Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Complete at Last: The Who Live At The Fillmore East 1968

-review by Bill Glahn-

Frankly, there isn’t much new to report here. As The Who’s official website acknowledges, “Due to an acetate reaching the bootleg market in the early ‘70s, The Who’s reputation as rock’s most dynamic live act quickly grew.”

When the Trademark of Quality released Fillmore East in 1970 they commissioned artist William Stout to produce the cover art, which would be duplicated on a paper insert typical of bootlegs from that period. The sound quality was stunning and rivaled official releases. Other bootleg labels were quick to reproduce the release, sometimes with inferior artwork, sometimes with added bonuses in presentation. TMoQ would, itself, reissue the album on colored vinyl. K&S Records (using original TmoQ plates) would go one better with a splash vinyl release. Universal Records, unfortunately, has spared all expense for the official release, with some computer generated tie-dye letters on the front cover. They did commission some new liner notes and released a 3LP vinyl version on premium vinyl. It should be noted that the bootlegs on colored vinyl also used virgin vinyl – the best available at the time. (colored vinyl is always virgin).

But what about the music? Certainly, working from the original 4-track tapes with modern technology, the Universal release should be superior to those old vinyl bootlegs, and it is. But when compared to the Gold Standard CD release (titled Shakin’ All Over) that reached the bootleg market in the ‘90s, there is only about a nickels worth of difference in sound. Working in a new format, Gold Standard was able to expand the show both in length and quality. The mix is close to the one used by Bob Pridden for the official release. You can hear some slight crackle on the Gold Standard release during parts of Pete Townshend’s song intros.

Additional music? The official release adds the previously unavailable “C’mon Everybody” as well as the complete “My Generation” closing number – clocking in at a whopping 34 minutes. (The Gold Standard edition faded out around 9 ½ minutes.) That’s well worth the $30 price tag for the double CD set. Not so much for the vinyl version which splits “My Generation” into two sides. There’s something to be said for listening to a concert from start to finish without interruption. The official release accomplishes that for the first time.

Bonus views:

Monday, April 23, 2018

Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed

-review by Bill Glahn-

In the past five years, Bob Dylan has released five discs of cover tunes from “the great American songbook,” including a three disc set last year. Many critics fawned over them. C’mon now. It should be fawned spelled with a “y.” The first time Dylan pulled this shit, with Self Portrait, the critics got it right. We live in an age of suck up.

To make matters worse, in 2017 he also released a new volume of recordings in his Official Bootleg Series. What, pray tell, did it consist of? A total of 10 different CDs and a DVD from his 1979-81 period, mostly live recordings, in various formats. Lord have mercy! And if you wanted the 2 discs of outtakes and the DVD, you needed to get the deluxe edition (8 discs and a DVD). It might have been Dylan’s revenge on those completists that already owned bootleg copies of those concerts years ago. Me? Those tours weren’t worth the time to track down, let alone the money. And they’re certainly not worth forking out whatever kind of dough Dylan wants for them now. Somebody save this poor wretched Dylan fan.

Let’s face it. Bob Dylan is not a great interpreter of other people’s songs – and he hasn’t been since at least the late ‘60s.  Enter Bettye LaVette.

For a look at LaVette’s ability to take ownership of songs from outside the r&b genre, check out Child Of The Seventies, a collection of sides recorded for Atlantic in 1972 (but not released until 2006) in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. There you’ll find Long John Baldry’s “It Ain’t Easy” done swamp-style, Free’s “The Stealer” that puts the Soul in rock ‘n’ roll, and Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold” void of wimpy-ness. Otis Redding (Satisfaction) and The Ike & Tina Turner Revue (Proud Mary) may had found success in those waters. LaVette didn’t. But it wasn’t because she didn’t do it just as well. Sometimes that shit happens in the music business. Sometimes a dumb-ass in a suit makes the wrong call.

LaVette returned to the studio with 2003’s A Woman Like Me. 2005 brought a collection of covers by other female artists called I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise. In 2007 she took on the men with The Scene Of The Crime, backed by The Drive-by Truckers and former Muscle Shoals session players, David Hood and Spooner Oldham. The exception on that album was the self-penned and autobiographical “Before The Money Came,” a ferocious piece of R & B singed rock.

You’d think that the interpreter aspect of LaVette’s albums might have run its course, but with Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (2010) LaVette trounced that notion – an album that must be heard to be believed. Thankful n’ Thoughtful (2012) includes a Dylan song (Everything Is Broken) and Savoy Brown’s “I’m Tired,” penned by Chris Youlden, Savoy Brown’s best songwriter. And then again on Worthy – Dylan’s “Unbelievable” and Youlden’s “When I Was A Young Girl (Boy).” One of the most appealing things about LaVette’s albums is her ability to dig deep into the catalogs of other artists – a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar – and embrace them as part of her story. When LaVette sings them, they all come across as autobiographical. This is a quality that is lacking in those Dylan records of recent vintage. No matter how different the arrangements or phrasing is, Bob still sounds like he’s singing a collection of favorites from the past.

