This Historic Day In Music: “Like A Rolling Stone”

Bob Dylan started recording songs for his sixth album on Tuesday, June 15, 1965. The session was held in Columbia Records’ Studio A, located at 799 Seventh Avenue in New York City.

Tom Wilson was the producer and the band that he put together for this session included:

  • Mike Bloomfield – electric guitar
  • Bobby Gregg – drums
  • Paul Griffin – piano/organ
  • Bruce Langhorne – tambourine
  • Joe Macho, Jr. – bass guitar

Bob Dylan sang and played electric guitar, piano and harmonica.

The first two songs that Dylan presented to the band in the June 15th session were “Phantom Engineer Number Cloudy” (eventually to be titled: “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry”) and “Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence.”

The third song that the musicians worked on was called “Like A Rolling Stone,” one of Dylan’s newest compositions. The song was in 3/4 time – a waltz – and in the key of D flat major. Five takes, or “rehearsals” were recorded with only the fifth – and last of the day – being close to a complete run-through.

All involved with the June 15 recording session reconvened at Studio A the next day, Wednesday, June 16th. The only song on the agenda was “Like A Rolling Stone.”

Joining the proceedings that day was Al Kooper, a 21-year-old studio guitarist and guest of Mr. Wilson.

Somewhere in between the end of Tuesday’s sessions and the beginning of the Wednesday sessions, Dylan decided to switch “Like A Rolling Stone” into 4/4 time and drop it a half-step to the more guitar-friendly key of C.

The ensemble – with Paul Griffin on piano, Al Kooper on electric organ (!) and Dylan now playing electric rhythm guitar – ran through two rehearsal takes of the “new” “Like A Rolling Stone.” Everyone (especially Dylan, to my ear) struggled to get acclimated to the new key and time signature. When “Take 1” was officially announced, it lasted all of one minute and fifty-seven seconds before Dylan broke it off.

As they prepared to try again, Dylan declared: “Even if we screw it up, we keep going.”

Take 2 however, stopped after 30 seconds and Take 3 only lasted for 19. (These would both be labeled “false starts.”)

Producer Wilson then called “Take 4” and Bobby Gregg’s snare and kick drum confidently sounded the charge. The band followed suit.

Bloomfield, Gregg, Griffin, Kooper (playing an instrument he’d never played before!), Langhorne and Macho performed with confidence, focus, cohesiveness, clarity, finesse, passion and daring; each surely wondering to some degree if at any moment everything would again fall apart around them. But they followed Dylan’s lead every step of the way and triumphantly made it through the entire song.

Six minutes and eleven seconds after it started, Take 4 ended and producer Wilson happily proclaimed, “That sounds good to me.”

Dylan, however, was not convinced and wished to persevere.

The septet tried and tried again; eleven times, actually. Each false start and breakdown  they endured was more discouraging than the last. Even the lone complete run-through – Take 11 – was not even close. Finally Tom Wilson brought the proceedings to a halt, rewound the tape and suggested a closer listen.

Everyone soon agreed that the mark had unquestionably been hit way back in Take 4.

Perfection had indeed been achieved.

Flawless? No.

Perfection? Yes.

Listen for yourself.

 

Columbia Records released “Like A Rolling Stone” b/w “Gates of Eden” as a single on July 20, 1965. It was then featured as the opening track of Highway 61 Revisited – Dylan’s sixth album – released on August 30, 1965.

“Like A Rolling Stone” reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on September 4, 1965. (“Help!” by The Beatles was #1.)

It was ranked #7 in The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) by Dave Marsh. (“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye was #1.)

In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine put it at #1 on their list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

In 2005, music journalist Greil Marcus wrote a book called Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads. In it he states: “‘Like A Rolling Stone’ is a triumph of craft, inspiration, will and intent; regardless of all those things, it was also an accident.”

 

The information used in the writing of this post came from the following sources:

Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions [1960-1994] (1995) by Clinton Heylin

Greil Marcus on Recording “Like A Rolling Stone” – an NPR “Music Interview” posted April 11, 2005 on NPR.org. (This “Music Interview” is actually an excerpt from Mr. Marcus’ book quoted above.)

The “Deluxe Edition” of Bob Dylan’s The Bootleg Series, Vol.12: The Cutting Edge 1965-1966 released by Columbia Records on November 6, 2015. (Disc 3 of this six-CD set contains the entire studio session recordings of “Like A Rolling Stone” – all 20 takes -from June 15 & 16, 1965. Highly recommended listening.)

The Wikipedia page for “Like A Rolling Stone.”

P.S.: Happy Father’s Day!

