by Robert Wilkinson
It's the birthday of three amazing talents! Today we send out a big happy to Ry Cooder, one of the most amazing guitarists ever to walk this planet, Phil Lesh, the founding bass player of the Grateful Dead, and the singular Sly Stone, producer, songwriter, and musical pioneer.
We begin with Ry Cooder. Born March 15, 1947, this very talented musician has worked on his own, as well as with the biggest and the best inside and outside the industry. In one outstanding instance, Ry was the one who gave us the Buena Vista Social Club. You can hear his work on recordings of Van Morrison, Neil Young, the Rolling Stone, Eric Clapton, Little Feat, the Chieftains, Mavis Staples, Freddie Fender, and his "supergroup" - Little Village - where he is bandmate and lead guitarist with three of my favorites: Nick Lowe (bassist, vocals), John Hiatt (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), and Jim Keltner (drums).
Today I'll post some of the more well-known pieces he's played on, and wait till next year to do the full schmear. For now, enjoy this amazing talent!
We begin with Ry playing mandolin on the Rolling Stones' "Let It Bleed" classic, "Love In Vain," while on the Stones' "Sticky Fingers" Ry gave us the standout slide on "Sister Morphine. We'll finish this trifecta of Ry playing an unforgettable slide in a clip lifted from the surrealistic Mick Jagger movie "Performance," the awesome "Memo From Turner."
Here's one of his most famous performances! Enjoy Ry playing classic slide guitar on the Lowell George Little Feat monster 1972 hit, "Willin'"
Here's Ry playing slide for Van Morrison's 1979 album "Into the Music." If you haven't heard this gem before, prepare to be uplifted by “Full Force Gale."
From here we'll look at the master at work on his own! First, from "Ry Cooder & The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces: Let's Have A Ball", a film by Les Blank taped at The Catalyst, Santa Cruz, CA on March 25'th 1987, here's Ry doing "Goodnight Irene," followed by "Jesus On The Mainline," featuring Ry doing slide on a "mandoguitar." (Let it buffer for awhile as it's a slow download.)From the same concerts in Northern California, here's "The Very Thing That Makes Her Rich,"
From the House of Blues 1995, Ry and John Lee performing “Crawling Kingsnake”
From the same HOB show, here’s a live performance of “Boom, Boom”
Here are Ry and Santana in 1992 at the All Our Colors benefit concert, Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, doing "The Healer."
Here's a studio version of Ry playing a duet with the amazing David Lindley on the very beautiful instrumental "Sídh Beag agus Sídh Mór," and here they are in 1994 at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival doing "Jesus on the Mainline." We'll finish this trio of duets with "Mercury Blues" from Belgium in 1990.
Some treats from "Little Village," featuring Ry, John Hiatt, Nick Lowe and John Keltner! First, a live performance of "She Runs Hot," and from the same concert, "Don't Bug Me When I'm Working." Here Little Village rocks out in 1992 Dusseldorf on "Thing Called Love." From The Late Show in 1990, Little Village doing "Don't Think About Her," and from the Late Show in 1992, the number they lead off their show with, "Fool Who Knows."
Here's Ry and Nick in 2009 doing the classic "Little Sister."
We owe Ry everything for these gems! For those who don't know who the Buena Vista Social Club is, Ry "discovered" them in Cuba during his efforts to crack open a cultural door despite the US Government's weird paranoia. Please check out the video when you can! In the meantime, to whet your appetite for some amazing Cuban music, here is the video of the classic "Chan Chan" with Ry and his son performing with the BVSC. Also from Amsterdam, here's the BVSC performing the great "Candela."
Thanks for the tunes all these years, Ry, and may you continue as a pioneering cultural ambassador to the world. We need your music!
Now for the great Phil Lesh, born March 15, 1940. He’s a fantastic bass player, most recognized as a founding member of the Grateful Dead. From Wikipedia:
Lesh started out as a violin player. While enrolled at Berkeley High School, he switched to trumpet. Studying the instrument under Bob Hansen, conductor of the symphonic Golden Gate Park Band, he developed a keen interest in avant-garde classical music and free jazz. … he befriended future Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten… At the behest of Constanten, he studied under the Italian modernist Luciano Berio…
While volunteering for KPFA as a recording engineer during this period, he met then-bluegrass banjo player Jerry Garcia. Despite seemingly antipodal musical interests, they formed an enduring friendship. Following a brief period rooming with Constanten in Las Vegas… Lesh was talked into becoming the bass guitarist for Garcia's new rock group, then known as the Warlocks, in the fall of 1964. This was a peculiar turn of events, as Lesh had never played bass before. According to Lesh, the first song he rehearsed with the band was "I Know You Rider". He joined them for their third or fourth gig (memories vary) and stayed until the end.
Since Lesh had never played bass, it meant that to a great extent he learned "on the job", yet it also meant he had no preconceived attitudes about the instrument's traditional "rhythm section" role. Indeed, he has said that his playing style was influenced more by Bach counterpoint than by rock or soul bass players – although one can also hear the fluidity and power of a jazz bassist such as Charles Mingus or Jimmy Garrison in Lesh's work, along with stylistic allusions to fellow San Francisco psychedelic-era bassist Jack Casady.
