Saturday, 13 September 2014

Key To The Highway - The Rolling Stones at Chess Studios 1964 and 1965

Key To The Highway
We are now 50 years on from the first Rolling Stones' Chess sessions in Chicago and also just over half a century on from the band's rise to fame so it's a pity that the Stones' vintage back catalog has become such a neglected thing. Unlike their contemporaries, the Beatles, Who, Byrds or Beach Boys, there are no box sets or anthologies of unreleased gems, alternate takes or killer live material. Stones' compilations tend to feature the same already well-known songs recompiled and repackaged as greatest hits CDs released every 5 years or so to coincide with the latest world tour.

And it's not like they are putting out any great new stuff either - their last album, the instantly forgettable A Bigger Bang, came out as long ago as 2005. So for a band that seems to have retired from doing anything new - never mind creative - it seems a shame that such a stunning back catalog - and one that helps define the rock era - should be so neglected. This dereliction has arguably led to their importance as the UK's foremost rhythm 'n' blues pioneers being undervalued. The Stones brought rhythm 'n' blues to a mass white audience - not only in the US but in the world. No mean achievement.

Fortunately, as is so often the case in the internet age, fans have taken care of any lack of interest the band or record company may have and "liberated" rare recordings previously hoarded or only available on expensive and shoddy bootlegs. As a result we have some pretty nifty compilations and playlists which in a more sensible world would have already seen official record company release but also serve to re-emphasize the importance of the band's legacy.

The Chess Sessions
One such is the "2120 South Michigan Avenue" compilation (see youtube clip below) of all the sessions the band recorded at Chess studios in Chicago in 1964 and 1965. In the early 60s many blues fans, and the Stones themselves, considered the Chess studios as the home of the blues. Muddy Waters (who according to legend helped the band unpack when they arrived), Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry and a whole host of blues musicians and singers recorded for the label. On their first US tour the Stones were keen to visit and record there and, although Chess didn't let out their studios to non label artists in those days, manager Andrew Loog Oldham managed to blag a session for the band in the summer of 1964. For the full story go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame page here

The Stones at Chess studios 1964

This may not be the best music the band ever recorded but it is key to what came later. Herein are the seeds of some of the best rock music recorded in the 60s and 70s. Let us not forget that, arguably more than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones set the template for what a rock and roll band in the 60s and 70s should look like, sound like and be like. And in 1964, the band arrived in the USA with the self appointed task of re-educating the American teenage public about the blues - an American music which white America had either forgotten about or was simply unaware of - and placing it firmly in the mainstream culture of US and western music where, 50 years on from these sessions, it still remains.

Many of these tracks were originally released on the albums "Rolling Stones No. 2" and "Out Of Our Heads". The songs It's all Over Now and Little Red Rooster were released as singles and the remainder surfaced on British EPs, American LPs - which often had different track-listing to their British versions - or single B sides. To my knowledge, Key To The Highway, a version of Mercy, Mercy different to the one on Out Of Our Heads, and a Bill Wyman song, Goodbye Girl, are all still officially unreleased. But the great thing about this compilation is that it arranges the songs chronologically thus leading the listener to re-evaluate the Rolling Stones as a blues band.

Ian Stewart (seen behind) played piano on the sessions

Confessin' The Blues
Remember this is the Stones as blues purists. Before the the mania and excess that was still to come but also before they'd started to write their own songs. In fact at the time of these sessions, the band were still relatively unknown in the US and, although they followed in the wake of the Beatles and the other British invasion bands, they would not achieve real success in the US until the release of their own (I can't get no) Satisfaction in early 1965 - written around the time of the last session here.

These sessions are not just an apprenticeship though. The thing that stands out when you listen to all of them together is how superior, as blues players, they were compared to contemporaries like the Yardbirds, Pretty Things, Them or the Animals. Those bands tended to play the blues with a stomping heavy rock'n'roll beat. Listen to the Stones on these sessions, especially on Down The Road Apiece or Around and Around, and you hear a band that really knows how to swing.

And the man who put the swing in the band was, of course, drummer Charlie Watts. Charlie was at heart a jazz drummer and he had an instinctive feel for playing just behind the beat emphasizing what Keith Richards maintained was the "roll" in rock 'n' roll - in other words making it swing. Charlie is really the star of the show here. Add Keith's great sense of timing and Chuck Berry riffing to the mix (check Keith's outstanding solo on It's All Over Now - one of his best) and you have band that has much more of an innate grasp of the blues essentials than their rivals.

That's not to say that they have all it down just yet. Jagger's vocals on the blues numbers occasionally verge on mimicry and pastiche  ("Oh dee clap o' mah hands"). It is only on the later soul numbers like Don Covay's Mercy, Mercy, Otis Redding's That's How Strong My Love Is and especially Bobby Womack's It's All Over Now that he starts to sound assertive and comfortable with what he's singing.

