Archive for the ‘Keith Richards’ Category

I debated changing this post to reflect a more upbeat topic, something more in keeping with the  fine weather we are having in Vancouver (the keen observer will note that I am now following two used bike blogs).  But it has been on my mind for awhile, partly because I have been on an Emmylou Harris kick-more in the Gram Parsons bit down the page-and partly because Ben, one of the folks I met at the Chuck Berry Show, suggested it.

Like all other Top Five lists this one has to be viewed as a sampling.  Young death is so prevalent Wiki will spit you out a list of I think fifteen rock artists who belong to the so called “27 club”, artists who died at 27. Perhaps, like acrimonious breakups, it is a hazard of the job. Or perhaps a hazard of the personality type.  Regardless, it was impossible for me write this piece without a lot of reflection on what might have been had any of these artists lived and continued to flourish.

So here is my list.  I can already hear any number of “But where is_______?”  No mind, he or she belongs too.

Next week:  Top Five Live at the Fillmore Albums

1. Kurt Cobain

Kurt died by his own hand in April, 1994 at the age of 27. His death is to his generation is what John Lennon’s was to mine.  Nirvana’s success brought him fame and the “spokesman for a generation” label that he did not ask for and certainly did not want. Shades of Bob Dylan really.

2. Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash in 1959 at the age of 22.  It is not possible to overstate his influence on rock and roll, from establishing with the Crickets the two guitars, bass and drums lineup that is still the template for a rock band today, to the creation of the first guitar wielding rockstar, through the use of the riff to hook the listener in. All in 16 months.

Here is Buddy on the Arthur Murray Dance Party show in 1957, before Niki Sullivan joined on rhythm guitar.

3. Gram Parsons

Gram Parsons died of a drug overdose at the age of 26 in a motel in Joshua Tree, California.  Although enjoying success as a solo artist and with The Byrds (“Sweethearts of the Rodeo” is the seminal work), The Flying Burrito Brothers and the International Submarine Band, it was really only posthumously that his contribution to the creation of the country rock genre was recognised.  I also think it is fair to say that his friendship and exploits, musical and otherwise, with Keith Richards are what assisted in the creation of that string of Stones’ country flavoured songs such as “Wild Horses” and “Sweet Virginia”.

The clip here is Gram singing with Emmylou Harris, who he “discovered” in 1972 and enlisted to sing on his first solo album “GP”.  There has not been a finer pairing of  voices before or since.

4. Jimi Hendrix

My cousin Gordon had Jimi Hendrix albums in around 1967 when I was 10.  Defined cool.  Still does, 45 years later.

It is tough to write anything about Hendrix that has not already been written.  Really tough not to speculate on what might have been had he lived beyond the mere 27 years he did.  I post regularly on a fine moderated musician’s forum called “The Gear Page” where there was recently a thread posing the question as to whether if Hendrix was alive he would be recording and gigging with the hip hop crowd.  It garnered 396 responses and 10,404 views, which are big numbers at that site.  Lots of people have views on what might have become of Jimi.

5. Janis Joplin

Another drug overdose at 27, with a truly unique legacy.  Blues driven, with an assault on gender norms. Not much more for me to say, with so much unsaid.

I was fortunate to travel to St. Louis last week to see Chuck Berry.  I missed out on Levon Helm’s Ramble by saying for too many years “yeah, CB-071812one day I will do that”.  I didn’t want the same thing to happen with Chuck and am very glad I didn’t.

Along the way, I made some new friends (Ben, Jack, Alexcia and Alex) which demonstrates to me, once again, how music is something that tends to bring people together.  This is particularly so when we are talking about  the music that is the root of all rock and roll music, from Elvis and the Stones and the Beatles, to The Allman Brothers and Tom Petty and Florence and the Machine.

The show took place in “The Duckroom” where Chuck plays once a month.  I was maybe 15 feet from the stage, and was treated to Chuck being Chuck, flirting with the “pretty girls”, smiling and joking with his audience and his band-which included his son on guitar and his daughter on harp. Oh yes, and playing music that everyone in the room knew every beat and note of.

Chuck is 86.  His Gibson ES 355 sports bits of duct tape here and there. He sat down frequently in his one hour set and missed more than the occasional note.  So what. In my view, any of these issues could easily have been dealt with had I made the trip to out to The Loop in St. Louis a few years earlier.  It is not Chuck’s fault he is still alive and well and playing music.

To list the Top Five Chuck Berry Riffs is a bit of a challenge.  There are too many songs, too many variations on the basic model.  It is sort of like asking for a list of Beethoven’s Top Five Melodic Motifs:  it can be done but doesn’t really do justice  to the body of work. So what this really is, then, is the Top Five Most Recognisable Chuck Berry Riffs.  I hope you enjoy them here as much as I did live last week.

Next week:  Top Five Guilty Pleasure Songs

1. Carol

“Carol” was first released in 1958, during Chuck’s seven years with Chess Records, which commenced in 1955.  It is has been covered countless times, notably by the Rolling Stones, a live version of which is on “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out”.  This version is from the concert/biographical film “Hail Hail Rock and Roll”, which chronicled Keith Richards’ efforts at staging a musical party to celebrate Chuck’s 60th birthday.

