Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1805 (starts 1/31/18)

    Rock music has it roots in the blues, and, to a lesser degree, the country and western music of the late 1940s. While rock was developing, however, there were other musical forms dominating record sales, among them classical (for the highbrow buyer) and, by far the most popular at the time, jazz. For the most part these forms remained separate from rock until the 1970s, when rock musicians decided to take their art a little more seriously. This week we feature a selection of tracks reflecting the influence of these older forms, from the unusual time and key changes of Crack The Sky to the slow blues of the J. Geils Band's classic 1976 B side, Magic's Mood.

Artist:    Crack The Sky
Title:    Ice
Source:    LP: Crack The Sky
Writer(s):    John Palumbo
Label:    Lifesong
Year:    1975
    Once in a while you buy an album based on hearing only one song from said album. Such was the case in the late 1970s, when I was doing shows for Albuquerque's KUNM-FM at the University of New Mexico. The song Ice, from the first Crack The Sky album, grabbed me that much. Apparently it grabbed someone at Rolling Stone magazine as well, as they declared Crack The Sky to be the "debut album of the year" for 1975.

Artist:    Renaissance
Title:    Ashes Are Burning
Source:    LP: Live At Carnegie Hall
Writer(s):    Dunford/Thatcher
Label:    Sire
Year:    1976
    Of all the art-rock bands in the 1970s, Renaissance was probably the most closely aligned with traditional classical music, especially that of the Romantic period. Beginning with their Ashes Are Burning album in 1973, the band was often accompanied by a full orchestra, complementing Annie Haslam's multi-octave vocal range. By 1976 the group was at the peak of its popularity, and released the album Live At Carnegie Hall. The longest track on the album (taking up an entire LP side) was the live version of Ashes Are Burning itself. The popularity of the entire art-rock movement, and Renaissance in particular, was about to crash, however, with the advent of the punk-rock movement of the late 1970s, which viewed art-rock bands as pretentious and in direct opposition to the spirit of rock itself.

Artist:    Roy Buchanan
Title:    Wayfaring Pilgrim
Source:    CD: The Best Of Roy Buchanan (originally released on LP: In The Beginning)
Writer(s):    Buchanan/Freeman
Label:    Polydor
Year:    1974
    When it comes to pure technique, very few guitarists can claim to be in the same class as Roy Buchanan. Born in Ozark, Arkansas, in 1939, Buchanan made his recording debut as a sideman for Dale Hawkins in 1958, releasing his first single as a solo artist in 1961. Throughout his career he was known for being a master of the Fender Telecaster guitar, and was considered a major influence by many younger guitarists over the years, including Robbie Robertson (whom he tutored when they were both members of Ronnie Hawkins's Hawks) Jeff Beck and Jerry Garcia. Buchanan's greatest commercial success, however, came in the 1970s after signing the the Polydor label, which was looking for talent to fill out the roster of its newly-formed US division. Buchanan recorded five albums for Polydor, including In The Beginning, which was released in the UK as Rescue Me. Buchanan's arrangement of Wayfaring Pilgrim from that album also features the talents of Neil Larsen on piano.

Artist:    Neil Young/Crazy Horse
Title:    Cowgirl In The Sand
Source:    CD: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Writer:    Neil Young
Label:    Reprise
Year:    1969
    It has been said that adverse conditions are conducive to good art. Certainly that truism applies to Neil Young's Cowgirl In The Sand, written while Young was running a 102 degree fever. Almost makes you wish you could be that sick sometime.

Artist:    Spirit
Title:    Elijah
Source:    CD: Spirit
Writer:    John Locke
Label:    Ode/Epic/Legacy
Year:    1968
    Since the mid-1960s many bands have had one long piece that they play in concert that is specifically designed to allow individual band members to strut their stuff. In a few cases, such as Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida or Lynnard Skynnard's Freebird, it becomes their best-known song. In most cases, though, a studio version of the piece gets put on an early album and never gets heard on the radio. Such is the case with Spirit's show-stopper Elijah, which was reportedly never played the same way twice. Elijah, written by keyboardist John Locke, starts with a hard-rockin' main theme that is followed by a jazzier second theme that showcases one of the lead instruments (guitar, keyboards). The piece then comes to a dead stop while one of the members has a solo section of their own devising. This is followed by the main theme, repeating several times until every member has had their own solo section. The piece ends with a return to the main theme followed by a classic power rock ending.

Artist:    J. Geils Band
Title:    Magic's Mood
Source:    Stereo 45 RPM single B side
Writer(s):    Juke Joint Jimmy
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1976
    My two favorite J. Geils Band tracks are both B sides featuring the harmonica playing of Magic Dick. Both Magic's Mood, from 1976, and 1971's Whammer Jammer are credited to Juke Joint Jimmy. Of course, this writing credit got me curious, so I did a little research and found out that Juke Joint Jimmy is actually a pseudonym created specifically for songs written by the entire band. So now I guess I can put Juke Joint Jimmy in the same class as Nanker Phelge and McGannahan Skjellyfetti.

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