Category Archives: progessive rock

Jaki Liebezeit, Butch Trucks RIP

 

As we come to the end of the first month of the year, rock’s rhythm section has already taken two great hits.

Jaki Liebezeit 1938 – 2017

My first exposure to the music of Can was in 1970 when I heard their debut LP on an import records radio programme. The DJ felt strongly about the album and even featured the side-long track Yoo Doo Right. I was immediately a fan of the incredible sound that this band could make.

After a stint as a jazz drummer with the Manfred Schoof Quintet, Jaki Liebezeit went on to become one of the four core members of Can. The other members were Hoger Czukay (bass), Irmin Schmidt (keyboards) and Michael Karoli (guitar). Czukay and Schmidt had both studied with avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and Karoli was a rock guitarist. This made from an eclectic mix of musical influences.

When Liebezeit locked with Czukay’s bass groove, the duo would go on to create an unstoppable force. With this power behind them, Schmidt and Karoli could dive-bomb around the rhythm to create a unique sound.

Jaki would say that his style was an attempt to be “monotonous.” That was far from the case. It was a hypnotic rhythm which was both simple and elegant in its approach.

From the driving beat of Mother Sky (Soundtracks) to the subtleties of Bel Air (Future Days), he could paint a stunning background with which the other members could overlay a foreground of unique and brilliant sounds.

Jaki Liebeziet would go on to play with many other musicians like Brian Eno and also with his own Phantom Band.

He sadly passed away on January 22 due to complications of pneumonia.

Butch Trucks 1947 – 2017

Butch Trucks was one of the founding members of The Allman Brothers Band in 1969. From the start, the band was feature two drummers.

Trucks was the steady backbeat of the rhythm section. He was paired with Jaimoe (Jai Johanny Johanson) who added an array of complimentary percussion that would flesh out the backdrop for the band.

Live recordings like the Allman’s classic Live at Fillmore and tracks from the subsequent Eat a Peach showcased the amazing synchronicity between the two players. It would be difficult to imagine the sound of the Allmans without the two of them locked together with a single driving purpose.

Butch Trucks died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on January 24.

Goodbye 2016 (we will not miss you)

I have been dreading having to write a wrap-up piece about the year 2016. The last post that I made was in November when Leonard Cohen died. Since then, it seems to have been difficult to write anything. It has never been my intention to have my blog look like an obituary column but, it quite often feels like that.

In recent years, I have been reminding people that the musicians whose music we have enjoyed since the ’60s and ’70s are now mainly in their 60s and 70s. That means that the inevitable signs of mortality will surely take hold. This has certainly been the case in 2016.

The year seemed to start off on a high note with a brilliant new release (Blackstar) by David Bowie. However, this event seemed to quickly get overshadowed when Bowie died a couple of days after its release.

The death of Bowie seemed to resonate hard and deep within both the music industry and among his long-time fans. As someone who had been a fan for 45 years, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. This seemed to be a shared experience as many people that I talked to or exchanged messages with appeared to be doing their best to hold back a wellspring of tears. Many tried but did not succeed. The last time that I can honestly recall such a reaction was when John Lennon was brutally gunned down.

But, that was just the start of a year that appeared to be voracious in its appetite to take away so many musicians and music related personalities away from us. It didn’t matter which genre of music was your favourite, the losses touched all aspects of music from rock, pop, R&B, jazz, classical and avant-garde.

Bowie, Cohen and Prince were among the biggest or most influential names for most of the year and then word of the death of George Michael slipped in on Christmas day.

I’ve owned records by many of the people who have passed this year. I’ve seen some of them in concert. I’ve even had the pleasure to meet a couple of them. The sad fact is that as time marches on, more of these people will make the headlines as they continue to leave us. So, let’s enjoy their music while they are still here and continue to honour their memory after they are gone.

Music can make us happy. Music can make us sad. Music can make us think. Music can make us feel how great it is to be alive. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you like, it just matters that it means something to you. Be grateful for that. It is rare.

Here is a very brief list of some of the musicians and music-related people we lost in 2016:

Signe Anderson (Jefferson Airplane)

Gato Barbieri

Paul Bley

Pierre Boulez

David Bowie

Leonard Cohen

Tony Conrad

Keith Emerson

Glenn Frey (Eagles)

Dale Griffin (Mott the Hoople)

Merle Haggard

Sharon Jones

Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane)

Greg Lake

Neville Marriner

George Martin

George Michael

Scotty Moore

Alphonse Mouzon

Pauline Oliveros

Rick Parfitt (Status Quo)

Prince

Leon Russell

Dave Swarbrick (Fairport Convention)

Rudy Van Gelder

Alan Vega (Suicide)

Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire)

For a much more detailed (and depressing) list of the people that we lost this year, please visit Musicians Who Died in 2016.

