Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Might is Right

I've had this experience before: listening to Deerhoof and just shaking my head in pained /ecstatic disbelief. This band has transformative powers. The drummer is a god -- truly, comparable to John French, Keith Moon, Steve Gadd, Mitch Mitchell, Joey Barron. This is mighty, mighty music. Studied, joyous, cathartic, ape-shit insane music. The guitarist keep the Beefheart-isms pumping, with slashing, gnarly blasts worthy of Marc Ribot. And somehow singer Satomi Matsuzaki mixes the childlike cooing of Astrud Gilberto and the naive eccentric freestyling of Shonen Knife. All the while everything remains fierce, energetic, complex and yet somehow catchy.

"+81" - Deerhoof (from Friend Opportunity)

"Wrong Time Capsule" - Deerhoof (from The Runners Four)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Titular Oscillations

It's odd that there would be two different songs with the somewhat unusual title "You Don't Love Me Yet," but here's a Roky Erickson track by the same name as the song featured in Lefty's post (see below). This was originally from the 1985 EP A Clear Night For Love. Speaking of names, I have to say that the Vulgar Boatmen has to be one of the best punny bandnames I've ever heard.

"You Don't Love Me Yet" - Roky Erickson

You Don't Love Me Yet

We learn today that novelist Jonathan Lethem has a new book coming out in March, entitled You Don't Love Me Yet. Apparently, according to Ed at The Dizzies blog, it's named after a song by early 90s outfit The Vulgar Boatmen. Now, I must declare I've never heard of these characters, Robert Ray and Dale Lawrence, let alone this song. My pal Ed remembers well the chiming guitar line from the music box of memory and says he needed the expertise of an mp3 blog to cope with dissemination of said tune -- so here we are for him and for you and for Jonathan Lethem.

The Boatmen? A "roots-pop" duo, claims AllMusic, early adopters of music-making by mail, a la the Postal Service. Sounds like: Everly Bros. in slacker town that one summer before anything mattered and everything meant something more. Interestingly, predating the dude from Iron & Wine, Robert Ray was/is a film studies professor at the University of Florida. I'm guessing the Boatmen's relative obscurity is part and parcel of the subtle literary emphasis here, given that Amazon describes Lethem's novel as being about "the near-fame experience of a Los Angeles alternative rock band." The V-B-Men are from Gainsborough, FL, and Indianapolis, IN, but whatever; we're working here in the fictiono-emotional space of a novelista. The secret wiretaps of memory are uneven, barely legal, fuzzy grey shapes speaking in subtitles on a tiny TV screen inside a white van parked on the street outside the dorm you lived in in that boring midwestern town. The book also includes "a sex-drenched bender that culminates with the band's debut performance—a breakout success." I get a little seasick imagining the long-sunken Gen-X themes this novel may dredge up. We haven't thought of our "generation" or its dubious place in "history" since, well, 9/11, which pretty much wiped our raison d'etre off the face of the "earth." I'm speaking, of course, of ... I can't even say it. I'm speechless and happier for it. You don't love me yet, you don't love me yet...

You Don't Love Me Yet - The Vulgar Boatmen

If that doesn't work try this:

You Don't Love Me Yet - The Vulgar Boatmen

Nice tune, y'know?

PS: I liked this quote by Boatman Dale Lawrence on Perfect Sound Forever: "Roxy Music or Little Richard or Rodgers & Hart speak to my life in ways that Eminem or the Strokes do not."

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Anthony Braxton was one of the many reasons I decided to return to college in the late 90s after being more or less out of the academic groove for six years or so and transfer to Wesleyan University and majored in music. When I learned that Braxton taught in the music department, I figured something special must be happening there. Over the years I heard that Ed Blackwell, the legendary drummer for Ornette Coleman, taught there as well (though he had recently died). Then I read that John Cage had taught there decades ago, and I learned about the ethnomusicology department, about the gamelan and the South Indian and West African master musicians. I was also drawn to the place because of their fine university press, which published the work of the amazing poet Heather McHugh. All this together got me pretty excited about the place.

I sort of kick myself for not ever playing in any of Braxton’s student ensembles while I was there, but I only had two years and I got wrapped up in other things – Malian music, Brazilian samba and South Indian solkattu and mrdangam drumming. There were only so many mind-boggling systems to barely grasp at a time. Anyway, I did take a class on the history of the saxophone with Braxton and I also took an opera class that he co-taught (Braxton has composed his own opera, and you’ll be happy to learn that he’s a big Wagner fan and buff.) And I was friends with a few people who played in Braxton’s ensembles, one of my neighbors toured and recorded with the group, so I sort of got a little tutorial in some his compositional/performance approaches. He has these legendarily enormous books of compositions, some of which are named by numbers, some with strange science-diagram-like drawings, and he also has this numbered system of stylistic instructions that correspond with certain dramatic ways of approaching and shaping notes – drastic dynamic attacks, pointalistic phrasing, extreme staccato. If you’ve ever seen a Braxton group performance, he can conduct using unorthodox hand signals, cuing the entire group to switch "styles," and sometimes signaling parts of the group to change compositions. It’s wonderfully chaotic but with pockets of highly ordered playing. I once saw him conducting his large ensemble when he did this kind of move like a football referee holding his arms up to signal a touchdown, only Braxton had his elbows bent, and slowly he turned his to arms one side so they were diagonal to where they had been and approaching being parallel with the floor. As he did, the entire group changed – it was as if everyone bent their note or slowed down or something, but it seemed as if Braxton, in mad scientist/high priest/conjurer mode, had affected some sort of space-time shift in the performance.

