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Hash’s Faves: “Seven Come Eleven”

10 Jul

Charlie-Christian-solosThis week’s pick is one of the tunes that was on that reel-to-reel bootleg that introduced me to jazz; “Seven Come Eleven,” by Charlie Christian, with the Benny Goodman Sextet, Benny on clarinet, Christian on guitar, Lionel Hampton on vibes, Fletcher Henderson on piano, Artie Bernstein on bass and Nick Fatool on drums.

Even at this late date I think it’s impossible to overstate Christian’s impact. He was one of those rare players that completely revolutionized his instrument, like Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Blanton, Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Jaco Pastorius or Buddy Emmons. Certainly there had been guitarists who played single-note lines, and Christian wasn’t the first to amplify his guitar, but Charlie’s melodic and rhythmic vocabulary was unprecedented. This may be a bit of a stretch, but I hear similarities between him and Ornette Coleman; both came out of the Southwest, and there’s a certain stringent, desert-like aridity to their lines.

I also think that at this late date in jazz history it’s easy to forget what a great player Goodman was. I think he suffers from what I think of as the Miles Davis syndrome, in that people (well, us musicians, anyway) automatically think of his terrible reputation as a person and turn our minds off when we hear his playing. But, you know, the cat could play, and another extremely important thing to remember is that, even though he sometimes treated the black members of his bands badly he was among the first white bandleaders to hire black musicians, and he was certainly the leader with the highest visibility (Jimmy Durante was actually the first).

Producer John Hammond, one of music’s great talent scouts, learned about Christian through the pianist Mary Lou Williams, and recommended him to Goodman. His tenure with Goodman thrust him into the spotlight; his recordings with Goodman have been the Holy Grail for jazz guitarists since their creation. Sometime in the early 1940’s he started making the jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse in New York city, and he’s credited as being one of the inventors of bebop; indeed, the term itself is thought to be Christian’s description of his playing style.

He died at the age of 25 from tuberculosis. His influence extends beyond the world of jazz; blues, rock, rockabilly, country and bluegrass guitarists all owe Christian a debt.

You can listen to it here:

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at


Steve Hashimoto


“Cards on the Table”

15 May

I’m posting audio here of “Cards on the Table”, which I just recorded with a little help from my friends. The lyrics are below the song and some details about the recording below them:


                   CARDS ON THE TABLE































The guitars, bass and lead vocals were recorded in Garage Band on my computer and then transferred to Pro Tools at The Cave Recording in Evanston. There Robert Marshall recorded the drums, harmony vocal, and saxello parts, by Andy Mac Crimmon, Micki Broeker, and John Temmerman respectively. And a great job they all did.

The lyrics pretty much speak for themselves, and surprised me when they came out. Sometimes you don’t know what you feel till you say it.








Hash’s Faves: “Things We Said Today”

1 May
Things_We_Said_TodayThis week’s pick is some Beatles music, the Lennon/McCartney composition ”Things We Said Today.” It was written and recorded in 1964, originally intended for use in the film A Hard Day’s Night, but didn’t make the cut. It was released on the soundtrack album, though. This was still in the time period when the boys were recording as a self-contained unit, so it’s John Lennon on guitar, piano and vocals; Paul McCartney on bass and lead vocals; George Harrison on guitar and vocals; and Ringo Starr on drums and tambourine.

I’ve been participating in a class on the Beatles with guitarist/vocalist/composer John Kimsey and I’ve come away from it with lots to ponder. One of the subjects he covers is the different approaches to composition that Lennon and McCartney use; although, as in life, there are always exceptions, a rule of thumb is that Lennon’s melodies are more horizontal and static than Paul’s, and that Paul tends to use more sophisticated chord changes. Another general rule of thumb is that John’s lyrics tends to be more inward-looking while Paul’s are more extroverted and cheerful. And in a way, those two rules-of-thumb are intertwined; John tends to write melodies that won’t detract too much from his lyrics, while Paul is a bit of a show-off; he has a wider vocal range and he likes to use it. Paul is also famous for occasionally coming up with melodies and plugging in nonsense words until he can get around to writing proper words, the most famous example being ”Yesterday,” the original working lyric of which was “Scrambled eggs, oh my baby how I love your legs.” Applying these rules of thumb, however, would result in misdirection here. One might assume that John wrote the A sections, which are relatively static, while Paul wrote the free-ranging bridge, but most sources say that this is entirely a Paul composition. One might also think that John had a hand in the lyrics, which are a bit gloomy and introspective, but again they’re entirely Paul’s work.