47th Anniversary for King Crimson debut LP

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47 years ago today, King Crimson unleashed its debut album in the UK.

I can still recall that the “underground” FM radio stations in the Windsor/Detroit area were quick to jump on it. There seemed to be a great sense of anticipation for when the next airing of 21st Century Schizoid Man would jump out of the stereo speakers. The aggressive metronomic guitar slashes of Robert Fripp’s guitar coupled with the overdriven distorted vocals of Greg Lake seemed to create a tension which made even the previously aired strains of the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray seem suddenly somehow tame.

When playing the LP, it seemed like a shock to hear the quiet beauty of the following track – I Talk to the Wind. But, such was the mystery and awe inspiring monster that was King Crimson.

Throughout the rest of the album’s lengthy excursions, this balance of light and dark, loud and quiet, beauty and ugliness was exploited to its fullest extent.

The second most broadcast song was the title track. The use of Ian McDonald’s mellotron seemed to take the sound into the stratosphere. By the end, the listener would inevitably be attempting to put their dropped jaw back into proper facial alignment as well as catch their breath. It was a sound that would literally leave the listener gasping for air.

The sounds of thousands of albums have come since this record was released in 1969. However, extremely few have managed to create such a stunning impact upon first listen and then continue to do so over the years.

Recent Arrivals – MoonJune

2016 marks the 15th anniversary of the MoonJune Records label. Over the course of its history, the label has released an impressive array of sounds spanning jazz rock, prog and world fusion recordings. Here are a few of the most recent…

“Zhongyu” Is Chinese for “Finally” is the self explanatory title of the CD by Zhongyu. The group explores many different areas which encompass relationships between different genres of music.

From the initial sounds of some electronic experimentation, the group slips into a prog rock mode with Crimson-esque guitar riffs and violin reminiscent of the Lark’s Tongue in Aspic era.

The use of the Chinese zither known as the guzheng brings an oriental feel to many of the works. It is used on its own as well as being blended with more modern electric sounds to interesting effect.

Overall, the mix of themes and instrumentation forms a nice balance for an album of interesting sounds.

So Far So Close by keyboardist Dwiki Dharmawan seems like a real blast from the past. If somebody had told me that an unreleased 1970s album by Return to Forever had recently been unearthed, I’d have been hard-pressed to argue. So far from the ’70s, so close to the sound.

Since I have been listening to RTF a fair amount lately, this disc seems to fit right into that mode. Even Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Jerry Goodman has been brought into the mix to feature on the album’s first track.

Sometimes it is hard to ascertain whether an artist is making a nod to the past with their sound or simply stuck in the era. Either way, if this type of jazz fusion is your cup of tea, you’ll probably find it quite entertaining.

For many of us of a certain age, the release of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon seemed like a watershed moment in musical time back in March of 1973. Since then, a couple of generations had been around to absorb its ever-present sonic vibrations. Over the years, there have been countless tributes and covers spanning all manner of disparate musical genres.

The Great Gig in the Sky is another such tribute by the trio of Boris Savoldelli, Raffaele Casarano and Marco Bardoscia. After the obligatory heartbeats and spooky voices, an acoustic bass brings the listener into Breathe.

Throughout the tracks, the sounds of jazz are mixed with electronic sounds which sometimes develop into pseudo electro dance beats.

The interpretations are interesting with accomplished musicianship.  The only drawback for me are the vocal contributions. While Boris Savoldelli has a distinctive vocal style, the often pained, dark approach seems to be more of a distraction within the context of the rest of the music.

MoonJune Records website

 

 

Never a Dull Moment by David Hepworth

Hot on the heels of Jon Savage’s book 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded comes another book which focuses on a specific year. David Hepworth’s new book is entitled Never a Dull Moment – 1971: The Year That Rock Exploded. Whereas both of these books share a similar format in that the months are used as the twelve chapter of the books, that is where much of the similarity ends.

Both writers present stories about music of the year within a framework consisting of the cultural, social and political climate of the time. However, Savage’s book is around 25% music and 75% social conditions contrasted with Hepworth’s 90% music and 10% cultural framework. (For a more in depth look at Jon Savage’s book, please check out my article elsewhere on this blog.)

For his book, Hepworth generally begins each chapter with an overview of the times. This is followed by several stories about artists, songs, albums, producers etc… on whom he focuses his direct attention.

He begins his journey into the year by relating the fact that it began with the official dissolution of The Beatles. So, 1971 was the first “post-Beatles” year after the conclusion of the ’60s.

