Davey Graham: Anji
I can sit here and give you a lot of facts about Davey Graham's life, but the reality is he played hard and it cost him his proper place in the music business, he later described himself as having been "a casualty of too much self-indulgence." At the end of his career, he redeemed himself, but it didn't make up for all the lost time.
He inspired many of the famous practitioners of guitar fingerpicking, musicians like Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Martin Carthy, Eltjo Haselhoff, Jimmy Page (whom based his solo in White Summer on Graham's She Moved Thru) and Simon & Garfunkel, who covered Anji on their Sounds of Silence album. He was also known for his pioneering use of the DADGAD tuning, later widely adopted by acoustic guitarists worldwide.
David Michael Gordon Graham was born Nov. 22, 1940, in Leicester, England, to a Guyanese mother and a Scottish father. Though he never took any formal music lessons, he learned to play the piano and harmonica as a child and then took up the guitar at the age of 12. He lost the sight in his right eye after he fell on a pencil in a playground, that led him to develop a remarkable memory and ear for sound.
As a teen, Graham was a member of traditional Jazz bands and was tutored on the guitar by British Folk singer Steve Benbow. He traveled abroad every summer, busking on the streets of Paris before returning to perform in Folk clubs in England.
Graham's eclecticism posed a marketing dilemma for record companies and agents - his music was not exactly Folk and not quite Jazz. He incorporated Asian and Indian harmonies into his compositions and once termed his style "Folk-Baroque" because of the Classical techniques he brought to the guitar.
Graham's song Angi, named after a girlfriend, appeared on his debut EP 3/4 AD in April 1962, the tune spread like wildfire through a generation of aspiring guitarists. The spelling often changed, but it became Anji after it appeared that way on Simon & Garfunkel's 1966 album Sounds of Silence.
He reemerged in 2003 with a performance in the segment Red, White and Blues in the PBS series, The Blues, and in 2005, an BBC radio interview titled Whatever Happened to Davey Graham, which caused the reissue of his long out-of-print albums on CD. He started doing monthly concerts in London and released an CD of his own compositions, Broken Biscuits, in 2007.
At the beginning of 2008, Graham was diagnosed with lung cancer and died on December 15th. He's survived by two daughters and leaves behind a musical legacy that will last as long as there's fingerpickers plucking six-strings across the globe. For further reading, our Boyhowdy wrote more about him here: RIP Davy Graham, 1940 - 2008.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
To properly represent the career of Utah Phillips, I feel that I should present a train song, a story, and a political or union song. The last two are here. For train song, follow the link later in this post.
Utah Phillips: Moose Turd Pie
Utah Phillips: There is Power in the Union
I never met Utah Phillips, or even saw him perform. But, as I was starting to learn about folk music, his name would come up from time to time. A friend would say that this was somebody I would probably like. A song would come on the radio on a folk show, and it would be him, but by the time the show ended, his would one of a crowd of names I would try to remember. So how did I get to the point of writing a tribute to him?
It happened because I needed a snow song a few weeks ago. and I found the song “Phoebe Snow“. At that point, I learned that Utah Phillips was not only a musician I should have known about sooner, he was also a man I would have loved to hang out with.
Think about that. How many times have you heard a musician, loved what they did, but found out that they were the worst company imaginable? Not Phillips. He was a storyteller. He told tales of hobos in his songs with obvious affection. And, personally, I would have felt right at home talking politics with him. This is important, because the subject would certainly have come up.
What tied all of this together was Phillips’ belief that a man had the right to live by his own rules. Whether it was the hobo, who chose his route and answered to no one, or the union worker, who organized and struck when necessary, rather than submit to the whims of the bosses, these were the people Phillips sang and told of. These were the people he championed and fought for all his life. And now, the fight is left for others to continue. Perhaps to the tune of one of Phillips’ songs.
Friday, January 2, 2009
The Hacienda Brothers: Cowboys to Girls
The Hacienda Brothers: Gone
Chris Gaffney of The Hacienda Brothers passed away in April of this year following a brief bout with liver cancer. He was 57.
