New Songs For 2016

Every year I try to add new music to the collection. Nowadays I rarely listen to the radio (either broadcast or satellite) for inspiration. I tend to research new music by reviewing end of the year “best of” lists. This year I branched a little more than usual, trying songs suggested from a number of sources.

Over the last few years, NPR Music has been my most reliable source. My tastes are diverging from Rolling Stone Magazine’s favorites; their sensibilities seem to be changing into the greater mainstream of popular music. Review sites such as Pitchfork have wildly different criteria for musical evaluation than I do. Virtually no modern popular music on the radio interests me. I am offended by the lack of diction and inferior mixing that make singing so hard to understand, the loss of melody as a musical component, and the reliance on electronics as a substitute for instrumental virtuosity. It all sounds less human to me.

All of which makes the selection of new songs a very interesting aspect of the project. I have no obligation to include any artist, and am perhaps more free than ever to choose based on my my opinion. This is a topic I plan on exploring in detail sometime. New songs must adhere to the same criteria as all others. They should be well appreciated if called up in a random iPod shuffle. Some effort is made to include different sounding or innovative music, though today there isn’t much in terms of unexplored territory. Many songs I choose tend to fill holes in my personal music education. The last few years seem to include songs by female country songwriters, where there is a wealth of talent. Or maybe I’m just going country in my old age. Overall, modern music has seemed to have completely abandoned the uptempo swing of yesteryear.

I have added 58 new songs for 2016. This is a typical number of songs in recent years, a little less than half of the overall average (11,000 songs in about 100 years). Great songs grow on you over the years, so songs are rarely given a high rating to begin with. It is a rather sedate group of songs, by my standards. If a certain song appeals to you, then consider further research into that artist. My list for new songs will always be woefully incomplete; they are educated guesses. My focus is generally on older music.

It was a big year for working on the collection. In August I completed standardizing and verifying all the song data, a tiring grind which led to a mild post-effort depression that took several months to battle out of. I think I’m ready to start back up again, with an outline for a general essay on collecting the music, and a compilation of lists of specific types of songs. Like the greatest songs with hand claps, or best one-hit wonders. Happy New Year to everyone. I’m hoping to keep making progress on this big project.

2016 Songs

Little Movies, Aaron Lee Tasjan
Memphis Rain, Aaron Lee Tasjan ★★★
Real Bad Lookin’, Alex Cameron ★★
Am I Wrong, Anderson Paak ★★
Celebrate, Anderson Paak

Time Moves Slowly, BADBADNOTGOOD ★★
E.V.P., Blood Orange ★★
Three Kids No Husband, Brandy Clark
There Goes My Love, Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms ★★
Opposite House, Cass McCombs ★★

I Am Not Afraid, Charley Crockett ★★
Irene, Courtney Marie Andrews
Wine And Peanuts, Daniel Bachman ★★
Watermelon Slices On A Blue Bordered Plate, Daniel Bachman ★★
Lazurus, David Bowie

Can’t Think, Dawg Yawp
The Government Road, The Del McCoury Band
Falling To Believe, Doug Tuttle
What It Means, Drive-By Truckers
Lord It Over, Dylan Golden Aycock

Looking Up, Elton John
Someone In The Crowd, La La Land (Soundtrack)
Ivy, Frank Ocean ★★
Nothing More To Say, The Frightnrs
June Too Soon, October All Over, Glenn Jones

Mr. Fool, John Scofield
Christmas Makes Me Cry, Kacey Musgraves
Present Without A Bow, Kacey Musgraves
This Girl, Kungs & Cookin’ On 3 Burners
Diamond Heart, Lady Gaga

Humble & Kind, Lori McKenna ★★
Dust, Lucinda Williams
Bitter Memory, Lucinda Williams
Emotions And Math, Margaret Glaspy
You And I, Margaret Glaspy

Moth Into Flame, Metallica
Vice, Miranda Lambert
Tin Man, Miranda Lambert
Me & Magdalena, The Monkees
Tragedy, Norah Jones

It’s A Wonderful Time For Love, Norah Jones
Pining, Parker Milsap ★★
Human Performance, Parquet Courts
I’ve Got To Use My Imagination, The Rides
Never Come Home, Robbie Fulks ★★

Aunt Peg’s Old Man, Robbie Fulks
Drivin’, Robert Ellis
Weirdo, Sammus
What’s It Gonna Be?, Shura ★★
Bluebird Of Delhi, Slavic Soul Party! ★★

Cranes In The Sky, Solange
Easier Said, Sunflower Bean
Every Time I See A River, Van Morrison
Caledonia Swing, Van Morrison
No Woman, Whitney ★★

The Three Of Me, William Bell
Fly Away, Yola Carter ★★
A Change Of Heart, The 1975

29. Billie Holiday (Eleanora Fagan)

Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan, was a jazz singer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Holiday had a very difficult childhood; her mother Sadie did not maintain steady relationships, and often left home to find work. Young Eleanora dropped out of school after the fifth grade, and was working in a Baltimore brothel when she heard Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five’s recording of “West End Blues”, sparking a lifelong passion for music, and an aspiration to sing, and be known as Billie Holiday. By 1930, she and Sadie had moved to New York City, and when Sadie took a job at a Harlem speakeasy popular with the local jazz musicians, Billie seized the opportunity to sing from table to table for tips. Soon the young Holiday was performing in uptown Manhattan clubs.

Holiday’s big break came when jazz enthusiast John Hammond attended one of her club performances. Twenty-two years old at that time, and hailing from a prominent New York family, Hammond was a correspondent for Melody Maker magazine, a local disk jockey, and a generous benefactor to jazz musicians, offering them the opportunity to record music during the difficult years of the Great Depression. Hammond was enamored with Holiday, and arranged her first recording session with Columbia Records in November, 1933. John Hammond’s role in the development of popular music is hard to overestimate. Not only did he serve as the catalyst for the integration of black and white musicians, he was also the greatest talent scout in pop music history.

Holiday’s first two songs generated modest interest, and earned her a second recording session in 1935, which yielded the hit song “What A Little Moonlight Can Do”. Over the following seven years, Holiday, regularly paired with New York City’s finest jazz musicians, produced a dazzling body of work considered a pinnacle of popular song interpretation.

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Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan) (1915-1959), singer

A Short List of Important Contributors

Lester Young (1909-1959), tenor saxophone
Teddy Wilson (1912-1986), piano, arranger

William “Count” Basie (1904-1984), piano, arranger
Benny Goodman (1909-1986), clarinet
Buck Clayton (1911-1991), trumpet
Freddie Green (1911-1987), guitar
Walter Page (1900-1957), double bass
Jo Jones (1911-1985), drums
John Kirby (1908-1952), string bass
William “Cozy” Cole (1909-1981), drums
Cootie Williams (1911-1985), trumpet
William “Buster” Bailey (1902-1967), clarinet
Johnny Hodges (1906-1970), alto saxophone

Billie Holiday Songs – Excellent Website/Discography
“The Hunting of Billie Holiday”, by Johann Hari, Politico Magazine, January 17, 2015

Singing With Style

Most music historians consider Billie Holiday the greatest female jazz singer, though she possessed an ordinary instrument in terms of range and volume. She fits nicely within my criteria for singing prowess; I prefer plain sounding voices who subtly augment a song, and shun vocal histrionics. Billie Holiday also advanced the art of jazz singing beyond women like Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker, by mastering the use of the microphone to bring out these subtleties.

“Billie Holiday sang blues only incidentally. But through her phrasing and conception, much that she sang seemed to become blues. She made more than one thousand records — among them about seventy with Teddy Wilson. She made her most beautiful recordings with Wilson and Lester Young. In the intertwining of the lines sung by Holiday and the lines played by Young, the question of which is lead and which is accompaniment, which line is vocal and which instrumental, becomes secondary.

Charm and urbane elegance, suppleness and sophistication are the chief elements in the understatement of Billie Holiday.

When Billie opened her mouth to sing, the truth emerged. Her voice expressed the damage and vulnerability of her soul with an almost masochistic honesty, from desire and lust, to joy and optimism, to doubt, sadness, and pain. Her mouth was like an open wound, she wore her heart on her tongue. And when she sang about loneliness, she drew the listener into her loneliness.

Billie Holiday didn’t just sing sad or happy songs. That’s what women singers in popular music normally do: sing sad and happy songs. In Billie Holiday’s singing, on the other hand, contradictory emotions and feelings exist simultaneously, blending with each other while contradicting each other. Or, as rock singer Bryan Ferry remarked, “Her style sings of hope…her message is despair.”

— Excerpts from “The Jazz Book”, Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Gunther Huesmann

Amazon.com Link to “The Jazz Book”, by Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Gunther Huesmann
Amazon.com Link to “The Oxford Companion to Jazz”, by Bill Kirchner

In this 1935 film short featuring the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Holiday makes a brief appearance at the 4:45 mark:

Ascendance

Billie Holiday is an important omission from the original artist countdown list created in August, 2009. Back then I wasn’t hip to Holiday’s contributions, and only had eight songs in the collection. I suspected it was an oversight, and would require some research to rectify. Back in the early nineties I remember marveling at the Rolling Stone Album Guide’s Third Edition, 1992) five star ratings for all nine volumes of Columbia Records’ “The Quintessential Billie Holiday” collection, a level of consistent respect given to the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and perhaps one or two other artists. Over the years I picked up a couple of the Quintessential collections, plus a Commodore Records retrospective to acquire a copy of the protest song “Strange Fruit”. It was only last year that I started the process of creating a representative collection of her music.

My appreciation for her music grows. My interest started with the six to eight-piece jazz bands, and her famous collaborators. I love small band swing jazz, a modernized form of dixieland music; though rhythmically less complex than the Latin and rock syncopation that evolved, the swing rhythm lends itself well to fluid improvisation and clear storytelling. Holiday sings clean and crisp, and adds subtle accents. Her voice does not attempt to dominate or overwhelm. Music analysts often liken Holiday’s style to one of the horn players in the group. Her all-star counterparts do the same, and one gets the sense that the group behaves as a single team, marching forward in step, each voice important to the whole. Classy, restrained and powerful, Billie Holiday interpretations of Golden Age songs created a template for future developments in popular music.

Demise

That an abused or neglected person often makes bad decisions about the company they keep is well known. Billie Holiday had a weakness for handsome and abusive men, particularly those who trafficked in heroin. She started using around 1940 or 1941, and struggled with alcoholism and heroin addiction for the rest of her life. She was arrested in 1947 for heroin addiction, and as a result, lost her New York City cabaret card, her primary means of income and support. She was persecuted her whole life one way or another: for being black, for being female, and for being an addict. Her tragic downfall is well documented; through the fifties her health deteriorated, though she continued to perform and record beautifully, albeit with diminishing power. She developed cirrhosis of the liver in 1959, and was arrested for drug possession while on her death bed. Holiday died on July 17th, 1959, just forty-four years old.

Although I devoted more than a hundred hours this past year listening and researching her music, it feels like more investigation is required for the best complement of songs. To close, here’s my favorite Billie Holiday song. In order, the soloists are Benny Morton (trombone), Billie Holiday (vocal), Teddy Wilson (piano), Lester Young (tenor saxophone), and Buck Clayton (trumpet).

When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling,
The whole world smiles with you.
When you’re laughing, oh when you’re laughing,
The sun comes shinin’ through.

But when you’re crying, you bring on the rain,
So stop your sighin’, be happy again.
Keep on smiling, ’cause when you’re smiling,
The whole world smiles with you.

— “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)” by Larry Shay, Mark Fisher and Joe Goodwin

Billie Holiday Song Notes:

1. Most of the recommended songs can be found on the Columbia Records compilation called Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles.

2. “Strange Fruit”, “Billie’s Blues” and “On The Sunny Side Of the Street” can be found on Commodore Records compilations.

3. “Lover Man” can be found on Decca Records compilations.

4. “Body And Soul”, “Fine And Mellow”, “What’s New?” and “I Loves You Porgy” can be found on Verve Records compilations.