Since Carole King’s Tapestry was one of the biggest breakouts of the year, he explores her place in the blossoming world of the singer/songwriters of the year. These include people like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and Carly Simon. He also talks about one of the most enduring figures of the time who made little inroads in the way of popularity at the time – Nick Drake.

By way of the Rolling Stones, he relates stories about the release of Sticky Fingers as well as the band’s excursion to France to record the following year’s sprawling double album release – Exile on Main Street.

The state of music coming from the African American community is explored with tales of Motown label boss Berry Gordy Jr. and his stable of artists including Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. He also writes about Isaac Hayes as well as American TV host/producer Don Cornelius who brought Soul Train into the living rooms of the youth.

Producers like Ken Scott and Glyn Johns hook up with David Bowie and The Who respectively and breed the top albums Hunky Dory and Who’s Next. These were both milestones in the careers of the artists in 1971.

We also learn how producer Tom Dowd convinced the Allman Brothers Band to ditch the distracting horn section which was being used during their series of dates at the Fillmore East. This helped the band turn the corner and produce their double live LP set At Fillmore East which is still regarded as a classic today.

There are tales of Led Zeppelin, Roxy Music, Harry Nilsson, Don McLean, Frank Zappa, Black Sabbath, The Beach Boys, T. Rex, Big Star, Rod Stewart, Carpenters and even a name-check for German Krautrock pioneers Can.

Festivals were also the order of the day in 1971 as the long-lived Glastonbury Festival got its start. There are also other tales of (much) less successful events such as the Weeley Festival and the disastrous Celebration of Life Festival in Louisiana.

1971 was also the year that the first rock concert charity event was organized by George Harrison. The ups and downs of this new type of venture venture are examined.

Reading through this book reminds the reader about so many watershed moments that occurred in the music world at the beginning of the 1970s. To a generation accustomed to auditioning the latest sounds via the internet with the click of a mouse, these times music seem like some ancient distant land. Music fans used to find themselves reading about interesting music and, if they were lucky, being able to catch some of the sounds on an adventurous underground FM radio station. It was a time when people congregated at record stores and took in the artwork and liner notes of the LPs filling the bins.

I was there… and it was damn fun!

Classic Rock? In my day it was called New Releases! 

 

 

 

Keith Emerson 1944 – 2016

When the news hit that legendary keyboardist Keith Emerson had died, it was bad enough. However, when it was later reported that his death was an apparent suicide, it was all the more sad.

Back when the sounds of “underground FM radio” began on the airwaves out of Detroit in 1968, a whole new world of music was on offer to me. In the midst of all of the interesting new music there was a group from England called The Nice.

Keith Emerson was the keyboardist from this group along with Lee Jackson (bass, vocals), Brian Davison (drums) and initially Davy O’List (guitar). Emerson had already built up a reputation someone who was extremely accomplished at his craft but, also someone with a distinctive stage presence. As such, he was known to rock, kick, punch and inevitably stab his Hammond organ keyboard.

The sounds of The Nice were a staple of the FM airwaves and that continued when they broke up and he formed the trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

While their debut single – Lucky Man – was getting airplay on AM radio, other more adventurous tracks from their first LP were being aired on the FM dial. The band progressed with side-long concept works like Tarkus and also re-arranged classical composer Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

It was “progressive rock” at its zenith. It certainly wasn’t suited to everybody’s taste.

Keith Emerson was a masterful musician and one of the guiding lights transitioning from the ’60s to the ’70s. Many of his post-ELP projects involved music for films.

He will long be remembered by his fans as someone who helped fuse rock music with a classical attitude.

Keith Emerson with Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog synthesizer. 

Recent Arrivals – Discus

If there is one thing that you can anticipate from the releases on the Discus label, it’s to expect the unexpected. This is a case in point.

frostlake is Sheffield-based singer, musician Jan Todd. On this debut release (White Moon, Black Moon), she creates layers of her voice and multiple instruments alongside contributions from other fine folks from the area including Martin Archer, Charlie Collins, Terry Todd and others.

The first thing that strikes you is the reverb-drenched near-whisper vocals. These are combined with layers of dreamy instrumentation that evokes a folky, psychedelic, progressive soundscape. It almost feels like one of those unearthed rarities of what is now termed “acid folk” recorded in the late ’60s or early ’70s.

However, the sound is brought up to date with one foot in the past and another with a hold on the present and future. The music is dreamy yet never slipping into a maudlin melancholy. There is always something going on to keep the listener engaged as the background sounds blend seamlessly with the often haunting layered vocals in the foreground. Definitely an album inviting repeated late-night listens.

Martin Archer’s latest release – Echoic Enchantment – is a collaboration with poet Bo Meson. Martin goes into some detail about the project’s genesis in the liner notes of the CD.

