Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Free Fire And Water (Deluxe Edition) (1970/2008)

ffawcFrom amazon.co.uk

The album:
Preceded by their debut “Tons Of Sobs” (recorded in October and December 1968, released in March 1969) and their 2nd album “Free” (recorded in April and June, released in October 1969), Free’s third landmark LP “Fire And Water” was delivered to an expectant public in all its 7-track simplicity and glory on 26th of June 1970 as Island ILPS 9120. Prepped by the edited single of “All Right Now” in May 1970 (Island WIP 6082), which raced up to number 2 in the charts, the album delivered what the public seemed to already know – here was a truly great British band hitting its stride.

CD:
This is the 3rd CD incarnation of the original LP, a 1986 crappy non-remaster, a far better 2001 Remaster with 6 bonus tracks – and now this – a 30-Track 2CD Deluxe Edition issued on 18 March 2008. For fans who already own the 2001 remaster and probably also have the 4CD “Songs Of Yesterday” Box set that went before it in May 2000, for all its comprehensiveness, this 2CD set offers only 5 Previously Unreleased Tracks. So if you can buy the 2001 remaster for a fiver or less anywhere, why pay £15 for this 2CD set – the answer is threefold – the packaging, the extras (4 out of 5 of them are actually great) and above all – the sound – which is the best ever. Here’s the breakdown…

Packaging:
The booklet contains black & white photos, reproduction of concert tickets, press adverts, in the studio colour photos and a detailed history of the albums path to number 3 in the UK charts in July 1970. The CDs themselves reflect the original `Pink’ Island label design on 1st pressings of the LP and the original master tape boxes are pictured underneath the two see-through trays – a nice touch on both counts.

Extras:
There are five previously unreleased versions:
Track 9, Disc 1: “Mr Big”, from the BBC’s John Peel Show, recorded 15 Jan 1971
(very disappointing, not a great recording, with really muddy sound; it’s easy to see why it’s been left off previous releases)
Track 7, Disc 2: “Fire And Water” (Backing Track)
(a really interesting `work in progress’ from February 1970 mixed in 1999, Take 5 contains studio chatter at the beginning and then the band working nicely through the backing track – Kirke’s drumming fantastic, but it ends oddly and abruptly)
Tracks 11, 12 and 13, Disc 2: “All Right Now” (Takes 1, 2 and 3)
All three takes were recorded as part of filmed promotional shorts for “All Right Now” and “The Stealer” in October 1970. Instead of miming, the band played live (the two videos turn up on the “Free Forever” DVD set) and these `live’ takes are superb and genuinely deserve the moniker `bonus tracks” – they even include the squeaking of Simon Kirke’s drum stool! Fans will have to have these.

Sound:
Even though the outside packaging seems to be saying that the remaster is ‘new’, the 20-page booklet confusingly states that the remaster used is the 2001 one done by Peter Mew at Abbey Road – the same as the single disc that’s been on the market for years? But the sound on this release is different – it’s far better.

Free were a `loud’ band and the recordings at the 8-track Trident Studios reflected their hairy-arsed live rock band nature – in other words the recorded results were not exactly going to win audiophile gongs. The tapes were then remixed onto the 16-track facility at Island’s new studio in Basing Street. But even then, Chris Blackwell, label founder and leader, hated the results. So more mixing was done. But even to this day, the further mixing and remixing before the album was finally released still gave us a less than great sonic result. I mention all of this because the liner notes to this release talk of major audio restoration having gone into the 1999 and 2001 remastering process – and now again on this 2008 version – and man can you hear it!

Take Side 2 of the original album, “Mr Big”, “Don’t Say You Love Me” and “All Right Now” – when I A/B the sound on my 2001 issue to this 2008 issue, the huge difference is the removal of `almost’ all of the hiss that was omnipresent on the 2001 remaster which marred the listen enormously. The result is that instead of being saturated in a rough and ready hissy wall, the band suddenly explodes out of the speakers with an intensity that will thrill fans to their very core! I would describe it like this – it’s as if I’m listening to the full power of Free for the first time. With this new clarity, the opening and eventual build up in “Mr Big” to a guitar crescendo has to be heard to be believed! It’s enormous and just awesome to hear! The beautiful “Don’t Say You Love Me” is truly gorgeous now, especially when the lovely piano addition comes in, while the fantastic anthem that is “All Right Now” has you hearing Kossoff’s plectrum scratching off the pick-ups – little guitar flicks before he goes into the big riff, the clarity of Fraser’s bass work and other nuances that I’ve just never heard before. Don’t get me wrong, there is `hiss’ on these recordings, but the removal of even half of it has made the band come alive to my ears. Wonderful stuff!

To sum up, “Fire And Water” is a great album, and this Deluxe Edition of it gives the great record a stunning sonic upgrade. Throw in all the live versions and alternate takes around its release, decent liner notes and packaging, all topped off with 4 out of the 5 previously unreleased tracks actually worth owning – then indeed you have something special.

There have been some stunning issues in Universal’s Deluxe Edition series (check out the Whiskeytown “Strangers Almanac” double) and this is another. Regardless of the price, Free fans will have to own it, and the uninitiated can discover why Britain and the world went mad for the Free and their `rawk’. What a band!

January 21, 2014 Posted by | Free Fire And Water (Deluxe Edition) | | Leave a comment

Zeppelin take the states by storm (May 1973)

From ledzeppelin.com

The latest Led Zeppelin tour is taking America by storm, proving yet again that this is the top rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.

There are no exceptions, no maybes, no ifs or buts. Not Alice Cooper, not the Rolling Stones, not the Who. There isn’t a group anywhere that could come close to sinking the Zep.

The band’s fifth album, ‘Houses Of The Holy’, hit number one on the North American best-selling lists after only five weeks of release – against super stiff opposition from the Beatles oldies, Bread, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter.

The feat is made even more notable when you realise that ‘Houses Of The Holy’ is receiving virtually no airplay on AM radio in the U.S. Most American top 40 stations do not programme and album cuts.

Instead they concentrate on oldies and to this end, the Beatles two albums were snapped up like the choicest remnants at a bargain basement sale. Yet still Zep got there first.

Members of the Zep and Atlantic Records are now trying to decide which cut to release as a single. There’s been a lot of talk about ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’. Personally I prefer ‘D’Yer Mak’er’ which strikes me as a certain number one.

Any rock critic worth his free records and concert tickets would hesitate long and hard before introducing the Beatles as one end of any analogy. Yet in the case of Led Zeppelin, it’s desperately hard to avoid.

Take, for example, the first two concerts on Zep’s 1973 North American tour.

UntitledAt the opening night gig in Atlanta Braves Stadium, Led Zeppelin smashed the seven-year old attendance record set by the Beatles in 1965. The Liverpool lads drew 33,000 people. Zep pulled in 49,236 fans for a total gross of 246,180 dollars. That’s virtually a 50 per cent improvement on the Beatles best in Atlanta.

Moving on to Tampa, Fla., Zeppelin drew the largest crowd ever to a single concert performance in U.S. history. The band attracted almost 57,000 patrons for a gross of 309,000 dollars.

The old record was held by the Beatles’ crowd of 55,000 for a gross of 301,000 dollars at Shea Stadium in 1965, at the height of Beatlemania.

Led Zeppelin would have walked away from Tampa at least 200,000 dollars richer, which is not bad at all for a couple of hours on stage. They were probably the two most lucrative hours in show business history.

There’s never been anything like it. I am now convinced that Zepp could outdraw the Stones, Alice Cooper, Carole King or Elvis Presley in any U.S. city you care to mention.

So much for the cynics who doubted if Zepp still had U.S. drawing power. And for the critics who arrogantly and ignorantly said the album sucked. Led Zeppelin reign supreme and it’s high time many more members of the media realised it.

January 21, 2014 Posted by | Zeppelin take the states by storm | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Madison Square Garden, NY, June 8th 1977

ny77_achillesFrom ledzepconcerts.com

Concert Memories :: Led Zeppelin :: June 8, 1977

06/08/77 – Madison Square Garden, NY, NY – Bill McCue
Ah, memories. I saw Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 8, 1977 – the second of six sold-out nights for the boys. My seat was in a corner slightly behind the stage on JPJ’s side. Section 315 in the green section, to be precise.

Zeppelin’s run of shows was a family affair for the McCues. My brother Kevin went on opening night, my brother Larry accompanied me. It was my first concert in NYC. I was 13 years old. Quite an experience for a young lad.

My most distinct memories are of the volume – extremely loud, almost painfully so – and the “heavy” crowd. Lots of bikers and pyromaniacs. Fireworks were set off indiscriminately throughout the evening, despite Robert’s constant pleas for sanity. The opening numbers were incredible but the sound was a big mush.

Things crawled to a halt early on with JPJ’s extended solo during No Quarter. My brother fell asleep, folks ran to the concession stands and lingered in the hallways outside the main arena. I remember going for a pee during Moby Dick and being struck by how “Night of the Living Dead” everyone appeared. People got really stoned back in those days, smoking bushels of pot and drinking lots of cheap wine. There was a big cloud of smoke hanging over the orchestra during Zeppelin’s set.

My favorite song of the night was Ten Years Gone. Quick sidenote: I’m sure you remember that details like set lists weren’t well known back in those days. I only knew they were going to do TYG because my brother had been to the show the night before. I also loved SIBLY and IMTOD. The acoustic set was cool, too, but the fireworks ruined most of it. The crowd perked up for Kashmir, but after the acoustic set, everyone seemed worn out.

Three hours is a long show, especially when a fair amount of the show involves really LONG solo passages. JPJ tinkered during NQ for about 10 minutes, WS/BMS was about 10 minutes, Moby Dick/Over the Top was about 15 minutes, Jimmy’s violin bow/theramin/box of tricks schtick prior to ALS was about 10 minutes. That’s a lot of noodling to sit through. Even today I skip around a lot and rarely listen to anything beyond Kashmir when I play a bootleg from that tour. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard a boot from the show I went to. I would imagine it was a decent show by 1977 tour standards. I don’t remember any major screw ups or “cringe inducing” moments that were all too frequent during the post 73 tour years.

The visual effects were very impressive, particularly the spinning mirror ball during Kashmir. As I mentioned earlier, the volume was L-O-U-D loud. Volume covers up a variety of audio “blemishes,” I guess.

I remember walking out of the Garden at around 12:30 or so. I believe they came on at around 9:20. Hotel California was playing when the lights went out. I also remember hearing Life in the Fast Lane from the same album. I had on a red Led Zeppelin shirt over a white long sleeved thermal shirt. Purple high top Converse and a huge Afro. Levi Jeans. I was pretty groovy for a 13-year old. Didnt smoke any pot, but I’m pretty sure I got a nice contact high from the cats sitting next to me. People in the crowd were very nice to me. Everyone seemed pleased to see someone so young at the show. I guess I stood out. Very small for my age, which probably made me look even younger.

I got my tickets by cutting out a coupon from a full page ad in the New York Times and sending in a money order for $21 for two tickets. I think they were $9.50 a piece plus a $2 handling charge. A far cry from today’s T-master thievery. The whole event was exotic – even the concept of getting a money order was a new and exciting thing for me at the time. And think about it – six sold out nights! Not sure any of today’s acts could duplicate that feat.

January 20, 2014 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Madison Square Garden NY June 8th 1977 | , | Leave a comment

The Doobie Brothers Takin’ It To The Streets (1976)

The+Doobie+Brothers+-+Takin'+It+To+The+Streets+-+LP+RECORD-439042From amazon.com

I’m not going to go over the same ground as the other reviewers… Gavin Wilson’s notes for this album are pretty accurate so you may want to read this first. I’d just like to take up a couple of point he makes which are not accurate for all you history buffs out there. At the end I give you my opinion of the album if you just want to skip down to that.

QUOTE “McDonald needed a vehicle to establish himself before going on to a solo career”

This statement is misleading in that it suggests that Mike only joined the Doobie Brothers to further his solo career – at the time in ’73/’74 Mike McDonald would have needed a crystal ball to have had this in mind. He joined the Doobies because he was asked by Pat Simmons over the telephone and he was not just ‘using the band’ as a stepping stone to a solo gig. Mike had been gigging around the West Coast for a couple of years – most notably with Steely Dan (which was on/off as anyone who knows Dan will understand – they went through more musicians that I’ve had hot dinners… approx’ 52 on Aja alone!). At the time he had had an abortive solo album released through a producer friend Rick Jarrard and he was living in a garage apartment surviving on oatmeal. He had pretty much given up on the idea of a solo career and was really looking for work as a session musician. Jeff Baxter, another Dan session man recommended him to Pat and that was that.

The whole idea of Mike going solo didn’t come until the Doobies fell apart around 79/80 and then it was out of necessity… it was either a solo gig or go look for more session work. Mike’s never planned anything in his life.. and he still believes to this day in synchronicity – fate leading him forward.

QUOTE “However much the band’s manager might want to thrust Simmons as the band’s new leader it seems that he needed a co-leader to bring out the best of his playing.”

The truth of this is that Pat is a very nice guy and a great musician but was not a leader in ’74. He was a hippy in the true sense of the word and this was not even his band remember – he came in a year or two after Tom Johnston had formed the band. Tom Johnston was the driving force behind the Doobs in the early days both in terms of direction, leadership and song writing. Following his well documented drug and health issues (he collapsed on tour with bleeding stomach ulcers that nearly killed him and spent 12 months recovering) the Doobies were in serious free fall.

You have to understand that these guys were all stoned half the time and all they could focus on was getting to the next gig to play a live set. They weren’t really a studio band at all so the idea of them all sitting down round a table and working out which musical direction to go after Tom’s sudden exit is frankly…. laughable.

Jeff Baxter, however, is a leader and has very strong ideas about what he wants to do. It was really his decision to employ Mike McDonald and it was part of his (later admitted) plan to take over Tom’s spot as leader of the Doobies. He realised that the Doobs had potential and with Tom gone were ripe for the taking. By bringing in his buddy from Steely Dan (McD) he gave his corner more strength. What is really ironic is that through the Doobies, Mike McDonald blossomed and developed a close bond with Pat Simmons and Tiran Porter which pushed Baxter out of the band a couple of years later. Baxter has commented on this power struggle and admits that once he realised he couldn’t lead the band he decided to quit

QUOTE “The only problem with those two classic tracks was they are both pretty much solo efforts”.

‘Takin It To The Streets’ WAS written before Mike joined the Doobies, in fact the words were part written by Mike’s sister as part of a college paper on Martin Luther King and social unrest in the U.S. It is no surprise that Mike’s musical inspiration for this track was Marvin Gaye and the album ‘What’s Goin’ On’ which pre-dated this album by 3 years. ‘It Keeps You Runnin’ and ‘Losin End’ were also pretty much written solo by Mike and these three songs really began a new direction for the band which would see them rise to chart success and Grammy awards with the next three albums, Fault Line, Minute By Minute and One Step Closer.