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Finding Covers – Chapter 5

The first time I heard and saw Leon Redbone sing and play his guitar was late at night on Saturday, February 28, 1976.

Leon was the musical guest on that evening’s episode of Saturday Night Live. (It was the 15th broadcast of the series’ now-legendary first season.) Actress Jill Clayburgh was the host and she gave Leon a smiling and enthusiastic introduction.

The camera revealed the mustachioed musician sitting crosslegged on a short stool in a pool of light from an overhead spot. He wore a black suit, white dotted tie and a white panama hat pulled close to the top of his dark-tinted glasses. On his lap was a small mahogany-body Martin acoustic guitar.

The song he performed so brilliantly that evening was “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

Originally published in 1929, the words to “Ain’t Misbehavin'” were written by Andy Razaf and the music composed by Thomas “Fats” Waller and Harry Brooks. It was first performed that year at a Harlem nightclub as part of a musical comedy play called Connie’s Hot Chocolates.

The song has been recorded countless times by a long list of musical greats including Ruth Etting, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Johnny Hartman, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson.

Leon included his rendition of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” on his 1975 debut album, On The Track. Jazz violinist Joe Venuti joined Leon on the recording.

Here it is.

 

To say that Leon’s performance that evening on Saturday Night Live was a boost to his career would be a huge understatement.

I can also safely say that Leon’s performance changed my life, too.

Soon thereafter, I purchased a copy of the sheet music for “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and – once I’d translated the ukulele chords to guitar chords – worked out my own rendition of the song. Then, as one good thing leads to another, a string of “vintage” songs made their way onto my set lists. Among them were: “Swinging On A Star,” “Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Lulu’s Back In Town” and the always-popular “What You Goin’ To Do When The Rent Comes ‘Round?”

Learning those songs greatly expanded my chord vocabulary (I finally had to learn how to play barre chords!) and pushed my fingerpicking chops into regions previously unexplored. Then those chords and techniques started showing up in my original songs.

Then… about a year ago, I put together a new arrangement of “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” in the key of G, Cotten-style.

Influence is a wonderful thing.

Leon Redbone was born Dickran Gobalian on August 26, 1949 in Nicosia, Cyprus.

He passed away on May 30, 2019 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Leon once said about his work: “The only thing that interests me is history, reviewing the past and making something out of it.”

Thank you, Leon, so very much. Behave yourself.

 

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Some Kind Of Smelling Salts: “Fire In The Engine Room”

Some Kind Of Smelling Salts features songs from my personal playlist of musical stimulants and audio caffeine delivery systems; a distinct selection of creations and performances that I find to be deliciously intoxicating, undeniably invigorating and unapologetically addictive.

Listening not for the faint of heart.

The title comes from the second verse of the song “Recovery” by Frank Turner. (See the introductory post of …Smelling Salts published on February 17, 2019.)

Today’s dose is “Fire In The Engine Room,” a song by Richard Thompson.

It was the first song on the second side of his highly recommended 1985 solo LP, Across A Crowded Room. 

This is a “potboiler” – a term coined by producer George Martin – if I ever heard one.

 

See what I mean? (You did listen to that, didn’t you?)

“Fire In The Engine Room” was performed by:

  • Richard Thompson – lead vocals & lead electric guitar
  • Simon Nicol – 12-string Rickenbacker rhythm guitar
  • Bruce Lynch – Bass
  • Dave Mattucks – drums, percussion & keyboards
  • Alan Dunn – accordion
  • Pete Thomas – tenor saxophone
  • Dave Bitelli – baritone saxophone
  • Philip Pickett – shawm & crumhorn
  • Christine Collister, Clive Gregson & Phil Barnes – backing vocals

Across A Crowded Room was recorded during September & October, 1984 at RAK Studios in London, England. Joe Boyd was the producer. The album was released in April 1985 on Polydor Records.

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Boogie Woogie: A twohundredandthirtystr story

Boogie – (from: Merriam-Webster.com)

  • verb: 1) to dance to Rock music, also: revel, party. 2) to move quickly.
  • noun: 1) boogie-woogie. 2) earthy and strongly rhythmic rock music conducive to dancing.

Boogie Woogie – (from: Harvard Dictionary of Music)

  • Originally, a special type of piano blues first heard in Chicago in the early 1920’s.

The first time the term “boogie boogie” appeared on a record was in 1928.

The recording was “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” by Clarence “Pine Top” Smith. It was made on December 29, 1928 in Chicago, Illinois, for the Brunswick/Vocalion record label.

Here are Clarence Smith’s spoken lyrics:

I want all of y’all to know this is Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie.