At other times Braxton’s performances can have the air of that Will Farrell skit on SNL in which the fashion designer breaks out the cell phones of different sizes. Braxton will trot out the tiniest little horns that make dog whistle sounds and then he’ll roll out these enormous contra-bass, ultra-low sax clarinette tuba contraptions. It’s the wonderful mix of supercilious high art attitude and the element of potty humor submerged in the preference for barking flatulent sounds that makes the scene so rich.

I got an e-mail from Lefty requesting a post with a few choice Braxton tracks. I’ve got some of his later Ghost Trance stuff on disc, and on vinyl I’ve got some the great mid-70s stuff on Arista which earned him a few awards and also the reputation for being the next Ornette Coleman or the next Charlie Parker, whichever you prefer. There’s one tune that is especially brilliant - it’s sort of a jumble of John Philip Sousa and Sun Ra and Stockhausen: outer space marching band music for the end of time. I’ll have to dig that one out of the stacks and convert to MP3. In the meantime, here are two choice jams. Each, actually rare and out-of-print on disc, as well. The first is from a live concert in ‘75 at Montreux with Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, Dave Holland on bass and Barry Altschul on drums. It’s called "Kelvin G," which I always figured would be the named I’d adopt as my quantum physics/mystic/ambient-hip-hop persona.
The second is "Composition No. 40G" from the record Six Compositions: Quartet, which has Ed Blackwell on drums. And which, I learned from looking at Amazon, is now going for $100.


What happened is I got a 45 rpm record in the mail that I'd been waiting for. Two Saturday's ago I was driving about in the Corrolla and listening to the "Fool's Paradise" radio program on WFMU, hosted by Rex Doane. Lots of rarities and B-sides of great old R&R and R&B. The last song on the program blew my socks off and Rex said it was Bobby Peterson, whom I'd never heard of. When I got home, I emailed Rex to ask what the song was called and where I could find it. Here's what he replied:

I played a 45 called "Every Now And Then" by Bobby Peterson on the
Atlantic label. His earlier, rowdier material on the V-Tone label was
anthologized on the Relic label, but I don't think "Every Now And Then"
had been reissued anywhere (though it shouldn't be a hard 45 to find).

Hope that helps,


It did, Rex! It did! Because in fact it was easy to find. On eBay for $8. Yesterday, I got it in the mail carefully and lovingly packaged by a Canadian eBay seller. I quickly opened it and placed it upon the turntable. Here's what I heard:

Every Now and Then - Bobby Peterson

The wonderfully subdued horns on that song reminded me how difficult it is to use a saxaphone properly in rock music. So often the shrill Late Night with David Letterman-ism can grab hold and choke a song straight to death. But one beautiful day in 1970, "about 30 miles west of Minneapolis on Lake between ping pong and a wood-frame garage," the great A.C. Reed laid down some beautiful toot alongside Bonnie Raitt's spectacular version of the Bud Johnson number "Since I Fell For You." From her first album, 1971.

Since I Fell For You - Bonnie Raitt

Yesterday - or last night, as it were - I saw M. Ward at Town Hall. Before the show I wandered the corridors of the Hall and was struck by the many framed album covers from great recordings made there, from Nina Simone to Thelonius Monk to Charles Mingus. My expectations for a favorite indie folkster were relatively modest considering that history. Therefore I was unprepared for just how truly amazing Matt Ward is live. The sound at Town Hall was pure audiophile black velvet desertscape blue, pristine as a 5 a.m. mountain top. Every note was inside your brain pan, framed, matted, hung in a Town Hall of the mind. What struck me was Ward's fabulous guitar style, how full of flamenco it is, Spanish blues in a drop-D tuning and forceful, fierce and then suddenly sweet on a trembling high note. His voice was so controlled and intense, glasses propped casually on his jet black hair like Cat Stevens, his styling so organic and not at all a direct copy of the the album, with no accompaniment, it was immediately evident that M. Ward is, as a pinky-ringed Vegas producer might declare, a "singular talent." He had the audience in a complete spell for two hours.

An immediate thought was that Kalefa Sanneh's review of Ward's last show in NYC was simply bitchy bile by the uber-populist who tried to shove reggaeton down our throats for a full year. ANYway, Ward: his version of Poison Cup, if it were laid down on vinyl or CD in a proposed album called M. Ward at Town Hall, would send your speakers to paroxysms of ecstacy. We've posted this here before, but ... encore!:

Poison Cup - M. Ward

It all happened ... yesterday.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Far Out

When it comes to collecting vinyl, when is enough enough? Is there such thing as going too far? And more importantly: If you go too far, are you therefore someone who is "far out"? Or are you just a ginormous loser? And finally: By then will you even know the difference or have any friends who bother making the distinction?

I would describe a fellow named Bob George as having gone quite far out and perhaps (maybe?) too far. Since the 1980s, he has collected over 2 million LPs, the largest collection in the world, according to George. He has housed the whole unholy mass of'em in downtown New York as the ARChive of Contemporary Music, an effort so epic it now has the backing of, among others, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Keith Richards, Todd Rundgren, Jerry Leiber and Youssou N'Dour ("board members"!) In other words, Bob George has gone so far out, he's now in.

This YouTube video of Bob George serves as both a fascinating tour and a cautionary tale. On the one hand, it's a noble, slightly musty Harry Smith-meets-Alan Lomax-type pursuit, done for the good of future civilizations (so aliens might one day discover "A Love Supreme," he says on the ARChive website); on the other, it's High Fidelity-ism taken to his logical and horrifying conclusion. Bob George says he's trying to collect two (2) of every LP he can get his hands on, just for archive's sake. Which means there are two (2) of all eight (8) Loggins & Messina albums. Think about that.
My reaction to this collection's existence probably requires a German word with at least 10 letters in it, a particular frisson of overheated nerd-tastic desire and utter self-loathing. With pure, white-hot jealousy tossed in for good measure. And think of it: It'll only only cost me a $500 a year membership fee or $35 an hour to look through it!

