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sound man: glyn johns

April 1, 2015

9780399163876_large_Sound_Man3If you don’t know who Glyn Johns is, let me just introduce him with this quote from his book:

“The following day I returned to California to start the Steve Miller Band’s third album, Brave New World. We were getting on fine until I got a call from The Beatles, asking if Steve would let me go for a couple of weeks, to return home to London to do some sessions for what became Abbey Road… I went straight from the plane to Apple for a couple of days, and then to Olympic Studios for an all-night session with the Stones till six a.m. Then to Apple again in the afternoon before going on to the Albert Hall that evening to record Jimi Hendrix in concert.”

So yeah, that’s Glyn Johns.

If I asked you to name a dozen landmark rock albums from the Sixties and Seventies, chances are your list would include several that Johns mixed, engineered, and/or produced. His staggering discography includes Let it Bleed, Abbey Road, Harvest, Who’s Next, Led Zeppelin I and those really aren’t even the tip of the iceberg.

After getting his start through a chance connection with IBC Studios in London, Johns became easily one of the most sought after men in the business when it came to creating phenomenal albums. And last year, after decades of being behind-the-scenes, he put his incredible story to paper and gave us Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with the Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Eric Clapton, the Faces. . .

I just finished this delightful little read and the best way I can describe it is that it’s like skipping stones over the vast, deep, and murky sea of rock & roll history. Anyone who authors a memoir has the absolute right to relinquish as much or as little of their personal story to the public as they choose. Sound Man is refreshing in that it isn’t a lascivious tell-all, and it isn’t driven by any personal vendettas (cough, This Wheel’s On Fire, cough). He stays remarkably above-board when describing the many characters he has worked with over the years; more often than not, heaping generous praise on his colleagues and only occasionally indulging his less favorable opinions. Those rare flashes of actual scrutiny are some of my favorite moments of the book, for example when describing his discarded mix of Let It Be: “John [Lennon] gave the tapes to Phil Spector, who puked all over them, turning the album into the most syrupy load of bullshit I have ever heard.”

The book moves swiftly and slightly haphazardly through time, touching down for the brief vignettes that form each chapter. He never lingers too long on any particular experience or album, but the stone keeps skipping and the stories keep coming. It’s especially fascinating to hear the perspective from the other side of the glass as these legendary albums were being made. Like, who knew that Keith Richards only ended up singing “You Got the Silver” because Johns accidentally erased Mick Jagger’s vocal while Jagger was out of the country and unable to rerecord it???

Glyn Johns has given us many incredible albums over the years and his contribution with Sound Man is no less of a gift. I can only be thankful that he has offered us this glimpse into his extraordinary story.

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Johns in the studio with Keith Richards

 

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gig grab bag: grateful dead – jack straw

March 10, 2015

gig grab bag logoGrateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter might be my favorite songwriter after Bob Dylan. The beauty in his lyrics has always resonated with me – especially on masterpieces like “Box of Rain” and “So Many Roads.”  Reading Hunter’s recent interview with Rolling Stone inspired me to share one of my favorite Grateful Dead videos. This performance of “Jack Straw” comes from the 1972 concert in Veneta, Oregon that went on to become the Sunshine Daydream film. The concert was a benefit to raise money for the Springfield Creamery, run by Ken Kesey’s family. Part of my fondness for this footage is that it takes place in my home state, only miles outside of Eugene – that sweet, glorious little city of my alma mater. My other favorite thing about this video is obviously the opening moments captured between the dog and the baby in the tire… a pairing of words I truly never thought I’d write on this website. See for yourself but I’m pretty sure it takes ‘heartwarming’ to a whole new level. So here is the Grateful Dead performing “Jack Straw” and if you haven’t yet seen the Sunshine Daydream film from this concert I highly recommend it.

gig grab bag: tom petty – willin’

February 21, 2015

gig grab bag logoIn an effort to return to consistent posting here on that mercury sound I’m resurrecting the formerly dormant Gig Grab Bag series. The goal here will be to highlight songs and performances that are particularly captivating as I come across them. I’ve been meaning to post this installment for awhile and finally, on this snowy Colorado day, I’m getting around to it.

