The year was 1972. I was moving up from my associate degree at Norwalk Community College to complete my bachelor’s degree at the University of New Haven. It was an exciting time in my life. I enrolled in my junior year classes that fall. Little did I realize that the course I signed up for last-minute, Introduction to Music, would open before me an incredible path of music discovery and direction.
The music teacher started our class by playing sitar in the middle of the room for 30 minutes as he welcomed us to world music and eastern influences. He went on to articulate what he had been taught and experienced as a student himself at Wesleyan University. I was so hooked on what he had to say to us that morning. I decided right then and there that I would minor in music. I took six music classes at UNH, all ably taught by world music professors and alumni of Wesleyan University.
One recording we heard often in my first music class was Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Inner Mounting Flame. The record grew on me as we were permitted uninterrupted, meditative listens during class. I had never heard music so powerfully stated yet so eloquently executed. If it wasn’t for this music class, I may have never discovered jazz rock/fusion at its core from Mahavishnu Orchestra.
I listen to The Inner Mounting Flame 41 years later, still intrigued by its rich textures, that machine gun guitar from John McLaughlin and the powerful drumming of Billy Cobham. The layered effect of Jerry Goodman on violin, coupled with the driving bass and sharp tones by Jan Hammer. A once in a lifetime collaboration. My favorite song on this recording is, “You Know, You Know”.
The Mahavishnu Orchestra followed The Inner Mounting Flame with Birds of Fire. I didn’t think it was possible for jazz rock/fusion from The Mahavishnu Orchestra to soar any higher. It took off for the stratosphere on Birds of Fire. I did my college term paper (which I so wish I still had somewhere) on Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. He afforded me a wonderful interview from his Jamaica Queens apartment. We recorded it on high-end reel to reel on a Scully Tape system at the WNHU-FM radio station. Alas that has been lost to me too, sigh.
Thankfully I saw The Mahavishnu Orchestra live at Staples High School in the summer of 1973. They were very skilful in their concert. I can still visualize John McLaughlin arched to the heavens playing the double neck guitar. I can also see Billy Cobham playing behind his massive plexiglass drum kit.
Ever since I discovered the illuminating music of John McLaughlin, I have been exuberant about Tony Williams. I recall writing a term paper for a music course about Mahavishnu John McLaughlin in 1973. I was doing research at CBS Records in NY City when I learned about how formative John McLaughlin’s fusion development was with Tony Williams Lifetime. The power trio of Tony Williams on drums, Larry Young on keyboards and John McLaughlin on guitar laid the foundation for jazz/rock fusion on their seminal recording, Emergency.
It was during John McLaughlin’s tenure with the band that Tony Williams introduced the young guitarist to Miles Davis, who was conducting his own fusion explorations at the time. This introduction led to McLaughlin playing on some of Davis’s most acclaimed and influential albums, including In a Silent Way,Bitches Brew,A Tribute to Jack Johnson, and On the Corner. Davis had a particular influence on the band, as Williams had played in his “Second Great Quintet” with Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Herbie Hancock, and Larry Young would go on to record on Bitches Brew. (Source: wikipedia, Emergency (album)
Jack Bruce joined the Tony Williams Lifetime for their second album, Turn It Over in 1970. It is fitting that Jack Bruce is a member of Spectrum Road today.
John McLaughlin went on to record two recordings with Douglas Records, one of which Devotion took jazz/rock fusion to the electric stratosphere level (Larry Young also played on these sessions, Buddy Miles played drums). The cosmic track, “Marbles” is a standout piece and a must hear.
Spectrum Road is more than a Tony Williams Lifetime tribute band. The supergroup consists of Cindy Blackman Santana on drums, Jack Bruce on bass, Vernon Reid on guitar and John Medeski on keyboards. They are ultra-true to the sound and vision of Tony Williams Lifetime. They take his music legacy to a whole new level by building on his catalog and then extending it with their unique collaboration and improvisation.
The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved brought us the first collaboration of Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman, solidifying the foundation between the gonzo journalist and the crazed illustrations that forever captured our visual imaginations.
I came across a recent audio work project, The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved produced by Hal Willner, featuring the talents of Bill Frisell, Tim Robbins, Dr. John, singer Annie Ross and Ralph Steadman. This was due to a splendid article by Geoffrey Himes about Bill Frisell, Fear and Composing in the August issue of JazzTimes.
Bill Frisell is a brilliant creative/artistic musician who is always working on multiple project initiatives. He composed a well-articulated soundtrack for the backdrop of this inventive work. He draws us in with his sonic leanings keeping us ever focused on the unfolding narrative.
Tim Robbins performs a very skilful reading as Hunter S. Thompson. He has Hunter’s voice, intonation and controlled zaniness down pat.
Set aside some quality time and give The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved a listen on Spotify.
The real benefit of this archive is that I don’t have to get in the car tomorrow and head across country to visit the library. I can browse with my Google Chrome Internet browser extensive information about the Grateful Dead across the Web from my home office chair.
I learned about the treasures contained in the historic collection when my wife and I visited The Grateful Dead exhibit at the New York Historic Society on June 18, 2010. The exhibit was just a portion of the extensive Grateful Dead archive on loan from UC Santa Cruz. It was a special day for us as my blog post documents here.
What was even cooler yesterday was that a concert by famed Bay Area band Moonalice was performed in celebration on the lawn of UC Santa Cruz’s McHenry Library.
So c’mon fellow Deadheads and music lovers everywhere. Explore the archives and make a contribution online to the archive as we intend to do.
The International Festival of Arts and Ideas closes out tomorrow night on the New Haven Green with a headliner concert from Rosanne Cash and her band. Its been a fantastic festival this year.
Rosanne Cash will highlight music from her recording, The List. The List is a deeply personal album: a peaen to her father, Johnny Cash. The selections and the album’s title derive from the list of 100 Essential Country Songs that her father had compiled for her and instructed her to learn when she joined his road show after high school graduation.
The American songwriter says The List is “imbued with tremendous life force.”
It bodes being a wonderful evening under the stars in New Haven with one our nation’s gifted singer/songwriters, Rosanne Cash. 🙂
There have been just a hand full of artists these past forty years that once I heard them I was forever affected by their power and order of magnitude.
Led Zeppelin was the first English rock band, even more than Cream, to galvanize my interest in rock music, first as a blues rock band, then as progenitors of heavy metal. The first and second Led Zeppelin albums provided the strongest one-two punch I’ve ever heard from evolving rock musicians. There was no sophomore jinx with Led Zeppelin II, which shot to Number 1 on the album charts in 1969.
I was clued into Led Zeppelin early in the fall of 1968. I hung out with several music fanatics in high school. One of these guys had relatives in England who informed us of the sensation Led Zeppelin was causing with their initial British tour. By the time Led Zeppelin’s initial album, Led Zeppelin was released in January, 1969 we readied ourselves for the assault on our senses. We were quite unprepared for the onslaught Led Zep would have on us. They took America, particularly FM radio airplay and rock venues across the US by storm.
If you are passionate about Led Zeppelin I urge you to seek out Uncut Magazine‘s The Ultimate Music Guide, Led Zeppelin.It is a well curated collection of articles, insights about Led Zeppelin, their recordings, the band members and the rock and roll saga we love to hear told.