When the Flying Burrito Brothers introduced me to Bluegrass music

Last week, I wrote a post about my appreciation for Bluegrass music (see here) and that appreciation all began with the LP…

“Last of the Red Hot Burritos”
The Flying Burrito Brothers
Producer: Jim Dickson, A&M Records, Release date: May, 1972, Length: 34:45

5 Stars

The Flying Burrito Brothers had already crashed and burned as a band by the time this album was released in 1972. Ex-Byrds, Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, had formed the group back in 1968, hoping to pursue their dream of melding country music, R&B, and rock-and-roll. Their debut LP, “The Gilded Palace of Sin,” remains a pioneering classic (see my review here), but Parsons’ descent into drug and alcohol addiction quickly spelled trouble. Their sophomore release, “Burrito Deluxe,” was uneven, and their Parsons-less, eponymous third album, although pleasant, was uninspiring. After four years, with zero commercial success, Hillman had had enough and decided to pull the plug. To fulfill their contractual obligations, the band released this live album.

I liked it a lot and it ranked right up there as one of my most-played LPs back in my high school heydays. At its end, when this album was recorded, the band consisted of Hillman on bass and lead vocals, Rick Roberts on rhythm guitar and vocals, Al Perkins on pedal steel guitar, Kenny Wertz on guitar and banjo and vocals, and another ex-Byrd, Michael Clarke on drums. For the short Bluegrass set, Byron Berline (fiddle) and Roger Bush (upright bass) came out on stage and helped out.

Side One

  • “Christine’s Tune (aka Devil in Disguise)” (Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons) – 3:54 – A great tune from the band’s debut album with plenty of tasty pedal steel licks from Perkins.
  • “Six Days on the Road” (Earl Green, Carl Montgomery) – 3:03 – The boys do their rendition of this classic truck driving ditty. The song had been a #2 country hit for Dave Dudley in 1963 and was a staple in Burrito concerts.
  • “My Uncle” (Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons) – 2:20 – Another song from the band’s debut; a lament about being drafted during the Vietnam War.
  • “Dixie Breakdown” (Jimmie Lunceford, Don Reno) – 2:17 – With this tune and the following two, Hillman and the Burritos add Berline and Bush to the mix and do it up Bluegrass style. This is a classic 1958 bluegrass song from Don Reno. Hillman contributes an excellent mandolin solo.
  • “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” (Louise Certain, Gladys Stacey Flatt, Jerry Organ, Wayne Walker) – 2:20 – Roger Bush does a nice job on lead vocals on this 1925 classic. It doesn’t get much “rootsier” than this.
  • “Orange Blossom Special” (Ervin T. Rouse) – 3:39 – Byron Berline and his fiddle shine on this 1938 classic. I thoroughly enjoyed these three Bluegrass numbers and it’s clear from the live recording that the audience did as well.

Side Two

  • “Ain’t That a Lot of Love” (Homer Banks, Deanie Parker) – 3:20 – The Burritos deftly put a country spin on this 1966 Stax-Memphis, driving R&B soul tune. Yeah, Al Perkins could play.
  • “High Fashion Queen” (Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons) – 3:22 – From their “Burritos Deluxe” album.
  • “Don’t Fight It” (Wilson Pickett, Steve Cropper) – 2:56 – Another countrification of an R&B tune, this one written by Wilson Pickett in 1965.
  • “Hot Burrito #2” (Chris Ethridge, Gram Parsons) – 4:35 – One of the best songs from the band’s debut LP.
  • “Losing Game” (James Carr, Dennis Weaver) – 2:59 – Hillman struggles a bit with his vocals on this R&B song written by Memphis soul artist, James Carr, in 1967.

Postscript: Back when album covers were considered works of art, this LP cover was a simply a thing of beauty. Credit goes to famous album cover illustrator, Joe Garnett. Being the completist that I am, I’m going to have to review the Burrito’s 2nd and 3rd studio LPs somewhere down the road.

