An immense loss to the indie rock world – and the music world, period.
By Fred Mills
One of our favorite bands here at BLURT, of the last decade, has to be Nashville’s Those Darlins, and if you don’t recognize that name then you are clearly on the wrong website. Put simply—or, as we put it in a 2013 feature on the band—the group served up “tough, fully realized songs; muscular, rocking playing; smart arrangements; convincing singing—the whole package.”
So today brings the sad news that one of Those Darlins’ two frontwomen, Jessi Zazu, has passed away from cancer. The gifted, witty musician was only 28.
Zazu was born into a musical family (her uncle was country star Steve Wariner), telling us, in that 2013 interview, “I was born in Nashville, and grew up in Kentucky and Indiana, pretty much been in the south and rural areas my whole life. There’s always been music I my life. I grew up in a family of musicians. I always knew that it would be a path I’d go down. I was encouraged in my home to be creative and do what I wanted to do. My grandfather taught me how to play guitar. I started taking lessons from him when I was nine.”
It was a public battle with cancer, for sure. Zazu put together a teeshirt design reading “Ain’t Afraid” in order to raise both awareness and medical bill funds, and as Those Darlins had been one of Nashville’s most popular indie rock groups, the fanbase responded accordingly. A recent John Prine tribute concert in Nashville even wound up being a Zazu fundraiser—those Darlins had previously appeared on a Prine tribute album—when the organizers announced they were donating the proceeds to her medical fund. The band broke up about a year ago, and Zazu turned to her art; according to The Tennessean, she mounted a display in June at the Julia Martin Gallery that included works from her mother Kathy Wariner.
BLURT will have a tribute to Jessi shortly. In the meantime—rock:
Can bassist and sonic provocateur was a potent musical force from the ‘70s all the way through the present.
BY FRED MILLS
The music world has lost another giant: Holger Czukay, of Krautrock pioneers Can, has passed away from as-yet-undisclosed causes. He was 79.
According to The Guardian, Czukay “was found by a neighbour at his apartment, converted from Can’s old studio in Weilerswist near Cologne.” His body was discovered yesterday, Sept. 5.
Czukay was born in Poland in 1938, his family expelled after WWII. While growing up he took a job at a radio repair shop and became familiar with engineering and electronics, in particular shortwave radio. Later he studied music under avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen from 1963 to 1966 and eventually became a fan of underground rock music—which of course would lead to co-founding Can, for whom he oversaw most of their recordings as primary engineer.
Among the great German bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s none stand taller than Can. The group’s groundbreaking sound, a throbbing cauldron of psychedelia, dub/funk, jazz improv and warped worldbeat, influenced artists as diverse as The Fall, Gang of Four, PiL, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Sonic Youth and Stereolab, and the group’s back catalog continues to inspire new generations who whiff Can’s rare essence.
Speaking to me in 1999 in an interview to promote the archival release Can Box Czukay observed how in the band’s time, “Can was never very successful, commercial-wise. But as I said at the very beginning to all the others, ‘This, what we do here, will become one day our life insurance that we give our children, and you don’t need to make insurance contracts with insurers. Just this music will do.’ And it turned out exactly this way.”
Indeed. Although he was speaking to me from overseas, I could picture him grinning broadly as we talked, offering a mischievous little giggle from time to time as he reflected on his work over the years and his ultimate legacy, of which he was deeply proud—but there was no hint of ego or vanity, for the easy-going way we conversed suggested he was a man very much comfortable in his own skin. (Below, watch the videos for his “Good Morning Story” and “Cool In the Pool,” both of which showcase Czukay’s delightfully whimsical sense of humor.)
Can came together circa 1968 at the hands of double bassist Czukay, classically trained pianist Irmin Schmidt (also a student of Karlheinz Stockhausen), free jazz drummer Jaki Liebezeit, and rock guitarist Michael Karoli. Initially the group’s vocalist was American sculptor Malcolm Mooney, although he was soon replaced by Japanese street busker Damo Suzuki. Such diverse backgrounds, plus a collective appreciation for the underground sounds of Hendrix, Zappa, Captain Beefheart and the Velvet Underground, meant that Can’s goal of fusing leftfield and oftentimes incongruous musical elements just might be attainable.
That the world outside Can’s rehearsal space, an old castle near Cologne, was undergoing huge social and political upheavals meant the Can aesthetic was nothing less than an artistic imperative. And from the outset, boundary pushing marked Can recordings and performances. The former’s outlines and textures were shaped by Czukay’s mad-scientist tape-editing techniques (must-hear early Can: 1971’s sprawling, psychedelic Tago Mago), while the latter frequently left audiences so stunned they didn’t know how to react. (A striking display of Can’s live prowess is the Peter Przygodda-filmed “Can Free Concert,” from Cologne ’72, included on 2003’s Can DVD.)
Can’s reputation soon spread beyond Germany’s borders – in ’72 the song “Spoon” became a hit single in Britain — even as the group evolved at a rapid pace. With 1973’s Future Days, Can arguably introduced ambient music to the rock world; 1975’s Landed was a then-unlikely collision of electronica, heavy metal, fake reggae and protopunk.
Still, internal pressures gradually mounted. Suzuki had left in ’73 to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses, leaving behind a hole that was never fully filled. Czukay, whose attentions were turning towards non-traditional instrumentation (e.g., short-wave radios, Dictaphones), quit in ’77 not long after the arrival of bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist Reebop Kwaku Baah, both from English band Traffic. The original Can chemistry had been permanently altered, and as 1978 came to a close the decision was made to disband. (Go HERE at the Blurt site to download a pair of good sounding Can concerts from 1975 and 1976.)
The members subsequently took up their own projects, although they did come back together for a one-off reunion to record 1989’s Rite Time (documentary footage of the sessions is on Can DVD). Over the years Can aficionados have also been privy to such treats as Liebezeit’s Phantomband and Club Off Chaos ensembles; Karoli’s Sofortkontakt combo plus collaborations with Damo Suzuki; Czukay in a dizzying array of solo and collaborative guises (see below); and Schmidt’s film scores, his Gormenghast opera and his work with producer/deejay KUMO.
1999 saw the release of the above-mentioned Can Box, an elaborate book/video/live CD package. Neatly coinciding with that were “The Can Concerts” in Germany: Schmidt, Czukay, Karoli and Liebezeit each presenting his then-current solo project on the same stage — although, significantly, they did not perform together as a unit. Karoli performed with Sofortkontakt, Liebezeit as Club Off Chaos, Schmidt as Kumo and Czukay with experimental vocalist U-She. During 2004-06 the group’s back catalog was reissued as remastered SACDs, while 2012 saw the release of The Lost Tapes, a box set comprising previously unreleased material. And in 2014 the group’s back catalog was reissued on vinyl.
Czukay’s non-Can projects over the years were nothing if not intriguing. 1981 solo album On the Way to the Peak of Normal remains a critical favorite (the psychedelic gem was reissued in 2013). Other notable solo releases were 1991’s shortwave-as-live-instrument Radio Wave Surfer and 1999’s Good Morning Story featuring U-She on vocals. Two collaborations with David Sylvian were also well-regarded, as was the album Snake Charmer that he recorded with Jah Wobble, The Edge, and DJ Francois Kevorkian. He also worked with Brian Eno, Trio, and U.N.K.L.E. And 2013 brought the reissue of the uber-obscure Les Vampyrettes, an esoteric 1980 recording of Czukay and Can producer Conny Plank described along the lines of “a metallic and ghostly voice in a state of nocturnal intoxication welcomes us to a sonic backdrop of hallmark krautrock pings, drones, susurrations and clatters.”
Czukay’s beloved wife Ursula passed away this past July. Can guitarist Karoli previously died, in 2001. And Liebezeit died in January from pneumonia. Czukay’s impact upon music was profound and lasting—he will be deeply missed.
Fans and admirers of Glen Campbell knew the day was coming; we’d been prepared for it since 2011, when he went public with the news he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, along with details of a farewell tour and plans for releasing some final recordings. Still, that didn’t make the news yesterday, August 8, any less brutal, when Campbell’s publicist at Universal Music released a statement that read, “It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, grandfather, and legendary singer and guitarist, Glen Travis Campbell, at the age of 81, following his long and courageous battle with Alzheimer’s disease.” According to the New York Times, in an obituary published late yesterday, on his final tour the musical icon “performed 151 shows over 15 months… [his last one] was in Napa, Calif., on Nov. 30, 2012, and by the spring of 2014 he had moved into a long-term care and treatment center near Nashville.” He’s survived by his wife Kimberly along with eight children, three sisters, two brothers, “and many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.”
Speaking personally, I’ve been listening to Glen Campbell since the mid-Sixties and the release of his hit single “Gentle On My Mind”; I still own a battered 45 of that and other Campbell gems, like “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston,” a song that will eternally be in my personal top 20, and one which I found myself playing over and over again this morning. Here at BLURT we’ve covered Campbell on a number of occasions, so I thought it appropriate that we republish a pair of features by A.D. Amorosi and Rick Allen that particularly stand out in my mind as fitting tributes to the man. I hope you enjoy. —Fred Mills, Editor
BY A.D. AMOROSI and RICK ALLEN
A number of years ago longtime BLURT contributing editor A.D. Amorosi was able to sit down with Campbell and talk about his career, his then-new album and the upcoming tour. We published the interview in issue #11 (Winter 2011). The story is one we remain deeply proud of here at BLURT, unquestionably among the best we’ve ever had the pleasure to present.—Ed.
Memory fades. Sifting through images and ideas is no easy process, not for the young or old, not where the distant past and recent immediacy is concerned.
When Glen Campbell announced that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, that his new album, Ghost on the Canvas, would be his last and that his recent tour would put a cap on his long career, the desire to mourn – to treat him differently – kicked in. This was, after all, the golden boy of epically cosmopolitan country pop whose every ‘60s hit from Chris Gantry’s “Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife,” John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind” to the soaring subtlety of Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston,” the latter two reminiscent of Bogart’s phrase at the end of Maltese Falcon – “the stuff that dreams are made of” – became the soundtrack to my youth.