British EP "5 by 5" featured 5 songs recorded at Chess

Exile on Main Street
By the end of these sessions Keith Richards and Mick Jagger had started writing their own material and Keith had come up with the Satisfaction riff - he actually woke up in the middle of the night with it in his head and, before he forgot it, quickly got it down on tape. With that now iconic song the band broke through to the American mainstream. They would go on to become the so called bad boys of pop beloved of the tabloid press and then, after the Beatles split, reinvent themselves as "the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world". Although the blues remained an important influence in their music, they never recorded again in the Chess studios after 1965.

However the spirit of these recordings does resurface rather spectacularly on 1972's Exile On Main Street, arguably their finest LP. With tracks like Rip This Joint, Shake Your Hips, Stop Breaking Down and Ventilator Blues, it is a classic rock album soaked in the sound and the spirit of Chicago blues. And these sessions act as handy curtain raiser to that album.

So, 50 years on, it's worth listening to these sessions again and remembering that without the Stones the blues would not be as central in mainstream culture as it is today. These sessions are a vital part of the band's legacy. And also some great music. Take a listen (tracklisting below).

Recorded At Chess Studio Chicago, USA, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, 10/11 June 1964:
1 - It's All Over Now     3:24   
2 - I Can't Be Satisfied     3:25   
3 - Stewed And Keefed     4:07   
4 - Around And Around     3:02   
5 - Confessin' The Blues     2:46   
6 - Down In The Bottom     2:42   
7 - Empty Heart     2:36   
8 - Hi- Heel Sneakers     2:57   
9 - Down The Road Apiece     2:54   
10 - If You Need Me     2:02   
11 - Look What You've Done     2:18   
12 - Tell Me Baby     1:53   
13 - Time Is On My Side (Version 1)     2:52   
14 - Reelin' And Rockin'     3:36   
15 - Don't You Lie To Me     1:59   
16 - 2120 South Michigan Avenue     3:40   

Recorded At Chess Studio, 8 November 1964:
17 - What A Shame     3:04   
18 - Fanny Mae     2:12   
19 - Little Red Rooster     3:06   
20 - Time Is On My Side (Version 2)     3:00   
21 - Goodbye Girl     2:08   
22 - Key To The Highway     3:18   
23 - Mercy, Mercy (Version 1)     2:43

Recorded At Chess Studio, 10 May 1965:
24 - Mercy, Mercy (Version 2)     2:45   
25 - That's How Strong My Love Is     2:24   
26 - The Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man     3:22

Bonus track
27 - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction     2:44   

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Peter Green - "A Mind To Give Up Living" - The Blues of despair and salvation

Monday, 1 September 2014

Views of Spain - The Art of Arlé Corte

© Arle Corte

Different views of Spain
People tend to have a stereotypical view of Spain - it's always hot and sunny and people spend all their time listening to flamenco and dancing Sevillanas. Nothing could be further from the truth. Spain is actually an astonishingly varied country made up of different regions all with their own languages, dialects, customs and cultures.

And northern Asturias is not like the south of Spain at all. If you go to Asturias expecting the stereotypical Andalucian / Mediterranean culture of bulls, flamenco and sun you will be surprised to find the historical and cultural influences there are Celtic, people drink cider and there is almost as much rain as there is sun. With its history of coal mining, heavy industry and shipbuilding Asturias also has a lot in common with Wales or the north of England.

The landscapes in Asturias are also different to the Spanish stereotype. The wet climate makes it very green and it’s actually one of the most mountainous regions in Europe - people go skiing in the Picos de Europa mountains in the winter.

The changeable weather and light seem to give a sense of movement to the Asturian landscape - the hills, mountains, cliffs, the sea almost have a kind of musicality to them.

Atardecer © Arle Corte

Arlé Corte
One of the Asturian artists who reflects that musicality is Arlé Corte. Although she says she is more interested in the warmer climes and dazzling deserts of Southern Spain, I think it is sill seen through the prism of Arle’s Asturian background.
What interests me is the musicality in her work and as you look at these pictures I’m sure you will, as she says, “see the trace of a dance in the movements of the brush”.

Jazz © Arle Corte

Influences and inspiration
In the following text Arlé comments on her work, her influences and what inspires her
(translated from Spanish - original at the bottom of this post).

You can contact or follow Arlé on her facebook page here

"Although I was born in a country with so many variations of green it's difficult to count them all, I really love the ochre, red and orange hues so redolent of deserts and hotter lands. Those are the shades usually found in my work".

"In some way painting is a way of travelling from within to an unknown place".

© Arle Corte

"Like everyone I've had phases and explored variations on different themes: Imaginary deserts, recreations of evocative Pre-Roman Asturian Art, the masculine nude seen from a woman's point of view, the coal mines that were so close to my life as a miner's daughter and grand-daughter... "

© Arle Corte

Guerrero © Arle Corte

Despertar De Xanes © Arle Corte

"In some ways I reinterpret the world and from time to time I go back to being a young girl playing with collages, where everything is possible." 

