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Harvey Brooks, master bass player for Bob Dylan to Miles Davis, is 79 years old today
Bob Dylan and his band off stage at Forest Hills, New York just before the famous concert on August 28, 1965. Harvey Brooks is on the left.
Harvey Brooks, a bassist who has played for a wide range of major musicians from Bob Dylan to Miles Davis, is 79 years old today.
Brooks has played in many styles of music (notably jazz and popular music), coming out of a New York music scene that was crackling with activity in the early 1960s.
One of the younger players on his instrument, he was a contemporary of Felix Pappalardi and Andy Kulberg and other eclectic bass players in their late teens and early 20s, who saw a way to bridge the styles of folk, blues, rock and jazz.
Al Kooper gave Brooks his first boost to fame when he asked him to play as part of Bob Dylan's backing band on the sessions that yielded the album, Highway 61 Revisited — in contrast to the kind of folkie-electric sound generated by the band on Dylan’s previous album, Bringing It All Back Home.
Dylan and his producer, Bob Johnston, were looking for a harder, in-your-face electric sound, and Brooks, along with guitarist Michael Bloomfield and organist Al Kooper, provided exactly what was needed on one of the most famous recordings of the 1960s.
Brooks was also part of Dylan's early backing band which performed to notoriety at Forest Hills, Queens and other venues in 1965. This band also included Robbie Robertson (guitar), Al Kooper (keyboards) and Levon Helm (drums).
From the Dylan single and album, which became two of the most widely heard (and, at the time, most controversial) records of the 1960s, Brooks branched out in a multitude of directions.
He went on to play on records by folk artists like Eric Andersen at Vanguard Records, Richie Havens and Jim & Jean at Verve Records, transitional electric folk-rockers such as David Blue (whose producer was looking for a sound similar to that on Highway 61 Revisited) and various blues-rock fusion projects involving Bloomfield and Kooper.
Brooks played on Cass Elliot's debut solo album, Dream a Little Dream (1968), and also on some Doors sessions, including the Soft Parade album.
Producer Paul Rothchild wanted to give the Doors a fresh sound. He hired Brooks to play and help organize the rhythm tracks and Paul Harris to write some string and horn arrangements.
Brooks also played live with the Doors at the Forum in LA and Madison Square Garden in New York and played on the Michael Bloomfield/Al Kooper/Steve Stills Super Session release, one of the iconic records of late 1960s rock music. His song "Harvey's Tune" appeared on this album.
It was through his participation in The Electric Flag, an extension of Michael Bloomfield and Barry Goldberg's interests in blues, that Brooks' career took an unexpected turn.
The Flag only lasted in its original line-up for about a year, and much of that time was spent recording a sound track album to the film, The Trip. The film starred Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Susan Strasberg and was written by Jack Nicholson. The Trip, made in 1967, was the predecessor to Easy Rider a couple of years later.
In the course of his work with the Flag, Brooks became a producer at Columbia Records and connected with fellow producer Teo Macero who led him to Miles Davis.
Working with Davis involved Brooks in a freer manner of making music than he'd been used to even on the most ambitious sessions with Bloomfield. Brooks contributed to the Bitches Brew and Big Fun albums as well as several unreleased tracks.
On these sessions two bassists were used; Brooks played electric bass while Dave Holland simultaneously played the acoustic bass. From this work, the jazz fusion movement was born.
Even casual listeners became familiar with his name, and from the 1970s into the mid-1990s, Brooks was one of the busiest bassists in music, working with such varied artists as Karen Dalton, John Martyn, the Fabulous Rhinestones, Seals & Crofts, Fontella Bass, John Sebastian, Loudon Wainwright III, John Cale and Paul Burlison.
Brooks and his wife, Bonnie, moved to Israel on August 4, 2009. Bonnie Brooks has written a children's book, "Gramps Has A Ponytail," using Harvey as a model for her musical gramps and his granddaughter.
Here, Brooks tells the Highway 61 Revisited story in “View From the Bottom.”
Peter Rowan is 81 years old today.
A bluegrass musician and composer, Rowan plays guitar and mandolin, yodels and sings. From an early age, he had an interest in music and eventually learned to play the guitar. At 12, he heard Elvis Presley for the first time and later, in junior high school, formed a rockabilly band, the Cupids.
Influenced by the blues musician, Eric Von Schmidt, Rowan traded his electric guitar for an acoustic and began to play the blues. He was also influenced by the folk sound of Joan Baez. In college, he discovered bluegrass after hearing, The Country Gentlemen, and The Stanley Brothers.
