Sunday, October 7, 2018
Bootleg Rodeo: Buckingham Nicks, Ry Cooder with David Lindley, Spooky Tooth
Thanks to the vagaries created by loopholes in international copyright law, it seems that live music from the 1970s and early ‘80s – particularly FM radio broadcasts – are fair game for release on CD by dodgy European labels. The situation is a godsend for rock ‘n’ roll fans, who now have access to budget recordings by their favorite artists that were only previously available as higher-priced bootleg titles.
Not all of these so-called “copyright gap” releases are worth your time and money, however, which is where That Devil Music’s “Bootleg Rodeo” comes into play. This regularly-published column aims to separate the wheat from the chaff and let you know which of these recordings deserve a place in your collection and which should have been left to collect dust in a closet somewhere. Get ‘em while you can, kiddies, ‘cause one never knows when copyright treaties will be revised and the availability of these (admittedly limited edition) albums disappears.
For this month’s “Bootleg Rodeo” column, the first in a few months, the Reverend reviews releases by Buckingham Nicks, Ry Cooder with David Lindley, and the mighty Spooky Tooth, with links to buy ‘em (or not) from Amazon.com.
Buckingham Nicks – Alabama 1975: The Tuscaloosa Broadcast (Iconography)
If not for Fate’s fickle hand, the duo of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks would have long ago faded into rock ‘n’ roll obscurity…though maybe not, given the talent and ambition of both musicians. The two met while attending high school in the San Francisco area, after which Buckingham invited Nicks to sing with his band the Fritz Rabyne Memorial Band. From 1968 through 1971, ‘Fritz’ would open for a number of biggish acts performing in the Bay area, including Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, allowing Buckingham and Nicks to get a taste of the bigtime and develop an onstage poise and chemistry that would prove invaluable during their future gig together.
The two artists developed a romantic relationship, and when Fritz broke up, Buckingham and Nicks moved south to L.A. to pursue their dreams of rock stardom. While in Los Angeles, Buckingham continued to hone his guitar skills while Nicks worked various jobs like waitress and cleaning lady to support the two. They wrote and recorded songs together, starving for their art, before coming to the attention of studio engineer and producer Keith Olsen, who helped the duo get a deal with Polydor Records. They released a lone 1973 album (Buckingham Nicks) for the label, which was subsequently under-promoted to death (to put it mildly). Although much of the country never heard the soon-to-be cut-out LP, they found a receptive audience in Birmingham, Alabama (of all places), and would later perform several well-received shows in the Birmingham and Tuscaloosa area (this is important – I’ll get to this below).
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac heard songs from Buckingham Nicks, the album, while checking out Sound City Studios. Liking what he heard, Fleetwood and the band met with Buckingham and Nicks and offered them a gig with Fleetwood Mac. It was an opportunistic meeting for all concerned. Fleetwood Mac was a band in transition at the time after lead singer and songwriter Bob Welch left to pursue a solo career after the release of the modestly-successful 1974 album Heroes Are Hard To Find. Fleetwood Mac needed a singer and guitarist badly to capitalize on their rising star, and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks ended up fitting like a glove. Released in mid-’75, the self-titled Fleetwood Mac album included just four songs written by the newcomers, but they were four important ones, and the injection of new creative ideas and energy resulted in a chart-topping album that would selling better than five million copies stateside (unheard of at the time) and launch the band to a superstar status that continues to this day.
Before hooking up with Fleetwood Mac, however, Buckingham Nicks had a trip to make to Alabama, which is where this Iconography label CD release of Alabama 1975: The Tuscaloosa Broadcast is sourced. Interest in the duo has only grown after their creative and commercial successes with Fleetwood Mac, and their lone studio album has never been reissued on vinyl or CD even after all these years (though both Buckingham and Nicks have spoken of wanting a reissue of the album). It’s an odd oversight for a label family as big as Polydor Records (now a part of the Universal Music Group), especially since aside from the original album’s ten tracks, there are reportedly another dozen or so songs available in the can.
The live performances documented by Alabama 1975 have circulated around the Internet for years, but Iconography is the first to release them on CD to my knowledge. The first 15 tracks here feature a complete January 1975 radio broadcast live from The Morgan Auditorium in Tuscaloosa, with another five tracks sourced from a previous 1974 performance in the same venue. While Alabama 1975 offers no musician credits, Internet scuttlebutt says that bassist Tom Moncrieff (who later played on Nicks’ first solo album) and drummer Gary Hodges were part of the Buckingham Nicks touring band; superstar studio bassist Waddy Wachtel also toured with the band at times, although it’s not known whether or not he appears on any of these tracks.
