Wednesday, 30 March 2011

White Mansions

White Mansions was a country rock concept album written in 1978 by thoroughly interesting bloke Paul Kennerley and performed by some of country music's finest including Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and with a guest spot on guitar from Eric Clapton.

The album is wonderful, but we will get to that....
Englishman Paul Kennerley was working in advertising in 1976 when he first heard country music. He had an epiphany, immersed himself in the music, quit his job and started writing songs. His first project White Mansions, was picked up by A & M, and Jennings, Colter, Clapton, Steve Cash and John Dillon were recruited along with Glyn Johns (Dylan, The Beatles, The Band, The Who, The Stones, Fairport) producing.  I am just astounded by that, and how someone can completely change their path and start their new career right at the top with some of the most respected people in the industry. Amazing. And lucky guy.

Anyway, the album topic is somewhat controversial, but it  is executed with thoughtfulness and wit.
The album is set at the outbreak of the American Civil War in the 1860's, and the situation as seen by various characters from the south, including the son of a wealthy cotton family, his partner who works in a hospital during the war, a drifter (a kind of weary impartial observer), self-professed 'white trash' poor southerners and (briefly) the slaves.
It tries to put across the point of view of many in the south, their pride and macho attitude towards the war but also the difficult decisions and changes they were facing and the fear of the economic repercussions.

Everyone involved sings and plays wonderfully, and with real intensity. The songs range from slow ballads to classic country rock, battlefield singalongs, gospel and a waltz thrown in for good measure. It's an all round good album, and great for anyone like me who prefers music with country influences to out and out country. It's also great being able to hear artists like Jessi and Waylon, whose voices I have long appreciated, in more of a country-rock environment. There is unfortunately only a small input from the wonderful gospel voices that make up 'the slaves' characters, but I guess the album theme (the situation from the point of view of the white southerners) limits their involvement.

If you can get round the slightly uncomfortable concept (which you should) and see this as what it is, which is not a glorification of slavery in the south but a wonderful historically set concept album, you will probably find something you like in it.

The beautiful 'Story To Tell'

'Oh Dixie'

'Join Around The Flag'

'Praise The Lord'

'Southern Pride'

'Last Dance'

Friday, 11 March 2011

Delaney and Bonnie

One of the most overlooked but glorious bands in rock.

As many sources will tell you, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett were musician's musicians. That is to say that they didn't have much commercial success but they were very much admired and respected by some of the most celebrated artists out there.

Delaney found his early success playing with The Shindogs (house band of the tv show Shindig) and Bonnie sung from a young age, backing Albert King, Little Milton and Ike and Tina Turner (the first white Ikette). She moved to LA, met Delaney and they were married soon after.

They originally signed to Stax, but with their first album gaining little success, they moved to Elektra where they released their second, 'Accept No Substitute'. Once again it didn't fare too well commercially but found the band a small cult following of fans, many of whom were successful musicians themselves. After a tour supporting Blind Faith, Eric Clapton went on to join them full time, taking a reserved role in the group. They adjusted their name to Delaney, Bonnie and Friends, releasing their most successful album, 'On Tour With Eric Clapton'.

The band were the envy of other many musicians, to the detriment of Delaney and Bonnie. In 1970 Delaney's old friend Leon Russell invited bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Keltner to join the awesome Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour with Joe Cocker, and Eric Clapton invited Radle, Keyboardist Bobby Whitlock and drummer Jim Gordon to make up his Derek and the Dominoes group, no doubt putting various spanners in the works for the couple. By this point anyway, their relationship was strained, and when Delaney and Bonnie broke up the band finished altogether.

To me they are a perfect example of all that is great about that period of music. The combination of soul, blues, funk and rock sung with loads of passion and presented with a great group energy.

'Poor Elijah' with Eric Clapton

'Comin' Home' Great live performance! It really builds. Awesome.

'I Don't Know Why'. Gorgeous song with Clapton on lead vocals

'Good Thing' with Kenny Gradney and Sam Clayton from Little Feat

'Only You Know and I Know'

QI: In 1979 when Bonnie was touring with Stephen Stills, a drunk Elvis Costello was (according to him) trying to rile her by repeatedly making racist and offensive comments about Ray Charles. So she punched him in the face. Bravo.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Os Mutantes

Os Mutantes are fun.