I saw Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at Red Rocks back in October. It was the last night of a three-night run at the storied venue and the band was in fine form. The first night had been freezing cold, the second pouring rain, and finally this one was just a perfect crisp October evening. The musical highlight of the concert, and a number that only appeared on this final night, was a cover of Little Feat’s road-weary anthem “Willin.” The Lowell George ballad has been covered by everyone from The Byrds to Linda Ronstadt to country duo Brooks & Dunn, but Tom’s version is the best I’ve heard. As he did with his ’06 Bonnaroo rendition of “Learning to Fly” he brings a certain nuance to the song, softening the edges with the kind of knowing that only the passage of time can bring. In a cosmic gift from the universe some wonderful soul filmed and posted a video of the actual performance from that night at Red Rocks. If they’d panned a little further past Benmont you actually probably could have seen my best friend and I on the side of the stage, but that’s another story…. Here’s the video, I hope you enjoy it as much I did. Cheers.

dear mr. fantasy: a word on festivals

December 1, 2014

woodstockpostersI’ve spent a pretty staggering amount of time in my life daydreaming about what it would have been like to be young in the Sixties. In this daydream fantasy world I live a very Forrest Gumpian existence – somehow breaking free of the shackles of geography, time, and funding to have been at Monterey Pop, and in Haight-Ashbury, and part of the Sunset Strip scene, and Greenwich Village, and surely I would have skipped across the pond to witness Swinging London, and of course I would have been at Woodstock.

Right?

The hard truth that I’ve come to accept is, probably not. This article recently reprinted by The New Republic illuminates part of why Woodstock really wasn’t all sunbeams and rainbows but also the fact is – I just don’t like festivals.

There, I said it.

Maybe I’m just getting old (I am). Maybe I’m not as hip as I’d like to think I am (I’m not). Maybe going to Burning Man in 2006 just ruined port-a-potties for me forever (It did). Maybe it’s all of the above.

I know I’m risking all my music-blog-writing-street-cred here but festivals are like the prom night of the live music world: so much hype and so much fanfare over something that rarely achieves its promised potential. (Not to mention so much strategic “festival costume” planning that there’s now a whole cottage industry behind it. I’m looking at you Coachella.)

I’ve been to a fair number of festivals, and every time I walk away from the weekend wishing I’d saved my money to go see the handful of bands I wanted to see in the first place playing full shows on their own. I wouldn’t have had to juggle competing schedules, only to catch the last 20 minutes of every set I wanted to see. I wouldn’t have had to fight through phalanxes of drunk college kids in crop tops and neon hats fending off dehydration with an endless stream of twist-top Bud Lights. And I wouldn’t have had to question my own commitment to the music at the end of every day when I felt more bummed out than energized by the previous 8 hours of fighting for a spot to see and hear.

I used to fight this feeling. Every year when festival lineup announcements started rolling out I’d get amped up – of course I’d want to see Iggy Pop and Bob Dylan and Sharon Jones in the same hour. And then my annual trip of remembering how I really feel about festivals would start to bum me out. But then a year or so ago I read Rolling Stone’s expansive coverage of the Altamont nightmare from their January 1970 issue. In it was a quote from legendary concert promoter Bill Graham that seemed to perfectly capture so much of my own anti-festival sentiment:

As Graham sees it, about the only good thing that could possibly have come out of this festival is that it means the end of festivals. “The strange thing that went on this past weekend is that in the long run, it may help to eliminate festivals, which I think is one of the best things that can happen to rock and roll. Woodstock — the film that is coming out of Woodstock, is a masterpiece; I’ve seen it, but the after-effects of Woodstock and the after-effects of this one and the after-effects of many of the others. The question that I’ve asked after every one and that hasn’t been answered by anyone justifiably is: Who gains? Other than the people in the 50-foot perimeter of the stage? 290,000 others can’t see or hear anything. But I think that we are losing the major groups because they’re becoming as guilty as anyone else . . . the big dollar very quickly. It’s not for me to speak for any of the groups, but if you speak to the Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, any of the heavy groups who have tremendous integrity, they’ve gone sour. They went sour before this weekend, but this weekend, I think, blew their minds. I knew it blew mine.”

