photo manipulation by nacrowe
this perfectly competent yet entirely pedestrian documentary concerning the creation of EXILE ON MAIN ST. (ROLLING STONES RECORDS, 1972) suffers from a lack of inspiration. little connection is made in STONES IN EXILE (PASSION PICTURES, 2010) between the songs created and the disjointed process they sprung out from. at best this documentary seemed like a wasted opportunity and at worst a cash grab by the band, management or even EAGLE ROCK, who distributed it.
book-ended by trite, uninformed musings by the likes of WILL.I.AM, JACK WHITE SHERYL CROW, LIZ PHAIR, BENICIO DEL TORO and some random dude from KINGS OF LEON. i get that they were trying to present this classic record to a new generation, but the fact that these participants were unaware of basic facts surrounding the record only makes their inclusion that much more confounding. was PATTI SMITH, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, TOM PETTY, JOHN FOGERTY, PAUL MCCARTNEY or anyone else that may have had some actual cultural insight into the group not available that day? makes no sense to me. this is a documentary after all.
what did work well were the interview contributions by the likes of KEITH RICHARDS, his ex-wife ANITA PALLENBERG and session saxophone player BOBBY KEYS. you got the sense from them that evading the punitive BRITISH tax code and leaving abroad along the southern coast of FRANCE suited RICHARDS just fine. his laid-back bohemian, vagabond lifestyle was well-suited for an unconventional recording setup in which inspiration happened while the band was doing other things. if anything i feel like this documentary helped provide context to his excellent memoir LIFE (linked HERE).
MICK JAGGER comes off guarded and bored with the topic. if not for RICHARDS this documentary, as expressed earlier, would have been entirely redundant and necessary. i wouldn't recommend watching this, but i would highly suggest you check out RICHARDS' memoir, which is one of the most compelling and insightful i have come across in recent years. that book is well-worth your time if you have any interest in THE ROLLING STONES, THE BRITISH INVASION or the evolution of 20th century popular music in western culture.
photo manipulations by nacrowe
the story of MUSCLE SHOALS (EAR GOGGLES, 2013) is the kind of thing that only happens in AMERICA. its a total anomaly. deep in the heart of JIM CROW south during the very period of national transformation surrounding the civil rights movement you have a small unassuming recording studio that punched far above its weight. in fact, the music it produced has for many defined 1960s R&B with hit singles for CHESS RECORDS and ATLANTIC RECORDS from seminal black artists like ARETHA FRANKLIN, PERCY SLEDGE, WILSON PICKETT, ETTA JAMES among others.
all music is bigger than the sum of its parts, and there is a certain alchemy when all those parts work in tandem mysteriously to produce gold. that was the case with producer RICK HALL and his studio musicians "THE SWAMPERS," all unassuming locals from humble beginnings in rural ALABAMA. that chemistry between these white players is what set them apart as a unit and in league with other studio collectives such as THE WRECKING CREW and THE FUNK BROTHERS.
the documentary largely kept its focus on the individual stories of RICK HALL and THE SWAMPERS, but it would have been interesting to get their opinion about what it meant to have such transgressive music produced in a state that rejected the very humanity of the black artists that created it. i mean, they lived through the reign of terror of GEORGE WALLACE, the vocal segregationist governor of ALABAMA in the 1960s. it is such an interesting situation that seems should have been explored further. a huge letdown and missed opportunity if you ask me.
instead we learn that RICK HALL and THE SWAMPERS split over money, basically having two rival studios (FAME STUDIOS & MUSCLE SHOALS SOUND) in the same town, producing countless famous records in the process by the likes of THE ROLLING STONES, TRAFFIC, BOB DYLAN, LYNYRD SKYNYRD, SIMON & GARFUNKEL, etc.
for me this documentary works best when it speaks about the nature of creativity and the art of listening. as musicians, THE SWAMPERS and RICK HALL had a gift for listening to their artist and determining what sound would work well for them. they were not imposing anything, in fact they were trying to be as transparently and authentically behind the artist as possible.
MUSCLE SHOALS is definitely worth checking out if you have any interest in AMERICAN music or recording studios in general. a must watch.
i was back stateside a few months after this documentary came out. i can't remember if it was the summer after i finished teaching in VENEZUELA or JAPAN, but anyway i was in NYC when a relative of mine called. i'll spare mentioning this relative's name, only to state that she works in the film industry and has overseen various famous soundtracks. she called and asked if i was available later that day to attend an NPR interview at LINCOLN CENTER where they were interviewing members of THE SWAMPERS for a new unreleased documentary on MUSCLE SHOALS. she also asked if i was familiar with MUSCLE SHOALS to which i replied that they were like the equivalent of THE FUNK BROTHERS and THE WRECKING CREW, all being famous studio musician collectives. she didn't respond to those names.
