RIP Gerry Rafferty

5 01 2011

Gerry Rafferty died early this week at age 63. Gerry was the frontman of 70’s era rock group Stealers Wheel. Gerry is most famous for his hit “Stuck In The Middle”, a tune that is often confused as a Bob Dylan song and rightfully so as it was written to mimic his lyrical style. The song was released in 1973 on their self-titled album. It instantly became a hit, rising to #6 on the charts and has since been further popularized due to it’s use in the cult-classic Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs. Here’s a 70-style music video for the song… I love it because its so dated.

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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”





Cinespia | Easy Rider

8 07 2010

Last weekend we went to see Easy Rider at Cinespia. This is one of the coolest things we have done since coming to LA. Every weekend in the summer they project films, usually old cult classics, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. As creepy as that might sound, it is actually pretty amazing. You come in while the sun is still up and setup. People bring full picnics complete with food and wine… or beer, etc.  It’s pretty much an organized free for all. As you might imagine there was a lot of smoke in the air for this particular showing and, if I had to guess, some occasional psychedelics depending on which blanket you passed by. Needless to say, the crowd at Easy Rider included quite a few hippies amongst the usual enclave of LA hipsters and some regular folks.

If you haven’t seen this movie, it really is a classic. Beyond the counter-culture subtext, it’s a story of the road. Thinking about it now, there isn’t much dialogue. Although, the bit that is present is quite good. This story is mostly told through images with the help of sound, GREAT sound. On the whole, it feels a tad dated but that is part of the appeal and, of course, the cast is really great. It includes Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and an odd appearance by, none-other-than, Phil Spector. Fonda is particularly great in this one. I kept telling Lady GG how great he was all throughout, I really couldn’t help myself. Nicholson is, well, Jack: great as ever. The end of the movie is a little… should I say, rough. I won’t ruin it but, you should definitely be cognizant as a viewer. You certainly won’t see it coming, nor will you forget it.

Anyway, at the time of it’s release Dennis Hopper was applauded not just for his acting, writing and directing in this feature but the soundtrack as well. Back in 1969 it was considered groundbreaking, which featured music from The Band, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf and Bob Dylan. Dylan actually was reluctant to contribute so he had Roger McGuinn of The Byrds record his songs. In fact, for “Ballad of Easy Rider”, he only wrote the first verse and said, “give this to McGuinn, he’ll know what to do with it”.

The soundtrack was released along side the film in ’69 and rose to #6 on the album charts. There was a deluxe version released in 2004 that included an additional disc of music that appeared in the film but didn’t make the list on the first printing. I guess that’s one of the biggest shortcomings for vinyl, it would have taken 4 discs to accommodate the complete track listing… which you can find HERE.

When I think of Easy Rider, these next few tunes always come to mind… they’re still classics today. It really shows you, that Dennis Hopper was one clever dude, perhaps even genius. It’s too bad he’s gone but at least his work will always live on forever.

*I just discovered that the embedding has been dsabled on a few of these videos. Typically, I would find other versions but in this case I recommend you follow the links back to YouTube. Just click the play button, then use the link in the window to view it on YouTube… Sorry, but it’s worth it.

References:

More info on Easy Rider

More info on Cinespia

More info on Dennis Hopper

More info on Peter Fonda

More info on Jack Nicholson

More info on Phil Spector

More info on “Ballad of Easy Rider”

More info on “The Pusher”

More info on “The Weight”

More info on “If 6 Was 9”

More info on Roger McGuinn

More info on The Byrds

More info on Jimi Hendrix

More info on Steppenwolf








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