Concert Reviews

 

Mose Allison. July 1, 1999, Montreal, Quebec
Buffalo Springfield Revisisted. June 20, 1987, Providence, Rhode Island,
Henry Butler, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Buckwheat Zydeco. July 5, 1999, Montreal
Jackie Lee Cochran. December 1996, Santa Monica, California
The Jive Five. July 27, 1995, North Bergen, New Jersey
The Sam Lay Blues Band. December 7, 1994, Montreal
Jerry Lee Lewis. August 18, 1988, Ottawa, Ontario
Yank Rachell, John Sebastian and the J-Band, Windowpane. January 25, 1997, Indianapolis, Indiana
Savoy Brown. February, 1991, Montreal
Archie Shepp and Horace Parlan. July 3, 1999, Montreal
Vanilla Fudge. July 27, 1995, New York City
Jefferson Airplane. September 3, 1989, Saratoga Springs, New York

 
 

Mose Allison. July 1, 1999, Spectrum, Montreal

 
Straddling jazz and blues, Mose Allison’s impact has been felt most in rock. As a groove-oriented pianist, low key singer, and wry songwriter, he is a unique and important artist. His accessible style is built on his identity-a white Mississippian born in the 1920s, singing the blues in a jazz world-and the beat and bebop philosophy that permeates his repertoire and piano playing.

Since first hearing of him in the 1960s, I considered him a vital talent, so was surprised to see only a half-full hall the night of the concert. The event got off to a poor start with an opening act I found to be aimless, tuneless, and endless, so let’s leave them nameless.

Things picked up when Mose Allison came out to sit at the grand piano, white-bearded, casual, and in running shoes. There were a few adjustments to be made in terms of sound and piano bench levels, but after they settled in, the ensemble created a space for jazzy, conversational interplay. Backed by bass, electric guitar, and drums, Allison’s playing was as delightful and hip as ever, as were his poetic, ironic songs about the human condition.

He sang about a "high-frequency modulated jezebel," declared "it’s just as well the world ended, couldn’t have taken much more," and advised that if you come to the city "don’t take money from a woman and don’t mess around with dope." We heard many of his signature songs, including Willie Dixon’s "Seventh Son," and Allison’s compositions "Parchman Farm" (covered by John Mayall), and "Young Man" (covered by the Who). His version of "You Are My Sunshine" (by former Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis) was full of the song’s original sadness, and his take on Duke Ellington’s "Got Nothin’ But the Blues" resonated the lyrics. Interspersed was some excellent soloing, as Allison presented his originality. I enjoyed it.

 
 

Buffalo Springfield Revisisted at
the Living Room, Providence, Rhode Island, June 20, 1987

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Buffalo Springfield, left to right : Dewey Martin, Richie Furay, Stephen Stills, Bruce Palmer, Neil Young

 One summer night in 1987, I drove down from Boston with some friends to Providence, Rhode Island, to see a concert of the Buffalo Springfield Revisited and the Guess Who. The club was called the Living Room, and it was standing room only, not only because there was a big crowd, but also because there were no chairs. In my living room I have some, but there the chairs were only on the patio deck.

 Both bands gave solid shows and are well worth seeing. Both bands have been revived by original members. The Guess Who has been valiantly carried on for many years by original basssist Jim Kale, and recently he’s been reunited with original drummer Gary Peterson. In the Buffalo Springfield Revisited, the only original member is bassist Bruce Palmer.

 Bruce Plamer had been semi-retired from music for about ten years when, in 1982, he was reunited with Neil Young for the latter’s "Trans" tour. After that, he wanted to start playing again. He had settled in L.A. and fell together with the Revisited musicians. Some had met original Springfield drummer Dewey Martin, who had been playing with Rick Roberts (ex-Firefall) and Randy Meisner (ex-Eagles). Martin didn’t want to go on an extensive tour, but the new players individually studied their parts and put together a band, first called "Springfield," in February 1986. They started steadily touring in May. At the time of this concert (earlier that day they had played in Gardener, Massachusetts), they had worked six weeks with the Guess Who and had more shows ahead, with talk of going to Japan. They had played in Toronto, a sold-out boat cruise in Boston, and did 12 days in St. Thomas (in the Virgin Islands). They found a good response for their music, and that the audiences appreciate 1960s rock that says something. One of the band members said that Bruce Palmer’s role is to give the players room to move and he only speaks up when something’s not right, such as when they work on the musical grooves.

 Practically any band calling itself a version of the Buffalo Springfield would have satisfied some aspect of my curiosity, as they could draw from that catalogue of awesome compositions, but this band knocked me out with their talent, musicianship, energy, sound, delivery, professionalism, dedication, and the promise shown by their one new original composition.

 Lead vocalist Frank Wilks, playing acoustic guitar, has the perfect Buffalo Springfield voice. It contains traces of all the original singers, especially Young, and yet is distinctive in its own right. Stan Endersby and Bob Frederickson play lead guitars and sing backup. Bruce is a completely solid, fabulous bassist though he stays away from microphones. Newest member is drummer Scott Lombardi, who joined the band in May. The show’s repertoire was drawn evenly from all three Springfield LPs. From the first one : "Go and Say Goodbye," "Leave," and "For What It’s Worth." From Again : "Rock ’n’ Roll Woman," "Hung Upside Down," "Mr. Soul," and "Bluebird." And from Last Time Around we heard "On the Way Home," "I Am A Child," "Questions," and "Special Care." In addition, we heard "Cortez the Killer" from Neil Young’s Zuma, plus the new original, called "You’re Not Alone Anymore."

 Not performed that night but also in the band’s repertoire, are other Springfield tunes : "Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing," "Kind Woman," "Do I Have To Come Right Out and Say It," "Four Days Gone," and Neil Young’s "Helpless," but not "Sit Down I Think I Love You" or "Broken Arrow." The Buffalo Springfield Revisited have about ten more originals, some already have been recorded for an LP. I eagerly await the LP and urge you to check them out if you get half a chance.
 
 

Henry Butler, Clarence "Gatemouth"
Brown, Buckwheat Zydeco. July 5, 1999, Metropolis, Montreal

 Each act gave a long set to an appreciative audience. Henry Butler, a superb pianist accompanied only by electric guitar, played a sociable, rhythmic repertoire in the New Orleans R&B tradition. With "Mardi Gras in New Orleans" and "Tipitina" he paid tribute to the father of the style, Professor Longhair (who showed Butler a few things back in the 1970s). Also in the set, showing off his impressive (classically trained, yet authentic sounding) vocals, Butler sang "Something You Got" by Chris Kenner, an undersung R&B great, and encored with "Hi Heel Sneakers," getting the crowd to answer his "hi-di-ho"’s. His awesome keyboard prowess was best seen later in the night sitting in with Gatemouth Brown’s band on Count Basie’s "One O’Clock Jump." There Butler took a half-dozen fiery, intense and wonderfully musical choruses, both hands flying at times in unison two octaves apart. Remember his name.