On Things Have Changed, LaVette’s new album of exclusively Dylan songs, it’s apparent from the get-go that she’s going to take ownership of these songs as well. That might sound like a daunting task. The first thing heard on the album is the sound of LaVette taking charge. LaVette sets the tempo for the title track at a much slower pace. Dylan is running. LaVette isn’t. She sounds as if she’ll turn and cut you if you follow.  Convincingly.

The first real surprise comes with “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight,” an almost forgotten (forgettable) track from Infidels. In LaVette’s hands the vulnerability is magnified 10-fold. It’s followed by another song from Infidels, “The Real You At Last.” This was one Dylan kept in the live setlist for years as a rocking pace-setter. LaVette, instead, revisits Muscle Shoals. When she sings “I’m gonna quit this bullshit now…” she’s got legs to stand on. Vulnerability doesn’t last long.

“Times They Are A-Changin’” drags Dylan into deep blues. It’s almost unrecognizable from the original. It’s the answer song for “Things Have Changed.” Not vice-versa.

If there was anything left for Bettye LaVette to prove (there really wasn’t) it was that NO song-writer is safe when their song lands in her hands. Not even Dylan. She’s gonna lay claim to them. 100 per cent.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Lost In The Flood: Charlie Pickett Live At The Button (1982, never charted)

-by Bill Glahn-

“We were not trying to expand music. We were not trying to expand the vocabulary of music or the words or the subject matter or anything like that. We were trying to dig as deep a hole as we could to get into a blues-rock thing, made with a new view of the world.” (Charlie Pickett interview, Jim Camacho's Adventures in Songwriting).

The well of material that The Eggs were pulling from was evident from their first two singles on Open Records. The first featured a b-side of The Velvet Underground’s “White Light, White Heat.” The second, a cover of The Flamin’ Groovies’ “Slow Death.” But it wasn’t just a music style that the Eggs were pulling from on those records. It was a lifestyle.

Open Records was an offshoot business of Open Books and Records, an historically significant retail outlet in south Florida which strove to become something more. Initially, it seemed, they were a custom imprint for releasing Charlie Pickett and The Eggs records. There is, supposedly, a 12-inch EP by The Bobs (1981), but I’ve never seen one and no one is sharing it on YouTube if there is. Their only other LP after Live At The Button was a compilation of regional artists called The Land That Time Forgot. That was in 1982. A few Charlie Picket tracks were licensed to a European label in 1983 and there was a Charlie Pickett 12-incher in 1984 called Cowboy Junkie Au-Go-Go (later licensed to Safety Net Records as a bonus on the 1988 Peter Buck-produced Charlie Pickett & The MC3 CD, The Wilderness). Open Records had a shorter life span than Charlie Pickett’s career as a recording artist. The store, itself, lasted quite a bit longer, but eventually yielded to the market pressures that many independent book and record stores face. They closed in 1994.

The Wilderness was Charlie Pickett and guitarist Johnny Salton’s last stand together. Pickett would quit the business and become a lawyer. Salton, a truly great guitar player in his prime, would continue making records with The Psycho Daisies and chasing the Keith Richards myth. Salton would pass in 2010. Of the other members of the Eggs that appeared on Live At The Button, drummer Johnny Galway would precede Salton in death by 15 years. To the best of my knowledge, bassist Dave Froshnider still walks the planet. I don’t know that anyone ever expected long lives from the members of Charlie Pickett & The Eggs. They were a band full of junkies that scored their dope in the Overtown.

Overtown and Liberty City are the black neighborhoods in Miami that erupted into riot after the 1980 acquittal of four police officers involved in the beating death of a black salesman and former marine, after he ran a red light. In the words of the prosecutor at the trial, the police cracked his skull “like an egg.” The riots had an effect on the band beyond limiting their ability to score dope. Scoring dope in Overtown was a topic Froshnider had covered in a song written previous to the riots.

Live At The Button is an album of ferocious live rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an album that hit like a ton of bricks when I first heard it and it hasn’t spent much time out of playing rotation since. It’s steeped in the type songs that draw from the same well as their previous singles. But there’s more. Much more. Five songs into the record, the band slows down the tempo for the first and last time. It’s a cover of Manfred Mann’s “Mister You’re a Better Man Than I.”

“Could you condemn a man
If your faith he doesn't hold?
Say the color of his skin
Is the color of his soul?
Or could you say if men
For king and country all must die?
Well, mister you’re a better man than I”

Manfred Mann was one of the first rock/pop musicians to openly hold an anti-apartheid political view. He left his native South Africa in 1961 in protest and immigrated to England.

 The final statement on Live At The Button, however, is an original called “Phantom Train.” It’s a dream sequence in which Pickett is riding on a train with dead poets and authors. Sitting in the back with Edgar Allan Poe and Aleister Crowley is Annabel Lee, a character from a Poe poem by the same name. “And she’s looking at me.” “Annabell Lee” is the last poem written by Poe and it explores deep love and death.

But there’s another passenger on the train, Arthur McDuffie. Arthur McDuffie is not a poet or author, nor a character from any of their writings. McDuffie was the black man that was murdered in the incident that led to the Miami riots of 1980. McDuffie is the only person on the train that Pickett engages in conversation. McDuffie tells him that it’s “suicide” for a black man to show even the slightest lack of respect to police. It’s what has become known as “the talk” that many black men and women give to their children.

Live At The Button isn’t just a great rock ‘n’ roll record. It’s a reminder, to this day, that Black Lives Matter is a long overdue movement.

[Note: The prosecutor in the trial of the four policemen charged in McDuffie’s murder was Janet Reno. The case was torpedoed from the start, when Reno failed to challenge an all male, all white jury.]

Monday, April 16, 2018

Bob Frank - All The Way From Memphis

BOB FRANK Squeeze It Easy
(review by Bill Glahn)

Squeeze It Easy is an album that flirts with nostalgia, but never gets there. That’s a positive development in the world of fireside cowboy songs - the kind of songs Frank specializes in.

The first song that stands out, in a great story, told well kind-of-way, is “Isom Dart.” “Isom Dart” is a true murder ballad that would have offered a better conclusion to Frank’s most critically acclaimed album, World Without End, a joint affair with John Murry. A near faultless album, World Without End presented a collection of murder ballads based on true stories that placed a dark oeuvre on America’s history – from lynching to workplace shootings. Unfortunately, the album’s final track, “Doc Cunningham 1868,” presented the kind of revisionist post-Civil War nostalgia disproved by author Timothy B. Tyson in his book, Blood Done Sign My Name. Nostalgia is the way we want to remember things.

So who was Isom Dart? Dart was a black cowboy murdered by Tom Horn, a gun-for-hire enforcer in the employ of a local (Wyoming/Colorado border) cattle baron. But you won’t find his character in either the movie, Tom Horn, or Mr. Horn, the 1979 TV mini-series. In Frank’s song, Dart is killed for being a rustler. The BlackPast website offers a more balanced, but not altogether conflicting, history. “Isom Dart later returned to Brown’s Hole around 1890 and established his own ranch, but local cattlemen suspected he had built up his ranch herd from cattle he’d rustled from their ranches. The ranchers hired the notorious range detective, Tom Horn, to punish Dart. Horn ambushed and killed Isom Dart on October 3, 1900 near Brown's Hole. Public opinion was (and continues to be) divided about Dart's guilt. Some Brown's Hole residents mourned his death, claiming Dart was killed by cattleman who wanted his land and cattle. They saw Dart as a good-hearted, talented horseman and a top bronc stomper.  Others believed he never completely relinquished his life of cattle rustling and thus remained a menace to the community.”

It’s a fantastic story, but Squeeze It Easy covers ground far and wide. For the first time that I am aware of, Frank directly sings about his time in Vietnam (1967-68) as a member of an engineering brigade (159th). There are love songs (Anna Maria, Me And My West Coast Girl, The Old Rebel Soldier). Yes, “The Old Rebel Soldier” is a love song. It avoids nostalgia by telling a love story. There are childhood remembrances from Memphis (Me & Ol’ Wib Crump). As described on his website, it includes “the high adventures of black cowboys, Mexican maidens, Vietnam vets, desert ghost towns, cheap motels, one night stands, dope smokin’ bronc riders, childhood friends, and the old rebel soldier. Oh, and invisible paint!” These are the stories of a man well-traveled and who knows how to tell them. But what’s this about invisible paint? 

Two tracks that stand out from the rest are “Unusual Artist” and “Coyote Mind.” Frank has visited this type of narrative before, but rarely - and certainly not as effectively. Frank initially refers to these as “…strange little songs, like ‘Judas Iscariot.’ Weird fuckin shit.” But he expands from there. “’Unusual Artist’ is a song about emptiness, the lack of true existence in anything. ‘Coyote Mind’ is actually about recognizing your true nature, who you really are. Both of them are story songs, it’s just that the spiritual aspect is closer to the surface in them than it is in the other songs. They’re more obviously mystical stories, whereas that aspect is more hidden in the other songs.”

