Tag Archives: Steve Hashimoto

Hash Fave’s: Some Westlake Stuff

2 Sep

“Hash’s Faves” generally are musical but this one is literary.

The late Donald E. Westlake is my all-time favorite author. If I can write at all it’s by following his example.

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Donald Westlake

Although I don’t recall seeing any specifics in any biographies of him, I’m guessing that he has some sort of musical background, as there are many small but telling tidbits, descriptions of musicians, musician characters, etc., in much of his writing. I also guess that he has some sort of connection to Illinois (I do know that he ghost-wrote a lot of soft-porn potboilers for a publisher in Evanston in the early 60’s) as there are frequent mentions of cities in Illinois. And I’m guessing he has a theatrical background, as many of his main characters are actors.

Within the last weeks I’ve read his penultimate book, Memory, and one of his earliest, The Cutie. It’s been interesting. Just to give some context, Westlake’s earliest works were kind of all over the place – science fiction, hard-boiled detective and crime stuff, and humor. He was prolific, utilizing more than a dozen pseudonyms, and at one point churning out a book every couple of days. One of his most famous inventions was a character named Parker, a nihilistic criminal mastermind – pitiless, brutal, vicious and brilliant.   Westlake wrote a series of Parker novels under the name Richard Stark, and over the years they have become cult classics, and have been the inspiration for some movies and graphic novels. But at some point Westlake discovered an undercurrent of wild humor emerging in his writing, almost beyond his control, a voice that didn’t fit Parker’s character at all, so he started a new series of books featuring another criminal mastermind named John Archibald Dortmunder. Dortmunder was far from brutal, and the books are very funny.

Westlake wrote in this humorous vein for many years, and a lot of his funny books were made into movies, with varying degrees of success, but his last couple of books got pretty dark. Memory is about an actor who loses his memory, and is a melancholy exploration of what the “self” is. At one point the protagonist, Paul Cole, visits his first acting teacher in an attempt to fill in some of the gaps in his knowledge of his self. The teacher’s reaction to seeing Cole, in his present confused state, is extremely dark, but I thought this monologue was germane not only to those in the theatrical profession but to any artist:

“Every once in a while,” he called, walking around and around, “through that door over there comes an actor. Every once in a while, every once in a great great while. Not one of these pale idiots who wants to be an actor, can you think of anything more foolish? It’s like wanting to fly, isn’t it, you can or you can’t and that’s an end to it, wanting has nothing to do with it. You can even want not to fly, but if you’ve got the wings you’ll fly, one way or another, and wanting has nothing to do with that.”

He stopped again. He was now very near the door, standing facing it with his hands on his hips in a belligerent way. He talked now at the door, but loudly enough for Cole to hear him, with a slight echo in the words. “These young fools come in here with their feeble desires and chip away at my life! Like woodpeckers. What sort of a useless stupid appendix of the emotions is desire, what has desire ever done for anybody but turn him into an embarrassing fool? How can you want to be an actor? You are or you aren’t, and ninety-nine percent of them coming through the door are not. But then there’s the one who is.”

Kirk’s voice had lowered on the last sentence, so that Cole could barely hear him, and now he turned back and came walking straight toward the platform, looking directly at Cole now as he spoke: “That’s what I live for, Paul, that’s the reason for my existence. I sit here and wait and wait and wait, and every once in a while an actor comes through that door back there, a boy or a girl who’s been an actor from the minute he was born, whether he knew it or not. They come to me, and I give them the rudiments, I give them the terms for what they already know how to do, and I give them freely from my own poor store of contacts in the theatrical world, and I watch them discover themselves, discover their own powers and the gulf that yawns between them and the poor fools sitting around them in class…

Now, I don’t necessarily agree with the bleakness of this assessment, but I do agree with the essence of it, that some people just aren’t cut out to be whatever– musicians, painters, poets, actors, photographers, sculptors or writers. One may desire to be, and I would certainly encourage anyone who has such a desire to pursue it, if only for one’s own fulfillment. But very few people can become Charlie Parkers or Marlon Brandos or Picassos. With hard work and dedication, though, one can become proficient enough as a craftsman to produce work that he (or she) can be proud of, and can work in their chosen field. That, I guess, is what I am. I ain’t Jaco Pastorious or Herb Lubalin or Westlake; I wish I was, but I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got. That doesn’t mean I’m satisfied, by any means, but neither am I ashamed.