Formed in 1966 in São Paolo, Brazil by the Baptista brothers and female vocalist Rita Lee, the band combined traditional Brazilian folk, and elements of the bossa nova and tropicalia genres with British style psychedelia.
Throughout the Mutantes' history there has been LSD breakdowns, break ups, members lost, members gained and members institutionalised, but they have remained one of Brazil's most highly respected and influential bands throughout. They have also been a huge influence on many American and British bands.
Kurt Cobain wrote them a letter requesting a reformation, Devendra Banhart asked to be their roadie, Beck named one of his albums after them and they played a glorious set in the sunshine at the Other Stage at last years Glastonbury Festival.

They are a bit bonkers, but in a really good way.

'A Minha Menina'

'Bat Macumba'

'El Justiciero'

'Panis at Cirences'- Sound quality not good but they look bloody fantastic.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Townes Van Zandt

"Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that"
Steve Earle.

"It's goodbye to all my friends

It's time to go again

Think on all the poetry
And the pickin' down the line
I'll miss the system here
The bottom's low and the treble's clear
But it don't pay to think too much
On things you leave behind
I may be gone
But it won't be long
I will be a-bringin' back the melody
And the rhythm that I find"

Townes Van Zandt was born into a wealthy oil family from the South and  moved around for much of his youth. His guitar playing was heavily influenced by blues legend Lightnin' Hopkins and he honed his skills in the Houston folk clubs of the mid-60's. He released his first studio album in 1968, the beautiful 'For The Sake of the Song', where his elegant lyricism is somewhat drowned out by saccharine production. He had a productive next decade releasing 7 albums before taking a 10 year break from recording in 1978. He returned in 1987 with 'At My Window' and continued to release albums from then till his untimely drink-related death in 1997.

It's hard when just describing his output to fully convey the immense respect that Townes commands. His music is often stark, and introspective, and usually quite sad and haunting. His voice is not technically amazing in the conventional sense, but it is beautiful and bitter-sweet and affecting, and it can relate more raw emotion than most trained vocalists could manage.

He is revered among other musicians, and his songs have been covered by artists including Steve Earle, Guy Clark, Merle Haggard, Mudhoney, Willie Nelson, Cowboy Junkies, Manfred Mann, Lylle Lovett, Robert Plant and the Band of Joy, Jackson Browne, Jerry Jeff Walker, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Gillian Welch, Sufjan Stevens, Evan Dando, Alison Krauss, Mark Lanegan and Isobell Campbell, the list goes on......

'To Live Is To Fly' Gorgeous lyrics

Wow. This gets me every time. 'Nothin''

'Rake'- I'd welcome the stars with wine and guitars.........

'Pancho and Lefty'

'Mr Gold and Mr Mudd' Live at the Old Quarter. Classic opening joke.

QI: His manager was John Lomax III, grandson and son of the famous musicologists and folklorists John A Lomax and Alan Lomax.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Ike and Tina Turner

Sometimes its hard to separate the art from the artists.

As most people are now aware, much of Tina's life with Ike was a misery, putting up with his cruelty, manipulation and both verbal and physical abuse.When you know the stories behind the recordings and performances, some of their work makes for uncomfortable listening (her forced suggestive performance of 'I've Been Loving You' for one), but that doesn't take away from the fact that they were an amazing live and recording act, and that Tina is a legend. 
Ike was a great guitarist too, but I don't really like complimenting him.

By the mid 1950's Ike Turner was a huge local star and renown playboy in St Louis, Missouri, with his band The Rhythm Kings. A 16 year old Annie May Bullock used to go along to his gigs, and one night managed to take the mike and sing a little with the band, a regular feature of the show. 'Little Ann' impressed Ike so much that he took her on as a backing singer, once he had convinced her mother of her safety. In the studio one day, she filled in for an absent lead vocalist on 'Fool In Love', Ike was blown away and changed her name, and the name of his band to the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, installing 'The Ikettes' as new backing vocalists.
What made such an impression on Ike, and no doubt everyone who hears her, is that Tina was one of the first women to sing with that much grit and feeling. Influenced by gospel and blues, she had a wild yet husky rasp that set her apart.