These sonic gems were only made bolder by knowing that Campbell – a masterful guitar picker – was a touring Beach Boy that nearly replaced Brian Wilson and had played on hits by Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, the Monkees and Elvis Presley, the latter a fellow country boy whom Campbell befriended. Campbell’s image, too, is burned into the collective retina as he had starred in the original version of the revenge western True Grit and his own network TV show The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.
Certainly he had his Rimbaud-esque season in Hell – the post ‘60s comedown of boozing, drugging, carousing (notoriously with firebrand country howler Tanya Tucker) and various arrests. Yet, Campbell had commercial hits into the ‘70s and ‘80s with “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Southern Nights,” “Sunflower” and “I Have You.” He kept the live fires burning with gigs in Branson, found God, a good woman Kimberly Woolen to whom he’s been married since 1982 with three kids who have their own Arcade Fire-y band (Instant People) currently backing Campbell on tour. This latter day joy – to say nothing of the potency of the deeply etched Ghost and its ruminatively ratcheting lyrics and still expressively clarion vocals – made Alzheimer’s an even more heinous verdict. (Below: Glen and Kim; photo by Scott Weiner)
Look into Campbell’s eyes and despite the lines in his face (he’s 75) and his occasionally forgetful demeanor and you see a man not so much struggling with memory but more alive with the past then the present. This author isn’t trying to soften the blow or demystify the disease but seriously, I have a better grasp on what I did ten years ago then what I did ten minutes ago. Yet here they are, Glen and Kimberly sitting before me, frankly discussing the problem without letting it ruin their future.
Campbell, his producer Justin Raymond (who worked with the singer on his previous recording Meet Glen Campbell) and a crew of instrumentalists such as Dick Dale, Brian Setzer and Chris Isaak were already at work on the riveting Ghost when the diagnosis was announced. Suddenly the press made a big deal out of it, something that doesn’t affect the Campbells – as long as the disease doesn’t overshadow the work,
“No. it doesn’t bother me,” says Campbell with a slight cough. “I’m used to it by now. I leave it in God’s hands that it’s gonna be the way He wants.” His wife Kim follows that with an understanding of an audiences’ curiosity – how the disease works, how it affects her husband. “We understand,” she smiles. “But the music is just so good we hope they get to that message as well.”
Mention the contribution of songs from Paul Westerberg, Jakob Dylan and Robert Pollard along with self-penned tracks with Raymond (culled, interestingly enough, from the producer’s daily diaries of what the singer/guitarist said), and you’ve got quite a set of messages. As Campbell starts singing the new album’s title track in a strong burst of melody, he states. “I’m really not a songwriter so if I hear a song, I feel it and like it, I’ll do it. But I’ll make it the way I want to hear it.”
Part of this comes down to asking songwriters if he can turn negatives into positives (“but with their permission of course,” says the gentlemanly Campbell) and accommodating where Campbell’s heart is now. “She’ll be running around the mountain” just doesn’t sound right,” he laughs. “It ain’t the way the song goes. “She’ll be coming around the mountain,” is more like it.”
Campbell slowly and deliberately tells me how he takes songs one a at time and lets the good ones carry him away, the songs of other writers as well as the tunes presented by Raymond, a hands-on laid back producer who, during Meet Glen Campbell, started writing down what the singer said about life, confusion and happiness. “Julian wrote down the meaningful things that Glen would say about being baffled by what was going on in his head, as well as how life was good to him,” says Kim who recognized that Campbell’s memory was slipping during those 2008 recording sessions. “We’re so glad Julian got those meditations down and put those verses to music.”
“I need the ones I love more and more each day.”
“This is not the road I want for us.”
Mention Campbell’s famed sense of perfection and he laughs. “Nah. I may sound like one,” he laughs. “But I want it be natural. If I get a song – a GOOD song – I just sing it the way I hear it in my head. If anybody else wanted to add whistles and bells and chains rattling that’s fine. Just not too much. I actually just do things as straight ahead as possible. You add the ifs, ands or buts.”
To that end, Ghost has the richly orchestrated jangle of Pet Sounds with a country twang.
Campbell knows he’s been blessed with great collaborators and productions, a powerful clear voice that was forever gifted with dynamic songs that suited his vocal range and challenged his playing skills.
“Things turned out pretty well,” says Campbell. (Below photo by Robert Sebree)
Pretty well indeed.
Blame, in part, his having come from a large all-singing all playing Arkansas family who took Glen to church regularly to express him self in song. Other than getting his first guitar at age four, a seminal moment for Campbell came when he nearly drowned at age three: his Army-bound brothers dragged him out of the water, pumped the water and did CPR on the young Glen. “That night back at the house while keeping time to the radio, I didn’t say anything. I just sang. Something had changed me.”
His distinct guitar playing, inspired by the likes of Barney Kessel and Django Reinhardt (“Django was my main influence”) gave him the confidence to form western swing bands and, by age twenty-one, head to Los Angeles where he quickly became a sought-after session musician. “I think I mainly got all that work because I was the only guy who could use a capo,” he laughs.
