Learning to Jam

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Another empty rocking chair in the Wilbury household this week, sadly, as Charlie T. rode the late train out of town to join Lefty and Nelson at the end of the line.

Tom Petty was a hitmaker on the volume scale of Motown’s song factories, and the “was” in this sentence is doing a lot of grim work, because, in contrast to some other mourned celebrity passings, Petty, at sixty-six, remained an active and strong performer. We saw him in concert just this spring, my first time, and he was just as good and strong as I hoped. There’s a real loss here.

A 2009 Wall Street Journal article published in conjunction with the release of Petty’s career-retrospective Live Anthology memorably made the case that Petty’s slightly lower situation in the proverbial Rock Pantheon was due, in my reading, to the irony that his songs were too popular. It’s funny because it’s true, but it says more about the fans than the artist. We hold Springsteen, to borrow the foil from that WSJ piece, in higher regard because he had fewer hits? I don’t know why, or if that’s how it really works, but at some point it misses the mark to parse the greats like this.

It also misses the mark on Petty, who always seemed to belie his deep catalogue of radio-friendly tunes with his ability to wink at that great big world of entertainment with a sly smile worn by one who could take or leave the trappings of celebrity that pop stardom can offer. As he told the Journal in ’09, “We were never really Boy Scouts, you know. My vision of a rock and roll band wasn’t one that cuddled up to politicians, or went down the red carpet. That kind of thing you see so much of today. I felt like once that stuff starts happening your audience doesn’t know whether to trust you or not.” That article continues:

Mr. Petty set himself apart in other ways. While Dylan and the Stones have licensed their music to advertisers, Mr. Petty says, what for? “We don’t really need the dough that bad.” The singer has sought keep his concert tickets affordable. And unlike, say, Mr. Costello, who has collaborated with string quartets, Mr. Petty says he’s satisfied with being a workaday auteur: “To write a good song is enough. That was the loftiest ambition I had: to write a song that would endure.”

Or you could just take a look at his perfect initial interaction opposite Kevin Costner in 1997’s The Postman. Or his appearance as the Mad Hatter, forever my envisage of that character, in his own music video:

While we’re here, let’s do a few more:

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Brother Jam

Gregg Allman, the younger brother of Duane, died this week at his Savannah home due to complications from his ongoing liver problems. As Gregg was, in some ways, the second Allman Brother and the second member of that band to pass on this year, this week features two Jams in Gregg’s memory. The first comes from the time he spent in Los Angeles with Duane, before Duane began forming what would be the Allman Brothers Band, in a group called The Hourglass:

(HT: NJT)

The second comes from the ABB’s biggest album, and it’s a song Gregg wrote about his brother’s then-recent death:

When I was in high school, my dad took me to Kalamazoo to hear Gregg with his solo group. We had great seats, and the band played “Whipping Post.”

In 2016, Allman received an honorary doctorate degree from Mercer University, which was presented to him by Jimmy Carter.

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Glad Jam

What can we be other than glad that a being of the sort of Col. Bruce Hampton, Ret., has graced the Earth-stage? Hampton was a wise, even shamanistic mentor in the form of an eccentric and sometimes scary trickster who touched, prodded, pushed, and fostered the careers of so many great musicians. (Click that link for some brief, compelling testimonials from familiar folks.) Elsewhere, I’ve described him as the underground patron saint of modern Southern rock ‘n’ roll, but his influence was broader than that. He died this month on the night of his 70th birthday concert, collapsing onstage at the end of the performance at Atlanta’s Fox Theater in what his friends and collaborators initially thought was nothing more than his latest stunt. (Later that night, one said, “We’ve all seen him do this kind of thing so many times—some of us were going to get down on the stage, too.”)

Writing about Hampton– I tried once before today– isn’t the easiest: he said that one would-be biographer “‘tried to write a book about me, but it was insane—filled with space ships and spies and things that made no sense,’ Hampton said, adding later that this was his 165th trip to the Planet Earth, ‘the only planet in the solar system with aluminum.’” Best just to listen, probably. Snuggled between the various, varied, and engaging interview clips, movie clips (both from the one about him and his appearance in Sling Blade), baseball clips, and concert clips, is this this happy one:

I heard Hampton perform just once, on a magical musical night last summer with some of his most vocal prophets, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and, although I had to turn down tickets to what would be his final concert, where he passed on to a preferable dimension, I consider myself fortunate enough to have heard him outside on that summer night, and, so many more times, to have heard his influence conveyed through his pupils, subjects, and sonic neighbors. For all of that I am glad indeed.

First I Look at the Jam

It’s fair to say that every band that made it big played in a bar at some point on its way up. It’s equally fair to say that the J. Geils Band was the best bar band to make it big. Last month, guitarist J. Geils died at the age of seventy-one. Along with singer/hype-man Peter Wolf (the face of Facebook), Magic Dick on harmonica, and some other guys with less interesting names, they brought high-energy, Boston-barroom-soaked rock and roll to the national stage. The best snapshot of their sound came on Live: Full House, an album recorded in Detroit in 1972. The band’s later success on the pop charts, with hits like “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold,” provided a surprising– and, one assumes, more lucrative– second act for the group, but, minus a few reunion efforts, it would be their last. Geils himself had a muted solo career, making two blues albums with Magic Dick and in the mid-1990s and some jazz recordings a decade later.

Trucks Jam

Butch Trucks, drummer, Allman Brothers Band founding member, and uncle of modern guitar legend Derek, died this week. Even as the ABB tapered off its touring schedule and eventually concluded its historic run, Trucks continued a vibrant performance life, playing both with established musicians like his band mates and forming new bands with younger players.

One of Trucks’ lesser publicized projects was his personal blog. He started it about a month before this site went live, and it remains the most memorable thing I read online during that period. After speaking, essentially exclusively, through his drumming for decades, his unfiltered, direct, intelligent written communication revealed more of the personality behind his rhythm. And the writing was revealing. He wrote about controversial points in the band’s history, racism, Duane, Dickey, Skynyrd, the reality of his own upbringing, and more, and he even read and responded to reader comments. A rare opportunity to peer inside the active mind of one of the many pillars of rock and roll. The second half of 2011 was his busiest time on the site, which felt like it should have been shut down at any moment by a band PR rep, and he didn’t post there after 2013, but it is essential reading for any fan of the Allmans.

If you want to read something else, here’s an interview with Trucks and Jaimoe, the band’s other original drummer, in connection with the 40th anniversary tour two years ago. Otherwise, I’d recommend leaving all that behind for now and getting into these jams.

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Detroit Memorial Jam

Bob Seger is back with his first new song release in over two years. Seger, who hasn’t toured since 2015, just published “Glenn Song,” a tribute to Eagles co-founder and fellow Michigander Glenn Frey, on the first anniversary of Frey’s death. The two had a history of collaboration, with Frey backing Seger on the latter’s first national hit, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” and Seger pitching in on the Eagles hit “Heartache Tonight” a decade later. Seger, now seventy-one, is in strong voice on “Glenn Song,” which is available for free streaming and download on his website.

New Year Jam

A lot of people thought 2016 was, mostly in an admittedly abstract or indirect way, a bad year. Most agree that 2017 will be another year. Before we get there, though, we must make it through today and tomorrow. In the course of doing so, many inevitably will turn their (hopefully not too lonely) eyes to the former home of Joe DiMaggio on Saturday night. This is a Jam:

The Funeral Jam in the Court of the Crimson King is the Jam That Never Ends

When I first really found my footing in popular music listening, it was in the vast soundscape of 1970s progressive rock. I didn’t really understand what exactly I was hearing when I listened to Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer (or, later, when venturing into darker waters with King Crimson), but it truly captured my imagination. On Wednesday, one of the pillars of that genre, Greg Lake, lost his battle with cancer. With Robert Fripp, a childhood friend, Lake founded King Crimson, the ur-band of progressive rock. Lake then took his considerable vocal talents, along with his bass guitar, and joined on with (the recently late) keyboardist Keith Emerson and later drummer Carl Palmer in ELP, “progressive rock’s first supergroup.” The band’s two-CD live compilation, King Biscuit Flower Hour: Greatest Hits Live, was in heavy rotation in my car stereo and, once I expanded my radio-format horizons at WHCL, on the airwaves. The second disc contains only one song, and I used a portion of it for the intro to every show. The full version, recorded at a live concert performance in Anaheim in 1974, constitutes today’s Jam: