Jimmy LaFave, Proponent of “Red Dirt Music”

“River Road” – Watch on YouTube

Jimmy LaFave was a beloved, Austin-based musician who blended country, rock ‘n’ roll, and blues into a form of Americana that became known as “red dirt music.”

Born in Texas, LaFave spent his formative years in Stillwater, OK, in the region that produced music legends Woody Guthrie, Chet Baker, J.J. Cale  and Leon Russell.

LaFave was a singer-songwriter and guitarist. He was known for his original songs and interpretations of others’ work. One of his most streamed songs is “Walk Away Renée” on his Austin Skyline album (itself a takeoff on Dylan’s Nashville classic). He recorded albums for both Rounder Records and Red House Records.

Jimmy LaFave, July 12, 1955-May 21, 2017

“Walk Away Renée” on Spotify

Bruce Langhorne, “Mr. Tambourine Man” and Legendary Folk Guitarist

From Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand (1971) – Watch on YouTube

Name a folk great. Dylan? Baez? Havens? Odetta? Bruce Langhorne played with them all. He is particularly remembered for his work with Dylan, who was inspired to write “Mr. Tambourine Man” after seeing Langhorne come into the studio with a large Turkish tambourine.

Langhorne was crucial to the sound that launched Dylan’s career. Playing his 1920 Martin guitar through a Fender Reverb amp with the aid of a pickup – and emulating the Roebuck “Pop” Staples tremolo style – he built a bridge between folk and rock. He had a unique style, influenced in part by the loss of two fingers and most of a thumb due to a childhood accident.*

In addition to his session work, Langhorne composed scores for films, including Peter Fonda’s 1971 The Hired Hand. A moving video of Peter Fonda visiting the ailing Langhorne late last year is on YouTube.

Here are 5 songs (plus “Mr. Tambourine Man”) featuring the acoustic and electric guitar work of Bruce Langhorne:

Carolyn Hester “I’ll Fly Away” (with Bob Dylan on harmonica)

Odetta “Anthem of the Rainbows”

Joan Baez “Farewell Angelina”

Tom Rush “You Can’t Tell A Book By The Cover”

Richard and Mimi Fariña “Reno, Nevada”

Bruce Langhorne, May 11, 1938-April 14, 2017

“Mr. Tambourine Man” on Spotify

*LGMR recently profiled jazz pianist Horace Parlan, another musician who turned a disability into distinctive sound.

Follow the LGMR Folk 2017 playlist here.

 

 

Chuck Berry, Bottled The Essence of Rock And Roll

Chuck Berry on The Tonight Show (1987) – Watch on YouTube

I usually try to keep my videos to a shorter length, but the above video of Chuck Berry on The Tonight Show is worth watching in full. First, you get to hear Berry perform three full songs, but you also hear Berry talk at length about his many influences. Among them:

Louis Jordan, for his lyrics. Here’s Jordan’s “G.I. Jive.”

Nat King Cole, for his voice. Here’s Cole’s “Orange-Colored Sky.”

Charlie Christian, for his electric guitar work with Benny Goodman. Here’s Christian with Goodman in “Wholly Cats.”

Carl Hogan, for his guitar riffs as part of Jordan’s Tympani Five. You’ll hear the prototype for the “Johnny B. Goode” intro in Hogan’s opening to “Ain’t it Just Like a Woman.”

Muddy Waters, for his soul. Waters introduced Berry to Chess Records, and “Maybellene,” Berry’s first hit, was the result. Here’s Waters on “Sugar Sweet” recorded in 1955, around the time he met Berry.

Berry doesn’t mention it on The Tonight Show, but according to the New York Times, “Maybellene” was a variant of the old country tune “Ida Red”, here performed by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys.

I appreciate Elvis and what he did to kickstart the rock-and-roll era, but to me Berry is really the one who put it all together: the irreverent attitude, the primacy of the guitar, the focus on youth, the melting pot of genres. Elvis would become a crooner, but Berry kept on rockin’, as his 1987 appearance on Carson – when he was 60 years old and still able to “duck walk” – says it all. The audience was having so much fun that Carson dropped his last two guests and let Berry stay on and perform “Johnny B. Goode.”

“Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news…” –Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry, October 18, 1926-March 18, 2007.

 

“Maybellene”on Spotify

Larry Coryell, The “Godfather of Fusion”

Larry Coryell and Eleventh House Live in Oslo (1975)–Watch on YouTube

Music genres get named and walls go up. Jazz lives in one room; rock ‘n roll in another. Purists don’t like intruders. Then along comes a musician like Larry Coryell and he doesn’t just knock on the door, he kicks it down. As a jazz-rock guitarist, he helped launch a new genre himself, fusion.

Coryell (April 2, 1943-February 19, 2017) came of age in the rock era, but he was a guitarist who had a healthy respect for jazz forbears like Wes Montgomery. For some listening suggestions, check out Mark Myers’ excellent blog JazzWax. His February 21st and 22nd posts provide a helpful survey of Coryell’s career, as well as memories from artists that Coryell collaborated with or inspired–Gary Burton, Randy Brecker, Steve Khan and John Scofield.*

“If music has something to say to you, whether it’s jazz, country-and-western, Indian music or Asian folk music, go ahead and use it.” Larry Coryell

I started this blog because I’m endlessly curious about different music styles. When someone asks, “What do you like to listen to?” I have a hard time coming up with a single answer. Like Coryell, I want to walk into different rooms. Thanks to artists like him, we can.

*Scofield, who just won two Grammys for his genre-mixing Country For Old Men, will be at the Dakota in Minneapolis on Saturday, February 25.

“General Mojo’s Well-Laid Plan” with the Gary Burton Quartet on Spotify

Gil Ray, Drummer for Game Theory and The Loud Family

W

Omnivore Game Theory Lolita Nation trailer–Watch on YouTube

Gil Ray (September 17, 1956-January 24, 2017) was a drummer  for Game Theory and The Loud Family. He joined California-guitarist Scott Miller, who founded both bands. Game Theory’s magnus opus is Lolita Nation, a 1987 album. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone called it “a head-spinning classic” and Stuart Batsford of Bucketful of Brains dubbed it “A work that ranks with the best music of the ’80s. Period.” Game Theory is often compared to Big Star, the band led by Alex Chilton. Like Big Star, Game Theory achieved much critical, but little, commercial success.

The Loud Family

The Loud Family emerged after Game Theory disbanded. It took its name from the family made famous on the PBS series An American Family. Although Ray did not join the band at its origin, he participated in the recording of its two final albums, Days for Days (1998) and Attractive Nuisance (2000). In a review of  a concert in support of the latter album, The Washington Post wrote “drummer Gil Ray’s inventiveness was a revelation.”

“We Love You, Carol and Alison” on Spotify

Tommy Allsup, Guitarist for Buddy Holly and Other Hitmakers

“It’s So Easy” LIVE–Watch on YouTube

I’ve been to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA, the club where Buddy Holly performed his last concert before his tragic death in an airplane crash. As a member of Holly’s band The Crickets, Tommy Allsup was at that performance, too, and would have perished as well had he not “lost” a coin toss with Richie Valens to see who would get the last seat on the plane.

surf-ballroom

(Friend Brian outside the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA.)

Allsup joined The Crickets after a few original members decided they weren’t up to moving to New York with Holly, opting to stay home in Texas. Allsup shows up in time to make it on a few key tracks, “It’s So Easy” being a notable one.

“It’s So Easy” on Spotify

Allsup’s a big of a “Zelig”-type figure, showing up on a number of classic tracks by artists in pop and country.

The Everly Brothers “Cathy’s Clown” on Spotify

Charlie Rich “Behind Closed Doors” on Spotify

Kenny Rogers “The Gambler” on Spotify

Zagar & Evans “In The Year 2525” on Spotify

Allsup (November 24, 1931-January 11, 2017) played in the rockabilly and western swing styles. Out of high school, he was recruited by Jimmie Lee Wills, Bob Wills’ brother, to play at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. It was kind of a training ground for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

Rick Parfitt, Guitarist For Britain’s Status Quo

“Pictures of Matchstick Men”–Watch on YouTube

When I first saw the obit for Rick Parfitt, guitarist for Status Quo, I have to admit that I didn’t recall either his name or that of his band. But then I learned that Status Quo was behind psychedelic hit “Pictures of Matchstick Men.”

The 1968 single was their only hit in the U.S., reaching #12 on the Top 100. But they were very popular in Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and have toured extensively for 50 years. Spotify listens of several of their tracks number over 10 million.

Parfitt (October 12, 1948-December 24, 2016) joined The Spectres, an earlier version of the band in 1965. In recent years, he and Status Quo founder Francis Rossi performed as an acoustic duo, which they called Aquostic.

“Pictures of Matchstick Men” from Aquostic: Stripped Bare on Spotify

Greg Lake of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer

“Lucky Man” – Watch on YouTube

Greg Lake was a founding member of two influential progressive rock bands of the 60s and 70s. First he was a bassist and vocalist for King Crimson with guitarist friend Robert Fripp. But after seeing the band through its debut album, In The Court of the Crimson King, he broke off to join The Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson, whom he had met while the two bands toured together.