2. Memphis, Tennessee

This is another Chess release, from 1963.  Covered by everyone from Paul Anka to The Grateful Dead, it tells a story (as all Chuck songs do) to a riff that sets the stage and itself evokes a sense of distance and travel.  Genius really. This version is live in London, England, in 1972.

3. Johnny B. Goode

Another 1958  release (and a  similar riff to Carol), this was one of the first songs to be listened to by both black and white audiences.  Legend has it that “country boy” was a replacement for “coloured boy” so as to ensure that the record in fact got played.  The voice overs here from notables who say they were inspired by Chuck in general and this song in particular makes my opening point far better than I ever could.

4. Too Much Monkey Business

This was Chuck’s fifth single and was recorded in 1956.  As with all the songs here, the riff really provides the musical basis for the story.  Here is the “Hail Hail Rock and Roll and Roll” version.  Chuck’s expressions are priceless.

5. Nadine

Now with Mercury Records and after after serving an 18 month jail term, Chuck released “Nadine” in 1963.  Fueled in part by the popularity of various covers of his songs “Nadine” was a success but not to the extent of some of his earlier work.  Chuck closed the show with this last week, after inviting as many women who would fit onto the stage to dance.  Alex and Alexcia hesitated, and alas, were lost in the shuffle to the front.

A collection of good films with good soundtracks is the desert island entertainment solution for me, combining my two foremost entertainment passions. Assuming my desert island has a power source of course.  There are many, many good examples of songs being used in films. Some directors seem to excel at it.  Quentin Tarantino (no surprise he is represented here twice)  is one, Martin Scorcese is another.

Akira Kurosawa said “Cinematic sound is never merely accompaniment, never merely what the sound machine caught while you took the scene. Real sound does not merely add to the images, it multiplies it.”  All of these  songs do that. But in my opinion what sets them apart is that they have come to be synonymous with the films they are in.  No easy task.

Next week: Top Five Bands You Really Should Listen to if the Last Record You Bought Was Led Zeppelin II

1. Stuck in the Middle With You-Stealers Wheel-Reservoir Dogs

“Reservoir Dogs” was Tarantino’s directorial debut.  Made for a mere $1.5 million, likely less than the budget for the opening credits in “Avatar”, the film was a commercial and critical success, despite an abundance of graphic violence.  Woven through it is some very good music, often introduced by the radio voice of “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies” in the background.

This clip is not for the faint of heart nor for those who have a fondness for this boppy little number from the Scottish folk group founded by Gerry Rafferty. If the former, I will warn you it is not easy to watch.  Michael Madsen reportedly had difficulty finishing the scene.  If the latter, you will never again hear the song without thinking about the scene. Guaranteed.

2. Misirlou-Dick Dale and His Del Tones-Pulp Fiction

I can’t think of a song which does a better job of opening a movie.  Period. Like a good opening track on the first side of an album, this song let’s you know where you are going.  And in this case, you realise, following the “honey bunny” and “this is a robbery” scene, that you are in for one wild, frantic ride.

Derived from a Turkish folk song, Misirlou was first released by Dick Dale in 1962.  It quickly became a staple of Calfornia surf rock bands including the Beach Boys and the Ventures.  Although Dick Dale had without doubt already achieved legendary status before “Pulp Fiction” was released in 1994, the use of this song while the opening credits ran  brought him  a new generation of recognition.

3. Oh, Pretty Woman-Roy Orbison-Pretty Woman

This song was suggested by someone far wiser than me. It is included to show that I am open minded and serious about my work here as I have no real fondness (nor dislike either for that matter) for the two principal actors in “Pretty Woman”.  It is tough however to ignore a film that takes its title from a (very very good) song.  This is the late great Roy Orbison at his best.  It was a worldwide success for him in the early 1960’s and he was awarded, posthumously, a Grammy for his performance of it in the 1991 TV special, “Roy Orbison and Friends,  A Black and White Night”.

4. Can’t You Hear Me Knocking-The Rolling Stones-Casino

Scorcese has a thing for music in general and the Rolling Stones in particular.  He co-edited “Woodstock”, directed “The Last Waltz” and also directed “Shine a Light”, a Rolling Stone’s concert film recorded over two nights at the Beacon Theatre in New York in 2008.  He has used Rolling Stones’ songs extensively in his films.

The opening riff to “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is Keith Richards guitar at its distorted, slippery, sleazy, missing a string, open G tuned best. To my ears, it is what rock and roll is supposed to sound like.  The song itself takes a wonderful (apparently unscripted) detour with extended solos by Bobby Keys on sax and Mick Taylor on guitar.   Scorcese uses all of this to maximum effect, the “cocaine eyes” reference more or less summing up the Sharon Stone character, the portrayal of which earned her an Academy Award for best supporting actress.

5. I Believe (When I Fall in Love it Will Be Forever)-Stevie Wonder-High Fidelity

Given that the film provided my blog with its name, it had to be included.  What makes the song work so well in my opinion is that we hear all of it, and not just a snippet (like the way Scorcese used “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”), while Rob is making a mix tape for Laura.  And somehow, Stevie Wonder’s talent pulls off a schmaltzy song without sounding schmaltzy.  Genius all round.