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Gatemouth Brown

 At 75, we could say that Gatemouth Brown is one of the elder statesmen of the blues. Except his style is full of jazz and when he pulls out his fiddle, country, as he did for "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again," with a double time section that threatened to turn into "Orange Blossom Special."

 Wearing his trademark cowboy hat and accompanied by an excellent and tight band of sax, organ, bass, and drums, he opened with a jazzy instrumental. Next came a slow blues, singing "midnight find me crying, daylight find me crying too." In him and his music we sense a presence from another time and place. It’s seen in his note choices, stylistic versatility, repertoire, and even his "folk-technique" hand positions. His right hand plucks his guitar with thumb and fingers held almost parallel to the strings, and he holds his violin bow a few inches up the bow, not at the end.

 What terrific variety in the repertoire ! A fast swing instrumental had the whole band playing the head in unison, sounding like jazz fusion, then to a slow and soulful "What Am I Living For" (a hit for Chuck Willis in 1958), and a fully realized and personalized version of Bill Doggett’s "Honky Tonk." He did a Charlie Parker and Jay McShann blues tune, and even some funk.

 When the organ took a solo, Brown sat on a stool and took a few puffs on his pipe. Not for long did he rest, for soon he and the sax were urging on the organist’s improvisation with some worked out background lines to raise the temperature. On one spectacular slow blues, the power of the ensemble and their tasty background fills built such a delicious tension under the sax, that when his solo reached a high and held squealing note, then pushed the pitch ever so slightly higher to make the note resolve on the chord change, the crowd gushed in ecstatic approval and release. What a band ! A real treat, this set.

 By the time Buckwheat Zydeco’s men hit the stage, three hours into the show, the crowd started to thin. The band’s polished warm-up tunes didn’t particularly impress. Buckwheat entered to play over a gospel vamp that sounded like the end of a set, not the start. Then the organ player strapped on a rubboard and set up center stage beside Buckwheat and his sparkling accordion.

 We were ready and feeling good (aside from being asked far too many times if we were), when Buckwheat got into the Big Easy, bayou cha-cha groove the zydeco style is famous for. In this party atmosphere, nuances such as we heard in Gatemouth’s set were lost. Buckwheat’s rhythm section did their job and the two trumpets and tenor sax played mostly simple one-note shots. They all got in some basic but effective movements. Down on the floor, people swayed and danced and my friend said he felt like going back to New Orleans, so the spell worked. For me, the best thing was seeing Buckwheat’s natural ease and flowing style. "C’est bon ce soir, ici."
 
 

Jackie Lee Cochran at the Gas Lite,
Santa Monica, December 1996

 

In December 1996 I went to California for 10 days to do interviews for my next book (on west coast rock of the 1960s). While there I saw Jackie Lee Waukeen Cochran at the Gas Lite bar on Wilshire Blvd. (around 21st) in Santa Monica (part of LA) where he has played weekends for 10 years. He gigged there in previous years on occasion and mentioned that Eddie Cochran (no relation) used to come in and see him play. Jackie Lee was in good form and did my requests for "Ruby Pearl" and "Mama Don’t You Think I Know" (great versions), and came over and chatted. I gave him a copy of my book and he was very pleased to be in it and announced it from the stage.

 Cochran does almost all the singing (he puts the voice through a rockabilly echo effect on the PA) and plays lead guitar, backed by another hot guitarist, electric bass, and drums. The repertoire is wide : tunes by Carl Perkins, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard ("Big City"), Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, his own "Hip Shakin’ Mama," and a mix of other stuff like "Feelin’ Alright," "Season of the Witch," "Come Together," "Runaway," "Wooly Bully," "Wipeout," "Polk Salad Annie," "LA Woman," "Margaritaville," a country song by Steve Goodman, "Kansas City," and "Sweet Home Alabama." It is a bar band with a legendary rockabilly guy. Sometimes the songs are too fast, some are too cluttered, a few wrong chords (bridge of "Pretty Woman"), but many of them are just fine and some are fabulous. Some of the unexpected choices worked surprisingly well (like "Season of the Witch").

 The place was full with a mixed audience of young and old drinking and dancing (the delightful waitress said it was dead that night) and the architecture is pure anachronism (red leather benches around half-moon tables). No cover charge. You’ve got to go !

NOTE : Jackie Lee Cochran died March 15, 1998
 
 

The Jive Five in North Bergen, New Jersey, USA, July 27, 1995

 The United In Group Harmony Association, run by Ronnie Italiano (known as Ronnie I), puts on concerts, publishes a newsletter, and presents awards. After a year of getting their newsletter, mostly concert information, I was finally able to attend a show featuring the Jive Five, one of my favourite doo wop groups since I first saw them on PBS TV in 1982.

 Formed in Brooklyn in 1959, The Jive Five had big hits in the ‘60s, and are very highly rated. In Dave Marsh’s The Heart of Rock and Soul : The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, the Jive Five account for three. They also have the usual stories of getting almost no royalties, personnel changes (two founding members died), bouncing around to many labels, studio backup work (for disco queen Gloria Gaynor), a period of inactivity, and resurgence.

 The show was held at a casino building in North Bergen, New Jersey (three exits after emerging from NYC’s Holland Tunnel), and opened with four acappella groups. I missed the first two, but enjoyed Remembrance. During the presentation for their award of Rookie Group of the Year, I checked out the vendors along the side and back walls of the hall and found some 45s in the $2 bin : Gary U.S. Bonds’ “New Orleans,” Curtis Lee’s “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” (produced by Phil Spector), and one with the Harptones on one side and Chris Kenner on the other. I once asked a guy in a record store what he collected and he said : “I buy what I like.” So do I.

 The next group had taped backup which sounded too mechanical for me, so I just continued browsing the CDs, LPs, 45s, books, T-Shirts, and videos (UGHA tapes all of their shows).

 During intermission, two members of the Chantels (“Maybe” is the best-known of their seven hits from ‘57-’63), came up to announce next week’s show : Ronnie I’s 1950s Harmony Happenings Weekend, also featuring the Spaniels (“Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnite” hit #24 in 1954), Del Vikings (both “Come Go With Me” and “Whispering Bells” were top 10 in 1957), and the Students, who had an R&B hit in 1961, and others.

