George Harrison | My Sweet Lord

8 10 2010

Lately, I’ve been listening to the Beatles’ post-Beatles solo work a lot. As one would expect Paul & John have the strongest catalogs but George & Ringo are not short on great work either. Here is one of George’s solo hits. Probably not my all-time favorite but it’s near the top and comes with a cool little story. “My Sweet Lord” was originally written for one of Harrison’s friends, former Beatle session man Billy Preston. Preston released it on his 1970 album Encouraging Words, which George produced. Just 10 months later, George released his version of the song on his first post-Beatles album All Things Must Pass. I love this album, it was huge. Originally a triple album (3 records/6 sides), it was produced by Phil Spector and featured 23 songs. Some of which were long jams with various guest spots from friends like Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Ginger Baker, Gary, Wright, Alan White (of Yes), a young Phil Collins, Preston and it is even said that John Lennon appeared on one track, although uncredited. There is also a song co-written with Bob Dylan and then a cover of Dylan’s “If Not For You”. It’s a really great album. “My Sweet Lord” was only released as a single after All Things Must Pass, at which point it went right to the top 5 and then occupied no. 1 for five weeks. It later topped the charts again after Harrison’s death and then again upon the release of a re-mastered anniversary version. Remarkable as that is, it’s not the juicy part of the story.

In 1971, George was sued by The Chiffons for rights to the song as it was incredibly similar to their hit “He’s So Fine”. Harrison later stated that he was actually inspired to write “My Sweet Lord” after hearing the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Oh Happy Day”. A US federal court ruled that Harrison had subconsciously copied The Chiffon tune and he had to hand over the majority of his royalties from the song. This ordeal was parodied by The Chiffons afterward in order capitalize on the publicity. In good humor, George would later record his own song about the case, called “This Song”, which featured many direct references. Soon after, he just bought the rights to “He’s So Fine” anyway. So in the end, he owns his song and theirs… right on, George!

If you’re not familiar with this Chiffons tune, here it is. You’ll hear the similarities instantly. So much so, it’s hard not to side with the courts on this one.

One last thing, there is a great version of this song from The Concert For George, with Billy Preston leading an allstar band that includes Ringo, Paul McCartney, Dhani Harrison, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Tom Petty. 

note: If you’re a Billy Preston fan and want hear his original version from Encouraging Words, THIS is a great old live version, true to form.

References:

More info on George Harrison

More info on All Things Must Pass

More info on “My Sweet Lord”

More info on The Chiffons

More info on “He’s So Fine”

More info on Concert For Bangledesh

More info on Concert For George

More info on Billy Preston





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”





The Cream of Clapton

4 02 2010

If I see this T Mobile commercial with Eric Clapton one more time I think I will lose it. Besides the fact that the song is lame and the product makes zero sense (I mean, I love guitars but not a phone that slightly resembles a guitar), it just reminds me of the fact that Clapton has been on a slow decline for decades. Some will disagree given the 18 Grammys and three (3!) inductions into the Hall of Fame but I think I can prove it… Just look at this guy’s bio.

He had a normal rise into the business with his first big gig being with the Yardbirds in 1963. That’s the same band that “broke” both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page (although Page had an impressive career as a session player before joining the group). The Yardbirds can even be considered the early Led Zeppelin as they slowly morphed into the line up of Page, Plant, Jones & Bonham before changing the name for legal reasons. That is actually an entire post in and of itself so, back to Clapton… It was in those early days with the Yardbirds that he got his ironic nickname “Slowhand”. The story says that whenever he broke a string on stage he would change it himself right there while the audience waited. As they grew impatient, they would start a slow clap or a “slow hand”. The name stuck given Clapton was anything but slow as he ripped through blues riffs each night on stage. Clapton then left the Yardbirds in protest once they began to move away from the Blues-based Rock he loved. That was 1965 and unfortunately for him, it was just before their first big hit, “For Your Love”

He then went on to join John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, which is where he met bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce. John’s band eventually became known as a training ground for many young players. Some of his sidemen later went to form big time bands like Fleetwood Mac, Canned Heat and, of course, Cream. Clapton left the band after just a few months and only one album, taking Bruce with him to form (the) Cream. You can really hear his sound coming out on the track below…

In my opinion, Cream is the beginning of the high point of his career. This band is one of the first supergroups of the time. Many would argue that the band was primarily fueled by Jack Bruce as he took most of the singing parts and developed a large part of their material. As evidenced by this video, that is a pretty accurate assessment but what it also shows is Clapton’s really strong playing in the new “power trio” format, a style that requires some real presence in order to fill out the otherwise stripped down sound. Cream rose to insane popularity in just a year, selling millions of records and doing extensive tours in both the US and Europe. It really established Clapton as one of the greatest guitarists of the era and perhaps all time. With all those egos and some rampant drug use, the band broke up by late 1968.