When asked to expand on his spiritual beliefs, he states, “I practice Dharma, which is not really a faith, it's not even a religion. It's an experience. It's kind of like Gnosticism, like [poet William] Blake talked about, in that respect. It's about knowledge, not belief. You watch your mind, your thoughts, your emotions, and see what's what - where it all comes from, what it's made of, and so on. I see it as a form of scientific investigation that you do in the laboratory of your own mind. So it's direct seeing, not faith.”

"The thing is, this is actually what's taught in the esoteric schools of all religions, though they don't all use the same terminology. But when you look at what they're describing, they're all pointing at the same thing. It's what Jesus taught, 'The kingdom of heaven is within you.'"

Overall, Squeeze It Easy offers a healthy dose of what longtime listeners have come to expect – good stories well sung and played – stories that will find a welcome home around a campfire, a house concert, or an Americana festival stage. The difference that separates Frank from the average storyteller, though, is that he’s so well traveled. How many cowboy singers can you name that fought in a war, survived Gnashville, told Vanguard Records to go fuck themselves, embarked on a hippie dream, toiled for 30 years in a union job, raised a family, adopted a Gnostic philosophy and did it all the way from Memphis. Yeah, it’s a mighty long way down the dusty trail…

Friday, April 13, 2018

Them 'Ol Crazy Bones - John Prine

John Prine: The  Tree of Forgiveness
-review by Bill Glahn-

When John Prine released his first album in 1971, he was 25 years old. But he wasn’t blind to the world. It was a socially aware piece of work that still resonates today. Among the songs contained on that album was “Hello In There,” about the loneliness of old age. He finishes off the song with a request rooted in social responsibility.  “Please don’t pass them by and stare / Say Hello in there.”

John Prine is 71. The Tree of Forgiveness is his first album of new songs in over a decade. It starts off with the lines “I ain’t got nobody / hangin’ round my doorstep.” (Knockin’ On Your Screen Door)

Times are different. Communities are different. The most prominent thing at the front of a modern housing development is a two (or three) car garage. Entry is usually made from inside the garage. And those doors are usually shut when not entering and exiting. The idea of sitting on a front porch sipping tea (or beer) with the neighbors is a lost one. There are no front porches. The front door is the door least used, and like the garage door, never open. Gatherings are on the patio behind the privacy fence. By invitation only.

From it’s opening track, Prine is taking a mature look at an old problem. Despite his description of being in high cotton, bangin’ on a six-string while listening to George Jones 8-tracks, he still needs help opening a can of beans. He still paints a picture of loneliness – and this time no one’s knocking. So he goes out to knock on their front door. “You don’t have to answer.” Prine’s new album is aptly named. Forgiveness comes early. That’s the secret of growing older. You either learn forgiveness or you become a curmudgeon.

The setting for the hilariously titled “Egg & Daughter Nite. Lincoln, Nebraska 1967” is an old folk’s home. There’s a lot more going on than dementia, bed-wetting, and failing vision. And it’s told in a way that only John Prine can tell it – a 71-tear-old John Prine who slips into scat with the voice of a 30-year-old Satchmo.

The Tree Of Forgiveness doesn’t have the beginning-to-end greatness of Prine’s first album. His voice is a little more gruff and the songwriting, while strong, isn’t as consistent. But he uses his voice quite effectively in ways he didn’t have to at 25. And if you don’t hear it, you probably haven’t lived long enough. Just blame it his ol’ crazy bones.

But that would be a lie. There's more to it than that. Far more. It's got bits about the fear of growing old. And the acceptance. Unlike "Hello In There," it also recognizes that, sometimes, empathy is not enough (Boundless Love). The greatest success of Tree of Forgiveness is that John Prine is no curmudgeon.

Suggested tracks:

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

What Time Is It? Crime Dog, Africa Bambaataa, and the End of Perdition

-by Bill Glahn-

In the 1980s I was married with two young boys, working in a union job with fantastic benefits, a home-owner in a racially mixed community of mostly retired GIs. And in great physical health. Part of those benefits included fully paid, first rate medical insurance that ensured that when there was a crisis (a major one with my oldest son) there would be first rate care available at no cost. The American Dream? I was living it.

I played a lot of softball - several days a week up in the Trenton suburbs, a double-header league on Sundays. Winter one-pitch ball in the off-season. The double-header team was sponsored by a bar, with some additional money thrown in by my employer because it offered a league that could accommodate people on both first and second shift. Guys I worked with made up that team almost entirely.

One of those guys was Lester Powell, one of my closest friends at work. Lester lived in Southwest Philly and did what quite a few black men from Southwest Philly did in those days to secure a good job. He headed east across the river, passed Camden, and into the developing industrial parks around Cherry Hill. It was a long and grueling commute.

Very early in the softball season (it may have even been pre-season practice) Lester pulled me aside. “My team in Philly needs a stick (good hitter). Can you hit fast-pitch?”

Me: “I’ll give it a try.”

Lester: “I should let you know, you’ll probably be the only white guy in the league.”

In the league?

The Leroy Kelly League had two divisions – one in Southwest Philly and another in the even more hardscrabble North Philly. At first I thought it was an odd name for a softball league – Leroy Kelly had been an all-pro football player for the Cleveland Browns. What I learned was that Kelly had lettered in football, basketball, and baseball at Simon Gratz High School in inner city Philadelphia. Where success comes hard, you honor success. The first time I played a game at the Overbrook High field, my teammates noted, in no uncertain terms, that it was hallowed ground. “This is where Wilt Chamberlain first played basketball.” The Leroy Kelly Fast-pitch League was the most competitive of all the leagues I have ever played in.

Our team was named The Dirty Nine. It was a mixed metaphor. We had fine uniforms – “dressed to kill” - which also was a mixed metaphor in those parts of town. Pertaining to softball, there were 10 players in the field, as opposed to nine. We were sponsored by a bar on Market Street. Not the part of Market Street familiar to tourists - keep going west. Way west. Cross the Skuylkill River and keep on going. Turn south when you get to the 50s. Drive through the Osage neighborhood where the city dropped a bomb on MOVE headquarters, burning down an entire block of homes owned by working class black people. If you keep on going south to the Bartram Village Housing Project, you may see the field of our main rivals. If it’s still there. This was home turf for the Leroy Kelly Fast-pitch League, Southwest Division.

My teammates on the Dirty Nine were quick to accept me into the fold. The rest of the league – not so fast. It was a year of “What you doin’ here, white boy?” and wide strike zones. I learned to hit bad pitches and not to protest close plays. The Dirty Nine had my back. My biggest defender was Dennis McDuffy. But nobody ever called him Dennis. It was “Duffy” or “Duff.” Until the day the team captain, Buck, started calling him “Crime Dog” after a cartoon character with a similar name (McGruff).

Duffy was about 5 or 6 years older than me. I was 30 my first year in the league. 5 years older, at the competitive level we were playing, was considered retirement time. Duffy was a big man with failing knees. He was relegated to player/coach status. Translated that means designated hitter and backup catcher. But Duffy played a much bigger part on the team. He was the spiritual heart of the Dirty Nine.  Pre-game rave-ups? It was Duffy leading the way. A couple guys on base? “Get us going, Crime Dog” were Buck’s orders. When I first joined the team it was, “Here we go! The wild, wild, west!” Somewhere along the line Duffy began clapping out a beat before announcing “What time is it? It’s Nine time.” And he kept at it with a whole list of raps ("Who are we?/The dirty nine/ Who we gonna rock?/other team's name/Let me hear you scream/What time is it/It's nine time) until the whole team was answering the question. Then everyone in our stands. This wasn’t “white boy ball” with a few wives and children in the stands. These were neighborhood events. The thunder of those chants was awesome!

Duffy was a native Philadelphian. He had a white collar job for the city of Philadelphia, but he lived across the river in Levittown, New Jersey, a community much like the one I lived in. He used public transportation to commute to and from his job. On game and practice days, I drove him home. Sometimes those stops included beer time and occasionally records. “Want to here the original Nine Time?” He handed me the cover for Africa Bambaataa’s “Beware (The Funk Is Everywhere)” while he placed the record on the turntable. “I know that song!” I said when I saw “Kick Out The Jams” listed. Always the gracious host, Duffy cued it up first. It was powerful. More powerful than the MC5 original? Flip a coin. And at the end it previewed “What Time is It?” Duffy flipped the album and played the full track. It was an epiphany. I soon had my own copy.

Three decades later, I show up for work, the third day back from a two-week vacation and three weeks away from retirement. The week started out fine, feeling better than I had in years. But by the 5am start of today’s shift, I told my working partner, Ray, “Jesus, my back and knee are acting up again.”

Around 8:30 I needed to switch lifts from my overhead picker to a small stand-up fork lift. We've been short on equipment since the company took on a huge new contract. The smaller lift was in use. When I asked the operator how long he would be, he answered, “Just a couple of minutes.” I set the platform of my overhead picker about a foot off the ground and sat down. It was then that my lead person drove by on his cart.  “What are you doing, Bill?” “I’m resting for a couple minutes until Mike’s done with the stand-up.”