Overall, Alabama 1975 is an entertaining collection that provides an early glimpse of greater success to come for the duo. The sound is a fair-to-good with a few drop-outs but not much distortion to get in the way of the listener’s enjoyment of the performances. Buckingham Nicks crank through songs from their already-dead studio album as well as material like Buckingham’s up-tempo “Monday Morning” and Nicks’ hauntingly beautiful “Rhiannon” that would achieve greater heights when recorded by Mac further down the line. Nicks’ “Crystal” is a real gem, delivered here with great emotion and charm by the pair as a lovely duet. In spite of its minor flaws, Alabama 1975 is a fine live collection that would appeal to both Buckingham Nicks fans as well as the legion of Fleetwood Mac faithful. The Rev’s recommendation: Buy it!
I’ve written about the phenomenal guitarist Ry Cooder on this site before. A favorite here at That Devil Music, Cooder is a veteran of 1960s-era bands the Rising Sons (with the legendary Taj Mahal) and Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band as well as an accomplished studio professional whose credits include recordings by Van Morrison, Little Feat, the Rolling Stones, among many others. A moderately-successful solo artist during the 1970s and early ‘80s, Cooder also made a name for himself as a composer, writing movie scores for films like Walter Hill’s The Long Riders (1980) and Southern Comfort (1981) and Tony Richardson’s 1982 film The Border.
I haven’t had the opportunity to write about the multi-instrumentalist talent David Lindley until this moment, however. Lindley can boast of a C.V. every bit as impressive as Cooder’s – he was a member, with Chris Darrow (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), of the 1960s psych-rock band Kaleidoscope, which released three albums circa 1967-69 that remain highly collectible. Lindley would become Jackson Browne’s ‘secret weapon’, contributing his talents to Browne’s recordings from For Everyman (1973) through the hit Running On Empty (1977) to Looking East (1996), and touring with him for over a decade.
Lindley served much the same purpose for Warren Zevon, notably performing on records like Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School (1980), Sentimental Hygiene (1987), and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (1996). Lindley was more than just a sideman for Browne and Zevon, however, as he was also an in-demand session player with records by Rod Stewart, Ian Matthews, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Joe Walsh, and Crosby, Stills and Nash (band and solo efforts) to his credit.
Lindley fronted his own roots-rock outfit, El Rayo-X, with whom he released three wonderfully eclectic studio albums between 1981 and 1988; he has recorded a slate of true solo albums; and he collaborated with experimental guitarist Henry Kaiser on four acclaimed albums during the 1990s – and that just scratches the surface of Lindley’s career. Throughout all of this activity, Lindley became friends with Ry Cooder, the two first working together on Cooder’s 1978 album Jazz and again on 1979’s excellent Bop Till You Drop. Cooder would also use the multi-instrumentalist on film scores like Alamo Bay; Paris, Texas; and The Long Riders, from whence this live recording takes its name.
Documenting an FM radio broadcast of a lively acoustic performance by the two musicians at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 1990, Two Long Riders mostly features material from Cooder’s solo catalog and soundtrack albums as well as a smattering of traditional blues and gospel songs. The sound quality is mediocre, at best, with muddy vocals literally buried in the mix, a great deal of hollowness, and an overall tinny ambiance that tends to favor the high end, making the two men’s instruments sound bright, loud, and clangy. The performances are top-notch, however, a literal guitar workshop for readers that dig that sort of thing, with the talented string-benders jousting on songs like the gospel standard “Jesus On the Mainline,” Cooder’s “Across the Borderline” and “Mercury Blues,” Bobby Womack’s classic “It’s All Over Now,” and the Leadbelly folk-blues gem “Goodnight Irene.”
Bottom line: due to shabby production and sound quality, I can’t recommend Two Long Riders to any but the most hardcore fan of either Ry Cooder and/or David Lindley. If you’re a ‘newbie’ interested in Cooder, you’d be better served by albums like Paradise and Lunch or Bop Till You Drop, both of which can be had on CD at a budget price or found on vinyl at used record stores for a reasonable cost. Likewise for Lindley, whose El Ray-X albums are of uniformly high quality and a great showcase for the musician’s talents. Spend your money on those recordings instead. The Rev’s recommendation: Eh, maybe?
Spooky Tooth – Son of Your Father (Laser Media)
It was a simple equation, really – take the late ‘60s British psych-rock band Art, add American keyboardist and songwriter Gary Wright – and viola, you have legendary rockers Spooky Tooth! It wasn’t really that easy – Island Records founder Chris Blackwell introduced Wright to the members of Art, which at the time included singer Mike Harrison, guitarist Luther Grosvenor, bassist Greg Ridley, and drummer Mike Kellie. The five guys hit it off, formed Spooky Tooth, and releasing their overlooked debut album, It’s All About, in 1968. They delivered what is arguably their masterwork, Spooky Two, in 1969 after which Ridley left to join Humble Pie, replaced by Andy Leigh for the controversial LP Ceremony.
Released in 1969, Ceremony was a project championed by Wright, a musical collaboration with French electronic composer Pierre Henry. Wright envisioned the resulting album as a Henry album for which Spooky Tooth served as studio musicians, but the label released it as a bona fide Spooky Tooth album against Wright’s protests. It sounded nothing like Spooky Two, and the band’s fans stayed away in droves, causing Wright to quit and chase after solo stardom. Harrison and the remaining members enlisted the help of the Grease Band’s Henry McCullough and Chris Stainton to record 1970’s The Last Puff, after which Harrison left to launch his own solo career before putting Spooky Tooth back together with Wright and guitarist Mick Jones for 1973’s You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw. The band’s history becomes even more convoluted after this point, before Harrison reformed it again in the 1990s.
Son of Your Father ostensibly captures a 1969 live radio broadcast by the Ceremony band line-up and features mostly songs from The Last Puff album (four of the eight). They throw in “Better By You, Better By Me” off Spooky Two and a couple other songs of unverified provenance (possibly mistitled?). Better sources credit the album to the 1970 version of the band that toured in support of The Last Puff – Harrison, Grosvenor, drummer Mike Kellie, bassist Steve Thompson, and keyboardist John Hawken – which makes more sense given the album’s track listing. As such, Son of Your Father offers a glimpse of this transitional band roster that existed for the tour, subsequently breaking up and never recording.
The performances on Son of Your Father are pretty rockin’ tho’ the sound is somewhat muddy and there’s a bit of hollowness to the mix. Overall, though, the sonic quality is acceptable using the Reverend’s standard benchmark (age of recording x volume = aural satisfaction), but I really wish that Laser Media would get its shit together and provide better packaging, liner notes, and such for its semi-legit releases of ages-old radio broadcasts like this. Still, performances like the band’s malevolent take on the Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus,” Harrison’s soulful reading of “Son of Your Father” (complete with some delightfully white-hot Grosvenor fretwork), and the fluid, chaotic instrumentation provided the powerful “Better By You” make for an entertaining listen regardless of the incorrect information provided the CD release.
It should be noted that Spooky Tooth served as a finishing school for a number of accomplished musicians. Singer/songwriter Mike Harrison enjoyed a modest solo career during the mid-to-late ‘70s, releasing three critically-acclaimed albums. Gary Wright, of course, scored a big FM radio hit in 1975 with “Dream Weaver” and released a slew of acclaimed solo albums, later reuniting with Harrison in Spooky Tooth but also doing session work with folks like George Harrison, B.B. King, and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others. Greg Ridley, as mentioned above, became Humble Pie’s longtime bassist and also played on Steve Marriott’s solo albums. Guitarist Luther Grosvenor changed his name to ‘Ariel Bender’ and hooked up with Mott the Hoople while late-period Spooky Tooth guitarists Henry McCullough (Wings) and Mick Jones (Foreigner) also went on to successful bands.
Spooky Tooth was a criminally-underrated band during its time on planet earth, its legacy partially redeemed by the 2015 release of the nine-disc box set Island Years, 1967-1974 which collected everything from Art’s lone 1967 album Supernatural Fairy Tales through the band’s final 1970s-era LP The Mirror. The box also includes a rare, previously-unreleased live album documenting a 1972 performance in Germany. There’s precious little live Spooky Tooth to be found in the wild – I recall seeing an obscure albeit legit release titled Live In Oldenburg 1973 that shows up on few of the band’s discographies (tho’ I can see the LP cover in my mind), and there’s an out-of-print BBC Sessions disc from 2001 that seems to feature the 1969 band line-up. As such, in spite of Laser Media’s notorious labeling snafus and minimalist packaging, I have to recommend Son of Your Father for any faithful Spooky Tooth fan. The Rev’s recommendation: buy it!
Bootleg Rodeo #6 - The Band, John Hiatt with Ry Cooder, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Bootleg Rodeo #5 - The Byrds, Midnight Oil & Poco
Bootleg Rodeo #4 - The Marshall Tucker Band, Steely Dan & Joe Walsh