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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

ROBERT SHELTON

 
The late Robert Shelton, ex New York Times Folk Critic and the author of No Direction Home, would have been 85 today. The puzzlingly fuzzy photograph above, which I took in 1973, is shown uncropped and more clearly at www.michaelgray.net/photos.html  -  where it's one of several different pictures added last week.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

IT WAS 30 YEARS AGO TODAY . . .


The second edition of my critical study of Bob Dylan's work  -  the one with the original title and subtitle reversed, making it THE ART OF BOB DYLAN: Song & Dance Man, was published in the UK thirty years ago today. It came out in simultaneous hardback and paperback from Hamlyn. It was a revised and updated version of the first (1972) edition, but was mainly notable for the very generous number of photographs I was allowed to include, the great majority of which were integrated with the text. Many of the pictures were by Jim Marshall.

There was one giddy week, when Dylan was playing Earls Court that year, when the book filled the window of a W.H.Smith's store round a couple of corners from the venue. On the first night, I handed in an inscribed copy of the hardback to be given to Bob. Naturally I never heard back, though as with every other edition, his office had given me permission to quote copiously from his lyrics at a more or less nominal fee.

In North America, this 2nd edition was published by St.Martin's Press in 1982, also in simultaneous hardback and paperback.

Friday, June 24, 2011

DYLAN 22 JUNE 2011

photo by Paolo Brillo, copyright 2011; used by permission

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

SIMPLE TWIST: BOB ON GUITAR

JOHN LEE HOOKER

John Lee Hooker died ten years ago today. Here's his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Hooker, John Lee [1917 - 2001]
John Lee Hooker was born a few miles south-east of Clarksdale, in the tiny community of Vance, Mississippi, on August 22, 1917. He became an influential, and very successful, post-war bluesman: a singer, guitarist and songwriter with a distinctive voice people either like or dislike strongly, and a shambling style that seemed as old as voodoo chants yet always managed to sound modern and knowing.

After an adolescence in Memphis, where he worked as a theater usher, Hooker moved north to Detroit in 1943, played in the city’s important black entertainment district around Hastings Street, and kept a home in Detroit until 1969, by which time he had achieved crossover hit singles in European hit parades as well as in the US. He first recorded in 1948, starting as meant to continue with a sizeable hit, ‘Boogie Chillen’, and then between 1959 and 2000 released a staggering 77 albums. The titles of the earliest of these suggest his popularity with the folk-revival market: the first was Folk Blues and the next handful included The Country Blues Of John Lee Hooker and The Folk Lore Of John Lee Hooker.

Ludicrously, granted his unmistakeably individual voice and style, many of these early records were made under pseudonyms for rival labels to Modern, the one that had signed him: pseudonyms like Delta John, Texas Slim, Birmingham Sam & His Magic Guitar and, as Tony Russell notes, ‘flimsiest of all, John Lee Booker on Chess, a label for which he made some particularly compelling sides in 1950-51’. Nevertheless it was with Modern and under his own name that he followed up his first hit with ‘Hobo Blues’ and ‘Crawlin’ King Snake’ (1949), and ‘I’m In The Mood’ (1951).

He has had no discernible impact on Dylan’s style, yet he occupies a special place in his history: for it was a tangible step forward for Dylan when he was given support-act billing to Hooker for a two-week stint at Gerde’s Folk City in April 1961 (the weeks of April 11-16 and 18-23), and named as such on the handbills. Dylan proudly sent copies of these back up to Minneapolis, to impress his friends. Dylan’s friend Sybil Weinberger told the makers of BBC-TV’s 1993 Arena Special ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ that in the early Village days, Dylan loved Hooker, and that whenever he was playing, Bob would be there.