I want everybody to dance ’em just like I tell you.

And when I say “Hold yourself,” I want all of you to get ready to stop.

And when I said “Stop!”, don’t move!

And when I say “Get it,” I want all of y’all to do a boogie woogie.

Hold it, now… Stop!… Boogie Woogie!

That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Now when I say “Hold yourself” this time, I want all of you to get ready to stop.

And when I said “Stop!”, don’t move a peg.

And when I say “Get it,” ev’rybody mess around.

Hold it yourself, now… Stop!… Mess around!

That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Give a listen for yourself. You’ll be glad you did!

 

Clarence Smith was born on January 11, 1904 in Orion, Alabama. He gave his first public performance in Birmingham at about the age of fifteen. According to his wife, Sarah, he started playing “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” around 1924.

Clarence and his family moved to Chicago in 1928. There, over the course of three sessions – December 29, 1928 and January 14 & 15, 1929 – Clarence recorded 8 pieces for Brunswick/Vocalion Records. Three of those pieces were recorded twice – labelled as “Take A” and “Take B” – leaving Pine Top Smith’s total discography at 11 sides.

Clarence Smith died on March 15, 1929, two days after being struck by a stray bullet in a dance hall brawl. He was 25 years old.

Information for this post came from Mike Rowe’s liner notes to the 2007 Document Records CD (DOCD-5102): Boogie Woogie & Barrelhouse Piano, Volume 1: 1928-1930.

The title of this post is based on the first number – 230 – that came up when I searched for: “How many strings does a piano have?”

This post was written in response to the “Song Lyric Sunday” challenge – Boogie/Rock/Rolling Stone –  by Jim Adams on his excellent WordPress blog, A Unique Title For Me.

Here’s the link to Jim’s blog: Song Lyric Sunday.

 

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Sparklers: “Easter And The Sargasso Sea” by Leo Kottke

This is the third installment of my next-to-newest category here at sixstr stories.

It features recordings of outstanding performances by noteworthy guitarists – or outstanding guitarists giving noteworthy performances.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you…

“Easter And The Sargasso Sea” by Leo Kottke.

Listen. You’ll be glad you did!

 

“Easter and the Sargasso Sea” was written and recorded by Leo Kottke. He released it in 1970 on his second album, Circle ‘Round The Sun. I bought my copy of the vinyl LP in the Fall of 1971 at a small record store in, I think, Springfield, Massachusetts.

For the guitar players out there, Leo is fingerpicking a 12-string acoustic guitar tuned to an open-G major tuning. Leo also has his instrument tuned below standard pitch like many 12-string players do. To be precise, Leo’s guitar is tuned 4 half steps low, actually sounding in E-flat major.

Hope you enjoyed “Easter And The Sargasso Sea” and… Happy Easter!

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No. 9

Another birthday, another telling of the tale…

sixstr stories was born on Sunday, April 18, 2010 in Somerville, Massachusetts.

I was visiting my daughter and casually mentioned to her that I was thinking of starting a blog. (At the time, she had a blog.) Before I knew it, she’d opened up her laptop and gone into WordPress.

She asked me if I had a name for my blog.

I did.

“Password?”

“Sure,” I replied.

Click, click. Tap, tap.

“There you go, Dad. You’ve got a blog!”

Nine years later and sixstr stories is still up and running and, I believe, going strong. I may not be prolific, but I’ve never missed a month. And I still enjoy it immensely.

In my very first post, I established the sixstr stories motto: “Good music doesn’t get old.” That quote comes from Mr. Ferdinand “Jelly Roll Morton” LaMothe (1890-1941), the man who invented Jazz. In November of 2018, I added a co-motto: “All valuable stories need to be told over and over and over again.” That one’s from Mr. Bruce Springsteen.

Over the years, I’ve celebrated each birthday with a number-appropriate piece of music. Last year, I rocked out with “Eight Miles High” by The Byrds. For No. 7, I shared a seven verse original called “Weekdays, Weekdays.” For No. 6, I couldn’t decided between Livingston Taylor’s version of “Six Days On The Road” or The Rolling Stones’ live take on “Route 66.” So I ran with both.

When I started planning for the big #9, the very first thing that came to mind was…

Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, by Ludwig van Beethoven.

That’s right.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) started work on his Ninth Symphony in the Fall of 1822 and finished it in February of 1824. It is referred to as the German composer’s “Choral Symphony” because he chose to augment the symphony orchestra with four vocal soloists and a full choir in the piece’s fourth and final movement.

