of Delta blues singing.

Patton died in 1933. House married, earned a meager living driving a tractor, and continued playing with Brown. Along the way, House taught his classic “My Black Mama” riff to future blues titans Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. In 1942, House recorded “Walking Blues,” “Special Rider Blues,” “The Pony Blues,” and “The Jinx Blues” for the Library of Congress in the legendary “Field Recordings of 1941 – 1942″. Then, in 1943, he left the Delta for good.

Unlike Muddy Waters, who made his way to Chicago in search of fame and fortune, House’s chief motivation in leaving the Delta was to escape the hardships of life in Mississippi. Alone again, he took the train to Rochester, NY, and landed himself a job with the train line. When Willie Brown died in 1952, House said “Well, sir, all my boys are gone.” and stopped playing altogether. He later said, “I don’t even know what I did with my guitar.” House abandoned the blues and joined the Amen Baptist Church.

About a decade later, he was located by a pair of blues devotees and they coaxed him out of retirement in 1964. House signed with Columbia Records and resurrected his signature tunes. He performed at blues festivals, colleges, and other concerts which took him all the way to Europe. Through all the acclaim, he remained a soft-spoken, modest man who depended on the bottle to calm his nerves. By 1976, deteriorating health forced his ultimate retirement. Son House moved to Detroit to be with family and died in his sleep on October, 19, 1988. With his passing went the last of the great original Mississippi Delta blues singers.Truly a remarkable story about the birth of a legend and the Delta Blues.

This is House’s acapella classic “Grinnin’ In Your Face”. It embodies everything that is Son House and there isn’t even any guitar. For that matter, it embodies everything that is soul music as we know it. There are numerous imperfections, including some off beat clapping, but you can feel the passion in every lyric.

This is a really cool old live performance captured in his later years of another classic, “Death Letter”.

Finally, here is a live duet form 1968 with a very young Buddy Guy. They are playing one of House’s most famous tunes, “My Black Mama”.

Coming from where we are today, Son House’s playing technique and overall approach to the instrument was very unique. Son played various steel bodied Dobro-style guitars, playing slide with just an old piece of copper tube on his third finger. By using his third finger, Son was able to dampen behind the slide and still use his pinky for fretting. The copper tube adds a really gritty sound, which works great with his steel bodied guitar. What is especially odd about his approach is that he used “Spanish” tuning or Open G, tuned as DGDGBD. It’s pretty uncommon these days and would vastly change the way one plays.

As I mentioned, there are numerous artists influenced by House. Jack White is one of the most popular in this day and age. Here is Jack and Meg (The White Stripes) playing a live medley of “Death Letter” & “Grinnin’ In Your Face”. Jack has gone on record saying that “Grinnin’ In Your Face” is his favorite and perhaps most influential song he’s ever heard.

Here is Warren Haynes with Gov’t Mule also doing Grinnin‘.

Andrew Bird with his version of Grinnin‘.

House himself doing “Preachin’ Blues”

Source Links:

Full Son House Bio

Son House on Wiki





Le Bon Tempe Roule!

8 02 2010

With the Saints winning the big game last night, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to show off some of my NOLA favs. New Orleans is without a doubt one of my all-time favorite cities. The culture there is overwhelmingly lush, combining so many amazing elements. Everything is just so cool and unique to the city whether it’s the food, architecture, attitude or music. There’s a short list below of some of my favorite acts to see while in the Big Easy. Mardi Gras is right around the corner and Jazz Fest is coming up this spring so there are many opportunities to see them. The great thing is, you usually don’t have to wait until then as they often play around town on any given night in NOLA. Le Bon Tempe Roule…

The Meters

Rebirth Brass Band

Walter “Wolfman” Washington… with Galactic as his backing band

Lou Donaldson

The Neville Bro’s

Please feel free to add anyone I may have left out via comment. Also, below are a few links to some of NOLA best spots and events. You have to get down there to experience it for yourself…

Events:

Jazz Fest

Mardi Gras

Venues:

Tipitina’s

Howlin’ Wolf

Maple Leaf

Snug Harbor

Blue Nile

d.b.a.

Le Bon Tempe Roule

Rock and Bowl

Other Links:

Directory of NOLA bands

NOLA Music Calendar

NOLA.com








%d bloggers like this: