Like all good music biographies, Tom Jones’ Over the Top and Back features some choice gunplay.

While recording in 1963 with the legendary Joe Meek — with whom the fledgling singer hoped to score a hit — the producer warned Jones about his microphone etiquette. After botching another take, Meek furiously approached Jones. “He said, ‘Didn’t I tell you to back off that microphone?'” Jones recalls. “He pulled out this gun and fired [at me]. I grabbed my chest. I thought I’d been shot. And he laughed. He laughed!” It was a starter pistol, after all, but years later the “Telstar” producer would famously employ the real thing. “Then of course he shot his landlady and himself,” Jones says. “I’m glad he didn’t come around the corner with a shotgun.”

The book is filled with these sorts of stories. Though it doesn’t dive explicitly into his legendary affairs, it does offer a complicated view of Jones, one more compelling than his pop hits and exaggerated “sex god” reputation might suggest. His most recent trio of albums, 2010’s Praise and Blame, 2012’s Spirit in the Room, and 2015’s Long Lost Suit Case, recorded with producer Ethan Johns, accomplish the same. Featuring songs by John Lee Hooker, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Blind Willie Johnson, Gillian Welch, Los Lobos, the Rolling Stones and more, the records offer a more nuanced portrait than his Vegas years, with Jones wrapping his boomy baritone around sparse gospel and Americana-inflected arrangements. Jones phoned Aquarium Drunkard to discuss his recent work and his book. Below, a condensed version of our conversation.

Aquarium Drunkard: You’ve got a new album, Long Lost Suitcase, and a new biography, out at roughly the same time. I understand you didn’t intend for these two projects to dovetail thematically the way they have, but how did that happen?

Tom Jones: I was writing the book with Giles Smith and I said to him, “I don’t want you to flower anything up. I want you to write it as I’m telling it.” I spent four, sometimes five hours a day with him, while I was doing The Voice U.K. and during that time, I was [also] recording with Ethan Johns. He said to me “[These songs] sound autobiographical,” and I said, “I’m writing one now, funnily enough.”

weather-report-1971

Last year, Columbia/Legacy released a four-disc set of Weather Report called The Legendary Live Tapes, drawing on the band at their commercial peak: 1977-83. You know, the Jaco Pastorius years, when they toured records like Heavy Weather or Mr. Gone.

The thing is, this is a period that’s been well documented already. First on 1979’s 8:30 double LP, then on 1998’s Live and Unreleased. To be fair, this was when the band was at it’s most popular and, arguably, at their creative peak. In the liner notes to 8:30, Joe Zawinul said “every night was an event.” It was also when their music was, in a word, accessible: slick, poppy and funk-influenced. There’s a reason “Birdland” helped break the band to a new audience, after all.

But they weren’t always like this, especially on stage. You can hear snatches of it on their second record I Sing the Body Electric, the second half is drawn from a 1972 gig in Tokyo (later expanded for release as Live in Tokyo). But largely, it’s a grey area, unexplored in re-issues and mysterious to all but jazz buffs. Let’s dive in.

Weather Report formed in late 1970, with Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Alphonse Mouzon and Miroslav Vitous. They recorded their first record with Airto Moirera on percussion, but once they hit the road he’d been replaced by Dom Un Romao. Where their first, self-titled record sounds ethereal, almost mysterious, as a live act they quickly gelled into a dense, almost funky style of jazz.

One of my favorite examples of their early sets are the songs “Tears” and “Umbrellas,” often segued into each other when played live. This performance, taken from a November 1971 show in Vienna, gives a good example of their early power, with both Shorter and Zawinul playing off each other and Vitous going nuts on his upright bass, a thundering buzz giving their low end a punch and the band three different leads, with Mouzon keeps everything from going off the rails.

Weather Report :: Tears > Umbrella (1971)

In what would become a common move for the band, Mouzon left the band after this tour and was replaced by Eric Gravatt. Although Zawinul claimed he’d never heard him play before, he’d later say Gravatt was his “favorite drummer of them all.” Indeed, Gravatt quickly fit into the band, as the live sections of I Sing the Body Electric show – all the more surprising, given he’d only joined the band a couple of months prior.

By the end of 1972, the group was hitting its stride, expanding songs like “Unknown Soldier” and “Vertical Invader” to nearly 20 minutes apiece. But the biggest difference comes on older material, where Gravatt’s drumming gives their music jazzier edge and propels the band forward. A show at Cleveland’s Agora Theatre is a good example of this band, which had grown in confidence, giving their older material a boost, like this driving version of “Directions.”