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How a Yankee New Yorker became a fan of Bluegrass Music

A couple of weeks ago, I threw a birthday bash for my wife and after everybody left, I crawled into bed and aimlessly surfed the cable channels as is my nightly custom. When I got to PBS, I saw they were broadcasting a documentary about the history of Bluegrass music. Are you kidding me? I love Bluegrass music! I watched the show for about thirty-minutes until I started to fall asleep, but caught the entire thing via on-demand the next day. Great stuff! If you’re a fan of Blugrass, you’ll really enjoy this documentary:

Big Family: The Story of Bluegrass Music
Produced by Kentucky Educational Television
PBS premier, August 30th, 2019, Length: 1 hr 58 min
To view online see here.

So how does a person born and raised in Western New York become a fan of “hillbilly” Bluegrass music?

While I was growing up in the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y. in the 1960s, my older sisters always had their Beatles records blasting from the family phonograph. Having a mind of my own, I eventually adopted the Byrds* as my favorite band, but other musical forms piqued my interest as well. I can clearly remember hearing the opening theme music of “The Beverley Hillbillies” television comedy when it premiered in 1962 and being absolutely fascinated by the lightning-quick banjo picking of Earl Scruggs (accompanied by guitarist, Lester Flatt). Flatt and Scruggs caught my attention again, as well as the rest of the nation, when their Bluegrass tunes were featured in the 1968 film, “Bonnie and Clyde.” Then there was the popular “Dueling Banjos” song featured in the 1972 movie, “Deliverance.” No, I didn’t have any Bluegrass records yet, but I definitely liked the sound.

Chris Hillman started out very young as a Bluegrass mandolin player, but was drafted into rock and roll as the bassist for the Byrds in 1964. With Hillman on board, the Byrds did take some notable excursions into country music, but he quit the group in 1968 andCapture14 attempted to combine rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and country music with his new band, the Flying Burrito Brothers. The experiment, documented by three studio albums, was artistically brave and noteworthy, but a commercial failure. Hillman and the FBBs ended their four-year run with the release of the live LP, “The Last of the Red Hot Burritos,” in 1972. The latter-day Burritos had begun including a Bluegrass set within their concerts and this album featured three Bluegrass performances, “Dixie Breakdown,” “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” and “Orange Blossom Special.” I loved it. I mean, really loved it. No, I didn’t run out and buy a bunch of Bluegrass albums, but I definitely had an affinity for the music. Hmm. Do I sense an album review coming up in the near-future?

Years passed by and as I was walking through Borders Book Store in 1995, a new CD wasCapture15 being played through the store’s sound system; “Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection,” a retrospective of the early recordings of Bluegrass artist, Alison Krauss. Wow! Great music! I bought that CD and eventually also bought Krauss’ five-album back catalog and stayed current with her new releases.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many of the artists and some of the history of the Bluegrass genre. Bill Monroe (1911-1996) is credited with taking various strains of Appalachian roots music and melding them into Bluegrass beginning in the 1930s. In Bluegrass, you’ll often hear songs with Gospel themes. Hillman has continued to feature Bluegrass on his solo albums. I generally don’t buy CDs anymore, but I will make an exception for a new Krauss album (although she’s sadly been crossing over into mainstream music more and more). Mandolinist, Sierra Hull, is pretty good, too.

So, that’s how a Yankee, born and raised, improbably became a fan of Bluegrass music.

*The lead guitarist of the Byrds, Roger McQuinn, came from a folk background. He didn’t know any better and multiple-finger picked his twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar like he had his banjo, creating a unique, “jingle-jangle” sound that became the band’s signature.

Remembering the Summer of 1969: Part 1 – Woodstock

I grew up during the turbulent 1960s and I can remember that decade very well. Just about every day, there seemed to be something in the news about the Civil Rights movement, the war in Vietnam, or the burgeoning youth/counter culture movement.

