Sparklers: “Nowhere Man” by Bill Frisell

This is the eighth installment of this category featuring recordings of outstanding performances by noteworthy guitarists – or – outstanding guitarists giving noteworthy performances.

So, ladies and gentlemen! Let me introduce you to…

“Nowhere Man” by Bill Frisell.

Give a listen. (You’ll be glad you did!)

That recording was released in September, 2011 as part of “All We Are Saying…”, Bill Frisell’s tribute album to the music of John Lennon. The album was recorded at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California, in June & July of that year.

The musicians collaborating on that epic performance were..

  • Bill Frisell – Electric Guitar
  • Greg Leisz – Steel Guitar
  • Jenny Scheinman – Violin
  • Tony Scherr – Upright Bass
  • Kenny Wollesen – Drums

I’ve been listening to Bill Frisell quite a bit lately. I find his exquisite tone and especially creative way with a melody to be positively entrancing and completely addictive. I really love the way he keeps the melody of the piece he’s playing – even when he’s playing a simple Folk tune like “Shenandoah” or “Sitting On Top Of The World” (highly recommended recordings, by the way) – constantly recognizable throughout his performance.

William Richard Frisell was born on March 18, 1951, in Baltimore, Maryland, but spent most of his youth living near Denver, Colorado.

While the clarinet was his first instrument, Bill started playing guitar as a teenager. He studied with a number of teachers over the years, beginning with Dale Bruning (in the Denver area) and moving on to Johnny Smith (at the University of Northern Colorado) and Jim Hall (at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts). (That explains his penchant for playing the melody!)

His first solo album – In Line – came out in 1983 on ECM Records.

I certainly hope you enjoyed Bill Frisell & Company’s rendering of “Nowhere Man” as much as I do.

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This Historic Month In The World of Guitar

April is “International Guitar Month.”

Ok, but I’ve got five very good reasons why I think March should get that honor.

They are: Doc Watson, Wes Montgomery, Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Eric Clapton.

Why those five?

Each of those wondrous wizards of the fretboard were born in the month of March! (And here at sixstr stories, birthdays are a Big Deal!)

Allow me to elaborate.

Arthel “Doc” Watson was born on March 2, 1923 in Deep Gap, North Carolina.

Doc appeared on record for the first time in 1961, adding his considerable talents to the Folkways release, Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s. He signed a contract with Vanguard Records in 1961 and released Southbound – his 5th album for the label – in 1966.

“Sweet Georgia Brown” is the third track on Side 1 of Southbound and features Doc at his fabulous flatpicking best. Accompanying Doc are guitarist John Pilla and Russ Savakus on upright bass.

John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery was born on March 6, 1925 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Wes made his first recording as bandleader on the Riverside label in 1959. On August 4, 1961, he recorded the album So Much Guitar! for Riverside at Plaza Sound Studios in New York City. On this rendering of the 1945 Duke Ellington tune, “I’m Just A Lucky So and So,” Wes’s always-dazzling electric guitar playing is accompanied by Hank Jones on piano, Ron Carter on upright bass and Lex Humphries on drums.

“Mississippi” John Smith Hurt was born on March 8, 1892, in Teoc, Mississippi.

John cut his first record on February 14, 1928 in Memphis, Tennessee for OKeh Records. He recorded again for OKeh on December 21 and 28, 1928 in New York City. Then not again until his rediscovery in 1963 was the music of Mississippi John Hurt captured in a recording.

In 1964, Hurt recorded the 12 tracks that became the posthumous 1966 Vanguard album Mississippi John Hurt – Today! “Corrinna, Corrinna” – Side 1’s closing number – showcases his inimitable fingerpicking and vocals.

Samuel John “Lightnin'” Hopkins was born on March 15, 1912, in Centerville, Texas.

Sam made his first recordings for 1946 in Los Angeles, California for Aladdin Records. The guitarist was teamed with pianist Wilson “Thunder” Smith and the record company decided to thus call him “Lightnin’.”