 The Jive Five’s backup band—young and poker faced—set up on the small stage. On the floor were five mics evenly spaced. Introduced as UGHA Hall of Fame members, out came five smooth cats wearing bright orange double-breasted suits, black shirts, black hankies with bright silver embroidery, and black string ties set with an oval of black and silver. Orange and black sure look great against dark skin. The bass singer was on our left and lead singer Eugene Pitt, hair tightly pulled back to a little knot at the back, was on the right.

 From my seat in the third row, I was too mesmerized by this sight, their lovely voices, and hypnotic coordinated movements to make note of the first song. The next was thrilling : “What Time Is It ?” (a hit in ‘62). It was written by the same Brill Building songwriters who gave us “My Boyfriend’s Back,” and then passed themselves off as Australians in the hit group The Strangeloves (“I Want Candy”).

 The Jive Five’s rendition of “Never, Never” (a hit in 1961, written by Eugene on the way to the studio) incorprated bits of the Heartbeats’ “A Thousand Miles Away” and Lillian Leach and the Mellows’ “Smoke From Your Cigarette.” When they sang a bit of Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Tears On My Pillow,” each line was sung by a different guy : “you don’t remember me” sang one pointing off into dreamy space, “but I remember you” sang another pointing at someone in the audience.

 The Jive Five toured the country on Dick Clark package shows, and recently played festivals in England. In introducing the next song, Eugene said : “On the road we got to know many people, including the Steely Dans (!) and we rearanged one of their songs : ‘Hey 19.’” It worked.

 When the racially integrated backup band was introduced, each player did a short funky riff on their instrument : keyboards, drums, bass (female), and guitar, a lanky vet known as Jake the Snake. They provided competent and unobtrusive accompaniement. No solos.

 Eugene introduced the singers : singing bass, his brother Herbert Pitt. Then Beatrice Best, a tall and bearded joker, who joined around 1964. In the center, brother Frank Pitt. Next came Casey Spencer, nicknamed Baby ‘cause he cries a lot (it seems he has eye trouble). He’s a long time member who does the group’s choreography and cues the band for song endings. He introduced Eugene Pitt : “because of his fabulous voice me and the rest of the guys have travelled all over the world.”

 Calling up MC Ronnie I and his new bride Sandi (at their reception the previous month, nineteen groups performed including Earl Lewis and the Channels, the Orioles, and the Harptones), the Jive Five sang them a tribute song, possibly titled “Here They Are,” then went into an acappella song, “United.”

 In the home stretch, a rousing “I’m A Happy Man” (a top 40 hit in 1965, written by Casey as a tonic for a fit of depression) raised a gospel fervour, and Beatrice Best held his mic out to various audience members who sing along : “happy happy man.”

 Their biggest hit “My True Story,” made #3. It was written by Eugene and recorded at the Jive Five’s first session in 1961. The concert version was just plain fabulous. As the singers exited, the band kept going. Returning for an encore, Casey’s ad libs over the music from “My True Story” lead into “These Golden Rings” (their R&B hit from ‘62), into a goodnight song, and finished with a brief reprise of “My True Story.”

 The concert was a very satisfying experience. Long live the Jive Five and UGHA !
 
 

The Sam Lay Blues Band at Café
Campus, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, December 7, 1994

 Veteran drummer and vocalist Sam Lay and his band played Café Campus in Montreal on December 7, 1994 as part of the club’s Wednesday night blues series (all tickets $3.50). From Birmingham, Alabama, Lay has long been part of the Chicago blues scene.

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Sam Lay

 Coming out of Howlin’ Wolf’s band, he was a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band for their debut album in 1965. In 1967, Lay was on James Cotton’s first album, and two years later recorded with Muddy Waters on the well-known Fathers and Sons album. Sam Lay is still keeping good company, as proved by his excellent combo of bass, guitar, and harmonica.

 Though he’d was walking with a cane as a result of a car accident since his last visit to Montreal earlier in the year, he played his shiny red drum set with vigor. A large man in a white shirt, bow-tie and silver cummerbund, from centre stage Lay exuded a calm, gentle presence.

 His drumming is charming : it’s organic folk drumming, an individual style born from playing by feel. He has a very light touch, at times hitting the same shuffle rhythm with both hands, on snare and ride cymbal, while he sings. When the harp or guitar take a solo, he leans in for unexpected accents, giving the cowbell one little ting on the way by. Like other Chicago blues drummers, he does his triplet fills with just one hand.

 Introducing most of the pieces with a few words about the lyrics or the original artist, Lay sang "Shake Your Money Maker" from the Butterfield album, Jimmy Reed’s "Going to New York" (a request), and some recently recorded songs, one about not wanting "a woman with hair shorter than mine." Highlights were a moody version of James Cotton’s "Jelly Jelly" ("jelly roll stays on my mind : jelly roll killed my pappy and drove my mama stone blind"), and a superb rendition of Bo Diddley’s "Bo Diddley," with the crowd hollering out the title.

 That song had a great percussion with the harp player shaking a tambourine and Sam rigging another one to his hi-hat cymbals. In his left hand he used a big drumstick with shakers inside. On the floor tom, a set of maracas rattled along, and in the middle of the song he grabbed them with his right hand for the real Bo Diddley effect.

 Lay sang a Muddy Waters tune off Fathers and Sons, quoting from "Long Distance Call" :
I hear my phone ringing, sounds like a long distance call
when I picked up my receiver, the party said "another mule kickin’ in your stall"

 Low points came with the opening of the second set : too many tunes in a row (4), in the same key (D), and with the same structure (12-bar). If I hadn’t been numbed by the lack of variety in these songs—all long, all with slide guitar—I would have been better able to enjoy the middle two : a heart-felt tribute to Elmore James from the guitarist. Later, however, I did enjoy his singing of two holiday favourites : Charles Brown’s "Merry Christmas Baby," and Chuck Berry’s "Run Run Rudolph." Another tiring thing was hearing the usual repetitive blues schtick from the stage : "are you having a good time ?" and "are you ready for the BLUES ?" and "let’s hear it again for the legendary Sam Lay," and on and on. 
This old routine is as much a part of a blues show as beer.

 Nor did I care to hear Lay singing that he was going to shoot his woman. An unfortunate topic anytime, but especially inappropriate in Montreal in the first week of December, the anniversary of the infamous Polytechnique massacre.