In Chronicles Volume One, although Dylan makes no comment on Hooker, he does mention him in noting ruefully that his own harmonica playing was too basic to ever attract any comment, with the exception of one time ‘a few years later in John Lee Hooker’s hotel room on Lower Broadway… SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON was there and he heard me playing, said, “Boy, you play too fast.”’ That ‘a few years later’ probably means ‘not long afterwards’. In 1985, Hooker said of Dylan: ‘Bob is a beautiful person. A good, good man. Very sweet, very kind. I met him when I was playing in the coffee houses. He wasn’t famous then but he came to see me. We played some shows together and he’d come back to my place and we’d stay up all night playin’ and drinkin’ wine.’

Hooker went on to create band-backed 1960s R&B cross-over hits out of ‘Dimples’ (actually cut in 1956) and ‘Boom Boom’ (1962), and crossed too from the solo ‘folk blues’ of Dylan’s Greenwich Village days to the electric blues mainstream of that decade’s end. In the 1970s he was taken up by younger star names like Elvin Bishop and VAN MORRISON; for most of the 1980s he more or less disappeared, but turned up onstage for the encore of Dylan’s concert with TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS at Mountain View, California, on August 5, 1986 to perform ‘Good Rockin’ Mama’ backed by all these rock musicians (augmented by AL KOOPER).

Not long after that Hooker made one of those unpromising albums that gathers up clusters of star guest performers, The Healer, in 1989  -  on this occasion CARLOS SANTANA, Robert Cray, Los Lobos, George Thorogood, Charlie Musselwhite and Bonnie Raitt (yielding, with her, a much-admired vocal duet revisit to his 1950 hit ‘I’m In The Mood’)  -  which turned out to become the biggest-selling blues album in history and was followed by the similarly stellar-supported Mr. Lucky (with Albert Collins, Ry Cooder, KEITH RICHARDS and Van Morrison).

John Lee Hooker died of natural causes at his home in Los Altos, near San Francisco, on Thursday, June 21, 2001. He was 83.

[John Lee Hooker: ‘Boogie Chillen’, Detroit, Sep 1948, Modern 20-627, US, 1948; ‘Hobo Blues’, Detroit, Sep 1948 or 18 Feb 1949, Modern 20-663; & ‘Crawlin’ King Snake’, 18 Feb 1949, Modern 20-714, 1949; ‘I’m In The Mood’, Detroit 7 Aug 1951, Modern 835, 1951; ‘Dimples’, Chicago, 17 Mar 1956, Vee-Jay VJ 205, US, 1956; ‘Boom Boom’, Chicago, late 1961, Vee-Jay VJ 438, 1962; The Healer, California, Jan 2 & Oct 1987 & Apr-May 1988, Chameleon LP 74808, US, 1989; Mr. Lucky, nia, Apr 1990-May 1991, Silvertone ORE CD 519. (There is a monumental Hooker discography online at http://web.telia.com/~u19104970/johnnielee.html, by Claus Röhnisch.) Hooker quote on Dylan: Brian Walden, ‘Questionnaire: John Lee Hooker’, Q no.85, London, Oct 1993. Bob Dylan: Chronicles Volume One, p.257. Tony Russell quote, The Blues - From Robert Johnson To Robert Cray, 1997, p.69.]           

Friday, June 17, 2011

SHORT CHRONOLOGY OF SNIPPETS

JUNE 12: CARL GARDNER, lead singer of the Coasters, died in Port St Lucie FL aged 83.

JUNE 15: C.F. MARTIN, guitar maker, died this day in 1986, in Nazareth PA, aged 91.
JUNE 16: BOB DYLAN live in Cork, Ireland, included 'I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine'.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

JACKIE DE SHANNON & RY COODER 1963

I've had my attention drawn to a terrific website/resource called Wolfgang's Vault, which puts online some of the recordings & other items that seem to have belonged to the late Bill Graham, promoter extraordinaire whose heyday was the 1960s and 1970s. One of the most remarkable items  -  and you can hear it in full  -  is a club performance from September 1963 by the 19-year-old Jackie de Shannon accompanied by 16-year-old guitar prodigy Ry Cooder.

I've always admired some bits of Jackie de Shannon's work  -  her version of 'Needles and Pins' was incomparably better than the Searchers', as was her original recordings of her own composition 'When You Walk In The Room', which the Searchers also covered in enfeebled form.

