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STUFFS & THINGS & THINGS & STUFF (STTS-008)
Butterfield Blues Band, Lisa Jane Persky:Lou Reed::Greg Tate:Ice Cube, Sun City Girls, Kodwo Eshun, Martin L. Dumas Jr, Grateful Dead, Six Organs of Admittance, Melvins, Nick Drake, Smiley Face, mas
GREAT CHICAGO MUSIC DEPARTMENT: I already knew “East-West” by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was a stone jam, but just picked up a cheap copy of their album of the same title and man, this has gotta be one of the great Chicago records. Not only musically but culturally, having been recorded right there at 2120 South Michigan Avenue (aka Chess Records) in the year 1966, and just look at these cool-ass Chicago dudes on the cover getting their photo taken at the Museum of Science and Industry. Paul Butterfield was born and raised in Chicago, a Hyde Park kid who attended high school at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Elvin Bishop went to high school in Tulsa, OK and, due to being a brainiac, got a scholarship to U of C to study physics, and met Butterfield there in Hyde Park. They became a blues duo and soon recruited Jerome Arnold (born in Chicago) and Sam Lay (born in Alabama, migrated to Chicago) from Howlin’ Wolf’s touring band to be their rhythm section. Mike Bloomfield was a north-side Lakeview rich kid who ended up in the suburbs (attending New Trier High School for a bit) and then moved back to the city to hang out in the south-side blues clubs where he earned respect as a guitar wunderkind. That’s the cultural part; as for the music, not only is it some rugged true Chicago electric blues rock (my fave track is a slamming version of Michael Nesmith’s Monkees B-side “Mary Mary”), Wikipedia is also telling me that the 13-minute “East-West” basically invented extended modal acid rock worldwide when it was released to the world in August of 1966, indeed inspired by an acid trip that Bloomfield had taken one year earlier, which he said gave him specific insights into the workings of Indian music that led directly to the composition of the track, which does have Ravi Shankar (not to mention Coltrane and Miles) all over it and really seems to predate everything else that followed from the rock world; the Grateful Dead themselves wouldn’t record their first side-long modal jam (“Dark Star” on Live/Dead) for another two-and-a-half years, and Santana, a band that was more successful than Butterfield in a style quite analagous to “East/West,” didn’t record their debut LP for another three years.
SIDE LONG JAMMER DEPARTMENT: Speaking of side-long modal jams and whatnot, I’ve been meaning to write up this timeline for awhile… I call it the Evolution of the Side-Long Jammer. Of course side-long jammers were already happening in the jazz/international/folk scene, thanks to aforementioned deities such as Coltrane (“Africa” and “Olé” from 1961) and Shankar (“Rāga Rāmkali” from 1962), not to mention Bull’s monumental “Blend” from 1963. At the time, rock music is relatively slow to catch up, but things are clearly starting to come together by December of 1965, when the Rolling Stones record “Goin’ Home.” It’s a little short to be a side-long jammer at 11:35, and will be initially released on the Aftermath LP as the last of six (!) songs on Side A (!), but hey… “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” by Bob Dylan, recorded February 1966, was itself only 11:23! Yet it is the first true side-long jammer, along with “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet” by Mothers of Invention, recorded March 1966 and itself a mere 12:17. “Goin’ Home” is released first, April 1966 in the UK, again not as a side-long jammer; two months later, “Lowlands” and “Magnet” are both released worldwide in June 1966 as side D of their respective albums Blonde on Blonde and Freak Out! “Goin’ Home” is released the following month in the US (talk about an aftermath!), in this edition the last of five (!) tracks on Side B. That same month, the Butterfield Blues Band records their landmark track “East-West,” which is released one month later in August 1966, also not as an actual side-long jammer (the last of four tracks on Side B), but at 13:10 minutes, the longest of ‘em all so far. Until…“Revelation” by Love is recorded and released a couple months later (November 1966) as Side B of Da Capo, at 18:57 the longest (but almost inarguably least great) of the initial side-long jammers. That was the opening salvo, with much to come after, but it should be noted that the Velvet Underground predate all of this (except maybe “Goin’ Home”) with the very long live jams they were playing in early 1966 like “Nothing Song” and “Chic Mystique” and the filmed jam you hear and see in Velvet Underground: A Symphony of Sound (1966, d. Andy Warhol). Nonetheless, their could’ve-been-side-long landmark “Sister Ray” didn’t hit wax until January 1968 (quite long at 17:28 but the last of two tracks on Side B of White Light/White Heat). Pink Floyd was another early extendo-jam pioneer, playing their instrumental showstopper “Interstellar