As he was just starting to make his session-man bones, he recorded a single for the Crest label. When I mention that 1961 track to him, “Turn Around Look at Me,” Campbell flashes a big smile. “Well I thought that was ‘it’ you know,” smiles Campbell who starts singing the lines “there is someone/walking behind me” so mellifluously, it’s as if he’s a kid in 1960 again. “Even then I did songs that I liked, never tunes that I didn’t care for. Otherwise it wouldn’t be satisfying.”
Campbell stops, leans into me and turns to his wife. “Excuse me, honey,” says Campbell who then turns from his wife and conspiratorially pulls me forward. His long fingers become a circle with another finger on his other hand barely peeking through the top. He’s made a tiny cock of it all.
“It’s like a guy going into a whorehouse with THIS little thing and the woman says, ‘Well who you going to satisfy with THAT?’ And he says, ‘ME.’ That old joke, that stupid analogy – that’s the best way of describing what I want to do: satisfy me.”
Campbell fast-forwards and says he did things he didn’t want to do: lousy albums, hell-raising backstage antics of cocaine, booze and sex. “I spent some time in Hell,” he smiles. “I got so high I could fart in a Martin box,” he starts slapping his knee. “I’m glad that’s over with – it was a stupid place. I drowned,” he starts to say, realizing that he told me that story before. Then again, perhaps he meant the psychic drowning that led to the rejuvenation of finding God and his wife. (He teases about meeting her on a blind date. “I thought she was blind,” he yuks, then quacks like Daffy Duck.)
Dipping backwards to his session career and “Turn Around,” he mentions how he stayed in the studio and played for the greats so that he stick close to home and make more money doing session work than he could promoting a struggling single on the road. The wrongs of the road remind him of Elvis Presley, an old friend whose “Viva Las Vegas” he played on. “He was a good man but I understood the peril his career had taken on. I didn’t have the luggage he had, that entourage he had to take care of. I should’ve kicked his ass from here to Japan to get some sense in him. His old friends from Memphis were just bringing young girls backstage and crap like that – distracting him.”
Campbell went on to work and play with the Beach Boys and was nearly the front man when Brian Wilson broke down and left in 1965 yet Campbell was more into doing his own music than joining a band (Capitol wound up signing Campbell on the basis of his strong showing with the Beach Boys). “Plus, you know, Mike Love was there. He’s talented, but,” Campbell scrunches his face.
The young Campbell continued to play on records by Frank (“Strangers in the Night”) and Dean (“Everybody Loves Somebody Sometimes”) guys a generation before him – the establishment – before the counter cultural hippie-dippie movement took hold. He was no hippie but he was a young cat. What was he thinking?
“They were the tops. If you heard their stuff up close and saw them on stage – they were incredible actually,” says Campbell of the Rat Pack titans. “There was no mistaking their voices or their presence.” Campbell was hanging on the musician side of everything, playing guitar by their side. .But he got wise watching those men that singing would get him farther.
Enter guys like Jimmy Webb and John Hartford, songwriters whose best work came through the conduit of Campbell’s rich voice. It was a blast according to Campbell, wonderful those melodies at his ready and those sorts of storytellers in his corner. “If you have guys like this in your corner, you better have your chute together or you won’t get down,” he laughs. In particular, Campbell has a warm long smile reserved for Webb’s longing literate lyrics and winnowing melodies. “My wife will tell you. I pray to the Lord and thank Him for letting me do those songs. When my dad heard those tunes he said “it’s a good thing we didn’t throw you back in the water.” (Kim reminds me how, famously that Webb used to pray, after hearing “Turn around Look at Me,” that Campbell would sing his songs)
Though the Ghostly songs of Westerberg and Pollard aren’t quite the stuff of “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman” they are crucial, rare and deeply ruminative. They feel like the contemplative stuff of a finale. At 75 – anybody at 75 – the level of winding down that the Campbell’s plan on doing would seem essential and right. While Kim confides to me that she wishes they did more recording during the Branson days, she also mentions more tracks featuring Campbell and their kids, might be recorded at tour’s end. “We still have a few special tricks up our sleeves. Other than that, we’re happy to go to Hawaii, watch Glen golf and sit by the side as the kids start their career,” says Kim Campbell…
As for Glen Campbell, a singer and guitarist whose recent tour finds him in strong voice and ticklish guitar skills, he’s content to go out with an album as rich as Ghost on the Canvas. “I want to slow down – you know, it’s really about whatever she wants to do – but the record? You throw them out to the world and hope it comes back positive. I’m glad it turned out as well as it did. I have to listen to it, you know.”
Also in 2011, shortly after the release of the Ghost On the Canvas album, contributor Rick Allen penned an appreciation of Campbell that we’re also quite proud of. “As the famed guitarist and song stylist prepares for his final bows,” wrote Allen, “let’s pause for a moment and think about what that really means.” Given that those final bows are truly final — Campbell released his final album, titled Adios, just a few weeks ago — now more than ever. —Ed.
Glen Campbell never became a darling of the too-cool set that embraced Johnny Cash, rightfully, but who could not also see the true folk musician in someone like Merle Haggard. Likewise, Campbell has never been appreciated by the crowd that thinks a performer cannot be popular and valid at the same time; too bad for them.