 But besides that, all the music was well-played, and authentic in the blues tradition. The band members played like a team, and even looked like one in matching sleeveless black V-neck sweaters, white shirts and ties.

 Overall, I was delighted to see a blues vet with a fine band, presenting a slice of the real thing to a supportive audience in a great setting. Watch for Sam Lay and check out his great drumming on his recordings.
 
 

Jerry Lee Lewis at Barrymore’s, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, August 18, 1988

 One of the four times I’ve seen him perform was August 18, 1988. Jerry Lee Lewis and the All Star Band played two shows at Barrymore’s in Ottawa. My $25 general admission ticket got me into the second (11PM) show in this luxurious old-fashioned gilt-trimmed club. Its five levels make for a high ceiling, complete with a mural of an eagle, its claws holding the cord of the mirror ball. With three friends, we drove the two hours from Montreal to see a living legend in action. Settling into some of the best seats in the house, we heard glowing reports of the first set.

 Before the show, we talked to Buck Hutcheson, one of the band’s guitarists, and with him I felt and remembered the Southern hospitality I knew well from my trips south to talk to other rockabilly musicians. We found out he’s from Tupelo, Mississippi. He got his first guitar in 1951 when he was 8, as a gift from his father. Inspired by Hank Williams, Hutcheson knew right from the start he wanted to be a musician. As a young teenager he saw shows by Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, but, ironically, not Jerry Lee Lewis. Later, Hutcheson moved to Memphis, wherehe played on Gene Simmons’ big hit "Haunted House" in the early ’60s. The two of them had grown up together in Tupelo, and with Simmons he toured a lot, even into Canada. While playing at London Ontario’s Brass Rail club, Hutcheson got kicked out of the country for being underage. He goes way back with Jerry Lee Lewis, all the way to Jerry’s later period on Sun, and recorded a number of times with him in the early ’60s.

 As the show opens, Hutcheson is on stage beside the other guitarist, Kenny Lovelace, a veteran of 20 years with Lewis. Looking benign with his muttonchop whiskers, Lovelace sings "Blue Suede Shoes." Then, while in the middle of introducing the band members, he spies Lewis heading towards the stage and says : "right now it’s showtime, ladies and gentlemen."

 Lewis walks out from behind us and across the dance floor, wearing blue tinted wrap-around sunglasses, a rust-coloured tuxedo, and patent-leather boots. He sits sideways at the piano (a Yamaha electric grand) to face the audience, plays one chord for the band to catch the key, and launches into a rocking version of the bluegrass standard "Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms." The fact that the band obviously doesn’t know which songs he’s going to sing provides an element of surprise throughout the night for all but the star of the show. Not only is he in control, but right away we see that he is in top shape and in a mood to perform. His solo flashes and beckons, and his great piano playing makes me laugh in the thrill of knowing there is no one like him. In mid-stream, Lewis stops the song on a dime ; the band is right with him.

 This is the last show of a Canadian tour. Rock ’n’ roll’s wildest showman is 52, and it’s starting to show. He is aging but he looks only tired from the road, not tired of life as he appeared to be two years ago at a Montreal show. From all accounts, his young son and marriage to Kerrie (his sixth wife), both of whom are with him on this tour, have given him a new lease on life. He’s not about to do his athletic jumping around, but he does once hoist his leg up above the piano keys, smiles, let it hit the keys when he brings it down. Even when he plays with his fist he’s musical !

 "I’m going to... where you going boy ? I’ll tell you where I’m going... I’m going to Kansas City" and the song is a surprise to the resident expert at my left, Yvon Bonneville, Mr. Canadian Fan Club President himself, who says Lewis has never recorded the song. Lewis plays with the lyrics, can’t resist inserting his name, yodels a bit, stutters a bit, laughs, improvises new lyrics, sings a verse of "Honey Hush," then sings the "hi ho Silver" in a mock basso profundo voice I’ve never heard him use before, and carries on into "All Shook Up." He stops the band when they move to the chorus too early while he’s singing the second verse. While he discusses it with Lovelace, the audience yells for the fun of it and to request songs like "Breathless." Lewis even explains what happened, then says "let’s sing it to you" and goes right back into it from the top. The band gets it right this time. At the end they know something is up when Jerry purposely hits a couple of wrong chords and goes into the "Anniversary Waltz" in another key. I love a sense of humour ! The band is mystified and stops.

 All of the band members are fine musicians. The guitarists keep out of each other’s way musically : if one plays open chords, the other barres, if one "chugs," the other "chops." The bassist is blond Joel Shoemaker wearing all black except for white shoes, holding a black headless electric bass. He spends the whole time looking in happy concentration at Lewis, as does drummer Jim Isbell, who occasionally fills in too many holes for my taste. The sound is obviously mixed by people who are more familiar with music of the ’80s : the piano was too tinkly (Lewis fiddled with his amp throughout the show), and the drums and bass were too heavy in the mix.

 A couple of sustained chords become the introduction to "She Makes Leaving Look Easy," a country ballad that Lewis sings from the heart, and he ends it after a solo full of cascading runs. "I Don’t Want To Hang Up My Rock ’n’ Roll Shoes" is taken too slowly for my feeling for the song. The band, after a couple of moments of uncertainty, catches on to Lewis’ modulation to a new key during the solo. A cold stop is followed by an immediate start into a rocking "Roll Over Beethoven." Although the club is well populated, it is surprisingly not full. By now the crowd is thick around the low stage and the dance floor has filled up. Another cold stop and then he’s right into "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man." While I was uncomfortable with the frantic tempo Lewis chose, the band seemed unfocused and the soloists had trouble with the form. Lewis stopped it in a hurry and discussed it with Lovelace. During the pause, the crowd screams energetically. "Excuse me, I’m sorry. We made a little bit of a mistake there. I’m blaming it on Ken, he’s blaming it on me, Buck ain’t sayin’ nothin’."

 "My Blue Heaven" brings it all back in focus. Behind the guitar’s melodic solo, Jerry pulls off a fast quote from "Mona Lisa." Again the song ends after the solo, and Jerry seems eager to get back to the rock ’n’ roll with "Good News Travels Fast." This man is a living library of a gigantic repertoire which covers a vast spectrum of music from more than the last 100 years, and since he can’t get to all the songs he loves at once, he’ll just have to do them one at a time. The song selection of the show I saw was reportedly almost totally different from the night’s first show.

 "I’d Do It All Again" touched me when Lewis sang :
What would you give just to hear a song, what price do memories bring ?
You know it ain’t everyday you get to stand right there and hear a living legend sing.
Well I may forget a line or two, a few words now and then,
God only knows if I just had the time, I’d do it all again.

