Archive for June 2011
Eddie Floyd, Vocals; Steve Cropper, Guitar; Donald “Duck” Dunn, Bass; Lester Snell, Keyboards; Anton Fig, Drums. Full coverage of this show can be found here.
Click any image to enlarge and launch viewer. All photos copyright 2011 Peter Parrella.
Click Image to Enlarge. Photo Copyright Peter Parrella 2011
Full Photo Gallery is here.
A Brotherhood of Soul
On Sunday evening June 26, 2011 Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom heated up for a soul revue featuring The Music of Stax Records. With the neo-soul movement in full bloom and folks intent on partying like it’s 1965, there’s no better time to turn attention to the musicians who originally forged that sound. If you hear song titles like “Soul Man”, “Green Onions” and “Dock of the Bay” you could probably sing, hum or whistle those tunes in a heartbeat. They have become part of the world’s cultural memory. If you hear the names Steve Cropper or Donald “Duck” Dunn, the response might be less automatic. In truth those tunes and so many others like “In the Midnight Hour” would not exist without those gentlemen and their cohorts of the time organist Booker T. Jones and their drummer the late Al Jackson Jr..
As The MG’s and part of the “house band” for Stax Records in Memphis Tennesee, these musicians built on the promise Elvis made ten years earlier with a mixture of country and blues that came to be known as “soul music”. It’s not the Motown kind of soul music which was quite purposefully pop in comparison. Stax stayed a lot closer to the chicken coop and while the label’s stars could spruce it up in shark skin and mohair with the best of them you always got the feeling that Wilson Picket might cut you; Diana Ross – well – probably not.
Raise A Hand!
The evening opened with Cropper and Dunn, working with keyboardist Lester Snell and Paul Schaefer Late Night Band drummer Anton Fig, playing some of their classic instrumentals. They effectively laid out the signature bass grooves, buzzing Hammond B3 and stinging guitar licks of “Hip-Hug-Her”, “Booker-Loo”, “Time Is Tight”, “Soul Limbo” and of course “Green Onions”. Cropper, showcasing his sparse playing style, made every note count on the melody of “Summertime”. “Duck” and Steve have been life long friends and play with an intuitive ease to prove it. It’s all done with an almost imperceptible nod, a half smile, or sometimes a bemused stare. It’s fun to watch these guys having fun.
When singer Eddie Floyd was introduced to the stage and launched into “Raise A Hand” the show shifted to high gear. Just one day past his 74th birthday Floyd was a dynamo traversing the stage continuously, working up a sweat and pulling pretty ladies out of the audience to dance with him. The audience responded in kind, and quickly got on their feet dancing along to classic tunes like “Knock On Wood” and “634-5789 (Soulsville USA)”, both authored by Floyd. “On A Saturday Night” had the audience singing along oblivious to the fact that it was really a “school night”.
Play It Steve!
As expected set ender “Soul Man” blew the lid off the place. Current recognition of the Stax label’s monumental contribution music can be traced in part to the continued success of Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi’s “The Blues Brothers”. A loving and hilarious homage to the music they loved. “It’s always on cable TV” Cropper noted. “New” Blues Brothers joined Floyd on stage for this number, trading lead lines, mock boxing and ultimately genuflecting to kiss the ring of the soul pontif.
The band gifted the Highline crowd with a surprise performance of “Dock of the Bay” as the encore; the posthumously released Otis Redding song apparently one that Floyd had declined to cover. But, with a pinch of “Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)” thrown in for spice it turned into a fitting and respectful remembrance and closed the show with the audience whistling its plaintive refrain.
A Royale Salute
Steve Cropper’s new album titled “Dedicated” is due for release in early August. It’s a salute to the music of early R&B group The “5″ Royales and guitarist Pete Pauling. The star studded CD includes performances by Steve Winwood, Bettye Lavette, Sharon Jones, Brian May, Delbert McClinton Spooner Oldham, B B King, Lucinda Williams, Steve Jordan. Promises to be an exceptional listen. Pre-order link is below.
Saturday June 18, 2011
While many weathered the heat to get gander at aquatically adorned Mermaid Parade revelers, the real Brooklyn VIP Party was going down at Bay Ridge’s Street Sounds Music Store, in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge as we like to say. It was a special day and those in the know packed Rocky Sciano’s family run business to take in the beautiful and voluptuous curves of those American designed classics – Gretsch Guitars. You may know Gretsch instruments as the Rock-A-Billy wreckers painted up in delicious Hot Rod colors, or maybe the country picker’s choice in the hands of Chet Atkins, or maybe the hell’s bells ringing red double cutaway Jet Firebird of AC/DC’s Malcolm Young . “Who’s Next”? “Quadrophenia”? – all Pete Townshend’s 6120, gifted to him by Joe Walsh. Django – Gretsch. Eddie Cochran – Gretsch. Got the point?