This album is a real mish mash of styles and rhyhms which done’ really knit for me. You have remnants of the past (Turn It Lose – Tom Johnstons rescued studio dub from Stampede), Mikes solo tracks over dubbed by the band, a kind of odd song ‘For Someone Special’ from bass player Tiran Porter that whilst OK doesn’t fit with anything, an attempt at a ‘pop’ song in ‘Rio’, Pat’s bluegrass influenced ‘8th Avenue Shuffle’ and a pre-psychodelia ‘Wheels oF Fortune’.

If you know the history of the band at this point in their career, it is glaringly obvious why the album should be this way. It is an attempt to tread water, an albums of bits and pieces put out under pressure from the record company whilst the band tried to come to terms with losing its core (Tom Johnston).

Having said that, it is also a remarkable album in that it marks a turn in the bands direction. It is historical in that it certainly rescued the faltering career of the Doobie Brothers. It’s worth buying just because it features the fledgling inspirational work of Michael McDonald and the truly great song ‘Takin’ It To The Streets’. This is THE album that began a major shift in popular Rock music away from the hard blues of Cream and Jimi Hendrix to the Ray Charles and Motown influenced Soul. Just a few years later Michael McDonald’s chords and vocal dubs would be copied across the board for nearly a decade from Christopher Cross, Toto and David Pack in the early 80’s to band like Go West in the 90’s. This album is where it began and you owe it to yourself to check it out.

January 20, 2014 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers Takin' It To The Streets | | Leave a comment

The Doobie Brothers Minute By Minute (1978)

28686185-28686188-largeFrom amazon.com

“Minute By Minute”, originally released in December of 1978, was the third official studio album from the Doobie Brothers with Michael McDonald as a member of the band, and I think it’s clear that the third time was the charm, both artistically and commercially–although the previous two albums certainly weren’t without solid commercial success in the US, this one was a bonafide blockbuster, topping the US charts, having gone platinum within the first four months of its original release, and having gone triple-platinum by 1985.

I think the report of the band being dissatisfied with this album can be attributed to them feeling emotionally drained at the time of its recording/ release. The sessions weren’t exactly smooth sailing–in the booklet for the Rhino “Greatest Hits” CD, Michael McDonald recalls how the band did countless takes just for “What A Fool Believes” alone and that they “almost gave up”.

Without a doubt, the huge success of this album was deserved. It’s really amazing how much better of an album “Minute By Minute” is compared to the first two Doobies’ albums with McDonald–1976’s “Takin’ It To The Streets” and 1977’s “Livin’ On The Fault Line” respectively. Although respectable albums, the Doobies sound rather burnt out on “…Streets” and “…Fault Line” and often seem to be coasting on their (admittedly hugely respectable) instrumental chops to try and mask a lack of quality songwriting. With “Minute By Minute”, energy and enthusiasm are back in a big way–it’s like the band suddenly got a second wind.

Michael McDonald’s gasping, soulful vocals here pack a major wallop and are simply infectious, and he handles the lead vocals on a handful of classic tracks from this album. And of course, McDonald was one damn impressive songwriter as well–his album opening solo composition, the heavily syncopated “Here To Love You”, is one of his characteristic “soulful rants” as I like to call them, and it’s an irresistible, uplifting feel-good tune. “What A Fool Believes” was a huge hit, and with its crisp beat, rich & soaring harmonies, clever and incisive love lyrics, the sly key change on the chorus, and the extreme melodic catchiness, it’s a total classic–it’s true that you’ve probably heard it a ‘zillion’ times, but there’s no denying the brilliance of it. The jazzy, arrestingly hushed and moody title track is also classic hit. “Open Your Eyes”, with its pleading minor-keyed verses and extreme catchiness, is also a gem, and don’t forget about the grooving album closer “How Do The Fools Survive?”.

The greatness doesn’t stop there. On the previous album, it was as if the band was either afraid to rock out or had forgotten how to do so, but they come gloriously roaring back in that department with Patrick Simmons’ enthusiastic bluesy rocker “Don’t Stop To Watch The Wheels”, an irresistible song with a super fun guitar line and cool atmospheric stuff going on as well.

I’ll admit that not every song itself on the album is a classic, but still, “Dependin’ On You” is a fun feel-good tune, and “Streamer Lane Breakdown” is a solid, country-flavored instrumental that adds a welcome diversity. The minor-keyed “You Never Change” is admittedly a bit slight, and yet it’s still another piece of arrestingly catchy material. The quasi-ballad “Sweet Feelin'”, with vocals from Nicolette Larson, is rather fluffish, but it’s still catchy, under 3 minutes long, and nicely enjoyable.

So, despite some weaknesses, I have to admit I have a real weakness for this type of classy music, the kind of stuff that really holds up to repeated listening. Even “What A Fool Believes” is one of those songs that, despite its relentless airplay, has so much going on to make it one of those songs that’s always ‘worth one more listen’, as the saying goes. On the whole, “Minute By Minute” is a great and timeless album.

January 20, 2014 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers Minute By Minute | | Leave a comment

The Doobie Brothers Stampede (1975)

From amazon.com

the_doobie_brothers_stampede_frontStampede is the most under-rated of all Doobie Brothers albums. I found it in a cut-out bin (remember those?) not long after it was released in ’75, even though it charted to #4.

In most ways, I find it the most satisfying album to come out after Toulouse Street, much better than The Captain And Me, and What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. The acoustic-electric charm that was present with Toulouse Street was the abundance of folk, jazz, R&B, swampy country, and rock all fused together into a “sound” which experimented with throughout the album in such a way that it never left you wanting for more. The Doobie Brothers would shift tempos, chord progressions, mutate the beat and warp the melody sometimes shifting total genre in a song.

These have always the been the best elements of their music, continued on The Captain And Me but not so much on an album which generally became more electric and save for a handful of songs, most of the material on Captain utilized formulaic 70’s rock. Vices…Habits started to lean more to what is found on Stampede and with the release of this 1975 mini-cult classic, fans like myself were back in the saddle with the Doobies where we loved them. On Stampede they diversified those elements of their sound even more than ever before, grabbing up chunks of the genres outlined above (from Toulouse Street) and infusing more country-rock, folk, and a heaping helping of hot funk!

If you know what “Creole” or “Gumbo” mean, when you get your hands on Stampede you have a musical Creole all stirred into the most wonderful Gumbo you could ever taste!

Johnston and Simmons both wrote more eclectic songs on Stampede which captured the diversity and genius of their best early works, Toulouse Street as a whole, “Clear As The Driven Snow”, “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman”, “Ukiah”, “The Captain And Me”, “Spirit”, “Black Water”, “Daughters Of The Sea”, and “Flying Cloud”. This was the material that really set The Doobie Brothers apart from their 70’s contemporaries, as they, unlike other classic 70’s acts, were one group which really fused together the elements that gave birth to this music.

The Bay Area of Northern California was, through the latter part of the 60’s and into the early 70’s, an encampment of musical ideology that utilized “fusion” in the creative spark. And that applies beyond the common genre of fusion jazz. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Country Joe & The Fish, and Big Brother & The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, were all vanguards of fusion rock in the counter-culture movement. Rock, blues, jazz, folk, gospel, R&B, far-eastern, latin, and other world-wide elements of music were infused into contemporary music and experimentation was the measure of success. In 1971, The Doobie Brothers drew all the best elements of this front line together to make a successful sound that was unique in its own right and polished to a winning accessibility. 1972’s Toulouse Street was the perfect presentation of this and in reality, the two follow-ups to that album fell short of recapturing the magic. Stampede succeeds where those two came up short.

Also, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter finally fully became a member of the band on Stampede, adding that incredible third guitar with its unique steel jazz sound. When all three guitarists get cranking on songs like “Neal’s Fandango” the explosiveness is unmatched even by standard bearers like The Allman Brothers or The Eagles. When Little Feat’s Bill Payne cuts in with a jazz piano bending the melody and turning it on its head, or when Superfly Curtis Mayfield tops a song with Memphis Horns and Motown Strings, or when Ry Cooder adds a bottleneck guitar to three jammers already in overdrive, and when Maria Muldaur caps dissonant and haunting strings and horns with a plaintive wail, you have a masterpiece as a finished product. This may be The Doobie Brothers best work of art, sincerely under appreciated!

STAMPEDE starts with an ol’ timey vaudeville piano (courtesy of Bill Payne as are all the piano keys) that jumps right into the “signature rock” of Tom Johnston, but this time, Tom mixes it hot and then downbeats the song half way through with some gospel backing kicked up with keen guitar licks and you know that Tom is back in the driver seat leaving the hamburger rock melodies (ie. Without You, Natural Thing) on the old plate and serving up a fresh steak! “Sweet Maxine” is kick-ass country rock, boogie, gospel, and rockabilly all rolled up into a big fat Doobie!

“Neal’s Fandango” cooks. There is no other way to explain it. Three guitars country boogie right through a song that has a firmly planted bass fingering and three-part harmony that starts in full highway speed and goes to warp drive. The electric guitar lead exchanges between all three, especially Skunk’s signature sound is immaculately conceived and executed. This is one of Simmons’ best compositions belying his jazz work with Skunk on the next album. The double-drumming here just adds to the pleasure and this is a prime example of what the Doobies are all about.

“Texas Lullaby” again demonstrates Tom’s best talents. He sings this old country home styled ballad with soul and heart. The strings envelope bass and country twang guitars with gentle caress and Pat and Tiran back him up nicely. Halfway through the song Tom lets Skunk play around a nice country-fried jazz lead before he finishes off the vocals to a pedal steel coda.

Then…Motown comes calling on the ranch. Tom’s “Music Man” goes soul right away with Curtis Mayfield flourishes and a funky R&B guitar accent. Choruses are gospel tinged and after two full minutes the string section and guitars carry the song to dizzying heights and exit. Another prime example of Doobie Brothers adventures in artwork.

Beautiful guitar work of Pat, Tom, and Skunk provides an intermezzo called “Slack Key Soquel Rag” (scored by Pat) before the Doobies go Motown again with the amazing cover of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s hit “Take Me In Your Arms”. With the same kind of revitalizing energy that they provided for blues covers on Toulouse Street, the Doobies hit the bull’s-eye dead center with this R&B classic. The Doobies really rock this one and when the guitar leads kick up the dirt, the result, with double-pound drums and bass, is anther of their best efforts. Released as a single, “Take Me In Your Arms” fell just outside the top ten but for album listeners this is just another chapter in the great adventure of Stampede.

For many fans, the centrepiece of Stampede is the incredible “I Cheat The Hangman”. Pat wrote this literally haunting ballad after reading Ambrose Bierce’s classic ghost story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” about a post civil war ghost who does not realize he is dead. The dual acoustic guitar melody, electric picks (Skunk haunts the haunting song with gorgeous accents), Bill Payne’s ethereal piano tinkling, eerie percussive effects, and frightening string overlays, build slowly into a terrifyingly beautiful story. The finale is compared to Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain” by Pat and producer Ted Templeman, but one who is familiar with Alan Parson’s orchestral vision of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Fall Of The House Of Usher” on Tales Of Mystery And Imagination cannot help but draw a direct comparison to the work engineered and produced there!

“Précis” is a classical style guitar piece written and performed by Skunk. Another brief interlude before the final three songs chop more wood.

“Rainy Day Crossroad Blues” is another top form acoustic guitar blues work by Tom. Three guitars are now supplemented by the one and only Ry Cooder on bottleneck. It slides up and downbeats and shuffles itself right into your soul. The center stop gap with overlaid strings and pedal steel changes the hot shuffle to country ballad instrumental carrying the song to fruition and then Tom amps it up with a rocking soul “I Been Workin’ On You” complete with gospel choir backings (Venetta Fields three-girl unit that backed Take Me In Your Arms as well). The chord progression changes and lead guitar work in center field, leading to last verses with whistling develops another sure sign that Tom saved some of his best material for this album.

Pat Simmons’ “Double Dealin’ Four Flusher” finale rocks us right out of the album to hitting the play button for a second go. Pat wails vocals and guitar leads (shared with Tom and Skunk) while Bill Payne lays down honky-tonk piano boogie that just before the end of the song segues into a tight jazz improvisational piece and then jump starts the whole band into electric finish. The end result is The Doobie Brothers best overall album to share the spotlight with Toulouse Street, and the jazzy other side of the band, Takin’ It To The Streets coming up next.

January 20, 2014 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers Toulouse Street | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: LA Forum, June 3rd 1973

1668From ledzepconcerts.com

Steve Kurasch

Sunday, June 3rd – My ears have just stopped ringing. I go meet Bob Withers to take us to the concert. We stop by his work, Marie Callender’s on La Tijera, for a quick snack, and then we’re off to the Forum.

When we arrive, we hold our tickets tightly, and we notice one person walking around with a $20 bill hanging high above his head. I’ll never know if he found a ticket.

We walk inside and all the way up to the front row. I take the inside seat, but I notice his seat is directly in front of Jimmy’s amps. I switch with him. My view is unobstructed.

This is very strange! I always expected people to be in front of me, but there is no one! Even the security guard is just off to my right.

Next, Danny and his friend sit down right next to us. I told him about the other front row tickets, and he could have had four tickets together, but he didn’t care. Chris #2 arrives and takes centre stage. Gene #1 is not in the front row. How did this happen? He ended up in the second row for this night. Did I get his tickets? Who knows….

My brother arrives with his girlfriend and Mike and Ann. Mike has a camera with him. It is the first (and will be his only) time that he is going to take pictures of a rock concert. They are way back in the fifth row. My brother has the identical seat I had three days previously.

A frisbee flies through the air and just misses my head. I remember three nights ago, people were trying to throw frisbees on stage before the concert. I then turned around and waited for another to appear. One came from the other side. Bob picked one up and put it under his chair. There were several near misses, but I saw each of them coming.

Just when I was noticing how full the arena looked, the lights went out. Again, no warning, no dimming. Out. And the crowd roared. About a minute later, a spotlight hit the stage, and Jimmy walked out to the front of the stage, right in front of me!. He was raising his hands and smiling from ear to ear. The stage lights became brighter and I could see the entire group. The crowd started clapping in unison. Jimmy put on his guitar and hit a chord.

Uh, oh…. I suddenly realized how loud it was going to be. However, the large speakers are now above me, so maybe it won’t be as loud.

1798POW! Bonzo jumps right into Rock and Roll. Bob looked at me, and said, “Shit!” I guess he wasn’t prepared for the volume. When the rest of the band came in, the guitar overshadowed everything. I was thinking, “Wow! That is loud, but so clear.” I guess the Marshall amplifier does that. Plant started to sing, but I couldn’t hear him! I was still trying to adjust my hearing to Jimmy’s amp. Plant walked past me to my right. A guy to the right of me who had rushed the aisle threw a wine boda bag on stage and hit Plant in the head. Two security guards looked at Plant, Plant gave a nod, and the guards picked the guy up under each shoulder and whisked him off, legs cycling like a cartoon character. Scary to think what happened to him…..

