Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Boot Tracker, July 27nd 2008, New Jersey (Travitz)

Seemingly minutes after the first Giants' show ended a pro-shot video of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" and two recordings surfaced. Watching the video and this Travitz show do a very nice job of bringing the exitement in your living room. The world of bootlegging is making a decent start here, Travitz captured a very fine show nicely. The recording is somewhat heavy on bass, has a bit of echo hear and there and the guitars sometimes fail to develop that big sound we like, but overall this is a fun tape. There is a nice mix between the band and the audience allowing us to capture a little bit of the fun Bruce must have been having in his home state. With thirty songs and three hours plus, this seems to be one of those shows that just wouldn't stop, one of those moments where both audience and band appear insatiable. Travitz incidentally captured one of the finer recordings earlier on in the tour. His Philadelphia from October 6th 2007 is very much worth your while as well. It is interesting and thrilling to put the two together and see what the tour has morphed into.

The Magic tour started with some of the tightest and shortest shows he had ever given. Critics felt he shook it up too little. Maybe those critics had a point, maybe Springsteen has even been listening. Whatever the reason, the Magic tour started developing to its current shape in California earlier this year. More audibles were thrown in, more curve balls swept by us and the band. Looking at those shows in the second American leg now, it seems as if they were the final leg of the Magic tour. During the subsequent European leg a lot of the Magic material was cut from the set and the show piece that had marked the tour up till then disappeared. "Reason to Believe" was replaced by "Spirit in the Night" and "Mary's Place." Judging from this tape, it is the latter specifically that is reclaiming its rightful place as the show piece. This Travitz tape has it clocking in at over 14 minutes, complete with preacher shtick.

While this "Mary's Place" doesn't seem to be everybody's cup of tea, I love seeing little things added here and there. The shtick is what the stories were to his early career and possibly more effective in a Stadium surrounding because it calls for more audience participation. Somehow I don't see how the "Sad Eyes" interlude from the classic "Backstreets" versions could work at a Giants' stadium. This show also taught fans once again never to head for the parking lot during what used to be the show stopper. Just when you thought it was all over, Rosie came out to play. For those who missed it, here it is........


MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, use mp3s for personal use only. Keep them in your iPod or on your computer but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 3+ out of 5
Show: 4+ out of 5
Artwork: none

Monday, July 28, 2008

Boss Tracks, Do You Love Me (now that I can dance), The Contours

The Contours are one of those Motown acts that almost never happened. Like so many careers in show business, it was simply a matter of being at the right place at the right time and knowing the right people. Though the Contours were the first act to be signed to Berry Gordy’s newly formed Gordy imprint late 1960, Gordy had send them away at first. The Contours were a rough and raggedy R&B group that simply didn’t fit into to Godry’s Hitsville USA vision for Motown. Contour Hubert Johnson proved to be the band’s backdoor. Johnson was Jackie Wilson’s cousin who agreed to groom the band and push them with Gorgy. Probably because Gordy had his first financial success in the music business with Jackie Wilson, writing quite a few of his legendary hits, he relented and signed the group. But just as Gordy expected, the group’s first few singles flopped.

Just as Gordy was about to drop the group when they lucked out again. Berry Gordy had written “Do You Love Me” and was certain it would be a sure fire hit. Initially he planned to cut it for the Temptations. Though the Temps were also struggling to find a hit, Gordy figured the group had a lot of potential. However when he couldn’t find the Temptations his excitement got the best of him. Gordy was itching to get his new song on wax. Bumping into the Contours at the Motown studios he decided not to wait and cut the single on them. Gordy’s gut feeling was right, “Do You Love Me” became the first million seller for the Gordy label.

Ironically it was their initial success with Gordy that proved to be the cause of the group’s gradual slide into obscurity. Motown had a specific hierarchy when it came to song writing. The author who had the last hit with the group would cut the next single on them as well. Since Gordy had hit big with the Contours, other songwriters like Smokey Robinson let the group to him. With Motown’s rapid expansion however, Gordy was too busy with the company to give the group much attention. Nor did it help that the group didn’t exactly fit into the company’s polished Pop vision on R&B music. The very Temptations the Contours snatched their hit from would soon cast their shadow over them. Question is though if the more polished Temps could have done "Do You Love Me" with quite the same fervor. Part of the songs success lays in Huey Davis' rocking guitar over the spoken intro and Billy Gordon raving vocals commanding the dance floor to work, work.

Though the Contours weren’t a one hit wonder, they charted eleven very decent R&B hits, most notably the Rock 'n Soul rouser "Shake Sherry," they might have slipped into obscurity if it hadn’t been for Springsteen using the song in the mid-eighties as part of a “Twist & Shout” medley (as shown in the video above). In the mid eighties, Springsteen was one of the few big R&R stars in the field still referring to the R&R hits of old, exposing them to an audience of millions. More significantly however, the song was included in the “Dirty Dancing” sound track. The subsequent re-release gave the Contours a hit once more and allowed the remaining members to tour like they never had before. Part of the Dirty Dancing tour that tapped into the craze of that movie, the Contours played across the globe for millions in total. Original member Sylvester Potts admitted years later in an interview; “because of that Dirty Dancing tour, we still have been working, pretty much solid, ever since. It's a blessing.”

"Do You Love Me (now that I can dance)," the Contours

Available on 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Boot Tracker, August 21st, 22nd, 23rd, Atlanta (Mjk5510)

This recording popped up on the Dime a few days back. According to Bruce Base and the liner notes of this slightly re-mastered soundboard tape, it has been unclear for over thirty years which show this actually is. Springsteen did a three night stand in Atalanta hot on the heals of his Bottomline shows. Somewhere on that three night stand somebody was lucky enough to plug into the Soundboard and capture some of the magic. Both LP versions and CDs culled from that soundboard source have surfaced over the years, though none as complete as this one. The last CD release labeled the 21st missed "Kitty's Back," included on this release. However, a Godfather release labeled the 23rd has the exact same track listing as this tape. I must admit not owning that one, so I couldn't really tell you if its the same recording. The tracks here are re-mastered from a fourth generation tape that was labeled the 21st of August, but according to our benefactor here that doesn't solve the puzzle. Whatever the exact recording date is however, this is a mighty fine release for us fanatics.

Sound board tapes from this era are often a mixed blessing. Most of them aren't nearly as fine as the '78 radio shows in terms of sound quality. This recording is no different. I suspect that the tape has suffered from being shelved over the years and being of fourth generation doesn't really help. As such the tape sounds like a good audience tape, with a fair amount of hiss, with the audience all the way in the back. Although that allows you to enjoy the show without 'interference', to me it takes some of the exitement out. Compared to the recent Fanatic Records releases of the Bottomline audience tapes, there may be less warts, but I must admit that those are a more thrilling listen, simply because you get the audience response on that recording. Where this tape has an edge over those bootlegs however is the dialog. Springsteen's stories are actually audible this time around. So to sum it up this recording comes out as a well played record, with a few sound drops and cuts here and there. Nothing that will spoil your enjoyment, but it does make this tape one for the more hardcore collector.