Overdrive” at live shows in late 1966, though they didn’t officially release a side-long jammer until “Atom Heart Mother” in 1970. Iron Butterly didn’t release “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (17:05) until June 1968 (though it may be disqualified as a side-long jammer anyway, due to the egregious drum solo clause); Can’s “Yoo Doo Right” (20:29) wasn’t released until August 1969, with many German cosmic side-long jammers to follow; “Dark Star” by Grateful Dead certainly had been gestating earlier as a potential side-long jammer, but wasn’t released on vinyl as such until November 1969. Are there any other obvious (or not) side-longers from the 1960s that I’m missing? EDIT 12/31/2022: I forgot a really important one, thanks to reader @pheezersdm for writing in about thee Chuck Berry’s January 1968 release Concerto in B Goode, with side B entirely taken up by the title track (18:44). Sorry, Love, but “Concerto in B Goode” is the Real “Revelation.” If you’re going to fill up side B by rolling tape and choogling for a highly editable hour or two, this is the way you do it. Kermit Eugene Cooley and Dale Grischer (no idea) are the rhythm section, and they lay it down non-stop while Chuck proves to not only be a top-notch no-noodle bob-and-weave jam guitarist, but apparently, as the only credited producer, a top-notch would-be Teo Macero, flying edits in and out of a spacey hard-panned mix (the four tossed-off songs on side A all sound killer too) for a record that was already released and on the shelves when Bitches Brew was still being recorded… not hard to imagine a certain Prince of Darkness slunk back in a black leather chair in the summer of 1969 in a perfectly air-conditioned NYC townhouse, ignoring a room full of talkative drug users while “Concerto in B Goode” plays endlessly namelessly on the hi-fi, leaning over to his bodyguard and saying “What the fuck is this again?” and the answer is “Chuck Berry’s new record! Side B!” and Miles leans back and after a few seconds says “Fuck Chuck Berry” to no one.
ARTISTIC LICENSE DEPARTMENT: Quote from Lisa Jane Persky’s essay on Lou Reed that appeared in Maggot Brain #7: “[Lou Reed] said that if his works had been a novel instead, they wouldn’t be thought of as controversial at all.” Flash right back to Greg Tate saying the same thing in a different way for the Village Voice in 1990, this time about Ice Cube’s notably controversial rap lyrics: “The question becomes why can’t a rapper be given the same artistic license as a novelist to concoct his stories as he sees fit, no matter how brutal? Why is it that when a rapper tells a violent story, he becomes incriminated in his tales in a way a filmmaker doesn’t? Maybe because he can’t hide behind the camera? I’m not closing the discussion, just asking a question.” First of all, I love that last sentence, it’s so Greg Tate, in the spirit of discussion and conversation and perhaps even disagreement, and not even as the means to an end, but the end itself (which philosophically reminds me of this documentary I watched on Grace Lee Boggs and her art of conversation as a catalyst for change, but that’s a thread to pull another day), and as to Tate’s larger point, it’s true: filmmakers and novelists get to hide behind their characters and use poetic license to say and describe and even celebrate horrible things, and at the same time, for some reason, singer/songwriters (especially black singer/songwriters who rap, but yeah Eminem too) do not get the same leeway with their characters. Maybe the reason is that singer/songwriters are much more likely to use first-person storytelling instead of third-person storytelling, and when the “I” of the story is right there singing to you, it becomes very difficult to separate the character from the person. In fact, just last issue I basically referred to Alan Bishop, from one of my all-time favorite bands the Sun City Girls and someone I have great respect for, as an “edgelord,” because I linked to an interview between he and Byron Coley, and content-warned that the interview had an “edgelord” title. The title, trigger warning, is “A Fireside Chat With An Active Shooter,” which resonates harsher than ever here in 2022, post-Uvalde and post-Buffalo, but it was already plenty harsh in 2015 when the interview was published, Sandy Hook having happened in 2012. But Alan Bishop has always role-played as an active shooter, and of course an entirely fictional one, even just when he was playing live with SCG and would hold his cranked electric bass guitar like a shotgun, point it at the audience, and “pull the trigger” by playing/spraying sonic shrapnel bombs, or within classic bits like this one from the 1994 Cloaven Theater VHS tape. His vocal/stage/frontman persona could be that of a very harsh individual, punk rock taken to one of its harshest extremes, all within a maelstrom of noise that subcontains this fictional psychopath along with garage rock, free jazz, and international music, all of it blaring from a fucked-up transistor radio and surfing on radioactive waves of major artistic license.
