The Poets: Not Actual 12-Strings

The ringing, echo-drenched electric 12-string guitars on the debut single by Scottish rockers, The Poets, are such a striking sound for 1964 and yet a strangely familiar one:  might it be possible that the band later reincarnated as Brian Jonestown Massacre?

“Now We’re Thru'”     The Poets     1964
[play at strong volume]

What a revelation when one finds out – thanks to Richie Unterberger’s interview with lead singer and songwriter, George Gallacher – “apparently, there were no 12-string guitars, but what there was, was the two guitars having the 1st and 2nd strings tuned the same, thereby creating a semi-12 string effect.”  That very same year interestingly enough, Lou Reed would take this concept to the ultimate extreme when he tuned all six strings to the same note for his satiric (non) dance hit “The Ostrich.”

Now We're Thru - The Poets 45

With the utmost of commitment from each and every band member, “Now We’re Thru’” is a classic A-side from top to bottom, with the chiming guitars – and particularly the lonely vocal at song’s end – ratcheting up the mystery and angst. The song would find release in Japan (manufactured by the “otherKing Records), as well as the US, Australia, and the UK, where the song charted at #31, doing particularly well in Scotland, confirms Unterberger in his (revised) history of ‘overlooked innovators and eccentric visionaries’ — Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers.

Billboard‘s December 12, 1964 edition gives the back story on the single’s release here in the States:

Bob Crewe, independent record producer, has formed his own label, Dynovox, which will be distributed by Amy-Mala Records.

The label’s first release is ‘Now We’re Thru” by the Poets.  Crewe is currently producing sides for the 4 Seasons, and current releases ‘Watch Out Sally‘ by Diane Renay on MGM; ‘Dusty‘ by the Rag Dolls on Amy-Mala; newcomer Michael Allen on MGM Records with ‘She,’ and the forthcoming Travey Dey release on Amy-Mala.

The New Crewe label will not confine its efforts to pop releases.  The New York Youth Symphony and show and movie scores are being recorded for future releases.”

Unterberger attributes much of the “brilliance” of The Poets’ singles to their manager/producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, and proclaims the band to be “certainly the most talented act in Oldham’s production/management stable other than the Stones.”  According to a November, 1964 edition of New Music Express, the band’s name is “presumably derived from the fact that they wear their hair Burns-style and have ruffled lace-fronted shirts.”

After recording two singles for Oldham’s Immediate label, The Poets would carry on for one more single after Gallacher’s departure – 1967’s “Wooden Spoon” – before disbanding.  Wait a minute, 1967 is the birth year for Anton Newcombe:  coincidence or musical reincarnation?

The Poets would reunite in 2011 for a live performance at Glasgow’s Eyes Wide Open club.  Tip of the hat (yet again) to Tom Avazian for hipping me to this track via UK anthology album from 1983:  20 One-Hit Wonders, Volume 2.

1968 Crown Durango Electric 12-String [courtesy of Drowning in Guitars]

Electric 12-String = 1968 Crown Durango

{double click on image above for 3-D centerfold effect}

Historical Sidebar:  First Electric 12-String Guitar on UK Recording

Tony Bacon’s Rickenbacker Electric 12 String, The Story of The Guitars, The Music, and The Great Players informs who the electric 12-string pioneers in the UK were:

In fact, [George] Harrison’s Rickenbacker wasn’t the first electric 12-string on a British recording session.  That honour belongs to a Burns guitar played by Hank Marvin of The Shadows.  Marvin, a Fender Stratocaster player, had teamed up with British guitar-maker, Jim Burns, to design a new solid-body six-string electric.  Burns also came up with an electric 12-string, and around October, 1963, Marvin received an early sample of the Burns Double Six.  He took it along to various sessions at EMI’s Abbey Road studios in London where he was recording with Cliff Richard & The Shadows.

Marvin intended to record “Don’t Talk to Him” using the Burns 12, but problems arose, so instead he doubled a six-string line to achieve the prominent hookline.  A few weeks later, however, he recorded another Cliff session and played the prototype Burns 12-string for “On The Beach.”  Unusually, the 12 was strung like a six-string bass plus octave strings, clearly heard on the song’s low-down double string runs.  Later in November, Marvin used the Burns 12 with regular stringing for “I’m the Lonely One.”  These Cliff Richard songs weren’t released until 1964 — in the UK singles chart, “I’m the Lonely One” went to Number 8 in February and “On the Beach” to 7 in July — but they are important as early British recordings of the electric 12-string sound.

The book goes on to say:

The very first release of a British record with electric 12-string — just ahead of The Beatles and well ahead of Cliff & The Shads — was the result of another Abbey Road session.  Paul McCartney gave one of his songs to Peter & Gordon, a new duo signed to EMI.  They recorded their single “A World Without Love” at Abbey Road in January 1964, with sessionman Vic Flick [of James Bond theme fame] on guitar.
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Hedges & Jordan Planted a Seed

The radical “double-tapping” guitar style pioneered by Michael Hedges and Stanley Jordan was a phenomenon I got to witness firsthand when a former musical sparring partner of mine went away to Boston’s Berklee School of Music and – like Robert Johnson and his famous pact at the crossroads – came back forever changed and, by 1988, exploding with talent in all directions, his music all-encompassing:  progressivefolkjazzrockgospelfunk.

I recall clearly how one particular composition – “Thunderfoote” – signaled a seriousness of intent that was startling to behold at the time and no less impressive today:

[Pssst: Click the triangle above to play “Thunderfoote” by Michael Avraham HaLevy]

It was more than a little dismaying to realize that Michael’s interest in “non-traditional” tunings meant never again would I be able to pick up one of his guitars and strum along.

Cover Art – Unreleased Box Set – Volume 1

Michael Andrew Frank - cover(Mrs. Zero to 180 at right)

I will always have especially fond feelings for Michael’s original four-track version with the double-tracked, double-tapped guitars, even though Michael would subsequently go into a “proper” studio and record an equally excellent full-band version of the song (the Michael Andrew Frank Band, as they were known) that features the work of Anders Bostrom (flutes), Maury Rosenberg (keyboards),  Dan Foote (drums/percussion), and Rich Lamb (synth bass), along with Michael’s own guitar & keyboard work.

Michael’s “The 11th Step” is another composition that was created during this especially fertile period when Michael lived in Boston and New York City:

As late as March, 1993, Michael could be heard/seen in New York City playing at places like the Cornelia Street Cafe (the same place where David Amram would hold musical court, I would learn later in John Strausbaugh’s excellent The Village:  400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and RoguesA History of Greenwich Village).

For the last 20 years or more, however, Michael has been living in Jerusalem in the Holy Land.

Michael Avraham-1aMichael Avraham-4dMichael Avraham-5e

Q & A with the Artist

Q:  With regard to the original 4-track demo of “Thunderfoote,” did you regard that composition as a ‘breakthrough’ moment of sorts for you, artistically?
A:  No, that would mean the end of physical existence which is next to impossible while donning the earth suit.

Q:  Did the song come to you all at once – or was it something that manifested itself more slowly over time?  Somewhere in between (or neither)?
A:  Slowly, over the illusion of time.

Q:  How many guitar tracks did you lay down altogether on the original 4-track recording?
A:  2 Tracks

Q:  Any noteworthy stories associated with the studio recording of “Thunderfoote” you made with the Michael Andrew Band?
A:  Labor of love…

Q:  What do you treasure most?
A:  Jerusalem.

Favorite color?   orange

Michael Avraham-2b

Melody, Health and Healing

The life and workings of the body are governed by ten basic pulses. These in turn are vitalized by ten kinds of melody emanating from the soul. Negativity, anxiety and depression weaken the pulses, and this can cause illness. But when the melody of the soul is joyous, it strengthens the vitality of the pulses and brings health to the body.

Likutey Moharan I, 24

“1967”: Adrian Belew, Confirmed Believer

I’ve always known there to be something particularly special about the Adrian Belew composition, “1967” – the closing track from his classic 1989 album, Mr. Music Head:

In recent years, with my growing awareness around the legend of 1967 as a peak year for pop music, I began to suspect 1967’s magical aura to be the reason behind the song’s title – “1967” – a year that is otherwise not named or even hinted at in the lyrics whatsoever.  Belew was kind enough to respond to my query about the the writing of this composition and revealed that the title “comes from my belief that particular year was the golden year of creativity in rock music.”  It’s true!

Furthermore:

“The song was written on a metal-bodied dobro in an odd tuning D A D D A D.  I call it the ‘dad’ tuning.  I was working on five different songs using that tuning.  So each time I worked on one song, I would work on the other four.  Eventually, it occurred to me to run all five together into one piece.”

This five-songs-in-one concept reminds me, in a way, of The Beatles’ legendary multi-part composition, “A Day in the LIfe”  from their 1967 modern pop masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Atlantic would release one single from Mr. Music Head, “Oh Daddy” — a father-daughter duet and #5 hit on the Modern Rock chart — with “Peaceable Kingdom” as the B-side.

Adrian Belew singleBesides being a great songwriter, Belew also enjoys renown for being able to conjure a vast array of inspired and otherworldly sounds on his various guitars, with a particular genius for emulating members of the animal kingdom.

The Adrian Belew Power trio is on tour – likely coming to a town near you

Stickmen vs Adrian Belew Power TrioAdrian Belew, it bears noting, produced the debut album by pioneering Cincinnati band of the 1970s & 80s – The Raisins – three years after their classic live performance on local PBS television series, Rock Around the Block, a showcase for local talent.

Belew has also supplied guitar for/with an interesting array of musical artists in rock, pop and beyond — Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, David Bowie, King Crimson, Mike Oldfield, Joan Armatrading, Paul Simon, Crash Test Dummies, Nine Inch Nails — but one of my all-time favorite guest turns is a live performance captured on film, Laurie Anderson’s Home of the Brave, where he dons a rubber guitar at one point, I kid you not.

“The Ostrich”: Lou Reed’s Patented Dance Step

By now you have no doubt heard that Lou Reed has left us.  My favorite Lou Reed moment that I feel compelled to pass along is his dance send-up from 1964 entitled “The Ostrich” — from a time when he was a songwriting hack for Pickwick Records and part of a beat group called The Primitives:

“The Ostrich”     The Primitives     1964

Bizarrely, all of the strings of his guitar on this song are tuned to D – a tuning subsequently known as Ostrich Guitar.  For the life of me, I cannot imagine what induced Reed to release a single completely bereft of any commercial potential, unless it was to make others laugh, which it does for me every time.  If doesn’t for you, well, might I humbly suggest that you try harder.

1954: An Explosive Year for Music

We all know that 1954 was the year of Elvis Presley’s famous and influential Sun recordings, but 1954 was also highly noteworthy for the combined impact of these 3 particular tunes — all instrumentals:

1.  “Stratosphere Boogie” by Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant:  phenomenal, blazing twin guitar work – rock and roll by any other name (although some might call it “hillbilly jazz“).  Recorded September 2, 1954.  Bryant is using a “Stratosphere Twin” double-neck guitar with 6-string and 12-string necks.  The 12-string neck, curiously, is tuned in thirds, thus sounding like twin lead guitars playing lines in harmony.

Stratosphere Twin - Jimmy Bryant

“Stratosphere Boogie”     Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant     1954

2.  “Space Guitar” by JohnnyGuitarWatson:  unhinged guitar paired with playful production (and unpredictable reverb) – as Larry Nager so adroitly dubbed it, “punk blues.”  Recorded as ‘Young John Watson’ in Los Angeles on February 1, 1954 and released on Syd Nathan‘s Federal Records.

“Space Guitar”     Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson     1954

Space Guitar 453.  “Pork Chop Stomp” by Grady Martin and His WinginStrings – crisp production,       great chops (so to speak) and a little humor go a long way.  That’s Bud Isaacs on pedal steel, with Grady Martin and Hank Garland both playing lead on this spirited piece of western swing – recorded January 13, 1954.

“Pork Chop Stomp”     Grady Martin & His Wingin’ Strings     1954

Grady Martin doubleneck guitarApproximately 12 Years Later:

Johnny Echols of seminal Los Angeles folk-punk band, Love, would be seen playing one of those rare Stratosphere double-necks originally made famous by Jimmy Bryant:

Johnny-Echols-with-Stratosphere