Essential Records: The Tony Williams Lifetime, "Emergency!"

Posted by Rick Frystak, November 23, 2014 02:57pm | Post a Comment

They say music can be life-changing. I’ll buy that. Probably the most important and profound post-Beatles record in my Jazz life, or even my musical, personal and business life (you’ll see), was Emergency! by the The Tony Willams Lifetime. That’s a big sentence for an LP fiend like me. ONE record led by a drummer did all that? To me, Jazz is a huge, beautiful expression of the American Classical music, no small accomplishment in the last 100 years with everything out there. And I remember as if was yesterday how this record came to change my life.

In high school and later I was in a bluesy, Procol Harum-meets-Jefferson Airplane-style outfit calledMoonfleet, after the film. We had the town and the era by the ear, so naturally we were asked to play our own Senior Picnic close to graduation at Westchester High School (still there), near the beach in L.A. I had played drums at another Senior picnic and I knew the picnics were free-for–all's in those days. We were excited to blow our fellow student’s minds, with coffins and dancers and fiery  entertainment, with myself on guitar then.

As per our gig deal, the school had hired a PA system for our show. The day came and we pulled in for a sound check with our equipment. What the hell? It’s a flat bed truck set up on the Jr. Varsity lawn!! With nice club-PA speakers! Loud!! With audio guys that knew what they were doing!! We had a big stage with good sound. But, hey, that music, coming over the system?

As we unpacked our gear we started to actually hear the music that the sound guys were playing. We thought we were doing fire music! This music had the most energy and fast logic I’d ever heard in any organized small band! The group would play the main melody of the song and then this wonderfully composed improvisation would come just blistering out of the sound, churning with ideas and primitive juju, smearing itself over our teen minds, and then back to the main melody again, thank you, allowing us to breathe again…formed like Jazz, but smoking and searing like Rock. And all of it, electric guitar, searing Hammond organ, and even the 4-piece drum set sounding like it was coming out of Marshall stacks set on 11, said drummer just exploding with super-human chops!.

"What is this you're playing," I casually asked the sound man. "Oh, that? The Tony Willaims Lifetime album. Are you hip to them?" he said. "Tony left Miles Davis’ group and made this album." The album’s title? Emergency. Perfect. The sound guys played the record again at the mid-point break. We were completely "jazzed" by it, so our set that day had extra oomph, to put it mildly.

I had grown up listening to my dad playing Count Basie, Ella, Doc Evans, Benny Goodman, Rossini and Mahler at high decibel levels through home-made Klipsch cabinets for my entire youth and learned rhythm. Then I taught myself guitar playing blues and rock albums on a 16 RPM record player. But I’d never felt anything like this since The
Beatles on Ed Sullivan-pure revelation, a huge "wake up" to the possibilities of music. This sound we were hearing, letting it just roll over us was in a class by itself and still has never been bettered in its singular direction, certainly not "fusion" as that word gets kicked around, because this music swings! I was immediately shot off into new musical directions which are still manifesting themselves to me to this day, in the many unusual musics that I love.

So, of course I began playing music with the two sound men a year later and they remain great friends and music cronies today, too. I would meet and play with the saxophonist later. These sound men would ultimately assure my entrance into the record business! Music is, indeed, a life-changer.

If you don’t know it already, prepare yourself to check out this behemoth of an LP. The picture of Tony on the cover says it all.

The Tony Williams Lifetime - Emergency! (Polydor Records, 1969)
  • Tony Williams, drums
  • John McLaughlin, guitar
  • Larry Young, organ
  • Produced by Monte Kay and Jack Lewis





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Jazz Fusion (2), Jazz Rock (4), Essential Albums (7), Jazz (150), 1969 (5), The Tony Willams Lifetime: Emergency! (1), Jazzrock (2), Drums John Mclaughlin (1), Organ Produced By Monte Kay And Jack Lewis Polydor Records (1), Essential Records (35), Guitar Larry Young (1), Tony Williams (4), Jazzfusion (2), Fusion (3), Drums (6)