Sunday, May 30, 2021

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 2123 (starts 5/31/21)

    Once again we have a mixture of tracks from well-known groups like Traffic, the Doors and Led Zeppelin mixed in with lesser-known (but not less talented) artists like Wishbone Ash, Tommy Bolin and the early 70s incarnation of the Blues Project.

Artist:    Traffic
Title:    Light Up Or Leave Me Alone
Source:    CD: Smiling Phases (originally released on LP: The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys)
Writer(s):    Jim Capaldi
Label:    Island
Year:    1971
    Jim Capaldi always wanted to be a front man. In fact, he was the lead vocalist and founder of his own band, the Sapphires, when he was just 14 years old. In 1963 he switched to drums to form the Hellions with guitarists Dave Mason and Gordon Jackson. The following year the Hellions got a gig backing up Tanya Day at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany, where he met Steve Winwood, who was staying at the same hotel as a member of the Spencer Davis Group. In 1965 Capaldi became the band's front man with the addition of Poli Palmer as the band's new drummer. Although the Hellions were a successful performing band, none of their four singles (including one in 1966 under the name Revolution) charted. Mason left the band that year and the remaining members recorded a few demos for Giorgio Gomelsky, but they were not released at the time. During this time Capaldi often sat in with Winwood, Mason and flautist Chris Wood for after-hours jam sessions at Birmingham's Elbow Club. In 1967 they officially formed Traffic, with Capaldi and Winwood co-writing the bulk of the band's material. After Winwood left Traffic to join Blind Faith, Capaldi, Mason and Wood tried to get a new band goingwith keyboardist Mick Weaver, but things didn't work out. In early 1970 Capaldi and Wood accepted Winwood's invitation to help with what was to be his debut solo album, but which ended up being a reformed Traffic's John Barleycorn Must Die. With the addition of drummer Jim Gordon on the album Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys, Capaldi finally got a chance to front the band on two songs, one of which, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone, he wrote without Winwood's assistance. For the remainder of his life, in addition to continuing to work with Winwood as a member of Traffic and later on his solo albums, Capaldi pursued a successful solo career, scoring several hits on the British charts. His biggest American hit was That's Love, which hit the #28 spot in 1983. Jim Capaldi died from stomach cancer in 2005 at age 60.

Artist:    Big Brother And The Holding Company
Title:    Ball And Chain
Source:    European import CD: Pure...Psychedelic Rock (originally released on LP: Cheap Thrills)
Writer:    Willie Mae Thornton
Label:    Sony Music (original label: Columbia)
Year:    1968
    In June of 1967 Big Brother And The Holding Company, fronted by Janis Joplin, electrified the crowd at the Monterey International Pop Festival with their rendition of Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton's Ball And Chain. Over the years Joplin, both with and without Big Brother, continued to perform the song. One of the finest performances of Ball And Chain was recorded live at the Fillmore in 1968 and included on the band's major label debut, Cheap Thrills. In retrospect the recording marks the peak of both Big Brother and of Joplin, who went their separate ways after the album was released.

Artist:    Doors
Title:    Who Scared You
Source:    CD: Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine (originally released as 45 RPM single B side)
Writer(s):    Doors
Label:    Elektra/Rhino
Year:    1969
    The Doors only released two non-album tracks while Jim Morrison was alive. The first of these was Who Scared You, which appeared as the B side of Wishful Sinful, a minor hit from the 1969 album The Soft Parade. Unlike the songs on that album, Who Scared You is credited to the entire band, rather than one or more of its individual members. The song made its album debut in 1972, when it was included in the double-LP compilation Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine.

Artist:    Wishbone Ash
Title:    Queen Of Torture
Source:    CD: The Collection (originally released on LP: Wishbone Ash)
Writer:    Upton/Turner/Turner/Powell
Label:    Spectrum/Universal (original label: Decca)
Year:    1970
    One of the first bands to use dual lead guitars was Wishbone Ash. When Glen Turner, the band's original guitarist, had to leave, auditions were held, but the remaining members and their manager couldn't decide between the two finalists, Andy Powell and Ted Turner, so they kept both of them. Queen Of Torture, from their 1969 debut album, shows just how well the two guitars meshed.

Artist:    Blues Project
Title:    Black Night
Source:    CD: The Blues Project Anthology (originally released on LP: Lazarus)
Writer(s):    Jessie Mae Robinson
Label:    Polydor (original label: Capitol)
Year:    1971
    After the original Blues Project fell apart in late 1967, drummer Roy Blumenfeld and bassist/flautist Andy Kulberg decided to permanently relocate to Marin County, California, getting a large house in the hopes that guitarist Danny Kalb, who was recovering from a nervous breakdown, would be able to eventually join them in a new version of the band. Adding three new members, including bassist Don Kretmar, they did a few gigs as the Blues Project, but soon changed their name to Seatrain. After a pair of albums with the new lineup, one of which was released as the Blues Project album Planned Obsolescence, Blumenfeld left the group, eventually hooking up with Kalb and Kretmar for a power trio version of the Blues Project. It was this lineup that released the album Lazarus in 1971. Probably the strongest track on the album was a cover of Charles Brown's 1951 blues hit Black Night. Following one more LP for Capitol in 1972, the Blues Project disbanded, but the members have been occasionally getting back together for reunion gigs ever since.

