Music

Music related posts

Music

Frampton Comes Alive – The 70’s on a Platter

Where were you when you first heard Frampton Comes Alive?

Seems like a ridiculous question? Not for me. I remember it like it was yesterday. Especially the first song I heard, “Lines on My Face.”

I was a junior in high school and had stopped off at my friend Scott Cummings’ house after school. Nothing unusual here. He lived close to the high school and had a fully stocked kitchen of snacks and sodas. So, it was a regular stop.

Plus, his mom, was “cool!” Sometimes she’d crank her stereo with artists we liked. Very cool mom. It was the 70’s. They were around then.

Scott’s mom invited us to the family room to chat about the day and check out her new Peter Frampton album. At this point, “Frampton Comes Alive” wasn’t a “thing.” In February of 1976, it had just come out (released in January). FCA had not yet become the biggest selling live album of all time.

While I was familiar with the song, “I Don’t Need No Doctor” by Humble Pie, I didn’t know Frampton’s former band performed that. Nor did I know that it was Frampton’s riff that drove that song that had become an FM staple.

The truth was, despite being a big music person, I knew little of Frampton.  Nor did anyone else. The four solo studio albums he had made never caught fire despite growing an enthusiastic fan base.

My friend John Dannan was one of those fans. John was always trying to get me to listen to Frampton, thinking because I was a guitar player, I’d appreciate his fluid playing.  I heard a few cuts in John’s car, but, for whatever reason, they never grabbed me.

So what was I to make of this new double “live” album I was about to hear? I looked at the jacket. A slightly out of focus cover photo by Richard Aaron of  Frampton with his three pickup black Les Paul.  Cool. The band, pictured on the inner jacket, which included “Bob Mayo on the keyboards, Bob Mayo!”  looked solid.

OK, looks good. Let’s give it a spin. Maybe Dannan was right. Plus, listening to this album would be better than pretending to do homework I wasn’t going to do.

Mrs. Cummings put on side four.

There are two tracks on side four of FCA, the first one being the ballad “Lines On My Face,” the second the set-closing crowd-pleaser, “Do You Feel Like We Do.”

I was unfamiliar with both songs.

The first thing you hear on side four when the needle hits the vinyl is the fully engaged Winterland crowd of seeming Frampton fanatics. Before you hear the opening notes of the chord that opens Lines, you hear the fans.

I would later learn the crowd was a distinctive feature of FCA. This crowd responds to every lyric, every musical twist, and most famously, every nuance of Frampton’s talk box device during “Do You Feel Like We Do.” Never had a rock and roll crowd been so front and center alongside the music on a live album.

Sure on “The Allman Brothers Live at Fillmore East,” you can hear the crowd clapping along during “You Don’t Love Me” and famously shouting out, “play all night!” during “Whipping Post.” Conversely, on “The Who Live at Leads” you barely hear the crowd. There’s hardly any audience interaction on that one.  FYI – those were the two best live albums at that time.

The audience mix on FCA is unusually prominent compared to them. Later live albums, like “Cheap Trick Live at Buddahkan” would take this mixing to the extreme where the audience overpowers the performance.

Part of the appeal of FCA was they got the audience/band mix precise, and it sounded fresh. Like you were there.

Keep in mind this FCA mix came out concurrent with new stereo systems that could exploit these subtleties of sound. The Cummings’  stereo, with some terrific KLH monitors, provided perfect sound.

Back to the music.

Frampton had been honing his catalog of original material through years of marathon touring. He learned what worked and what didn’t. So FCA is a bit of “greatest hits” set list (despite not having hits). Little did I know, that “Lines on My Face,” the song I was about to hear, was one of Frampton’s absolute best songs that his band had become super tight delivering with excellent dynamics and spontaneity.

As I lied on the carpet, after hearing the crowd, I listened to the guitar lines to “Lines on My Face.” A few in the audience cheer. The band enters, and then a solo.

“A solo to start a song?” I thought.

And what a solo. The first run, so fluid and technically perfect. Then the bends. Ideal vibrato. Another lightning fast run.

“Oh my god,” I thought, “who is this guitar player?” How could I not know this guy? That solo, which seemed like a throwaway improvisation was terrific.  Plus, this type of Major 7 jam was not something I heard a lot of. It wasn’t on Fillmore East or Live at Leeds.

Then, Frampton comes in with the lyrics, “Lines on my head…” the crowd nearly erupts, presumably as the super fans recognize the song.  The song continues.

