John Mayall-Blues From Laurel Canyon

JOHN MAYALL-BLUES FROM LAUREL CANYON
JOHN MAYALL-BLUES FROM LAUREL CANYON(1968)

 

John Mayall is a British blues guitarist, organist, songwriter and singer. His career has lasted over fifty years, and he was the originator of the band John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Although Mayall may not be a recognisable, household name, he was very influential in the early British blues scene in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Many of the musicians who played with Mayall in the Bluesbreakers would go on to become very famous, such as Eric Clapton of Cream, and Mick Taylor of The Rolling Stones among many others.

John Mayall in 1970
John Mayall in 1970

Though not technically considered a pioneer of psychedelic music himself, he was present in the time when the psychedelic movement was prevalent. He lived in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, California, that was a hotbed of the psychedelic movement in the late sixties and early seventies. Famous musicians, most notably Jim Morrison of the Doors, and many others lived in Laurel Canyon in the psychedelic era.

Blues From Laurel Canyon was released in November 1968. The album is about the experiences that Mayell encountered, and people that he met, when he visited Laurel Canyon around a year before making the United Sates his more permanent home. The songs on the record is sort of a diary of his time during the visit. He must have had some good experiences while on the visit, as he ended up living there from 1969 to 1979.

The album was quite influential for a blues record. It opens up with Vacation, which starts off with the sound of an airplane flying, supposedly into Los Angeles on the beginning of Mayall’s vacation. After the plane intro, the song goes into some hard driving drumming along with organ and guitar. It is a blues record, but starts off with a psychedelic feel. Mick Taylor, later from The Rolling Stones, had an impact on the record.

The next song on the album, Walking On Sunset, is a straightforward blues number, with great harmonica, which Mayall features on many of his songs.

Laurel Canyon Home is a slow blues tune with great piano throughout. Lyrically, it is easy to understand what Mayall is conveying, he is impressed and awed by the beauty of the canyon, and is genuinely happy to be there.

2401 is a hard driving blues guitar masterpiece, in my opinion, joined in by some nice harmonica. This song is more blues rock, with a great slide guitar middle performed by by Mick Taylor. The song is about Frank Zappa’s home in Laurel Canyon.

Ready To Ride is another great blues song with more harmonica, and that distinct voice of Mayall, which to be honest, is not one of my favorite vocalists. His great guitarwork and songwriting ability more than make up for his voice. Not to mention the star power that Mayall helped develop in the Bluesbreakers.

Medicine Man is a slow blues tune with basically Mayall’s vocals and harmonica. A good tune, but may bore someone who is not inclined to like blues. It shows the ability to slow the blues down, as opposed to rocking out the blues in other parts of the record. The harmonica work is a plus also.

Somebody’s Acting Like a Child starts with a smooth jazzy drum intro , followed up by nice organ work, and a great Mick Taylor guitar solo. Great tune, that is both bluesy and jazzy.

The Bear is a song about Bob “The Bear” Hite from the group Canned Heat. It is a good tune, with great blues guitar, and piano. It is one of my favorite songs on the album.

Miss James is a song about a woman who Mayall heard about, then finally met, then realised she was a hooker that people were talking about. The song has wonderful organ throughout, and is very entertaining.

For true blues aficionados, First Time Alone is a great song. For others not so inclined to be into the blues, they are likely to skip to the next song. There is some good guitar work in the song, with mostly Mayall vocals. It is enjoyable, but slow, an acquired taste.

Long Gone Midnight is a song filled with organ, a nice guitar solo and a slow drum beat. Not a bad song, but not one of the better one’s on the record.

Fly Tomorrow is the last, and longest song on the record, and is about Mayall’s flight back to Britain after his vacation at Laurel Canyon. It is a great, guitar driven song, and ends the record on a high note. Mayall would be back to Laurel Canyon soon enough.

This is a really good offering from one of the premier British blues artists during the psychedelic era. To me it is basically a concept album about a time and place that is truly indicative of what the psychedelic era was all about, except that it is a blues record. Good stuff!

Rating: A-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Doors

THE DOORS(1967)

 

The Doors are arguably the most popular band of the psychedelic era. Sure, there were other big names right up there with them. Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and The Beatles.

But, in my opinion, The Doors were the cream of the crop, the single most important band of the sixties and early seventies, with the most iconic and beloved frontman in rock and roll history, Jim Morrison. No other rock and roll star has the following, and the mystery, like Jim Morrison. Now, that can certainly be disputed if one wants to dispute it. But that won’t hold water here, as you see, I’m kind of biased, and I’ll be the first to admit it.

The Doors were a band that got it’s start in Los Angeles, California, in 1965, when Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek happened to run into each other on Venice Beach, after having previously gone to school together  at UCLA.