Lesh was an innovator in the new role that the electric bass developed during the mid-1960s. Contemporaries such as James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, and Jack Casady adopted a more melodic, contrapuntal approach to the instrument; before this, bass players in rock had generally played a conventional timekeeping role within the beat of the song, and within (or underpinning) the song's harmonic or chord structure. While not abandoning these aspects, Lesh took his own improvised excursions during a song or instrumental. This was a characteristic aspect of the so-called San Francisco Sound in the new rock music. In many Dead jams, Lesh's bass is, in essence, as much a lead instrument as Garcia's guitar.
I was somewhat of a Deadhead back beginning in the early 70s, not as rabid as some but definitely more than most, and even got to hang backstage and with the band in their trailer in the early 80s. I saw them a lot of times, and there were shows where they played for 4 hours and then another hour after the hall cut the electricity and turned on the lights! Even got thrown out of one show in 1973 because I wouldn't stop dancing, and afterwards I found out thousands more began to dance when they saw me thrown out and it shut the show down! Everyone adjourned to the Armadillo World Headquarters and had an all night party!
Rather than try to describe the joy of the music of the Grateful Dead, I’ll just post some great live concerts I found on the web. They really did make some very happy music that sets feet to dancing!! I found enough concerts between 1966 and 1994 that you should have a greatful time enjoying how the set list evolved over the years.
Here’s a live recording set to stills made at the Fillmore in San Francisco in November 1966! 1 hour 19 minutes of the early Grateful Dead! The Grateful Dead at the Fillmore 1966 (audio only)
Here's a very early live audio-only performance from the Fillmore East in May 1970, when PigPen was still singing! Here’s an entire 4 hour show of The Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East, 1970.
Here’s a live recording from the KQED studios in San Francisco in August 1970, also with PigPen singing! Here’s 29 very psychedelic minutes of the early Grateful Dead!
From France in June 1971, 59 minutes of an early set list of the Grateful Dead!
From Denmark in April 1972, a great 78 minute video of the Grateful Dead!
From Winterland in San Francisco 1974, 1 hour 38 minutes of the Grateful Dead!
From the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco 1976, 1 hour of the Grateful Dead!
Also from Winterland on New Years’ Eve 1977, 2 hours 34 minutes of the Grateful Dead!
From Oakland in 1979, 3 hours and 19 minutes of the Grateful Dead!
Here’s one I was at! From Manor Downs in Austin in September 1983, 2 hours and 32 minutes of the Grateful Dead!
From Orchard Park, New York in July 1986, 57 minutes of the Grateful Dead!
From Shoreland Ampitheater in August 1989, 3 hours and 18 minutes of the Grateful Dead!
From UNLV in April 1991, 2 hours and 56 minutes of the Grateful Dead!
From Madison Square Garden in October 1994, 2 hours and 38 minutes of the Grateful Dead!
*********We now turn our birthday celebration to the legendary Sly Stone, of Sly and the Family Stone. Born Sylvester Stewart (March 15, 1943), “Sly” Stone is a west coast legend as a songwriter, producer, band leader, and innovator of soul, funk, and psychedelic music. He blazed more trails and snorted more lines than most people could handle in his life, and gave us some of the most amazing music ever produced or played.
Sylvester was identified as a musical prodigy from a young age. By the time he was seven Sylvester had already become proficient on the keyboards. By the age of eleven Sylvester had mastered the guitar, bass, and drums as well. While still in high school, Sylvester learned to play a number of instruments, settling primarily on the guitar...
In the mid-1960s, Stone worked as a disc jockey for San Francisco, California soul radio station KSOL, where he included white performers such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones into his playlists. During the same period, he worked as a staff record producer for Autumn Records, producing for San Francisco-area bands such as The Beau Brummels, The Mojo Men, Bobby Freeman, and Grace Slick's first band, the Great Society. Adopting the stage name "Sly Stone," he then formed "The Stoners" in 1966 which included Cynthia Robinson on trumpet. With her he started his next band, Sly and the Family Stone. Stone, Robinson, and Fred Stewart were joined by Larry Graham, Greg Errico, and Jerry Martini, all of whom had studied music and worked in numerous amateur groups. Working around the Bay Area in 1967, this multiracial band made a strong impression.
First, we’ll start with his productions with the Beau Brummels, one of my favorite Bay Area 60s bands, and one of the first to create actual “folk rock.” Yes, before the Byrds, there were the Beau Brummels!! These are all studio versions, since Sly did the production work.
From 1969, a live performance by Sly and the Family Stone of their breakthrough hit, “Dance To The Music”
From 1968, a live performance of The end of “Everyday People” and a great version of “Dance to the Music”
From the Dick Cavett Show, Sly and the Family Stone in a live video performance of another huge hit “Thank You For Lettin’ Me Be Myself”
From 1974 on the Mike Douglas Show, “Stand”
A great live video performance of a medley of “Hot Fun In The Summertime,” “Don’t Call Me Nigger,” and “I Want to Take You Higher”
From the “Soul Train” television show, here they are live performing “Thank You”
Here’s the original studio version of “You Can Make It If You Try”
Here’s a very funky studio version of “Sing A Simple Song”
For our closer today, the peak of electricity! Here’s the original video of Sly and the Family Stone at the original Woodstock in 1969 doing a chilling version of “I Want To Take You Higher”
From world beat to the Grateful Dead to one of the funkiest bands to ever hit the stage, from the Stones to the Buena Vista Social Club to the shamanic band of legend to one of the first interracial bands in the world who blew the doors down at Woodstock, it’s time to dance! Happy, Merry, and thanks for the tunes!!
© Copyright 2013 Robert Wilkinson