Homecoming and History
The Gretsch family company started its life in Brooklyn NYC in 1883 making banjos and drums for marching bands. They initiated their historic line of guitars in 1954. For this special event Fred Gretsch III and Product Specialist Joe Carducci paid a visit to original home turf bringing along California calendar girl Kim Falcon and top-notch picker Paul Pigat, AKA Cousin Harley. Of course the afternoon was all about the gear; the star item being the prototype of Gretsch’s 1957 Duo Jet George Harrison replica, reproduced down to the rust on the Bigsby vibrato spring. With only 60 of these puppies being produced worldwide, this Harrison family authorized gem was a thrill to ogle slowly revolving in its display case. Along with the Harrison collectors item Street Sounds showed off walls hung with beautiful examples of the expansive Gretsch line and District Product Manager David Waters was on hand throughout the afternoon to offer attendees help and information on specific models.
As part of the festivities, Mssrs. Gretsch and Carducci presented “The Fred and Joe Show” highlighting the company’s history and key artists. It was augmented to include information about the convoluted journey of George’s Duo Jet. It’s a great story, you can read it here. Raffle tickets were chosen by Ms. Falcon (with a little help from Rocky’s mom). Prizes included heaps of Gretsch merch like T-shirts, playing cards, Zippo Lighters and bolo ties. In addition, two lucky participants won killer Gretsch guitars. Paul Pigat played some smokin’ rock-a-billy, a smooth take on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust”, and taught a compact lesson on the art of Travis picking. Up and coming group Foxy Studs (Joe on guitar, Christina on drums, Tammie singing and Elia on Bass) gave the audience a look at and listen to the future of Gretsch guitar and drum players. After the raffles and presentation Fred and Kim spent time meeting fans and signing autographs on calendars, posters and even a few guitars.
Whoa! Haven’t seen you since the Fort Hamilton High School “Battle of the Bands” in 1972
The event was like old home week for local musicians and brought out players young and umm…seasoned from the surrounding neighborhoods. It is just so cool that so many of us have kept the faith and kept playing. There were some Prodigal Children, a Rockingham or two, John “The Cat” Gatto from – genuflect now – The Good Rats, even a couple of members of Dance Half Done. Modern Drummer editor Billy Amendola was on hand as was Piercing Metal’s main mensch Ken Pierce.
The special day continued into evening with a walking tour at the original factory site – 60 Broadway in Williamsburg. Apparently, the pioneering Gretsch family beat the hipster invasion to the punch by over 100 years!
The Frosted Pink Cupcake Lollipops were mind blowing! – no that’s not a psychedelic tribute band.
The photos below tell the story of a wonderful time had by all. Click any image to launch the gallery. (All photos copyright 2011, Peter Parrella)
Ride, Rise, Roar
Eagle Vision Blu-Ray DVD
Byrne, Baby, Byrne
David Byrne has continuously expanded his creative horizons. He has taken turns as film director, author, visual artist, record label head, and even urban cycling advocate since first being introduced to the world as the “Bowery Bowie” front man of the punk-ish boho band Talking Heads. This Blu-Ray DVD finds him back in the musical mix.
What It is…
“Ride, Rise, Roar” is a documentary of the 2008/2009 tour which supported the Byrne and Eno album “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” and was captured at several shows over its course. For this outing Byrne chose to augment his stage band with a dance troupe. So, while a rock concert on the surface; the show also plays out as a modern dance theater experience. Hiring several choreographers whose work he was familiar with Byrne had them organically build movement into the experience. This film encompasses a broad look at the show from inception to stage.
Fans of Byrne will enjoy a look at the process as tour numbers come together in rehearsal and I’m happy to see the behind-the-scenes work integrated into the film rather than banished to DVD extra features. After-all you can’t work with Brian Eno unless the journey is as important as the destination. Practice segments and interviews with collaborators are presented in black and white to juxtapose them with polished performances and footage is often intercut into a single song piece. It’s fun to see rehearsal room shots of a T-shirted Byrne, the cast and choreographer in montage with the finished number on stage.
Byrne is not shy to perform material going all the way back to his earliest days, including Talking Heads milestones “Life During Wartime” “I Zimbra”, and “Once in a Lifetime”. I think many would agree that the definitive live performances of these songs were captured in Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense”, but that was a long time ago and the material has evolved enough to make “Ride, Rise and Roar” a worthwhile experience. Byrne and company are the essence of cool in white head to toe, including a white Fender Stratocaster guitar. The “big suit” may be in storage but you haven’t lived until you see David and the band perform “Burning Down the House” in white tutu’s. If some of this sounds like loopy pretense it is saved from art school overload by Byrne’s delivery which lets honesty and good humor triumph over artifice. He’s having a great time, you want to indulge him.