Q: What is the soundtrack of your brain while exploring this collection?

A: Addresss - Rashied Ali Quintent (with James "Blood" Ulmer)

Q: Didn't Prince write a song about this guy?

A: No. But:
Bob George - Prince

Q: I feel inadequate. Should I even continue collecting LPs at this point?

A: What's the Use? - Jamie Lidell

Monday, January 22, 2007

Somewhere, Somehow, Somebody Musta ... Kicked You Around Some

After reading the story on the front page of Sunday’s NYT about a youth soccer team made up of children who were all refugees from places like Iraq, Sudan, Congo, Liberia and Kosovo, all of whom had relocated to the town of Clarkston, Georgia, in the outskirts of Atlanta – it’s a story that really got me all choked up a few times – I was reminded of this excellent track from an excellent (and underappreciated) record from last year, the title song from The Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars’ Living Like a Refugee. It’s fascinating music because it demonstrates the boomerang effect of many styles the sprang from the African diaspora and how they’ve managed to circle back and re-influence music on the African continent. Take your pick – funk, Cuban son, jazz, blues, hip-hop, they’ve all touched base back in Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Congo and elsewhere. You can hear serious hints of calypso and reggae on this disc. Dig the handclaps, dig the mouth-wah-wah. These musicians from Sierra Leone all met at refugee camps in neighboring Giuinea. These guys have known hardship. Once again it poses the perplexing question of how people who’ve had such a shitty time of it can make such uplifting music.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Binary Code

Sometimes a slow-burning flash of shapeless guitar sound, like a bright shot from a flare, is better than a precisely aimed sharp and crisp laser-beam attack. That’s the feeling I have about the guitar bursts on this tune from the forthcoming debut by The Early Years. This is more studied British art school revivalism, but at least they’ve traded in their cantilevered hairdos, patented Gang of Four riffs and counter-tenor trousers for something more disturbing: borderline nutcake commune-inspired krautyness, a little Velvety noise-menace and some zooming Eno-ish hovercraft sounds.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Anxiety of Influence

I played in an “alternative” rock band for most of the 90s. Through the years we traveled pretty much all over the country, playing with hundreds, maybe thousands of other bands, big and small (mostly small) from every corner of America. And while during the early part of the decade people were still largely working their way through the pervasive post-hair-band/funk-metal muddle, it became pretty clear that many of the bands out there were playing music that was inspired in one way or another by Nine Inch Nails or Nirvana. Maybe it wasn’t quite that simple, I mean there were dozens of other knock-offs that you could peg in a heartbeat – Pavement bands, Ramones bands, Pearl Jam bands. Sometimes you’d get paired with some righteous death metal in Florida, or some pure melodic power pop in Oregon. But most of it was histrionic and loud, and if it wasn’t histrionic, it was affectedly aloof. I mean, I still think Polvo, Jesus Lizard, Urge Overkill, Guided By Voices and countless others made some great records, but in many ways it’s easy to look back on the 90s with suspicions and regrets.

But the feelings pass when I think about Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies of the Canyon, the Numero Group’s wonderful (if not exactly pleasant to listen to) compilation. The premise is this: when Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon came out in 1970, it reverberated so profoundly with young female singers and songwriters in America that it spawned a generation of imitators. A phony Joni army. Earnestness, introspection, religious fervor, it was the rage. The records that the 14 songs from the compilation were pulled from were mostly independent pressings of 500 or a few thousand. Vanity projects. Most of them went unsold, remaining in boxes in attics, garages and musty basements. And while many of these songs actually make you cringe, the curatorial effort is impressive, and the music conjures a time of self-exploratory candor. There’s something creepy and sad about all of this. Emily Dickinson, Dr. Scholls and wheat germ.

Listening to the collection makes me envision a time, maybe 10 or 20 years from now, when collectors will hoard obscure 7 inches and poorly recorded independently released CDs of some of the wonderfully mediocre and now forgotten bands that flourished briefly in places like Hattiesburg, Mississippi, or Newport News, Virginia, or Albany, New York.

Jennie Pearl only recorded two songs. This one appeared on another compilation called The Peoria Folk Anthology Volume III. Pearl was 15 when she recorded it. See, creepy.

“Maybe in Another Year” - Jennie Pearl

Thursday, January 18, 2007

State of the Union

Dear People!

I can hear you out there, so full of hope and anxiety at this our fateful hour, asking: Where stands The Driftwood Singers Present and the United States of America in this The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Seven?

First, some official business. This blog is now over a year old and we've never posted our theme song, the one which inspired the monikers of your Dear Leaders. I realize there's a small spelling difference between Mr. Poncho and Pancho, from the Townes Van Zant-penned "Pancho & Lefty," but I suspect Mr. Poncho liked the suggestion of a) fake authority, with the honorific Mister (a la Mister Ed), b) actual ponchos, which suggest Mexico, dirty hippies and modestly effective rain repellent, and c) the phonetic nearness to paunch, the traditional sign of age and maturation, with the natural suggestion of a willingness to indulge, whether in an extra helping of pecan pie or one Stealer's Wheel song too many.

Lefty? I'm just an enabler.

Pancho & Lefty - Emmylou Harris

(Noted: shows 78 citations of "Pancho & Lefty," 10 versions of the song as "Poncho & Lefty," and one as "Pauncho & Lefty.")