Worth the admission alone on this tape is "Kitty's Back" again, with the Phantom doing taking a fine and oozing solo spot on the organ, followed by the Professor showing Van Morrison how his music should be played. Though the band was finding their own groove increasingly, those early Van the Man influences are still very apparent. The slow "It's Gonna Work Out Fine" wouldn't have felt out of place on one off Van's live albums. However, when Springsteen starts telling his grand tales, the difference in potential becomes apparent. Van never was prone to communicate with the audience the way Springsteen did and the grumpy old man (Van was an old man even in the seventies) could never have written a rock opera like "Born to Run" nor could Van ever make performing actually seem like fun the way Springsteen does here with "Twist and Shout". Springsteen left Atlanta at fever pitch after that one, not unlike he left Barcelona at in a frenzy more than thirty years down the line.

"Twist and Shout"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, use mp3s for personal use only. Keep them in your iPod or on your computer but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 3+ out of 5
Show: 4+ out of 5
Artwork: none

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Down the Tracks; William Bell and Stax (interview)

"(C)2008 Jelmer de Haas"
July 17th - Waiting for William Bell at an Amsterdam hotel, I was sipping on some coffee while all the classic Soul hits played in the background. The records from Stax and Motown, that once shook the world, struck me as the perfect background to interview the man who was a big part of the Soul genre’s birth. What at one point, as William would put it, was the Devil’s music, now was enough part of our collective musical memory to soothe us over a hotel breakfast. Sitting down for coffee with a man I consider to be a legend, I was truck with how accessible mister Bell was. Pushing 70 years of age, Bell looked like a man in his late forties. A youth he would radiate later that evening on stage in the Hague while delivering his classic hits such as “You Don’t Miss Your Water (till the well runs dry) and “Private Number.”

William Bell was born William Yarbourgh in Memphis Tennesee 1939. William started his singing career in the Baptist church at a very young age. “I was six or seven when I started singing in church,” William remembers. At the age of 14 William entered a talent contest at the Mid-South Fair, “I won first price and that brought me to the attention of Phineas Newborn who had a big 14 piece orchestra, kind of like a Count Basie type orchestra”. Looking back William really feels his stint with the orchestra, including top talent like Fathead Newman and Hank Crawford, was like going to the university that would prepare him for the rest of his career. “Some of the things I learned back then I can still apply today, how to read an audience, how to time your shows”. Phineas also taught him all William needed to know about chord progression and taught him the basics on the piano. The most important lessons William remember however was to “always leave your audience wanting more” with a laugh he adds, “when you see you’ve got them at a fever pitch…..exit!” A lesson William still applies today.

Coming from a working class background Williams parents weren’t very supportive at first. “Mom was in the choir” William explains “this was what they called Devil’s music” he adds with a chuckle, “they had much rather that I had gone the gospel route, but since old man Phineas’ sons were in his band and he had asked my mum about joining the orchestra, she reluctantly agreed as long as I was back in time on Sunday for church.” Added to his parents reluctance was the fact that both his parents worked hard to make ends meet, “so we weren’t super poor” Williams remembers. But that didn’t take away from the fact that his parents had hoped William would go off to college as the first in the family and become a doctor, “but at that time I had the music in my head.” Music and writing was important to William, “I was always a poet, even as a ten to twelve year old. That was like an escapism, I was always writing lyrics.” Over time the support of his parents grew so when he formed the Del-Rios, a doo-wop group, with some class mates, they were allowed to practice in the house.

The Del-Rios saw William shifting from Jazz to modern music. Like so many performers of his generation it was radio that had first introduced him to R&B. In William’s case it was WDIA that played a key role. As the first black radio station in the country it was through them he got acquainted with the sounds of Little Richard, the Clovers, Hank Ballard & the Midnighters and B.B. King. WdIA also organized teen talent contests, which Bell would use to further hone his performing skills. “They had B.B. King with a fifteen minute show where he would play and sing and then they had the teen talent singers where we would play three songs or so” he remembers. With the Del-Rios he would start to play his first matinees in Memphis and get his first recording experience when they cut “Alone on a Rainy Night” for Meteor records with Rufus Thomas’ band the Bear Cats backing them up. Bell fondly remembers Rufus, “I knew him both as a comedian and a DJ, he kind of was a surrogate father to all of us.” With Thomas being a jack of all trades William picked up a lot of how to become an all round performer.

William remembers Memphis as a melting pot where you’d hear all the different music styles coming through the radio and having Sun records right across town where Elvis Presley and Rufus Thomas had cut their first records. As he explains that melting pot was key in the Stax sound, which married Country and R&B. Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn came from a Rockabilly background, William remembers and explained how that sound mixed with Booker T’s church background, creating a sound that was as unique as it was revolutionary at the time. When William was growing up, Memphis was still segregated. William still clearly remembers the white only signs and the blatant racism, although he does admit he was more or less sheltered from the worst part of it. “It was weird, my neighborhood was like the dividing line between black and white” William explains. Right across the street of him lived a white family, Bell remembers that “early in the morning my mother would have coffee at the kitchen table and exchange recipes with the white lady across the street, so I grew up with more of an open mind. When I got with Stax, having the camaraderie with black and white, it was a mixture there, once we closed those doors, we locked the world outside.” The only tension William remembers amongst his fellow musicians was over how to play the chord changes. Inside they only argued about the important stuff, “it didn’t matter if you were black or white, it was all in terms of what you could bring to the table in terms of your musical abilities.” Stax was the first integrated company in the country Bell remembers, “it was like a family, we opened a lot of avenues by being mixed.”

How much of a family Stax actually was becomes tangible when William reminisces on Estelle Axton, the sister of Jim Stewart. Jim was the St of Stax, she was the Ax. “She was like a mother to us, she was nutritious, she kept us on the straight and narrow a lot of times, because we would be teenagers back than, it didn’t matter to her if you were black or white, if you’d do something wrong, she’d be all over us” he remembers with a warm smile. Estelle also ran the record shop, Satellite Records, that was an instrumental part of the Stax operation. As a small independent operation, Stax didn’t have the financial buffer to take too many risks on their records. So before a record was pressed Estelle would play the record in the record store and see of it commanded a response from the kids who were visiting. If they started to dance, Estelle would know they had another hit.

William claims today he was the first male singer to be signed to Stax, encouraged by Chips Moman, an influential Memphis based guitar player and record producer. William was reluctant at first. His memories of recording for Meteor had left him with a bitter taste in his mouth for the recording industry since he never got paid for that. Bell wasn’t sure he wanted a career as a signed singer for himself. He rather went out on the road with Phinaes which provided him a stable income at the time. However, during a long stand in New York, William started to get homesick and penned “You Don’t Miss Your Water (till the well runs dry)” to give expression to those emotions. Back in Memphis Bell first recorded with the Del-Rios again for Stax, soon however the army stepped in and drafted about half of the group, “So I wound up being a solo” Bell laughs remembering. He cut his song and building regionally it would become his first hit for the company. The simply philosophy that made the song stand out would later become Bell’s trade mark. “As a kid I was always surrounded by grown-ups” Bell explains “So I got a lot of that home spun wisdom from my grandparents and my parents and everything”. These wisdoms would later find their way into other signature songs such as “Everybody Loves a Winner” or “I Forgot to be Your Lover,” making them easy to connect to.

Ironically Bell was drafted himself soon after he had his first hit. When he came back out of the army, Stax had signed Otis Redding who became their first bona fide super star. Almost by default William is compared to Otis these days, even though their vocal styles are strikingly different. “His background was Gospel too, his father was a minister” Bell says explaining the similarities between them. “But of course he was more of an up-tempo singer, wham! wham! ” Bell relates, “and I was more of a hopeless romantic” he says laughing. Explaining further Bell relates that their respective regions were key in how their vocal styles formed. Being from Macon Georgia, Otis was more influenced by Little Richard according to Bell. While William himself was more influenced by Bobby Bland and B.B. King, “Coming from Memphis I got a little bit of everything” he adds, again stressing the melting pot Memphis was.

Despite their differences William and Otis hit it off and started touring together for about a year and a half in 1966. Touring in cramped cars, becoming road buddies was almost a necessity, “we used to flip coins to see who had to sit in the middle portion” Bell laughs. The touring schedule was frantic, “I think in one year we did almost 300 one-nighters.” Bell remembers a specific incident where they came from a show in Washington and had little time to catch the plane after that. Unfortunately the car stalled about a mile away from the airport. Otis and William had to jump the fence and run across the runway to be able to catch the plane, which as about to embark. Luckily the purser, while they were already taking away the ladder from the plane, was a fan who recognized the duo and stalled the plane so they could catch it. “We were lucky we weren’t ran over by a plane” Bell laughs, “these days you probably couldn’t do that without being shot,” he adds.

William cut a couple of albums for Stax. The first one, “The Soul of a Bell,” he produced with his youth buddy Book T, whom he knew from church and high school, at the Stax studios. “Bound to Happen” was produced by All Bell, the company’s president at the time, at Muscle Shoals. Explaining the differences between the two William relates that “Booker was more musical inclined, All was more of a feel person, he approached it almost from a religious point of view, Booker wanted it all to be structured musical correctly. He was such a great musician, really a multi-instrumentalist long before it was fashionable.” He admits that writing with Booker T came easy to him, they could almost read each other’s minds. William explains how he would often come into the studio with just the skeleton of a song, “but then he came in and would take it to another level.” Though sometimes, Bell added, “it was the music that almost dictated the subject matter”.

Though producing records with Booker T at Stax, William wasn’t signed to them as such. That gave Bell the liberty to form his own record label in Atlanta, Peachtree, in 1969. Where talent just kind of floated into Stax through the record shop, in Atlanta however William had to hunt down his own talent. Bell worked together with his then manager Henry Wynn on this, who as a promoter did all the big black acts those days according to William. Wynn also had a few acts signed without any material out. So what Bell would cut those artists to wax, backed by his own road band, Johnny Jones and the King Casuals. As an independent it proved difficult to get their material plugged at radio stations, so Wynn would make sure to make courtesy stops at the local stations whenever the Peachtree acts, like Mitty Collier, would come to town, building a name for them regionally when this was still possible. But the times were changing. By the time Stax went bankrupt in 1975 the market left less room for little labels that could. The big companies had tightened their grip on the market, big FM radio stations with their formats were slowly pushing out the smaller regional stations and Disco started dominating popular tastes.

Ironically William Bell closed the era of what is now considered the golden age of Soul with a bang. After Stax went down William was signed to Mercury. Again his affiliation with this new label came with reluctance from Bell’s part. “After Stax filed bankruptcy I was so disillusioned, because as kids growing up we never thought that Stax would end” he muses today. This time after being motivated and chased down by Peachtree’s distributor Charles Fach, also vice-president of Mercury, Bell reluctantly gave in and agreed to cut four songs for Mercury to be used as 45rpm releases. “At that point I didn’t actually have any songs” Bell admitted with a laugh. By the time he had the songs written, amongst which “Trying to Love Two” which would become Bell’s first number one hit in 1976, the Rhythm section he had wanted to use was no longer available. Bell called upon New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint who set him up with a backing band, possibly Chocolate Milk, but William isn’t exactly sure. After “Trying to Love Two” hit Bell expanded the sessions into an album, aptly titled “Coming Back For More.”

"(C)2008 Jelmer de Haas"
Even though the first Mercury album hit big, Bell, like so many of his peers, got lost in the flood of the changing times. Because of a change in executives at Mercury interest in Bell waned within the company and Bell himself had difficulty to adapt to Disco. William can laugh about it today, “Disco was a 120 beats a minute and it was killing us.” Bell explains, “of course the producers became the stars then.” It wasn’t long before Saturday Night Fever hit after that and the DJ became King William reflects on it now, “even though a lot of artists are still around they never came back.” Reflecting on what the music business became Bell relates “it’s too much a melting pot these days, I like some of the modern stuff, but to me individuality is what makes and artist. All of the great artists, whether its B.B King, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix or Clapton, they all had a distinct sound you’d easily recognize.” Bell feels music is missing just that individuality these days. “A lot of it is lost in the generic music of today because they use the same instrumentation, the same chord structure, it just comes across as fast-food music.” Bell suspects a lot of the appreciation for the craft got lost when the small clubs started to close down, “artist don’t have a place to go and hone their craft” he clarifies, “you have to be able to look your audience in the eye-balls.”

Despite the musical and cultural musical changes, William Bell keeps producing music for his own production company Wilbe. It’s the love of it that keeps him going, “it keeps me young.” Something he would prove in spades on stage later that night. Showing to all the Amy Winehouses and Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reeds out there how the game is really played.

Live photos courtesy of Jelmer de Haas
A big thank you to In The Basement Magazine for the help on this article.

Boot Tracker; July 19th 2008, Barcelona (fortylicks)

Barcelona taped by fortylicks is one of those tapes that's a paradox. The recording isn't all that hot, but its an exiting tape to listen to. The expectations for Barcelona were high. Springsteen's Spanish shows are considered amongst his best, added to that fact is the last stand factor. The two nights of Barcelona are the last shows Springsteen will do this side of the pond and he's notorious for making them count. Aided by the heat that allegedly made steam rise from the stadium floor before the show had even started, Barcelona was promising to be a hot show. Temperatures rose to such levels that some took Springsteen's old command, "I want you to take all your clothes of now!!!!," quite literally. Eyewitness reports noted there were Catelonian men dancing in their Adam's suits. It stayed with dancing however, no cunnylingus was reported. The exitement of the Barcelona shows spilled over all the way across the pond, in what might be the first E-Street Band show some attended through conference call. Thanks to Skype and cellphones, a lucky few were able to listen in live.

Was all that exitement warranted? Judging from this recording it was. The band was on fire this night, before a near 100.000 attending the show at Camp Nou, Europe largest soccer stadium. The set list didn't have any premiers, or all that much rarities, Bruce might be saving those for tonight, but that did nothing to damper the spirits. While this recording is distant and marred with more than a few of sound warps, not to mention lack of instrument separation or depth, it does bring the exitement of Camp Nou into your living room. Play this show in your car and it is guaranteed to get you a speeding ticket! Listen to "Hungry Heart" heart on your iPod in the train and you'll be bound to get a few amused stares when you can't help singing along. I dare you to listen to "Mary's Place" and resisting the temptation of imitating that knee slide Springsteen does.......it's futile!!!! And I dare say "Summertime Blues" has never sounded this smoking! Who cares this tape isn't perfect, this is Fun with a capital F. Did I mention there's a near ten minute "Twist and Shout" on here to give your neighbors nightmares? Take the taper's advise, play this one LOUD!!!