The revue had a set of hits in the early sixties with 'Fool In Love' and 'Work Out Fine', but then survived through their impressive live show reputation until their second spell of success occured in the late sixties. In between, Tina (and specifically not Ike, though he is credited- Spector paid him £20,000 to not be involved, on the basis that Tina could be) recorded the epic 'River Deep Mountain High', a huge hit in the UK but a relative flop in the US. Spector considers it his best work. 

At the end of the decade they came back with their  hit covers 'Proud Mary', 'Come Together', and the Tina penned 'Nutbush City Limits'. They supported The Rolling Stones and were very highly regarded among the new rock royalty, especially the British bands who had grown up on American R&B records. In 1976, one night before a show after one particularly vicious beating, Tina escaped Ike. In the divorce he got all their monetary assets, all she had asked for was the rights to the stage name he had pushed upon her.
After all her hardships she went on to forge a happy, successful career in the 1980's and 1990's, but ironically the recordings that I think are really mind blowing are the ones from her days with Ike.

She is a wild, wailing powerhouse of a vocalist, with unbelievable presence. Her song introductions are soft and familiar yet in seconds she transforms into something completely primal.

Everyone has heard the hits, so I want to recommend some songs or performances that might be a little less familiar..............

Ok, apart from this one. Classic, 'Proud Mary':

'A Fool In Love' and 'Work Out Fine', an unusual performance for a woman at that time, so strong and tough, awesome.

'If I Knew Then' from the Feel Good album in 1972

This is wonderful older footage from Tina Turner and an exceptionally smooth Marvin Gaye.

Skip to 1.00 if you want to avoid random talking, but a glorious funky performance here, Tina channelling James Brown.

QI: Members of The Ikettes will look very familiar from time to time. Among their ranks were Claudia Lennear (of Joe Cocker fame), a young and partially disguised Bonnie Bramlett (of 'and Delaney' fame) and Venetta Fields (of The Blackberries fame).

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Booker 'Bukka' White

Booker T Washington White, in the tradition of bluesmen, had a varied and interesting life. Thankfully his story is one of the happier ones. Born in Mississippi in 1909, his railroad worker father taught him to play guitar at the age of nine, and he spent much of his youth riding the rails and playing wherever he could.

His earliest known recordings are some gospel tracks cut with Memphis Minnie in 1930, although they did not bring him success and he continued to odd-job around, gaining some success as a boxer. In 1937 Big Bill Broonzy asked him to come to Chicago, however on the way he got in some trouble, ending up shooting a man and going to Parchman Farm Prison.... (it wouldn't be a proper blues story without some mysterious criminal activity, right?)
In prison he recorded some tracks for musicologists John and Alan Lomax, and by the time he was released in 1940 he had a full set of 12 songs to record. He went into facotry work during the war and somewhat off the radar, but when Dylan covered 'Fixin to Die Blues' blues enthusiasts John Fahey and Ed Denson went on the search for him and he was discovered in Memphis and brought to play in the coffee shops of the New York folk circuit.

He gained notoriety as an exciting performer and influenced generations of musicians, playing and recording until his death in 1977.

You can see from the videos below, especially Aberdeen Mississippi Blues how he must have blown away the other guitarists at the time. Strong, powerful and adventurous in his playing, it doesn't sound like just one  man and a National guitar. To me he is the perfect combination, all the rough masculinity of Howlin Wolf, with the presence of Son House and the playful humour of Sonny Boy Williamson. And that voice.....


Awesome percussive style on Aberdeen Missippi Blues

Amazing Lomax video of Bukka and Chester Burnett AKA Howlin Wolf, sharing a laugh and a song

'Jelly Roll Blues', classic scene and Booker in good humour.... 'Take it easy now Booker' at 0.22 seconds :)

'Fixin' To Die Blues'

QI- He gave a guitar as a gift to a young cousin of his, later to be blues legend, BB King

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Ze mad dogs, and ze Englishmen, and Joe Cock-air!