The lyrics, I’m sure, were the soundtrack to many an angst-ridden adolescent’s life; I know that every time I broke up with a girlfriend this was my go-to song.

You can listen to it here:

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at


Hash’s Faves: “When Doves Cry”

24 Apr

princeOf course by now all of you know that Prince died, suddenly and unexpectedly, this week. I know that his music is pretty far afield from what some of you folks listen to, but his impact, not only on the music scene but on American pop culture in general was enormous. One could argue that he changed the entire texture of pop music through his production techniques and arranging savvy. His integration of Hendrix-influenced guitar, new-wave instrumentation, hippie philosophy, punk attitude and funk grooves drawn from classic James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Ohio Players and The Gap Band provided the template not only for the artists that he produced or wrote hits for, like The Time, Chaka Khan, Sheila E, Sheena Easton and Wendy and Lisa, but for other producers like Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Babyface and L.A. Reid. And it goes without saying that Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson pretty much owe their careers to Prince.

Culturally, I think many people forget how totally outrageous he was when he first hit the scene, with his over-the-top androgyny and his sexually explicit songs like “Head” and “Soft and Wet” (co-written with Chris Moon). With his death many LGBT people have come forward to say that Prince gave them the courage to be themselves. His bands were always multi-ethnic and multi-gendered as well, and although he projected a Svengali-like image when managing the careers of female artists like Appolonia, Vanity and Sheena Easton, it was always obvious that he had great respect for the female players in his bands. (Many hard-core jazz fans are unaware that Wendy, of Prince side-project Wendy & Lisa, and longtime guitarist in Prince’s band The Revolution, is the daughter of L.A. jazz and studio pianist Michael Melvoin.)

He was capable of playing (and often did) all of the instruments on his recordings; he was not only a great rock and funky rhythm guitarist but a stanky bass player, a drummer capable of playing or programming irresistible grooves, and a more-than-serviceable keyboard player. And, of course, he could sang! The world of music will miss him.

In his honor, this week’s pick is his “When Doves Cry,” from his 1984 album Purple Rain. Prince composed it and plays all instruments on the track; there are female background vocals (I think, although they could also be Prince), but I couldn’t find any credits in my cursory search.

Prince wrote this song specifically to go with a scene in the Purple Rain movie that had no Prince-When-Doves-Crymusic yet; the Prince mythology has it that he wrote it overnight and recorded it the next day. The texture of the song is remarkably open, and influenced pop music production enormously. It’s mostly Linn drum machine, electric guitar and very sparse synths. It was probably the first hit dance record to not have a bass part; Prince has said that he recorded one initially but that he thought it sounded “too conventional” so he took it out. But the textural space is one of his trademarks; quite a lot of his music, although there might be a lot going on, is very carefully arranged and produced to sound open. All of the rhythm parts, whether they’re drums or drum machines, percussion, guitar, bass or keyboards are carefully orchestrated to stay out of each other’s way. I think Prince would have been a hell of a big-band arranger, and that’s one of the things we’ll never have a chance to know now.

The lyrics refer obliquely to Prince’s troubled childhood and his parents’ relationship. I say this with the greatest respect, but Prince was a master of image projection; he knew how to let his music show tantalizing glimpses of his personal life without letting the listener all the way in. In this may have been influences by John Lennon and Bob Dylan, and he paved the way for Madonna, Sinead O’Connor, Adele and other singers who wrote confessional lyrics.

