Dead End Street” marked a shift in Ray Davies’ songwriting. His songs began to take on a more UK-specific focus. And if not political, it was at least more socially pointed, as he sings about an out-of-work, impoverished couple who wonder, “What are we living for?” 50+ years on, many still ask that same question.

“Dead End Street” (Ray Davies) Copyright 1966 Davray Music Limited. Carlin Music Corporation.

 — Hey, now would be a great time to check out some of the other great Rock Podcasts on the Pantheon Podcasts network!

TRANSCRIPT:

Greetings to all of you dedicated followers of fashion, my name is Brad Page, host of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, here on the Pantheon Network of Podcasts. Each episode of this show, I pick one of my favorite songs and we explore it together, on our quest to understand what makes a song great. You don’t have to be a musical expert or know anything about music theory. We don’t get that technical here. We just use our ears to do some “forensic listening” and see what we discover. On this episode, we’re digging into an all-time classic song by one of the all-time classic bands: this is The Kinks with “Dead End Street”.

The Kinks are indeed a legendary band, one of the most important and influential bands to come out of the 60’s. But in some ways, I think they’re overlooked. Although in recent history they’ve been viewed in a new light, I don’t think they ever received commercial success that’s commensurate with their influence.

The Kinks formed in 1963 in an area of north London called Muswell Hill. Two brothers, Ray and Dave Davies, were the nucleus of the band. Now, I’ve heard that their last name should actually be pronounced “Davis”, but here in America, for literally decades, it’s been pronounced “Davies”. And if I said “Davis”, no one would even know who I was talking about. And I’ve been saying “Davies” for almost 50 years. And honestly, if I tried to change it now, I’m sure I would slip up somewhere along the line in this podcast, which would just make it more confusing. So, I’m going to continue pronouncing it “Davies”, and I apologize to anyone who’s annoyed by that.

Ray Davies was the primary singer and songwriter, and he played guitar. His younger brother, Dave Davies, played lead guitar and would occasionally sing a lead vocal. The original lineup of the band that became The Kinks included Pete Quaife on bass and Mick Avery on drums. Working with producer Shell Talmy, they signed a record deal with Pye Records in early 1964. The band was persuaded to cut a version of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” and release that as their first single. To be honest, I don’t think it’s a great version. From what I understand, it was a song that they’d never even played before, and it doesn’t feel to me like their hearts were really in it. Not surprisingly, the song failed to make much of a dent on the charts.

Their second single was an original written by Ray Davies called “You Still Want Me”, which sold even less than that first single. It didn’t even make the charts, but at least it was one of their own compositions.

But their third single, that was a different story.

Written by Ray Davies, “You Really Got Me” was released in August 1964 and was a number one hit in the UK. It was a top ten hit in the US. But beyond being a hit, this song earned its place in history based on their performance and the sound alone. As legend tells it, guitarist Dave Davies slashed his speaker with a razor to get that gnarly guitar sound.  As opposed to blues or 50’s rock and roll, this was the sound of Rock music, arguably the first real Rock Guitar riff. It set the template for all the hard rock and, yes, heavy metal that would come. You cannot underestimate the importance of this song.

They followed that with a string of incredible singles. Most of them have become classics, including “All Day And All Of The Night”, “Tired Of Waiting”, “See My Friends”, “A Well Respected Man”, “Till The End Of The Day”, “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” and “Sunny Afternoon”. Just an amazing run of songs.

And in November 1966, they released their 15th single– at least I believe it was their 15th single in the UK—“Dead End Street”, once again written by Ray Davies.

Ray had been continually improving and evolving as a writer, and “Dead End Street” is, I think, somewhat of a milestone in he Kinks catalog. In previous songs, Ray had explored topics like class, fashion and wealth, all with a satirical bent. But he was tackling something a little more serious here. This is a song about poverty. It’s been said that this is the song where Ray’s lyrics moved from social observation to social commentary.

Ray started with a backstory for this song: it was about a couple that wants to emigrate to Australia under what was known as the Assisted Passage Migration scheme, which was instituted to increase the population of Australia. But the couple in this song can’t find a job in Australia, so the plans fall through and they are stuck in England with no work there either.

Ray and Dave’s sister Rose had actually emigrated to Australia, so that was a source of inspiration. And in fact, a few years later, Ray would write a whole concept album based on Rose and her husband—“Arthur”.

Now, in June 1966, before they recorded this track, Pete Quaife was injured in a car accident and decided to leave the band. John Dalton joined the band on bass and he plays on this track. However, shortly after the song was recorded, Pete Quaife returned to the band. So Quaife appears in the promo film for this song. It’s kind of a proto-MTV video. You can find it on YouTube, but it is John Dalton who actually plays on this track.

The band recorded two versions of “Dead End Street”. They initially recorded it with their regular producer at the time, Shell Talmy. Talmy added an organ and a French horn to the song, but the band was unhappy with that version. So when Talmy left for the day at 05:00, the band decided to rerecord it on their own, this time bringing in the great Nicky Hopkins on piano. And Ray decided that he wanted a trombone instead of a French horn. So they went down to the local pub, where a lot of the session musicians would hang out. And they found a trombone player named John Matthews, and they dragged him back to the studio to add a trombone part.

So, the song features Ray Davies on lead vocals, Dave Davies on backing vocals, acoustic guitar and bass, John Dalton on backing vocals and bass, and Mick Avery on drums, with Nicky Hopkins on piano and John Matthews on trombone.

Now, you may have noticed that I credited both Dave Davies and John Dalton with playing bass, and that’s because there are actually two bass parts on this song. One is played on a typical Fender bass, while another part is played on a Danelectro bass, which has a brighter, twangier sound. When the song begins, you can hear both bass parts with that twangy Danelectro sound right up front.

And let’s hear a little of that trombone part. And that short intro will take us right into the first verse.

At this point, Ray was writing songs so rapidly that he was pulling ideas and inspiration wherever he could find them. He was living in an old house at that time. That had a crack in the ceiling and he used that to kick off this first verse.

On the second part of the verse, Ray doubles his vocals.

The instrumental backing also follows that vocal line, which reinforces the melody. Let’s hear that all together now.

That section there that leads us into the chorus that takes advantage of the woozy but mournful sound of the trombone, and there’s a nice simple snare drum fill that kicks off that part.

Really nice use of gang vocals here. Leading into the chorus, Ray sings, “We’re strictly second class and we don’t understand.” And then the crowd chants “Dead End” like they’re voicing their anger and frustration.

Then the call and response pattern switches. Instead of the crowd chanting first, they respond to Ray’s call of “Dead End Street” with a defiant “yeah”.

And that brings us directly into the second verse.

And that trombone plays a pretty prominent part in this verse.

Let’s listen to that.

And here’s the part of this song where he talks about losing the chance to emigrate to Australia and not being able to work.

“People live on Dead End Street, people are dying on Dead End Street, I’m going to die on Dead End Street”. You know, a lot of Ray’s songs are satirical, sardonic, farcical, but this song, lyrically, this song can be straight up bleak. I think Ray saw himself as kind of a champion for these people. The working class. He would mock those of us who were pompous, spoiled and greedy. But at this point anyway, he sympathized with the common man.

Mick Avery does some tasty little drum fills during the chorus, so let’s go back and listen to that.

That brings us to a short instrumental section that features the trombone. You can also hear that twangy Danelectro bass here. And they also add in some hand claps.

Let’s bring up the vocals again on this chorus.

There’s some terrific bar-room style piano under the chorus, played by the great Nicky Hopkins. Nicky was the go-to guy at the time. He must have been the busiest piano player in England all through the into the 70’s, he played on so many records. Let’s see if we can bring up his piano in the mix.

As the song approaches the final fade out, the hand claps return and the trombone takes a solo on the way out.

The Kinks – “Dead End Street”

As I mentioned before, The Kinks shot a promotional film for this song. It’s one of a number of films that could claim to be the first music video; it’s always a fuzzy science to determine the first of anything like this, but the clip for “Dead End Street” was definitely a very early precursor to the MTV style video. Instead of lip syncing to the song, the film shows the band acting out a scene where they’re dressed as undertakers carrying a coffin. Eventually the body, or the ghost from the body, jumps out of the coffin and escapes.

Of course, the BBC refused to show it, they said it was in bad taste. But you can watch it on YouTube now.

Thanks for joining me for this episode. If you enjoyed this one, there’s plenty more like it. You can find all of our previous shows on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com. Or just search for the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on Amazon, Google, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, anywhere that you can find podcasts, you’ll find this show.

You can keep in touch with us on our Facebook page, just look for the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. That’s also a great place to leave comments or feedback. And if you’d like to support the show, the best thing you can do is to just tell people about it. Share it with your friends, because your word of mouth is the best advertising that any podcast could get. I will be back in two weeks with another new show. Until then, check out some of the other great podcasts on the Pantheon Network. And thanks for listening to this episode on “Dead End Street” by the Kinks.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
The Kinks
https://www.thekinks.info/

YouTube (Dead End Street Promo Film)
https://www.youtube.com/

Nicky Hopkins
http://www.nickyhopkins.com/

It’s never a recipe for making great art when you’re under pressure to deliver an album to a rival record label due to contractual obligations… though Jimi Hendrix was never satisfied with the result, the Band Of Gypsys album became a very influential album and remains a favorite among Jimi fans and guitar players of all stripes. On this episode, we journey back to New Years 1970 to explore “Message of Love” from this legendary album.

“Message Of Love” (Jimi Hendrix) Copyright 1970 Experience Hendrix LLC

 — Hey, I was just thinkin’… now would be as great time for you to check out the other Rock Podcasts on the Pantheon Podcasts network!

TRANSCRIPT:

Greetings to all, here on the third stone from the sun and beyond. This is the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast beaming across the cosmos on the Pantheon Podcast Network. I’m your host, Brad Page, and each episode of the show, I pick a song and we explore it together, listening to all the nuances that make it one of my favorite songs. You don’t need any musical skill, knowledge or experience here– just a love for music and a little curiosity.

Well, here we are at the start of a brand new year, and I was trying to think of an appropriate subject for a January 1st episode. I thought, “we’ve talked about a lot of guitar players on this show…” I love guitar players. But I realized that, after over 140 shows, we’ve still never talked about one of the most important guitarists of all time. So let’s rectify that. It’s about time we talked about Jimi Hendrix.

Of course, Jimi Hendrix is a legend, with a legacy of some really important and influential records. It’d be tempting to pick a song like “Purple Haze” or “Voodoo Child”, “All Along The Watchtower”, or his version of “The Star Spangled Banner”. Those are all historically important tracks. But I wanted to do something different.

So, I chose a song from very late in his career when Jimi was at a turning point in his career– at a crossroads, to use a cliche. So, we’re going back to a New Year’s Eve over 50 years ago, when 1969 gave way to 1970, with Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsys ringing in the new year at the Fillmore East, playing “Message Of Love”.

[Music]

Everybody knows that Jimi Hendrix is a legend, an icon. There are literally dozens of books written about him; there are documentaries. So I’m not going to go over a detailed history of Hendrix, but to understand how Jimi Hendrix ended up playing at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve, first we have to go back to his early years in New York City.

Jimi Hendrix was a working musician, paying his dues and playing as a sideman to people like the Isley Brothers and Little Richard. In 1965, he ended up as a guitarist in Curtis Knight’s band, playing cover songs on the New York and New Jersey circuit. Jimi eventually grew tired of that and formed his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.

It was during a stint playing in Greenwich Village, New York, when he was“discovered” by Chas Chandler, former bassist for The Animals, who was transitioning into being a manager. Chandler brought Jimi over to England, and they put together the Jimi Hendrix experience with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. And the rest, as they say, is history.

 Now here’s where things get messy. Back in ‘65, when he was playing with Curtis Knight, Jimmy had signed an exclusive recording contract with a guy named Ed Chaplin. Jimi had also signed a contract with producer Juggie Murray. But hey, look, Jimi was a struggling musician, just trying to find some success– any success. He was a guitar player, not a lawyer, and he was naive. He’d sign anything if he thought it could help him at the time.

But now, with the Jimi Hendrix Experience having hit records on the Warner Brothers label, Ed Chaplin came a calling in 1967 with his contract from two years earlier, and he sued.

Hendrix had made some recordings with Curtis Knight back in ‘65. Those records are not very good, but Chaplin licensed them to Capitol Records, who then released two albums worth of that stuff. In fact, at one point, you had the legit Warner Brothers records competing against the Capitol stuff at the same time.

Here’s a song from the Curtis Knight sessions; it’s an instrumental called “Knock Yourself Out”, which Jimi got a co-writing credit on.

{music]

Eventually, a settlement was arranged with an agreement that Ed Chaplin and Capitol Records would get the rights to one Jimi Hendrix album. Hendrix had just finished recording “Electric Ladyland”, which was a double album, so it was agreed that the next album would be given to Capitol.

