The Trick Is To Keep Going

Tag: Jack Bruce

Best of 2012

by on Feb.01, 2013, under Music


There’s so much good new music out there. The best music of 2012:

1. Radio Music Society, Esperanza Spalding: Invigorating blend of R&B, funk and jazz infused with top-shelf musicianship and an enticing lyrical quality. This is perhaps her best yet. Spalding sports a fluid, proficient and pleasing voice that delivers her poignant lyricism over the engaging compositions. Get the Deluxe Edition with a Making of DVD.

2. Locked Down, Dr. John: Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach gets an inspiration to record with the N’Awlins legend and they whip up a spooky, funky, voodoo dose of swamp funk mixed with hard rock sensibilities. Some of the best from recent vintage of the good Doctor.

3. Tramp, Sharon Van Etten: One of the truly remarkable and original sounding records from a singer/songwriter whose dense, penetrating lyrics are revealed through inventive arrangements that complement her songwriting.

4. Sunken Condos, Donald Fagen: At his wry, funky, satirical and stinging best. Glossed with a Steely Dan sheen but it still swings like mad.

5. Everybody’s Talkin’, Tedeschi-Trucks Band: Live outing from one of the best ensembles around today. A beautiful combination of blues, rock and pop whipped together with Derek Trucks’ slide lacing through it and the marvelous Susan Tedeschi’s soulful, blazing voice on top. Not to be missed live.

6. Sun, Cat Power: Return of the elusive, mercurial and magnetic singer/songwriter. Her best since The Greatest.

 7. Election Special, Ry Cooder: Venerable American music stylist gives his biting political take on the present state of affairs with his usual entertaining, insightful views served with a helping of exquisite string playing.

8. Driving Towards The Daylight, Joe Bonamassa: Another edition in the evolving style and development of one of our best modern-day blues guitarists, who happens to have a soulful voice as well.

 9. The Lion, The Beast, The Beat, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals: From the opening strains of the remarkable title track through another set of inspired rock and pop, a step forward and upward from this New England-based group. Their roots are firmly planted in the fertile ground of the 1960s and early ’70s. All framing Potter’s gloriously wild and unrestrained voice.

10. Blues Funeral, Mark Lanegan: Love him for his various collaborations over the years, not the least with Isobel Campbell, but there is something dark and compelling about this bluesy and funereal outing that is addicting. (continue reading…)

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Cream at the Psychedelic Supermarket, 1967 & more

by on Sep.29, 2010, under Music


Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton live at the Psychedelic Supermarket in Kenmore Square, Boston, September, 1967.

Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton live at the Psychedelic Supermarket in Kenmore Square, Boston, September, 1967.

About six months after writing a series of pieces in 2009 on Cream concerts I’ve been to, I was contacted by Ken Melville. Ken was in the band Catharsis in Boston in September, 1967 and opened for Cream for their one-week run of concerts at the Psychedelic Supermarket in Kenmore Square, just a stone’s throw from Fenway Park.

I went to see Cream on a Sunday, the first night of the engagement, which was supposed to last two weeks but only survived the one. A detailed description of the concert, a particularly memorable one, is available here.

I do recall an opening act, but don’t remember much about the band. To my amazement, Ken sent me some photos from that week after leaving a comment on one of the posts. Taken by his girlfriend with a Kodak instamatic, as I recall, the photos above and on the following page show the band on stage and in the dressing room with Ken and some of his friends.

It’s all quite remarkable really that more than 40 years later, we’re viewing photos from that week.

Also on the page, you will see two shots from their June, 1968 date at the original Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, Conn. A piece on the two shows at Oakdale and the last concert I saw of Cream during this stretch in the fall of 1968 at the New Haven Arena during the Farewell Tour is available here.

It took a jury of people to identify the Oakdale shots, which I’ve come across through an astute friend on the Internet. A fellow who worked at Oakdale and another similar summer tent theater in Rhode Island identified it by the lighting grid you see above Clapton’s head. Also the shot with Jack Bruce sitting on the edge of the orchestra pit includes Rich Bednarczyk in the foreground of the pit, surfer blond hair, who played keyboards for my band Pulse.

There is also a piece on this site describing the April, 1968 concert at Woolsey Hall at Yale in New Haven here.

If you’re an avid Cream fan, it’s likely you’ve already come across these. The only place I’ve seen them is in a few of Ken’s posts to a music forum. The subject, of all things, started out as a discussion of whether Clapton used a Gibson ES-335 on the classic cut Crossroads from Wheels Of Fire. I don’t think that was ever resolved but some of the discussion is interesting and, of course, Ken’s photos are the highlight.