You can listen to it here:


This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at


Steve Hashimoto

CD Graphics & Jamming

18 Apr

Chicago bassist, Steve Hashimoto, recently wrote about his experiences doing CD graphic design, and compared them his work as a bass man. I’m reprinting what he said, below, and including samples of his graphics work.


Steve Hashimoto

As some of you know, I’m a graphic designer as well as a musician. I don’t think I have an identifiable style in graphic design; whether that’s good or bad I can’t say. Some of my favorite designers do have a style that I can identify immediately: Herb Lubalin, Reid Miles, Seymour Chwast, Michael Dorét, Milton Glaser, Gerard Huerta, The Hipgnosis Studio, all produced distinctive work. On the other hand, quite a lot of my favorite designers, like Paul Rand, George Lois and Lou Dorfsman were more chameleonic, producing work to fulfill a variety of purposes. And that’s what I think I do.

If you check out the samples below, and you’ll see that my clients have included jazz musicians, rock bands, country singers, new-age artists, easy-listening singers, singer/songwriters, and some not-easily-classifiable people. When I design a package I try to take everything into account, but oftentimes I’ll have no idea what the music is like; sometimes the clients don’t want a stranger to hear anything until it’s actually released, fearing internet leaks, and sometimes there’s just no time. I usually know the artist and most, if not all, of the sidemen, but sometimes not. But what I really go on is gut instinct; what the CD’s title is, what the artist or manager can tell me about the music, and what the genre is. I really liken what I do to how I operate as a musician; when I’m recording, I always hope that the first take will be the best, if not technically then at least conceptually, and that we can fine tune it along the way. Both in my music and in my visual art I tend to find that an idea can be worked to death, and I hope that my clients will like whatever my first idea is.

Again, equating my music and my design work, I have constraints to work within. Budget and time, obviously, but, just as when I’m playing a song and have to conform to general rules of harmony and theory, the structure of the song, the chord changes, tempo, etc., in a graphics job I have to know the lay of the land. Every CD manufacturing company has a proprietary set of templates to work with, and that’s actually how I get a lot of work. A lot of musicians are very gifted visual artists as well, painters or photographers, and feel like they can do their own project, but once they get into the template they find that it’s much more daunting a task then they initially thought. There are esoteric things to know like what color space to work in, what format or program the manufacturer wants to see the final artwork delivered in, bleeds and trims and folds. I’m happy to act like a carpenter, working from the artist’s blueprints; quite a few of my favorite jobs have been that type. But I also love it when a client says “Do whatever you want.”

I run into problems, of course; a lot of clients simply have no spatial perception. They have


4-page insert

a budget for a 4-page insert (one piece of paper folded in half) and they have 12 pages of Microsoft Word copy that they want crammed into it. Or they have a piece of art that a friend or spouse did and the dimensions just don’t want to fit. They have a portrait photograph and there’s not enough background; they don’t understand that for artwork to “bleed”, or print to the edge of the paper, that it actually has to extend past the edge of the paper and that the excess will be physically trimmed off (because of this kind of problem, which is probably the one I encounter the most, I’ve had to learn a lot of Photoshop tricks). They’re married to a particular font that is horrible. In cases like these I put my jobbing hat on and I just do what I can to either make things work, explain why it’s impossible or present an alternative that’s so brilliant that they immediately see the light. And, of course, sometimes the answer is “No, do what I want,” and I do what I can, and wind up with a job that I’ll never use in my portfolio.


front & back

Another way that I think my music and my design are similar is that, when I solo on a jazz tune, I hope that it won’t be predictable. Of course all of us have little licks that we tend to play, and you can’t be brilliantly original every night, sometimes you’re just vamping. But I try, in both of my disciplines, to be creative, and I always hope that lightning will strike; that I’ll be playing ”It Had To Be You” for the 2,000th time and the singer lets me play a solo and the Gods of Jazz whisper in my ear and I play a solo unlike any I’ve ever played. I hope that when a client contacts me to design their project that the heavens will open for a second and the entire design gets beamed to my brain. It could happen, right?