"Summertime Blues"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, use mp3s for personal use only. Keep them in your iPod or on your computer but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 2+ out of 5
Show: 5 out of 5
Artwork none

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Boss Tracks, 96 Tears,? & the Mysterians

True to their name, the roots and career of ? & the Mysterians is shrouded in mystery. I rarely found so many conflicting sources on a 45 as I did on this one. Though ? & the Mysterians only scored one major hit with "96 Tears" they are often seen as the band that started the Garage Rock revolution as well as being the first Latin-American Rock band. Further digging into that lineage however makes matters confusing. Though ? claimed in a recent interview they were there well before the Beatles and the Stones, various sources confirm the first live appearances of the Mysterians somewhere around 1964. Though one source claims that the original base player of the group, Larry Borjas, came up with the band in 1962 when he saw a Japanese sci-fi flick by the name of the Mysterians. That would mean the band had existed for two years before the Beatles would break in the USA. This version of the story is confusing however, because other sources claim that the band started out as XYZ and ? at insistence of their lead singer who's actually legally is ?. Not spelled as Question Mark as some sources print it, but the actual glyph is his name, decades before theartistformallyknownastheartistformallyknownasPrincenowagainknownasPrince decide to change his name to a symbol.

Just as the origins of the band, ? true background remains shady. Some sources have it that his real name is Rudy Martinez, brother of drummer Robert Martinez. ? has always denied this. If we are to believe this man who is never caught without his sunglasses on, ? was born on Mars ten thousand years ago and lived among Dinosaurs. Whatever their true origins it was ? who penned the song, initially called "69 Tears," the title changed to "96 Tears" out of fear soixante neuf was to explicit to get them any airplay. According to ? the single was recorded for 50 dollars on a outdoor patio in 1966 and first printed in 750 copies for their managers Pa-Go-Go label. Before long the song became a radio hit and the group signed with Cameo Parkway records, home of Bobby Rydell. Allegedly they picked the label because its logo had ?'s favorite color in it, orange. With Cameo's distribution backing them up the song shot to the top spot of the charts in 1966. Adding to the mystery however, 1963 is the date printed on the label of the 45. The trademark organ riff that made the single so successful has had musicians debating since whether its a Farfisa or a Vox Continental. Recording sessions for the now legendary album "96 Tears" followed the success of the single, spawning another hit "I Need Somebody," which clocked in at #22. Unfortunately right after the group had recorded and released their second album "Action," Cameo-Parkway went belly up and professional vulture Allen Klein got a hold of the rights and master tapes. As a result, the classic single released in 1966 was scratched for release on the original Nuggets lp. For some reason Allen likes to sit on material he owns. Allen's label ABKCO didn't re-issue the original recordings until 2005.

While the original Mysterians fell apart more than once in the past few years ? always stuck around. In a recent interview he claimed that it has always been easy to find other Mysterians and keep touring. ? also claimed he will be performing "96 Tears" well into the year 10.000. I believe him, for a man born on Mars anything is possible.

? & the Mysterians

Available on The Best of ? & the Mysterians: Cameo Parkway 1966-1967

Bruce Springsteen 2003, featuring Garland Jeffreys

MP3 File

Read more on ? and the Mysterians here
Check out the official site of ? and the Mysterians

Friday, July 18, 2008

Boot Tracker, July 11th 2008, Helsinki (Ev2)

Usually Ev2 releases are very good news. I've come across few Ev2 recordings that disappoint me. Quite a few of them I rank amongst the best Springsteen bootlegs out there. Unfortunately this Helsinki bootleg testifies that even Ev2 can have releases that do not quite live up to my expectations. To be fair, Ev2 set the bar high for himself and Helsinki is still a pretty decent tape and a very enjoyable listen, just with a few more glitches than I hoped. There's quite a bit of distance in the sound and the recording is marred by a strange swirl, with a few drops throughout the recording. Part of this is probably caused by the way it was recorded. As I understand it the taper, Drunkenmaster, used the internal microphones on his Zoom digital recorder. Those internals work well enough with acoustic shows, but electric shows like these simply need more refined recording equipment.

Still, this release does a very decent job of capturing a fun show. The electric debut of "Youngstown" would be worth the price of admission alone. But to top it off there's the romantic double punch of Sandy and "I'll Work For Your Love" and the R&R rave up pairing of "Summertime Blues" and "Sherry Darling". "Mary's Place" is re-claiming its spot as the show piece, slowly expanding with a bit of that preacher shtick, but still about eight minutes shorter as during the Rising tour. By including songs as varied as "Pointblank" and "Born in the USA," contrasting hidden gems with 'overplayed' stadium monsters, the subtle with the blatant, Springsteen manages to give a career overview few greatest hits CDs could do over the course of the evening. Helsinki will also go down in history as the show where Springsteen threw his oddest curve ball yet, near old saint Nick's home, Santa came to town in mid July. Breaking the record for earliest occurrence held by the September '78 appearance. Another triumph the '78 tour cannot take away from this magical 2008 tour.

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, use mp3s for personal use only. Keep them in your iPod or on your computer but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 3+ out of 5
Show: 5 out of 5
Artwork: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Boss Tracks, Follow That Dream, Elvis Presley

"...it was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody's ear, and somehow we all dreamed it." Bruce Springsteen

A perfect Springsteen quote for this Elvis find I would say. Not really a single but an EP, "Follow That Dream" is Elvis' soundtrack to the Hollywood flick by the same name released in 1962. Elvis had been home from the army for two years. The once R&R rebel had been transformed into an all American teddy bear, as harmless yet tasty as apple pie. Just how much the establishment had embraced him was illustrated by the welcome home bash Frank Sinatra threw him on television. Elvis went from R&R to a Pat Boonified brand of Pop faster than anybody would have thought possible. Serving in Germany had made a bona fide American hero out of him. Priscilla Beaulieu, whom Elvis met in Europe, arrived on American soil in 1962 and would soon make an honorable husband out of the nation's most desired bachelor. Maybe that's why the climax of "Follow That Dream" flick is Elvis singing the title song in an unbuttoned shirt, for all of America's teenage girls to gawk at.

Maybe its the cheesiness of the whole affair that makes the song stand out so much. "Follow That Dream" is arguably Elvis' strongest effort from the Hollywood era. Though sugar coated with a syrupy choir the song is propelled by a driving Rockabilly rhythm with some of the King's most convincing vocals of the times. Maybe because the song reflected the dream Elvis was pursuing when he ventured into the R&R business. Elvis hardly chased the aesthetics of R&R in his career, he rather used R&R as a vessel to get his slice of that American dream pie for himself. In my mind it is in this uninhibited hunger for success, including the glitter and glamor that came with it, that caused Elvis to become a caricature of the genre he propelled into orbit and that very American dream. Critics often feel that Elvis betrayed the dream of R&R, I wonder if it was his dream in the first place. I think the King just wanted to be part of that main stream America that was denied to his parents. The song is a stunning contrast with the fleeting Hollywood flick that only set out to cater the day dreams of little teenage girls and not much more.

It is no secret that Springsteen was a huge Elvis fan. Critics have often pegged Springsteen as the man who delivered Elvis' perceived promise, even though we would never agree on the Boss as much as the King. The cover of "Born to Run" can see him sporting an Elvis button on his crunchy leather jacket, perfectly in sync with this early myth building. On a side note, even the button has a mildly amusing story behind it that might indicate that the Boss once was part of 'the King's Court', a New York based fan club. Unfortunately the records of that fan club show no proof of that. But I wouldn't put it past the Boss to have been a fan boy, not quite dissimilar to us. Maybe that's why Springsteen couldn't resist the temptation of jumping Elvis' fence in '76 when he was playing Memphis.