Fortunately, due to the large speakers now above me, Bonzo’s drumming was not pounding at my chest like before. Still, I couldn’t get over how Jimmy’s amp was so loud and clean. Jimmy looked a lot more relaxed, and he was playing well. The band seemed together, and by the second verse, I could start to hear Robert.

Time for the guitar solo, and Jimmy ripped a great one.

Again, right into Celebration Day at warp 10, and Jimmy was still kicking butt, Robert’s voice was strong, and Jones was playing some great bass lines to augment Bonzo’s drumming. Again, Bring It On Home into Black Dog. At this time, I know Robert’s voice is definitely better, and the band seems overpowering. These tunes will always remain my favourite Led Zeppelin opening. Extremely powerful.

Jimmy begins playing Over The Hills And Far Away and the crowd gives their approval. Page is exuding confidence; something I didn’t see three days earlier. He is smiling and relaxed. Plant’s voice is strong, and his range has improved.

Jones moves over to the keyboards and starts Misty Mountain Hop. This version was very driving; almost hipnotic. Bonzo inserts some great drum fills. Page seems to be attacking this song, unlike three days previously. The three rhythm players are really playing well. Plant is now singing well.

A short guitar solo follows into Since I’ve Been Loving You. Jimmy right in front of me, concentrating hard, playing his heart out.

Next, No Quarter. The fog enters the stage, but what I didn’t notice before is the fog flowing over the front of the stage and engulfing the entire first row. Bob, sitting next to me, picks up the frisbee under his chair and tries to fan it away. Very funny. Unfortunately, I don’t remember anything else about this tune.

Next up, The Song Remains The Same. The opening was powerful, and it did not let up. I sensed a “Take No Prisoners” attitude. Bonham and Jones laid down some phenomenal rhythm, and Page followed. At this point, since no one was sitting in front of me, I felt the group was playing just for me. This individual song performance continues to stay with me today.

Just like the album, the song ends and goes directly into The Rain Song, and this version is tender and beautiful. The mellotron is in tune! No cringing from me. This was beautifully performed. Very delicate playing by Jimmy.

Dazed and Confused – Page, right in front of me, begins with his wah-wah pedal. During this tune, Page caught my eye a few times and smiled. Was it me? Or was it the Jimi Hendrix tank top I was wearing? Probably the latter, but I like to think it was me….

The bow section came up, and what was this? I didn’t notice it before…. He’s using a cello bow; not a violin bow! My father is a professional violinist, and I’ve played in orchestras for many years. Believe me; I know! Also, I’m the closest person to Page other than Plant. I notice a lot of bow hair ripping off each time he pounded those strings. Probably half the hair had been removed by the time he was finished with the solo. (Later, I would check out several pictures of Jimmy with the bow, but they all seem to be violin bows).

After the bow solo, I remember how well Jones and Bonham are playing. The band has really matured, and tonight, there is fire in their eyes unlike Thursday night. Page and Bonham smile back and forth at one another trying to guess what each one is going to do next. I realized that this was now a jam. It was very interesting to watch. At the end, I’m standing and applauding with everyone else. This was the best performance of Dazed and Confused I had witnessed (and unfortunately, it would be my last). Jimmy’s performance was extraordinary. When the song ends, Plant says, “Jimmy Page, Guitar.” And, the crowd acknowledges properly.

Stairway starts, and the crowd erupts again. This time, the Mellotron is just a bit out of tune, but not enough to cringe. Page’s solo is so much better than Thursday night. The whole tune is better. Plant sings strong. Rhythm continues to kick ass. When the song finishes, another standing ovation.

Moby Dick starts, and my friend Bob leaves to go to the restroom. “Are you crazy? Couldn’t you take care of that before the concert?” Well, if you hate drum solos, I guess this is the time to go…. He makes it back in a few minutes, and nothing new has materialized. I remember Bonzo playing with his hands and playing the tympani. Bonzo was a great drummer, and I remember a few great riffs, but there was nothing that memorable. I can now see why Mr. Righteous fell asleep on Thursday.

Next, Plant dedicates the next song to the worst group in the world. Slade. Bonzo starts that drum beat which I forgot about from Thursday, the band enters with Heartbreaker, and the crowd is ecstatic once again.

Plant’s voice is rested and comes in strong with the first verse. The rest of the band is playing strongly as one. Page was flying through the guitar solo and smiling a lot. None of that tentative or worried look on his face.

Again, just before the last verse, Bonzo breaks into the next drum break and Whole Lotta Love begins. Another crowd favorite! I remember Jimmy playing an extended theramin solo which seemed to pierce my ears. Yeow!

Jimmy Page, 1973 02Now, a couple of new numbers in the medley. Going Down. I had recently listened to the Jeff Beck version within the previous weeks, and I was excited that Led Zeppelin were trying to perform it. The jam worked well, and I was continually wondering what was going to come next.

Finally, the ending is near. Plant sings, “You neeeeed it”. This time, the final “Looooove” yell going upward succeeds and is very strong. The audience goes nuts, a standing ovation, and Plant says, “Good Night.”

I remember the encores from Thursday. Are they going to play The Ocean and Communication Breakdown?

Sure enough, Bonzo starts his vocal and the band begins The Ocean. What a difference three days make. Jimmy plays better, Robert sings in the upper register, and the rhythm is tight. Great job.

For the second encore, Communication Breakdown. This time, Jimmy starts attacking just like the record. The whole band follows, including Plant. Powerful performance. They finish, and the lights stay dimmed. Could it be another encore?

In a couple of minutes, they all return, and Jones starts off quietly with an organ solo. From earlier shows, I know this was an introduction to Thank You. Bob turns to me and asks, “What is that?” I tell him, “Thank You.” Bob says, “It sure doesn’t sound like Thank You to me.”

A great version of Thank You is played. One of the last times that Led Zeppelin ever plays this tune, and a great closing to this concert.

(Note: During one of the encores – either The Ocean or Thank You – the house lights came on. Robert looked up, smiled, and then the lights went out again.

Even after the concert ends, the crowd continues to clap. The lights come on, and almost immediately, the crowd stops.

I turned to Danny and Chris and said something like, “Am I biased because of the front row seats, or was this better than the previous night?” Danny said it was MUCH better. Chris, who had seen them several times said, “This is one to remember.”

Overall summary: This concert I’ll remember for life. It is definitely one of the best concerts I ever witnessed. Every member’s individual performance was outstanding, but the performance of the group as a whole was incredible.

After arriving home, I brush my teeth and get into bed. All I can hear is a high pitch squeal in my ears….. Three more days….

A few weeks later, Mike (who sat in the fifth row) had his pictures developed, and he blew one up for me. I would see Mike fairly regularly for the next few years, but somehow we lost touch.

In 1996, Dave Lewis was looking for pictures for his upcoming book, “The Concert Files.” Not long thereafter, I ran into Mike who I had not seen in 15 years. I asked him if he still had the pictures from the Led Zeppelin show. He had no idea. About one week later, I received the negatives in the mail with a note, “These are yours to keep. Thanks for the tickets.”

I had the pictures developed at a local photo store. I sent the set of 20 shots to Dave Lewis with a note telling him to keep them as a gift, whether you use them or not.

After the release of “The Concert Files”, I received a package from England. Inside was a copy of “The Concert Files” with note inside stating “Complimentary copy for Steve Kurasch.” After looking through the book, I noticed two of the photos were used on page 95. I sent Mr. Lewis a thank you note. My mom would have been proud.

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: LA Forum June 3rd 1973 | , | Leave a comment

Steely Dan interview in Mojo October 1995

MOJO23_SteelyDanFrom steelydan.com

The Return Of Steely Dan

Once upon a time, they were the odd couple in rock. They wrote songs that featured knuckle-knotting chords and brain-twisting lyrics. They welded jazz and rock into an alloy so smooth and shiny it was impossible to tell where the one ended and the other began. They gave up on live performance a decade before it became commonplace. They sneered at the world from a position of bohemian priority so rarefied it was hard to tell exactly where it was situated. They routinely ran rings around interviews. They haven’t changed.

Separately, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker can be charming, witty, imaginative, accommodating, the most fulsome of interviewees. But put them in a room together and something else takes over: the synergy that brought forth Steely Dan still operates its acid magic on the duo. Ask them a question – any question – and they’ll bat it around for a few moments, testing it for comic potential, before volleying it back over the net, largely unanswered. Faced with the prospect of an in-depth interview to promote their new album, ‘Alive in America,’ they immediately put up the psychic barriers.

Walter Becker: We’ve been doing these interviews now all week. Because it’s a live album with all these old songs on it, interviewers have used that as a pretext to ask questions about things that happened years and years ago. So we’ve rehashed things that we barely remember now to a point where we’re becoming increasingly alienated from anything that could be said to resemble the truth.

Donald Fagen: So you’ve come on the scene at the perfect moment.

MOJO: Stylised lies is exactly what I’m after.

Fagen: We call them ‘Stylies,’ for short.

Becker: I think the important thing is to try and stay in the present and not have any painful sorties into the distant past. If you find yourself wanting to ask something about the Brill Building, or questions like “Why did you decide to go out on the road again after 19 years?”, stuff like that, I think we’ve heard that one a few times too many, haven’t we?

Fagen: See, you don’t even have to ask any questions!

MOJO: Well, I think that’s the first four pages of my questions gone.

Becker: There’ve been journalists in here all week that have already gotten better answers to these questions than we could possibly give you, due to repetition. Maybe Gail [a PR] could hook you up with one of those guys, and you could just download what they got?

MOJO: On the other hand, your answers would be more finely honed now, where before they would have been rough drafts….

Becker: Thus putting the lie to the concept that you can’t polish a turd!

MOJO: You’ve got a new, or newish, live album coming out….

Fagen: That’s ‘newish’ in the sense of distinguishing ‘Jew’ from ‘Jewish’, is it?

Becker: This is beginning to remind me of the joke where the guy from Oklahoma goes up to a New York cabbie and says, “Excuse me, could you tell me how I can get to Times Square, or should I just go fuck myself?”

MOJO: Indeed. Has anyone ever suggested you might be difficult to interview?

Becker: Yeah, that has been suggested, and as I say, it has to do with overload. Y’know: the horror, the horror!

Fagen: The guys who came round Monday thought we were, like, sweethearts. But the last couple of days, no.

Becker: Also, we had to film our EPK [Electronic Press Kit] over two days.

MOJO: Oh. And what kind of stuff was in that?

Becker: Shit. Utter shit. It as kind of like another rehash of the same questions….

Fagen: ….that we hired someone ourselves to ask!

Becker: They’d ask us these things, then we’d decide maybe we should do it indoors, and they’d ask us again, then we actually went to the Brill Building – “So, here we are at the Brill Building”….

Fagen: At one point the director wanted us to read some stuff as we were walking down some stairs, and he said, “Say this as though it’s stuff the record company is making you say, and try to say it with a mocking tone.” Assuming that everything we’d said previous to that wasn’t in a mocking tone.

MOJO: Have you ever thought you might be in the wrong business?

Becker: Yes, through most of the ’80s.

MOJO: Rock music is at least partly about communication, after all….

Becker: Not in our case it’s not.

Fagen: Actually, our new album is going to be called Stand-Up Rock ‘n Roll.

SO HERE WE ARE AT THE BRILL BUILDING, IT’S THE LATE ’60S AND THESE
two sullen, nondescript youths, fresh out of college, are hustling their songs around the various music publishers in the building. One has wire-rimmed spectacles, shoulder-length blond hair, and looks a bit like River Phoenix. The other is thin to the point of emaciation.

They troop into an office. The thin one sits at the office piano and opens an exercise-book of songs. Together, they sing on for the man behind the desk. It’s about androids discovering they’re alive, a bit like in that Philip K. Dick book. They sing another. It’s about Charlie Parker, and is full of odd, show-offy changes. A third, a put-down of some place called Barry Town, makes good use of the spiteful undertone in the thin one’s voice, but is too nasty. A fourth appears to be about a dildo – it even mentions that Japanese one from the William Burrough’s book. The man behind the desk sits there, nonplussed. What are these two kids thinking of? No-one wants to hear songs like this. Do they?

They troop out of the office, up the stairs and into another office.

“This was before cassettes, so we would just play and sing,” explains Fagen. “We met a lot of people in the Brill Building. We met Jerry Leiber, which was great, because he was an idol of ours: and there were still some other great songwriters there, like Jeff Barry. We knew about the scene and we were into the craft of the thing. We wanted to become great songwriters. It was almost over then, but at 1650 Broadway there were still some things happening. The Lovin’ Spoonful. Buddah Records had an office there, and there was a lot of one-shot soul stuff coming out of there.”

“I don’t think we were trying to imitate any of the top songwriters,” says Becker, “except, in a roundabout way the very arty songs But Bacharach had written for Dionne Warwick. Those were an immense source of inspiration for us, but we weren’t trying to copy them: his pieces had these formal, Stravinskyesque angularities that were reminiscent of 20th century classical music. We were impressed by how far out he was able to get and still make it sound sort of like pop music. At one point our demo was played for Leiber & Stoller, who had an office upstairs. Jerry Leiber’s comment was that it reminded him of some German art songs brought into the contemporary style. We subsequently learned that it was better to have our songs pass a pop songs and then have whatever else we wanted in them afterwards.”

Fagen, a jazz fan from Passaic, New Jersey, had already put in a good few years developing an anti-social personality when he met Becker at Bard College. Influenced by the hipster humour of stand-ups and monologuists like Lenny Bruce and Gene Shepard, and by Paul Krassner’s magazine The Realists, Fagen hated the New Jersey suburbia, and would take off to Manhattan on the weekends to see the likes of Monk, Rollins, Miles, and Mingus at Greenwich Village clubs like the Village Vanguard. When he was bought his first piano at the age of 12, his main influence was Red Garland, from Miles Davis’s great Quintet.

At Bard, Fagen studied literature, graduating in 1969 with a thesis on Hermann Hesse, but spent much of his time running a band which went under various names – The Leather Canary, The Don Fagen Jazz Trio, The Bad Rock Group – according to the gig. He ran into Becker, two years his junior, playing loud blues guitar in a college rehearsal room. Becker, it transpired, had learnt his blues licks from a young neighbourhood kid. Randy Wolf, who later found fame as Randy California, prodigal guitarist with Spirit. “Randy’s uncle in LA owned a folk and blues club called The Ash Grove,” he explains, “so Randy had learned to play blues stuff from these old guys who had played his uncle’s club. He also knew Taj Mahal, and had learned all these techniques. The first time we played, I had just gotten this electric guitar, but hadn’t figured out shit about how to make it sound like these guys. Randy took the guitar, plugged it in, turned the amp all the way up, and started bending the strings and using a bottleneck and all this stuff. It just sounded exactly like B.B. King record, and I learned how to do that from him. I was always attracted to that style of playing. Jazz guitar is tame by comparison.”