Anyway, I dearly love the work; every project is fun, and when I finish one I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it comes off the presses. You could do worse than hiring me if you’re thinking of making a CD. I have one other special skill that many people overlook or minimize, but I think it’s important. I once had a client submit a project and he had misspelled not only most of the musicians’ names (I knew every single one of them) but other important items like song titles and names of musical styles (I fixed everything, of course). Many designers wouldn’t know the difference and/or wouldn’t care – “It’s not my yob, man!” But I care. So give me a call.


This post is reprinted from Steve’s free weekly e-newsletter, News From The Trenches. If you’d like to get on its on its mailing list, just contact him at You can also reach him there if you’re interested in having him do graphics for your CD. More examples of his graphics work appear below:




















Kent McDaniel

26 Mar

at the heartland

 Guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Kent McDaniel plays blues, roots rock, country, and jazz.  He works as a single, as a duo with his wife Dorothy sharing the vocals and adding flute and keyboards, or with a drummer and bassist as The McDaniel Trio.

An SIU grad originally from Metropolis, Kent stayed in Carbondale several years after graduation playing music full time. He then moved to Chicago, where he played for many years. Since moving back to Carbondale recently, he’s appeared regularly at such venues as PKs, Tres Hombres, 17th Street Bar B Q, Fuzzy’s, and Brews Brothers and on WDBX’s Lonesome Roys’s Country Hoedown. He also hosts Down Home Cookin’ Friday afternoons on WDBX. And he produced the popular recent album by blues legend Tawl Paul, That’s Just how I Am, for which he also provided the lead guitar and wrote five songs.

Kent’s original songs stream for free at Band Camp

Below are two videos of him performing live.  The first one shows him performing as a single and singing some country. Under it are audio recordings of two songs from a recent live appearance  on WDBX radio by Kent and his wife Dorothy. You’ll hear how they sound as a duo on these. Below those is a video of Kent with a drummer and bassist playing as a trio at the Custer Street Fair in Evanston, Illinois. 


Feelin’ Single/Seeing Double (Recorded at home for a Closed Mic Fundraiser)

Audio Recording of 2  Songs from Kent and Dorothy’s recent Live Performance on WDBX

Pride & Joy (Kent McDaniel Trio at Custer Street Fair in Evanston, IL.)

Re: Colin Harper’s “Dazzling Stranger”

20 Mar


Bert Jansch

My old pal David Ashcraft gave me another great book by Colin Harper, the author of the John McLaughlin biography Bathed In Lightning. This one is pretty far afield from the McLaughlin bio but it turns out to be surprisingly of a piece; it’s a bio of the seminal English folk musician Bert Jansch, titled Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival.

Jansch is one of my favorite musicians, the leader of the band Pentangle, and although I never considered him much of a blues player, he certainly was in the thick of the English folk revival of the 60’s.

How does this relate at all to McLaughlin, you might ask? Well, Harper is an almost obsessive researcher, and the simple answer is that Jansch and McLaughlin both kind of started as young, rank amateurs on the London scene of the early 60’s. Their paths surely crossed, as both were also session players in London in the early 60’s; Jansch not so much as McLaughlin, but he did record with Donovan as well as some other English artists. But what I’m finding fascinating about the book (I’m only into the 2nd chapter) is Harper’s tracing of the lineage of the folk scene, which has connections across the pond to the United States, and, of course, is responsible for a lot of pollination of the English pop scene.

The English fascination with blues, evidently, really started with Big Bill Broonzy, who played several gigs in the British Isles. The English blues scene is generally said to have been started by Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner; although I’ve known about them for years, this book provides a real timeline and framework for their lives. Davies, who is generally acknowledged as the first English blues harmonica player, was born in 1932, and died, tragically young, in 1964, before he was able to see the enormous influence on rock music that he had. Korner, born in 1928, was a guitarist who did live to see his musical “children” grow up to conquer the pop music scene; his band Blues Incorporated nurtured young performers kind of like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers did in the jazz field: musicians like Charlie Watts, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Long John Baldry, Graham Bond, Danny Thompson, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Geoff Bradford, Rod Stewart, John Mayall, Jimmy Page, Lol Coxhill, Dick Morrissey, John Surman and Mike Zwerin all passed through.