The Doors

Jim was hanging out writing lyrics, and Ray encouraged him to share some lyrics. Ray was mesmerized at what he heard. The Doors were officially born.

Robbie Krieger and John Densmore would round out the group, and that, as they say, is history.

The Doors took their name from a book by Aldous Huxley, “The Doors of Perception.” All of the Doors, especially Jim Morrison, were avid readers, and much of the material that was written was inspired from poetry. Jim Morrison considered himself a poet first, and a rock star second, and he had a hard time coming to grips with his rock star status.

The first song on The Doors debut album titled, “The Doors” is Break On Through (To The Other Side). In my opinion, the meaning of this song could be twofold. On the surface, this song seems to be about suicide, of breaking on through this life into the next. I believe it is a journey to transform oneself into another stream of consciousness, whether it means through meditation, psychedelic drugs (LSD), alcohol, or whatever one chooses to obtain this state. It is a song about exploration, trying to reach a higher level of consciousness.

The next song, Soul Kitchen is about an actual soul food restaurant that Morrison used to frequent on Venice Beach called Olivia’s. He used to like to eat there because the food reminded him of being at home. It made him feel good, and many times he stayed late and he was kicked out so the restaurant could close. The lyrics to the song are great and self explanatory.

The Crystal Ship is the next song, and it is open to interpretation. Back in the sixties, the song probably was interpreted as a drug high, or maybe an acid trip. According to drummer John Densmore, however, when asked about the meaning many years later, said that it was a song written by Morrison about the breakup with his girlfriend Mary Werbelow, stating that it “was a goodbye love song.” It is a slow, mellow tune, and it seems to me that Densmore was probably right about the true meaning.

Twentieth Century Fox is a play on words to describe a modern woman. The lyrical content makes this very clear, and even though this is not one of The Doors most more popular songs, it is a favorite of mine.

The Alabama Song is translated from German to English, was written by  Bertolt Brecht, and was covered by The Doors as well as David Bowie. There is some interesting history behind the song to check out here.

There would be no justice in writing about The Doors debut album without the discussion of the song Light My Fire. The song was a number one hit for the band, and has one of the most distinctive keyboard solos in the history of rock music.

The original version of the song had to be cut down for radio play to under three minutes, which all but eliminated the long keyboard solo. The solo takes the listener on a psychedelic musical ride in the middle of the song, but there are pieces of keyboard work at the beginning and end of the song also. Light My Fire is one of the most recognisable songs of the psychedelic era.

Back Door Man was written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960 and was covered by The Doors on the debut album. It is a song that is very sexual in nature, and they did a brilliant job covering it.

The next three songs on the debut, I Looked At You, The End of the Night, and Take It As It Comes are more lesser known songs to the average fan, but they are great pieces nonetheless, as there are no fillers in the record, in my opinion.

The End is the last song on the record, as well as the longest, and is considered as another of the most recognisable and well loved songs in The Doors catalog. The song has many meanings and is opened to many interpretations. It got the band in quite a bit of trouble in the era of the sixties, although now it would be considered tame in these times. It is one of my favorite songs of all time.

The Doors were one of a kind, and their lead singer has standed the test of time as one of the most beloved figures in the history of rock music. The Doors and Jim Morrison are more popular today than ever, and has won over many younger fans throughout the last fifty years. One of my all time favorites, and a must have record if you love classic rock music.

Rating: A+


 

Janis Joplin-Pearl

JANIS JOPLIN-PEARL(1971)

 

Pearl is Janis Joplin’s final recorded studio album, release around three months after her passing. It would be the final album she was involved with, and was released in January 1971. Janis died on October 4, 1970.

The album was recorded with her last band from Canada that she toured with, the Full Tilt Boogie Band.

Though this is a departure from her earlier work that was more psychedelic in nature, and was recorded in the early seventies, I felt that it deserved to be on this site. After all, Janis was one of the most iconic and beloved singers of all time, and was of major importance within the evolution of the psychedelic music scene.

The Great Janis Joplin

Janis’s work with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Cheap Thrills, made her a star. With the release of Pearl, she has become a legend.

Janis worked on Pearl with producer Paul Rothchild, who was well known as the producer who worked with The Doors. His contributions to the record are apparent and the sound of the record is clean, smooth, and brings out the passion and sexy voice that was Janis.

The first song on Pearl is Move Over, with an upbeat pace and a driving beat, it is a cross between classic rock and funk, which is to be revisited more times on the record. In some ways, Pearl does quite a bit to feature Janis’s foray into funk music, and it would be interesting to have seen whether she would have continued to experiment with those sounds. Before she would ever get the chance, she’d be gone.