RARE BOOKS DEPARTMENT: Scanning/skimming/downloading my way through a Chicago Public Library copy of More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction by Kodwo Eshun (1998, Quartet Books), which may initially present as music journalism and cultural criticism but quickly goes right into the deep end of heavy Afrofuturist prose-poetics on the visionary qualities of Sun Ra, Miles Davis, George Clinton, Lee Perry, not to mention dozens of other musicians that have followed in their electronically transmitted wake(s). It’s very dense and abstract/poetic, not really something I can read through beginning to end, but startling riffs abound. Here’s one from page 85 that particularly stopped me in my tracks, in the closing of a chapter that is mostly about Drexciya: “From the Net to arcade simulation games, civil society is all just one giant research-and-development wing of the military. The military industrial complex has advanced decades ahead of civil society, becoming a lethal military-entertainment complex. The MEC preprograms predatory virtual futures. Far from being the generative source for popculture, as Trad media still quaintly insists, the street is now merely the playground in which low-end developments of military technology are unleashed, to mutate themselves.” (And the way this dovetails with a passage from Brian Eno’s brief essay “Defence”: “Defence is increasingly the way that governments explore new technologies. The attractive thing about it from a president’s point of view is that it allows his government to command a large part of the GNP centrally, undemocratically and secretly, and to funnel it wherever it pleases.”) POSTSCRIPT: I happen to be on the Net right now, looking for a cover image of the Eshun book I can snag to illustrate this column, and see that this very edition I hold in my hands is out of print and priced at $300 to $400 on Amazon Marketplace, wow. P.P.S. How about this, if I may stack some analogies upon some of the movements that Eshun discusses: Disco:house::reggae:dancehall::1970s:1980s, also Chicago:Kingston::Disco Demolition Night:Death of Bob Marley::analog:digital (in all cases, a utopian musical/cultural revolution forced by duress and technological change into something more cold and apocalyptic).
THE GRATEFUL GODDAMN DEAD DEPARTMENT: These days every time I wash the dishes, which seems to be for at least 45 minutes every single day, I listen to another high-density cultural/historical/musical episode of The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast, which is in fact the official Grateful Dead podcast. The way host Jesse Jarnow usually dedicates an entire 60-to-90-minute-long episode to a single song, but just goes down a thousand different rabbitholes each time that are all connected to that one song as well as many other things, has my head spinning and makes me saltier than ever when anyone gets snarky about the Grateful Dead without clearly, however grudgingly, recognizing them as one of the most significant American countercultural through lines there will ever be. I understand being turned off by their hippie appearance and associations, and I can certainly understand being turned off by their exceedingly laid-back music, but yeah, if you feel that way without having any understanding of their massive DIY cultural legacy? I’m straight-up annoyed. POSTSCRIPT: “Music has infinite space. You can go as far into music as you can fill millions of lifetimes. Music is an infinite cylinder, it’s open-ended, it’s space.” — Jerry Garcia. “A jug of love will not run out/and never cease to spill.” — Mighty Baby.