The English music scene was smaller, of course, than the American scene; it was, after all, mostly centered around London. Before the blues revival, but related to it because Broonzy was presented in concert as an American singer of folk songs, what was called the English Folk Revival really had its roots in the post-World War I years. Soho in London became a kind of Bohemian center, drawing people like Dylan Thomas. Post World War II musicologists like Ewan MacColl, A.L. Lloyd, Martin Carthy and The Watersons, among many others, started a movement, sometimes as a reaction against the incursions of American music and sometimes not, to discover and preserve the traditional musics of the Isles. (Similar movements were a’bornin’ in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dublin and Belfast.) There was a healthy diplomatic connection between America and the U.K., though; American folklorist Alan Lomax spent time in London along with Pete Seeger’s half-sister Peggy, who married Ewan MacColl.

Another thing that I found interesting was the influence of Communism in England’s folk51AjwFpNOTL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_ scene; I think England is much more politicized than we are, and many of that first generation of English folk musicians were unabashedly Communist. In America, of course, The Weavers had their careers destroyed by the McCarthy pogroms, and seminal New York folk musician Dave Van Ronk, in his excellent autobiography The Mayor of MacDougal Street recalls how leftist politics were part of the DNA of the Greenwich Village folk movement.

Broonzy, Leadbelly, Josh White, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were folk music heroes in England, and American jazz was also very popular, but many of the aspiring English musicians couldn’t quite grasp the harmonic complexity of jazz or the African polyrhythmic subtleties of the blues, so when they learned songs from the afore-mentioned artists they tended to simplify them, both harmonically and rhythmically, and that’s how skiffle music was born (or that’s one theory, at least). Skiffle was enormously popular, and here’s where the matrix starts: Just about every English rock musician of note in the 60’s started out either in a skiffle band (McLaughlin, the various Beatles) or in a blues band (the Rolling Stones, Clapton,

The genealogies at this point in time all start to cross: Rod Stewart worked with Long John Baldry, who had performed early in his career at concerts that MacColl presented; Davies and Korner were matriculating students in and out of their bands; the influential guitarist Davy Graham was starting to incorporate elements of Indian music into his playing; bandleaders like Graham Bond and Georgie Fame were employing rhythm sections like Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker; John McLaughlin was playing sessions, skiffle and jazz gigs; Ronnie Scott was employing players of all stripes at his famous jazz club; Jimmie Page and John Paul Jones were doing session work; American singer/songwriter Paul Simon was lurking around in London.

One can point at specific songs as results of all of this intermingling. Simon appropriated Martin Carthy’s arrangement of the traditional song “Scarborough Fair” and Davy Graham’s signature solo guitar piece “Angie” and had much more success with them than either of the Brits could ever dream of (and sparking much long-held resentment, although I do think that Graham at least was compensated). The Animals nicked Van Ronk’s arrangement of “House Of The Rising Sun,” which he had evidently in turn borrowed from the American folk-blues singer Eric Von Schmidt. When Jimmie Page started his mega-group Led Zeppelin, one of the songs on their debut album, “Black Mountain Side,” was a blatant copy of Jansch’s “Blackwater Side,” which in turn was a hybrid of original writer Annie Briggs’ version and a version by future Pentangle mate John Renbourn. (To his karmic credit, Jansch always seemed relatively unfazed by Page’s theft, saying “When you sell your music, you sell your soul. I prefer to share mine.”)