He soon discovered the music of Bill Monroe, and with some help from banjo player Bill Keith, he was to audition for Monroe, who invited him to Nashville. Accompanied by Keith, Rowan was hired in March, 1965 as guitarist and lead vocalist of Monroe's Bluegrass Boys.
His recording debut as a "Bluegrass Boy" took place on October 14, 1966 and he recorded a total of fourteen songs with Monroe before his tenure ended in the spring of 1967.
Rowan teamed up with David Grisman in 1967, forming the band, Earth Opera, which frequently opened for The Doors. In 1969, Rowan joined Seatrain, along with Richard Greene. In 1973, Rowan, together with Greene, Grisman, Bill Keith and Clarence White formed the bluegrass band, Muleskinner.
The band released one album. The same year, (1973), Rowan and Grisman formed Old and in the Way, with Greene, Jerry Garcia and John Kahn.
Greene was later replaced by Vassar Clements. Old and In the Way disbanded in 1974 and Rowan joined a rock band led by his brothers. The arrangement lasted three years, with him leaving the group in 1977.
For a time, he toured with Richard Greene in Japan and played clubs with fiddler, Tex Logan. He also formed the Green Grass Gringos. Rowan has been involved in many group and solo projects, including Peter Rowan and the Free Mexican Airforce. He composed songs performed by New Riders of the Purple Sage, including "Panama Red," "Midnight Moonlight" and "Lonesome L.A. Cowboy."
Rowan also plays on In No Sense? Nonsense!, an album by the UK band, Art of Noise. His is the voice (yodel) on "One Earth," the last song of the album. It was recorded in 1987, and was released by China Records and Chrysalis Records Ltd. that same year.
Rowan's "Quartet" in 2007 was the second collaboration with guitarist and bluegrass musician, Tony Rice.
Here, Rowan performs “Doc Watson Morning” in 2013
Stephen Foster was born 197 years ago today.
Known as the "father of American music,” Foster was the pre-eminent songwriter in the United States of the 19th century. His songs — such as "Oh! Susanna,” "Camptown Races,” "Old Folks at Home" ("Swanee River"), "Hard Times Come Again No More,” "My Old Kentucky Home,” "Old Black Joe,” "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” and "Beautiful Dreamer" — remain popular today.
Foster attended private academies in Allegheny, Athens and Towanda, Pennsylvania. He received an education in English grammar, diction, the classics, penmanship, Latin and Greek and mathematics.
In 1846, Foster moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and became a bookkeeper with his brother's steamship company. While in Cincinnati, he penned his first successful songs, among them "Oh! Susanna" which would prove to be the anthem of the California Gold Rush in 1848–1849.
In 1849, he published Foster's Ethiopian Melodies, which included the successful song "Nelly Was a Lady,” made famous by the Christy Minstrels.
A plaque marks the site of Foster's residence in Cincinnati, where the Guilford School building is now located. Although many of his songs had Southern themes, Foster never lived in the South and visited it only once, by river-boat voyage (on his brother Dunning's steam boat, the Millinger) down the Mississippi to New Orleans, during his honeymoon in 1852.
Foster attempted to make a living as a professional songwriter and may be considered innovative in this respect, since this field did not yet exist in the modern sense. Due in part to the limited scope of music copyright and composer royalties at the time, Foster realized very little of the profits which his works generated for sheet music printers.
Multiple publishers often printed their own competing editions of Foster's tunes, not paying Foster anything. For "Oh, Susanna," he received $100.
Foster moved to New York City in 1860. About a year later, his wife and daughter left him and returned to Pittsburgh. Beginning in 1862, his fortunes decreased, and as they did, so did the quality of his new songs.
Early in 1863, he began working with George Cooper, whose lyrics were often humorous and designed to appeal to musical theater audiences.
The Civil War created a flurry of newly written music with patriotic war themes, but this did not benefit Foster.
Stephen Foster had become impoverished while living at the North American Hotel at 30 Bowery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York. He was reportedly confined to his bed for days by a persistent fever.
Foster tried to call a chambermaid, but collapsed, falling against the washbasin next to his bed and shattering it, which gouged his head. It took three hours to get him to Bellevue Hospital. In an era before transfusions and antibiotics, he succumbed three days after his admittance at age 37.
Here, Neil Young’s Americana album features a unique version Foster’s “Oh Susannah.”
Ted Joans with David Amram, New York, 1994
Photo by Frank Beacham
Ted Joans, jazz poet, surrealist, trumpeter and painter, was born 95 years ago today.
Joans work stands at the intersection of several avant-garde streams and some have seen in it a precursor to the orality of the spoken-word movement. However, he criticized the competitive aspect of "slam" poetry. Joans is known for his motto: "Jazz is my religion and Surrealism is my point of view."
