Amoeblog

Song to the Siren

Posted by Whitmore, June 29, 2008 03:07pm | Post a Comment


On this date in 1975 one of my all time favorite musicians, Tim Buckley, died of an accidental overdose of heroin; he was 28 years old. Today he is mostly remembered as the father of Jeff Buckley, but
Tim should also be remembered for his brilliant songwriting, his extraordinary voice, and for being one of those rare musicians who relentlessly pushed boundaries, whose experimentation was often mesmerizing and sometimes disquieting. Some people get him, some people don’t, which is how it should be.

Tim Buckley was one of my very first musical discoveries of something I couldn’t find on the radio. I was a prepubescent, guitar plucking Catholic school boy with some stolen change from my mom’s piggy bank when I bought a used copy of Blue Afternoon at Platterpuss Records on Hollywood Blvd for under a dollar. Blue Afternoon was a revelation, and over the course of the next couple of months I tracked down the rest of his albums, and played them all till I knew every nuance to every breath to every note to every chord to every song. A couple of years later when Buckley died, it was my mom who told me; she had heard the report on the radio. And I think she was a little nervous in breaking the news to me.

Anyway, one of his greatest, most beautiful and famous compositions is “Song to the Siren” from his 1970 album Starsailor. Here is a peculiar sampling of some of those who have covered the song: I’ve included the original version performed live by Tim Buckley on the final episode of the Monkees TV show (and with the original lyrics-- he eventually changed the ‘oyster’ line because someone once laughed). Of course I’ve included the famous hit version by This Mortal Coil, the Cocteau Twins side project. Probably my favorite version, with the original lyrics, is by Damon & Naomi (whose version is probably one of the few that reflects Buckley’s and not This Mortal Coil’s). Susheela Raman version is magnificently striped down to the bone. I’ve also included two versions which surprised the hell out of me: George Michael’s (drenched in reverb, but holy shit, I have to admit he nails it!) and Robert Plant, who oddly enough sounds just like Jeff Buckley at times… I know that doesn’t make sense but give it a close listen …

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Eric Dolphy

Posted by Whitmore, June 20, 2008 04:04pm | Post a Comment

80 years ago today, in 1928, the legendary jazz musician and groundbreaking force of nature Eric Dolphy was born in Los Angeles. He was one of guiding forces who piloted the "new thing" of jazz though the late fifties and the 1960’s. His unique improvisational style intoned wide intervals, extended techniques, scorching intensity and unexpected sonic explorations on alto sax, clarinets, and flute. Such sounds were seldom heard before and seldom sound as accomplished since.

Educated at Los Angeles City College, he walked the fine line between traditional/mainstream jazz and the avant-garde like few musicians could. Though his work is often classified as simply “free jazz,” Dolphy’s playing was more then just his own idiosyncratic personal voice. He touched on the history of most jazz styles, from New Orleans to bop to third stream; he experimented with various non-Western music and 20th century classical ideology, pioneering extensions as both a soloist and as a jazz composer. His influence is still felt today.

During his short time on the scene Dolphy played with almost every great jazz musician of the day including, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Chico Hamilton, Oliver Nelson, Max Roach, Gerald Wilson, Abbey Lincoln, Gunther Schuller, and Andrew Hill. In his own bands Dolphy included the likes of Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson, Woody Shaw, Richard Davis, Ron Carter, Jaki Byard, Roy Haynes, Mal Waldron, Booker Little and Freddie Hubbard.

At the age of 36 Eric Dolphy died in a diabetic coma in Berlin on June 29th, 1964. Dolphy was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame shortly after his death.

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Nick Drake, happy birthday ...

Posted by Whitmore, June 19, 2008 09:58am | Post a Comment


60 year ago today Nicholas Rodney Drake, enigmatic British folk musician, was born. Today he lives only in myth, legend and allegory. Drake, who released three albums in his lifetime, Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, and Pink Moon  failed to find a wide audience thirty odd years ago, but since his death in 1974 has found a continuing growth in popularity and influence.