Weather Report :: Directions (10-17-72)

However, this lineup was also short-lived. In 1973, during the sessions for Sweetnighter, Zawinul brought in new musicians to work with the band: drummer Herschel Dewllingham and bassist Andrew White. It coincided with a new direction in Zawinul’s writing, which was starting to dominate the band’s songbook. On more funk-influenced tracks like “Boogie Woogie Waltz” and “125th Street Congress,” Gravatt barely played if at all; White played an electric bass while Vitous played his upright.

However, when it came time to tour the record in summer 1973, Weather Report brought in a new drummer – Greg Errico, fresh out of Sly and the Family Stone – but kept Vitous in the fold. The group was all the better for it, as this lengthy performance of “Boogie Woogie Waltz” shows. Here, Errico’s drumming is more straight forward than either Gravatt or Mouzon’s, but finally gives their music the groove Zawinul’s composition hints at. With his steady backbeat, the group launches into a lengthy jam, well past the already lengthy performance released on Sweetnighter and gives Vitous, Shorter and Zawinul room to improvise. No wonder Zawinul said they stopped playing it live because nobody played it as well as Errico.

Weather Report :: Boogie Woogie Waltz (8-23-73)

More changes followed this tour. Errico split before recording with the band, and two more drummers were recruited: Skip Hadden and Ishmael Wilburn. And although Vitous was still around for some of the recording sessions for Mysterious Traveler, Alphonso Johnson was brought to play electric bass. Almost immediately his playing changed the group’s dynamic: listen to the difference between “American Tango” and “Cucumber Slumber,” two back-to-back tracks on Mysterious Traveler. It was a turning point for the group: a Rolling Stone review called it “their most complete and perfect statement.”

By early 1975, they were becoming a formidable live act, too, although one still in flux: Wilburn left in 1974 and they burned through a few more drummers before settling on Chester Thompson (fresh from a stint in Frank Zappa) for a tour the following year. His style harkens more to their jazz roots, but with Johnson’s furious basslines, has as much power as a freight train. Listen closely and you can hear seeds of what was coming down the pipe on live performances like this one, taken from a show in Paris in November 1975: Thompson holding down a furious rhythm and Johnson’s driving, fast-paced bass, often answering Zawinul’s keyboard workouts.

clarencereidrunningwater

We lost Clarence Reid last week. While the world at large may know him from his notorious alter ego (‘dirty rapper’ Blowfly), Reid was quite possibly the most important figure on the Miami soul scene that blossomed in the late ’60s, becoming massive throughout the 1970s. Although a very prolific artist himself, Clarence saw far greater success as a brilliant songwriter (Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman” being a shining example, and probably his biggest hit).

Clarence turns in a superb performance, here, that is wrought with emotion, and the expressive drumming pushes the song into a mini-masterpiece of southern soul. (Note, his name was misspelled on the release.)

Clarence Reid :: I’m Sorry Baby (1967)

The well of excellent songs that were penned (usually co-written with a partner) is both deep, and VERY satisfying. Shortly before their smooth, Philly soul period, Harold Melvin & company recorded this all-out burner that, in an ideal world, would have been a smash hit. Note: even though this group had released several earlier records where Harold Melvin was given top billing, for whatever reason they are simply The Blue Notes here. Undoubtedly the same group, though.

The Blue Notes :: Hot Thrills And Cold Chills (1969)

clarence

aquarium__drunkardOur weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 419: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ Ryan Symbol – A Human Being ++ Jennifer Castle – Powers ++ Steve Gunn – Wildwood ++ Ryley Walker – On The Banks of The Old Kishwaukee ++ Joan Shelley – Over And Even ++ Meg Baird – Counterfeiters ++ Kurt Vile – He’s Alright ++ Norma Tanega – You’re Dead ++ Jessica Pratt – Back, Baby ++ John Hulburt – The Freak On The Black Harley ++ Bonnie “Prince” Billy – You Remind Me Of Something (The Glory Goes) ++ Kim Jung Mi – Your Dream ++ Yo La Tengo – Deeper Into Movies ++ Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather ++ Ryley Walker – Sweet Satisfiaction ++ Class McCombs – Big Wheel ++ Chris Cohen – Optimist High ++ Here We Go Magic – Tunnelvision ++ Ryley Walker – Primrose Green ++ Loose Fur – Answers To Your Questions ++ Amen Dunes – Spirits Are Parted ++ Kevin Morby – Harlem River ++ The Everly Brothers – I Wonder If I Care As Much ++ Little Joy – Don’t Watch Me Dancing ++ Sandy Denny – Late November ++ Bill Fay – Omega Day ++ Ian Matthews – Seven Bridges Road ++ Blues Control – Love’s A Rondo

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
__________________________________________________________________________________

chapman

Singer/songwriter, guitar man, and master storyteller Michael Chapman began his recording career with the stellar Rainmaker on the venerable Harvest label in 1969, and he’s spent the decades since exploring the common ground between jazz, rock, noise, and guitar soli. His records have been reissued by Light in the Attic, his songs performed by William Tyler, Hiss Golden Messenger, Lucinda Williams, and dozens more, and time has not diminished his output. In 2015, he released Fish, the latest in a long series of soulful and remarkable recordings. On the occasion of his 75th birthday January 24th, Aquarium Drunkard corresponded with Chapman about his long career, David Bowie, the music business, and the restorative powers of wine.

