Sunday, September 28, 2008

Down the Tracks; Southside Johnny, Hearts of Stone beneath a Grapefruit Moon

Some 30 years ago, when Springsteen released his seminal Darkness on the Edge of Town, John Lyon, better known as Southside Johnny did the same with his Hearts of Stone. Though the album didn’t sell all that well at the time years later Rolling Stone magazine would vote it as one of the best albums recorded at that period of time and it has since achieved some kind of cult status. Those in the know recognize Hearts of Stone as one of the best Rock and Soul albums of the late seventies. I sought out Southside Johnny to talk to him about that unrecognized master piece and was thrilled to find the man is as much a fan-boy like his audience. Throughout the interview Southside remained charmingly humble about his achievements and his talent, coming across as a man who is simply thrilled that he’s still able to perform in the shadows of his heroes on stage.

Southside Johnny first started to make his mark at the Upstage, a club down the Jersey Shore. Which according to Southside was more or less a musicians bar, “after all the clubs had closed, we used to just come there and jam into the night,” he recalls some 40 years down the road. Because of its loose atmosphere the Upstage was a draw for musicians from all over the garden state. Southside lived not to far from the club so he would walk up there nightly. Pretty soon he was the constant factor on stage, “because I knew how to sing all those songs,” he explains today. Southside Johnny had been spoon fed Jazz and R&B by his parents. “There wasn’t any Monteverdi or anything like that in our house,” he remembers “they would come home from work and open a beer, have a great time listening to Big Joe Turner or Ray Charles.” His love for R&B made him a perfect match first for Garry Tallent, Springsteen’s future base player, and later for Miami Steve, whom he met at the Upstage club. Southside knew Tallent and Vini Lopez, the first drummer from the E-Street Band, through school, but Miami lived in a whole different area. So if it hadn’t been for the draw the Upstage had, Lyon and Van Zandt might never have met. With a similar sensibility to music his friendship with Miami would later prove key to Southside’s early career as van Zandt became his producer and manager.

The Asbury Jukes, as Southside’s band is called, didn’t form over night however. Southside recalls today that most of the time, whenever somebody scored a gig at the Jersey shore club scene, bands were just formed then and there for the occasion. Lyon was the logical choice to do the vocals, again because of his encyclopedic knowledge of the R&B classics. “It was all less formal than having a band just trying to make it, we were all just musicians learning,” Lyon explains “Nobody was really ambitious, we just wanted to make music and do things.” Things changed when Little Steven started to work in construction, “he was working on the New Jersey turnpike, working a jackhammer, he had been working the guitar for years and years, except there was no money and he had to do something.” Steven had no place to stay, so he was staying at Lyon’s, “one day he walked in, he was covered in asphalt,” Southside remembers “I looked at him and said, Stevie you can’t do this.” Realizing that day jobs wasn’t what was going to make them happy Steven and Johnny started to get serious about music again.

Right around that time Springsteen finally got his big break with Born to Run. Southside got offered a record contract in the slipstream of that success. Something he still is baffled by today. Lyon remembers he was convinced that “they are never going to give us a record contract, they must be crazy! But they did!” Adding with a laugh, “up to this day I don’t know why!!” Steven and Southside went into the studio before all the formalities were taken care of, convinced the record company would change their minds. “We kind of sneaked into this recording studio, the Record Plant, and we didn’t have any money,” he confides today. Jimi Iovine, who had engineered Springsteen’s Born to Run, aided and abetted. “There really was a lot of pressure on us to go out there and make this happen right away,” Lyon explains “Once Born to Run hit, Bruce was swimming in a sea of sharks, he really needed somebody close who he could rely on and relate to, and that was Steven.” So it was also a matter of the Jukes signature guitar player being swooped up in the circus that Springsteen’s career would soon become.

By lucky coincidence Ronnie Spector made a cameo on that very first album. “Jimmy Iovine was engineering that first album, sneaking us into the studio” Southside elaborates, “He had just come of from working with John Lennon on that roots album. Phil Spector produced that, and Jimmy met Ronnie Spector.” While in the studio working with Johnny, Jimmy got a call from Ronnie. Jimmy seized the opportunity and asked Ronnie if she would be interested in recording a duet with Southside. Much to the latter’s excitement, she accepted, “for us she was just a Goddess from our youth!” That fan mentality, the sheer love of the music translated well unto the album and, for that time, it sold very respectable, some 250.000 copies, “so the record company looked at us with some favor” Southside laughs. Yet ’75 proved to be a watershed in the music business, just before the mega million sales started to dominate the market. Southside’s debut was released at the same time as Boston’s first album, “they broke right out of the box office!” Lyon recalls. “We did some shows with them,” he elaborates, “and we were the better band. But they sold 12 million copies, so now the record company is looking at us……”

With the company aiming to repeat Boston’s success, Southside Johnny’s relationship with them would soon sour. Always convinced the record company wouldn’t allow him to do another album, by the time Lyon started working with Steven on Hearts of Stone, this fear was rapidly starting to become reality. To top it off the recording sessions for Hearts of Stone didn’t exactly go as smooth as planned, “we already recorded eight songs, but then decided that they just weren’t what we wanted. It didn’t sound right, it didn’t feel right, so we decided we had to start all over again. The record company by this time was fed up.” Complicating matters was the fact that Miami and Southside had already ran over budget even before they started working on the new batch of songs. “The record company was very, very unhappy with us. They didn’t like the music, they didn’t understand the music, they didn’t really like us. A regime change had happened, people we didn’t know, people who had no history with us. So I told Steven, it’s over”

