Saturday, July 24, 2010

And on the Fifth Day of July, Elvis Rocked

For music Saturday, I'd like to be a champion of the obvious and highlight a tired banality that has been insufficiently beaten to death. I'll begin by rebleating a passing thoughtlet Lileks extruded a couple years ago. He was referencing a series of records that came out in the early 1970s, called Cruisin', which attempted to recreate the top 30 radio of the late '50s and '60s, not just with music, but with the original DJs and vintage commercials. There was one for each year, from the mid '50s to the late '60s:

"The Cruisin’ series, incidentally was released in 1970 -- which meant 13 years between the original broadcast and the record’s debut, and 38 years between now and then. The distance between now and then seems half the distance between ’57 and ’70. It’s not just my own subjective perspective -- not entirely, anyway.... If you showed a kid a movie about 1995, they’d laugh at the hair and the big primitive computers with slow modems, but the culture would be recognizable. There was a reason people in the early 70s romanticized the 50s, but at the risk of making the usual fool of myself with platitudes and banal generalizations, I’ll leave it there."

The point is that as early as 1970, people were nostalgic for the 1960s, but this was only possible because it was already a distinct and recognizable era (for example, American Graffiti came out in 1973). And I would say that as early as 1964, when the Beatles crossed the Atlantic, it was possible to be nostalgic for the 1950s, since that is exactly when they became a recognizable thing of the past. Almost no artists who were popular on the charts prior to January 1964 were popular after. Countless musical careers were over.

The revelation of rock can be fixed at a particular time and place. It was late one night on July 5, 1954, when Elvis launched into an unplanned and spontaneous performance of That's All Right:

"The session... proved entirely unfruitful until late in the night. As they were about to give up and go home, Presley took his guitar and launched into a 1946 blues number, Arthur Crudup's That's All Right.

"Moore recalled, 'All of a sudden, Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool, too, and I started playing with them. Sam, I think, had the door to the control booth open... he stuck his head out and said, 'What are you doing?' And we said, 'We don't know.' 'Well, back up,' he said, 'try to find a place to start, and do it again.'

"Phillips quickly began taping; this was the sound he had been looking for. Three days later, popular Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips played That's All Right on his Red, Hot, and Blue show. Listeners began phoning in, eager to find out who the singer was. The interest was such that Phillips played the record repeatedly during the last two hours of his show. Interviewing Presley on-air, Phillips asked him what high school he attended in order to clarify his color for the many callers who had assumed he was black" (wiki).

No one would suggest that Elvis's approach had had no precursors. But this style of music had never crossed over to any kind of mass popularity, and was confined to the "race market." Indeed, it took until early 1956 for Elvis to cross that threshold to mass popularity, so one can really say that rock as a cultural phenomenon began then.

But it didn't last long, and no one at the time assumed that it was anything more than a passing fad to be cashed in on while it lasted. Very similar to Louis Armstrong's revolutionary recordings of the late 1920s, no one at the time imagined that they were producing "art," of all things. Records were ephemeral things to be tossed into the marketplace and then disposed of.

Which is precisely one of the reasons why those primitive Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings endure, because they were completely un-self-conscious. The same can be said of Elvis's earliest recordings, since he was doing them for the pure joy of doing them. He was doing it for love. Indeed, no market yet existed for what he was doing.

And yet, it did. The people were obviously yearning for a musical messiah who would not just liberate them from the pharonic constraints of the pop blandscape of the day, but rock their souls into the promised land. Elvis didn't invent anything, but just happened upon the key to a musical archetype that was already there. Once people heard it, they recognized it as something they couldn't live without -- not just in America, but all over the world. The same thing had occurred with jazz. People talk about "world music," but the only true world music is Cosmo-American black music.

Now, I don't want to get into the question of what rock eventually devolved to, in terms of both the music and the culture. I agree that that is all to be deplored. Rather, I'm talking about that pure, ecstatic impulse at the origin of it all, uncontaminated by fame, money, narcissism, exhibitionism, and infantile sexuality. Those can occur with anything, from politics to literature to religion. That's just man doing what he does and being who he is.

So the birth of rock as a cultural phenomenon can be traced to early 1956. Even as it was occurring, the seeds of its subsequent rebirth and transformation were being sowed, for it was at the St. Peter's Church Hall fête in Woolton on July 6, 1957 -- almost three years to the day that Elvis had revealed it in the studio -- that John met Paul. Like early Elvis, there was a purity to what the Beatles were doing at the time. In fact, I would say that they were motivated by the identical spark that animated Elvis that day.

Eventually the spark was extinguished and the fire put out. Elvis entered the military in 1958, at which time he was taken into captivity and replaced with the "false Elvis" who put out all that lame music and made all those crappy movies. Buddy Holly in the grave, Chuck Berry in jail, Little Richard in the ministry, Jerry Lee Lewis in his fourteen year-old cousin. The music business quickly "contained" the messianic revelation, so that by the early 1960s, popular music was again almost as banal as it had been prior to Elvis. (Of course, there were exceptions.)

But then the Beatles arrive in early 1964, eight years after Elvis, and just eight years later the Beatles are already a thing of the past.

Now, eight years ago is 2002. Has anything in music changed since then? Does 2002 feel like a different era? Is anyone nostalgic for 2002? How about 1992? 1982? I mean, people still listen to U2 like they're contemporary, but their first album came out over 30 years ago. 30 years! I sometimes listen to music that came out in the early 1980s, say, early REM, but it doesn't feel at all like nostalgia. But very few people in 1975 listened to the music of 1945. And if they did, they were certainly aware of how different it was from contemporary music. No one confuses disco and swing.

And yet, to listen to Elvis in 1964 was already nostalgia, just as to listen to the Beatles or Beach Boys in 1973 was already nostalgia.

What does it all mean? I have no idea. Just an excuse to blah blah blog some Coon droppings, I guess.


ge said...