But things in the Hendrix camp were tough. First, Chas Chandler had left the fold, and not long after, Noel Redding quit.  Jimi brought in his old army buddy, Billy Cox, to play bass. Then Jimi rounded up a bunch more musicians, adding additional percussionists and a second guitar player. He called the band “Gypsy Sun and Rainbows”, and this was the band that played at Woodstock.

[Music]

But a month later, Jimmy broke up that band. It just wasn’t working for him.

Meanwhile, the pressure is on. He still owes one album to Capitol, and Jimi didn’t even have a band. So, Jimi, Billy Cox, and drummer-vocalist Buddy Miles put together a band. They made a deal with promoter Bill Graham to play four shows at the Fillmore East in New York: two shows on New Year’s Eve, and two shows on New Year’s Day, 1970. All four shows would be recorded, and they would release the best tracks as a single live album to fulfill the Capitol Records contract.

Before the show, Jimi, Buddy and Billy, calling themselves “Band of Gypsys”, worked up a set consisting mostly of new material, including “Machine Gun”, one of Jimi’s most incredible guitar performances.

Both Buddy and Billy were veterans of R&B bands, and they brought a funkier, soulful groove to the songs that the Jimi Hendrix Experience just never had. Buddy was also a great singer, too. His lead vocals are featured on two songs on the “Band of Gypsys” album. Buddy introduces this track on the record.

[Music]

The song starts off with a chromatically ascending riff before kicking off into the main riff of the song.

[Music]

Let’s just hear Jimi’s guitar on that riff.

[Music]

Behind that, Billy Cox is playing a pretty busy bass part over a pretty simple drumbeat, laid down by Buddy Miles. Let’s hear their parts.

[Music]

They only play through that riff twice before starting the first verse, which is a variation on the main riff, simplified a bit to leave room for the vocals.

[Music]

I really like the backing vocals there. One of the things about Jimi’s previous band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was that they didn’t have a strong vocalist in the band to back up Jimi. Buddy Miles was a powerhouse singer, and he adds a lot. And with Billy Cox chipping in, these backing vocals were kind of a whole new sound for Jimi.

[Music]

After a few lines of the verse, we get a new short riff with Jimi and Billy playing the same part together mostly. And that brings us back to the verse riff.

[Music]

And that brings us to another new riff. This one’s a little more rapid fire, with Jimi and Billy doubling the part, and Buddy scat singing the riff with them.

[Music]

Now here we have a somewhat quieter or gentler part. Jimi is playing some of those chords he was famous for; as much as he’s thought of as an incredible lead guitarist– and he was– he was also a killer rhythm player.

[Music]

Jimi’s rhythm guitar playing is as identifiable as his lead playing. Let’s hear this part again without the vocals, so that we can hear a little more of his guitar.

[Music]

The verse riff, the backing vocals come back in, but this time, Jimi’s just going to vamp a bit around the riff. At this point, Jimi is going to crank up the volume and play a solo, and I think now is as good a time as any to talk about Jimi’s guitar sound. Though he played other guitars, Jimi was primarily associated with the Fender Stratocaster. As a left-handed player, he would take a right-handed Strat, flip it upside-down and restring it, and that’s what he was playing this night with the Band Of Gypsys.

Now, playing the guitar upside-down like that meant that things like the volume & tone controls and the vibrato arm were in a different position than they would be if you were playing it normally. And Jimi was able to take advantage of that, particularly with the vibrato or whammy bar.

Jimi also pretty consistently used Marshall amplifiers, I think typically Super 100’s, but don’t quote me on that. But that was the standard beginning and end of his signal chain: a Fender Strat into a Marshall amp. But what went between his amp and guitar? That’s another story that changed frequently.

Jimi was always looking for new sounds, and he would explore any new effects gadget that came his way. Guitar effects pedals were still a relatively new thing in the late 60’s. Jimi was friends with a guy named Roger Mayer, an electrical engineer who had worked for the British Navy. He started building effects devices for guitars, like fuzz pedals, and one of the earliest units he built was the Octavia, which takes the input signal from the guitar and generates that sound one octave higher, then mixes it back in with the original guitar sound, and adds distortion or fuzz. Like most guitar pedals, it would sit on the floor between your guitar and amp, with a button you’d press with your foot to turn it on and off.

Jimi first used the Octavia on the solo for “Purple Haze” in 1967. Roger Mayer would continue to tweak and modify the Octavia for Hendrix. And Jimi was using one of those later versions for this Band Of Gypsys show.

You can hear the Octavia most notably on the song “Who Knows” from this show. Jimi was also using a fuzz pedal built by Roger Mayer. It was either a Fuzz Face or an Axis Fuzz, depending on what you read. He had two other effects pedals on stage this night: a Vox wah-wah pedal, which you can hear on the song “Changes”:

[Music]

And he was using a Univibe, a new and pretty innovative pedal for its time. It’s a little tough to explain what a Univibe actually sounds like– it’s a cross between phasing, a chorus sound, and vibrato, but you can hear it in action on the song “Machine Gun”.

[Music]

Now, there is one other thing to take into account regarding Jimi’s guitar sound, and that’s the order in which the effects are plugged into each other. Believe it or not, it makes a big difference in the sound. For example, a wah-wah pedal plugged into a fuzz pedal sounds significantly different than the other way around, a fuzz pedal plugged into a wah. This can lead to endless rounds of debate and conjecture, but luckily, we have some photographs from this show that pretty clearly show the sequence of his pedals that night:

His guitar is plugged into a Vox wah-wah pedal, which is plugged into the Octavia, which is plugged into the Fuzz Face, that’s plugged into the Univibe, and then that is finally plugged into his Marshall amplifier. Wah pedal, Octavia, Fuzz pedal, Univibe.

Okay, so back to “Message Of Love”. At this point, the fuzz is really going to kick in, and Jimi’s going to go for his first solo.

[Music]

And now, Jimi’s going to step on that wah-wah pedal.

[Music]

Now Jimi’s gonna hit a harmonic and quickly bend it down with the whammy bar, then turn off the wah pedal for the rest of the solo.

[Music]

You can hear them slow the tempo down there.

[Music]

The band is going to break, and then Jimi is going to do a little scat singing, this time singing along to his guitar part.

[Music]

They’re gonna build it back up here. Jimi and Buddy are gonna add some vocals.

[Music]

It sounds a little rough coming back into the riff there. I can’t imagine they had more than a handful of rehearsals before these shows, so there’s bound to be some rough spots. But that’s what makes this a truly great live album. There’s a real “edge of your seat” energy to this record. They didn’t go back and fix up every mistake– this is how it really went down that night, New Year’s 1975.

Jimmy’s gonna cut loose with the second solo. Let’s focus in on Jimmy’s guitar.

[Music]

They bring back that chromatic climb from the beginning of the song to wrap it all up. Jimi’s just messing around with the whammy bar and some feedback.

[Music]

The Band of Gypsys – “Message Of Love”

The song has also been credited as “Message To Love”, but on all the versions of “Band of Gypsys” that I have, it’s referred to as “Message Of Love”. So that’s what I’m sticking with.

The “Band of Gypsys” album was commercially very successful. Critics didn’t necessarily love it, and Hendrix himself was never satisfied with it; he felt it was rushed and it didn’t sound great, and if it wasn’t for the contractual obligations, he wouldn’t have released it. Not that it mattered. By the time the album was released, the band had already broken up.

But the album has gone on to be very influential, paving the way for future funk rock acts. And it was an important touchstone, particularly for black artists making their mark in the rock world, like Living Color and Lenny Kravitz. And it remains one of my favorite Jimi Hendrix records, and just favorite guitar records in general.

Thanks for joining me for this musical journey on the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. As always, I’ll be back in about two weeks with another new episode. Until then, get your fix of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast by listening to any of our previous shows on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com, or find us on your favorite podcast app.

You can keep in touch with us on Facebook, just look for the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast to find our page. And please support the show by sharing it with your friends and just telling somebody about it.

On behalf of the Pantheon Network of podcasts, I gently remind you to support the artists that you love by buying their music, and I’ll see you back here next time. Thanks for listening to this episode on Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsys. Happy New Year, everyone.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
Jimi Hendrix
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimi_Hendrix

Band of Gypsys
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Band_of_Gypsys

Message of Love
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Message_of_Love

Fillmore East
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fillmore_East

Fender Stratocaster
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fender_Stratocaster

Marshall amplifier
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Amplification

Octavia pedal
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octavia_(effect)

Fuzz Face
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzz_Face

Univibe
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Univibe

Wah-wah pedal
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wah-wah_pedal

Billy Cox
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Cox

Buddy Miles
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddy_Miles

Bettye LaVette is the epitome of perseverance. She cut her first record in 1962 at the age of 16, but it took over 40 years before she received the recognition and respect she deserved. In between, she weathered every injustice that the music business threw at her. But she never gave up, she never stopped working, she never stopped singing… in fact, she just got better. Bettye is more than just a singer; she’s an interpreter who can transform any song into something new & special. On this episode, we focus on a track from her 2007 album The Scene of the Crime, and trace the path that brought her to this album– one of my all-time favorites.

“I Still Want To Be Your Baby (Take Me As I Am)” (Eddie Hinton) Copyright Eddie Hinton Music (BMI) 

TRANSCRIPT:

So let me ask you a question: You have your favorite songs, right? What is it about those songs that you love? What makes those songs so great? Well, these are the questions that we try to answer here on the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast.

I’m your host, Brad Page, and each episode I pick one of my favorite songs and we listen to it together trying to understand what goes into creating a great song. No musical knowledge is required here, we don’t delve into music theory or technical jargon. All you need are your ears and just a little bit of curiosity.

If I had to pick just a handful of women’s voices for my desert island collection, it would have to include Aretha Franklin, of course, Mavis Staples… and Bettye LaVette.

Many people don’t know Bettye LaVette, but she’s one of the greatest vocalists I’ve ever heard. On this episode, we’ll be listening to Bettye and a song called “I Still Want to Be Your Baby.”

The story of Bettye LaVette is a story of perseverance, of determination, and survival. Bettye LaVette was born Bettye Jo Haskins in January 1946. She grew up in Detroit, and when she was 16 years old, she recorded her first single, a song called “My Man He’s A Lovin’ Man” in 1962. It made it to the top 10 on the R&B charts.

[Music]

Her next couple of singles didn’t do as well, but she made it back onto the R&B charts in 1965 with “Let Me Down Easy.”

[Music]

She continued to record singles for various small labels. She recorded in Memphis with the Dixie Flyers and the Memphis Horns, and reached number 25 on the R&B charts with a song called “He Made A Woman Out of Me”, despite the fact that it was banned on some stations because it was deemed a little too sexual for some folks. I love this track, though.

[Music]

They were planning a full album for Bettye, but the deal fell apart due to conflicts between the producer and the label. Bettye picked herself up and managed to sign a deal with Atlantic Records in 1972. She headed down to the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama and finally got to record her first full album with the legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section.

That album was going to be called “Child of the 70s.” It was mastered and prepared for release. There was even a publicity tour scheduled. But at the last minute, the album was shelved. The label called Bettye and said, “We’ve decided not to go forward with this project. Please return your plane tickets.”

You can imagine how devastating that must have been. To this day, nobody really knows why the record was shelved. But Bettye picked herself up again and went back to work.

A few more unsuccessful singles were released. In 1978, she recorded a disco single called “Doin the Best I Can,” which actually became a pretty big disco hit, but Bettye had signed away all of her rights to the song so she didn’t make a penny from it.

She wasn’t going to give up, though. She’d find a way to survive. In 1979, she joined the Broadway cast of “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” and she stayed in that production for four years. She kept recording records here and there all through the 80s and 90s, but none of them got much attention.

Then, a record collector in France had been searching for the master tapes of that 1972 album, “Child of the 70s.” In 1999, he found them. He licensed the recordings from Atlantic and released the album himself. 28 years after it was recorded, Bettye’s first album was finally released. And then people started to pay attention.

Between 2000 and 2006, the crowds grew bigger at Bettye’s shows, the records sold more copies, and the critics raved. Then, in 2007, she returned to the Muscle Shull Studio, now 35 years after her last sessions there to record her next album, and it’s a masterpiece.

Her record label reached out to Patterson Hood and asked him if he was interested in producing Bettye’s album. Patterson is a member of the Drive-by-Truckers, and he’s also the son of David Hood, the bass player from that legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section. Patterson jumped at the chance to work with Bettye, and he set up the sessions at Muscle Shoals’ Fame Studios.

Patterson lined up a stellar group of musicians, including the rest of the Drive-by-Truckers, along with some of the original Muscle Shoals players. He even got his dad to come in and play on a few tracks.

They called the album “The Scene of the Crime”, acknowledging that she was returning to the place where her ill-fated child of the 70s album was recorded.

The album opens with this song, “I Still Want to Be Your Baby”. And right off the bat, Bettyee establishes who she is with this track. She’s tough, she is who she is, she’ll love you and stick with you through the good times in the bad– but don’t try to change her.

