Pablo Casals, the legendary cellist, when asked why he continued to practice his instrument at age 90 replied, "Because I think I'm making progress."
Chico Hamilton, the legendary drummer and bandleader who passed away earlier this week at the age of 92, was asked the same question during an interview and responded similarly: "I practice, man. I’d better. There’s too many young players out there, man! I practice my instrument because I’m still trying to learn how to play it." A different interviewer complimented Hamilton on his vigor, releasing several albums while well into his 80s and speculated that many people would like to know his secret to staying vital and productive despite his advanced age. Hamilton replied simply, "I ain’t got nothing else to do!" This was a man who had spent eight decades playing music, seven of them as a professional. As Louis Armstrong once said, "Musicians don't retire; they stop when there's no more music in them.” Chico Hamilton never retired.
A Los Angeles native, Hamilton grew up in the epicenter of the West Coast jazz scene and ultimately became one of its key players. While still in high school, he cut his teeth jamming with fellow young players Charles Mingus, Illinois Jacquet, and Dexter Gordon. Landing a stint as the house drummer at Billy Berg's famous jazz club allowed him to further hone his skills and jam with top-notch musicians passing through town. After years of engagements with the likes of Lionel Hampton, Slim Gaillard, T-Bone Walker, Lester Young, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Barnet, Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., Billie Holiday and Gerry Mulligan, he was firmly established and ready to step out as a bandleader. 1955 saw his first outings as a leader and his first releases were unique as they did not feature piano, which at the time was de rigueur for most small jazz ensembles, but instead utilized cello, flute, and guitar as lead instruments. Hamilton's subtle, melodic style coupled with the unusual instrumentation of his quintet led to a string of successful records that stretched into the 1960s.
Hamilton's explanation of his arrival at his unique style offers sage advice for any young musician to follow. "The years that I spent as Lena Horne’s accompanist… my concept as far presentation began to happen, to make things dramatic, make things un-dramatic, whatever…to start creating moods. I guess the real me started to happen. I’ve always been a different kind of player. It was totally impossible for me to try to play like Max Roach, you know, or Art Blakey or Gene Krupa, Jo Jones…you took a little bit from him, you took a little bit from him, and a little bit from him, and put it all together, and all of a sudden it became you. That’s what it amounts to."
What it amounts to is a lifetime devoted to music, leaving us with a treasure trove of recordings to discover and enjoy.
Thank you Mr. Hamilton.
I missed this—it's from earlier this year—but I love the concept. Put on by the ever-important Tom Tom Magazine (the only print magazine in the world about female drummers) and Mindy Abovitz, (who is herself a drummer), the exhibit addresses how female drummers have historically been overlooked or ignored completely, with live performances of women drumming (and beatboxing) live in various parts of the MoMA PS1 in Queens, New York. Watch it! It's neat!
Abovitz, on deciding to put on a loud/live drum presentation in a museum, a traditionally quiet environment: "...we don't really belong here. Drummers don't really belong anywhere. But we definitely don't belong here."
Back in 2010, I posted on Line Out about the Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir being the heaviest shit you will ever hear. It's amazing what the human voice can do when tempered by centuries of strict tradition and monomaniacal practice.
But recent immersion in Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version has me thinking that the Seattle band may have topped these enchanted monks. In a 2012 feature on Sleep and music for stoners, I wrote this paragraph about Earth 2:
Dylan Carlson's homegrown ambient-metal marathon is the big bang of doom drone—a lavish 73-minute banquet of downtuned guitars snarling and fizzing with malicious intent. Earth 2 plunges you into the belly of a mastodon after a huge feast, and the sound is like the ensuing borborygmus. Paranoia strikes deep in this one; draw the shades and sink into the sofa cushions, bro: You're in for a long, slow derangement.
Other heavies include Melvins' Lysol, those early Sunn O))) records, Japan's Mainliner, old standbys Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer, and almost anything by Glenn Branca, whose 1983 show in Detroit was the most catastrophically loud thing I've heard in my life... and I've seen a lot of war movies.
