Column

Easy Ed's Broadside

Exploring music without a map.

Since 2009, Ed has shared his thoughts on ND about music that touches him, and rambled hither and yon about what else is on his mind.

Easy Ed's Broadside

Exploring music without a map.

Since 2009, Ed has shared his thoughts on ND about music that touches him, and rambled hither and yon about what else is on his mind.

Just A Spoonful of John Sebastian

Man...I'd forgotten all about "Face of Appalachia"...I remember the first band I was in (junior high) playing "Younger Girl" at a dance at the YWCA...the Critter's version though, as opposed to John's or the early Spoonful version...I always thought he did justice to songs like "Sportin' Life" or "Goodnight Irene"...he didn't try to be Leadbelly...he did them as John...

Nice column Ed...

Thanks Jim. 'Younger Girl' has always been one of my favorite songs from John, and my band may have tried to play it too, but it never made it into our set list. Still play it myself every now and then. I'm bad with recalling lyrics but I know most of that song. A few years ago at a Sebastian show in San Diego, he spoke about growing up in Greenwich Village and as a kid he'd sit behind the Gaslight's stage to watch Mississippi John Hurt, going home to mimic the fingering and phrasing. Throw in Happy's guitar lessons with Brownie, and it weaves together a tapestry of what we call roots music and how it passes down. 

When I was a kid, we made a trip west every summer, just like the Griswolds (in a station wagon no less)...Disneyland was always on the itinerary as a one day stop...we'd be there when it opened and close it down with fireworks at night...one year we were there when I was maybe 9 or 10, Josh White was playing there...it was free, outdoors in a little auditorium...Dad said we might never get to see Josh again and we'd better take advantage of it, that seeing someone of his caliber was a rare opportunity...so we took an hour out of riding rides etc., to do that...I wasn't happy about it at the time he said we were going to do that, but once he started playing I was mesmerized...didn't really occur to me someone could sit down with a guitar and just weave a spell like that...not much time after that, all kinds of people were playing folk and "protest" music, and I realized that Josh White was a forerunner of all that and no doubt an influence...I knew nothing about the blacklisting and all of that till later...kind of amazing he was actually playing at Disneyland, given all of that...but that one show that I didn't really want to attend ended up really influencing the kind of music I play and like, and informs it still...roots music being passed down as you put it...I've copped a lot of guitar licks from going and watching the artist up close...so I get what John's saying about seeing the master and trying to figure out how they do it, even if I don't play the licks anywhere but at home or in the company  of a few friends...you do enough of that and you develop a way of doing it that has a little bit of you mixed in with all you learned along the way...it's a magical thing...

Great story and now you got me running off to research other musicians who played at Disneyland over the years. I'm sure someone has documented it and beyond knowing it's where Steve Martin got his start, I'm clueless. Off I go....thanks for killing my plans for the day. 

Last time I saw David Lindley, he talked about playing there...he was in a house band that played there, and based on the way he talked about it, I am guessing he played there every night for a while...he said the leader of the band was the guy who taught him to eat french fries and chase them with vodka...said to this day he can still taste vodka if he even smells french fries...he also said Walt took them on "the tour" underneath Disneyland so they could see how everything worked and sort of spoiled tha "magic"...it would be good to know who all played there...

Thanks for this.  There was a nice tribute to "Darling Be Home Soon" last week in The Wall Street Journal.

Tarzana Kid is one of the most wonderful (and overlooked) albums in my collection.  Tasteful, restrained, yet soulful at the same time.  A testament of what good taste is about.  And having Ry Cooder on the team was just a bonus.

God bless John Sebastion.  

We're still out here listening.

Enjoyed the Susan cover. Hadn't heard her before... there's always new J-pop to discover!  She can be linked to Sebastian another way as well, through the "degrees of separation" game.

As you note, Susan (or Suzan) collaborated with the famous Yellow Magic Orchestra, one of whose members was Haruomi "Harry" Hosono. In 2008, I put together a "tour souvenir" CD for Geoff Muldaur to sell during one of his Japanese concert tours. We got permission to include two songs performed by Geoff, Jim Kweskin, John Sebastian and Harry Hosono (on marimba) at the Fritz Richmond Tribute Concert held in Tokyo on April 2, 2006. ("Small Town Talk" and "Papa's On The Housetop" were newly mixed by the original producer to get just the right balance between John and Harry, I recall.)

Suspect there have been other collaborations between Hosono and these jug band pioneers over the years. Their friendship seems to reach back into the 1970s.

Amazing connection. Thanks for sharing. 

https://www.discogs.com/Susan-Do-You-Believe-In-Mazic/release/101694

Looks like YMO was backing her on "Do You Believe in Magic" (the French pressing includes full credits).

Love those song titles!

Incidentally, I'm glad to see the glowing mention of Tarzana Kid. As you say, the supporting cast was amazing on that LP. It was typical, though, of the all-star productions coming out of Warner Brothers at the time. I don't think enough attention has ever been paid to that label's golden era. It seems like they should be as legendary as Sun, Chess, Motown, et al, but where are the tributes and the huge boxed sets? It probably wasn't strictly true, but the impression one got was that the artists were running the show... at least for a few years.

Don, for what it is worth, I agree with you about Warner Brother's having a golden era...so much great content for a period of time...I had so many records from that label...hundreds...still have a lot of them...

Some insight re: Warner and the end of their golden era in Ben Fong Torres' bio of Little Feat, Willin'. Who was behind it and what happened.

I really ought to read that Little Feat bio, but could you give me a hint as to when Torres feels the WB "golden age" came to a halt? My own theory is that they suddenly realized they could make money after Fleetwood Mac's Rumours became wildly successful, and this threw a monkey wrench in the whole "art for art's sake" fantasy. I'm sure there were always plenty of the usual music biz machinations going on at WB, though, so the real reasons may not have been apparent to the public.

Just a small point here...there are two separate record labels that folks are mixing up. Reprise and Warners; same corporate entity, two separate management and A&R teams. Each was impactful throughout the sixties, seventies and beyond...but until they further entwined there were distinctive differences. Goes way beyond either Little Feat or Fleetwood Mac. 

Well you'd have to talk to Ben Fong Torres, and I would say it's a pretty sloppy book, editorially. Having said that, the players are mentioned (Warner/Reprise) as well as his take on what occurred. I defer to Ed's phenomenal knowledge on the industry. But Don, I will get back with more specifics from the book when time allows and see how they jive with Ed's perspective. Or just pick up the book (I read the ebook version, what a mess). 

Small but very important point...Ed will know if I am wrong or not about this, but I believe Frank Sinatra was actually the founder of Reprise, and Warner's acquired it a few years later, maybe 1964...the label was supposed to give artists more creative control...I believe they still advocate for themselves that way...someone like Captain Beefheart was more likely to be a Reprise artist (he was on Zappa's boutique label distrbuted by Reprise, when he did Trout Mask Replica)...there were definitely differences between the two...early Joni Mitchell, Neil Young were Reprise...James Taylor was Warners...that's an oversimplification, but sort of a snapshot of how the labels presented themselves...

 

Thanks for pointing this out, Jim (and Ed, too). All these years and I'd never really noticed that the bulk of my favorite artists during the critical period 1967-1974 made their Warner-Reprise debuts on Reprise. One reason for my oversight is probably that the Warner Brothers label still had its share of brilliant, rootsy eccentrics -- including the Grateful Dead, Van Dyke Parks, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, The Faces, John Hartford and (of course) Little Feat -- you can't just ignore that kind of talent! The other is that I never really processed the fact that Reprise essentially went away in 1975 or '76 because Warner Brothers did a decent job of picking up the slack, transferring many of their Reprise artists to the main label, and signing new artists such as Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Leon Redbone, Guy Clark, Nicolette Larson, Rodney Crowell, The Roches, Rickie Lee Jones and David Grisman over the last half of the 1970s. However, during these years, WB was definitely becoming more commercially successful, which tended to dilute the contributions of the artists I've named. I also know for a fact that pressure was now being put on some of these folks to produce a hit for the label.

So I suppose someone could make the argument that the "Golden Era of Warner-Reprise" ended with the "mothballing" of Reprise Records somewhere between 1975 and 1977 (Reprise was still putting out new records by Randy Newman, Arlo Guthrie, Gordon Lightfoot and a few others at least until the spring of '77, I think, and they're still home to Neil Young). As major labels go, though, WB has continued to be one of the more interesting of the bunch.

Little Feat had little chance of beating the Doobies for the bucks at Warner no matter what. No backing, no hits. Ultimately Warner dropped them, the greatest rock band of the seventies, and among the greatest of all time.

Yes indeed...some of the finest records ever recorded...little support is true, though they did let them keep making records...

Well said Don, and true enough, Warners was home to some eccentric artists as well in that time period, the Feat being among them...You have named some of the best of those, Van, the McGarrigles, Roches, Rickie Lee Jones (who made several great records there, "Pirates" being my personal favorite along with the amazing EP, "Girl At Her Volcano")...several of my friends would also make an argument for the first record by the Sanford-Townsend Band, and one of my all time favorite songwriters, Marc Jordan, did his first two records for WB, "Mannequin" and "Blue Desert".  And of course, there was Prince though you might be arguing he was a bit after the golden age...

As for Neil Young, one of the reasons they didn't shut down Rerpise completly was Sinatra wanted to be the only artist on Reprise, and then Neil famously refused to go to Warners...so for a time there were just 2 Reprise artists...

I've been looking through Stan Cornyn's gossipy, insider account of the business dealings inside the Warner Bros. empire, and I was surprised that the book makes no specific mention of Reprise Records being shut down. (He does mention it being revived in 1986 or '87, though.) However, Cornyn went into the reasons in a post on Rhino's website:

http://www.rhino.com/article/stay-tuned-by-stan-cornyn-shutting-down-rep...

Briefly, Mo Ostin apparently came up with the idea as early as 1971, as a way to make his company number one (passing up the current leader, Columbia Records). It just took a while (six years) to gradually roll the majority of Reprise's artists  into the main Warner Bros. catalog.

The obvious problem with this, I'd say, is that by 1977 the singer-songwriter movement (and the hippie era in general) had been supplanted by disco, punk, country rock and other new trends, and WB's drive to be number one left little room for the kinds of artists we're talking about here. They disappeared, or dispersed to smaller labels, depending on their cults of fans that support them to this day.

I was looking at Cornyn's musings per your link...pretty interesting...Jesse Colin Young..."On The Road"...a great live album...forgot about that one...what a great idea...make records whether they sold or not...and for a short time, that's almost the way it was...

The key was Mo Ostin (and the people be brought with him and hired), who came when Warner took over Resprise when it was failing badly mainly due to plummeting sales by its main act Frank Sinatra. However, much of the "glory days" came after Reprise, and even its merger with Seven Arts. Best summary of all this is actually on Wikipedia, especially the section 1970–1979: The Ostin Era. Obviously this is the main period dealt with in the Little Feat book. There are way too many mentions of Warner based on interviews with the key players to mention here; best to check out the Wiki page and read Ben's book. Thanks all.  

I will be getting that book Will...seems to me Ben wrote a book about a guy named Gram too...

Quick aside: Jimmy Bowen was the staff producer at Reprise. A Texan, he wrote Party Doll for Buddy Knox in his teens. Anyway, after leaving Reprise he moved to Nashville and ran MCA Records and produced all of George Strait's hits. He moved down the avenue in 1990 to run Liberty/Capitol...just in time for a guy named Garth. 

He did pretty well for himself I'd say..."timing is everything" so the cliche goes, but I'd say that guy knew what he was hearing and figured out how to make it sound good coming out of radio speakers...first time I remember seeing his name was on a Dino, Desi and Billy single...I used to wonder what producers actually did (I know, that's weird as hell for a kid), I always read liner notes of albums and every name on a 45...As I recall he produced Suzy Bogguss too, whose voice I love...maybe some Glen Campbell sides too, in addition to George and Garth...

Ha, hey Jim! Yeah that one was well edited, but not the best (compared to say, e.g., David Meyer's published much later). Hickory Wind was one of the first of many on Gram Parsons, and I still cherish my signed copy. This one... I know editors constitute a pretty much dead profession, partly due to this medium into which we're typing here, but Willin' I thought was especially bad in that regard, as if he took some very good interview info and research and, as I say, threw it at the wall. Often info is repeated etc. But getting by that, with which most readers will have no difficulty, it is definitely a worthwhile read for the more in-depth material that arises in spite of its presentation, including much on the inside workings at Warner at that time. 

The Meyer one is better, but Ben's was the first I got...I can live with the flaws on the Feat book I think...I really loved Little Feat, though I didn't get them when I first heard them..."Dixie Chicken" was the one that finally got me, but I bought some of their records for the cover art until I caught up to what they were doing...Lowell played with the Meters behind Robert Palmer on his first solo record "Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley"...Palmer did a version of "Sailin' Shoes" that was killer and the title track had such a great groove...would have been nice to see what Lowell would have done if he'd gone on...

I love those first couple Robert Palmer records where he is basically backed by Little Feat. It was sad to witness his transformation into an MTV playboy type doing overly commerical crap. Wasn't he the guy who died in Paris of a heart attack right after proposing to his girlfriend? A curious way to go...

Me too...I bought several records by him after Sneaking Sally and Pressure Drop...couldn't believe it was even the same guy (of course, if the Meters and Little Feat are playing on your records and then they don't, your sound is going to change)...he had looks going for him, so the MTV thing ended up being big for him...that and Power Station...I didn't know how he died but he wasn't that old...he lived mostly outside the US...I think he had a studio in the Bahamas later on...

Will's comment that Little Feat thought about replacing Lowell with Palmer is surprising...Craig Fuller ended up being an adequate replacement as a vocalist, and Barrere has a similar playing style, so the sound was still there mostly...they were still a fine band, Billy Payne and especially Richie Hayward were killer players. Gradney was very good too though they always buried him in the mix...I saw that version of the band several times...but without Lowell, it wasn't the same...the best songs are all Lowell...they still played mostly Lowell songs...I'm glad they finally got some respect and made some money and put people onto Lowell's genius though...

You'll get plenty on all that in the Fong Torres' book for sure, including the thought of using Palmer to replace George after his death.

One thing I got from the book, a lot more angst and discord (Little Feat) internally than I may have suspected. And the problem of not charting; what did I care about that? Hey I was in my twenties, it was the seventies, the days of the weekly or even daily releases of incredible albums were over, and they were the only band I could listen to. In some dark days of '77-'78 for me, all I played were Feats albums, oh and The Animals reunion album, which together with the Beau Brummels reunion album, is the best ever of it type (The Byrds reunion LP probably the worst). 

I worked that Animals reunion album...IRS Records I think...and their concerts were superb. Also recalled doing an event with Eric and his book; not the happiest guy I've met. Not to muddy the conversation y'all are having here, but Sebastian supposedly was asked to join CSN before Neil. He said no. And then there was a brief conversation between him, Lowell and Phil Everly to join Feat..but the band weren't with that. But you know, 40 some years ago when you're young and stoned, lots of talk like this pops up over dinner. 

Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted? GREAT record, on United Artists/Jet Records 1977. Brother Bill, Many Rivers to Cross... Wow gots to throw that on the turntable again. Don't see how Sebastian would have handled a key aspect of CSN, the vocals. Saw him around the time of Welcome Back in a small park here in Buffalo, couple dozen people, and he couldn't sing, just barely choking it out. Maybe had worn-out vocal chords that day, but seemed like the norm. Love the guy though and agree that Younger Girls and Didn't Have to Be So Nice among his best (also love the latter on the original Grass Roots album, the one with the red chair against the barn, different band than Sloan/Barri then assembled).
 

 

I didn't know the Beau Brummels did a reunion album. I'll have to check that out as I thought they were great and very underrated. I really liked Sal Valentino's post-Brummels band Stoneground too. 

Would highly recommend. I love that album. Also... BB's leader Ron Elliot's The Candlestickmaker for a brilliant album. Two classics in my book. 

http://therisingstorm.net/ron-elliott-the-candlestickmaker/

 

And btw in line with other posts re: Warner, the Beau Brummels reunion album was produced by Lenny Waronker and Ted Templeman from Warner Bros, who figure forth greatly in the Torres' bio of Feats and who were largely responsible for many of the Warner artists mentioned here.