Billie Holiday Songs:

When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You), Billie Holiday ★★★★★

Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday ★★★★

I Must Have That Man, Billie Holiday ★★★
They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Billie Holiday ★★★
The Very Thought of You, Billie Holiday ★★★
Gloomy Sunday, Billie Holiday ★★★
God Bless The Child, Billie Holiday ★★★
These Foolish Things, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★★

Loveless Love, Benny Carter & His All-Star Orchestra ★★
St. Louis Blues, Benny Carter & His All-Star Orchestra ★★
Body And Soul, Billie Holiday ★★
Body And Soul (Alt), Billie Holiday ★★
Billie’s Blues, Billie Holiday ★★
On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Billie Holiday ★★
Lover Man, Billie Holiday ★★
More Than You Know, Billie Holiday ★★
Long Gone Blues, Billie Holiday ★★
Easy To Love, Billie Holiday ★★
My Last Affair, Billie Holiday ★★
Me Myself And I, Billie Holiday ★★
Mean To Me, Billie Holiday ★★
Easy Living, Billie Holiday ★★
My Man, Billie Holiday ★★
I Cover The Waterfront, Billie Holiday ★★
Trav’lin’ Light, Billie Holiday & Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra ★★
The Way You Look Tonight, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★
Pennies From Heaven, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★
I’ll Never Be The Same, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★

I Loves You, Porgy, Billie Holiday
What’s New?, Billie Holiday
Fine And Mellow, Billie Holiday
I Wished On The Moon, Billie Holiday
Miss Brown To You, Billie Holiday
I Cried For You, Billie Holiday
This Year’s Kisses, Billie Holiday
Moanin’ Low, Billie Holiday
A Sailboat In The Moonlight, Billie Holiday
Sun Showers, Billie Holiday
He’s Funny That Way, Billie Holiday
You Go To My Head, Billie Holiday
I Can’t Get Started, Billie Holiday
Ghost Of Yesterday, Billie Holiday
Swing! Brother, Swing!, Billie Holiday
Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, Billie Holiday
Solitude, Billie Holiday

Related Songs:

Body And Soul, Coleman Hawkins & His Orchestra ★★★
Body And Soul, Louis Armstrong ★★★
Body And Soul, Benny Goodman Trio ★★

Careless Love Blues, Josh White Trio
Careless Love, Ray Charles ★★★
Careless Love, Ottilie Patterson & Chris Barber’s Jazz Band ★★

Easy Living, Wardell Gray ★★
Easy Living, Bill Evans ★★

God Bless The Child, Blood, Sweat & Tears ★★★
God Bless The Child, Stanley Turrentine ★★★

I Can’t Get Started, Bunny Berigan ★★
I Can’t Get Started, Lester Young Trio ★★
I Can’t Get Started, Dizzy Gillespie

I Cover The Waterfront, The Inkspots

I Cried For You (Take 1), Benny Goodman ★★

I Loves You, Porgy, Bill Evans ★★

Lover Man, Dizzy Gillespie & His Orchestra ★★
Lover Man, Sarah Vaughan ★★

Mean To Me, Nat Adderley

On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Lionel Hampton ★★
On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt & Sonny Rollins
On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Louis Armstrong

Pennies From Heaven, Count Basie ★★
Pennies From Heaven, J. J. Johnson ★★

Sailboat In The Moonlight, Ruby Braff ★★

Solitude, Duke Ellington & His Orchestra ★★

St. Louis Blues, Bessie Smith ★★★
St. Louis Blues, W. C. Handy

Swing! Brother, Swing! (Live), Count Basie ★★

These Foolish Things, Benny Goodman Sextet ★★★
These Foolish Things, Nat King Cole Trio ★★

They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Ella Fitzgerald
They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Frank Sinatra ★★

The Very Thought Of You, Al Bowlly ★★★
The Very Thought Of You, Dodo Marmarosa & Gene Ammons

The Way You Look Tonight, Frank Sinatra ★★★★
The Way You Look Tonight, Fred Astaire ★★

When You’re Smiling / The Shiek Of Araby, Louis Prima ★★★
When You’re Smiling (Live), Van Morrison ★★

You Go To My Head, Lee Konitz ★★
You Go To My Head, Louis Armstrong & Oscar Peterson

130. Mose Allison

Mose Allison is a singer and piano player from Tippo, a small community in northwestern Mississippi. As a schoolboy Mose worked on the family farm, while learning to play piano and trumpet. After a two year stint in the U.S. Army, Allison graduated from college, and in 1956 he moved to New York City to pursue a career as a jazz musician. By 1957, he issued his first album of songs, and Allison enjoyed a successful career that lasted until his retirement in 2012. As a lyricist, he is revered for his wry humor and his sharp observations of modern society. His influence on other musicians, especially younger British Invasion musicians of the sixties, exceeds his popularity.

Mose Allison (1927-2016), piano, vocals, songwriter

In Depth: Mose Allison, by Ken Smith, PropergandaOnline.com
“An Interview with Jazz and Blues Singer Mose Allison”, by Thomas Brewer, December 2010

MoseAllison

Men Of A Certain Age

I like this picture. It reminds me of dear old Dad; I have a couple pictures where Dad looks like this, with a neatly trimmed beard and a peaceful, pleasant demeanor. I have this theory that men of that era wore beards because they admired the great basketball star Bill Russell, but the more likely connection is to Beat Generation culture. Both Mose Allison and my father, who died in 2003, were born in 1927. They followed a similar path in early life. Both enlisted in the military in 1945, and once their military obligation was served, received a college education paid by the G.I. Bill. And it seems fair to suggest they had similar beliefs about society.

“For the benefit of critical listeners, Mose has shared his view about the state of the world: the domination of money over everything, the growing lack of empathy on the part of the powers-that-be for the population, wars and more wars, and an underlying hypocrisy in society.”

— Thomas Brewer, December 2010

Young Man Blues

In the old days,
When a young man was a strong man.
All the people,
Stand back when a young man walked by.

But nowadays,
The old man got all the money.
And a young man ain’t nothin’ in the world these days.”

– Mose Allison

I first experienced a Mose Allison song when I heard The Who’s wild version of “Young Man Blues” from Live At Leeds. It’s hard not to notice; The Who’s version is incredibly rambunctious and belligerent. At one minute and twenty-seven seconds, Allison’s more sedate and succinct version holds the distinction as being the shortest four star song in the collection. Another example of simple phrases with a powerful, timeless message, my favorite kind of lyrics. Over the years, more clever Mose Allison songs trickled into the collection until there were enough to merit a blog profile. The older I get, the better his economical vocal and piano style sounds. Allison separates himself from other post-World War II pianists with his thinking man’s social commentary.

“Straight ahead,
Knock ’em dead.
Pack your kit,
Choose your hypocrite.

Well you don’t have to go to off-Broadway,
To see something plain absurd.
Everybody’s crying mercy,
When they don’t know the meaning of the word.

— Mose Allison

Mose Allison Song Notes:

1. In all cases, the earliest version of any given song is recommended. For instance, try the 1962 version of “Your Mind Is On Vacation”.

Mose Allison Songs:

Young Man Blues, Mose Allison ★★★★

Parchman Farm, Mose Allison ★★★
If You Live, Mose Allison ★★★
I’m Not Talking, Mose Allison ★★★

I Don’t Worry About A Thing, Mose Allison ★★
I Told Ya I Love Ya, Now Get Out!, Mose Allison ★★
Your Mind Is On Vacation, Mose Allison ★★
Fool’s Paradise, Mose Allison ★★
Everybody Cryin’ Mercy, Mose Allison ★★
The Seventh Son, Mose Allison ★★

Trouble In Mind, Mose Allison
Gimcracks And Geegaws, Mose Allison
It Didn’t Turn Out That Way, Mose Allison
Your Molecular Structure, Mose Allison
Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand, Mose Allison
Don’t Forget To Smile, Mose Allison

Related Songs:

Young Man Blues (Live), The Who ★★★

Parchman Farm, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers ★★
Parchman Farm Blues, Bukka White ★★

I’m Not Talking, The Yardbirds ★★
I’m Not Talking (Live), The Yardbirds ★★

The Seventh Son, Willie Mabon ★★
The Seventh Son, Johnny Rivers ★★

Trouble In Mind, Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry ★★
Trouble In Mind, Jay McShann’s Kansas City Stompers ★★
Trouble In Mind, Dinah Washington & Ben Webster ★★

Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand, Ray Charles

2. Van Morrison

George Ivan “Van” Morrison is a singer/songwriter from Belfast, Northern Ireland. An only child, Morrison’s working class upbringing proved to be ideal for a future musician. His mother was outgoing, and loved to sing and dance at gatherings of friends and family, while his more reserved father was fascinated by American culture, and an avid collector of American country, folk, jazz and blues records. Van received his first guitar when he was eleven, and soon thereafter was participating in local music groups. His broad music tastes prompted him to learn the saxophone and harp, and by the time he finished secondary school, he was working full-time and playing music in Irish showbands.

In April 1964, Morrison answered an advertisement for a harp player for a rhythm and blues band. He showed up at the audition to check out the local talent, although he was already rehearsing with another superior group, who began a short but impressive residency at the Maritime Hotel in Belfast. Soon thereafter this quintet changed their name from The Gamblers to Them. Within a couple weeks they were filling the room beyond capacity. Though shy when not performing, Morrison became a dynamo on stage, singing and jumping and playing his saxophone and harp, and overnight Them became Ireland’s greatest rhythm and blues band. At the time, Belfast was considered a remote outpost of the British Empire, but word of their popularity filtered down to Dick Rowe of Decca Records, who went to see the band in Belfast and then invited them to London for an audition.

Van Morrison (b. 1945), singer, songwriter, guitar, alto saxophone, harmonica

Sir Van Morrison with his daughter Shana Morrison at his knighthood ceremony, February, 2016:

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Big Time Operators

The record business is historically predatory, where naive musicians, eager for popularity, sign record contracts that benefit the company.  Without proper legal representation, the musicians sign away most of their rights to the music, and some companies do their best to keep the musicians poor, hungry, and reliant on continued success. Once the musicians no longer produce popular music, they are ignored or discarded. The next few years of Van Morrison’s professional career were traumatic, as he endured two consecutive bad record contracts, experiences that shaped his public persona and music for decades afterwards.

Them’s recorded output of about fifty songs between 1964 and 1966 has aged well. In hindsight, they belong with the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers as among the best British rhythm and blues bands. They had a couple of hit songs, though their greatest and most influential song, “Gloria”, was relegated to the B-side of their powerful, uptempo rendition of the blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go”, considered by many the definitive reading of the song. “Baby Please Don’t Go” b/w “Gloria” has to rank among the greatest singles of all time, and for “Gloria” to go unrecognized as a hit song by Decca executives is, at best, perplexing.

Restless to capitalize on the initial success, band manager Phil Solomon contacted New York pop producer Bert Berns to come to London and work with the band. The collaboration produced a second hit song, the Berns composition “Here Comes The Night”, but more importantly, it signaled the beginning of a short but important partnership between Berns and Morrison. When Them broke apart in the summer of 1966, Morrison accepted Berns’s invitation to come to New York and work for Bang Records as a solo performer.

If anything, the record contract with Bang was even more onerous than the Decca deal.  It gave the company the rights to Morrison’s music for five years, as well as full ownership of the master recordings for all songs.  Even when Morrison had legitimate work expenses, he found it impossible to earn a living wage, as creative accounting methods denied the artist his expenses and earned royalties.  Berns’s association with frightening “associates” discouraged the artist from excessive complaint.  Musically, the brief collaboration with Berns was valuable  — Morrison learned much about music production, plus he created “Brown Eyed Girl”, his first solo hit and still his best known song.  But when Berns died suddenly in late 1967, and Berns’s wife Ilene cited the artist’s combative relationship with her deceased husband as a contributing factor, Morrison was faced with the most harrowing of circumstances.  The unsympathetic widow bound him to his agreed contract, while shadowy criminal figures discouraged Morrison from seeking employment elsewhere.

Rescued By Warner Brothers

Van escaped New York City for Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he performed incognito with a trio for several months.  It was during this time that the songs and sound for Astral Weeks, his first major collection, takes place.

“He makes his way to the stage at the Catacombs, joining Bob Kielbania, who plays upright bass, and flutist John Payne, who is trying for a spot in the tour group.  He gets his guitar tuned, carefully adjusts the mike placement, brows knit, anxious that everything be right.  He begins with ‘Cyprus Avenue’.  He’s so involved with it, so into it, that you have the feeling you’re involved in a very intimate communication with him.  He winces and strains to bring the song up from far within him, producing at times a strangely distant sound that carries a lyric of loss and disillusionment.  He sings with great care, making certain that none of the lyrics, none of the tone and intonation are lost to the audience.  He is a performer beautiful to watch in his absorption.  He has total control over the number and, by now, over most of the audience as well.”

—  Eric Kraft¹

Representatives at Warner Brothers Records caught wind of Morrison’s whereabouts, and wanted to sign him directly to the music label.  But Van was in a real bind.  The existing contractual obligations to Bang Records, not to mention his immigration status, were significant obstacles, as Warner Brothers believed that Ilene Berns would sue any competing label.    First, Morrison married Janet Minto, his longtime American girlfriend, which rectified his immigration status.  Warner then carefully negotiated a settlement with Ilene Berns and Bang Records.  Finally, record executive Joe Smith personally handled the non-public business of extricating Morrison from his contract with the label’s Italian representatives for $20,000 in unmarked cash.¹

Finally, with some stability in his professional life, Morrison moved to upstate New York and began his recording career in earnest.  His first album for Warner Brothers, Astral Weeks, is considered by critics one of the great achievements in rock music, though it’s a stretch to consider it “rock”.  It is an innovative passage of music, long poems, steeped in the memories of his Irish heritage, and accompanied by a sensitive jazz combo led by bassist Richard Davis.  Astral Weeks did not sell well, so there was some pressure to follow up with a marketable product.  Moondance did not disappoint, featuring shorter songs with a pop sensibility, and is also considered a definitive collection of Morrison’s music.  These two records epitomize the breadth of expression that would follow in his long, prolific career; his songs cover a wide range of subjects, sung almost exclusively from a first person perspective.  He often reminisces about days gone by and the simple happiness he found in youth.  Morrison is well read, and uses his knowledge of religion, philosophy and literature to reflect a personal quest to understand life through his music.  He uses big bands, generally six to ten players, with horn sections and the occasional orchestral backing.  Over the years he moved to northern California, and then back to Northern Ireland where he lives today. “Van The Man” has produced thirty four albums of original material, not including several dozen songs released in subsequent collections.  He has been awarded the Order Of The British Empire, and is a member of both the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and the Songwriters Hall Of Fame.

A short list of musical contributors to Van Morrison’s music:

Jay Berliner (b. 1940), guitar
Richard Davis (b. 1930), double bass
Connie Kay (1927-1994), drums
Jef Labes, keyboards
John Platania, guitar
Jack Schroer (1944-1995), saxophone
David Hayes, bass
Albert “Pee Wee” Ellis (b. 1941), saxophone, arranger
Candy Dulfer (b. 1969), alto saxophone
Georgie Fame (b. 1943), keyboards, vocals

A Love That’s Divine

My serious interest in Van Morrison and his music began in 1989, a landmark year in my life.  I had given up drinking and drugs in 1987, and for the first time in adulthood was in the midst of a long period of uninterrupted sobriety.  I attended self-help meetings that emphasized a belief in a higher power, something I never quite embraced.  I was feeling healthy, doing well at work, and was single and unattached for the first and only time since college.  During the summer of 1989 I met and started dating my wife.  I think it was my work friend Greg Vaughan who piqued my interest in Van Morrison, and suggested the album Avalon Sunset.  I bought the album and listened to it regularly that summer and fall.  I remember discussing “Have I Told You Lately” with Greg, and him suggesting the song was not about romantic love, but rather agape, a divine, universal love.  I’ve always remembered that, and use that as an example of ambiguous lyricism, a favorite trait of good songwriting.

There’s a love that’s divine,
And it’s yours and it’s mine like the sun.
And at the end of the day,
We should give thanks and pray,
To the one, to the one.

(Note: All lyric quotes by Van Morrison unless otherwise noted.)

I started collecting Van Morrison albums in earnest.  Avalon Sunset was rapidly followed by Enlightenment and Hymns To The Silence, all of which contained spiritual songs of varying religiosity.  My general appreciation for spiritual music increased.  I prefer it when the message is conveyed in traditional popular styles such as bluegrass and country music, rather than by a church choir.

Morrison is the only musician who became an all-time favorite midway into his career.  In the case of The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Los Lobos, and for a shorter period, David Grisman, I became enamored with their music at first or second listen.  Van The Man’s music was there in the background during the late sixties and early seventies, songs like “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Into The Mystic” and “Jackie Wilson Said” on the San Francisco AM and FM radio stations.  I bought the Wavelength album in 1979, and even went to my first Van Morrison concert at Freeborn Hall in Davis, California, but I can’t remember much about it.  My music collection portrays this gap between Morrison’s popular period and my spiritual “awakening” to his music, with few favorite songs from the mid-seventies through the mid-eighties.  In retrospect, it’s a shame I didn’t know that Morrison lived in Marin County and performed regularly around San Francisco when I was growing up.

Van Morrison And The Fame Game

While preparing to write this profile, I read Clinton Heylin’s excellent biography “Can You Feel The Silence?” for a second time.  It is a comprehensive, and at times unpleasant, look at Van’s career through the turn of the century.  Though Heylin is clearly a fan of the music, he spends an inordinate amount of time psychoanalyzing the introverted Morrison, whose least favorite thing in life is to be analyzed.  And yet, I am compelled to offer a few sympathetic thoughts.

A few years ago, a friend mentioned that I have personality characteristics that suggest Asperger’s Syndrome, or high functioning autism (HFA).  After reading about it and taking a few online tests, I’m convinced this is a good general description of how my mind works.  I score highly on IQ (intelligence) and AQ (autism) tests, and poorly on EQ (empathy) tests.  I’m focused on a few subjects of interest, with limited to no interest in other things.  Historically, I’ve often used drugs and drink to feel happy and ease my mind, and in middle age I struggle with mild paranoia and depression.   I have a harsh sense of right or wrong, with scant gray area between the two.  On the other hand, I can see some things in clearer, less complicated ways than others, and have a powerful memory for facts and numbers.  Knowing I’m a little different, I worry what other people think of me, and I overcompensate, often making the mistake of being too talkative with others.   It’s unlikely a professional would diagnose me with Asperger’s Syndrome, but there are hidden struggles, especially in social situations.

Van Morrison was obsessed with music from an early age.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music, and is a voracious reader, perhaps in his quest to both understand life and write a great song.  He is a synesthete; he refers to the sounds of his music in terms of “shapes”, much like Bob Dylan assigns colors to music.  In concert, he is a fully engaged perfectionist who listens carefully to his musicians, and expects them to sensitively react to his voice and actions.  And he despises the fame game, from strangers who approach him in public to share stories and wishes, to the tabloid writers who capitalize on the details of his personal life.  And he’s been very forthright and honest about it.

Amazon.com Link to “Can You Feel The Silence?”, by Clinton Heylin

In my life I’ve had two friends who were quite famous.  Earl Anthony was perhaps the greatest professional bowler of all time, and during the seventies he was a highly personable and well spoken celebrity, with millions of adoring fans.  I played golf with Earl once or twice a week for a few years, and got to know him very well.  I had made the decision that I would treat celebrities as ordinary people, and avoid asking questions about their profession.  And this worked great with Earl; he was interested in all sorts of things, from nature to high finance.  After knowing him a while, Earl would share some of his bowling experiences, which of course was immensely fun and enjoyable.

I don’t remember exactly where this story comes from, but the best story about Earl comes from an interaction with a longtime member of our local golf club.  Apparently this member had never heard of Earl, and asked Earl whether he liked to bowl, and Earl answering nonchalantly to a series of questions:

“Do you like to bowl?”
“Yes, I like to bowl.”
“Oh yeah? What’s your highest score?”
“300.”
“Really? No way. So how many times have you rolled a 300?”
“Oh, about 650 times in sanctioned competition.”
“What? No way! Have you ever won a tournament?”
“Yeah, about 150 tournaments worldwide.”
“No way!”

Another friend of mine who is well-known is Tom Doak, who designs golf courses for a living. By comparison he is a minor celebrity, but he is very influential within the golfing community. I became friends with him through an Internet discussion group that discusses golf architecture. He is a recognized authority on the subject, with a photographic memory of thousands of golf holes he studied in his long career. He dropped out of the math program at MIT and transferred to Cornell University for landscape architecture, because he knew he wanted to be a golf architect. His online personality is very funny and outgoing, but in person, he is shy and reserved until he feels comfortable. In normal conversation, Tom tends to steer the conversation to golf courses.  Tom and his band of talented course “shapers” build beautiful and natural looking golf courses, modern works of art.  His approach to golf course construction is similar to Van Morrison’s approach to music.  He allows his artists to improvise within the context of the overall plan.  If he doesn’t like something, he gives general instructions to change the shapes to make it look and play better.

Ballyneal_3Best_printGolfing at Ballyneal — Getting The Shapes Right (Photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

 When my wife was a young woman, she dated a well-known professional football player for a short period of time.  Recently she told me how disruptive his fame was in social situations.  The two of them could not enjoy a restaurant meal without several interruptions from well-meaning fans.  “Oh, sorry to interrupt and I hope you don’t mind, but I’m so-and-so from somewhere, and I wanted to tell you this and that about myself.  Oh, and by the way, could you sign this for me?”

Once Van Morrison is comfortably surrounded by trusted friends, he’s probably a lot like everybody else, happily participating. On some evenings he probably likes talking about music, and the greats of the past. How tough it must be to be famous, spending your whole life dealing with people who want your time, attention and business. A couple years back, my wife volunteered for a local golf tournament raising money for Parkinson’s disease. The great basketball player Bill Russell was there, adding his presence to the list of celebrities. After the golf round, he sat mostly alone, with his back to the after-party. He’s a kind man and a great man, but he doesn’t want to endure small talk and he doesn’t want to explain why. Another friend who once played golf with Mr. Russell said that as soon it was clear everybody was there to play golf, he opened up and was very charming.

Why Must He Always Explain?

Biographer Clinton Heylin takes Morrison to task for excessive complaint in his 1991 double album Hymns To The Silence.

“Hymns To The Silence, his first double album of original songs, devotes almost the entire first volume to whingeing about “Professional Jealousy”; how the singer is ‘not feeling it any more’; the fact that he just wants an ‘Ordinary Life’; and why he can’t find ‘Some Peace Of Mind’…This indulgent exercise culminated in ‘Why Must I Always Explain?’, a song that in four minutes seemed to offer a prima facie case for clinical paranoia…As Steve Turner has written, ‘The irony of “Why Must I Always Explain?” was that the thrust of his songwriting had always been explanation, giving his public detailed information about his problems, hardships, and spiritual adventures.”¹

I like Hymns To The Silence; I listened to Disc 1 dozens of times during those happy days of sobriety and courtship.  Perhaps the difference between me and a professional critic like Mr. Heylin is that he gets completely outside his self and interprets the songs from the author’s perspective.  I listen to the songs and think about how they relate to me.  When Van sings about “Professional Jealousy” it reminds me when other engineers who were promoted ahead of me.  The rollicking “Ordinary Life” always made me think about how much I like a simple, regimented life.  I’m not sure who the ‘Village Idiot’ is, but I can relate to that character.  It’s impossible to deny the personal attack of “Why Must I Always Explain?”, but still I’m looking for how the music relates to me and my life.

“Well I get up in the morning and I get my brief,
I go out and stare at the world in complete disbelief.
It’s not righteous indignation that makes me complain,
It’s the fact that I always have to explain.

The world is so crazy these days; sometimes you just shake your head and wonder what the people with power are thinking.  I can relate.

Van Morrison writes a lot of songs.  There’s something for almost everyone: songs about love and spirituality.  Songs about growing up in Belfast, and songs about getting away from it all and being alone.  For those who like happy-go-lucky novelty songs, there’s not much of that.  Van’s a pretty serious guy.  He’s like Woody Allen — every year or so he goes into the studio with a group of musicians and knocks out another collection of songs.  He records quickly, looking for first impressions and early inspiration from his musicians.  Songs are often completed in one or two takes.  Then he takes his favorites out on tour and refines them.

Seeing Van Morrison Perform In Concert

During our courtship, Cheryl and I saw Van in Berkeley a couple times, then I stopped attending his concerts for a while.  In May, 1994, Morrison released Live In San Francisco, which featured several guest stars and a more soulful sound.  It’s a wonderful record, and I bought Days Like This, the next studio album. But my true Van Morrison epiphany came in September, 1998, the last time he visited Portland, Oregon.  It was a big tour with Bob Dylan, not to mention a thirty minute opening set by Lucinda Williams, who was at the peak of her popularity.  They played at the Rose Garden, the largest venue in town, and not particularly well suited for concerts.  Dylan and Morrison took turns headlining on this tour.  On this evening, Morrison came out second and performed a stunning set of upbeat music, focusing much of his attention on well known songs, perhaps the single greatest performance I’ve ever seen.  Wow songs, one after another.  Poor Bob Dylan had to follow Van that night, and his voice and his live performing abilities are no match for Van The Man’s power.  After a few laconic songs we headed home.

Since then, I’ve made it a point to see Morrison perform every time he travels to the west coast, which usually means a weekend in San Francisco every year or two.  It seems we visit San Francisco as tourists more than I ever did as a longtime Bay Area resident.  I’ve met a few of Morrison’ most devoted fans, who travel from the east coast and even Europe to see him perform, and I’ve be invited to join a private discussion group, which I enjoy very much.  It’s fascinating to read the comments of his longtime fans, and what they liked about each show.  Among the devoted fans of his music, my tastes are pretty conventional.  I have my favorites, which can be figured out by my song ratings.  Many of his longtime fans love to hear the lesser known and rarely played numbers that Van sings and plays on occasion.  Like all of my favorite performers, Morrison’s concert playlists vary from year to year, though several songs remain in the rotation for decades.

In the fall of 2000, I was driving through Austin, Texas with a friend, and stopped at a outdoor record stand to see what they had.  Just looking through the bins I came across a 2-CD collection called Emerald Dreams, a live performance from Dusseldorf, Germany in December, 1998.  I bought it and stuck it in the car CD player, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorites.  It was a similar show to the one I had seen in Portland, essentially the same band with a couple of special guest stars added.  The concert footage from that show is now floating around on YouTube, and two songs from the show are included here.  Over the years I’ve collected a number of concert recordings, and my iPod collection has dozens of these recordings filling out my collection.  These are prized belongings, and among my favorite and most played songs I own.  Since many of these are not readily available, I recommend substituting them with studio recordings or commercially available live albums.

In the grand scheme of 20th century popular music, where does Van Morrison fit?  Rather than the typical comparison to other rock musicians, Morrison should be compared to the great small bandleaders.  As a matter of coincidence, the careers of three men named Louis are quite similar to Morrison: Louis Jordan, Louis Prima and Louis Armstrong.  The three Louis all sing, swing, and play a horn, and they surrounded themselves with musicians with the ability to improvise.  Morrison brings a greater lyrical sophistication, though his songs tend to be a bit less complex musically than pop standards of the twenties and thirties.  The confessional nature of the songs, blurring the lines between romantic and spiritual love, and the repeating mantras of his message wash over the listener in each ninety minute performance, where not a second of time is wasted, and the music flows seamlessly from song to song.  He is my favorite live performer ever, and there’s a sense of urgency to see him again before he retires.

In The Garden

This fall Van Morrison will release “Lit Up Inside”, a book discussing selected lyrics from his lifetime of work.  I’ll be curious to see which lyrics are discussed.  Among the dark horse choices I’m pulling for is “All Work And Play” from the 2002 album Down The Road.  I doubt music scholars, or Van himself, give the bouncy “All Work And No Play” much thought, but sometimes a few simple thoughts does it for me.  It shouldn’t always be deep and profound; that’s not how life goes.  These words evoke a strong image for me.

I’d like to be somewhere else,
Like to be all by myself.
Like to be down at the beach,
Relaxing at the sugar shack.
Hot dogs, coffee black,
Coca Cola, kicking back.

I get most of my spiritual input from music.  Morrison’s shout outs to musicians mean more to me than his references to great authors and poets.  “Real Real Gone” finishes with the following words of wisdom.

Wilson Pickett said, “In the midnight hour,
That’s when my love comes tumbling down.”
Solomon Burke said, “If you need me,
Why don’t you call me.”
James Brown said, “When you’re tired of what you got,
Try me.”
Gene Chandler said, “There’s a rainbow in my soul.”

I enjoy the adaptation of the W.B. Yeats poem “Before The World Was Made”. Both Yeats and poet William Blake were revered for their simplicity. There’s no need to view the world in an overly complicated fashion. We’re human beings, the dominant species on the planet. We’re not separate or special in any regard. We want food and shelter and comfort, and most of us want sex and love, too. My sense of wonder resides in the beauty and diversity of all this life, evolving on Earth for over 500 million years. It is improbable, amazing, and impossibly complicated, the mountains and the oceans, and the fields of grass that turn from green to gold each summer, in the valley where I live.