Then another melodic solo. Good grief, the band interplay between the bass player and drummer, perfectly complementary to the lines of the Les Paul. The tom-tom accents, the higher octave bass runs, all the time leaving space for everything to be heard.  These are good musicians.  Frampton concludes with another incredible flourish of notes which is greeted by a very appropriate smattering of applause for the solo.

Frampton then sings, “There’s so many people, my family, and friends.” The crowd, hanging on every word, applauds again.

The audience is fully engaged.

What the hell am I listening to? Who is this Frampton guy, where did he come from? Who does concerts like this, anyway I so want to be there, watching this?

Wait! I sort of am there – perhaps that’s why I am so sucked in.

Meanwhile, the song dramatically turns to the minor key. Like David Gilmore does years later in “Comfortably Numb,” Frampton delivers an incredible overdriven emotional solo, that builds and builds with trills and double stops to close it out. When he finishes, the crowd approves.

The band regroups, and Frampton goes back to major mode.

The song ends.

Wow. I mean, really, wow. That was something.

Still is, as I’ve listened to “Lines on My Face” thousands of times through the years. I’ve also seen him play it live and it remains a real showcase for his guitar playing.

FCA was the high watermark for Peter Frampton and despite going on to win Grammy’s and tour with others, it will always be FCA for which he is most remembered.

Perspective

Nostalgia is a messy business, as it’s still mostly self-referential and I dare say, a bit romanticised. So take this with some salt.

As I look back on “Lines on My Face,” what I think about most is innocence.

When I first heard that song it might have been during one of my last golden moments of pure innocence.  The purity in Frampton’s sound on that song that blended his clarion voice, his virtuoso guitar, the unabashed audience participation, all with that classic Major 7/minor chord tension was in complete sync with where I was at that moment. As teen high schooler I was between the major and minor in my life and would love a crowds approval.

Plus, as a guitar player, because I could honestly “hear” all the notes and nuance behind the music feeling what was behind them. The song spoke to me. For that day, it seemed to do so uniquely.

It was an “all is right in the world” moment that if we’re lucky we get to experience a few times in our lives. If we’re doubly lucky, that moment is tagged to something like a song that we can revisit again and again.

“Lines on My Face” is that for me.

Funny isn’t it, how I was hoping for a soda and some snacks, and instead got a moment of transcendence.

Music

Steely Dan – Katy Lied

“Aja” is generally considered Steely Dan’s greatest work. Seven tracks of studio-engineered perfection. Each track brilliantly orchestrated and executed by a cast of musician’s musicians. The lyrics were “languid and bittersweet” and if you didn’t like ‘em then “drink your big black cow and get out of here.”

“Aja” is chock full of moments.  Bernard Purdie’s shuffle on “Home at Last.” Jay Graydon’s guitar solo on “Peg.” Michael McDonald’s one-word three-part self-harmonized background vocals also on “Peg.” And, Steve Gadd’s greatest moment ever as a studio drummer on the title track “Aja.”

If you can get past the stock footage, the DVD “Classic Albums – Aja”  gives the full story on this great collection of songs in rich detail. Complete with snarky comments by creators Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

Then there is “Katy Lied.” That sweet beauty of an album with the insect on the cover. Cameron Crowe writing in Rolling Stone said it best describing Dan’s fourth album as “Anonymous, absolutely impeccable swing-pop. No cheap displays of human emotion.”

Amongst the Dan Illuminati, well-documented DBX problems aside, Lied may be their finest effort. Katy clearly was the harbinger of what was to come with “Royal Scam,” “Aja,” and “Gaucho.” It also was a significant step forward from their earlier “Pretzel Logic.” No clunkers like “Charlie Freak” or “With a Gun” on Lied. All the songs were great delivered in a variety of tempos and feels. There was also better strategic placement of session musicians. Finally, there was the emergence of Walter Becker on “Black Friday” and “Bad Sneakers” as a lead guitarist and a peer with the greats that came before him (Randall, Dias, and Baxter).

There is just so much to this album.

Nineteen-year-old not-yet-legendary drummer Jeff Porcaro provides a clinic in setting a rhythmic foundation through many song styles. Jeff swings through odd time signatures in “Gold Teeth,” unveils his soon-to-be-signature shuffle on “Black Friday,” does his best Jim Gordon on “Chain Lightning,” and adds John Guerin flourishes on the fade out of Dr. Wu. Anyone wondering why “the groove-master” is remembered with such awe after his untimely death can see why on Katy Lied. It wasn’t until the new millennium that Becker and Fagen would again rely so much on just one drummer.

Grammy-winning producer-pianist Michael Omartian provides restrained and always-perfect melodic flourishes throughout the album. He is all over that record. Omartian perfectly compliments the song, never drawing attention to himself or his instrument. His contribution to the overall tone of Katy cannot be overstated. His playing is beautiful.