What makes her version all the more interesting is that this song was written by a man, from a man’s perspective. Eddie Hinton wrote this song. He was another one of the legendary players at Fame Studios; he was their go-to lead guitarist. He was also a songwriter.

Eddie Hinton died in 1995 before this album was recorded, so he wasn’t around to play on the record. Otherwise, I bet he would have been there and would have approved wholeheartedly of Bettyee’s interpretation.

The song opens with two guitars, one in the left channel playing a simple riff, the other is in the middle only playing half of the riff an octave lower.

Both guitars are slathered in reverb. This is not fancy digital studio reverb. This is the sound of a real tube-driven guitar amp with its built-in spring reverb. You can really hear that distinctive spring reverb sound on these guitars. And the guitar in the middle also has some tremolo effect on it, set at a relatively fast speed. Let’s listen.

[Music]

After that four-bar intro, the rest of the band jumps in. There’s a third guitar in the mix, panned a little to the right. There are three guitar players on this album, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and John Neff, all members of the Drive by Truckers. And I’m not sure who’s playing which parts, but just keep in mind that there are three distinct guitar parts on this song.

The rest of the band includes Shana Tucker on bass and Brad Morgan on drums, also from the Drive by Truckers. So you’ve got the whole Drive by Truckers band backing Bettye on this track. Also on keyboards is none other than Muscle Shoals legend Spooner Oldham.

Let’s pick it back up from the intro.

[Music]

Bettye LaVette was 61 when she made this record. And I think she’s never sung better. This is not the voice of a young diva. This is the voice of a woman, a woman who’s lived, who’s loved, been hurt, and who’s learned.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be interested in hearing a 20-year-old singing this song. “I’ve been this way too long to change now.” That would just sound ridiculous coming out of the mouth of someone that young. Here, Bettye’s singing, it’s pitch perfect, but the ragged edges of her voice adds gravitas. It rings true. Feels real.

Whatever abilities may diminish with age, the experience that comes with growing older can more than make up for it. As great as Bettyee’s performances from the 60s and 70s were, I think she’s an even better singer now. Here’s the first verse.

[Music]

The guitars are playing behind the verses actually pretty atmospheric. Let’s listen to a little bit of that.

[Music]

And that takes us into the next chorus.

[Music]

I love her phrasing on that last line:

[Music]

Here’s the second verse, and this is where Spooner Oldham joins in on the electric piano. Listen for that.

[Music]

This is the closest thing we get to a guitar solo in this song, and I like the interplay between the rhythm guitars here.

[Music]

Let’s bring Bettye’s vocals up in the mix for this last verse.

[Music]

That guitar refrain returns, and Bettye does some improvising.

[Music]

All three guitars begin to play off and around each other:

[Music]

You can really hear that tremolo on the guitar here at the end.

[Music]

Bettyee LaVette – “I Still Want To Be Your Baby”

Bettyee doesn’t play an instrument, and she doesn’t write songs. Bettyee does one thing, and she does it better than almost anyone else: she interprets songs. In 2008, she appeared at the Kennedy Center Honors for The Who, and sang a version of “Love, Reign O’er Me” that brought the house down. It was a show-stopping moment.

Bettyee’s continued to make records, including “Blackbirds” in 2020, where she recorded her version of songs by the great black women artists that inspired her. And just last month, September 2023, she released her latest album, Simply Called “LaVette”, that’s a return to the rootsy, bluesy and Americana sounds of this track. It’s probably my favorite album of the year.

Bettyew is 77 years old, a living legend, and still going strong, doing some of her best work today.

Thanks for checking out this episode of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. If you’d like to know more, or share your thoughts, find us on Facebook or on Podchaser, where you can leave a review, rate us, and tell us what you think. And don’t forget to follow the show so that you never miss an episode.
We are part of the Pantheon podcast family– lots of great music-related shows to be found there, so check them out.

We’ll be back in two weeks with another new episode. Until then, go support Bettye LaVette by buying a few of her albums. You will not regret it.

[Music]

The Beatles had many peaks in their career, but their August 15, 1965 concert at Shea Stadium may be the high point. It was certainly their ultimate live performance and the pinnacle of Beatlemania. On this episode, I’m joined by author Laurie Jacobson; her new book, “Top Of The Mountain“, tells the story of that record-breaking concert. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the events leading up to the performance, including the tale of the man who made it all happen, Sid Bernstein.

More on Laurie’s book here:
https://www.lauriejacobson.com/Beatles.php

And check out our other Beatles episodes:
The Beatles – “Rain”
Special Edition: The Beatles “Get Back” Documentary
The Beatles – “Hey Jude” (with special guest James Campion)

TRANSCRIPT:
Welcome, welcome. Glad to have you here. This is the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on the Pantheon Podcast network, and I’m your host, Brad Page.

Back in February 1964– 59 years ago– the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and literally changed everything about rock music overnight. That’s when the Beatles conquered America, where it all started here. But if you want to look at where Beatlemania peaked, at least in terms of their first phase, it would have to be 18 months later, on August 15, 1965, when the Beatles played before a sellout crowd at Shea Stadium in New York at the time. The largest concert in history, and still one of the most important chapters in the story of rock.

Laurie Jacobson is an author, and her new book tells the behind-the-scenes story of The Beatles at Shea Stadium. The book is called “Top of the Mountain”. And it’s not only a detailed look at the concert itself, it’s the incredible story of how the concert came to be in the first place, as well as the story of the people who put the show together and the fans who were there. And it’s also full of some terrific photographs taken at the show; many of them have never been seen before.

You guys know that I’m a big Beatles fan, so I asked Laurie to come on the podcast and talk about the night the Beatles took over Shea Stadium and her new book, “Top of the Mountain”.

BRAD: Laurie Jacobson, welcome to the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. Usually on this show, we focus on one song, but today we’re going to do something a little different. Because I read your book, and it is such a great story, I really wanted to talk to you about it.0

So your book is called “Top of the Mountain”, and it tells the story of the Beatles legendary concert at Shea Stadium in August 1965. So, first, let’s get some facts and figures out of the way. This was the Beatles second US tour. It was actually the opening night of the show, the first show of that tour on August 15 at Shea Stadium in New York. And they played in front of 55,000 people. Is that right?

LAURIE: 56,000

BRAD: 56,000 — which was not only the Beatles biggest concert, but it was the biggest concert audience ever at that time. It was a record they held until 1973, when Led Zeppelin broke the record with a 56 plus thousand attendance at a show in Tampa, FL. But this is a really significant event. I believe no band had ever played at a stadium before this show, is that true?

LAURIE: Not a stadium of this size. And even The Beatles had played couple of smaller stadiums, but not a huge baseball stadium like this.

BRAD: Right. Nothing approaching 56,000 seats. No one had ever done that before.

LAURIE: No one. Not Elvis. Not Sinatra. Nobody had ever played in front of this many people. Nobody had ever received the paycheck The Beatles received for that night. And 56,000 rock and roll fans had never laid eyes on one another before in such large numbers.

BRAD: Yeah. So let’s introduce the cast of characters. Of course, we all know who the four Beatles are, but there was also Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager, right? Talk about Brian Epstein.

LAURIE: Brian Epstein was, you know, a very cultured, refined young man. His parents were in the furniture business in… my dad was in the furniture business also, and they, of course, had a stereo department, and they began selling records. And Brian did the exact same thing. It’s just a natural for your stereo department. And one day, somebody came in and asked for a record by The Beatles, and Brian had never heard of them before, but he decided to check them out because they were playing just down the street at The Cavern. So he was really… and here is Brian, in his suit & tie and very buttoned up. And The Cavern is this basement former fruit cellar with no windows, and hot, sweaty kids on lunch break coming to hear The Beatles. And he was really impressed. And he had the foresight to recognize that these guys could go places with a little help from him.

BRAD: Yeah.

LAURIE: And then he hoped and prayed that America would call. He tried and tried, with no success, little to no success, about getting them on the air in America. And suddenly one day, his prayers were answered when another cast member, Sid Bernstein, called Brian.

BRAD: Yeah. And probably the single most important person in this story is Sid Bernstein. So tell us, who was Sid Bernstein?

LAURIE: Sid Bernstein was a New York concert promoter. He booked pretty concerts with people like Judy Garland and Tony Bennett, people like that. And he believed in keeping himself sharp. So, he was taking a class, and the class assignment was to read newspapers from other countries. Well, Sid could only read English, so that limited him to the British newspapers. And of course, he goes right to the entertainment section, since that’s his field. And he keeps seeing these little blurbs about a group called The Beatles playing small cities in and around the UK. And the word “pandemonium” is always associated with their concerts. So of course, this immediately catches his eye. And then he follows them weekly. And this word “pandemonium”, who are these guys? He starts making some calls, he finds out that Brian represents them, and he, Sid, is like, “I got to have these guys here, I got to book them”. And he found Brian’s phone number and basically got Brian’s mom on the phone and said, can Brian come out to play? Brian was so thrilled that America was finally calling, and Sid had this great idea to book The Beatles at Carnegie Hall, where no rock and roll group had ever been booked. And I think the only reason Carnegie Hall said yes was because they didn’t know they were a rock and roll group, right?

So Sid set the concert several months out, and he said, “Believe me, by the time the concert rolls around, they’ll be on the air here, I can promise you that.”

So in the interim, Ed Sullivan is passing through Heathrow Airport with his wife, and comes in contact with thousands of girls screaming for the arrival of The Beatles. And of course, he says, “What’s going on?” Finds out, discovers that Sid has already booked them at Carnegie Hall and calls Sid Bernstein, who he knew very well, and asked if he could ride Sid’s coattails. Basically, “Can I have them on my show three or four days before they appear at Carnegie Hall?” Well, Sid thought this was great. That guarantees his show to be a sellout.

BRAD: And I think this is really important, because the familiar narrative is, like you said, Ed Sullivan just happens to see all of the pandemonium, like you said, around The Beatles, and books them for his show. But Sid was there first. Sid had booked them for Carnegie Hall long before they were ever booked on The Ed Sullivan Show, long before they ever got any radio play in the States. I mean, he was really the first guy in the States to really see the potential at the time when Capitol Records in the States couldn’t care less about The Beatles, they were actively ignoring The Beatles. But here’s Sid, who’s really the first guy to step up and to have the vision of what their success could be in the States, before Ed, before Capitol, before Murray the K, before any of that.

LAURIE: Absolutely.

BRAD: So he books them at Carnegie Hall for February 12, 1964. He books it 11 months before the show again, before the Beatles were making any waves anywhere in the States, but the show ends up selling out in 40 minutes. Because, of course, by the time we get towards The Ed Sullivan Show, they’ve had a few hits in the States and of course they are massive on The Ed Sullivan Show. But then through the rest of 1964, Sid kind of has a rough time, right?

LAURIE: Well, yes and no. On the one hand, because of this success, he becomes the conduit for the British Invasion. He’s the number everyone has now. The Stones, the Animals. Jerry and the Pacemakers, The Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits. Everybody is calling Sid to come to America, and he actually starts booking the television show “Hullabaloo”, and he is bringing all these groups over to America, and he’s doing really great, but he made a big mistake: He booked The Animals for a five-night run in New York, thinking they would be as popular as The Beatles. And, hey, nobody was as popular as The Beatles. So the first two nights were a big success, and the last three nights of that five-night run, he lost his shirt and now he’s in some financial hot water.

BRAD: He needs a big score.

LAURIE: Yeah, he’s just had a baby. His wife is kind of upset with this turn of events, and, yeah, he needs the big score. So he thinks to himself, “who’s the most popular group in the world? The Beatles. And hey, I have a great relationship with Brian Epstein, so what’s the biggest venue I could possibly book them in?”

He thinks Madison Square Garden… No, not big enough. And he settles on Shea Stadium, which was only a year… Brian was really fussy, and Shea was brand spanking new, still had the sparkle on it, and he thought, yes, he’ll approve of this. So he calls Brian with the idea, and Brian immediately says, No. 56,000 seats. Are you crazy? We will never be able to sell that.

BRAD: No one ever had, no band, no pop artist ever had.

LAURIE: Right, correct. And at this point, there were still a lot of naysayers about The Beatles. It’s a fad, it will never last. It’ll be over by the end of the year.

BRAD: Right.

LAURIE: So he didn’t want to lay The Beatles open to a stadium that was only half filled, where all these people could say, you see, just as we said.

BRAD: And I think wisely, he was just trying to protect his boys. Right. He didn’t want to book them into a half full arena for the embarrassment and the bad press. It’s not an irrational thing for Brian to be hesitant to do it. But then Sid offers them an incredible deal.

LAURIE: Yeah. And Brian’s formula had been to play smaller places and have a line outside the door.

BRAD: Right.

LAURIE: That’s the look he was going for. So, yes, when tickets ranged from like $4.50 to $6.50, Sid says to Brian, I will pay you $10 for every empty seat in the stadium.