The truth of life stings, it really does. Which is why we're here for you: to assuage the pain of the human condition. But first you have to acknowledge the ugly reality, Dear People. What keeps mankind alive? Channeling Kurt Weill, the ever-terrifying Mr. Burroughs says: And for once, you must try to face the facts: Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts.

What Keeps Mankind Alive? - William S. Burroughs

I can hear you asking, rightfully: Why bother? Why continue this cruel charade, why take another turn on the meat wheel of life? Here's one very good reason: the tinkling of the ivories in the forest of the Genius, a song of odd beauty and strangeness, prompting the cosmic cocking of the head, a la the the RCA dog and the gramaphone.

Ruby My Dear - Thelonius Monk

That's a start. But we have to look around and acknowledge what is wrong. How to put beauty in the service of righteousness without getting lost among the Lotus Eaters? Our Greek Chorus calls out:

Hymn #9 - The Persuasions

Allow me to digress a moment: The Anomoanon, a terribly-named but wonderful-sounding folk-rock group led by Will Oldham's brother Ned, should be explored, purchased and enjoyed not only for their effortless summoning of the Grateful Dead and Neil Young, but because they don't exactly sound like anything but themselves. Shambling glory is essential to The Mighty Drift of which the -wood is derived. It's music for the plains, song of the off-grid people making music by primitive cook fires in the post-historical wilds of modern life.

Mr. Train - The Anomoanon

Dear Driftwood Singers: What is the sound of a perfectly-recorded horn section? Dear Reader:

Why Can't You Be? - Shelby Lynne

Dear Driftwood Singers: What is the ideal guitar sound to hear after puffing on a marijuana cigarette? Dear Reader:

Lookin' Up - Shelby Lynne

Dear Driftwood Singers: What's the best song featuring a sample of a wild panther in it? Dear Reader:

Touch Me - Spank Rock

The world today is bleak, Dear People, and if you've seen the movie "Children of Men" (highly recommended), you've seen a vision of how bleak it might one day get (and, if science fiction is just the present in disguise, may already be). We need hope and hopers. We need melody and belief and Truth transfigured into an easily-downloadable, digitally-formatted pop nugget that will stick in our heads for a day or two and infuse our synapses with a spark of hope. For this I bring you the woefully undersung geniuses Super Furry Animals and their wonderfully visionary tune of 2003 calling out the neoconservative fantasy for what it was and is. Virginia Senator Jim Webb, we hear, will rebutt the President's State of the Union this month for the Democrats. We've chosen the Super Furry Animals to make our rebuttal, our plea, our critique. It never sounded so good to be so right, futuristically.

Liberty Belle - Super Furry Animals

Libert belle is ringing out
Across the sea
And everyone sings along
Though she's singing way out of key
From the shores of Gallilie
To the runways of Anglesea

You know we're digging to hell
Right past your own well
As the magpies fly from Tallahasee
To the sky

Memory lane forgot her way
After all this time
And she never learned her mistakes
And all the crime
That caused the gulf of misery
That separated you from me

You know we're digging to hell
Drowning in our oil wells
As the seagulls from Abu Dhabi
To the sky

The birds still sing their melodies
Their songs of love and food and trees
Oh my how they fly
So little do they know yet their days are numbered so
Alarms are ringing in the trees

You know you've been to hell
Drowning in your oil wells
As the ashes fly from New York City
Past the grimy clouds above New Jersey
Past the kids who like to smoke like chimneys
To the sky

Monday, January 15, 2007

Preach It

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929. That was the same year that the Rev. J.M. Gates made (most of ) these recordings, also in Atlanta. King’s father and grandfather were both Baptist preachers, like Gates. In some ways, King was the heir to the energetic, entertaining and socially conscious preaching style that Gates popularized (though King never seemed to go for quite as much bawdy humor and slapstick as Gates and his congregation did). And Gates was very popular, a mega seller in the world of race records. In fact, up until King’s assassination in 1968, Gates’s funeral was the largest African-American funeral the city had ever seen. If you can imagine a time before the televangelist, these mini sermons recorded on 78s would have satisfied people’s hunger for spiritual instruction.

Gates was always very topical. You can hear references to current events in these recordings, and one wonders what someone like Gates would have to say today about the subjects of the war, race relations, and our president.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I've Been to the Mountain Top

The ultimate weakness of violence
is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate....
Returning violence for violence multiples violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

According to the excellent Civil Rights history At Canaan's Edge: American in the King Years 1965-68, by Taylor Branch, Martin Luther King was well aware that his position as the leader of a resistance movement put his life in danger. He often flirted with the idea of himself as a martyr. And on a Sunday in 1968, just a month or so before his assassination, he told his congregation what a eulogist might say at his death. Writes Branch, "The eulogist should omit all his honors and attainments simply to testify that King tried to love his enemies, comfort prisoners, 'be right on the war question,' and feed the hungry." King continued: "Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum for justice! Say that I was a drum major for peace--I was a drum major for righteousness--and all of the other shallow things will not matter."

I bring this up as a preface to the final minute of the final speech King gave on the eve of his death, Aug. 3, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. It's an emotional and ecstatic piece of oration, full of an imminence and foresight that is unnerving. It never fails to give me chills.

I've Been to the Mountain Top - Martin Luther King Jr.

(Full speech is found here.)

Video of the speech:

King's speech against the Viet Nam War:

In addition, listen here to this wrenching and impassioned speech given on June 17, 1966, at Zion Hill Church in Los Angeles (via

In honor of the day, The Driftwood Singers Present some freedom music, by free people for free people. Mountain top people.