Springsteen's admiration of Elvis led to him not only covering the song, but doing a re-write, trying to capture the spirit of the song while adapting it to his own voice. In Springsteen's hands the lyrics were significantly altered while the melody took the form of a prayer. Though the song debuted during the River tour, it wasn't recorded until 1983. Though the studio version was suggested by Jon Landau for the "Born in the USA" album, it didn't make the final cut. Together with "Protection," "Janey Don't You Loose Heart" and a ballad called "My Love" Bruce scratched those from Landau's proposed track list, proving to his own Colonel Tom Parker who's Boss perhaps. But it could simply be that Springsteen's camp wasn't looking forward to dealing with the legalities of including a song, changed as it may be, still had a strong lyrical resemblance to the version Elvis recorded. After the River tour where the song was played played 25 times, it would slowly fade from Springsteen's live sets. The next to last appearance of the song was by request of a fan during the '88 Basel Switzerland show, featured in the video above. After that the song disappeared in the vaults, being skipped once again for the "Tracks" boxed set. The song made one isolated reappearance during the Rising tour however, so who knows, with how the Magic tour is currently developing, we may get a taste of this gem yet.

"Follow That Dream"

Available on Elvis at the Movies

Bruce Springsteen, Mountainview 1986

MP3 File

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Right On Track; Magic Tour Highlights

After listening to countless bootlegs during this tour, an official release is like a breath of fresh air. No frustration whatsoever about instrument separation or intrusive audiences, no muddiness nor a band that sounds like its playing three soccer fields away. The "Magic Tour Highlights" simply sounds, well, magical. Though I had heard the videos of most of these tracks through YouTube or Springsteen's site, I was struck by how good they sound. The tracks have clearly been remixed allowing every subtle note to come to the surface. If you thought Tom Morello's solo on "The Ghost of Tom Joad" sounded amazing before, you're in for a surprise. Taking into account that this is an mp3 based download, that's no mean achievement. The tracks sound as full and rich as what you would expect from a CD. You may think you have all of this in a bootlegged version, but you really haven't.

"Magic Tour Highlights" is a charity release, with the net proceeds going to the Danny Federici Melanoma Fund. With such a noble cause it is hard to have any gripes. A charity download like this makes donating fun and then some. But I can't help having a few reservations on how this whole release was handled. First of course there's the title. Though these are without a doubt fine moments from the Magic tour, it is questionable if they were indeed the highlights. Charming as Alejandro Escovedo's guest appearance may have been, his vocals were a bit off from time to time, nice but no tour highlight. Besides, shouldn't this judgment call be made at the end of the tour, the best may be yet to come. But that gripe is absolutely nitpicking from yours truly. What did make me frown however was the difference between the European release and the American one. I would have loved to tell you how good the videos were, but for us Euros there are no videos to be bought, no digital booklet to be gotten. I'm a bit mystified by this distinction as I would have gladly parted with just a bit more of my hard earned cash to get all those goodies.

Gripes soon forgotten however. Danny's performance on "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" is absolutely stunning. A very nice testimony of why he was such an important element of what made the E-Street Band. And lets be honest, after downloading so many bootlegs, you must have a pretty strong argument not to shell out a few bucks for the Melanoma Fund this way.

The Magic Tour Highlights are available through Amazon and iTunes.

Read what Tom Morello has to say about his collaboration with the Boss.

Boot Tracker, June 25th 2008, Milan

For a while I was afraid a proper recording of Milan wouldn't surface. An mp3 recording, not worth mentioning, rose its ugly head and a sub par audio rip from a video was what we got, but no proper audio recording. Since Milan was one of those shows that had rabid fans and casual fans foaming from the mouth alike, I found this to be highly disappointing. Luckily, good things still come to those who wait. Courtesy of Edomedo, there is now a very nice document of Milan indeed. Though this tape is far from the best sounding bootleg of this tour, I dare say it is one of the most exiting tapes to listen to. Edomedo warned in the description that there would be a few people clapping, what he meant to say was he captured the entire stadium in union with the band. The good people from Milan are very present indeed, yet hardly ever in an intrusive way. So what this recording manages is capturing the exitement of a Springsteen show in Milan, or getting as close as a tape can. Depending on your own tolerance for audience 'noise' (music to my ears on this one) you'll love this tape. Especially since the band comes through pretty darn good as well. Not spectacular, but good enough to make this a highly enjoyable recording.

Milan got treated on a spectacular show from the sounds of it. The opening "Summertime Blues" made me check again what year it was. After pinching I was certain we were still living in the future of '78. "Summertime Blues" isn't the only parallel with '78 by my accord. As I have addressed many times before, Springsteen's dedication to his trade is stunning. To these ears the band sounds as relevant and committed as they did thirty years down the road. Listen to that rousing "Spirit in the Night" and you'll be able to hear what I mean. Clarence's hips may not be able to carry Scooter into the crowds anymore, but the Boss still brings the house down with this one, effectively using his catwalk to get his physical with the audience in. While Springsteen's show has adapted to larger audiences over the years, it is uncanny how he manages to connect with these large buckets. Even when he's not performing in small clubs or arenas, E-Street Band shows habitually have an intimacy that you wouldn't suspect from his brand of delightfully bombastic R&R. Whether he's playing a moving ballad like "Racing in the Street," a no holds barred R&R rouser as "Darlington County" or a mini Rock opera like "Born to Run," in funny way that intimacy is always there. Springsteen often boasted he's in this trade to make a connection, this Milan recording proves he delivers the goods.

"Spirit In The Night"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, use mp3s for personal use only. Keep them in your iPod or on your computer but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 4- out of 5
Show: 5 out of 5
Artwork: none

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Boot Tracker, June 22nd 2003, Gothenburg

With the last Gothenburg show still fresh in mind, I figured I'd revisit one of my favorite bootlegs for a moment. This superbly sounding Crystal Cat Gothenburg Midsummer Night, in my mind might be a top ten recording of a Springsteen show. To me recordings like these are proof that Springsteen can still wow a crowd like he could in his hey-day. One of the things that struck me about the Rising tour is how well his new material worked with the classic songs. Listen to the opening "Promised Land" here, followed by "the Rising" and you'll see what I mean. The material of Magic always had more difficulty finding its groove within the set. The audiences didn't respond with quite the same enthusiasm to a "Living in the Future" as they did to a "Mary's Place". Maybe the the subtlety of the Magic material is debit to that, the Rising album featured quite a few more easily accessible 'show' tunes than Springsteen's latest release. I suspect that could be one of the reasons why Gothenburg in 2003 got a whopping eight tunes from the new album while in 2008 they got a mere four in the same stage of the tour.

What still remains though, is the city of Gothenburg consistently getting some of the better shows of the tour. You could say that its the Philly of Europe. The response to Springsteen over there seems beyond manic from time to time, a true fanatic's paradise. This often translates in sets filled with rare gems and inspired performances of set staples. On this particular midsummer night the Ullevi Stadium got treated on "Jackson Cage", "My Love Will Not Let You Down" and a chilling version of "Racing in the Street". Though in this instance it is not the rarities that make this recording a gem, it is the staple that make this recording tick. In a whopping nineteen minutes the Band delivers a "Mary's Place" that stands as the penultimate of the tour, a house party indeed. I still enjoy hearing the Boss working that huge stadium crowd every time I hear this version, I must admit that has yet to tire me. But I may be an exception in that. The absolute high light of this bootleg is "Ramrod". The song had been played to death during the Reunion and the Rising tour, yet on this night it found its definitive version in my mind. Roy Bittan delivers a rollicking boogie solo that trumps all other versions the Boss did in his career. Not to mention the crowd on "Hungry Heart" that makes you wish you could have been there.