On this 1963 performance from the Ash Grove in Los Angeles, there are a number of songs included which hold an interest for Dylan afficionados, but the one that strikes me most is Ms de Shannon's version of Rabbit Brown's sublime  'James Alley Blues'. I'd have thought this was uncoverable. She does it superbly well.

The whole thing is here but here is 'James Alley Blues':




Thursday, June 09, 2011

BOB'S 1966 TOUR DRUMMER MICKEY JONES . . .

. . . is also turning 70: tomorrow. Here's his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Jones, Mickey [1941 - ]
Michael Jones was born in Houston, Texas on June 10, 1941, but grew up in Dallas, learning to play drums early in life and dropping out of high school to play on tour with Trini Lopez, whom he followed to Los Angeles, where Lopez had a regular gig at PJ’s nightclub. When Lopez was signed to Reprise, they wanted an album Live at PJ’s, and this, released in 1963, launched Lopez’s career. From it came his big hit single of ‘If I Had A Hammer’, which he had learnt from a PETER, PAUL & MARY records. Hence even Mickey Jones’ first recording success had a tenuous Dylan connection   -  and yes, that finger-snappy, thin, echoey drum sound on Lopez’s irksomely chirpy ‘If I Had A Hammer’ is Mr. Jones.

From Lopez he went to work for smoothed-out-rock’n’roll hitmaker Johnny Rivers (an act Bob Dylan seems to have been inordinately fond of, and whose 1968 version of ‘Postively 4th Street’ Dylan says he liked better than his own, even calling it his favourite cover version). Mickey Jones stayed with Johnny Rivers for three years, playing on seven of his albums and including in his touring a March 1966 trip to Vietnam with Ann-Margret.

Before that trip, Dylan caught Johnny Rivers at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in LA, called Jones over to his table, told him he loved his playing and offered him a job. The job began straight after the Vietnam trip: it was playing live on the Hawaii-Australia-Europe tour of 1966 with Dylan and the Hawks, after LEVON HELM had earlier dropped out and been replaced by SANDY KONIKOFF, who had played the February-March 1966 US dates. Mickey Jones made his début with the group on April 9 in Honolulu. He rode it out right through till after the London Royal Albert Hall concert of May 27  -  and he was up for the further North American dates he’d been led to expect, including New York’s Shea Stadium, till Dylan had his motorcycle crash and cancelled everything. Except, apparently, Jones’ paychecks. ‘I had a two-year deal, and Bob never tried to renege,’ said Jones. ‘He’s a man of his word.’

Opinions vary as to the quality of Jones’ contribution. Barney Hoskyns writes scathingly about him, as musician and personality, in his biography of THE BAND, Across the Great Divide (1993), calling him ‘the overweight Texan’ with a ‘penchant for collecting Nazi regalia’, whose ‘sensibility was as different from that of the Hawks as his ham-fisted drumming technique was from the rangy, loose-limbed style of Levon Helm.’ And he quotes D.A. PENNEBAKER as saying:  ‘The Hawks’ hearts were down in the swamps of Lousiana…. Mickey’s wasn’t, I’ll tell you that. He’d gotten out of Texas as fast as he could, and he wanted the bright lights.’
             
It’s true that Levon Helm’s playing was more subtle and flexible, but for many, Mickey Jones’ drumming was perfect for the radical, incendiary electric music that Dylan and the Hawks were hurling out at their audiences. The uncompromising defiance of his snare-drum attacks, like volleys of machine-gun fire, cranking up the pitch of excitement unfurled by this most glorious music, propelled the sound and the spirit of the whole fiery ship on through hostile oceans. It was the surely the best rock drumming since its obvious precursor, D.J Fontana’s thrilling, galvanising rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat on ELVIS PRESLEY’s ‘Hound Dog’ ten years earlier.