Inspired by a performance by Bo’s poetry group, Martin was inspired to create a work written around the text. The musical portion of the disc-length range from sparse basslines to haunting string sections evoking an atmosphere not unlike Ligeti or Pendereski. These sections are juxtaposed with others based on “directed improvisation” which have been edited and collaged featuring percussion, piano etc… which incorporate text which weaves its way into the soundscape.

The work flows and glides in several directions often creating a haunting and evocative atmosphere. A lengthy sonic journey that provides multi-layered scenery for the ears.

Discus website

 

Gong vs Charly Records – A Warning

If there’s one thing that I can’t abide, it’s record companies screwing around artists. Apparently, Charly Records are re-issuing the classic Radio Gnome trilogy without the consent of the surviving members.

Guitarist Steve Hillage recently made a post on Facebook outlining the details and I would like to pass them along as a warning to prospective purchasers. Please support the artists and heed Steve’s advice.

From Steve Hillage:

OFFICIAL GONG BAND MEMBERS STATEMENT

We, the surviving members of Gong, do not support BYG/Charly Records upcoming reissue of the Radio Gnome trilogy.

None of the surviving members of the lineups that created those recordings were ever signed to BYG or Charly Records.

The truth is that immediately before the making of Flying Teapot in January 1973, the band learned that Daevid Allen’s once record company – BYG Records (also known as Promodisc) – had gone bust, it’s Paris office stripped bare, no phones working. The band was abandoned at the Manor Studios at the start of recording the album. Virgin – at the time just a chain of record stores and The Manor studios – was about to launch their record label.

Faced with an unpaid recording bill, they decided to cut their losses and release Flying Teapot as the second release on the new Virgin Records label. That’s the true story.

The booklet advertised as accompanying the Charly/BYG Release is full of untruths, lies and falsehoods claiming to represent Charly and BYG Records as some sort of poor victim of Virgin’s wickedness. The truth is that none of the musicians on those recordings has ever received a penny of royalty payments for the Charly/BYG releases, or even a statement. This is understandable because we NEVER signed to BYG or Charly Records as Gong.

Meanwhile, forty years later, we still receive statements from Virgin and, for those of us who cleared our advances, royalty payments, even though Virgin has since been sold to EMI and now is owned by Universal Records.

We know and can confirm as 100% corroborated fact that the Original Masters of these albums reside in the Virgin Records Archive, and that Charly has never at any time been given access to them, so Charly’s claim to have used the Original Masters is false.

Charly has been brazenly abusing our rights as artists for decades. None of us are rich or powerful enough to sue them. All we can do is to let you, our lovely Gong fans, know that we do not support this release. We will be supporting a new boxed set to be released by Universal in a few months with our full collaboration.

DO NOT BUY THIS RELEASE

Brian Eno – An Interesting Interview

Anybody who has known me for the past 40 odd years will probably recall that one of my favourite artists back in the ’70s was Roxy Music. They formed an interesting hybrid of both musical and visual styles which I found immensely unique and intriguing.

In 1973, band member Brian Eno left the group and started his own musical career. His path was even more interesting to me as it spanned rock music and electronic sounds. I was also very lucky to be able to sit in on a live radio interview that he did on CJOM-FM in Windsor, Ontario back in July 1974. It was there that I discovered a common interest in German bands of the day such as Can, Neu!, Cluster and Kraftwerk.

Eno’s experiments with sound – ambient, long-duration works etc… – eventually became an integral touchstone for the music which I would begin to create a few years down the road.

He has been interviewed many times over the years about many different subjects but, this interview is particularly interesting as it really covers his early years and influences in a very detailed way. So, I thought that I would share this video.

 

Chris Squire 1948 – 2015

Bassist Chris Squire was a founding member of the band Yes. He passed away in Phoenix, AZ after recently being diagnosed with acute erythroid leukemia.

Yes have been a part of my musical listening experiences for close to 45 years. While I likely heard some music from their first couple of albums on Detroit and Windsor FM radio stations back in the day, it was their third LP – The Yes Album – that really grabbed my attention. Of course, I was not alone.

Squire’s contributions to the sound of the band can not be overstated. His rippling, rhythmic and melodic bass work not only grounded the music but, wove a unique sonic texture throughout the songs. I could never image their music with another bassist in his place.

In addition to his work with the band, he also released the solo album Fish Out of Water at the tail end of 1975. For me, this was the finest solo album to come out of the Yes camp. It’s an LP that I still spin on a regular basis. It still sounds as fresh to me today as it did forty years ago.

Here is a link to his obituary at Ultimate Classic Rock.

Chris Squire - A Fish Out of Water (Atlantic, CAnada)