Born in Cairo, Illinois, as Theodore Jones, his parents worked on the riverboats that plied the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. He played the trumpet and was an avid jazz aficionado, following Bop as it developed, and continued to espouse jazz of all styles and eras throughout his life.
Growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky, he earned a degree in fine arts from Indiana University, before moving in 1951 to New York City. In New York, he painted in a style he called, Jazz Action, and read his poetry, developing a personal style of oral delivery he called, Jazz Poetry.
A participant in the Beat Generation in Greenwich Village, Joans was a contemporary and friend of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, Leroi Jones (later known as Amiri Baraka), Gregory Corso, Diane Di Prima, Bob Kaufman and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Joans shared a room for a time with the great jazz musician, Charlie Parker. His bohemian costume balls and rent parties were photographed by Fred McDarrah and Weegee.
Joans was also deeply involved in Surrealism, meeting Joseph Cornell. At first becoming close to his childhood hero, Salvador Dalí, Joans soon broke with him. In Paris, he was welcomed into the circle of André Breton.
Joans was an erudite Africanist and traveled extensively throughout the continent, frequently on foot, over many decades between periods in Europe and North America. From the 1960s onward, he had a house in Tanger, Morocco, and then in Timbuktu, Mali. While he ceased playing the trumpet, he maintained a jazz sensibility in the reading of his poems and frequently collaborated with musicians.
He continued to travel and maintained an active correspondence with a host of creative individuals, among them Langston Hughes, Michel Leiris, Aimé Césaire, Robert Creeley, Jayne Cortez, Stokely Carmichael, Ishmael Reed, Paul Bowles and Franklin and Penelope Rosemont.
Many of these letters are collected at the Bancroft Library of the University of California Berkeley. The University of Delaware houses his correspondence with Charles Henri Ford. Joans was also a close correspondent/participant of the Chicago Surrealist Group.
Joans' painting, Bird Lives, hangs in the De Young Museum in San Francisco. He was also the originator of the "Bird Lives" legend and graffiti in New York City after the death of Charlie Parker in March, 1955.
Joans invented the technique of outagraphy, in which the subject of a photograph is cut out of the image. His visual art work spans collages, assemblage objects, paintings and drawings including many resulting from the collaborative surrealist game, Cadavre Exquis. The rhinoceros is a frequent subject in his work in all media. He also created short Super 8 film works.
During the early 1980s, Joans was a writer in residence in Berlin, Germany, under the auspices of the DAAD (Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst) program. He was a contributor of jazz essays and reviews to magazines such as Coda and Jazz Magazine.
His autobiographical text, "Je Me Vois," appeared in the Contemporary Authors Autobiographical Series, Volume 25, published by Gale Research. His work has been included in numerous anthologies. In the late 1990s, Joans relocated to Seattle and resided there and in Vancouver, between travels, until 2003. He was the recipient of the American Book Awards Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001, from the Before Columbus Foundation.
Joans died in Vancouver, British Columbia, on April 25, 2003 due to complications from diabetes. He was 75 years old and had 10 children. One of his daughters, Daline, was named after Salvador Dalí.
Here is the first part of “Jazz and Poetry” by Louis va Gasteren. It features poetry by Ted Joans.
Walt Whitman, 1887
Photo by George C. Cox
(This image is said to have been Whitman's favorite from the photo-session. Cox published about seven images for Whitman, who so admired this image that he even sent a copy to the poet Tennyson in England. Whitman sold the other copies.)
On this day — 168 years ago — Walt Whitman's first edition of the self-published, Leaves of Grass, was printed. It contained a dozen poems.
Whitman was born in West Hills, Long Island, and raised in Brooklyn. He left school at the age of 14 to become a journeyman printer and later worked as a teacher, journalist, editor and carpenter to support his writing.
In 1855, he self-published, Leaves of Grass, which carried his picture but not his name. He revised the book many times, constantly adding and rewriting poems.
The second edition, in 1856, included his "Sundown Poem," later called "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," one of his most beloved pieces.
Whitman sometimes took long ferry and coach rides as an excuse to talk with people, and was also fond of long walks and cultural events in Manhattan.
In 1862, Whitman's brother was wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg, and Whitman went to care for him. He spent the rest of the war comforting both Union and Confederate soldiers.
After the war, Whitman worked for several government departments until 1873, when he suffered a stroke. He spent the rest of his life in Camden, New Jersey, and continued to issue revised editions of Leaves of Grass until shortly before his death in 1892.
Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson was born 80 years ago today.
Wilson was a co-founder, leader and primary composer for Canned Heat. He played guitar, harmonica, sang and wrote several songs for the band.
Born and raised in the Boston suburb of Arlington, Massachusetts, some of Wilson's first efforts at performing music publicly came during his teen years with a jazz ensemble he formed with other musically oriented friends from school. It was around this same time that Wilson developed a fascination with blues music after a friend played a Muddy Waters record for him.
After graduating from Arlington High School, he majored in music at Boston University and played the Cambridge, Massachusetts coffeehouse folk-blues circuit. Wilson developed into a dedicated student of early blues, writing a number of articles for the Broadside of Boston newspaper and the folk-revival magazine, Little Sandy Review, including a piece on bluesman Robert Pete Williams.
Wilson was considered by many of his musical peers to be an expert on the blues musicians who came before him. Many considered him as possessing an exceptional ability for connecting musically with the elder bluesmen. His biggest influences included Skip James, Robert Johnson, Son House, Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Booker White.
Skip James, in particular, was a highly exalted figure in Wilson's personal music journey. In high school, Wilson studied James' 1931 recordings with great enthusiasm. Subsequently, Wilson began singing similar to James' high pitch. Wilson eventually perfected the high tenor, for which he would become known.
After Son House's “rediscovery” in 1964, it was evident that House had forgotten his songs due to his long absence from music. Wilson showed him how to play again the songs House had recorded in 1930 and 1942. Wilson demonstrated them on guitar to revive House's memory.
House recorded "Father of the Delta Blues" for Columbia Records in 1965. Two of three selections on the set featured Wilson on harmonica and guitar.
In a letter to Jazz Journal, published in the September, 1965 issue, Son House's manager, Dick Waterman, remarked the following about the project and Wilson:
"It is a solo album, except for backing on two cuts by a 21-year-old White boy from Cambridge by the name of Al Wilson. Al plays second guitar on Empire State Express and harp on Levee Camp Moan. Al never recorded before, but he has backed John Hurt, Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, Bukka White and many others. He is good, and the record will prove it."
During his time performing in Cambridge, Wilson met the American guitarist, John Fahey. From Fahey, he acquired the nickname, "Blind Owl," owing to his extreme nearsightedness, roundish facial features and scholarly nature. In one instance when he was playing at a wedding, he laid his guitar on the wedding cake because he did not see it.
As Canned Heat's drummer, Fito de la Parra, wrote in his book: "Without the glasses, Alan literally could not recognize the people he played with at two feet. That's how blind the 'Blind Owl' was."
With Fahey's encouragement, Wilson moved with Fahey to Los Angeles with the aim of having Wilson assist Fahey with his UCLA master's thesis on Charley Patton. It was in Los Angeles that Wilson met Bob Hite, a fellow blues enthusiast and record collector, who would go on to establish Canned Heat with Wilson.
With Canned Heat, Wilson performed at two prominent concerts of the 1960s era, the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969. Although Canned Heat's live performance was cut from the original theatrical release of the Woodstock film, they were featured in the 25th anniversary "Director's Cut."
The studio version of "Going Up The Country" was featured in the Woodstock film and has been referred to as the festival's unofficial theme song. Wilson also wrote and sang the notable "On the Road Again."
On September 3, 1970, Wilson was found dead on a hillside behind band mate Bob Hite's Topanga Canyon house. He was 27 years old.
An autopsy identified his manner and cause of death as accidental acute barbiturate intoxication. Wilson reportedly had attempted suicide a few months earlier, attempting to drive his car off a freeway in Los Angeles. He was briefly hospitalized for significant depression, and was released after a few weeks.
Although his death is sometimes reported as a suicide, this is not clearly established and he left no note. Wilson's death came just two weeks before the death of Jimi Hendrix and four weeks before the death of Janis Joplin. Along with his talent and intellect, Wilson had a reputation for social awkwardness and introversion which may have contributed to his depression.
Stephen Stills' song, "Blues Man," from the album, Manassas, is dedicated to Wilson, along with Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman.
Bill Withers was born 85 years ago today.
Withers was a singer-songwriter and musician who performed and recorded from 1970 until 1985. He recorded a number of hits such as "Lean on Me,” "Ain't No Sunshine,” "Use Me,” "Just the Two of Us,” "Lovely Day" and "Grandma's Hands.”
His life was recently the subject of the documentary film, Still Bill.
Withers died from heart complications in Los Angeles on March 30, 2020, at age 81.
Here, Withers performs “Ain’t No Sunshine”
Picnickers at a Sarasota, Florida trailer park, 1941
Photo by Marion Post Walcott