“If I make the lashes dark,
And the eyes more bright.
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right.
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity’s displayed,
I’m looking for the face I had,
Before the world was made.”

— William Butler Yeats

I could have saved Van Morrison years of theosophical longing if he had just asked me, but we would have missed out on a lifetime of lovely thoughts. Despite my atheistic beliefs, I enjoy songs about God and the mysteries of the divine. A hundred years from now, the song most likely to endure as an example of his poetic genius will be “In The Garden”.

“And you went into a trance,
Your childlike vision became so fine.
And we heard the bells inside the church,
We loved so much,
And felt the presence of the youth of
Eternal summers in the garden.

And as it touched your cheeks so lightly,
Born again you were and blushed,
And we touched each other lightly,
And we felt the presence of the Christ,
Within our hearts,
In the garden.

And I turned to you and I said,
No guru, no method, no teacher,
Just you and I and nature,
And the father in the garden.

No guru, no method, no teacher,
Just you and I and nature,
And the Father and the Son,
and the Holy Ghost,
In the garden, wet with rain.”

Van Morrison Song Notes:

1.  “Precious Time” is regularly featured in concert performances since its debut on Back On Top.  I have never heard a satisfactory live performance of this song.  It is the rare Morrison song where the studio version is clearly superior, thanks to Pee Wee Ellis’s fine closing solo.

2.  My college sweetheart was named Andrea.  She was about five foot four, from the head to the ground.  And her name is A…

3.  Van Morrison is sometimes criticized for a lack of facility as a guitar and saxophone player.  Although he is not a virtuoso player of either instrument, I enjoy his guitar and sax solos a great deal, and consider that an integral part of his musicianship.

Van Morrison Songs:

The Story Of Them Featuring Van Morrison

Gloria, Them ★★★★★
Philosophy, Them
One Two Brown Eyes, Them
Baby Please Don’t Go, Them ★★★★
Here Comes The Night, Them ★★
Mystic Eyes, Them ★★★
I Like It Like That, Them
I’m Gonna Dress In Black (Alt), Them
Little Girl (Alt), Them
Turn On Your Love Light, Them
I Put A Spell On You, Them
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Them ★★★
Hey Girl, Them
Friday’s Child, Them
Richard Cory (Alt), Them ★★

Blowin’ Your Mind

Brown Eyed Girl, Van Morrison ★★★
T.B. Sheets, Van Morrison

Astral Weeks

Astral Weeks, Van Morrison ★★
Cyprus Avenue, Van Morrison ★★
The Way Young Lovers Do, Van Morrison
Madame George, Van Morrison ★★★
Ballerina, Van Morrison ★★
Sweet Thing, Van Morrison ★★★
Slim Slow Slider, Van Morrison ★★

Moondance (2013 Deluxe Edition)

And It Stoned Me, Van Morrison ★★
Moondance, Van Morrison ★★★★
Crazy Love, Van Morrison ★★★
Caravan, Van Morrison ★★★★
Into The Mystic, Van Morrison ★★★★
Come Running, Van Morrison ★★
These Dreams Of You, Van Morrison ★★★
Everyone, Van Morrison
Glad Tidings, Van Morrison

Into The Mystic (Take 11), Van Morrison ★★★
Moondance (Take 22), Van Morrison
Glad Tidings (Alt), Van Morrison
These Dreams Of You (Alt), Van Morrison ★★
Caravan (Mono), Van Morrison ★★
I Shall Sing (Mono), Van Morrison

His Band And The Street Choir

Domino, Van Morrison ★★★

Tupelo Honey (Remastered)

Tupelo Honey, Van Morrison ★★★★
I Wanna Roo You (Scottish Derivative), Van Morrison
Wild Night, Van Morrison ★★★
Wild Night (Alt), Van Morrison ★★

Friday’s Child: Live At the Pacific High Studios

Into The Mystic (Live), Van Morrison ★★
I’ve Been Working (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Ballerina (Live), Van Morrison
Tupelo Honey (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Wild Night (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Just Like A Woman (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★
These Dreams Of You (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Domino (Live), Van Morrison

Saint Dominic’s Preview

Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile), Van Morrison ★★★★
I Will Be There, Van Morrison
Listen To The Lion, Van Morrison
Saint Dominic’s Preview, Van Morrison

Hard Nose The Highway

Warm Love, Van Morrison ★★

It’s Too Late To Stop Now

Ain’t Nothing You Can Do (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Cyprus Avenue (Live), Van Morrison

Veedon Fleece

Fair Play, Van Morrison ★★
Who Was That Masked Man, Van Morrison
You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River, Van Morrison
Bulbs, Van Morrison

Wavelength

Kingdom Hall, Van Morrison
Natalia, Van Morrison ★★
Wavelength, Van Morrison

Into The Music

Bright Side Of The Road, Van Morrison ★★★★
And The Healing Has Begun, Van Morrison
It’s All In The Game, Van Morrison ★★

Beautiful Vision

Beautiful Vision, Van Morrison
Cleaning Windows, Van Morrison ★★★

Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart

Celtic Swing, Van Morrison
Rave On, John Donne, Van Morrison

A Sense Of Wonder

Tore Down A La Rimbaud, Van Morrison

No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

Foreign Window, Van Morrison ★★
A Town Called Paradise, Van Morrison
In The Garden, Van Morrison ★★★★★
One Irish Rover, Van Morrison ★★

Rave On (Glastonbury, England, June 1987)

Foreign Window (Live), Van Morrison
It’s All In The Game (Live), Van Morrison

Poetic Champions Compose

I Forgot That Love Existed, Van Morrison ★★
Queen Of The Slipstream, Van Morrison
Someone Like You, Van Morrison ★★★
Alan Watts Blues, Van Morrison ★★★
Allow Me, Van Morrison
Did Ye Get Healed?, Van Morrison ★★

Irish Heartbeat

Irish Heartbeat, Van Morrison & The Chieftains
Marie’s Wedding, Van Morrison & the Chieftains

Avalon Sunset

Whenever God Shines His Light, Van Morrison ★★
Coney Island, Van Morrison ★★
Have I Told You Lately, Van Morrison ★★★
When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God, Van Morrison
Orangefield, Van Morrison

Enlightenment

Real Real Gone, Van Morrison ★★★
Enlightenment, Van Morrison ★★
So Quiet In Here, Van Morrison
See Me Through, Van Morrison
Youth Of 1,000 Summers, Van Morrison
In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll, Van Morrison

Bang Masters

Brown Eyed Girl (Alt), Van Morrison ★★

Hymns To The Silence

Professional Jealousy, Van Morrison ★★
I’m Not Feeling It Anymore, Van Morrison ★★
Ordinary Life, Van Morrison ★★
So Complicated, Van Morrison
Why Must I Always Explain?, Van Morrison ★★★
Village Idiot, Van Morrison ★★
See Me Through Part II (Just A Closer Walk With Thee), Van Morrison ★★
By His Grace, Van Morrison
All Saints Day, Van Morrison ★★
On Hyndford Street, Van Morrison
Be Thou My Vision, Van Morrison ★★
Green Mansions, Van Morrison
Pagan Streams, Van Morrison
Carrying A Torch, Van Morrison

Too Long In Exile

Big Time Operators, Van Morrison
Lonely Avenue, Van Morrison ★★
Gloria, Van Morrison
Moody’s Mood For Love, Van Morrison ★★
Before The World Was Made, Van Morrison ★★★

A Night In San Francisco

Did Ye Get Healed? (Live), Van Morrison
I’ve Been Working (Live), Van Morrison
Beautiful Vision (Live), Van Morrison
I’ll Take Care Of You/It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World (Live), Van Morrison ★★★

Days Like This

Raincheck, Van Morrison ★★★
Days Like This, Van Morrison ★★★
Ancient Highway, Van Morrison
In The Afternoon, Van Morrison ★★

How Long Has This Been Going On

Who Can I Turn To?, Van Morrison with Georgie Fame
Sack O’ Woe, Van Morrison with Georgie Fame ★★

The Healing Game

Rough God Goes Riding, Van Morrison ★★
Fire In The Belly, Van Morrison ★★
Sometimes We Cry, Van Morrison

The Philosopher’s Stone

Naked In The Jungle, Van Morrison ★★
Drumshanbo Hustle, Van Morrison
Flamingoes Fly, Van Morrison
Street Theory, Van Morrison

I Like Candy – 1998 Christmas Special

Chicken (Live), Van Morrison
Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile), Van Morrison ★★★★★
These Dreams Of You (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Raincheck (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Moondance/My Funny Valentine (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Rough God Goes Riding (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Give Me A Kiss (Live), Van Morrison
That’s Life (Live), Van Morrison
In The Afternoon (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★
Satisfied (Live), Van Morrison
Summertime In England (Live), Van Morrison ★★
See Me Through/Soldier Of Fortune/Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again/Burning Ground (Live), Van Morrison

Back On Top

Philosopher’s Stone, Van Morrison ★★
In The Midnight, Van Morrison ★★★
Back On Top, Van Morrison ★★★
When The Leaves Come Falling Down, Van Morrison ★★★
Precious Time, Van Morrison ★★★

Norwegian Wood Festival (Oslo, Norway, Jun 2000)

Days Like This (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Vanlose Stairway/Trans-Euro Train (Live), Van Morrison ★★
It’s All In The Game (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Think Twice Before You Go (Basel, Switzerland, December 2000)

Think Twice Before You Go (Live), Van Morrison
Fire In The Belly (Live), Van Morrison
Domino (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Moondance (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Brown Eyed Girl (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Bright Side Of The Road (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★
Help Me (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Down The Road

Meet Me In The Indian Summer, Van Morrison ★★
Steal My Heart Away, Van Morrison
Choppin’ Wood, Van Morrison
All Work And No Play, Van Morrison ★★★
What Happened To PJ Proby?, Van Morrison
The Beauty Of The Days Gone By, Van Morrison

Meet Me In… (Tempodrom, Berlin, June 2002)

Whining Boy Moan (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Days Like This (Live), Van Morrison
Did Ye Get Healed? (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Naked In The Jungle (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
In The Midnight (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★★
Hey Mr. DJ (Live), Van Morrison
Meet Me In The Indian Summer (Live), Van Morrison
Sometimes We Cry (Live), Van Morrison
Early In The Morning (Live), Van Morrison

Perugia, July 2003

When You’re Smiling (Live), Van Morrison ★★

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Evening In June, Van Morrison
Meaning Of Loneliness, Van Morrison ★★
Stop Drinking, Van Morrison
Once In A Blue Moon, Van Morrison
St. James Infirmary, Van Morrison ★★

Nights In November (Germany, November 2003)

I Will Be There (Live), Van Morrison
Once In A Blue Moon (Live), Van Morrison ★★
In The Midnight (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
I Like It Like That/Kansas City (Live), Van Morrison
Back On Top (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Philosopher’s Stone (Live), Van Morrison ★★
And The Healing Has Begun (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Gloria (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Whining Boy Moan (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Little Village (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Have I Told You Lately (Las Vegas) (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★
Goldfish Bowl (Live), Van Morrison
It’s All In The Game/You Know What They’re Writing About (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★

Live In Toronto (September 2004)

All Work And No Play (Live), Van Morrison ★★★

Magic Time

Stranded, Van Morrison ★★
Celtic New Year, Van Morrison ★★
Keep Mediocrity At Bay, Van Morrison
The Lion This Time, Van Morrison
Magic Time, Van Morrison
They Sold Me Out, Van Morrison

Live At Austin City Limits

Bright Side Of The Road (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
I Can’t Stop Loving You (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Keep It Simple

Keep It Simple, Van Morrison
Behind The Ritual, Van Morrison
End Of The Land, Van Morrison

Astral Weeks: Live A The Hollywood Bowl

Sweet Thing (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Born To Sing: No Plan B

Born To Sing, Van Morrison
If In Money We Trust, Van Morrison
Pagan Heart, Van Morrison

Miscellaneous YouTube Video Recordings

Celtic New Year (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
I’m Not Feeling It Anymore (LIve), Van Morrison ★★★★
Just Like A Woman (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Precious Time (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Related Songs:

Gloria, The Doors
Gloria, U2

Baby Please Don’t Go, The Amboy Dukes
Baby Please Don’t Go (Live), Lightnin’ Hopkins ★★★
Don’t Go Baby, John Lee Hooker ★★

Turn On Your Love Light, Bobby “Blue” Bland ★★★★
Turn On Your Love Light (Live), Grateful Dead

I Put A Spell On You, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins ★★★★
I Put A Spell On You, Nina Simone ★★
I Put A Spell On You, Creedence Clearwater Revival ★★★★

Richard Cory, Simon & Garfunkel

Ain’t Nothing You Can Do, Bobby “Blue” Bland ★★★★

It’s All In The Game, Tommy Edwards ★★

Lonely Avenue, Ray Charles ★★★★

Moody’s Mood For Love, King Pleasure ★★★

I’ll Take Care Of You, Bobby “Blue” Bland ★★★★

It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World, James Brown ★★★
It;s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World – Lost Someone (Live), James Brown ★★
It’s A Man’s World, James Brown ★★★★

Sack O’ Woe, The Mar-Keys ★★
Sack O’ Woe, Manfred Mann

My Funny Valentine, Chet Baker ★★★★
My Funny Valentine, Artie Shaw & His Gramercy 5 ★★
My Funny Valentine, Elvis Costello ★★
My Funny Valentine, The Gerry Mulligan Quartet & Chet Baker
My Funny Valentine, Miles Davis ★★

That’s Life, Frank Sinatra ★★★
That’s Life (Live), James Brown ★★★★

Help Me, Sonny Boy Williamson ★★★★
Help Me, Charlie Musselwhite ★★

Early In The Morning, Sonny Boy Williamson
Early In The Morning (Live), Eric Clapton

When You’re Smiling/The Shiek Of Araby, Louis Prima ★★★
When You’re Smiling, Billie Holiday ★★★★

I Can’t Stop Loving You, Don Gibson ★★★
I Can’t Stop Loving You, Ray Charles ★★★

Just Like A Woman, Bob Dylan ★★★★★
Just Like A Woman (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★

 

¹  Excerpts from “Can You Feel The Silence?”, by Clinton Heylin

13. Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead are a rock band from Palo Alto, California. The band formed around Jerry Garcia, who grew up in the Balboa neighborhood of San Francisco, but moved to Palo Alto in early 1961. Garcia became the guitar and banjo teacher at Dana Morgan’s Music Store in downtown Palo Alto, and over the course of the next four years, he recruited Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and Bill Kreutzman into the band. They evolved from a jug band into a rock and roll band, with roots in many styles of music, from Garcia’s love of bluegrass to Lesh’s training as a classical composer. During these formative years Garcia also played music with Robert Hunter, who became a primary lyricist for the group.