BRAD: Right? He not only guarantees them $100,000, which is a huge paycheck at the time, but he also says, for every empty seat, I’ll give you $10. I can’t think of another deal like that at the time, Sid was really taking a big risk there.

LAURIE: Yes, but Sid believed, and he was the only one who believed. Not even Brian believed that this could happen.

[Music]

LAURIE: So Brian says, that’s a deal I can’t turn down, but here’s my stipulation: I want 50% of the $100,000 in three months. And until I get that, you cannot advertise the concert.

BRAD: Right? No advertising, no publicity. But somehow, I want you to sell half the tickets to this show.

LAURIE: Sid is like, uh, how can I possibly raise $50 grand without advertising, right? And Brian says, well, I didn’t say you couldn’t talk about it.

BRADE: So this is really a fascinating part of the story, of how Sid begins to sell these tickets. Walk us through that, because it’s just so great.

LAURIE: And, Brad, this is actually my favorite part of the story.

BRAD: I believe it. It’s so good.

LAURIE: I just love this. So… Sid’s really depressed, right? He’s like…

BRAD: And his wife is none too happy.

LAURIE: She’s ready to go home to mom. “Are you crazy? What have you done Sid?” And Sid, by the way, he was a very large man, very heavy, and he knew the best entertainment and the best restaurants in New York. So I just see him walking down the street, eating a slice of pizza here, a hot pretzel there, thinking, “Woe is me. What’s going to happen?” And he takes his son in his stroller to Washington Square Park. And, you know, Sid was known by this time amongst all the kids for bringing all the great British groups over. He was pretty much the Pied Piper of Rock And Roll. So, wherever he went and kids saw him, they ran up to him to find out the latest news. And when they asked, “What’s going on, Mr. Bernstein?” He said, “Well, I’m bringing the Beatles to Shea Stadium in August.” Well, I mean, the girls begin screaming. One of them faints. They’re throwing money at him. And he realizes, “Okay, maybe this could be something.” He runs to the post office, he rents a PO Box, he runs back to the park. He tells the girls how much the tickets are and the PO Box address. And every day, he goes to the park, and he tells teenagers this story and gives them the address. And after three weeks, he finally works up enough courage to go to the PO Box. He forgets his key! He’s so nervous, because this is it, if there’s nothing in that PO Box, he’s a dead man.

BRAD: Right.

LAURIE: They open the box for him and when the post office workers find out who’s there, they all come running out of the back to see who is the man behind this box. And he’s like, “What’s going on?” They drag out bags and bags of mail. He had to get his car to bring it all home.

And inside those envelopes, he had rubles, he had yen, he had money from behind the Iron Curtain. So, at a time when there was only long-distance phone calls and letter writing, these kids in Washington Square Park spread the news about the concert around the world.

BRAD: It’s amazing. It’s like a scene from a movie, that you probably wouldn’t believe it if it was in a movie, but you can picture Sid and his wife at their kitchen table just opening these, letter after letter, pulling out money for tickets.

LAURIE: I mean, coins fell.

BRAD: Yeah. And then they came up with a way to go through all these bags and bags of mail. He actually hires some local neighborhood girls or something to help him process all of these letters, right?

LAURIE: Yes. They had a babysitter who was in nursing school, and he asked her if she had six or seven friends who might want to work for them every night until they went through all of these envelopes. And over a three-week period of time, they managed to go through more than 50,000 envelopes.

BRAD: I think you said in the book that it takes them three months to process it, and they end up with over 3000 envelopes that they don’t even open, because by that time, they’ve sold all the tickets, the show sells out and he ends up with $304,000. Is that right?

LAURIE: Yes. So when he meets Brian in January of ‘65, Brian is expecting $50,000 and he is able to give him the full $100,000.

BRAD: Right? Yeah. Brian’s looking, probably questioning whether he’s even going to get his $50,000. And Sid ends up handing him the complete $100,000 check. What a great story.

LAURIE: Really. It’s a wonderful story, and it’s so wonderfully innocent and so speaks to the time. So, now Sid has the hottest show in town that nobody knows, right?

BRAD: Yeah. Because he still can’t talk about. So he’s they start to prep for the show and then his expenses start to rack up for the staging and all of that kind of stuff. And then I believe the mayor of New York tells him he has to cancel the show. What was that all about?

LAURIE: You know, he had to jump through a lot of hoops with the city, I bet, to make this happen. He had rented the stadium on his name alone. That’s how well known he was in New York. He picked the date and the stadium said, we’ll hold it for you until the money comes in. But the mayor wasn’t so sure. They were very fearful, first of all, of security. What were they going to do if 10,000 fans decided to rush the stage?

BRAD: Right.

LAURIE: How were we going to get the Beatles in and out of the stadium without them being injured? What’s going to happen to traffic that day in New York? I mean, they had a million questions.

BRAD: And again, nothing like this had ever been done before, a rock show on this scale. But New York was pretty well aware of what Beatlemania looked like, because, of course, they had already been through the chaos around the Ed Sullivan performance. So they had a taste of it. They could see what could potentially happen. So you can understand the concern.

LAURIE: Oh, sure. And they had seen the thousands of kids around the Plaza in ‘64 when The Beatles stayed there and had done their ‘64 tour. So they knew that it could be absolute chaos out there.

BRAD: So in the days before the show, just kind of, as we lead up to the events of the show, The Beatles fly from Heathrow Airport to New York City; they stay at the Warwick Hotel. That must have been another chaotic scene.

LAURIE: Oh, yes. I mean, thousands, I can’t even imagine, but thousands of kids on the street, mostly girls. The hotel was full of girls that somehow sneaked in or had their parents rent a room there, or they disguised themselves as maids. And there were kids on top of the elevator, where they could have been crushed.

BRAD: The day before the show, the Beatles played on Ed Sullivan. They played, I think, like a six-song set. And then the day of the show, it’s a hot and humid day, right, like an 87-degree humid day in New York?

LAURIE: Yes. Sweltering summer day. And The Beatles had been partying pretty good, too. Bob Dylan was in town, and some of their other friends, The Ronettes, were coming by to see them, and there was a lot of smoking pot and playing records, and they couldn’t go out unless it was in secret.

BRAD: Right. So they were making the best of their quarantine.

LAURIE: And this was their life then, on the road. I mean, literally wasn’t safe for them to leave the room. Not much of an, you know, at a time when people’s security now is massive. They basically had three guys and Brian watching out for them. So the day of the concert comes around, and they’ve already decided that they are going to have to fly The Beatles in a helicopter over to Shea Stadium. And George was really not fond of flying.

BRAD: Yeah. George was a notorious bad flyer.

LAURIE: Yes. And the helicopter made him virtually weep with fear. The pilot of the helicopter said, “Well, you guys have been trapped in your room, you haven’t even been able to see any of New York. Let me show you the Empire State Building. Let me show you the Chrysler Building.” And he’s zooming through, up above, and George is literally white knuckling, crying, “get me down out of here, please.” All of this was filmed for the documentary. They had, um, a cameraman on the helicopter with them. So all of this was caught on film.

And of course, they could not land in the stadium, because they were afraid that kids would rush the helicopter and there could be terrible damage there. So they landed across the street, really across the way, where the New York World’s Fair was held. As well thought out as this was, they suddenly realized, if we drive The Beatles over in a limo, that limo is going to be mobbed. Kids will jump on it and God knows what will happen. So now, how are we going to get them into the stadium? And one security guy is looking around, and he sees a Wells Fargo armored truck; no windows, sitting unused, and won’t be needed for the next couple of hours. So he talks to the driver and commandeers this armored truck, finds four Wells Fargo badges in the front seat. He gives one to each of The Beetles, and he loads them up in the back of the truck. Poor George also is claustrophobic. George, now, who is green from the helicopter, is now being forced into the back of this truck, and they are safely driven into Shea Stadium.

BRAD: Now, before we talk about the show, I think one of the interesting side stories is that Sid was also, I believe, he was managing the Rascals, right? The band The Rascals. The Rascals didn’t play at the show, but he had a bunch of promotion for them going on, right? He was really trying to get their name in front of the audience.

LAURIE: Oh, Sid was really the ultimate old school promoter, actually. The Beatles did a press conference in a ballroom at the Warwick, and Sid had plants in the audience asking The Beatles, “Have you heard the Rascals yet? What do you think of them?” They never heard of them. But Sid just was getting that name out there. So, when kids coming into the stadium were looking into the dugout where they knew The Beatles would make their entrance, they saw some guys with long hair and they mistook them for The Beatles, and went running down there. Well, it was The Rascals. And yes, Sid had buttons and photos and all kinds of stuff that they were signing and handing out. And he also took the opportunity to flash “The Rascals are coming, The Rascals are coming” on a small welcoming screen in the stadium.

BRAD: Which I think Brian wasn’t too crazy about.

LAURIE: Yes. Brian quashed that immediately. I interviewed Felix Cavallari of The Rascals on his experience there that day. And he said Brian just very quietly said, “If that is not removed in the next 10 seconds, Sid, we shall be leaving.” And so Sid immediately had that taken down. “No one rides on the coattails of The Beatles” is what Brian said. He was always watching out for his boys.

BRAD: Right. That’s just a great story, though. And, typical for the shows of the day, this was kind of like a review show, where The Beatles weren’t the only ones that performed. There was a handful of opening acts. Why don’t you talk a little bit about some of the folks who opened the show for The Beatles? And could you imagine– 56,000 people are there, and not one of them is wanting to see you.

LAURIE: That’s exactly right. The first group was the fantastic sax player King Curtis. And um, he played behind a group called Discotheque Dancers, who demonstrated the hot dances of the day. And actually, one of the ladies, I found three of the five ladies from that group.

BRAD: Yeah. You actually interview them in your book.

LAURIE: Oh, yeah. And one of them said, “Well, my dad went with me that night, and he took 80 color slides that evening and we looked at them once and they’ve been in a drawer ever since. Would you like to have them?” Um, yeah!

BRAD: So you’ve got some great photographs in the book, and I imagine a lot of this stuff has never been really publicly seen before. You have those photographs. You also spoke to a number of, at the time, young folks who attended the show, and you’ve got some photographs from some of those people. Tell us a little bit about some of the other people in the book who contributed some of these great photographs.

LAURIE: You know, it sounds like I’m making it up to say at this late date, I have hundreds of photos that people have never seen, but I actually do. One guy, Mark Weinstein, was 17 years old, and he was bound and determined to get on the field. He sneaked into the bowels of Shea Stadium. He began trying every door he came to; they were all locked. And finally, one doorknob turns in his hands, he opens it, and the room is full of cops. And he thought “Oy vey”. He said to me, “I thought, Oy vey, if I run, I’m done.” So, he just thought really fast, walked in, faked a British accent, told them he was a friend of George Harrison’s and he was supposed to take photos that night, but had gotten separated from the group, and they led him right out onto the field. He took 60 photos from the edge of the stage, all of which are in the book, and one of which is the cover of the book.

BRAD: And that is a great shot of George and John.

LAURIE: I love that shot too. It was the last shot of the night, and there was another gentleman, who had to be coerced to even go to the concert, and he didn’t even know who The Beatles were. He decided he was also going to try and get into the stadium. And the door that was unlocked and opened to him led right into their dressing room. I mean, he opened the door, and there they were.

BRAD: It’s incredible.

LAURIE: With just like ten other people. So he walked in and just started taking photos. And he also got onto the field and took more photos. So, I have several photos that George Orsino took and, let’s see… Carly Simon’s brother Peter was there, and he was, I believe, 18. And he took some wonderful photos of the fans. So yeah, just, they covered it.  Like, Marvin Gaye was there. He was introduced to the audience. He didn’t perform, but my friend dawn from the Discotheque Dancers, she had danced, backing up Marvin Gaye. So when her father saw Marvin Gaye, he took his picture. That’s the only picture that exists of Marvin Gaye at Shea Stadium.

BRAD: It’s great.

LAURIE: And he’s holding his own little movie. Oh, I wonder what happened to that.

BRAD: The photographs in the book are just, I mean, they’re great. Between the photographs of the crowd and the band, it really does a great job of just capturing the energy and the excitement of that night.

LAURIE: Oh, the girls running across the field, and The Beatles pointing to the runners and encouraging them, and the police running after them. Just kids, scaling the walls to get in, and what kills me is the security that Sid had to arrange, and that Brian insisted on. And here are these people literally just walking in, walking into their dressing room, walking out onto the know again today. It could have been a terrible situation.

BRAD: Right.

LAURIE: But there was nothing but love and joy out there.

BRAD: Yeah. Sid does get Ed Sullivan to agree to introduce them at the show. And Sullivan makes kind of a side agreement with Brian Epstein to film the show, and Sid gets cut out of that whole thing, which is a shame.

LAURIE: Yes. And you know, Sid could have chosen to introduce The Beatles. Sid could have taken that moment for himself, but that’s not who Sid was. And he realized that the country’s association with Ed and The Beatles was where it was at, and so he graciously invited Sullivan to introduce them. Sullivan couldn’t say yes fast enough.