(This epic masterwork, with its then-completely deaf composer “conducting,” was performed for the first time on May 7, 1824 in Vienna, Austria. The crowd, to say the least, went wild.)

Beethoven chose a poem by Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) as the basis of the text for the choral part. Schiller’s poem, written in 1785, was titled: “Ode To Joy.”

The melody that Beethoven wrote for the choir to sing Schiller’s verses to has also become known as “Ode To Joy.”

So, in celebration of sixstrstories’ 9th birthday, I give you “Ode To Joy.” My way.

Hope you enjoy it.

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This Historic Day In Music: Wes Montgomery – Take 2

I bought my first Wes Montgomery album when I was in high school.

The purchase was made in Boston, Massachusetts, at one of the two music stores that used to stand on the block of Boylston Street in between Tremont Street and Charles Street. It was either Carl Fischer Music or Boston Music. I can’t remember which.

The LP was entitled Wes Montgomery: March 6, 1925 – June 15, 1968.

The LP was a compilation released by Riverside Records in October of 1968. Its nine tracks featured the electric Jazz guitarist with a variety of small ensembles doing distinctive takes on seven standards – including “Satin Doll,” “Groove Yard” and “Body and Soul” – and Wes’ own “Jingles.”

My favorite track was Wes’ solo rendition of the Morty Palitz & Alec Wilder song, “While We’re Young.”

 

That was recorded on August 4, 1961 at Plaza Sound Studios in New York City. The album that it originally appeared on – SO Much Guitar! – was released on Riverside Records in 1961.

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

He started playing on a 4-string tenor guitar at around the age of 12. When he was 19 and just married, he bought an electric 6-string guitar and an amplifier. His inspiration? “Charlie Christian, like all other guitar players. There was no way out. That cat tore everybody’s head up.”

With his new guitar, a record player, a stack of the records that Christian made with the Benny Goodman Sextet and Orchestra, infinite patience and an incredibly good ear, Wes taught himself to play all of Charlie Christian’s guitar solos note-for-note. Wes later explained: “I knew that everything done on his guitar could be done on mine… so I just determined that I would do it.”

It took him about eight months. And because much of the time he would be practicing late at night while his wife was sleeping, he got into the habit of plucking the strings with his thumb, which produced a softer sound than he would get if he used a guitar pick.

Wes’ ability to play Charlie’s solos got him his first gig around 1945 in Indianapolis. As Wes described it: “I got a job in a club just playing them. I’d play Charlie Christian’s solos, then lay out.”

As Wes improved and began to develop his own style, word spread. He was hired by vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and went on the road with Hampton’s big band from 1948-50. Later, in the mid-50’s, Wes played with his brothers Buddy and Monk in a group called The Mastersounds.

In 1957, Wes signed with Riverside Records and recorded his first album Fingerpickin’ that was released in 1958. After Riverside went out of business, Wes recorded for Verve Records and finally for A&M. His last album, released in 1968, was entitled Road Song.

Wes Montgomery still stands as one of the greatest guitarists in the history of Jazz.

Wes passed away on June 15, 1968.

My sources for the information and quotes in this post were:

  • The Guitar Players: One Instrument & Its Masters In American Music (1982) by James Sallis
  • Music journalist Ralph J. Gleason’s 1958 interview with Wes, as published in the July/August 1973 issue of Guitar Player Magazine. 
  • Wikipedia.
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Something New

Jim Adams hosts a weekly song lyric challenge on his blog, A Unique Title For Me. It’s called “Song Lyric Sunday” and the prompt for today is: Harmony/Melody/Music.

I’ve never responded to Jim’s challenge before but that prompt… well, it struck a chord!

My contribution is “Sing To The World,” an original song that I posted about here on sixstrstories in December, 2013.

I wrote the song – more of a hymn, actually – back in 1996 with inspiration from a variety of sources including Rev. David Slater, Lech Walesa, Sir Isaac Watts and Woody Guthrie.

I hope you enjoy it.

Here’s the link to Jim’s blog: Song Lyric Sunday.

Sing To The World

Words, Music, Guitar & Vocals by Eric Sinclair

Sing to the world a new song, sing with a joyful heart
Sing to the world a song that welcomes all with open arms
Sing to the world with countless voices joined in harmony
Sing to the world a new song that all the world can sing.

Sing to the world far and wide, sing with sparkling eyes
Sing to the world a song that keeps the flame of hope alive
Sing to the world that we may find a path to common ground
Sing to the world a song that calls us all to gather ‘round.

Sing to the world hand in hand, sing with love revealed
Sing to the world a song that knows how songs should make us feel
Sing to the world a song that shares its smile with ev’ry face
Sing to the world a song that holds the world in a warm embrace.