 The story goes that in 1970, Joe Cocker had just finished a long and tiring promotional tour, and he ends up in LA with the aim of a little r&r, only to be told by his record company that he is expected to be on another tour in 8 days. Enter Cockers's friend Leon Russell, who hastily assembles a group of musicians (largely from Delaney and Bonnie's touring band) and organises some intense rehearsals. The tour now consists of Cocker, Russell, Don Preston now sharing guitar duties with Russell, Chris Stainton sharing keyboard duties with Russell, Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, Sandy Kornikoff and Chuck Blackwell all on drums and percussion, Bobby Keys on sax and Jim Price on trumpet. Rita Coolidge, Donna Washburn, Claudia Lennear, Pamela Polland, Denny Cordell, Matthew Moore, Daniel Moore, Bobby Jones and Nicole Barclay make up the wonderful Space Choir. Plus, joining the tour more often and not was Miss Emily, children, wives, husbands and pets (you can see Canina the dog, below on Leon's piano at rehearsals).

This big party travelled all over the states on a plane called 'Cocker Power' and, luckily for us, a crew filmed them as they went. The set mostly consisted of Cocker's staple covers or Russell songs, like 'She Came In Through The Bathroom Window', 'Honky Tonk Woman', 'The Weight', 'Feelin' Alright', 'Girl From The North Country', 'Delta Lady', 'Hummingbird', the list goes on. For many,me included, this is a perfect example of the brilliance of the sound from that classic musical era. Rock, soul and funk all tied together with an epic wailing gospel choir.

The atmosphere was exciting and infectious as you can see in the videos, probably because it was all fairly new for the musicians and they hadn't played the material to death. Plus, they were a group of friends and musicians, partying and playing music together, what could be more fun?!

Cocker is at the absolute height of his powers, each cover is a classic interpretation, but especially 'Honky Tonk Woman', 'Feelin' Alright' and 'The Letter' . But then he could sing you the phonebook....

Now onto the fun bit.........

'Hony Tonk Woman', check out Miss Emily grooving away at 2.00

My favourite 'Space Captain', written by Matthew Moore from the Space Choir, who you can see at 2.12 with the smile and the curls

'The Letter', with Bobby Keys on saxophone and Leon as the ultimate in nonchalence

'Feelin' Alright' (written by Dave Mason of Traffic)

For general having-fun-on-the-road tour footage and an awesome song, here's 'Sticks and Stones'

The band hanging out at a bar after a show, singing 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy' and drinking

These pictures were taken by the official tour photographer, who you can check out on

QI- Space choir member Claudia Lennear is rumoured to be the inspiration for both 'Brown Sugar' and 'Lady Grinning Soul'.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Little Feat

Little Feat formed after future lead singer and guitarist Lowell George left Zappa's Mothers of Invention and through 1971 to 1974 made what I consider to be four perfect albums. They also did lots of lovely stuff after that, and still continue to record albums, however, the classic era is undoubtedly based around Lowell George.
Little Feat is funk, soul, country and blues, all mixed together.

As with any band there were complications, and the other band members were heading in a direction that was heavily interested by jazz fusion, which was of no interest to George. He wrote less and less for the band, and concentrated on his own solo album (the wonderful 'Thanks, I'll Eat It Here').
Lowell died in 1979 at just 34 years old.

Little Feat have continued to play live since then, still consisting of classic lineup members Bill Payne, Paul Barrere, Kenny Gradney and Sam Clayton (even 'new' member Fred Tackett has been in the band since 1987), however drum LEGEND Richie Hayworth sadly died this summer. In a surreal twist, I saw them for the first time the day after Richie's death, and first heard the news via the band themselves. With drum technician Gabe Ford sitting in they played an amazing varied set with early and newer tracks and classic Little Feat jams.

So definitely check out 'Little Feat', 'Sailin Shoes', 'Dixie Chicken' and 'Feats Dont Fail Me Now' but dont dismiss the newer stuff. Even the newer albums like Chinese Work Songs are worth a listen if you're not afraid of a a little latin jazz fusion......

'Rock'n'Roll Doctor' on Whistle Test. The story goes that the band had flew over from America specifically for the show, turned up, plugged in and straight away played this. The ultimate professionals, but never clinical. Sam's backing vocals are classic.