Boy am I happy i lived through these eras---the 50s & 60s, coming of age as the psychedelic 60s flamed their flare and faded. In the '90s a renaissance of sorts occurred that has continued for me thru this day: the harvesting of obscurities from those magic years 1965-69 give or take 1... A compilation came out called
'pepperisms around the world' consisting of bands' take on the Paisley-day-glo-burning leaves ambience of 'Sgt Pepper'
and other collections of British-only releases from the era which rang as sweet hooky trippy and flanged true as Beatles or their cuzzes.
i remain convinced something special was in the air or water or s*t*a*r*s those years, and it is unfakeable

Gagdad Bob said...

I agree -- all of the countless garage bands who had no real talent, and yet, had one great song in them....

Jack said...

Playing with various groups/songwriters many seem to have chosen an "era" to reside in. For many it means not really going past 1973.

There is a fairly sizable "Americana" scene around these parts which winds the clock even *further*--as if not much happened after 1937.

What does 2010-??? sound like? I'm not sure anyone knows. It doesn't sound much different than 2002 as far as I can tell.

More importantly what does **Cosmo-American Music** sound like in 2010?? How does one approach the timeless right NOW...

As we all know there is SO much music out there available to listen to...our brains/minds might take a while to catch up to it all. We may be in a "left-brained" moment trying to sort it all out waiting for the "right-brained" Ah-Ha!! moment were it all clicks together in some entirely unexpectedly glorious way. That could take years...

...or it could happen this afternoon, who knows?

JP said...

From a generational theory perspective, the reason for the fact that the muisic of the 1980s and the 1990s are still "current" and why there is no "nostalga" for the immediate past is that the 60s represented a discontinuity with the past from a generational persepective.

Now, generations are fuzzy and witout clear discernable values.
However, the 1960s were a time of spiritual upheaval (meaning lots of spirtial activity because the youth were receptive to spirit whereas the GI/Silent generations were significantly closed to new spirt) with the formation of the major discontinuity of a "generation gap" between the boomers and the GI/Silent generations.

It wasn't that there was something special in the "air or water or s*t*a*r*s those years" it was that the young were receptive to the spirit. They were open. The older generations were not.

Now, the boomers "won" the cultural war and initiated a new era where they set the cultural tone. Every generation since then, including Generation X and "the Millenials" have been formed in the spiritual eddies of the Boomers.

It may help to draw an analogy to the harvest season.

The GI generation harvested the past having no new spiritual ideas of their own. The Silent generation tilled the fields after the GI generation harvested, preparing the way for new spirituality to begin. And the Boomers were the new seeds watered by the spirit of the Spirital Awakening of the 60s.

The boomers were a new culture that broke from the past.

We are still living in the shadow of the boomers.

Jack said...

"We are still living in the shadow of the boomers".

As much as that makes me shudder a bit it's probably true. As a Gen X'er I've bought into the boomer deal more than I'd ever care to admit. And it happened on such an unconscious level. Just by absorbing popular culture...there was no antidote to it growing up. Not one that I knew of at the time, anyway!

The search for the musical application of a Raccoon Metaphysic/Aesthetic that goes beyond the boomer shadow may take me longer than I'd like to figure out.

But I still work on it...

swiftone said...

Just came from a memorial service for a friend's son. The Catholic sanctuary is newly rebuilt as Katrina destroyed the former one. Breathtaking. Add the Music, sung as solo and duet work with the priest and a talented parish singer tore into my soul. It'll never make the top 50, but lately I've been hearing church music in too many funerals. It'll never make the hit parade, but "live local music" it is. It lives and breathes.

WV: reste

Gagdad Bob said...

I think that in general one must bear in mind the truly unique world-historical discontinuities that have occurred over the past 100 years. As I've mentioned before, it is entirely plausible to say that the "sixties" actually began in the twenties, but that they were temporarily placed on hold by the Depression, World War II, and the economic reconstruction thereafter, as people returned to work and family life. But as soon as mass affluence broke out again, that same spirit broke through.

To a large extent, it has to do with the previously unthinkable levels of slack available in a modern industrial and post-industrial society, most of which is put to bad use. For example, adolescence as a distinct and extended period in between childhood and adulthood scarcely existed in an agrarian culture in which most everyone had to work all the time.

JP said...

I think that's true Bob, with respect to it being in a unique world-historical time.

However, generational therory only really applies to people WITH slack (i.e. the premodern agrarian elites who made up 2% of the population), because otherwise, you are spending all of your time physically tilling fields from dawn till dusk.

However, the "slack" is provided by one thing. Cheap energy that we can pump out of the ground.

The 20s were put on hold by the great depression.

And the 90s were put on hold by what we were experiencing now.

Let's see what happens with the entire "peak oil" problem. Which is really only a question of "peak free energy".

In any event, there are "innovation waves" that are also at play as well, which have more to do with the horizontal world than the vertical world, per se.

Gagdad Bob said...


Oh absolutely. I just read an excellent book on Adam Smith, that shows the degree to which commercial society made possible any kind of decent life at all for the average person. It makes one aware of the critical importance of institutions that permit the emergence of such things as individuality, liberty, and slack. It helps one appreciate that it means nothing to say that men are endowed by their Creator with liberty if there are no horizontal institutions to help actualize, nurture, and protect it.

Gagdad Bob said...

And I would agree 100% that cheap oil was and is key. Just read an excellent book on that too, Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future.

Jack said...

"the only true world music is Cosmo-American black music".

This is a brilliant observation in my book. What goes by "world music" is generally *local* mostly Third World musics presented to a specialty market in the First World.

Something to ponder re: the global significance of Cosmo-American Music.

So then Jazz, Blues, Rock, Country etc is "Music on Slack"??