Hearts of Stone was recorded Southside’s and Steven’s back against the wall, literally on their way out. It was possible that this was their last shot at ever making an album together. “We were under such pressure to make this record that it came out as an intense emotional experience” Lyon reflects on it now “it was one of those moments where you realize that making music is more important than anything else in your life, it made me dig deeper inside myself”. The difference between Hearts of Stone and its predecessor is indeed striking. Where This Time it's For Real was still laden with stylistic exercises (complete with a Leiber and Stoller pastiche featuring the Coasters), strings and sugar sweet blue eyed soul, Hearts of Stone became a whole different ball of wax. In little under 35 minutes all the anxiety and frustration from dealing with the record company, combined with the sheer love of the music, just comes poring out. Hearts of Stone is at the same time jubilant as it is uneasy, brimming with mixed emotions. Steven’s stiletto like guitar slashes though the Motown Soul with raging love. Lyon delivers a vocal performance of a man who is trying to cling on to the love of his life as she’s walking out of the door. In what sounds like a clash between the Four Tops and the King’s Men, Miami and Lyon delivered an album that is a text book case of how a Rock album should sound, a feverish exorcism, a raging celebration. But without the support of the record company, the album sank like a rock.

Despite all that was going on, Southside Johnny remembers that working with Steven on the album, the latter being notorious for his headstrong views on how music should sound and be recorded, was easy. “Because we had faced the adversity of the record company, it gave us the inner strength to say; we know what we’re doing, so we’re going to go out and do it and come hell or high water we’re going to go do it the way we know it should be done,” he reflects on it now, “and of course Steven and I had the same view point on how recording should be done, that it should be a visceral experience, that it should be honest music. So that part was pretty easy, except it was late nights and I’d come of the road, the tour bus would drop me off at the studio and I would sleep on the studio couch.” Despite Hearts of Stone turning out to be one of the best Soul albums recorded after ’75, Lyon doesn’t feel he trumped his heroes, “we paid the best tribute we could” he humbly says today.

When Hearts of Stones was released, Lyon was swimming against the current with his music. “It was actually a time when music had become a little bloated,” he explains “and I think we were part of the reaction against that.” Southside explains that “all the records that I love are moments caught in time, they are not as produced and structured.” From that perspective Lyon was able to relate to the punk movement as well, even though his brand of music (and the Asbury Park scene) was quite a bit more sophisticated. Lyon acknowledges they had different roots, “but we certainly understood each other. Steven and I used to go and see the Ramones in CBGB’s and they were great! Holy shit! The punk scene to me was kind of a breath of fresh air too, for some reason we managed to get along with them. I think there’s a real bond between people who are not part of the system and don’t want to be part of that system.”

With Hearts of Stone sinking, the Jukes were threatened with a life in the bar scene again. Southside Johnny admits that he resented it at the time, “I felt we were better than that.” Lyon was determined not to give up and continued to keep touring while his career hang on a thread. “We just kept going and that’s 30 years ago” he laughs at it now. Lyon elaborating on how he “just want to have a chance to be me and be honest about what I feel,” might just be the key to why he continued to struggle with record companies. Lyon is not the type of artist to compromise his music in favor of current trends. He is first and foremost a fan of music like his audience. Lyon is capable of recounting is first James Brown concert in the early sixties in a fashion that makes it sound like he just stepped out of the venue, still brimming with excitement. Record executives concerned with sales figures, big sales figures, have a hard time following that train of thought. “Most of the people in the business have nothing to do with music,” Southside claims, “and that’s an immediate alienation for most of us.”

It is the same fan boy like admiration that seeps through on his latest project, Grapefruit Moon, a big band take on the songs of Tom Waits. On the surface Waits’ music might seem like a big leap from the R&B records by the Drifters Lyon loves to collect, but as Southside explains, “I think there a real connection between that, there’s a little Howlin’ Wolf in Tom, there’s certainly a lot of cool Jazz like Charles Brown. There’s a real R&B background in Tom, you can really feel it,” adding with a laugh, “he sounds like he’s down on the street, where he belongs.” The big band project first came into fruition when Johnny met Tom after an Amsterdam show Waits just gave. Lyon sprang his idea on Tom and Waits immediately warmed up to it, “so I said ok, if he can understand it, than I’m alright.” Lyon admits that covering Waits was a challenge, “it had been done but it had not done very well. Not to be cool or anything, but I knew if we did it the way I wanted to do it, it would be different” Eventually Lyon got up the courage to ask Tom if he wanted to sing on the album, Tom agreed. “It was a great moment, I was standing in this funky little hippie studio in California, and it was one of these little moments in your life where you just say I’m grateful to have this opportunity.” Southside Johnny’s drive to approach music open and honest, maybe surprisingly, makes Grapefruit Moon an artistic success. The album is as much about the love of music as the music of Tom Waits.

Lyon’s career has been rough and bumpy, and as he admits not without regrets. "I’ve regretted it many times. I hate to be blunt about it, but its true. You know, pulling up four o’ clock in the morning at a gass station where they have a little lunch counter and you know you’re gonna eat a chili cheese dog at four in the morning and be sick, and you’ve got a gig to do that night and the next night, with ten hours of driving in between and you just think, What the fuck am I doing.” Still he is quick to add, “once you get on stage, it all clears up, you understand what you do.” With charming humbleness Southside admits that his aspirations were modest, “I just wanted a chance to tour, a chance to see the world, it may not see like much to most people, but that’s what I wanted.” The audiences all over the world still respond with a fervor to the Jukes on stage. Southside explains “mostly what I wanted to do is have fun. I know that seems like a small ambition but I never wanted to be a R&R hero. I wanted people to come to the shows and have a good time, just enjoy themselves.” Southside in that sense is R&R’s foremost anti-hero. Standing on stage in a plain jeans shirt and small sun glasses, he looks like he just stepped out of an auto parts shop or the construction site Little Steven escaped all those years ago. As such Southside Johnny is easier to connect to than most of R&R’s super stars, maybe even easier to connect to than Springsteen, in whose slip steam he got his first break. “I didn’t think my fans had to worship to any throne or anything like that,” Lyon says about it himself, “I wanted it to be like the music I used to see, where you would go and see the Drifters and just enjoy yourself, I never wanted anything more than that.” Going by that standard you might just say that Lyon’s career has been a great success, a success in honesty and love of music.

