My Jimi Hendrix Experience

Believe it or not, the very first "real" concert I was ever allowed to attend as a wee Canadian tyke was The Jimi Hendrix Experience at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, May 3, 1969. 

I'd already been a fervent fan for a couple of years, having spent most of my Grade 8 art class making swirly sketches of Jimi in charcoal. Plus the Are You Experienced? album was right up there – almost – with Monkees Headquarters on my 1967 Most-Played List.

Fast-forwarding, Christmastime '68 was spent, between runs down the local tobogganing hill, digging all eight vinyl sides of The White Album AND Electric Ladyland and, most likely as a direct result, my gym-class rhythm section and I were just starting to assemble our very own semi-power trio when word filtered along the groupvine that the Experience were planning to stop by our very neighborhood in a few months as part of their possibly-Farewell World Tour.

In a word then? WOW.

My most-trusted pal Ric scored two tickets in the Gardens' nosebleed section and I fibbed to my parents that we were off to a hootenanny (!) for the evening. Yet no sooner had we approached the venue that word began a'buzzin' that our hero had just been busted for carrying a batch of non- pharmaceutical mood enhancers into Toronto Airport. Hmmm…

Undaunted, we climbed skyward to our seats, sat on sonic needles and pins-ah through both opening acts (the pretty cool Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys, whose big hit "Good Old Rock n Roll" my little band was already struggling to learn, followed by none other than, uh, Fat Mattress) til the one and only Jimi Himself sauntered on stage, miraculously only a few minutes late.

Now considering all the man had already been through that day I guess it was no real surprise the evening's set consisted of mainly down-cast tunes a la "Red House," though Jimi did graciously treat the teenage throng with a quick encore full of that fabled, fiery Foxey Purpleness of yore.

And then, suddenly, he was gone. Experience and all.

James Marshall Hendrix returned to town briefly that December however, just long enough to be completely exonerated of all narco-charges ("Canada has just given me the greatest Christmas present ever!" he exclaimed to the Toronto Daily Star), but I suppose one could question if, or why, that life lesson ultimately went unheeded. And I suppose it does say something that out of all the delicately detailed minutiae forever etched upon my grey matter concerning that momentous concert forty long, long Toronto May’s ago, I can still most vividly recall EXACTLY what Jimi was wearing (all Harlem-Asbury chic all the way!), what I was wearing even (don't ask), the appropriately brilliant weather, the commuter train Ric and I snuck on after we told our parental units we'd just be folking around …hell, I even remember the proto-Bowzer moves Cat Mother & Co. deployed whilst performing their one hit wonder!

But do I recall a single sliver of the sounds and/or stylings of the Noel Redding-fronted Fat Mattress performance of that same, utterly magical night? No sir, I do not. Which reminds me: Mr. Redding himself passed onward and upward to that great big Gardens in the sky six years ago May 11th.

And the moral, perhaps, to this all? Well, I still find myself revisiting Electric Ladyland on almost as regular a basis as I do the Monkees’ Headquarters. So you see some things, I guess, shall never change.

Whole Lotta Shankar Goin’ On

I have gotten into a lot of world music over the past few years. One of my favorite discoveries is the artist Ananda Shankar.

Ananda Shankar – Ananda Shankar And His Music
Ananda Shankar – Missing You/A Musical Discovery Of India
Ananda Shankar – 2001
Fall Out Records

Believe it or not, for a while I began to get really bored with music. Not only did most rock bands sound alike to my ears (as many always do – even more so now that every new band is trying to give their music an ’80’s sound. I mean, the ’80’s weren’t too good for music. Why would anyone want to sound like that? Gratutious sax solos, Yamaha DX-7’s and gated drums. Hooray! Do you feel the sarcasm? DO YOU?) but even the soul and jazz artists I was listening to were beginning to seem tedious and uninspired.

Nephew of the world famous sitar player Ravi Shankar, Ananda Shankar was a musical prodigy and learned sitar (among other instruments) at a very early age although, contrary to popular belief, he did not learn the instrument from his uncle but from Dr. Lalmani Misra in varanasi. After mastering his instrument, Ananda Shankar desired to make his music known throughout the world and realized he needed to travel to the US to achieve his goals. Immediately after arriving in Los Angeles, Shankar began jamming with rock music’s elite. By this time (roughly 1968 or so), everyone was into psychedelic rock and Shankar was no different, spending time honing his rock chops with musicians like Jimi Hendrix, whom he often jammed with. As an aside, I have to note that every musician over the age of fifty has the phrase “jammed with Jimi Hendrix” on their resume. Now, I don’t doubt plenty of musicians did jam with Hendrix and I don’t doubt Shankar did because those sessions have been well-documented. It’s just that when I listen to these claims I get a picture in my head of Hendrix just standing there, like a department store Santa, waiting until everyone of this long line of musicians comes up and plays a few minutes with him and then steps aside so another can come up and do the same thing. I mean, did Hendrix just stand there and wait for people to jam with him? Anyway, by the age of twenty-seven, Ananda Shankar had signed a deal with Reprise Records and the label released his eponymously -titled debut album in 1970. Though it has become a cult classic among those who admire fusion for the way Shankar combines elements of of hindu music with psychedelic rock (the album contains searing verisons of The Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash” and The Doors’ “Light My Fire”) the album did not sell well and Shankar retreated back to India for some retrenching.