 Then into a bluesy version of "Folsom Prison Blues" with a touch of funk and blistering runs on the piano. The song stops in what I’m starting to understand is a favourite ending : the abrupt chop. With a hand motion, he controls his band like no one I have seen except Muddy Waters. Lewis says "that’s pretty good, so much for that. Johnny Cash tune, ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ a great song." He takes a sip from his tall-neck beer on the piano, which he barely touched all night, and says "It’s 7-Up... I am-a, so happy, to be, and to be or not to be is the question !" Oh yes, I remember, he once acted in a Shakespeare play.

 We are thrilled to hear "Crazy Arms," the first song Lewis ever recorded. Between songs he sings, alone, the title words of Stephen Foster’s "I Dream of Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair," hits a chord, and half-sings : "there I was about, pretty close to my cousin Jimmy Swaggart’s house, [now singing :] waiting for a train," the lead line of "Me and Bobby McGee." The song is given, of course, the Lewis rockin’ country treatment. Joe South’s "Walk A Mile In My Shoes" leads to "Chantilly Lace" ("do I like what ?? well honey, just check the old killer’s track record, it’ll explain by itself").

 In the home stretch, Lewis gives us all the tunes in rapid succession, no talking, no nonsense. "You Call Everybody Darling" has the flavour of a 1920s pop song. A familiar bass line leads into a solid "What’d I Say," then Roy Orbison’s composition "Down the Line" (also known as "Go Go Go"), one of rockabilly’s first standards. It medleys well into "Rockin’ My Life Away" but has another fall apart ending. By changing the introduction, he catches us off guard for a great "Great Balls of Fire," and the crowd roars. He extends "Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On" with ad-lib lyrics, and then continues into "Jailhouse Rock," then a verse from a song sometimes called "Take Your Fingers Off It," then into "Good Golly Miss Molly" and "Tutti Frutti."

 As he leaves the stage and makes his way through the audience to the dressing room, the band continues for a long time. The people in front reach to shake his hand, the bouncers clear an aisle for him. Lovelace keeps saying "Jerry Lee Lewis" over and over, and then after his thank-yous, the band winds it down. We yell for more, but the house lights go on and the canned music starts.
 
 

Here’s a comment from a reader :
"Liked your retrospective on the 1988 Jerry Lee Lewis appearance at Barrymore’s. I first saw him live at the old Ottawa Auditorium back in the late 1950s just after the storm broke in the U.K. regarding his marriage to Myra. He arrived here jin the wake of all the bad publicity hitting the fan and, in a building that would normally seet close to 9,000 for such a concert, there were maybe 2,500 in the place. We were seated to the right of the stage which was situated at one end of the Aud and I can STILL see him peeking out from behind the curtains during one of the opening acts, likely disappointed at the small crowd. But when he came out and started playing, non-stop R&R which went way beyond the time normally assigned, it was like there were 20,000 jammed into the joint. It remains, for me anyway, the best R&R concert I ever attended and I saw them all, including Elvis [won two tickets to that performance], Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen, Sonny James, etc. etc. For someone who grew up in that era was was the best of them all by a mile." - G.O., 2005

Yank Rachell with John Sebastian and the
J-Band, and Windowpane, Indianapolis, Indiana, January 25, 1997

Yank Rachell
 Long a fan of jug band music, I flew from Montreal to Indianapolis to see a benefit concert for blues great Yank Rachell, featuring him and John Sebastian. Held on January 25, 1997, it was organized by Yanks’ friends Beki Brindle-DeMyer and Larry DeMyer (both guitarists in a band called Windopane). All talent, energy, and equipment was donated. Tickets were $20, and from the proceeds and a gift of $1000 from the Indianapolis Blues Society, Yank received more than $5000. It was one of his last performances ; he died on April 9.

 At 87, Rachell’s lovely blues mandolin playing was as distinctive and thrilling as on his old records. From Brownsville, Tennessee, he first recorded in 1929, doing "Diving Duck Blues" with Sleepy John Estes. With pianist Jab Jones they were the Three J’s Jug Band (John, Jab, and James—Yank’s real name), along with Hammie Nixon (harmonica, jug). Rachell, Estes, and Nixon reunited in the 1960s as the Tennessee Jug Busters. Rachell picked up some mandolin and guitar tips from Hambone Willie Newbern (the first to record "Rollin’ and Tumblin’"), and recorded with John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, Washboard Sam, and many others. Rachell’s composition "She Caught the Katy," recorded by Taj Mahal as well as the Blues Brothers, is the only one for which he ever got royalties.

 Before starting the Lovin’ Spoonful in 1965, John Sebastian was in the Even Dozen Jug Band, and the Spoonful retained a strong jug band influence. While recording his latest album, John Sebastian and the J-Band’s I Want My Roots, Yank came in for a few tunes and the idea for the benefit was born. At the concert were J-Band members Fritz Richmond, a jug, washtub bass, and washboard virtuoso formerly of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, guitarist Jimmy Vivano (from the house band of Conan O’Brien’s TV show), and drummer James Wormworth. (Vivano and Wormworth back Johnny Johnson on his recent Johnny Be Back album.)

 The concert opened with Sebastian and band playing while walking from the dressing room to the stage. Between new songs and Spoonful repertoire, he expressed delight to be able to honor Yank. Into "Jug Band Music" John inserted a new verse : "down in Brownsville it was the Three J’s, playin’ jug band music in a whole new way."

 Shortly, Yank gingerly walked from his wheelchair to a chair at center stage, receiving a standing ovation. Once his arthritic thumb was straightened by wrapping it with a piece of tape (taken from under Fritz Richmond’s washtub bass), someone passed the mandolin strap over his head. Rachell got a good laugh when he said "did y’all see this man putting these ropes on me like I was a mule ?" Admitting he’d been under the weather—"I’m 35 years old, now nobody never gets 50"—he launched into "a little jump," singing "the blues ain’t nothin’ but a good man feeling bad." In fine form, with sympathetic backing by the "guests down from New York" and his Indianapolis friends, we heard pure blues magic. Yank was happy, saying "I would dance, but I can’t walk."

 The Windopane band did a couple of songs, backed by Sebastian’s superb harmonica. Yank returned and his grandaughter Sheena Rachell took over on bass. Another granddaughter, Tracy, sang two songs. The granddaughters, with two of Yank’s daughters, treated us to an acappella gospel number. After it, a couple of dozen members of the Rachell family came down front to thank everyone for their support. Wrapping up a wonderful night of music, the J-Band played "Milk Cow Blues," a song Rachell has not played in years. He joined in, sang a couple of verses—"went upstairs to pack my leaving truck, didn’t see no whiskey but the blues made me sloppy drunk"—and looked completely transported.