“We’ve got a lot of work and we can’t afford to have you sitting down. Tell Mike to use the (larger) gas lift.” This was the first time I had taken a “sit-down” in the ten years at the warehouse. The comment angered me at first. “If you’re dissatisfied with my work…” I was cut off in mid-sentence. “No that isn’t it at all. It just looks bad.” He went on his way and I proceeded to chase down Mike.

It’s been over three decades since Duffy first played that record for me - almost that long since I moved to the mid-west. Somewhere in all that time, a time of great adventure until I returned to manual labor 10 tears ago, I lost track of Duffy. I hate to admit it, but I haven’t even thought of him in years. After all, that was a different time, a different life.

By the time I got off my butt and on my lift, “What Time Is It?” was playing in my head non-stop. Both the song and Duffy’s chant. My brain could actually see Duffy leading the way to the next rally. I looked at the clock. What time is it? It’s Nine time. I walked to the manager’s office, gave him my employee card, and told him, “I can’t do this for three more weeks. I’d be cheating you, but more important, I’d be cheating myself.”

And then I went home and started writing about the place this album had in my development. It should have been at the top of my Facebook “10 albums in 10 days” list, but wasn’t. Shame on me. But it's never too late to start all over again.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Lost In The Flood: Mott The Hoople self-titled (peak chart position #185 for 2 weeks)

I had never heard this album when I bought it soon after release. In fact, I had never heard of Mott The Hoople. I bought it because I liked the cover. AND The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" was listed among the tracks. 

I was impressed from the first needle drop - an instrumental version with a sonic rage that surpassed even the original. It wasn't the only cover version on the album, but these covers were... well, different. Different dynamics - different vocal approach - delivered in epic proportions. And that's just the first three songs. Who'd have thunk that an album could begin with three cover tunes by artists as diverse as The Kinks, Doug Sahm, and Sonny Bono and still sound so cohesive?

But it was the last song on the first side (an original) that REALLY grabbed my attention. I read every review of the album that followed. Much was made of the similarity in Ian Hunter's voice to Bob Dylan (some taking a positive position, some negative). They were all misdirected. On "Backsliding Fearlessly" Hunter sounded even more ancient a sage than Dylan, pulling from medieval times.

"Come all ye faithful and slaughter your lambs/ Your minds have been whipped by experienced hands." Man, did that speak to me. But more than being thought provoking, Mott The Hoople (the album) would be the gift that kept on giving. No more so than when I heard a lecture by John Trudell in the mid-90s that offered some degree of forgiveness for the white people who savaged the Native population.

Click here for John Trudell

It was coming from the same thought process. Things came full circle in 2012 when Hunter recorded "Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse)". Ian Hunter continues to write great music and tour with vigor. And he's OLDER than Bob Dylan. Just sayin... (Bill Glahn)

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Streaming Jihad (RIAA Watch in the 21st Century)

 -by Bill Glahn-

I’m retiring from a warehouse job soon. It’s time to toss those boxes aside and pick up a pencil again. Looking forward to picking up where I left off, I was searching for an appropriate title for a column title more relevant to the times. Looking backwards, I found it. 

When Jeffrey St. Clair and Alex Cockburn introduced me to the Counterpunch audience all those years ago they used the term “jihad.” That makes sense. For some people money is just “god” spelled backwards. And in that respect, huge (and sometimes not so huge) corporations, and the people who run them, wage holy war.

The owner class has a different perspective on finances than the working class that toils underfoot. Some personal examples? I once worked as the managing editor for a startup weekly “alternative” magazine. Concerned with their ability to clear payroll, I inquired, “Where’s the money coming from? You hardly have any advertising.” What I learned was that the basic operating funds came from dividends paid on a butt-load of USA Today stock that the publisher had inherited. Another example? We were doing a story on a proposed new power plant that meant a significant rate hike, both for residents and businesses. A local business owner of some stature asked, “Why don’t you just buy some city utility bonds to offset the cost?” Not on my salary.

When it came to waging financial jihad on the music fans, no one was more vociferous, or out of step, than the major label’s lobbying association, RIAA. They fought every technology advancement to come down the pike. To the point of rendering themselves obsolete. As one major label exec now puts it, “I shouldn’t have sued Napster. I should have bought stock.”

Fast forward to an era where music streaming has replaced p2p file sharing as the optimum form of music distribution. Not about to make the same mistake twice, the remaining 3 major labels bought into Spotify, with the largest being Sony Music Entertainment. When Spotify’s IPO was dropped on April 3rd, Sony couldn’t wait to crow about it in a press release. 