BRAD: So, after all the buildup, The Beatles play a short 30-minute set, which was standard for the day. They play twelve songs:

Twist and Shout
She’s A Woman
I Feel Fine
Dizzy Miss Lizzy
Ticket To Ride
Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby – which is Georgia’s showcase
Can’t Buy Me Love
Baby’s In Black, which I think is a really interesting choice
Act Naturally – that’s Ringo’s moment
A Hard Day’s Night
Help!
I’m Down

But, I mean, that’s a tight little set there. This was before the two-hour concerts, the marathon Bruce Springsteen concerts that we get these days. You got 30 minutes of The Beatles, and they were out of there. I believe that’s the same set they played all on the rest of the tour.

What are some of your favorite moments of that set? I’m sure you’re pretty familiar with the film by now, having written the book and everything. What jumps out to you when you think about that set?

LAURIE: Well, I love “Twist and Shout”, and that’s a great opener, especially after the crowd had been waiting so long. There were several other opening acts I didn’t mention and lots of radio personalities in between. I mean, it just was, you know, the crowds got there at six, I think the stadium opened at six, and the show started at seven, and The Beatles didn’t go on ‘till nine. So “Twist And Shout” is a great opener.

BRAD: “Help!” had just opened a few weeks before. They had filmed in the interim between when Sid books the show and they actually perform the show, they film the movie “Help!” and, of course, record that track & the album during that time. So that was pretty current material for them.

LAURIE: And, you know, they reprised “Hard Day’s Night”, of course, because that was still so uppermost in fan’s minds.

BRAD: No “She Loves You”, No “I Want To Hold Your Hand”…

LAURIE: Yeah, they were moving away from that, trying to play their more current stuff, and as a matter of fact, “I’m Down”, this was the first time they had played that.

BRAD: That was just a B side.

LAURIE: It’s the only song John’s on the organ, which was, um, almost uncomfortable for him. He said, I didn’t know what to do without my guitar. There I am, standing behind this organ, which was something so new for him.

BRAD: Yeah. But probably every Beatles fan is fairly familiar with that footage, probably seen it. But it’s not only the final moment of the show– it really is, to me, that’s the greatest moment of the show. And John is just having a blast pounding away at that electric piano or whatever and it’s one of McCartney’s great vocals on that song. He really gets his best Little Richard voice out for that. But it’s such a great moment. The footage of them playing “I’m Down” at Shea Stadium is just so great.

LAURIE: You know, they were a little bit afraid to go out there. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were also there, and they were in the dressing room with the Beatles. And Mick had gotten a little beat up on his way into the dressing room, some tough guys from Brooklyn were like, “You think you’re so great,” bam, bam, and they’re hitting him. And The Beatles were like, uh oh, what’s exactly going to happen out there? And Cousin Brucey assured them that they were going to be met with nothing but love. And from the moment they step out there– that’s my favorite moment of the documentary, they start looking around, they just can’t even believe what they’re seeing, right? It’s stunning, this number of people. And by the time they’re through with their set and they’re into “I’m Down”, and they know nobody can hear them, John has started to introduce songs, just speaking gobbledygook.

He knows nobody can hear them and it doesn’t matter what they say. And now he’s on this electric piano, and he knows nobody can hear that either. And you’re right, he’s pounding it, he’s playing it with his elbow. Ringo looks over and thinks, well, he’s just lost it. And George is trying desperately to stay serious and finally, he just can’t. He just can’t stay serious anymore, John has completely cracked him up, and he makes his way over to John. And that is the shot that Mark Weinstein caught.

BRAD: The cover of the book, and the photo is in the book as well. It’s just a great shot of John and George grinning ear to ear. You know, it’s the last song of the set. They know they’ve pulled it off, what a release that must have been. But I can imagine the terror stepping on the stage the beginning of that set. And then everything they went through to get to that emotional moment at the end of it.

Speaker C: Truly, if The Beatles remember only one concert, this is the concert they remember. You know, there was just nothing like it ever. And yes, that release must have been just, I mean, they did it. They really did. That’s where the title of the book comes from. Several years later, John was out one evening with Sid Bernstein and they were reminiscing about that night, and he said to Sid, “I saw the top of the mountain on that glorious night.”

BRAD: That’s great. So, when all is said and done, concert’s over, everybody goes home. When Sid tallies it all up, he ends up making a total of $3,000 for the show.

LAURIE: Incredible. I know. I don’t know where it all went. And Felix Cavalieri said Sid was a wonderful, honest, kind, generous, savvy man, but not all managers have both the business sense and the financial sense. Sid knew what he was doing promotion-wise. He recognized great talent when he heard it, but he wasn’t that great with the money end of it.

BRAD: But as you said, this assured him a place in history. I remember in the 80’s, going to my first Beatle conventions, Sid was a frequent speaker at those. And this was 20 years after the show. And people still loved to come and hear him tell his story as of the show. And I imagine he did that right up until the day he passed.

LAURIE: Yes, he lived to be 95 years old and was so proud, so proud of this great achievement, as well he should be, because frankly, this concert changed the world.

BRAD: Yeah, well, let’s talk a little bit about how this show changed history– where it fits and the impact it had.

LAURIE: Well, clearly, this was the future. And technology woke up the next morning and said, we flunked. Nobody could see them. Nobody could hear them. And this is all we’re going to see from this day forward, so we better get on board. And four years later, there was Woodstock. So they got on board in a big strapping hurry.

BRAD: Yeah. People forget that at this time, what they were using for a PA system was basically the same setup that they used for the announcers of the ball games, which were nowhere near adequate in terms of just pure volume and sound quality. That stuff sounds atrocious. There wasn’t all the big PA systems and monitors and all that stuff you have now, none of that stuff existed back.

LAURIE: Right. And no diamond screen to see them. You know, we didn’t even mention also at this concert were teenagers like Meryl Streep and Joe Walsh and Steve Van Zant, and Whoopi Goldberg was nine, she was there. Two future Beatle wives. And Meryl Streep was way up in the nosebleed seats with her little “I Love Paul” sign. And she said, “I had a better view of New Jersey than I did of The Beatles”. Everybody was just so happy to share the space with these guys they loved so much. But clearly, later on, people want to see them.

BRAD: Sure.

LAURIE: Technology got the big wake-up call. Madison Avenue saw 56,000 young people together and realized, we’re only selling these kids acne medicine. There is potential here for a lot more money. So, boom. The boomers immediately get on the map. So everything raced to catch up with this new young generation that was changing the world.

BRAD: Just an amazing time for music. And music was driving the culture in a way that it never had before.

LAURIE: Yes. People literally went from maybe ten friends gathered around your parents’ hi-fi to crowds of this size. Many of the opening act people, as well as the fans in the audience that I interviewed, said how empowering it was to be in the presence of 56,000 people who felt the same way that you felt. That was a life changing event for many of the people there. It was really amazing to talk to them and the fans I spoke to that were there, and literally, from Meryl Streep on down to just your basic fan, they still had the amazing enthusiasm that they had that night. They never lost it. It was still the most incredible event that any of them had ever attended.

BRAD: That’s great. Well, the book is called “Top of the Mountain”. It’s Sid Bernstein’s story, which is a fascinating story; t’s the story of dozens of people who attended the show and played their little part in the show by taking photographs or just being witnesses to the event; and, of course, it’s The Beatles story of what was, at the time, the biggest concert in rock history, and still stands as, I think, one of the most significant concerts ever.

Laurie, I really love the book. It was just a great, fun read. Thank you for coming on and talking about it, because it’s been a blast talking to you about the book and the concert.

LAURIE: Thanks, Brad. I so appreciate that, I really do.

BRAD: Sure. What do you got coming up next? Anything on the agenda for you?

LAURIE: This was my 6th book, and I primarily am a Hollywood historian, and I have written lots and lots about the history of Hollywood scandals and mysteries and all kinds of aspects of Hollywood history. And I think that my next book is something I’ve been preparing for for a very long time, which is a history of the Sunset Strip.

BRAD: That should be great.

LAURIE: So there will be lots of music there.

BRAD: Yeah, a lot of stories to tell there, that’s for sure. Well, Laurie Jacobson, thank you so much for doing the show with me. I really appreciate it. Good luck with the book and the books in the future. And thanks for the conversation.

LAURIE: I had a ball. Thanks, Brad.

BRAD: Thank you, Laurie.

And as always, thanks to all of you for listening. Go pick up a copy of Laurie’s book. You’ll love it. I’ll be back in a couple weeks with a new episode. Until then, you can listen to all of our previous shows, including more episodes on the Beatles, on our website– Lovethatsongpodcast.com is the place you’ll find them.

I always appreciate your reviews and your feedback. And if you want to support the show, the best thing you can do is to tell a friend about it, because your word-of-mouth recommendations, they’re the best advertising we could get.

Thanks again for listening to this show and all of the other shows on the Pantheon Podcast Network. I’ll see you next time right here on the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast.

Perhaps the most influential compilation album of all time, the original Nuggets album was lovingly assembled by guitarist/author Lenny Kaye in 1972. Collecting some of the greatest psychedelic garage rock onto one collection was no small feat, but the album went on to inspire tons of musicians in the US and the UK. On this episode, we honor the 50th anniversary of this landmark collection with a look back at some of the best tracks by these long-gone, and mostly forgotten, bands.

— And remember to follow this show, so you never miss an episode.

TRANSCRIPT:

We’re back with another edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on the Pantheon Podcast network. I’m your host, Brad Page, and if you’re a music lover like me, I’m sure you’ve had this experience before: You hear about a record, maybe someone tells you that you should check it out, or you just keep seeing it referenced in articles or interviews. So you take a chance on it, and it opens up a whole new world of music for you. Well, today on the show, we’re going to take a look at an album that did that for me in a big way. This episode we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the compilation album known as ““Nuggets””, and we’ll be listening to some of the great psychedelic proto-punk garage rock songs from the late ‘60’s.

[Music]

Lenny Kaye is probably most known for playing guitar in the Patti Smith Group – he played on her first four critically acclaimed albums. He was also a record producer, but before all that, he was a writer and a music journalist. Lenny loved the psychedelic garage rock of the 1960’s, and in 1972, he compiled 27 of the best garage rock singles onto a double album called ““Nuggets””.

The original ““Nuggets”” album was released by Electra Records 50 years ago this month, in October 1972. ““Nuggets”” would go on to become hugely influential, inspiring generations of bands. In the 1980’s, Rhino Records revived the “Nuggets” brand and not only reissued the original “Nuggets” album, they created a whole series of “Nuggets” albums, eventually releasing about 15 albums worth of this stuff. And that’s when I first discovered these records.

In 1998, Rhino collected the best of those songs into a CD box set of over 100 tracks. And we’re going to be listening to a selection of tracks from that box set. Some of these songs are on the original “Nuggets” album, but all of them can be found on that “Nuggets” box set, which I highly recommend.

All of these songs represent a time when kids all across the country, inspired by the Beatles and the Stones and dozens of other bands, went out and bought their own guitars and drums, taught themselves how to play and started bands in their basements or garages, hence the term “garage rock”.

The sound of these records is rough. The performance is even rougher. Any particular skill at your instrument, including vocals, was, uh, a plus, but not required. This was music created in the passion of the moment. It’s about inspiration, not technical skill. As Bill Inglett put it in his liner notes to the box set, “Attitude ruled over aptitude”. Or to paraphrase Lenny Kaye, this is the sound of teenagers yearning to play in a band.

And even though this music was a product of the social norms breaking down at the time free love, psychedelic drugs and all of that, there’s also a certain innocence or naivete to this music that I find charming, as odds that sounds.

So, here’s a baker’s dozen of great tracks from “Nuggets”, starting with Count Five – “Psychotic Reaction”. Originally a surf rock band from San Jose, CA, they were captured by the British Invasion and changed their name to Count Five. They wore vampire-inspired capes on stage. After being rejected by the major record companies, they signed to a small Los Angeles label called Double Shot Records and released “Psychotic Reaction” in June 1966. Singer and guitarist Sean Byrne came up with the song one day in health education class. It became a big part of their live shows with the “rave up” section in the middle, no doubt inspired by The Yardbirds, giving their lead guitarist named Mouse a chance to let loose on his fuzz-tone guitar. The song actually made it to number five on the Billboard Hot 100.

[Music]

That’s “Psychotic Reaction” by Count Five.

Next up, Michael and the Messengers, “Romeo and Juliet”. The Messengers were originally a high school band from Winona, Minnesota. The bass player reformed the band in college and they released a version of “In the Midnight Hour” on Chicago’s USA Records label. That was enough of a regional hit that the Messengers got picked up by Motown Records, which left the tiny USA label without their hit band. So USA put together their own version of the Messengers. It was actually a band from Leminster, Massachusetts– not far from where I went to high school– called the Del Mars, that USA renamed Michael and The Messengers and recorded this version of “Romeo and Juliet”. Despite the fact that there was nobody named Michael in the band, that didn’t stop them from having a minor hit with this single in 1967.