Towards the end of the decade, young people had the optimistic hope that the old institutions were crumbling and that we were all heading into a new and marvelous era of peace, love, and universal brotherhood. In books, films, and music, especially music, writers and artists were anticipating this coming Age of Aquarius.

“But the age of truth will soon appear, Aquarius arrives…”
– from “Right Between the Eyes” by Graham Nash, written in 1968

A pop song, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” caught the imagination of the entire country just prior to the summer of 1969:

“When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius
The Age of Aquarius
Aquarius! Aquarius!
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius! Aquarius!

Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” was originally written by Rado, Ragni, and MacDermot for the 1967 Broadway musical, “Hair,” but The 5th Dimension’s rendition caught the imagination of young people across America. The single was released in March 1969 and reached the #1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart where it stayed for six weeks in April and May.

I had just turned thirteen in the summer of 1969 and I was somewhat aware of the Woodstock music festival in Bethel, New York, about 230 miles southeast of Rochester, which was fully-billed as the “Woodstock Music and Art Fair – an Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music.” The festival ran from August 15 to 18, and back in Rochester we heard daily reports on the television news that weekend about the New York State Thruway being shut down by the logjam of cars belonging to the festival goers.

When I returned to my Catholic grammar school in September, our resident eighth-grade hippie classmate, Bill DeFraine (d. 2016), was exuberant about the Woodstock “happening,” but was short on details. Those would come later with the release of the documentary film, “Woodstock” on March 26, 1970 and the triple-album, “Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More” on May 11, 1970.

There’s no need to get into the nitty-gritty details of the festival for our purposes except to note that thirty-two music acts had performed during the weekend in front of almost half-a-million concertgoers. Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young) would leverage their Woodstock appearance into becoming the “voice of a generation.”

“We are stardust, we are golden,
We are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
– from “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell and popularized by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young* with their single version, released in March, 1970, which peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

There was no sign of the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the festival. It goes without saying that few of the 400,000+ attendees (or the musical performers for that matter) were actually full-bore, new-age Aquarian astrologists, but most readily supported the festival’s faux-spirituality of “wine, women, and song,” including the nebulous notion of “universal brotherhood.”

Woodstock is now just a 50-year-old memory and many of the young people who attended the event subsequently became part of the very “establishment” they had previously claimed to abhor. The natural man is constantly searching and flailing about for some type of meaning to life and the universe, and the faux Age of Aquarius and the Woodstock Nation were just two more false hopes among countless others.

Jesus Christ is the ONLY Salvation and Hope. Learn about Him and trust in Him as your Savior. He doesn’t go out of style. He’s the eternal Rock Who never fails.

How can I be saved?
https://www.gotquestions.org/how-can-I-be-saved.html

Woodstock symbolized the idealistic hope of young people in 1969-70 and was widely believed to be part of the dawning of a new era of peace, love, and universal brotherhood. But the highly anticipated Age of Aquarius wasn’t to be. A few other events in August, 1969 took a lot of the luster off of the idealism of the “Woodstock Nation” that we’ll discuss on Friday.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” – 1 Corinthians 2:14

Capture126
Above: Woodstock’s official poster, advertising the event as an Aquarian exposition

*Quite revealingly, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, who had harmonized about peace, love, and brotherhood at Woodstock in 1969, did not reunite for their 50th anniversary this year because, basically, they can’t stand to even be in the same room together.

Fifty-years of The Gilded Palace of Sin

The Gilded Palace of Sin
The Flying Burrito Brothers
Produced by Larry Marks, A&M Records, Released February 6, 1969, Length: 37:24

5 Stars

The Byrds had recorded the groundbreaking country-rock album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” in 1968, but personal and artistic differences led members Gram Parsons followed by Chris Hillman to leave the band shortly afterwards. The two country music enthusiasts soon teamed up again to realize their vision of country and rock-and-roll fusion with the formation of the  Flying Burrito Brothers. For a couple of months, Parsons and Hillman holed up together in a rented house dubbed “Burrito Manor” in Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley and wrote a collection of excellent tunes. With Hillman on rhythm guitar and Parsons on acoustic guitar and keyboards, they rounded out their sound with the addition of Chris Ethridge on bass and Pete “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow on pedal steel guitar (four session drummers were used on the debut LP). A&M Records was attempting to beef up its rock and roll footprint at the time and unwittingly signed the Burritos, not knowing what they were getting themselves into.