In 1969, Clapton joined what would be another supergroup with a short lifespan, Blind Faith. The band was made up of Traffic‘s Steve Winwood, Family‘s Ric Grech and ex-Cream member, Ginger Baker. Winwood and Clapton started jamming in the latter’s basement and the rest is history. Clapton brought in Baker and then Grech joined shortly thereafter. The sound was very much a blend of the Cream and Traffic’s sound. Perhaps, a bit more Traffic with Winwood’s vocals and keyboards playing a large role. They made one self-titled album and then disbanded within the year. Baker tried to keep it rolling with the other 2 members but then Winwood and Grech left to re-form Traffic. Clapton briefly went on to be a member of the Plastic Ono Band and then Delaney & Bonnie and Friends which afforded him the ability to get out of the limelight for a few years.

Live footage of Clapton with Delaney & Bonnie.

In 1970, Clapton took Delaney & Bonnie’s rhythm section and formed Derek & The Dominos. A number of his hits came from this band, many of which stem from the love triangle between him, good friend George Harrison and George’s wife, Pattie Boyd. The most notable of these is “Layla” (the original, not to be confused with that wimpy acoustic version done later in his career). This period is incredibly rich for Clapton and proves to be some of his best “solo” work.

That was really the beginning of the end. Clapton had some real issues in the early 70’s. He had a serious heroin addiction and numerous troubles in his personal life as a result. As he got over such things, his life turned around. He eventually married Pattie Boyd and reignited his career. He produced a slew of hits throughout the 80’s but none ever rivaled the power and magnitude of those Cream and Derek tunes. Throughout that time he was still a little shaky battling alcoholism but he managed to keep it together for the most part. Later he did a bunch of live performances and benefit concerts but had not done much in the way of songwriting for a few years. Shortly thereafter, came the dreadful white suit years. That was a particularly shameful time where his look was terrible and the music was not much better. In the mid 90’s he had experienced some terrible personal tragedy with the loss of his 4 year old son, Conor, which was then followed by the Unplugged album. I think there are most certainly 2 camps on this one: the Likes and the Don’t Likes. I, personally, am not a fan. Although it’s charming work, it’s too light and reserved for a guy who had commanded so much at an earlier age. Up to present he has looked back to his roots a bit, remaking some old Blues classics but it’s nothing too compelling.

Now back to the point at hand… the commercial or should I say commercials. So there is the T Mobile one I can’t stand. Then there is a 1988 Beer commercial using “After Midnight” and finally a 1989 Honda commercial. All are pretty bad, though amusing for all the wrong reasons. The latter 2 are posted below but all 3 beg the question: Better to burn out or to fade away?

Here are a few links that tell the full Eric Clapton story. It is really so detailed that I cannot possibly cover it in the one (looooong) post)… also read his Autobiography for the real nitty gritty. Something to note, there is a REALLY good interview with Eric from the Cream Farewell Concert in 1968 that I can’t find anywhere. If anyone has it, please post it in a comment.

1967 Interview

George Harrison Interview

Japanese interview with both George & Eric: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Solo from While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Interview about Concert for Bangladesh

***Interview on the Today Show

Wiki Bio

Official Site

The dreaded WHITE SUIT!

Slowhand.net

Lame smooth jazz version of Layla… with Marcus Miller.





Dirty Mac

3 02 2010

This is a really cool video of John Lennon’s super group, Dirty Mac, playing “Yer Blues”. They only performed together twice, this being the first time. John assembled the group for a 1968 Rolling Stones TV special called The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus. This was the first time John had played publicly without the other Beatles. What makes it interesting is who else is in the band. It includes Eric Clapton on guitar, Mitch Mitchell at the drums, Keith Richards on bass and, of course, Lennon singing and playing rhythm guitar. The setup with Mick is a little goofy, note John’s stage name: Winston Leg-Thigh, but it’s a great video. They continue on to do a long blues tune with Yoko called “Whole Lotta Yoko” and then never officially played together again. One might say Yoko had a hand in breaking up this band too.








%d bloggers like this: