Thursday, March 25, 2010

Up and Down the Left Coast with New Riders of the Purple Sage

As you may have read in my sole "Dead" related WW&W post, that I am a Dead neophyte and with trepadation I am plunging my birkenstock-clad dirty toe into this insular world of endless jams, bluegrass psychedelia and unfathomable depths of concert recordings. My plan is to take bite-sized, shall we say brownie-sized doses, of Dead-related albums and classic Dead albums before I start affixing bumper stickers to my thoroughly unDEAD Subaru. According to a cool cat I met in Austin named Mark, I need to get some live Dead from 1972-73. Recommendations of albums of boots to track down?

Many thanks to Scott for tipping me off to the New Riders of the Purple Sage debut album which I found in Portland on my last trip. Not a difficult album to find by any stretch, but well worth it. This a great listen all the way through and seems like a gateway album to fully immerse oneself into the Dead world. I swear the second song on the album, "Watcha Gonna Do" has the same intro riff as a track from "American Beauty". To me, this albums sounds like a more stoney version of The Byrds "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" and that's just fine with me. It also has the great tune "Portland Woman" and being from Portland I can tell you that there are not many songs about the City of Roses. I remember listening to Huey Lewis' "Heart of Rock 'n Roll" waiting for the part where they list off cities that have the "heart of rock 'n roll" because Portland made the cut!

So, I did a brief little search and discovered that NRPS were basically created as a vehicle for Jerry to wail on his slide guitar in a more countrified fashion that the normal Dead oevre would allow. The two auxillary players that would form NRPS were songwriter and acoustic guitar player John "Marmaduke" Dawson (featured in the car next to Jerry) and David Nelson on electric guitar alongside Dead members Garcia, Hart and Lesh. The story goes that Jerry wanted to practice his slide guitar and frequently joined Dawson at a Menlo Park coffee house. These gigs eventually resulted in this band and a few tours with the Dead before NRPS really separated and became their own band. I don't mean to blasphemy, but it seems like they needed that Dead influence as their later albums pale in comparison to this first one. But we can't neglect to mention that Dawson wrote all of these great tunes on the first album, so it would be a mistake to look at NRPS as merely a Dead curiosity.

New Riders of the Purple Sage - Portland Woman
New Riders of the Purple Sage - Dirty Business
I also included "Dirty Business" from their debut album which is a great tune with interesting lyrics that really breaks away from the obvious hippie-country terrain and really drifts off into some spacey territory. This is the kind of Dead material that I'm interested in hearing more of.

New Riders of the Purple Sage - L.A. Lady
It's too perfect to include L.A. Lady from a later album to get the full West Coast tour covered. You can already hear that their sound changed significantly from this first album to their later work (Scott warned me of this already, but this tune is still pretty great).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ode to Bobbie Gentry: The Mississippi Hippie (Part 1)

Hey there little doggies, sorry it's been awhile since I posted some tunes up here on WW&W, but a lot has been going on meanwhile back at the ranch. If you peruse my other blog, Soul Spectrum, you might have read that I was recently laid off. Sad, I know, but I'm trying to recognize that I'm not the only one out there in this position and honestly it does help to keep that perspective. One of the silver linings to this cloud is that I now have much more time for the fun and unpaid music activities in my life, such as Weed, Whites & Wine!

Today we're gonna do something special, a rare cross-blog collaboration with our sister site Soul Spectrum focusing on the rare talent that is Bobbie Gentry. Anyone who's ever dug for records will doubt have seen her duet album with Glen Campbell hundreds of times as it approaches the commonness of "Whipped Cream and Other Delights". And shockingly, I don't even have that one, though next times I see it the completist in me will snatch it up. Everybody probably knows that Bobbie is best known for composing and singing the brilliant story-song "Ode to Billy Joe", a haunting song set in rural Chickasaw Country, Mississippi where a troubled Billy Joe McAllister jumps off the Tallahachie bridge. I had heard that song and several other versions, but it wasn't until I heard the A-side to her first single ("Ode to Billy Joe" was the b-side!) on a british acid-jazz comp "Blue Juice" that I really took notice. That a-side, "Mississippi Delta", is a smoking country-soul stomp and will be posted shortly on the companion tribute to Bobbie Gentry over at Soul Spectrum.

I spent the last few days going through my handful of Bobbie Gentry albums (all from 1967-1970) and picked out some of the twangier tunes from her repertoire. To me, Bobbie is somewhere in between Tony Joe White and John Hartford two other native southerner singer-songwriters who dabbled in pop-country in the wake of the Bob Dylan revolution (before Dylan made Columbia some serious $$, few record labels took chances on singer-songwriters especially in the country and/or folk markets). Of the four songs below only one is a cover, which seems pretty representative of her albums.

Bobbie's story is a fascinating one that saw her peak in popularity with her very first single only to become fed up with the recording industry within a few years. Next she spent the better part of the seventies as one of the biggest acts in Las Vegas, producing, writing, choreographing and performing her own show. Then in the late seventies she married wealthy and has disappeared from sight. It's been rumored that she and Elvis even had a thing going on in the early 70s, no doubt as both stars were dominating the Las Vegas strip. I urge you to listen closely to the words of the final song posted here "Fancy" which is done in a similar story style as "Ode to Billy Joe" but is about a teenage girl who's mother forces her into prostitution in order to pay the family's bills. The song goes on to discuss the emotional wreckage that results. Not bad for a pop song. It might help if you knew that before joining the Los Angeles music conservatory she was majoring in philosophy at UCLA.

Bobbie Gentry - Okolona River Bottom Band

This is from her second album, which sold poorly, but is clearly trying to build on that southern mythology. Check down below for a bizarre video of Bobbie and Bing Crosby dueting on this tune.

Bobbie Gentry - Sweet Peony
This a funny little countrified number. One thing I really like about Bobbie Gentry is that her arrangements are often very spare with her vocals way up front and funky rhythmic touches along the way.

Bobbie Gentry - Natural To Be Gone
I love John Hartford and this is one of my favorite tunes of his so I had to include it. You'll notice she changes the lyric from "banjo" to "guitar".

Bobbie Gentry - Fancy
I already talked about this one. I know she's a feminist and all, but I don't think Bobbie would mind if I commented on how HOT she looks on this album cover.

Here's a great performance of the tune on Johnny Cash's TV show from 1970 I'm gonna guess:

Here's another clip from Johnny's show, likely from an earlier season singing a Hank Williams tune in duet with the beautiful Bobbie:

and here we have Bobbie on Bing Crosby's show with Bing dueting on "Okolona River Bottom Band":

And here's a link to cool video of Bobbie singing "Louisiana Man" with some of the Hollies including WW&W favorite Graham Nash.