Saturday, September 20, 2008

Happenings 40 Years Time Ago

I find it disheartening that most regard the Yardbirds as merely a catalyst for three of the world's most revered guitar heroes--they could claim Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page among their ranks--when in fact, they were one of the most innovative bands of their era. Even a cursory listen to their catalog reveals how they evolved, incorporating various musical styles (not just the blues) into their original songs. My favorite of their albums is Roger the Engineer, featuring Jeff Beck on lead guitar, followed closely by the oft-maligned psychedelic Little Games, where Page first uses the violin bow technique he cribbed from Creation guitarist Eddie Phillips.

The core members of what eventually became the Yardbirds aligned their talents together in May of 1963 as the MBQ: Keith Relf - vocals, harmonica; Chris Dreja - rhythm guitar; Tony Topham - lead guitar; Paul Samwell-Smith - bass; Jim McCartey - drums. Relf suggested the name change, stating that the term "Yardbird" referred to "hobos who hang around railroad yards." When Topham left the group, future "slowhand" legend Eric Clapton auditioned for the band and played his first gig with them in October of '63. By this time the Yardbirds had already taken over the Rolling Stones' residency at the Crawdaddy Club. The first video clip showcases "Louise," a John Lee Hooker classic, during a Summer of '64 appearance on a German television. Notice fresh-faced 19 year-old Clapton on lead guitar!

Clapton became increasingly discouraged with the band as they moved into more commercial territory and further away from traditional blues. He performed on their debut, the incendiary Five Live Yardbirds (one of the greatest live albums ever) but left soon after recording the Graham Gouldman ("Bus Stop," "No Milk Today") penned "For Your Love." (Gouldman also wrote "Heart Full of Soul; he was later a member of 10cc with former Mindbender Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley, and Lol Creme.) Session musician Jimmy Page was approached to join the Yardbirds; he declined, and the spot was filled by Jeff Beck. Later, when Samwell-Smith left the band, Jimmy Page joined as rhythm guitarist and eventually took over lead duties after Beck's departure.

As Relf and McCarty embraced psychedelia, a schism developed within the band. Eventually Jimmy Page was the only member left in the Yardbirds, so he recruited new members Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. They played some gigs under the Yardbirds' moniker, but threat of legal action by Chris Dreja forced a name change. In reference to Keith Moon's quip that their music would "go over like a lead balloon," the group was newly christened "Led Zeppelin."

(References: Blues-Rock Explosion, edited by McStravic and Roos, with contributions by Jeff Watt; Ugly Things issue #20 2002; British Beat by May and Phillips)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Kinky Boot Beasts

Honestly, I can't say enough about the Kinks. They're my second favorite band, eclipsing both the Rolling Stones and the Who in my personal pantheon of British greats. Ray Davies pure English sensibilities, his poetry, and his unique social perspective are what elevate them to these realms--qualities evident from the start of their recording career, but more prominent in this legendary string of albums: Face to Face, Something Else by the Kinks, The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society (my personal favorite), Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire, and Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround. Seek these out immediately if you haven't experienced them yet!

The Kinks began life when sixteen year-old Ray Davies and his thirteen year-old brother Dave began playing gigs around their Muswell Hill neighborhood as The Kelly Brothers. As Ray was discovering American blues at art college and playing rhythm guitar and harmonica for the Dave Hunt Band, the younger Davies brother met up with bassist Pete Quaife, forming the Ravens. Eventually Ray joined his brother in the group, as well as pre-Rolling Stones reject Mick Avory on drums. Once signed to Pye records, a name change was in order. Several stories concerning the origin of the monkier circulate; here's Ray's version of events:
"We were sitting in a pub getting a bit drunk one day, feeling disillusioned because we hadn't had much work. This guy came up to us and said we were crazy and ought to be called 'The Kinks.' "

Ray never liked the name but soon noticed it had it's advantages:

"Somebody rang us up one night wanting us to open a show with five other acts. We wanted something short so that it could be as big as possible on the marquee. Kinks was good, as it was only five letters...Maybe it was an unfortunate name but good in a way because it's something that people don't really want."

So the scandalous name took hold, and an equally raw proto-punk Kinks "sound" took shape with their first two hits, "You Really Got Me" (showcased here) and "All Day and All of the Night" (whose anarchic solos were not, I repeat NOT, played by session man and future Zeppelin Jimmy Page).

Sadly, the Kinks role in the British Invasion diminished after their first US tour because they didn't show up for one date and were subsequently banned from returning to the states by the American Federation of Musicians. By the late-Seventies, however, the group were firmly established within the ranks of Stadium Bands and roundly acknowledged as fathers of both the heavy metal and punk genres, strangely enough.

Rumors of a retrospective box set and band reunion have yet to reach fruition. Regardless, the mantra of Kinks Konverts everywhere remains: God Save the Kinks!

(The first scan is of an Italian Pye LP; the second is of a UK EP.)

Reference: The Kinks Kronikles by John Mendelssohn

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Tottenham Beat!

OK, so they never recorded a consistently solid LP; no matter--their 45s certainly packed a wallop! They were never on the same level as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Animals, the Yardbirds, etc., yet the Dave Clark Five produced some of the finest pop singles of the first wave of the British Invasion. Certainly there was a bit of "love 'em or loathe 'em" then as now; however, their rock creditability was bolstered when punk rockers the Ramones cited them as an influence, even performing "Any Way You Want It" in concert.

A major factor contributing to the DC5's decline in popularity remains that Dave Clark, who owns the masters to all the DC5's recordings, has only allowed a couple of legitimate CD compilations to be released over the years, and these quickly went out of print. So for many years, a person who heard "Because" on the radio and liked it could not walk into his or her local music store and purchase a DC5 CD. Clark has recently allowed an iTunes compilation to be released, coinciding with their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, but as of this writing, the promised CD counterpart has yet to see the light of day. It's actually quite sad that the DC5's music--some of the best of British beat--has yet to be discovered by younger generations because of its lack of availability on the most popular format of the past 20 years.

The DC5's recent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was a bittersweet occasion; vocalist/organist Mike Smith had passed away only days before, and saxophonist Dennis Payton also did not live to witness this auspicious event. Oscar winning actor Tom Hanks' enthusiastic, heart-felt introduction speech drove home the importance of the DC5's music and it's impact on the American youth in 1964. Drummer, leader, and producer Dave Clark and guitarist Lenny Davidson spoke, and Joan Jett performed a raucous cover of "Bits and Pieces."

This clip of "Glad All Over" (a staple of the Invaders' show, and the first song to unseat the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" from the top of the charts) was taken from a 1964 episode of the famed UK music show, Ready Steady Go! The scan is of an advert taken from the back of an original 1966 DC5 tour book (thanks, Jeff!). Click to enlarge, and check out the egregious mistake by the good folks at Vox...