Campbell is one of the best rock and roll/country guitarists ever, a veteran of the famed collection of studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. Other Crew members, Carol Kaye, James Burton, Leon Russell, Mac “Dr. John” Rebbenac to name a few, accrued much more hip cachet than he did. Had Campbell continued to record material like “Gentle On My Mind” and even some of the better Jimmy Webb pop classics like “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman” or Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights,” he might have done better with the NPR crowd. But his reliance on songs like “Rhinestone Cowboy” and the admittedly artificial and overblown production of it (and others like it) meant that few of Campbell’s albums could be listened to without hitting a “Rhinestone Cowboy” or other such musical bump or two.
On what’s being billed as, most likely, Campbell’s final album, Ghost On The Canvas – which is to be accompanied by a farewell tour; the musician’s been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s – there’s considerably less artifice.
Campbell shows exceptional depth with brilliant takes on “Nothing But The Whole Wide World,” written by Jakob Dylan, “Hold On Hope” by Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard and some magnificent pieces of California pop music including a Paul Westerberg composition called “Any Trouble.” (The title cut, another Westerberg number, is slo good but marred slightly by so-so lyrics.) Campbell’s voice is as robust and clear as ever and he is likely playing a significant amount of guitar although there are no specified credits. “Strong” reflects (musically) his time with the Beach Boys but the entire album has got “Beatles” written all over it. Producer Julian Raymond seems to have cut his teeth on post-Sgt. Pepper’s Beatles music, including the solo albums of Lennon and Harrison. One can imagine Jeff Lynne gnashing his teeth at hearing that someone got this stuff right. The guitar solo on “There Is No Me…Without You,” probably from Billy Corgan, Marty Rifkin, Rick Nielsen, or Brian Setzer who all play guitar on the cut (Setzer, Chris Isaak and Dick Dale also add guitar to Teddy Thompson’s “In My Arms”), is an elegant cop of George’s Harrison’s in “Something” while the drums are pure Ringo. The tune extends Beatles-like into infinity a la “A Day in the Life” and provides some of the album’s best moments.
Campbell chose to go out big. The orchestration is big, the production here is big, almost “Rhinestone Cowboy” big, but tempered by taste and restraint, and the album only improves with repeated listening. Most important, the themes are big, life-and-death-big, as is befitting an artist who knows he is near the end of his career. Like a battered athlete he will also outlive it and not necessarily under the best of circumstances. As the world watches Campbell ring down his own curtain will there be a rediscovery, a re-evaluation of a great but often dismissed career? Will people learn about Glen Campbell as they seem to have learned about Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones, that a superiorly talented pop artist who doesn’t write much of his or her own material (Campbell did co-wrote several of the cuts here) can be just as great – often greater – as any of the so-called “hipper” acts?
It’s all showbiz folks, all of it. No matter how tattooed, pierced, smack-addled, in-you-face, amped-up-to-10 the act is. Even that bearded, bobbled headed, slacks/vest-wearing emo vocalist singing about growing up in simpler times out in the Midwest is in showbiz. They are all song and dance men (and women), as Bob Dylan once referred to himself. The best of them, like Campbell, realize that and they consider entertaining you to be a worthy pursuit. Sometimes they do it with some damn good songs, too, and underneath the rhinestones is a person concerned with living and dying just like everyone else.
With Ghost On The Canvas Glen Campbell has chosen to share such concerns, but like the pro he is, he’s done so without sacrificing a drop of entertainment value. Campbell is at the top of his game even at closing time. If there’s no more to come then this is as good a spot as any to ring down the curtain.
It was expected, but is no less crushing: the news that Glen Campbell passed away today at the age of 81. According to the New York Times, reporting on Campbell publicist Tim Plumley’s statement, indicated that the cause of death was Alzheimer’s.
“Mr. Campbell’s last performance was in Napa, Calif., on Nov. 30, 2012, and in the spring of 2014 he had moved into a long-term care and treatment center near Nashville. Mr. Campbell released his final studio album, “Adiós,” in June. The album, which included guest appearances by Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and three of Mr. Campbell’s children, was recorded after his farewell tour.”
BLURT will have a remembrance of Campbell this week. (You can read our 2011 coverage on Campbell HERE and HERE.) To his family, friends, associates, and fans, we extend our heartfelt sympathies. Glen was an inspiration to all of us.
With the fifth anniversary of his death arriving this week, we pay tribute to the underrated guitarist.
BY DAVE STEINFELD
When I heard about Bob Welch’s death on June 7th — allegedly from a self-inflicted gunshot wound — I was both sad and shocked. But it went beyond that. First, June 7th happens to be my birthday. Second, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob more than once. The first time was when I was writing a daily oldies music service for a well-known radio network. After the interview, my boss decided she didn’t want to run a piece on him after all. I challenged her but she was the boss and she won; the piece never ran and we never gave Bob the attention he deserved. It’s been a recurring theme in his career. Frankly, I’ve been appalled at the coverage — or, more accurately, the lack of coverage — of his death. Though he wasn’t a household name, Bob was far from obscure. (Agreed. BLURT published an obituary at the time, but it didn’t seem like many other music outlets took notice. –Ed.)
