John Sebastian

The 400,000 people at Woodstock were still antsy, high and loud after Santana’s starmaking performance, but the crew didn’t dare put another electric band on stage till the weather settled down. That upstate New York weather. John Sebastian was hanging around back stage just tripping on the acid he’d dosed somehow, when Chip Monck—that’s his voice, introducing him—told him he needed to play. John, way too buzzed, said no. He hadn’t even brought a guitar with him. Not even an autoharp. Someone handed him Tim Hardin’s guitar. (Tim didn’t make the cut for the movie so his guitar is as close as he got to Woodstock movie stardom that day.) Darling Be Home Soon is one of Lovin’ Spoonful’s classics, a hit you don’t hear on the classic rock stations, one of those earnest folkie things, like a Simon and Garfunkel tune, overly arranged, a loud horn section, perfect grammar and sweet melody, rhyming dawdled with toddled and with an unforgettable hook in the melody. He begins the song and the crowd cheers, like they’d been hoping that he’d sing it, and within a few seconds the vast throng is hushed, swaying slightly with the rhythm, quiet as a church, listening to the words, just John Sebastian and a guitar and a melody and the 400,000 people not making a sound. Go, he sings, and beat your crazy head against the sky, the melody somehow soaring like a big rock band, try and see beyond the houses and your eyes, it’s OK to shoot the moon, which a half century later sounds a little clumsy, but in the summer of 1969 in a sea of 400,000 heads and hippies it must’ve sounded like pure poetry, and it wasn’t until he sang the last few words that you can hear the sounds of 400,000 stoned people again, their cheers like waves rolling in from the deep to inundate the stage.

Present at the creation

Present at the creation. Well, slightly after the creation, but still way early. Dig all the long hair, the band’s and the audience. Tommy’s is the hippiest. Johnny takes care of his. And everyone looks so nice. Rock’n’roll was still very nice in 1976. It had probably never been nicer. Nice people, nice music. I don’t think anyone had a clue about what was to erupt in a year. Punk rock—were we even calling it that yet?—was still a college kid thing. Not a drop out thing or a fuck up thing or a this close to being put away psycho thing. And it looks like somebody was recording the show on the state of the art portable recording machines (I’d say recorders instead of recording machines but recorders were still those inexpensive little woodwinds that hippies drove us up the wall with). The cassette he recorded would have sounded like he’d recorded inside a blender. Unlistenable. He probably still has it somewhere, Ramones scrawled across it in ball point pen, the venue and the date. Sometimes he finds it in a junk drawer and remembers.

The Ramones at CBGB, September 9, 1976. Photo by Bob Gruen.

Spirit

Just to age myself even more, I got that Spirit box set which includes the first four albums plus another album and a soundtracks and singles, outtakes and whatever else they could squeeze on five discs. Hot damn this shit is good. Always loved these guys. Poor bastards were not big enough to be really popular but too big to be considered a cult band. Spirit were the band whose manager cancelled their Woodstock appearance so they could play a high school auditorium in nearby Binghamton. Well, they got paid for playing Binghamton, there was that. But imagine playing a set to a few hundred people when you were could have been playing for hundreds of thousands a helicopter flight away. It shall be.

All the Young Dudes

This was the anthem of all us disaffected teens in the early 70s and we had no idea why, it just was, somehow. We hadn’t a clue what it was actually about, we just figured it was about all us shambling young and clueless dudes and dudettes, and it meant, well, who knows. Whatever. Metaphors were still a little beyond us (it’s one of the last linguistic concepts the brain gets a handle on, metaphors, until just before we reach adulthood and there they are, metaphors, and suddenly Bob Dylan makes sense.) No, we were still at that precious age where everything is literal and things are things and dudes were, well, dudes. Its lyrical structure is pretty complicated for an anthem—they’re usually simple, We Shall Overcome, like that—and it’s got a lot of cool rhymes, and that all night/suicide/twenty five/speed jive/stay alive/twenty five it opens with could’ve come right out of Cole Porter. Bowie had never done better word wise, and never did again, not that we could have known that then, we were 15 and didn’t know anything, though we didn’t know that either. All we really knew was that chorus with all the young dudes singing all the young dudes, and we’d join in, all the young dudes joining all the young dudes singing all the young dudes. It was probably the only feeling of being part of a youth movement that wasn’t some old hippie thing we had in the early 1970’s, though what sort of movement that was we hadn’t a clue. Just us dudes singing about us dudes. It was our anthem. And ya know, it still gets me when I hear it, every single time, and it probably always will. I’m a dude, yeah.

