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Thursday, April 21, 2005


I have become an official Gospel freak, and as is usual with me, I came to it backasswards. My introduction to Americas most emotionally expressive music came from two notorious english drug feinds, Keith and Mick, and then furthered by another english junkie, Jason Spaceman. In the end they brough me back to Mavis, who had impressed me years earlier in the The Last Waltz.
Let's go back to 1979 shall we. I was living in Germany with my parents. We did a load of travelling about europe that year, and my dad is a thrifty sort of chap, so we stayed at every Army base we could find - cheaper lodgings. In the Army, every base has a movie theater, and they show movies about 6 months to a year behind what's in the theaters in the states. They also only buy one copy and just send it along to another Army base after they show it (once, maybe twice). Thusly, I was able to see The Lat Waltz about ten times that year. It was everywhere we went. I loved it. It presaged my love of the blues (Muddy), Neil Young, The Stones (Ron Wood - great shirt Ronnie!), Bob Dylan (Baby Let Me Follow You Down - Oh My God) and Mavis Staples and The Staples Singers. Some of you may be getting tired of me going on about her, but c'mon, listen to ANYTHING she's sung, Talk about Jesus having wept. Anyway, I was fifteen, and SERIOUS into metal, so although I never forgot Mavis (or any of the others mentioned) I went on about the buisness of being a metal-head when there was no such terminology. Mostly that's buggin' mom by blasting Double Live Gonzo from my room during breakfast ("anyone want to get mellow they can turn around and get the fuck outta here, alright!")
Cut to 1984, me and Tony Alva driving around in his tiny little Colt (Those that know Tony, his stature, and his love for little cars will find this notion amusing) listening to Sticky Fingers. That was a true life changing moment for me. A sense memory I find extremely potent. Who knew then where this music would lead me. Directly it led me to a record store in College Park, Maryland, where I would, over the course of a year, buy the entire Stones catalog (on vinyl of course). Indirectly it led me to a fascination with Keith, drugs, and a habit. Like Johhny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, Steve Tyler, Joe Perry, Slash, and Izzy, I had to go there. I couldn't worship from afar. I had to taste it firstahnd. The glory, and the depravity. It may seem that I'm digressing, but stick with me here. In 1971, the Stones began work on their follow-up to Stcky Fingers. The recording of what would become Exile on Main St was witness to excess on a stupefying level, and it gave birth to absolute glory. Bear witness to 'Shine a Light', 'Lovin' Cup', 'Let It Loose' - Gospel music. Real Gospel, not the fake wanna-be Gospel of 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' or 'Salt Of The Earth', but the real deal with the real passion, and the real sounds. It helped that they had connections like Billy Preston and the Texas Horns (Jimmy Price and Bobby Keyes) to help them enlist the right singers, not to metion, along with Nicky Hopkins, a level of musicianship that could take the Stones to the Altar so to speak. To me, the Gospel tunes on Exile are the record, and the rest is dressing, great dressing indeed, but somehow secondary to the real quest that was going on in the basement of Nellcote. That quest was for truth, the dirty truth of their lives, and the glorious truth of salvation.
1998 was a dark time for me. I had fallen. I capitulated. My flirtation wit the devil had taken hold. Why? I had to know. During that time I listened to a lot of Spiritualized and Spacemen 3. Soothing junkie drones. But what was at the bottom of all that feedback and wash? Gospel. The lord. Every song Jason Spaceman has written is about God, love, and heroin. They are all one and the same to him, his Holy Trinity. The Gospel of Spiritualized is as true as that of Mavis, or anything that came out of a southern church - it's just very electric.
Today things are good. I hear that Jason has cleaned up his act as well. That's good too. My Baby turned me on to cool vinyl store in Rockville MD (Joe's Record Paradise), and there I found a copy of the Staples Singers 'Be What You Are', Ah, me and Mavis together again. I took the long way home, but I got there. Amen.

Great post. I got to hear Mavis in the pre-renovation Carnegie Hall...the Staples were opening for Ray Charles somewhere around 1978...a phenomenal experience, back in the old hall someone could cough on stage and it would sound like they were sitting next to you...One of the great voices of the 20th century.....

But my favorite gospel singer is the great, sadly neglected Rebert Harris, ex- of the Soul Stirrers, basically the man who invented modern gospel blues singing in the 1940, and by extension, rhythm & blues singing. The Stirrers' great Aladdin sides, however, remain largely unavailable (a japanese twofer on PVine has all the material but mostly in poor 78 transfers).