In 1970 Graham was already calling out the major problems with the rise of the mega-festival. While in the immediate wake of Altamont the festival utopia dream did seem to fade away it returned with a vengeance in the late 90’s and has exploded in the past decade. A more recent Rolling Stone special report titled “How Coachella, Bonnaroo and More Festivals Revamped the Music Industry” explores the new reality of the festival economy and how it now governs tour decisions for bands large and small.

That is one thing I will give festivals, they can be a great forum for up and coming bands. If they can land a time slot where there’s enough of an audience to play for, and if some part of that audience is new ears that didn’t get there early just to see them, then there is a lot of exposure to be gained by playing the festival circuit.

But as a fan I have to say unless the universe puts together some kind of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Rolling Stones, CSNY, Dolly Parton, Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin reunion festival-specifically-for-old-people-and-Alison I think my festival days are through. I’m certainly not trying to knock the whole scene – a lot of people love festivals, and have a great time at them. And they are one of the few remaining ways the music industry still generates revenue. They just aren’t for me.

So I’ve had to modify my Forrest Gump fantasy life a bit, and bring it just slightly back to reality. Maybe instead of being at Woodstock I would have just lived in Woodstock… Probably as Rick Danko’s girlfriend. Yeah, I think that sounds about right.

Hey, it’s still a fantasy life. A girl can dream.

 

a soundtrack for the big 3-0

October 10, 2014
Living every moment, from a very young age...  (I promise it was juice in that cup.)

Living every moment, from a very young age… (I promise it was juice in that cup)

I turned 30 yesterday. And while I’m very firmly in the “age ain’t nothing but a number” camp (see inset photo) 30 did make me stop and pause. It happened while I was driving to the grocery store a few days ago. “Against the Wind” came on the radio and I could see a montage of my twenties forming in my head. It was then that I realized that this mile marker on life’s journey would best be passed with its own soundtrack turned way up loud. So here are my selections for turning 30. What would yours be?

Against the Wind Bob Seger

The catalyst. This is certainly a song that can find new meaning at many stages of life but I think it’s particularly apt for the transition out of your twenties. The video below is from his 2013 tour because when I saw it this song was the highlight of the whole evening. Like all the songs on this list, it only grows more meaningful as the years roll by.

Learning to FlyTom Petty & The Heartbreakers

I saw Tom and the boys at Red Rocks this past Friday (another story for the memoirs…) and standing on the side of the stage during “Learning to Fly,” on the brink of my thirties, was a powerful moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I’m sure I’ll continue to find meaning and comfort in this song until I’m 100 years old, particularly in the gentler and more knowing live version.

The Circle Game Joni Mitchell

For someone as prone to nostalgia as I am, listening to this song can be a bit like playing Russian Roulette. Sometimes I can just appreciate the utter beauty of its poignant message and sometimes it can send me into a morose tailspin that can take hours or days to recover from. Whatever the outcome, it’s always worth it… Footnote – we cued up a couple episodes of The Wonder Years after my birthday dinner last night and just happened to watch the “touch football” episode with this song at the end. There really aren’t any coincidences are there?

Long May You Run Neil Young

Yes, I know it’s about a car. Yes, it can still make me cry.

Live Every Moment – REO Speedwagon

Okay, before you go and skewer me for including REO Speedwagon on a list with some much heavier hitters let me defend myself. My dearest aunt turned 50 this summer and my family celebrated the only way we know how – with an epic living room dance party that stretched into the early hours of the morning. My REO lovin’ aunt requested this song from the Speedwagon vault and it turned out to be the perfect anthem for the evening. Just try not to smile while listening, even if only because of the fabulous fashion on display in the video.

home(sick) on the range

July 22, 2014

HorsetoothAfter three years in Minneapolis that mercury sound has relocated, yet again, this time to Fort Collins, Colorado. Hopefully this will be the last move for awhile/ever, but that’s a different story. We’ve been in the city now for about a week and are adjusting to our beautiful new surroundings. While I’ve been nothing but excited for this move I seem to have conveniently forgotten about the stage of this process that should be all too familiar to me by now – the limbo. It’s the phase where you’ve left what used to be home and arrived in your new home, technically, but it doesn’t feel at all like home yet, so in a cosmic sense you find yourself somewhat homeless. This feeling is compounded for me at the moment as we are in temporary housing until the end of the month, delaying nesting for another couple weeks.

However, I’ve been in this situation many times before and while I may have childbirth-style-amnesia’d the memory of being a stranger in a strange land, I do know where to find my personal remedy – my stereo.

I have vivid memories of my first couple nights in my college dorm room – laying in bed a jumble of emotions and hormones, physically crossing the narrow bridge from childhood to adulthood. My companion on those mentally tumultuous evenings was my CD player (it was 2003 y’all) and my arsenal of Bob Dylan albums. To borrow from his own words, Dylan’s voice was my shelter from the storm, my anchor in a sea of confusion and new experiences.

In the 11 years since (yeesh, really?) and through multiple nationwide moves, Dylan’s role as my voice of “home” hasn’t lessened any, but a few other jams have been added to this soundtrack of support. Like the version of “Althea” from Grateful Dead Go to Nassau that always feels like being wrapped up in a warm, spacey blanket. Or Tom Petty’s Bonnaroo performance of “Learning to Fly” which has not just Tom’s unmistakable voice going for it, but also some truly applicable lyrics.

1934667_596846173436_3480548_nI also feel incredibly lucky that I have the good fortune of being able to tune into the favorite voices of my literal home: my dad’s band The Beckerheads and my sister’s band Mount Joy. I’ve sung along with my dad and the ‘Heads since I can remember and their music is as familiar and comforting to me as my own backyard. Mount Joy’s incredible debut album (more coming on that) includes a track called “Canby” my sister wrote about our hometown that can bring tears to my eyes every time I hear it.

So, while the settling-in process can’t be sped up, and the feeling of displacement just has to just be ridden out, my sonic home can be tuned into anytime night or day. And that’s pretty fantastic.

 

album obsession: never give in

January 7, 2014

NGII’m finally crawling out of website hibernation to rave about how I can’t stop listening to Will Hoge’s latest album Never Give In. I could give you a long list of reasons why that mercury sound has been sadly neglected over the past few months but I’d much rather give you an even longer list of reasons why you should go to Amazon and download Never Give In right now. (The first reason being that it is currently $5, which is really just icing on the cake.)

Will Hoge has been a favorite of mine for years, appearing on this site several times. Recently Hoge has tasted some major mainstream success, first with the Eli Young Band covering “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” from his fabulous 2009 album The Wreckage. While their version pales in comparison to Hoge’s original, it climbed the charts in 2012, hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot Country list and earning Hoge and co-writer Eric Paslay a Grammy Nomination for Best Country Song. More recently “Strong,” the closing track on Never Give In, has been featured in a national campaign for heartland-favorite Chevrolet trucks.

While Hoge’s latest successes have been squarely in the country music realm, he is anything but straight-ahead country. His music is driven by incredible songwriting, an unforgettable voice, and the kind of authentic roots rock sound that only comes from south of the Mason-Dixon.

Never Give In is a true return to form for Hoge. His previous album, Modern American Protest Music, while notable for its strong social and political messaging was never able to hook me the way his other albums had. But Never Give In is quickly turning into Never Turn Off in my house…

There isn’t a dud song on the album for me, and the range of tunes is expansive. From the rocking opening riffs of “Different Man” to the infectious melody of “Still Got You On My Mind” to the forlorn contemplation of “Damn Spotlight” this album spins like a big beautiful 33 1/3 LP. The ordering and pacing of songs begs you to break that pesky mp3 single downloading habit. It’s winter in Minnesota so this is clearly impossible, but I can’t wait for the first spring day when I can roll my windows down and drive somewhere far away enough to play this baby all the way through.

So really, spend the five dollars and kick off 2014 with a damn good album. Then, when Hoge and the boys hit the road again later this year, catch them. He’s still playing intimate venues and doesn’t cost much to see, but I can’t guarantee it will stay that way forever…