From the Vaults

Subscribe to my newsletter for weekly updates.

Johnny Cash: The Chicken in Black (1984)

3 Jun 2012

Fortunately for Johnny Cash he didn't die around the time he hit rock bottom in the mid Eighties. If he'd gone then -- before his career resurrection through the American Recordings and the Walk the Line film -- he might not have been remembered as the man-mountain solid rock of country, the troubled man of faith or the middle-finger rabble-rousing guy of that famous photo. Imagine if The... > Read more

The Flys: Love and a Molotov Cocktail (1978)

29 May 2012

1977 was a confusing year in Britain: pub-rockers Dr Feelgood were at an all-time peak, the Sex Pistols, the Clash and others advanced the punk agenda, and off on the margins were power-pop bands which hadn't quite seen the changes coming. The four-piece Flys out of Coventry -- a little distant from the London scene -- were in the latter category, they knew a power pop-cum-New Wave riff but... > Read more

Red Hot Peppers: Witchwood (1976)

28 May 2012    2

New Zealand's short-lived but impressive Red Hot Peppers in the Seventies revolved around multi-instrumentalist Robbie Laven (originally from Holland) and singer-guitarist Marion Arts. Laven was quite a musical threat, he could apparently play about 50 instruments and on their debut album Toujours Yours he plays guitars, sitar, fiddle, lyre, qin, sax, dobro, banjo, mandolin, flute . . .... > Read more

Elmer Fudd: The Fool on the Hill (1995)

22 May 2012

There have been thousands of covers and interpretations of Beatles' songs -- from the refined (orchestral and chamber groups) to the ridiculous (dogs barking out She Loves You), from jazz and Hawaiian (by way of Belgium see here!), from reggae to trip-hop and . . . well, then there were the Rutles (whose parodies were also covered). There are also these exception and bizarre collections... > Read more

Bertha Lee Patton: Mind Reader Blues (1934)

21 May 2012

The last wife of Charley Patton, Bertha Lee was a fine singer in her own right -- and she probably had plenty of reasons to sing the blues. She was only married to Patton for about four years -- he died in 1934 -- but by all accounts their relationship was a volatile one. Honeyboy Edwards said, "Charley always had a lot of women. Men didn't like him much because all the women was... > Read more

Leon Russell: Back to the Island (1975)

18 May 2012

Leon Russell is like the Kevin Bacon of rock: there are six degrees of separation between him and anyone else. Actually, that's not true. There are about three. Leon to the Beatles? Well he was at Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh so that takes care of that one . . . and opens enormous doors to others. And Leon to Dylan? Same gig, more and different doors opening. To Elvis? He... > Read more

Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan: Jimmy Berman (1971)

17 May 2012

Given they had so much in common -- a love of words, counterculture cachet, Jewish upbringing and so on -- it is a surprise poet Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan didn't write and record together more often. There was a session with poet Anne Waldman in 1968 (which had Arthur Russell on cello), others in '71 with a similar group (and a sitar player) and another in '81. Oddly enough it seems... > Read more

The Viscounts: Harlem Nocturne (1959)

16 May 2012

In the final month of the Fifties, the Viscounts covered this piece which Ray Noble and His Orchestra had introduced two decades previous. But to it the Viscounts brought a sleazy menace in the simple bass line and shimmering guitar behind a saxophone sound which comes at you from a shadowy back alley. It reeks of film noir sensibility. This moody track was included on the excellent... > Read more

Norman "Hurricane" Smith: Oh Babe, What Would You Say (1972)

15 May 2012

Norman Smith was an unlikely chart-topper when he knocked Elton John off the top of the US charts with this, his second single: he was 49 at the time and prior to that his career had been firmly on the other side of the microphone as an engineer and a producer. But what a career he had enjoyed. In his late 30s he'd been taken on as a sound engineer at EMI's studios in Abbey Road and was... > Read more

Status Quo: When My Mind is Not Live (1968)

14 May 2012

For the past 40+ years, Status Quo have been a heads-down boogie band in denims and "rockin' all over the world". So it's hardly surprising people would know them for nothing more than that enjoyably reductive style. However . . . For a few years in the late Sixties the original band (with the inevitable line-up changes) flirted with trippy hippie rock of the psychedelic... > Read more

The Saints: (I'm) Stranded (1976)

12 May 2012

Bob Geldof once observed, "Rock music of the Seventies was changed by three bands -- the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and the Saints". That the Saints out of suburban Brisbane -- hardly the home of rock music, let alone an angry and intelligent version -- should be in that illustrious company comes as no surprise to anyone who followed their career from this exceptional debut single,... > Read more

Sam Gopal: Escalator (1969)

11 May 2012    1

Everyone has to start somewhere, and most diehard Motorhead fans can tell you their mainman, the legendary Lemmy, was in the psychedelic spacerock outfit Hawkwind before he was kicked out for lifestyle, not musical, differences. They were on acid, he was on speed. But even before Hawkwind, Lemmy was in another band -- and it was an equally interesting one. In the late Sixties, Sam... > Read more

Cheryl Lynn: Got To Be Real (1978)

10 May 2012

If it weren't for Madonna's hit Vogue most people outside of New York wouldn't have known of this posturing late Eighties style which seemed to come with more attitude-dance than seemed healthy. Narcissism isn't pleasant at any time. But the music was something else and no musical style should be held to account because if its followers (or even its practitoners). The... > Read more

Felius Andromeda: Meditations (1967)

9 May 2012

There are a number of stories about John Lennon being so smitten by Procol Harum's Whiter Shade of Pale that he would play it over and over, often while tripping. This from a man whose band had just delivered Sgt Pepper's on an unsuspecting world? But Lennon was not so taken with the song's melding of classical allusions and dreamy lyrics that he went out and tried to replicate it, as any... > Read more

John Cage: Mushroom Haiku (date unknown)

8 May 2012

The American composer John Cage (1912 - 92) was best known for something he did in '52, which was nothing. The composition which he performed was entitled 4'33" and involved Cage sitting at a piano for exactly that duration and not playing a note. Since then the work has been much discussed by musicologists and comedians, and has been performed many, many times, and on a variety of... > Read more

The Music Convention: Bellyboard Beat (1968)

7 May 2012

Some years ago while researching and writing the liner notes to a series of New Zealand psychedelic collections put together by Grant Gillanders, I came upon this track . . . and just kept playing it. In '68, the Music Convention seemed trapped between two eras, the surf-rock guitar of the early Sixties and the psychedelic movement with its sitars and mind-bending possibilities. Rather... > Read more

The Tigers: Red Dress (1980)

5 May 2012

As the Warratahs embark on a 25th anniversary tour, it is timely to look back at this New Zealand band which brought country music into fashionable rock circles, and connected with that mysterious place known to city folk only as "the heartland". But why not look back further? Back to a band which had future Warratahs' singer-songwriter Barry Saunders and bassist-songwriter... > Read more

The J Geils Band: No Anchovies, Please (1980)

4 May 2012    2

The J Geils Band out of Massachusetts is best known for their terrific single Angel in a Centrefold (aw, c'mon, it's great, in a rock'n'roll Benny Hill way . . . see clip below) and Freeze Frame -- and in this country probably not a lot else. No one I know has ever had a J Geils Band album -- or has admitted to as much. I do. Just the one. It is Love Stinks (from the year before the... > Read more

The Flying Burrito Brothers: Wild Horses (1970)

3 May 2012

Few Rolling Stones songs have had such an interesting history -- right up to Susan Boyle's recent interpretation -- as this one. Keith Richards has always claimed the title was his; Mick Jagger insists the song came from the first words Marianne Faithfull said when she came arround from a failed suicide attempt in '69: "Wild horses wouldn't drag me away from you". The Stones... > Read more

The Tickle: Subway (1967)

2 May 2012

These none-hit wonders have quite a remarkable claim to fame, if fame can be reduced to a footnote in rock history. The Tickle from Hull were the backing band on the debut album of a guy called David Bowie. Doubtless they got the gig playing with an unknown singer through producer Tony Visconti who twiddled the studio knobs here. They were certainly up to the task of sounding prematurely... > Read more