28.6.20

PETE CARR (April 22, 1950 – June 27, 2020)


Earlier today I read that the great guitarist Pete Carr, doyen of the session scene in Muscle Shoals and elsewhere, had died aged 70.
         Chance circumstances brought Pete and myself close together for a brief period during the summer of 1977. I had just started working for Sir Productions, the New York company headed by my friend Pete Rudge who between 1971 and 1976 looked after The Who’s American affairs. He also tour managed The Rolling Stones and properly managed Lynyrd Skynyrd; as well as .38 Special, whose singer was Donnie Van Zant, Ronnie’s younger brother; an Australian group called The Dingoes; and the duo of Lenny Leblanc & Pete Carr. My motive at the time was to learn how to manage music acts so as to one day maybe manage one of my own, and my duties at Sir were diverse, essentially to do whatever Rudge required of me. I pitched in enthusiastically, glad of what turned out to be a temporary change from writing about music and musicians to being in the thick of it and them.
         I handled press inquiries, wrote press releases, dabbled in radio promotion, hustled record labels and checked that shops were stocking our records. Once, when her father arrived at the office for a meeting, I looked after five-year-old Jade Jagger, taking her and her nanny to the zoo in Central Park. I sat in on meetings with record labels while Rudge harangued their staff to work harder on his acts. I replenished the office booze cabinet, helped myself to a lot of promo records and flirted with the girls who worked there.
         The most onerous yet at the same time most fulfilling duty, however, was tour managing The Dingoes and Leblanc & Carr. This was my first taste of the sharp end of the rock biz, being out there on the road, taking responsibility for getting a band from place to place, checking them into and out of hotels, getting to and from gigs, collecting monies owed, distributing per diems, paying our way, marshalling the road crew and keeping the musicians in a fit state to perform night after night. I was thankful that I worked for Rudge, who had a key role in the set-up that controlled the Stones, Who and Skynyrd. This meant that people I met on the road showed me some respect.
         It would have been in July that year when I found myself dealing with a short road trip by Leblanc & Carr. Pete Carr lived in Sheffield in northern Alabama, close enough for a daily commute to the Muscle Shoals recording studios, where he principally worked, and not far from the Tennessee state line. It was my first and only trip to this part of America, the Bible Belt, where god and guns dominate the landscape. Sheffield was in a dry county, no booze, though Pete, like everyone else, simply drove to the Tennessee state line to stock up.
         I stayed for three nights in the spare room at Pete’s house, a rambling bungalow with a bit of land. Each morning his wife made me grits for breakfast and we talked about how best to promote the duo he’d formed with singer Lenny Leblanc. He was a quietly-spoken professional, not one for showing off but his CV read like a Who’s Who: Barbra Streisand, Bob Seger, Paul Simon, Boz Scaggs, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart and more. Before he took to sessions, he’d been in a group called Hourglass with Duane and Gregg Allman. His house was full of wonderful guitars. We got on well.
         Leblanc & Carr were signed to Big Tree Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic, and they had a minor hit with a song called ‘Falling’ from an album called Midnight Light. Their music reminded me a bit of Hall & Oates. Later that year Lenny, on his own, would have a hit with ‘Hound Dog Man’, a song about Elvis recorded a year before Elvis died but repromoted after the event.
         Pete had assembled a group for roadwork – bass, keyboards, drums and a girl back-up singer – and I went to watch them rehearse in a school gym. A day or two later they did a Saturday night warm-up gig at a local hall that held maybe 1,500 and it was full. Half way through their set an over-excited member of the audience somehow climbed onstage and looked like he was about to make mischief, at the very least to put Lenny and Pete off their stride, so I ran on and grabbed him, then led him away. The band didn’t miss a beat and afterwards I felt great, like I’d diffused a potentially ugly situation. Rudge would have been proud of me, I thought. It also gained me the band’s respect and impressed a nice-looking friend of Pete’s wife with whom I thought I might be in with a chance, but it didn’t happen.
         The warm-up was for a five-night stint at the Ritz Club in Memphis. We drove there the following Monday, a distance of about 150 miles, two cars and a van with the gear, and checked into a motel before heading over to the club to set up and sound check. It was busy on opening night. They were excellent musicians, session guys all, and while their playing was flawless I felt they needed to put a bit more zest into the show. Gingerly, I mentioned this Pete and he seemed to agree.
         The next night they were better, looser, but the crowd was smaller. They opened their shows with ‘Something About You’, the Four Tops song, which swung like the devil, and as well as original material, mostly blue eyed soul, they covered ‘Johnny Too Bad’, the reggae song, and offered up a gorgeous, lilting take on ‘Desperado’ by the Eagles. They were even better on the third night so I called Rudge in New York, urging him to come down and see for himself how tight and assured this little Leblanc & Carr band had become. He never made it. There was hardly anyone there to watch them on the final two nights but they played superbly, letting their hair down as they realised there was nothing to lose, closing the sets with impromptu rock’n’roll medleys on which everyone got to blow steaming hot. Crowd or no crowd, it gave me a warm feeling to think that I was in some small way responsible for how they’d developed over the week, and that I might be part of their future.
         It was while we were in Memphis that Pete, Lenny and myself went to visit Graceland, just to stand by the gates and look up the drive towards the famous mock Gothic porch and four imposing pillars on either side of the front door. I have every reason to believe that its famous occupant was in residence that day. I can’t remember who took our photograph outside the gates, probably one of L&C's band, or even how I came to have a copy of it but I treasure a print still. About six weeks later Elvis was carried out of Graceland on a stretcher.

Pete, CC and Lenny, Graceland, July 1977

         At the end of the week I went back to New York and delivered a glowing report on Leblanc & Carr to my boss. I urged Rudge to let them support Lynyrd Skynyrd on the upcoming tour to promote their new album Street Survivors, and this was duly arranged. I was looking forward to resuming my role as their tour manager on these dates. Then there was the plane crash and the tour didn’t happen. Rudge ceased to manage Leblanc & Carr, I left his employment and the next time I saw Pete Carr I was back in London – watching him on TV, playing a gold Les Paul behind Simon & Garfunkel at their 1981 concert in New York’s Central Park.
         RIP old mate.

22.6.20

ROUGH AND ROWDY WAYS – Bob Dylan


How absurdly foolish it would be to write off Bob Dylan, now 79 and ever so occasionally prone to a lapse of judgement that leaves us wondering. Then again, Bob has made a career out of making us wonder, not just where he’s headed but where his head is at. And wonder too at the infinite majesty of his words even as they puzzle us, their enigma a spell that Bob likes to weave to ensure that he never, ever, bores us.
         Bob Dylan no longer sings in the accepted sense of the term, even if he ever did. His recorded voice now is a cross between a croon and slightly mumbled speech, like an ancient storyteller who draws us closer so that we might listen to his wisdom in the midst of a forest by night where a flickering campfire illuminates his lined face and birdsnest hair. In this respect he’s trespassing on the territory mined by Tom Waits, and not just in vocal texture – the backing tracks on Rough And Ready Ways echo the kind of sparse blues and loose jazz favoured by Waits.
         That creased face is nowhere to be seen on the sleeve of this new CD. On the front there’s a bar-room scene, a dancing couple, a man stooped over a juke box, and on the inside a group portrait, two men and two women, that looks like it was taken on an American city street in the 1920s. It sets the mood. The reverse is given over to a portrait of John Kennedy, 35th President of the USA, gunned down in Texas, an infamous incident that haunts Dylan still and is the subject of the album’s key track, ‘Murder Most Foul’, previewed recently along with two others, and at almost 17 minutes the longest song Dylan has ever recorded, occupying the whole of a second, separate CD.
         ‘Murder Most Foul’ is a 189-line poem that constructs a through-my-eyes misty history of the second half of the 20 century, namechecking many cultural references along the way, among them The Beatles (Hush, little children, you'll understand, The Beatles are comin', they're gonna hold your hand’), Woodstock, Altamont, Tommy perhaps linked with Elvis (‘Tommy can you hear me? I’m the acid Queen, I’m riding in a long black limousine’), Patsy Cline, Wolfman Jack, various bluesmen and jazz musicians, silent movie stars, Marilyn Monroe and even The Eagles and Stevie Nicks, all enumerated and delivered in a voice dripping with regret over a backdrop of gentle strings and tinkly piano, uncredited but probably played by Benmont Tench from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. As it floated by I found myself back in a school dormitory in York on the night of 22 November 1963, half a dozen 16 year old boys alerted to Kennedy’s fate by one of us with a transistor radio. Clearly obsessed with this murder most foul, Dylan has constructed an epic that stands alongside anything he has ever recorded, which is saying something. It also trashes ‘American Pie’, the only song to which it compares.
         The first CD opens at a similar tempo. ‘I Contain Multitudes’, the second previewed song, its title taken from a poem by Walt Whitman, sees Dylan reflecting on his place in the world and, perhaps, a few personal mysteries he prefers to keep buried. As wistful as it is gracefully tuneful, it might even be construed as an answer to Sinatra’s ‘My Way’, and like ‘Murder Most Foul’ there are numerous cultural markers on which to ponder: The Rolling Stones, Beethoven & Chopin, David Bowie, Edith Piaf, Edgar Allan, Anne Frank and William Blake.
         The third of the songs previewed, ‘False Prophet’, set to a dense, bluesy rhythm, sees Dylan in a darker universe, one that radiates a degree of anger. ‘I’m first among equals, second to none,’ he sings, not without bitterness. ‘The last of the best, you can bury the rest.’ It reminded me of the cynicism of ‘Positively 4th Street’.
         Five of the remaining seven songs, ‘My Own Version Of You’, ‘I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You’, ‘Black Rider’, ‘Mother Of Muses’ and ‘’Key West (Philosopher Pirate’)’ conform to the album’s dreamy, shimmering tempo, a shimmering Spanish guitar giving ‘Black Rider’ a hint of Mexico. On ‘Goodbye Jimmy Reed’, Dylan’s studio band conjure up the same feel as those who played behind him in the Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde era. Finally, ‘Crossing The Rubicon’ is another first-person monologue, set to a stately blues tempo.
         Virtually alone among his contemporaries, Bob Dylan has declined to bow to any form of modernity. That’s not for him, any more than following trends or jumping on bandwagons. He led, even if there was nowhere much to go; he is who he is and nothing will change him. This has result in the odd misstep but here, on Rough And Rowdy Ways, we have a shining illustration of how this old rocker continues to give us something magical on which to dwell, that spell Bob Dylan weaves that will never, ever, bore us.

3.6.20

MARC BOLAN KILLED IN CRASH by Ira Robbins


Exploitation in the pop world is the issue addressed by Ira Robbins in this intriguing new novel, subtitled A Musical Novel of the 1970s. In 1974 Robbins was the co-founder of Trans-Oceanic Trouser Press, an independent music magazine published in New York that for the most part flew the flag for cool acts whose music was not necessarily tuned towards commercial acceptance.
         An exception was The Who, whose Fillmore East concerts in 1968 and 1969 seem to have been Robbins’ Road-to-Damascus moment. They appeared on the front cover of the first edition and many subsequent issues, and he remains one of their most perceptive critics. The UK rock scene thus became Robbins’ primary interest and from The Who through Glam Rock to Punk, New Wave and beyond, Trouser Press stood out for its intelligent, in-depth coverage of much of the rock that emanated from here.
         All of which means that his book is well informed with regard to the mechanics of the UK rock world. Although I have my doubts about the relevance of the title – it’s not about Marc Bolan at all – it rings true in its portrayal of the characters involved in a fictitious ladder-to-success tale that at the same time paints a predictably ugly picture of the scheming, ego-driven unscrupulousness that goes on behind the headlines in the pop press. The novel's secondary theme is the question of whether or not pop music, while not exactly worthless, is little more than an ephemeral distraction that too often relies on the naive sensibilities of a young audience desperate to find something to rebel against.
         Without giving too much away, the tale centres on Laila, just out of school, who through an only just plausible set of circumstances is sought out by the manager of a indulgent pop star to help his declining career through suggesting ways in which he might appeal to a younger fan base. While her ideas are not met with wholesale acceptance by the unlikable star in question, his manager realises Laila has a talent for writing lyrics and might have a future on stage and on record. The star-making machinery moves into gear and Laila becomes moderately successful but deep down she’s unhappy, disillusioned and dissatisfied with her destiny. The realisation that all that glitters is not gold provides an unexpected conclusion.
         A lot more happens, of course, including Laila’s fraught relationships with her father, a boyfriend or two, the manager’s glamorous assistant and the ego-driven star whose career she was commissioned to save. I liked her character a lot. She’s feisty, a punk in the making, with a mind of her own, unwilling to be intimidated by powerful male forces, and I was impressed that a writer of Robbins’ mature years could see into the mind of a teenage girl so intuitively.
         The male characters are not quite so well drawn, perhaps because the pampered, arrogant rock star and his scheming manager, who thinks only of lining his own pocket, seem a bit clich├ęd to me. (I long to read a rock novel in which the star’s manager is a caring individual who does well by his client.) As you would expect, there’s a dash of sex’n’drugs, applied without judgement, and Keith Moon makes a hilarious cameo appearance, but one slight irritation was that the author rather overdoes the British slang which at times goes well into the danger zone, especially from a Scottish character whose speaking voice I often found difficult to decipher.
         At over 150,000 words Marc Bolan Killed In Crash is quite lengthy but it’s still a page-turner. I finished it on screen in three days flat, an endorsement in itself. It is available in the UK on Kindle and print-on-demand through Amazon. Here is the link: https://amzn.to/2zJXIAV

1.6.20

BLACK LIVES MATTER

As protests in America erupt following yet another violent death of an unarmed man of colour at the hands of a gung-ho American cop, I spent a while thinking this morning about how to react and how to support the Black Lives Matter cause. The best way would be to use my Just Backdated blog, which gets between three and four hundreds hits a day, sometimes more when I can somehow link it to a fan site.
            Scanning the blog, however, I find that posts about black acts are pretty rare, the last being my tribute to Little Richard earlier this month, but in truth 25 out of a total of 806 posts, about 3%, is way too small really. Those posts constitute a category down the right hand side of page that I called ‘Soul/R&B/Mobo’ but the reality, of course, is that well over half my posts are probably either about Music Of Black Origin or, more precisely, about acts that perform Music Of Black Origin, most of them white.
            In an attempt to remedy this I decided to look at the iTunes folder on my laptop and check how many black acts were there. Turns out there’s well over 300, a decent amount and if I was sympathetic to rap music and what passes for R&B these days, which I’m not, there’d be a lot more. I suspect there’s way more black acts than white acts but in terms of actual songs the white acts dominate. Of the black acts, only a handful – Hendrix, Prince, Al Green, Sam Cooke, Bob Marley, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Otis Redding, Miles Davis, maybe one or two more – seem to have lots of songs but none really compare to the amounts of songs I have by the likes of The Who, Presley, Bowie, Beatles, R.E.M. etc. (The total number of songs is now 20,575.)
            This is obviously because I have downloaded loads of Various Artists CDs in the blues, reggae and soul genres and the result is that I have a far wider selection of black acts than white ones, which I found interesting. I also noted that these downloaded CDs, especially the reggae ones, have been played as much as, if not more than, most other CDs. For the record, here’s all the black acts I could find in my iTunes folder. I may have missed some. An asterisk indicates a mixed band. And this list is the best way I can think of to say that Black Lives Matter.
            Aaron Neville, The Abyssinians, Admiral Bailey, Al Green, Albert King, Alicia Keys, All Saints, The Alley Cats, Althea and Donna, Ann Peebles, Anoushka Shankar, Apache Indian, Archie Bell & The Drells, Aretha Franklin, Art Blakey, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, Arthur Alexander, Arthur Conley, Aswad, Average White Band*
            BB King, Barbara Lewis, The Bay-Kays, The Beat*, Beenie Man, Ben E. King, Benny Spellman, Betty Everett, Betty Wright, Big Bill Broonzy, Big Joe Turner, Big Joe Williams, Billie Holiday, Billy Preston, Billy Stewart, Black Uhuru, Blind John Davis, Blind John Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Blue Mink*, Bo Diddley, Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers, Booker T & The MGs, Booker T, Brook Benton, Buddy Guy, Buena Vista Social Club, Buju Banton, Bukka White, Burning Spear
            Cab Calloway, Cannonball Adderley, The Capitols, The Capris, Carla Thomas, Cassandra Wilson, Chaka Demus & Pliers, Champion Jack Dupree, Charlie Parker, The Chantels, Charly Black, Chic, The Checkmates, Chubby Checker , Chuck Berry, Chuck Willis, Clarence Carter, The Cleftones, The Clovers, Clyde McPhatter, The Coasters, Cole Stevens, The Contours, The Cookies, The Crests*, The Crystals, Curtis Lee, Curtis Mayfield
            Damien Marley, Dandy Livingstone, Darlene Love, Dave & Ansel Collins, Dawn Penn, The Del Vikings*, The Dells, Dennis Brown, Deon Jackson, Desmond Decker, Desperados Steel Band, Detroit Emeralds, Diana Ross, Dinah Washington, The Dixie Cups, Dobie Grey, Don Covay, Donald Byrd, Donny Hathaway, Doris Troy, Dorothy Moore, The Drifters, Duke Ellington