I like it.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, people can appreciate reggae or Nordic folk songs or bossa nova, but there is something about black American music that is much more like a discovery than an invention.... There are countless stories of what people felt upon their first exposure to it, as if a whole world opened up to them. I think of how in 1945, Germans wanted to exterminate blacks, but scarcely a decade later they treated Ray Charles as a god. It is hard to imagine time being so sped up today. Imagine, for example, a Jewish musician becoming an idol in Iran in 2020.

Gagdad Bob said...

Another important point -- I once read a book on how central American rock music was to the fall of the Soviet empire. People had only to hear Creedence, or the Beatles, or the Who, and know in a second that they were living in a dungeon. The sound of freedom, baby. If only it could take down Obama!

julie said...

What does 2010-??? sound like

Heh - I know how it sounds to me. Not much different from 2000 or 1995, the radio stations are filled with whiny, effeminate boy-men; angry, jaded women; or alternately yet another generation of misogynistic rappers going on and on about bass, booty and bitches. There are some exceptions, but anything worth hearing (to me) tends to sound outside of the current date. If there's a current sound of freedom, I've not encountered it yet.

Jack said...

Yes, imagine if you were some poor young comrade in his party-issued grey smock and somehow got to hear The Who play "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" You'd have to think they knew something was amiss.

Gagdad Bob said...

I have to say that that clip is from before Daltrey's voice matured. That didn't happen until the 1969 Tommy tour, when he came into his own and became a real rock singer.... It's like he slipped through his own bars and became free.

Jack said...

I heard the song on the radio recently and had to ask whether it was The Who, primarily because I didn't quite recognize the singer. The drumming on the other hand was clearly Keith Moon.

Gagdad Bob said...

That's another interesting subject. There are so many musicians and groups that are nothing one day and suddenly great the next. Listen to their demos, and they sound terrible, but there is some kind of sudden alchemical transformation that occurs, as if they sold their soul to the devil in exchange for it.

I once had this idea that that is perhaps what happened. Say, satan makes a deal with the Beatles, or Stones, or Who, and says, "I'll make you great, but I get to take one of your members at a young age. Deal?"

So that's why every great group had a premature death: Lennon, Brian Jones, Keith Moon, John Bonham, Dennis Wilson, Tom Fogerty, Duane Allman. Pay the devil!

Jack said...

If so, I know a lot of musicians who'd take that deal...

debass said...

"So that's why every great group had a premature death:"

Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Scott Lafaro, Woody Shaw, John Coltrane, ...

Jack said...

Julie says: "If there's a current sound of freedom, I've not encountered it yet".

As far as I can tell, I think you are right. But, to harp on one of obsessive themes, I think it's going to take a whole new intuitive leap into the unknown.

To use the example from today's post, Sam Phillips thought that the session with Elvis, who was some unknown delivery truck driver, was a bust. No one knew what was going to happen until it actually happened!!

As great as the founding principles are for Cosmo-American music...I think it's going to take a leap in some whole new cognitive sphere for a new/timeless sound of freedom to happen. I just don't know what that is. And where and on whom it lands, if history is any guide, is completely unpredictable.

Likewise, the music that can oust Obama/leftism/postmodernism has to be so utterly convincing in order to take people into a realm that they now cannot fathom. It can leave no doubt. Most people are swayed by intellectual arguments...the philosphy/metaphysic inherent to a 4 min pop tune or what have you, is far more powerful.

For the moment the freedom of Cosmo-American music seems, quite mistakenly, to be associated with the Left and The Right gets, say Lawrence Welk, or some such.

Perhaps a music of horizontal AND vertical freedom. That's a tall order, though...

ge said...

speaking of young-dead musicians:
I had the privilege of seeing not only Hendrix but also Jim Morrison and Gram Parsons .....AND Tim hold your hats i was at a party once with Tiny tim [who was rather large actually]

speaking of the 60s sounds, one thing that was special about the era was the confluence of dope, tripping and the secret culture they created worldwide, plus the type of person hiring acts then being so-influenced to take chances like never before on fringers and loons, outsiders and semi-amateurs [whose innocence & approach & sound can stand refreshingly apart from career musicians', Shaggs
it up baby!]

some writer once quipped that everyone signed to Island records [Nick Drake's, Nico's label] circa 1971 seemed to be borderline insane.

debass said...

Another thing about the 60s was the destruction of so many young lives and our culture. Now we have these 60s counter culture idiots in charge of the country. How the hell did this happen?
I think part of the problem was when music became a visual art rather than an aural art.

Jack said...

I meant to say most people are NOT swayed by intellectual arguments...the philosphy/metaphysic inherent to a 4 min pop tune or what have you, is far more powerful.

Jack said...

There seems to be a trajectory that our culture noted previously the abundance of cheap oil allowed for a degree of slack heretofore unimaginable for the average person.

The mistake seems to be that after freedom based on principles comes mere license to do as one please...Anywhere, Anyhow, Anyway one chooses. How does one draw the line? In music or in life?

I think that this was lost in the shuffle and that's where are culture and our politics and our music has brought us.

The first step may be to reclaim musical principles...a step back to move forward.

Still the Dionysian to Apollonian swing may be just inherent to the game. I don't know. But I think now is the time woodshed on the basics again...

julie said...


I think part of the problem was when music became a visual art rather than an aural art.

Yep - the Buggles were more right than they knew. That, and I think the technological ability to make mediocre or even outright crappy voices/ performances auditorially palatable. It used to be that musicians had to have real skill, learned and practiced over thousands of hours, wherein a personal style was inevitably developed and refined. Now for a band to become popular, they have to have a certain formulaic look; the voice is secondary, since it can be tweaked. The big ticket acts are all about the show. The point at which music ceases to be about sound and becomes instead a visual medium seems (to me) to be the point at which it must fail to transcend, and therefore to fail, period. Not that most people will notice that, they're hooked on the visuals.

Or as wv says, it decomes what it wasn't supposed to be.

Matteo said...

The last pop music that constituted anything resembling a living cultural movement was Grunge back in the early 90's. Since then, bupkus. I've often linked in my mind the candy-assed nullity that is current artistic culture to the fact that the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991. With the threat of annihilation hanging over our heads, we had culture. Without it, nothing...

Jack said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jack said...

But sometimes it still hits me...some pure burst of joyous Rock 'n' Roll. I remember finding "Who's Next" amongst my Dad's record collection (he just bought things and had no idea what they were). Or discovering Jimmy Page's guitar solo on "A Whole Lotta Love"...was just a revelation to me that such things were even possible!!

There are a couple of songs that I still hear and can't help but think of summer and being say 12 or 13, of waking up to the blooming, buzzing confusion of it all. And Lo, it was good!!

If nothing else records like that convinced me that there was far more possible than what I saw around me...I still believe that!

Van said...

"And yet, to listen to Elvis in 1964 was already nostalgia, just as to listen to the Beatles or Beach Boys in 1973 was already nostalgia.

What does it all mean? I have no idea. Just an excuse to blah blah blog some Coon droppings, I guess."

You know, one of the distinctive attributes of Elvis, in stark contra-distinction to that of those of the 60's generation (with the Beatles being the (partial) exception that proves the rule), was his overt manners and decency. Play any of his interviews, and what immediately jumps out at you is "Yes Sir... no Sir" (no... the joker laughs at youuu (sorry B'obscure Beatles ref)).

That remaining core of self-governing civilization all but vanished from the popular scene, music, movies, whatever, with Elvis, and I think there is a lot of nostalgia for that. I think many people secretly noticed, and yearned for, the clarity of manners, dress, public respect and clear separations between gender's and age groups, which the '50's, and any show about them, couldn't help but convey.

The shabbiness of hippiedumb can be visceraly exciting, but it is a weighty burden upon the corners of the mind... always.

Or as the Beatles might have said, "Blah... blah... blah... blahhhhhhhh!"

Gagdad Bob said...

Jack -- Cooncur. For me it was sneaking into my big brother's record collection and discovering Born on the Bayou, Led Zeppelin II, Cheap Thrills, the Chambers Brothers' Time Has Come, and a few others. It was like an initiation into some parallel reality. Especially with headphones!

Van said...

Gagdad said "To a large extent, it has to do with the previously unthinkable levels of slack available in a modern industrial and post-industrial society, most of which is put to bad use."

What it seems as if affluence does, is enable ideas which have no functional relation to reality, but which flatter peoples sense of need, importance and power, to free them from concern over the repercussions of their ideas, frees them to endorse and support and implement them, secure in the awareness that they won't have to pay for those ideas or their effects.

And then affluence ends.

And then as Kipling warned ...The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!”

Jack said...

Headphones just brought in a whole other dimension...particularly the panning tricks that one might not get the full effect of through speakers. I recall Led Zeppelin II having some of that...

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, Whole Lotta Love has that swirling middle section that I suppose is supposed to mimic a drug rush. Worked for me.

Gagdad Bob said...

I'm going to be purchasing a new set of cans soon... According to Stereophile, these are one of the great hifi steals out there, although they also manufacture some even better models for not much more, so I'll probably get one of those....

Jack said...

Without any way to back this up I'd have to believe that listening to music on headphones (and hearing such effects) had to make neural connections in the brain unlike anything previous...rock 'n' roll literally wired us all differently.

Jack said...

Now listening to Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery play "Down by the Riverside". Talk about exuberance and JOY! So good!!

julie said...

Re. headphones, I'll never forget the effect first time I heard the right-left panning effects. I don't remember what I was listening to, oddly enough, I just remember the feeling that the music had literally jumped in one ear and out the other.

Gagdad Bob said...

Jack -- I don't know, you strike me as more of a Larry Young man, the Coltrane of the Hammond.

julie said...

OT, oh good grief. Technologically engineering virtue?!? Yeah, that'll end well.

Also OT, wv is calling us racests.

Jack said...

I haven't always been a big fan of Jimmy Smith but I do like Wes...and I do like what they seem to do together.

I don't know Larry Young...but nice lineup! Grant Green is fav of mine and Elvin Jones is well...Elvin Jones! I am on it like you read about...

Jack said...

Now that I look at my Grant Green record "Street of Dreams" which I haven't got around to listening to but more than once or twice...who's on it? Larry Young and Elvin Jones!


Jack said...

...and I just ordered "Unity" which come to think of it I've seen around in stores and in the collections of various musician friends for a while.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, most critics consider Unity to be his best, and one of the landmark jazz albums of the '60s. Love Joe Henderson.

Gagdad Bob said...

Weird trivia: Coltrane once asked Wes Montgomery to join his band. Seems like an odd combo, but while looking it up, I stumbled on this video of Montgomery performing Coltrane's Impressions in 1965. But within a year, he went in a different direction and was doing pop instrumentals...

Van said...

Just watched the new remake of "The Wolfman", not bad 3/4 of it was pretty good.... amazing how the DelToro guy looks like Lon Chaney... anyway, as the DVD ended and cable came back on, it was in the midst of ASIA (also a remake... of themselves) wrapping up "Heat of the moment" in concert, and the fellow doing lead was a dead ringer for a cross between the crypt keeper and an escapee from the movie.

"he stuck his head out and said, 'What are you doing?' And we said, 'We don't know.' 'Well, back up,' he said, 'try to find a place to start, and do it again.'"

Yep. Pretty much sums it up.

ge said...

speaking of R&R winning the cold war, one of the best blogs for 60s music [exploring of rarities] is based in Moscow:

ge said...

now this song had me weeping babylike yesterday----amazing world-weary 'buddhistic' sentiments in a scottish pop song!

Tigtog said...

