I’m digging this drummer. He’s right there in the pocket with Carl Perkins, doing a rockabilly hep cat Mitch Mitchell to Carl’s playing and singing and bopping the blues. It’s a house band and I assume a house drummer, but the cat is so hip and has that rockabilly thing down in a Krupa crazed torrent of sticks and cymbal crashes that never ever loses the bloozy dancing shuffle of the tune. You don’t even see him till the last forty seconds or so, then there he is, eyes locked on Carl, a thirty something cat who’d probably played in every Western swing band this side of the Mojave and yet loves that Sun rockabilly, loves it so much he’s singing along as he plays. All his friends are bopping the blues, he sings, drum stick dancing across the high hat. He loves you baby, but he must be rhythm bound.
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.
While being subjected to Lady Di’s mega-televised funeral, I started giggling and got shushed. I kept giggling. Angry stares. What’s so damn funny? She lived her life, I said, like a camel breaking wind. As the giggling spread, I was asked to leave.
Robert Plant was always my fave Led Zep guy (Page was cool as guitar players go, except for that dorky bowing solo bit, sheesh, and I never was a Bonham fan), but Bobby Plant nailed it, though for years the Bilbo Baggins hippie shit drove me up the wall. As I hated everything they did after Houses of the Holy anyway I paid no attention to all his missteps early in his solo career, tho’ I remember a good Little Sister (which Elvis absolutely nailed in ‘56 or whenever, one of his best songs) and I have a vague memory of cut out bins full of something with Robert Plant in a late period spangly doo woo get up on the cover, smiling a lost hippie smile, but I was so fucking punk rock at the time Robert Plant might as well have been from another planet. Hell, I don’t know if they were missteps, everything by older rock musicians qualified as a misstep to me at the time, even Bowie. Those were revolutionary years, things had to burn.
But the years passed and one night I was bored or maybe just stoned and staring at the TV, a million channels and nothing to watch and suddenly there was Robert Plant on the normally underwhelmingly alt hip Austin City Limits. He looked great, one of those rare Englishmen over six feet tall, sounded great if a little shy of the high notes he once screamed about the wrath of the gods in, and had this amazing band that swung from outish ethnic alt into old timey into a killer Led Zep tune—I can’t remember which—and ending with some remarkable melange of Malian sounds with everything else. I was hooked. Watched that show several times. Said to Fyl we gotta go see Robert Plant! We’d get primo seats, of course, free to the press, and green room access and I’d ask him about Festival of the Desert instead of some stupid Led Zep question because I was a jazz critic. Then I’d see Patty Griffin and be so star struck I couldn’t talk. Homina homina homina…. Anyway, it never happened. The best laid plans of moose-like men, etc.
Then last night I was doing the million channels nothing to watch thing again unstoned and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t Robert Plant on Austin City Limits again, this time from 2016, still tall and looking great and sounding even better (and they’ve done a little audio trickery to stretch out the high notes a bit, but it barely shows). Robert Plant and the Sensational Shape Shifters I think he’s called it, fine musicians all, and the set was as old timey ethno Malian (or maybe Gambian) blues as before, but half the set was Led Zep tunes (I keep saying Led Zep covers) that are rearranged and jazzed up and weirded out but then kick into that classic babe I’m gonna leave you fury, the audience undulating to a hard and sinewy and groovily fucked up Whole Lotta Love like the gods never intended and the whole scene was beautiful and left me sort of nostalgic for an age yet to come.
It was good.
That’s it. Great title, anyway.
Just heard Lady by Beck Bogert Appice for the first time in several lifetimes. When I was about fifteen that was my all time favorite song, even more than the live Highway Star or Panic in Detroit or Why Does Love Have To Be So Sad or Rock and Roll Queen or Love or Confusion even. It hasn’t aged as well as some, I guess, a little thin and slightly ridiculous, and the rest of the album was stone weak aside from the killer version of Superstition, but it has the frenzied tempo and zillion notes all at once that I dug as an adolescent awash in testosterone. I guess I get that rush from be bop now. Some people never grow up.
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.