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As a young man, Jerry Garcia embraced the poetry and literature of the Beat Generation.

From Wikipedia:

“The Beat Generation was a group of American post-World War II writers who came to prominence in the 1950s, as well as the cultural phenomena that they both documented and inspired. Central elements of “Beat” culture included rejection of perceived standards, innovations in style, experimentation with drugs, alternative sexualities, an interest in Eastern religion, a rejection of materialism, and explicit portrayals of the human condition.”

Garcia spent much of his free time at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, where he found like-minded souls who shared his desire for free expression. He became friends with authors Allan Ginsberg and Ken Kesey, as well as the noteworthy free spirit Neal Cassady, the subject of Jack Kerouac’s novel “On The Road”.

The Long Golden Road

The Grateful Dead’s journey to worldwide success and notoriety was long. If one might identify when the band caught its “big break”, it happened when Ken Kesey asked them to perform at his Acid Test house parties in the remote, coastal mountains west of Palo Alto. At the time the band was known as The Warlocks; they soon changed their name to the Grateful Dead. They were young, raw and experimental in their approach.

“One day we were over at Phil’s house…He had a big dictionary. I opened it and there was ‘Grateful Dead’, those words juxtaposed. It was one of those moments, you know, like everything else went blank, diffuse, just sort of oozed away, and there was GRATEFUL DEAD in big, black letters edged all around in gold, man, blasting out at me, such a stunning combination. So I said, ‘How about Grateful Dead?’ And that was it.”

— Jerry Garcia

gratefuldead4

Wikipedia Biography of the Grateful Dead

Jerry Garcia (1942-1995), guitar, vocals, primary songwriter
Bob Weir (b. 1947), guitar, vocals, primary songwriter
Bill Kreutzmann (b. 1946), drums
Phil Lesh (b. 1940), bass guitar, vocals, songwriter
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (1945-1973), keyboards, harmonica, vocals
Robert Hunter (b. 1941), lyricist

Mickey Hart (b. 1943), drums, percussion
Tom Constanten (b. 1944), keyboards
Keith Godchaux (1948-1980), keyboards
Donna Jean Godchaux (b. 1947), vocals
Brent Mydland (1952-1990), keyboards, vocals, songwriter

The association with the hippie subculture in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, combined with the notoriety of the experimental LSD-25 acid tests, raised their profile to a national level. Growing up in the late sixties in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was unclear the Grateful Dead would become the preeminent San Francisco band. The Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow was the most successful album among local bands, though Jerry Garcia played guitar on several of their songs.

But the Grateful Dead, a quintet of societal misfits, were busy playing and performing all the time, writing their own songs, and utilizing their disparate influences to expand their musical boundaries. They toured nationally, and gradually built a devoted audience. Bob Weir, the kid, became a strong singer and fine second guitar who loved to sing swinging country songs. Pigpen McKernan, whose Dad was a soul and blues disk jockey, was the band’s soul and blues man. Bill Kreutzmann, the famous football coach’s grandson, hit the drums instead. They became a sextet when Mickey Hart was added as a second drummer and percussionist in 1967. Phil Lesh, the budding classical composer who never played the bass until Garcia asked him to do so, learned how to use the bass as counterpoint behind the soloists to great effect. Jerry Garcia, the reluctant leader, refined his quiet and mournful singing, and became a versatile, inventive guitarist of great renown, with long improvisational solos that thrilled his fans.

To prepare for this profile, I re-read “A Long Strange Trip”, Dennis McNally’s fine Grateful Dead biography.

Amazon.com Link to “A Long Strange Trip: The Inside Story of The Grateful Dead, by Dennis McNally”

“Flashback: Jerry Garcia, October 1978”, Guitar Player Magazine, by Jon Sievert
“Deadhead, The Vast Recorded Legacy of the Grateful Dead”, by Nick Paumgarten, New Yorker Magazine, November 26, 2012″
Grateful Dead Lyric/Song Finder
The Grateful Dead Clubhouse Projects

Also, here are two fine blogs about The Grateful Dead and the San Francisco music scene, by Corry Arnold, a high school classmate:

Hooterollin’ Blog
Lost Live Dead Blog

By the mid-seventies the Dead had become a cultural phenomenon, a traveling party attracting huge audiences, with a devoted fan base who enjoyed the atmosphere of dance, drugs and free expression, not to mention the band’s constantly evolving set list. No two shows were the same, and over their career they performed hundreds of different songs. Sometimes the band’s performance was tired and sloppy; at other times, their improvisations clicked, inciting audiences into a state of bliss. They continued to tour and perform throughout the eighties, despite the deteriorating health of Garcia. In 1986, Jerry fell into a diabetic coma, after which he temporarily improved his consumption habits. The band experienced a final prime in their career in the last eighties and early nineties, but were derailed by the premature death of keyboard player Brent Mydland in 1990. Garcia, who tired of the rigors of travel and performance, resumed some of his habits and eventually passed away in 1995. The Grateful Dead disbanded, though the four remaining original members (Lesh, Weir, Kreutzmann and Hart) continue to perform together periodically.

The Grateful Dead’s large traveling family of musicians, technicians and roadies experienced more than their fair share of tragedies, losing three keyboard players to consumption problems along the way. The band often dealt with these losses in a seemingly cavalier fashion, as if the train was moving too fast to worry about lost passengers.

The Grateful Dead were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994.

Either You Love Them Or…

The Dead are perhaps the most polarizing band of all time. With the exception of the Beatles, the Grateful Dead is the favorite band of more people I know than any other. Perhaps five to ten percent of my best music friends built their music listening lives around Grateful Dead concerts. The band did not discourage amateur recording enthusiasts from taping concerts, which spawned a whole subculture of sharing tapes, which allowed their audience to collect far more music than other bands.

“The Grateful Dead epitomize hippie rock & roll, and if you’re a hippie yourself, you might want to invert the ratings above. But unless you are, this is one assertedly major oeuvre that’s virtually worthless except for documentary purposes. The Dead’s long modal jams may be the stuff of mesmerism in concert (though even there, it’s questionable), but they’re simply self-indulgent and boring on disc. The band’s attempts at pop, rock and country are rendered effortlessly irritating and stodgy by the band’s lack of a crisp rhythm section and/or a single competent vocalist.

The Dead are worshipped for their image as hip patriarchs, which meant that as long as Jerry Garcia has that acid twinkle in his eye, he’ll never have to worry about his pedestrian set of chops. Truthfully, there simply isn’t very much about this group that’s impressive, except the devotion of its fans to a mythology created in Haight-Ashbury and now sustained in junior high schools across America. At its peak, the Dead has essayed competence: Workingman’s Dead is third-rate next to (The Byrds’ album) Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, much less anything Gram Parsons ever recorded on his own, but it has a sweet ingenuousness that renders it bearable. Similarly, Live Dead isn’t much less interminable that any other Dead concert piece, but it has a freshness that feints towards vitality. But when the Dead attempt to rework rock and blues standards — as they did on their horrible debut album, and have sporadically since — they are a pox on the face of pop. And the group’s patchouli-oil philosophy, which does nothing more than reinforce solipsism and self-indulgence in its listeners, except when it’s nurturing its Hells Angels fan club, is exactly the sort of stuff that gave peace ‘n’ love a bad name.”

Dave Marsh, “The New Rolling Stone Record Guide”, 2nd Edition, 1983

I took LSD about eight or ten times in my teenage years, always in a controlled environment. These were great experiences that I cherish. Though there have been serious LSD casualties in the history of rock music, like Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd and Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead managed to use LSD regularly early in their career, and emerge relatively unscathed, while benefiting from the magnificently sensory experiences the drug provides. This is not an endorsement. You have to be with friends, and if you get frightened, it will swallow you in fear, and send you tumbling fast.

Here’s a great video, when the Grateful Dead were invited to perform on Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy After Dark” program in 1969. The merry pranksters dosed the coffee on the set, and shared their psychedelic experience with the more conventional Playboy crowd, prompting Hefner to remark, “Thanks for the gift.”

“It’s a language, that’s all, without words — just the images themselves.”, wrote Art Kleps, an early associate of LSD researcher Timothy Leary, and one of the few to consider LSD in Western philosophical terms. LSD, he argued, lays waste to supernaturalism, since, ironically, much of the LSD experience lies in the realm of the absurd, and there is “no room for the absurd in the cosmologies of the occultists and supernaturalists.” The simple materialism of the lower reaches of scientific thought also had to go: “It is materialism that is destroyed by these overwhelming demonstrations of the limitless power of the imagination, not, necessarily, as those who liked to disparage nihilism and solipsism assume, empricism, logic or honor. It is not one’s experience or character that is intimidated, but only certain abstract concepts about the organization of experience.

Most people come out of LSD trips believing in the oneness of all life, the interconnectedness of things, and from that, the philosophically disposed frequently hit on Jungian synchronicity, the notion that things can be on a non-cause-and-effect basis, as in dreams. “If one’s thesis is that ordinary life is a dream,” wrote Art Kleps, “then anything that can happen in a dream in sleep can happen in waking life also, without disproving the thesis. If you can see that, you can see everything.”

— Excerpt from “A Long Strange Trip”, Dennis McNally

Although not commercially released, the Barton Hall concert at Cornell University (May 8, 1977) was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. Here Bob Weir sings “Estimated Prophet” (audio only) with its uncharacteristic 7/4 time signature.

The Grateful Dead flew in the face of convention; most Americans have dismissed them without investigation. Throughout their career they were odds with the corporate mentality, music executives looking for a hit song and a certain image. The Dead focused on the music, and let their sound engineers perfect a stadium-size sound system, no matter the cost. They built their business around the concerts, allowed the tapers to record the shows, and learned to market themselves independently. And please don’t tell me they can’t play. It would be foolish to suggest they possessed the chops of Miles Davis or John Coltrane, but they are early rock practitioners of modal jazz improvisation, not to mention their facility with folk, country and rock and roll. They are one of rock music’s most versatile bands.

“Early in 1981 the Dead went to Europe to play a few shows in London and then appear with the Who on the German TV show “Rockpalast”, and while in London Garcia gave one of his most extraordinary interviews. Few patently hostile interviewers get within yards of a star, and rarer still is the star who will tolerate hostility. Garcia found it stimulating. The interviewer, Paul Morley, was a cutting-edge young punk from New Musical Express, and Garcia revolted him. “You’re just a part of a perpetuation of bland, blanketing myths,” said the punk. “Does that disappoint you?” Garcia chuckled. “Naah! I didn’t have any expectations…If you start out expecting to fail and expecting the worst then anything that happens is an improvement over that…we’re just starting.” Does it upset you that I don’t dig you? “No! I don’t give a damn. I would be afraid if if everybody in the world liked us…I don’t want to be responsible for leading the march to wherever. Fuck that. It’s already been done and the world hates it…a combination of music and the psychedelic experience taught me to fear power. I mean fear it and hate it…First of all, I don’t think of myself as an adult. An adult is someone who’s made up their mind. When I go through airports the people who have their thing together, who are clean, well-groomed, who have tailored clothes, who have their whole material thing together, these people are adults. They’ve made a decision to follow those routines…I would say that I was part of a prolonged adolescence. I think our whole scene is that…I feel like someone who is constantly on the verge of losing it, or blowing it. I feel tremendously insecure.” “My heated irrationality bumps into Garcia’s sheer reasonableness,” wrote Morley, and it was true. Garcia’s egoless interest in authentic communication, even when it involved mocking him, made for one of the more fascinating encounters in rock journalism.

— Dennis McNally, “A Long Strange Trip”

Growing Up In Palo Alto

While researching the Grateful Dead, I came across these two interviews conducted by the Silicon Valley Historical Association. The first is Jerry Garcia’a final interview; the second is a semiconductor executive who discusses the open sharing of technology among scientists over drinks after work:

The Bay Area zeitgeist. Since World War II, artists and engineers alike shared knowledge and wisdom and pushed society forward. Even in the integrated circuit industry growing south from Stanford University, there was a willingness to share and try things differently.

My Dad worked at the university physics lab, and though their Department of Energy directive was to study the nature of matter in its elemental form, their enduring legacy will be to help establish the ARPANET, the world’s first TCP/IP packet switching network. The ARPANET allowed the world’s high energy physics laboratories to share research in a timely fashion. Embraced by other government and educational institutions to share information, the ARPANET grew into the modern Internet, the most disruptive and important technology of the last fifty years. Its economic importance cannot be overestimated.

Not all change has been good for Palo Alto, from the perspective of a kid who grew up there when things were quieter. The county grew crowded and fabulously wealthy. Housing is unaffordable. The egalitarian nature of my hometown slowly slipped away. I moved away twenty years ago, and I probably won’t move back. If I’m lucky enough to live another twenty years, old Palo Alto still has delightful, quiet neighborhoods, places where you could have breakfast downtown, and then walk around town like my granddad did the last thirty years of his long life. Palo Alto has nice sidewalks.