Methinks there is some serious self overstatement of the importance of 60s music. Given that rock n' roll like jazz, country western, bluegrass, soul, blues, swing, beach, and gospel are all products of the South, the term American Cosmos music should actually be termed Southern Cosmos music. That the music represents the true melting of cultures into one should not be overlooked. Todays music is a failure because it lacks "true grit" or authenticity. It does not represent anything true and real but merely imitates a past true icons or archetypes sounds and images through formulaic design. What sells, and always will sell, is honesty. Even cheesy honesty is appreciated (see Vanilla Fudge). derives itself from real people Yesterdays music had grit, or believability. Today's acts are airbrushed imitations of "real people".

Gagdad Bob said...

Some journalist once asked Gregg Allman to define "southern rock." He said something to the effect that the term was a tautology, and that one might as well say "rock rock."

Gagdad Bob said...

More trivia: the precise date is unknown, but James Brown invented funk in May of 1964, with Out of Sight.

Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re: Don Gibson - True Grit

wiki: "Don Gibson was born in Shelby, North Carolina, into a poor working-class family, and he dropped out of school in the second grade.
His first band was called Sons of the Soil, with whom he made his first recording in 1948.
In 1957, he journeyed to Nashville to record "Oh Lonesome Me" and "I Can't Stop Loving You" for RCA. The afternoon session resulted in a double-sided hit on both the country and pop charts.
"Oh Lonesome Me" set the pattern for a long series of other RCA hits. "Blue Blue Day", recorded prior to "Oh, Lonesome Me" was a number 1 hit in 1958. Later singles included "Look Who's Blue" (1958), "Don't Tell Me Your Troubles" (1959), "Sea of Heartbreak" (1961); "Lonesome No. 1", "I Can Mend Your Broken Heart" (1962), and "Woman (Sensuous Woman)", a number one country hit in 1972."

I never tire of listening to "Sea of Heartbreak".

Gagdad Bob said...

Interesting that Ray Charles seems to have been the first to have noticed that country western is just white soul or blues. At the time he put out Gibson's I Can't Stop Loving You in 1962, it was a radical concept.

Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re:

"Interesting that Ray Charles seems to have been the first to have noticed that country western is just white soul or blues."

If you listen to early R&R you will find its musical underpinnings to be more C&W than blues. There is little difference between R&B and C&W from a musical construct point of view. This may come from the fact that hard-scrabble sharecropping was a bi-racial fact of life in the south. Both Gibson's and Charles's success rest on their ability to write songs that speak to the soul. They make you ache or they make you happy. They communicate directly with words and melody. A powerful combination.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes. It seems to me that the Rolling Stones were the first rock group to come from an explicit blues background. Their main influences -- Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Slim Harpo, et al -- had no influence whatsoever on the Beatles, or any other pop group of which I am aware.

Gagdad Bob said...

Only thereafter does that line of influence extend to the Yardbirds, (early) Fleetwood Mac, Led Zepp, etc.

Gagdad Bob said...


I have this idea that just as there are celestial revelations from above, there are terrestrial revelations from "below." All of the great American music is of the latter nature, spontaneously and collectively emerging from the bottom up, based upon real peoples' real existential experiences -- folk, blues, country, gospel, jazz, etc. The further music gets from this wellspring of reality, the more insipid.

Northern Bandit said...

The Grado headphones are an incredible deal -- comparable to stuff costing 2-3X as much.

I'm dissatisfied with my audio system. Several times now in my life I've heard what I would call the "big clean" sound, and each time it makes me realize how inadequate most home audio systems are, even many very expensive ones.

Two weeks ago I heard one of these "big clean" systems again. The owner had done extensive construction work on his house to change the floors, reinforce walls with tons of sand, and other modifications designed to produce an ideal room. The equipment itself was based on horn-loaded speakers (custom Klipsch) with Bryston amps and a stack of other equipment I didn't really get into (Rockport turntable).

The big difference between systems like this and "normal" audio systems is the ability to play at realistic sound pressure levels with no strain or distortion whatsoever. Extremely efficient speaker systems allow this phenomenon. Most high-end speaker/amp combinations simply cannot handle these volume levels (i.e. the real-world SPL in front of an orchestra, or a live jazz combo -- which are much higher than most people realize).

More on this later. Does anyone else here know what I'm on about, and anyone have any opinions?

julie said...

All of the great American music is of the latter nature, spontaneously and collectively emerging from the bottom up, based upon real peoples' real existential experiences -- folk, blues, country, gospel, jazz, etc. The further music gets from this wellspring of reality, the more insipid.

That's an excellent point. I wonder if another part of the lack of something new stems from the fact that in general, Americans have had it so good the past couple of decades there just hasn't been that wellspring of struggle that demands transcendence of circumstance?

If so, I can't help wondering if today's political climate and resulting circumstances won't be a driving mechanism behind the next revolution in music.

Northern Bandit said...

Part of the reason this clean sound I'm talking about is so hard to reproduce is that transients can take 10,000 times as much power to reproduce for an instant. This is essentially impossible unless you have very powerful amps and very efficient (large, horn loaded) speakers.

Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re: hard-scrabble sharecropper R&Rers with C&W background

Wiki:"Carl Perkins was the son of poor sharecroppers near Tiptonville, Tennessee. He grew up hearing Southern gospel music sung by whites in church, and by black field workers when he started working in the cotton fields at age six. During spring and autumn, the school day would be followed by several hours of work in fields. During the summer, workdays were 12–14 hours, "from can to can't." Carl and his brother Jay together would earn 50 cents a day. With all family members working and not having any credit, there was enough money for beans and potatoes, some tobacco for Carl's father Buck, and occasionally the luxury of a five-cent bag of hard candy."

