The Old and The New
Does Jeffrey Simmons ring a bell? No? What about Frank Zappa? I’m sure you know Zappa. His blistering guitar, sarcastic lyrics and the let-it-all-hang-out attitude? The connection between Simmons and Zappa came up when I chanced upon a solo album by Simmons called Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up.
It’s an electric blues album and it’s not new. If you’d like to know, it came out back in 1969 on a label called Straight Records. Anyway, listening to the title track, Lucille, I thought the lead guitarist sounded familiar. The blinding speed and near-symphonic rhythms couldn’t be anyone else’s but Frank Zappa’s I thought and then, realised that not only had Zappa played on Simmons album but had also produced it. On the album, though, he has been credited not as Frank Zappa but as La Marr Bruister!
Reading up on the two, I learnt that Simmons had played bass and provided back-up vocals on many of the late Zappa’s albums and was, in fact, a member of the mercurial bandleader’s group for two bursts. Zappa, who died in 1993 at just 52, was one of the most talented as well as prolific musicians in rock. A friend of mine has some 40 albums by him and even he says that’s not all of what Zappa (or, after his death, his estate) released! But more on Zappa in a later instalment of Download Central. Let’s get back to Jeff Simmons. Simmons’ solo album is a great set of ten electric blues songs that he sings and plays bass guitar on, while several other musicians play the different instruments. Ten years after the solo album came out, in 1979, Zappa re-recorded Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up for his own album, Joe’s Garage.
It’s strange how you discover old connections. I heard a short (under two minutes) song cleverly called Living Life Backwards by a band named Pete Brown & Piblokto!.
The song was an uptempo track that can perk you up on an otherwise dismal day but it made me wonder who this Pete Brown was? Research revealed he was the lyricist for Cream, the 1960s supergroup with Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton.
Brown wrote many of Cream’s songs, including White Room, I Feel Free and also Sunshine of Your Life, co-writing the last one with Clapton himself. But Brown was a poet and has three or four books of poetry published, including one called Let ‘Em Roll, Kafka. And his band Piblokto! (Incidentally, it is the name given to a kind of depression that affects only Eskimos in the Arctic region!) released a few singles and albums on vinyl in the late 1960s. I’ve been trying to get Brown’s music, particularly one album called Things May Come and Things May Go but the Art School Dance Goes on Forever, one of the few that have been re-released as a CD, but I have drawn a blank thus far – can’t get it anywhere.
From music of the 1960s to here and now. The thing about the internet is that you can go back and forth in time on a whim and that’s what I love about it. In the second week of January, Vampire Weekend came out with their new album, Contra.
Their self-titled debut album had evoked bipolar reactions when it came out in 2008. Some thought the preppie boys (think khakis and boatshoes) from Columbia University with their twin influence of Afro and Western classical music were brilliant, while others dismissed them as being facile and predictable. Those detractors could change their mind now. On Contra, VW take things up a couple of notches. The African influence is there, of course, but other ingredients – ska, reggae and even samples from popular contemporary acts – make things deliciously complex and, for their critics, less predictable.
There are so many bands that seem promising with their debut albums but end up disappointing later. For me, Contra is enough to make me keep watching out for Vampire Weekend. Critics be damned.
Three to Tango
- Hurricane Bells: A new project from Longwave’s Steve Schiltz. The band’s scheduled to play in India shortly.
- Edwyn Collins: Check out this Scottish singer’s electric-infused pop on the song. This is his 1995 hit, A Girl Like You.
- Elvis Presley: Unchained Melody from his last concert in 1977, mere months before he died.