Discovering a shared affection for the improvising skills of Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck’s sax player, Becker & Fagen became firm collegiate chums, and were soon writing songs stuffed with jazz allusions and black humour. Becker having flunked out of college after three terms, the duo relocated to New York after Fagen graduated, determined to make it as songwriter. By this time, the Tin Pan Alley era was as Fagen says, all but over, swamped by a tide of hippy bands who wrote their own material, rendering the specialist songwriter sector redundant. But the Brill Building was still the songwriting mecca for smart-pop disciples like Becker & Fagen.

“There was a lot of scurrying around,” recalls Fagen. “A lot of the business took place right out on Broadway outside, and in the City Squire Hotel next door, and there were all these weird characters in the Brill Building itself. During the late ’60s, the Brill Building had been converted so that the offices now had all these shag rugs on the walls, this sort of cheesy drug-era stuff – everyone had gumball machines. It was very amusing.”

“We knew that we were only pretending to be something that belonged there,” says Becker, “because the kind of songs we were writing didn’t fit in anywhere – there was no artist out there looking for this particular kind of song, put it that way!”

Becker: We live in the past, y’know…the Brill Building, Beverly Boulevard. Don and I like to sit around and rehash, talk about the good old days. Like the Golden Boys.

Fagen: We were there when they invented digital recording, y’know.

Becker: In fact, Donald was actually in the studio the night that Debbie Reynolds recorded Abba-Dabba-Honymoon. That’s a little-known fact!

MOJO: And a little-known song.

Becker: You had to be there….

MOJO: Barbara Streisand recorded one of your songs, didn’t she?

Fagen: The first song we ever had recorded [I Mean to Shine]. Not a good song, but at least she recorded it.

MOJO: What kind of royalties did you see from it?

Becker: The royalties from that song were actually signed over to our previous manager, to escape from his clutches.

MOJO: Which manager?

Becker: One of the previous managers.

MOJO: You had several?

Becker: Well, the tradition is to have a succession of previous managers. Like suitors at a gang-bang, y’know?

“I REMEMBER ONE DAY,” SAYS FAGEN, “WE WERE AT THE BRILL
Building and there was a big convention going on, so there was hardly anyone left in the building except for this one production company called JATA, which it turned out stood for Jay And The Americans. We knocked on the door and there was someone there – in fact, it was one of the Americans! – and we did our usual rap: “Hi, my name is Donald Fagen, this is my partner Walter Becker, we have this song…” And we went through a few of our numbers, and they started paying us $50 per song, and tried to help us out.”

Kenny Vance, the man from JATA, became one of the duo’s first managerial suitors, and promptly had them record some rough demos of their songs, which subsequently appeared under variety of titles like Berry Town (sic) and Sun Mountain. They also recorded a soundtrack for a low-budget movie a friend of his was making, called You’ve Got To Walk It Like You Talk It Or You’ll Lose That Beat – the album of which, likewise, also magically appeared, prominently bearing their names, once Steely Dan became a bankable prospect.

Becker remains philosophical about the situation. “It’s embarrassing, but if people are that interested in it, I guess it’s OK,” he says. “My son got hold of it, and he liked it better than any of the Steely Dan records! ‘Dad, I love that song Android Warehouse!’ I thought, Holy shit, what does he think this is?” Despite this welter of activity, though, the duo were making little headway in the songwriting business, and welcomed the offer of a paying gig as pianist and bass-player for Jay And The Americans, despite the anachronistic nature of music.

“It was fun,” says Fagen. “We toured the East Coast, and we’d go to Florida in the wintertime, and do a lot of those oldies shows in Madison Square Garden where they’d have, like, 40 acts. We toured for a while opening for The Four Seasons, who were really a good band. It was a great job for us – we were straight out of college, and we got paid in cash!”

In typically droll fashion, they adopted the stage-names Tristan Fabriani and Gus Mahler, though Jay Black had a rather more acid handle for the smartass duo, dubbing them “the Manson and Starkweather of Rock.”

“That was Jay’s little joke,” recalls Becker. “We got involved with Jay And The Americans via one of the more forward-looking members of the group, who had actually noticed that the ’60s had happened: Jay never did – for Jay it was still Blackboard Jungle. He had made the leap from juvenile delinquency to organised crime fandom, so to suddenly find two guys like me and Donald in his band was a little baffling to him. But he was extremely tolerant, and I liked him a lot.”

“Some of Jay’s friends were the same guys from Good Fellas – they were not all fictional characters. I think what his life was like – he was married to the niece of one of the guys, which I think was a survival move: he was levering himself up into a position where he could be forgiven some debts. We would see them once in a while around the office. Some guys would come in and say, ‘Hey Jay! Whyn’t you get these guys to take a fuckin’ haircut?’ Or they’d come backstage after show and say, ‘Hey Jay, your voice sounded beautiful, but that drum, that fuckin’ drum’s givin’ me a headache! Can you tell ’em to turn down that fuckin’ drum?!'”

Fagen: See, now you can’t help talking about this stuff, it’s like you’re in a groove…

Becker: I know. I’m programmed. It’s like The Manchurian Candidate. In fact, I’m thinking of going over to Elsa Lanchester’s house after the interview!

Fagen: How about a game of solitaire to pass the time?

Becker: Good idea! I’m thinking of catching the Senator’s speech later, down at the Press Club. Wanna come with me? You can carry some of my stuff. See, I’ve identified with my captors now – I’m thinking of going into journalism.

MEANWHILE, BECKER & FAGEN HAD MET SOME RATHER MORE
sympathetic musical spirits by answering a Village Voice ad for a bassist and keyboard player with jazz chops. “No assholes needed apply,” warned the ad. Denny Dias, who had placed it, was immediately impressed by the pair’s abilities, and particularly by the fact that they already had a whole stack of original material. Demian, Dias’s band, was just trying to broaden its set beyond the Top 40 covers and R&B numbers that were the staples of the day, and this new source of songs, he could tell, was of high quality. “They were sophisticated,” he says, “something more than your typical pop song; they were musically interesting.”

Before only, Becker & Fagen had effectively taken over the group, replacing the drummer with one of their own acquaintance, John Discepolo, and steering the set in their own direction. Kenny Vance recorded a batch of demos with this line-up, including Becker’s ingenious setting of The Mock Turtle Song, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through The Looking Glass, and a striking six-minute number sung by Fagen in a weary, Dylanesque drawl, called Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me). These too would obtain a belated release (as Walter Becker/Donald Fagen – The Early Years), but proved just as ineffectual as their earlier demos in arousing record company interest.

Help was at hand, however, in the form of Kenny Vance’s chum Gary Kannon, an independent producer who had previously worked with Richard Perry and Bobby Darin, and was building a name for himself in the music business. He introduced them to some musicians he’s met in Boston – drummer Jim Hodder, from a band called The Bead Game (named, as was Dias’s band, after a Hermann Hesse novel), and session guitarist Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, from the late and largely unlamented Ultimate Spinach. More importantly, he also persuaded Richard Perry that a Becker & Fagen song, I Mean To Shine, was just right for a Barbara Streisand album that Perry was recording (Barbara Joan Streisand), thus acquiring the duo their first proper song sale.

Shortly after, Kannon was offered and A&R job at ABC Records in Los Angeles, where he dropped his pseudonym and reverted to his real name of Katz. One of the first things he did upon taking up his new position was to persuade his employers that they really needed to hire these cool songwriters he knew back in New York. It was the smartest move he ever made, though for a while it seemed as though it may have been a mistake. Becker & Fagen were offered a position as staff songwriters at $125 a week, this being an advance against any song royalties they might earn. They didn’t need asking twice.

“For cynical wiseass kids from New York like us, going to Los Angeles was an endless source of amusement,” says Becker. “I’m sure you’re familiar with the characterisation so sunny, air-headed optimism in glitzy LA and dense, rye-bread, cynical, intellectual New Yorkers. I had never been there before in my life when I moved there lock, stock, and barrel – we didn’t know how to drive or anything! Gary Katz had an apartment in Encino, and we just went there, then picked out our apartments from this newly-finished block and started taking driving lessons. Until we’d learnt, Gary had to drive us back and forth to ABC.

“It was our first real job in the music business, for a real record company, so there was the shock of that, too: the bullshit factor soared another 1000 per cent. The reason ABC had signed Gary and us was they’d decided they wanted to make more, quote, ‘underground’ records: they only had bubblegummy hits – and the Impulse jazz label. One of the first few days we were in LA, Gary took us to and A&R meeting in some hotel, and we drove over Laurel Canyon, which we’d heard about from all these Frank Zappa records, and went into this room where Roger Nichols had set up this PA for a playback.

“There were all these record executives there: at the head of the table was Jay Lasker, president of this company, in this Hawaiian shirt, and the other guys in their hokey records, then Ed Michel puts on this Alice Coltrane record – their first quad recording! – and Ed’s got the speakers in the corners of the room, and he turns it up real loud, and it’s Alice Coltrane’s harp, and Rashied Ali playing no discernible beat of any kind, and finger-cymbals and all the other space-jazz conventions of the day, and just to watch these guys try and groove along with this was great!

“By the time we got there, the great days of Impulse were over, John Coltrane was dead and they didn’t do much else from that point on, but of course they had made all those neat records in the ’60s. They had their little mastering studio next to the recording studio, and we’d see the masters for A Love Supreme hanging around out in the hall. I thought, These guys aren’t taking care of this stuff – I should take it home to my house! But I never did…”

MOJO: What did being staff writers entail?

Fagen: We were supposed to write pop songs for the other artists on the label, which included at that time Three Dog Night. The Grassroots and John Kay And Denny Doherty from The Mamas & The Papas. John Kay actually recorded a song of ours, but other than that we were complete failures.

MOJO: Which one was that?

Becker: It was a song called Giles Of The River.

[Sniggers] Fagen: That’s the reaction the artists tended to have too. As Gore Vidal once said, “Shit has its own integrity.” We didn’t have that kind of integrity, though.

MOJO: What was it about your songs that made them different?

Fagen: They had some of the irony that became the lingua franca of the ’80s, to some degree.

MOJO: That’s not a very American thing, is it?

Becker: Well, my friend from high school, his mom had that Flanders & Swann record, and my father had a few English friends, y’know?

Fagen: Yeah, and we used to listen to those Brecht/Weill songs…

Becker: So we were kind of suave and continental, at least on the intellectual level, if not on the haberdashery level.

Fagen: At least compared to, say, Freddy Fender.

Becker: On the haberdashery level or the intellectual level?

Fagen: I’m not sure. He may have it over us on the haberdashery level!

Becker: Even Freddy Fender had us aced! Also, we were interested in the black humour tradition in literature, that was highly charged with this sensibility.

Fagen: We were both fans of William Burroughs…

Becker: …Nathanael West…

Fagen: …Bruce Jay Friedman, Philip Roth, Vladimir Nabokov…

Becker: …Kurt Vonnegut, Terry Southern, Thomas Pynchon…

Fagen: They were very big in New York at the time.

MOJO: Fairly big in England, too.

Fagen: Well, you guys invented irony, so…!

Becker: When you’ve lost the Empire, what are you gonna say? They got a great Empire, they see it slipping away – here comes your irony!

Fagen: We can sense that happening here too. The end of the American Empire. We can see it coming.

GARY KATZ MANAGED TO GET A FEW BECKER & FAGEN COMPOSITIONS
placed on albums he was working on – notably Thomas Jefferson Kaye’s First Grade – and he put a little session work their way, but it was obvious to all that as songwriters their material was too eccentric and personal to fit most other artists’ styles.

“We realised even before we were doing it that we would have to do these songs ourselves,” says Becker. “We could see that nobody was going to come along and pick up on them because they were too odd, too out of context for the day. On the one had, they expressed an odd sensibility lyrically and in their overall musical thing: and they were so musically unusual that even people who later wanted to record some of our songs had a hard time, because the jazz elements or other harmonic elements were hard to pull off.”

“They have to be performed with a certain attitude,” adds Fagen, “and we couldn’t find the right singer when we started. I became the singer by default because I was the only one with the right attitude, essentially, even though I didn’t consider myself a singer at the time.”

Covertly, the three New Yorkers began assembling a band, calling Denny Dias, Jim Hodder, and Jeff Baxter over from the East Coast, and using ABC’s money to buy equipment. Eventually, the label realised what was happening, but had enough faith in them to give the project the nod, especially since Becker & Fagen weren’t exactly proving a raging success as staff songwriters. A deal was signed, in typical music-biz fashion.

“We were like most people,” says Becker. “When you start out, you get some horrible little deal, that no matter how many records you sell you could barely eke a living out of it: and when you get more successful you gradually negotiate improvements in that deal. Our lawyer in the deal we originally signed with Jay Lasker was someone who had worked for Jay until a few weeks before – he was in there with his boss, and he came out and said, ‘I gotta tell you, guys, I got killed in there. This is a terrible deal, they didn’t give me anything, and they say you can either sign it or get the hell out of here!’ So we signed it.”

“It seemed OK at the time,” adds Fagen. “We were only kids, y’know?” The first product by Steely Dan – the name was taken from that of a dildo in William Burrough’s book, The Naked Lunch – hit the stores in June 1972. A single, Dallas, featured drummer Jim Hodder on lead vocal, Fagen still having qualms about his own capacities in that respect. The album which followed five months later, Can’t Buy A Thrill, even featured another vocalist, the prissy-voiced David Palmer, on a couple of the softer tracks. More importantly, it also included two hits, both of which established Fagen’s nasal sneer as the band’s trademark. The slinky mambo rhythm and electric sitar solo of Do It Again proved surprisingly irresistible over the airwaves: entering the singles chart in the last week of the year, it eventually peaked at Number 6, swiftly followed by the rockier Reelin’ In The Years, which reached Number 11. Buoyed by the singles, the album hit the Top 20. All of a sudden, at long last, Becker & Fagen were a success.

Success, though, brings its own obligations. People want to see hit bands. More to the point, record companies want to see hit bands promoting their records, and the only way to do that effectively is to pack your bags, climb on board a bus, and traipse around playing gigs in places like Dogbreath, New Jersey.

For a while, it’s fun. The camaraderie of the road, the in-jokes, the last-gang mentality, the acclaim and, of course, the music. But then it all starts to a little sour. Denny Dias, for one, recalls touring with Steely Dan as “kinda like going to war: hours of boredom, followed by seconds of terror.”

