Allman Brothers, Dreams

My old friend Russ and I fashioned ourselves in the mode of Neal and Jack, at least sometimes, living a sort of vagabond life of simple ascetic pleasures traveling the world the way the monks of Tibet once famously did.

That meant hitchhiking after school from St. James to Cold Spring Harbor to try on and sometimes buy Hit Em Hard corderoy work pants, baggy the way they wore them back in the depression. If we found a beer or a J to go along with our Camel cigarettes we would enjoy it, and when we got hungry some yoghurt usually did the trick.

Most days we played basketball in Gaynor Park. There was always a game on the single court there, and we’d rotate in and out, playing full court hard, against our high school friends, and Freddy and Jay and others who had cycled back from Vietnam and brought a steely dark humor and cynicism to our lives.

The hoops court at Gaynor Park was the locus for our social life. This is where you went when you wanted to find your friends, who were either jamming on the court or flopped over the concrete pump house on the other side of the unused tennis courts. I didn’t know how all the boys and girls who spent so much time in that strip of tarmac, grass and concrete ended up there, it all seemed magical, but some part of it was because the Eastman clan, Russ and family, lived catty corner across the avenue.

It was there, at Russ’s house, that we hung out at lunch, and on days when school was shortened for testing. It was there we sat in the yard discovering that granny smith apples and Madeira Rainwater were an incredible combo. It was there that we watched Bogart movies, read Tin Tin (Rich, having colored all the dog images in a book with a yellow marker: “Don’t eat the yellow Snowy.”), and learned what Thai stick was (in the garage, in case it was volatile).

Russ and I also spent many weekends hitchhiking around Long Island, setting some goal (Hey, Southhampton!) and often making it there and back. The adventures weren’t usually dramatic. A dip in the ocean, flirting with some girls who droves us two miles, finding somehow some beer. Not exactly Tibetan simplicity, but basic, elemental, life distilled.

We talked to everyone. Drivers who picked us up, of course, but also road workers, and convenience store clerks. The workers in Army Navy stores and wherever we went to buy Dannon yoghurt as a snack. Local gossip, news, the weather, that downhome chatter was part of a package of values that we developed and shared and which I think has endured. In later years, when we were actually in control of the car, we’d stop and help people whose cars had broken down, Russ making them feel safe as we helped or found help for whatever the problem was.

We often found ourselves, because of our long hair and baggy pants, talking to police officers who assumed we took drugs. I remember a number of times that we chatted up those cops, while holding a joint or two, talked seriously about the problems with Nelson Rockefeller’s increasing penalties for pot possession, and managed to save our hides by good grace and luck and maybe a certain amount of innocent guile.

Until we didn’t, at which point our wanderings and self-inventing become more publicly known at home, and lawyers had to be called. We’ll blame Frank Zappa for that. We ate the yellow snow, metaphorically at least.

Through all of this we listened to a lot of music. And the music that we listened to most was the Allman Brothers. When I heard from Russ’s sister that he’d died this past Saturday I thought about his cancer, and the unrelenting beat of disease that transforms a life of love and devotion into an unrelenting agony and violation of all of that. And I ached, for the many years in between those strange halcyon days Russ and I shared figuring out how to live in the world, and these strange days when whatever script we’ve been given makes the ending seem as inevitable as one of those Bogart movies. And much more terrible because it isn’t just a story.

I started thinking about this Allman’s tune today. It’s from their first album, which for some time was underappreciated, though nobody cares anymore from whence the good stuff came. And this is the good stuff.

So sit with Russ and me on the pump house, with our friends, and argue about Jaimo and Butch, and Duane and Dickey, appreciate Berry’s amazing bass line, and think about motorcycles and eerie coincidences and terribly sad moments. And raise a Stegmaier, please, for Russ. And don’t klunk.


Maggie Roche has died.

When I moved to New York late in 1976 punk was breaking. Patti Smith’s Horses was already out, and the club scene was lively and exciting. New records, new great records seemed to come out every day, and the music press, the Voice, the Soho News, NME and others were crazy with coverage and analysis of the vibrant music and the scene that came with it. It was an astonishing time to be in New York, a city that was bankrupt and dangerous and eating itself from within, but also reinventing the world.