A Change is Going to Come - Baby Huey

People Get Ready - Bob Dylan

On a Turquoise Cloud - Duke Ellington & His Orchestra

Chilren Go Where I Send You (Live at the Village Gate) - Nina Simone

Good Golly Miss Molly - Little Richard

Fuck A War - The Geto Boys
(hat tip: Moistworks)

PSA - Jay Z

Train to Rhodesia (1975) - Big Youth (YouTube)

I Got a Bag of My Own - James Brown

Perhaps Mr. Poncho will reach into his bag 'o tricks and pluck out some choice J.M. Gates samples to recall the roots of King's oratory style.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Orson Welles Of Rock

It was just wild. I imagine that there are still people around like that, but I haven't met any. One time, I was walking down the alley and this French woman was sitting on a toilet. We started talking and the next thing I knew we spent the next three or four days together.
-- Chuck E. Weiss on the Tropicana Motel

Here's a post from back when the world was a small place and Lowell George, the fat man in the white overalls, seemed to be the center of the universe or, as Jackson Browne put it, George was the "Orson Welles Of Rock." Maybe it was because of all the sex going on in the 70s LA music scene but six degrees of separation seemed to collapse into .5 degree. One game I like to play is linking George with everyone who ever covered him, everyone he ever produced or played for.

But first, to set the scene, an interview from the Topanga Messenger, 1979.

Lowell: Okay, I went to Hollywood High. I lived in the Santa Monica Mountains and grew up in the mountains...When I grew up I watched the smog slowly engulf the place where I lived.

Were you playing at Hollywood High?

Lowell: Yes. I was a jazzer at that time. I played flute. Legitimate flute and thought I was a jazzer. I hated rock and roll then. At that point I was not... you know... it was the Frankie Avalon story...who wanted it? Who needed it?


Lowell: No, it was beyond crude. It was really silly. Now it gets into silly with... safety pins through your ears and stuff... that's really silly. But back then it was like... Beach Party Bingo. Which is the ultimate in silliness because everybody who watched Beach Party Bingo immediately went to Viet Nam. That was the first requirement for going to Viet Nam, watching that movie.

After the Hollywood High marching band, in 1968 Lowell started to play guitar with the Mothers of Invention. He became more interested in slide when he injured his hand on a model airplane propeller. (See Neon Park's cover art for the Little Feat album Under the Radar. Park was also responsible for the Mothers' famous Weasels Ripped My Flesh image and claims he got the Little Feat job when he picked up a hitchhiking Ivan the Ice Cream Man who was on his way to Lowell's house.) Lowell says he got kicked out of the Mothers when straight edge Zappa became irked by all the drugs in Lowell's newest composition, Willin'. And so Lowell, recruiting old Hollywood High friends, started Little Feat.

Little Feat is a fine band, I suppose, but they've always been tainted for me by the Deadhead/frat boys I went to school with. But Lowell himself is another story. He worked with Van Dyke Parks, Harry Nilsson, Ry Cooder, Carly Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Randy Newman, Etta James, Bill Wyman, Chris Smithers, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, The Meters, Robert Palmer, Maria Muldaur, James Taylor, Yvonne Elliman, Mick Taylor, Jimmy Webb, and John Cale to name only a very few.

Here are a few of my favorite Lowell covers and collaborations:

Linda Ronstadt doing "Roll Um Easy" from 1975's Prisoner in Disguise. Lowell plays on the track. Ronstadt also famously covers "Willin'" on Heart like a Wheel.

Robert Palmer doing George's "Sailing Shoes" and the Palmer/George cowritten "Blackmail".

And Van Dyke Parks doing "Sailing Shoes".

Here is Lowell playing slide on Bonnie Raitt's cover of Randy Newman's "Guilty" off her fantastic 1973 Takin' My Time.

And finally here is Lowell George doing a cover himself. After Little Feat broke up, Lowell gave Rickie Lee Jones her big break when the aforementioned Ivan the Ice Cream Man sang a verse or two of "Easy Money" over the phone to Lowell and he decided to include it on his first and only solo record, Thanks, I'll Eat it Here. This year's Snap, Crackle, Pop (see Lefty's earlier post) includes another track from this fine album.

If George is the sun of this hepcat universe, I like to think Rickie Lee Jones is the moon. At the time she was living at the Tropicana Motel, swimming nude with the Ramones in the Trop's black pool, doing lots of drugs with boyfriend Tom Waits while they formulated their beatnik scat by copying comic Lord Buckley. Warhol shot both Trash and Heat at the Tropicana. Chuck E. Weiss was living just down the hall. That's of course the Chuck E. who's "in love with the little girl singing this song." See pic. (Here's Chuck E. playing with Willie Dixon). When Lowell sang "Easy Money," RLJ'S eponymous album hadn't come out yet, but when it did she went, in one year, from living at the $6 a night Trop to winning the Grammy for new artist. Small wonder she had to do so many drugs.

"Pirates, (So Long Lonely Avenue)" off RLJ's second, lesser-known, equally incredible, record.

An aside: Rickie Lee just played my old friend Linda's club Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace in Pioneertown, CA. I didn't make the show but have seen RLJ a few times before. I'll tell you, it's a treat. Her voice is chilling. She can hold an audience of hundreds entirely silent, entirely captive. Pappy and Harriet's has excellent shows all the time. Plus it's out in the desert. If you're in SoCal, check it out.

Finally here is Lowell with Little Feat doing "Willin"' in 1973 at Ebbets Field, the Denver bar where, not surprisingly, Chuck E. Weiss and Waits would meet a year later.