He was best known, of course, for his tenure with Fleetwood Mac. As a guitarist and singer-songwriter, Bob basically led the band during the first half of the ’70s — after their stint as a blues-rock combo fronted by Peter Green but before they became one of the biggest bands of all time with the addition of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Bob was the first American to join the band, and his song “Future Games” became the title track of their 1971 album (his first with the band). He stayed with them through four more albums in as many years before leaving on good terms and striking out on his own. There’s sometimes a misconception that Bob was ousted and replaced by Buckingham but this wasn’t the case. It’s just ironic that right after he left, Fleetwood Mac became very successful on the basis of their self-titled 1975 disc and then massive two years later with the release of Rumours.
Still, if the Welch years weren’t Fleetwood Mac’s greatest period, they produced some fine moments. The best one may have been “Hypnotized,” a gorgeous, jazz-influenced tune from 1973’s Mystery to Me. “I’ve always been interested in ‘out there’ subjects,” Bob told me, explaining the song’s genesis. “I’d been doing a lot of reading about astral travel and the whole Carlos Castaneda thing. Also, I had a friend from North Carolina who had a very strange experience while riding dirt bikes in the woods. [He] came upon this weird sort of crater — him and about five friends. Right in the middle of the woods! He said it was the weirdest thing they’d ever seen and they immediately got the feeling that they should get out of there. This time-stopped type of feeling. So he told me that story and I sort of incorporated all the images about it into that song.”
Bob seemed somewhat mixed about leaving the Mac when he did. “I wonder sometimes how my life would have been different had I stayed,” he admitted. “I had success on my own but they had quantum success beyond that — which in those days translated into a lot of partying. I think I would have gone off a cliff on my motorcycle [had I stayed]. So in that sense, I’m glad I didn’t. It would [have been] fun to see what would have resulted from my musical input with Stevie and Lindsey. Sometimes I wonder about that. But I don’t have any [other] regrets.”
Bob was incredibly prolific in the decade after he left Fleetwood Mac. Initially, he led a hard-rock trio called Paris and released two albums with them. But what really put him on the map was his 1977 solo debut, French Kiss. Bob always said that French Kiss was a blatant attempt to write hits — and boy, did it work! The disc was a smash, producing three chart singles. The biggest was a remake of his beautiful ballad “Sentimental Lady,” which originally appeared on Fleetwood Mac’s Bare Trees album. The new version featured Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie and even Buckingham and scored Bob a Top 10 hit. The follow-up, a rocker called “Ebony Eyes,” was nearly as popular.
His sophomore set, Three Hearts, appeared in 1979 during the height of the disco craze. While not as successful as French Kiss, it did more than respectably, spawning a hit with “Precious Love.” He would issue four more solo releases between 1980 and 1983. None produced a hit, which is a bit mystifying considering both his previous track record and the quality of the music. After Eye Contact, his final studio outing for RCA, Bob didn’t release another album until the late 1990s. That disc, Bob Welch Looks at Bop, was a jazz album of all things. By this time, he had been through many ups and downs, musically and personally, and was less interested in trying to write hits than in following his muse.
Around that same time, Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition to the band’s classic lineup (Fleetwood, John and Christine McVie, Buckingham and Nicks), all their major guitarists (Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer) were inducted — except Bob Welch. It was a glaring and inexplicable omission and Bob was hurt. That said, it wasn’t as if he hated his former bandmates. When I spoke with him in 2003, the Mac had just released Say You Will, their first album in years. Though it didn’t exactly set the charts on fire, Bob was unequivocal in praising it. “I absolutely love it,” he said. “I think it’s the best thing they’ve done in a long time. Lindsey’s just all over the place [with] layers and textures and stuff. I was knocked out by it.”
We went on to discuss the sad state of commercial radio in the 21st century. “Radio used to be [better] in the days of the AM stations,” he said. “They’d play Dionne Warwick, then they’d play The Beatles, then they’d play the MC5, then they’d play Tony Bennett. I think the fragmentation [of music] has added to the fragmentation and divisiveness of our society. Up until the point where we’ve got — well, you know what we’ve got, being from New York. One side hates the other.” He was right, of course.
RIP, Bob. You were a great guy and a talented, underrated musician who deserved better.
And then there were none—Allman brothers, that is. Though the spirit of the Allman Brothers Band will no doubt endure for decades to come, given the influential legacy that the Southern rock legends forged over the years, starting in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, without the group’s actual namesakes—brothers Duane who passed long ago, and Gregg, who we lost on May 27, just as the Memorial Day weekend was in full swing, it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to lay credible claim to “owning” or “perpetuating” that legacy.