I'm curious to know what you think is the heaviest music in the history of hearing—especially fans of death metal, a genre in which I lack expertise. Tell us in comments and justify your tinnitus.
If you were an inmate in a Nazi run prison in occupied Denmark, patience and fortitude would be two handy virtues to have in your possession. If you were a black female jazz trumpet player, you would probably be looked at as the worst sort of perpetrator of degenerate art. It could only be worse if you were a black female jazz trumpet player, a drug addict and a Jew. I'm fairly certain that Valaida Snow was not Jewish. The story of her imprisonment, which makes for exciting press, is apocryphal. Author and researcher Jayna Brown in her book Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern claims that Snow stayed in wartime Denmark by choice and that the story of her imprisonment was a press generating ploy invented by her management to set the stage for her return to America. Mark Miller's biography High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm: The Life of Valaida Snow also dismantles the fictions of her life and paints a portrait of a talented performer, albeit one that didn't shy from stretching the truth to suit her needs for a bit of play in the press. Her stories at the time, true or not, certainly did make for good fodder. What is undeniably true and plainly on display in films and on recordings is that Ms. Snow was a fine singer, dancer, and trumpet player.
Known variously as the "Queen of the Trumpet" or "Little Louis," Valaida Snow became a professional performer at a young age. Appearing in numerous musical revues in the '20s and '30s she danced, sang and wowed audiences when she stepped forward and took a hot trumpet solo. Pianist Mary Lou Williams offered a sideways compliment: “She was hitting those high C's just like Louis. She would have been a great trumpet player if she had dropped the singing and dancing, and concentrated on the trumpet.”
In the late 1920s, Snow would take her talents a little further than the well-worn roads of the black entertainment circuit in America. After performing in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta, Calcutta, and other cities and countries in the Far East, she would wind up in Europe for various tours throughout the 1930s. All of this traveling would be tempered with return engagements to the States and a few roles in some Hollywood films. Ms. Snow was, as they say, working it.
From vaudeville to musical theater and cabaret, from pop to jazz and on into the inchoate world of rhythm and blues, Snow's tenure in music lasted long enough to touch on all of these styles. Her star did not shine as brightly after the war, with claims that she was never the same emotionally and physically after her incarceration, but she worked steadily, performing and cutting records right up to her death in 1956. Intrigue and deceptions aside, the life of Valaida Snow is worth investigation as one of the early female musicians in a male-dominated jazz world.
Well then you came to the right place.
h/t: Dangerous Minds
A fée marraine, a fairy godmother...
We got this email over the weekend and I haven't stopped laughing ever since.
Are you serious? my name is [redacted] this is my father’s e-mail I’m using. Your write up on Layne Staley’s death pissed me off. Why would you write an article about a band you don’t like or obviously can’t even show respect to? Layne Staley had a horrible disease which shouldn’t be made light of. Get a clue you stupid ass wipe. Mad Season was desperate? Try Mike McCreedy begged Layne for 2 and half years to do something with him and in an article I read regarding who he thought was better Layne Staley or Eddie “fag boy” Vedder Mike said “If I had to choose the more talented singer/songwriter, I’d have to pick Layne, he sang to my soul.” So a former member of your precious Pearl Jam said Layne was better. Whatever you have you opinion I have mine and I know it was written 10 years ago, but FUCK off and write about shit you actually care about because you suck and your website your the editor for sucks.