Having seen one of the show’s on this tour I can say that the dance movements were designed to make a statement based on the audience’s view of one edge of the proscenium arch to the other. Unfortunately cinematic deconstruction of the set into one, two and three shots, and particularly side shots, often blunts the show’s kinetic power and circumvents the choreographer’s original intent. Though it is the antithesis of modern quick cut film-making more static shots of the entire stage tableau would have better represented the performances.
“The hits” will please the general audience but it’s the newer material comes off really special on stage. Being reintroduced to tunes that got by me when the Byrne/Eno album was released (“Life Is Long” and “One Fine Day”), with live interpretations which I prefer, makes the DVD well worth owning.
My personal reservations about how theater is interpreted by film aside I found “Ride, Rise, Roar” to be a very enjoyable and interesting look into David Byrne’s brain and the methodology of his collaborators.
It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since David Bryne’s performance at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Bandshell on opening night of that year’s Celebrate Brooklyn concert series. It was a great night with a really nice crowd of friendly folks who shared a chat, a love of music, and even some wine (in a box!) Kenny Pierce was there too and his selection of photos from our vantage point is on view at his blog.
Ian Stewart, the erstwhile sixth Rolling Stone, may have been relegated to a historical footnote when manager Andrew Oldham decided he did not fit the teenage heart-throb mold in 1963, but – unlike let’s say Pete Best – his influence never ceased to pervade the band. Willingly accepting the duties of road manager and driver “Stu” also took the role of “big brother” to the burgeoning blues band. He continued to record with the group in their early years, playing both piano and organ on tracks of his choosing and notoriously refused to be a part of any tune not in a major key. For the rest of his life he pulled no punches in assessments of the group in the midst of sycophants and hangers on. Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards’ autobiography clearly outlines how Stewart was crucial to their early success. His day job at Imperial Chemical Industries helped pay for rehearsal space and his work phone often served as booking agency for the band. “He put his money where his mouth was, at least where his heart was, because he didn’t talk a lot about it” says Richards. He held a “natural authority” over the group “which never changed”, “…without the leap he made from where he was coming from, to play with this bunch of kids, we’d be nowhere.”
Outside The Stones, Stewart famously pounds the keys on Led Zeppelin’s Little Richard style rave-up “Rock N Roll”, and is named in their “Boogie with Stu” from the “Physical Graffitti” album. He was also part of the stellar studio band during the “Howlin’ Wolf London Sessions”, that’s him on “Sitting On Top of the World”.
What It Is…
“Boogie 4 Stu” is pianist Ben Waters’ tribute to Stewart (who passed away in 1985) and the music he loved to play. Waters was struck with woogie-boogie flu at a young age, not only seeing Stewart play live but witnessing a summit of Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino at Domino’s 60th birthday gig. “When I decided to make this album for Stu I hadn’t got any big plans. I just wanted to say thanks to him”, says Waters in the liner notes. He was pleasantly surprised when a boatload of Ian’s friends, admirers and fellow musicians offered to be involved, including every member of the The Rolling Stones, Jools Holland and P.J. Harvey.
Waters and company offer a tight little set of boogie and jump based tunes by Albert Ammons, Big Maceo, Big Joe Turner and Amos Milburn. Polly Jean does a moody multi-tracked vocal on Doc Pomus’s “Lonely Avenue”. Keith and Ronnie Wood get in lead vocals on “Worried Life Blues”, and all of the Stones convene on Dylan’s “Watching The River Flow”. Though recorded in various studios around the world and under varying circumstances (Jagger literally emailed his vocal in) veteran producer/engineer Glyn Johns pulls the project together with a mix that does not reveal its pastiche origins. In fact it feels like it was all put together in one room during an afternoon session.
With its lovely watercolor cover by artist Peter Blake (Sgt Pepper’s, Face Dances) “Boogie 4 Stu” does Ian Stewart’s memory proud. If it sends you looking for a listen to the music of his influences and mentors it succeeds well beyond its humble beginnings. The final track features the man himself with his stage band Rocket 88 and makes me very curious about what Stewart gems would appear should a Beatles style “anthology” ever emerge from the Rolling Stones’ vaults. A “Jamming with Edward” type compilation of Stu based tracks seems like a no-brainer. In the meantime, we don’t have to pipe dream to enjoy Waters’ fine tribute.
Proceeds from the sale of this disc will go to the British Heart Fund.
Click here to purchase on Amazon
Boogie 4 Stu