Posts Tagged ‘Give Me Strength’

I’ve written before of Da Boot!, the fanzine I was involved with during the late 1990s, so I won’t go too deep into it here. Suffice it to say, however, that it was a good idea, but about a decade too late. If we’d launched it in, say, 1988, when the CD-bootleg boom was just beginning and the Internet had yet to become a threat to both newsprint and the music business, we would have had a nice decade-long run instead of two years. (My only complaint about it, now that my eyes are 20 years older, is the small type used to squish all the words onto the page. I find it hard to read.)

The issue, as the above cover shows, featured my freewheelin’ second interview with David Crosby, which occurred in his Atlantic City hotel suite when he, Stills and Nash were headlining one of the casinos. (The entire exchange can be found here.) The second story was related to the first, in a fashion: I turned a lengthy phone interview with guitarist Jeff Pevar (of Crosby’s other band at the time, CPR) into an “as-told-to” piece that charted his career. It meant not just transcribing our talk, but rearranging his remembrances so that everything flowed in chronological order, and then checking with him on the changes. (That article can be found here.) I was also proud of the accompanying graphic, which I created – I imposed a cut-out of the Peev over the artwork of the first CPR studio album.

I’m bypassing both of those interviews, however, and focusing on the reviews. So, without further adieu, here’s today’s Top 5: March-April 1999 (via Da Boot!):

1) Kelly Willis – “What I Deserve.” Diane tackles What I Deserve, the third long-player (and fourth overall release, as she’d also released an EP) from the Oklahoma-born, and North Carolina- and Virginia-raised country-flavored singer. “What Kelly Willis has long deserved is widespread recognition in the music world – and hopefully, the stripped-down production that allows you to hear Willis’ voice in all its glory combined with her usual excellent selection of songs will draw her closer to universal acclaim.”

If I recall correctly, we saw Kelly twice in the late ’90s – on a tour prior to What I Deserve, and then on the What I Deserve tour. And based on those shows, and this album, she definitely did deserve more…

2) Lone Justice – “Drugstore Cowboy.” I tackle a Maria McKee bootleg, Absolutely Barking, and the Lone Justice compilation This World Is Not My Home in a twin-spin of a review. Of the former, which featured a crystal-clear DAT recording of a London ’98 show, I wrote “Maria is in more than fine voice, she’s in total command. The as-yet-unreleased ‘Be My Joy’ is just one highlight. From the opening chant of ‘feed me, feed me, feed me, baby/need you, need you, need you, baby’ onward, you’re in the audience pushed to the edge of the stage and swaying side to side in time to the beat, experiencing sonic bliss.” Of the latter, after lavishing similar hyperbolic praise on the previously released Lone Justice songs, I wrote that “it’s the band’s previously unreleased demos that prove most earth-shattering. The Maria-penned “Drugstore Cowboy,” for example, is a shotgun blast of authentic cowpunk – and far, far more.” (If you squint real hard, you’ll see that I cribbed part of the review for use in my “Essentials” entry on the Lone Justice debut. I subscribe to recycling, don’tcha know.)

3) The Who – “Baba O’Riley.” Jim tackles the Who bootleg Always on Top by noting that it’s a copy of another bootleg, Who Put a Better Boot in 1976, and also listing where some of the content is legitimately available. He also notes that “[t]he performance is excellent throughout, with the usual over-the-top, maximum volume performance that the band was famous for. There are six songs from the rock opera Tommy included, as well as staples ‘Summertime Blues,’ ‘Baba O’Riley,’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ There is also some funny, between-song banter included as Keith Moon and Pete Townshend introduce the songs.”

4) Lucinda Williams – “Right in Time.” When Diane and I saw Lucinda in June ’98 at the TLA, she arrived late due to, I think, fog – her afternoon flight was waylaid to New York, forcing her to hop a train to Philly, and then pray the audience didn’t grow restless and leave. The opening act, Jim Lauderdale, went on a little after nine; and she didn’t hit the stage until a little after 10. But despite her travel nightmare, and the delayed start, she still clocked in a two-hour show that was everything Bruce describes in this write-up of Lucinda’s January 1999 concert at the John Harms Theater in North Jersey six months.

One difference: Bruce was “[e]quipped with a recordable Sony Mini Discman MRZ-50, 2 blank 74 minute discs and a AIWA microphone.” In today’s age, when many shows are lit up from a sea of cellphones (really, folks: dim your damn screens!), it may seem bizarre to young folks to learn this, but there was a time you could get tossed from a venue if you were caught recording. And you also had to make tough choices due to the technological limits of recording gear, as Bruce did this night when he chose not to capture opening act Patty Griffin’s “short and sparkling set.”  Which makes this all the more remarkable: “An incredible version of ‘Joy’ developed into a fifteen minute guitar interplay jam that ended the first set at the 74 minute mark of the first disc!”

But because I used “Joy” in that prior Da Boot! piece, here’s another song from the night…

5) Bob Dylan – “The Death of Emmett Till.” In his take on The Third One Now, a three-CD set of unreleased Dylan gems, Jim chimes in on the freedoms – or lack thereof – afforded to American citizens in the 1950s. “Of the first seven songs on disc one, six are from what is referred to as the ‘Smith Home Tapes’ in 1962, and one track (actually two songs) is from the Oscar Brand Folk Festival from WNYC in New York in 1961. The sound is extraordinary on all of these and the performances are that of a budding musical genius finding his foothold and his confidence. Historically significant to be sure, but the subject matter of songs like ‘Death of Emmett Till,’ which deals with racism, is still significant all these years later.” (And almost 20 years on, it still remains relevant.)

And one bonus…

6) Neil Young – “Give Me Strength” (1976). The Neil Young bootleg Rolling Zuma Revue made me livid – and the review, honestly, makes me laugh. I write that “Wild Wolf, the ‘label’ behind this two-CD set should be skinned for its fur, with its carcass left for the maggots to infest.” I go on, and on, and use some profane language, while explaining that they coupled two 1976 shows – Chicago and Osaka – and arranged the tracks so that the Chicago songs opened each disc while the Osaka songs closed them. I.e., they split the shows in half. “What is this?” I ask. “Ring around the f-ng rosy?” I then go on to answer myself, and fill in readers: “the Chicago set offers stellar sound but the Osaka section sucks.” Which meant that if a fan did his or her due diligence, and asked the store proprietor to play a song or two on the in-house stereo system (as was common), he or she might be fooled into buying it.

1976 was a weird year to be Neil Young. From February to June, he and Stephen Stills were hunkered down at Criteria Studios in Miami recording their lone duo project, Long May You Run, that didn’t turn out as hoped. And in June, Neil embarked on a much-anticipated tour with Stills – only to quit after nine dates for reasons that may or may not have had to do with a throat ailment. The now-infamous telegram he sent his compadre read “Dear Stephen, Funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil.”

About three weeks after sending that telegram, on the evening of Aug. 11, 1976, Neil entered a Malibu recording studio and, with fellow traveler David Briggs mixing live in the control room, laid down a set of songs while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and, in one case, piano. The only breaks, he recalled in his Special Deluxe memoir, were for weed, booze and coke – and, perhaps, conversation and jokes with pal Dean Stockwell, who sat in the studio’s quietest chair. Neil has said that he envisioned the session as his take on one of Bob Dylan’s early albums, when the bard spun magic with just his tunes, guitar and harmonica.

Side 1:

  1. Pocahontas
  2. Powderfinger
  3. Captain Kennedy
  4. Hawaii
  5. Give Me Strength
  6. Ride My Llama

Side 2:

  1. Hitchhiker (Like an Inca # 1)
  2. Campaigner
  3. Human Highway
  4. The Old Country Waltz

At the time of the session, it should be noted, not all the songs were new – “Human Highway” dates to (at least) 1973, and that year’s ill-fated studio reunion of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; and Neil said on Facebook that he recorded “Pocahontas,” “Powderfinger” and “Ride My Llama” for Zuma in 1975, but left them behind. The difference between those (and future) recordings and these: Hitchhiker presents the songs in their purest essence.

In short, it’s a true great lost album. While it does harken back to the early ‘60s LPs recorded in a matter of hours by Dylan (and others), it possesses a cynical post-Watergate/post-Vietnam sensibility due to its tales of disillusionment, self-doubt, drugs and death. The title track, which chronicles Neil’s drug history, is a good example:

If it had been released at the time, it may well have been embraced by the Harvest-era fans who turned away once Neil veered from the middle of the road to the ditch with Time Fades Away, On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night. The melodies, in other words, are pure Harvest.

The executives at Reprise, his record company, supposedly heard the songs as demos for a new album, and not a finished product. They suggested he flesh them out with a band.

Instead, as Neil’s apt to do, he moved on. Eight of the 10 songs surfaced on later albums, sometimes fleshed out, sometimes not: “Pocahontas,” “Powderfinger” and “Ride My Llama” anchored Rust Never Sleeps (1979); “Captain Kennedy” sailed on Hawks & Doves (1980); “Hitchhiker” hitched rides on, in part, Trans (1982) and, in whole (but with an added verse), on Le Noise (2010); “Campaigner” pressed the flesh on Decade (1977); “Human Highway” opened Side 2 of Comes a Time (1978); and “The Old Country Waltz” danced within the grooves of American Stars & Bars.

The two previously unreleased songs, “Hawaii” and “Give Me Strength,” date to Neil’s breakup in 1975 with the actress from “A Man Needs a Maid,” Carrie Snodgress. “Hawaii” is a pleasant parable about “vitamins” and moving on, and – to my ears, at least – is the weakest of the songs; “Give Me Strength,” on the other hand, is a gem.

In retrospect, it’s easy to question the judgment of those Reprise executives. But, to quote from one of my favorite songs, there’s more to the picture that meets the eye. For the context, see my first paragraph: Neil basically sabotaged the sales of Long May You Run before its September release the moment he bailed on the Stills-Young tour. And, even if they weren’t pissed at him for doing so, the earliest Hitchhiker could’ve been released – without stepping on the other album’s sales – was early 1977. What’s the easiest way to say no to an artist? Tell him his project needs work.

And, in some respects, let’s be glad they did. Rust Never Sleeps would not be the album we know and cherish without “Pocahontas,” “Powderfinger” and “Ride My Llama”; and what would be Comes a Time without one of its best tracks?

If you’re a diehard Neil fan, picking up Hitchhiker is a no-brainer. If you’re a casual fan, pull it up on Apple Music or Spotify and enjoy. It’s a magical, mystical set.