In the beginning, though, those seconds of terror brought their own reward: the follow-up album Countdown To Ecstasy, widely considered the group’s best, profited greatly from the weeks spent honing the new material on the road. “That was the only album where the songs were developed on the road, in rehearsal and onstage,” explains Fagen. “We were playing them before the album was recorded, so it had a more live, blowing feel about it.”

“Before we did the first album,” says Becker, “we had written the songs and pretty much finished arrangements at the point where we presented them to the musicians: in the case of the second album, the musicians got to hear the songs and participate in developing the arrangements at an earlier stage. Because we knew what the band sounded like, we had a more developed conception of it, and it became a more integrated framework.”

Consequently, where their debut album had seemed rather like a prefabricated pop marvel, this one presented Steely Dan as a great band, bursting with energy and chops, with the rare ability to build on each other’s parts in a way that took the material to new heights. Not that ABC saw it that way, mind.

“When we finished that record,” recalls Dias, “a number of executives came to the studio to hear it played back for the first time, and nobody seemed to like it. They were so unhappy about it that there was hardly any promotion for it, and it was disappointing commercially. We were trying to go higher and better, and they were looking for something more saleable. They were used to AM pop stuff, and what they heard was a little more sophisticated, and they didn’t know what to do with it.”

They didn’t like the sleeve illustration either. A painting by Fagen’s girlfriend of the time, it featured three forlorn humanoid forms sitting on chairs. Since there were five members in the band – David Palmer having by this time been issued with his P45 – the record company felt there should be five figures on the cover. Two extra figures were accordingly added, though in ghostly, insubstantial form. Few of the band realised it at the time, but this was to prove something of an omen.

MOJO: Why were early songs like Charlie Freak and Parker’s Band on your third album, rather than your first?

Becker: See, that’s touring for you. We did our first record, boom, they threw us out touring. We managed to get through our second record with mostly new songs, I think, but by the time we had to go into the studio for our third record, we had to go through the files and pull out a bunch of old songs to fill out the record.

MOJO: You didn’t tour for very long, did you?

Becker: Well, we didn’t make any money touring. The only reason we could tour England was because the record company kicked in some money: it was a money-losing proposition, and we were beating our brains out. We felt if we kept on doing this we would burn out very soon.

Fagen: And of course, The Beatles had not long before set the example of concentrating on records and not touring, and we were arrogant enough to follow their example.

MOJO: But shortly after that they split up, didn’t they?

Fagen: Well, we split up shortly after too. We were following their example to the letter! And now we’re back together, just like they are. We never make a move without consulting the Beatle Chronology.

THOUGH ITS INNER GATEFOLD-SLEEVE FEATURES A PHOTO OF THE
same band as that on Countdown To Ecstasy, by the time the third album Pretzel Logic came to be recorded, Steely Dan was all but finished as a group. The LP was largely recorded using session players, with the actual group being used to present the songs live. Unfortunately, even that involvement didn’t last much longer. A tour of Britain in 1974 was abruptly curtailed when Fagen fell ill, and that was that.

“Touring interfered with recording,” explains Becker, “because you’d go out and trash your voice and your chops and everything, and all the hear would be wrecked. Back from a tour, we wouldn’t have any songs because we couldn’t write on the road. That’s why we broke up the band – the other guys in the band couldn’t for the life of them see why we didn’t want to go out and tour and have the good times that they had been having: we weren’t particularly having a good time, but they were!

“That’s one of your big Rashomon situations there – in rock ‘n roll bands everybody sees a slightly different version of what’s going on, depending on their position in the organisation. And because they’re all kids, usually you haven’t developed your empathy to the point where you realise that the other guy’s got something else that he’s dealing with. I think musicians in general are childish – in all the best and the worst possible senses of that term.”

MOJO: What did the other guys in the band think when you started to bring in session players to play parts they might have played?

Becker: A mixture of bitterness and, er, hatred. Betrayal, a feeling of betrayal. Desire to strike back , to get even, perhaps. Actually, they were good sports about it, to the extent that they didn’t quit or throw a screaming shit-fit right there on the spot, but it didn’t really make sense to them that we wanted to do that. It was like, contrary to the ethical understanding they had of the band.

MOJO: From their point of view, they probably thought they’d be able to tour the album once it was made.

Fagen: Yes, we could see that there was just too much of a lie involved at one point, so they had to go. It was too uncomfortable. They put two years in, and we tried to be fair with them financially – they’ve always gotten full royalties from albums they’ve played on, and so on. So we’ve not had bad relations with them since.

AND SO, ALMOST AS SOON AS IT HAD STARTED, STEELY DAN THE BAND
was finished. Guitarist Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter and Michael McDonald, who the band had drafted in as a support vocalist, took a free transfer to The Doobie Brothers and all the fame and gigs they could handle: drummer Jim Hodder disappeared to Northern California, where nothing was heard of him until his death by drowning in June of 1990.

Denny Dias hung in longer than the rest, a reflection of his closer relationship with Becker & Fagen: unlike the other members of the band, who had been introduced to them by Gary Katz, Dias was the duo’s own choice.

“Denny was a very specialised kind of musician,” explains Becker, “because he was neither a jazz guitarist nor a rock guitarist – he had the technical ability and training of a jazz guitarist, but he understood how to apply that to play over our chords. And there wasn’t much else going on that he was a logical candidate for.”

“He was very devoted to our music,” adds Fagen. “He’s been asked many times to join various groups, and when we stopped touring, he just wasn’t interested.” Since ceasing work with the Dan, Dias did a little low-key music work with jazz pianist Hampton Hawes, but spent most of his time doing systems-level programming for database development environments: he now, however, confesses himself disenchanted with the corporate nature of computer software world. When the Dan played Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre on their reunion tours of ’93 and ’94, Dias sat in with them for a few songs, and professes is the most fun he’s had in years. “I just decided I had to get back into music,” he says, “so I got a hard-disk recording system which I hooked up to my computer, and I’ve been writing and recording, trying to develop a concept for a record of my own.”

For their part, Becker & Fagen holed up in studios for the rest of the decade, developing perfectionist LPs and a reputation to match. They became studioholics: Becker recalls trying to get an English engineer to work on Boxing Day, and being told in no uncertain terms that that was not an available work day. “We both liked recording studios,” he admits. “As much as anything else, it was just the coolest place to be on a hot afternoon, sitting on those couches or wheeling around behind a console.”

They had already found themselves struggling against the limitations of their own and their band’s abilities: as early as the first album, they had called in session players such as guitarist Elliott Randall, who played the solo on Reelin’ In The Years: while on the second album, dissatisfied with Hodder’s less-than metronomic pulse on Show Biz Kids, they had had to improvise and eight-bar loop of two-inch tape which ran from the tape machine to an idler wheel outside the control room, in order to achieve the hypnotic effect they wanted. At every turn, they were determined to use the best and the most cutting-edge, whether that meant bringing in Bernard Purdie and Chuck Rainey to lay down a groove, or using the earliest digital recorders.

“In the ’80s,” reflects Becker, “hand-crafted, hand-played music was being overtaken by this increasingly mechanical, perfectionist machine music, and we were just trying to get there first. They had all these disco records that were just whack-whack, so perfect, the beat never fluctuated, and we didn’t see why we couldn’t have that too, except playing this incredibly complicated music, and the drummer would go and play a great fill or something and come exactly back at the perfect beat at the same tempo, y’know? It seemed like a good idea.”

Gradually, the Steely Dan sound grew more and more refined, and by the time of Aja had come to be recognised as the very epitome of rock sophistication. “We were interested in a kind of hybrid music that included all the music we’d ever listened to,” explains Fagen. “So there was always a lot of TV music and things in there. It was very eclectic, and it used to make us laugh: we knew something was good if we would really laugh at it when we played it back. We liked the sort of faux-luxe sound of the ’50s, there was just something very funny about it. I grew up in a faux-luxe household, and it was a very alienating world, so for me it has the opposite effect: muzak is supposed to relax you, but it makes me very anxious. So in a way, I think I get it out of me by putting some of it in my songs. Then I start to laugh at it when I hear it.”

“In some ways, the early, rougher ones sound better now than the later ones,” believes Becker, “whereas at the time it seemed like we were ever rising towards the light. I think because of the kind of music we were doing, it seemed to us that it should be real seamlessly put together and have a high level of polish to make it work. We didn’t want it to sound like kids trying to play jazz – which I think it did pretty much sound like sometimes, and which now I kind of like the sound of. But at the time we thought what we were doing was so different to other things that were going on, and our own harsh appraisals of our talents dictated to us that we work harder to make it really smooth and flawless.”

In Los Angeles – and in New York, when they returned there to make The Royal Scam – Steely Dan sessions took on a certain cachet among the session community: whose members were, in the main, relieved to be given the opportunity to stretch their talents a little further than the average soap-powder commercial. Sometimes, though, Becker & Fagen could be the most infuriating of taskmasters.

“A lot of times we didn’t know what we wanted,” admits Becker. “Donald and I would write a song on piano, or piano and guitar, and sometimes we’d have a very primitive demo, but often as not we’d go in the studio and we’d be hearing the song played by a band for the very first time. And sometimes it didn’t sound like what you’d thought it would sound like, and you had to try and figure out why that was, whether your conception of the song was wrong, or who could change their part, or how to rethink what you were doing to make it work. So a lot of times we didn’t know exactly what it was we needed to do at a given moment to get things to be the way we wanted them to be.

“Other times, we just wanted it to be better, so we’d keep trying for another take. We kept adjusting our standards higher and higher, so many days we’d make guys do 30 or 40 takes and never listen to any of them again, because we knew none of them were any good: but we just kept hoping that somehow it was just going to miraculously get good.”

MOJO: Who was the most difficult session player to work with?

Becker: To me, the most difficult guys – without getting down to specific names – would be jazz players who, if it wasn’t a jazz date, would treat it just like another gig. They’d have a kind of contemptuous attitude, and they didn’t like the fact that these young kids were running these sessions and trying to tell them what to do.

Fagen: It only happened a few times: guy wanted the gig for the bread, but didn’t like the music, essentially. ‘Specially in the early ’70s, ‘cos there was still a lot of deep snobbism about rock ‘n roll…

Becker: …and we assumed that because we had these chord changes and everything that we’d be able to impress these guys, and in some cases that didn’t turn out to be so. It was all still bullshit as far as they were concerned.

LIVING HARD WILL TAKE ITS TOLL, THOUGH, AND BECKER IN
particular was living hard, making full use of the recreational drug opportunities afforded by the Los Angeles celebrity lifestyle. The city held little other appeal for them, however, and by the time they finished their most sophisticated, jazz-inflected album so far, Aja, they had both relocated back to New York. Keen to switch labels, too, they signed up with hotshot manager Irving Azoff, who used his industry muscle to make Aja their most successful album yet.

This, however, only served to put greater pressure on the duo to top its success with the follow-up, Gaucho. But a series of delays and disasters combined to slow its progress to a crawl. The New York musicians were not as used to their methods as the LA musicians had become, and Becker was becoming less reliable because of his drug problem. Then, at the end of 1979, the first completed track for the album, a song called The Second Arrangement, was accidentally wiped by a studio engineer. The following month, Becker’s long-time girlfriend, Karen Stanley, died in their New York apartment from a drug overdose suicide. “I could barely understand what was going with her, really,” he recalls. “If you’ve ever known anyone that’s chronically depressed like that, it’s hard to appreciate what’s going on: you’re looking straight at it and you still don’t get it because you’ve never gone through that.”

As if that weren’t enough, in April 1980 Becker was knocked over by a taxicab, fracturing his right leg in several places. Luckily, recording had all but been concluded, but the mixing sessions for Gaucho were severely complicated by the injury. By the time the album was released to mixed reviews in November, all concerned were thoroughly sick of it. It was time, they realised, to pull down the curtain on Steely Dan.

“Working together as long as we did,” says Becker now, “Donald and I followed a certain line of thinking to its logical conclusion, and then perhaps slightly beyond – that was what we realised when we’d finished Gaucho: it was not as much fun…It wasn’t fun at all, really.”

TWO YEARS ON FROM THE DEMISE OF STEELY DAN, DONALD FAGEN’S
solo debut “The Nightfly” was released, to widespread acclaim. Far from heralding a career rebirth, however, it seemed to put the cap on the entire Dan story. The follow-up, “Kamakiriad”, would not appear for another 11 years.

“I really put everything I knew into that album,” says Fagen of The Nightfly. “I wanted to do an autobiographical album. And after that I really wasn’t inspired to do anything. I fell into a bit of a depression for a while, and I started going to therapy. I think that like a lot of artists, especially in the music business, I was successful and young, and I was basically still and adolescent. I was trying to get out of that with The Nightfly, it was kind of self-examination of my childhood. It took me a long time to go through a kind of transformation. Until around ’86, ’87, I felt I had some energy and some new things to write about. I worked every day, but I didn’t like what I was doing, I’d play the songs back next day and didn’t much like them.

“I basically had to figure out how to have an actual life – I was a workaholic ’till the end of The Nightfly, the only life I had was in the studio. A lot of it had to do with my not wanting to address certain things that I had to address personally, and working gave me the chance not to do any kind of self-examination. I’m very introspective person as it is, so always working is a kind of therapy in itself.”

While Fagen was having his mid-life crisis in New York, Becker had made what seemed a strange jump, moving to the Hawaiian island of Maui, where he cleaned himself up, drug-wise, and set about rebuilding his life.

“The last few years of the ’70s got a little out of control around my place, and it really wasn’t that much fun,” he recalls. “The career was a good organising principle for something that was pretty chaotic in other ways. But eventually that didn’t work either. and when the dust had settled its was 1980 and it was time to clean up my act, so I ended up coming here because I wanted a complete change of pace – and I must say I had a pretty good time of it: my son was born, I got married. So I spent a couple of years not doing any music or anything, just here in Hawaii trying to get healthy and adjust to the new regimen I was setting up for myself.”

As the old Steely Dan LPs were given a new lease of life on CD in the ’80s, providing a steady source of revenue, both men tried their hands at alternative, music-related jobs: Becker built a studio on Maui and became a producer for such artists as China Crisis and Rickie Lee Jones, and for new age/jazz labels Triloka and Windham Hill. Fagen, meanwhile, wrote a little film music, for the movie of Bright Lights, Big City, and for a while became the film-music correspondent of Premiere, the US film magazine. Then, in the early ’90s, they hooked up again to produce each other’s solo albums, Kamakiriad and 11 Tracks of Whack.

“When I was about to go into the studio, I got kind of nervous about handling everything myself,” says Fagen, “especially the idea of doing vocals and having to come in and listen to them myself. I realised I was really lonely in the studio by myself, without someone to bounce off. So I thought, Why break in someone else – if that’s even possible – I’ll just call in Walter. He was more than a producer, really, he was a collaborator as far as some of the music went. Especially in playing: he ended up playing all the bass parts, and the lead guitar parts as well.”