He re-emerged in 1975 with Ananda Shankar and His Music and blew away his fans with his mix of Indian music and stone-cold funky rave-ups. And I am not shitting you about the deep, deep funky grooves on this album! This is music that would sound right at home on the Shaft soundtrack or in the background of any Dolemite movie. Shankar had decided to eschew the harder elements of psych-rock and use Sly Stone and Geroge Clinton as inspirations for his next foray into popular music. Just a note: these reissues from Fallout come with some brief biographical liner notes, but (like most Fallout releases) their reissues mostly concentrate on the music and not the gee-gaws involved with packaging the album. Your mileage may vary as I love informative liner notes when it comes to archival reissues such as these but Fallout just never includes that stuff. I’ve wished many times Fallout would beef up their liners and such but what can you do? The music is definitely the most important part so just having this stuff released again is great on it’s own. Caveat emptor.

The next reissue from Fallout combines two albums, the first having been released in 1977 and the latter in 1978. The first of the pairing, A Musical Discovery Of India, was a project paid for the government of India while the second, Missing You, was another of Shankar’s funk-themed albums but thematically based around a personal tribute to his parents. A Musical Discovery Of India pretty much sounds like the title and is a more “serious” approach to Indian music. The album contains mostly Indian classical compositions. While definitely not funky, the album will blow your mind simply because of the pure skill displayed in Shankar’s playing. And, despite the album being based totally around Indian music with no fusion of American elements, it is very accessible. You can hear Shankar’s very soul in this music. The second album, while a concept piece about his childhood, brings Shankar’s music back towards the fusion sound of his first albums while retaining some Indian classical elements. It seems that on this album Shankar wanted to bridge the two worlds of trthe traditonal music he was hired to play on the previous record and the more modern choices he was making on his own releases. The result is pure excellence.

Fallout’s third reissue, 2001, was released in 1980 and was what the title suggests: a futuristic space-themed funk fest. While more modern in sound and approach, the album leaves the more serious Indian music of his past few albums behind and returns to the straight acid-funk Shankar had been mining earlier in his career. In other words, sitar funk to which you should be shaking your booty.Though always popular with music fans seeking something a little avant-garde with touches of jazz, funk and world music, Shankar’s career hit a fallow period and he released very little music over the next twenty years or so. During that time, many hip DJ’s began mining his albums for beats and samples and subsequently Blue Note felt the need to release a greatest hits CD on Shankar. The Blue Note album upped Shankar’s profile and he subsequently returned to recording. Sadly, he died in 1999 just before his first album of new compositions in many, many years was to be released.

This music will appeal to a very diverse music-listening and appreciating public. Not only will these albums be interesting to the Indian music fan, but listeners interested inb world music will love these discs and those interested in funk will also find a lot to like here. As I’ve mentioned, even though these albums feature Indian instrumentaion and musical ideas, Shankar was gearing his sound to be appreciated by people who love funk and R&B. These albums are very funky and the way Shankar expands what funk music can sound like and what funk music represents regarding sound and texture will astound those who have never listened to his music. These discs are not for everyone’s tastes, but I suspect those who like the aforementioned genres and have open minds regarding music will find these discs fascinating and very well worth the money spent.

Betty Davis’ Thighs

Nothing like some great obscure soul to get your body moving.

Betty Davis – Betty Davis
Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different
Light In the Attic

Stand up and shout hallelujah! Two of the greatest lost soul albums of the ’70’s have finally been reissued after way too many years out of print. Kudos to Light In The Attic for digging up these great albums and allowing the world to once again enjoy the unfettered funk of the sultry, sexy, flamboyant and raw Betty Davis! Of course, with all of the great soul and funk sides being re-released these days (as well as the classics we all know about) one would be forgiven for thinking I might be heaping undue hyperbole on these albums. Suffice it to say, one listen to these albums by the great Davis would erase all doubt. Don’t know who Betty Davis is? It’s no wonder, as these albums were put out on a tiny label and hardly promoted at all due to the semi-raunchy material contained within. But, let’s not confuse matters by blaming circumstances beyond anyone’s control. These two albums are some of the rawest, greasiest, greatest funk ever released and stand toe-to-toe with anything James Brown, Sly Stone or the P-Funk army released at the time.