I was first introduced to Chris Gaffney through his work as a member of Dave Alivn's band The Guilty Men around the time Alvin released his Ashgrove album in 2004. I really became a fan of Gaffney through his work with The Hacienda Brothers and their self-titled debut album in 2005. Gaffney's voice was a key element to the band's classic brand of R&B flavored country music.
During his illness, I followed news of his condition through the website www.helpgaff.com and was always touched by the personal messages of love and hope left for Chris by his family and friends. A great obituary can be found here from austin360.com. Gaffney's best friend Dave Alvin has a few videos of he and Gaff playing together on his website (scroll down). YepRoc Records will release a Chris Gaffney tribute album in March with contributions from Joe Ely, Dave Alvin, Los Lobos, Calexico, James McMurtry, Alejandro Escovedo, Dan Penn, and many, many others.
The two tracks here both come from a live Hacienda Brothers CD called Music for Ranch & Town that is only available through the band's website.
Bo Diddley - Pretty Thing [purchase]
Bo Diddley - Roadrunner [Live in '63]
Bo Diddley was more than a beat, though you can hardly blame people for being confused since he played the guitar like a drum. Diddley helped introduce a generation of white kids in America and England to hard blues and R&B at the very moment it was being rebranded into rock 'n' roll. Like Chuck Berry, Bo was one of the few early rock 'n' rollers to bring the guitar to the forefront of the band. He was an innovative guitarist, too. He was no virtuoso, but in terms of incorporating distortion and effects, he was way ahead of the curve. Listen to the live version of "Roadrunner" above and you can hear Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck, and Jimi Hendrix not far behind. More than anyone else of his generation, though, it was Bo Diddley who brought the intense, churning rhythms of the black church into his music. But hey, if all you know about Bo Diddley is that beat, that's OK, too. As long as you remember.
On a personal note, I'm indebted to Diddley because I think it was my two-part essay on the man's musical legacy where The Adios Lounge truly found its voice. If you'd like to check that out, here's Part 1 here and there's Part 2 there. To that end, here's a medley of Bo covers I put together which demonstrates the profound effect of the Diddley catalog on succeeding generations of rock musicians. For a complete list of the artists medleying with Bo, that's also available at The Adios Lounge. Check it, yo.
Medleying With Bo: A Bo Diddley Bouillabaise
If you don't like Bo, you don't know Diddley.
Pink Floyd: The Great Gig In The Sky
Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright passed in September of this year, and though I hadn't known much about him before his death, my pursuit of appropriate fodder for a blog post on the subject back then led me to a great respect for this undersung member of one of psychedelic rock's most influential bands. Taking a cue from Nelson, here's a clip from my Cover Lay Down post on the subject:
[Richard] Wright spent much of his career as third fiddle to two powerful songwriters (and, previous to that, one additional stellar frontman), but he deserves his due: his work was hardly negligible, and he did his share of songcraft, too, on some of the best known albums from the band.
Presciently, Wright’s most famous composition is probably The Great Gig in the Sky, which begins with the line “I am not frightened to die.”
It's not every artist who writes his own perfect epitaph. You've heard it before, of course. But isolated from the grandeur that is the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon, The Great Gig in the Sky stands alone as a finite atmosphere, a wash of keys and crashing waves rising ever higher and then floating down to earth again, a lifetime encapsulated in song.
So long, Richard. See you on the other side.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Dave Matthews Band: Best of What's Around
I attended college in the mid-to-late 1990's when the Dave Matthews Band were at their creative peak. As such, they became my favorite band during those years. I went to at least one concert every summer, bought every official live release, traded live concert recordings with other fans, and was a very active member of the message boards at nancies.org (a site that I still miss greatly).
Anyway... Saxophone player LeRoi Moore, a founding member of the DMB passed away in August as a result of an ATV accident in June at his farm in Virginia. I wrote of Moore's passing over at my own site shortly after his death. I think I said every thing I wanted to say there... so I'll just let that post speak for itself. I've reactivated the song links there as well as adding another song here from 1994's Under the Table and Dreaming.
Here's the link to what I wrote about LeRoi Moore back in August.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Born on New Year’s Eve in 1930, Odetta would have been 78 today. And had she lived a few weeks beyond this, she would have realized her last dream, to sing at Barak Obama’s inauguration. When I think of Odetta, I think of three things: spirituals, the Civil Rights Movement, and that voice.
Odetta: Muleskinner‘s Blues
As a child, Odetta loved to sing, The first music she was exposed to, and her original inspiration for singing, was the music of the black church. And somewhere in her journey through life, she also heard the blues. A musically astute bystander, overhearing her at the age of ten, advised Odetta’s mother to wait until she was thirteen, and then start her on classical voice lessons. The lessons lasted for several years, and help shape this amazing instrument. It was at age twenty that Odetta first heard folk music, and fell in love with it.
Odetta: Spiritual Trilogy: Oh Freedom, Come and Go With Me, I‘m on My Way
Odetta’s spirituality was tied up in everything she did. Her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement certainly fit in with this. Many of her gigs at first were at civil rights demonstrations. One of her proudest achievements was singing “Oh Freedom” at the demonstration in Washington where Martin Luther King Delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Odetta: Blues Everywhere I Go
After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Civil Rights Movement began to split into factions, each of which believed that it knew the best way to continue the fight. For Odetta, this meant that it became harder to find the types of gigs she was used to. So, as she sought ways to expand her audience, she tried to broaden her sound. “Blues Everywhere I Go” is the title track from an album recorded late in her career, which paid tribute to female blues singers who had inspired Odetta. It is the only time I know of that she “plugged in”.
But, no matter what she sang, it was still Odetta. She was still the owner of that amazing voice. In her hands, even secular songs became expressions of the human spirit. And so they remain, even now that she is gone.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
In perusing the list of musicians who passed on this year, I feel grateful in saying that, although I mourn the loss of all who passed from this earth in 2008 (some entirely too early), I didn't feel the impact of any nearly so much as I did for Dave Carter in 2002 or Rachel Bissex in 2005.
Then I scanned the list again and sustained a sucker punch to the gut – oh my god... Eddy Arnold...
I'd like to think I'm too young (even at the age of 54) to have been personally invested in his music – however, a secondhand ripple effect can be just as impactful. I've spoken before of my father's role in my love of music – I'd be an entirely different person today if he hadn't taught me the art of active listening. My father would sit... me... down... and explain to me, in musical and literary terms, why what I was about to hear was so meaningful – I do that today... to my kids, my friends... and anyone who, in conversation, sparks a memory/jumping-off point requiring a particular song be played, right then and there...
So it was with Eddy Arnold's Cattle Call, which I probably heard 100 times over the course of my childhood – the recording was half-ode, half-lament to the cowboy, with an accompanying yodel that was both joy-filled and mournful. Easy to visualize the “brown-as-a-berry", lonesome hero rounding up bovines – the tune would later become my mental soundtrack the first time I read Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove decades later...
Eddy Arnold: Cattle Call
Thanks for the memories, Dad – hope you've finally had the chance to tell Eddy face-to-face (or a reasonable heavenly facsimile) how much you loved his tune...
P.S. I've just come from the hospice bedside of Vic Heyman who, although not a musician, can certainly be credited with major support for many folk musicians in the form of reviewing, promoting and financing various music projects (most notably Remembering Rachel) – Vic and his wife Reba have been coming to South Florida in the winter for years (at first for a week at a time which has now extended to a four-month stay) when Vic took a turn for the worse last week. Reba and their daughter Judy are sitting vigil, after having disconnected the ventilator a few days ago – I brought them tangerines, stayed a few hours chatting and had an opportunity to say my goodbyes, staying strong while there and weeping all the way home.
...which brings us back to Rachel Bissex, who wrote this song, from her final recording In White Light, about Vic and Reba...
Rachel Bissex: Just Like That
...which segues to Dave Carter's brilliantly poetic unfolding of transition, the only somber banjo tune of which I'm aware...
Dave Carter (with Tracy Grammer): When I Go
...which reminds me of Mary Chapin Carpenter's song describing "that thin chiffon wave", the title of which came from Tracy Grammer's ("his partner in all things") description of Dave's passing...
Mary Chapin Carpenter: Between Here and Gone
"The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost." ~ Arthur Schopenhauer
Monday, December 29, 2008
Eartha Kitt: C'est Si Bon
She made her mark on pop culture as a particularly slinky Catwoman, and her 1953 Santa Baby set the standard for sultry in the Christmas canon. But dancer/actress/singer Eartha Mae Kitt was no pussycat: even in her softer moments, her claws were visible just under that paper-thin kitchy-coo exterior.
Conceived of rape on a South Carolina cotton plantation, raised by a woman who may or may not have been her mother, Kitt's anger at the world was her driving force. The bitterness got her in trouble, at times; most notably, her US career lost steam in the late sixties when her anti-war statements at a White House luncheon made Lady Bird Johnson cry. But she soldiered on, turning to the international community, reinventing herself for new audiences, most notably the burgeoning mid-eighties gay Disco revival, even as she held fast to her core persona.
Her later work on the cabaret circuit is known for a witty, weary ferocity; her aptest roles in this era included a stint as the wicked Kaa the snake in a BBC radio production of the Jungle Book, and a turn on the North American tour of The Wizard of Oz as the Wicked Witch of the West. But it is this 1963 recording which I always come back to, a movie song which hit #11 on the Cash Box charts. She sounds so happy, so young, so voracious, so full of promise. After a lifetime of hardship, I like to think it's how she would want to be remembered.
Patriotism is defined as “love of country”. Miriam Makeba understood this well. Raised in the traditions of her father’s Xhosa tribe in South Africa, Makeba was 16 when the Apartheid regime came to power. She began to sing professionally with the Manhattan Brothers, who combined traditional vocal techniques with the vocal stylings of the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots. As her popularity grew, Makeba was able to form her own group, the Skylarks. Makeba used her increasing popularity to speak to an ever widening audience in South Africa about the evils of Apartheid. Finally, her popularity enabled Makeba to become a solo artist. Her hit “Pata Pata” began to bring her international attention, and the opportunity to tour outside of her native land. This would prove to be an important turning point in her life and career.
Miriam Makeba: Pata Pata
While Miriam Makeba was on an international tour in 1960, the government of South Africa revoked her passport, which barred her from returning to her native land for what would prove to 30 years. Harry Belefonte became one of her champions, helping her to gain an audience in the United States, and her popularity globally allowed her to continue recording and touring the world. She began to adopt a more international repertoire, but she always mixed in the influence of the traditions of her native land, and she never lost the desire to return home.
Miriam Makeba: I Long to Return
In the late 1960s, Makeba married the Black Panther leader Stokely Charmichael. Makeba related the American civil rights movement to the struggle for freedom in her homeland, and she could not be uninvolved while she lived here. But Charmichael was a controversial figure, and Makeba found that the relationship hurt her career. Suddenly, offers to perform in the United States began to dry up. Even in countries sympathetic to the United States, Makeba found that work was harder to come by. So, when Charmichael fled the US, and settled in Guinea, she went with him.
In Guinea, Makeba absorbed the influence of the local music, and incorporated it into what she was doing. She continued to work against Apartheid, and for freedom, wherever she went. For this work, she briefly became Guinea’s ambassador to the United Nations. “Amampondo” is an example of her music from this period.
Miriam Makeba: Amampondo
And so it went. She went wherever fortune took her, and always she sang. She never considered her songs political; she sang of her life. And she always put some of where she was into her work, but she never forgot where she came from. In 1989, Paul Simon invited her to join the Graceland tour. It was the first time she had worked with other South African musicians in many years. Simon was accused of “cultural imperiailism”, of coopting a foreign musical style. But, for Makeba, this was more of what she had always done. It was a way of bringing the music of her home to the world in a form that would be appreciated by the people she performed for wherever she was.
The next year, Apartheid in South Africa finally ended. Miriam Makeba could finally go home again. Her last few albums presented the traditional music she grew up with, and showed her catching up with the changes that South African music had gone through while she was gone.
Miriam Makeba: Ngalala Phantsi
This year, Makeba was asked to perform a concert in Italy, at a concert promoting the right to speak out against the Mafia. Of course, she went. On November 9, she collapsed on stage after performing “Pata Pata”. Not long after, she was gone. But the spirit of freedom lives on in her music.