A second wave of English folkies would electrify the music, bands like Fairport Convention, Lindisfarne and Steeleye Span, partially as a reaction against the English blues players and in recognition of the accomplishments in America of The Band. Many of the English musicians respected The Band’s attempt to get back to the roots of Americana, and felt that the traditions of the English Isles had plenty to offer. Another thing that I’m finding interesting is that many of the earliest figures in the English scene were very much children of the period BETWEEN World Wars I and II, which puts a very different spin on the way that they processed the world around them. I think this accounts for the high incidence of Communism.

On the other hand, the earliest figures of the pop scene were very much children of World War II, an experience that we in America can scarcely imagine; if they grew up in London they grew up in a city that was under attack by the Luftwaffe, and following the war they experienced years of forced austerity, as opposed to America, whose economy was stronger than it had ever been. Jansch talks about having to attempt to build his own first guitar, since there was no way he could ever afford to buy one. Some of the earliest skiffle bands consisted of more-or-less homemade instruments. Many of the folk pioneers tell of gigs that literally paid nothing; at least when Bob Dylan played what were called the Basket joints in Greenwich Village he might go home with 4 or 5 bucks in tips, and in one of his early taking blues songs he recalls that his first paid gig in New York was as a harmonica player for a dollar a day. This period of English austerity might partially explain the rock star excesses of the 70’s.

The book is, as I say, obsessively researched, and it might not be your cuppa;, but since I already know and love a lot of this music and many of these musicians I’m really enjoying it. If you’re a Zeppelin or Richard Thompson or Cream or Traffic fan, there’s a lot of deep information here that might interest you. Thanks, Dave!

Steve Hashimoto

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at


“Barsoom” (A Filk Song)

23 Feb



This is the edition of A Princess of Mars that I first read

 I’m posting a recording  of  “Barsoom,”  a filk song Gary Robe ran in his fanzine Tennessee Trash for the Southern Fandom Press Alliance (SFPA) a few years back. At the time, I commented on it in my zine, Dumbfounding Stories, and Gary’s next issue featured a revised version of the lyrics, which I also commented on. This process continued back and forth in our zines for almost a year. For trufans and Burroughs Bibliophiles the title will be a tipoff: the song concerns Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian novels. Many moons now, I been meaning to record Gary’s finished version of the lyrics. When I got ready to finally do it, I noticed that his finished product was one verse shorter than John Prine’s “Paradise,” to which the music of “Barsoom” is set. I came up with another verse for the recording (verse two), and I made two or three tweaks to Gary’s words–which I hope he’ll forgive me.

I hope you’ll click on the audio icon below and check out the lyrics beneath it. If you like filk, and especially if you like filk and Edgar Rice Burroughs, I think you’ll be glad you did.




A big box of books handed down generations

We found Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars

All summer we spent meeting adventure

With Captain John Carter and his green buddy Tars


And Edgar won’t you send me ‘neath the moons of Barsoom

In the red desolation with Dejah and Tars

I’m sorry, cadet, you’re too late to go there

The lander’s cold data has turned it to Mars!

We flew in airships, rode thoats cross the wastelands

Lived by our wits and our swords of cold steel

Faced foes and monsters and found our one true love

It was larger than life and realer than real


So what can you do with a dusty dead planet?

Make it our second home with some water and air!

It’ll take some nerve and a few generations

But someday we’ll send John Carter up there!


Grandpa will you see me to the Moons of New Barsoom?

The colony’s ready; I’m starting to pack!

Heads up, Grandson; just get up on that spaceship!

Cause the Terraform Project’s done brought it all back!


And Edgar won’t you send me neath the moons of Barsoom

In the red desolation with Dejah and Tars?

No problem, my friend; it’s all there in the pages

Just remember it’s Barsoom; it never was Mars!