Even the ‘overweight’ jibe seems slightly unfair. Alongside the Bob Dylan of 1966 nearly everyone else in North America looked overweight. None of which lessens the pleasing witticism of the editing on a fleeting moment of the concert footage of ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ put together by Pennebaker as a promo for Eat the Document (back when he thought Dylan would co-operate with his version of that project). Before the extraordinary riches of extant 1966 concert film were glimpsed more generously in SCORSESE’s No Direction Home in 2005, bootleg copies of this would-be promo film, centred upon a Scandinavian concert’s ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’, offered the only complete song-performance to be seen  -  and there’s a neat moment within it where Dylan sings that chorus line ‘You know something is happening but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?’ and as he completes the question, the film cuts to Mickey Jones, pudgy and blonde, in the dark behind his drumkit.

It isn’t a fair connection, and isn’t meant to be  -  plenty of people were in the dark at the time, while Mickey Jones understood the thrust of the music and helped make it  -  but it was a gem of editing (and it was surely HOWARD ALK who devised it).

After the tour, Jones’ moment of glory, his contribution to history, was over. It was straight downhill into Kenny Rogers & the First Edition after that, and ‘I Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In’. When Kenny Rogers went solo in 1976, to become rich as Croesus in the multi-platinum late-1970s country superstar stakes, Mickey Jones concentrated on acting, encouraged by a small part alongside Rogers (and with music supplied by the First Edition) in the TV film The Dream Makers in 1975. As he grew larger, hairier and more piggy-eyed he became increasingly suited to rôles as the menacing biker, the creepy backwoodsman, ‘man at pizza joint’ and ‘burly miner’. He enjoyed a starring rôle as the Ice Man in Misfits of Science (supported by Courteney Cox), played the character Peter Bilker in the TV series ‘Home Improvement’ throughout the 1990s, and according to Edna Gundersen in USA Today, ‘he became a household face as the burly biker in a long-running Breath Savers commercial.’

In 2002 he released the video/DVD Bob Dylan - World Tour 1966: The Home Movies - Through the Camera of Dylan’s Drummer Mickey Jones. Its anecdotes, told by Jones with some verve, are inevitably interesting, though as one punter-review on Amazon noted, the overall package was ‘heavily criticised by fans, who felt that a DVD with the words “World Tour 1966” in the title should contain at least some concert footage. (It does, but without sound.)…. It is a collection of primitive silent home movie clips, some of which actually include Bob Dylan in the frame.’

In 2007 Jones finally succeeded in publishing his memoir That Would Be Me: Rock & Roll Survivor to Hollywood Actor by settling for the print-on-demand process.
           
[Mickey Jones: That Would Be Me: Rock & Roll Survivor to Hollywood Actor, Bloomington & Milton Keynes: AuthorHouse, 2007. Barney Hoskyns, Across the Great Divide: The Band and America, London: Viking / Penguin, 1993 (New York: Hyperion, 1993); 2nd edn London: Vintage / Ebury, 2003. Edna Gundersen, USA Today, US, 16-18 Oct, 1998; this is also the source of the Jones quote re his salary from Dylan. DVD review by ‘Docendo Discimus’, seen online 4 Feb 2006 at www.amazon.com.]


Wednesday, June 08, 2011

SLOWLY INTO AUTUMN 2011

Sarah and I have scheduled a new set of Bob Dylan Discussion Weekends to take place at our house in France this September (2011). The details are here




Tuesday, June 07, 2011

JIMI & THE DRIFTER (OUTTAKE) 1970

Friday, June 03, 2011

THE CAPTAIN'S TOWER


When I was at the Bristol University Bob Dylan Conference on, yes, May 24th, I was handed, by two of its three editors, a copy of a smart smallish paperback called The Captain's Tower: Seventy Poets Celebrate Bob Dylan at Seventy. The title misleads, since a number of poems were written by people who died long before they could celebrate any such thing, but it's an interesting collection. My favourite bit on first glance is something in the short paragraph about one of the contributing poets (and co-editors), presumably written about himself, at the back of the book. It goes like this:

"Damian Furniss first heard Bob Dylan on an Open University radio documentary about the civil rights movement when he was thirteen, tuning in from under the bedclothes when he should have been listening to John Peel."