Sing to the world loud and long, sing with sounding joy
Sing to the world a song that fills the air with wond’rous noise
Sing to the world a song of peace to ring through ev’ry land
Sing to the world a song for ev’ry woman, child and man.

© ® 1996 EFS Music/BMI

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Some Kind Of Smelling Salts

“Music. What is it good for? Why do you seek it?”

Journalist Christopher Hislop, skilled chronicler of the large and vibrant music scene here in my neck of the woods, poses those questions to everyone he interviews for his weekly column, 5 Spot. (5 Spot appears in EDGE, the “Everything Arts & Entertainment From The Seacoast To The Tri-City Region” magazine that arrives with my Thursday edition of Foster’s Daily Democrat.)

My answer to those questions would be, as you might imagine, not short. A part of it however, would simply be: “Music is the best caffeine.”

Not all music, of course, but a distinct selection of creations and performances that I find to be deliciously intoxicating, undeniably invigorating and unapologetically addictive.

Thus, sixstrstories’ newest category: Some Kind Of Smelling Salts.

Ta da!

The title comes from “Recovery,” a song by Frank Turner.

I started listening to Frank Turner after his song “The Way I Tend To Be” burst from my radio one day back in 2013. Soon after, I picked up a copy of his then-newest and highly recommended album, Tape Deck Heart. (Yes, I actually went to a brick-and-mortar music store and purchased the CD!) “Recovery” was the first song on the disc.

Oh, my.

The line, “Some kind of smelling salts,” culminates the song’s second verse and occurs at the 1:12 mark in the recording.

Listen.

No, really. You’ve got to listen to this.

 

See what I mean?

“Recovery” was recorded by Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls.

  • Frank Turner – Words & Music, Vocals & Acoustic Guitar
  • Tarrant Anderson – Bass & Backing Vocals
  • Ben Lloyd – Electric Guitar & Backing Vocals
  • Matt Nasir – Keyboards & Backing Vocals
  • Nigel Powell – Drums, Percussion & Backing Vocals
  • and Rich Costey – Electric Guitar (Mr. Costey also produced, recorded and mixed the track.)

So, Some Kind Of Smelling Salts is going to feature songs from my personal playlist of musical stimulants & audio caffeine delivery systems. Listening not for the faint of heart.

Stay tuned!

Do you have music that gets your motor running? Lights a fire in your engine room?

That always takes you higher? Makes you jump a little lighter?

That doesn’t just make you want to shout, but throw your hands up and shout?

That puts the whop in your bop ba looma?

If so, please let me know.

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To The Museum, Once Again

This is my third post about the guitars on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.

The first – A Trip To The Museum – went up on March 13, 2014. It features three very old guitars (circa 1628, 1680 & 1725) found in the MFA’s “Musical Instruments” gallery. The second post – Another Trip To The Museum – appeared on September 2, 2017. It features three newer guitars (circa 1840, 1954 & 1964) also (still!) to be found in Gallery #103.

On my latest trip to 465 Huntington Avenue this past January, I visited Level 3 of the MFA’s Art of America wing and took a close look at the two gorgeous guitars on display there.

The two musical works of art share a tall square glass case. The case stands just about in the middle of the floor in the back gallery on the right hand side of Level 3. Both instruments are products of the National String Instrument Corporation.

(The National String Instrument Corporation was formed in 1927 in Los Angeles, California by John Dopyera and George Beauchamp. The company manufactured the first resonator guitars.)

The acoustic guitar pictured below is a Tri-Cone Resonator guitar built in 1934. Its body is made of nickel alloy plated with nickel silver.

Here is a photo of the guitar that hangs in the case behind the resonator guitar.

This electric instrument is a Lap Steel Guitar, the “New Yorker” model, made in 1947. It is made of wood and plastic.

Both of these remarkable guitars are meant to be played “Hawaiian” style: the instrument lies horizontally across the player’s lap and the strings are “fretted” with a round steel bar or glass tube (or bottle) held in the player’s left hand. The player picks the strings finger style with his/her right hand. Hawaiian music with its distinctive swooping, sliding and melodious lead guitar was immensely popular in the United States during the first decades of the 20th century.

These instruments, and the others on display at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, remind me that what I always say is so very true: “The world of guitar is a vast, wonderful and fascinating place.”

P.S.: Level 3 of the Art of America wing at the MFA is also home to two of my favorite paintings: Number 10 (1949) by Jackson Pollock and Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors – 7th Avenue Style (1940) by Stuart Davis.

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