Saturday, January 23, 2016

Glenn Frey before the Eagles

Glenn Frey passed away on January 18, 2016 at age 67, from complications caused by rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia. Frey was the co-founder of the Eagles, who recorded some of the most popular songs of the 1970’s; Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 is one of the top-selling albums of all time. In a statement, Eagles co-founder Don Henley said that Frey “was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan.”

Although the Eagles defined the Los Angeles sound for the rest of the world, none of their members originally hailed from L.A. Before moving to Southern California, Frey played guitar in numerous bands as a teenager in and around his native city of Detroit, Michigan. One of those bands, The 4 Of Us, had earlier recorded two singles – the 1965 psych-surf track “You Gonna Be Mine” and the 1966 Byrds cover “I Feel A Whole Lot Better” – before Frey joined their lineup.

Frey recorded his first single in 1967 at the age of 18, with another Michigan band called Mushrooms. Frey sang the lead vocals and played guitar. Both sides of the single were written by Frey’s mentor Bob Seger, who was then a local sensation in the Detroit area. (Frey later played acoustic guitar on Seger’s 1968 song “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”). On this single’s A-side, “Such A Lovely Child”, Frey sounded as though he had already begun his California dreamin’. With a hint of West Coast-style psychedelia (not to mention a bit of Byrds-like guitar jangle around the two-thirds mark), the song tells the tale of a woman who rejects affection in her youth, but longs for it later in life. Frey’s vocal manner on this song suggests that he was mimicking another singer, although it does not sound like he was imitating Seger. Neither the lyrics nor the sound predict the musical directions that either performer would become famous for in the 1970’s, but the song is interesting as an early work for both. The B-side, “Burned”, has more of a British Invasion-inspired sound, and a less mannered vocal by Frey. This song also does not sound very Bob Seger-like, although it is easier to imagine how this one would sound if rendered by the Silver Bullet Band.

Frey soon moved to Los Angeles. There he met singer/songwriter J.D. Souther, who would become a frequent collaborator with the Eagles. As a duo, Frey and Souther recorded a country-rock album in 1969 as Longbranch/Pennywhistle. On the self-titled Longbranch/Pennywhistle album, Souther and Frey shared vocal and guitar duties. The backing musicians – billed as “heavy helpers” – included Ry Cooder, James Burton, Buddy Emmons, Larry Knectel, and Doug Kershaw.

Although Souther wrote and sang the bulk of the material, Frey’s two songs are among the album’s high points, and they presage his work with the Eagles: “Run Boy Run” is an up-tempo tune about an outlaw on the lam, and “Rebecca” is a wistful So-Cal country ballad. Souther’s six compositions are respectable country-rock songs of a more rustic nature, highlighted by “Kite Woman” – which also has something of a proto-Eagles sound – and the singalong groove of “Never Have Enough”. Notably, the one song that Souther and Frey co-wrote, “Bring Back Funky Women”, is the album’s weakest track, suggesting that the duo’s chemistry had room to develop. Nonetheless, Longbranch/Pennywhistle was a good launching pad for two talents – particularly the one who formed the Eagles.

Mushrooms - Such a Lovely Child / Burned

Mushrooms "Such A Lovely Child" b/w "Burned" (Hideout single H-1121) 1967

Track Listing:

a. Such A Lovely Child
b. Burned

Longbranch Pennywhistle - Longbranch Pennywhistle

Longbranch/Pennywhistle "Longbranch/Pennywhistle" (Amos AAS 7007) 1969

Track Listing:

1. Jubilee Anne (Souther)
2. Run Boy Run (Frey)
3. Rebecca (Frey)
4. Lucky Love (Souther)
5. Kite Woman (Souther)
6. Bring Back Funky Women (Souther, Frey)
7. Star Spangled Bus (Souther)
8. Mister, Mister (Souther)
9. Don't Talk Now (James Taylor)
10. Never Have Enough (Souther)

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 26

The 26th set of exclusive vinyl items offered to platinum members of Third Man Records’ Vault service was mailed out to the members in December of 2015. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist as well. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (one full-length album and one 7” single) to its platinum members every three months.

The twenty-sixth Vault package contained a live LP featuring a White Stripes show from early 1999, and a 7-inch single from the Dead Weather which served as the only physical version of their Dodge And Burn album’s second single, “Impossible Winner”.