Sam recorded prolifically as a solo singer/guitarist/songwriter for Gold Star Records in Houston, Texas between 1947 and 1950. In November of 1948, Sam recorded his version of “Baby Please Don’t Go,” a traditional Blues song popularized by Big Joe Williams in 1935. Gold Star released it on a 78 rpm disc in 1949 and in 1990, Arhoolie Records placed it as the second track on their CD: The Gold Star Sessions, Vol.1.

Eric Patrick Clapton was born on March 30, 1945, in Ripley, Surrey, England.

Eric started his illustrious and on-going recording career in 1964 as a member of the London-based R&B band, The Yardbirds. In 1966, the guitarist/vocalist formed the band Cream with bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker.

Cream recorded their second album, Disraeli Gears, in May, 1967, at Atlantic Studios, in New York. “Sunshine of Your Love” was released as a 45 rpm single in the United States in December, 1967 and in the United Kingdom in September, 1968.

This is one of those recordings that puts the “classic” in Classic Rock.

So, there you have ’em! My five votes for making March “International Guitar Month.”

Don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine The World of Guitar without those five.

(Did I miss any other noteworthy guitarist who was born in March? Please let me know!)

P.S.: The next “National Guitar Day” is February 11, 2023.

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Finding Covers – “Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie”

I’ve been a big fan of Gillian Welch & David Rawlings since I first heard them perform in August 2004 as part of The Sweet Harmony Traveling Revue.

The last time I was fortunate enough to see them in concert was on July 21, 2018 at the Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Here’s a photo from that show.

IMG_1393

So, in July 2020, when the duo released All The Good Times – their pandemic album of home recordings – I zipped on over to iTunes and downloaded a copy.

The more I listened to and enjoyed this fabulous, now Grammy Award winning album, the more I knew that I would eventually need to purchase a “hard copy.” I finally did and since the CD arrived in the mail from Bull Moose Music, I’ve been listening to it in my car every time I go for a drive.

Elizabeth Cotten’s “Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie” is the opening song on All The Good Times and Gillian & David’s cover – two acoustic guitars, two voices, two supremely talented musicians – is simply superb. 

Give a listen for yourself.

 

All ten tracks on the album were recorded live in Gillian & David’s Tennessee home on an Otari MX55 1/4″ 2 Track reel-to-reel tape deck. (You can hear the “click” of David turning on the machine at the beginning of the cut!)

Elizabeth Cotten’s recording of “Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie” was released in 1958. It was on Elizabeth’s first album – Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes – on Folkways Records.

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“Johnny B. Goode” – Who(?), What, When(?) & Where

Last week, I was putting together a “This Historic Day In Music” post to celebrate the anniversary of something good that happened on a January 6: the recording of “Johnny B. Goode.”

At least I thought that January 6, 1958, was the day Chuck Berry made that immortal recording.

As I looked around the internet, I was surprised to discover three dates being offered and, in several instances, an overriding amount of uncertainty.

January 6, 1958, is the date Wikipedia gives.

December 29, 1957, is the date given in the liner notes of my Chess Records Chuck Berry, His Best, Volume 1 CD and numerous websites.

February 28, 1958 is the date given in none other than: Chuck Berry: The Autobiography.

Then I discovered that who the musicians were that accompanied Chuck’s vocals and electric guitar on “Johnny B. Goode” is open for debate as well!

Specifically, is that Johnnie Johnson or Lafayette Leake on piano? Is the drummer Fred Below or Jasper Thomas?

Willie Dixon is definitely the bassist on the track.

The What and Where are definites, too: “Johnny B. Goode” is a Rock & Roll song, written (words & music) by Chuck Berry. “Johnny B. Goode,” the iconic, genre-defining recording, was made in the brand new studios of the Chess Recording Corporation at 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois.

Whatever side of the Who and When debates you take, I think any day – even (especially!) January 14, 2021 – is a great day to listen to “Johnny B. Goode.”

So, go ahead. Listen!

That will never get old.

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“Christmas In The Trenches”

“Christmas In The Trenches” is a song by John McCutcheon.

It is the fictionalized but masterfully rendered telling of the very real events that took place on Christmas Eve in 1914 between British and German troops on the battlefields of France; a miraculous occurance now known as The World War I Christmas Truce.

“Christmas In The Trenches” entered my life in the mid-1990’s thanks to the compilation CD titled: Must Be Santa! The Rounder Christmas Album. The song soon became – and still remains – a major component of my listening, playing and performing during the holiday season. As a friend of mine once shared with me, and I heartily agreed, “My Christmas begins when I hear that song.”

John McCutcheon first released “Christmas In The Trenches” on his 1984 Rounder Records’ album Winter Solstice

Here is that recording. Give a listen. It is worth every second of your time.

The musicians on that recording were:

  • John McCutcheon – Guitar & Vocals
  • Ralph Gordon – Bass
  • Lorraine Duisit – Mandolin
  • Freyda Epstein – Violin
  • Howard Levy – Harmonica

From all of us here at sixstr stories to all of you, best wishes for a healthy, peaceful and joyous holiday.

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This Historic Day In Music: “Sweet Home Chicago”

“Oh, baby, don’t you want to go?”

If you were to make a list of “standard” Blues songs, “Sweet Home Chicago” would definitely be among the top ten. I can’t, however, think of any song on that list with roots as deep and a history as fascinating as this one.

On Monday, November 23, 1936, Mississippi Blues singer/acoustic guitarist Robert Johnson (1911-1938) recorded his song “Sweet Home Chicago.”

The recording session was for Vocalion/ARC records and took place in Rm.414 of the Gunter Hotel, in San Antonio, Texas. Don Law was the ARC producer overseeing the session and “Sweet Home Chicago” was the third of eight songs that Johnson cut that now-legendary day.

Give a listen!

“Sweet Home Chicago” – b/w “Walking Blues” – was released by Vocalion Records on a 10-inch, 78-rpm disc – #03601 – in August 1937.

Columbia Records released “Sweet Home Chicago” on a 12-inch, 33 & 1/3 rpm vinyl LP for the first time in 1970. The album, pictured above, was titled: King of the Delta Blues Singers (Vol. 2).

Somewhere along the line, I learned that Robert Johnson had actually based “Sweet Home Chicago” on an earlier song called “Old Original Kokomo Blues” by Kokomo Arnold.

Georgia-born James “Kokomo” Arnold (1896 or 1901-1968) was a singer and left-handed, lap-style slide guitarist. He recorded “Old Original Kokomo Blues” for Decca Records in 1934.

Check it out!

Arnold once explained that the recurring line, “…back to Eleven Light City…” from the end of each verse of his song refers to a drugstore in Chicago. They sold coffee there under the brand name “Koko.”

However…

Two years prior to Arnold’s record, Paramount Records released “Ko Ko Mo Blues,” Part 1 & Part 2 by a Barrelhouse Blues piano player and singer named “Jabo” Williams (1895-1953).

Williams was from Alabama and recorded just eight sides for Paramount, all at a studio in Grafton, Wisconsin in May 1932. Each verse of “Ko Ko Mo Blues” concludes with the phrase: “…to that eleven light city, sweet old Kokomo.”

This one’s pretty scratchy, but well worth hearing!

Still with me? Hope so, there’s more!

In 1928, the singer and extraordinary acoustic Blues guitarist, James “Scrapper” Blackwell (1903-1962), recorded his song, “Kokomo Blues” for Vocalion Records.

Blackwell, born in South Carolina and of Cherokee descent, recorded extensively and is most famous for his work with singer/pianist Leroy Carr.

His “Kokomo Blues” begins: “Hmm, baby, don’t you want to go? Hmm, baby, don’t you want to go? Pack your little suitcase, Papa’s goin’ to Kokomo.”

You have to hear this one! The guitar playing alone is worth your time.

