Tag Archives: Pete Brown

Hash’s Faves: “Deserted Cities of the Heart”

14 May

Wheels_Of_FireThis week’s pick is more goddam hippie music; it’s the song “Deserted Cities of the Heart”performed by Cream, written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, from the band’s 1968 album Wheels Of Fire. The basic band of Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker were augmented on the studio disc (it was a double album, one disc recorded in the studio and the other live) by producer/multi-instrumentalist Felix Pappalardi. On this particular song Bruce plays bass, acoustic guitar, cello and sings; Clapton plays electric guitar; Baker plays drums and tambourine; and Pappalardi plays the viola.

I’ve been keeping this under my hat for awhile, but for the last year I’ve been rehearsing with a new band (our maiden voyage will be on July 21) called Medicated Goo. It’s led by guitarist/vocalist John Kimsey, and is kind of an offshoot project of his Art Thieves and Twisted Roots Ensemble bands, both of which I’ve been a part of. We’re joined by John’s longtime musical partner-in-crime Dr. Brad Newton on drums; I’m playing bass and a little bit of guitar (!). The band is a cover band, with our repertoire limited (kind of) to the music of Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Traffic, although that allows us a certain amount of leeway (we play a couple of Blind Faith tunes and various other miscellanea). So what I’m trying to say here is that I’ve been immersing myself in the music of Cream.

This is the music that I grew up with, and with rare exceptions I’ve been finding that every song we add to the repertoire, I know in my bones. Maybe I’ve never played it before, on either instrument, but in my head I know how the song goes. But the really cool thing is that now that I’m way older and hopefully have a little more knowledge, I can really appreciate what made this group so special. The particular combination of personalities and musical backgrounds combined perfectly, as far as I’m concerned. In the great John McLaughlin biography Bathed In Lightning there’s talk that he was approached to be part of the band that Bruce and Baker were forming, but for whatever reason he declined. As much as I love McLaughlin, and as intriguing a band that that would have been, it wouldn’t have been the same; John was too much of a jazz player, and would have tipped the scales of the band’s chemistry too far in that direction, I think. Clapton’s background, personality, and his love for the blues helped to ground the band; Clapton himself would never describe himself as a jazz player, but he was sufficiently open-minded to be able to fit in with what the other two guys brought to the table. Baker really was a jazz drummer, while Bruce brought this whole other thing. Besides being a pretty good, and experienced jazz musician, he also had some folky leanings, and had some classical aspirations as well.

This song highlights all of these things; it has a rockin’, bluesy solo by Clapton, and the instrumental interludes sound like a combination of Baker’s jazz background and Bruce’s classicism. I wonder who came up with those bars of 3/4 in the verses, Baker or Bruce? And Jack’s bass playing is just beautiful, driving yet lyrical. The lyrics, by poet Pete Brown, are sufficiently surrealistic to accompany whatever trip you might have been on (I always pictured this song accompanying a painting by de Chirico).

Much like the Beatles, the personalities had quite a lot to do with the band’s creativity. Say what you will about Ringo’s drumming (personally, I think he’s a great drummer), but the Beatles simply would not have been as great with any other drummer. And although they started out as chums, I think that their last few albums, when personalities started to clash, were arguably their finest. And so it was with Cream; Baker and Bruce cordially (and sometimes not-so-cordially) hated each other, and I think that accounts for quite a bit of the fire, and certainly the tension, in their music. Clapton would eventually opt out of the drama, choosing the laid-back vibe of Bonnie and Delaney Bramlett’s band, and a long period of heroin and alcohol addiction. Cream’s career only lasted 2 years, with 4 studio albums, but they helped to change the face of rock music. I’d be willing to bet that quite a few rock musicians of my generation had their eyes and ears opened to the possibilities of jazz by their extended jamming, and for better or for worse the long, extended jam became a staple of rock music; punk and grunge music (again, for better or for worse) arose as a reaction against those excesses.

You can listen to it here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pL0yTZhuMzE

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 steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto