Tag Archives: Greg Lake

King Crimson in 2017-Monkey Mind Puts on Big Boy Pants and Climbs Incline to Level Seventeen.

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The double quartet in 2017, per Fripp. Eight is perhaps too many people in a band

King Crimson in 2017, a look back at what got us here-the fuck ups and nimble twists, and a look at two current concerts on this tour. Does all this Radikal Action show that the  Monkey Mind is still crazy, or crafty like a fox?

King Crimson in 2017. Just that idea is remarkable considering the perilous courses charted by King Crimson mk1 (the Greg Lake era, where Crimson was an equal partners band still), mk2 (the jazz influenced era, where Fripp and session musicians made up Crimson) and mk3 (the cutting edge Wetton/Bruford/Fripp/Cross era). Each of those bands crashed and burned, mostly at Fripp’s behest, after a two year stretch. Yes, two years is all any of these line ups lasted. Fragile was the word for Crimson band stability. Yet in five years, King Crimson created a body of work in seven albums that still reverberates strongly through the corridors of power in the rock n roll world to this day. This was groundbreaking shit when it came out, it was still groundbreaking two decades later, it is still groundbreaking today, four to nearly five decades after their release. Let that sink in for a minute.

In the Court of the Crimson King is the one that got the attention and still does, but smarter fans and savvier critics knew better. The real deal was Crimson Mk3. Heavy Metal magazine (formerly Metal Hurlant in France) in their December 1979 issue had a highly recommended article on King Crimson’s Lark’s Tongues in Aspic album, which had been released in early 1973. It posited the idea that King Crimson was so far ahead of their time that it would easily be fifty years before critics could come to grips with that album not as a rock release, but as a major musical milestone, a monument in the sand that future musicians would look back upon as an achievement unlike any other in rock music, a la Beethoven or Mozart’s lesser masterpieces. Perhaps it would be closer to one hundred years. Hyperbole or heady and prescient praise? Well here we are 44 years after Lark’s Tongues hit the shelves, and it remains a fairly unchallenged masterpiece in the rock canon. (That Lark’s Tongues borrowed very heavily from Bartok string quartets and Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring was something that seemingly eluded that original author at the time does not diminish his original point-this record is essential and far reaching in scope). Starless and Bible Black dropped the eccentric percussionist Jamie Muir (whose batwing costume and propensity to puke fake blood frightened the band and provided inadvertent inspiration to Kiss), while Red saw Lizard’s Marc Charig and founding member and principle songwriter Ian McDonald return to the fold. King Crimson was set up for another round of success. All three albums are visionary and pushed the edge of rock music to boundaries folks didn’t even suspect existed. Alas, ’twas not to be, as Robert Fripp pulled a schizophrenic disappearing act and Mk3 evaporated in the morning mist, much to the consternation of the fans, music press and the band itself. “Is Fripp crazy?” started to get asked in  many circles. There was no consensus on the answer to that. Fripp layed low.

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Mk1 1969-1970                     Mk2 1970-1971                           Mk3- 1973-1974

Round Two; Pentatonia, Meet Neurotica

“The Drive to 1981” and “The Incline to 1984” were announced in the liner notes of Fripp’s first solo album, Exposure, in 1979. These seemed to be a pair of three year plans for the future. Ambient music, pop music, and a strangely named dance band (the League of Gentlemen) comprised the first set of the plan. The League band is the one where Fripp once famously berated the audience to “stop staring at my fingers. This is a dance band, I suggest you dance!”  But contained in the songs was a structure that repeated itself from song to song: a highly disciplined  hypnotic pentatonic scale style that wove itself into most every song. This ended up being a hint as to what was coming next in the Incline to 1984-Discipline.

1981 brought a new band into existence for the next phase: Discipline. With Bill Bruford from Mk3 on board as drummer, Zappa and Bowie alumni Adrian Belew on guitar and noted jazz iconoclast Tony Levin on the new bass-like instrument the Chapman stick-crowds began to froth. Audiences recognized that this was a new iteration of King Crimson before Fripp himself did, but it wasn’t long before the moniker Discipline was retired and King Crimson Mk4 hit the floorboards. Unlike previous versions of the band, this one stuck very close to the interlocking pentatonic patterns approach of Discipline for all three of the albums in this run. They released the trio of stylistically similar albums, Discipline in 1981, Beat in 1982 and Three of a Perfect Pair in 1984.