“At the time of the public listing, Sony Music Entertainment (“SME”)… owned 5.707% of Spotify’s shares, and on the same day, SME sold 17.2% of such shares owned by SME. Due to this public listing and the sale, Sony expects to record an unrealized valuation gain (net)* for the shares SME continues to hold and a realized gain for the shares sold (net)... Based on the NYSE closing price on April 3, 2018 and the sale price, the sum of the unrealized valuation gain (net) and the gain on the sale of shares (net) to be recorded for the first quarter of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019 would be approximately 105 billion yen in total. Because the market value of Spotify’s stock following the public listing may be volatile, Sony expects such unrealized valuation gain  could fluctuate during the period that SME continues to hold the shares, including during the first quarter of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019.”

That’s a lot of Yen! But it pails compared to Spotify’s co-founder and CEO, Daniel Ek’s, 400 billion yen in holdings. Simple math shows that Ek, as an individual, owns four times as much stock as the whole SME corporation. But will Ek follow the same path of jihad as the major record labels did under the RIAA cartel? Capitalist history is a good indicator. Current events are as well. In Europe, where there is still some semblance of artists’ moral rights, Spotify and 5 other streaming services have formed a lobbying organization called Digital Music Europe. Mission? “To showcase and promote the success of the European digital music industry, it will serve as a resource for policy-makers, media and the digital music industry, and will advocate for policies that shape a favorable business environment for digital music”. (November 2017) Sound familiar? 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

RIAA Watch (2018 edition)

It’s probably been 15 years since I did my last RIAA Watch column for Counterpunch. Probably 10 since I last looked at the RIAA website. There just hasn’t been a whole lot to report. But sometimes you get curious.

Fascist propaganda from the RIAA  

So what’s new and what isn’t? Well, for starters, they’ve got a spiffy new layout, long on page size photos and short on words. Perfect. They’ve adapted to a model that is Instagram friendly. And what are they pitching on the home page? The 60-year history of their Gold and Platinum Awards ™. Notice they’ve dropped the “Records” part of the award. They seem to be catching up to the late 20th century in that regard.

For those born, say, before 1985, you might remember these. They were really nice wall-hangings of gold or silver colored 45s or albums that were made available (at a cost) to artists, managers, song writers, music publishing companies, corporate music magazines, radio stations, etc. Or to the publisher of a small bootleg review publication that ran rants about the RIAA in every issue if he happened to be at the right charity auction.

They came with an official RIAA hologram and a plaque presented to the applicable person/organization. They made great publicity photos for artists way back when.

I kind of wondered what a gold or platinum MP3 download would look like. But only for about 10 seconds. I scrolled down. The next item came under a caption of big block letters that proclaimed “WE ARE MUSIC.” All caps. If you shout it loud enough maybe somebody will believe you. I don’t. The RIAA has never recorded a piece of music in their entire history.

So I clicked on “MORE ABOUT WHAT WE DO” (all caps again, but smaller). They seem to be lowering the tone a bit. But, jeezus, it’s still kind of rude to shout.

After the same old bullshit about protecting the artists’ interests and representing some of “some of the most iconic record labels” I click to the next page. But not without thinking, “none of the labels mentioned are iconic to me, just gargantuan.”

There it was – the most honest thing ever to appear on the RIAA propaganda site. “The Recording Industry Association of America® (RIAA) is the trade organization that supports and promotes the creative and financial vitality of the major music companies.” The vitality part might be a stretch but at least “iconic” has been changed to “major.”

And who’s running the show? It seems Cary Sherman has failed his way to the top. (Chairman & CEO) You may remember Sherman as the enforcer who carried on Hillary Rosen’s program of suing fans for illegal downloads. He did it with such zeal that he earned the nickname Cary Sue Sherman (first use by veteran music journalist Keith A. Gordon, I believe.) That name cropped up in so many publications (including ours) and so many websites that many think, to this day, that he is a she.

Good lord. Maybe I’ll check back again if Spotify ever becomes a member. (Bill Glahn)

Bonus views: Those bootlegs that the RIAA fought so hard to suppress for so many years are now part of mainstream distribution.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Behind The Lines With Grant Peeples

Grant Peeples & the Peeples Republik: Settling Scores Vol. II
(review by Bill Glahn)

The title track of Grant Peeples last album, “A Congress of Treasons” was a spoken word piece that appeared last on the album. “Ever since I was a kid, all I really wanted to be when I grew up was a traitor – a spy for the other sides,” starts Peeples. He continues with a narrative about a plan to sabotage the “shopping carts of oppression” and recognizes that revealing those intentions have consequences. Yet “here I go again…” It’s a good starting off point for Settling Scores Vol. II.