A long time gone

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.

Eddie Money

Eddie Money was punk rock to me. Or was that Meat Loaf. Yeah, Meat Loaf. Eddie Money was Meat Loaf to me, but also punk rock. No, that was the Ramones. The Ramones were punk rock to me, Eddie Money was Meat Loaf to me, and Meat Loaf was, I dunno, maybe Pat Benatar. Anyway, RIP.

Paint It Black you devil.

Somewhere there is a man about seventy who considers the perfectly placed Hot Damn! he shouted at 5:40 on the live Midnight Rambler to be his great contribution to rock’n’roll, and he’s right. I always marveled at that guy’s hog calling skills. And you don’t worry about his fate like you do about the chick out of her mind on something who screams her brains out contrapuntally throughout. He was probably just a kid from New Jersey. She might have joined the Manson Family.

Was it the guy dead center that yelled Hot Damn? The Buddy Holly looking dude? Really?

Long, Long Time

Linda Ronstadt’s Long, Long Time must have been a huge hit in LA in 1970 because you’d hear it regularly on the local FM stations for years. All the teenage boys would freeze and listen and sigh. I hadn’t heard it in a while, and maybe the effect is accentuated on this iPhone, but why did producer Elliott Mazer bury her in the strings? Not right away. It’s all Linda Ronstadt for a minute, almost like Kitty Wells, and you’re hooked. But from then on Mazer starts piling strings on by the regiment full, and Linda’s battling to be heard over the arrangements. They’re everywhere, these charts full of lush baroque things growing like triffids, filling every available space. At one point the harpsichord is louder than she is. It’s almost like a Phil Spector thing, Tina Turner batting Phil’s Wagnerian demons on River Deep, Mountain High. Linda finally wins in the end, though, even if the strings and that strutting harpsichordist get to do their dirge thing for a bit too long after her vocal fades, though I suppose the logic of the arrangement demanded it. These things require patience. At last they’re done. That’s a wrap, Mazer said, and maybe someone went to chuck a few too many cellos and violas into the Cumberland. Anyway, a lovely tune.

An appallingly bad cover photo. Somebody should have been fired.

Chimera

Flipped on the radio and it’s Loan Me A Dime and talk about nostalgia, like a foggy Sunday morning in Isla Vista, or late night hippie sounds on KNAC out of Long Beach way back when. This was the ultimate long playing FM song for a while, Boz Scaggs before Low Down, still in boots and jeans and a beat up cowboy hat. It starts out slow, just this side of a dirge, but builds into a rollicking piano pumping blues, and Duane Allman laying down lick after lick of the meanest Muscle Shoals lead guitar you ever heard for several exuberant minutes. You hope it never ends. But it does, finally, after thirteen minutes, fading out with the band still rollicking and Duane Allman still on fire, and you can’t believe you were lucky enough to hear it again because almost nobody actually had the album. It was just this amazing thing you heard on the radio, and it was hippie long, long enough to smoke a whole joint to. A big bomber joint even. And if the deejay then spun Voodoo Chile or Low Spark or that long medley off Abbey Road you know he’d been out back smoking that joint. But that was nearly half a century ago. This deejay today segued (if you can call it that) into a coked out Eagles cut and ruined everything. The vibe was gone, poof, instantly. Life In the Fast Lane. What’s the opposite of nostalgia? Because that’s what this was. Memories of being stuck in the mid seventies and looking like I’d never get out.

AC3

The AC3 at the Garage, I think, a zillion years ago. Allen A. Clark III was all of three years old here and already quite the drummer. His pop, Allen Clark Jr and mom Zebra (aka Zaida Clark, that’s her legs) formed the trio when AC started syncopating before he could walk, taking after his old man (once the driving beat of the Lazy Cowgirls) who is playing guitar here off to the right. You have to imagine it, as he’s not in the picture. I remember carefully composing this picture to get the perfect balance of child and gams, but I didn’t bother with Dad. After you’ve seen a guy leap stark naked into your drum kit there’s nothing much else to see. But that’s another story, deep in the blog somewhere. And little AC the tyke drummer is now huge AC the monster drummer, and mom and dad and son are rocknroll lunatics back in Indiana. And if that ain’t a wholesome tale I don’t know what is.