i get to the NPR thing which was being recorded for a later national broadcast and within 10 minutes one of the musicians was talking about THE FUNK BROTHERS and THE WRECKING CREW and their mutual respect for one another. points to me i guess.
one is asked about a recording session and the guy was unsure of the third song he recorded with THE ROLLING STONES, my relative asked me what it was and i said "wild horses" to which she immediately yelled in front of 500+ people "WILD HORSES!" and the guy was like "oh yeah, that's right, WILD HORSES."
i almost died. couldn't believe she did that. she turned to me and something along the lines of "i knew i brought you here for a reason." its funny, i only had a passing knowledge of what MUSCLE SHOALS was and i have no idea how i knew about that song since i am not a huge STONES fan. but anyway, now that i watched the film in earnest, i had to mention this related experience with the film.
parodies by nacrowe
watch HERE this recent streaming episode of DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC with a playlist dedicated to the BRITISH INVASION bands of the 1960s. this brief moment laid the groundwork for popular music for the rest of the century and is still relevant in terms of song-craft, production and lyrical depth well into the new one.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
photo & text by nacrowe
LIFE (LITTLE BROWN & CO, 2010), written by the iconic ROLLING STONES guitarist / songwriter KEITH RICHARDS is one of the most expansive memoirs by a musician i have come across in recent years. it is exceptionally well written and conceived and was an enthralling read mostly due to the scope of its narrative.
following his early life you really get a feel for how early ROCK & ROLL was transmitted abroad and reintroduced by a bevy of talented BRITISH musicians who were steeped and obsessed with forgotten and dismissed stateside BLUES traditions. in a very real sense, these BRITISH INVASION bands reintroduced AMERICA to her own musical traditions.
for me that early period is the most interesting section of the book. you get a sense for how hostile the club scene in LONDON was initially to bands exploring the BLUES in the early 60s, instead focused at the time on ROCKABILLY and early ROCK AND ROLL. THE ROLLING STONES initially were just a group of CHICAGO BLUES obsessives (i.e. the roster of CHESS RECORDS) that aspired to be the best cover band of that music in town. songwriting wasn't even in the picture for them. one interesting tidbit during this period was the fact that there was a loose underground collective of record collectors that would play newly imported hard to find vinyl singles at house gatherings. these obsessives would argue about the authenticity of the artists while RICHARDS and MICK JAGGER were there only to glean off ideas about how to deconstruct the actual compositions themselves. its hilarious to think that these BRITISH obsessives thought they knew about the BLUES enough to judge them. its sad that when these musicians (like MUDDY WATERS) came to play ENGLAND they were booed for not fitting the prescriptive view of what a BLUESMAN should look and sound like (i.e. ROBERT JOHNSON). typical BRITISH snobbery. but you get a sense of what RICHARDS was fighting against.
this book goes deep into various parts of his career and personal life, as well as his relationship with drugs. its funny because RICHARDS has a public persona for being a modern-day PIRATE or DRACULA figure who, much like LEMMY KILMISTER, has consumed in inordinate amount of pharmaceuticals and yet somehow has carried on into his elder years. in actual fact throughout his memoir RICHARDS makes repeated commentary about the mistakes made by others regarding drugs. he speaks of using in moderation and consuming a base amount to maintain a steady level alertness, something he did to stay up for days on end recording albums in the late 60s and early 70s. he never upped the dosage in search of a higher plateau. it was all about stability.
this concept regarding stability also seems to be how he navigates relationships both personal and business alike. despite his bacchanalian reputation for debauched depravity, i mean he is practically the poster child for ROCK AND ROLL excess, he speaks about things like groupie-culture as less about sex and more about companionship while on the road for years on end, especially in the earlier years. its counter-intuitive from your expectations going in, but THE DIRT this is not. he comes off practically like an ENGLISH gentleman.
but again, for me this book is less about the extracurriculars and more about his appreciation for music and the art of collaboration. in many ways his strength as a musician, aside from his songwriting prowess, is to seamlessly integrate himself into a rhythm section, maintaining the groove without showboating or drawing attention to himself. they had JAGGER for that, the ultimate peacock. JAGGER for himself is given praise throughout but also consternation for his betrayal of the band in the 1980s when seeking a solo deal with the same company on the back of a recently signed multi-album deal for the band. JAGGER collaborates when necessary but ultimately is made to look like a selfish opportunist of the first order, seeking glory for himself which very much goes against the ethos of the band.
i could go because this book is beyond expansive and well-worth the time of anyone interested in ROCK AND ROLL, BLUES, COUNTRY MUSIC or the historical progression of popular music in the 20th century. can't wait to read JAGGER's perspective if such ever comes out.