When “The Gilded Palace of Sin” was released in early-1969, it landed with a huge thud, peaking at only #164 on the Billboard 200. Rock and roll audiences were not quite ready for the synthesis of country and rock music. But recording artists and music enthusiasts are keenly aware of this excellent pioneering effort.

The Burritos’ legacy was a short one. Their second studio album was disappointing as Parsons descended deeper and deeper into a spiral of alcohol and drug abuse. Hillman fired Parsons in 1970 and released the third and final Burritos studio LP in 1971. After two uneven solo projects (both prominently featuring a relatively unknown, young vocalist by the name of Emmylou Harris), Parsons died of a drug-overdose in 1973. Hillman would go on to have a long career, most notably as the front man for the successful country group, The Desert Rose Band, from 1985 to 1994.

While the Flying Burrito Brothers’ tenure was brief, music fans have been enjoying the “The Gilded Palace of Sin” for fifty years.

Side One

  • Christine’s Tune (Parsons, Hillman) – A bitter diatribe lambasting the former founder of the Byrds’ fan club who was meddling in the band members’ already-troubled marriages. A great tune. As in the rest of the album, Hillman’s steady harmonies perfectly complement Parson’s more adventurous and fragile lead vocals. Sneaky Pete’s rocked-up pedal steel solos are overdone here, but most of his contributions on this disc are excellent.
  • Sin City (Parsons, Hillman) – Hillman takes aim at the Byrds’ money-grubbing, former manager, Larry Spector. This is a country-rock classic that has been covered by many artists over the years. In this case, “Sin City” isn’t Las Vegas, but Los Angeles, and the former manager is portrayed as the much-anticipated object of the Lord’s retribution. Listen here.
  • Do Right Woman (Chips Moman, Dan Penn) – Parsons included this and another Moman-Penn penned “Southern Soul” tune immediately following, showing his interest in fusing country, rock, and blue-eyed soul into a gumbo of “Cosmic American Music.” That’s David Crosby providing some vocal harmonies.
  • Dark End of the Street (Chips Moman, Dan Penn) – Sneaky Pete’s use of the pedal steel guitar as a rock-and-roll lead guitar was radically innovative.
  • My Uncle (Parsons, Hillman) – Parsons received his draft notice in the mailbox during the height of the Vietnam War, prompting this tongue-in-cheek promise to head “for the nearest foreign border.” Parsons subsequently received a 4-F deferment. He was actually the very last person in the country the U.S. Army would have wanted in uniform. In this song, Hillman goes back to his bluegrass roots with some nice mandolin weaving around Sneaky Pete’s tasty steel licks.

Side Two

  • Wheels (Hillman, Parsons) – Parsons’ paean to motorcycles following a minor accident with his BSA bike. He sings, “I’ll turn to Him who made my faith so strong.”
  • Juanita (Hillman, Parsons) – His woman left him and he’s lower than the floor; the grist for about 90% of country music songs.
  • Hot Burrito #1 (Ethridge, Parsons) – Speaking of a song about a woman leaving her man, Parsons scores the very best vocal of his short career with this lament dripping with palatable pathos. Ethridge brought the melody to Parsons who added the lyrics. Listen here.
  • Hot Burrito #2 (Ethridge, Parsons) – What? Yet another song about a broken relationship? Yes, and another Ethridge melody with lyrics by Parsons. An outstanding Parsons vocal. The improbably titled Hot Burrito #1 and #2 are the finest songs on a great album.
  • Do You Know How It Feels (Parsons, Barry Goldberg) – The fourth song in a row about a relationship breakup. Parsons sings in a traditional Country-Western style. Co-writer, Goldberg, would have a long career and eventually end up in Stephen Stills’ The Rides.
  • Hippie Boy (Hillman, Parsons) – Hillman talk-sings through a dirge about a hippie and “redneck” trying to find common ground over the death of a hippie boy. The song was generally a plea for the generations to be more tolerant towards each other at the time of the turbulent sixties and specifically a plea for the country music community to be more accepting of “hippies” like Parsons and Hillman.

