Looking Through Glass
If nobody tells you who was playing or you don’t get to see the name of the album or the band, this gem from 1972 could sound like a secret album by none other than Jimi Hendrix. The same trademark guitar (fuzzy, distorted, explosive and wailing) and singing style (blues, R&B and soul-influenced but oh, so unique). Legions of rock musicians have tried to imitate Hendrix but no one I’ve heard has sounded as hair-raisingly close as this album does. I got a rock aficionado friend to do blind tasting, playing the album for him and then asking him who he thought was the musician. “Hendrix is singing, of course,” he said confidently, “but the guitar sounds a bit different. Are there two guitars?” Then, as we moved to the second and the third tracks, he sat back with a smile and said, “Hendrix. But what album is this?”
The album and the band are both called The Velvert Turner Group and I happened to discover it on a music blog called Swan Fungus, which showcases rarities and offers, downloads (usually free). Velvert Turner, I gathered was a young musician from Brooklyn, New York, who befriended Hendrix in the mid-1960s. Legend has it that Hendrix took him under his wings and taught him his style of playing the guitar, although I don’t know whether Turner, like Hendrix, was a southpaw who played a guitar stringed for a right-handed player.
One thing’s for certain though, Turner adopted his mentor’s style to a tee. On his only solo album, also called The Velvert Turner Group, nine of the ten songs have a Hendrix stamp on them, vocals, guitar-work, everything. Indeed, one of the songs is even called ‘Xcuse Me, Gentleman… and even sounds a bit like Hendrix’s Purple Haze. The tenth song on the album is a tribute— a cover of Freedom, a Hendrix track from 1971’s fabulous Cry of Love that came out after Hendrix died in 1970. The thing about Turner’s music is how close to Hendrix’s his voice sounds and how influenced his guitar playing is. Yet, it’s not like you’re listening to an impersonator.
I’m quite sure Velvert Turner didn’t set the popularity lists on fire with his music. Yet, his music has become a kind of a cult collectible for fanatical Hendrix fans who view him as the rock legend’s disciple No. 1. In his later years, Turner worked at a drug rehab centre in New York, helping addicts kick the habit, before he died in 2000. But if you want his album, you can still head over to the Swan Fungus blog and give it a listen.
Music blogs like Swan Fungus have often pointed me to bands that I may have otherwise not heard. But there are blogs and online magazines in India as well that lead you to discover hidden gems, particularly if you’re not lucky enough to have the time to follow what’s going on in the gig circuit. Indiecision, a great online music magazine run out of Mumbai, is where I got nudged towards a new (or, well, new to me) band. Summit Attempt is an Indian jam band. The kind that is eclectic and features long jams of the kind spawned in the 1960s by The Grateful Dead and since picked up by hundreds of bands. Their music isn’t particularly original. Jamband lovers will detect influences from a whole range of bands. I heard shades of Phish, Umphrey’s McGee and Disco Biscuits, all big touring jambands on the American festival scene.
Derivative they may be, but Summit Attempt still make likeable music. Moreover, they’ve put their first independently produced album, Blue Bugyal, online for free download. I’d written sometime back about how Indian hard-rockers, Them Clones, had slipped a blank CD in with their first album, exhorting buyers to rip their music and pass it on to a friend. Well, Summit Attempt go the whole nine yards and are giving away their album for free. I think this is the beginning of a trend where indie bands in India, like many of their peers in the west, will increasingly put their music out free to fans, creating a buzz and, therefore, hoping for crowds at their gigs. We’re not complaining.
Three to Tango
- Hearts, Murder and Paris, France: Three songs by Blair. A native of New Orleans who now lives in NYC, her creaky voice and reverb-laden music is infectious.
- Me and The Devil: By Gil Scott-Heron, poet and musician, whose first album in 15 years, I’m New Here, came out a few weeks back.
- Anti-Urban Contemporary Thang: Some hip-hop, some blues, some R&B and some soul. A weekly podcast that’s pleasingly funky.
(Sanjoy Narayan tweets at www.twitter.com/argus48)