Lawrence Ferlinghetti passed away on Monday at the age of 101. He was a central figure in the cultural life of San Francisco for decades, as an acclaimed poet and as owner of the City Lights bookstore and publishing company of Beat Generation fame. Many fascinating obituaries have been written in the past couple of days, wonderful reading for fans – like myself – and for folks not that familiar with his place in American letters. I’ve especially enjoyed Emma Brown’s in today’s Washington Post (hope you can read it behind the paywall).
In 1958 Ferlinghetti published his best selling volume of poetry, A Coney Island of the Mind, now over a million copies in print. Seven of the poems in the volume were “conceived specifically for jazz accompaniment and as such should be considered as spontaneously spoken ‘oral messages’ rather that as poems written for the printed page.” And indeed, in 1957 he’d recorded two of the seven on “Poetry Readings in the Cellar”, joined by Kenneth Rexroth, a senior figure in San Francisco poetry.
The first 20 minutes of the record feature Rexroth reading “Thou Shalt Not Kill (In Memory of Dylan Thomas)”. Jump past that to hear Ferlinghetti recite “Autobiography” (at 21:00) and “Junkman’s Obbligato” (at 33:45), separated by a shorter poem about a statue of St. Francis (at 31:30). If you try to read along, you’ll find that “Junkman’s Obbligato” is not precisely the version in print.
Among the things that somehow escaped me over the past few years is the 2017 documentary film The American Epic Sessions. The film surrounds the restoration of a 1920’s recording system, apparently the first to use an electronic microphone to record a room full of performers. The system cut a wax disc directly from the performance, and the cutting lathe was driven by a descending 100 lb. weight that provided about 3-1/2 minutes of recording time.
Once the restored system was operational, an A-list group of musicians showed up to take turns cutting tracks for the movie and for an expanded set of records.
Jack White created this gem, “Matrimonial Inclinations”. One take perfection.
Here’s Elton John with Jack providing a bit of backing.
And finally, here is Willie Nelson and the late Merle Haggard, who passed away before the film’s release.
On November 13th Elton John will release Jewel Box, a 148-song collection of curated selections and previously unreleased material. Jewel Box includes favorite album tracks of Elton’s that were not hits, dozens of demos and unreleased tracks, B-sides of singles that never made it to albums, and a set of songs mentioned in Me, John’s 2019 autobiography. You can find all the details at www.eltonjohn.com.
Two tracks from Jewel Box have been pre-released to whet our appetites. “Sing Me No Sad Songs” is a 1969 demo that never appeared on an album or single, but represents an early Elton John/Bernie Taupin collaboration.
“Regimental Sgt. Zippo” was recorded in 1968 and was to be the title track of Elton’s debut album, but that project was never released. I can’t seem to find who’s responsible for this newly created, but very retro, video.
Elton’s debut album was, rather, 1969’s Empty Sky. It was not released in the U.S., and I’d always thought of his 1970 eponymous album featuring “Your Song” and “On the Border” as his debut – but not so! Jewel Box contains a demo version of “Skyline Pidgeon” from Empty Sky. The song was rearranged years later and appeared on the B-side of the hit “Daniel”. Here is the original version, which was was chosen to play through the closing credits of the 2018 Academy Award winning film The Favourite.
The documentary Anacostia Delta: The Legacy of DC’s TeleMasters will be released this coming Friday. If you love the electric guitar, get this movie. If you want to see electric guitar played as good as it can be played, get this movie.
Anacostia Delta will clue you in to the careers of the late Danny Gatton, one of his major influences, the late Roy Buchanan, and DC’s rich guitar scene that extends to this very day.
Read my 2013 post on Gatton to see some of his virtuosity. The best there ever was. And enjoy this solo jam pulled from the 1971 documentary Introducing Roy Buchanan, a movie that helped take his career to the next level.
In addition to historical clips, Anacostia Delta is anchored in footage from a 2015 concert at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia (I was there). Here’s a bootleg of a full line up of DC guitar legends playing the jazz standard, “How High the Moon“.
If you want to kick back for awhile and hear more incredible guitar playing, check out this 1993 show featuring Gatton, Albert Lee and Vince Gill. Lee and Gill are two more of the best guitarists ever to walk the planet.
April 21st marked the fourth anniversary of the untimely passing of Prince Rogers Nelson. I’ve been learning a lot about Prince recently, finishing the 2019 book “The Beautiful Ones” and now part way through the biography “Prince, Inside the Music and the Masks”. To mark the anniversary the Grammy organization aired a tribute concert on network television this week, filmed in January after the Grammy Awards show.
In the same vein as last week’s post on artists who have made covers their own, I did not know till I watched the TV tribute that the Bangles’ hit “Manic Monday” was penned by Prince. When the Bangles released the song in 1985, it rose to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, just behind Prince’s “Kiss”. What we wouldn’t give for a Manic Monday right about now.
Here’s the steamy video from “Kiss”. The guitarist in the video, Wendy Melvoin, was a member of Prince’s band, The Revolution, at the time. She performed at the Grammy tribute concert: “Mountains”
When Prince’s early promotor and collaborator, Chris Moon, was trying to get Prince his first record deal in 1976, he called Atlantic Records and told the receptionist he represented Stevie Wonder. When the receptionist put the call through Moon said, “This is Chris Moon, and I’m representing Prince. If you like Stevie Wonder, you’re gonna love my artist. He’s only eighteen, he plays all the instruments …”. Prince got an audition but not the contract. That came in 1977 with Warner Records, and Prince released his debut For You in 1978 – playing all the instruments, singing all the vocals, and doing pretty much everything else. Here’s Prince’s first single from his first album, “Soft and Wet”.
If you want even more Prince, check out my blog post from 2016 featuring his guitar shredding skills.