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Dylan and the Dead
Category Archives: Epic-sounding Collaborations You’ve Probably Never Heard of
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Ozzy Ozborne and Ringo Starr: that’s right, you didn’t misread anything. 1998 saw the beloved ex-Beatle and the Prince of Darkness share a song on Ringo’s 11th studio album Vertical Man. They both sing on the title track, well, kinda. Being a Ringo album, Mr. Starr takes the lead and he doesn’t give it back. If you didn’t know Ozzy was on the track, it would be a little hard to figure it out for yourself (but then again, most anything his royal Darkness says or does is a little difficult to decipher).
Ozzy, for being a world-renowned front man and a very talented singer, resides himself to take the role of a forgettable background singer. He only harmonizes during the chorus, a few lines here and there, and he sings in the coda, mostly just repeating the name or making noises. The mixing was a little unfair, but I assume that is because this is a Ringo track. There is nothing “Ozzy” about it, and it just seems like Ringo had an odd session musician step in. All this said, it is actually pretty good for a modern Ringo song and the only thing overshadowing it is what you expect when you hear about a duet with a Beatle and Ozzy.
Neil Young and Rick James: now, a lot has been said about Canadian songsmith Neil Young, but I’ve not heard him called a superfeak. You know who is? RICK JAMES. Legendary funk bassist had a 1981 hit with a song by that name and the riff was sampled by the likes of MC Hammer. What connects these two? They had a band in the mid-60’s that almost made it to the big time. You’re probably thinking, much like the author when this was made known, HESAYWUTNOW?!? Neil Young has a healthy repertoire of genres, from influencing singer-songwriter folk to becoming one of the “godfathers of grunge”, but funk, let alone working with Rick James? Surely material was just running low for the column and this was fabricated… but it happened.
The Mynah Birds were comprised of Neil Young, Rick James, Goldie McJohn (future Steppenwolf member), and Bruce Palmer, who would go on to play with Young in Buffalo Springfield. Having heard “Superfreak” and being very familiar with Neil’s work, I was AGAIN surprised with the groups sound and style. With their yellow boots, black jackets, and yellow turtlenecks, they must have fit in well with the 1966 crowd, and had a sound eerily similar to the Rolling Stones of the era. Even though Rick was singing, it would be hard to tell these recordings apart from studio outtakes from Mick, Keef and the boys. All available accounts of live performances were stunning, as to be expected by anyone familiar with Young, James, or any other of the members and their future careers. Given the time period and the stage of these men’s careers, these tracks are everything you’d expect them to be. This band was the final jumping-off point before Young delved into the waters of the singer-songwriter acoustic art, where his fame really took off.
Recorded in 1966, Motown chose not to release the album because James was taken from the studio for being AWOL from the US Navy. The distribution of their single “It’s My Time” was halted the day of release, and the other recording have never been officially released (again, which really surprises me). As videos are available on Youtube of at least 3 tracks, obviously somebody got a hold of a bootleg and it made its rounds. Happy hunting! Here is their single, “It’s my Time”:
Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash: 1969 was quite the year: the Woodstock music festival in the summer was the crown jewel of 60’s rock and roll. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Joe Cocker, CCR, CSN and myriad more all on the same stage. The Beatles were making great music while simultaneously breaking up, rock n’ roll was remerging from the psychedelic haze, regaining its roots and shooting off into many directions. Bob Dylan, on the other hand, was happily unheard from. Dylan had reached the pinnacle of his new electric style and fame with 1966’s Blonde on Blonde, but the momentum seemed to stop, or at the very least take a 90 degree turn. His 1967 John Wesley Harding introduced a striped down sound, and clearer voice, and shades of country music. He had retreated from the public eye and was holed up with The Band in a house in NY, working diligently on their albums and his own work (hence, The Basement Tapes). After 1 year with no new records, Bob began recording Nashville Skyline, debuting a new (and never revisited) voice and an unapologetic country style. Dylan began recording in Nashville (where he had recorded Blonde on Blonde) and frequently hung out with Johnny Cash, with whom he shared a mutual admiration. Dylan fans will remember the duet of “Girl from North Country” on the album.
What many don’t know is that the duet wasn’t just the one song. Although they just were jamming for the heck of it with no intentions of a release, a bootleg of “The Nashville Sessions” exists on record and CD which contains the two sharing the traditional “You are my Sunshine”, Jimmie Rodger’s “T for Texas”, Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and “Wanted Man”, Carl Perkins’ version of Blind Lemon’s “Matchbox”, Elvis’ version of Arthur Cudrup’s “That’s Alright, Mama” and Dylan’s “One Two many Mornings”, and many more Cash, Dylan, and traditional tunes.
Those who have heard Dylan’s new “Nashville” voice might cringe at the though of Dylan taking the harmony on “Ring of Fire”, but those who have actually listened to NS and recognize the quality of the musicianship and lyricism would expect something different. I myself, although a huge fan of NS, had my reservations before giving this a listen. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is a simply wonderful album, with a real relaxed feel that works its way within and without the songs to take them to that much more of a higher level. Although I respect personal property and opinions, it is a real shame that these recording were not made commercially available.
There are good things in life: sandwiches, hammocks, fast cars, fire, money, dreams where you are flying, and studying quantum physics when you don’t have to have exams. The puzzling thing is that while many good things get better when enjoyed in conjunction with other good things, there are some that are not (this is true of maple syrup and anything that you can’t eat). Playing music with other people is one of the greatest joys of being a musician, and while it is no surprise that many famous musicians have played and even recorded together, it IS a surprise that some of these duets and jam sessions with major towering figures of popular music have been lost, unheard of by the majority of music listeners, only available in rare bootlegs, or sadder still, never recorded.
Elvis meets the Beatles: August 27, 1965 is a date that would live in infamy if anyone would know about it. Perhaps it is best that this occasion is all but forgotten save for a paragraph in Beatle biographies… I don’t think music fans can ever really reach the top of Maslow’s pyramid if they all knew this story. The Beatles were on their second U.S. tour, and managed to swing a visit to meet their childhood idol, the man who introduced them single-handedly to rock and roll: Elvis Presley. They met in house in Bel-Air, but this is where the story goes downhill. They 5 of them met, played cards, listened to records, told jokes, and even had a jam session. There survives only one picture from that night, and it isn’t anything worthy of the occasion. Due to copyright issues, the image could not be posted here, but Google can help you out. In the foreground are able see John Lennon, and Elvis can barely be made out in the upper left-hand corner. This is unbelievable, as this was the first and only meeting between THE two names in popular music. You’d think SOME genius would have a camera for a promo shot or something… Sadder still is that none of the conversation nor the music was recorded.