Posts Tagged ‘David Crosby’

In celebration of the 23rd anniversary of The Old Grey Cat (sans the hiatus of about seven – or was it eight? – years), here’s a post from the original website. Just as I do on this blog at year’s end, I recapped one aspect of 1998 once December rolled around…

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DECEMBER 14th– This time of year, magazines, newspapers and the broadcast/cable networks look back at the year that was. And why not? It’s a cheap, easy way to fill space. Of course, few new insights are proffered; instead, we’re served clipped headlines and predictable analysis. For instance, 1998 is already being called “The Year of Monica.”

Uh, excuse me? As far as I’m concerned, 1998 was “The Year of Lucinda.”

Aside from being an instant classic, Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Dirt Road was the best album of the year, hands down. In years to come, folks will write about it with the same reverence that they share for such albums as Gram Parson’s Grievous Angel or the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, a genre-busting effort that is more than the sum of its parts. In a live setting, backed by a powerhouse band featuring the likes of guitar slinger Kenny Vaughn and vocalist extraordinaire Jim Lauderdale, Lucinda offered a stew of sublime, superb and incredible songs, tasty morsels all.

1) Lucinda Williams – June 26th – Philly/TLA – The circumstances were suspect, at best. Due to thunderstorms, Lucinda’s plane was detoured to NYC; she took a train south, and didn’t hit the stage until 10:30 p.m. Add to that the fact that she’d had two hours sleep the night before…but, to quote Stephen Stills, it’s “No matter. No distance. It’s the ride.” And what a ride this night was! She and her band were right in time; and we, the audience, were left moaning at the ceiling… especially on the extended guitar jam that brought bliss to “Joy.”

2) Steve Earle & the Dukes – Feb. 7th – Philly/TLA – The term “ragged glory” must have been invented to describe a Steve Earle show. After opening with the timely “Christmas in Washington,” Steve led the audience on a two-hour, 20-minute tour of society’s “other side”… “Taneytown,” “Copperhead Road” and Fort Worth were just a few of the stops. Others: “Guitar Town,” New York City and … the soul. This was a night of glorious, guts-first music that rocked the soul even as it connected with the intellect. I was lucky enough to see Steve twice this year, four months apart. The main difference? The band. Here, he was buttressed by Buddy Miller on guitar and Brady Blades on drums (half of Spyboy, in other words). Small wonder that, after Steve and the Dukes left the stage, the Philly crowd took up the chorus of the night’s closing song, “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied,” and brought him back for more.

3) CPR – July 1st – Philly/TLA – A sparsely attended show, but you’d never know it from the way Crosby, Pevar and Raymond played. Same goes for the magical opening act, Anastasia & John. An incredible, magical night. CPR remind me of Steely Dan, but minus (what to me is) the Dan’s smarminess. Crosby was in exc. voice, and the new songs are among his strongest. That’s not to say the old songs weren’t appreciated… don’t pass on seeing CPR, if given the chance. These guys rock (and Pevar’s guitar playing blows the mind).

4) Maria McKee – Dec. 6th – Philly/Tin Angel – This year, the Absolutely Sweet Maria undertook a brief tour billed as “A Close Encounter with …” At the Tin Angel, those words are oh-so-true. It’s a small venue, fitting no more than 125. Despite suffering from a cold and “airplane throat,” Maria took hold of the audience for a good 75 minutes… yeah, 75 minutes. Too short, to say the least, yet it was a riveting show. Suffice it to say, she is not collecting dust. She opened with “Life is Sweet,” played a hand-full of new songs and just a few of her older classics. “Panic Beach,” for example, tho’ these ears missed “Breathe.” The night’s highlight: An intense “I’m Not Listening.”

5) Steve Earle – July 15th – Philly/TLA – Minus Buddy Miller and Brady Blades, but still damn good. “Won’t get far on 37 dollars and a Jap guitar… WANNA BET!” See him, buy his albums, help him pay off that 16,000 pound phone bill he racked up in London last year… I could go on, but why?

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Most fans know – or should know – the story behind Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Daylight Again album, which was released on June 21, 1982: It began life in 1980 as a collaboration between Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. The two had performed together at a political benefit in Hawaii and enjoyed themselves so much that they decided to try their luck as a duo.

At about the same time, erstwhile comrade David Crosby was recording his own album; but Capitol Records, his label home, was underwhelmed by what he turned in. According to Dave Zimmer’s Crosby, Stills & Nash: The Biography, the album included wordless jams and – in the label’s estimation – no marketable single. Crosby says that “[t]hey didn’t like it. They felt it wasn’t rock ’n’ roll enough, wasn’t like Devo or Elvis Costello.”