From there, it was short jump to reconstituting Steely Dan, at least as touring entity: 1993 and 1994 saw them taking an expanded band on tour in America and Japan, the highlights of which are about to appear on their first live album, Alive in America. As slick and meticulous as you’d expect, the album features a broad selection of material, the old songs sometimes rearranged in the style of the later Dan records – most notable a Reelin’ In The Years reupholstered with a spiffing horn arrangements. And while it’s at a very early, tentative stage yet, there is actually talk of a new Steely Dan studio album in the works. Wheel turnin’ round and round…

MOJO: So…Why did you decide to go back out on the road after 19 years?

Becker: Well, clearly it was a mistake. We see that now.

Fagen: Yeah. I’m gonna rescind the whole thing. Can we recall the summer tours of ’93 and ’94?

Becker: We’re gonna send all the money back. In fact, anybody who has been to one of our shows in the past two years, if you would be willing to send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the offices of our business managers, we will cheerfully refund the price of your tickets.

There is a hundred-dollar filing fee associated with our book-keeping costs, so make sure you include that.

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Steely Dan interview in Mojo | | Leave a comment

Roger Hodgson In The Eye Of The Storm (1984)

Front-Roger HodgsonFrom amazon.com

Review I came of age with the British Invasion in 1964 when I was seventeen. Over the years since then, I’ve closely followed a flow of wonderful and varied music from the Beatles, Kinks, Animals, Rolling Stones, and many others. Along the way, I’ve been heavy into Procol Harum, the Strawbs, Yes, Genesis, John Mayall, the Yardbirds, and most other quality British groups.

However, I realized a few years ago that “Breakfast in America” is still my all-time favorite “desert island” album. No doubt about it! I never get tired of listening… It’s a perfect collection of songs with catchy melodies and clever lyrics that are richly (yet cleanly) performed and produced by a group of exceedinlgly talented musicians. Over time, I’ve gotten into every subtle “ooooh” and “aaaah” soaring harmony, every nice guitar and synthesizer part, every cool lyric, and even the background sound effects and comments that make a song special. (e.g. “What’s she got, not a lot…”)

When I decided to buy the re-mastered “Breakfast in America” CD, I started reading the Amazon reviews and became intrigued with the praise for Roger Hodgson’s solo albums. So I purchased “In the Eye of the Storm” and “Ha, Ha” a month ago. I haven’t stopped listening and humming along to them since! “In the Eye of the Storm” is truly the great album we all wanted to follow “Breakfast in America”. Okay, I like “Famous Last Words…” (the actual BiA sequel), but it’s not in the Supertramp league of greatness that marks this album.

Listening to this album makes it clear that Roger Hodgson is the the basis of the Supertramp sound we all know and love, and he shows it all here. Great songs, great playing and production, and even a great song like “Had a Dream” to kick it all off. That one song embodies almost every cool thing you could want in a Supertramp song. If I didn’t know this was a solo album, I would swear it was Supertramp at their finest! And that’s a LOT of praise from a skeptic like me.

So I highly recommend that you buy it today. Hey, I just bought it 15 years after it originally came out, and I’m now enjoying the fresh sound of a whole “new” super Supertramp album that I never knew existed. And you should also buy Roger Hodgson’s “Ha, Ha”, which is almost as good. Listen to “London” on that album and you will understand why the idea of Supertramp doing reggae is so compelling. Oh yeah, don’t miss Roger’s cool background comment in that song: ” Ooo, so sorry boys…”

I think we need another excellent Roger Hodgson album to keep us going for twenty more years. The stereo in my Volvo sounds so much better than my home stereo in 1985. And I still need my rock fix everyday…

Review Combine the best moments from In The Eye of The Storm with Brother Where You Bound? and you’d have the best Supertramp album since Breakfast. Clearly the conflict between Davies’ musical direction for Supertramp and Hodgson couldn’t be resolved, so Hodgson made the break and put together a strong collection of solo material.

The best material here holds its own with his best Supertramp songs. Always tuneful and full of hooks, In The Eye Of The Storm overcomes the “solo album curse” of many artists. Nevertheless, there is enough second rate material and preachy lyrics to make one wish that Hodgson and Davies had been able to reconcile their differences. Although lyrically sharper than Davies’ songs for Brother, Eye lacks both a sense of adventure and an edginess that one had come to expect from the band.

All of that said, it’s still a pleasant album that manages to overcome its weaknesses. Certainly Davis and Hodgson (like Lennon & McCartney, Jagger & Richards and other songwriting teams)need each other more than they’d care to admit.

Eye reminds me of some of George Harrison’s less distinguished albums; there’s a considerable amount of craft on displace and clearly the heart’s in the right place, but there needed to be someone to edit the material into a strong, cohesive set. It doesn’t help that Hodgson plays most of the instruments himself. A band might have breathed more life into the album as well.

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Roger Hodgson In The Eye Of The Storm | , | Leave a comment

Pete Townshend interview in Rolling Stone 1968

201303-pete-townshend-x306-1363624638From Rolling Stone

1968 Rolling Stone Interview (by Jann Wenner)

For his first full-length Rolling Stone Interview, Jann Wenner picked Pete Townshend, and for good reasons. “The Who,” he says, “were one of Rolling Stone’s original favorite bands. I saw them at their American debut at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and later that year at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.” The Who were still comparatively unknown in the United States and Wenner recalls the band being “squashed in the middle of a rather dumpy concert, one of those eight-act packages that used to tour the country.” After the show, he interviewed Townshend for an article in issue number four.

In the fall of 1968, the Who were back. By now they were a sensation, and this would be their second time headlining a three-night stand that year in San Francisco (first, in February, at the old Fillmore; now, in August, at the Fillmore West). This time, Townshend did the Rolling Stone Interview.

“Peter Townshend was twenty-three years old when we sat talking at my house in San Francisco into the dawn hours,” Wenner has written. “And a year or two later, Townshend told me that during our interview he articulated to himself, for the first time comprehensively, the basic plan for what became Tommy. And that brought back to my mind a remark he had made at the time, which I had edited out. We’d been drinking orange juice, and in the middle of a long and wandering answer he asked if I had spiked his drink. Those were the halcyon hip days in San Francisco, and when I asked him what he meant by ‘spiked,’ he said he felt as though he were beginning an LSD trip. I hadn’t slipped him anything.”

THE WHO {guitarist Pete Townshend, singer Roger Daltrey, drummer Keith Moon and bass guitarist John Entwistle} are the most brilliant expression of the most influential “youth movement” ever to take Great Britain, the Mods. Their career began in Shepherd’s Bush, a lower-class suburb of London, and took them through such places as Brighton-by-the-Sea, scene of the great Mod-Rocker battles of the early Sixties. Their first big recording was “My Generation.” Pete Townshend, the well-known guitarist, is the group’s main force, the author of most of the material, the composer of most of the music and the impetus behind the Who’s stylistic stance.

The Who’s generation has gotten older, and the change is seen in their records: “The Kids are Alright” to “Happy Jack”; and from “Happy Jack” to girls and boys with perspiration, pimple and bad breath problems. And, as can be seen from the interview, the changes continue.

This interview began at 2:00 a.m., after the Who’s second 1968 appearance at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Nobody quite remembers under what circumstances it was concluded.

********************************
WENNER: The end of your act goes to “My Generation,” like you usually do, and that’s where you usually smash your guitar. You didn’t tonight – why not?
TOWNSHEND: Well, there is a reason, not really anything that’s really worth talking about. But I’ll explain the pattern of thought which went into it.

I’ve obviously broken a lot of guitars, and I’ve brought eight or nine of that particular guitar I was using tonight and I could very easily have broken it and have plenty more for the future. But I just suddenly decided before I went on that if there was anywhere in the world I should be able to walk off the stage without breaking a guitar if I didn’t want to, it would be the Fillmore.

I decided in advance that I didn’t want to smash the guitar, so I didn’t, not because I liked it or because I’ve decided I’m going to stop doing it or anything. I just kind of decided about the actual situation; it forced me to see if I could have gotten away with it in advance. And I think that’s why “My Generation” was such a down number at the end. I didn’t really want to play it, you know, at all. I didn’t even want people to expect it to happen, because I just wasn’t going to do it.

WENNER: But Keith still dumped over his drum kit like he usually does.

TOWNSHEND: Yeah, but it was an incredible personal thing with me. I’ve often gone on the stage and said, “Tonight, I’m not going to smash a guitar and I don’t give a shit” – you know what the pressure is on me – whether I feel like doing it musically or whatever, I’m just not going to do it. And I’ve gone on, and every time I’ve done it. The actual performance has always been bigger than my own personal patterns of thought.

Tonight, for some reason, I went on and I said, “I’m not going to break it,” and I didn’t. And I don’t know how, I don’t really know why I didn’t. But I didn’t, you know, and it’s the first time. I mean, I’ve said it millions of times before, and nothing has happened.

WENNER: I imagine it gets to be a drag talking about why you smash your guitar.

TOWNSHEND: No, it doesn’t get to be a drag to talk about it. Sometimes it gets a drag to do it. I can explain it, I can justify it and I can enhance it, and I can do a lot of things, dramatize it and literalize it. Basically it’s a gesture which happens on the spur of the moment. I think, with guitar smashing, just like the performance itself; it’s a performance, it’s an act, it’s an instant and it really is meaningless.

WENNER: When did you start smashing guitars?

TOWNSHEND: It happened by complete accident the first time. We were just kicking around in a club which we played every Tuesday, and I was playing the guitar and it hit the ceiling. It broke, and it kind of shocked me ’cause I wasn’t ready for it to go. I didn’t particularly want it to go, but it went.

And I was expecting an incredible thing, it being so precious to me, and I was expecting everybody to go, “Wow, he’s broken his guitar, he’s broken his guitar,” but nobody did anything, which made me angry in a way and determined to get this precious event noticed by the audience. I proceeded to make a big thing of breaking the guitar. I pounded all over the stage with it, and I threw the bits on the stage, and I picked up my spare guitar and carried on as though I really meant to do it.

WENNER: Were you happy about it?

TOWNSHEND: Deep inside I was very unhappy because the thing had got broken. It got around, and the next week the people came, and they came up to me and they said, “Oh, we heard all about it, man; it’s ’bout time someone gave it to a guitar,” and all this kind of stuff. It kind of grew from there; we’d go to another town and people would say, “Oh yeah, we heard that you smashed a guitar.” It built and built and built and built and built and built until one day, a very important daily newspaper came to see us and said, “Oh, we hear you’re the group that smashes their guitars up. Well, we hope you’re going to do it tonight because we’re from the Daily Mail. If you do, you’ll probably make the front pages.”

This was only going to be like the second guitar I’d ever broken, seriously. I went to my manage, Kit Lambert, and I said, you know, “Can we afford it, can we afford it, it’s for publicity.” He said, “Yes, we can afford it, if we can get the Daily Mail.” I did it, and of course the Daily Mail didn’t buy the photograph and didn’t want to know about the story. After that I was into it up to my neck and have been doing it since.

WENNER: Was it inevitable that you were going to start smashing guitars?

TOWNSHEND: It was due to happen because I was getting to the point where I’d play and I’d play, and I mean, I still can’t play how I’d like to play. Then was worse. I couldn’t play the guitar; I’d listen to great music, I’d listen to all the people I dug, time and time again. When the Who first started we were playing blues, and I dug the blues and I knew what I was supposed to be playing, but I couldn’t play it. I couldn’t get it out. I knew what I had to play; it was in my head. I could hear the notes in my head, but I couldn’t get them out on the guitar. I knew the music, and I knew the feeling of the thing and the drive and the direction and everything.

It used to frustrate me incredibly. I used to try and make up visually for what I couldn’t play as a musician. I used to get into very incredible visual things where in order just to make one chord more lethal, I’d make it a really lethal-looking thing, whereas really, it’s just going to be picked normally. I’d hold my arm up in the air and bring it down so it really looked lethal, even if it didn’t sound too lethal. Anyway, this got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger until eventually I was setting myself incredible tasks.

WENNER: How did this affect your guitar playing?

TOWNSHEND: Instead I said, “All right, you’re not capable of doing it musically, you’ve got to do it visually.” I became a huge, visual thing. In fact, I forgot all about the guitar because my visual thing was more about my music than the actual guitar. I got to jump about, and the guitar became unimportant. I banged it and I let it feed back and scraped it and rubbed it up against the microphone, did anything; it wasn’t part of my act, even. It didn’t deserve any credit or any respect. I used to bang it and hit it against walls and throw it on the floor at the end of the act.

And one day it broke. It just wasn’t part of my thing, and ever since them I’ve never really regarded myself as a guitarist. When people come up to me and say like, “Who’s your favourite guitarist?” I say, “I know who my favourite guitarist is, but asking me, as a guitarist, forget it because I don’t make guitar-type comments. I don’t talk guitar talk, I just throw the thing around.” Today still, I’m learning. If I play a solo, it’s a game to me because I can’t play what I want to play. That’s the thing: I can’t get it out because I don’t practice. When I should be practicing, I’m writing songs, and when I’m writing songs, I should be practicing.

WENNER: You said you spend most of your time writing songs in your basement.

TOWNSHEND: A lot of writing I do on tour. I do a lot on airplanes. At home, I write a lot, obviously. When I write a song, what I usually do is work the lyric out first from some basic idea that I had, and then I get an acoustic guitar and I sit by the tape recorder and try to band it out as it comes. Try to let the music come with the lyrics. If I dig it, I want to add things to it, like I’ll add bass guitar or drums or another voice. This is really for my own amusement that I do this.

The reason “I Can See For Miles” came out good was because I sat down and made it good from the beginning. The fact that I did a lot of work on arrangements and stuff like that doesn’t really count. I think that unless the actual song itself is good, you know, you can do all kinds of incredible things to it, but you’re never gonna get it, not unless the meat and potatoes are there. Although I do fuck around in home studios and things like that, I think it’s of no importance; I don’t think it’s really got anything to do with what makes the Who the Who.

WENNER: Does what you write in your home studio ever out on records?

TOWNSHEND: Most of it gets out, but the recordings I make myself in my own studio don’t. They might in the future, but they would only come out if they had the Who on them. To put out a record of me banging away on a guitar or bass drums collectively and generally being a one-man band wouldn’t be a very good idea. I’d like to use my studio to record the group because interesting things happen in small environmental sound-recording situations like Sony tape recorders, for example, which don’t happen in studios. It’s a well-known fact.

WENNER: When you work out an arrangement and figure out the bass line and the various voices, is that just directly translated onto a record that would be released?

TOWNSHEND: More or less, but then we don’t really take it that grimly; I mean, what happens is I will suggest the bass riff on the demonstration record; John takes up and goes from there. But the bass (line) I would suggest on the demo, as I said earlier, would be very simple; it would be economical, tasteful and just a vehicle for the song, making the bass line, and, if I use the them, the piano or drum, as simple and effective as possible in putting the song across to the group.