Collage © Arle Corte

Gijon © Arle Corte

"Inspiration is everywhere, opening my eyes, I don't touch it, I feel it. When that magic moment of creation arrives, "the good accident" as Kandinsky said, in which the canvas itself seems to guide the senses through the brushes, pencils or whatever is to hand, there is always a song in the background. Music forms part of that creative moment, as important as any other tool, guides the hand as well as the body. Yes you can dance and paint at the same time, You can shout in jubilation, or in frustration when you want to cover the whole canvas in black because nothing is working out as you want, just like anything else in life. So a note can escape from the frame like a wink of thanks. Sometimes it's even easy to see the trace of a dance in the movements of the brush."

Ola © Arle Corte

To Itaca © Arle Corte

San Lorenzo © Arle Corte

"Aunque nací en una tierra con tantas variaciones de verde que resulta tarea difícil intentar contarlos, desde hace ya un tiempo tengo verdadera devoción por los ocres, rojizos y anaranjados, esas tonalidades tan identificables con los desiertos y tierras cálidas. Esos son los colores que habitualmente se encuentran en mis trabajos. De alguna manera pintar es una forma de viajar desde dentro hacia un lugar inconcreto.

Como todos he tenido épocas y variaciones sobre diferentes temáticas: Desiertos imaginarios; recreaciones del sugerente Arte Prerrománico Asturiano; el desnudo masculino visto por ojos de mujer; la mina tan cercana a mi vida como hija y nieta de mineros…De alguna manera reinterpreto mi propio mundo y de vez en cuando vuelvo a jugar a ser niña con los collages, donde todo es posible.

La inspiración está alrededor, abriendo los ojos, no se palpa, se siente. Cuando llega ese instante mágico de creación,”the good accident” decía Kandinsky, en la que el propio lienzo parece guiar los sentidos a través de los pinceles, los lápices o lo que pueda tener entre las manos, siempre hay una canción que suena detrás. La música forma parte de ese momento creativo, tan importante como cualquier otro material de trabajo, guía los movimientos de la mano y del propio cuerpo. Si, se puede danzar y pintar. Se puede gritar en el momento de júbilo o en el de frustración cuando quisieras cubrir todo de negro porque nada es como se desea, al igual que en muchos momentos de la vida. Así alguna nota se escapa dentro del cuadro como un guiño de agradecimiento. Incluso, a veces, es fácil ver que en los movimientos del pincel hay el rastro de una danza." 

- Arlé Corte, 2014

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Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Jim Jones Revue triumph in Gijon, Spain 9/8/2014

© D. Mainwood

The Jim Jones Revue crashed into Gijon, Spain last night just as the side effects of Hurricane Bertha were supposed to be hitting the UK. Seems like a fair exchange. They are not so much a band as an elemental force of nature and they managed to convert - possibly too late as the band are splitting in October - an initially indifferent crowd of two or three thousand (most of whom, as the gig was free, would never have heard of them and were just there to gawk) to their own firebrand version of rabid rock'n'roll fundamentalism.

Photo of the gig from the band's facebook page.
Click to enlarge
The gig was in Gijon's Town Hall Square. As I have mentioned elsewhere, it is not one of the best of places to play as it's a small square surrounded on all four sides by concrete and brick - mostly offices, restaurants and flats. Yes people actually live right next door and I expect they spent this morning repairing the windows, replacing the crockery and checking the walls and ceilings for cracks and sonic damage. Anyway, the crap sound you get usually in a place like that was rendered null and void by a band that actually thrives on distortion, echo and sonic mud. They overcame, they soared and they conquered.

The gig was a triumph. And intense. We are in the same stripped down to basics territory as the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion here. Super amplified 50s rock - as the Guardian's Michael Hann said, "The Jim Jones Revue imagine that rock'n'roll didn't really need to evolve after 1956; it just needed to get much, much louder, and wildly more distorted". So loud was it that, as I was close to the front of the stage, the impact of the sound was something you could physically feel. It actually felt like my chest was being pressed on and dug into. Fortunately however, rampant tachycardia soon instigated free-fall euphoria.

On stage the band recall some of my faves like the The MC5, The Stooges, The Who and Wilko Johnson era Dr Feelgood. Jim Jones (ex lead singer of 1980s psychsters Thee Hypnotics and Black Moses) is an authoritative frontman who often brings to mind Jagger and the 1968 leather clad Elvis. He easily won the crowd over on what could have been a difficult gig. Many people would just have been passing through the square - Gijon is having its "Semana Grande" - a week of town festivities and everyone is on the street - however most stayed and were transfixed and enthused by a gig that started off intense and just kept building until, by the time of the Eddie Cochran / Jerry Lee Lewis inspired encores, we were attaining hitherto unknown communal levels of musical rapture.

What a shame the band are calling it a day in October.

See them while you can.

Band page and farewell tour dates

The Jim Jones Review in Gijon
Jim Jones: Vocals / Guitar
Rupert Orton: Guitar
Gavin Jay: Bass
Nick Jones: Drums
Henri Herbert: Piano

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