Some blistering guitar work in this linked video by Mike Bloomfield with the Electric Flag at the Monterey Pop Festival. The Flag, alas, were one of the acts that didn’t make it into the movie, which is a shame as Bloomfield was at the top of his game. But then the Electric Flag not making director Pennebaker’s final cut was really just another in the long line of missteps and misfortunes, mostly self-inflicted, that has left Mike Bloomfield perhaps the most forgotten guitar hero of them all. Indeed so forgotten that it’s startling to hear him speak in this clip from the Newport Folk Festival (about 3:20 in, just past Son House) because unlike his now legendary sixties guitar hero brethren, almost none of us has ever heard him speak. So dig his rap, the rushes of words, fragments of sentences, full of beatnik speak and musician jive and sounding incredibly like Jimi Hendrix, actually, whose voice we all have memorized. It must have been the way serious young players talked in the joints and road houses and cafes on the circuit in the early-mid sixties, where both Mike Bloomfield and Jimi learned their trade. And though some of you, perhaps even most of you, might not recognize Mike Bloomfield by name, you definitely know his sound–that’s him on Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, indeed all over Highway 61 Revisited, and that was him raising hell with Dylan at Newport. The second half of the sixties was an amazing period for Mike Bloomfield–Dylan, Paul Butterfield (East-West was one of the rock’n’roll game changers back then), The Electric Flag, Super Session–but he disappeared up his arm in the seventies and ceased to be entirely before the eighties even got started. A long time comin’ is a long time gone.
It came out in 1969 and even though I’d heard of it for years, I didn’t actually hear Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica until much, much later: 1978. Nine years late. Talk about uncool, uneducated, and unhip. Still, it immediately had a huge impact on me. Not just the mind blowing music (“Pena” remains the strangest piece of music I’ve ever heard), but the stunning imagery in the lyrics, which shaped my own prose (especially “Bill’s Corpse” for some reason I could not begin to explain). People read my stuff and assume I’ve read James Joyce but I never have, what they’re hearing is Don Van Vliet. But perhaps most surreal to me now is the fact that four decades have transpired since this now five decades old album finally connected with my gray matter. It was on the third spin in perhaps as many days and it still eluded me until half way through “Hobo Chang Ba” I got it. Hobo Chang Ba, the Captain groaned, Hobo Chang Ba, and suddenly all was clear. What exactly made it so clear I do not know, but suddenly the frantic clattering music made perfect sense. It still does, most of my lifetime later. Forty years can make a man’s eyes, a Beefheart fan’s eyes, flow out water, salt water.
Watching the end of Jimi Hendrix at Monterey and amid the smoking wreckage Mitch Mitchell rockets his sticks into the stunned stoned freaked and tripping crowd and every time I see it and (and I’ve seen it a hundred times) I think that I would have given anything to have been in that crowd and caught one of those sticks, it would still be my most treasured possession, that stick, even now, that half a century before had rolled across those toms with absolute abandon and bounced with loose wristed splats off the snare and set the cymbals roiling and splashing and crashing with Jimi’s every move and sound and look and thought. Airborne for only a second or two, the sticks disappear into offstage darkness, first the one, then the other and Mitch, laughing, steps out of view. I turn off the TV right then, before the interviews begin and reduce the music to history, and I wonder again about those sticks.
It’s Psych-Out and Jack Nicholson is out of his mind high in the Haight hanging psychedelic posters. Outtasight he says.
Jack Nicholson and his band doing an inverted Purple Haze riff and the light show flashes liquid colors and everyone’s dancing and tripping and his guitar solo sounds like a theremin I swear or maybe I’m just getting a contact high.
Bruce Dern does the best acid damaged hippie. For a second I thought I met him out back of Raji’s. Must have been the Essence.
Apparently Jimi does not live today. Even amid all that feedback and rollicking rolling drums, he does not live today. He knows for sure, he says. Well, actually he doesn’t. Not anymore. Not in a long time. But I know, wasting my time existing, that there ain’t no Jimi nowhere. Feedback, cataclysmic drums, handclaps and chanting and fade. Damn, man.
Listening to Steaming Coils lost masterpiece Breaded–the record, I don’t think it ever came out on CD–and digging Brad Laner’s drums. Way loose, loopy, groovy, just the right pops and splashes, splattery press rolls and punchy bass drum kicked loud under crashing cymbals. It’s all so gloriously unmechanical and organic, and the only other drummer that comes to mind is Jim Capaldi. I have a memory, maybe even true, of telling Brad Laner the Jim Capaldi thing and him saying he was a fan too. Grok. Not many were in those Bonham days. Everyone wanted heavy back then. Not me. I liked loose. That memory would have been at Be Bop records, I think, maybe even at the Breaded release gig. There were few venues then and we’d drive out to the depths of the Valley to stand in the back of a record store and listen to the sounds of the eighties underground. Afterward we’d repair to the biker bar next door and watch hulking Hells Angels play pool as their women tried to start fights. Then we’d hang out on Sherman Way like juvenile delinquents getting stoned with our fellow denizens for the long drive back to Hollywood. Memories. But back to now and I’m listening to the opening cut again. “Carne del Sol” it’s called and I want to know what it says the singers sing. Play it backwards, play it backwards, snare splat, cymbal splash and fade.
Watched an old Dick Cavett show from August 1969 and the Jefferson Airplane, fresh from Woodstock, were fierce. The discombobulation of going from a festival bigger than Buffalo and back to Manhattan by helicopter as they came off the acid was noticeable only for a few minutes and by the time Grace sang motherfucker on national television all was well again. David Crosby and Stephen Stills showed up mudspattered and David talked and talked (coming up on the crowd by helicopter, he said, was like viewing the Macedonian army, the acid in his brain turning the vast throng of hippies into invincible hoplites and horsemen of Alexander the Great….) Stills was mostly mute, as if still overwhelmed but when handed a guitar played brilliantly and I remembered it was he and not Mike Bloomfield on Super Session’s Season of The Witch (another of those free form FM standard long since purged from Classic Rock radio). Joni Mitchell, clean and windblown from the canyon and kicking herself for not going (her manager said go on Cavett instead….amazing how many idiot managers kept their bands off the bill, booking them elsewhere) sounded great but sang too many songs, but then I’ve never been a fan. (It’s a minority opinion, I know….) The Airplane hit the studio stage again with a very tough Somebody To Love, Jorma’s lead stinging and psychedelically hostile, followed by a hard jamming Other Side Of This Life, and as the studio audience began breaking out in frantically groovy dancing Cavett waved the camera off and the credits rolled and the Airplane just got fiercer and fiercer and who knows how long they played past the commercials.