While the punk scene was centered in the East Village, and I visited all those clubs there, I somehow ended up hanging out in the Village itself, mostly at Gerdes Folk City on West Fourth Street, and Kenny’s Castaways on Bleecker Street. There the music was also hot, artists were being signed, but it was a singer-songwriter scene that was evolving, birthing a new generation of folkies, these far less interested in folk songs per se and far more interested in songwriting and confession and reflections on the quotidian and how life is lived by everyone and themselves.

I would have to do a little research to find a list of names of performers from that scene, some of whom I’m sure got a little famous and some of whom did not, but the two acts I admired most and saw many times were Steve Forbert and the Roches. Forbert wrote aching songs and sang with an aching voice, but the result wasn’t morose. His honesty and clever melodies are compelling and enduring, at least from his first two elpees, and it was hearing him live on the radio play a rocking careering version of Telstar on his acoustic that helped me develop the idea that the rock ‘n’ roll spirit isn’t just about volume and drive, but also about an honest and straightforward accounting of whatever you’re doing in song.

Which brings us to the Roches. The three sisters were delightful, funny, vivacious, and clever. They lit up the stage as presences, even Maggie the shy one, and lit up the room with their clever and lovely and surprising harmonies. We is their far too cute origin song.

As Tom recounts below, their first album as a threesome was produced by Robert Fripp, the famed progressive and experimental rock guitarist. The result is a spare and resonant sound, full of room without obvious reverb. Pretty and High was a song by Maggie, it closes the album with surreal drama and poetry and a clanging guitar. Play it loud, as if it rocked.

Ten Most Lasting Albums From Your Teen Years (per Lawr)

Peter put up a great post here, and Steve responded with a cool list. I am, I believe, the oldest (Steve is still the most curmudgeonly, though) so my teen years halt at 1972 meaning Brit Pop and Psychedelia ruled my adolescene.

My list:

  1. Tommy, The Who. Boy did I relate, especially as a misunderstood, chronically sick kid who saw things differently than seemingly everyone else around me.
  2. Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, Small Faces. A killer bit of British psychedelics, packaged way weirdly, and displaying maybe the best band of instrumental players ever who were in a single band Steve Marriott went on to Humble Pie, Ronnie Lane recorded with many including Pete Townshend’s early solo stuff, Ian McLaghlen played all over including with the Stones, Kenny Jones was the Who drummer after Keith Moon, and Ronnie Wood? Duh.
  3. Cheap Thrills, Big Brother. Live garage rock at its very best. These guys are so fucking tight it is scary
  4. Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan. A seminal part of my life: I listened to it every night as I went to sleep for two years.
  5. In Search of the Lost Chord, Moody Blues. My foray to prog rock, and since my parents drilled classical music into me early on this was the perfect synthesis. And, it still sounds good to me.
  6. Otis Live in Europe, Otis Redding. With Cheap Thrills, 801 Live, Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East, this is maybe the best live album ever.
  7. The White Album, Beatles. Man, all over the map. When I was a little older than my Blonde on Blonde days, I would listen to this (like Cheap Thrills) on my headphones, at night, as I was going to sleep. So interesting and all over the place for maybe the most creative band ever.
  8. Surrealistic Pillow, Jefferson Airplane. I remember the day I bought it, and where I bought it. Still kills and is so sophisticated for such a young band.
  9. Moby Grape, Moby Grape. Too bad these guys couldn’t hold up. As noted, one of two Peter (my asshole brother, not my mate the wonderful Mr. Kreutzer) dissed.
  10. The Doors, The Doors. The other the bro dissed, and one I listened to every time I put a stack on the spindle.I will always wonder if the Doors were really a great band, but no question this is a great album.

801, TNK

Another contribution to great Beatles covers, this is one hell of a deconstructed version as well, one I love, and one that is so appropriate for the holiday.

That is because I first heard this song, driving home from my friend Cathy Fabun’s, on Christmas Eve of 1977.

Cathy lived in Richmond, about five miles from where I lived in Berkeley, and she was a pretty new friend at the time. Cathy always held court Christmas Eve, so I was invited and it was good fun. At the time Columbian was still the dope we smoked, but Maui Wowie did make an appearance each fall, and that fall I had some.

I left Cathy’s house around ten, and it was indeed a beautiful, crisp night. Instead of driving on Interstate 80, I took the Eastshore Highway which parallels 80, but is a two-lane road that hugs the bay. The lights of the bridges and city were glistening so beautifully–and they still do for me–that I wanted to drive closer.

And, at the time, I drove one of those mid-engine Porsche 914’s which was kind of like a little spaceship.

So, I am stoned, driving down by the water in some otherworldly fashion, and this tripped out psychedelic version comes on KSAN, then the killer FM free form station that served the area.

“What the fuck is this?” I wondered. Next day I bought the album, I also own it on CD. It pretty much kills all over. And, this is the lead track.

Afternoon Snack: London Tornadoes/Bill Frisell, “Telstar”

I remember the big breakthrough of the London Tornadoes’ (note the Internet does not acknowledge the “e” in Tornadoes, but the band’s drum kit certainly does)  hit Telstar was that the song was 3:15, that making it the first top 40 song in a million years to clock in at over three minutes (Marty Robbins El Paso actually exceeded four minutes!).

The song, released in the throes of the space race, was an homage to the first communications satellite sent into outer space, and the Tornadoes did pretty good job of evoking spaciness with the Joe Meek headed production. Meek, a British producer and songwriter also produced Have I the Right? by the Honeycomb during Brit Pop’s peak, and he explored alternative sounds until a sordid murder/suicide ended things, rather un-meekly, in 1967.

But, guitar virtuoso Bill Frisell, lovingly covering the iconic guitar sounds of early pop, chose to include Telstar in his 2015 release, Guitar in the Space Age.

Its all good stuff, it is.

Everything is “Beautiful”

The last couple of years Diane and I have vacationed in New York, we have hit a couple of plays. Last year, The Book of Mormon and Larry David’s Fish in the Dark were it, and this year, I grabbed tickets to The Humans which had just moved to Broadway a month before our trip, and perfectly, the play won four Tonys including best play, actor, and actress, two nights before the tix I copped.

But, for the second show, I opted for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. There is no question how much I loved King’s songwriting, then with her (now late) husband Gerry Goffin. The LocomotionUp on the RoofChains, and especially Will You Still Love Me, Tomorrow?–which is among my favorite songs ever–are all such great and timeless cuts.  In fact, I wrote this obit when Goffin passed away a couple of years back.

But, last year, when Di and I were in NYC for the FSTA, as we walked up Broadway to Central Park, I noticed the Brill Building for the first time, so I stopped, and looked and took a photo of the front.

FullSizeRender (4)

Somewhere, that shot was lost, but this year when we walked by I got another snap, and though I knew the bulk of the Brill Building story, the show brought out so much and so many great songs and just what amazing and productive songwriters like Lieber and Stoller, and Neil Sedaka, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil in addition to Goffin and King, and all of this orchestrated by Don Krischner.

One of the things that plagued Goffin and Mann, in particular, with the British invasion and new propensity for bands to write their own materiel was writing songs that were relevant, rather than just pop tunes that appealed to the generally superficial life of teenagers.

Goffin. who wrote the words, and King banged out this really great tune immortalized:


Oh The Times Square They are a Changing

Diane and I are in New York for our vacation. Actually, I came to participate in the FSTA football draft, which is great as it means seeing so many friends from the fantasy sports world. The draft was part of the annual summer convention put on by the organization and since we both love visiting our most vibrant city so much, the convention was an easy excuse to plan an hiatus around.

One of the things I always do when I am in the Big Apple is stop by Rudy’s Music, on W. 48th street. Aside from just loving to look at guitars, Rudy’s always has, or had, a bunch of beautiful vintage axes that are more than wonderful to gawk at.

Over the years, I have purchased stuff there, too. Before boutique pedals were as readily available as they are today, I got my “King of the Brits” pedal and also my Fulltone “Choral Flange” at Rudy’s who always had easy access to such stuff when all Guitar Center would carry was BOSS (not knocking that company, in fact I use their digital tuners for all my setups).

Even more, I fell in love with Hofner basses at Rudy’s, playing one there, and then knowing that was my next purchase (Diane actually bought one for me as a present some years back and I do indeed love it to pieces).