Instead of me hacking my songs around to billions of publishers trying to get them to dig them, what I’ve got to do is get the rest of the band to dig my number. If I’ve got a number that I dig, I know that I’ve got to present it to them in the best light. That’s why I make my own recordings so when they first hear, it’s not me stoned out of my mind plunking away on a guitar trying to get my latest number across. It’s a finished work that might take me all night to get together, but nevertheless it’s gonna win them over.

I’m working on the lyrics now for the next album. When we get through that, all the lyrics cleaned out, we’ll start to work through the album. We’ll probably have do to it in short sections, like fifteen-minute sections. Ideally, I’d like to record one backing track for the whole album whether it lasts for two hours or two days. We sit down and we do it in one go, and then okay, we spend the next two years adding tarty voices or whatever it is that it takes to sell the record. But at least you know what’s happening in the background is real meat and immediate meat, and it’s part of the present.

The whole thing about recording is that a man feels slightly cheated anyway, because he’s getting a recording of something which has happened, so he feels like he’s getting something secondhand. If he thinks he’s being fucked around already, this is a whole different thing. A lot of people, I’m convinced, that buy records don’t realize what happens when a group records on an eight-track machine. They don’t realize that they record half of it one time, and then another eighth of it another time. They record it in eighths at different locations, and this ceases to become music to me.

WENNER: What other ideas in this field do you have?

TOWNSHEND: Well, the album concept in general is complex. I don’t know if I can explain it in my condition, at the moment. But it’s derived as a result of quite a few things. We’ve been talking about doing an opera, we’ve been talking about doing like albums, we’ve been talking about a whole lot of things, and what has basically happened is that we’ve condensed all of these ideas, all this energy and all these gimmicks, and whatever we’ve decided on for future albums, into one juicy package. The package I hope is going to be called “Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy.” It’s a story about a kid that’s born deaf, dumb and blind and what happens to him throughout his life. The deaf, dumb and blind boy is played by the Who, the musical entity. He’s represented musically, represented by a theme which we play, which starts off the opera itself, and then there’s a song describing the deaf, dumb and blind boy. But what it’s really all about is the fact that because the boy is “D, D & B,” he’s seeing things basically as vibrations which we translate as music. That’s really what we want to do: create this feeling that when you listen to the music you can actually become aware of the boy, and aware of what he is all about, because we are creating him as we play.

Yes, it’s a pretty far-out thing, actually. But it’s very, very endearing to me because the thing is . . . inside; the boy sees things musically and in dreams, and nothing has got any weight at all. He is touched from the outside, and he feels his mother’s touch, he feels his father’s touch, but he just interprets them as music. His father gets pretty upset that his kid is deaf, dumb and blind. He wants a kid that will play football and God knows what.

One night he comes in and he’s drunk, and he sits over the kid’s bed and he looks at him and he starts to talk to him, and the kid just smiles up, and his father is trying to get through to him, telling him about how the other dads have a kid that they can take to football and all this kind of crap, and he starts to say, “Can you hear me?” The kid, of course, can’t hear him. He’s groovin’ in this musical thing, this incredible musical thing; he’ll be out of his mind. Then there’s his father outside, outside of his body, and this song is going to be written by John. I hope John will write this song about the father who is really uptight now.

The kid won’t respond, he just smiles. The father starts to hit him, and at this moment the whole thing becomes incredibly realistic. On one side you have the dreamy music of the boy wasting through his nothing life. And on the other you have the reality of the father outside, uptight, but now you’ve got blows, you’ve got communication. The father is hitting the kid; musically then I want the thing to break out, hand it over to Keith – “This is your scene man, take it from here.”

And the kid doesn’t catch the violence. He just knows that some sensation is happening. He doesn’t feel the pain, he doesn’t associate it with anything. He just accepts it.

A similar situation happens later on in the opera, where the father starts to get the mother to take the kid away from home to an uncle. The uncle is a bit of a perv, you know. He plays with the kid’s body while the kid is out. And at this particular time the child has heard his own name; his mother called him. And he managed to hear the word: “Tommy.” He’s really got this big thing about his name, whatever his name is going to be, you know, “Tommy.” And he gets really hung up on his own name. He decides that this is the king and this is the goal. Tommy is the thing, man.

He’s going through this, and the uncle comes in and starts to go through a scene with the kid’s body, you know, and the boy experiences sexual vibrations, you know, sexual experience, and again it’s just basic music; it’s interpreted as music, and it is nothing more than music. It’s got no association with sleaziness or with undercover or with any of the things normally associated with sex. None of the romance, none of the visual stimulus, none of the sound stimulus. Just basic touch. It’s meaningless. Or not meaningless; you just don’t react, you know. Slowly but surely the kid starts to get it together, out of his simplicity, this incredible simplicity in his mind. He starts to realize that he can see, and he can hear, and he can speak; they are there, and they are happening all the time. And that all the time he has been able to hear and see. All the time it’s been there in front of him, for him to see.

This is the difficult jump. It’s going to be extremely difficult, but we want to try to do it musically. At this point, the theme, which has been the boy, starts to change. You start to realize that he is coming to the point where he is going to get over the top, he’s going to get over his hang-ups. You’re gonna stop monkeying around with songs about people being tinkered with, and with Father’s getting uptight, with Mother’s getting precious and things, and you’re gonna get down to the fact of what is going to happen to the kid.

The music has got to explain what happens, that the boy elevates and finds something which is incredible. To us, it’s nothing to be able to see and hear and speak, but to him, it’s absolutely incredible and overwhelming; this is what we want to do musically. Lyrically, it’s quite easy to do it; in fact, I’ve written it out several times. It makes great poetry, but so much depends on the music, so much. I’m hoping that we can do it. The lyrics are going to be okay, but every pitfall of what we’re trying to say lies in the music, lies in the way we play the music, the way we interpret, the way things are going during the opera.

The main characters are going to be the boy and his musical things; he’s got a mother and father and an uncle. There is a doctor involved who tries to do some psychiatric treatment on the kid which is only partly successful. The first two big events are when he hears his mother calling him and hears the word “Tommy,” and he devotes a whole part of his life to this one word. The second important event is when he sees himself in a mirror, suddenly seeing himself for the first time: He takes an immediate back step, bases his whole life around his own image. The whole thing then becomes incredibly introverted. The music and the lyrics become introverted, and he starts to talk about himself, starts to talk about his beauty. Not knowing, of course, that what he saw was him but still regarding it as something which belonged to him, and of course it did all of the time anyway.

It’s a very complex thing, and I don’t know if I’m getting it across.

WENNER: You are.

TOWNSHEND: Because I don’t feel at all together.

WENNER: I know you don’t look it, but you’re coming on very together.

TOWNSHEND: Good.

WENNER: This theme, not so dramatically, seems to be repeated in so many songs that you’ve written and the Who have performed – a young cat, our age, becoming an outcast from a very ordinary sort of circumstance. Not a “Desolation Row” scene, but a very common set of middle-class situations. Why does this repeat itself?

TOWNSHEND: I don’t know. I never really thought about that.

WENNER: There’s a boy with pimple problems and a chick with perspiration problems and so on.

TOWNSHEND: Most of these things just come from me. Like this idea I’m talking about right now, comes from me. These things are my ideas, it’s probably why they all come out the same; they’ve all got the same fuckups, I’m sure.

I can’t get my family together, you see. My family were musicians. There were essentially middle class, they were musicians, and I spent a lot of time with them when other kids’ parents were at work, and I spent a lot of time away from them when other kids had parents, you know. That was the only way it came together. They were always out for long periods. But they were always home for long periods, too. They were always very respectable – nobody ever stopped making me play the guitar and nobody ever stopped me smoking pot, although they advised me against it.

They didn’t stop me from doing anything that I wanted to do. I had my first fuck in the drawing room of my mother’s house. The whole incredible thing about my parents is that I just can’t place their effect on me, and yet I know that it’s there. I can’t say how they affected me. When people find out that my parents are musicians, they ask how it affected me. Fucked if I know; musically, I can’t place it, and I can’t place it in any other way. But I don’t even feel myself aware of a class structure, or an age structure, and yet I perpetually write about age structures and class structures. On the surface I feel much more concerned with racial problems and politics. Inside I’m much more into basic stuff.

WENNER: You must have thought about where it comes from if it’s not your parents. Was it the scene around you when you were young?

TOWNSHEND: One of the things which has impressed me most in life was the Mod movement in England, which was an incredible youthful thing. It was a movement of young people, much bigger than the hippie thing, the underground and all these things. It was an army, a powerful, aggressive army of teenagers with transport. Man, with these scooters and with their own way of dressing. It was acceptable, this was important; their way of dressing was hip, it was fashionable, it was clean and it was groovy. You could be a bank clerk, man, it was acceptable. You got them on your own ground. They thought, “Well, there’s a smart young lad.” And also you were hip, you didn’t get people uptight. That was the good thing about it. To be a mod, you had to have short hair, money enough to buy a real smart suit, good shoes, good shirts; you had to be able to dance like a madman. You had to be in possession of plenty of pills all the time and always be pilled up. You had to have a scooter covered in lamps. You had to have like an army anourak to wear on the scooter. And that was being a mod, and that was the end of the story.

The groups that you liked when you were a mod were the Who. That’s the story of why I dig the mods, man, because we were mods and that’s how we happened. That’s my generation, that’s how the song “My Generation” happened, because of the mods. The mods could appreciate the Beatles’ taste. They could appreciate their haircuts, their peculiar kinky things that they had going at the time.

What would happen is that the phenomena of the Who could invoke action. The sheer fact that four mods could actually form themselves into a group which sounded quite good, considering that most mods were lower-class garbagemen, you know, with enough money to buy himself Sunday best, you know, their people. Nowadays, okay, there are quite a few mod groups. But mods aren’t the kind of people that could play the guitar, and it was just groovy for them to have a group. Our music at the time was representative of what the mods dug, and it was meaningless rubbish.

We used to play, for example, “Heat Wave,” a very long version of “Smokestack Lightning,” and that song we sang tonight, “Young Man Blues,” fairly inconsequential kind of music which they could identify with and perhaps something where you banged your feet on the third beat or clapped your hands on the fifth beat, something so that you get the things to go by. I mean, they used to like all kinds of things. They were mods and we’re mods and we dig them. We used to make sure that if there was a riot, a mod-rocker riot, we would begin playing in that area. That was a place called Brighton.

WENNER: By the sea?

TOWNSHEND: Yes. That’s where they used to assemble. We’d always be playing there. And we got associated with the whole thing, and we got into the spirit of the whole thing. And, of course, rock & roll, the words wouldn’t even be mentioned; the fact that music would have any part of the movement was terrible. The music would come from the actual drive of the youth combination itself.

You see, as individuals these people were nothing. They were the lower, they were England’s lowest common denominators. Not only were they young, they were also lower-class young. They had to submit to the middle class way of dressing and way of speaking and way of acting in order to get the very jobs which kept them alive. They had to do everything in terms of what existed already around them. That made their way of getting something across that much more latently effective, the fact that they were hip and yet still, as far as Granddad was concerned, exactly the same. It made the whole gesture so much more vital. It was incredible. As a force, they were unbelievable. That was the Bulge, that was England’s Bulge; all the war babies, all the old soldiers coming back from war and screwing until they were blue in the face – this was the result. Thousands and thousands of kids, too many kids, not enough teachers, not enough parents, not enough pills to go around. Everybody just grooving on being a mod.

WENNER: How do you think that compares with what’s called today the American hippie scene?

TOWNSHEND: I think it compares. I think the hippie thing compares favorably, but it’s a different motivation. There are beloved figures. There is pot, there is acid, and there is the Maharishi, there is the Beatles, where is being anti-the-U.S.A., there are a whole lot of red herrings, which aren’t what it’s all about. What it is all about is the hippies, you know, what’s what it’s all about. The people, the actions, not the events, not the tripping out or the latest fad or the latest record or the latest trip or the latest thing to groove to. The thing is people.

This is what they seem to overlook. You see, this is the thing about the media barrage – you become aware only of the products around you because they’re glorified, and so that when somebody gets stoned, what they do is that they don’t groove to themselves, really, they just sit around and they dig everything that’s around them. They perhaps dig other people. They dig the way the room looks. The way the flowers look, the way the music sounds, the way the group performs, how good the Beatles are. “How nice that is.” This is the whole thing: they’re far too abject in outlook, they’re far too concerned with what is feeding into them and not so much with what they are. This is the difference between the mod thing in England and the hippie thing over here. The hippies are waiting for information, because information is perpetually coming in, and they sit there and wait for it.

This is the incredible thing about the States, man. To get stoned in England is an entirely different trip. I’m not saying that you get stoned and you dig yourself or anything. What you would do is you would get stoned, perhaps you’d walk out and look at a tree or a matchstick or something and come back and have a cup of tea and then go to bed, man. But over here, you just carry on regardless. You to go Orange Julius and you have an Orange Julius, and you watch TV and then you listen to some records, played very, very loud, and you know, it’s a whole different pattern, a whole different way.

The acceptance of what one already has is the thing. Whereas the mod thing was the rejection of everything one already had. You didn’t want to know about the fucking TV. “Take it away,” you know. You didn’t want to know about the politicians, you didn’t want to know about the war. If there had been a draft, man, they would have just disappeared. If there had been a draft, there wouldn’t have been mods, because something like that – the thing was that it was a sterile situation, it was perfect. It was almost too perfect.

Over here it’s imperfect, it’s not a sterile situation. The group themselves can’t become powerful because they can be weakened at so many points. They can be weakened by their education, by their spirituality, by their intelligence, by the sheer fact that Americans are more highly educated. The average American and the average Englishman, and the Englishmen I’m talking about are the people that probably left school when they were fourteen or fifteen. Some of them can’t even read or write. But yet they were mods, they were like – you see something nearer, I suppose, in what it’s like to be a Hell’s Angel, but not as much flash, not as much gimmicking, much less part of a huge machine.

WENNER: Can you pin down some of the elements that make rock & roll what it is, starting with the basic elements . . . it’s got the beat.

TOWNSHEND: It’s a bigger thing than that. The reason it’s got to have a beat is the fact that rock & roll music has got to have bounce; it’s got to have that thing to make you swing; it’s got to swing in an old-fashioned sense; in other words, it’s got to undulate. It’s got to have a rhythm which undulates. It can’t be a rhythm which you count down in a long drone like classical music. It doesn’t have to be physical because when you think of a lot of Beatles music, it’s very non-physical. Like Sgt. Pepper’s is an incredibly nonphysical album. If I hear something like the Electric Flag album, I jump up and dance, and I hardly get to hear the music because I’m so busy jumping up dancing.