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World tours, decent album sales, and glowing critical reviews made the band the envy of their peers. In the prog rock world, many of their contemporaries were flailing. Yes had done well with Owner of a Lonely Heart in the charts, but was that even really Yes? Genesis had become increasingly irrelevant after a last gasp with 1980’s Duke and a warning of things to come with 1981’s Abacab. The Moody Blues had abdicated whatever influence they had in the late sixties. Other extant prog luminaries like Mike Oldfield, PFM, Camel and Caravan were trying out pop formulae. Rush, often lumped in but never really a prog band was showing strong signs of falling off a musical cliff. Asia? ‘Nuff said. Most other influential prog rock bands had already folded up shop (ELP, Gong, Can, Soft Machine, Gentle Giant, Gryphon, National Health, Pink Floyd, UK). King Crimson stood alone at the end of 1984 as not only the last relevant prog era band still standing, but the only one that was still cutting edge, still making statements that made others take notice. Maybe even still ahead of the curve. Things looked pretty good. It wasn’t hard to predict what Fripp would do next- he called a halt to the proceedings and broke the band up.

What is the Opposite of an Incline?

The ecstatic response Crimson received in 1981 was world wide. After a decade off, the reunion prefaced by the EP Vrooom that showed up in 1994 was greeted by long time Crimson fans with…well it definitely was enthusiasm, but few were really surprised. Bruford, Belew, Fripp and Levin had once again reassembled right where they left off in 1984. The sound was not that much different: pentatonic tapestries wove shifting melodies that underpinned Belew’s plaintive wail. “I am a dinosaur” he wryly sang on the debut of Crimson Mk5, THRAK. The album sounded like the word, or as Fripp put it “…the meaning of THRAK is: 117 guitars almost hitting the same chord simultaneously”. He added  “So, the album THRAK, what is it? 56 minutes and 37 seconds of songs and music about love, dying, redemption and mature guys who get erections.” The addition of Trey Gunn on Stick and Pat Mastellotto on drums in 1994 had expanded the 80’s version to a sextet. Things sounded busy yet familiar.

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Like the previous incarnations, this one traveled a three album arc. One huge difference though-multiple lineup changes and a timeline that took from 1994 to 2008 to wrap up this incarnation, fourteen years. Now remember, from In the Court of the Crimson King to Red-mk1, mk2 and mk3-when Crimson was creating masterpieces on a weekly basis,  was less than six years in length. Factor in the hiatus from 1974 to 1981 and we are still only at fifteen years from 69-84. Fripp expanded and contracted the band several times during the tenure of Crimson Mk5.

Bruford’s exit in 1997 left a large hole in the band as one of the last foils to Fripp, someone who could look him in the eye and tell him that he was plain wrong-musically that is. Fripp had become annoyed with Bruford’s chaotic approach to drumming, a seemingly scattershot style that Fripp felt conflicted with the precise mathematical interplay of the guitars. Bruford was spot on in his response : “it was held that the other musicians *couldn’t* keep time, so they employed this guy called a drummer to do it for them…we have to assume that by now that Robert Fripp can keep time. And if he can’t, well, that’s tough.”  Bruford had “once called him an amalgam of Stalin, Gandhi and the Marquis de Sade”. He’s someone who would intimately know given the four decades of work together. Exit Bruford permanently.

Shortly after, Levin went on indefinite hiatus. This reduced the band once more to a quartet-Fripp, Belew, Mastelotto and Gunn, with the two long term member’s absence palpably felt. This move coincided with a noticeable stagnation in the band sound, resulting in the sporadically interesting album The Power to Believe in 2003. By now, they had been mining the interlocking guitar pattern style for 22 years, had put out (read: recycled) Lark’s Tongues in Aspic several times as parts 3,4 and 5 over the years. Visionaries were needed as things began getting a bit stale. Fripp opened up the windows to air out the room, and out flew Gunn and in flew a returning Levin and a new drummer Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree. This resulted in a 40th anniversary tour in 2009 that continued over familiar ground and there was a perception that the band was treading water. The band’s cutting edge reputation was now being written about in less than friendly terms, and phrases like “cutting edge” were now preceded by words like ‘once’ and ‘formerly’.

Resurrection of the Crimson King

As noted previously here, Fripp is a bit of a crazed musical force, self destructive and visionary in the same breath. He retreated into some fairly intractable diatribes online, culminating in his sudden self avowed quitting of the music business in 2012. This was perceived by many as a large hissy fit-likely triggered by Kanye West using 21st Century Schizoid Man as a sample in a song and having a huge hit with it. His interview at the time about this retirement can be read here. (click to expand the text below the link) So when Fripp announced in 2013 that King Crimson was reforming, well people were taken by surprise. This time the band was based on a 2011 project Fripp had done with Jakko Jakszyk, former Crimson reedsman Mel Collins, Tony Levin and Gavin Harrison.  While skirting close to easy listening or Crimson lite, it laid the foundation for a new page in Crim history.

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The tour in 2015 was a fairly interesting proposition. Gone were two decades of Belew/Fripp guitar interactions, and in was a set that drew heavily for the first time in their career on the early stuff. In the Court of the Crimson King, In the Wake of Poseidon, Islands, Lark’s Tongues were all represented. Although Fripp had offloaded some of the weightier guitar tasks to Jakko, his presence on many songs was still felt. Seated in the back corner of the stage, one could be forgiven for mistaking him for a turn of the century accountant sitting in for an evening. Three drummers lined the front of the stage. It was an evening of musical inspiration-stripped of the normal frills accompanying most shows like lighting rigs and video screens, this tour was about the music.  Reviews were glowing.

2017 Tour of America-King Crimson Live in Boston and Albany

The current tour saw some semi-confusing lineup changes for those not paying attention. Percussionist Bill Rieflin had departed the band in 2016 for reasons unknown, but had returned for this tour, but departed the touring band before the tour started, yet stayed in the band as a member. But now suddenly was replaced by TWO musicians: Chris Gibson now occupied the riser on keyboards (something Rieflin did from behind his kit originally), and new drummer and session man Jeremy Stacey on full drum kit, something Rieflin hadn’t usually played-sticking more to percussion work. The ‘Seven Headed Beast’ is now a full octet. (Belew had gotten into a scrape with Fripp and was tossed in 2009; today they have made up  and Fripp has allowed that Belew is now an unofficial 9th member of the band, awaiting a call up to the big leagues. Note that if Rieflin returns, this will bring the head count up to ten. Hmm)

Well how was it compared to last tour? The short answer is that there is a noticeable improvement in delivery, improvisation and general comfort level with each other onstage. I witnessed both a Boston show and an Albany show on this tour, and both were exceptional. The music was delivered in two sets. Boston had a tour record of 25 songs. Setlist here. This time around, Fripp was a much more active participant in the proceedings, taking back some guitar duties from Jakko, adding more mellotron here and there before switching back to electric banshee wails that are his trademark. Jakko is vocally very suited to the band. He is able to duplicate early Crimson with an air of authenticity-Greg Lake, Boz Burrell, John Wetton era tunes sounded very close to the original arrangements vocally. The Belew era was less convincing-Indiscipline’s strong spoken word portion now had a sing songy processed vocal arrangement that didn’t really work, though the instrumental portion of the song was still spot on. Mel Collins was once again a quiet force, able to reproduce the bellowing sax explosions of Ian McDonald’s work on the early material as well as his own riffs from Islands.  One complaint that overlapped from the last tour is his soprano saxophone work can tend to put some of the Islands material (never thought of as an essential album) awfully close to Kenny G territory–the smooth jazz approach of Scarcity of Miracles album that seemed like the whole Crimson thing was on life support. Me? I’d flush most of the Islands album from the set. A Sailor’s Tale and The Letters were nice on the reunion tour to reinforce the ‘early material’ vibe, but nothing from that album really  needed to be revisited. (historical note: the whole Islands band quit on Fripp in 1972 to form their own band due to his overbearing attitudes) Boston had some surprises-Cirkus and Lizard from the Lizard album were some out of the blue choices. Cirkus in particular was a highlight of the evening. Four songs from In the Court of the Crimson King also were crowd favorites, as was the rarely played encore of Heroes by David Bowie-a tune Fripp had laid guitar down on in 1977. The crowd was ecstatic.

Two days later, the Egg in Albany offered a different take on the band. The tiny venue has a capacity of just over 900 and is an acoustically designed amphitheater. Once again the crowd was warned in written and audio statements against photography, filming and recording. (one of the better bootlegs of the 2015 tour was recorded here, but Fripp’s minions diligently hunt it down and remove it whenever it pops up online.) Although the apparent attempt by Fripp is to enjoin us all to ‘remain in the moment’ and actively stay focused on the music, it is clear that this is evidence of Fripp’s long term paranoia that has hampered the ‘fun vibe’ for decades. Folks were ejected for taking a single picture, including a white haired gentleman from the front rows forced to leave during the last song.   My seats on the aisle stage left top revealed a flaw in the design of the Egg-if any artist isn’t standing near the front of the stage, they tend to be cut off from view. With five members of Crimson on a podium at the back of the stage, fully half the band was cut off from view. Here is an approximate view (no Crimson onstage):

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No Fripp, Jakko or Gavin in view from here-some Levin. Really?

I moved to the standing room center quickly and had a good view for the show. This time the band took a while to get going. They opened with a drum solo showing off their new triple full kit attack. Nice technique, but Fripp should  know better than to open a show with a drum solo. In fact most people would know not to open a show with a drum solo, but common sense often does not factor into decisions here. In fact there were FIVE count ’em five drum solos in the first set alone. Jesus. (Mastelotto took Harrison and Stacey to school btw-Stacey hung in there but Harrison was somewhat plodding in comparison). Back to back versions of Moonchild and The Court of the Crimson King kept set one from being entirely a wash. Set two picked things up instantly, no new disposable tunes, it was pedal to the metal. Setlist here.  Lark’s Tongues part 1 and part 2 back to back? Fallen Angel and Starless? They hit the stratosphere right to the last clang of Easy Money.

The Shooshers

Also of note in Albany were the “shooshers”. Some folks get vocally enthusiastic at shows, but this brand of anal retentives are hell bent on making everyone shut up. By loudly  and continuously shushing at the first sign of anyone cheering….and not noticing that they are disrupting the proceedings as much as anyone. I saw one guy get out of his seat and walk ten feet to angrily admonish someone in the standing room to stop whooping. Another shoosher in the middle kept it up at the slightest instance of incidental noise. At his second insistent shoosh I was forced to spontaneously yell out a quick “faaaaackofffff’ which got quick approval of all in the standing room area. (I had witnessed the previous week at a Goblin show in Boston a fan TWICE move across the floor to get in a guy’s face threaten to beat the shit out of someone who was yelling enthusiasm at the Italian horror legends.) Message to shooshers: get over yourselves. People enjoy concerts in their own personal way.

21st Century Schizoid Man needs a Drum Solo In It Like Close to the Edge Needs a Grand Funk Railroad Commercial In the Middle of It.

Why is there a drum solo in this song? In view of the five drum solos in the first set, I had trouble keeping quiet and not going all ‘belligerent seventies New York style’ to show my disapproval. Seriously, this shit has to stop. The song doesn’t need it, never had it before, and smacks of gratuitous soloing–something that Crimson was always avowedly against. Does Gavin Harrison have dirt on Fripp? For he is the only one with a true drum *solo* in the whole evening. All other ones were interactions between the trio of drummers. Which leads us to….

The Ever Present March of the Quill Pig

Porcupine Tree. The band is becoming worryingly intertwined with King Crimson, which beckons the question above. I have been vocal in my opposition to Steve Wilson’s remixing of Crimson and other bands (read a quick take here), and began to question why Fripp was allowing Wilson to tamper with his work. Then Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree joins on drums. Now Steve Wilson’s solo album drummer Jeremy Stacey is in the Crimfold. What gives? One can be forgiven for thinking that these fuckers are aiming to take over Crimson on the sly. Maybe Steve Wilson is actually the one with dirt on Robert.

The Final Cut

As stated in the introduction, King Crimson in 2017 is a fairly unlikely event. A quick read of Fripp’s phoenix-like self immolations would lead one to think this could never be a reality, and yet-it is. I’ve seen the band three times since the reunion, and they are still  going strong, with signs of actually becoming even more musically dangerous. And that my friends, is a good thing for all of us.

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New Year’s Eve 2016 Beacon Theater NYC-Where’s My Mule?

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New Year’s Eve at the Beacon Theater in New York City is a New Years event that flies under a lot of people’s radar, but is one of the strongest traditions for Mule heads for their ‘gather from everywhere’ end of the year party.  And what a year it was-it seemed like about 10% of all rock stars departed the planet this last year. Starting with Lemmy’s departure right after XMas 2015, opening your computer to the news page was a hazardous adventure for music lovers in 2016. A who’s who of rock legends passed away in 2016: 2/3 of ELP with Keith Emerson and Greg Lake (perhaps leaving the official band now as just “and Palmer”), David Bowie, Prince, Paul Kantner, Leon Russell, Leonard Cohen, Glen Frey (perhaps even George Michael might get a mention as a ‘rock star’).  Even famous sidemen shuffled off in droves: Buffin Griffin (Mott the Hoople drummer), Scotty Moore (pretty much created rock lead guitar as Elvis Presley’s  guitarist from 1954-1968), Bernie Worrell (keyboardist for not only all the Funkadelic and Parliament recordings, but keys on the essential Talking Heads live stuff as well), Rob Wasserman (acoustic bass player and sideman with Jerry Garcia but more well know for his long stint in Bob Weir’s Rat Dog). And this was only a partial list of the departed. While the usually cagey Mule always left the fans guessing until a couple of weeks before the show as to the guests and the theme, this year they stayed tight lipped right up until show time. An examination of the above logo did seem to contain some hints-the Bowie style lightning bolt on the ‘2’, the Prince-esque swirl on the ‘1’. A top hat and what appears to be a flashlight seemed to signify Leon Russell, and perhaps the flashlight was Bernie Worrell? Beyond that- nobody was talking.

The hints given were spot on, as the set list reveals:

 

New York, NY
2016/12/31

SET ONE
01 New Year’s Eve [a]
02 Larger Than Life
03 Thorazine Shuffle >
04 Funny Little Tragedy* >
05 Thorazine Shuffle (Reprise)
06 Child Of The Earth
07 Which Way Do We Run >
08 Brighter Days
09 Birth Of The Mule** [b]
10 Sco-Mule*** [b]

SET TWO
01 Maggot Brain**** > [c,d] Funkadelic cover
02 Flash Light [c,d,e] FTP Parliament cover
03 Red Hot Mama [c,d,e] FTP Funkadelic cover
04 Tight Rope [c,d,e] FTP Leon Russell cover
05 Delta Lady [c,d,e] Leon Russell cover
06 Take It Easy [e] FTP Eagles cover
07 Already Gone [e] FTP Eagles cover
08 100 Days, 100 Nights [d,e] FTP Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings cover
09 Midnight Rider [c,d,e] Allman Brothers cover/Sharon Jones
10 Lucky Man [d,e] FTP Emerson Lake and Palmer cover
11 Hallelujah [f] Leonard Cohen cover
12 Bird On A Wire [d,e] Leonard Cohen cover
13 Angel Band > [e]
14 Mama Tried [e] FTP Merle Haggard cover
15 Shining Star > [c,d,e] FTP Earth Wind and Fire cover
16 Getaway [c,d,e] FTP Earth Wind and Fire cover
17 Descending [c] Black Crowes cover (keyboardist Eddie Harsch died in November)
18 All The Young Dudes [d,e,g] FTP Mott the Hoople/David Bowie cover
19 Rebel Rebel [c,g] FTP David Bowie cover
20 Kiss [c,d,e,g] FTP Prince cover
21 Let’s Go Crazy [c,d,e,g] FTP Prince cover
Encore
22 Encore Call
23 Purple Rain > [c,d,e,g,h] FTP Prince cover
24 All The Young Dudes (Reprise) [c,d,e,g,h] FTP Mott/Bowie

* w/ Message In A Bottle lyrics
** w/ Hottentot tease
*** w/ Smoke on the Water tease
**** w/ Auld Lang Syne theme
FTP = First Time Played
[a] Warren Solo
[b] Oz Noy, Guitar
[c] Marc Quiñones, Precussion
[d] Chronic Horns
[e] Jasmine Muhammad & The Sweet ’16 Singers
[f] w/o Matt Abts & Jorgen Carlsson
[g] Jimmy Vivino, Guitar
[h] Marcus King, Guitar

Note: Chronic Horns: Pam Fleming, Jenny Hill & Buford O’Sullivan; Jasmine Muhammad & the Sweet ’16 Singers (Tamara Jade, Tesia Kwarteng).

Let’s tally that up:

Funkadelic/Parliament-3

Prince- 3

Earth Wind and Fire-2

Bowie (and Mott the Hoople) -2

Eagles-2

Leon Russell-2

Leonard Cohen-2

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings-2 (if you count Midnight Rider, which she covered)

ELP-1

Black Crowes (their keyboardist Eddie Harsch died in November)-1

Merle Haggard-1

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card given out at doors
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the list of the fallen-with disclaimer

Set One started sparsely with Warren’s solo spot “New Year’s Eve”, one of many songs debuted by Mule this night. The set crackled along with some additional energy from guest guitarist Oz, culminating in a fairly hard charging one two punch of Birth of a Mule -> Sco-Mule. Set one ended on a real high point. The big question was what would the second set bring?

Maggot Brain was mind melting, with an extra ‘fuck 2016′ tape loop playing under Funkadelic’s spoken word intro, as Warren’s guitar poured liquid fire lines tantalizingly slowly through the theater. Then….things changed. With “Flashlight, Mule took off on a gospel/r&b/funk jag for most of the rest of the night.  The  beautiful a capella Hallelujah from Leonard Cohen has been a part of their set from time to time, and though expected, was powerful in Warren’s solo delivery, and a break in the big band vibe. But overall looking at the set, that’s a mighty funk/r&b heavy set for a year that lost some mighty big rockers. Keeping in mind Mule’s psychedelic jam roots as one of the big three of sixties psychedelic bands who could really stretch it out: Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers-one wonders where the fuck was any mention of Paul Kantner, leader of Jefferson Airplane?  Any bone to throw to Garcia and Weir sideman Rob Wasserman? Instead we get TWO Eagles songs? (overheard at the theater as they entered their second consecutive Eagles tune “I’m going to have to go backstage to speak with Warren ’bout this shit…”). A double shot of Earth Wind and Fire in tribute to Maurice White was a slightly odd choice, as was a double shot from the relatively unknown Sharon Jones. Where was ‘Young Man Blues’, a song they’ve done before and made famous by the Who, for Mose Allison? At this point I was quietly hoping for a short Motorhead cover to set things right, but no. Although the six horns/back up singers and one to two guest guitarists per song gave an overly busy sameiness to the arrangements, the crowd was fairly delirious throughout the whole thing.   I thought it was a definite improvement over the AC/DC flub two years ago, but a Mule was a bit penned up as a funk/r & b outfit.

Maybe it was a matter of ‘too much frosting isn’t always the best thing for the cake’ syndrome. Some of the specialness of Mule is the interplay of the quartet, with large areas left for Warren to…testify via electric guitar. When there’s ten to twelve people onstage at all times, something has to give to keep things from degenerating into undifferentiated musical mayhem. And hey, I like frosting….

 

 

And yet…

Like the 2014 New Years show as AC/DC, it felt amiss somehow. Certainly not as adrift as that show was, as chronicled here, where Warren had painted himself into an artistic corner pretty quickly, and was reduced to an overly talented AC/DC tribute band with no room to jam out songs, this show was quite different: a possible array of amazing tunes to choose from with the theme of ‘recently departed’ as the unspoken thread holding the night together. (btw, where was the Star Wars tease, Warren?)

Mule New Year’s shows can pull out some of the most amazing music in their rather large repertoire, and can be known for some Page Six worthy name dropping of guest stars. Robbie Krieger sat in for a whole Doors New Years set in 2013, Corky Laing from Mountain in 2010, Toots Hibbert from Toots and the Maytals, Gregg Allman, Bill Evans from Miles Davis’s 80’s band, David Hidalgo from Los Lobos, Myles Kennedy as lead singer in 2014 (the last singer for Led Zeppelin after Plant left in 2007), Ron Holloway (who’d played with Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Freddie Hubbard)….. if ever there was a year that was ripe for some star power, this was it. With the list of departed bands to pick from (anyone from Prince and the Revolution, any of Bowie’s bands, anyone from Funkadelic, Joe Walsh from the Eagles, someone from Jefferson Airplane (or Starship)..hell Carl Palmer fercrissakes? Instead we get fairly under the radar session men: Jimmy Vivino from the Tonight Show Band, Oz Noy (an Israeli guitarist who got his US chops with Will Lee and Anton Fig of David Letterman’s Late Show band), Marcus King (guitarist who debuted last year on Warren Haynes’ own label) and Marc Quinones from the latter day Allman Brothers. Huh? Talk show band guys in a year of all star departures? This wasn’t exactly the star power one might expect for a show honoring so many departed artists. No offense to the above guests, but if the statement at the end of 2016 was, to paraphrase Dylan Thomas-‘Rage against the dying light’ (of original old school rock n roll that is,) then it left one wishing a bit more work had been done on gathering some surprise guests to generate a little more musical rage.

Overall, not a noble failure, but very close. I’d had a blast, Mule had shown a side that we rarely get to see, but somehow I felt a little empty at the end. In a year of rock departures, Mule chose to pull a gospel/funk/R & B trip out.  I know it’s not easy to get musicians to fly in from across the world to hitch their wagon to someone else’s horse, but on the way out a pontificating drunk guy summed up what many were thinking  about too much gospel and the lack of full on rock power in the show, yelling loudly to no one in particular:

“Where’s My Mule?”

As the tape for Maggot Brain said:  “Fuck 2016”. Let’s hope for a better year this year folks. Rock on-carwreck.

 

In The Lap of the Gods-Amazing Super Groups That Almost Happened: HELP, XYZ, WWB and Beyond

The Super Group: a collection of well known stars that band together to make up a highly touted record selling juggernaut, attract all of the attention, get the plum gigs, and of course, get all the girls. Most have failed, few rise above the hype and the lucky ones (usually ones not noted initially as super groups) grab the brass ring of success.

blind

Early super groups were defined by the band Blind Faith. Even the name suggests what the audience should have going into the project. Members of Cream (kind of a super group already)  and Traffic (Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood and Ric Grech) combined ideas and personnel to make one middling album (known more for its topless twelve year old girl on the album cover than any music inside), a 1969 tour that pulled in the dollars but showed the band to be more or less a blues jam band with few real songs, and relied on their former bands for in concert faves. Playing the same Cream songs to increasing hordes of rabid fans who were out of their minds wasted was exactly why Clapton had broken Cream up, so the writing was on the wall. They pulled the plug and quickly faded from memory, thus providing the model for many super groups to follow. (see GTR)

Jimi_Hendrix_Exp. elp help

But this article isn’t about the dinosaur era of failed super groups, it is about groups that nearly formed, or formed and then disbanded without any output. You know, the big “what if’s?” of rock history. One of the first of note did not have a name, but was going to be a collision between the most histrionic rock guitarist going, and the most over the top keyboardist of all time: Jimi Hendrix and Keith Emerson. It was to be called either HELP or HELM depending on the final line up. With the end of the Nice, Emerson was looking to retool a band. He had already pooched Greg Lake from King Crimson, and was fishing around for some pieces of the puzzle to round out the band. Supposedly he contacted Hendrix to jam together, and (depending on who you listen to) Jimi came by to sit in on  some of the early sessions that yielded Emerson, Lake and Palmer.  This is where the story gets a little murky. The one thing that has been documented is that Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell showed up to a rehearsal at Emerson’s studio with a large entourage. Discussions of Mitchell coming on board to round out the trio led to the wild idea of including Hendrix. It is uncertain whether Carl Palmer was in the loop of discussion as of yet as a drum choice. It is likely that, had the project gone a bit further, Hendrix would have had the final say in drummers, and gone with his favorite in Mitchell over the unknown Palmer. British tabloids at the time hinted at the HELP moniker, but a close look at the facts indicate that the HELM lineup would have been the final outcome. Witnesses to the first meetings said that the huge drugged out entourage Hendrix brought with him did not lend to the ‘friendly jam’ atmosphere that nascent bands crave in the formative stage, and that Lake and Emerson “freaked out”, and had second thoughts. Still, for any fans of Hendrix and ELP, the thought of two of the most talented point men in rock being able to duel on stage and trade riffs and solos of unimaginable depth is pretty appealing. (Hendrix’s untimely death in 1970 put an end to the proposal). But the jazzier leanings Hendrix was dabbling in at the time make it even more of a tantalizing proposition. Which leads to….

miles telegram

Hendrix, McCartney, Miles Davis and Tony Williams. This lineup is documented by an October telegram sent to Apple Records and Paul McCartney trying to get the bass player to show up in New York for the album sessions. Hendrix and McCartney are already a fairly enticing proposition, but throw in jazz legend Miles Davis and phenom jazz drummer Tony Williams? Good god the mind boggles at the thought of what that quartet could have accomplished. Whether Macca would have been one of many bassists on the album or a solid member of the quartet is unknown. But the tantalizing scrap of paper in the Hard Rock Cafe bears witness to something that rock fans can only dream about- a super group that could have rewritten musical boundaries forever. The Hendrix album Nine to the Universe released in 1980 had jazz leanings, and a little known album session with John McLaughlin of Mahavishnu Orchestra fame showed the direction Hendrix was heading. (McLaughlin nixed the release of his jams with Jimi, alluding to crappy playing on his part. I have a bootleg of  the session, and McLaughlin gets truly smoked at every turn and is out of sorts with Hendrix, not something a flash guitarist wants on his resume). In the long run, McCartney was on holiday and it is unknown whether he was apprised of the telegram. (Apple was notoriously inefficient in 1969).  But this would have been something special, no doubt. A group that would have defined and redefined “jazz rock”.

Hindenburg

Led Zeppelin Mk 0, Proto-Zep 1966

This is a band line up  that has fueled much speculation and disagreement over the years: Led Zeppelin almost happened in 1966. There is only one enticingly small piece of evidence that documents this incarnation of the proto-band. A barely noticed B-side to a Jeff Beck single (Hi Ho Silver Lining) called Beck’s Bolero had been recorded in May 1966, and quietly slipped out in 1967. A truly earth shaking super group this was too: Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck on guitar, Nicky Hopkins on keyboards, John Paul Jones on bass and Keith Moon on drums. Page and Beck had a short run together in the Yardbirds (Train Kept a Rollin’ in the film Blow Up was their only documented duet), but this single had the earmarks of a real band. The Who were on the verge of a break up once again (Daltrey had been fired briefly in 1966) and Moon and Entwistle had discussed a project involving Jimmy Page. Whether the original name Lead Zeppelin originated with Moon, Entwistle or future Zep manager Peter Grant is unclear (Page has tapped Moon as the origin)–Entwistle was adamant that Grant was present at his and Moon’s initial discussions and stole the idea, including that he had even thought the project out to include the Hindenburg in flames on their first album cover (which Grant also nicked). Soon the Who and Moon had kissed and made up, and this idea was put on the backburner to simmer for a couple of years.

beatles  (FILE) Rolling Stones Return To Hyde Park, A Look Back At The 1969 Concert bob-dylan-1969

Beatles, Stones, Dylan form a single band

Before passing out of the sixties, another proposed band has recently come to light. In the realms of the word super group, this one would  have been a doozy: a nine piece band comprising Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Yep–Dylan, the Beatles and the Stones, all in one band. Producer Glyn Johns let this one out in his recent book. According to Johns, the impetus for this project came solely from Bob Dylan. He wanted to make an album with the most influential song writers of the 1960’s, and see what the combined talents could collaborate on to produce. The time period would have been the summer of 1969-Self Portrait era of Dylan, post Brian Jones Stones, and the chaos of Let it Be for the Beatles. Johns had worked for years on the Rolling Stones production end, and Dylan was intrigued by his recent work with the Beatles. Despite Dylan’s enthusiasm, only George Harrison and Keith Richards jumped at the chance and tried to gather support. Wyman, Ringo and Watts waited to see what others would do, and Lennon felt ambivalent. McCartney and Jagger would not even consider it for a second, perhaps reflecting the power struggles then going on in both bands. Despite the cachet these names generate, it is hard to see how this would have played out. Collaborative song writing? If real, then it would have been something we’d still be analyzing to this day. But other luminaries were sidling up…

