An Appreciation: Remembering The King

May 15, 2015

By Devon Wendell

I just cannot process the fact that B.B. King is no longer on this earth. How can it be? It’s like trying to imagine life without oceans, trees, and air to breathe.

No one in history changed the approach and sound of the electric guitar like B.B. King. Sure, there were T-Bone Walker and Charlie Christian before B.B. came along, but no one made the guitar sing like the king did. That bright tone, that fast vibrato, those trills and string bends all made the electric guitar sound even more vocal than the human voice.

B.B. King

B.B. King

B.B. played with a confidence and finesse that has influenced generations of guitarists such as Freddie King, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Peter Green, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and just about every blues and rock guitar player that I can think of, including myself. Even Miles Davis claimed to be inspired by B.B. King’s guitar voicings in his autobiography.

My greatest memories of B.B. are personal. After I got my first guitar at the age of 12, I would obsessively practice along with his records, trying to learn every lick. The albums that I focused on the most were Live At The Regal Theater, Live At The Cook County Jail, and Live And Well. I wore those records out. I knew that if I could learn to play that clean and with that much finesse that I could not only be taken seriously by adults, but I could also play in any genre of music.

I was right. After a lot of hard work, I was taken seriously and I could make that B.B. King style fit anywhere. But no matter how much so many of us have tried to imitate his style, there was only one B.B. King. Anyone can discern the copy cats from the real thing by listening to one note. That’s all it takes.

On my 21st Birthday, I spent at least a couple of hours upstairs at The Blue Note in N.Y.C. hanging with B.B. after one of his spectacular performances there. We spoke about music, life, the road and women. He briefly let me play his beloved guitar Lucille and warned me about how the music business can wear you down in time. He was right about everything. I know that more today than I did then. But at that time I felt completely lost. I was head first down in the bottle and had briefly considered quitting music. That changed for me on that cold January night with B.B., and I decided not to stop playing for anything.

B.B. King never gave up in any situation and displayed more true dignity, strength, and humility in the face of adversity and hardship than any musician I have ever met.

That memory still keeps me going strong, even when the chips are down. I still go back to that night when I think of putting down the guitar. What B.B. had passed on to me that night was not mere wisdom, but the strong spiritual connection felt within the heart of the blues. B.B. King’s sound is reminiscent of that feeling we get when we first fall in love. No one could get to that mournful yet celebratory place that is the blues quicker and more gracefully than him.

B.B. King may have passed away on May 14th, 2015 at the age of 89, but his spirit and music will live on forever. I pray that the true king of the blues shall rest in peace. Thank you B.B., for giving me and so many around the world a true purpose in life.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon “Doc” Wendell click HERE.


An Appreciation: Lew Soloff, R.I.P.

March 11, 2015

By Don Heckman

I’m still experiencing some of the stunned feelings I had last weekend when I received an email from Bobby Colomby telling me that Lew Soloff had died. And to say that I couldn’t believe it doesn’t at all describe my reaction.

Lew Soloff

Lewie died?! How could that be? This great trumpet player, irresistible humorist, incomparable character gone? But it was true. It is true. And music and the world will both be a little emptier than they were when Lewie was still with us.

Bobby knew Lew longer than I did. Bobby was the founder and the first drummer of Blood, Sweat & Tears. And Lewie was the band’s lead trumpet in their salad years from 1969 – 1973. During which time Bobby and the B,S&T players gathered a virtual book-sized collection of Lewie stories – all of which became told and retold memorabilia, and which will no doubt be with us forever (and probably gathered into what would be an immensely entertaining book).

“Possibly the most beloved person I’ve ever known,” wrote Bobby in another email he sent the day after we got the news,“and most beloved musician. I can only smile when I think of him. It’ll be a while before I’m able to process that he’s no longer with us”

I first met Lew in 1971 when I was co-producing Blood, Sweat & Tears 4 with Bobby and Roy Halee. At which time I, too, became one of the many members of his array of friends and admirers,. And over the following decades I gathered my own Lewie memories – musical, humorous and otherwise — along with my own collection of Lewie tales. At times, he was a little kid in a grown man’s body; at times he was an imaginative jazz trumpeter with the skills and the ideas to place him on the Olympia of jazz greats. But he was always lovable, always humorous, always warm and supportive of young players, and always a pleasure to hear.

Ordinarily, I would have written his obituary for the Los Angeles Times, but budget glitches at the paper intervened, and the obit was written by a staffer. I regret not having had the opportunity to write about some of the real Lewie story, reaching beyond the list of celebrity stars he backed.

Even so, the memories of Lew  Soloff, himself, will always be with me, as they will with everyone –- musicians, fans and friends – who had the good fortune to spend time within his captivating, unforgettable aura.


An Appreciation: Clark Terry

February 23, 2015

By Devon Wendell

There’s no way my piece on Clark Terry will be as journalistic and informative as my boss Don Heckman’s was in the L.A. Times obituary, but I had to say something about the master himself, in my own way.

I can’t imagine life without Clark Terry. That tone on the trumpet and flugelhorn was so warm and clean that it caressed and nurtured you out of the darkness. His phrasing swung harder than life but not in a flashy fashion. Terry’s lines were elegant, sly, and precise. They were perfect.

I grew up on Clark Terry. The first record I heard with Terry on it was Ellington At Newport from 1956. But it was Terry’s 1957 masterpiece on Riverside Records; Serenade To A Bus Seat that got me hooked. Like Coleman Hawkins, Terry came from the big band era and wasn’t afraid of the be-bop and hard bop schools of thinking and playing. Serenade To A Bus Seat is proof of that. Terry burns through Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” with confidence and soul along with bop masters Johnny Griffin, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. The entire album stays at that level of brilliance.

Clark Terry

Terry didn’t just go along with the changing music scenes, he added to them. A rarely spoken of gem and one of my all-time favorite recordings from the late ‘50s hard bop era is In Orbit, recorded with Thelonious Monk. Terry and Monk (along with Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones) play some of the most beautifully twisted blues you’ll ever hear in your life. Neither musician is trying to reinvent the wheel here; they are just having fun and swinging beyond belief.

I got to meet Clark Terry at The Village Vanguard in NYC sometime in the mid-‘90s.  He wasn’t performing. Johnny Griffin was on the bill that night and I spotted Terry seated close to the bandstand.

After the show I nervously approached him and he joked, told stories of Duke, Basie, Miles, and the music business. He may be the kindest person I had met up to that time in the music business. I had worked with so many narcissistic jerks that Terry’s presence was warm and sweet, just like his sound. His smile and sense of humor were larger than life.

Of course I’m sad that Clark Terry has passed on and I send my deepest prayers and condolences to his family.  But I’ve got the album Top And Bottom Brass playing loud as I write this and stacks upon stacks of other classic Clark Terry recordings that I’ll be playing all night so I feel great. This man left us with so much to cherish and learn from and nothing can take that away.

Rest in Peace Clark Terry.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon “Doc” Wendell click HERE.


An Appreciation: Remembering Joe Cocker

December 23, 2014

By Brian Arsenault

The memories are so intact. The Grease Band singing crappy falsetto behind him at Woodstock. The kickass chorus on the best damn live album ever, Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Belushi coming out to do Joe Cocker with Joe Cocker on SNL.
I know it’s that time of life when that generation, my generation, the greatest generation in rock ‘n roll, is gonna lose guys. Frequently. The ones who made it past 27 are getting to be old guys now and time is implacable in its demands. Still, it hurts. There was a time when he was rock life incarnate.

Joe Cocker Tie dye singing

Some Cocker fans will tell you that early stuff when he was pictured like a fat, greasy bar brawler was when it was best, pure, raw. They’re right.

Others, a smaller more mature crowd, will tell you that the later albums of soft and soulful stuff extended his range as an artist. They’re right.

But for some of us, the crowd that was just about mad ourselves in those days, there is, was, will never be anything comparable to Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Oh those Leon Russell arrangements. Oh that incomparable backing band and chorus Russell put together.

I know Cocker and Russell despised each other by the end of the tour. That’s the legend anyway confirmed in more than one story and interview. Who cares? The music, damn, the music.

Who ever had two drummers going so frenetically? (Jim Keltner anyone?) The horn section just blasting. Leon pounding the keys. And the soaring chorus. (Rita Coolidge for one.) Sizzling.

Did you think that old torch song “Cry Me a River” could be done that way? Did anyone?

Could anyone else top the originals with covers like “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and “Honky Tonk Women.” With apologies to the Beatles and Stones of course. But they know. They know.

And I think crusty ol’ Leonard Cohen might have shed a tear when he heard Joe’s “Bird On a Wire.” If he didn’t he should have.

The energy that’s sustained on the album is just incredible. But that was Joe. Sweat dripping, arms flailing, back arching to seemingly impossible angles. A voice edged with whisky and cigarettes.

You half expected him to be Axl Rose surly. But no. He was the friendly guy standing drinks at the bar. A humble thank you after most songs.

That was Joe. Until maybe he got tired. And the gentle side came to the fore. Those sweet songs. “You Are So Beautiful” and so on. But that was always there. Mad Dogs and Englishmen also includes a lovely cover of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, though he should have done the whole song and not just in medley.

There’s Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” and Dave Mason’s “Feelin Alright.” Song after song.

But at the core, the madman core, is that crazy version of “Cry Me A River.” That’ll do.

(Joe Cocker died Monday, December 20 at his home in Colorado after a battle with lung cancer. He was 70.)

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

 


An Appreciation: Farewell Jack Bruce

October 28, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

Jack Bruce passed away on Saturday at the age of 71. It’s yet another hard-to-accept cold shot for any rock fan who fondly remembers what the rock medium had to offer in its late ’60’s/early ’70’s heyday. The luminaries of the field are disappearing slowly but surely. But around that time, rock was the most interesting, cutting edge genre around. Short-lived as it was, to call it inspiring in its time would be to understate the point.

Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce

And Jack Bruce was at the forefront of all of this. He was a founding member of perhaps the first supergroup out of England, the mind-blowing power trio Cream…(as in the Cream that rises to the top). Their sound was bigger than the sum of the parts. Along with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream put psychedelic blues-rock on the map with a sonic boom. The group featured guitarist Eric Clapton, drummer Ginger Baker, and one Jack Bruce on bass. The band blew the doors open in the blues-rock field. Their jams were marathon sequences of long solos, top-flight musicianship, and decibels-a-plenty. Twenty minutes for a song like Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” became de rigeur and a true showcase for players as strong as they were. Ginger Baker still complains that he lost most of his hearing having to be near Bruce’s unbearably loud bass rig, night after night.

As a writer, lyricist, and playing harmonica and bass, Jack Bruce was actually the wild card in Cream. His fingerprints were all over their many iconic songs from what we now remember to be an incredibly brief period between 1967 and 1969. But what a run it was. The lyrics Bruce wrote to songs like “SWLABR,” “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” “White Room,” “Dance the Night Away,” and “I Feel Free,” were beautifully evocative meshes of blues, mythology, and juxtaposition – yet they were also full-on psychedelic anthems. Great imagery from him! And Cream arranged for the album art to match the music. Just to see their albums in the local record store was to look at things differently. But upon listening to the record, it was so hard to believe there were only three guys putting all of those ideas and huge sound across so deftly. They did set a standard. Many folks might argue convincingly that Cream was a career zenith for Clapton, as well.

As a bass player Jack Bruce certainly took the busy angle of things a long, long way. His solos would often be as long as Clapton’s. But he was unusually melodic, and downright intriguing to listen to. Live, he was one of the busiest bassists to come along. He played leads on his bass. Guys like John Entwhistle of The Who were also playing sizzling lead bass lines at the time, but Bruce was going for broke on the same stage as Eric Clapton, in his prime. Gotta step it up to do that! In this way he was hugely influential to a generation of developing bass players. It became obvious that it was going to be OK to stretch out as a rock bassist…if you had the chops and the ideas. Many people I know literally wore the grooves out of albums like Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire, learning to play either guitar or bass. Cream offered that much talent to draw from.

After Cream was through, Bruce continued to hook up throughout the ‘70’s with guitar heavyweights like, Leslie West (no pun intended), Mick Taylor, and Robin Trower. While the psychedelia was over, the music continued to flow. Some of the stuff Bruce did with Carla Bley and Mick Taylor in the mid ‘70’s was brilliant, part of an impressive musical arc for Bruce, post-Cream.

Ultimately, Jack Bruce will be remembered most for his work with Cream and when people think of that band, it’s impossible not to be taken with the many levels they succeeded on. Whether lyrically, compositionally, or instrumentally, Jack Bruce’s legacy will continue to inspire people who can grasp what he was doing then. It was quite brilliant, indeed.

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To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

Photo of Jack Bruce at the 2012 Playboy Jazz Festival by photo-journalist Bonnie Perkinson.

 

 


Brian Arsenault Takes On: Dead (and loses again)

October 25, 2014

By Brian Arsenault

I ‘d like to write something about Jack Bruce dying. But I can’t. “Crossroads” keeps playing over and over again in my head. By the way, he is dead isn’t he? Not a hoax, like one report said.

Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce

I’d like to write something about Jack Bruce living. But I can’t. “I Feel Free” keeps playing in my head over and over again. Guess he’s free of this “mortal coil” now. I’d like to write something about Jack Bruce’s music. But I can’t. “Sunshine of Your Love” just seems so empty now. My head won’t play that one. ‘

I’ll say this. He and Ginger never did get along very well, they say, but I think “they” never heard them play together. Man, it was magic. Over, under, sideways. Just banging off each other and Eric and it was like a frigging 90 piece orchestra. I don’t really care if they didn’t say nice things to each other.

This Wall Street stock trader I know saw one of the Cream reunion shows in New York about a decade ago and said Bruce and Baker yelled at each other between just about every song. Then just nailed it when the next song began.

Jack Bruce taking a photo of the .audience at the  Playboy Jazz Festival

Jack Bruce taking a photo of the .audience at the Playboy Jazz Festival

Yeah, yeah Clapton has gone on to be a mega rock star, but was he ever as good as when Cream was soaring in concert or dazzling in the studio. Cream was one of the last rock “bands,” you know, not just a front man with some sidemen but a fully integrated organism where the disparate parts blended together to create a single identifiable sound.

Individually, Bruce, along with John Entwistle between them developed rock’s lead bass to a fine art form. They could play under but they could also play over. They could follow or blaze the trail. The Ox is gone too. So’s Noel Redding.

Damn, I guess somebody’s gonna die from that era about every month now. Hope it’s not every week. Too damn depressing.

I’d like to write something about Jack Bruce living. But I guess the hoax stories were the real hoax and he really is dead. Damn.

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Photos by Bonnie Perkinson were taken at the 2012 Playboy Jazz Festival, in Jack Bruce’s last appearance in Los Angeles.

 


Who Killed Cock Robin? A Reflection

August 11, 2014

by Brian Arsenault

There will be a lot of tributes to Robin Williams. Mine is simply this: whatever you fear in your darkest corner about how crazy or fucked up or ridiculous you may be, Robin was willing to say he was more so. Damn brave that and it was very comforting for the rest of us but it must have been a hell of a burden for him.

Robin Williams

To explode like in “Good Morning Vietnam” I suspect you have to plant the bombs deep in some hidden corridor where no one else goes. To ponder what demons pursue us in “Goodwill Hunting” you must have to feel the talons of such demons digging all the way in. To rave on stage for a couple hours making all kinds of sideways connections you must have to fight down that energy after with a strength that isn’t always there.

Hemingway killed himself in a state of severe depression. Sylvia Plath. Maybe Van Gogh. Others. About my only firm belief about anything is that if you are going to have one extreme, there will be an equal counterbalancing opposite extreme. It is a sobering fact of life that if there is to be goodness there must be evil, if there is to be fidelity there must be treachery, if there is to be great joy there must be nearly unbearable sadness.

So think of where Robin sometimes went when he wasn’t regaling a theater audience for a couple hours, making people nearly wet themselves laughing. When he wasn’t working on a doctor who brought joy by putting on a clown nose, when he wasn’t poking fun at an interstellar overlord who happened to be his boss, when he wasn’t putting out the fire on Mrs. Doubtfire’s bosom. For there to be so much light, there had to be consuming darkness.

Shocked at his passing? Sure. Surprised that someone who achieved art not to mention fame and fortune well beyond we mere mortals could end it? Not really. Saddened but not really surprised. It may simply mean that the price has been paid.

So long. It’s darker tonight.


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