Sent from Windows Mail
The music of the Hawaiians, the most fascinating in the world, is still in my ears and haunts me sleeping and waking. ~ Mark Twain
One of the first musical crazes in America, one that eventually wrapped around the globe, well before the blues and its bastard step child, rock and roll, was the craze for Hawaiian steel guitar music. The Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, Seattle's Alaska - Yukon - Pacific Exposition in 1909 and San Francisco's 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition all featured Hawaiian musicians and dancers and each of these events, along with the invention of the phonograph, aided in the spread of its immense popularity. The craze extended from the professional stages of the world into all manner of local vaudeville and novelty acts, innumerable commercial recordings, on into the home with steel guitar study courses available by mail. Ukulele clubs and steel guitar orchestras sprouted up in towns and cities across the states. Hawaiian records, both traditional and novelty numbers, sold like hot cakes in the teens and '20s. The influence of the Hawaiian steel guitar and its mellifluous voicings were massive and it readily sneaked its way into blues, Tin Pan alley, jazz, country and gospel music, where to this day it remains enmeshed and impossible to extricate.
One could spend a good spell absorbing the earliest recorded traditional Hawaiian steel players and it would be time well spent. From there, you could easily extend that excursion by following how the steel guitar branched out and was absorbed into other genres. You will find that the earliest examples of the electric guitar were prototyped with the steel guitar in mind. Country music and western swing styles would be vastly different were it not for the sounds of the steel guitar. You can follow Tau Moe and family to India and learn about its impact there and how generations of Hindustani slide players adapted it for use in both Bollywood film scores and traditional Raga forms. All of this comes from deftly moving a steel or glass tube or bar around on guitar strings, which is not as simple as it may seem, rendering its sound to something more akin to a human voice rather than a percussively plucked or strummed string. It is a voice that is at once haunting and yet somehow soothing and sensuous, a voice that calls you to come hither and succumb to its angelic qualities.
My advice to you is simple: Relent to its charms and let it take you on a pleasant journey.
Back in 1999, two unknown men (Craig Allen and Joshua Elrod) in Nashville released a gorgeous dub album called Disassemble Dub. Allen rode the bass, Elrod rocked the drums, and the two were called Phase Selector Sound. Their dub was wired in this way: American post-rock plugged into early King Tubby by way of the Clash.
Have you ever seen No Alternative Girls? A short 6 minute film made in 1994 by Tamra Davis? LADIES, It's required viewing. Interviews with Kathleen Hanna (in a ski mask!), Kim Gordon, Courtney Love, and members of: Luscious Jackson, Veruca Salt, and the Bangles...
When Henry Grimes was pronounced dead sometime in the 1980s, nobody bothered to tell him. Lacking this crucial information concerning his demise, Grimes went right on living, just as he continues to do so now. Although now he is playing music again, and has been for the last decade, after an extended sabbatical.
The strange and compelling story of the disappearance and resurrection of Henry Grimes reads like a good mystery novel, one with an uplifting ending. Here was a Juilliard-trained jazz bassist working steadily with some of the heaviest jazz gods during the golden years of post-bop and the avant-garde. He moved with grace from the straight ahead and with relish into the fires of free jazz, his indelible contributions to landmark jazz LPs of the 1960s secure his place in the pantheon of jazz legends.
Then, in the late 1960s after moving to California, he disappeared.
Fast forward nearly 35 years and here we have our man living in a one-room apartment in downtown Los Angeles. Without a bass, without the knowledge that he had passed on in the '80s, without knowing that his friend and musical companion Albert Ayler had died in 1970, around the same time that he himself had vanished, Grimes had effectively become invisible. In 2002 Marshall Marrotte, a social worker and jazz fan from Georgia, successfully tracked down a very much alive Henry Grimes. After Marrotte published an interview with Grimes in Signal To Noise magazine, the wheels were put in motion to get the man to caress the strings once more. A lovely confluence of events found Grimes revitalizing himself with a couple of teenage musicians who were able to organize some sessions with top L.A. players and from here he began his second ascension. He was very much ready to caress the strings again. Be sure to read Steven Isoardi's recounting of these events, as it offers a touching glimpse into the reemergence of a legendary figure in modern jazz history.
At one of his first live appearances in Los Angeles, after being a ghost for so many years, a friend who had traveled west with him in 1968 and who had last seen him in 1970 materialized and asked, “Henry, where have you been?” Grimes replied, “Downtown.”