Nick Drake was twenty years old when he signed to Island Records, releasing his debut album Five Leaves Left in 1969. Over the next few years he recorded only two other albums, though none sold more than five thousand copies in their initial releases. His reluctance to perform live or be interviewed no doubt contributed to his lack of commercial success.

Throughout his life Drake constantly battled depression. After the completion of his final album, 1972's Pink Moon, he ceased performing and recording, and chose to withdraw from society to his parents' home in rural Warwickshire. Drake died from an overdose of the prescribed antidepressant, amitriptyline, on November 25th 1974.

There was no public announcement or notice of his death. Initially there was no effort to even reissue his three albums, but in 1979 the box set Fruit Tree, compiling his three completed albums plus a handful of home recordings and left over sessions, was released. However, once again, sales were poor, the album received little notice from the press, and by 1983 Fruit Tree was deleted from the Island Records catalogue. Still, a fanatical following and interest never ceased. Musicians such as Robert Smith, Peter Buck, Kate Bush, and John Martyn cited him as an influence. In early 1999, BBC2 aired a documentary, A Stranger Among Us—In Search of Nick Drake. And most notably in 2000, Volkswagen featured the song Pink Moon in a television commercial, and within one month Drake had sold more records than he had in the previous thirty years.

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Robert Kennedy

Posted by Whitmore, June 4, 2008 09:24pm | Post a Comment

40 years ago this evening Senator Robert F. Kennedy won the California primary in his bid for the nomination as the Democratic Presidential candidate. Following his victory speech in the early morning hours of June 5th 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Though I was just a little kid going to Catholic School, I remember June 5th vividly -- from my morning walk to St. Casimir grammar school with my sister, to the kids I played with at recess, the afternoon Mass, the ride home from my Mom and Grandmother, to eating a Swanson’s Salisbury steak TV dinner that evening. I can almost remember the prayer I said that night for the Kennedy family before my bedtime … so much of that day remains clear in my head, or at least I imagine it so.  

Here is the eulogy, in its entirety, given a few days later by Ted Kennedy. I know it’s almost ten minutes long, but relax for a few minutes, have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or a cigarette, and give it a listen.

 

Earl Hagen 1919 - 2008

Posted by Whitmore, May 31, 2008 08:52am | Post a Comment

Earlier this week legendary, Emmy Award-winning television composer Earle Hagen died in Rancho Mirage, Calif., of natural causes at the age of 88. A prolific composer, he wrote many of the classic television themes that endlessly stick in our heads. Shows like Make Room for Daddy, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C, That Girl, The Mod Squad, and Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, many of which featured his sense of humor and droll musical wit. Hagen also wrote the jazz standard "Harlem Nocturne” when he was only 20 years of age.

Born in Chicago on July 9, 1919, his family moved to Los Angeles when he was a child. After graduating from Hollywood High School, he left home at age 16 to tour with many of the Big Band giants of the day -- Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Ben Pollack and Ray Noble. While on the road with Noble in 1939 he wrote the classic instrumental "Harlem Nocturne." Inspired by the work and sound of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, this sexy/sultry tune has since then been recorded hundreds of times by artists such as Charlie Barnet, Glenn Miller, Sam "The Man" Taylor, Stan Kenton, Earl Bostic (a major hit in 1956), Johnny Otis, The Viscounts (whose version is perhaps the raunchiest!), Edgar Winter, King Curtis and The Lounge Lizards. "Harlem Nocturne" was also used, years later as the theme to the television show Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer.

But Hagen’s greatest fame probably stems from The Andy Griffith Show and its whistling happy-go-lucky theme written in 1960. This folksy-down home melody perfectly captures the opening credits, scene and feel of Andy Griffith and a young Ron Howard in character as the Sheriff and son Opie, walking down a country path towards the old fishing hole, poles on shoulder, in what must be the-life-idyllic. The whistling was done by Earle Hagen himself.

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