Belated spring equinox — track one to the stratosphere in a silent way. Via Sleeping Beauty, 1979.
Belated spring equinox — track one to the stratosphere in a silent way. Via Sleeping Beauty, 1979.
“Woodstock’s the best place I’ve found so far. I detest New York, but upstate it’s OK.” (John Martyn in Melody Maker, 1970)
By the end of 1968, future psych/folk-jazz icon John Martyn was at an impasse, creatively, personally and professionally. His first two albums – both very folky, largely solo, British-sounding affairs – had flopped, he was tired of London, and had yet to find his own voice. Changes would soon come, however, in the form of another young folk/blues singer named Beverley Kutner and a temporary relocation to Woodstock, NY, a hotbed of counterculture.
Martyn met Kutner, a protégé of producer Joe Boyd, at a shared gig that winter and the two soon fell in love. By the time Boyd had scheduled early summer 1969 sessions in New York for her first solo album, Kutner and Martyn had moved in together, gotten married, and written a batch of new songs. These new numbers were markedly different for Martyn, and were influenced by his current favorite album, the Band’s Music from Big Pink. For John, the Band’s very American, rural songs were a signpost to something else beyond the limitations of London’s incestuous folk community.
Serendipitously, Boyd had rented a house for the pair in Woodstock, the birthplace of Big Pink, for album rehearsals. Keyboardist and arranger Paul Harris, bassist Harvey Brooks, and drummers Billy Mundi (Zappa’s Mothers of Invention) and Herbie Lovell would fill out the band. Beverley insisted that John be a major part of the recording, and what was initially to be a solo album soon became a duo project. Though he had agreed to hire Martyn on as backing guitarist, Boyd was not enthusiastic about the prospect, having heard stories of Martyn’s oft-difficult personality. And the producer had reason to be cautious, for when it came time for recording in New York City, the headstrong Martyn (still only 20 years old at the time) and the more experienced Boyd reportedly clashed, creatively and otherwise.
Conversely, the time spent woodshedding in Woodstock was idyllic and eye-opening for Martyn as the artist colony was buzzing with creativity. John and Beverley’s neighbors were the actor Lee Marvin’s girlfriend and Jimi Hendrix (“He used to arrive every Thursday in a purple helicopter, stay the weekend, and leave on the Monday. He was amazing…a good lad”, said Martyn). Bob Dylan lived down the road, and was recovering from his infamous motorcycle accident. The Martyns bumped into him at a benefit concert they were asked to perform at in Woodstock for Pete Seeger’s Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. According to Beverley in Lee Barry’s Martyn bio Grace and Danger, John flew into a jealous rage when he came upon Dylan and Beverly talking, though Martyn says in a Melody Maker article a few months later, “It was a treat to see him alive and well; he seemed really beautiful”.
When listening to the electric work of Miles Davis and his bands in the 1970s, the thought that often goes through my mind is: “How the fuck are they making these sounds?” This high quality 1973 video of the band taking no prisoners in Vienna offers a few answers. Gear heads will dig the lingering shots of keyboards and amps; musos will study every frame devoted to the astonishing guitar attack of Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas. And then there’s Miles himself, the magnetic center of it all, reveling in the massive cloud of dark funk the musicians are conjuring up. Fearless transmissions from the outer limits. words / t wilcox