"Gotta Find a Better Way Home"

From Hearts of Stone

Grapefruit Moon is available on line through the Southside Johnny store and Amazon

Down the Tracks; Tom Morello, The Fabled City

We're back on line! While being out of the loop I've made myself useful and prepared two articles that might be of interest to you. The review of Tom Morello's new album is one of them, but I've got a big surprise for you tomorrow!

“The Fabled City” is Tom Morello’s second solo outing as the Nightwatchman. Though Morello admittedly performed a lot of these songs “amidst the tear gas attacks at the G8 protest,” there is, again, little common ground between this solo album and his work with Rage Against the Machine. Though in both projects Morello presents himself as a socially and politically engaged artist, the methods are strikingly different. Morello has called the Nightwatchman as his antidote against arena rock. In tone and approach of the complex social issues Morello likes to address it is exactly that, the opposite of Rage Against the Machine vicious guitar riffs and raging vocals. Morello’s album is more reminiscent of a Rubin produced Johnny Cash album, his voice strikes a resemblance to Iggy Pop, sans the irony, the content closer to a Steve Earle record. On the surface there’s little what links the two projects.

Morello’s inspiration for the Nightwatchman came from a rather unexpected corner for most Rage Against the Machine fans, I can imagine. Explaining the project today Tom claims that “the clear model for me was seeing Bruce Springsteen on his Ghost of Tom Joad tour. I was stunned at how powerful and heavy a concert could be without any Marshall amps in the room.” For Morello fans who view Springsteen through Reagan’s patriotic shades this link might be somewhat of a shocker. But fans who paid attention to Rage Against the Machine’s cover of the “Ghost of Tom Joad” and managed to look beyond the synthesizer layered sound of the “Born in the USA” album, might have found quite a bit of common ground between the two artists. From Springsteen Tom went back and explored the extensive catalogs of Dylan and Woody Guthrie, from where the Nightwatchman started to take shape. Though the two artists shared the stage for a fiercely rocking version of the “Ghost of Tom Joad”, their approach to songwriting bares little resemblance to each other’s work.

Where Springsteen constructs his songs as miniature novel or films, Morello’s songs are decidedly more abstract. Using quite a bit of biblical imagery, Tom paints a rather apocalyptic picture of American society. Though the protagonists Springsteen likes to use, you know, the working class and disenfranchised, Morello chooses to take snap shots of them rather than chronicle the events that mark their lives. Morello’s songs are more like the murals from Diego Riviera, images of working class heroes and victims of capitalism’s shadow populate his songs. Though explicit criticism of the current Bush administration drifts in and out of the songs, the songs keep a certain abstract quality. Where the songwriting at Rage Against the Machine was littered with the same catchy, though strikingly more vicious and rebellious, one-liners politicians like to use, Morello’s albums leave more room for your own reflections.

Question is of course which approach is more the more successful. Graduated from Harvard university with honors as a Political Science master, Morello has always been more of a political activist than he was a rock star, even though his current appearance in the Guitar Hero video came might have you suspect otherwise. Like Woody Guthrie, Morello is a songwriter with a mission. Though lacking the depth Morello’s Nightwatchman has, Rage Against the Machines hard rocking one-liners might just be more effective in getting the attention of a large audience. On the other hand, Rage Against the Machine’s albums have never been as thought provoking as “the Fabled City.” One-liners can be rather off putting in their uncompromising insistence. Morello’s acoustic albums may never reach such a large audience as Rage Against the Machine has, but for who is willing to listen, there is quite a bit more room for developing your own opinion on the issues Tom addresses.

In all, while the record breathes a sense of resilience and rebellion, its atmosphere is dark and dreary. Another vital point where Morello differs from Springsteen, who’s records are always balanced with songs that breathe an enormous amount of hope (though less so in his acoustic albums). Morello’s more skeptical outlook on the elections is no surprise after listening to “the Fabled City”. Where Springsteen is an open supporter of Barack Obama, Morello’s opinion of the man is steeped in criticism. While he concedes that an Obama presidency would be a major step forward symbolically, he also adds :”I firmly believe that it’s the system that’s the problem, rather than one party or the other. When a candidate steps forward who will end poverty and end the war and save the environment and be unbending to capital, we’ll see. Racism is as American as apple pie and baseball. A black president would definitely be a step in the right direction for civilizing the nation. But at the same time there’s Obama’s vow to continue a war in Afghanistan and saber-rattling in Iran. Whatever the voice is in his soul that whispers the good things, there are political demands. That’s why I’m a guitar player and a singer. I answer to no one”

"Whatever it Takes"

Morello will tour behind “the Fabled City” this fall.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Happy Bossday Everybody!!

The internet connection at home is still down. Its been more than a week now. But I couldn't let this day pass without a birthday wish for our man. So I'm borrowing a few more minutes of my Boss' time here and hope to be back soon! Meanwhile, if I'm able to give frantic 3 hour shows at the age of 59, I'll count my blessings. Though I suspect that even at 33 years of age, I wouldn't be able to do it today. 59 sounds old, but it sure as hell didn't look old over the past year. I've got a sneaking feeling that our man will be defying age for quite a few years yet! Have a good one!