Live performance of 'Cold Cold Cold'

'Roll Um Easy', gorgeous little song.

Plus, our new QI feature!
Fact: Percussionist Sam Clayton is the brother of Merry Clayton of epic wailling on 'Gimme Shelter' fame. There you go, quite interesting.

More info:

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Greetings From L.A.

Tim Buckley

Greetings From L.A.

1. Move With Me
2. Get On Top
3. Sweet Surrender
4. Nighthawkin'
5. Devil Eyes
6. Hong Kong Bar
7. Make It Right

Greetings From L.A. is Tim Buckley's 7th album, and in fairly typical unfortunate Buckley style didn't set commercial fires alight when it was released in 1972. It's a million miles from his early romantic folk albums, and doesn't exactly lead on from the experimental jazz sounds of previous album Starsailor either, so many previously established and recently acquired fans were left a bit baffled......
It is, however an epic, sensual masterpiece of an album, with a confident, strutting Buckley proving his mastery of yet another musical style. Wikipedia calls this his 'Sex Funk' era, which is pretty accurate actually, as you can gather from some of the titles.

The album actually begins with the lyric 'I went down to the meat rack tavern, and I found myself a big ol' healthy girl'. In 'Devil Eyes' he sings about wanting to 'lick all around those stretch marks, lay the tongue between the toes'. In 'Get On Top' he sings that 'When I love you mama I talk in tongues'. 

This is pretty brash stuff, but he pulls it off. In the same sense as 'Foxy Lady'; it's an overtly confident display of male sexuality that just manages to come across as cheeky and playful, not sleazy (which, with lyrics like that, it probably should).

 It feels like a celebration, and Buckley sounds like he's having the time of his life, indulging in random bursts of explosive scatting. The soundtrack is mostly classic piano-based funk with lots of horns and brassy backing vocals, but there's variety too, and gentler tracks 'Sweet Surrender' and 'Hong Kong Bar' offer some time out. 

This is probably a bit of a marmite album. I love it, but I'm sure there are many who find it abrasive and cheesy and all a little bit much.
There's only one way to find out how YOU feel about it.....

'Nighthawkin'' (Wonderful lyrics) and 'Devil Eyes'

'Move With Me'

'Sweet Surrender'

For more information go to

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Blues Run The Game

Jackson C Frank

His story is not a happy one, but his music is delicate and beautiful and definitely deserves a listen.
A fire at his school left 15 of his fellow students dead and an 11 year old Jackson with severe burns and trauma that would haunt him, affecting his mental stability for the rest of his life. He learnt guitar while recuperating and travelled to England on the large insurance payout. 

At this time the English folk scene was thriving and Frank spent time with other Americans who had come to be part of the scene, such as Dave Van Ronk, Tom Paxton and a then unknown Paul Simon, who produced his eponymous album. Frank also befriended many British folk musicians like John Martyn, John Renbourn and Bert Jansch, using his money and position at the Cousins Club to help them out when possible. At this time he had a relationship with Sandy Denny and was championed by John Peel.

In 1966 his health began to deteriorate and he returned to the US with severe depression, which worsened after the death of his son in the 1970s. In the 1980's he began living on the street and through simple wrong-place-wrong-time bad luck, he was shot in the eye and consequently blinded. In the 1990s, a fan named Jim Abbot sought him out and helped him move into a retirement home in Woodstock where, with renewed enthusiasm, he began to record some new demos. Jackson C Frank died of pneumonia and cardiac arrest in 1999.

Although never really famous, his work has been known through the artists that have covered him; a list including Nick Drake, Bert Jansch, Simon and Garfunkel, Counting Crows and Fairport Convention.

Despite his many misfortunes in life he created some of the loveliest songs I have ever heard. Have a listen.

Perfect little song, 'Blues Run The Game'.

'You Never Wanted Me'

Raw and sound quality lacking but a wonderful much later track called 'Tumble In The Wind (Version 1)'

There is currently no Jackson C Frank website, but an interesting account of his life is provided at through a phone interview with the man himself.

And more info at this Allmusic page