[Music]

Michael and the Messengers with “Romeo and Juliet”

Tthis next track is by The Sparkles. It’s called “No Friend of Mine”. The Sparkles were a band from Texas, and their single “No Friend Of Mine” is a perfect specimen of garage rock. Nasty fuzz guitar? Check. That buzzing organ sound? Check. A lead vocal that’s somewhere between spoken word and screaming frustration? Check. it’s a textbook example.

[Music]

“No Friend Of Mine” by The Sparkles

Let’s check out another track. This one is by the Gollywogs. It’s called “Fight Fire”. Now, a band called the Blue Velvets came out of El Cerrito, CA as far back as 1959. But when they signed to Fantasy Records in 1964, the label changed their name to The Gollywogs. They hated that name. They released a handful of singles, including “Fight Fire” in 1966. A year later, the band would change their name again– this time to Credence Clearwater Revival. That’s right. This is CCR before they were CCR. Let’s have a listen to “Fight Fire”.

[Music]

The Gollywogs with “Fight Fire”.

Next up is The Rationals with “I Need You”. The Rationals formed in Ann Arbor, Michigan around 1963, signed to a local label and released a bunch of singles that did well in Michigan, but not so much elsewhere. Their version of the Kinks song, “I Need You” released in 1968, one-ups Dave Davies with an even gnarlier guitar sound.

[Music]

The Rationals and their version of “I Need You”.

Now let’s hear a song by the Sonics called “Psycho”. This is the earliest song of this bunch, released way back in January 1965. But it’s as intense and wild as anything on this list. The Sonics started in Tacoma, WA, and in November ‘64 had a regional hit with a song called “The Witch”, which became the biggest selling local single in the Northwest’s history. They released their first album in 1965 called “Here Are the Sonics”. And it is a seminal piece of garage rock history. Recorded on a two-track recorder with only one microphone for the drums, this album features all their best songs, including this track, “Psycho”. By 1968, the band had split up, but they managed to influence Nirvana, the White Stripes, and are often referred to as the first punk band.

[Music]

“Psycho” by the Sonics.

Things start to get psychedelic on our next song. It’s The Balloon Farm with “A Question Of Temperature”. Before The Balloon Farm formed, two of the members played in a band called Adam, where every member changed their first name to Adam. Their first and only single was a song called “Eve”. Of course.

When that band split, those two guys formed a new band, and named it The Balloon Farm after a club in New York with the same name. “A Question of Temperature” was their only hit, released in October 1967. Reached 37 on the Billboard chart. But it has everything you want in a psychedelic pop song: A pulsating beat, breathy vocals, fuzz-tone guitar and trippy sound effects. It’s a classic in my book.

[Music]

“A Question of Temperature” by The Balloon Farm.  One of the members of The Balloon Farm was a guy named Mike Appel, who would later go on to manage Bruce Springsteen. But that’s a story for another podcast.

Next is the DelVettes with “Last Time Around”. The DelVettes were a Chicago band that recorded a handful of singles for the Dunwich label. They released “Last Time Around” in May 1966. It features a killer riff on bass and fuzzed out guitar, with a nice chorus. And it’s another tune that shows the influence of The Yardbirds, with its rave -p style solo right in the middle.

[Music]

“Last Time Around” by The DelVettes.

Now here’s a song by The Elastic Band called “Spaz”. Straight out of Belmont, CA, came the Elastic Band. Get it? Elastic Band. I can’t tell you anything about this group, except that they released two singles. And this one, “Spaz”, managed to get released by ATCO Records, a legit major label, in 1967. And I don’t know what to say about this song. Just listen to this:

[Music]

“Spaz” by The Elastic Band.

Now, if there’s any song in this episode that you recognize, it’ll be this one: The Strawberry Alarm Clock with “Incense and Peppermints”. This song actually hit number one on the Billboard charts in 1967, and it’s a lot poppier than most of the tracks we’ve been listening to, but no less psychedelic, with its fuzz-tone guitar and vintage 60’s organ sound.

The band was from Glendale, CA, and originally known as The Sixpence, but changed their name after the song was first released. There’s actually a pretty convoluted history to this song. It started out as an instrumental by band members Mark Weitz and Ed King and initially released as a B-side to a single by The Sixpence. Apparently, most of the band members didn’t like the lyrics, so the lead vocal ended up being sung by a guy who wasn’t even in the band. He was a friend who was just hanging out at the recording session. Weitz and King never got songwriting credits. The credits went to John Carter, who wrote the lyrics, and his partner Tim Gilbert, who actually had nothing to do with the song. Guitarist Ed King would later join the original lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd– About as far away as you could get from the sound of the Strawberry Alarm Clock.

[Music]

“Incense And Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock.

Next: Love – “7 and 7 Is”.  If the Strawberry Alarm Clock was the most commercially successful of this bunch of songs, the band Love was the most influential. An interracial band at a time when that was rare in rock, fronted by Arthur Lee, singer songwriter, guitarist, keyboard player. Lee had a distinct vision, not like anybody else. Love came from LA, but had a sound miles away from the sunny “California Dreaming” sound. Love was the first rock band signed to Electra Records, and released their first album in early 1966. By the summer, they released a brand new single, “7 and 7 Is”. The song explodes with a pent-up teenage frustration, never lets up on the intensity until a bomb literally goes off at the end. This song has been covered countless times, by everyone from Alice Cooper to Billy Bragg to Rush. Here’s the original:

[Music]

“7 And 7 Is” by Love.

And here’s The Blues Magoos with “We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet”. The Blues Magoos arose from the Bronx in New York, playing around Greenwich Village under various names, before they changed their name to the Blues Magoos in 1966. They released their first album, “Psychedelic Lollipop” in November ‘66, which featured their single, “We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet”, one of the most infectious bits of garage rock you’re ever going to find. It actually reached number five on the Billboard charts, featuring a driving bass line, a pseudo sitar-sounding guitar riff, and the sound of the vox continental organ, such a key element to so many garage rock tunes.

[Music]

“We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet” by the Blues Magoos.

And one last tune: The Remains with “Don’t Look Back”.  The Remains were a Boston band formed in 1964 at Boston University by Barry Tashian, who would eventually end up in Emmy Lou Harris’s band. But at this time, he was freshly back from a trip to Europe, where he was inspired by bands like The Kinks to start his own group back home. They built a following in and around Boston and signed with Epic Records. They appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and even scored the opening slot on the Beatles final US tour in 1966. But they never broke into the big time. Too bad, too, because they had the chops and the talent to do it, but it just never came together for them. “Don’t Look Back” was their final single, released in August 1966. Should have been a hit.

[Music]

“Don’t Look Back” by The Remains.

It’s funny… when the original “Nuggets” album came out in 1972, most of these songs were five, six years old at the most, but they were already considered artifacts of another time. Here we are, 50 years later– a lifetime ago. But if you look out there somewhere, you’ll still find bands being inspired by these songs from the first psychedelic era.

These days, that DIY spirit, “I want to do that too”, has moved out of the garage and into the bedroom, with digital technology. Things have shifted to software; towards beats and samples, and away from guitars and amplifiers, which I admit, bums me out. But that’s okay. It’s not like anyone’s confiscating all the guitars.  And the spirit of “Nuggets” is still there. That idea that passion is more important than technical chops, that anyone can make music if they put enough heart and soul into it. And there’s nothing more rock and roll than that.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. You can find all of our previous shows on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com, as well as on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon… we are everywhere podcasts can be found.

Leave comments or reviews on Podchaser or wherever you listen to the show. And don’t forget to check out the other great shows on the Pantheon network.

We’ll see you again in two weeks with another new episode. Until then, here’s one more nugget– The Knickerbockers with “Lies”.

[Music]

B.B. King created a sound with his electric guitar that changed the world and made him a legend around the world. In this episode, I’m joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Daniel De Vise, author of King Of The Blues: The Rise & Reign of B.B. King to share 5 songs that encapsulate the story of this iconic musician.

Order your copy of Daniel’s book here:
https://danieldevise.com/product/king-of-the-blues-the-rise-and-reign-of-bb-king

— And remember to follow this show, so you never miss an episode.

TRANSCRIPT:

Welcome to the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on the Pantheon Podcast Network. I’m your host, Brad Page, and we’ve got a special episode lined up this time. You all probably know by now that I love guitars and guitar players, and there is no guitar player that I’ve loved as much, or for as long, as I’ve loved B.B. King. This September 16 would have been BB’s 97th birthday. Daniel De Vise as a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. His biography of B.B. King, called “King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King”, was published last year, and it is excellent. So I’ve asked Daniel to come on the show to talk about B.B. King and why he’s one of the most important artists of the last 100 years. We’ve picked five songs to illustrate his career, his impact, and the path that his life would follow. So, let’s get into it. Here’s my conversation with Daniel De Vise.

BRAD:  Daniel, thanks for joining me on the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. I read your book, “King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King”, and I really, really enjoyed it. So, I’m excited to have you on here to talk about B.B. King. We decided to pick 5 songs as a way to show the scope of his career. It’s no easy feat when you consider he released dozens of albums. But first, to get us started, can you give us just a quick overview of his story, where he came from, how his career got started, and how he ended up being, I think, one of the most important musical figures of the last century?

DANIEL: B.B. Was born in 1925, I think, on September 16, a day before my birthday, in Itta Bena, Mississippi, which is in the Delta. He was born into a sharecropping family, which is economically kind of like a system that came in after slavery was abolished for many black Americans in the south. You were nominally free, but kind of indentured to the land and to the landowner, because the way the system was set up, you were always in debt. You never get out of debt. You end up owing more than you make in most years, anyway. So this is like 100 pages of the book, but I’ll gloss over it. He first emerges out of impoverishment, out of poverty to become a tractor driver, which is kind of a higher-up job. And so that paid enough that he was actually earning money, which was cool. And his father had done that. His father was kind of an alpha male, hardworking dude, who also was a tractor driver. And the story might have ended there; I mean, that’s where it ended for Albert King, the father. He became a tractor driver and was able to raise a family and end the story. But B.B. had deeper ambitions. He had an ear, which I think was a remarkably gifted ear for music. He was really drawn to the field hollers, the people, shouting blues out across the fields. He was really smitten with the records that he heard. He had a great aunt who had a Victrola, and so he was able through that to listen to all this stuff like, Blind Lemon Jefferson was a huge star. So he heard recordings of Blind Lemon Jefferson, just playing the guitar and singing. So he heard whatever was popular, and then he just kind of fell for some new sounds. He heard electric guitar. The sound he heard that he really fell for was T Bone Walker. And that would have been in, like, probably ‘46, ’47, when T Bone had his big hit, “Stormy Monday Blues”. And he also, around this time, also was exposed to Charlie Christian, really great black jazz guitarist who sort of introduced solo guitar into jazz music. B.B. also had heard Lonnie Johnson, who’s not as familiar of a name, but people who really, really know their guitar history would posit Johnson, Lonnie Johnson, as one of the all-time greats. He was actually bending strings and playing solo guitar in the ‘20’s, in the blues idiom and jazz idiom both. He was recording all up through the 40’s & 50’s. So BB just really fell for this solo guitar sound. And that’s how he wound up straying from gospel singing and getting into playing and singing rhythm and blues on the guitar. And this takes us to the latter years of the 1940’s.

BRAD: One of the things that in your book that really jumped out at me– and it makes perfect sense, but you don’t think of it that way– with somebody like B.B. King, who’s been an icon for as many years as you and I have heard him, h was a master by then, but like everyone when he started out, he really wasn’t very good.

Speaker A: Um, right. I don’t know that anybody had written about this, but if you listen to BB’s first, very first recordings in 1949 for the Bullet label, which was out of Nashville, he couldn’t keep time at all. He wasn’t accustomed to playing with other musicians. And also his solo playing was rudimentary, let’s say, at the beginning; he sounds more like a guitar student than a guitar master at the very beginning. And what I think happened, and I say this in the book, I think between 1949 and 1950, he really buckled down and spent hours and hours and hours and hours playing. And he learned how to play with other players and he developed this wonderful lead guitar sound. He’d been doing acoustic, more like Robert Johnson-style guitar, and I think he learned, maybe only in the latter part of ‘40’s, tothe play electric guitar, and to do this kind of solo style that he’d learned from T Bone Walker. So, by the time of his first really professional singles, which were recorded for Sam Phillips in 1950, by that time he sounded pretty close to the BB King we know and love.

BRAD: And that kind of brings us up to the first song that we chose to talk about, which was a single from 1951, a song called “3 O’Clock Blues”, which is it’s a landmark record in BB’s career, right? Tell us about that song.

DANIEL: So by 1951, BB had cut and released a number of singles with Sam Phillips at the controls. And Sam Phillips was kind of a genius. But Sam, I would argue, and I think Sam Phillips’ biographer, Peter Guralnick, probably would agree, didn’t really know what to do with BB. I think he was thinking of BB King as a singer. You can’t fault him for that, because the guitar wasn’t a prominent instrument in 1950, even as late as 1951.