 The next day I went to Yank’s house and interviewed him. We talked about the old musicians he used to play with, and I played for him a couple of jug band classics on guitar. I left uplifted and charmed by this wonderful veteran of the blues. A couple of months later he was gone.

see also the Yank Rachell obituary I wrote for a blues magazine
 
 

Savoy Brown Came To Town. February, 1991, Peel Pub, Montreal


What do you know about Savoy Brown ? That they’re one of the British blues bands from the ’60s ? That they had an ever-shifting lineup with founder guitarist Kim Simmonds the only constant ? The songs "I’m Tired," "Tell Mama," "Hellbound Train," "I Can’t Get Next To You," or "Needle and Spoon" ? The albums Street Corner Talking, Raw Sienna or one of the more than a dozen others ? Well did you know they played two nights in Montreal in February at the Peel Pub on Park, the cover was only $3, and they were excellent ?!!

On stage all five members had musicianship, presence and character, effortlessly bringing to life the hard and heavy R&B-influenced guitar-hero sound that came out Britain in the ’60s and early ’70s. Kim Simmonds, blond hair falling in his eyes, wearing a Sitting Bull T-shirt, concentrated on giving us generous portions of fluid blues licks, long sustained notes, and controlled feedback from his sunburst Les Paul guitar and Marshall amps. Captivated by his older brother’s record collection, Simmonds had been a "school boy blues purist of the worst kind." He started playing in 1964, an age young enough, he told me, to have the audacity to try to play in the style of the records he heard. He started the band two years later, taking the Savoy from the old record label (it was also the name of a posh London Hotel), and the Brown from his admiration of R&B greats Nappy Brown and James Brown. It was supposed to be the name of a fictitious person, as they first were called Savoy Brown’s Blues Band.

Dave Walker, a Savoy Brown alumnus from the early ’70s, sang with a voice wonderfully dark, rich and gritty, introducing the songs with stories and casual dry humour. "I haven’t touched alcohol in 8 years. I won’t tell you what I do in it’s place !" He’s 46, and moved to New Mexico "on account of a woman" where he lives in his Land Rover. "Born to be bruised," he laughs. The band started up again four years ago when he called Simmonds, who now lives in upstate New York.

That’s where they recruited the new lads, who conveniently had grown up listening to, guess what ? Savoy Brown ! Bassist Jeff Howell had been in the band mere weeks, though he played in ’86 with the Kim Simmonds Band. He’s also been with Foghat. Rick Jewett on keyboards gave the classic Hammond organ sound, complete with the Leslie rotating speaker. Pete Mendillo on drums, twirled, threw and (usually) caught his sticks as he played. "You should see his knitting too" said Dave.

With a great lineup and a family feeling within the band, Savoy Brown is committed to giving strong, consistent shows. As rock survivors, they know the competition is stiff at every level. They’re serious about their obligation to the audience to play their best. Montreal was the last stop in a three-week Canadian tour which also had them in two and three night gigs in London, Toronto, Ottawa, and Kitchener. Their recent touring has brought them a healthy following in those cities, and although the band had not played Montreal in many years, they certainly made some fans here too. The band’s tour is set to continue in the States in March, taking them to Europe in April, back to the west coast in May. Next break is a month off in July.

How did they feel about playing in the smaller venues, I wanted to know. They liked the intimacy of the blues clubs where one can connect directly with the audience’s enthusiasm and meet the people (thanks to their friendly roadie for arranging our meeting.) In concert halls the sound may be better (it may not be either !), but there are guards, union people, and the band goes from the hotel to the dressing room to the stage and back, and the evening feels more like an event, more distant.

Touring has brought the band new recognition. So far, four albums from their back catalogue have been rereleased by Polygram, and they’ve recorded three new albums. If you saw them and want to remember a great night of music or want to find out what you missed, check out their new CD Live and Kickin’ [GNP Crescendo GNPD 2202].

 
 

Archie Shepp and Horace Parlan. July
3, 1999, Spectrum, Montreal

 With a repertoire of standards and archaic blues melodies, these two venerable jazz masters gave a packed house and the roving TV cameras an evening as spiritually rich and emotionally moving as church. Both wore gray suits suitable for a Sunday, topped by black hats, and Shepp preached a sermon on ancestral pain, human struggling, and liberation.

His emotionally intense and adventurous tenor sax blowing and powerful singing was perfectly completed by the wonderful piano playing of Horace Parlan, who, despite a right hand crippled by polio, has been a jazz gem at least since the late 1950s Mingus band.

 Speaking in French, Shepp dedicated a mournful "Let My People Go" to his grandma, born in slavery times. Then he sung "Go Down Moses" in a soulful voice, with wide vibrato. "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" he sang, and at times soloed over, like a straining preacher on old gospel recordings. "CC Rider," slow with lots of room to roam, and the instrumental "Make Me A Pallet" (including a quote from "Swanee River") were done not so much as blues but as vehicles for jazz improvisation.

 After intermission, Vishnu Woods joined the duo on double bass and the history lesson moved forward with Duke Ellington’s classic ballad "Prelude to a Kiss." For Shepp, playing Chick Webb’s "Stompin’ at the Savoy" brought back the memory of visiting the famous ballroom in New York City when he was 16 years old. The climax was "Mama Rose," written for his grandma. It is an impassioned tone poem of revolution, pollution, civil rights, outrage, and homage. At the line "how my heart is jumpin’" Shepp’s scream turned falsetto, and at times he yodeled like Leon Thomas (whose obituary I read in the paper some days later). Though the band played nothing faster than a medium walk, much agitated emotion came through in Shepp’s screaming tenor. The audience, already thrilled, was charged by "Mama Rose," then soothed by the encore of "Round Midnight" by Thelonious Monk.
 
 

Vanilla Fudge at the Rock and Roll Café,
Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, July 27, 1995

I owned the band’s first two albums and fondly remembered their big hits, but never cared that much about them. I knew they were playing in town that night and had a vague desire to go, but I didn’t note the gig’s location and didn’t make any plans. While walking around Greenwich Village, I passed the club (next door to the legendary Bitter End) and looked through the window to see them in sound check. The vocals were powerful and the sound was their style. Intrigued, I came back at show time, paid the $5 admission, and was rewarded with a great show.