Can you separate the beat generation movement from the the burgeoning scientific community? The Bay Area saw an influx of young, science-minded talent after World War II; my parents followed that dream in 1956. It wasn’t crowded and the weather is so gentle. There were strong bohemian influences, with lots of people ready to stretch boundaries, at a time when society was ripe for it. In my parents’ case, they were first generation college grads who wanted out of an Ivy League society they didn’t feel comfortable being in.

I’m proud of being from Palo Alto. I’m grateful for my parents to have moved there. It’s such a great town, the flatlands below the coastal scrapes near the Bay. As a young high school student I rode my ten-speed Peugeot bike everywhere. I remember riding no-handed down the middle of Hamilton Avenue at ten o’clock on a Saturday night. Many of us were allowed out late at night, and some of us boys used our bikes when we needed to get somewhere. Here’s a weird memory which fits. Of the few times I took LSD, one time we took a light dose early in the day. It was mid-afternoon, and we have no particular place to go, just sticking around our neighborhood in south Palo Alto. So we get on our bikes and jam down to the 7-11 on Middlefield Rd. and Colorado Ave. Not a long ride; about a mile or so. I’m riding no-handed on and off, no problem, but at some point I lose the bike beneath me, and the bike starts to fall. I sense the crash coming, and jump off the bike on purpose, and land standing as the bike fell on the ground. I laughed, looked at my friends, got back on my bike, and finished the short ride to for Slurpees.

1972

Dead Heads talk about concerts the way baseball geeks discuss statistics. It’s a wonder I didn’t geek out on the Dead; many folks got “collection oriented” when the Dead came around with their repertoire. They were never my favorite band; starting around age five or six, the Beatles were my favorite, followed by Creedence Clearwater Revival for a couple years. Curiously, my next favorite was David Grisman, Jerry Garcia’s long time friend. For a few years I never saw a Dead concert, but saw Grisman play a bunch of times, playing that string swing, once with the great Grappelli, with Dad. It was great when Garcia & Grisman started hanging out together and recording music at Grisman’s house in Stinson Beach.

I went to two Dead concerts, the first one (with parents in about 1967) I don’t remember, and during the second one (Laguna Seca, July 30, 1988), we left a few songs after Los Lobos finished. I heard it was a good show. I did give two angel tickets away that day to fans who showed their appreciation by bouncing away with energy, which was nice.

I’ve got a few stories about the Dead that I could share. Not much. A few connections here and there. Mama used to teach exercise class at the local high school with Janice Kreutzmann, Bill’s mom. The McKernans lived in the same Palo Alto neighborhood, and I met Pigpen’s brother Kevin, though not under the best of circumstances. Mom embraced both the music and implied freedom of the San Francisco scene, but it was Dad who liked the Grateful Dead music best. He recorded a cassette tape of the Dead’s first album for regular play. Here lies a difference between me and the typical Dead fan. Daddy liked the amped-up fast songs on their first album, like “Cold Rain And Snow”, “Beat It On Down The Line” and “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”. This kind of hot music runs in my blood. I rate the first Grateful Dead album as among their best.

The Grateful Dead are one of many bands influenced by the beat generation. But they were perhaps the one band closest to the movement, in terms of both physical location and philosophical intent.

How do the Grateful Dead rank seventh among my favorites? For one thing, they have such a large recorded library of music. I can’t possibly take the time to carefully listen to every song to create my personal list of favorites. I’ve collected Dead songs one, two, or a few at a time, over the years. I gravitate towards the fast swinging music more, and the long slow ones less than the typical fan. I’m certain to add more songs to the list.

I like the earliest years of the Dead’s music, from their earliest recordings in 1965 and lasting about a decade. The Golden Road (1965-1973) represents this era beautifully. It’s awkward to say that my favorite year is 1972. It’s a lean year; Mickey Hart was taking temporary leave from the group. Pianist Keith & singer Donna Godchaux joined the band, and Pigpen had become very sick. As a result, Bob Weir is a more prominent part of the soundscape. I also like hearing Bill Kreutzmann drumming by himself. To me, the one drummer sound is more austere and focused. These 1972 recordings show the integral guitar trio and Kreutzmann at their peak. I should probably buy that big box set of 1972 European live recordings. Every Dead Head should own the tremendous new 3CD + DVD box set Sunshine Daydream, a newly issued document that is essential.

My analysis does not give enough credit to singer and keyboardist Brent Mydland. I’ve included a few songs that feature Mydland, when he was an integral part of the band’s sound, but it is not an era I paid much attention to. By all accounts, he was well liked and admired, and in the case of one Dead Head friend, his contributions to Dozin’ At The Knick are among the finest of the band’s career.

Here is a vintage 1972 performance of the band’s seventy-five minute first (of three) set, which conclude with “El Paso”, “Big Railroad Blues”, and a first class version of “Truckin'”. Listen to them go get gone!

Grateful Dead Songs:

More than any other band so far, whittling down the list of songs into a focused overview of their music seems both fruitless and cold. This is a band where there is so much music, over a long period of time, that each person’s list of songs is personal, and will vary dramatically. I’ll offer my favorite ninety or so songs, and hopefully someone will take the time to offer their opinion.

Because the band’s recorded legacy is so complex, I am presenting the list by album, because it is more coherent and efficient. By album, in alphabetical order:

American Beauty (Remastered)

Box Of Rain, Grateful Dead ★★
Friend Of The Devil, Grateful Dead ★★★★
Sugar Magnolia, Grateful Dead ★★★
Operator, Grateful Dead
Candyman, Grateful Dead ★★
Ripple, Grateful Dead ★★★
Brokedown Palace, Grateful Dead
Attics In My Life, Grateful Dead
Truckin’, Grateful Dead ★★
Friend Of The Devil (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★

Anthem Of the Sun

That’s It For The Other One (Suite), Grateful Dead

Aoxomoxoa

China Cat Sunflower, Grateful Dead

Birth Of The Dead – The Studio Sides

I Know You Rider, Grateful Dead ★★
Don’t Ease Me In, Grateful Dead
Cold Rain And Snow (Alt), Grateful Dead ★★★

Blues For Allah

Help On The Way/Slipknot!, Grateful Dead
Franklin’s Tower, Grateful Dead ★★★

Complete Live Rarities Collection

Viola Lee Blues (Live), Grateful Dead
Pain In My Heart (Live), Grateful Dead
Scarlet Begonias (Live), Grateful Dead
Cassidy (Live), Grateful Dead

Dick’s Picks, Volume 4

Dire Wolf (Live), Grateful Dead ★★
Dark Star (Live), Grateful Dead ★★

Dick’s Picks, Volume 6

Althea (Live), Grateful Dead

Dick’s Picks, Volume 8

I Know Your Rider (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★★
Beat It On Down The Line (Live), Grateful Dead ★★
Candyman (Live), Grateful Dead
Cumberland Blues (Live), Grateful Dead
The Other One (Live), Grateful Dead

Dick’s Picks, Volume 35

Next Time You See Me (Live), Grateful Dead

Dozin’ At The Knick

Just A Little Light (Live), Grateful Dead
Row Jimmy (Live), Grateful Dead

Europe ’72

One More Saturday Night (Live), Grateful Dead
Jack Straw (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★
Tennessee Jed, Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead (Remastered, Expanded Edition)

Beat It On Down The Line, Grateful Dead ★★
Good Morning Little School Girl, Grateful Dead ★★
Cold Rain And Snow, Grateful Dead ★★★
Sittin’ On Top Of The World (Alt — Full Length), Grateful Dead ★★★
Morning Dew, Grateful Dead ★★

Grateful Dead From The Mars Hotel

U.S. Blues, Grateful Dead ★★★
Scarlet Begonias, Grateful Dead ★★
Ship Of Fools, Grateful Dead ★★

Live At The Fillmore East, 2/11/69

The Eleven (Live), Grateful Dead

Hundred Year Hall

I Know You Rider (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★★

In The Dark

Touch Of Grey, Grateful Dead
West L.A. Fadeaway, Grateful Dead

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Grateful Dead (Fillmore East, April 1971)

Bird Song (Live), Grateful Dead

Live/Dead (Remastered, Expanded Edition)

St. Stephen (Live), Grateful Dead
Death Don’t Have No Mercy (Live), Grateful Dead
Dark Star (Single), Grateful Dead
Turn On Your Love Light (Live), Grateful Dead

One From The Vault

Big River (Live), Grateful Dead
Franklin’s Tower (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★★
Eyes Of The World/Drums (Live), Grateful Dead ★★

Reckoning (Remastered, Expanded Edition)

Deep Elem Blues (Live), Grateful Dead

Shakedown Street

Shakedown Street, Grateful Dead
Fire On The Mountain, Grateful Dead ★★★

Skull & Roses

Bertha (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★★
Mama Tried (Live), Grateful Dead ★★
Big Railroad Blues (Live), Grateful Dead
Playing In the Band (Live), Grateful Dead
Big Boss Man (Live), Grateful Dead
Wharf Rat (Live), Grateful Dead ★★
Not Fade Away/Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★★

Sunshine Daydream

Me And My Uncle (Live), Grateful Dead ★★
Deal (Live), Grateful Dead
China Cat Sunflower (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★
I Know You Rider (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★
El Paso (Live), Grateful Dead
Sing Me Back Home (Live), Grateful Dead ★★

Terrapin Station

Estimated Prophet, Grateful Dead ★★★

Wake Of The Flood

Stella Blue, Grateful Dead

Workingman’s Dead (Remastered, Expanded Edition)

Uncle John’s Band, Grateful Dead
Dire Wolf, Grateful Dead
Cumberland Blues, Grateful Dead
Casey Jones, Grateful Dead
New Speedway Boogie (Alt), Grateful Dead

Related Songs:

Songs by David Grisman & Jerry Garcia, which are listed here.

Deal, Jerry Garcia ★★
Sugaree, Jerry Garcia ★★★
To Lay Me Down, Jerry Garcia
The Wheel, Jerry Garcia

Friend Of The Devil (Live), David Grisman & Jerry Garcia ★★★
Friend Of The Devil, Lyle Lovett ★★★

I Know You Rider, Seldom Scene ★★★★

Bertha, Los Lobos ★★
Bertha (Live), Los Lobos ★★

Not Fade Away, Buddy Holly & The Crickets ★★★
Not Fade Away, The Rolling Stones ★★★★
Not Fade Away (Live), The Rolling Stones ★★★

Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad, Big Bill Broonzy ★★

Rain And Snow, Obray Ramsey ★★★
Cold Rain And Snow (Live), Peter Rowan & Tony Rice ★★★

Sittin’ On Top Of The World, Mississippi Sheiks ★★★
Sittin’ On Top Of The World, Doc Watson ★★★
Sittin’ On Top Of The World, Howlin’ Wolf ★★★★

Wharf Rat, Midnight Oil ★★

Good Morning Little School Girl, Sonny Boy Williamson I ★★
Good Morning Little School Girl, The Yardbirds ★★

Morning Dew, Lulu ★★★
Morning Dew, Jeff Beck ★★
Morning Dew, The 31st of February

Ship Of Fools, Elvis Costello ★★

Ripple, Jane’s Addiction

Mama Tried, Merle Haggard ★★

Sing Me Back Home, Merle Haggard

Me And My Uncle, Judy Collins ★★

Pain In My Heart, Otis Redding ★★

Cassidy, Bob Weir
Cassidy, Suzanne Vega

Next Time You See Me, James Cotton ★★★

Death Don’t Have No Mercy, Reverend Gary Davis ★★

Turn On Your Love Light, Bobby “Blue” Bland ★★★★

Big River, Johnny Cash ★★

Deep Elem Blues, Les Paul

Big Boss Man, Jimmy Reed ★★★
Big Boss Man (Take 2), Elvis Presley ★★

El Paso, Marty Robbins ★★★★

17. Jimi Hendrix

James Allan “Jimi” Hendrix was a guitarist, singer and songwriter from Seattle, Washington. His childhood was defined by hardship and uncertainty. His parents married when his mother Lucille was only sixteen years old, and his father Al left a few days later to serve in the Army during World War II. Hendrix was often neglected as an infant, but family members helped raise him until Al returned home in 1945. The young family reunited, but Al struggled to find steady work. Both parents drank to excess. The couple had four more children, but gave the three youngest up for adoption, and eventually divorced in 1951.

When Dad bought James his first guitar in 1958, the young man promptly began devoting most of his free time to playing and learning the guitar. With few prospects after school, he enlisted in the Army in 1961, but was honorably discharged for “unsuitability” within eighteen months. While in the Army, he made friends with Billy Cox through their mutual interest in music, and after Cox left the Army, the two headed to Nashville, Tennessee. Over the next three years, Hendrix toured and recorded as a support musician for such acts as Little Richard and the Isley Brothers, and moved to New York City, to improve his chances of success as a solo artist. By the summer of 1966, now a top notch, soulful rhythm and lead guitarist, James (or Jimmy) caught his big break. Former Animals bassist Chas Chandler was trying to break into the record business as a manager, watched Hendrix perform, and convinced to move to London, England. To add a distinctive ring, Hendrix changed his stage name to Jimi, and paired himself with two young British musicians, drummer Mitch Mitchell and guitarist Noel Redding, who switched to bass, and formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

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Their first single was a version of the recent folk song “Hey Joe”, which reached #6 on the British pop charts.

Buoyed by the success of “Hey Joe”, the band recorded an album of original material. The resulting effort, called Are You Experienced?, is one of the greatest debut albums in popular music history, featuring a broad exploration of the electric guitar’s capabilities, with strange but evocative lyrics that helped define the psychedelic era of rock music. Within months, Hendrix had become the toast of the town, winning the envy and admiration of the biggest rock stars in London’s orbit.