I like how Lowell tries to fool you at first, to make you think he doesn't have a beautiful voice.

Here the story comes to a sad end. On the eve of the 80s, while Lowell was touring in support of his first solo record, he died in DC after falling ill in his hotel after the show. Police found no drugs at the scene but suspect that a life time of hard living, smoking, eating too much, etc had taken it's toll. His ashes were returned to LA and sprinkled into the Pacific.

Fright Night Lights: In Search of the Big Fish

Last night I saw David Lynch speak at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in Manhattan, promoting his new book, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity. The place was so packed with all manner of film nerd and superfan -- literally hundreds lining up two hours before he appeared -- it was like the Dalai Lama had come to town. He did a Q&A interspersed with the snyth pop of a Twiggyesque all-girl threesome called Au Revoir Simone who make a kind of Stereolab-for-Dummys sound. After seeing Lynch's mindboggling, self-indulgent and totally riveting new film, INLAND EMPIRE, it's hard to connect the director of a picture where Laura Dern pukes blood on Hollywood Boulevard for 10 minutes straight to this placid guru promoting world peace through meditative connection to the "Unified Field" of consciousness. But with his big silver pompadour and friendly midwestern accent, he just smiled and innocently talked about ideas being "fish" and how TM allows him to go "deep" to find the really big, beautiful "fish" swimming way down inside the sea of his mind. Here's a short video I shot on my cell phone that gives you a taste of his wonderfully weird manner. (The last word that's cut off at the end is "beautiful.")

David Lynch on "the deeper level" (Quicktime)

And this is from the audio version of Lynch's new book:

David Lynch - The First Dive

This got me to doing some fishing of my own, in my iTunes, for songs that I'm currently obsessed with. I realized that the connection between them was that they'll sound really marvelous if played loud, loud, loud in your car stereo tonight while cruising around with your friends. An underlying theme seems to be the blending of old and new, or everything that's old is new again or vice versa. It's all part of the search for something. The great, lost hidden thing out on the streets that all of Springsteen's people were looking for. The big fish. This idea started the other night when I myself was cruising the streets of Brooklyn and pumping some R. Kelly in the Corolla. I decided, as I have many times before, that R. Kelly is a genius for our time and the album Happy People is definitely from way deep down in the Unified Field.

Love Signals - R. Kelly

Speaking of movies and music, the new musical Dreamgirls is, despite my reservations and skepticism, a beautiful, lush and enveloping picture. And despite what A.O. Scott says, the music is actually wonderful, even if not historically accurate. If Jennifer Hudson cuts an R&B record this year, you will definitely hear about it on this blog because she is a preternatural talent who is all Unified Field all the time. As you've no doubt heard, her signature song in the film, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," just rips the roof off. Go see the movie. Meanwhile, this tune from the 60s R&B compilation Looking for My Baby! (hat tip: Mr. Poncho) epitomizes that sound. Sheila Hutchinson's vocals, especially toward the end of this number, are sensationally ambitious for 60s girl pop, presaging Mariah Carey's ululations. The drums are great, too. I can imagine Harry Dean Stanton listening to this while cruising on a hot night, smoking, preparing to off somebody.

Somebody New - The Emotions

Regrets: I've had a few. One is not making Girl Talk's album Night Ripper one of my Top Ten of '06. This illegal mashup music is like crack cocaine for your iPod. And when it's thumping your Chevelle this weekend you're going to write me an email and thank me, I guarantee. This one cuts James Taylor with rap beats and grunge riffs in a way that is gonna feel right when you're at the red light next to people who are otherwise cooler than you. The fun is identifying some of the samples.

Hold Up - Girl Talk

Too Deep - Girl Talk

Continuing the theme of old school/new school mashing, here's a cut from yesterday's freebies on Pitchfork, a remix of Clipse's "Mr. Me Too" by somebody named Z.A.K. It's the extravagent use of Lee Field's "Honey Dove" that's gonna make you feel like you own the street. The guitar riff is velvety as velvety can be.

Mr. Me Too - Clipse (Z.A.K. remix)

Bring it down. Ease up. Let it happen. A guy who knows something about the beauty of a well-recorded drum beat is one Jamie Lidell, the electronica cum soul man who I've pushed here before. In this case, the drum 'n bass on "Game for Fools" is so warm and sweet and analogue that the melody and singing are almost irrelevant. You can just groove on this groove, man. The singin' ain't bad though, no it is not.

Game for Fools - Jamie Lidell

Boy, did those Pitchfork guys go wild for Sally Shapiro, the conceptual Swedish techno-pop songstress. An eight-point-five out of 10! It's not hard to understand why. The indie-rock dweeb fantasia driving this overzealous star rating looks something like this: You're in a modernist igloo in a remote northern icescape somewhere far from the human race, a fire raging in the fireplace, laying on a bear rug with an innocent Swedish nymph who has a winsome gap in her teeth, speaks a coy and adorably broken English and doesn't blink much (basically this gal). Then a synth beat starts and she starts singing this to you. That's nerd heaven. I'm familiar with the genre. It's deep in the psyche, a particularly big fish that I think, based on the blonde-on-brunette lesbian sex scene in Mulholland Drive, David Lynch is familiar with. My first introduction to it was Nena. I was in love with Nena, okay? I just was. Here are two non-"99 Luftballoons" tunes from the 1984 vinyl. Notice the flagrant Scorpians riffs they sneak in on this first one and the David Letterman sax solo in the second. (Note: Our Friday night cruising grows reflective and nostalgic during this set; we remember the good times before.)