 
They played all five of their chart hits and much more. The band was led by original member Vince Martell, who sang lead most of the time, played a black Les Paul guitar, sported a goatee and a head full of grey hair, and wore leather pants and a vest over his bare chest. He was accompanied by a blond fellow with a moustache who played Fender bass, a drummer with two bass drums, and a younger long-haired keyboard player who had two Yamaha instruments on a rack. [Aside from Vince Martell, the original lineup also included Mark Stein (lead vocals, organ), Tim Bogert (bass), Carmin Appice (drums)].

 The band’s records and this performance featured high vocals and lots of harmony, highly detailed arrangements, rhythmic shots, lots of descending bass lines, contrasts, build-ups, and interpretations of well-known songs. This show had all that, done with impressive vocals and instrumental work, and the ensemble playing was really tight !

 The show opened with their rendition of the Beatles’ “Ticket To Ride.” During their cover of Jr. Walker and the All Stars’ “Shotgun,” a hit for Vanilla Fudge in 1969 (#68), over a descending bass figure they inserted a quote of “Greensleeves” (a song William Shakespeare mentions in his play, published in 1602, The Merry Wives of Windsor). From their first album in 1968 came another hit, “Take Me For A Little While” (#38), here sung by the keyboard player. A drum solo came during the Zombies’ “She’s Not There.”

 “People Get Ready” began with a long section of four-part harmony singing, closer to doo wop than gospel, and bits of organ playing. When the band came in, the song modulated to a higher key. Their biggest hit was “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (#6), released in 1967. Again the keyboardist took the lead vocal, and all the others sang backup. From a heavy buildup, the arrangement drops to a single held organ note, then shifts around in typical Fudge fashion.

 The show continued with “Thoughts” and “Where Is My Mind” in heavy late ‘60s East Coast psychedelic style. The latter was a hit for the band in 1968 (#73). “Need Love” was heavy hard rock. “Eleanor Rigby,” sung by the keyboardist, ended with the words “nothing is real, nothing to get hung about.” The final song was Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” another hit for Vanilla Fudge (#65/68), appearing on their Renaissance album. This show was an unexpected delight and made me reappeciate the band and their unique approach.

Jefferson Airplane : In Flight Again, 1989

concert review, written in 1989

On September 3, 1989, after weeks of anticipation, I drove with a friend for three hours, heading south from Montreal to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) in Saratoga Springs, New York, to see the Jefferson Airplane in concert. From its inception in 1965, Jefferson Airplane was the premier San Francisco band throughout the psychedelic era. This tour marked the first time they played under that name since 1972. In 1974, amid shifting personnel, the band was renamed Jefferson Starship ; 10 years later it was named simply Starship. With the recent departure of Grace Slick, the frayed thread connecting Starship to its origins finally broke : at that point Starship contained no one who was ever in Jefferson Airplane.

It was a true reunion, for five of the nine people on stage were the nucleus, the chemistry of the Airplane from 1966 to 1971, and only drummer Spencer Dryden was conspicuous in his absence. Left to right in a line across the front were : Paul Kantner on vocals and rhythm guitar, with glasses and a chic black and yellow jacket ; vocalist and founder Marty Balin with blond hair and long-fringed black leather ; Grace Slick, looking fantastic and radiantly healthy with a gorgeous head of hair, black like her stylish suit ; lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, not particularly healthy looking, hair pulled back and wearing a jean jacket, t-shirt, and jeans with torn knees ; and bassist Jack Casady looking enigmatic, light of hair and dark of glass.

The supporting musicians were behind the front line and on risers : Kenny Aronoff, a fabulous drummer ; keyboardist Tim Gorman, whose playing was incredible, versatile and tasteful ; Randy Jackson on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and sometimes keyboards. Also, on the far right side was guitarist Peter Kaukonen, looking somewhat uncomfortable and uninvolved, occasionally more animated during his few solos when he used the whammy bar and two-handed hammering. Peter, brother to Jorma, had been in a group named Black Kangaroo and was briefly a member of Jefferson Starship.

My mail order ticket was $18.50 and got me into a seat near the back of the open-aired concert bowl. Though we had a roof over our heads, it was a perfect night, and the lawn seats behind were well populated. Seconds after finding my seat, the concert opened exactly on time with "She Has Funny Cars," written by Paul and Marty, from Jefferson Airplane’s second album, Surrealistic Pillow, the first one with Grace Slick in the band. At the sight of the band and the fabulous light show, which was clean, high-tech and constantly surprising, and at the sound of the familiar intro by drums and the descending lines by bass and guitars, the full house audience roared. We knew the band was going to play some of our favorites. In fact, the first three songs were from that same landmark album. The crowd was happy, thrilled, boisterous, and appreciative. This song was a fine choice for an opener, for the instruments enter one at a time, and the band, always rich in vocal talent, displayed their three-part harmony derived from folk-rock.

Never having seen the band, but being a long time fan with almost all their albums, I was delighted to see who did what and how they interacted and moved. Paul and Jorma remained rooted, Marty and Grace moved freely about, and Jack, enjoying the freedom of cordless technology, walked, hopped, and raced around the stage, grooving face to face with the drummer, the keyboard player, getting between Marty and Grace, communing with the speaker of his amp, and even playfully getting in the way of a scurrying roadie.

To the delight of the audience, the next song was “Somebody To Love." It was written by Darby Slick, brother of Grace’s first husband Jerry, when all three were members of the Great Society. When Grace joined the Airplane, she brought with her this song and her own composition "White Rabbit" from her previous band’s repertoire. These were the Airplane’s first and biggest hits, both top 10 in 1967. Then Marty sang his "Plastic Fantastic Lover" pacing the stage while the band played with total confidence and conviction. Another favorite, Paul’s "Won’t You Try/ Saturday Afternoon" from their third album After Bathing At Baxter’s, was a song which they had performed at Woodstock. Perhaps this summer’s 20-year retrospection was partly responsible for the reunion, media interest in the tour, and curiosity from the younger audience members.

Back to the past yet again for another song from the Surrealistic Pillow album with "Today." Written by Paul and Marty, this very emotional love song gave credence to the band being identified with love, Love-Ins, and the Summer of Love. Marty and Grace sang close to and directly at each other : "and it’s all for you."

When Grace announced "Jorma’s going to sing a spiritual," the crowd yelled as the band started "Good Shepherd," his arrangement of a traditional song from the Volunteers album. Since it hadn’t been announced who was in the band, the people who hadn’t recognized him by then were happy to know he was also there, and his patented nasal voice, never heard except when he sings lead, brought the delight of another familiar color. Grace’s voice interweaved with Jorma’s in a lovingly done rendition with a lot of feeling : "one for to make my heart rejoice."