There are references to the Lord throughout the album, and much of that no doubt can be attributed to Parsons’ upbringing in Waycross, Georgia, deep in the Bible Belt. Parsons, like many other people, knew ABOUT the Lord Jesus Christ, but he didn’t KNOW Him. Parsons tried to find peace, truth, and fulfillment in the bottle, the pill box, in music, and in fame, but there was no lasting peace or redemption to be found in those things.

Chris Hillman Reflects on The Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’ at 50
https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/8496642/chris-hillman-flying-burrito-brothers-gilded-palace-sin

 

Bob Dylan’s Christian “phase”

As I’ve mentioned previously, I began working at Kodak in 1976 at one of its huge manufacturing plants here in Rochester N.Y. I started out in the warehouse division with a great bunch of guys. Forty-plus years later, I still remember them very well. One of the guys was Jim Moon, a large, strapping man with an equally big smile. Jim had a few Christian-themed items boldly posted above his desk, so I knew he was one of those “crazy” born-agains. We had a few conversations about religion, although it would be several years later that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.

One day in conversation with Jim, the subject of Bob Dylan came up. Dylan had been an international cultural icon beginning with his folk-protest albums released in the early-1960s. I had not been a fan of Dylan’s music directly, however my favorite band, the Byrds, had covered several of his songs, most notably, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” But Dylan was making waves again in the late-1970s by claiming to have accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. I remember Jim taking great satisfaction in the fact that such a popular icon as Dylan had accepted Christ.

Dylan recorded two Christian-themed albums, “Slow Train Coming” in 1979 and “Saved” in 1980 (see photo above). I had no interest in listening to those albums at the time they were released. I subsequently heard roundabout that Dylan eventually put his “Christian period” behind him, but I never forgot about it, especially after I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior in 1983.

A few months ago, I mentioned to my wife about Dylan’s “Jesus phase.” We briefly discussed whether he had really accepted Christ at the time or whether it was all a disingenuous “experience”? Still curious, a couple of weeks ago I played “Slow Train Coming” and “Saved” via our Amazon Echo. Wow! There are actually some outstanding songs on those albums, once you get past Dylan’s raggedy voice. Hmm, Dylan certainly “sounded” like he understood the Gospel and trusted in Jesus. I then proceeded to read some articles that examined Dylan’s “Gospel period.” Turns out he had heard about the burgeoning “Jesus movement” in Southern California from some of his friends and at a 1978 concert in San Diego, Dylan picked up a cross that someone had thrown on stage. He claimed that later that evening in his hotel room he had a mystical experience in which Jesus appeared to him. That “encounter” was followed with studies at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship near Los Angeles. If you know anything about the Vineyard churches, you know they’re all about religious experientialism and emotionalism with some Gospel parlance thrown in. The two Jesus albums followed, along with concerts where Dylan preached to his puzzled audiences. But Dylan backed away from his “Jesus phase” after 1981. He took up Orthodox Judaism for awhile, and eventually settled into a widely-inclusive, “whatever works for you” religious relativism (see articles far below).

“Whoever said I was Christian? Like Gandhi, I’m Christian, I’m Jewish, I’m a Moslem, I’m a Hindu. I am a humanist.” – Bob Dylan, 1983

I’m not able to see inside Bob Dylan’s soul, but from his own words it appears he most probably had a false religious experience in 1978. I’m guessing Dylan knew ABOUT Jesus, but didn’t KNOW Jesus. That should not be surprising because the Lord said there will be many tares within the church. Some stay a short time, while others park themselves on a pew for the temporal duration.