These days it seems every fan has the moment pin pointed where Springsteen peaked in his career. '78 seems to be the time in his career where most fans agree upon, though the River tour has quite its following as well. Though I have tours that carry a special place in my collection, like the 1975 shows, I have never been able to determine for myself which tour is the penultimate Springsteen tour. That's because of recordings such as this, where it seems as if the Boss will never truly slow down. I find this Midsummer Gothenburg Night as satisfying as other legendary recordings as the '78 Winterland show or those legendary recordings from the 1984 Philly stand. While the jury is still out on the best recording from the Magic tour, in my mind this is the one to get from the Rising tour. Turn it up!


MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3, discs one and two, disc three
A small request, use mp3s for personal use only. Keep them in your iPod or on your computer but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 5 out of 5
Show: Off the charts
Artwork: 3,5 out of 5

Friday, July 11, 2008

Boot Tracker, November 19th 2005, Hollywood

Whenever I feel like a break on the Magic tour these days, I like to go back to one of Springsteen's acoustic tours. Not working today, I allowed myself to wake up slowly with this fine recording from the Devils & Dust tour, Springsteen second full scale solo tour. Also know as the "Shut the fuck up tour". The tour found Springsteen looking back on his entire body of work, reflecting on his accomplishments. Maybe after the relative failure of the Vote For Change tour he felt the need to step back a little, reflect on his accomplishments and determine the direction his career should take. Though there was the political reference here and there through the tour, they were sparse. Devils & Dust was very different from the Ghost of Tom Joad tour in that fashion. The Boss may have been in a reflective mood, that didn't mean he stopped pushing the envelope as well. Through out the tour he tinkered with arrangements to well known songs, experimenting with new arrangements, instruments and microphones. Not everything he did turned out an unambiguous creative success, but it did affirm that Springsteen wasn't quite ready yet to lean into his past successes.

During this Hollywood show at the Hard Rock Café, the audience got treated on an alternative career overview. Very little hit songs featured in the set list, but throughout the evening his strength as a song writer quietly unfolded. The stunning version of "Drive All Night" is worth the price of admission alone, featuring Little Steven on guitar and the Big Man on sax. Especially Steven's guest spot is revealing of a sort. In the E-Street Band Steven operates in the shadow of the over qualified Nils Lofgren these days. His fine picking here demonstrates that van Zandt is quite the guitar player in his own right. Near the end the illustrious duo comes back on stage adding a little extra to a playful "Thundercrack". Other than on the Tom Joad tour, there isn't a whole lot of talking during the Devils & Dust shows. Springsteen tended to let the songs speak for themselves on this tour. And speak they did. Especially during that second American leg, the audiences got treated to rarities that had hardly seen the light of day during his career. "Santa Anna" and "I Wanna Marry You" are the most obvious selections on this recording. Depending if you're a fan of the infamous bullet mic, there's some treats on here for you as well. Both "Born in the USA" and a rousing slide blues version of "Johnny 99" get treated to a voice covered by static.

The sound on this recording is more than a little decent indeed. Because of the acoustic nature of the tour Devils and Dust got treated on many fine bootlegs. Though this one is a tad distant and a little lacking in warmth and depth when it comes to the instruments, I'd say it is one of the finer recordings of the tour. If I have any gripes with this recording it is the obnoxious talker close to the taper who after "Reno" questions "how can anybody applaud a song about a prostitute". In one stroke this man misses both the point of the song and fails to recognize that prostitutes are indeed fellow human being performing a profession that goes back further than Maria Magdalene. The prostitute that's part of the backdrop of the story "Reno" is trying to tell is another example of Springsteen allowing us a peek into the lives of the disenfranchised. A point the talker painfully misses. Talkers like that ticks me off more than a drunk calling out for "Rosalita". This is a minor glitch in the recording however and will hardly take away from the enjoyment of the show, which at times was a fanatic's wet dream.

"Johnny 99"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, use mp3s for personal use only. Keep them in your iPod or on your computer but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 4- out of 5
Show: 4,5 out of 5
Artwork: 3 out of 5

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Boss Tracks, Double Shot (of my baby's love), The Swingin' Medallions

I first became familiar with the Swingin’ Medallions when I bought the Rhino Nuggets boxed set, a continuation of the infamous ’75 double LP with liner notes by Lenny Kaye, guitar player for the Patti Smith group. The box was filled with one-hit wonders and obscure R&R trail blazers I had never heard off. Though I’ve owned the box for years now, I can still dive back into it and uncover a new find. It’s like a treasure chest which contents never looses it shine. One of the 45s that jumped out immediately like a big sparkling sapphire was “Double Shot (of my baby’s love)” by the Swingin’ Medallions. With its rousing slightly out of tune organ and swaggering harmonies it seemed like the perfect embodiment of the R&R party the band sang off. Like most bands featured on the box the details on their back ground were scant, but for years the Medallions remained an alluring mystery. A few weeks back I was lucky enough to stumble across the original 45, or so I thought, on Smash. Intrigued I looked to see if I could find out more. The Internet provided little except for an official website. The Medallions were still out there, living up the parties of the South! Though only featuring John McElrath of the original medallions. I decided to seek him out and he was kind enough to grant me an interview over the phone to clear up a thing or two on this ever appealing R&R smash.

The Medallions first formed in Greenwood South Carolina area, where they all met in college. With a thick and relaxed southern drawl John remembers today “None of us were rich, so we had to make a little money to support our schooling”. With that in mind the boys formed the Medallions, playing on the weekends, studying during the week. With eight members the band was pretty much self contained, “Believe it or not, “ John told me, “we had five horn players. I played key bass [on the organ] so we did away with the bass, we didn’t have a string base.” The R&R army of eight played all over area, taking the frat houses by storm. As John relates today, their main sources of inspiration were R&B acts like James Brown & the Famous Flames, Otis Redding and Sam & Dave. “As a matter of fact Double Shot didn’t even portray that,” John advises, “the recording didn’t have horns on it”.

Originally the single was a cheaply recorded affair the Medallions put out on their own label, For Sale, with only a thousand copies printed. John remembers that they intended to sell the 45 at shows, never expecting the recording would be a hit one day. But with the help of Dave Roddy of WFEN Radio, the 45 became a hit in the South in a matter of weeks. At that point Smash records stepped in and started courting the boys with a recording contract. With a sure hit all Smash had to do was print the copies of the master tape, or so they thought. Big as the record was down South, in the North it didn’t get any play on the radio because the band had the audacity to sing “Woke up this morning, my head hurt so bad, the worst hangover I ever had”. To make the single more radio friendly it had to be re-cut, dropping the hangover line. “You can imagine today they probably wouldn’t even have looked at that, “ John laughed at the other side of the line.

