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In search of the Holy Grail of Rock: the 5th Beatle

John, Paul, George and Ringo have become saints, as far as popular music is concerned. During their 8 year recording history, they have performed feats comparable to slaying dragons, converting the faithless and heralding in a new era of rock and roll. But just as the true identity, nature, and location of the Holy Grail has consumed the lives of crusaders and scholars alike, The Beatles have their own much disputed holy icon: the 5th Beatle. As I am not one in any place to declare the true member worthy of the title, I will display the candidates and in turn let you decide. Who do you think is the true 5th Beatle?

Left to right: George Harrison, Stu Sutcliffe, and John Lennon in Hamburg, Germany

 

  1. Stu Sutcliffe: Stu was John Lennon’s best friend from art school and a brilliant painter. When John was getting his small skiffle-rock group into shape to be a serious band, he found he needed a bassist. This is where Stu came in. He didn’t play bass or know anything about playing music, but he had just won a fair amount of cash in an art show, and was the only one John knew who could afford a bass. With some major convincing, he was able to get Stu on board, reassuring his friend that he didn’t need to know how to play: bassists just stand in the back anyway. Stu was the bassist when the band started making a name for themselves playing in Hambug, Germany. Towards the end of their stint, it became clear that his playing just wasn’t befitting the band they had become, and he was the first to say it. Paul McCartney, then one of the lead guitar players, took up the bass (which is why if you listen closely, Paul’s bass parts often sound like a frustrated lead guitarist playing bass. This is because it is.)  Stu died from a brain aneurysm in 1962 after leaving the group to return to his painting.

 

Left to right: Paul McCartney, John lennon, Pete Best, and George Harrison

Pete Best:  you’ll recognize a similar vein here… when the band that would become the Beatles started getting serous about rock and roll, they needed a drummer. Not unlike any other young band, they weren’t looking for a drummer as much as a guy who had drums, which were expensive and hard to come by in 1950’s England. They found their man in Pete Best. Pete had a new set of drums, could play them well, and his loving mother owned a small club in Liverpool that they often played at. Pete, like Stu, was on board with the group as they played the club scene in Hamburg, often sharing the stage with a band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes who had a drummer who went by the name of Ringo… As they boys returned to England and began to look into prospects of recording and making it big they ran into a problem: Pete was a great drummer, but didn’t share the same vibrant personalities and humor as the other 3. He was a great drummer, but not a great Beatle. He was much more dark, moody, and introverted. this drove the girls crazy, but at this point, they had been transformed into the clean-cut, charming and humorous nice-boys we know today. Not being able to dump a friend themselves, the Beatles asked their Manager, Brian Epstein, to do the dirty work for them: a decision that really hurt Pete, and that the other Beatles regret.  

Sir George Matin on left, at the mixing board with Sir Paul and Ringo.

Sir George Martin: Sir George Martin was the recording engineer at the small EMI label that agreed to record the Beatles. He knew nothing about rock and roll, and the band knew nothing about recording, so in their mutual discoveries, greatness ensued. George had some very good ideas about how to record things, and either wrote or was very involved in the writing of the orchestral scores that were overdubbed onto many of the Beatles most well-known tracks.

Brian at George Harrison's wedding to model Patty Boyd

Brian Epstein: Brian made the Beatles. He was the owner of a record store in Liverpool who was asked if he had “My Bonnie”, a cut of an American vocalist Tony Sheridan backed by some English band from Germany called the Beatles… he didn’t but was always willing to meet the demands of his clients. He decided to look these “Beatles” up, and found they were playing regular lunch hour shows at a local club. He stopped in, saw a show, and fell in love. He offered the boys his services as a manager, and got them on the train to success. It is of his doing that the Beatles, then with messy hair, bad additudes, and clad in leather, came to have matching “Beatle cuts” and dress in matching suits, putting on the charm they are so famous for. Without Brian, the Beatles would not have been the Beatles we came to know, and very well might not have been heard of at all.

Billy Preston in the studio, 1972. One cool dude.

Billy Preston: Preston was a VERY soulful organ player who got signed to the Beatles record label (Apple) in 1969. Long story short, he was a great guy and the Beatles took to him quick. He sat in on their Let it Be and Abbey Road albums, providing the organ work. He can also be seen and heard during the Beatles last live appearance together: their concert atop the Apple office in 1969, which can be seen on their “Let it Be” movie and subsequently on youtube.

Who do you think is the true 5th Beatle?

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2011 in Brett, Uncategorized

 

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All Along the Watchtower – Bob Dylan v. Jimi Hendrix

All Along the Watchtower is the song you here in pretty much every montage about the sixties. Most of us immediately think of Jimi Hendrix wailing on his guitar when the song is brought up. I, for the longest time, even believed that Jimi Hendrix had written the song. I was dead wrong. And if you believe that Hendrix wrote Watchtower you are as dead wrong as I was. It’s lyrics appear to have their roots in Isaiah 21: 5-9 turned into basically an epic poem by master songwriter/storyteller Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan recorded All Along the Watchtower in November of 1967 and Hendrix began recording his cover less than three months later releasing it about nine months after Dylan released the original version of All Along the Watchtower. The rest is history.