Artist:    Todd Rundgren
Title:    Black Maria
Source:    LP: Something/Anything?
Writer(s):    Todd Rundgren
Label:    Bearsville
Year:    1972
    For his third solo LP, Something/Anything?, Todd Rundgren decided that he would, in the words of the popular TV commercial of the time, "rather do it myself". So he went out to California and began working on his new album at I.D. Sound Studios, one of the first independent studios in Los Angeles, working with engineer James Lowe, former lead vocalist of the Electric Prunes. Rundgren would start by laying down the drum tracks on songs like Black Maria, while humming the song in his head. He later said that the drum tracks were the "logical place to start", adding that "if I would screw up, then I would change the song afterwards, to fit the mistake that I had made, because it was easier than going back and fixing it." He would then add various instruments, one at a time, and finish with vocal tracks. Lowe later said he was "mostly working in the dark" and that "I was never sure exactly where the song was going until we'd put down about four or five tracks." Nonetheless, the album was a critical and commercial success, and is now considered one of the landmark releases of the 1970s.

Artist:    Byrds
Title:    Things Will Be Better
Source:    LP: Byrds
Writer(s):    Hillman/Taylor
Label:    Asylum
Year:    1973
    Things Will Be Better is one of three singles released from the 1973 LP Byrds. None of them charted, possibly because Byrds was a reunion album that was released while an entirely different lineup (with the exception of Roger McGuinn) was still making live appearances. I don't know who thought that was a good idea.

Artist:    Robin Trower
Title:    The Fool And Me
Source:    LP Bridge Of Sighs
Writer(s):    Trower/Dewar
Label:    Chrysalis
Year:    1974
    Guitarist Robin Trower's breakthrough album, Bridge Of Sighs, featured vocals by bassist James Dewar, who also co-wrote a couple of the songs on the LP. The better of these was The Fool And Me, which closes out side one of the original LP. Drummer Reg Isidore completed the trio.

Artist:    Tommy Bolin
Title:    Lotus
Source:    Japanese import CD: Teaser
Writer(s):    Tesar/Bolin
Label:    Sony (original label: Nemperor)
Year:    1975
    Tommy Bolin's debut solo LP, Teaser, was released at around the same time as his first album as a member of Deep Purple, Come Taste The Band. Because of touring commitments with Deep Purple, Bolin was unable to effectively promote Teaser, and sales suffered. The album did get good reviews, with critics praising Bolin's versatility on tracks like Lotus, which closes out the LP.

Artist:    Steely Dan
Title:    Don't Take Me Alive
Source:    CD: The Royal Scam
Writer(s):    Becker/Fagen
Label:    MCA (original label: ABC)
Year:    1976
    Larry Carlton's guitar work is on display on Don't Take Me Alive, one of the more popular non-single tracks on the 1976 album The Royal Scam. As usual, the lyrics center on situations that were, at the time, somewhat unique to Southern California, such as a violent criminal with a case of dynamite telling the cops to shoot him.

Artist:    Grateful Dead
Title:    Friend Of The Devil
Source:    CD: Skeletons From The Closet (originally released on LP: American Beauty)
Writer(s):    Garcia/Dawson/Hunter
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1970
    The Grateful Dead spent three years and four albums trying to capture the energy of their live performances on vinyl. Having finally succeeded with the 1969 Live Dead album the group began to focus more on their songwriting capabilities. The result was two outstanding studio albums, both released in 1970: Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. Of the two, American Beauty is made up almost entirely of songs played on acoustic instruments, including pedal steel guitar, which was played by Jerry Garcia. One of the best-known tracks on American Beauty is Friend Of The Devil, which lyricist Robert Hunter referred to as "the closest we've come to what may be a classic song."

Artist:    Led Zeppelin
Title:    Ramble On
Source:    CD: Led Zeppelin II
Writer(s):    Page/Plant
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1969
    Some songs grab you the first time you hear them, but soon wear out their welcome. Others take a while to catch on, but tend to stay with you for a lifetime. Then there are those rare classics that manage to hook you from the start and yet never get old. One such song is Led Zeppelin's Ramble On, from their second LP. The song starts with a Jimmy Page acoustic guitar riff played high up on the neck with what sounds almost like footsteps keeping time (but turns out to be John Bonham playing bongo style on a guitar case). John Paul Jones soon adds one of the most melodic bass lines ever to appear in a rock song, followed closely by Robert Plant's Tolkien-influenced lyrics. For the chorus the band gets into electric mode, with guitar, bass and drums each contributing to a unique staggered rhythmic pattern. The song also contains one of Page's most memorable solos, that shares tonal qualities with Eric Clapton's work on Cream's Disraeli Gears album. Although I usually don't pay much attention to lyrics, one set of lines from Ramble On has stuck with me for a good many years:
"'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her."
How can any Tolkien fan resist that?

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