The Parable of the Wheat and Tares – Matthew 13:24-30
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+13%3A24-30&version=ESV

Postscript: Jim Moon wasn’t a youngster in 1979 and has most probably gone on to be with the Lord at this point. He had no idea at the time, but his testimony was one of the many things the Holy Spirit used to lead me to salvation in Christ several years later. Are you letting the light of Jesus shine through you like Jim Moon? Just keep planting the seed and leave the rest to the Lord.

The year Bob Dylan was born again: a timeline
See article here.

Bob Dylan, Recovering Christian
See article here.

CSN&Y: Squabbling Troubadors II: The Whole Enchilada

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young: The Wild, Definitive Saga of Rock’s Greatest Supergroup
By David Browne
Da Capo Press, 2019, 465 pages

5 Stars

What? Another book about CSN&Y? This year is the 50th anniversary of the formation of the seminal singer-songwriter “supergroup,” Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young). To commemorate the milestone, two excellent biographies were recently published. Fortunately for my wallet, our local library system has both books on its shelves. Three weeks ago, I reviewed Peter Doggett’s book, which focused mainly on the band’s first five years, 1969 to 1974 (see here). In contrast, David Browne’s book spans the entire life of the band, the whole messy enchilada, from 1969 to 2015, discontinuous and painful as it was.

Following the releases of their highly-successful eponymous debut album in 1969 and “Déjà Vu” the following year, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young was arguably the most popular rock and roll band on the planet (made possible only by the official break-up of the Beatles in April 1970). However, the reasons for the band’s great success also precipitated it’s downfall. The old saying about “too many chefs in the kitchen” certainly applied to CSN&Y; a volatile combination of four very talented and very strong-willed performers with contrasting temperaments. Copious drug use added to the constant disharmony. Unable to perform as a unit, CS&N put their energies into solo projects, although Crosby and Nash remained on friendly terms and recorded several albums together. Young, a prolific songwriter, was able to achieve an unusual degree of success on his own and increasingly distanced himself from CS&N.

Crosby, Stills and Nash were able to occasionally put animosities aside and unite briefly for various projects, but Crosby’s spiraling heroin addiction was a major impediment. After having spent five months in prison in 1986 on drugs and weapons convictions, Crosby was released and (somewhat) sober, but CS&N found that their style of music was increasingly out of favor with the MTV generation. From 1988 to 1999, the trio released multiple joint and solo projects of uneven quality to a declining audience. I had already stopped listening to CS&N back in 1977 because the political rants began to grate on me. By the early 00s/aughts, CS&N had largely devolved into a touring oldies band.

After their phenomenal initial success, CS&N began their very long and sometimes tortuous decline. Browne devotes 303 of the book’s 418 pages of text to that post-1970 decline. Being the nerdy, former-fan that I am, I found that information very interesting. Most readers wouldn’t.

It’s revealing that Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young won’t be reuniting this year to celebrate their 50th anniversary because of the bitter acrimony between the ex-members. It’s easy to sing about peace and love, but “the heart [of man] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”

CSN&Y: Squabbling Troubadours

Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
By Peter Doggett
Atria Books, 2019, 359 pages

5 Stars

My five older sisters always had the record player or radio constantly playing in the house when I was growing up, but I began listening to AM Top 40 in earnest for myself in 1969 at the age of thirteen with my inexpensive Panasonic AM radio/cassette player combo. My oldest sister happened to be in college that year and she came home for winter break with a box of her roomate’s LPs in tow. Flipping through the albums, I was intrigued by three grungy looking hippies; David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash, on the cover of their eponymous debut and gave it a spin. Wow! I was captivated by the trio’s songcraft and soaring vocal harmonies. No more Top 40, bubble-gum pop music for me. Neil Young joined the group before they went on tour and I became a hardcore fan of CS&N and CSN&Y and all of their various solo and collective permutations and faithfully bought ALL of their albums (see far below) for the next eight years. I was such a dedicated fan that I even collected the back catalogs of their previous bands – the Byrds (Crosby), Buffalo Springfield (Stills and Young), and, to a lesser extent, the Hollies (Nash) – and would subsequently become a lifelong fan of the Byrds. CSN&Y had a huge fanbase, which began with their appearance at the 1969 Woodstock festival from whence they were subsequently crowned the “voice of a generation.” 

