“Yancey Special”: Prog Reggae II

Keith Emerson would captivate me as a grade schooler with the deep, heavy Moog sounds he conjured for “Lucky Man” — the final track, fittingly, on a 4-LP box set from 1973 that got a lot of mileage in our household growing up, Superstars of the Seventies, one of the earliest titles in the Warner Special Products series.

Superstars of the 70s-a“Lucky Man,” from Emerson, Lake & Palmer‘s 1970 debut album, derives much of its appeal from being a “power ballad” that builds to an explosive solo, and yet Aerosmith would get all the credit for having created this new rock subgenre, even though “Dream On” did not hit the record racks until 1973.

Dig the ’70s earth tones, man

Superstars of the 70s-xAfter Emerson, Lake and Palmer went their separate ways in 1979, Emerson would arrange a reggae-tinged take on a Meade Lux Lewis boogie instrumental, “Yancey Special” for his 1981 solo album Honky:

“Yancey Special”     Keith Emerson     1981

Most fascinatingly, Emerson’s first solo album post-ELP global fame would be released on an independent Italian label, Bubble, aimed at the “Italo-Disco” progressive dance market. Honky would find release two years later in the UK on Emerson’s imprint, Chord RecordsRock and Roll Paradise asserts Italy to be the only country where Honky was a hit album.

Keith Emerson - bubble This review in Vintage Rock would note —

Emerson, on an extended vacation in the Bahamas, rounded up a crew of local musicians and exploded with a wild variation of calypso and reggae tunes—foreign substances to the legions of ELP fanatics who were expecting something less whimsical and more monumental.  But really — you can’t blame him for turning his back on the “legendary” noose around his neck and indulging seafaring gems like ‘Hello Sailor’ and ‘Rum-A-Ting.’  And the irresistible boogie woogie of Meade Anderson ‘Lux’ Lewis’ ‘Yancey Special’ shakes the manacles off completely.

Keith Emerson LPAccording to the liner notes, “honky” was a nickname used by children of the island and, thus, appropriated by Emerson for the album’s title.  “Yancey Special” would hit the airwaves two years after Rick Wakeman‘s cod reggae version of “Swan Lake,” the featured instrumental in Zero to 180’s January, 2015 piece, “Prog Rock Reggae.”

Keith Emerson:  One of The Best (Literally)

BB Chronicles offers a 1990 soundboard recording of a little-known (and short-lived) supergroup named The Best that once included Keith Emerson, along with John Entwistle (The Who), Joe Walsh (James Gang/Eagles), JeffSkunkBaxter (Doobie Brothers), and Simon Phillips (801/Jeff Beck).

           Keith Emerson & the skunk                        Emerson & the ox & the skunk

Keith Emerson & the skunk-xKeith Emerson & the ox & the skunk-x

Emerson’s spirit, sadly, would leave us this past March. – his obituary from the March 13, 2016 edition of The Guardian.

Pop-Up Record Albums

Until fairly recently, I had a Tuesday Morning “close-out retailer” store within 2 miles of home.   In an age when we’re lucky to have just one large national bookstore chain, I was grateful to have a quirky home goods store that also offered the oddest assortment of book fare, the overwhelming majority of which can not be found in Barnes & Noble, Politics & Prose, and other “respectable” reading establishments.

This piece, therefore, is a tribute to the former Silver Spring location of Tuesday Morning for allowing me to purchase the ingeniously-crafted Country Music Pop-Up Book, a $45.00 retail value (as the price tag states) for only $14.99.  This delightful pop-up book I first mentioned two years ago last December in a classic “road” story about Waylon Jennings as told by Kinky Friedman.

Country Music Pop-Up Book-aaCountry Music Pop-Up Book-a

The closing of our local Tuesday Morning has me looking at this sumptuous movable book once again — I just re-read Steve Earle‘s funny essay about life as a struggling songwriter in Nashville working on “The Graveyard Shift” in which we learn that, when “Steve Martin led the entire audience down Ellison Place and bought everyone a Krystal hamburger, [Earle] was at the front of the line.”

When it comes to pop-up record albums, Jethro Tull‘s elaborate gatefold sleeve for their sophomore release — 1969’s Stand Up, with the pop-up art of the four band members — single-handedly rules the roost (one has to wonder, then, why the title of this piece is plural).  The concept was “based on ideas from Terry Ellis and John Williams and printed from woodcuts by New York graphic artist, Jimmy Grashow [whom you may visit on Facebook].”

Jethro Tull Pop-Up LP

One song I remember hearing on 1970s FM radio was Jethro Tull’s adaptation of a popular Bach lute piece (Bourrée in E minor).  Although Stand Up would reach the US Top 20, Island’s release of “Bourée” b/w “Fat Man” would fail to chart, except in Germany (#37) and the Netherlands (#5):

“Bourée”     Jethro Tull     1969

Jimmy Grashow would also design the artwork used for the French 45 picture sleeve:

Jethro Tull 45-aJethro D’oh!

Did You Know…Jethro Tull’s very first single release – their one and only on the MGM label – would find find the group identified as Jethro Toe!  In fact, 45Cat emphatically states that any copies of “Sunshine Day” b/w “Aeroplane” with the band’s name as ‘Jethro Tull’ are bootlegs — click here to check out the many interesting comments about this 7-inch equivalent of the postage stamp with the bi-plane flying upside down.

“Jethro Toe”:  a fire-able offense?

Jethro Toe-bJethro Toe-a

A rare beige/taupe 45 would sell at auction in 2009 for £500 ($800)!

Jethro Toe-c

First Steinberger Bass Sighting?

Q:  Do you remember where were you the first time you encountered that newfangled electric bass of the 1980s made out of some kind of industrial epoxy — and invented by an industrial furniture designer who had no prior experience with musical instruments?   Home video of The Dixie Dregs playing “Cruise Control” on Tom Snyder’s late-night NBC show, Tomorrow – I remember quite clearly – as the first time seeing someone play that new “high-tech” Steinberger bass and me thinking “Wow, this is the future of the bass”:

“Cruise Control”     The Dixie Dregs     1981

The Dregs, to no one’s surprise, were not that big of a “singles” band, having issued two singles with Capricorn (1978-79) and three 45s during their time on Arista (1980-82).  “Cruise Control” would be the A-side of their second Arista single, although curiously the composition had already appeared as part of a three-song demo recorded back in 1976.

Dixie Dregs 45Incredibly, Ned Steinberger had both the vision and the savvy to correct every single imperfection of the standard electric bass.  I’m not kidding:  every single shortcoming — most importantly, by removing the head stock (which makes the instrument rather unbalanced and is an unnecessary holdover of the “Spanish” guitar design) and instead relocating onto the body of the guitar special tuning mechanisms, ones that would allow for a radically-precise 56:1 tuning ratio.

Sly & Robbie – the face of 1980s reggae – with Steinberger Bass

Sly & Robbie with SteinbergerI still have my Steinberger – State of the Instrument compilation of press clippings and promotional materials from July, 1985 that includes a price chart:  $1950-2090 for the XL-2 4-string basses; $2250-2390 for the XL-2 5-string basses; and $1800-2450 for the GL-2 6-string guitars — a bit more daunting price-wise than even the Chapman Stick (although Steinberger would offer a “P” series of affordable instruments starting around $1000).   And yet these basses were so super-indestructible that, allegedly, you could drop a Steinberger bass off the roof of a two-story building and not only would the instrument be unscratched but also perfectly in tune (assuming it’d been properly tuned prior to the fall).

Ned Steinberger with Prototype in Late-70s

Ned Steinberger with prototype

Ned Steinberger photo from article in December, 2011 edition of Premier Guitar in which the “missing link” prototype is rediscovered after more than 35 years

Steinberger XL-2 Bass Guitar

Lenny Kaye (of the Patti Smith Group) Reviews the Steinberger Bass
Country Rhythms Magazine – April, 1983 edition – excerpt

“The Steinberger is more than just a pretty new face, though.  The body is molded, not from wood, but from one extremely rigid piece of graphite fiber and glass-fiber reinforced epoxy resin.  The acoustics of this plastic are different than wood, increasing sustain and bringing out the harmonic content of each string.  There are no dead spots in the neck, and the neck will never bend, warp, or fold.  The loss of the peghead does not adversely affect the guitar’s balance; it actually improves it, and the swinging placement of the strap allows the instrument to be played at any angle with perfect ease.

“The lack of tuning pegs means Steinberger uses a double-ball string specially made for the company (it will also take traditional strings).  Each string is tuned by a simple threaded knob device set behind the bridge, and all hardware is machined from solid brass and stainless steel.  It’s little wonder that the Steinberger not only placed in Time‘s 1981 Design awards, and the Industrial Designers Society of America’s Excellence awards, but has proved to be as playable as it is innovative.  Low notes comes out sounding like themselves, distinct and clearly separate from their neighbors, and the degree of touch control is quite savorable.”

Alphonso Johnson + The Emmett Chapman Stick

I was having a rare meal out alone and needed something to read, so I purchased a Rolling Stone back issue from 1979 that included an article about a new and somewhat radical 10-stringed electric instrument invented by Emmett Chapman called “The Stick.”

Emmett Chapman in 1970 with prototype and Emmett Chapman today

Emmitt Chapman's Stick #1Emmitt Chapman's Stick #2

The ten strings of this futuristic “pian-o-tar” are divided into 2 groups of five, with the first group for melody & chords, and the second for bass lines and bottom end sounds.

I still have my quadruple-fold 1980s brochure for The Chapman Stick that includes testimonials from musicians, such as Miroslav Vitous (“the sound of The Stick reminds me of a clavichord”) to Alphonso Johnson (“during my studio recording experiences I’ve noticed that the bass register of The Stick has a precision and deep bottom end that I can’t get from the normal bass”), as well as a separate pricing sheet ($945 for instrument, case, stereo cord, instructional book + $21 per set of 10 strings + $295 for effects pedal).

“A unique case where the inventor of a remarkable instrument is a remarkable musican as well”  — Joe Zawinul

Michael Barackman’s piece for Rolling Stone points out how the learning curve associated with the The Stick’s challenging tuning scheme, combined with the instrument’s cost and the piano-like technique required to play it proficiently might help explain why only “about 550 Sticks have been sold since they first became available in 1975 [i.e., four years].”   Here it is 40 years later, and Stick Enterprises is still in business, so clearly Chapman has found a way to sell instruments of the 8-, 10-, and 12-string variety.

The Rolling Stone piece adds —

“Many prominent rock and jazz musicians, including Steve Miller, Joe Zawinul of Weather Report, and John Entwistle of The Who have a Stick.  In addition, Tony Levin of Peter Gabriel’s band played on the latter artist’s latest album and tour.”

Alphonso Johnson, as you can see from the album cover of 1977’s Spellbound, very much embraced The Stick, which you can hear prominently featured in the composition, “Face Blaster:

“Face Blaster”     Alphonso Johnson     1977

Michael Barackman quotes Alphonso Johnson in his piece:  “I use the Stick in three ways,” says Johnson.  “First, I use it as a composing tool.  I wrote two songs on Spellbound with the Stick.  I also use it as a solo instrument and as an accompanying instrument.  I feel the Stick expands the limitations of guitar and keyboards.  It doesn’t sound like anything else.”

Check out this related ad (archived online) from The Stanford Daily – Nov. 28, 1977:

“FOR ALPHONSO JOHNSON, BASS IS THE PLACE.  The place to take off on old forms, in new flights of musical fancy.  The place from which to expand his tonal palette to include new instruments like the electric stick, which he’s cradling here.  But the stick is not the whole story.  Between Alphonso and the four other musicians in his group, there’s something like twenty different instruments with which to make the joy of electric music. And on their new album, Spellbound, they do just that.  Alphonso Johnson’s Spellbound is a little magic from the sorcerer of the bass (and the stick, etc.).”

Tony Levin’s Stick

A Key Ingredient in 1980s King Crimson Sound

Check out this live performance of King Crimson on weekly live TV comedy show, Fridays, that shows Tony Levin making great use of this futuristic music technology on Adrian Belew’s sly piece of thesaurus pop about dysfunctional communication, “Elephant Talk“:

“Elephant Talk”     King Crimson     1982

Prices listed might not be up-to-date

“Roly Pin”: Slide Guitar & Synth

Did this synth-and-slide-guitar instrumental B-side enjoy much UK radio play when it was released in 1978?  Likely not, I suspect – but who knows:

Roly is a side project by RobRolyDavis & Ray Stiles of UK glam rockers, Mud.  Released on Logo.

This discography of Logo releases from 1978-1982 rendered in a “dot matrix” typeface reveals a curious assortment of artists:  Mick Farren & the Deviants, Duncan Browne, Dave Swarbrick, Bert Jansch, Good Rats, Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias, The Tourists, and Gerry Rafferty.

Formed in the mid-1970s by British music industry executives Geoff Hannington & Olav Wyper, Logo was originally funded and part-owned by UK publishing firm Marshall Cavendish.   A “digital timeline for Logo Records posted on WhenInTime plots out the founding of the record label in 1977 and five of its significant long-playing releases:  Vampires Stole My Lunch Money by Mick Farren; Reality Effect by The Tourists; I’m a Rebel by Accept; Smiddyburn by Dave Swarbrick & Heartbreak by Bert Jansch.

Roly Pin

“Swan Lager”: Prog Rock Reggae

Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman‘s beery take on Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” became the A-side of a 45 released by A&M in 1979:

“Swan Lager”     Rick Wakeman     1979

Swan Lager” also served as side two’s closing track for 1979 double LP, RhapsodiesCash Box‘s review in their June 23, 1979 edition

Anyone who can re-arrange Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and re-name it “Swan Lager” has got to be either a hopeless buffoon or a major genius … Rick Wakeman is both and hence the charm of this, his latest release.  A four-sided effort, Wakeman plows into a variety of styles ranging from Gershwin to honky tonk.  A veritable never-a-dull-moment album which fully illustrates that keyboard expertise can be both dynamic and fun simultaneously.  For AOR to MOR formats.

How interesting to see one of the leading exponents of progressive “art rock” flirt with reggae rhythms on a track that Billboard, in its June 30 1979 edition, would identify in its list of recommended LPs as one of the album’s best cuts.  It would appear, unfortunately, that this attempt at classically-infused reggae failed to chart.

bowie producer, Toni Visconti, twiddles the knobs

Rick Wakeman 45Link to companion piece, “Yancey Special:  Prog Reggae II

“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.

“Small Beginnings”: Shorter vs. Longer Version?

Early Yes guitarist, Peter Banks, and vocalist, Colin Carter, formed prog rock ensemble – Flash – in Summer 1971, signing with Capital subsidiary, Sovereign, and recording their first album in November (with early Yes member, Tony Kaye on keyboards).  By 1972 the group had a Billboard Top 40 hit right out of the gate with debut single – “Small Beginnings” (#29) – and album, Flash (#33).

Flash - publicity shot

“Small Beginnings” was also included – in edited form – on several hits anthologies, including 1972 K-Tel compilation, 22 Explosive Hits Volume 2:

Small Beginnings (K-Tel mix) – Flash

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Small Beginnings” (K-Tel mix) by Flash.]

K-Tel's 22 Explosive HitsApparently, the difference in song length between the album version of “Small Beginnings” and the mix offered by K-Tel is not insignificant — here, for purposes of comparison, is the full-length album version:

Q:  Which version do you prefer?