BRAD: Right.

DANIEL: I point out in my book that there weren’t a lot of songs that had gone to the top of the rhythm blues charts that featured guitar. Almost all the band leaders were pianists or horn players or just singers. So there just wasn’t a lot of precedent for somebody fronting a band, playing the guitar and singing. And so I don’t think Sam Phillips thought that way. He was thinking of BB as a singer, which he was. He was a fine singer. So the irony of all this is that Sam has a falling out with the Bahari Brothers– the Bahari Brothers being the gang who ran BB’s record label. So the Baharis were left with BB. They lost Sam Phillips as the engineer. And so the youngest Bahari brother, Joe Bahari, winds up recording BB’s next side. And the song that they chose was “3 O’Clock Blues”, which had been a hit for Lowell Folson, who was a pretty well-known West Coast blues guitarist. By this time, 1951, BB was a DJ operating out of Memphis, WDIA, which was the first all-black talent radio station. So Folson allowed BB to record the song, because BB had been spinning Folson’s version of it on the radio. And the way that I describe it in the book is BB set out to put his own stamp of sincere intensity on Folson’s song, whose lyrics, quote, I’m quoting from another writer, start out as an insomniac lament, but end up with a weepy farewell more suited to a suicide note. Close quote. It seemed perfect for Bibi’s emerging vocal style, fervent, intimate and intense.

[Music]

DANIEL: It was sounding good. But after the first take, Joe Bahari didn’t quite have the sound he wanted. The pianist, who was Phineas Newborn, a wonderful top-drawer jazz pianist, but he didn’t have that rhythm and blues sound. So on a break, Joe Bahari hears this really great rock and piano, like, wait, that’s the sound I want in this song. Turns out the person playing the piano was Ike Turner, who’s not yet known, but he’s just this kid, like, the Prince of his day, you know, amazingly versatile. He can play anything. So let’s get rid of Phineas Newborn, the great jazz pianist. Let’s have Ike sit at the keys. And so Ike turned in this wonderful swinging piano, and the second take, it all came together.

[Music]

DANIEL: I kind of say that in my book, that I think “3 O’Clock Blues” was the first song where the producer showcases BB and his guitar Lucille equally, they get equal prominence in the song. And prior to that, BB’s voice was overshadowing his guitar. So this is, in a way, this is where the story begins, and it shot like a bullet to number one on the rhythm & blues charts, and it became BB’s first number one.

BRAD: Yeah, there’s a few things fascinating about the track. For one, the fact that it was recorded in a YMCA, not in a studio, not in anything resembling a professional environment. It does feature some of the classic BB King licks; they’re in there, but he hasn’t quite developed the legendary BB King phrasing yet, and you don’t really hear that classic BB King trill or vibrato that he became famous for. There’s hints of it there, but it’s not fully developed yet. And the solo doesn’t really flow the way his later solos would. You can just hear that he’s made major leaps, but he’s still he’s still developing.

[Music]

DANIEL: And early on, BB was obsessed with Roy Brown, the rhythm & blues singer, and if he’d stopped making records around this time, he might have been remembered as a great singer in the sort of Roy Brown mold. And that was what BB sounded like as a vocalist at first.

BRAD: Right. The next track– we’re going to skip ahead to 1964, and a single called “Rock Me Baby”, one of the most influential songs he ever released. Talk about that.

DANIEL: Okay, to unpack “Rock Me Baby”, let me first explain that at the beginning of the 60s, BB switched labels. He left the Bahari Brothers fold, the RPM records fold. The Bahari brothers… this is very difficult to completely explain because on the one hand, they kind of robbed BB blind. I mean, they took composing credits for songs that they hadn’t written. And then I picture them kind of paying him, like, one advance check on every song, and I doubt BB would see any more money, no matter how many copies sold. So that side of the ledger makes them look kind of bad. But on the other hand, they didn’t mess with him. They let him record the songs pure, sounding the same way they would sound if BB were to perform them live in a club. And they hired great musicians, great arrangers, the most important of whom was Maxwell Davis, just a wonderful musician and arranger. By 1961, ’62, BB had gone to the major label, ABC Paramount. But ABC Paramount didn’t know what the hell to do with him, and they kept recording him with the Ray Charles Orchestra and just, again, made the same mistake Sam Phillips had made a decade earlier; they thought he was a singer. For some reason, they didn’t realize they had this amazing guitarist on their roster. So they kept giving him these croony ballads to sing, and he was going nowhere in his career. So, meanwhile, the minor label, the race label, RPM, still had a trunk load of songs that he had cut for them. So they kept releasing them, through the first half of the into the second half of the 60’s. “Rock Me Baby” comes out, and just like everything that BB had done for RPM, it’s tastefully done. It’s simple, pure, no orchestration. It’s just a nice five- or six-piece blues song. And oddly enough, it became one of the most important songs that this RPM Records label would ever release under BB’s name. And the reason is, it hit at a good moment. I think that listeners out in the world were starting to– especially in Britain– were starting to discover first acoustic and then electric blues. It actually charted in the States, too. It reached number 34 on the Billboard pop chart.

Now, “Rock Me Baby” was originally, I think, a Bill Broonzy song that was originally called “Rocking Chair Blues”. And BB retooled it. And I think this is important: his arrangement of it is very musically disciplined. It has a very strong and memorable, and kind of dependable melody, that kind of doesn’t change, set against a simple repeated guitar riff that’s doubled on the piano. It’s very very simple and very disciplined, and it just works.

[Music]

DANIEL: And Jimi Hendrix discovered it and put it on his repertoire when he started out as a solo artist, “Rock Me Baby” became one of his kind of standout songs.

[Music]

DANIEL: And in Britain, it was the first big song of any stripe released by BB King. And this is very significant, because this is right when the people who would become the Stones and the Yardbirds were all just soaking up any black American music they could get their paws on, nobody had heard any BB King music at all in Britain. So, Eric Clapton discovered the song, I think the Animals, Eric Burton, The Animals wounded up covering it and so the song was a huge deal in Britain, and it was a significant single in America. It caused BB’s new label, ABC Paramount, to start rethinking their strategy with him because, hey, his old label had just gotten him onto the Top 40, which his new label had failed to do.

BRAD: Right. It’s one of his songs, maybe the song that’s been probably covered the most. I mean “Thrill Is Gone” is the song he’s most known for, but if you’re looking for cover versions, I mean “Rock Me Baby” was like a standard cover song, up into the ‘80’s. I mean, Johnny Winter did a killer version of it, Deep Purple used to include it in their set; I mean, it was a go-to song for so many of the blues-derived rock and roll bands. And, of course, we are more than ten years past when “3 O’Clock Blues” was originally cut. But here, you really hear that BB King phrasing, especially the way the solo pushes and pulls against the beat.

[Music]

BRAD: Even that simple opening guitar lick; you can hear him kind of almost tugging back at the beat, just with that couple of notes lick there. It’s very distinctive. BB, and the vocal, it’s classic BB King too. The way he moves between belting it out to bringing it down to almost a gentle coo, all within the same line.

[Music]

BRAD: And some of that vocal phrasing, like the way he sings the opening line “Rock me all night long”:

[Music]

BRAD: It’s just quintessential BB, everything about this song. By now, the BB King style, both vocally and musically, I think, has been distilled. It’s all there at this point. He’s mastered that.

DANIEL: I guess I listened to most of these songs in chronological order as I was writing the book, and I get what you’re saying, because when I reached “3 O’Clock Blues”, from ‘51, yeah, I could tell that his vocals, although he still sounds like Roy Brown, he’s confident. And you can tell he’s been a DJ because he just doesn’t seem awkward anymore singing. And his guitar is starting to creep toward the sound that we know and love today. He knew how to do the vibrato very early on. I think I actually caught the vibrato on one of his very earliest Sam Phillips recordings, but he didn’t use it all the time. I don’t think he’d realized yet that that was going to be kind of his signature sound, you know?

BRAD: Right, exactly.

DANIEL: And over the years, both his voice, and we’ll talk more about his voice a little later in this, but his voice and his and his guitar attack just progressed toward the thing that we know and love and recognize today.

BRAD: So the following year, 1965, he releases a live album called “Live at the Regal”, which by any measure, is one of the most important guitar albums of all time. So first, let’s talk a little bit about this album. Talk about where this album came from.

DANIEL: Yeah. So that’s moving directly forward from the song we just discussed. “Rock Me Baby” went top 40, and that would have been an embarrassment to ABC Paramount, because they had this first-ranked blues guitarist and didn’t realize it. I think they finally decided, well, this Ray Charles orchestra thing isn’t working with BB. Maybe he’s not a crooner after all, maybe he’s a blues guitarist who sings. Thankfully for us all, they found somebody who did know what to do with him; they went to Johnny Pate, who was a fine jazz bassist turned producer. He had made a string of great singles with Curtis Mayfield, including “Keep On Pushing”.  And Johnny sat down with BB, and, you know, what are we going to do? How can we capitalize on this “Rock Me Baby” hit? And they basically decided they didn’t have time, really, to go and do a big studio album. So let’s do something live, that’s the quickest way to do it. And so it was just a matter of convenience that this landmark live record was made.

BRAD: A hugely influential record amongst guitar players, both in the States and in England. Particularly in England. I know Eric Clapton, he always sang the praises of this record. Just a really important record, guitar player wise. The song that I chose to talk about from this album is “You Upset Me Baby”. The original version was released in 1954, I think, but this version– it just cooks. It’s the first track that we’ve listened to so far on this show that features the bigger band sound with the horn section. It opens with a nice little guitar solo.

[Music]

BRAD: But primarily it’s a great showcase for BB as a vocalist. He just sounds like he’s having a great night in front of a great audience.

DANIEL: So, “You Upset Me, Baby”, when it came out, I really seized on that song in my manuscript here, I wrote in my book, “it boasted neither his greatest lyrics nor his most accomplished guitar work, yet as a finished song”, and I’m talking now about the single from ten years earlier, “it was somehow more memorable than anything BB had recorded before. The reason was BB’s vocal. In hindsight, and this is 1954, this recording seems to mark the emergence of his unique voice as a blues stylist. BB was no longer channeling Roy Brown. His relaxed delivery, his conversational singing style, his tendency to lag behind the beat, the warm rasp that engulfed his voice at the end of each melodic phrase; from first to last, the vocal on “You Upset Me Baby” was unmistakably BB. King.” And also, I say it was also unmistakably ribald. And so you’re hearing all the same things in the “Live of the Regal” recording. The song was possibly the first recognizable, this is BB singing. There’s no question: this is BB. King.

BRAD: Right.

Speaker A: And then ten years later, it slots perfectly into this “Regal” set.

[Music]

Speaker A: The reason why live at the Regal is so important, I think, is that he’d been doing this Ray Charles orchestra crooning stuff for a few years. And the fact that he was a great guitarist who also was a great singer, had not registered with anybody who mattered in the music industry. And “Live at the Regal” showed the double-barreled attack of his guitar and voice. And then the incredible effect he had on a black audience in a black club, just to such potent effect. It was like a revelation.

[Music]

DANIEL: And the irony, though, as you know, because you read this, I interviewed a couple of his bandmates from that era, and they thought the record was crap. And the reason they didn’t like it was, Duke Jethro, the keyboard man, told me this, is that the band was paired up with the house band, so there’s two bands playing behind BB. And as a result of that, it’s not the tightest instrumental performance, because the house band at the Regal, they knew BB’s stuff, but it wasn’t, like, nearly so tight as a normal BB King performance would be with just his band. And so they didn’t like it. BB thought it was just okay, but it was still a very good BB King show. And that was good enough. Yeah.

BRAD: It’s interesting how those things turn out, right? Artist’s perspective of their own work versus how it’s received by the wider audience. And I love the record, but it is not my favorite BB King live record.

DANIEL: Well, Scott Barretta, the great, great blueshound from Mississippi, Scott told me his favorite BB King record is the next live record after this one, which is called “Blues is King”.

BRAD: That’s a great one, too. Yeah.

DANIEL: Much less well known and was recorded at a different Chicago club. And it is a wonderful record. Really, really powerful. It’s a breakup record, in fact.

BRAD: Yeah.

DANIEL: I would recommend it to anybody who’s interested.

BRAD: I like that record quite a bit, too. Yeah, so “Live at the Regal” was a landmark album. One of the things that you point out in the book, and I agree, is that for all of his amazing playing so many great songs… for a guy who put out something like 50 albums, there’s actually very few of the albums that are really great– like, great start to finish.

DANIEL: Yeah. I wrote an article for All Music, the website. Off the top of my head, I think in this All Music article, I advocate for the “Completely Well” album, which is the one that has “Thrill Is Gone” on it. That’s a really solid record, front to back.