I remember a Keith Richards quote basically stating that Carl Perkins was one of his guitar heros in his development as a player. The other was Chuck Berry. If you listen to the early Rolling Stones you hear much more Carl Perkins influence on Keiths playing than Muddy Waters. The heavy blues focus for the Stones was driven more by Brian than Keith and Mick. Their first hits were much more in the Perkins mold than Waters. I think the Muddy influence can be seen most with Mick learning how to front a band, something blues guys were all about. That, and the heavy sexuality of the lyrics come directly from the "red rooster" persona of the bluse format.

Gagdad Bob said...

Oh yes, the Stones clearly had other influences, most notably, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. I'm just saying that no pop group up to that time also had such a heavy blues influence.

Gagdad Bob said...


Both my late father-in-law and I have Martin Logan speakers. His sound much better, I believe because his system has a pre-amp/amp combo with a gazillion watts, whereas I'm using an integrated amp with only about 110 or something. His speakers sound as smooth as silk, whereas mine are obviously straining. Thus, my next Big Purchase will be a new amp, but it's a little hard to justify the expense at the moment....

Gagdad Bob said...


You've hit on an important point. For many artists, their first album is their best, as it reflects a lifetime of experience. But then the second album reflects only touring.

Gagdad Bob said...

But also, as you say, people are so shielded from reality, and don't even know it. Then they make up songs about the unreality.

julie said...

Or worse, the only reality they think is realer than their own is reality TV...

Jack said...

I think many of the musicians I know *want* ever *crave* that authenticity in their playing. Which may be one of the reasons they create such chaos for themselves (and others) in their life. They have it so good that the want to have it so bad to be real.

I know a few trust-fund types who walk around all scrubby and unbathed...wearing their little songwriter's caps and trying their darndest to be REAL.

Given that the wellsprings of Cosmo-American music is the attempt to transcend suffering how does some trustafarian in the suburbs find that same reality?

Jack said...

On another note, I am playing a potential dream gig today. There is an "Underground Music Showcase" going on in the nearby big city. I am playing in what I've been told is a very resonant Church with my fully improvising group. Don't want to jinx it but seems like a great setting to play on a Sunday...

I hope my Raccoon Training has prepared me well for this day!

Gagdad Bob said...

May the force be with you.

Gagdad Bob said...

And may the source be with you. No force without a source.

Van said...

"All of the great American music is of the latter nature, spontaneously and collectively emerging from the bottom up, based upon real peoples' real existential experiences -- folk, blues, country, gospel, jazz, etc. The further music gets from this wellspring of reality, the more insipid."

Yep. Elvis, as demonstrated by his initial recording scene noted above, they didn't know what they were doing, they just 'released' it from his and their experiences, not through any supposed intellectualism, but by goofing around.

ASIA, & other undead 60 yr old mockers, and various youths cut from the same mold, are knowingly trying to recreate what can only be released, freed. Which is just top-down fakery, as disconnected from reality as any rationalistic top down philosophy ever was, and is.

And really, all intellectualizing of rock, is just that as well... after all, it is 'only Rock 'n Roll'.

Gagdad Bob said...

Very true. The whole point is to bypass the brain for a little while.

Dianne said...

And really, all intellectualizing of rock, is just that as well... after all, it is 'only Rock 'n Roll'.

But I like it, like it, yes I do. :)

Jack said...

Thank you. I hope that source and force are both with me!! But whatever happens I am going to enjoy it...and if my brain switches off and I can disappear for a while and the music can happen by itself then all the better!

But like I said, I plan to enjoy whatever O brings...

Tigtog said...

To Jack re:

"Given that the wellsprings of Cosmo-American music is the attempt to transcend suffering how does some trustafarian in the suburbs find that same reality?"

A sampling of a few "trustafarian" examples in rock:

Mick Jagger: son of an Oxford Professor
Grace Slick: First family of San Francisco
Stephen Stills: military family
Jim Morrison: Admiral's son
David Crosby: son of an Academy Award winning cinematographer
Neil Young: son of sportswriter and novelist

As an aside, its funny to note the beginnings of our 60s rock heros as compared to our blues, C&W and early RRers archetypes. All of the above attended college and were interested in folk music before finding themselves as rock stars. None led a hard life until after their success, when a good number of them created self prescribed hardships on themselves. The other notable difference is to compare the 60s RRers political outlook to the originals. Nothing like not missing a meal and attending college to make a man a hard core Marxist, while missing meals, getting a 3rd grade education and chopping cotton makes a man appreciate a steady gig and a free horizon. Of the two, who is most likely to create a share croppers existence for the fellow man?

Gagdad Bob said...

Another difference -- BB King said that he always dressed so stylishly because he didn't romanticize being a poor slob. He had no desire to look like where he came from, but to transcend it. In contrast, all the privileged suburban Marxists looked like bums.

Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re:

"BB King said that he always dressed so stylishly because he didn't romanticize being a poor slob."

I believe Elvis said as much when asked why he never wore blue jeans. There was the real rockers and then the Hollywood interpretation (see Marlon Brando in "The Wild One"). Nobody in the 50s wore blue jeans on a date, much less on stage. The stars that actually wore jeans growing up never wore them once they became an act. It was the whinny Pete Seeger types that thought looking like the working man would give them street cred. Kinda like Obama keeping it real with the peeps. Its really quite patronizing.

Jack said...

I'd much rather look clean and well groomed when I play. I don't wear a suit...but I have no need for the faux-common man, faux-authenticity delusion either.

I once wore a brand new pair of shoes (not sneakers) to a gig and was told by fellow musician that I had to scuff them up, because they looked "too new". I liked how they looked!

Tigtog said...

To Jack re: threads

It was the folk music thingy that popularized blue jeans. I guess everyman wants to be Woody Guthrie?
I personally like the early 60s jazzman look: peg leg slacks, loafers, dress shirt and a sports coat.

Funny wv given dress comments: uphes

Gagdad Bob said...