In introducing her song "Lather," from Crown of Creation, Grace said : "We used to say don’t trust anybody over 30, that’s not right, don’t trust anybody over 12 !" At the line "snotting the best licks in town," over the classical double keyboard background, Grace was tapping her nose while humming, smiling at the fun of it, and so were we. "Is it true that I’m no longer young ?"

"Solidarity" by Marty, including lines by Bertol Brecht, is a new song with long new age-style acoustic piano and synthesizer intro. The harmony voices, the beat and the band entered with three repeats of the title, with the syllables rising in pitch. The main body of the song was musically powerful, ending with the piano alone. A plea for understanding : "people of the world together, join to serve the common cause."

"Wooden Ships," the song Kantner wrote with David Crosby and Steven Stills, is a vision of post-apocalypse survival, where two enemies meet and share berries. After technology has failed, sailing away from the barren ruins appears to be "easy, you know the way it’s supposed to be, free and easy." As the song opened, Paul then Grace and then Marty each sang a couplet. The concert ending differed from the Volunteers recording with reprises of the first line from each singer, ending with them harmonizing "probably keep us both alive."

Paul’s "America" from the K.B.C. (Kantner, Balin, Casady) group powerfully celebrates the country’s founding ideals and those who fight for that vision of freedom, with the declaration that "the dream still goes on" and impassioned harmony with Marty’s voice above Paul’s singing "don’t be afraid of anything, don’t be afraid of anyone." The song ended with a lovely symphonic passage played alone by the synthesizer.

A new song by Grace called "Freedom" opened with a short fast blast in 6/8 tempo, replaced by piano chords in a slow 4/4 tempo and classical arpeggios on electric guitar. The drums re-entered on the second section, back to 6/8 at the slower tempo. "It’s wonder anybody ever comes out sane, but they do... it’s all uphill but that’s the only way to get high…Right now’s the time for you to look inside and you’ll see love, love has never gone away." The finale was like the intro, now a rave up for guitars with Grace singing a wordless melody with a Spanish lilt. The song and the set ended with a spitfire drum tattoo.

After intermission, the second set began with Hot Tuna doing some favorites. This duet of Jorma and Jack produced numerous albums in the ’70s when the others were involved in various solo projects and Jefferson Starship. The two played alone and seated, Jorma with a white acoustic guitar that had no visible soundhole, later switching to a matching black one. Back to the roots for some downhome acoustic blues, they gave us "Mann’s Fate," Jesse Fuller’s "San Francisco Bay Blues," and two from the repertoire of Reverend Gary Davis : "Death Don’t Have No Mercy" and "Candyman," which included a short bass solo. Grace and the drummer arrived to join in on Jorma’s "Third Week In Chelsea" from the Bark album.

The men departed and Grace talked to the audience about her favorite animal, the panda bear, pictured on her t-shirt, urging us to support the World Wildlife Federation and Greenpeace. Alone at the piano, she sang "Panda," a new song about poachers killing a bear and selling the fur. "Panda bear, my gentle friend, I don’t want to say goodbye."

The band returned with a solid version of "Miracles," which was Jefferson Starship’s biggest hit : #3 in 1975, from the Red Octopus album. Randy Jackson reprised the characteristic screaming guitar solo. "If only you’d believe like I believe." "Ice Age," a new one written and sung by Jorma, was long, hypnotic and flowing. The kind of song you want to travel far with : "keep on walkin’."

The next four songs were all new. "The Wheel," inspired by Paul’s concern for the Nicaraguans, brought soaring vocals, singing "we can be one world" emerging out of a barrage of primitive drumming and acoustic guitar strumming. "The wheel keeps on turning... rolling to a future evolution." It ended with an impressive drum solo. Romantic piano introduced a ballad written by Marty, "The Summer of Love." It’s all in the words, sung by Marty and Grace :

- I still believe in all the music, it’s still playing
- I still believe in all the words I’m still saying
- I still believe in all the people, they were really great

The summer of 1967 was "just the beginning" ; the spirit continues.

1989 reunion albumThe band joked about the bats flying around the stage and Paul got a good laugh when he said they were "flash bats." In a familiar driving beat in the Jefferson Starship mold was the new song "True Love" : "what the dream is really made of." Out of Paul’s continued interest in science fiction and technology came "Planes," the story of two generations of boys fascinated with flight, planes, jet aircraft, and space travel. The predominant forceful chorus and guitar solos were contrasted by sparse, declamatory verses.

The home stretch was heralded by Jack’s familiar bass intro to "White Rabbit." Grace toyed playfully with rhythm as the band surprised us by dramatically dropping the dynamics at the word "logic," then building in intensity to the end : "feed your head." Before the final song, Paul’s "Crown of Creation," title song off the fourth album, she thanked us for joining them. Well, it was our pleasure !

The encore started with their oldest composition : Marty’s "It’s No Secret," a concert staple from the first album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. Guitar solos dominated Jorma’s selection of "Baby What You Want Me To Do," a song written by bluesman Jimmy Reed, whose version entered into the top 40 in 1960. The final song of the night was the Balin and Kantner composition "Volunteers." Originally, it was the bands’ rhetorical cheer-leading rally for a simplistic revolution in the streets with the youth (hooray !) versus old folks (boo !). Now it’s become a call for worldwide change, naming such trouble spots as Beijing, South America, Poland, Russia, and "here." "Fight back" they yelled and we chanted back, building and channeling the energy. After they left the stage, I was amazed at how much noise humans can make !

So 1989 came with the happy surprise of a reunited Jefferson Airplane, consummately professional in their music and stage show. They have made peace with their past and are still looking forward, bringing a positive message of unity, love, evolution, revolution, and ecology, living a dream of all of us working together with a refined vision of the world, more global, more real. As we walked out, the Greenpeace table near the concession stands seemed to be particularly appropriate.

I recommend Got A Revolution ! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane by Jeff Tamarkin. Click here to go to the website for the book.


comments or questions ? email me

I have posted interviews with members of the Doors, Electric Prunes, Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Music Machine, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Strawberry Alarm Clock. To go to the index page, click here.

you may be interested to read Psychedelic Music in San Francisco : Style, Context, and Evolution by Craig Morrison, available as a download from lulu.com for less than $5

CRAIG MORRISON
is an ethnomusicologist, teacher, author, and musician
based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
7 Nights Music Communications, 2006