All quite heady. Click on continue reading for the other shots. (continue reading…)

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Concerts, Vol. 12: Jack Bruce and Friends

by on May.23, 2010, under Music


Jack Bruce & Friends. From left, Bruce, guitarist Larry Coryell, keyboardist Mike Mandel and drummer Mitch Mitchell.

Jack Bruce & Friends. From left, Bruce, guitarist Larry Coryell, keyboardist Mike Mandel and drummer Mitch Mitchell.

After the breakup of Cream in 1968, it became a point of fascination to see what was next for the three members.

Eric Clapton got together with Steve Winwood to form Blind Faith, which lasted from late 1968 to the end of the summer of ’69, producing one album and an ill-fated tour. He then took up with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett in their touring band, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. That led to Clapton’s first self-titled solo album, produced by Delaney, which still stands as one of Clapton’s very best.

Ginger Baker quickly formed an all-star band of sorts after Blind Faith, dubbed Air Force and recorded a double live and a studio album under the name. It was short-lived. He went through many other musical vehicles in the ’70s and ’80s but always seemed to produce his best work when recording what we now call World Music, then in the ’90s recorded two extraordinary jazz albums with Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden.

As for Bruce, he had already recorded a straight jazz album, which bordered on free jazz, in August of ’68, Things We Like, even before the Farewell Cream tour of that fall.

That was followed by Songs For A Tailor (September, 1969), a truly amazing mix of R&B, soul, blues, folk and rock blended with his Celtic sensibilities, particularly in his vocals, and the enigmatic yet compelling lyrics of his writing partner from Cream days, Peter Brown.

After Songs For A Tailor, probably his most successful commercial album, he has continued to blaze his own path with a string of artistic achievements in his solo career and with others, particularly Kip Hanrahan in the ’80s and ’90s, that has in most cases escaped the music world at large and especially the rock press. That notwithstanding, it can be easily argued Bruce has been the most creative and successful artistically of the three members from Cream.

Jack Bruce & Friends poster 3 SmallIn early 1970 Bruce put an intriguing and accomplished band together to tour in support of Songs For A Tailor. Called Jack Bruce & Friends, I noticed they were to play at the Fillmore East the weekend of January 30-31 as the opening act for Mountain! Leslie West’s group, at the time, was of course doing very well commercially in the wake left by Cream, but it startled and somewhat annoyed me that Bruce would actually be opening for them.

Nonetheless, my girlfriend and I secured tickets and went to one of the early shows. As I recall it was the Saturday night performance, although it’s possible it was Friday. In the 1990s, I became aware of a recording of one of the shows from that weekend. That kind of stunned me at the time, but it’s now happened more often than you would think possible. At first I believed it was the actual show we attended but I have seen it variously listed as either early show Jan. 30 or late show Jan. 31. So it’s impossible to pin down.

Suffice to say, the setlist is the same as the show we saw. And the recorded document confirms that although this band had not been together that long, it was producing dynamic and intricate versions of Bruce’s tunes, mainly from Songs For A Tailor. (continue reading…)

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Vulture sighting

by on Feb.12, 2010, under Music


Them Crooked Vultures is a very heavy band. Not heavy as in heavy metal, heavy as in heavy hard rock.

Them Crooked Vultures Album CoverFeaturing three hard rock virtuosos in Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl, from Foo Fighters, who switches from guitar back to drums, his spot in Nirvana, and Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age on guitar and lead vocals, the group exhibits a competency and energy rarely found in the genre today.

Their self-titled debut album consists of songs that are virtually all guitar riff driven over a furious and powerful rhythm section, adorned with dark, devilish, often impenetrable (sometimes penetrable) lyrics. With titles such as No One Loves Me & Neither Do I, Dead End Friends, Reptiles, Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up and Caligulove, it’s hard to imagine anything else.

The grinding, churning rhythm section not only shows how adept Grohl is back on the drums, but also gives a strong indication of Jones’ contribution to Zeppelin, which was often lost or overlooked during that band’s heyday.

Homme is fully capable of handling the vocal and lead guitar duties, although they did add a second guitarist, Alain Johannes, on their recent Saturday Night Live appearance, during which they played Mind Eraser, No Chaser, a tune that might be termed their most accessible or commercial to crossover audiences, although nothing on the album really falls entirely in that vein, and New Fang, the group’s first single, with its complicated guitar rhythm over which Homme sings a completely different melodic structure, something always to take note of.

The group hits a three-song streak in the middle of their the album that is really quite brilliant in Elephants, Scumbag Blues and Bandoliers. In fact, by the fifth track, Elephants, the listener starts to realize how much Homme can sound like Jim Morrison. And this likens the overall sound of the band to The Doors as a power trio, minus Ray Manzarek’s keyboards. (continue reading…)

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Concerts, Vol. 5: Farewell Cream

by on May.12, 2009, under Music


A little more than two months after seeing Cream at Yale’s Woolsey Hall in New Haven, the second time I had seen them live in about six months, the group was booked to play two shows — afternoon and evening — at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, Connecticut on June 15. It was the next-to-last show of an exhausting five-month tour of the States that started in February and turned the group into mega-stars.