However, after the release of their “CSN” album in 1977, I lost interest in the group. Why? Their music seemed to grow stale and their never-ending political rants began to grate. In recognition of the group’s 50th anniversary, a couple of biographies were just published, including this one by music journalist, Peter Doggett, who focuses mainly on the first five years of the band (I’m currently reading the second biography). I thought I knew all the stories pretty well, but Doggett provides a lot of interesting new information.

It’s tough enough when a group has one prima donna, but CSN&Y had four by design. Although they were the #1 rock group in the world after the release of their second album, “Déjà Vu,” their demise was already guaranteed. These guys made millions by singing about peace and love, but after their initial start, they couldn’t stand being in the same room together. Copious drug intake and hyper-inflated egos fueled the interpersonal animosity and the declining quality of the music. The internecine squabbling within CSN&Y was symbolic of the false promises of the Woodstock Nation. Yes, there is peace eternal and perfect brotherhood, but they are only found in salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

CS&N (and occasionally with Y) periodically joined together to pay the bills from 1977 until 2015, although they had largely devolved into an oldies band. Crosby then permanently alienated his bandmates with some rather infelicitous remarks. However, freed from the restricting confines of CS&N, Croz has recorded four interesting solo albums in the last five years.

Just for grins, I plugged my memory battery into my CPAP machine and came up with the list below of all of the CSN&Y records that I bought between 1969 and 1977. Rather than spend a lot of time reviewing the albums, I’m providing just a simple 1-to-5 star rating:

  • Crosby, Stills, and Nash (1969) – CS&N  5 Stars
  • Neil Young (1968, remixed and re-released in 1969) – Young  3 Stars
  • Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969) – Young  4 Stars
  • Déjà Vu (1970) – CSN&Y  5 Stars
  • Stephen Stills (1970) – Stills  4 Stars
  • After the Gold Rush (1970) – Young  4 Stars
  • 4 Way Street (1971) – CSN&Y (live)  4 Stars
  • If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971) – Crosby  3 Stars
  • Songs for Beginners (1971) – Nash  4 Stars
  • Stephen Stills 2 (1971) – Stills  3 Stars
  • Graham Nash/David Crosby (1972) – Crosby and Nash  4 Stars
  • Stephen Stills/Manassas (1972) – Stills and Manassas  5 Stars
  • Harvest (1972) – Young  5 Stars
  • Wild Tales (1973) – Nash  2 Stars
  • Down the Road (1973) – Stills and Manassas  1 Star
  • Time Fades Away (1973) – Young (live)  1 Star
  • Byrds (1973) – Crosby and the other four original bandmembers 2 Stars
  • On the Beach (1974) – Young  2 Stars
  • Wind on the Water (1975) – Crosby and Nash  4 Stars
  • Stills (1975) – Stills  3 Stars
  • Stephen Stills Live (1975) – Stills (live)  3 Stars
  • Tonight’s the Night (1975) – Young  1 Star
  • Zuma (1975) – Young  3 Stars
  • Whistling Down the Wire (1976) – Crosby and Nash  2 Stars
  • Illegal Stills (1976) – Stills  2 Stars
  • Long May You Run (1976) – Stills and Young  1 Star
  • CSN (1977) – CS&N  4 Stars
  • Live (1977) – Crosby and Nash (live)  3 Stars

Yup, twenty-eight albums was A LOT of recorded output for four guys in eight years. They cranked ’em out like pizzas.