Before we go any further here is a *short* list of some notable artists and groups who have also covered All Along the Watchtower:

Bear McCreary/Battlestar Galactica, Bobby Womack, Brewer and Shipley, Bryan Ferry, Calvin Russell, Chris de Burgh, Dave Mason, Dave Matthews Band, Dionysis Savvopoulos, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Eric Clapton, Giant Sand, Grateful Dead, Indigo Girls, Jackson Browne, Jeff Healey, John Mellencamp, Josh Charles, June Tabor, Lisa Gerrard, Michael Hedges, Mountain, Neil Young, Paul Weller, Phil Lesh and Friends, Phish, Richie Havens, Sal Valentino, Spirit, Taj Mahal, The Allman Brothers Band, The Dream Syndicate, The Killers, The Persuasions, TSOL, Turtle Island String Quartet, U2, Van Morrison, Widespread Panic, XTC plus everyone ever who may have thought it nice to pay tribute to either Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix.

Without also listing the countless movie scenes etc. that All Along the Watchtower has graced with it’s presence, it is pretty easy to say that it is a very prolific song.

I personally enjoy Dylan’s voice and harmonica, some people though, are averse to “Dylan voice” and also the harmonica. While I appreciate both, one of the major reasons Hendrix’s version of Watchtower blew up and Dylan’s didn’t might have been Dylan’s excessive use of both “Dylan voice” and also the harmonica. Another reason could be that the album on which the song appeared, John Wesley Harding was released in 1967: the same year that saw the debut of the Grateful Dead, the supergroup Cream, Hendrix’s rise in America, Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the Beatles’ Srgt. Pepper’s Lonley Hearts Club Band, and tons of other rockin’ psychedelic tunes which can often eclipse a low-key (although awesome) roots-country album by an artist who really prefered to stay on the down low.

Those who are curious about taking their appreciation of “Dylan voice” to the next level can check out his “Nashville” voice here at Selective Listening, though, I warn you in the same way the people at Chinese restaraunts warn you about how spicy your food is about to be… we know that’s what you ordered, but you don’t understand this is really freakin’ spicy… You are sure?…*sigh*…alright have it your way… click here

Hang on for a second though- Bob Dylan is a folk hero and song writing legend. He deserves as much respect for writing the song as I feel Jimi Hendrix does for enhancing it.

It’s like Bob made an awesome kid who would eventually go on to achieve great things. Jimi Hendrix just adopted him, took away his goofy harmonica and taught him how to play a mean electric guitar. Seriously, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar solo in his cover of All Along the Watchtower is regarded by many to be one of the greatest guitar solos ever. From about 1:42 – 2:49 Hendrix executes a guitar solo, as artistic and beautiful and expressive as any piece of art laying around in any art museum ever.

Dylan even admitted to being overwhelmed by Hendrix’s talent and musical abilities and even went so far as to say:

“I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way… Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.”

Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower was so unbelievably amazing, that now when Bob Dylan plays his own song, he plays Hendrix’s version as a tribute to Hendrix. Tell me that doesn’t sound like some kind of weird Chuck-Norris-type joke. At the end of the day though, it simply is Bob Dylan’s respect and admiration for Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower that makes this cover so great, perhaps even the greatest cover song of all time.

 

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Epic-sounding Collaborations You’ve Probably Never Heard of #3 Rick James and Neil Young

 

Neil Young (left) and Rick James (right) later in their respective careers

 

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: James is singing, Young can be seen second from the right

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”:

 

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Epic-sounding Collabrations You’ve Probably Never Heard of #2 – Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash

 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.


 

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Epic-sounding Collaborations You’ve Probably Never Heard of #1 Elvis meets The Beatles

 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.

 

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The Secret Weapons of Music History #1 Leon Russell

Music is fickle and moody mistress who seems to always be on her period. Any one who studies music history knows that you can be crazy talented (or Apollo himself) and get no where. You can also have zero or little actual talent and get places, leading a movement where every record company needs someone just as or more less-talented than you are. The key seems to be doing the right thing at the right time with the right people watching. Just like Edgar Allen Poe, many great composers and musicians were or are penniless and still just putting bread on the table. Unlike Poe, many haven’t or never will receive the recognition their work merits. Music has its idols and icons, its Olympians, but it also has the under-rated, unheard-of, and the forgotten. Here they are:

Leon Russell in recent times

 
Leon Russell: at first glance, Leon appears to be a pimped-out Santa Clause who raided the Colonel’s closet.  It’s not just appearances. He is just that cool, end of story. The list of his accomplishments, collaborations, and people he has won the respect of reads like a history of Rock music since the early 1960’s. indeed to over-state the magnitude of this man, you need to insist he built the Great Wall in a week, re-united the Beatles, tamed the Chupacabra, and can photosynthesize. But knowing Leon, who knows…

Here’s a little background: Leon began playing piano at age four, and just 10 years later he was a regular pianist in the Tulsa nightclubs. He left at age 17 to head to L.A., and became one of the best and session musicians in Hollywood. He became a member of “The Wrecking Crew” who were the legendary producer Phil Spector’s studio band, which means he played on records for The Byrds, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Bobby Picket, and literally countless of albums and tracks for the Spector artists, and his songs are all over the charts in the 60’s and 70’s. His website starts his biography of with this summary of his musical life.

 “Leon has played on pop, rock, blues, country, bluegrass, standards, gospel, and surf records. As a session musician, arranger, producer, singer, songwriter, pianist, guitarist, record company owner, bandleader, and touring musician, he has collaborated with hundreds of artists, including Glen Campbell, Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson, Edgar Winter, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, J.J. Cale, David Gates, Bruce Hornsby, Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, Bobby “Boris” Pickett, B.B. King, Freddie King, Bill Wyman, Steve Cropper, Carl Radle, Chuck Blackwell, Don Preston, Jesse Ed Davis, Rita Coolidge, Gram Parsons, Barbra Streisand, Ike & Tina Turner, Ricky Nelson, Herb Alpert, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Ann-Margret, Dean Martin, Marvin Gaye, Dave Mason, Steve Winwood, and groups such as Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, The Monkees, The Astronauts, The Accents, The Fencemen, The Ventures, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Jan & Dean, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Rolling Stones, The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Everly Brothers, The Righteous Brothers, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Tractors and on and on and on…” 

Told you he was legit. Heck, he might as well have invented the word “legit”, as I doubt many have amassed such an impressive résumé. He founded Shelter Records, which has called home by the likes of Freddie King, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, J.J. Cale, and others. His continued work as a high-demand session musician continued, landing him places on albums with countless of his friends, almost all of who compose the cannon of some genre. As song writer, he has written songs that have had great success for B.B King (Hummingbird), Joe Cocker (Delta Lady), Ray Charles (Song for You), and the Carpenters (Superstar) among many others. He organized and lead Cocker’s backing band for the “Mad dogs and Englishmen”, and played with and recorded Delaney and Bonnie (who are unknown greats in their own right). He also was joined such greats as former Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ravi Shankar and Billy Preston for the first big benefit concert, the Concert for Bangladesh, in 1971. Beside the amazing piano work and notable bass playing, he gave us a stunning version of “Jumping Jack Flash/ Youngblood” those two nights.

Notice that I haven’t even mentioned his solo work?  He started in 1968, writing and recording with Marc Benno A Look Inside the Asylum Choir. His self-titled album released in 1970 contained his hits “Delta Lady” and “song for You”, and boasts such musicians as George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Mick Jagger, Ringo, and way too many more which I will omit for length, and I don’t really want your minds to explode. His first album to go gold was Leon Russell and the Shelter People in 1971, and his 1972 masterpiece Carney gave us his catchy hit “Tightrope”. He was named “top concert attraction” by Billboard for 1973, and had albums and songs hitting the top of the charts all over the place. Not exactly a Beatle-esque “hit single orgy”, but he was up there.

It was during the early 70’s the he made yet another legendary contribution to popular music: in introduced the world to Elton John, taking the young performer in tour with him and getting him set up in the music world. During the 70’s and 80’s, Leon delved into a little more of his country side under the pseudonym, Hank Wilson. Three albums were released under this name.  He also recorded and toured with Willie Nelson and Edgar Winter during this time. In more recent years, things hit hard. As much as a legend Leon is, things just never took off for him. According to Elton John, Leon was touring “just to put food on the table, playing all sorts of small places and losing dignity.” Knowing Leon, you should be able to predict what happened next…

Things exploded. They caught on fire and burned down and then sprung up from the loins of Mother Earth fueled by his mighty beard and maybe Powerthirst. The Union was released in 2010, a collaboration between Elton John and Leon. It was no less than perfect. With guest stars ranging from Brian Wilson to Neil Young, every single track is powerful, poignant, and punching, ranging from Elton’s trusty theme of the old West(“Jimmie Rodger’s Dream”) to anger and regret of love gone wrong (“When Love is Dying”, “Should have sent Roses”),  from the Civil War (“Gone to Shiloh”), to growing old (“Never too Old”). Rolling Stone named it the 3rd best album of the year (and really, Kanye got #1? Come on now…REALLY?) In today’s age of music piracy, this album is one worth spending money on. No joke. Here is the opening number, “If it Wasn’t for Bad”.

            Leon was finally inducted into the Rock n’ Roll hall of Fame in 2011 in recognition for his work as a sideman. Due to this well-deserved and over-due honor, the success of The Union, and the subsequent return to mainstream touring with Elton John, Leon Russell is finally starting to get the recognition such a talent deserves, yet is till largely unknown to modern audiences, and few who were not there to see him emerge. Leon Russell: he is that cool.

 

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