Hanging on You - Nena

? - Nena

I only recently recalled the Olivia Tremor Control. What happened to them? They had something special happening. This song makes everyone feel good. Somebody runs in for some smokes at the 7-11 while this is playing. Perhaps a joint is prepared.

Hideaway - Olivia Tremor Control

An epic Friday Night cruise ends in the early morning hours, when the light of dawn is just perceptible through the street lights, but only just. Let me proclaim loud and clear for all the people to hear: Petra Haden is a phenomenal talent who should be famous. Why? For the sole reason that she recorded an entirely a'cappella version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" using her voice for every single instrument and beat (including, in fact, beat boxing). You can hear it on her website and I encourage you - nay, insist! - that you give it a listen. Her full-length all-a'cappella version of The Who: Sell Out is by now well known, but this takes it to a new level. Meanwhile, here is the perfect soundtrack to dropping off your friends one by one at their doorsteps after a long evening of cruising, letting yourself go, letting it happen, letting the the streets open themselves up to you, groovin' on the ribbon, the white line, the street lights, the deeper down things and, always, ever, the beat.

God Only Knows - Petra Haden

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Scottish Enlightenment

Alasdair Roberts, a wonderful Scottish singer/songwriter, is a man of many alternate tunings. On his forthcoming record, The Amber Gatherers(Drag City), Roberts provides the tuning for each song in the liner notes. This music conjures up a little bit of peat smoke, images of wind-swept vistas, bog people, animal-pelt/seaweed tang of funky single-malts, the dole, fierce Calvinism, lighthouse technology, David Hume, the Kaleyard School, all those good things. It’s vaguely Celtic, but not in an oppressive public radio kind of way (one song is about something or someplace called "The Scabbard of Priapus" – for real.)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Rule # 43:

Don’t ever dismiss the Hawaiians, Samoans, Polynesians.
You should just know better.

I was grooving to the string-bass-themed boxed set How Low Can You Go?, from Dust-to-Digital, recently. It’s a pretty impressive three-disc set covering the years 1925-1941, with lots of big band stomps, blues, gospel, early western swing, some classic jazz and loads of hokum. One of the nice discoveries for me was this recording of “Ta-hu-wa-hu-wa-i” (A Hawaiian War Song) by Andy Iona and His Islanders from 1934. It’s pretty much got it all – fleet-fingered guitar, jazzy reeds, country-tropic steel guitar, martial grunts and stunt-flyer vocal harmonies.

“Ta-hu-wa-hu-wa-i” (A Hawaiian War Song) -- Andy Iona and His Islanders

Hold on the Root
And then there’s Alfred Apaka – sort of the Dean Martin of Hawaiian singers, and maybe the Sinatra, too (Apaka has been called The Voice of Hawaii – he was the direct descendant of King Kaumala). This has a special place in my heart because I bought this record in a cheap-o bin on the same day I re-acquired Bob Welch’s French Kiss. And I fondly remember listening to both of them in a sleep-deprived coffee-fueled early-morning alpha-wave fugue state. Once you enter a world in that manner, glimmers of the contours and spectral brilliance always remain visible on repeat visits. I’m sure that if I were Hawaiian I’d probably find this stuff offensive - it must be the equivalent of minstrel music. And this tune in particular has a weird not-too-thinly-veiled sexual subtext. Still I’m not exactly sure what it’s all about. There’s some kind of Polynesian utopian uninhibited pre-Captain Cook sexual morality at work. Also, dig the hipster bebop scat. Hawaiian music, like most music is at its own vortex of cross-currents and historical and cultural peculiarities. The uke was actually brought to Hawaii by Portuguese sailors (as it was to Brazil, where its cousin the cavaquino still keeps thing all fluttery in Rio samba). And strangely, or not, I’ve read that Hawaiian music was popular in Nigeria (as well as western swing, American funk and Cuban son all were at their own times), and you can hear the influence of steel guitar (Hawaiian or Texas - you pick) in some juju music.
"The Princess Poo-poo-ly Has Plenty Papaya" - Alfred Apaka

Which brings us to Dr. Orlando Owoh. I found this record at a thrift store inside the sleeve of an Ebenezer Obey record. The track starts abruptly out of an extended drum groove (you can hear the tail end of a beat of two). It’s plenty weird and lumpy, with misshapen slide guitar, aggressive Yoruba-sounding talking drum accents, and oddball chugging synth-bass stabs lurks underneath everything.
"Ire" - Dr. Orlando Owoh

Then on to this from the re-issue of the Nonesuch Explorer disc of music from South Pacific. I don’t have the liner notes on this one, sounds like some missionary-influenced choral music.
And then there’s, "Lailani," from Game Theory’s late-80s record 2 Steps from the Middle Ages. Nothing Hawaiian about this one, just the name, which refers back to a tune that Sam Koki, the bass player in Andy Iona’s Islanders, wrote and arranged for the Bing Crosby movie Waikiki Wedding.
"Lailani" - Game Theory

And finally, "Holiday in Waikiki" by the Kinks, not the best song from their 1966 classic Face to Face.
Probably could have put some of that Hawaiian shit from Brian Wilson’s Smile, or some other Beach Boys thing, but who has the time?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Maybe So

She Came Along to Me

Ten hundred books could I write you about her
Because I felt if I could know her
I would know all women
And they've not been any too well known
for brains and planning and organised thinking
But I'm sure the women are equal
And they may be ahead of the men

Yet I wouldn't spread such a rumor around
because one organises the other
And sometimes the most lost and wasted
attract the most balanced and sane
And the wild and the reckless take up
with the clocked and the timed
And the mixture is all of us
And we're still mixing

But never, never, never,
Never could have it been done
If the women hadn't entered into the deal
Like she came along to me

And all creeds and kinds and colors
of us are blending
Till I suppose ten million years from now
we'll all be just alike
Same color, same size, working together
And maybe we'll have all of the fascists
out of the way by then
Maybe so.