Lake (November 10, 1947-December 7, 2016) did not like the “progressive” label. He sought to create a distinctive rock music that traced its roots to European music traditions as opposed to American blues. ELP’s grandiose stage shows and baroque arrangements were hits with fans, but not always with critics. Village Voice writer Robert Christgau dismissed them as “as stupid as their most pretentious fans.”

For ELP, Lake played guitar and sang. His autobiography, Lucky Man, is named after the group’s popular song of the same name, which Lake wrote when he was only 12. Rolling Stone lists it as one of the “10 Essential Songs”of ELP.

“Karn Evil 9 1st Impression” on Spotify

Fran Pérez “Narf,” Galician Guitarist, Composer and Vocalist

“A Flor de Pel”–Watch on YouTube

Fran Pérez, who performed as Narf, was a guitarist from Galicia, the autonomous region of Spain. He composed over 30 soundtracks for theater productions in Galicia and Portugal, as well as for the animated children’s film, The Labyrinth of Dreams.

He performed with both electric and acoustic guitars at festivals around the world. In the past year, he toured in the U.S., performing with the Galician singer Uxía at venues such as the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago and the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. The duo paid tribute to their roots by performing Galician classics and adaptations of “alalás,” the oldest know form of Galician music.

Pérez (1968-November 15, 2016) was a musician of the world, incorporating styles he picked up from performing with artists from Angola, Mozambique, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina and Guinea-Bissau.

“Sempre En Galiza/Galician Lullaby” on Spotify

My Memories of Leon Russell in 11 Songs

 

I first discover Leon in the record bin of Boury’s Appliance Store in Wheeling, WV. I’ve never heard of him before, but I’m struck by the man looking back at me on the album cover. When I put needle to vinyl, I’m as captivated by his music as I am by him.

My friend Eddie and I chance upon Mad Dogs & Englishmen, the documentary about Joe Cocker’s world tour, at the Victoria Theater in Wheeling. In his stovepipe hat, Holy Trinity basketball jersey, Les Paul Gibson, and  his “hippy commune” of musicians and singers, he represents the type of free-spirited life I aspire to.

B.B. King is my other teenage musical idol, and I’m thrilled to see Leon playing piano for him as King performs a Russell song, “Hummingbird,” on The Mike Douglas Show. 

Here’s Leon’s original version.

During my freshman year at West Virginia University, a friend and I spend the better part of the year listening to Leon Live while drinking daiquiris and learning the Swahili chorus of “Out in the Woods.”

I see Leon for the first of five times at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. He and his carnival of a band open for Three Dog Night, which seemed a reversal of the natural order. One of the things that appeal to me about Leon is how he blends and celebrates country, rock, blues, classical, jazz and gospel, as he does when he gives the stage here to the Rev. Patrick Henderson.

Leon goes on tour to promote The Wedding Album, an record he produced with his then-wife Mary McCreary. I see them at Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota with my then-wife. They would also perform the song on one of the earliest episodes of Saturday Night Live.

In the early aughts, I catch Leon at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis. He has aged considerably, is drawing a much smaller crowd and rushes through his setlist on an electric piano. A highlight for the audience (and I’m sure him) is one of his daughters, who supplies backup vocals and a few solos. After playing sold-out stadiums and mingling with musicians from George Harrison to Eric Clapton, he must have felt like he was in a strange land indeed.

A Netflix documentary, The Wrecking Crew, celebrates a largely unknown group of LA studio musicians who backed and provided the sound to many of our favorite songs. Turns out, Leon was one of them, recording on tracks for The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Monkees–even Sinatra and The Rolling Stones.

At the Trylon Microcinema, I see A Poem is a Naked Person, the surrealistic rock documentary by Les Blank. Produced by Russell and Denny Cordell, Leon kept it from release for 40 years. While the film  was ostensibly about Leon, he’s rarely in it. With his subject on a worldwide tour, Blank didn’t have the budget to travel along–most of the footage focuses on Russell’s home base and studio in Tulsa.

Leon has a late-life revival, when Elton John repays the kindness Leon had showed him as a young artist. Their joint album, recorded as Russell recovered from brain surgery, is highly acclaimed and puts Leon back in the spotlight. John makes sure Leon can afford to tour in a respectable bus with a real grand piano. Leon is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (introduced by Sir Elton) and Songwriters Hall of Fame.

I see Leon for a few last times, at the Dakota and Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. He seems happy to be on stage with an adoring audience before him. RIP, Leon, I will miss you, but your music will always live on for me.