BRAD: Yeah, and one of his better records, is an album from 1969 called “Live And Well”. And so that brings us to the next song that we were going to talk about, which is “Why I Sing the Blues”. Let’s talk about that song.

DANIEL: Yeah, so with that record, which became known as “Live And Well”, he starts working with a 26 year old white guy named Bill Szymczyk, who was this young, I think staff producer at ABC Paramount, who had the impulse that you and I were just discussing, which is, ABC has this amazing guitarist on their roster, and they’re not doing anything with him. So Szymczyk has this vision; He wants to set BB up with a group of really solid session guys in the New York studio and just see what they could do to modernize his sound, because his sound was desperately in need of modernization at that point. And I think BB wanted maybe to do another live set, so they wind up compromising, and half the record is live and half of it is Memorex– half of it is recorded in the studio. The whole record is very good. But the final cut on it, the closer, “Why I Sing The Blues”, is truly remarkable. And here’s how I describe it in the book:

“An eight-minute explosion of anger and hurt. A performance so propulsive and powerful that it left the listener wondering why the band had been holding back. “Why I Sing the Blues” was BB’s first overtly political statement.”  And I mean this. I listened to hundreds of his songs, and he had not done politics prior to this. All through the 60’s, he had not expressed himself politically in song. So, this song appeared as a single several months after James Brown’s landmark “Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud”. BB’s message was both longer and angrier. BB had not addressed race in a song before, let alone slavery. Now he raged about urban blight and slum housing, the chitlin circuit and the welfare state. The Dylan length lyric, apparently co-written with a rhythm & blues writer named Dave Clark, unfolded as an extended sociological observation on black America, a theme Marvin Gaye would explore at album’s length two years later with “What’s Going On”.

[Music]

BRAD: It’s such a great track on so many levels; It’s a considerably funkier song than anything he’d tackled to date, which, that alone, you can see the influence of the James Brown sound. Not that it sounds anything like James Brown, but until then, he hadn’t done anything that funky.

DANIEL: Yeah. I needed, Jerry Jemmott, the bass guy, to kind of explain this to me. I’ve been listening, obviously, to this stuff for all my life. But he was helping me to understand how BB and all his musicians were used to the swing beat. And with this record, BB and his musicians broke out a funk beat, which is the sound of Sly Stone and the sound of latter-day James Brown. So it was new for him, and it made him sound more modern.

BRAD: And it sounds great. I mean, he works, unlike some of the other trends, if you will, like he slotted into this sound fantastically. He sounds great. He sounds at home on this track.

DANIEL: And young and energetic, really good.

[Music]

BRAD: It’s the first time, and one of the very few times in his whole career, really, where he addressed anything that remotely had a political spin to it.

DANIEL: Yeah, I wanted to say just a few words about that. He’d done a lot of work for the civil rights movement, but really shied away from getting any publicity for it. You will not, I promise you, you won’t find any write up of him, any of the many times that he played at, like, fundraisers for Dr. King or for, the NAACP or various different civil rights organizations. He was clearly involved in the movement, but it was all behind the scenes. And he’d chosen never to go political in any of his songs up to then, and it took the war and it took some different societal changes to get artists, both black and white, to kind of go there into political statements in their songs.

BRAD: Yeah. And he touches on all of that in this song. The history of slavery and racism, housing, economics, the war, along with a lot of classic BB King work. Between every verse, practically, there’s a guitar break. There’s a great solo at three minutes and 20 seconds.

[Music]

BRAD: There’s another one at four minutes and 30 seconds. That, it’s like a string of pure BB King licks.

[Music]

BRAD: It’s just like a textbook example of why he’s such a great guitar player. And then the song really doesn’t so much end as it just kind of runs out of… It’s like they’re just exhausted at the end of it, and they just kind of slowly peter out. It’s an interesting way to end the track and end the album, because it’s the last track on that album.

[Music]

DANIEL: Yeah, and if anybody listens to this and hears that song and really loves that song, the reason I love the follow up album so much, “Completely Well”, it’s the same musicians, and by the time they reconvene to make “Completely Well”, their second album, it’s sort of like they met as friends and they’ve got their weed, they’ve got their wine, and they’ve got their familiarity. They were no longer session hands. They were like friends, because they’d done all this before and they’d probably really bonded on this very song that you and I are discussing. So, if you listen to the next record, “Completely Well”, it’s just a masterful record from start to finish.

BRAD: Yeah, to me, those records are like two of a pair, almost. They kind of go together really well and they’re two of his strongest records. Like we said, there’s a lot of records, unfortunately, in his catalog, that they all have their moments, but they’re not great front-to- back, but I would definitely recommend, for anyone looking, particularly if you’re looking for something with more of the modern sound, that “Live And Well” and “Completely Well” are two great places to start with his album catalog.

Okay, so one last track I wanted to bring us all the way to the end– to BB’s very last album, “One Kind Favor”, released in 2008, and the track that opens that album; it’s a Blind Lemon Jefferson song, which you talked about at the beginning of this conversation. A song called “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”. Because it’s a really poignant song for him to choose at this time; his performance of it is very poignant, and just the role that the song would play at the end of his life. Tell us some of that story.

DANIEL: He’d become this huge and increasingly renowned, celebrated titan of American music and popular culture. But his records of those final years weren’t consistently good. But he and his handlers came up with the idea of, I think maybe for posterity’s sake, of giving it one more really good try. So they found T-Bone Burnett. I interviewed him, he said, we started with T-Bone Walker and Lonnie Johnson, which is, you can’t do better than that, and revisited the artists that BB had loved from the first time he cranked up his great aunt’s Victorola. T-Bone told me he consciously sought to invoke the sound and feel of BB’s recordings with Maxwell Davis and Modern Records in the 1950’s. Quote, “because I viewed them as by far the best example to BB King’s Records.” I mean, I got to agree with the man there, I think the modern record stuff is the best of BB’s work. There’s no guest artists, it’s BB and his band. He needed no help, he owns the set. And these are songs he’d known for 50 years. He was killing it. That’s what T-Bone told me. And the resulting album, the very first track, is this Blind Lemon Jefferson song, “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”. And I describe it in the book, “The prevailing theme of the album is weariness. BB, he knows he’s in his autumnal days, he sings with a sepulchral baritone, rising out of a funeral dance rhythm.”

[Music]

DANIEL: It’s a really heavy record. More than one of BB’s musicians told me that they couldn’t listen to this record because, it’s like, “Man, BB, you know, don’t die yet. I mean, you’re not dead yet”. They really had a hard time listening to this album because it was so dark and so funeral.

BRAD: Well, the song ends up basically being his own instructions for his own funeral.

DANIEL: That’s right. He intimated as much to a dear friend of his toward the end of his life, Alan Hammonds, I believe, who was behind the BB King Museum. “Listen closely to that song, Alan”. And so they wind up following to the letter the lyrics of that song. When BB dies, his funeral, they got the white horses, and the golden chain, and thus was he buried.

[Music]

BRAD: Yeah, it’s a really moving moment. And he definitely sounds all of his years on that track. But it’s powerful. It reminds me, it’s like those last few Johnny Cash records, right?

DANIEL: Well, that’s just exactly what I was going to say, I was going to jump in and say, if this is another example of him taking inspiration from other artists, you could very much see this as an answer to the American Recordings series. And it’s a very worthy record. I mean, you’re exactly right. It’s definitely one of the best.

BRAD: So there’s five great songs out of a lifetime’s worth of amazing music to get started with. But what was it that pushed you over the edge into writing this book? Because it’s not a small undertaking, writing a book like this.

DANIEL: Yeah, I chose BB partly because out of the artists I really, really revere, he hadn’t been the subject of sort of a literary biography since 1980, which is quite a long time. And then secondly, because I just thought I felt very animated by the question, is this the guy who created the solo guitar sound that became the prevailing solo guitar sound in pop music for the whole latter 30 years of the century? The best way I can think of to explain what that sound is, is if you ever watched Spinal Tap, when Nigel Tufnell is telling Meathead to keep his paws off his guitars, he talks about sustain and he says, you hear that? And goes, he actually makes the sound with his mouth because he doesn’t want to actually play the guitar. That’s the sound, that’s BB’s sound. And I just thought it was a great starting point to try to figure out if indeed BB was kind of the guy who popularized that sound. And that’s kind of why I set out to write it and everything else all the civil rights in the book and the kind of microcosm of the story of America, that’s in the book, and the finesse I tried to bring to the biographical mission, all of that is, I’m just very glad all that other stuff wound up in the book, but the initial charge that I gave myself was just to answer that question of, was he that guy?

BRAD: Yeah, well, I think the answer is yes.

DANIEL: I think so.

BRAD: Spoiler alert for the book, but the answer is yes, he is. In many it’s, you can never put your finger on the first of anything, but there are people like The Beatles that refine, right, that take a bunch of elements and refine them into something that becomes special. And BB King is one of those guys. He is in the rarefied few, of like a Dizzy Gillespie or a Louis Armstrong, an artist who is a spokesperson, a representative, an ambassador for a whole genre of music and a whole culture, because music is cultural. And that’s a heavy weight, a burden to carry. But he did it so elegantly for almost his entire career.

Daniel De Vise, it’s been a pleasure to have you on the show and to talk about BB King. The book is called “King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of BB King”. And honestly, I encourage anyone who’s not just interested in BB King, but if you’re interested in the history of the blues, the history of the guitar, pick up the book. It’s a fascinating story and it’s told really well in this book. Highly recommended. So, thanks for writing the book, and thanks so much for coming on the podcast, Daniel.

DANIEL: Oh, no, no, thanks, it’s really, really kind of you to have me on. It’s been a blast talking to you. I can tell we like a lot of the same stuff, so it’s been a really pleasant time talking to you.

BRAD: Same here. Anything that you’re working on, um, coming up?

DANIEL: Well, yeah, actually, while I was working on this book, I had the occasion to talk to John Landis, the great filmmaker, a couple of times because I wanted to know why BB wasn’t in the “Blues Brothers” film.

BRAD: Right. Turns out, which you talk about in the book for anyone who’s interested. That’s in the book, yeah.

DANIEL: Yes. That’s answered in there. But anyway, I got to talking to John Landis, and long story short, I wound up selling my next book. It’s going to be paying homage the Blues Brothers; the film and the dudes, and the kind of transformational comedy that happened in Second City and Lampoon and Saturday Night Live, and leading up to this great film. And also, I’m going to explain that the real “Mission from God”, if you’re familiar with that film, the actual real-life Mission from God was that Aykroyd and Belushi wanted to help the careers of their favorite rhythm & blues artists—Aretha, Ray Charles, James Brown… most of those artists, even though they’re now regarded as probably some of the most important artists in the history of American pop music, at the time they were struggling and they decided to use their ephemeral but enormous fame to shine a light on their heroes. And so, it’s kind of a sweet story.

BRAD: Thank you, man, I really appreciate it.

DANIEL: Thank you.

BRAD: Take care. Have a good day, bye bye.

DANIEL: You too. Bye bye.

BRAD: Thanks to Daniel for joining us. And thank you for tuning us in. I hope you enjoyed that. Please join me here again in two weeks for another new episode. On behalf of everyone on the Pantheon Podcast Network, I thank you for listening. Now go explore the catalog of BB King, there’s so much great music there. You won’t regret it. See you next time.

Creedence Clearwater Revival were quite the phenomenon from 1967 to 1972. During that short period– only 5 years– they racked up ten songs in the Top 20, 5 of them making it to #2. In the middle of that run, they released “Run Through The Jungle” in April 1970. The song is often identified with the Viet Nam war, but we explore the true roots of the song and listen to the individual elements that make up this great track.

“Run Through The Jungle” (John Fogerty) Copyright 1970 Jondora Music

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It’s nearly impossible to pick the “best” Beatles song, but by nearly every measurement– sales, chart success, cultural impact– it’s hard to beat “Hey Jude”. Author James Campion‘s new book, Take A Sad Song, is an in-depth look at the history and legacy of “Hey Jude”. He joins us on this episode for a deep dive into this legendary, iconic song. A true classic.

John Lennon & Paul McCartney Copyright 1968 Northern Songs Copyright 1968 Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

If you enjoyed this episode, please check out these other Beatles-related episodes:

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Music was expanding in all directions in the 1960’s; one of my favorite genres is the psychedelic/garage rock from that era.  Few songs capture the sound & the spirit of that style as “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)” by The Electric Prunes.  Take a trip with me back to those halcyon days with one of the flagship songs from the psychedelic period.  

“I Had Too Much To Dream” (Annette Tucker & Nancie Mantz) Copyright 1966 4-Star Music; copyright 2004 Acuff Rose Music Limited

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Years ago, instrumental songs were everywhere– on the radio, the jukebox, and the Billboard Hot 100 chart. But over time, the instrumental faded from mainstream popularity. When was the last time you heard a new instrumental, or saw one topping the charts? In this episode– our 100th show— we explore the history of the pop instrumental as we ask the question. “Whatever happened to the instrumental hit song?

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