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Legend of sir Lattimore Brown

Hi folks, my internet connection at home is on the frits. Till I get it back up I'm not able to create any new posts, so I hope to find out what's wrong with it soon! In the mean while, here's a post I did at Twangville earlier this week. A quick copy and paste in the boss', my boss, time. As far as I know there's no connection between Lattimore and Springsteen, save for the fact that the Boss enjoys his Soul music. But I felt this story was well worth sharing.

It's Such A Sad, Sad World

Who you might say? That's what I thought when I first saw this name pop up over at the "B" Side, Red Kelly's excellent blog. These days the net is swarming with Internet publications, blogging is so easily accessible that anybody with a half functioning computer can work it out. People like me who just like to write, but people like Red as well, who actually can write! For the past few years Red has been calling himself the Soul Detective, digging up all kinds of half forgotten Soul platters while digging deep into the fabric of what made them tick. But it wasn't until Red started his Lattimore Brown chronicle last June that he really earned his self-given moniker. It is impressive enough that Red knows who Lattimore is. Though a stellar Soul shouter, sir Lattimore never had much of a career in the spot lights. It is even more impressive though that Red found Lattimore when he was thought dead since the eighties. Each of Red's entries is dressed up with a mind blowing music download that makes you wonder how it is possible that he was even forgotten or passed by.

The whole story started with a nurse, treating a delirious patient, after the patient had been stabbed with a rusty screwdriver. The patient claimed he was a singer. Going beyond her duty, she googled Lattimore and word eventually got to Red. It turned out that Lattimore had been living in Biloxi all these years. Though New Orleans got all the publicity, it was Biloxi that got the direct hits from Katrina. The town was devastated by the storm, Lattimore lost damn near all he had in it. Red decided to look him up and caught up with sir Lattimore after losing track of him a couple of times. In a series of lengthy posts Red chronicled his times with Lattimore. The story that enfolded is without a doubt one of the most impressive I've ever read in the blog sphere. Through Lattimore's story Red traveled an alternate route through the history of Soul music. Lattimore may not have made much of a name himself, it appears he was lurking behind the scene at quite a few key moments. From Isaac Hayes, to Wilson Pickett, they all pass by. Slowly his story gives you a deeper understanding of how music works and the significance it has in the lives of people who create it and the lives of people who are captured by it. In almost a Hollywood like script we bare witness to Lattimore getting back on his feet while the musical landscape of America passes by.

That is, until Gustav hit. For the second time Lattimore lost all his earthly belongings. When Red finally caught up with him this 77 year old soul surviver was unsure where he would sleep that night, with only the clothes on his back to comfort him. Red opened up a fund to help Lattimore get back on his feet. I like to take this opportunity to ask you to support Lattimore anyway you can. If you want to know why, just take a few and read all about the Legend of Sir Lattimore Brown

Friday, September 12, 2008

Boot Tracker, On The Tracks: November 24th 2002, Tampa

Another guest story by a fellow Tramp, Brian Frederick. Brian picked the story of his first show and is planning to do a series of them on the forums. His cherry busters happens to be captured on a stellar sound board recording. Without a doubt one of the finest bootlegs of the Rising tour. One of those tapes that trumps the official live in Barcelona release, even though the audience is a bit too distant for my taste. The set however is a killer!

So much has and will be said of my adoration of the Rock and Roll legend that is Bruce Springsteen. In fact, that is what I am going to be doing here today. I am beginning a writing series….NAY, a writing odyssey chronically my brief glimpses of rock perfection. I am going to tell the amazing, zany, sometimes outrageous stories behind each time I have seen the Boss in concert. As I sit here today I have had the honor of doing just that Eleven (11) times in the last five (5) years. I realized today that each single concert has some epic adventure leading to, happening during, or taking place after. The year 2002 was an interesting year in my life. By the time half the year was gone I was once again facing a major crossroads in my life. I was living in Minnesota at the time and I had been there about 4 years. Soon after I moved there is when I discovered my admiration for Bruce and he really made a big impact on my life. It was my new "thing" that I loved to get immersed in. You see I was never a Bruce fan growing up in New Jersey. Sounds odd I know but it wasn't until I "busted out" of there that I grew to appreciate my home state and Bruce kind of represented that for me. Anyway things had gotten pretty rough in MN and one of my escapes was the fact that Bruce had a new cd coming out, 'The Rising.' It was his first new album in almost ten years and obviously his first new disc since I had become a fan. When the first single was released I would leave the radio and use a cassette to try and catch it and record it. The first time I did hear it I drove around aimlessly through the back roads of MN waiting for it to come on the car radio. The DJ kept saying it was coming right up but didn't play it for almost an hour. When he finally did I pulled over to take it in. I was not only like a kid at Christmas; I was like a kid at Christmas who had been blind his whole life then woke up Christmas morning to not only his presents but his sight as well. Ok, that might be a bit much, but I was excited. With a new record out Bruce and the E St band were due to go on tour. I was hell bent to catch him live. Only trouble was, life had blown up in my face and I knew I needed to make big changes. It was time to evacuate MN. But where to go? Back to NJ with my grandmother? Down to Tampa to live with my folks? Where would I see the Boss (yes, obviously priorities were firmly in order)? I chose to move to Florida but planned on hitting Jersey along my route to meet said grandmother. When I left the Midwest I missed Bruce there by only a week. When I made it to Jersey I missed him by only day. Feeling beaten I thought maybe life and got the joke over on me and I wouldn't add a Bruce show to my life's story. Then the fall dates came out. Bruce would play the Ice Palace in Tampa in November, mere months after I arrived. My plan started to take shape.