So, this trip, first day of stumbling around mid-town, we met my cousin Richard at Virgil’s for lunch (another serious ritual, and if you like wings, Virgil’s has the best ones on the planet) and were walking around just soaking the city in when I suggested walking over to Rudy’s. Last year, I got a leather necklace there with a little carved guitar, and somewhere the guitar got lost, so I wanted to get a new one.

Much to my shock and dismay, Rudy’s was gone, and all that remained was an empty storefront. There is still the Rudy’s in Soho, functioning away, but no more mid-t0wn. So, at least to get in a guitar fix, I walked up the street to Manny’s, a music store possibly more famous than Rudy’s as that is where the Ramones hung and bought their gear, for example.

But Manny’s too was gone, again leaving an empty storefront in its wake.

I talked to a couple of people and asked what happened, and, well, the Times Square area is indeed undergoing a major renovation, and property is being snatched up, and Rudy’s and Manny’s were part of the toll of progress.

I understand this: the past will inevitably fall behind and become quaint (although nostalgia does often foster a comeback from falling out of favor) and outdated and dismissed in lieu of the next big relative thing. And, of course, profit will always sneak into the equation as well.

Anyway, for some reason, as I mused the loss of Manny’s and Rudy’s, I kept coming to this 1965 hit by the Trade Winds, New York’s a Lonely Town which essentially has nothing to do with any of this save the NYC locale, and perhaps the thoughts of things lost.

So, here it is. The song is kind of hoaky, but in a perfect 60’s way, I think.

Dump, Raspberry Beret

I saw the band Dump, which is Yo La Tengo’s bassist James McNew’s side project, in 1998 opening for the Future Bible Heroes in the fun club that once existed under the now defunct Time Cafe. If I’m remembering correctly McNew started the show by saying that he’d seen Prince the night before in the city and they were going to play some covers. And they did.

What I didn’t know is that at some point later the band put out a record of Prince covers. Very much 90s rock, kind of a nice sound.

Lauryn Hill, Lost Ones

Everytime I hear news about Guantanamo I think about the song Guantanamera, which Lauryn Hill’s sings on a Fugee’s elpee.

But when I think about Lauryn Hill I think of this song, the first track (apart from the silly skit tracks–whose idea was that?) on her great album (if you get rid of the skit tracks, which you can do) The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

I also think about taking my daughter to the Brooklyn Museum when she was three or so, to a show about rock ‘n’ roll, and she toddled through the exhibit and hugged Fugee Wyclef Jean’s Fender, which caused some serious grief among the guards. Hey, it’s their jobs and rightfully so. To this day she has not hugged another guitar in a museum, but she’s started to work out the chords on our electric.

Obit: Allen Toussaint

When I was in high school I read a story or stories or stories and references to the legendary Allen Toussaint, who was a major figure in the sound of New Orleans. I remember going to the library and finding a couple of his albums, bringing them home and not getting at all what he was up to. The piano playing was accomplished, but the songs weren’t particularly rockin’ or tuneful. I returned the records, I have no idea which ones they were, and filed Toussaint under overrated.

It wasn’t too much later, however, that I came at New Orleans music from a different angle, a compilation album of tunes from the late 50s and early 60s. All of sudden, reading the fine print, I had the pleasure to discover Toussaint in a different context. Mother in Law and Working in the Coal Mine are novelty tunes, but glorious rockin’ ones at that. Here’s Ernie K Doe’s Mother in Law:

Here’s Devo covering Working in the Coal Mine, which was originally a hit for Lee Dorsey.

The fact is that Toussaint had a long career working with a broad swath of musical talent throughout not only New Orleans’ history but rock’s history as a whole. Alas, he died yesterday, from two heart attacks following a performance in Madrid. You can get more details about his life in this obit at Rolling Stone. A more complete obituary by Ben Sisario is in the New York Times.

I want to call attention to his hugely underrated collaboration with Elvis Costello called The River in Reverse, recorded after Hurricane Katrina devastated Toussaint’s home town. This is a live version of Ascension Day with lots of Toussaint on the piano.

I saw Toussaint in the park near my house a few years ago (turns out to be five). He’s a funny, talkative performer, who worked hard to please the crowd with a set of old hits and newer stuff. I must have been sitting right behind the guy with the camera here, by the way. Sit down!