“Barsoom” was recorded in Garage Band. I’m doing all the parts except the bass, which my  wife, Dorothy, added.

dumbfounding stories 2 cover

Cover by Pablo Vitruvian



Hash’s Faves: “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)

17 Feb

ProclaimersThis week’s pick has a little bit of a backstory – it’s the song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the band The Proclaimers. It’s from their 1988 album “Sunshine On Leith.” The Proclaimers are the brothers Charlie and Craig Reid (Charlie on guitar and vocals and Craig on vocals); the band on that album included Jerry Donahue, acoustic and electric guitars; Gerry Hogan, steel guitar; Steve Shaw, fiddle; Stuart Nisbet, pennywhistle and mandolin; Dave Whetstone, melodeon; Pete Wingfield, keyboards; Phil Cranham, bass; and Dave Mattacks and Paul Robinson:, drums and percussion.

So – I’ve always liked this song. I first heard it when it was popular; I was briefly in an 80’s rock band (a band that only rehearsed; we never gigged because we couldn’t find a singer to commit), playing songs by The Motels, Prince, Big Country, The Police, etc. I don’t think we played this one, but I was listening to pop radio a lot then, trying to absorb the vibe. What brought this tune back to mind for me was that I had to write a chart for a cover version of the song for an upcoming wedding; the cover is by a band called Sleeping At Last, some local guys from Wheaton, IL. Their version is very pretty, and at first I thought, “Well, this is an interesting take on the song.” But the more I thought about the more I disagreed with their take on it (I bet some of you may even know these guys; I hope you or they won’t be offended). The Reid brothers’ lyrics are romantic and sentimental, but what, in my opinion, makes this a great pop tune is that the performance does its best to subvert the sentimentality. Going the emo route is almost too easy. I’d even venture to say that the Reids, as Scotsmen, can get away with singing something this sentimental, but someone from Wheaton – well, maybe not.

Great cover versions very often find different interpretations, but I think a truly great cover also avoids the easy solution. Billy Stewart’s outrageous version of “Summertime”; Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower” or “Hey, Joe”; The Animals’ “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (it was originally recorded by Nina Simone); Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help From My Friends”; Jefferson Airplane’s “The Other Side Of This Life;” even Miles Davis’ versions of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” I’m also a fan of respectful covers (Brooks and Dunn’s version of B.W. Stevenson’s “My Maria” immediately comes to mind), and don’t get me wrong, I respect what the guys from Wheaton tried to do; they had a concept and they went for it, and I hope they sell a million CDs and get the hell out of the Bible Belt. But The Proclaimers had the right idea to begin with.

My bands do a lot of cover versions; I’ve been lucky enough to inherit arrangements from the guitarists Steve Hutchins and John Rood Lewis, both of whom I think are inventive reinterpreters of pop tunes. I’ve tried my hand as well, and I think I’ve some up with some good efforts. Covering tunes is truly an art, but sometimes you just can’t improve on the original version.

You can listen to it here (warning: the video is comprised of clips from the Johnny Depp movie Benny and Joon, which utilized the song on the soundtrack):

Hash’s Faves: “The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil”

31 Jan

After_Bathing_At_Baxters.net_Last week I said that I was tired of writing about dead people, and Lord, I still am, but this one’s kind of personal.

With all due respect to Glenn Frey and Mic Gillette, both of whom were fine musicians whose work I greatly loved, when I heard about the death of Paul Kantner Thursday night I felt something more than the tug of nostalgia. Kantner was the leader of the 60’s San Francisco band Jefferson Airplane, a band that provided the soundtrack to some of the formative years of my life (singer Marty Balin started the band, but Kantner evolved, or some say bullied his way, into the leadership role). The band went through many changes, including several name changes, but for me the classic lineup included Kantner on guitar and vocals, Balin on vocals, Grace Slick on vocals and occasional keyboard, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady and drummer Spencer Dryden. Kantner was probably the weakest member of the group; Balin and Slick were strong singers with remarkable instruments, Kaukonen was (and is) a good guitarist with strong roots in country blues, Casady remains my favorite bass player of all time, and Dryden brought a certain jazz sensibility to the band. Kantner was not a great guitar player, and his voice had a quality that, as they say, took some getting used to. Many of the songs that he wrote for the band were not the band’s best, and many of them have not aged well.