Eric Clapton plays a Gibson ES-335 during Cream's Farewell Tour, 1968.

Eric Clapton plays a Gibson ES-335 during Cream's Farewell Tour, 1968.

The Oakdale was a summer theatre in-the-round with a circular stage and a canvas roof. Where the theatre stood is now the lobby of the new Oakdale (now named the Chevrolet Theater, sacrilege!). It booked mostly summer stock, traveling Broadway musical companies and shows of that ilk along with traditional singers from Tony Bennett and Engelbert Humperdink to Ray Charles and many more. I even saw the figure skater Perry Fleming perform there once, when they flooded the stage area with ice. She was actually quite good.

But by 1966, it was also booking rock acts. Because of its size — it was quite small by today’s standards with a seating capacity of no more than about 2,000 if that — and intimacy, it was an outrageous place to see bands such as Cream, Led Zeppelin, The Doors and The Who, all of whom played there, among many others.

Because my friend and band mate in Pulse, Beau Segal, had an in there, we scored excellent seats in the front row for the evening show. I turned up for the afternoon concert as well, which didn’t appear to be sold out, and stood in the area between the theatre and dressing rooms, which was an open-air walkway. (continue reading…)

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Concerts Vol. 4: Heavy Cream

by on Apr.23, 2009, under Music


cream-woolsey-tix-light

In Concerts Vol. 3, I wrote about the single concert performance that was probably the best out of hundreds I’ve attended and certainly the most influential: Cream at the Psychedelic Supermarket in Boston, September, 1967.

That wouldn’t be the only time I would see this amazing trio. I was lucky enough to see them three more times in a little more than a year. The second opportunity came in April, 1968. I was still going to school in Boston at Berklee School of Music and coming home on weekends to rehearse and/or play the Connecticut club scene with Pulse.

cream-another-portraitCream was scheduled to play at Boston’s Back Bay Theatre in April, but they were also going to play near my hometown in New Haven at Yale’s Woolsey Hall on April 10th and I decided to come home for that, mainly because I had a new girlfriend who was still in school in New Haven. This would be our first big concert date. That made sense.

The intact ticket above is from that date. I didn’t  hold on to many tickets or stubs from that period, but I kept this one tucked away in an old wallet. I’m glad I did. The reason it’s intact is that the Yale students didn’t take or rip any tickets, they just looked at them. Thank you, Yalies.

After playing for a week of a scheduled two-week engagement in Boston in September, 1967, Cream cut short its stay there over money problems with the owner of the Psychedelic Supermarket, not to mention they disliked Boston because of the discrimination and derogatory comments on the streets they endured, and moved on to play New York at several venues, including the Cafe Au Go Go and Village Theatre (later Fillmore East).

They also played two shows in Michigan, the second at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom in a much booted performance with fairly decent sound, a pretty good example of what they sounded like that fall. From there, they toured Europe fairly extensively, leading up to the release of their second album, Disraeli Gears (November, U.K., December, U.S.), the record that really started to break them as a big act. (continue reading…)

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Concerts Vol. 3: Fresh Cream

by on Apr.16, 2009, under Music


I mentioned in Concerts Vol. 1 that one of my earliest major influences from a live show was seeing the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at the Cafe Au Go Go in the winter of 1966-67. That remains true but there was a series of concerts that had an even bigger impact for me. I saw Cream play live four times in 13 months between September, 1967 and October, 1968. After the first show, nothing would ever be the same for me musically.

I had just arrived in Boston for freshmen orientation at Boston University in the first week of September, 1967. Back then, freshmen came up to the school for a full week before classes, unlike today when orientation is usually finished up in less than two days by many colleges.

classiccreamI was having mid-afternoon waffles at a small breakfast/dinner restaurant near Kenmore Square when my buddies, one of whom was a fellow bass player from Connecticut, and I found out that Cream, yes that Cream, would be playing practically across the street at a new club called the Psychedelic Supermarket. I was astonished by my good fortune that Cream, one of my favorite bands would be in town, just a few blocks from my dorm on Commonwealth Avenue, and that they were scheduled to play for two weeks! I intended going more than once.

My first encounter with Cream was in one of the old listening booths at one of the best record shops in Connecticut in the ’60s, Cutler’s, which was on Broadway in New Haven. In the spring of 1967, my friend and fellow band-mate in the Bram Rigg Set, Beau Segal, told me I had to check out this group from England that featured the Cream of the crop among British blues musicians and were aptly named.