BTW, I also recommend that you check out a recent disk, Isaac Freeman's Beautiful Stars. Probably my favorite record in any genre of the last 10 years. It's also one of the most beautifully and naturally recorded disks in this era of over-compressed nonsense.

Interesting that connection between the drugs and gospel that you mention...like Bob Dylan said, It may be the devil, it may be the Lord, but you know you gotta serve somebody.
Amen to that! BTW Jason, been considering recording a record of Dylan tunes, and since those waters are well tread, any suggestions?
well you know, with Dylan covers, it's sort of personal, the body of work is so vast and even Dylan never does it the same way twice...I remember a rocked out version of Jokerman on a Letterman show in the mid 1980s backed by a punk band that was one of a kind.

Pretty much anything written before 1967 has been thoroughly overworked, still, here are a coupla outside the box suggestions:

She's Your Lover Now--the unfinished masterpiece, recorded in a demo w/ the Band in 1966 that breaks off in mid performance, but a seemingly complete set of lyrics was published in one of the songbooks as I remember. I don't think the full lyrics are on the official website. The demo is on The Bootleg Series 1-3 set.

The whole Christian period is underexploited. I think Slow Train Comin' is a great, cranky, apocalyptic rant. I Believe in You is beautiful but it requires a vocal performance of total conviction.

Dark Eyes, from Empire Burlesque (a really awful album w/ lyrics composed by picking out lines from Bogart films) is a hidden gem

Tell Me Momma, only performed as the opening number for the electric set in 1966 w/ the Band, available on the Live 1966 CD

Not Dark Yet, from Time Out of Mind is great. I think Mercury Rev or somebody was doing that in concert a few years back, but the cover was unrecorded as far as I know.

Shot of Love, a rocker one could do something w/

Dignity, great song written and recorded for Oh Mercy, unreleased then but re-recorded for Greatest Hits 3, a mid-tempo shuffle beat like the JB's Doin it to Death, which is a little different

John Wesley Harding, that album has been well plundered for covers, but none of the title track that I know of, a song I once thought of covering in an earlier life.

Going to Acapulco, from the Basement Tapes, is a personal, underappreciated fave--I like the characters and "narrative", but the melody is probably too weak for it to make a good cover.

I dunno if you want to bite off one of the biggies, but as far as I know no one's covered Visions of Johanna, or the really long discursive ones like Brownsville Girl, that would be kind of twisted.

The most perverse cover, and one that would be talked about is I'm Not There (1956) an unreleased basement tapes number w/ only dummy lyrics that are trippy, poetic and perverse, that always seem on the verge of making sense and then elusively slip away, but that's just a magic artifact of another era that is probably better left untouched.

If you really pursue this project we could talk further, but those are some lesser known, rarely covered great ones.
Awesome post.

Keep up the great work... Amen!

Let's not forget the gospel influence of "Tumblin' Dice". TD is a heavy rotation number on retro rock radio, but I never get tired of hearing it. I remember reading Stanley Booth's comments in 'True Adventures' before really listening to the song. He emphatically stated that TD is the greatest rock-n-roll riff ever written. After reading his thoughts and listening to it in near field monitors, I really can't disagree. The vocal hook with the bevy of gospel singers is what makes my hair stand up. You can even hear Keef gettin' his Jesus on amongst the layers of voices (before he became his current baratone). Shear brillence!

As we discussed last week, Trickster is the definitive Dylan expert. Very cool that the only real familiar Dylan record I owned passes his mustard. I really like Slow Train Comin'. I vote we do "Change my way of Thinkin". At least I think that's what it's called.

I recall the lyric, "I put my good foot forward, stop being influenced by fools...". Great track.

Now I must go to Amazon and buy some Dylan records. This blogging thing has increased my CD collection by a hundred since last year. You need to figure out how Fred creates those cool links with the record jackets in the margins.
My man Robyn Hitchcock did a 2-CD set of all Dylan covers. Awesome, too. Here's the set: http://robynhitchcock.com/detail-pages/RobynSings.htm . I think he says on it that Visions of Johanna is why he started writing songs. Scanlynn says this version of Tangled Up In Blue is her favorite cover of it she ever heard.
Wow, I just looked at the Hitchcock set list. Fascinating, not only extremely close to my own, but the second disk is the complete 1966 electric sets from the UK tour.
I highly recommend getting it. You can hear previews of it at the iTunes Music Store.
You know what would be a great cover, Bob Dylan's 115th Dream. I only found one obscure cover of that on Amazon. Gimme an e-mail address and I'll send along some MP3s if you want.

wilson@mjmcreative.com If I get any crap that's not a Dylan tune I'm going to spam somebody good. (not directed to you Jason)
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