The next song, Cry Baby, starts out with a signature Janis screech, and then enters a powerful chorus, then leads into a slow bluesy piece which continues through the song. With it’s ups and downs, and emotional highs and lows, it is a classic Janis song.

A Woman Left Lonely is a slow number that features Janis’s ability to sing low and slow, a range that she would show on many of her songs. The ability to scream with her signature squeal, and gritty voice when she wants to, and to be soft and mellow and clean when she sees fit.

Half Moon is another great funky number, very danceable with great vocals. A classic early seventies funk feel. Buried Alive in the Blues, is not a blues song, but a straight up funk instrumental, considered a Full Tilt Boogie piece which is a song she loved, but died before having a chance to lay any vocals for.

The next song on the record is My Baby, a beautiful blues piece, sung with passion and soul. It is great on the record, and here is Janis singing it on the Dick Cavett Show just months before her death.

Me and Bobby McGee is perhaps one of Janis’s most popular and recognisable songs. It is very much a country tune. When it was released in 1971, it reached number one on the charts, and became the second song in history to reach the top of the charts posthumously, the one before was (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding. Many artists recorded this song, but it was Janis who took it to the top of the singles charts. It was ranked the 11th best song of 1971 by Billboard Magazine.

This is the original car that Janis Joplin owned. (Photo by Sergio Calleja)

Mercedes Benz is an acapella song written by Janis, is another one of her most popular tunes, and has a country folk flavor to it. It accentuates he raspy vocal style that she is so well know for, and unfortunately, this is the last song she ever recorded. She would pass away three days after recording it.

Trust Me is a bluesy soul song that Janis sings with passion. Get It While You Can is the last song on the record, a beautiful blues with a bit of soul, and Janis shines vocally. A wonderful way to end the record, if not kind of sad to know by the time people heard it, she would be dead.

There are four previously unreleased live tracks at the end of the record after the last song on the 1999 remaster, and these tracks are worth the price of the album itself.

Pearl is a special record and one that has to be in any Janis Joplin fans collection. It captures the beauty and soul of her iconic voice, and is a praiseworthy album by all standards. RIP Janis.

Rating: A


 

 

 

The Electric Flag-A Long Time Comin’

THE ELECTRIC FLAG-A LONG TIME COMIN'(1968)

 

The Electric Flag was a blues, psychedelic rock and soul band started in San Francisco, California in 1967. The three main members of the band were, Mike Bloomfield(guitar), Barry Goldberg(keyboard), and Buddy Miles(drums). They are considered psychedelic rock, because of the time period when they were active, and the associations with some of the band members with other psychedelic musicians. Buddy Miles, for instance, was to play with Jimi Hendrix, in The Band of Gypsies after leaving The Electric Flag. However, in my opinion, they were less psychedelic rock, and more blues, jazz, and at times soul. They were an important part of the psychedelic scene however, playing at The Monterey Pop Festival, and making a soundtrack for the movie, The Trip, in 1967, before releasing A Long Time Comin’.

The first song on the record is Killing Floor, and was a cover song, as was many of the songs that The Electric Flag recorded. This is a jazzy blues piece, very well played, as was all of the covers by the band. Though very short lived, The Electric Flag did very well, and may have had a longer career, except for the fact that some of it’s members had drug problems, particularly heroin. Nonetheless, the band recorded very tight on the record, and every song sounds great.

The next song on the record is Groovin’ Is Easy, a song with a lot of horns, which the band uses a lot throughout the album. I sounds to me like a quintessential sixties pop song at the beginning. Many of the songs on A Long Time Comin’ sounds like other bands that were popular around this time, such as Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago, who took some of the elements that were used by The Electric Flag, and made them their own. The Electric Flag made use of horns and keyboards before these other bands, which makes them somewhat pioneers of the sound, precursors of sounds that would emerge in other bands later on.

The song, Wine, is a jazzy song with a southern feel, and there is a great video of the band playing it at the Monterey Pop Festival, before it was released on record.

Mike Bloomfield was a great guitarist, he is one of my favorites, and he is featured throughout the album with some screeching blues solos that give the album that deep bluesy feel.  This is why I think this record is more of a blues and jazz oriented album, as opposed to being psychedelic. Though there are moments on the record where a bit of psychedelia comes through.

Sunny is a cover version of the song written by Bobby Hebb, and it is one of the most recorded songs of all time. This Electric Flag version is one of the greatest covers of this song, they did an awesome job. Look Into My Eyes is a tune that reminds me of the band Chicago, another great song on the album. All the music on A Long Time Comin’  is excellent, and Bloomfield really shines on guitar, and the horn arrangements are really stellar. One of the best records of 1968 in my opinion. It is unfortunate the core of the band was so short lived, but they made some really memorable music. Well worth a listen.

Rating: A