Flash forward to August and I was a resident in Tampa Bay. I kept eyeing the November date when my idol would arrive. I thought I would kill two birds with one stone. Not only would I see the show, screw it, I would get a job in the arena as well! And I did just that, working the next month as security. I figured I would get to see the show for free, get paid, and hell maybe meet the man as well. Well that idea went to heck quickly. I worked security for the arena but had a steady string of luck getting stuck outside telling folks where and where not to smoke. I missed quite a few good shows and feared the worst once the Jersey Boy came to my new home. Needless to say my stint working at the Ice Palace ended shortly thereafter. I obviously was not going to let a silly thing like work keep my dreams from coming true.

The days started to fade away and my first dance was about to take place. Somewhere on the net I came across a nice pair of women from the great state of California who were coming to town for the show. They just happened to have an extra ticket and I found my in. I met them at some swanky Tampa hotel and was so nervous I wouldn't find them or something would go wrong. This was before I was introduced to the world of cell phones. Well things worked perfectly and I got my ticket and headed off to the arena to prepare. I was there way before show time which allowed me ample time to purchase my first Springsteen shirt. It was kind of pricey and I think it exhausted all of my funds, which left me without toll money for my return. I didn't really seem to care. They let us in and I wasted no time finding my seat. I sat and just looked in awe at the stage. This was really gonna happen. I had been waiting almost 4 years for this night. I wanted to change into my new shirt but was not about to leave my seat, god forbid I miss a single thing! I ended up just putting it on over my existing ensemble which was fine because they didn't call the place the "Ice Palace" for no reason.

"Good evening Tampa!" was all he said and off we went, 15,000 of my closest new friends and I with one of the greatest stage performers of all time. I don't have a problem telling you that when he took the stage I had tears in my eyes. I had such a blast cheering, dancing (!) and singing along. I laugh now because I had just purchased 'Born to Run' that day and wasn't familiar with all of it yet. So when he broke into 'Night' and 'She's The One' it was like hearing new songs, where today they are staples of a Bruce show and I know them like my birth date.

The show was marvelous and went by like a speeding train. When it goes by you look in the windows and make out bits and pieces of things. But once it’s gone you fondly look back as if you caught every color, every detail. The highlights were definitely towards the end of the set most notable Bruce playing 'Incident on 57th St' alone on piano. It was haunting and beautiful. At the time I knew it was amazing but it turns out it is kind of a rarity so I was very, very lucky. To this day it is my favorite performance of any of his songs that I have seen. The women I sat with went bat shit crazy when he did it. Now I do too when I listen to it on my Ipod. As the show was wrapping up it didn't seem like Bruce wanted to leave us anymore than we wanted him to. After the encores he took the stage to cover 'Twist and Shout' just to make sure he sent us all home in a frenzy. And like that it was over. The very first step in a long, beautiful journey I have taken with my musical idol. I suppose I couldn't even imagine the places I would end up and what I would experience. But I do now and I am gonna share it! My second go round would still be very amazing, but pretty much NOTHING like the experience I had the first time. My crazy Boss adventures were just getting started.

Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street

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: 5- out of 5
Show: 5- out of 5
Artwork: Various available through the link section.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Boss Tracks, Boom Boom, John Lee Hooker

Though Springsteen probably first got acquainted with this gem through the Animals, I decided to pick John Lee Hooker's original over Eric Burdon's straight forward cover of the song. We'll get to the Animals some other time. Like so many of those 45s a great piece of music history is attached to this one on various levels. The most obvious level is because of Hooker's own pivotal role in the redevelopment of Blues. His characteristic droning, one chord, Blues, redesigned the genre "Boogie Chillun" was released on Modern in 1948. With that single Hooker created a riff that would be recycled over and over again in R&R, most recently of course by Springsteen in his revamping of "Reason to Believe," some 60 years down the line. "Boogie Chillun" would become a million seller. Remarkable for a 45 that featured little more than John Lee's stomping feet and staccato guitar and vocals. Hooker's music worked on a very primary level which I imagine was quite a bit of the appeal when he was 'discovered' by the beat generation in the mid sixties. With one chord, Hooker's approach was basic enough ,and had more raw appeal to struggling and starting guitar players.

By the time John Lee Hooker was introduced to a broader audience and gained wider international appeal, he was one of Vee-Jay's biggest selling artists. Vee-Jay is most well known these days amongst Beatles collectors for those very hard to find first US Beatles 45s they released. Vee-Jay saw the potential in marketing a black sound brought by skinny white boys with funny hair-dos before anybody else in the US. Maybe the fact that Vee-Jay was a black owned R&B label, well before Motown came around, had something to do with that. Nobody had to explain the appeal of R&B to Vivian Carter Bracken. At the start of the fifties Vivian had been a popular local DJ who also owned her own record store. Even before starting in the record business, miss Bracken was a black feminist avant la lettre. Getting an own enterprise together in the segregated fifties of Gary Indiana makes her accomplishment even more inspiring. Vee-Jay was of to a flying start when the Brackens produced a huge R&B hit for The Spaniels with "Baby Its You." Soon after that the label decided to move their base of operations to Chicago, right across the street from Chess records, where they would play an almost as determining role in the development of R&R as the Chess brothers. Carrying both an excellent Gospel as an R&B roster, many of the great R&B artists kick started their career at Vee-Jay. Next to John Lee Hooker, amongst the artists who found their first success at Vee-Jay were Jerry Butler, The Impressions, The Swan Silvertones, the Staple Singers and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

It was at Vee-Jay that John Lee Hooker started fleshing out his style. Hooker started performing with a band and started to develop a more distinct electrified sound. Boom Boom even featured a horn section, which the Animals left out of their version, but Springsteen kept when he started playing the song regularly during the Tunnel of Love Express tour of '88, though adding a few more, with the Miami Horn section. By the time Springsteen covered "Boom Boom", it's original artists was all but forgotten until apparently out of nothing he scored a monster hit with Carlos Santana on guitar with '89's "The Healer". After that John Lee Hooker turned out to be one of the few Blues artists to sustain a comfortable level of success until his passing in 2001. The last years of his live Hooker lived in San Francisco, where he opened the Boom Boom Room, in '97. Today this club is still open, keeping the Blues legacy alive on stage.