One of the reasons Francis Wolff's Blue Note photos are so great is the stylishness and charisma of the subjects. Check out some images.

Jack said...


The trustafarian set is well-represented in music because they have the resources that others don't to make it through the inevitable lean years. What I find amusing is the need to pretend that *isn't* the case. And strike the pose.

I guess I can see why they do it. Audiences EAT IT UP!! They want the backstory almost as much as the music (sometimes I think, even more so), even if the backstory is utter BS...such is the way of things.

Tigtog said...

To Jack re:

"even if the backstory is utter BS...such is the way of things."

Everything is the "narrative" even when its not. You know, one day you are busy community organizing and the next day your standing in front of styrofoam columns. Once in a lifetime, comes to mind.

Jazz guys dressed well because they were professionals. Nobody, and I mean nobody, plays jazz without years of preparation. That is not to say they all read music, but they play music (see Tal Farrow).

Jack said...

It's the same as Fender's "Road Worn" guitars, where you can pay extra to buy a brand new beat up guitar. Instant "authenticity" touring required!!

A shocking amount of what comes out of Fender's far mor expensive "custom shop" has been pre-abused. Which seems to suggest there are a good amount of rich, amateur musicians who want to pretend they spent their lives living the touring life out on the road.

I bought a new amp over the past year and a friend suggested I stop using the amp cover to protect it so that it would look "cooler" and beat up. I spent hard earned money on this thing!!! I keep it covered when travelling...

Tigtog said...

To Jack re:

"A shocking amount of what comes out of Fender's far mor expensive "custom shop" has been pre-abused."

Back in the day (70s) I bought all my guitars out of pawn shops. I remember turning up my nose at a 62 Strat because the its finish was so abused. Hell, it made SRV's Strat look like new. The price tag was $75. I bought a $200 1958 ES-125 instead. Believe it or not, all the guitars we used to buy for less than $200 are now collectible and sell in the thousands. Pawn shops just carry junk these days. Its like scars versus tattoos. Any asshat can get a tattoo, getting a scar requires a story. Usually a good one.

Van said...

Jack said "a friend suggested I stop using the amp cover to protect it so that it would look "cooler" and beat up."

Yeah, similar fashion in other areas as well, 'distressed' furniture, jeans,

Not to put too fine a point on it, but when the goal of 'cool', of the "Good", is taken to be, if not actual destruction, at least the appearance of it, does that not become a distinction without a difference?

(and the void answers 'Yessss, it doessss')

ge said...

Sartorial Suggestions ala Syd Barrett

"In yellow shoes
I get the blues
So I walk the street with my plastic feet
With blue velvet trousers make me feel pink
There's a kind of stink about blue velvet trousers

In my paisley shirt
I look a jerk
And my turquoise waistcoat is quite outta sight
But oh, oh, my haircut looks so bad!
Vegetable Man! Where are you?

So I change my gear
And I cover my knees
And I cover them up with the latest cut
My pants and socks are bought in a box
It don't take long to buy darn old socks
The watch
Black watch
My watch
With a black face
And a date in a little hole And all the luck
It's what I got
It's what I wear
It's what you see
It must be me
It's what I am!
Vegetable Man!
Where are you? ..."

julie said...

RE. backstory, I'm reminded of art school. We were taught to write long treatises about what we did (which was doubly appalling since most of the art students were pretty crappy writers). It drove me nuts because if the work couldn't speak for itself, how could any amount of explanation make it good?

Thing is, too many people want or maybe need those backstories in order to enjoy anything anymore, either to color their perceptions (giving permission/ excuse to like the unlikeable) or to make them think they have some kind of secret insider connection.

Tigtog said...

To GE re: Syd

I really never understood the interest in Syd as an artist. I do understand the interest in Syd as a subject for art. He is the crazy uncle of R&R. I was very surprised to see he left his brothers and sisters an estate valued at 1.7 million pounds. Not bad for a guy who wrote awful music.

Does anyone know how much Tiny Tim was worth at his passing? Hell Tiny started out in the Village with Dylan.

Tigtog said...

To GE re: Odd Music of 60s

Have you ever heard "Lothar and the Hand People"? Story goes that the record execs were late in coming to one of their shows in anticipation of signing them as the ultimate psychedelic band. They instead signed the B act, Jimi Hendrix. Go figure.

Also, check out the Fugs. My favorite was "Flower Children".

Interesting WV: fughfh

ge said...

de gustibus....

Syd i discovered late, likewise Roky Erickson---shying away from their basket-case tripped-out rep's [i tripped less, more cautiously than most peers] but then later the Syd bug bit! ie his PIPER songs, the cut 'Octopus' [i have gone on record claiming it as the best -lyrically- psych song ever, from the unique album OPEL which has Syd at his lostest... OR cuts like BABY LEMONADE...RATS... OPEL...I find his writing & elec. guitar to be some of the perfectest original and audacious just-punky/just-studied enough to satisfy my ears...
Something didnt turn me on about the Lothar albums...but Yes i was impressed w/ the first FUGS album last times I spun it. [I had met Lee Crabtree in 1970 at the Fillmore and hung w/ him a weekend --he played piano for the Fugs some.] but a related band the HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS [Stamfel & Weber] i am big fan of! also i dig
Spider John Koerner
a long lanky sophisticated hobo-like Minnesota peer of Dylan ...

~a kinda funny Fugs-related anecdote:
I even popped over to Bernard [ESP-DISK] Stollman's apartment once before I vacated the Apple... a funny useless trip that accomplished zip---he had been interested in an old project of mine whose coauthor & me had fallen-out, he left the message to 'call Bill Wilson' at a certain # and then he introduced himself ---hiding behind that waspy name!

ge said...