The White Stripes LP Live At The Gold Dollar Vol. III — pressed in blood-red vinyl with black wisps — documents a concert performed by Jack and Meg White at that now-defunct Detroit bar in February of 1999, a few months before the duo’s self-titled debut album was released. (Gold Dollar Volumes I and II, which documented the first two White Stripes live shows from 1997, were issued in Vault Package #13 in 2012). The Stripes sounded hungry in early ’99, and seemed understandably fired up about their coming album release. At this gig, they played the majority of the songs that turned up on the debut album, a few from early singles, and two (“Let’s Build A Home” and “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”) that turned up on the next two albums. Their playing on this set is intense, powered by Jack’s grinding electric guitar fury, his raw punk-like vocals, and Meg’s primitive drum beats. At one point, Jack remarks that someone told him he looked “pissed off all the time”; although we can’t see what they were talking about on that night, we can certainly hear a similar ferocity in the set’s distorted electric blues-rock. A few high points: Jack’s angry ranting about the auto industry in “The Big Three Killed My Baby”; the duo’s first-ever live performance of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down”, after which Jack unnecessarily apologizes for its “roughness”; and their first live performance of “Suzy Lee”, in which roughness is once again a virtue. One drawback: a flawed performance of the Stripes’ debut single “Let’s Shake Hands”, which almost drowns in a swamp of uncontrolled fuzz-amp noise at the set’s end. Even so, with the addition of Vol III, the Vault’s Live At The Gold Dollar series is now 3 for 3 at demonstrating the effectiveness of the White Stripes’ early live shows.

The bonus items in this package are a trove of memorabilia related to that 1999 White Stripes show, featuring copies of the event flyers designed by Jack White (one of which comes in the form of an iron-on decal), a copy of the handwritten set list (which omits one track and reverses the order of two others), two 8 X 10 glossy photographs taken at the show by Doug Coombe, a newspaper clipping that previewed the upcoming show, a handwritten list of indie records sold at the show’s merchandise table, the Gold Dollar’s printed schedule of bands playing at the bar during February 1999 (Dean Fertita and The GO can be spotted among the names), and an enamel pin of the new Third Man Records Cass Corridor logo (advertising their new Detroit store located near the Gold Dollar’s former location).

The Dead Weather single is pressed in gold-colored vinyl with black wisps. Before the Dodge And Burn album was recorded, the original idea was to gradually issue the album’s tracks on vinyl singles in Vault packages until the album was eventually completed. But it turned out that only two singles – offering four tracks in all – were issued in Vault packages before the album was released in September of 2015, and one more single was issued in the same Vault package as the finished album. Unwisely, Third Man has made the decision to continue issuing the remaining tracks from the now-released album in subsequent Vault packages. Clearly, the single in this package is strictly for fans who feel a need to own all of the Dodge And Burn album’s tracks on physical 7-inch vinyl singles. The single’s A-side “Impossible Winner” is the most surprising track from Dodge And Burn. It’s an utterly accessible pop ballad that one might expect to hear from one of Jack White’s Tidal partners. On this track, Alison Mosshart sings in a manner reminiscent of Miley Cyrus before she turned bad-girl, against a backdrop of piano and strings. When heard at the end of the album, this song serves as a climax that contrasts with the rest of Dodge And Burn, like the sun coming up after the darkness. It was a natural choice for release as a single, especially if the band was aiming for a radio hit. The B-side, “Mile Markers”, sounds more like the Dead Weather we know. It’s a dark, fuzzy goth-rock creation with cryptic lyrics talk-sung by Mosshart, seemingly describing the emotional distance between her and an ex-lover. It’s arguably the album’s least interesting track – which is what makes it B-side material. Due to a mistake, the song “Cop And Go” was pressed on the B-side on the single’s first pressing. That song goes even darker. Using a sonic noise backdrop resembling a landline phone’s off-hook warning tone, the song has an ominous atmosphere throughout. Mosshart’s agitated lead vocal creates even more tension (“You cop like a cop and you go, go, go, go!)”. This leaves two more Dead Weather Dodge And Burn singles to come from the Vault...

A note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or the runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is present on these items. The 7-inch single has “Rebel minion wisps” carved in its A-side, and “Erase Mr Milk” carved in its B-side. The LP has “Let Me Help You Up” carved on Side One, and “That’ll be three dollars” carved in Side Two.

The White Stripes - Live at the Gold Dollar III

The White Stripes “Live at the Gold Dollar Vol. III” (Third Man TMR-345) 2015

Track Listing:

1. Broken Bricks
2. Jimmy the Exploder
3. The Big Three Killed My Baby
4. Stop Breaking Down (Robert Johnson)
5. Suzy Lee
6. Let’s Build a Home
7. Sugar Never Tasted So Good
8. Do
9. Little People
10. One More Cup of Coffee (Bob Dylan)
11. Astro
12. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
13. Wasting My Time
14. Red Bowling Ball Ruth
15. Cannon/John the Revelator (traditional)/Grinnin' in Your Face (Son House)
16. Let’s Shake Hands

The Dead Weather “Impossible Winner” b/w “Mile Markers” (Third Man single TMR346) 2015

a. Impossible Winner
b. Mile Markers

(The single's first pressing had “Cop And Go” on the B-side due to a mistake)