America’s introduction to the Jimi Hendrix Experience came a few months later, at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June, 1967. Their wild performance, featuring Hendrix’s mastery of feedback techniques and ending with a ceremonial guitar burning, gained him instant notoriety. Combined with the instrumental virtuosity and the hip, humorous stories of Are You Experienced?, Jimi Hendrix became a worldwide sensation.

In His Prime and Decline

The next three years were a whirlwind of activity, and a period of rapid decline. From 1967 to 1970, Hendrix performed and recorded incessantly, issued three more albums of material, fought to gain control of his finances and music, and opened the Electric Lady studios in New York City, while trying to manage his entourage of friends and managers, especially the women who demanded his attention. Hendrix indulged heavily in a wide variety of drugs, which took their toll on his health and well being. Similar to his mother Lucille, who passed away at only thirty three due to alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver, Jimi Hendrix passed away on September 18th, 1970, only twenty seven years old, due to an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol. With the possible exception of Duane Allman, the premature loss of Jimi Hendrix is the greatest tragedy in rock music history. Hendrix was evolving rapidly, moving away from pop music and into the broader world of jazz music expression.

There’s your obligatory boilerplate opening passage, my dismal effort to summarize a great musician’s life into as few paragraphs as possible. There is a wealth of information of the beloved Hendrix for those so inclined. While studying Jimi Hendrix I read “Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky” by David Henderson, a rambling yet ultimately rewarding book which, in particular, well describes the chaos and tragedy during the final couple years of the great guitarist’s life. In the book, a conspiracy theory of Hendrix’s demise is offered, the suggestion that he was murdered by either a greedy businessman or a jealous lover. None of these allegations were proved. Hendrix’s financial affairs were in disarray at the time of his death; it took his father Al more than twenty years to regain full control of his son’s estate.

www.jimihendrix.com — Official Website

The Jimi Hendrix Experience:

Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970), guitar, bass, vocals, songwriter
Noel Redding (1945-2003), bass
Mitch Mitchell (1947-2008), drums

The Band Of Gypsys:

Jimi Hendrix with:

Billy Cox (b. 1941), bass
Buddy Miles (1947-2008), drums

Amazon.com Link to “Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky”, by David Henderson

Do Chicks Dig Hendrix?

I listen to music a couple hours a day; lately, I’ve been reviewing music over breakfast. Inevitably, my wife hears a cross section of each artist in the big countdown. Jimi Hendrix is her least favorite musician to date, a distinction that will stand, given the ten remaining artists to profile. She doesn’t hate his music, but there are few if any songs she actively enjoys, and the shrill sound of Hendrix’s stinging lead guitar grates on her nerves.

A while back I played “Little Wing” for a friend, who didn’t think much of it, and she couldn’t comprehend why I considered it a top song. About ten years ago, I sent my sister a Hendrix compilation for Christmas, along with other music I consider essential, only to have the CD returned with the comment, “We (her family) don’t listen to that kind of music anymore.”

I don’t recall ever meeting a woman who said she enjoyed Jimi Hendrix, or made an effort to listen to his music. I’m a bit surprised by this, as some of his gentle songs have a cosmic warmth to them. He was considered by those closest to him a shy, nice person, except those rare occasions when he had too much to drink.

By contrast, Jimi Hendrix was a veritable sex symbol in London, constantly surrounded by female friends and admirers. Though he had steady girlfriends throughout his career, he also maintained a policy of open sexuality and promiscuity.

“Pete Townshend of the Who had found Hendrix’s early London performances very sexual, not in an “appealing way”, but rather, more “threatening.” When he asked his girlfriend Karen Astley (who he married in 1968) if she thought Hendrix’s act was sexual, and she replied, “Are you fucking kidding?,” Townshend had been unaware of how “aroused” his girlfriend had become seeing those shows.”

— David Henderson, “Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky”

“I saw Paul (McCartney) again at the Bag ‘O Nails in Soho, where Jimi Hendrix was making a celebratory return. Mick Jagger came for a while and then left, unwisely leaving Marianne Faithfull, his girlfriend at the time, behind. Jimi sidled up to her after his mind-bending performance, and it became clear as the two of them danced together that Marianne had the shaman’s stars in her eyes. When Mick returned to take Marianne out to a car he’d arranged, he must have wondered what the sniggering was about. In the end, Jimi himself broke the tension by taking Marianne’s hand, kissing it, and excusing himself to walk over to Paul and me. Mal Evans, the Beatles’ lovable roadie-cum-aide-de-camp, turned to me and breathed a big, ironic Liverpudlian sigh. “That’s called exchanging business cards, Pete.”

— Peter Townshend, “Who I Am”

Here’s a very amusing clip, the first known video featuring Jimi Hendrix. He’s on the left in the back row, and you can hear him quite clearly making some fancy fills in the background:

Why So Many Jimi Hendrix Songs?

In a new feature to be repeated for Lucinda Williams, Grateful Dead and especially Los Lobos, it’s time to defend the high ranking of the profiled artist. Why is Jimi Hendrix rated so highly, given his career was only four years long, and typical American baby boomerettes find his music unappealing? How can I possibly recommend sixty four songs?

My iPod collection, and my list of best artists, attempts to highlight the major innovators of 20th century pop music, and among them is Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix was the first to fully explore the spectrum of sounds possible with an electric guitar. Pete Townshend and John Lennon experimented with feedback, but not to the extent Hendrix did. His command of his instrument sent other musicians home to practice, thinking they’d better try harder; sometimes they thought they should just quit trying. He’s also the rare guitarists able to play complex riffs while singing.

Especially in his first year recording with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Hendrix showed a flair for writing concise, unique and fun pop songs. He had a way of telling a story, of talking to his audience that drew in the listener. His narrative story telling is equal parts Howlin’ Wolf and Bob Dylan. After the initial success of his first two albums, his music became more ambitious, with mixed results. Years on the Chitlin’ Circuit made him a great R&B rhythm guitarist; at the time of his death, his ability to play engaging solos was improving. When compared to the all-time great soloists, men like Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt or Eric Clapton, Hendrix was a neophyte, still learning how to construct dynamic, coherent passages that resolved in a pleasing fashion. His solos showed a great command of the sounds a guitar could make, but he hadn’t yet become a master of improvisation. Included are several examples of his posthumous work to show his progress as a musician, and the musical direction he was headed. As a soloist, “All Along The Watchtower” is perhaps his greatest achievement, and also notable as the greatest, most inventive cover version in rock music history.

Beyond his psychedelic pop sensibilities, Hendrix was a first class blues musician, and it would be fair to suggest that his most similar musical ancestor is Robert Johnson. Take away the electrification of his instrument, and the connection appears more obvious. Hendrix owned an extensive knowledge of old blues music, and recorded dozens of blues songs in his career.

Stone Free

“Everyday in the week I’m in a different city,
If I stay too long people try to pull me down.
They talk about me like a dog,
Talk about the clothes I wear,
But they don’t realize they’re the ones who’s square.”

— Jimi Hendrix

You might think that Jimi Hendrix would appear menacingly swinging from treetops, brandishing a spear, and yelling blood-curdling cries of “Aargh!”

For Jimi, who makes Mick Jagger look as respectable as Edawrd Heath and as genial as David Frost, could pass for a hottentot on the rampage; looks as if his foot-long hair has been petrified by a thousand shock waves, and is given to playing his guitar with his teeth.

When the Jimi Hendrix Experience made its first appearance in Britain a few months ago, he was immediately dubbed “The Wild Man of Borneo,” and the group was referred to as “an unfortunate experience.”

“Yet Jimi Hendrix is no snarling jungle primitive.

Though the gold-braided military jacket over the black satin shirt could be taken as incongruous, Jimi off-stage behaves with a quiet polite charm that’s almost olde worlde.

He stands up when you enter a room, lights all your cigarettes, and says: “Do go on,” if he thinks he might be interrupting you.

That “ugly” image, however, doesn’t worry him in the slightest. And he says: “Some of the fans think I’m cuddly, and as long as people buy my records I’ll be happy.”

He could be laughing all the way to the bank.

— Anne Nightingale, Sunday Mirror, May 9, 1967

“Listen to this baby…
A woman here, a woman there, try to keep me in a plastic cage,
But they don’t realize it’s so easy to break.
Oh, but sometimes I get a ha,
I can feel my heart kind a runnin’ hot.
That’s when I got to move before I get caught.
And that’s why, listen to me baby, you can’t hold me down,
I don’t want to be tied down,
I gotta be free!”

— Jimi Hendrix, “Stone Free”, 2nd verse

Sadly, Jimi Hendrix was anything but free in his final years. He was surrounded by people who wanted something, and he was trapped. Women fought for his time and affection; (Monika Dannemann), who was with Jimi during his last evening, had declared to all who would listen that she and Jimi were engaged, and protested when he wanted to spend time with other people. Manager Chas Chandler resigned when Jimi’s music became less pop oriented, and his new manager, Michael Jeffery, was unscrupulous. Offshore Bermuda banking accounts were established, and Hendrix’s personal balance always seemed short of funds. Jeffery surrounded himself with large, thuggish associates, who always had high quality drugs available for Jimi and his entourage. David Henderson’s book chronicles his descent in detail. Just four years before his death, the fresh young guitarist from Washington state proclaimed his freedom. In the last year of his life, he tried to reclaim it, and failed.

Jimi Hendrix plays an unusual role in pop music history —— he was a dark-skinned performer (mixed descent including African and Native American blood) popular with white audiences while receiving little attention from the African American community. Chas Chandler actually discouraged him from performing with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles, both black musicians, because they might lose their appeal with white audiences. But Jimi was black, and comfortable in the company of black men, and as he evolved, he wanted to perform more music with black artists.

In terms of introducing a generation of white music fans to hip African American lingo and culture, Jimi Hendrix was perhaps the most influential. James Brown was influential within the black community, but not outside it. Sly & The Family Stone were also popular with white audiences, but Jimi Hendrix’s hip use of language and emotive on-stage persona was most admirable and impressive. Hendrix was impossibly cool. In unheralded fashion, Jimi Hendrix was a key figure in liberalizing racial views during the civil rights era.

Conversely, Hendrix went largely unrecognized by his own community during his lifetime. Soul and R&B music stations rarely if ever played his music. The African American community may have resented Hendrix for crossing over and playing hard rock music; more likely, the community was just as shocked as conservative white audiences by his radical departure from traditional sounds. Historically, African-Americans embrace this artistic creativity, but in this rare case they failed to fully endorse one of their most creative contributors.

Jimi Hendrix Song Notes:

The first three albums are all highly recommended:

Are You Experienced?
Axis: Bold As Love
Electric Ladyland

The other recommended songs can be found on the following CDs:

Band Of Gypsys

Who Knows (Live)
Machine Gun (Live)
Them Changes (Live)
Message Of Love (Live)
Power To Love (Live)

First Rays Of The New Rising Sun

Angel
Dolly Dagger
My Friend
Belly Button Window

The Jimi Hendrix Experience Box Set

Little Wing (Live) (★★★ version)
Little Wing (Alt)
Hey Joe (Live)
Purple Haze (Alt)
If 6 Was 9 (Alt)
Message To Love

Live At Monterey

Rock Me Baby (Live)
Like A Rolling Stone (Live)
Wild Thing (Live)

BBC Sessions

Catfish Blues (Live)
Stone Free (Live)
Driving South (Live)
Day Tripper (Live)

West Coast Seattle Boy

In particular, the alternate mix of “Fire” is better than the original.

Love Or Confusion (Alt)
Fire (Alt)
May This Be Love (Alt)
The Wind Cries Mary (Live)
Castles Made Of Sand (Alt)
Red House (Live)

Miscellaneous Albums

“Johnny B. Goode (Live)” and “Little Wing (Live)” (★★ version) can be found on Hendrix In The West.—

“Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) (Live)” can be found on Live At Berkeley.

“All Along The Watchtower (Alt)” can be found on Voodoo Child — The Jimi Hendrix Collection.

“Pali Gap” can be found on South Saturn Delta.

“Hear My Train A-Comin’ (Live)” can be found on Live At The Fillmore East.

“Star Spangled Banner (Live)” can be found on Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music.

Jimi Hendrix Songs:

All Along The Watchtower, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★★

Voodoo Child (Slight Return), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
Manic Depression, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
Hey Joe, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
The Wind Cries Mary, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
Little Wing, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
Fire (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★

Stone Free, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Purple Haze, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Foxy Lady, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
If 6 Was 9, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Castles Made Of Sand, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Crosstown Traffic, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Rainy Day, Dream Away, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Little Wing (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Like A Rolling Stone (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Little Wing (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★

Machine Gun (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★★
Them Changes (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★★
Message Of Love (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★★
Message To Love, Jimi Hendrix ★★
Red House (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★★
Third Stone From The Sun, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Spanish Castle Magic, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Wait Until Tomorrow, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Bold As Love, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Little Wing (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Purple Haze (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
If 6 Was 9 (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Red House, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
All Along The Watchtower (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Love Or Confusion (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
The Wind Cries Mary (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★

Who Knows (Live), Jimi Hendrix
Power To Love (Live), Jimi Hendrix
Angel, Jimi Hendrix
Dolly Dagger, Jimi Hendrix
My Friend, Jimi Hendrix
Belly Button Window, Jimi Hendrix
Johnny B. Goode (Live), Jimi Hendrix
Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) (Live), Jimi Hendrix
Hear My Train A-Comin’ (Live), Jimi Hendrix
Pali Gap, Jimi Hendrix
Star Spangled Banner (Live), Jimi Hendrix
Castles Made Of Sand (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Are You Experienced?, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Remember, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Up From The Skies, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
You Got Me Floatin’, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Catfish Blues (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Stone Free (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Driving South (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Day Tripper (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Voodoo Chile, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Still Raining, Still Dreaming, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Hey Joe (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Killing Floor (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Rock Me Baby (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Wild Thing (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
May This Be Love (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience

And The Gods Made Love, The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Related Songs:

Mercy, Mercy, Don Covay ★★

Old Times, Good Times, Stephen Stills ★★

Testify (Parts 1 & 2), Isley Brothers

All Along The Watchtower, Bob Dylan ★★★★
All Along the Watchtower, Dave Mason ★★

Hey Joe, The Leaves ★★
Hey Joe, Tim Rose
Hey Joe, Patti Smith

Little Wing, Derek & The Dominos ★★
Little Wing (Live), Derek & the Dominos
Little Wing, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble ★★

Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan ★★★★★
Like A Rolling Stone (Mono), Bob Dylan ★★★★★
Like A Rolling Stone (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★

Them Changes, Buddy Miles ★★

Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry ★★★★★
Johnny B. Goode (Live), Grateful Dead

Catfish Blues, Robert Petway ★★
Rolling Stone (Alt), Muddy Waters ★★

Travelin’ To California, Albert King

Day Tripper, The Beatles ★★★
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles ★★

Killing Floor, Howlin’ Wolf ★★

Rock Me, Muddy Waters ★★★★
Rock Me (Alt), Muddy Waters ★★
Rock Me Baby, B.B. King ★★
Rock Me Mama, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup ★★

10. Ray Charles

Ray Charles Robinson, better known as Ray Charles, is a singer, songwriter and pianist from Greenville, a rural town in northern Florida. A great American success story, he experienced tragedy in early life, but also benefited from a loving family and community who cared for him and encouraged his musical ability. His story is well documented in the 2004 movie “Ray”. At the age of five, he lost his younger brother in a drowning accident, and also started to lose his sight, probably due to glaucoma. Despite a warm and loving environment at home, his mother thought it best to send her gifted son to the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, where he attended for eight years and became the school’s premier musician. Ray was trained as a classical pianist, but he also liked jazz and blues music, and began to play piano and sing songs at school social events.