The record became a million seller after that. John responds amused when I suggest that at one point they were bigger than the Stones down South. Though he denies that level of popularity, he does have fond memories of touring the South from frat house to frat house. “Those were some of the best parties, ” he remembers, adding “we only toured nation wide in ’66, when Double Shot was big, after that it was back to school.” The band never got to cash in on the success of the single. Returning to school turned out to be a conscious decision on the part of the medallions. Their success had gotten them to play a gig for Frank Sinatra’s daughter Tina, on her wedding. After the show Frank showed interest in singing them on his Reprise records. The band declined, “You remember that was the Vietnam era,” John explains today, “Not going back to school would probably have split us up because of the draft”. One way of avoiding being drafted was to stay in college and keep your grades up. Who knows what might have happened if the times were different.

School or no school the Swinging Medallions still keep going today, even bringing all the original members back on stage for a reunion from time to time. The current live band still manages to thrill quite a few crowds with acrobatics by their horn section. Anybody who has paid attention to music these days can only conclude that the music on the Nugget box is alive and kicking though bands like the White Stripes. With modest pride John confesses today “I’m real pickle with the fact that the people still remember us.” They might even have had a hand in kick starting the career of a certain Bruce Springsteen. John remembers that Bruce saw their show in Pittsburgh when he was young. “He’s been real complimentary on the band through his career,” John relates “I guess [after he saw us] he figured if we could do it, anybody could do it”

Double Shot (of my baby's love), The Swingin' Medallions

Available on Anthologythrough Amazon or through ebay

Bruce Springsteen

MP3 File

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Boot Tracker; July 7th 2008, Oslo

I was really looking forward to the Oslo recording. During this show half the Born in the USA album was played, including a very rare appearance of "Cover Me". Though Born in the USA is far from a favorite amongst fanatic fans, those songs always make for quite the house party. I always wonder why it is that us fanatics have a kind of love and hate relation toward the album. Is it because the album that made our little secret a little bit too widely know. Or is it because Born in the USA was, in all honesty, a little too slick sometimes. The River still had quite a few epics that felt close enough to the epics on the Wild, the Innocent and the E-street Shuffle, to make that portion of the fan base that was attracted to that aspect of Springsteen feel right at home. Born in the USA and Nebraska were the last step in the process that started with Born to Run, where Springsteen started to get to the core of a song, stripping away all extras. By the time the Born in the USA tour started, the Boss had no need to include any R&R classics. He had written some effective three minute gems of his own.

Like I said Born in the USA ensures hard rocking shows. Cover Me., Glory Days, and No Surrender are very effective house wreckers, especially when they are paired with trail blazers as Cadillac Ranch. Unfortunately, we won't get to enjoy that party from this recording. This Oslo tape is easily amongst the worst tapes I've heard. Its a distant bucket of mud, with a few people clapping of beat to make matters worse. I'm sure the taper managed to bring back the evening with the help of this tape. But I seriously doubt that having witnessed the concert will do much to increase this tape's enjoyment. I'm sorry to say that this recording goes straight to the garbage bin on my desktop next. With my apologies to the taper. I understand he slept in a truck to get his efforts to us. I can imagine that the results were somewhat disappointing to himself as well after going through such an ordeal. The things us fanatics do to get to a show! Half a Born in the USA album or not, its worth it isn't it?

"Cover Me"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, use mp3s for personal use only. Keep them in your iPod or on your computer but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 1 out of 5
Show: 4 out of 5
Artwork: none

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Boot Tracker, June 23rd 2008, Antwerp

While we're all eagerly awaiting a proper Milan or Göteborg night 2 recording there's the pleasant Antwerp to hold us over. It took a while to trickle in, but now it has it turns out to be a nice tape to spend my Sunday morning with. With Bruce blasting out my speakers, promising the Antwerp crowd "Transformation! Liberation! Sexification!," I do not need coffee to wake up. I must admit that the sound on this recording isn't amongst the best of the tour. It's a moderate arena recording. But a moderate arena recording is always leaps better than a bad Stadium recording. There's less mud and echo in those indoor venues, which makes almost every single arena tape listen-able at least. This recording gives you a very good sense of that hot night in Antwerp, though it isn't a recording that will find its way to your media player or hi-fi system very often. The band sounds a bit thin and Springsteen's vocals seem to be stuck in a pit. But as I said, this tape is great fun for a Sunday morning, with nothing much to do. The decent sound and the killer set makes the download well worth your while.

This show was moved indoors to Antwerp's Sport's Arena because for some reason the planned stadium in Brussels wouldn't sell out by a long shot. Springsteen seemed determined to prove all those who stayed home wrong with a, relatively short, but high energy set. It seems as though the Boss realized he was playing for the fanatic crowd here, as one curve ball after another flew through the arena. "So Young and in Love" proves to be a very effective opener once more and "Thundercrack" holds its own quite nicely sandwiched between "Prove it all Night" and "Because the Night". If that wasn't enough, Antwerp was treated to another hauntingly beautiful "Point Blank" and an increasingly rare "Magic". "Fire" almost had as much fire and sizzling sexuality as the classic versions, something doesn't happen much these days. The evening's biggest surprise however came with "I'm a Rocker," a River tour staple that rarely raised its head since the eighties. While everybody is getting exited over yesterday evening's "Drive All Night," I must confess, this raucous gem is really what gets my blood pumping. Let's be serious, how many of you have actually driven all night just to buy some shoes? Drive all night to get to a Springsteen show maybe, but shoes?!?

"I'm a Rocker"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, use mp3s for personal use only. Keep them in your iPod or on your computer but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 3+ out of 5
Show: 4,5 out of 5
Artwork: none

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Down The Tracks, Real World, Mark Wright

Some artists embody America’s rich music history in the strangest and most surprising ways. As a big Springsteen fan I first learned about Mark Wright when he announced a cover project of Springsteen songs. When I decided to investigate a little further I stumbled in one surprise after another. Aside from covering Springsteen, Mark Wright turned out to be an Elvis impersonator extraordinary, a former opening act for Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and a solo artists signed to Universal UK, as which he brings his own interpretation of Americana with original material. Intrigued I sought Mark out for an interview to find out how a lad from Brighton UK manages to tie all these seemingly disjointed personas together.

From seeing Springsteen at Villa Park in 1988, it was the Boss that became Mark’s first and foremost influence. The first song learned was ‘Glory Days’. The Elvis thing just kind of happened after that as a joke that got out of hand. At 17 Mark did an impersonation at a party. It went over better than he though, “before I knew it I was performing up and down the country at various corporate functions as well as casinos, weddings etc. it’s a crazy way to make a living!,” Mark says today. It was the Springsteen connection however that got Mark his first big brake as a solo artist. When the Light of Day foundation put together a charity CD filled with Springsteen covers, to raise money for the research of Parkinson’s disease, Mark’s cover of “Two Hearts” got to be on it. Mark suddenly found himself on the same release as Elvis Costello, Nils Lofgren and Billy Bragg “One of the greatest moments of my life was walking into the Virgin Megastore in Times Square, New York and seeing a whole rack of the Light of Day: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen CDs facing me as I walked into the store,” Mark remembers now.

Revolver, backed Universal's distribution, who released “Light of Day”, approached Mark to sign them to their label. “It was a dream come true really,” Mark says with modest pride, “What was apt was that it was seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert that inspired me to pick up the guitar in the first place. Years later it was my version of a Bruce Springsteen song that led to me being signed. So, really, I owe Mr Springsteen a lot. If he ever wants an Elvis impersonator for a party I’ll certainly offer him a cheap rate! Ha ha!” Revolver released Mark’s first genuine solo album, One Way Ticket in 2007, even though he had already recorded in the Sun studios years before. Looking back Mark says today, “Perhaps the highlight of the [sessions] for me was recording ‘Johnny Bye Bye’. To be recording a song written by Bruce about Elvis’ death in the room where Elvis made his first faltering steps that would eventually lead to his passing was incredibly moving. It was a moment I’ll never, ever forget. It may sound clichéd but I felt that in a sense I’d brought the two of them together somehow.”