-- written by Woody Guthrie, 1942

She Came Along to Me - Billy Bragg & Wilco

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Sauce

Every once in a while I’ll be on my knees squinting at the spines of my record collection, flipping through the musty and worn albums searching for something good and worthy, and sometimes it’s moments like that -- looking at a crappy Humble Pie record or an album of birdsongs, a samba anthology or an old Nonesuch collection of Gesualdo – when I’ll think "Jesus, what a bunch of garbage. I should just throw 80 percent of it away." I had a few of those moments today – I was revisiting Buffy St. Marie’s (bad) Nashville record, trying to remember what I liked about Renaldo and the Loaf, shaking my head in frustration at how scratched up my Sons of the Pioneers 10-inch was.

And then, occasionally, you have those moments when you realize you’ve actually got a few gems in the library. I watched Desperate Man Blues the other night, the documentary about the legendary 78 collector Joe Bussard – if you’ve ever looked closely at the notes to your re-issues of old recordings made originally on 78s, CDs on Document, Revenant and Yazoo, you may have noticed that Joe Bussard gets thanked an awful lot. It’s because of his obsessive hording that we have such pristine records of Charley Patton or some ultra rarity on Black Patty, of which Bussard has the only extant copy. It’s hard to imagine in these days of infinite digital proliferation, but maybe one day a little slab of vinyl will help piece together the story of some soon-to-be-forgotten genius.

As I mentioned before, I was semi-inspired by the story about Dave Douglas and the guys from Bad Plus and some mp3 bloggers and their quest to improve the reputation of underappreciated jazz from the 70s and 80s. That had gotten me dusting off some long-neglected albums. So I got out an old Odean Pope record from the early 80s. I got introduced to Odean Pope’s tenor playing from records he did with the Max Roach Quartet, a band that made some first-rate records during the 70s and 80s. Pope also leads his own excellent group now, the Odean Pope Saxophone Choir. It’s a huge 13-member band with nine sax players. And they make amazing shiny and bright music. It’s like the jazz equivalent of a Frank Gehry building, all shimmering and undulating and immense. Experimental and open, but solid, too. Pope has this signature leap that he makes on the horn; he’ll burn through a long, impressive run flying up or dropping down in tone until he hits the top or bottoms out, and then he’ll do this giant intervalic leap, starting way low and shooting up into some extended technique upper register, maybe chomping out a shrill whistle. That’s his thing.

As I was pulling out some of my records with Odean Pope on them, I searched to see which of the Max Roach records are available on CD. I was surprised to learn that Chattahoochee Red, one of my favorites, is not only not available, the vinyl is going for like $160 on-line. (I had a similar experience recently when I saw that Sasha Frere-Jones had pointed out on his blog that African Headcharge CDs are no longer in print, and many of them are going for biggish cash now.)

"Dervish Chant" - African Headcharge (from Songs of Praise)

"Healing Father" - African Headcharge (from Songs of Praise)

For a while I worshiped Max Roach (who was born in NC, by the way). His drumming was so melodic and musical and compositional. He was brilliant with space, with repetition. His rim-shots, muted strokes, rolls and the way he traded fours, just made me blink my eyes, shake my head in disbelief and practically fall over. Along with Stewart Copeland, Elvin Jones and John Bonham, he was one of the guys I always tried to emulate behind the kit. I actually got to shake his hand when he played at a high school in Asheville. He was talking about the gospel/church music that he heard as a kid as being the inspiration for much of his playing. "Gospel is the source," he said; the only thing was, it sounded like he was saying "Gospel is the sauce," which has become one of those creative mishearings that I repeat still.

Here are two tunes from Chattahoochee Red. Now, Max Roach could be as far-out and ponderous as any free jazz cat – he did records with Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor, he’s done albums with vocal choirs, he’s done collaborations with string quarters (his daughter plays in one), he’s done extended drum solo records, extended improv records – but what’s great about Max as a band leader is that he sometimes opts for curtailing much of the long-winded head-solo-solo-solo-solo-head business that bulks up a lot of jazz records. Here is a wonderful to-the-point staccato reading of Coltrane’s "Giant Steps" and a pretty tune called "Lonesome Lover," I like it for the kind of Ellingtonian effect of Pope’s alto flute paired with the muted brass. It might border on corny, but whatever. (It reminds me a little of Duke’s beautiful "Portrait of Mahalia Jackson" from the New Orleans Suite, which I’d meant to put up with the post on Mahalia.)

"Giant Steps" - Max Roach (from Chattahoochee Red, featuring Odean Pope)

"Lonesome Lover" - Max Roach

"Portrait of Mahalia Jackson" – Duke Ellington, from the New Orleans Suite

And then there’s "No Air" from one of Pope’s solo records with the great title Almost Like Me. Warning: there’s some seriously spastic incontinent electric bass playing here and the tuning and tone of the drums will be unacceptable for many. Still the band makes an admirable amount of noise for three dudes, and they skirt the borders of free jazz, funk and late-night talk show theme music with ample energy.

"No Air" - Odean Pope (from Almost Like Me)

Continuing with the Coltranisms, here’s "Coltrane Time" from the Odean Pope Saxophone Choir’s Epitome record. I love the fractilized, chopped-and-scattered intro/outro.

"Coltrane Time" - Odean Pope Saxophone Choir (from Epitome, listen at the 1:20 marker and again at 2:30 for the signature Pope leap)