Nor can contributions of guitarist Dean Parks be overlooked. Listen to “Rose Darling” and pay attention to his passing tones. He swings, keeps the song harmonically centered, and manages to provide a tasty solo as well. It’s understated and brilliant at the same time. This is why Park’s resume has thousands of gigs literally. His support is all over that record – yet Parks is often overlooked by fans in favor or the flashier axemen on Lied. Scream “Injustice!” as you go back and listen to the guitar in the background throughout the album.

Hang on Sloopy’s Rick Derringer provides a jaw-dropping blues solo on “Chain Lighting” begging the question, “Rock and Roll and Hoochie Koo? Same Guy?” Elliot Randall saves the weakest song, Throw Back the Little Ones, with his solo. Denny Dias bebops his way through an impressive bridge of changes, all with swing and melody, on “Gold Teeth part 2.” Walter Becker simply astonishes with the range showed on his Blues based shredding on Black Friday (what a tone!). Becker gets tasty the lyrical every-note-counts break on “Bad Sneakers.” We also see the first appearance of soon-to-be critical (think 5th Beatle) Larry Carlton who lays down some Crusaders scratch and funk on “Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City No More.”People like to call Royal Scam “the guitar album.” Not so sure about that, this album is full of great guitar.

I wish I were done. But like an ad from the late Billy Mays, “wait, there’s still more!”

Unknown-at-the-time Michael McDonald makes his first appearance on vinyl, providing his distinctive backup vocals that would become ubiquitous 10 years hence. His remarkable multi-tracked in-tune-with-himself work on Bad Sneakers, Black Friday, and Any World that I’m Welcome is still amazing. This was a very talented find for the Dan, and “Rick Jarred Productions” whoever the heck they were. I suppose someone profiled in the book Hit Men. Still wonder why that had to be included in the credits.

The world’s most recorded drummer, Hal Blaine, sits in on “Any World that I’m Welcome To” and shows how rim taps are done and conclude with a tour of his toms on the fade out. Chuck Rainey is also on board, although I suppose the low bass mix might be a frustration from the DBX, it is hard to hear. Check out the bass on Black Friday, if you can, it’s amazing.

Fagen sounds great in all his double-tracked glory. He proves once again to be perhaps the only person who can deliver the Dan’s very peculiar lyrics (are you crazy, are you high, or just an ordinary guy?) which are everywhere on the record. So too is the humor (I’ll bet she’s in Detroit with lots of money in the bank, although I could be wrong) and so is that most frustrating of Dan adjectives, irony (everyone’s gone to the movies, now we’re alone at last). It’s all there, in very tight, mostly under four-minute packages.

So are the weirdest liner notes I have ever read. An inside joke to which no one but Becker, Fagen, producer Gary Katz, and engineer Roger Nichols understand and get. Payback for the DBX problems I guess. When you make a record as good as this one, you are entitled.

While this 1975 release went Gold, it had no singles that charted higher than #37 and was destined to become what it is today: the hidden gem of Steely Dan.

Music

Jeff Beck – Live at Ronnie Scotts

Jeff Beck may be the only man over 60 who can get away with wearing a choker! Why? Because Jeff Beck can do whatever he wants to do.

Jeff Beck has a signature mastery of his instrument. NO ONE can play like this guy! It’s all touch and taste, and his very mysterious whammy bar thumb technique. The luminaries in the legendary small British club look both amazed and delighted.

The band had been pulled together and had been touring together for over a year before this recording. What a group! Tireless and always-in-demand Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, smiling newcomer Tal  Wilkenfeld on bass, and on keyboards. The show benefits from excellent song choices spanning his 45-year career. The set includes a few so-so vocal appearances for people who can’t take an hour of straight guitar playing. Jeff Beck Live at Ronnie Scotts is THE DVD to have for anyone who likes concert music on DVD. It looks and sounds terrific on Blue Ray.

One need not look any further than the track “Nadia” to get the point of what a master he is with his Stratocaster. This cover of a song by Indian-British jazz artist Nitin Sawhney uses notes between the notes found in the 22 note Indian music scale (compared with the Western 12 note scale).  Beck here shows his deft command of intonation reaching those notes with clarity and precision, creating something musically hypnotic and extraordinary.

It’s confounding that people compare him to Clapton and Page because there is just no comparison as this week-long engagement at the club demonstrates. By the time he closes with the Beatles “a day in the life” it’s time for guitarists all over the world to throw in the towel and realize they have just seen the Roger Federer of the guitar.