Davis (nee Betty Mabry) was born in a small town in North Carolina but her family eventuallly moved up north to Pittsburgh, though she later moved to New York City by the early ’60’s. It was there that she began exposing herself to all the cutting edge music the ’60’s had to offer, from jazz to avant-garde to rock. Working for a time as a model, Davis slowly became part of the music scene, first by working at the hippest clubs, then by cutting a few singles, and finally by becoming a songwriter, scoring a hit song (“Uptown”) for the Chambers Brothers. Her talent and beauty placed her in the midst of the hipster circles where she eventually met and married Miles Davis and began influencing his career and persona in surprising ways right down to the clothes he wore. Introducing him to the music of Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and other artists on the cutting edge of funk and rock (in some cases arranging meetings between the artists themselves) she began working with and inspiring her husband to craft albums melding funk, rock and jazz. These albums eventually became In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew (which Miles named in honor of his wife) and became milestone works in the world of jazz, influencing and inspiring much of the jazz fusion which followed. A long union was not to be, however, as Miles soon divorced his wife because he found her too intense and suspected her of carrying on an affair with Jimi Hendrix. She soon drifted to England where she began to get caught up in the heavy rock scene, briefly dating Eric Clapton (who wanted to work with her on an album but was rebuffed by Davis as being too blues-oriented – the relationship imploded soon thereafter) and a member of Santana’s band. Upon returning to the US, she decided to take the ideas she had been formulating and presenting to labels for bands like The Commodores (yep, she worked with Lionel Ritchie before he became famous – Miss Davis seemed to be everywhere during this time period) and turn them into vehicles for herself. Signing a contract with a little upstart label, she began recording her first album.

The self titled album Betty Davis (1973) was and is a milestone release. While countless female soul artists had released albums, no other female artist had such frank and overt sexual material on an album before Davis and had so obviously controlled the proceedings as she had. It was as if Davis was trying to position herself as a female version of George Clinton. For a comparison, think Millie Jackson (or, better yet, Tina Turner) dressed in a spacesuit and then add some searing P-Funk guitars and some thunderously booty-shaking beats to go with the very sexually risque lyrics. Featuring musical talent from Sly Stone’s band (including bassist Larry Graham), Michael Carabello and an incredibly young Neal Schon from Santana, background vocals from the Pointer Sisters, and members of the Tower of Power horn section, the album was stacked to the hilt with the best musicians of the era. Featuring songs such as “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up” and “Game Is My Middle Name”, Davis left no doubt she was freaky-deaky and ready for anything. Sadly, Davis wasn’t quite ready for one thing: her album to bomb. While containing no cusswords, Davis’ lyrics left little to the imagination. Consequently, her album got little airplay and her concerts were often picketed.

Disappointed but not deterred by the poor sales of her debut, Davis released her next album, They Say I’m Different, a year later with a different cast of musicians than her first groundbreaking release. Gone were the big names and studio ringers of her debut, replaced with younger, newer players who had been raised on the funk sounds of the artists she was trying to emulate and, more likely, dethrone so she could take her rightful place on top of the funk heap. Not surprisingly, these young turks were more than up to the challange and manage to at least equal (if not better) the deep, deep funk displayed on her debut. Featuring the songs “Shoo-Be-Doop and Cop Him” and “He Was A Big Freak” Davis once again challenged listners and censors with her raw sexual appetites and her willingness to sing about them. The cover features her in an outfit straight from the P-Funk Mothership and seems to be a distant cousin of the outfit Cher wore on her Take Me Home album of the late ’70’s. Once again, radio stations refused to play her music and angry protestors made their presence felt at her now-infrequent live appearances. It seems the world was not ready for a sexually charged, talented young black female to tear the roof off the sucka. Davis released one more album (entitled Nasty Gal) to the same public apathy as her discs before abandoning the music scene forever and moving back to Pittsburgh. Tired of her music being ignored, Davis never recorded again. An album consisting of outtakes from her third album was issued after Davis “retirement” but, like her other albums, it made pretty much no impact save for a small but devout coterie of followers, DJ’s and beatheads who know great music when they hear it. A greatst hits compilation was also released, but quickly deleted.

Fans of funk need these albums in their collections. It isn’t an issue of “wanting” these reissues – if you are a fan of funk and soul music these are albums you simply have to acquire or settle for having a mediocre collection. You wouldn’t want that, would you? Then rush to your local store and order this right away. You will not be sorry – this is some of the most blazing funk of all time!