MORE GREAT CHICAGO MUSIC DEPARTMENT: Here’s more great Chicago music, a sweet spot between disco and house, between MFSB and Marshall Anderson, “Attitude, Belief & Determination” by Martin L. Dumas, Jr. Can’t find too much info about this album, mostly just the same brief hype sheet appearing on seemingly all related copy (the label is called Taurean Connection, never heard of them either), including what seems to be the official Martin L. Dumas Jr. Bandcamp page, which doesn’t include the year of the recording or any biographical information other than “Chicago, Illinois.” Sonically it sounds like it’s from the 1970s, but it wasn’t released on vinyl until 2015. That said, Martin L. Dumas Jr. isn’t exactly a mysterious figure, having been in the groups Rasputin’s Stash (a very talented early 1970s progressive R&B/funk group who were signed to a subsidiary of Atlantic, sent off to Criteria Studios in Miami to record, and already sound pretty overcooked on their wild and at least somewhat impressive 1971 self-titled debut) and Crystal Winds (which released a record called First Flight in the early 1980s that is probably a little better, though notably different as playful early-80s just-barely-electronic quiet-storm funk balladry).
UNLIKELY MELVINS COVERS DEPARTMENT: I have to admit, I had my doubts that it would or could work, but Six Organs of Admittance’s cover of “Night Goat” by the Melvins is great. He did three Melvins covers total for his installment in the Aquarium Drunkard webmag’s Lagniappe Sessions series; the other two (“With Teeth” and “Boris”) are really good too, even if I may actually still have my doubts about the vocal production/affectation on “Boris,” lol. His “With Teeth” however has me revisiting my prized black-tape-on-cover copy of Lysol, where it’s the album closer I had kinda forgotten about, tucked away as it is after all those Side B covers.
LISTEN TO A SONG FOR THE 100th TIME AND A CERTAIN LINE YOU’VE HEARD BEFORE SUDDENLY FLOORS YOU DEPARTMENT: “Time has told me/not to ask for more.” Also, Richard Thompson’s electric guitar playing on this track is so good that for a minute I wondered if it was Martin Stone!
SURPRISE TRIPPED-OUT SNARE DRUM PRODUCTION DEPARTMENT: Whoah, that’s some surprise tripped-out snare drum production right there, under the second verse of “Keep On Lovin’ You” by REO Speedwagon, the verse that starts “and though I know all about those men.” Yep, right after you hear the “all coiled up and hissing” line and snake-rattle sound effect, listen to what happens to the snare, and stays that way for the whole second verse until the song moves into the pre-chorus (“and I said/every word I meant…”) and the snare goes back to having a more dry and traditional rock production. I’ve been hearing this frankly grandiose song for literally 40 years now, including at, like, actual roller skating rinks and homecoming dances in the actual 1980s, and the only reason I finally noticed for the first time in 2022 that there was tripped-out snare drum production under the second verse is because of the song being blasted over the final credits of Smiley Face (2007, d. Gregg Araki) when I watched it on Tubi just last week (great film btw, Anna Faris really deserves a Best Actress Oscar nomination for that one and I’m not joking).
THIS WEEK IN VU BOOTS DEPARTMENT: Listening to the somewhat halting and tentative Quine Tapes recording of Velvet Underground doing “New Age” while watching the time remaining, I couldn’t help but ask the question “How on earth is this going to last over 11 minutes?” I did not expect “Doug Yule is going to play a melodic Bach-infused fuzz bass outro solo for the last 7” to be the correct answer, but I’m certainly not complaining that it is.
HEAVY MUSIC IN ALL STYLES AND VOLUMES DEPARTMENT: Jesus Christ, the last minute of “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town” by Ray Charles! Oh hey, this massive arrangement is by Quincy Jones himself, at age 27, which is not surprising.