I went down to Cutler’s with a friend, Holly Lovig, who if you remember accompanied me on the trip to see that first Butterfield concert in New York. Those listening booths at Cutler’s were great. One of the clerks would spin a record on a turntable in back of the store’s elevated counter and pipe in the music to one of I believe at least two booths, which was wood and glass and had a large glass pane in the door so you could look out at the store while you listened. Precursor to the headphones you find at record stores today. (continue reading…)

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Hidden treasure

by on Mar.22, 2009, under Music


For years, the album Fiends & Angels has been one of the best kept secrets from the late 1960s blues-rock scene. Finally in 2008, the independent CD label Wounded Bird, which specializes in albums that the majors refuse to reissue, released this Martha Velez gem.

mvelez-1Until then, it had fetched rather pricey numbers on auction sites despite not having been a big seller at the time of its release in 1968. Still it was one of the defining blues-rock albums of the times, bringing together an almost perfect combination of singer, players and producer for a raw blues outing with unbridled energy. And some of the best playing by some of England’s best musicians.

Not available in the album credits and still not known completely, the personnel included, Eric Clapton, guitar; Jack Bruce (Cream), bass; Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix) and Jim Capaldi (Traffic), drums; Brian Auger (Oblivion Express), organ; Christine McVie (Chicken Shack, later Fleetwood Mac), piano; Keef Hartley, drums, and Chris Mercer, sax (Keef Hartley Band, John Mayall); Chris Wood (Traffic), sax and flute; and Duster Bennett, harmonica. That’s just a portion of the list.

Velez is a New Yorker, who studied opera at a young age and later attended the High School for the Performing Arts in Manhattan. She also joined a touring folk group, the Gaslight Singers, in college (Long Island University) and later had several lead roles on Broadway, including Hair. So how did she wind up recording her first solo album in England with all these prominent blues-rock musicians?

While recording a demo in New York with producer Richard Gottehrer, Seymour Stein of Sire Records was in the studio by coincidence. They immediately wanted to sign Velez and when it was revealed she loved the blues and particularly the material Cream was doing, they hooked her up with Mike Vernon, an English blues producer who had worked with the early Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall and later Ten Years After, among many others. He was also the founder of the blues label, Blue Horizon.

Vernon gathered together the elite group of musicians and a torrent of hot, inspired performances was unleashed on the material, matched perfectly to Velez’s voice, which has a trained quality but can be raunchy when needed.

mvelez-2The guitar solos are ferocious on most cuts and although Clapton is said to have played on only four, he is extremely recognizable on  the heavy groove of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Feel So Bad, I’m Gonna Leave You (perhaps the album’s best two tracks), It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry and In My Girlish Days. This was confirmed on a Velez compilation, Angels Of The Future Past, released on CD in the late ’80s. The other solos are just as powerful and inventive, perhaps attributable to the only listed guitarist on the session, Rick Hayward, although Spit James (Keef Hartley) and Paul Kossoff (Free) are said to have also participated.

Jack Bruce is equally recognizable for his driving bass lines, all tight, punchy and restrained. Bennett blows heavy duty harp on both I’m Gonna Leave You and Feel So Bad, and Vernon also made liberal use of horns, giving the sessions yet another dimension.

The album contains so many other jewels: Velez’s funky composition Swamp Man, which holds the album’s title in the lyrics; the Joplin-esque slow blues A Fool For You; a cover of Etta James’ Tell Mama; the moderate shuffle of a smouldering Drive Me Daddy, over which Velez wails; Come Here Sweet Man, a delicate Velez original; and Let The Good Times Roll, the suitable rollicking closer. A great selection of songs.

Velez went on to record four other albums in the ’70s, including a reggae release, Escape To Babylon, produced by Bob Marley. She never fully returned to an album of all blues, although she did work with Vernon one more time on Matinee Weepers. Married to Keith Johnson, noted trumpet player with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Van Morrison, she also sang with Morrison’s band for a while. All her records, with the exception of her second, Hypnotized, are available from Wounded Bird.

You are unlikely to find Wounded Bird releases in a big music or electronics store at the mall. They are readily available at places such as Amazon. But a trip to the label’s web site is preferred because perusing its catalogue, you’ll find so many other long lost albums that haven’t seen the light of day on a major label.

My vinyl version of Fiends & Angels is still one of my most treasured from that time period. Even one in funky condition is fetching as much as $50 on eBay, despite the CD release. You have to love that album cover, too. The second image is from the UK release. For the record, Velez’s full name is Martha Carmen Josephine Hernandéz Rosario de Veléz. That’s an earful and so is this classic album.

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