yes-xyz plant

                                           xyz

Fast forwarding a decade comes a super group that strikes very close to home: XYZ. Representing eX Yes and Zeppelin, XYZ was formed in late 1980 as both Yes and Led Zeppelin had imploded (the former due to a break up during the failed follow up to Tormato, the other by the death of John Bonham.). At the time, two of my favorite bands had just jumped the rails, and my lifelong search to finally see Led Zeppelin live summer 1980 was thwarted by Bonham’s untimely death. Whispers by those who had insider information spoke of XYZ-Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Chris Squire and Alan White. Holy Crap–talk about a consolation prize! I anxiously awaited further news. I carried around a 1981 clipping from a local newspaper from a ticket scalping agency for the better part of a decade. Around the border were upcoming big concerts they were pushing: The Rolling Stones, Springsteen, AC/DC…the hottest tours of the biggest bands circled in a border around the advert. But one caught my eye, the elusive XYZ. Was there going to be a tour? Holy shit! But then….an information black out. Nothing in the news anywhere about this. What was going on?  In reality, Page, White and Squire had gotten together with former Greenslade keyboardist David Lawson to combine forces. As a front man, the obvious choice was Robert Plant. Rehearsals in early 1981 progressed well, but Plant dropped out after a single session with them, citing lingering trauma from Bonham’s death. Other sources claim the songs being written were straying into an unfamiliar ground as Squire and White drew Page into much trickier uncharted territory-fluctuating time signatures, stops and starts and evolving key changes–the hallmarks of prog rock and Yes. Plant found this material out of  his comfort zone and a bit too “tricky” for his liking. Whichever excuse you  prefer, Plant was out. This left Squire and David Lawson as vocalists, but the initial momentum and  enthusiasm began to wane as rehearsals continued. Disputes over management between Brian Lane of the Yes camp and Peter Grant of the Zep camp did not help. (The aborted sessions produced some tantalizingly rare outtakes, which finally have surfaced in the bootleg underground and are readily available to the skilled internet surfer). Finally both parties realized that this was headed in the wrong direction without Plant to tie it together, and they went their separate ways. Some of the more finished material ended up on the rare Squire/White single,  Run With the Fox. Other material ended up on the 1983 Yes reformation album 90125. One song ended up on a Page/Rodgers Firm album. One of the ‘trickier’ pieces finally surfaced 15 years later as Mind Drive on the 1997 Keys to Ascension2 Yes album. For many Yes fans, this was the last decent original song they ever released. Few know that its origins have Jimmy Page rattling around in there somewhere. But this wasn’t the only aborted Yes project of the era….

When Yes failed to come up with a follow up to Tormato, they imploded in Paris. Roy Thomas Baker was at the helm, and the band bickered endlessly. Writing was strained and Jon Anderson tried to wrestle control and impose his will upon the band, a very un-Yeslike attitude. (Songs of this era showed up on bonus tracks of Drama and the Anderson solo album Song of Seven. They are excruciatingly bad.) In the background was the easily disaffected keyboard genius Rick Wakeman. Rick had once famously consumed sausage sandwiches on his grand piano while playing on the Tales From Topographic Oceans tour to show his disapproval of the material and horrify the recently vegan turned Anderson and Howe. So when Alan White broke his ankle during the sessions, Rick saw his opportunity and wisely bolted for the door.

wwb wetton

WWB-Wakeman, Wetton, Bruford

But this was not the first time Wakeman had pulled a vanishing act. The first time was post Tales, in 1974. He then became a fairly large draw as a solo act, but stage productions for Journey to the Center of the Earth (performed around a lake with inflatable monsters bobbing up and down from the surface) and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of  the Round Table (performed around a skating rink with ice skating characters, and orchestra and choir) drained finances like burning money in a stove. A solution was in the offing, and America had the answer. With ELP effectively off the road, a keyboard led supergroup was needed. That group was Wakeman Wetton and Bruford, WWB.  John Wetton and Bill Bruford had most recently played together in the final 70’s version of King Crimson, and were nearly telepathic in their playing. Wakeman? Well as he himself has noted, was an unofficial member of the UK Olympic Drinking Team. This seemed doomed from the start, but they hung together for six weeks in May-June 1977, took promo photos on a James Bond movie set, had press releases out and record companies lined up. Unfortunately, the execs pumped up Wakeman’s already inflated ego with promises of ELP styled mega events with him at the helm. They also proposed a 50-25-25 split of the finances, something that Wetton and Bruford could not swallow. With  accountants running with contracts after them, the band fell apart. Wakeman rejoined Yes, while Wetton and Bruford enlisted Eddie Jobson and Alan Holdsworth for the more sedate and complex band, UK. The bombastic WWB never saw the light of day. Two songs of their work survived–Beelzebub surfaced on a Bruford solo album, and Thirty Years on the first UK album.

Recent history has provided many an example of super groups that fizzle out upon launch. Had these bands continued and actually toured and released albums,the same fate may have struck the above mentioned bands. But time and events will not let us know how this  would have played out. One thing I do know, I really would  have loved to see Jimmy Page in a progressive rock band. “What if?” indeed.