The Beau Brummels reunion is indeed excellent...but thanks for the Ron Elliot mention Will...never saw that...Waronker and Templeman did lots of WB records...great producers...legendary even...

Man, Will, you're full of surprising information. I didn't know Ron Elliot released a solo album either. The last I heard about him was when he showed up on Van Morrison's "Saint Dominic's Preview" album. Another thing interesting about the Beau Brummels is they recorded songs by Randy Newman before Newman started making his own albums.

The Candlestickmaker is probably the least known album by one of the great band leaders from the 60s that I consider a masterpiece. I will say that I have to be in a certain mood to listen to it, and maybe you'll see what I mean, or not. Hard for me to say, I've been listening to it for about 45 years! "I walk along pavement worn down through the years and I wonder if cellars and basements around me can hear." ... "Life is a circle no doubt, it has two sides inside and out."

Nice article.  I really liked this album too. 

Just listened to a cool interview with John on the SongCrafters podcast websight.  There are spots where I wished the interviewers would have talked less and let John go on but overall it's fun.  Best moment is when they told him that Brian Wilson has been quoted saying that he based the harmonies of "God Only Knows" on the Spoonful's "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice."  John's shocked reaction: "Get the fuck out of here!" made me laugh out loud.

As another child of Greenwich Village in the 1950's-60's myself, I love that he unashamedly wove that background into "Face of Appalachia."

I've seen the reference to 'God Only Knows' and the Spoonful song, but can't seem to track down Brian actually quoted. Of course back then he was listening to all sorts of AM radio tunes and it seeped into his writing, so now that you mentioned it again it's quite easy to hear the similarities. There's a detailed Wikipedia entry on GOK, that goes into the various nuances, song structure, chord changes and melody line. At the end it gives a nod to a particular cantata writing by Johann Sebastian Bach. A curious coincidence indeed. Thanks for sharing. 

 

 

love them both. 

And I believe this is the song that influenced Sebastian to write 'Daydream'. 

 

In the Chasin' Gus' Ghost documentary, Sebastian demonstrates for a live audience how Gus Cannon's "Prison Wall Blues" inadvertently got turned into "Younger Girl".

- Can't seem to move or delete -  my comment is in response to Ed's loving both "God Only Knows" and the LS song:  Me too!

Fifty years ago "Nashville Cats" was in the Top 40. I grew up listening to my copy of "Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful," which I still consider a groundbreaking album of Cosmic American Music. Just finished reading Ben Fong Torres' book on Little Feat, Willin' (which I felt could have used an editor but otherwise some great research thrown against the wall), which has some interesting background on Lowell George and Sebastian, especially re: Tarzana Kid. Thanks for the great piece Ed on one of the giants in American music.

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Forgot how much time one can waste trying to use this "content editor" here. Tried about 10 urls before it would take the image. And still can't simply delete.

Clarification on the production of John's solo albums from Tarzana Kid's liner notes: Though the previous three albums had been produced by John's friend Paul Rothchild, Tarzana Kid would be co-produced by Sebastian and Lovin' Spoonful producer Erik Jacobsen, with whom John had fallen out for a while after the Spoonful broke up. "I was realizing that a lot of things had gone down that were big mistakes," says Sebastian today of his reunion with Jacobsen. "I think that we were beginning to outgrow some of those childish reactions that we'd had to the uncomfortable situations we were put in. Having that freedom, it just felt more possible for me to engage Erik."

I called my brother on the way home last night and he was telling me about a great show he saw a couple months ago – John Sebastian.   This morning, I stumble upon this.  

I think Miller explains it best that what happened to you and me is no "coincidence".  It's all part of the "cosmic unconsciousness".

 

I love that Brian Wilson would give the Lovin Spoonful credit.   As John would tell him – “You didn’t have to be so nice”.   

Thanks Ed for another posting that has generated much discussion and shined a spotlight on such an important artist as John Sebastian and his great early to mid 60s band Lovin' Spoonful who I've always felt are underappreciated just like the Youngbloods are. I have several of his solo releases but have never heard "Tarzana Kid" which sounds wonderful. Thanks for the information.