936full-ray-charles

Ray Charles (1930-2004), piano, vocals, saxophone, songwriter

Notable Collaborators

David “Fathead” Newman (1933-2009), saxophone
The Raelettes, backing vocal group
Lowell Fulson (1921-1999), guitar, vocals, songwriter

Ray’s mother Aretha died when was fifteen, and he dropped out of school and moved to Jacksonville, where he lived with family friends, and ingratiated himself with the local jazz and blues musicians. A year of seasoning in Jacksonville, followed by a year in Orlando and one more in Tampa, and Charles made the bold decision to move to Seattle, Washington. He quickly established himself on the west coast, and after about three years and a couple a regional hit songs (“Confession Blues”, “Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand”), received his big break when Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun signed him to New York City’s Atlantic Records in 1952. The Ertegun brothers gave Charles free reign in the company studios, and during this period Ray “found his voice” and became a key figure in the integration of blues, country, gospel and jazz music. “I Got A Woman” was the first big hit, and “What’d I Say” gave him widespread national exposure. Although his fifties rhythm and blues career with Atlantic may be the most fertile, Charles is best known for his big band interpretations of popular songs with ABC-Paramount Records, especially country and western standards. Throughout he is largely responsible for orchestral arrangements of both the small combo and big band performances; during his later career he collaborated with Sid Feller and other arrangers. Nicknamed “The Genius”, Ray Charles is a self-described “utility player” who produced a diverse and influential library of music.

To write this summary, I used Wikipedia liberally, because it is concise and well done. While reviewing Ray Charles music, I enjoyed reading the biography “Brother Ray” by Ray Charles and David Ritz.

Biography of Ray Charles on HistoryLink.org
http://raycharles.com – Official Website
Amazon.com Link to “Brother Ray” by Charles and Ritz

Everyone Is Not Going To Like You!

The British Broadcasting Corporation (“BBC”) produced a fine documentary on American soul music. Episode 1 of “Deep Soul” devotes considerable attention to Ray Charles’s music and influence. It is a fine documentary, though a bit dismissive of rock and roll as not distinct from its predecessor, rhythm and blues music. Thanks to my friend R.S. for finding this documentary. I would include a link for purchasing this documentary, but I cannot find it for sale anywhere.

Parts 5 and 6 of the documentary are here:

I particularly liked two of the interview clips with Ray Charles. The first occurs around 39:30, when Charles describes the difference between rock and roll and rhythm and blues. It is a short segment, but I noted his ability to get me laughing early in a story. I occasionally have experiences at the movies, where I’ll be the only one laughing in the theater five to ten seconds before the punch line. I love those moments, feeling I’m somehow gifted and different, able to see the tension build first. There’s that sense of urgency and playfulness as Charles winds up the listener with his thoughts. For the few people in his inner circle, I’m guessing Ray Charles could be very funny company, using his sense of drama and timing to tell a story.

Around 47:20, Charles defends the song “I Got A Woman”, which is a hybrid of gospel and blues music. Charles’ song was not universally well liked; in particular, many religious people considered it irreverent. He offers a simple defense of the song, saying that “you do what you do” and “I’m just being myself”, and then says his mother taught me well, and to remember that “everyone is not going to like you!”. He punctuates the point by leaning back in his chair, smiling with his head held high. I found this very moving, and watched it several times over. I waste so much time worrying about what others think, and here is this fearless blind musician, raised in poverty, telling me something I need to remember on a daily basis.

The Expert Opinion

A few nights ago, we were on our way for supplies when number one daughter asks if Grandma and Grandpa can take care of the eight year old twins tonight. It was a festive evening; we were listening to some of Ray Charles’s biggest hits on the way there. I announce it is time for the twins to hear Ray Charles on the way home, something I rarely impose on the family. I’m thinking this should be, at a minimum, funny.

I start out by quietly playing “What’d I Say” as we head back home. About 20 seconds into the song, twin T. makes the call:

“Grandpa John, I think I like this music.”
“Me too, T. This is one of Grandpa’s favorites.”

I turn up the music, and six minutes of bouncing and twisting follows, with Grandpa singing, and the smiling twins receiving an early lesson in call and response. It went so well we also tried and succeeded with “Hit The Road Jack”, another easy one to sing along with. It was great to see the universal appeal. In fifteen, maybe twenty years, I’ll explain what these songs mean, if anyone asks.

The Genius

There are stories of Ray Charles’s intellectual prowess, like his ability to type eighty words a minute while in grade school, or the sense other musicians had that Charles would see right through them, into their souls. He had simple goals — making love, making music, taking care of business, and getting high, when he wanted, on his terms. His music reflects that simplicity. With only a few exceptions, Ray Charles songs are about love and heartbreak. Some of these songs are quite simple; the beauty lies in the sounds: the use of syncopation and volume, different instruments, and especially his expressive singing voice.

Is Ray Charles a true genius? I like the way he thinks. A few simple things in life, music and sports and someone warm to snuggle up with, and during some periods of life a bit of partying. Doing things well takes hard work, plus the ability to be happy and productive when you’re all by yourself. My month long education in Ray Charles has been a revelation.

Slate Article about “Ray”

Ray Charles Song Notes:

1. All of these songs are available at the iTunes Music Store. The oldest Ray Charles songs, before signing with Atlantic Records, can be found as follows:

“Confession Blues” by Ray Charles & The Maxin Trio can be found on The Best Of The Blues, Vol. 1.
“Kissa Me Baby” can be found on several compilations, including Greatest R&B Hits of 1952, Vol. 7.
“Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand” can be found on several compilations, including Greatest R&B Hits of 1951, Vol. 4.

2. Atlantic recordings can be found on Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959).

3. The ABC Paramount recordings from the sixties are presented less coherently, and some may not be available on iTunes. Try the album called Genius Of Soul for most of the big hits.

4. As usual, I focused my attention on the artist’s early career. There are few if any songs recorded after 1970.

5. I recommend the following individual CDs and albums:

Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music
Ray Charles In Person
The Genius Sings The Blues

6. I am particularly pleased with the related song list, which is quite elegant, and shows the breadth of Ray Charles’s influence and central position in 20th century popular music.

Ray Charles Songs:

What’d I Say, Ray Charles ★★★★★

I Got A Woman, Ray Charles ★★★★
Hit The Road Jack, Ray Charles ★★★★
I’m Movin’ On, Ray Charles ★★★★
Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Ray Charles ★★★★
The Right Time, Ray Charles ★★★★
What Kind Of Man Are You, Ray Charles ★★★★
Lonely Avenue, Ray Charles ★★★★

I Believe To My Soul, Ray Charles ★★★
Hard Times, Ray Charles ★★★
Early In The Morning (Alt), Ray Charles ★★★
Georgia On My Mind, Ray Charles ★★★
I Don’t Need No Doctor, Ray Charles ★★★
Careless Love, Ray Charles ★★★
Busted, Ray Charles ★★★
I Can’t Stop Loving You, Ray Charles ★★★

Losing Hand, Ray Charles ★★
Mess Around, Ray Charles ★★
Mary Ann, Ray Charles ★★
Drown In My Own Tears (Live), Ray Charles ★★
Hallelujah I Love Her So, Ray Charles ★★
Leave My Woman Alone, Ray Charles ★★
Rockhouse Parts 1 & 2, Ray Charles ★★
Talkin’ About You, Ray Charles ★★
I Want a Little Girl, Ray Charles ★★
You Be My Baby, Ray Charles ★★
Early In The Morning, Ray Charles ★★
Joy Ride, Ray Charles ★★
Unchain My Heart, Ray Charles ★★
Born To Lose, Ray Charles ★★
Crying Time, Ray Charles ★★
Let’s Go Get Stoned, Ray Charles ★★
That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day), Ray Charles ★★
You Are My Sunshine, Ray Charles ★★
Makin’ Whoopee (Parts 1 & 2) (Live), Ray Charles ★★
Let The Good Times Roll, Ray Charles ★★
Night Time Is The Right Time (Live), Ray Charles ★★
Drown In My Own Tears (Live), Ray Charles ★★
Tell The Truth (Live), Ray Charles ★★
Tin Tin Deo, Ray Charles & David Newman ★★
Hard Times, Ray Charles & David Newman ★★
Willow Weep For Me, Ray Charles & David Newman ★★
Hallelujah I Love Her So, Ray Charles & Milt Jackson ★★
Talkin’ About You (Live), Ray Charles ★★
Drown In My Own Tears, Ray Charles ★★

Confession Blues, Ray Charles
Kissa Me Baby, Ray Charles
Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand, Ray Charles
Roll With My Baby, Ray Charles
Heartbreaker, Ray Charles
Don’t You Know, Ray Charles
Nobody Cares, Ray Charles
Ray’s Blues, Ray Charles
A Fool For You, Ray Charles
This Little Girl Of Mine, Ray Charles
What Would I Do Without You, Ray Charles
Ain’t That Love, Ray Charles
Swanee River Rock, Ray Charles
Someday Baby, Ray Charles
X-Ray Blues, Ray Charles & Milt Jackson
One Mint Julep, Ray Charles
You Don’t Know Me, Ray Charles
Your Cheatin’ Heart, Ray Charles
Baby Don’t You Cry, Ray Charles
Take These Chains From My Heart, Ray Charles
Them That Got, Ray Charles
Don’t Set Me Free, Ray Charles
At The Club, Ray Charles
America The Beautiful, Ray Charles
The Danger Zone, Ray Charles
Blackjack, Ray Charles
I Had A Dream, Ray Charles
Fathead, Ray Charles & David Newman
The Genius After Hours, Ray Charles & Milt Jackson
Bag’s Guitar Blues, Ray Charles & Milt Jackson

Related Songs:

What’d I Say, Lyle Lovett ★★★
What’d I Say, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers ★★

I Got A Woman, Jimmy Smith ★★
I Got A Woman (Live), The Beatles
I Got A Woman, Booker T. & The M.G.’s

I’m Movin’ On. Hank Snow & His Rainbow Ranch Boys ★★★
I’m Movin’ On No. 2, Homer & Jethro ★★★

Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Homer & Jethro ★★★
Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Johnny Mercer, Margaret Whiting & Paul Weston & His Orchestra ★★★

The Night Time Is The Right Time, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band

Lonely Avenue, Van Morrison ★★

Hard Times, Tom Jones & Jeff Beck ★★
Hard Times (Live), The Crusaders ★★

Georgia On My Mind, Hoagy Carmichael ★★★★
Georgia On My Mind, Willie Nelson

I Don’t Need No Doctor, Humble Pie

Careless Love Blues, Josh White Trio
Careless Love, Ottille Patterson & Chris Barber’s Jazz band ★★

Busted (Live), Johnny Cash

I Can’t Stop Loving You, Don Gibson ★★★
I Can’t Stop Loving You (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Drown In My Own Tears, Lulu ★★★

I Want A Little Girl, Big Joe Turner ★★★
I Want A Little Girl, Clark Terry & Oscar Peterson Trio ★★
I Want A Little Girl (Take 2), Kansas City Six ★★

That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day), Johnny Cash ★★

Let’s Go Get Stoned, Joe Cocker ★★

You Are My Sunshine, Jimmie Davis ★★
You Are My Sunshine, Albert Ammons ★★★

Makin’ Whoopee, Eddie Cantor ★★★
Makin’ Whoopee, Gerry Mulligan Quartet ★★★
Makin’ Whoopee, Nat King Cole Trio ★★

Let The Good Times Roll, Louis Jordan & His Tympani Five ★★★

Tell The Truth, The “5” Royales ★★

Tin Tin Deo, Dizzy Gillespie ★★★

Willow Weep For Me, Art Tatum ★★
Willow Weep For Me, Stanley Turrentine ★★
Willow Weep For Me (Live), Sarah Vaughan

This Little Girl Of Mine, The Everly Brothers ★★

Trouble No More, Muddy Waters ★★★★
Trouble No More, The Allman Brothers Band ★★★
Trouble No More (Live), The Allman Brothers Band ★★★

Someday Baby, Bob Dylan ★★★★

Your Cheatin’ Heart, Hank Williams ★★★