Chain of Fools

I gotta say Chain of Fools still gives me the chills. Aretha’s delivery over that swamp blues groove, you treated me mean, she says, you treated me cruel, then the break, Aretha telling us her doctor says take it easy over a rhythmic hand clapped chant that goes all the way back to the roots, then back to the swamp groove, Aretha hurting even more, how one of these mornings the chain is gonna break, but until then she’s gonna take all that she can take, a hard whacked roll on the snare leading her back into the incredibly simple chorus, chain chain chain, the drummer dancing crazily off the cymbals, leading the way, and Aretha and the chanting chorus and the swamp groove and those crazy tinging cymbals fade off the end of the record, trapped forever in a chain of fools. The juke box clicks and whirs, you better think Aretha says, and the dance floor whirls and struts and gets down.



(I don’t remember this but apparently I wrote it in 2017)

The massive, incredibly rare instrument is over 11 feet tall with a range so deep it goes lower than humans can hear.
Octobass Atlas Obscura
Notes not above but below our hearing. Groovy. It won’t make the dogs howl, but it might piss off the pachyderms. Indeed, Jimmy Garrison began A Love Supreme on the octobass and before Trane could blow a single three hour solo a herd of crazed elephants charged into the studio and pulverized Elvin’s kit into something like Rashied Ali. They were trumpeting and roaring and stomping and Ascension was recorded then and there. Remember hearing Jimmy Garrison’s side long bass solo? Of course you don’t, it was on the octobass. He later repeated John Cage’s favorite parts on a jazzed up 4’33. It was the only time in jazz history that the people at the bar shut up during the bass solo. No one could hear a thing from the bass but Moby Dick said he whaled.


Just an infinitesimal bit of all the jazz that’s ever been

(from a Brick’ s Picks in the LA Weekly, c. 2007)

Several years ago i can remember walking into a posh Valley jazz joint and realizing, alas, no one else had wandered in. The place was so empty that the lounge area where the musicians set up away from the main dinner room seemed cavernous….which was too goddam bad, as one of the best pianists in jazz was up there with a remarkable quartet and the music was simply stunning. Chuck Manning was subbing for the regular saxophonist, and the stuff he came up with…free thinking rushes of chords that just filled up all that space in the room, or low tones, held, that flowed over the rhythm section in shades of blue…wow, and when he and the pianist met in the middle entirely new compositions burst out of whatever standard they were doing, completely new creations that took the breath away and then disappeared forever when they got back to the head and the traditional melody fell into place. Oh man, this jazz music is so ephemeral. All the recorded jazz that there is in the world—your entire music collection—it’s just an infinitesimal bit of all the jazz that’s ever been and will never be heard. Improvisation, it comes, and it goes. If you’re there, you’re lucky enough to hear it and maybe later you’ll remember a bit of it, can even pick out a trace on the piano, or try and write about it. Maybe a photo you took will spark a snippet in your mind’s ear. Maybe, just maybe, there’s even a recording somewhere. Those recordings….jazz fanatics can be driven mad by those, like that junkie following Bird around, desperately trying to catch every last note of his solos on a wire recorder before the bartender threw him out for not buying anything. Imagine that poor tortured bastard, haunted by all Bird’s solos that the world never hear again unless he can catch the sounds on his tinny little machine…and imagine his desperation as he was tossed again out into the street, hearing Bird’s alto spinning brilliance into the air that disappeared like a morning fog in the brutal summer sun….

David Brenner

Tonight show, 1981, and David Brenner just did a whole string of jokes about cancer. Funny routine, too. Crowd loved it. All I could think of was, damn, man, if there was something you don’t joke about. Somebody must have said that, you don’t make jokes about cancer. So he did, with that ridiculous delivery and goofy smile, schlemieling his way though a great five minutes of jokes about what was going to eventually kill him.
Rest In Peace.

We gotta get out of this place

(2012 mostly but abandoned; found buried in my drafts and cleaned up in 2018)

Had the Animals’ We Gotta Get Out of This Place running through my head lately (which is a major improvement on Margaritaville). I’ve always loved the Animals but don’t have anything by them, not one record. Considering that Eric Burdon might be my favorite English singer ever, that makes no sense at all. Oh well. But Youtube has the song  in spades. I could never figure out why people put up tunes that are already up a hundred times already but then most people don’t make any sense at all either.

The point is that I found out there are two versions of We Gotta Get Out of This Place, an American and an English version. Somehow the American was the wrong take. That was the version that we heard on the radio throughout the vinyl years here in the States. I think it’s on their Animal Tracks LP, too, and the greatest hits everyone stateside used to have. Then came CDs, and MGM made dead sure that it was the correct English version that got on all future CD releases. English band, English version, everything’s logical again. (Well almost, it was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and originally intended for the Righteous Brothers, but wound up in England instead.)

Watch my Daddy in bed a dyin’, Eric tells us in the first verse, see his hair been turning grey. He’s been workin’ and slavin’ his life away. Newcastle was a beat up, used up city by the time the Animals came together, as the Empire fell it fell too, coal pits closing, ship yards shutting down, ancient factories empty. London was far away. When the band played the blues you get the feeling it felt them for real, not like art school kids but the more like way they felt the blues in the tough bars in Chicago. Maybe the South side and Newcastle weren’t that far apart in a lot of ways, poor, cold, scuffling for money. Ignored. That is certainly the sound in Eric Burdon’s voice. It’s almost like he’s channeling some long dead singer in Chicago, someone struck down in a knife fight, maybe, or died, lingering, of consumption. The windows let in a sticky breeze. I can almost smell those TB sheets.

So with all those We Gotta Get Out of This Places to pick from, I selected one that was taken directly off a seven inch. You can tell because the guy picks up the single, shows it to us, both sides, and pulls the record from the sleeve and puts in on the turntable. The magic of digital cameras. He whisks the tone arm into position and then drops the needle into the grooves with perfect timing and the song begins on a bass note. Dum-da-dum-da-da-da-da Dum-da-dum-da-da-da-da Ting! then there’s a beat and another ting! and the drummer shifts the stick a couple inches back from the edge of the ride for the next ting!, less resonant, fainter, higher pitched and in comes Eric, over three more tings, In this gritty ol’ part of the city, where the sun refuse to shine…. and he owns you, he does, he’s got you, you’re listening. People are telling him there ain’t no use in trying, and there’s the rhyme, the shine, tryin’, dyin’, and it’s all downhill from there but listen to the edge in his vocal here. The anger. The girl, doomed, the Daddy, dying, his hair turning gray, working and slaving his life away. Eric knows. Working and working, work, work, the band chants, it’s a road gang work song, all rhythm, work, work work and suddenly Alan Price carries them into the chorus, we gotta get out of this place if it’s the last thing we ever do….. Entire pubfulls of voices ring that out when the jukebox spins it, girl there’s a better life for me and you. Not that they believe there is. You look in the mirror back of the bar as you sing and doubt that there’s anything better at all. Just this. This is it.

Watch my daddy in bed a-dying, Eric demands again in the second verse, his voice now cracking with pent up rage, watch his hair been turning grey. He been working and slaving his life away. He then slips out of the melody to say–not sing–yeah I know he been working too hard, a bit of jazz phrasing that startles, almost dissonant, then back into the melody again, you know I been working too babe, the band pushing behind him, I been working so hard….and then from the deepest depths of everything that was Eric Burdon in 1965 emenates this Chicago blues banshee wail utterly untranscribable, a sound the likes of which I’m sure had never been heard on a rock’n’roll record before then, and it roars above the band for several extraordinary seconds and must have scared the bejesus out of everybody.

The song finishes up in a catchy afterthought. Girl, there’s a better place for me and you, Eric sings. I found a live version from some goofy pop music show, the band dead serious performing a dead serious song, and as the second verse builds to its cataclysmic finale the idiot director gives us a close up shot of the guitar player. Eric’s bloodcurdling howl is unseen by everyone except the mash potatoing kids. I never found another televised version that did the American take. But no matter, by next year everyone was dropping acid and loving everyone and a primal scream would have just bummed a thousand trips. Heaven’s above, it’s a street called Love, Eric explained, when will they ever learn? Though I like that song too, and Sky Pilot, and Monterey, and his psychedelic freak out River Deep, Mountain High too. But none contain that bone chilling howl heard on the American release of We Gotta Get Out of This Place. I guess they’d finally gotten out of that place after all.

San Francisco

The last time I took a bath was in this beautiful Victorian tub with cast iron feet in a fabulous apartment in the Castro. Later that night we were out of our minds on psychedelics as beautiful boys in leather copulated madly all around. Rushes of color, swirls of sound. We woke up in a vast bed to the sounds of the streets coming through an open window. We dressed, she shimmered. Everything shimmered. Everything vibrated. Touches had colors. She took my hand and we took a long walk though the city streets, smoking a furtive joint and looking, just looking. What a beautiful analog world it was then. Words came and disappeared unrecorded and unworried about. As last we piled into the car and took the long ride down the 101 back to Santa Barbara, punk rock screaming from the cassette player. It was an unusual courtship, ours.

Jon Mayer again


Went to the Desert Rose tonite to see saxophonist John Altman with the Mark Z Stevens Trio (Mark on drums, Chris Conner on bass and  Jon Mayer  on piano.) Alto Kim Richmond sat in for a stretch, always a joy, and the superb Mike Lang sat in for a pair of tunes on piano at the beginning of the second set, playing beautifully as always. While Lang played, Jon paced the room like a mountain lion smelling blood. He wanted to be back up there. After his second tune Mike Lang returned to the bar as the crowd applauded warmly. Jon sat down at the bench, an evil gleam in his eye, like it’s the 1930’s and it’s a cutting contest and it’s his turn now. Altman counts down and Jon went instantly mad on the piano, crazy comping, big fat angry chords with all kinds of Monkish space in between, and when it was his turn to solo he did so with a vengeance, grabbing the melody with both hands and whirling it into submission…building and building, each run more intense and impressive than the one before, beautiful figures and shards of melody and turning the old chestnut–damn I can’t remember the tune right now, but you’ve heard it before–turning it into something stunning, muscular, and intensely creative, just absolutely fearless improvisation. When he resolved it and dropped back into the head the crowd burst into loud, sustained applause, the kid behind me whooping like it was a rock concert. What an absolute treasure this cat is. Learned his art in NYC in the crucible of the fifties, brilliance and self destruction going hand in hand. He dropped out for a couple decades, wound up in L.A. No one here plays like Jon Mayer, and yet somehow he remains in the shadows. No one said jazz was fair.

John Altman is back at the Desert Rose (on Hillhurst at Prospect) wth the same stellar trio (the house trio, in fact) next Saturday. And if the crowd is lucky someone will sit in on the piano for a couple tunes, and then Jon will explode with pure creativity again. The purest.