John Lee Hooker
Available on The Very Best of John Lee Hooker

Bruce Springsteen

MP3 File

Monday, September 8, 2008

Boot Tracker, On The Tracks; May 9th 1974, Cambridge (E. St. Records)

With the Magic tour behind us, I decided to try and revamp the Boot Tracker a little by combining it with the On The Tracks feature for fan stories. One of the reasons I like to browse the message boards are the stories that find their way there from time to time. Those first shows people have seen and the impression it left, lucky encounters with the man himself or just plain fan boy craziness. Like this first contribution by Brian Hawkins, first posted on BTX. Brian picks an especially historic show, the one where Springsteen met Landau. The best thing is, that May 9th 1974 show was captured and still available on a very nice tape that carries over the show that made Landau fall in love with R&R again quite nicely.

Got up to Boston a day early for the Foxboro Magic show, so I could see some of the city and soak up some history. And while I did indeed savor the Paul Revere house, the Old North Church, and Samuel Adams’ burial site, it turned out that Boston is also a cradle of Bruce history… and an adventure awaited! Pondering all things Bruce that morning, I suddenly realized that my Cambridge hotel was very close to the sacred ground of Harvard Square...particularly the Harvard Square Theater...the very spot where Rock and Roll saw its future in Bruce Springsteen so eloquently captured by Jon Landau. I set out on my pilgrimage and with a few quick stops on the T train, I rose from the subway. Feeling like something magical was about to happen, my eyes recognized the Church Street sign and I knew I was approaching hallowed ground: not only the site of the blistering life-altering 5/9/74 show, but the very pavement where a young wiry Bruce Springsteen and a doughy, be speckled Jon Landau had their first fateful meeting.

Landau has often said in interviews that he saw Bruce reading “a favorable review” of the Wild and the Innocent album that he had written that was strategically posted on the window of the theater. They chatted and Landau has recalled Bruce saying how much he enjoyed the review. However, Bruce has since said that he thought it was only “pretty good." Like any new relationship, we can see that with those comments, one was enamored and one was more cautious. Thus begins 30-year dance of awkward miscommunication and compromises between Bruce and Landau that would some day culminate in Secret Garden being released both with and without strings. We all know the rest of the story...the bond, the friendship, the love, etc. that developed from those two crossed wires crackling over the course of 30+ years.

As I stood on the sidewalk, my head was dizzy with 1974 images and figures (converse sneakers, floppy hats, bell-bottoms, tube tops, etc.). Needless to say, I was taking it all in as I walked up to the box office window. I literally felt as if I was back in time as my steps took me down the sidewalk to what appeared to be formerly stage doors. We viewed the top of the theater in a sky that was so blue and speculated that one end must have been the stage area given its distinct elevation. We walked to that end of the theater and witnessed another set of apparent stage doors and a ramp that led down into another set, imaging this area could have been where the trucks parked, groupies milled, and hundreds of fans anxiously anticipated the bounty of a searing Springsteen show that could not possibly include Bobby Jean. It was almost like we felt those kindred spirits of that show with us as we gazed upon this site...This sacred site. How could this get better?

Then I saw it. Treasure!!! Piled high by the same stage door where Bruce tuned his guitar, Mike Appel greedily counted up proceeds, and Clarence cleaned his spit valve all those years ago, there they were: dozens of old vintage upholstered theatre seats! The very seats where the nubile Harvard co-eds of 1974 writhed with pleasure to the strains of Kitty’s Back. Seats stained with Tab spilled in exhilaration as Bruce kicked into Rosalita. Seats pockmarked with long-discarded plugs of Juicy Fruit that may or may not have been nervously chewed by Landau (DNA tests pending) as he planned his overthrow of Appel. Seats that still held within them the energy and power of those epic concerts from another time. I had to have two of them (see below pictures). I’m contemplating what I should do with them now? Build an encased shrine with special lighting in my house or just leave them in the garage.

I Sold My Heart To The Junk Man

MP3 File

Download the full show 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: 2 out of 5

Saturday, September 6, 2008

This Train; Reason to Believe

In Milwaukee the Magic tour came to an end. To pass the time till the next tour on this blog I will continue to bring you, on a regular basis, a look at the songs Springsteen covered and some bootlegs of note. I will also try to dig in the past of Springsteen's own songs a little more. Starting with some of the pillars in the Magic stets. Today I'm taking a closer look at Reason to Believe.

Reason to Believe, or rather the Nebraska album was a turning point in Springsteen’s career. It would turn out to be the first album Springsteen would release without much else than him and his guitar and proved to be a shift in songwriting, both thematically and structurally. Though the process had started with the River, or maybe even with the song Factory, on Nebraska Springsteen stripped away all the excess in his songs. Gone was the Dylanesque verbosity of his earlier albums, these songs went straight to the core. “I was interested in writing kind of smaller than I had been, writing with just detail,” Springsteen would later admit in a ’84 interview. With this smaller, more cinematic writing, the content started to shift. Where it had been possible to tap into a bashful optimism on earlier albums, Nebraska’s songs were bleak, uneasy affairs. Nobody spat in the face of these Badlands successfully, there seemed very little believe in the Promised Land.