What’s this plural use of “sides”? We live in an era that, by design, only recognizes two sides. A two-party system. A left-right divide where it’s “imperative” to adopt the views of one side or another or suffer the consequences.

Peeples describes himself as a “leftneck.” There are two syllables in that neologism, neither one necessarily geographic in nature. It’s too simple to look at Peeples’ origins and current home, the Florida panhandle, and generalize this as a “victory” by either side.  For those adhering to the “one or the other” mentality, Grant Peeples is no confederate.

Peeples elaborates, “I’m a socialist, but not politically. But rather socially, in a sort of Old Testament kind of way. In that first book of the Bible we are given the litmus test for being a human being: ‘ARE you your brother’s keeper?’ This is a metaphor, of course. But it’s not a rhetorical question; it’s a black-and-white question. And everybody should have to answer it, on the record. And the answer should go right there on your driver’s license, right below the place that tells whether you are an organ donor or not, or need glasses to drive.”

But, certainly, the Old Testament is treacherous territory when accepted as a whole. Artistically, Peeples claims a different lineage. On his website he describes his early years as “linear.” Until when? When asked to elaborate further, he responds, ”My first mentor was the ball’s-out, Tallahassee artist Jimmy Roche. A fearless sonofabitch who I think was the first environmentalist artist. Years ago I heard Jimmy tell a group of his students: ‘When I look at an art object, the first thing I try to evaluate is: what is this thing’s relevance to the culture?’ I think that when you look at those 40,000 year-old cave paintings from Spain and France, that that’s what you have to ask yourself. What do these paintings tell me about the culture, the times, the values, the world views of these people?  You think those guys back then crawled through hundreds of meters off narrow tunnels just so they could find an open cavern where they could paint some animals on the wall? Nope. I just want to be a descendant of that tradition.”

Peeples credits Roche with introducing him to the songs of Bob Dylan, first and foremost “Desolation Row” played on a Fender guitar. That plays big in understanding Settling Scores Vol. II. “Desolation Row” appeared on the album, Highway 61 Revisited - the first album by Dylan to feature electric instrumentation. As for it’s reputation for being “liberal,” many in the Folk community greeted Dylan with the “traitor” tag. The “Judas shout” was well-documented on bootlegs for years and is now permanently embedded as a commercial release as well (The Bootleg Series Vol. 4).

But Folk conservatism didn’t end there. As Folk “evolved” into its present state, a peculiar whiteness has developed. For all its lip-service to social causes, songs addressing race issues are lacking.  Acoustic instrumentation by white artists is acceptable, but artists like Otis Taylor get tossed in the Blues bin of Internet streaming. Peeples stands out as an exception, with songs like “Nigger Lover” on Prior Convictions, “Pitchforks & Torches” on Settling Scores Vol. II, and even on the epic “New Brownsville Girl” where he states, “A lot of songs have been written about the state of Texas,/ but me, I never cared much for it/ it was stolen outright and soaked in Indian blood.”

About “More For Us, Less For Them” a key track on Settling Scores Vol II, Peeples states, “Years ago, folk music got adulterated by a bunch of Yankees with guitars who learned a few Union songs and then took their hands off the wheel of the culture and started writing and singing about their feelings. Its Carol King music, but with two capos and drop D tuning. The intro, or the pre-song of ‘More For Us, Less For Them,’ is the chorus of my song ‘My People Come From The Dirt,’ and Gurf Morlix, who is singing it, invoked an even more traditional sound here than we had on the original recording. Our intent was the stark juxtaposition of hip-hop and mountain sounds in the telling of what is, essentially, the same story. I think Eminem and Macklemore have written some great folk songs.”

If there seems to be some cultural chauvinism to that first sentence, consider this one. Peeples on gun control: “I have a concealed permit. I legally carry a gun. This isn’t a philosophy. Just like abortion isn’t a philosophy. It’s just a choice. Like abortion is a choice. I have solid reasons that are the foundation of that choice. One day I hope that I may choose differently. Meanwhile, I prefer soft-handed suburbanites who have never pulled a tick off their balls---or shot dope, or seen the inside of a jail or a woman get pistol whipped in a parking lot---to not think they know if it’s right or wrong for me to carry a gun.”

When Jimi Hendrix dropped “Are You Experienced?” on the world, people assumed it was a song about drugs. But it wasn’t a rhetorical question any more than “Are you your brother’s keeper?” Buried in the mix, the last five words may be the least noticed in the whole song. You don’t get to Jimi on the first Experience record without Jimi on the Chitlin’ Circuit. Peeples may have taken a different highway, but with Settling Scores Vol. II he’s entering similar territory.

Bonus views: