Posts Tagged ‘Ronnie Hawkins’

The Return Of A Familiar Sound

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 6, 2009

After I utterly missed Rick Danko while looking at a 1980s video of The Band Thursday, I thought a little bit about the version of the group that formed in the 1990s, releasing three CDs and touring several times. And I wondered what songs, if any, I should offer here over the next month or two. So I clicked on over to All-Music Guide and then to Amazon.com to refresh my memory on who wrote what on the three 1990s albums.

And I learned that all three of those CDs – Jericho from 1993, High on the Hog from 1996, and Jubilation from 1998 – are out of print. There are copies for sale out there, but the three pages at Amazon noted that “This item has been discontinued by the manufacturer.”

I’m of two minds about that. First, I think it’s a shame. There’s a lot of music from the 1990s still in print that’s not anywhere near as good as The Band’s three albums from that decade. I acknowledge that the albums released by The Band in the late 1960s and early 1970s were far superior to what came later, especially the first three: Music From Big Pink (1968), The Band (1969) and Stage Fright (1970). But the three 1990s albums had their moments, too, and I think they deserve better. On the other hand, their being out of print frees me to share them here. We’ll start with the first of the three, 1993’s Jericho.

The 1990s group was made up of three original members of the group: Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and the now-departed Rick Danko. They were joined by Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and Richard Bell, who passed on in 2007.

And Jericho had a guest/ghost vocalist: The group recorded a backing for a vocal performance of “Country Boy” laid down by Richard Manuel in 1985, a year before he killed himself. I saw The Band in the mid-1990s in Minneapolis, and the best of a number of great moments in the performance came when the six musicians played the backing track to “Country Boy” with no vocal in front of it, their tribute to Manuel.

I got the album on cassette for Christmas in 1993, shortly after it came out, and it was difficult at the time to assess how good the album actually was. It was such a treat to hear the three members of the original group again, to hear Danko and Helm switch off vocals, to hear Hudson’s keyboard and woodwind artistry, and to hear the three of them collaborate with the three new players to create the rootsy sound that always defined The Band.

Digging past the sound and into the credits, the first thing one notices about Jericho is that the group wrote very few of the songs. In the original incarnation of The Band, of course, Robbie Robertson had – by The Band in 1969 – become the group’s main songwriter. (There’s some disagreement about that among members of the original group, but I’m just going by the writing credits as listed on the albums.) On Jericho, only three of the twelve tracks – “Remedy,” “The Caves of Jericho” and “Move to Japan” – list members of the group as writers, and always in collaboration with others.

That said, however, The Band’s collegial approach to music – both vocal and instrumental – makes the nine other songs, covers all, work just fine. Highlights to me are Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” along with “Country Boy” and the elegiac “Too Soon Gone.”

What doesn’t work? Well, nothing fails spectacularly. “Move to Japan” is kind of silly, but it clunks along all right. And “Amazon (River of Dreams)” doesn’t always work in its attempt to be atmospheric.

At the time the album came out, though, I don’t think there were a lot of quibbles from listeners and fans. The first track I heard was “Atlantic City,” which came on the radio late one evening as I was driving back to Minneapolis from Rob’s home. The mandolin introduction caught my ears, and I listened carefully as I drove. Then Helm began his vocal, and when I realized who it was – it took no more than ten seconds of surprised thinking – I grinned. I imagine a lot of other folks were grinning, too, at the return of a familiar sound.

Tracks:
Remedy
Blind Willie McTell
The Caves of Jericho
Atlantic City
Too Soon Gone
Country Boy
Move to Japan
Amazon (River of Dreams)
Stuff You Gotta Watch
Same Thing
Shine A Light
Blues Stay Away From Me

Jericho – The Band [1993]

Reposts
The Hawk – Ronnie Hawkins [1971]
Original post here.

Living By The Days – Don Nix ([971]
Original post here.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1960

April 29, 2011

Originally posted July 25, 2007

Not long after I rose this morning, at about seven o’clock, someone in Clichy, France, a city of about 60,000 on the northwest edge of Paris, clicked on this blog. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon in Clichy, so it might have been someone just finishing lunch. I’ll never know.

But when that unknown resident of France clicked on the blog, it turned the counter here to 50,000. And I’d like to thank him or her as well as all of you who stop by here. I started the blog on a whim, creating a place to share music I love, and I am gratified that so many people out there – from Clichy, France, and Klagenfurt, Austria, to Yamagata, Japan, and Karachi, Pakistan, and on to Warwick, Rhode Island. and Madison, Wisconsin – seem to enjoy the same music I do and seem to enjoy reading my tales.

I’d like to thank all of you who stop by. Obviously, I know who only a very few of you are, but that’s fine. It really is enough to know that the music I love and the tales I tell are circling the world.

But I thought something a little more might be in order for that unknown resident of France. No, I’m not going to lapse into French here. (Years ago, my high school French served me fairly well during five days in Paris. Well, it did except for the time in a restaurant when the waiter asked if we wanted dessert and I told him we were going to die. Nous sommes fini, I told him, saying, “We are finished,” instead of the appropriate “We have finished.” His eyes got quite wide for a moment.) Rather, I thought I would find my favorite song in French – of the maybe fifty I have – as a start to a Baker’s Dozen. I hope my unknown visitor from Clichy likes the song as much as I do.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1960

“Je Ne Regrette Rien” by Edith Piaf, recorded in Paris November 10.

“Bye Bye Johnny” by Chuck Berry, Chess single 1754

“Late Last Night” by Slim Harpo, Excello single 2171

“Ruby Baby” by Ronnie Hawkins, Roulette single 4249

“Sleepless Nights” by the Everly Brothers from It’s Everly Time

“I’ve Got My Mojo Working, Part 2” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport

“Lonesome Cabin” by Sonny Boy Williamson II, Checker single 956

“The Magnificent Seven” by Elmer Bernstein from The Magnificent Seven soundtrack

“Close To You” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, Duke single 322

“Bye Bye Baby” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1003

“Greenfields” by the Brothers Four, Columbia single 41571

“Spoonful” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess single 1762

“North to Alaska” by Johnny Horton, Columbia single 41782

With a very few exceptions, I tend to dislike most of the music that ruled the Top 40 charts during the early 1960s, and the list here reflects that. Of the thirteen acts in the above list, only two – as far as I can tell; I may have missed something — reached the Top 40 during 1960: The Brothers Four’s version of “Greenfields” was No. 2 for four weeks in the spring, and Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska” reached No. 4 in the autumn.

A few comments about some of the songs:

The Edith Piaf performance was evidently released several times not long after it was recorded, and my uncertain reading of Ebay’s French site indicates that the EP releases came about in 1961. But the notes for Éternelle, the Piaf compilation I have, say the song was recorded in 1960, so we’ll call it a 1960 song.

Ronnie Hawkins’ performance of “Ruby Baby” may be backed by at least some of the Hawks who went on to become The Band. The time is right, generally, and I swear I hear Richard Manuel’s voice among the background singers.

“I’ve Got My Mojo Working, Part 2” comes from the July 1960 appearance by Muddy Waters and his band at the Newport Jazz Festival. A four-minute performance of “I’ve Got My Mojo Working” was so well received that after the song ended, Muddy and the band went back into it, creating the version heard here. Most blues fans think that Waters’ performance at Newport – available on a remastered CD – was among the finest of his long career.

For those of my vintage, who recall when there were commercials for cigarettes on television, Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for The Magnificent Seven conjures visions of rugged cowboys herding cattle through valleys surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The song was for much of the 1960s used in commercials for Marlboro cigarettes, and its genesis as the stirring theme of an iconic western movie was, alas, lost. From what I can tell, the theme wasn’t released as a single in the U.S. although there was a single released in the United Kingdom.

“North to Alaska” was one of the historical songs that Johnny Horton seemed to specialize in. He’d reached No. 1 for six weeks a year earlier with “The Battle of New Orleans.” (“We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’. There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago.”) And in the spring of 1960, his song “Sink the Bismarck,” inspired by – but not formally connected with – the identically titled film, went to No. 3.

Inspired By The Surrounding Crowd

April 18, 2011

Originally posted January 30, 2007

Ronnie Hawkins, it seems, is more famous for the musicians who backed him over the years – especially the five who went on to become The Band – than he is for the music he recorded and performed. That’s not to say anything negative about the Hawk’s music. It’s good ripping rockabilly and solid country love songs and ballads. And he did have some records that sold pretty well, including a Top 40 hit with “Mary Lou” in 1959.

 Still, there’s no denying that on this record – as on so many he recorded – it’s the identity and quality of some of the sidemen that lift the record from a good southern stew to a dish of undeniable taste. Duane Allman – in one of his last session gigs before his death in October 1971 – and the Dixie Flyers make Hawkins’ The Hawk more than just another Ronnie Hawkins record.

Certainly, Hawkins has always given good value, on record and on stage. But my sense is that he’s always performed best when challenged by the people around him rather than just accompanied by a band behind him. Witness the work he did in the studio with his most famous set of Hawks, and his possibly best-of-career performance with those same musicians when they closed out (at least the first stage of) their career as The Band in The Last Waltz. (Hawkins’ “Who Do You Love” remains one of the joys of the film and recording of the grand concert.) The same holds true here, as it did in his 1970 record Ronnie Hawkins, posted here a day ago: the presence of superlative musicians around him spurs Hawkins to performances that are by turns rousing and revealing.

Allman plays on ten of the record’s twelve cuts, missing only “Sick and Tired” and “Lonely Weekends.”  The other musicians are Duck Dunn of Booker T and the MG’s on bass, and the Dixie Flyers: Jim Dickinson on piano and acoustic guitar, Mike Utley on organ, Charlie Freeman on electric and acoustic guitar and Sammy Creason on drums. The Memphis Horns drop in on “Sick and Tired” and “Red Rooster.”

The record, released – like 1970’s Ronnie Hawkins – on Atlantic’s Cotillion label, was produced by Tom Dowd.

Track listing:
Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles
Sick and Tired
Lonely Weekends
Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee
Red Rooster
Ooby Dooby
The Lady Came From Baltimore
Leaves That Are Green
Patricia
Odessa
Treasure Of Love
Black Sheep Boy

Ronnie Hawkins – The Hawk [1971]

Ronnie Hawkins At The Shoals

April 18, 2011

Originally posted January 29, 2007

By 1970, the five musicians who’d been the best-known version of Ronnie Hawkins’ Hawks were long-gone, astounding the music world as The Band. So when Cotillion Records – a subsidiary of Atlantic – called, Hawkins headed down to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Along with him came Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd of Atlantic, who produced the eleven cuts on Hawkins’ 1970 release.

Backing the Hawk was the Muscle Shoals rhythm section: David Hood on bass, Roger Hawkins on drums and Barry Beckett and Scotty Kushnie on keyboards, along with guitarists Duane Allman, Eddie Hinton and Jimmy Johnson. Rounding out the sessions was King Biscuit Boy on harp.

The album is not all grit, showing a softer side of Hawkins than one might have expected on two Dylan covers, “One More Night,” and “One Too Many Morning,” on two Gordon Lightfoot tunes, “Bitter Green” and “Home From The Forest,” and on the country selections, “I May Never Get To Heaven,” “Little Bird,” and “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” They’re quiet, but still, not at all poor listens.

There is grit enough, however, in the remainder of the record. “Matchbox” and “Forty Days” kick some butt, and “Down In The Alley” slides in on southern grease. And if “Who Do You Love” sounds a little tame for the first few seconds, by the time Duane Allman’s slide guitar shoots in (it can’t be anyone else’s!), the song takes off.

In balance, the album might be a little more subdued than Hawkins’ reputation might promise, but it’s still a good listen.

Track list:
One More Night
Bitter Green
I May Never Get To Heaven
Will The Circle Be Unbroken
Matchbox
Little Bird
One Too Many Mornings
Forty Days
Down In The Alley
Who Do You Love
Home From The Forest

Ronnie Hawkins – Ronnie Hawkins [1970]