Though Springsteen had been stripping away all through out the River sessions, Nebraska’s bare bone approach was strikingly different from that album. The River had been filled with stylistic exercises. On the River Springsteen set out to create some of his own Pop and Garage classics, to replace the once he was covering in his live sets. The River was an ode to R&R with a Boss twist. Nebraska was a reflection on America and Springsteen’s personal life. Though some of these reflections were molded into R&R, quite a few songs barely hint at R&R’s exorcism that provides the necessary escapism for the scenes of Nebraska. Intended as demos the material, at the time, didn’t allow for the songs to escape the Badlands. Though E-Street Band arrangements were attempted at the time, everybody involved agreed that the band was squeezing the life out of them. Ironically enough one of the few songs that made it as an E-Street arrangement, Born in the USA, today is living proof of that. The original demo, when it was released on tracks, proved to be a much more powerful (and less ambiguous) version than the one that drove the Boss to mega-stardom.

Reason to Believe was the perfect coda to an album filled with images of the people who the American Dream passed by. Helped by Landau, Springsteen had begun his journey into his life long Woody Guthrie/Jon Steinbeck obsession around the River tour. This, I suspect, allowed him to gain a deeper understanding of his own, and his father’s working class background, which ultimately found their voice in Nebraska. Though the album is often viewed as commentary on Reaganism, I doubt this was the case. Springsteen had yet to become outspoken on politics. In fact, when Reagan used Born in the USA for his second term campaign two years later, Springsteen hardly commented. It is however not without irony that the album saw light of day in the era of silicone optimism. During the Reagan era America’s disenfranchised simply seemed to stop existing, left to fend for themselves. It was indeed a valid question if these people still had reason to believe.

As a song Reason to Believe if the flip side or maybe even the negative to Promised Land. Where the latter affirmed believe, the second did a little more than question it. Though the song could be misinterpreted as a lament for people who believe against all odds, it is in fact probably Springsteen’s most cynic song. The protagonists in the song have no reason to believe, no reason to expect that the American dream will come knocking on their door. Like the Joads in Grapes of Wrath, they belong to an America that is up against an anonymous machine over which they have no control but that does determine the course of their lives. Like Steinbeck, Springsteen captured the forces in society, that sometimes have a tremendous impact on our personal life, in art. With Nebraska Springsteen made mechanisms tangible, with a few strokes on the guitar, that scholars and journalists need volumes for to put in perspective.

Reason to Believe has never become the staple Atlantic City has been over the years in the set list. One of the reasons for that is probably that the song proved harder to whip in an electrified shape than other songs on Nebraska. Thematically however, the song trumps Atlantic City as an representative piece for the ongoing narrative in Springsteen’s music. Throughout the years Reason to Believe stayed close to its album arrangement in the various live settings. A little harmonica and guitar was added during the Born in the USA tour, but not much else. All the way up to the Ghost of Tom Joad tour it retained its bare bone structure. Even though during the Tom Joad tour the arrangement started to shift slightly. During the Tom Joad tour the soft strumming gained in viciousness with Springsteen adding the first hints of the hard rocking ‘Boogie Chillun’ version it would become during the Magic tour. 1996 may have had a Democratic president in the White House, but with Clinton’s continuation of economic policies first implemented by Reagan and the further scaling down of social security measures, the characters on Nebraska were slipping further from main stream America. Clinton’s focus was on a strong economy where people created their own chances, whether those chances were within your reach or not. The louder strumming, the bigger voice, it seemed a necessity for those forgotten voices to be heard.

Ann Arbor, September 26th 1996

MP3 File

The song transformed further during the D&D tour when it adopted the controversial bullet mic arrangement. Not everybody was as charmed by the howling and growling. Over Springsteen’s stomping and the muffled effect of the mic, the words seemed to get drowned out. They were only there for those who wanted to make an effort to hear them. In my mind a perfect analogy to the Republican reign in the White house, that seemed even more indifferent to the people that live within the Nebraska album than before. Poverty in the inner cities of America was hardening and small towns were crumbling under the influences of globalization. Yet it seemed as difficult to hear the people hit by those trends as it was to make out the words of that bullet mic version. Still travel the back roads of America and you’ll find abandoned farms, trailers and towns as a testimony of those voiceless.

Bologna 2005

MP3 File

The Magic tour suddenly brought those voices out to the front again in a raving R&R exorcism. Viciously strumming on his Vox Mark Teardrop Van Zandt combined with the opening howls of Springsteen through the bullet mic gave the song as much an edge of desperation as it did in celebration. The road house riffing based on John Lee Hookers Boogie Chillun (or ZZ Top’s La Grange version thereof) suddenly transformed the bitter and cynic lament into the perfect vehicle to exorcise the venom of 25 years in neglect. Embedded in that highly political edge the first few legs had, Reason to Believe stood out as the center of the set. Those first legs showed a Springsteen that seemed angrier than he had ever been over that neglect while at the same time more determined to get the voices heard society tends to forget. In 1990, during a benefit performance for the Christic institute, a public interest law firm, Springsteen had introduced the song by advising his audience “this song is about the price, that blind faith and refusing to give up your illusions extracts from you.” Words he didn’t repeat during the Magic tour, but certainly applied to the re-election of president Bush. Words that needed to be heard loud and clear with the end of that second term in sight. Those first legs of the Magic tour were about Springsteen imploring us to give people Reason to Believe again.