Stills and Nash’s project was rejected by Atlantic Records, too, though for different reasons. Although the songs were strong, and vocalists Timothy B. Schmidt (of Poco and the Eagles) and Art Garfunkel had helped round out the vocal sound, the label feared few fans would buy a Stills-Nash LP. In the Zimmer bio, Nash explains that Atlantic “wanted a Crosby, Stills & Nash album. They knew that as a combination, CSN would sell more than anything me and Stephen might have together.” And “sell” is something Stills and Nash needed the album to do: They had funded the project themselves and were some $400,000 in the hole. 

Nash also says that, as he thought it through, the more he agreed with Atlantic: “I started to miss [Crosby]. I missed his vocal quality. I missed his unique musical contributions. And I missed David as a person.”

Once Crosby came on board, the project turned into something of a jigsaw puzzle, with the threesome figuring out how to fit Crosby into a nearly complete picture. In some instances, such as “Southern Cross” and the title cut, the decision was made to leave him off. The songs were perfect as-is.

The genesis of “Southern Cross” is interesting. Stills’ manager played him a never-released song by the Curtis Brothers called “Seven League Boots”; he liked what he heard, but thought it could be better. He reached out, received permission to tinker with it, and before long a truly wondrous song was born. (For more on that, read this entry on the Disc Makers blog.)

In addition to figuring out where to fit Crosby’s harmonies, the re-formed trio had to decide which of Crosby’s solo tracks would work on “the album that wouldn’t die,” as some of those involved called it. The ethereal “Delta” was an obvious choice; Stills and Nash added some harmonies, but with or without their contributions the song was and is a stunning musical epiphany. 

Nash, too, has his moments, most notably on “Wasted on the Way,” in which he laments the time he and his pals had wasted through the years. The genius of the song, however, is that the lyrics apply to you and me, too. Everyone, at some point in their life’s journey, looks back with regret about missing out on something.

Anyway, although the album was released in 1982, I didn’t discover it until January 6th, 1984. (I can say so with certainty thanks to my desktop calendar.) In my Essentials piece on the Pretenders’ Learning to Crawl (which I bought 11 days later), I mentioned that much of the music entering my collection in late 1983 and early 1984, when I was an 18-year-old college freshman living the commuter-college life, stemmed from previous generations. The albums included a slew of Neil Young releases, including Times Fades Away, American Stars ’n’ Bars and Comes a Time, as well as Deja Vu, the album he released in 1970 with Crosby, Stills & Nash.

I’d love to say Deja Vu , which I acquired in November, immediately won me over. It didn’t.

Mind you, I owned the Woodstock album and – if memory serves – had watched the concert documentary a time or two on Prism, a premium cable channel native to the Philadelphia area. I liked and loved a fair bit of ‘60s music, and often joked that I’d come of age in the wrong decade. Overall, however, rock critic Dave Marsh’s brutal assessment of CSN in the 1983 Rolling Stone Record Guide was enough for me: “Limpid ‘adult bubblegum’ rockers.” Or, as Neil himself called them in “Thrasher” on his classic Rust Never Sleeps, “dead weight.”

I should back up, just for a moment: Living the commuter-college life sans a car, which wouldn’t come for a few more months, wasn’t easy. One bus from Hatboro to the mall in Willow Grove. A second bus to Abington. And then a 10-minute hike to campus. Such was my life. I slipped the headphones of my Walkman clone over my ears, and lost myself in music. The return home, however, was much easier: Any of several friends usually gave me a lift.

It was during just such a journey home one December day – just a few weeks after buying Deja Vu – that the melody of “Southern Cross” slinked from the tinny car’s speakers like a purring Persian cat and wrapping its paws – claws kneading – around my heart. The song’s chorus, an unabashed cry of an unfulfilled romantic, appealed to me, too. That same week, I picked up the live Allies album – by mistake. And while the bulk of it was so-so, the two studio tracks, “War Games” and “Raise a Voice,” were quite good. A week later I came home with Daylight Again; and by the time I left the commuter-college life for the Penn State mothership in the fall of ’85, it had become one of my favorite albums.

In the decades since, I’ve come to hear it as a solid – but not spectacular – album that possesses glimmers of greatness, notably “Delta” and “Southern Cross.” Stills pretty much dominates the proceedings (six of the 11 tracks are his), with the bluesy opener “Turn Your Back on Love” and one-two punch of “Since I Met You” and “Too Much Love to Hide” being additional highlights.