Aquarium Drunkard: Let’s start with your early days, playing around in the late ‘60s in London. What was the scene like then?

Michael Chapman: The early days in London? Well, that’s a popular misconception. I never ever moved into London. Others were drifting down there, like Bert Jansch, he came down from Edinburgh, and Ralph McTell who came in from Croydon. It was a very southern thing and I’m strictly a northern person. I stayed up in Hull. It was at least 75% cheaper to live in Hull than London and I’m a Yorkshire man — I don’t waste money. But, I’d go down to London and play. A lot of places wouldn’t hire me though because I wanted the same kind of money (as little as it was in those days) as the other places I was playing up country. They would say, “Well, this is a London gig, it’s important” and I’d say, “Yeah, but these guys just have to get on the tube and across town and they’re here, whereas for me it’s nearly a 300 mile drive [round trip] , so you pay me what other places are paying me and I’ll play.” So, I steadfastly remained an outsider and all that.

AD: You recorded your first few records, Rainmaker, Fully Qualified Survivor, and Wrecked Again, with Gus Dudgeon. How would you describe your working relationship with him?

Michael Chapman: Working relationship with Gus was fine most of the time because he was good fun to work with, and he knew what he was doing – most of the time. In those days everyone, including Gus, was flying by the seat of their pants because it was all new. [But there were] complicated recording techniques and Gus knew more about it than most people – remembering it wasn’t that long back that he’d been just the tea boy at Decca. Sure, it got fraught from time to time, especially the time of Wrecked Again when we had a major fall out mostly about finance – as usual. But it was mostly good fun working with Gus. He got on really well with my bass player Rick Kemp and they were both incredible mimics, so things would often grind to a halt because everyone was cracking up. It was just too funny to work.

AD: Those albums featured string arrangements by Paul Buckmaster. At the time, what did you think of the strings? Coming from a folk background, did they sound strange to you in your songs or was that sound exciting?

Michael Chapman: I just love those string arrangements, I think they’re just an absolute masterpiece. Another misunderstanding: I never came from a folk background. That was one of the other things — apart from being very northern — that made me the outsider. I didn’t know anything about folk music. It’s just not my thing, or very little of it is, but I played in folk clubs because those were the only places where you could play acoustic guitar and be heard. You couldn’t take your acoustic guitar into rock clubs; we just didn’t have the technology to get it loud enough. It would just sound like the band had gone home.

Floyd_1965While the limited release (1000 copies only) and ensuing display of capitalism in excelsis in the immediate resale on the collectors market, the one thing that’s certain is that there is a massive outpouring of interest in these early recordings of the nascent Pink Floyd. I try to stay far away from the negative web chatter as much as possible, but a quick scan of several prominent online forums shows some heated discussion, mostly based on the high figures this release is selling for. In my opinion, the sour grapes are tainting many opinions on the music, but for me – a massive Syd Barrett fan as well as most things 60s – these tracks are some of the greatest newly uncovered gems of the last 20 years.

Both “Lucy Leave” and “King Bee” have been available on bootlegs for years, but the sound quality here surpasses the unofficial releases. “Lucy Leave” is full of Syd trademarks – quirky chord progression twists, whimsical lyrics, and that unfiltered English vocal delivery. “King Bee” (along with “Double O Bo”) offer the type of hard r&b that was all the rage in the mid-60s UK, but with a decidedly Syd twist; NO other band quite sounded like the lads do here. The most direct parallel was The Pretty Things, but the (incredible) Pretty’s hit it HARD and didn’t display the already-apparent Syd eccentricities.

“Walk With Me Sydney” is a trip; my first listen left me scratching my head, but this track (Roger Waters first composition, allegedly) is hooky, weird and full of the rule breaking lyrics that became a Floyd trademark. I sat and listened to these songs half a dozen times in a row when I first got the vinyl, and by the 3rd listen, I was definitely a believer in this track (especially the unbelievable stop-start chorus mentioning ‘DT’s and a washed out brain).

The star of the set, though, is the majestic “Butterfly”; not only does it speak to how Syd was unbelievably talented from the start, but it is nothing short of a premonition of the more rocking moments of his two post-Floyd solo LPs. words / d see

Pink Floyd :: Butterfly

tortoise

Sitting on a green room couch at the Teragram Ballroom in downtown Los Angeles, Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer John Herndon nod in sync when it’s ventured that the band’s new album, The Catastrophist, is rooted in the sounds of Chicago.