As a sidenote, I’ve always been fascinated with the way that Westlake inserts sly little cross-references from previous works into his books, so I was absolutely thrilled to see that he used an address on Grove Street in Greenwich Village in Memory (I read that one first), and an address on Grove Street also pops up in “The Cutie.” Fifty years separated the writing of those books.

The book that introduced me to Westlake, by the way, and that got me hooked is called Dancing Aztecs; it’s not one of his Dortmunder books but it is very funny, and it is a caper book. Lise Dirks turned me on to the book and I will forever be indebted to her.

 

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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 steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

 

 

Hash’s Faves: “Just You, Just Me”

6 Aug

After_MidnightThis week’s pick is the jazz standard ”Just You, Just Me,” from Nat “King” Cole’s After Midnight album. The song is by Jesse Greer and Raymond Klages, from a 1929 movie called Marianne. Cole’s album featured his trio, with Cole singing and playing piano, guitarist John Collins and bassist Charlie Harris. On this song, they’re joined by Lee Young, Lester’s brother, on drums, and Willie Smith on alto saxophone.

This was another album that was part of my introduction to jazz. I don’t know why I bought it; it was probably in a cutout bin somewhere. But I loved every cut, and still do (the CD re-release has several bonus tracks that were not on the original LP). Cole’s voice, of course, was familiar to me, most likely from his rendition of Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song,” but his piano playing was a revelation. As part of my jazz self-education I had been reading books (Ira Gitler, Martin Williams, Whitney Balliet, etc.) and so I knew, intellectually, that he was considered a pivotal player, but even to my unsophisticated ears his lines were elegant, sophisticated, and above all, swinging. And as I was still a guitarist at that time, Collins’ playing was equally revelatory, and still is. I think he’s an underrated and under-recognized player, and his playing contributed much to what I still think of as proper jazz guitar slinging.

The album’s concept was also pretty cool – the trio accompanied by special guests on every track. Besides Smith, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Juan Tizol, Stuff Smith and Jack “Mr. Bongoes” Costanza all appeared, so the album also served as a pretty good introduction to the history of jazz styles, from swing to bebop and Latin-jazz.

This particular tune has a swinging intro (the arranging on the record is superb), and all of the front-line instruments get a chance to blow. As a sidebar, the song is the basis for Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence.” Monk’s tune was originally titled ”Justice,” (Justice = Just Us – Just You, Just Me), then retitled ”We Named It Justice,” then “Evidence.” John Kaplan pulled my coat to that way back in the Famous Pizza Gig days; thanks, John.

You can listen to it here:

–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 steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

 

Hash’s Faves: “Forever in My Life”

31 Jul

prince_sign_o_timesThis week’s pick is a funky love song by Prince, “Forever In My Life.” It’s originally from his 1987 album Sign O’ The Times.The album was a quasi concert film, and featured Prince’s band at the time, Prince on lead vocals and guitar (and, one assumes, drums, keyboards and bass); Wendy Melvoin, guitar, percussion and vocals; Lisa Coleman, keyboards, sitar, flute and vocals; Sheila E, drums, percussion and vocals; Dr. Fink, keyboards; Miko Weaver, guitar; Brown Mark, bass; Bobby Z,drums; Eric Leeds, saxophone; Atlanta Bliss, trumpet; and Sheena Easton, Susannah Melvoin and Jill Jones, vocals. The very different, expanded live version here is from the movie Sign O’ The Times and features a slightly different band, adding keyboardist/vocalist Boni Boyer (in a star turn), bassist Levi Seacer and dancer Cat Glover.

I slightly favor the album version; it’s more economical and it’s easier to hear the brilliant background vocal arrangement in the second verse, which, in my opinion, should become standard repertoire for college vocal ensembles attempting to be hip. But the live version has plenty of high points, including the aforementioned Boni Boyer feature (“It’s your house, Boni,” Prince exhorts), the chanted vocals by the audience in the front and back of the song (surely written by and instigated by Prince), the long group vocal vamp out (“Back up offa the mic’s, chil’un!”) and the passionate ad libs in the outro by Prince. It’s all stagecraft at the highest level – the costuming of the band, the band choreography, the preaching. The groove is elegantly simple and supremely funky, but at the heart of everything is a gorgeous melody and lyrics; this is a SONG. The lyrics, perhaps, are slightly disingenuous, given Prince’s reputation as a mack daddy, but who am I to say?

You can listen to the CD version here:
http://whomakesmelaugh.wrzuta.pl/audio/9D5KqJjXTkM/princeforever_in_my_life

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 steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net

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Steve Hashimoto

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 steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

 

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:

http://my.mail.ru/inbox/ironer/video/3543/71994.html

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

 

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.

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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

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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.

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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  steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net. 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:

 

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Re: Colin Harper’s “Dazzling Stranger”

20 Mar
Bert-Jansch

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, et.al).

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 steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

 

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHmiFHzPqbM

 

 

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.

 

Hash’s Faves: “Upa Neguina”/”O Morro Nao Tem Vez (Favela)

25 Jan

elis-regina1This week’s pick is from Brasil, a samba medley of the songs ”Upa Neguinha, O Morro Não Tem Vez (Favela)” and another song that I’m not familiar with, but I bet there are a bunch of you out there that can help out. They’re performed by the great singer Elis Regina and Jair Rodrigues. Upa was written by Edu Lobo and Gianfrancesco Guarnieri, and O Morro by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. Both songs portray the political scene in Brasil in the 60’s, when it was ruled by a military dictatorship and the gulf between the wealthy and the impoverished was great.

Even with the poor video quality, Regina’s life-force is almost overwhelming; I have to admit that I’m in love with this woman, as most of Brasil was. It looks like the last half of this clip was a mini-documentary about life in the favelas, and if anyone knows anything more about I’d love to know.

My introduction to Brasilian music was through my friend, the late Mexican guitarist/singer Miguel Bermejo, and my education, like many others in Chicago, continued with the band Som Brasil (Made In Brasil), which had a long residency at the much-lamented club The Jazz Bulls. The band, of course, has had many members, but in the time that I regularly went to see them the band was comprised of leader/pianist Breno Sauer, vocalist Neussa Sauer, saxophonist Ron DeWar, guitarist Akio Sasajima, bassist Paulinho Garcia and drummer Luiz Ewerling. Neussa was very much influenced by Regina, and Breno was there at the beginning of bossa nova, back in Rio. Som Brasil’s sole album is extremely rare but worth searching for; it’s some of the most life-affirming music you’ll ever hear.

“O Morro Não Tem Vez” is extremely popular amongst jazz players, and in Chicago Som Brasil’s version was what most of us base our interpretations on. Brasilian Portuguese is a language that resists literal translation, I think; the title can be loosely translated as “There Are No Opportunities For The Hills.” The favelas, or slums, in Rio are mostly located on the mountainside of Corcovado or Sugarloaf Mountain; when it rains torrentially, the favelas often get washed right off of the mountainside. There’s a more-or-less literal translation of the lyrics online that says “The mountain has no chance, but when it gets it’s chance the whole city will sing.” Many of the Samba Schools originate in the favelas, and I guess the reading means that Carnaval time is the only time when the favelas get to be heard by the world, through the music. “Upa Neguinha”” means, more or less, “Rise up, Black Boy!”, a call for revolution that somehow slipped by the official censors.

You can listen to Regina’s video 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 steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.