J.J. Cale’s musician’s musician rep was forged early as his debut LP Naturally contained no less than three songs that would become significant tunes for other more famous performers — "After Midnight" was covered by Eric Clapton (its release in 1970 — based on a ‘66 demo by Cale — actually lead to this album being made), ”Call Me the Breeze” was covered by Lynyrd Skynrd and "Clyde" by Waylon Jennings. The album (advertised here in the November 13, 1971 issue of Billboard) was an early release on Leon Russell’s Shelter Records, also home to Tom Petty, Dwight Twilley (beloved author of this blog’s namesake), and The Gap Band.
The Tulsan’s early work is known for its laid back vocals, shuffling guitar and a strange — for the time — use of a primitive drum machine. Not only is Cale’s sound a template for the entire careers of Eric Clapton and Dire Straits, but drum machine songs such as "Crazy Mama" and "Call Me the Breeze" seem to me crucial to more esoteric works like Palace Music’s unimpeachable Arise Therefore (1996).

J.J. Cale’s musician’s musician rep was forged early as his debut LP Naturally contained no less than three songs that would become significant tunes for other more famous performers — "After Midnight" was covered by Eric Clapton (its release in 1970 — based on a ‘66 demo by Cale — actually lead to this album being made), ”Call Me the Breeze” was covered by Lynyrd Skynrd and "Clyde" by Waylon Jennings. The album (advertised here in the November 13, 1971 issue of Billboard) was an early release on Leon Russell’s Shelter Records, also home to Tom Petty, Dwight Twilley (beloved author of this blog’s namesake), and The Gap Band.

The Tulsan’s early work is known for its laid back vocals, shuffling guitar and a strange — for the time — use of a primitive drum machine. Not only is Cale’s sound a template for the entire careers of Eric Clapton and Dire Straits, but drum machine songs such as "Crazy Mama" and "Call Me the Breeze" seem to me crucial to more esoteric works like Palace Music’s unimpeachable Arise Therefore (1996).

 
 
By 1976 The Band were on their last legs, after more than sixteen years of non-stop touring the stresses of the road had taken their toll. The members agreed to one last show, to be played on Thanksgiving 1976 at the famed Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The show would feature several notable guest appearances by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Dr. John, Muddy Waters, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Hawkins, and Eric Clapton amongst others. I have always found this ironic, given that Rock and Roll is big business today with the attendant merchandising and multi-media cash cow to feed, that a group like The Band that still had tremendous commercial appeal would just hang it up. Times were less cynical I suppose.
— The Selvedge Yard on The Band’s The Last Waltz
Though I’m a fan of The Band and Scorsese, I think The Selvedge Yard is giving far too much credit to Robertson & Co. for being zen. The famously self-important Robbie broke up the band and  — though it’s a hoot to watch — The Last Waltz has always seemed like a clear act of auto-hagiographical aggrandizement to me. That’s not meant to take anything away from the musicianship of the group — who were at the height of their powers — but to forget the massive egos behind these humble songs, especially at this period in the band’s career, is akin to forgetting just how expensive that set of china in your parent’s cabinet was upon purchase while admiring its craftmanship as you lament the fact that the set doesn’t get pulled out nearly enough.

By 1976 The Band were on their last legs, after more than sixteen years of non-stop touring the stresses of the road had taken their toll. The members agreed to one last show, to be played on Thanksgiving 1976 at the famed Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The show would feature several notable guest appearances by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Dr. John, Muddy Waters, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Hawkins, and Eric Clapton amongst others. I have always found this ironic, given that Rock and Roll is big business today with the attendant merchandising and multi-media cash cow to feed, that a group like The Band that still had tremendous commercial appeal would just hang it up. Times were less cynical I suppose.

The Selvedge Yard on The Band’s The Last Waltz

Though I’m a fan of The Band and Scorsese, I think The Selvedge Yard is giving far too much credit to Robertson & Co. for being zen. The famously self-important Robbie broke up the band and — though it’s a hoot to watch — The Last Waltz has always seemed like a clear act of auto-hagiographical aggrandizement to me. That’s not meant to take anything away from the musicianship of the group — who were at the height of their powers — but to forget the massive egos behind these humble songs, especially at this period in the band’s career, is akin to forgetting just how expensive that set of china in your parent’s cabinet was upon purchase while admiring its craftmanship as you lament the fact that the set doesn’t get pulled out nearly enough.

John & Beverley Martyn’s shared spotlight

Listening to John Martyn’s The Tumbler (1968, Island Records) for the first time, I’m taken back to the first time I heard this gorgeous voice. I was in high school, music-obsessed and was devouring about anything that had made the US or UK pop charts from the late ’60s to late ’70s. Martyn’s sixth album Solid Air (1973, Island Records) — propelled by the surprise hit title track (which had been dedicated to his friend and contemporary Nick Drake, just a little under a year before his death by overdose) — had become a canonical British work from the ’70s and ended up in my LP stack (perhaps after having heard it on a compilation LP released by K-Tel, bless their souls). While I didn’t make it much deeper than the opening title track back in those days, the entire album has become an oft-traveled staple in my cockpit over the past three to four years, with “Over the Hill" and "May You Never" (which Eric Clapton brought to a much broader audience on his ‘77 album Slowhand) becoming bonafide folk-jazz classics to mine ears.

Over the past few years, as I’ve gradually brought myself up to speed on the rest of Martyn’s body of work (which ranges from ‘67 to the present), I’ve kept my ears especially focused on his first decade of recorded work (ten albums), which includes two albums he did with his then wife Beverley. For some reason I’m especially drawn to albums made by married (or nearly married) couples (see also: John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Richard & Linda Thompson, Buckingham Nicks, Gregg Allman & Cher, Leon & Mary Russell, Victoria Williams & Mark Olson’s The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers, among others). There seems to be a certain degree of down-letting of the guard that occurs when a famous public artist opts to share the spotlight with his or her new lover, something by which I’m fascinated, especially as I’m naturally fascinated by the soft white underbelly of an otherwise control-hungry poet beast. John & Beverley’s two albums (Stormbringer! and The Road to Ruin) maintain the Drake/Bert Jansch-like folk-blues hybrid of his first two solo albums, but lean in a decidedly more rock direction, still veering south of the jazz territory that he’d perfect in a few years with Solid Air. I wish there were major revelations as stirring as the Stormbringer! album cover on these two John & Beverley albums, but alas, these are subtle albums with the revelations coming in small packages the shape of “Sweet Honesty” and “Stormbringer”, better suited for the lone road trip or the quiet dinner party than your next ecstatic haiku party.

I’ve seen his record covers through the years and always been a little intrigued by Frankie Miller, but somehow — content to park him alongside the Rory Gallaghers and Robin Trowers of the world — assumed I’d find them about as musically uninteresting as I found John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (who I desperately wanted to get into when I was in love with all-things-Eric Clapton in my mid-teens, but ended up coming to the conclusion that you maybe had to be a British schoolboy — still terrified by James Brown’s hips & lips — to properly enjoy). So I stayed away from the Scottish singer’s albums. Until last week. I ran across his Full House album (from 1977) on a blog and downloaded it on the strength of the album cover alone. How could I not give it a try. He looked like Braveheart at the mic, lost in an ecstatic moment. Was it before battle, mid-battle or after? I had to find out. I was instantly seized by his voice. It took me back to the eighth grade, when I was just discovering Joe Cocker, Bad Company, Thin Lizzy and Rod Stewart by way of Q-98 (Fargo’s classic rock radio station), BMG & Columbia House tape clubs (I didn’t get into CDs until a year or so later) and the public library’s LP collection. The combination of a great rock band, a passionately soulful vocalist unafraid to let his voice break (to be taken to its illogical conclusion a year later when I first heard Nevermind) and a particularly great repertoire struck a chord with me. It felt like I was driving my Chevy Cavalier down University Drive again, windows down, my home speakers blaring fat & punctured (I hadn’t yet figured out that home speakers don’t sound as good in a car), my shades too big for my face. Frankie felt like an old friend I was meeting for the first time. By the time I was done with Full House, I had Once In a Blue Moon (1972) and The Rock (1975) in cue. I was not disappointed by either. Once in a Blue Moon — with pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz as the backup band — feels like the winner of the three so far, and I’ve only made it a few passes through each of these albums.

I’ve seen his record covers through the years and always been a little intrigued by Frankie Miller, but somehow — content to park him alongside the Rory Gallaghers and Robin Trowers of the world — assumed I’d find them about as musically uninteresting as I found John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (who I desperately wanted to get into when I was in love with all-things-Eric Clapton in my mid-teens, but ended up coming to the conclusion that you maybe had to be a British schoolboy — still terrified by James Brown’s hips & lips — to properly enjoy). So I stayed away from the Scottish singer’s albums.

Until last week. I ran across his Full House album (from 1977) on a blog and downloaded it on the strength of the album cover alone. How could I not give it a try. He looked like Braveheart at the mic, lost in an ecstatic moment. Was it before battle, mid-battle or after? I had to find out.

I was instantly seized by his voice. It took me back to the eighth grade, when I was just discovering Joe Cocker, Bad Company, Thin Lizzy and Rod Stewart by way of Q-98 (Fargo’s classic rock radio station), BMG & Columbia House tape clubs (I didn’t get into CDs until a year or so later) and the public library’s LP collection. The combination of a great rock band, a passionately soulful vocalist unafraid to let his voice break (to be taken to its illogical conclusion a year later when I first heard Nevermind) and a particularly great repertoire struck a chord with me. It felt like I was driving my Chevy Cavalier down University Drive again, windows down, my home speakers blaring fat & punctured (I hadn’t yet figured out that home speakers don’t sound as good in a car), my shades too big for my face. Frankie felt like an old friend I was meeting for the first time. By the time I was done with Full House, I had Once In a Blue Moon (1972) and The Rock (1975) in cue. I was not disappointed by either. Once in a Blue Moon — with pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz as the backup band — feels like the winner of the three so far, and I’ve only made it a few passes through each of these albums.