I should add that the album didn’t receive stellar reviews at the time or at any time in the years since, really, aside from some fans. Rolling Stone’s Stephen Holden, for example, wrote that “[t]heir voices, drifting on little watercolored islands toward a misty shore of meaninglessness, evoke a kind of perfection. For the blend is more powerful than any tune it attempts or any lyric it essays. The blend simply floats….”

From where I sit, the main drawback is this: It’s less a CSN album and more a Stills, Nash and Friends set.

The track listing:

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Released on Feb. 6, 1967 in the U.S., Younger Than Yesterday was greeted by lukewarm reviews and sallow sales, stalling on the Billboard charts at No. 24. “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star,” the lead single, made it only to No. 29; and the follow-up singles of “My Back Pages” and “Have You Seen Her Face” did worse, ascending to a mere 30 and 74 during their brief chart runs.

It’s also a brief album, the 11 songs collectively clocking in a few ticks short of 30 minutes. (The 1996 CD reissue adds 6 songs and 17 minutes.)  And, yet, Younger Than Yesterday is a wondrous album well worth repeated listens. The songs, save for one, are exquisite; and while it isn’t the best Byrds album, it certainly flies with them.

The set opens with the gleefully cynical “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star,” which is said to have been written by Jim McGuinn and Chris Hillman in response to the meteoric success of the Monkees. It features Hugh Masekela on trumpet; the audience screams were recorded at a 1965 Byrds concert in England.

“Have You Seen Her Face,” the first of four Chris Hillman-penned tracks on the LP, follows. As noted by many a Byrd historian, Hillman’s songwriting flowered on Younger Than Yesterday – an easy observation to make given that his only prior contribution was co-writing “Captain Soul” on Fifth Dimension with the rest of the band. He also, for the first time, sings lead.

“The Girl With No Name” is another Hillman gem. One can make the case that in less than two minutes it lays the foundation for the country-rock genre as a whole.

David Crosby’s “Renaissance Fair,” co-written with McGuinn, foreshadows the fabled Summer of Love, cinnamon and spice, and everything nice…

…while “Everybody’s Been Burned” conjures his work with Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Another Crosby contribution, “Why,” was also cowritten with McGuinn. It had previously been released as the b-side to “Eight Miles High” almost a year before; why the band chose to re-record it for Younger Than Yesterday remains a delightful mystery. I say “delightful” because it’s a great song and the perfect end to an almost perfect album.

As great as “Why” is? That’s how bad Crosby’s “Mind Gardens,” the longest song on the original album (at 3:28), is. It’s the kind of track programmable CD players were made for. If, say, the bonus track of “It Happens Each Day,” which was likely left off due to its similarity to “Everybody’s Been Burned,” had been included instead? Younger Than Yesterday would have been the greatest Byrds album of all time – well, second greatest. Nothing beats Mr. Tambourine Man.

Another highlight: the cover of Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages,” from which the album title comes. It was originally released on Dylan’s classic 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan.

The songs:

  1. “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”
  2. “Have You Seen Her Face”
  3. “C.T.A.-102″
  4. “Renaissance Fair”
  5. “Time Between”
  6. “Everybody’s Been Burned”
  7. “Thoughts and Words”
  8. “Mind Gardens”
  9. “My Back Pages”
  10. “The Girl With No Name”
  11. “Why”

IMG_0764October 1984 is basically a blip on the radar of time, with only two notable events occurring in its 31 days: astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan became the first woman to walk in space on the 11th; and Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her bodyguards on its final day. In America, Reagan v. Mondale was in full swing but, really, everyone already knew the outcome.

On the personal front: This was a good month in my life. No, let me rephrase: This was a great month. On October 22nd, I attended a rally for Walter Mondale – no, that wasn’t the great part. This was: I met Stephen Stills, who was (and remains) one of my favorite musical artists, at the event. (You can read about that here.)

The month didn’t start off so well, however: On October 3rd, I received a speeding ticket and, that same day, locked my keys in my car. Doh! The ticket, thankfully, was rescinded; the officer, bless his heart, forgot to sign it.

I picked up some good LPs, including two masterpieces that are on my (nonexistent as of yet) Albums Everyone Should Own list: Crosby & Nash’s Wind on the Water and David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name.

Anyway, this issue of Record features a cover story on the Jacksons and their hot “Victory” tour that I’ve never read. For me, the issue is notable because of Bill Flanagan’s excellent interview of Lou Reed and an interesting essay by Peter Buck.

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1) Lou Reed – “New Sensations.” In the interview, Lou talks about his current New Sensations album, which I picked up in June, and more. “I’m part of the baby boom generation. The first generation that grew up on rock. Right out of the ‘50s, that’s me. Along with that, for better or worse, comes a lot of ‘50s attitudes—which, to my mind, as I’ve gotten older, has not been a good thing. I mention in ‘New Sensations’ that it’s something I’m trying to work past. I want to get past that ‘50s view that I really have been in, either by manifesting it or going in the other direction and rebelling against it. What I want to do is go past it. I would hate to have to live with those tacky kind of attitudes. I want more out of life.”

In the next paragraph, he explains that “Faulkner wrote only about the swamp. James Jones wrote only about the war. But I didn’t want to write just about dope and New York…I did my drug songs. I don’t want to make that my war, my swamp, my city. That’s not what I’m primarily interested in. I’m interested in emotions, things that happen to people.”

The interview closes with: “I’ve said this before: what if Raymond Chandler approached rock ’n’ roll? Well, you might get Street Hassle. What if a real writer came in? Just like they brought real writers like Faulker out to Hollywood to write screenplays. That’s what I wanted to do in a rock ’n’ roll format. I’m still at it. It’s like sitting and listening to Brecht and Weill’s ‘Song for the Seven Deadly Sins’; there’s a song for every sin out there. There’s endless things to write about. You could do that with rock, too. That’s what I want to do.”

IMG_07682) Sheila E. – “The Glamorous Life.” Craig Zeller reviews Sheila E.’s debut in conjunction with the Time’s Ice Cream Castle because of their shared Prince connection. Of The Glamorous Life, which I’d picked up over the summer, he writes: “Not surprisingly, the head-and-shoulders standout here is the title cut wherein Sheila E. goes after high living with an exuberant lunge that’ll have you racing your engines. It’s the kind of heel-clicking thrill seeker that makes you wanna take the curve on two wheels. And, brother, does she raise some thunder on those drums! Ever see the video where she’s whacking out the rhythm in a gleeful frenzy? I just did and it’s time for another cold shower. All in all, I’m not sure I’d give you the Time of Day, because it’s the glamorous life for me.”

IMG_07693) R.E.M. – “Can’t Get There From Here.” R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck pens an essay titled “The True Spirit of American Rock” in which he asserts that “even though British bands are selling millions of records, that doesn’t tell the whole story about what’s happening musically in the States. There’s deeply-heartfelt music being made by American bands that most people in this country are ignoring and that the British don’t even get to hear.” He offers Husker Du, Mission of Burma and the Replacements as three examples.

He also explains that “[a] lot of British records that are big in this country take the passion and spirit of American soul music and turn it into supper-club, MOR slush that’s the rock ’n’ roll equivalent of Las Vegas. Words like ‘passion’ and ‘spirit’ are the flavor of the month these days; they get tossed around so often that they’ve lost much of their meaning. Still, the music I like most is done by people who convey a sense of self, a feeling that they’d continue making music even if they weren’t making records. Music is a part of their lives, not just a vehicle to stardom. I can’t define it exactly—good music can run the gamut from Hank Williams to Black Flag—other than to say I’m moved by music made by real people for real reasons.”

IMG_07704) The Style Council – “My Ever Changing Moods.” Anthony DeCurtis has the Final Word this issue:

“Except for the Brit-punk detonation, the ‘70s and early ‘80s offered little to listeners who like social significance to spike their sounds. The surreal remoteness of huge stadium and arena shows by demigod pop stars publicly dramatized the chasm of alienation those years cracked between bands and their audience, between the world of millionaire entertainers and the everyday concerns of working people.

“While that chasm has in no way been fully bridged, politically conscious music has resurged in the last few years from many (sometimes surprising) sources and for many reasons.”

Paul Weller’s Style Council gets a nod for its 1984 release, My Ever Changing Moods (known in Weller’s home country as Cafe Bleu; it was renamed in the States to match the single, which hit No. 29 on the Billboard charts). “The Style Council’s Brechtian disc is extremely subversive,” says De Curtis.

5) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “Born in the U.S.A.” De Curtis also singles out Springsteen’s 1984 release in his essay: “Springsteen chronicles American working-class like in the wake of Vietnam, an economic ‘recovery’ that benefits the managerial class almost exclusively, and external conditions that turn the patriotic fervor working people have always felt into a humiliating ironic joke. The triumph of Born on the U.S.A. is Springsteen’s ability to depict the human cost of oppression without condescending to, sentimentalizing, or caricaturing the people whose lives form his subject.”