Archive for September, 2009
Let’s talk about Lowell. For those of you who don’t know, it’s thirty years since Lowell George (singer,songwriter and exceptional guitarist of Little Feat) died. He had just released his, much anticipated and ultimately slightly disappointing, solo album. Don’t get me wrong here – that solo album was disappointing only because of the mountain of expectations we had assembled – for any one else it would have been a triumph.
The thirty years thing has been a bit of a sore point with me. I have felt that no one on this side of the Atlantic has quite understood how hugely influential he was and up until now there has been no real tribute to mark the anniversary. Let me take you back. …..I’m in Bruce’s record shop in Reform St. in Dundee and I get chatting about Little Feat. They’ve been playing concerts to do with The Last Record Album in London. One of the staff knew a bloke who’d met a guy who had been there – that was enough back then – it had been brilliant. 4 hours. That’s what the bloke behind the counter told me – 4 hours. I pondered these things in my heart. There was no internet, no fanzines and the only printed blurb I had on Little Feat was a handout Warners had put in one of the sleeves. I kept in that sleeve and it’s probably still there.
In 1976 Little Feat were added to the bill of The Who concert at Celtic Park in Glasgow. This meant that my mum’s mini would be borrowed and four of us would chip in petrol money and do the 80 miles to be at the event. From memory there had been Chapman-Whitney street walkers, The Outaws, Little Feat and The Sensational Alex Harvey band all on before the The Who. Little Feat were everything I’d hoped. Odd, charming and completely cooler than anything else on the bill……and nicely bemusing to the drunken rock audience who slept their way through the Feat’s set. To me however it was really all about Lowell. He was chubby, beardy but magnetically charismatic and his voice soared plaintively around the old football ground. This, even I understood, was a significant moment; it was to be the only time I’d see him. Three years later he was gone.
Cut to 1988 and we’re at The Town and Country Club in London. Deacon Blue are in the studio cutting our 2nd album and we take a night off to go see the reformed Little Feat with the new singer Freddy Tacket – an old friend and co writer for the band. The show is good but there is a huge hole at the front of the stage and I realise as the new Little Feat establishes itself this will be the first and last time I go to see them too.
It’s 1995 and we’re in a studio in Los Angeles. Across the road is a little A&R hang out called Gengis Cohen’s attached to the Chinese/Jewish restaurant of the same name. On the bill, Load featuring Inara George, Lowell’s only child. We had to see it. The band is odd, slightly off centre with a guitarist who should really be sacked before the set is completed if there is any justice in rock. Inara was brilliant. With the dark good looks of her father and the beautiful rounded voice I feel sure her next project will be better. I am happy just to be there to see her play and think about the joy her father has brought me.
So that is what we are doing on Tuesday. Celebrating Lowell. 30 years on from his death the AMA awards (about which we spoke last week) ended up with an all-star jam around Lowell’s great southern anthem – Dixie Chicken. We too will pay our respects.
I’ve put up a couple of great Lowell links.
This is a song we won’t get time to play on Tuesday from the same summer as the gig I mentioned.
Also Richmond Fontaine in session. Richmond Fontaine are the band of Willie Vlautin – guitarist,song writer novelist and lead singer to RF. This is a great session and wonderful interview with a band who (on their 9th album) are right on top of their game. Don’t miss it.
I can’t remember where it was now; was it driving through Hillsboro or off Granny White somewhere or on the way out towards Lebanon but it was in Nashville. I was told by my friends that if I listened to WSM (somethings sound better on AM) I would hear more things that I liked. They weren’t wrong. Loretta, Hank Snow, George Jones – always George – then it came as a real surprise – Leapy Lee’s Little Arrows. The thing is I didn’t associate it with country music at all. It had been a hit here in 1968 and it was one of 5 records that were not by Herp Albert and the Tijuana Brass that were played at Tannadice.
Tannadice? OK the home of The Terrors – Dundee United. It was on these terraces where
I first remember Leapy getting heavy rotation. He shared the half-time spotlight with Blue
Mink and well…..Herp. The Spanish Flea was a big favourite.
Why do I share all this I hear you patiently ask. Last Friday my good buddy Mr Perkin Warbeck and myself headed up to Dundee to join in the celebrations of The Centenary of the greatest team in Scotland, Dundee United…did I just say Scotland? Heck – The World.
It was a great night – I enclose my photograph with John “Holty” Holt. (footballers always go for the whacky when it comes to nicknames. The night was hosted by esteemed BBC Scotland Legend (Sir) Brian Taylor…I’m sure that knighthood’s in the post somewhere Brian, and (Dame) Lorraine Kelly. I was there to do a wee turn after the pudding and the highlight of the night was hanging with Andy Rolland – one of our best full-backs ever. When I told Andy that I remembered the day he got called up to the Scottish League side
(he was the first United player to be given that honour) he told how he’d not wanted to go
as he would miss a club game for which he’s have been paid six times more.
If Leapy was playing then Andy was the guy nearest the wall at the foot of the terracing
sending in some scorching shots and crosses from the wing in the warm-up. We would be leaning on a leany barrier (the idea that they were there to prevent crushing never occurred to us) taking in Jerry Kerr’s column and being distracted by an advert for Rum called “The Abbot’s Choice.”
Where did I start? Leapy Lee on WSM – The Legend. There on the i65 or somewhere I was back at Tannadice. Music has the power to take you back and it’s that power and potency that makes us all chase the song, wait for hours for a show to start or stop the car
and turn back round and go another way.
There’s lots of the latter kind this week. We celebrate Bruce Springsteen’s birthday by playing you some great Americana covers of Jersey Devil songs. We can tell you – if you haven’t already guessed, who came top on the Americana Awards night and we also have a really lovely session from Richmond Fontaine. The song The Boyfriends is now firmly camped in my own top-ten songs of the year. I might get that list more coherently together and even get a chance to play it for you at some point.
John “Holty” Holt and a hanger-on.
I’ve been going out. To be slightly more accurate, I’ve not been in much. The week started with a gig: My youngest daughter kept me company at the Low Anthem show in Oran Mor Glasgow. The Lows…(can we call them that?) had been into Pacific Quay that afternoon and we’d had a chat after they’d recorded 3 songs. This was a lovely session which was a real joy to sit in on. Beautifully recorded by Joanne in Studio 1 you can here the results on Tuesday night.
The gig was later that evening and it was a real triumph on many levels. For one thing it is always good to know that 400 people will come out to see a band that a lot of people haven’t yet heard about. Secondly it reaffirmed my core belief in the simple act of musicians playing songs to an audience who are happy to pay attention. (Two factors that don’t often come together in the same room despite loads of live events happening here in Scotland.) The real highlight of the night was their (even more) spirited version of Tom Waits’ “Home I’ll Never Be.”
On the way home from last week’s show I dropped by The Academy to pick up two happy daughters, their cousin and a pal who were part of a large number of contended people leaving The Fleet Foxes show there. Sadly (according to them) the magical silence which had been so noticeable in Oran Mor had been replaced by the Academy drone. That venue seems to specialise in encouraging the audience to chat, order up drinks and generally annoy performers more than any other music place I know.
What people probably don’t realise is that the performer can only do something really special if there is that silent, sacred space. A couple of years ago at the Belfast/Nashville festival I went to see a friend play. His wife stood beside me and she eventually was forced to (politely) ask some drunken women to be quiet. One of the drunken woman later came up to her and asked my friend’s wife to apologise. At that point I stepped in and told the woman that she had finally crossed a line. I survived. A year or so before that we had a night seeing Thad Cockrell completely ruined by noisy drunk blokes. They were finally thrown out and we later discovered they were off-duty policemen.
What I never understand is why these people pay money in the first place? Do they see it as their right to come and laugh inappropriately, ruin great moments and generally kill the vibe? When I grew up the people that ruined shows were the bouncers at the Caird Hall and The Glasgow Apollo – now I have to say I feel like calling in security myself. Not because anyone’s getting carried away at the show but because they’re just not listening.
So my good pal Mick said to me a few weeks/months ago, “ Any chance of sending me that recording of In The Pines we did a few years back?” Sure…I lied.
The thing is, if it’s not on my laptop somewhere it could be anywhere. The first digital search was illuminating. I remembered where we’d stolen the version we cut all these years back. It was Gene Clark (who I’d discovered fairly late on) who recorded the song on his, then latest, album “Two Sides To Every Story.” There was no sign of either my version or gene’s there. So I started to look around for the song. I remember that the Loretta Lynn
biopic “Coal Miner’s Daughter” had a moment when Cissy Spacek went wandering out to the back yard and sang the song quietly to herself. So based on that I realised this song had been a big part of the country/blues catalogue. It didn’t take long to find Leadbelly, Dolly Parton, Bill Munroe, Doc Watson and many other versions. Frustrated by not finding the digital Gene Clark version I finally found a version which made the song sing as plaintively and lonely as I’d remembered it all these years ago. The version – The Louvin Brothers – truly beautiful. You can hear it on Tuesday night.
We’re also celebrating The Beatles. You can buy the entire catalogue (re mastered in glorious mono!) again…again. If you’ve been as dismayed by the poor CD quality of the existing catalogue as I have then this will come as great news to you…start that Santa list now. The impact of The Beatles was so huge in the USA that there have been many great covers and collaborations. We’ve picked some great Beatles songs covered by Country/Americana artists. You’ll no doubt add some suggestions of your own but look out for Steve Earle, Alison Krauss, Rosanne and….yes, Johnny Cash. Just to show that we have some credibility in all this I can now reveal that Richard Murdoch, my producer, has some previous on this issue.
Lastly but certainly most importantly we have three songs by the highly talented Andrew Bird which he recorded for us when he was here in Scotland recently. I will have a chat with Andrew on the show and we’ll try to get to the bottom of his love of the whistling his way through an instrumental…….has Brian B done a show on whistling yet……..all on Tuesday at 8. Don’t forget you can listen to the show on Sunday nights too when the repeat goes on air at 10.