Cleveland 2007

MP3 File

The Nebraska photos are available through Snap.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Boss Tracks; Goin' Back, the Byrds

Jim McGuinn, better known as Roger was one of the big guest stars during this tour. But I'll wager that when he stepped on stage in Orlando more than a few eyebrows were raised. As Roger once confided to Tom Petty, when he was helping him produce one of his solo albums "Back from Rio," McGuinn regretted not naming his band Roger McGuinn & the Byrds. After the Byrds folded, McGuinn kind of slipped into obscurity after being the creative force behind the band for years. McGuinn was the only consistent member of the group and it was his trade mark Rickenbacker 12 string and songwriting that made the Byrds the west coast legends they are today. According to McGuinn's own blog, it is through Tom Petty that he first met Springsteen. On this blog McGuinn's guest appearence is discussed at length. Both gentlemen appear to be big admirers of each other. You have to wonder though if McGuinn had any notion of who Springsteen was when he covered the Byrds' take on Goffin and King's "Goin' Back" in 1975.

Springsteen first performed the song taking a bow to Carol King when she was visiting his show in the LA Roxy on October 16th 1975. The song remained in the set for the remainder of his stand there. Though the band clearly took the Byrds' approach to the song, Goffin and King had originally written it for Dusty Springfield. With Springsteen's love for sixties Pop one can wonder which version he preferred. As Brill Building producers King and her songwriting partner (and husband) Gerry Goffin, were responsible for peening many of the pop songs from the sixties Springsteen later covered. Most recently “Save the Last Dance for Me” made the set list. Goffin and King also collaborated closely with Phil Spector at one point, writing "He Hit Me (and it felt like a kiss) for the Crystals.

The single I found this gem on appears to be somewhat of a rarity. Best I could find out was that this EP was released to promote a book on the Byrds written by Bud Scoppa released in 1971. From what I could piece together, Bud's book was written for the teen market back in the day when the band graced the walls of many teenage bed room. It has long since been out of print.

The Byrds

Available on The Essential Byrds

Bruce Springsteen at the Roxy '75

MP3 File

Nils Lofgren also did a version of Going' Back in his day. Check out a transcript of a recent radio interview with Nils on Kweevak.

Down the Tracks; 4th of Asbury Park by Daniel Wollf and A Change is Gonna Come by Graig Werner

The summer is almost over, but there are two book I would like to bring under your attention before it ends. Let’s be honest, nothing keeps the winter at bay quite as well as a lazy and rainy Sunday afternoon in bed with a good book and a live recording from the summer tour. In the past few weeks I’ve been reading Daniel Wolff’s 4th of July, Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land back to back with A Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul of America by Graig Werner. The fist book deals with the history of the Jersey shore’s most famous town, the second relates the history of R&R’s relation to the civil rights movement. Both books feature some insightful chapters on Springsteen while managing to place him in a broader context.

Wolff’s book traces the development of Asbury park from its conception. It is not without irony to find out that the town full of losers Springsteen so desperately tried to leave behind was originally viewed as the promised land by its founder James Bradly. Asbury Park, in his mind, would be a safe haven for America’s religious values while financing itself as a wholesome vacation resort. A venture Wolff shows was bound to fail. Bradley established Asbury park and its boardwalk single handily, trying to keep a firm hand in the town’s direction by keeping it in private ownership. By his death Bradley had to admit that the venture was a failure, the boardwalk had only lost money. Still it remained the town’s main hope of survival through the past 150 years of its existence.

The book also sheds some light on why a multi ethnical act like the E-Street band, especially in its early conception when Sancious and Lopez were still active, never attracted an audience that mirrored their composition. Wolff paints a picture of a highly segregated beach resort with racial relations marred by lynching and deprivation. As Sancious recalls he and Clarence were an exception to the rule, blacks simply weren’t part of the scene where Springsteen rose to fame. So while Springsteen was building his core fan base, his audience was highly skewed to Caucasian to begin with.

Further light on this subject is shed by Werner’s book, “A Change is Gonna Come.” In a fascinating portrait on the relation between (“black”) music and the civil rights movement, from Gospel to Hip Hop, Springsteen is one of the few Caucasian artists that is featured at length, as one of the few outspoken artists in the eighties. Werner quotes black activist LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) in describing Springsteen as a “blues shouter” who gave a voice to the voiceless. Going from there Werner also explores Spingsteen’s lily white audience, or rather the lack of colour in that audience. Aside from mentioning that around the eighties the racial divide had become too big again to bridge all that easily, Werner mentions that Springsteen was marketed to a white public, African-Americans simply weren't a factor in the marketing plans. Rock music was viewed as a white art form for a white public.

Werner also points towards the, at first glance, blatant patriotism of BITUSA was not something African-Americans growing up in the harsh racial realities of that time (and I suspect today) could easily relate to. The black record buying public found their experiences much better voiced in the stark and vicious Hip Hop beats and blatant raps. The music Springsteen drew from, like Memphis Soul and early R&R, had already been left behind by the African American public as being music of an era of broken promises. Also interesting is that Werner sees Nebraska's content most closely linked to Public Enemy's Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man) in its open criticism of Reaganism. Werner compliments Springsteen as one of the few performers to raise his voice in a time where music strove to be as a-political as possible.

Both books are essential reading for those who want to place Springsteen in a broader context. While the standard works of Dave Marsh strive to do just that, these two works, especially Werner’s, manage to clarify just where to place Springsteen in the ongoing dialog between music and broader society, complete with the often uneasy race relations. While Obama’s nomination radiates an optimism on that terrain that is unprecedented, these two works show that there is still much work to be done.

Read more on 4th of July, Asbury Park (a history of the promised land) here
Read more on Change is Gonna Come here