Tiny had a heart attack on stage did he not? Probably not too flush...
he was perhaps the greatest Howard Stern guest ever----extremely wierd personality from OC madness to product-obsession-endorsement to his strip-club attendance and feminine beauty fixation to major pro-Jesus slant [he freaked out on Howard's irreverence]
what a face! & schtick
"Santa Claus has got the AIDS this year"

julie said...

OT again, Tweeting the Summa.

Tigtog said...

To GE re: Tiny Tim

According to Find a Death, "Trivia: Tiny used Eterna 27, Jergen’s body shampoo, Vaseline Intensive Care (yellow bottle) for upper torso, Vaseline Intensive Care (green bottle) for the lower half. He applied Oil of Olay eight times a day. He never ate meat or cheese, and drank salsa from the bottle."

Was unable to find out about his estate, but he did have 3 wives. His daughter Tulip is now a Jehovah Witness. I thought the above information concerning skin care was crucial in understanding Tiny.

Northern Bandit said...


Re the Martin Logans and sufficient power. For years I've been with the camp that 100 watt amps are more than enough. However once you actually hear a system capable of reproducing the inherent sonic dynamism of live music it is hard to resist those lyin' ears. Power is related to sound logarithmically, so that even at moderate average volume levels the amp (and speakers) can be called upon to deliver literally 1000 times as much power (which is only 3 times as loud, psycho-acoustically speaking) for a few milliseconds. Systems unable to do this still sound fine, but once you compare them to a system which has the necessary breathing space to fully reproduce uncompressed dynamics -- well it's like the difference between really good analog and a CD.

Another system I heard once that was built this way used Tannoy speakers, which I believe are used a lot in recording studios. That installation like the one I heard two weeks ago was characterized by natural musicality at realistic volumes -- in both cases the thing I immediately noticed was that you could easily carry on a conversation even though normally the music would have been far "too loud" (in reality, it is the heavy clipping, compression and other distortions that makes conversation hard with a "normal" system).

A Linn sales guy once told me not to play their $15K systems louder than rustling leaves. At least he was being honest. To really reproduce jazz or rock you need the right equipment, and it's not the sort normally marketed as "audiophile". Audiophile stuff only has the headroom to hit dynamics when the average volume level is very low -- maybe 1/3 of a watt or less. The horn-loaded systems can produce lots of volume (105 db) with 1 watt of power (this is the key to the whole theory). When the attack of a sax or a snare drum required a burst of power, you've got the headroom (> 1,000 watts) to do it. The result is not excessively loud, but it is alive in a way which only a live performance can be otherwise.

BTW, the guy two weeks ago was by no means wealthy -- he just dedicated his slack to creating a temple to rock, and most importantly of all his wife was on the same Page (he was the former Led Zep roadie).

Anyhow, it's not easy to find this type of system, but if you get the chance seek one out and you'll see just what I mean.

Northern Bandit said...

The "conversation" test I mentioned above can be tested easily. Next time you're up close to, say, a jazz quartet in a small club with little or no amplification notice how you can carry on a conversation without really shouting.

Then try going to a bar where a some band is over-driving a crappy PA system and position yourself where the actual sound pressure level is about the same as the jazz place -- conversation will be much harder. Your brain is dealing with some really nasty non-musical electronic sludge in those situations. Same thing works in the first few rows of an orchestra, which at full crescendo is very loud (>115 db) but since the sound is "pure music" it doesn't hurt in the way a $600 stereo system cranked to the same 115 db level in some dork's dorm room does.

Northern Bandit said...

Anyhow Bob, yeah your FIL's system would have sounded considerably cleaner with the big amp even at modest listening levels due to that pesky logarithmic curve.

With "normal" speakers:

Watts SPL
0.1 60db
1 70db
10 80db
100 90db
1000 100db
10000 110db

See what I mean?

The trick is to use super-efficient horn drivers (like they use in stadium PA systems) in order to slide along that curve to the point where realistic musical peaks can be reproduced without owning your own private hydroelectric dam. As I said, this works even at modes listening levels, but the effect is awesome when you get the levels to "real life" levels.

Northern Bandit said...

I heard the Martin Logan Descent i subwoofer a few months back. Really sweet - fast, tight and very musical.

Aside from a system capable of high dynamic range as per above, I think one of the best improvements most people can make is a really good subwoofer. A double bass and numerous other instruments reach pretty low. Normal speakers are OK down to about 40-50 Hz, but that critical 16-40 range requires a subwoofer. Jazz is different once you fill in the "floor".

ge said...

audiophiliacs/ super-sonic seekers
these guys send me catalogs----seems like high-endest of hi-end stuff

Northern Bandit said...


Great link, thanks! Can never have too many musical resources ;-)

small said...

Hope I'm not perceived as barging in unannounced and uninvited, but...

(not) speaking of what's going on good these days, anyone catch the Joni overtones in Ray LaMontagne's latest single, "Beg Steal or Borrow"? Fine, fine music from a passionate artist at the top of his game.

Speaking for myself, I don't buy into the "man, you missed it..." syndrome. I love it when current music moves me like it used to. Current tune offered as example. Who says experience can't substitute for hormones? Decades are relative, and now is absolute. I hope you enjoy.

small said...

Hm. Let me try this linking business again...

Beg Steal or Borrow.

If this one doesn't work, well, well...just google it. Mea culpa.

julie said...

Ooo, I like that. Thanks!

ge said...

"man, you missed it..."

no one should feel that way way---the decades are all out there for any avid explorers & bloggophiles.
but if you love LaMontagne, trust: you will find many dudes as better or good who've been there done that in [what!?] los '60s :)
of course not talking live shows
who needs those??
[but hey i used to throw my panties onto stages along with the most hysterical boppers]

small said...

Yes, there can only be one "first", and what we love has mostly been done already. But I watch my pre-teen kids effervesce and shimmy to their own brand of new and I have the faith that the "firsts" of my youth won't eclipse what waits in their future.

Glad you liked that Julie. It led me to dust off "Court and Spark".