This publication’s editor, Fred Mills, offered a personal remembrance of Gregg and his band of musical brothers upon receiving news of the death, writing, “R.I.P. Gregg Allman. This wasn’t altogether unexpected, but it’s still a shock, like part of my teenage self disappearing. I first saw the band touring behind their second album, in a small Charlotte venue, en route to the career defining Fillmore East album – still quite possibly the greatest concert album ever. Several years ago I got to see him up close and personal at the Warren Haynes Xmas Jam here in AVL, and I will never forget the sight of him backstage down below the Civic Center stage, chilling out in the hospitality area and watching the TV screen with the action onstage. I started to approach him, just his cowboy boots poking out from the big stuffed chair as he stared at the screen, not moving. I realized no one dared interrupt him, as there was no one else in proximity to his seat. I sure wasn’t going to be a fanboy at that moment. It was as if a deity was among us, seated on a throne, imperious but impossibly calm. He’d be onstage in another couple of hours, doing “Midnight Rider” and more…”
Gregory LeNoir Allman
December 8, 1947 – May 27, 2017
It is with deep sadness we announce that Gregg Allman, a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band, passed away peacefully at his home in Savannah, Georgia.
Gregg struggled with many health issues over the past several years. During that time, Gregg considered being on the road playing music with his brothers and solo band for his beloved fans, essential medicine for his soul. Playing music lifted him up and kept him going during the toughest of times. Gregg’s long time manager and close friend, Michael Lehman said, “I have lost a dear friend and the world has lost a brilliant pioneer in music. He was a kind and gentle soul with the best laugh I ever heard. His love for his family and bandmates was passionate as was the love he had for his extraordinary fans. Gregg was an incredible partner and an even better friend. We will all miss him.”
Gregg is survived by his wife, Shannon Allman, his children, Devon, Elijah Blue, Delilah Island Kurtom and Layla Brooklyn Allman; 3 grandchildren, his niece, Galadrielle Allman, lifelong friend Chank Middleton, and a large extended family. The family will release a statement soon, but for now ask for privacy during this very difficult time.
Latter-day Allmans guitarist Warren Haynes wrote on Facebook this weekend, “I am truly honored to have been fortunate enough to have written many songs with him and equally honored to have traveled the world with him while making the best music the world has ever known… Traveling – like life – is so much better when you’ve got friends to share the experience with. I’ve lost too many lately and this one is gonna be hard to get past.
“Here was this group of Southern hippies with an integrated band coming out of the Deepest South with equally deep music on the heels of some extremely deep changes. We didn’t realize how heavy that was at the time but we sure realized how heavy the music was… Gregg wrote these amazing songs that were as natural as his voice was. The words and melodies felt so perfectly unpretentious and, when delivered by him, made an emotional connection that only happens when music is genuine and honest. I learned an enormous amount about singing and songwriting from him—most of it before we ever met.”
Keyboard player Chuck Leavell also put his thoughts down to digital paper, posting at his website, “Gregg Allman was not only a friend and brother, but he was a strong inspiration to me very early on in my career…. I was so fortunate to get the call to play on [Gregg’s Laid Back solo album], and as a then 19-year old keyboard player trying to find his way, it was the dream offer of a lifetime. Playing on “Laid Back” was a life changing experience for me, but even more was to come, when the jam sessions after hours with the other members of the ABB resulted in me being asked to join the band.
“Thank you, Gregg…for your inspiration, for your talent, for your loyal friendship and for the amazing human being you are. I am forever grateful for my relationship with you, for sharing the stage with you so many times, for the honor of recording with you on some records that have stood the test of time. You will always be my hero and I am your biggest fan. Rest easy, my Brother.”
At this stage in the game, what can a media outlet possibly publish that might adequately contextualize the contribution Gregg Allman, along with brother Duane and the rest of the Allmans extended musical family, contributed to rock ‘n’ roll? Their place in the pantheon transcends simple matters of Grammys and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame status—they moved the dial in immeasurable ways.
Austin singer-songwriter was only 61. Watch some incredibly moving live clips, below.
By Fred Mills
Beloved Americana artist Jimmy LaFave passed away earlier this week (May 21) at his home in Austin following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 61. According to the Austin Chronicle, the illness was “a type of sarcoma that primarily affected his lungs [which] was largely kept secret until recently… Last month, news broke that LaFave’s family had finally engaged hospice care.”
Yet just a few days before his death, LaFave appeared at a sold-out concert at Austin’s Paramount Theatre that featured his music done by Christine Albert, Sarah Lee Guthrie, John Fullbright, Shinyribs, Butch Hancock, and Ruthie Foster, among others. LaFave himself came out for part of the finale in a wheelchair and hooked up to oxygen.
LaFave grew up in Texas, later moving to Oklahoma where he pioneered a regional sound dubbed “red dirt music.” Following a relocation to Austin, he became a prolific songwriter and performer, touring frequently issuing numerous critically acclaimed albums. Among his key influences were Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan (he even put together a touring Guthrie tribute show in 2003).
Anyone who ever saw LaFave in concert came away deeply moved, not only by his inherent tunefulness and ability to conjure lyrical images frequently as vivid as those by his influences, but by the otherworldly aura he projected, one that reassured and brought comfort to the human spirit.