Mr. Grimes hard at work:
Cutting records with Leonard Bibbs (bass) and Zutty Singleton (drums) as your rhythm section, that's cool. Sitting in with Lionel Hampton's band and Frankie Carle's Orchestra, very cool. Going to Hollywood to make a short musical appearance in a film called No Leave, No Love, cool and lucrative. Headlining for a week at Chicago's Regal Theatre and making some serious scratch, is pretty cool. Touring with Count Basie and picking up tips from a master, man, that is cool. Appearing in a short film with Basie and Billie Holiday, having Sammy Davis Jr. and Dorothy Dandridge as guest performers in your revue, rocking the keys at a star-studded event for President Harry Truman and part way through a number shouting out "How'm I doin', Mr. President?"—all of those things are definitely cool. Doing all of these things when you are 6, 7, and 8 years old? Let's call that extra cool.
Born in 1938, Sugar Chile exhibited musical ability at an early age and was one of those types of musicians that could, by ear, reproduce tunes that he'd heard on the radio. According to his father; "Sugar Chile was just able to walk when he started thumpin' the piano. When he was about two, a friend of mine came over one evenin'. We just sittin' around and he says to Sugar Chile, `Here's a nickel, go play me a piece on the piano.' We figured Sugar Chile would just slide his hands along the keys and then run for that money. Doggone it if that kid didn't thump out (Erskine Hawkins' then current hit) Tuxedo Junction." After winning a local talent show at Detroit's Paradise Theatre, Sugar Chiles' fame began to spread and for the next few years he would be busy recording, performing and appearing in a few films. The combination of cute and the ability to knock out some strong blues on the piano is a winning one and Sugar Chile worked it well; for a short time he was one of the most popular entertainers in the country. The transition from child prodigy to young adult to adult and keeping up one's popularity is notoriously difficult and, by his own choice, it was a transition that Sugar Chile would not make.
Sugar Chile spent his childhood in the spotlight and retired from that spotlight by the time he was 15. Robinson explains his decision "I stopped recording after the Capitol sessions in 1952. All during that time I had a tutor, so even on the road, I was studying. That wasn't what bothered me. I wanted to go to school…I wanted some school background in me and I asked my Dad if I could stop (touring and performing) and I went to school because I honestly wanted my college diploma. I was ahead of my age group in school. I graduated from Northern High School at age 15 and most of my friends were seventeen or eighteen when they graduated. I graduated from Olivet College here in Michigan around 1960. I have a degree in psychology." Robinson did maintain some involvement in the music business and helped run several small Detroit soul labels such as Lando, Lendo and AutoCap. He has also made a few live appearances in the 2000s, well over 50 years after his retirement as a child star.
The great consolation prize of losing a cultural great: the crush of great writing that rises to fill the void. Along with Dave Segal's Stranger remembrance, I loved Robert Christgau's SPIN piece (best tidbit: after being famously dissed by name on a Lou Reed live record, Christgau nominated Reed for a MacArthur "Genius" Award) and Ann Powers' thoroughly brilliant (conceptually, historically, emotionally) piece for NPR.
The only thing I have to add concerns a thing about Lou Reed that I've always loved and never seen specifically addressed, and that is the singing the young Reed did on the Velvet Underground records. It's not wildly different from what became known as the Lou Reed Voice, but it's different enough to notice and cherish: warmer, funnier, more conversational and eager to please, but still wonderfully melodically shambolic. It's always felt like a type of singing Reed did in the studio, away from his guitar, and close to the mic. I have no idea. But I love it. Here are some of my favorite examples.
"...And who is to be fed be fed." This is truly one of my all-time fav cuts, Bunny Wailer's 1981 version of the Wailers oldie:
What if you were the drummer for a band called Last Exit and that band sounded like a thousand elephants dancing inside your skull? What if that band was the punkest free-jazz band ever? What if you had played drums with Albert Ayler, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, and Cecil Taylor? What if you made one of the greatest psychedelic jazz power-trio records ever? What if you were a composer and bandleader that stretched the lessons you'd learned even more taut? Most likely, you would be person with a severely exploded view on what music could be and how it could be communicated. You would be an intrepid explorer working without a map and you would always find your way. You would be testing tensile strength. You would be implementing, monitoring, riding and controlling seismic waves. You would be a force to reckon with. You would be Ronald Shannon Jackson.