It goes beyond geography. The group’s seventh album, and first since 2009, it’s also the first released with two-fifths of the band — Parker and Herndon — living in Los Angeles, while Dan Bitney, Doug McCombs, and John McEntire live and work in Chicago, where the band was formed in 1990.

But even beyond its membership’s living arrangements, The Catastrophist is a hometown record, owing its roots to a commission by the City of Chicago to write a new work reflecting the band’s ties to the city’s jazz and improvised music scenes. “We got commissioned to write a suite of music by the city of Chicago [in 2010] and that kind of gave us an excuse to work on some new material,” Parker says. “We had all of that music, which we had performed several times…so we had a pretty solid foundation with all of this new material.”

The Catastrophist is in line with the band’s legacy, exhibited on classic records like Millions Living Will Never Die and TNT. There are pulsing soundscapes, like the Devo-inspired title track and the brief “Gopher Island,” and moments of taut interplay, like “Ox Duke” and “Tesseract,” but the group’s sense of humor and playfulness is always at work. On two songs, the instrumental band employs vocals, with Todd Rittman of U.S. Maple and Dead Rider on a cover of David Essex’s 1973 glam standard “Rock On” and Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo singing “Yonder Blue,” a gorgeous, soul-inspired song.

Tortoise :: Tesseract

“We’d been talking about having guest vocalists on a record since the beginning of Tortoise,” Herndon says. “How or why it happened this time is probably because…[we thought] shit or get of the pot, really.”

The songs recall the band’s last collaboration with a vocalist, 2006’s The Brave and the Bold, on which the band transmuted material by the Minutemen, Bruce Springsteen, Richard Thompson, Melanie, Lungfish, and more with the help of Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Originally, the group approached art rocker Robert Wyatt about collaborating, but the Soft Machine legend politely declined.

a1215005872_10

The Iron Curtain made sure Mikael Taraverdiev remained relatively unknown in the west, but from the early 1960s to his death the early 1990s, he was one of the Soviet Union’s most celebrated musicians, composing more than 130 film and TV scores, along with countless other projects. It’s his film music that is the focus of Earth Records’ new three-disc compilation — and it’s a wonderful introduction to the world of Tariverdiev.

I haven’t seen the three films this music was meant to accompany (Goodbye, Boys!, I Am A Tree and Snow Over Leningrad), but that’s not a problem; they conjure up a plethora visuals all on their own, calling to mind the work of other soundtrack masters Nino Rota and Michel Legrand (and occasionally the intricate miniatures Mark Mothersbaugh has created for the films of Wes Anderson). Whether Tariverdiev is coming up with smoky jazz, baroque solo piano pieces or beguiling chamber music, the sounds are always deeply evocative, wistful and pleasingly melancholy. A transportive listening experience, and happily, just the tip of the Tariverdiev iceberg. words / t wilcox

Tariverdiev :: Summer Blues

alice-swobodaThe companion CD to the Oxford American’s recent Southern Music/Georgia issue contains a melancholic and swooning folk-jazz piece entitled “Potter’s Field,” by a woman named Alice Swoboda.

Led by Swoboda’s deep, soulful voice and cascading guitar, the track features minimal accompaniment of percussion and organ, though the players, much like Swoboda herself, remain unknown. The mysterious circumstances surrounding the artist are befitting the haunting nature of this masterful and dark piece of work (one of only four that Swoboda ever committed to tape). The simple and tranquil melody evokes an idyllic calm that flows smoothly, yet unsettlingly, against her gloomy, down-and-out, end of the rope poetry.

“…drinking, no place to go but run-down hotels and sleeping on the floor. Ain’t got no money. What’s the use of a will? ‘Cause the city’s gonna bury me in potter’s field …. I’ve lost my soul, now the devil won’t make a deal. But there’s a six-foot hole waiting for me in potter’s field.”

Strange, weird, arresting. Fittingly enough, the track initially resurfaced on Numero Group’s Eccentric Soul series, albeit on the heavily funk-laden Tragar & Note Labels compilation. Even Swoboda’s additional contribution to that record, “I Think It’s Time,” rides a much funkier and upbeat rhythm. Naturally, “Potter’s Field” sits last on the record, a force all its own. A bittersweet end, leaving you unsure of where to go or what to do next. There’s a seasonal connection there as well, as it seems to embody that strange, existential conflict between the frosty seasonal blues and the warm unknown wonderment of a white-coated winter. This song couldn’t have come at a better time. words / c depasquale

Alice Swoboda :: Potter’s Field