Finally, in April 1928, Paramount Records released a record by Madlyn Davis (1899-?) and Her Hot Shots titled “Kokola Blues.” Davis was what is now referred to as a Classic Blues singer. She recorded a total of ten sides, all for Paramount in 1927-1928, in Chicago.

Each of the four 12-bar verses of “Kokola Blues” concludes with the lines: “And it’s hey, hey, baby*, don’t you want to go, back to that eleven light city, back to sweet Kokomo.” (* or “Papa”)

There you go! I hope you enjoyed this little journey.

One last note: All of the recordings above were released in the category that the record industry at that time referred to as “race records.” Race records were marketed exclusively to a Black audience and chiefly in the rural American South. They were nearly impossible to obtain in Northern urban areas like Harlem and Chicago’s South Side. Average sales of these records numbered in the low thousands, often only in the hundreds.

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Dear Boston Red Sox,

Thanks for a great season!

(O = a win, X = a loss.)

Wait’ll next year!

In the meantime, here’s a great rendering of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” by guitarists Doc & Merle Watson, with T. Michael Coleman on bass, Mark O’Conner on fiddle and Pat McInerney, percussion.

Doc & Merle Watson’s Guitar Album was recorded in December, 1982, at Scruggs Sound Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. It was released in 1983 on Rounder Records.

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This Historic Day In Music: Chuck Berry

If you wouldn’t mind, read the next two lines out loud.

“Well, I’m a write a little letter, I’m go’n mail it to my local DJ.

Yes it’s a jumpin’ little record I want my jockey to play.”

Good! Now these two:

“I got the rockin’ pneumonia, I need a shot of rhythm and blues.

I caught the rollin’ arthritis sittin’ down at a rhythm review.”

Nice.

Did you feel it? The flow, the groove, the perfect rhythm of those words as they rolled off your lips?

Those lines, as I’m sure you know by now, come from the song “Roll Over Beethoven” and were written by Chuck Berry.

“Roll Over Beethoven” was the A-side song of Chuck Berry’s fourth single for Chess Records. It was recorded on April 16, 1956 in the studios of the Universal Recording Corporation in Chicago, Illinois. It was released in May 1956 (b/w “Drifting Heart”).

“Roll Over Beethoven,” to me, shows Chuck Berry starting to really hit his stride as not just a lyricist, but also as a guitarist, band leader and recording artist.

Over the relentlessly joyous course of its 2:24 running time, “Roll Over Beethoven” takes off from its now-classic opening guitar solo, revels through three verses, a bridge, another breathless guitar solo, two more verses and brings it all home with five energizing chants of the title phrase and the final exclamation point of “Dig these Rhythm & Blues!!”

Simply put, it rocks!

Don’t just take my words for it. Listen for yourself.


That’s really something, isn’t it?

The musicians on that recording were:

  • Chuck Berry – Electric Guitar & Vocals
  • Johnnie Johnson – Piano
  • Willie Dixon – Bass
  • Fred Below – Drums

“Roll Over Beethoven” was released in December 1956 on “Rock, Rock, Rock!,” the first Long Playing (LP) disc produced by Chess Records.

Chuck Berry was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 18, 1926. He passed away on March 18, 2017.

Where would popular music have gone without him?

P.S.: Back some time ago, I played rhythm guitar in a Beatles cover band called MerseysideWe played “Roll Over Beethoven” (of course) the way The Beatles did it. With our superb drummer, Les Harris, on lead vocals, it was a total blast to do and always one of the highlights of our show.

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Wrestling With The Angel, Chapter 14

Five years ago – almost to the day – I wrote about the song “Copper Canteen” by James McMurtry. “Copper Canteen” was the lead song on McMurtry’s then-brand-new album, Complicated Game.

The last line of that post (titled “A Somewhat Recent Rediscovery”) was:

“I’ve made a promise to myself not to lose track of James McMurtry again.”

Well, I didn’t.

So when I read about the release of The Horses and the Hounds, McMurtry’s first album since Complicated Game, I made plans for a trip to Bull Moose Music in Portsmouth, N.H. to pick up a copy.

The Horses and the Hounds is a truly extraordinary album. The songs and the arrangements, the performances and the production are consistently outstanding from first track to the last. Listening to this stunningly well crafted music and these sonically epic recordings has been an exhilarating and joyful experience.

One song, however – actually one verse in that song – stands tall as my favorite lyric on the album.

The song is “If It Don’t Bleed” and the lyric is in the song’s second verse.

“So run another rack, pour another shot / You don’t get it back so give it all you got while you still got a more or less functional body and mind.”

Right on the money.

Listen for yourself. Please. (You’ll be glad you did!)

 

“If It Don’t Bleed” was written by James McMurtry, produced by Ross Hogarth and performed by:

  • James McMurtry – Vocals
  • David Grissom – Guitars
  • Daren Hess – Drums
  • Sean Hurley – Bass Guitar
  • Kenny Aronoff – Percussion
  • Stan Lynch – Percussion
  • Harry Smith – Slide Guitar
  • Bukka Allen – Organ
  • Loren Gold – Piano
  • Randy Garibay, Jr. – Harmony Vocal

Thank you, James McMurtry. Music this good will never get old. 

The purpose of my Wrestling With The Angel series is to highlight and share individual songs that are on a list of mine entitled: Devastatingly Great Songs. The title phrase, “Wrestling With The Angel,” is my paraphrase of a line from a poem by Herman Melville called “Art.” You can read the complete poem in “The Source,” my archived post of November 4, 2011. 

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Charlie Watts

Tuesday, August 24, 2021. The text came in from my son at 1:02 pm.

“RIP charlie watts! Sad news”

Rather stunned, I quickly replied: “Oh no! Very sad news!”

The first article that appeared on the news feed on my phone was from Variety Magazine. Pieces from Rolling Stone Magazine and the Washington Post followed soon after.

Charlie’s band, The Rolling Stones, explained in a statement on their Twitter page:

“He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family.”

Charlie Watts and – as far as I’m concerned – The Rolling Stones, are gone.

I first got into music in 1964 thanks to The Beatles, but before long I started listening to and became a huge fan of The Rolling Stones.

I bought their singles…

…and their albums…

…and for many, many months these records were the ones that I played most often on my little Magnavox stereo.

So, even though – at the age of 12 – Ringo Starr was my inspiration to begin learning how to play the drums, the playing of Charlie Watts soon began ingraining itself deep into my slowly developing teenage musical psyche.

Today, after I’d read the Variety and Rolling Stone articles, I started thinking about Charlie’s music, his impeccable playing on all those very well worn Rolling Stones records I still own. Of course “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Honky Tonk Women” and many of the hits danced around in my head, but one song in particular kept stepping to the front.

The title song to their 8th (British) LP. 

Charlie really shines on this one. 

 

Charles Robert Watts was born on June 2, 1941, in Kingsbury, UK.

He got his first drum set in 1955 and practiced by playing along with his collection of Jazz records. He started playing with Rhythm & Blues bands in 1959, thinking that R&B was just “Charlie Parker, played slow.”

He joined The Rolling Stones in January 1963 and played his first gig as an official member of the band in London on February 2, 1963.

Charlie Watts played his last concert with The Rolling Stones in Miami, Florida, on August 30, 2019.

Charlie is survived by Shirley, his wife of 57 years; his daughter, Serafina; and his granddaughter, Charlotte.

In 2012, music journalist Jem Aswad wrote a review of a Rolling Stones concert in Brooklyn, NY, for Billboard Magazine. He had this to say about Charlie Watts:

“For all of Mick and Keith’s supremacy, there’s no question that the heart of this band is and will always be Watts: At 71, his whipcrack snare and preternatural sense of swing drive the songs with peerless authority, and define the contradictory uptight-laid-back-ness that’s at the heart of the Stones’ rhythm.”  

As my son said, “Rest in peace, Charlie Watts,” and thank you so very much.

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