In preparation of the album release Revolver send Mark on tour with Ramblin’ Jack Elliot as an opening act, eventually joining Jack on stage regularly on for the encores, sharing the mic on Dylan’s “Ill be Your Baby Tonight” or Lead Belly’s “Stewball”. Mark remembers it as one of the most thrilling experiences in his short career. “I’m not sure that Jack himself releases quite how significant he is in the scheme of modern music history.”Mark told me, “Here was a man who not only played Woody Guthrie songs, he was friends with Woody and travelled with him. He was the bridge between Woody and Greenwich Village. You take Jack Elliott out of the equation and our CD collections would be sounding very different today. I know people always say that Dylan was the heir to Woody but the truth is that Dylan only met Woody when Woody was very ill and could no longer play the guitar. Dylan learnt all the Woody stuff from Jack!”

Mark became quite good friends with Ramblin’ Jack and approaches him with respect. He’s cautious to tell me stories from the road. “I felt privileged that he felt me enough of a friend that we could talk about a lot of things but I don’t feel it’s my place to tell any part of his story” Mark explains. One story on Bruce Springsteen he felt comfortable enough to pass along though. “Bruce apparently went backstage during one the ‘Rolling Thunder revue’ shows in the mid-70’s where he asked Jack his autograph” Mark relates to us now, passing the tale in the best of Folk traditions,.” Years later when they performed together at the Guthrie tribute in ’96 Bruce asked Jack is he remembered him asking all the years before. Jack did and Bruce gave him a bottle of Jack Daniels as a gift. The truth is that Jack isn’t too fond of JD as his whiskey of choice is Maker’s Mark but he didn’t have the heart to tell Bruce and accepted it graciously. So next time Bruce gives him a bottle (which is always gratefully received!) he just needs to make sure it’s ‘Maker’s Mark’!”

Following up a solo album with original material with a Springsteen album, may sound like an odd move. Yet Mark manages to put his own personal stamp on Springsteen’s music by crawling into the songs. Quite the opposite from his Elvis impersonations where he crawls into the persona. "I couldn’t really sing the songs as Elvis!" Mark says with a laugh, "Although maybe it’s something I should consider for the future!" Mark is very conscious of the influence Elvis had on Springsteen fantasizing, “I think in his heart Bruce is a bit of an Elvis impersonator himself. There’s no way he hasn’t practiced all the Elvis moves in front of a mirror! No way.” Although he stresses an important difference as well, “Bruce is about the journey. I get the feeling that he’s always been very conscious of that journey in everything that he writes. He seems to know where it’s going and where it may end up. I don’t believe Elvis had that sort of perspective on his music. I truly think there was a real artist struggling to be heard but he didn’t necessarily have the tools, or the advice, on hand to make those decisions.” Of course Mark offers us an interesting journey through American music in his own right these days, where his seemingly unrelated projects all come together much like the strange and thrilling melting pot that America is today.

"Real World"

Available on "Real World" through the Backstreets shop

"One Way Ticket"

Available on One Way Ticket

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Friday, July 4, 2008

Down The Tracks; Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Bruce Pegg

As the summer continues I found myself in the park again digging through Bruce Pegg's biography on Chuck Berry. Amidst an abundance of Elvis books, a good Chuck Berry book is hard to find. Which really is a shame if you take Berry's pivotal role in R&R's development into account. Though that might not be just because almost every Rock and Roll superstar of the fifties tends to stand in the shadow of Elvis' star. Berry was notoriously reluctant in giving interviews and never worked with the same people very long. At the same time, R&R wasn't covered as extensively in the fifties as it is today. As Pegg's book shows, most reviews of the time focus on the fad or the threat of R&R, contemporary articles of the fifties rarely took an in depth look at the stars of the day. Profound analysis and an interest in what moved the stars of R&R didn't come until the late sixties, early seventies. Which means that sources on Berry's life, especially the formative years of his career, are spars. Pegg had to fall back on meager news coverage, trial transcripts, a concert film and a few interviews with people around Berry, willing to talk, to construct his portrait. To Pegg's credit he manages to give us a fairly interesting read.

What makes the book interesting is the effort Pegg put into reconstructing the social fabric of the time. Starting from a social portrait of 'the Ville' in Louisville where Berry grew up, Pegg branches out to the broader social context we need to understand the phenomenon of R&R. In Berry's case the racial relations in America were an important part of the fabric. Berry grew up and rose to fame in an America that was still segregated in the South, exploiting its own system of apartheid. The success Berry enjoyed were as much an important sign of the times as it was a motor behind the change. Berry's pop success amongst teens was an element of what helped America to integrate. Pegg shows a deep understanding of those mechanisms in his book and because of the subject matter and his breezy writing style Brown Eyed Handsome Man is a much more pleasant read than the many history books on this subject.The book, in all honesty, is a bit low on the juice session details or the road yarns you might hope for. Pegg's agenda is clearly different. Pegg's book draws you in with R&R and tricks you into learning quite a bit more about America than you might have bargained for. R&R, in my mind, is the perfect subject matter for such a ploy. Across the world there are few music styles that are so entwined with the social development of a country as R&R is. The genre especially is an eye opener to the uncomfortable race relations within the US.

I however do feel that Pegg goes a little overboard from time to time. Pegg takes great pains to underscore the relations between W.E.B. Du Bois' and Booker T. Washington's philosophies and Berry's way of conducting business. Berry was notorious in providing detailed contracts to promoters and fining them, sometimes by shortening the show, if they failed to provide what he stipulated. Even though Berry came from a Black middle class well educated background I must wonder if Berry applied those philosophies quite as conscious as Pegg claims. The sketches of Berry's way of handling promoters on the road sooner draw a picture of a man who got business savvy through street or road smarts. These are minor gripes though. Especially since Pegg's explorations of the racial fabric becomes key in understanding Berry's clashes with the law. Pegg makes a pretty strong case that Berry's run in with a 14 year old prostitute at the height of his career, might never have led to a prison term if he hadn't been black. Here Pegg again takes time to allow us a finer understanding of the Mann Act that led to Berry's imprisonment and takes the time to go through the court transcripts to establish that at no point it wasn't even for certain that Berry slept with the girl. Though that doesn't make for juicy and sensational writing that is so appealing in a lot of R&R biographies, it is to Pegg's credit that he doesn't play the myth building game and takes his time to create an as fair as possible portrait of Berry as possible.

As said, with Berry, this is a difficult task. Pegg managed to interview few people surrounding Berry and Chuck himself has always been a star veiled in a shroud of mystery. Even Berry's biography fails to touch key events in his life. Berry never talked about his jail time and was very spars in detailing on his conflicts with the law himself. The people Pegg does speak to like Billy Peek, the guitar player Berry used sort of continuously later on in his career, do allow us enough insight in his character, while at the same time explaining his shroud to make the book interesting. So while you'll never get the "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" through this book, this is probably as close as you'll get to gaining an understanding of him.