I’ll never forget seeing him live in Tucson and getting to meet him after the show: He seemed humbled by the fans’ adulation and adoration, yet relaxed and genial, ready to engage. Below, watch some choice LaFave clips – including a version of Prince’s “Purple Rain” as well as a somewhat shaky audience recording fo the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” that still somehow seems… perfectly appropriate. Also included is a clip from one of his final concerts, this past April at Threadgills in Austin, in which he does Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me When You Go” that reportedlybrought the audience – which knew he only had a little time left – to tears. R.I.P., Jimmy.
The Soundgarden and Audioslave vocalist is dead at the age of 52. On Wednesday night, May 17, he took his own life, by hanging. He apparently use an exercise band that he attached to the top of a hotel bathroom door. Soundgarden had performed earlier that evening in Detroit.
Some observers have claimed it was not altogether unexpected, as Cornell had a history of substance abuse and, according to his wife, was on anti-anxiety medicine. His wife, however, further speculated that it might not have been altogether intentional because she had talked to him earlier in the evening and said he sounded “groggy” and indicated he had taken additional anxiety medicine. Cornell’s attorney noted, according to Rolling Stone, “Without the results of toxicology tests, we do not know what was going on with Chris — or if any substances contributed to his demise. Chris, a recovering addict, had a prescription for Ativan and may have taken more Ativan than recommended dosages. The family believes that if Chris took his life, he did not know what he was doing, and that drugs or other substances may have affected his actions…. [side effects of Ativan include] “paranoid or suicidal thoughts, slurred speech and impaired judgment.”
Soundgarden, of course, was one of the premiere acts of the grunge era, along with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, and Mudhoney. 1991’s Badmotorfinger remains a defining release from the era. The band was also one of the early acts to appear on Sub Pop Records. He follows in the footsteps of fellow grunge icon Kurt Cobain, who also committed suicide.
Southern sonic savant found a helluva way to go out.
By Fred Mills
The jamband world —and indeed, most sentient creatures with any affinity for the musical universe — is mourning the death of Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.) at the age of 70. Hampton was onstage at Atlanta’s Fox Theater last night (May 1) during a live birthday celebration when he apparently dropped to his knees — to some, it appeared to be part of the show — than collapsed while the musicians around him continued to play. Soon, however stage hands rushed out and carried him offstage and an ambulance was called. Hampton reportedly died a short time later. The concert featured Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Blues Traveler singer John Popper, The Wood Brothers’ Oliver Wood, Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools, Allman Brothers Band’s Chuck Leavell, Peter Buck, Phish’s Jon Fishman, Warren Haynes and actor Billy Bob Thornton.
The exact cause of death has not yet been announced
According to CNN, Haynes, of Gov’t Mule/Allman Brothers/Dead fame, and a close friend of Hampton’s, was playing with the artist at the time, and he subsequently posted to his Facebook page a brief statement from the Hampton camp:
“After collapsing on stage surrounded by his friends, family, fans and the people he loved, Col. Bruce Hampton has passed away. The family is asking for respect and privacy at this difficult time.”
By this morning, social media was crowded with posts from grieving fans and friends, one of whom posted, appropriately enough, “Godspeed and many thanks to one of the leaders/influencers of the jam band movement, Col. Bruce Hampton. What a way to go out.”
BLURT would like to extended our deepest condolences to Hampton’s family. Speaking personally, I was fortunate enough to see him perform numerous times, frequently with the ARU or the Codetalkers — I never caught him in his early days with the Hampton Grease Band, but their lone LP was a twisted favorite of mine as a teenager — and often as a featured guest at the annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam concert in Asheville, NC. Two of my fondest abiding memories is of hanging with him backstage during a couple of the jams, one time watching him getting a hand massage along with Bob Weir while he and I compared notes on concerts we had potentially attended at the same time while growing up in the South, and another standing in a semicircle with others while he held court, telling jokes and talking baseball. He was a funny, funny guy and a supremely talented musician, a guy who commanded love and respect from any musician who came into his wild, spontaneous orbit.
Had been estranged from his former bandmembers for several years.
By Fred Mills
John Warren “J.” Geils Jr. – just call him J. (with the period) has passed away at the age of 71. The Boston blues-rock guitarist lived in Groton, Mass., and he was found yesterday afternoon, April 11, at his home, of not-yet-disclosed causes. The police are investigating but for the time being foul play is not suspected, according to the Boston Globe.
The J. Geils band was a touring mainstay of the ‘70s – yours truly saw them on numerous occasions, and they were a dynamic outfit, particularly with Geils’ potent guitar playing, frontman Peter Wolf’s physicality and harp player Magic Dick’s wild, hirsute, Afro-delic appearance. They began notching hits early on via tracks like “Lookin’ For a Love,” “Give It to Me” and “Must of Got Lost”, and then when MTV entered the picture, they went global thanks to hits “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame.” (Below: the band during the ‘70s.)
The band broke up in the mid ‘80s, subsequently mounting a number of reunions over the years. Unfortunately, Geils left the band he formed in 2012, having become estranged from Wolf over a legal dispute stemming from his having trademarked the band name. Peter Wolf posted a note on Facebook when the news of Geils’ death broke: “’Thinking of all the times we kicked it high and rocked down the house! R.I.P. Jay Geils.”
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