The Texas native was in for a wild ride when he landed a gig with Albert Ayler, which undoubtedly had life-changing effects. Jackson has said that this stint was the first music he had played "that really opened me up." That opening just got wider and wider as he went from playing with the free-jazz pioneer to working with Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, James "Blood" Ulmer and to leading his own band, the Decoding Society. One online writer mentions Jackson’s sense of funk as being regarded in a funhouse mirror, and I find this observation not far off the mark, absorbing Ayler’s spiritual free jazz, Ornette’s inscrutable Harmolodic theories and Taylor’s far-flung tonal workouts would leave anybody with unique perspective on the nature of music and how it should be played.
Jackson's down-home Texas blues roots are in evidence, if you listen carefully, even during his most out excursions, he explains; "I was around music all the time...that is the environment I grew up in. At twelve and thirteen, you could actually go around and see Jimmy Reed because he used to play here all the time. All the blues players used to stop through and I knew most of their music through the records we had..." Decoding Society's guitarist Vernon Reid relates how Jackson had collated all of this into his playing. “He made the music he made from an outsider’s view, but not to the exclusion of rock and pop…he synthesized blues shuffles with African syncopations through the lens of someone who gave vent to all manner of emotions. I feel that the collision of values in his music really represents American culture.”
Ronald Shannon Jackson passed away October 19, 2013 at the age of 73.
Skin-tight sequined silver lamé jumpsuit with giant lapels? Check.
Platform shoes? Check.
Tight and funky as hell backing band, replete with horns? Check.
Wicked guitar licks and smooth as a baby's butt vocal delivery? Check.
I have chosen this week's clip based on all of the above information and the fact that I am highly enamored of its smooth, deeply funky and, yet still, bluesy sound. I can't help myself, I'm a sucker for such things. Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce you to the one and only Johnny "Guitar" Watson.
A Houston, Texas native, Watson began his career in R&B after moving to Los Angeles around 1950. By 1952 he was performing professionally as Young John Watson and after seeing the 1954 Joan Crawford film Johnny Guitar he adjusted his moniker accordingly. His '50s and '60s recordings betray his Texas roots and you can plainly hear the influences of Texas greats like T-Bone Walker and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Slick, flamboyant (an enduring quality) and a top-notch guitar slinger, Watson cut many successful singles during this period and several remain landmark classics of the era. His 1954 single "Space Guitar" is a ripping track which moves between a heavily amplified reverb guitar sound and a clean guitar sound, a simple effect in retrospect, which lends to a futuristic, rocking blues feel. This track beats Link Wray's "Rumble" by four years. While not as menacing as Wray's swaggering cut, "Space Guitar" surely sets a precedent for future rock guitar wildness.
During a 40-year career, Watson moved with alacrity and ease from his straight R&B beginnings into soul, funk, and disco. While some may think this to be paper chasing (undoubtedly this was a factor), it also seems to be the natural progression of a musician wishing to remain current and vital; his 1970s output was more successful than anything he had done prior. Johnny "Guitar" Watson has now been immortalized via his own recordings and the fact that he has been sampled by a laundry list of hiphop greats of the last 20 years. When asked if his 1980 track "Telephone Bill" anticipated rap music, Watson told interviewer David Ritz "Anticipated?...I damn well invented it!... And I wasn't the only one. Talking rhyming lyrics to a groove is something you'd hear in the clubs everywhere from Macon to Memphis. Man, talking has always been the name of the game. When I sing, I'm talking in melody. When I play, I'm talking with my guitar. I may be talking trash, baby, but I'm talking."
Such braggadocio aside, at least he admits that he wasn't the only one and he rightly explains that this sort of proto-rap was happening throughout the country. Indeed, these roots can be traced back to the earliest commercial blues recordings of the 1920s. T- Bone Walker had also beat out Watson (and Hendrix) by a good 20 years with crowd-pleasing guitar antics such as playing behind his back or while doing the splits. Watson falls in a long line of blues and R&B entertainers and these stunts are just a part of a grab bag of tricks designed to delight. "I used to play the guitar standing on my hands, I had a 150 foot cord and I could get on top of the auditorium - those things Jimi Hendrix was doing, I started that shit!" Such proclamations in no way diminish Watson's fine output, just remember to take these sorts of statements with a grain of salt and don't forget his warning "I may be talking trash, baby, but I'm talking."
I Want To Ta Ta You, Baby:
Here is the full show to enjoy: Note that during the intro to "Gangster of Love," Watson turns to his keyboard player and asks which city they are in!
Sex, sleep, food, drums, and pain. To dull the pain, perhaps, involves imbibing in various illicit substances? Now repeat, over and over and over and over. This is when you begin to function on basic primal urges and things tend to get a little out of control. Communication breaks down into a series of grunts, shouts or maybe a single repeated word. You get a crazed look in your eyes and it starts to feel permanent. Personal hygiene and grooming take a leave of absence. Days blend into nights into days into nights and the cities start to look the same and it doesn't matter because you can't remember what city you're in tonight anyways. Smash something up. Play a gig. Pick up some chicks. Sex, sleep, food, drums, and pain. Now repeat, over and over and over and over.
It's not all bad. You're not Keith Moon. You appear on countless television programs, even in a few movies. You get to meet a lot of famous people and jam with some of your musical heroes. All the while you get to smash the hell out of your drums or, at least, some hotel rooms and chase skirts at the end of the night. It's not all bad, you're famous. Some may eye you warily, knowing of your penchants for freaking out, others embrace this wildness and are drawn to it like moths to a flame. They want to feed on your energy, your fame, your money, your charisma. They don't know the soft you, the guy that harbors a deep affection for impressionist paintings of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, they only know the public side, the wild man. The animal.
Your band breaks up and you end up in anger-management therapy. Your appearances are less and less these days and your attempts at meditation with your actor buddy James Coburn are less than successful. You talk with Dr. Teeth on the phone occasionally and you miss the rest of your old band, The Electric Mayhem, too. Yet, you soldier on and the people still love you, they still love your unhinged approach to wailing on the drumming contraption. You could possibly be the one at the root of all the drummer jokes that musicians like to trot out, yet these jokes are always told with a loving wink and a nod. They love you still, because you are Animal.
Here is Animal playing with some dude named Buddy Rich.
Claudia Lennear, who came to fame as a member of the singing and dancing Ikettes, has a unique voice that combines strength and fragility. She can wail and shout with the best of them, but there's a certain vulnerability that always shines through (that incongruity describes her countenance, as well, which projects joy and sorrow in equal measure).
It's an appealing combination, though anyone who picks up Phew! expecting Tina Turner's brand of firepower may leave disappointed. Lennear had her own thing going on.
Her participation in Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, which produced both a record and a concert film, gives some indication as to the eclectic sounds she laid down on her lone solo album, now available in a vibrant new reissue.
Despite the involvement of pianist and composer Allen Toussaint, who produced the medley-like side two, Phew! isn't strictly an R&B release (Ian Samwell produced side one and Ted Templeman produced the bonus track, Lowell George's "Two Trains"). Instead, Lennear draws more from the wells of rock and blues, with the exception of Toussaint's "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky," which holds its own with Lee Dorsey and the Meters at their groove-heavy, New Orleans best.
Once I got to that track, I realized how much she and the pre-disco Sylvester were on the same wavelength in 1973. This album and his twin rock records, Sylvester and the Hot Band and Bazaar, didn't attract the attention they should have, so I'm as grateful for this reissue as for Sylvester's Blue Thumb Collection.