Our 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 427: W-X – Intro ++ BBC Radiophonic Workshop – Vespucci ++ Shintaro Sakamoto – Mask On Mask ++ The Makers – Don’t Challenge Me ++ Peter Gabriel – We Do What We’re Told ++ Shintaro Sakamoto – In A Phantom Mood ++ Ramases – Dying Swan Year 2000 ++ Jeff Phelps – Excerpts From Autumn ++ Starship Commander Woo Woo – Master Ship ++ Ty Segall – Squealer Two ++ David Bowie – Future Legend > Candidate (Intimacy Mix) ++ Faust – It’s A Bit Of A Pain ++ Joni Mitchell – The Jungle Line ++ White Fence – Trouble Is Trouble Never Seen ++ Jack Name – New Guitars ++ David Bowie – Sons of the Silent Age ++ Talking Heads/Brian Eno – Double Groove (Unfinished Take) ++ Wire – Used To ++ Ty Segall – Music For A Film ++ Faust – Krautrock ++ The Rabble – Intro ++ Blossom Dearie – That’s Just The Way I Want To Be ++ T. Rex – Ride My Wheels ++ Sun Ra – We’re Living In The Space Age ++ T. Rex – Chrome Sitar ++ David Bowie – TVC 15 ++ Gary Numan – Films ++ Deerhunter – Ad Astra ++ Talking Heads – Warning Sign (’77 demo version) ++ Kindness – Swinging Party ++ 6ix – I’m Just Like You ++ Guitar Red – Disco From A Space Show ++ The Chills – Pink Frost ++ Pylon – Cool ++ Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky ++ Yura Yura Teikoku – Ohayo Mada Yaro
*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
Unheralded soul from Chicago, The Contributors of Soul headed down to Memphis in the summer of 1970 to record with Al Green’s band. While the group (and its previous iteration, The Creations) never achieved success, nor note, outside of the bustling South Side scene, they left behind a handful of could-have-been classics. “I Don’t Know” is a B-Side from that Memphis session, one which should never have been relegated to forgotten status. words / b kramer
Over the past 72 hours I’ve encountered two references, in completely different contexts, to Ruth Copeland — specifically her 1971 album, I Am What I Am. Copeland’s second studio effort once again found her backed by George Clinton, Eddie Hazel, Bernie Worrell and others from the Parliament-Funkadelic crew. As such, this shit is nasty. If you’ve yet to encounter this record, here’s a taste – the scorn-funk “Don’t You Wish You Had (What You Had When You Had It)”. And while P-vine reissued the LP in the 90s via CD, the album has yet to see a vinyl reissue…an inevitability in this climate.
Will “Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy” Oldham has a habit of materializing in interesting places: behind the camera, shooting the cover of Slint’s Spiderland; behind Johnny Cash, singing background vocals on the Man in Black’s cover of his song, “I See A Darkness”; on a tractor in an alternate Kanye West video; in films as quiet and nuanced as Old Joy and in movies like Jackass 3D, which is as subtle as a film called Jackass 3D can be.
Epic Jammers and Fortunate Ditties, Oldham’s new collaborative album with Chicago new age/minimalist outfit Bitchin Bajas isn’t an entirely surprising affair — they share a label, Drag City, and a similarly intuitive approach to folk art — but like those aforementioned instances, his appearance on the LP feels serendipitous and magical. To paraphrase Aquarium Drunkard contributor Tyler Wilcox, the combination of Bonnie and the Bajas sounds like a cult we might be willing to join.
“When I listen to their records and tapes, it’s that great thing that you end up having with music you feel a deep connection with: it feels tasty and familiar, like it’s somehow already a part of you,” Oldham says of the Bitchin Bajas via Skype.
Last year, Oldham invited the band along for a tour of the Midwest. Following the shows, conversation turned to a potential collaboration.
“We got along beyond levels of just simple conversation,” Oldham says. “We got along in practice and aesthetically…the natural progression from there was how we might apply our musical ideas into a shared concept.”
Recorded live with the Bajas (Cooper Crain, Dan Quinlivan, and Rob Frye) at Oldham’s space in Louisville, Kentucky, with additional recordings and revisions in Chicago, Epic Jammers is the result of that shared concept. Bonnie slides right into the group’s celestial drones and cosmic, contemplative tapestries — the long, blissful moments recall the meditations of Laraaji or the peacefulness of Popol Vuh.
The genesis of Breadwoman stretches back to the early ’80s, when performance artist Anna Homler found herself singing while driving through Topanga Canyon, chanting out in a strange, rhythmic cadence. Homler’s melodies weren’t from any language she recognized, but felt like more than just absentminded moans or nonsensical babbles to her. “I still remember the moment,” Homler says via the telephone. “It was a language I didn’t know but it was musical and melodic.”
She began to tape these songs, and a few years later teamed with experimental composer Steve Mosier to shape them into an album called Breadwoman, named for a character she’d developed around the songs: a woman, her face and body obscured by bread, an mythic representation of a woman “so old, she’d turned to bread.” Released in 1985, the album represents the intersection of experimental art, tape culture, and electronic music in Los Angeles in the 1980s. It’s collected, along with two more compositions, as part of RVNG Intl.’s Breadwoman & Other Tales. The collection is beautiful and otherworldly, Homler’s glossolalia drones playfully weaving in and out of Mosier’s bending synth melodies, sound effects, and rhythms. There are nods to various cultures — tonal similarities to African, European, and Native American musics — but their experiments feel untethered to specifics, not so much “world music” as “other world music.”
Since the first Breadwoman experiments, Homler’s thrived making art and music, with Mosier and others, like English violinist Sylvia Hallett (their 2012 album, The Many Moods of Bread and Shed, is particularly worth checking out) but the new reissue has brought her focus back to the Breadwoman character and concept. She discussed it with Aquarium Drunkard.
Aquarium Drunkard: When you first began singing on that Topanga drive, what were you thinking? Were you asking yourself, “What is this?”
Anna Homler: I wasn’t thinking at all.
AD: How did you realize you weren’t just humming or singing absentmindedly?
Anna Homler: I recorded it. In those days, we all drove around with little cassette players. I just taped over one of my cassettes. I noticed that every time I got in my car, the songs would just sort of come to me. [They would come] when I was washing dishes, just doing any sort of mindless task. They would be there. I recorded them, paid attention to them, and that’s why I think they didn’t just disappear into the air.
AD: What term would you use to describe what you were doing? Did you feel like you were channeling or receiving something?
Like so many of their peers, The Feelies made a stab at wider commercial appeal in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Fortunately for us, this move didn’t result in watered-down music. The band’s last two LPs (before a triumphant 21st century reunion), 1988’s Only Life and 1991’s Time For A Witness are classics — perhaps not quite as heralded as Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth, but classics nonetheless, showcasing The Feelies at their most locked-in and tuneful. Bar/None Records’ fresh CD/vinyl reissues of both (with some excellent studio/live bonus material added on as digital downloads) are great reminders of their lasting power.
Upon its release, Only Life undoubtedly gave some longtime fans pause. With a beefed up drum sound, vocals that were mixed above a murmur and glistening guitars, it was certainly far more radio-ready than anything else The Feelies had done previously. But anyone with ears would soon succumb to the album’s many charms. Buoyed by a triple-threat rhythm section (drummer Stanley Demeski, bassist Brenda Sauter and percussionist Dave Weckerman), guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million deliver 10 tracks of relentlessly glorious jangle-n-strum. Mercer in particular steps out as a guitar hero, capable of the architectural grandeur of Richard Lloyd’s Marquee Moon leads, or the wild abandon of Lou Reed’s skronkier solos. Only Life also demonstrates that The Feelies could write a hell of a pop song, whether it’s the slinky groove of “Deep Fascination,” or the chiming, gentle beauty of the title track (which is given an even more “Sunday Morning”-like reading on one of the recently recorded bonus tracks).
But The Feelies saved their most infectious pop song for Time For A Witness: “Doin’ It Again” is a delight every time you hear it, riding a “Roadrunner”-y riff to the heavens. The rest of the album sees the band moving in somewhat more mainstream rock direction — The Feelies had done time as Lou Reed’s opening act, sure, but you can almost imagine them in this era winning over a Tom Petty crowd. But there was still room for exploration: one Witness‘ high point is the lengthy “Find A Way,” a slo-mo, psychedelic wonder that’s both pleasingly spacey and tightly wound. And the closing cover of The Stooges’ “Real Cool Time” is a righteous blast, the seemingly mild-mannered Feelies getting wild and loose in a way that even Iggy would approve of. words / t wilcox