Old Favourites Still Produce Great Sounds
Next year will mark 40 years since I first gave writing record reviews and interviewing artists a shot.
The scene was a little different when I was attending Vic Comp and taking theatre arts, and so was accessibility to artists for a 17-year-old who liked the idea of snagging a few comps to concerts and building his vinyl collection.
If my memory serves me correctly the first two albums I reviewed were Bruce Cockburnís High Winds, White Sky
and the third Flying Burrito Brothers album
where Chris Hillman and newcomer Rick Roberts successfully took on the task of producing good music in the post-Gram Parsons era of the Burritos.
The first press conference I attended centered around a concert featuring The Bells
, a soft-pop band from Toronto that produced a couple of saccharine-injected top ten singles. Thankfully the opening act was the gifted and very successful tunesmith by the name of Gene MacLellan
. MacLellan was riding high at the time; his tune Snowbird had been recorded by Anne Murray and it rocketed up the charts becoming an international hit for not only Murray but the composer as well. He would also reap the royalties from renditions of the song as covered by the likes of Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby.
It was a great introduction to the business of music and media promotion and publicity - and from what I remember, pop journalism was pretty much in its infancy. The Bells still get play on oldies stations to this day and MacLellanís estate continues to receive royalty injections from Snowbird and Put Your Hand In The Hand.
Around that same time blues-rock fans were turned on to a sound that was built around muscle, melody, deep trench grooves, a soulful voice and an intensity that was unrelenting.
Nothing sounded remotely like what the Allman Brothers Band
was dispensing on their self-titled disc and Idlewild South
albums. Tunes like Dreams, Please Call Home, Whipping Post, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed and Revival were staples of FM rock radio, and CKUA announcers on weekend evening shifts were constantly dipping into the Allman catalogue.
I remember exactly where I was and the friends I was with when a CKUA disc jockey announced that Duane Allman had been killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon Georgia on October 29, 1971.
The band soldiered on through some great times and there are a number of chapters in the Allman story that are just as well forgotten. Yet here it is almost 40 years after Duaneís tragic death and Gregg Allman
has released a recording that is one of the finest blues-drenched sets of songs to have been released by any artist in the new millennium.
So to hear Gregg Allmanís voice on the other end of a phone line last week was a little bit of a thrill and our 40 minute chat will be edited and presented on Dead Ends and Detours
before the month is out.
What a remarkably different time it is in Allmanís life, compared to the last time I talked to him in the mid-nineties when he and the Allman Brothers Band played dates in Edmonton and Calgary.
At that time he was in the company of Warren Haynes and Allen Woody who had been recruited into the band when the four original members came back together and cut the Seven Turns
Although lucid, Gregg was strung out and a pall of sadness blanketed the conference room where we shot the interview for a CBC music magazine show called Country Beat
Despite the situation, a few hours later Allman sang up a storm and led the band through a 3Ĺ show that in the blues-rock world was the perfect combination of a great songbook fused with mesmerizing improvisation.
Today he laughs at the drop of a hat and did so numerous times as he recounted his first introduction to T Bone Burnett who produced the new recording Low Country Blues
The teaming of Allman and Burnett is one that will likely be recognized in a yearís time when the next Grammy awards roll around.
Allmanís raspy cough, that is part and parcel of his laugh, also moved the VU meters a few times when he told a rather animated story about being introduced to a nine-year-old Derek Trucks for the first time almost twenty years ago.
Every time I hear the Allman Brothers Band's Live At The Fillmore East
recording from 1970 it still affects every cell in my body and as a listener and music fan one canít ask for anything more than that.
It never dawned on me, when hanging at Vic Comp so long ago, that Gregg Allman might still be making music that could elicit the same kind of physical and cerebral responses 40 years on, but there he is and I for one am particularly glad that he didnít end up being another rock and roll statistic.
Holger Petersenís recent review of Low Country Blues
sums up what a superior session this is and if youíve ever been a fan of the Allman Brothers Band or Gregg, it will be an essential addition to your collection.
Speaking of meeting individuals one has had the pleasure of listening to for a very long time, it was a treat to hang with Grandpa Banana
at the Winter Roots and Blues Roundup last weekend. Best known for his years helping pilot The Youngbloods with Jesse Colin Young, Grandpa Banana was responsible for some of the cool piano driven instrumentals on the acclaimed Elephant Mountain
disc. Elephant Mountain
is such an impressive piece of work that it made the cut in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
. Banana, aka Lowell Levinger, was also the member of the Youngbloods that every so often would steer the crew back to unplugged traditional folk songs like Fiddler A Dram.
While in Edmonton he delivered an understated solo show at the Blue Chair. His set list slipped across old time and bluegrass faves, eastern European instrumentals and even a few Youngbloods faves including Get Together, Darkness Darkness and Grizzly Bear.
The following morning at a Vintage Instrument workshop at Expressionz Cafť, Grandpa Banana was teamed with John Rutherford and fiddle ace Byron Myhre. An amazingly obliging man, he kicked off the proceedings with Hippie From Olema from the Youngbloods' Good and Dusty
recording. He took the cue after getting a bit of a nudge from Kirby who was taking care of sound for the workshops.
Itís curious that he didnít record a solo album for almost 40 years, instead opting to produce sessions for bluegrass bands in northern California, and immersing himself in dealing and collecting vintage stringed instruments. Heís also got a fine acoustic band called the Paper Mill Creek Rounders with David Nelson of the New Riders of the Purple Sage and he still plays blues-based rock and roll in the San Francisco Bay area, in a quintet led by Barry Melton of Country Joe and the Fish fame.
So all of a sudden and over the course of the last year, two new acoustic discs have appeared from this instrumentalist/vocalist, the first being Iíll Do Anything For You
and a brand new effort titled Just Trying To Break Even
David Grisman joins Grandpa Banana on a couple of tracks on the Just Trying To Break Even
and the disc includes a beautiful cover of Mimi Farinaís Old Woman.
ďI donít know, it was just time to start recording again,Ē says the musician. ďIíve got one more traditional disc ready to go and after that I am putting together an album titled Grandpa Banana Remembers The Youngbloods
Later that evening he was all smiles after he left the Century Casino stage where he had plugged in a Fender Strat and unloaded a few blues tunes for a receptive crowd that danced the night away, putting a cap on the performance component of Winter Roots and Blues II.
Getting Grandpa Banana back here for a return visit will be a priority for this longtime fan.