But when I hear something like “Summertime Blues,” then I do both, then I’m into rock & roll; then I’m into a way of life, into that thing about being that age and grooving to that thing that he’s talking about which is, like, summertime and, like, not being able to get off work early and not being able to get out in the sunshine and not being able to borrow the car because Dad’s in a foul mood. All those frustrations of summer so wonderfully and so simply, so poetically, put in this incredible package, the package being rock & roll.

There’s the package, there’s the vehicle. Not only is it about some incredible poignant experiences, but it’s also a gas. The whole thing about rock & roll dynamism, in many ways, is the fact that if it does slow down, if it does start to review itself, if it takes any sort of perspective on life at all, it falls. As soon as someone makes any comment, for example, musically on something they’ve done before, they collapse.

WENNER: You talked about maturing and settling down. How has this affected you?

TOWNSHEND: It gives me a far more logical time aspect on the group. I’m not as frantically working as I used to. I always used to work with the thought in my mind that the Who were gonna last precisely another two minutes. If the tax man didn’t get us, then our own personality clashes would. I never would have believed that the Who would still be together today and, of course, I’m delighted and love it. Nothing can be better really than waking up in the morning and everything is still the same as it was the day before. That’s the best kind of thing you can have in life, consistency of some kind.

It always amazes me. As an individual, it’s given me incredible freedom and all. I know that I don’t have to do things like I used to Our manage will create artificial pressures to try and get me to operate, but I know they are artificial so they don’t work like they used to. “My Generation” was written under pressure; someone came to me and said, “Make a statement, make a statement, make a statement, make a statement, make a statement,” and I’m going “Oh, okay, okay, okay,” and I get “My Generation” together very quickly, like in a night – it feels like that. It’s a very blustering kind of blurting thing. A lot of our early records were. “I Can’t Explain” was a blurter and a bluster, and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” which was our second record, was just a brag, like, you know, nothing more. “Substitute” was a takeoff on Mick Jagger or something equally banal.

The whole structure of our early songs was very, very simple. Now, with less pressure, I have to create pressures for myself. I have to excite myself by myself. I have to say this is what we’re going to do, this is what you mustn’t so, this is what the Who are going to do, this is what you’ve got to get the Who to do, this is what you’ve got to ask the Who to do for you. You set yourself these pressures so that now the important thing is that the Who are the impetus behind the ideas, rather than the pressure of pop music being the impetus behind the music that we used to play, whereas now our music is far more realistically geared to the time in which our audience moves.

Pop audiences and pop musicians are geared to different time structures; they lead different lives entirely. They say it’s very difficult to go and see a group and feel totally in with that they’re doing because they’re on a different time trip. They are doing one gig out of a hundred gigs, whereas to the fan this is a very important occasion, like this is the only chance he’s gonna get to see, say, the Cream and never again in his life.

For the group, it’s another gig, and they’re going to be on the road in another ten minutes, and the fan is going to catch a section of something which as a whole is a complicated network to them. This is important to us in our compositions. The point is not to belittle each thing. It’s all very well to say, “Oh, well, it’s good to have the pressure because it’s the pressure that makes the music move and wild and groovy,” but the music becomes thrown-out, tossed-out ideas which aren’t really good. They are as much as you can give out. They are not a hundred percent.

If you slow down just a little bit and gear yourself to your audience, you can give them once hundred percent. If you do a slightly longer set on the stage, you can give all instead of having to cram a lot of unused energy into guitar smashing, for example. Unchanneled energy or misdirected energy is incredible in pop music, incredible. Like the Beatles know how to channel their fucking energy. I’m convinced that there’s not a lot actually coming out, it’s just that we get all of it. We get a hundred perfect Beatles album. We don’t get any halves; they know that they are in a position and they’re got it together and they do.

WENNER: What groups do you enjoy the most?

TOWNSHEND: It’s difficult to say. I always forget the groups that I really dig. I like to watch a band with a punch, with drive, who know what they’re doing, with a tight sound. I used to like to watch Jimi Hendrix; sometimes he worries me now because he often gets amplifier hang-ups and stuff. I can’t stand that, it kills me. I used to like to watch Cream until they got sad and fucked up. I still dig to watch a group like the Young Rascals, who just walk on with their incredibly perfect sound and their incredibly lovely organ and they’re so easy, the way their numbers flow out, just to watch a group stand and go through their thing so beautifully. I dig that. I dig a guy like Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. She’s been standing still and singing the blues all night, and then when she’s really into it she’ll do a tiny little dance and just get her little feet going, very slightly; just a little jog, and in terms of what she’s doing with her voice, it’s an incredible gesture and really goes mad. I dig Mick Jagger, who I think is an incredible show, and Arthur Brown I think is an incredible show, too. What I dig in a performance, in an event, is essentially to be communicated to, to feel part of an audience. I always feel like an audience because I am an audience if I am watching anything, but I like to feel alongside the other members of the things, I like to feel a part of the audience; I like to feel that I’m being effective as a member of the audience. I don’t mind being asked to clap my fucking hands, let’s get that straight. I like to clap my hands, and it doesn’t get my uptight if someone says clap or sing or shout or scream or do what you want to do. That’s exactly what I want to do, and if I feel like jumping up and down and dancing, I don’t want everyone telling me that I’m bringing them down or that they can’t listen to the music or something. People should be an audience, and if it’s time-to-get-up-and-dance-time, everybody should do it at the same time.

This happened when Otis Redding appeared, that’s what happened. When he wanted them to sit down he said, “And now we’re going to play a soulful tune,” and sang in a soulful way and was dead still, and when he wanted them to get up and dance he said, “Come on, clap your hands, get up and dance,” and they did, man, grooved right along with him.

When you’re listening to Ravi Shankar, you know what you’ve got to do. When you’re in the Who’s audience, you know – I like to know where I am. I like to go and see a group and know what my role is. I like to know whether or not I’m supposed to listen attentively, whether I’m supposed to groove, whether I’m supposed to do anything constructive, whether I’m invited up to jam or what. I like to know where I’m am. It’s usually the most professional groups that give you this feeling.

WENNER: Performers like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, all are tremendously physical, tremendously sensual, tremendously involved with very sexual things. Does this characterize rock & roll?

TOWNSHEND: It must! It must. I mean, it does. Period. It embodies it, it’s part of its life. Life revolves, of not around it, within it, if not within it, without it, but definitely along with it. Something about rock & roll has to do with sex and everything to do with sex, like becoming together and the parting and this kind of thing. The whole thing about polluting a chick and then waving goodbye. The whole process of sex is embodied in just the rock & roll rhythm – like gospel music or like native chants or something. Just banging on the table is like it’s the demand, and it’s also the satiation as well. You bang on the table and in the same process you masturbate, you know. At the end of the show you’re finished, you know, you’ve had it. You’ve come your lot, and the show’s over.

“Rock me baby until my back ain’t got no bone.” That is the line. Man, it’s such a funny line, I can never believe it. I imagine some very skinny, wizened old Negro blues singer singing that in a very frail old voice: “Rock me baby ’til my back ain’t got no bone.”

WENNER: I forget if I read this or whether it is something Glyn Johns told me. You and the group came out of this rough, tough area, were very restless and had this thing: You were going to show everybody; you were a kid with a big nose, and you were going to make all these people love it, love your big nose.

TOWNSHEND: That was probably a mixture of what Glyn Johns told you and an article I wrote. In fact, Glyn was exactly the kind of person I wanted to show. Glyn used to be one of the people who, right when I walked in, he’d be on the stage singing. I’d walk in because I dug his group. I’d often go to see him, and he would announce through the microphone, “Look at the bloke in the audience with that huge nose” and of course the whole audience would turn around and look at me, and that would be acknowledgement from Glyn.

When I was in school the geezers that were snappy dressers and got chicks like years before I ever even thought they existed would always like to talk about my nose. This seemed to be the biggest thing in my life: my fucking nose, man. Whenever my dad got drunk, he’d come up to me and say, “Look, son, you know, looks aren’t everything,” and shit like this. He’s getting drunk, and he’s ashamed of me because I’ve got a huge nose, and he’s trying to make me feel good. I know it’s huge, and of course it became incredible, and I became an enemy of society. I had to get over this thing. I’ve done it, and I never believe it to this day, but I do not think about my nose anymore. And if I had said this when I was a kid, if I ever said to myself, “One of these days you’ll go through a whole day without once thinking that your nose is the biggest in the world, man” – you know, I’d have laughed.

It was huge. At that time, it was the reason I did everything. It’s the reason I played the guitar – because of my nose. The reason I wrote songs was because of my nose, everything, so much. I eventually admitted something in an article where I summed it up far more logically in terms of what I do today. I said that what I wanted to do was distract attention away from my nose to my body and make people look at my body instead of at my face – turn my body into a machine. But by the time I was into visual things like that, anyway, I’d forgotten all about my nose and a big ego trip, and I thought, well, if I’ve got a big nose, it’s a groove and it’s the greatest thing that can happen because, I don’t know, it’s like a lighthouse or something. The whole trip had changed by then, anyway.

WENNER: What is your life like today?

TOWNSHEND: Mainly laughs, actually, mainly laughs. The Who on tour is a very difficult trip: it’s a delicate one, and it could be dangerous. So it’s best to keep this on the humorous side. If we take this situation seriously, we tend to feedback. Like one person gets a slight down and the rest of us get a slight down, and so we have to keep spirits up even if it’s false, even if it’s jokes that aren’t funny, just in order to get someone to laugh. That is what it’s all about to me now.

WENNER: What is going to happen to rock & roll?

TOWNSHEND: I’m looking to a couple of people. I’ve heard some of the Rolling Stones’ tracks, and although I dig them I don’t think they’re anything more than what they are which in incredible, delicious and wonderful rock & roll and well overdue from them. The Rolling Stones should always be a nonprogressive group. I don’t think that the Rolling Stones should be concerned with what they’re doing in pop. That’s what I dig about them.

Dylan, for example, could create a new thing. I think if he made his next record with the Big Pink, that could be interesting. That might create some new things in rock & roll. Dylan’s thing about writing the lyric and then picking up the guitar up and just pumping out the song as it comes out is a direct guide to what will happen in music.

People are going to want music to be more realistic, more honest and more of a gift from the heart, rather than a gift from the lungs, as it were. Instead of wanting to go and watch Ginger Baker run six miles before your very eyes, you’d rather dig what he’s doing. I think this is what’s happening.

WENNER: People are always trying to find a parallel with jazz. Do you see what happened to jazz, happening here?

TOWNSHEND: No. Jazz totally absolutely boiled down to a different kettle of fish. Because of the audiences. Audiences were a different breed entirely. If you’re talking about the days when the people used to do the Black Bottom, then maybe you’re getting nearer to what pop music is equivalent to today.

Pop is more than the Black Bottom; pop is more than short skirts. The effect pop has on society is incredible. It’s a power thing. It’s now in a position that if everyone that was thinking in pop music terms were to stand end to end, they’d go around the world ten times. This is what pop music is about. Pop music is basically big. It concerns far more than the twenty-year-olds. It concerns everybody now. It’s lasted too long.

Jazz, in its entirety – modern jazz, progressive jazz – hasn’t had the effect on the world in fucking twenty-five years that pop has had in a year today. Geniuses like Charlie Parker are completely unrecognized by the world, and yet groups like the Rolling Stones – very normal, very regular guys – are incredibly well known. This is true of everything. The whole system is a different thing entirely. The audiences then were smaller; they became snobbish, racist. They were pompous jazz audiences. They became slow to catch on to new ideas. They became prejudiced, dogmatic, everything bad. While pop music is everything good.

Pop is everything; it’s all sugar and spice, it really is. Pop audiences are the cream of today’s music-listening audiences. They’re not the classical snobs who sit by their poxy Fisher amplifiers and listen to Leonard Bernstein conducting. Not knowing that Leonard Bernstein is completely stoned out of his crust and grooving to high heaven, thinking, “What a fine, excellent recording this is, really fine,” and not knowing what the fucking hell is going on.

This is what the jazz listener was like. Okay, he’d have a few beers and he’d go down to the fucking Village Gate and shout one “yeah” in a night, when he thought that someone had played something quite clever. But he didn’t know what they were into. I just about know what they’re into today, listening to some recordings that Charlie Parker made nearly twenty-five years ago. God knows what people thought then.

Pop’s audience is right alongside; they know what’s happening. Pop hasn’t confused anybody, it really hasn’t. it’s kept with the people, it’s kept in time with the people. It’s going out now; the panic now is that the people feel it going out of step. They felt it go out of step in England and completely rebelled.

People just felt that pop was getting out of their hands; groups like the Pink Floyd were appearing, scary group, psychedelic. So they completely freaked out. Nothing like the down-home Rolling Stones who used to have a good old-fashioned piss against a good old-fashioned garage attendant. This Pink Floyd – what were they all about? With their flashing lights and all taking trips and one of them’s psycho. “What’s this all about? That’s not my bag.”

So they all turn over to good old Engelbert Humperdinck who is a phenomenon of out age in England. Yet it’s a sign of the revolt; it’s a sign of the fact that the music got out of step with the people.

WENNER: Why did it happen in England?

TOWNSHEND: Europe is a piss place for music, and it’s a complete incredible fluke that England has got all the bad points of Nazi Germany, all the pompous pride of France, all the old-fashioned patriotism of the old Order of the Empire. It’s got everything that’s got nothing to do with music. All the European qualities which should enhance, which should come out in music, England should be able to benefit by, but it doesn’t.

And just all of a sudden, bang! wack! zap-swock out of nowhere. There it is: the Beatles. Incredible. How did they ever appear then on the poxy little shit-stained island? Out of the Germans you can accept Wagner; out of the French you can accept Debussy; and even out of the Russians you can accept Tchaikovsky. All these incredible people. Who’s England got? Purcell? He’s a gas, but he’s one of the only guys we’ve got, and Benjamin Britten today who copies Purcell. There’s so few people.

And all of a sudden there’s the Beatles, with their little funny “we write our own songs.” “Don’t you have ghost writers?”

It’s difficult to talk about rock & roll. It’s difficult because it’s essentially a category and a category which embodies something which transcends the category. The category itself becomes meaningless. The words “rock & roll” don’t begin to conjure up any form of conversation in my mind because they are so puny compared to what they are applied to. But “rock & roll” is by far a better expression than “pop.” It means nothing.

It’s a good thing you’ve got a machine, a radio that puts out good rock & roll songs, and it makes you groove through the day. That’s the game, of course: When you are listening to a rock & roll song the way you listen to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” or something similar, that’s the way you should really spend your whole life. That’s how you should be all the time: just grooving to something simple, something basically good, something effective and something not too big. That’s what life is.

Rock & roll is one of the keys, one of the many, many keys to a very complex life. Don’t get fucked up with all the many keys. Groove to rock & roll, and then you’ll probably find one of the best keys of all.

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Pete Townshend Interview In Rolling Stone 1968 | , | Leave a comment