            Earth, Wind & Fire, Eartha Kitt, Eddie Floyd, Eddie Holland, Eddie Taylor, Eek-A-Mouse, Ella Fitzgerald, Elmore James, Emile Ford & The Checkmates, The Equals*, Eric Donaldson, The Esquires, Esther Phillips, Etta James
            Fats Domino, Fats Waller, Fine Young Cannibals*, The Fi-Tones, 5 Royales, The Five Satins, The Flamingoes, Fontella Bass, The Foundations*, The Four Tops, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, Fun Boy Three, Funkaldelic
            Garnet Mimms, Gene Allison, Gene Chandler, Geno Washington, George McCrae
Gladys Knight & The Pips, Glamma Kid, Grandmaster Flash, Gregory Isaacs
            Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, The Harptones, Harry Belafonte, Harry J Allstars, The Heptones, Herbie Hancock, Horace Parlan, Howlin’ Wolf
            I Roy, Ike & Tin Turner, The Impressions, The Ink Spots, Inner Circle, Irma Thomas, Isaac Hayes
            JB Lenior, Jackie Wilson, Jackson 5, James Brown, James Eastwood, Janet Kay, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Cliff, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Ruffin, Joe Tex, John Coltrane, John Lee Hooker, John Legend, Johnny Nash, Josh White, Junior Walker, Junior Byles, Junior Kelly, Junior Murvin
            Kamasi Washington, Ken Boothe, Kevin Lyttle, Kim Weston, Koko Taylor, Larry Williams, Lavern Baker, Leadbelly, Lee Scratch Perry, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Li’L Millet, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Little Junior Parker, Little Milton, Little Richard, Little Walter, Lloyd Price, Luis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, Lowell Fulsom
            M People*, Mabel John, Marc Seales, The Mar-Kays, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Marvelettes, Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, Mavis Staples, Max Romeo, Maxine Brown, The Melodians, Memphis Minnie, Memphis Slim, Michael Jackson, Mighty Diamond, Mikey Dread, Miles Davis, Minnie Riperton, The Miracles, Miriam Makeba, Mississippi John Hurt, The Moonglows, Muddy Waters
            Nat King Cole, Neville Brothers, Nikhil Bannerjee, Nicky Thomas, Nina Simone, Norah Jones, Notch (Norman Howell),
            The O’Jays, The Orioles, Oscar Peterson, Otis Redding, Otis Rush, Otis Spann
            PP Arnold, The Paragons, The Penguins, Percy Sledge, Peter Tosh, Prince, Prince Far I
            Ramsey Lewis, Ravi Shankar, Ray Charles, Rita Marley, Robert Johnson, The Ronettes, Ruth Brown
            Sade, Sam & Dave, Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Scott Joplin, Scotty, The Selector, Shabba Ranks, Shaggy, The Shirelles, Sister Nancy, Sister Sledge, Skip Marley, Sleepy John Estes, The Slickers, Slim Harpo, Sly & The Family Stone, Sly & Robbie, Smokey Robinson, Solitaires, Solomon Burke, Sonny Boy Williamson, Sophia George, The Soul Stirrers, The Specials, The Spinners, The Staples Singers, Stephen Marley, Stevie Wonder, Sugar Minott, Super Cat, The Supremes
            Tanto Metro & Devonte, Tarrus Riley, The Temptations, Thelonious Monk, Third World, Tina Turner, Tony Tribe, Toots & The Maytells,
            UB40*, Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan
            The Valentinos, Village People *, The Vocaleers, Wes Montgomery, Wilbert Harrison, Wilson Picket, William Bell, Womack Brothers
            Yabby You, Yellowman, Ziggy Marley

The only way to follow this list would be to list those acts who wouldn't be where they are if it wasn't for Music Of Black Origin having given them the impetus to become musicians in the first place. But that's for another day. Remember: Black Lives - And Black Music - Matter.