But that’s precisely why he was so important to the band, I think. He was the political conscience of the band, and he wrote about things he felt strongly about, whether anyone liked it or not. My favorite songs from their recordings tend not to be Paul’s tunes – they actually ranged pretty far for a band of that era, when bands took it as a point of pride to write their own material. They covered songs by David Crosby, the enigmatic Fred Neill, Judy Henske (actually, a song that she sang a lot, ”High Flying Bird,” by Billy Edd Wheeler) and traditional folk and blues tunes. Kantner was generous about sharing writing duties on their records with all of the other band members – none of that “Okay, George and Ringo get one tune each!” business. To my knowledge he never took a guitar solo, and he only occasionally sang lead. He had a unique ear for harmony as a singer; the chief difference between the Airplane’s harmony singing and everyone else’s (Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Beach Boys, The Band, The Eagles) was that they based much of their part-singing on quartal rather than diatonic harmony (a trait they shared with the Engish band Pentangle). Kantner seemed to gravitate towards harmony lines that created a feeling of suspension and ambiguity.

They were simultaneously a product of the time (the hippie 60’s) and creators of the zeitgeist. Whether this was a conscious effort on Kantner’s part or just the way that things happened, the band behaved much like a jazz band, in that musicians were always sitting in and guesting on their records and gigs; the Airplane famously lived in a communal house at 2400 Fulton in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, and I think he also saw the band as a communal family. Kantner himself often alluded to his Teutonic tendency towards control, but I’d have to say that during those early years he didn’t seem like a guy who felt like he had to protect his turf.

He co-wrote the version of ”Wooden Ships,” with David Crosby and Stephen Stills, that appears on the JA album ”Volunteers,” and I think it’s superior to the version on CSN’s debut album. Of course CSN’s version is gorgeous and the playing is competent, but the Airplane’s version has some rough edges, especially in Kantner’s vocal verses, that humanizes it, and it has a wider story arc and a more interesting dynamic.

In 1971, with the Airplane in the throes of dissolution, Kantner released a curious “solo” album called ”Blows Against The Empire,” credited to Jefferson Starship. Later on the Airplane would be officially called the Jefferson Starship, but that was really a different band than this one, and the spin-off band, called Starship, was another completely different animal. The Blows Against The Empire band was an ad-hoc bunch of San Francisco players, including members of The Grateful Dead, Crosby Stills and Nash and Santana (many of whom would also make the unjustly obscure David Crosby solo album ”If I Could Only Remember My Name”). The theme of the album was one of Kantner’s personal obsessions, a science-fiction conceit of leaving Earth and colonizing other planets; he and Slick (Crosby’s hilarious nickname for the couple was Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun) had just had a daughter, China, and I guess he really didn’t like the school district. The album’s kind of a mess, but I also find it charming that Kantner could talk his record company into it.

Kantner died from complications from a heart attack, He was 74 years old.



In honor of Kantner’s memory, this week’s pick is ”The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil,” by The Jefferson Airplane. The song was written by Kantner, who plays guitar and shares lead vocals with Grace Slick and Marty Balin. This is a live version, featuring a pretty cool solo by bassist Jack Casady; guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and drummer Spencer Dryden round out the classic lineup. For a sonically better version check out the original recording on their 1967 album ”After Bathing At Baxter’s.”

This song kind of typifies for me the things that I loved (and that many people hated) about this band, the three-part vocals, the wild and wooly solos, the opaque, surrealistic lyrics. Yes, Grace often sings flat, but I tend to blame the monitor situations (and maybe the acid). And Kantner’s voice is an acquired taste, but he fills a nice little sonic niche between Balin and Slick. In this video (which I have never seen before) it’s obvious that Balin and Slick are like fire and ice at the heart of the band, contributing different kinds of soulfulness. Kantner is the architect and the intellect, staying out of the spotlight but definitely the man behind the curtain. Kaukonen is the flash and Dryden is the glue, but it’s obvious that Casady is the throbbing engine that drives the band.

You can view the video here:



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