Grace Slick and rock-and-roll hedonism

Grace Slick: Somebody to Love?: A Rock-and-Roll Memoir
By Grace Slick with Andrea Cagan
Warner Books, 1998, 370 pages

Back a few weeks ago, I posted about one of my favorite rock bands of the 1960s, the Jefferson Airplane (see here). That motivated me to borrow this book from the library that I’ve been meaning to read for the past twenty years.

Grace Slick (b. 1939) was the co-lead singer of the Jefferson Airplane and its subsequent incarnations, Jefferson Starship and Starship, from 1967 to 1987. She was raised in an upper-middle-class family and even attended a hoity-toity finishing college for women; Finch College in Manhattan. But the rebellious Slick embraced the burgeoning hippie movement in 1960s San Francisco and her untrained but impressive vocal talent eventually earned her a place with the city’s most-popular of several psychedelic bands, the Airplane. When the band gained national prominence in 1967 with their second album, “Surrealistic Pillow,” Slick became rock-and-roll’s first female lead vocalist. As a young, red-blooded teenage boy, I think I may have had a bit of a crush at the time, along with millions of other guys.

Slick’s story can be pretty much summed up by the mantra of the 60’s counter-culture; “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.” By her own account, she was frequently either high or drunk. Drugs and/or alcohol abuse were a part of her daily routine for decades. Sex was as casual and impersonal as choosing a restaurant for dinner. Slick was the poster child for 1960s and 1970s counter-culture hedonism.

“They have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” – Ephesians 4:19

People tend to idolize celebrity entertainers, but when we look beyond the glitz we see that they’re unhappy people thrashing about to find some kind of direction and meaning to life. Ever read the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible? Chasing after fleshly pleasures through sex, drugs and alcohol, and entertainment can be fulfilling for a short time, but it doesn’t endure. Slick is now 79-years-old and in poor health, and sex and substance abuse are definitely no longer on her priority list. What is her hope?

Slick does mention “spirituality” here and there in this book, but as you might expect, what she refers to is the mysticism of Eastern religiosity. Interesting how hip culture rejects Christianity out of hand, but eagerly embraces various aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism. Slick is pretty upfront about all of her faults/sins. My thought throughout reading this book was how much she needs the Savior and Shepherd, Jesus Christ. This is a sad book. Slick has lots of questions, but no answers.

The Byrds’ Albums – 1965-1973

I had the pleasure of reviewing all twelve of the Byrds albums over the previous twelve months. Below is a handy listing with links to the reviews:

Mr. Tambourine Man (1965) 5-stars
The Byrd’s debut album ushers in folk-rock and is met with critical and popular acclaim.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/01/07/the-byrds-take-flyte-and-dylan-and-the-beatles-take-notice/

Turn! Turn! Turn! (1965) 4-stars
The band’s sophomore album is good but lacks the sparkle of the debut disc.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/02/02/folk-rock-102/

Fifth Dimension (1966) 3.5-stars
Gene Clark’s departure opens up opportunities for David Crosby and the band breaks out of its folk-rock mold to explore new musical genres with mixed results.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/the-byrds-awkwardly-break-out-of-the-folk-rock-mold-with-fifth-dimension/

Younger Than Yesterday (1967) 5-stars
Chris Hillman’s development as a songwriter helps the band to fire on all cylinders.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/04/03/younger-than-yesterday-an-underappreciated-work-that-would-be-recognized-decades-later/

The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968) 5-stars
The band remarkably produces its finest album in the midst of the departures of Crosby and Clarke.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/05/02/the-notorious-byrd-brothers-the-byrds-crumble-just-as-they-peak/

Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968) 4-stars
Newcomer, Gram Parsons, hijacks the Byrds down to Nashville. A pioneering country-rock album.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/06/01/parsons-hijacks-the-byrds-to-nashville/

Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde (1969) 2-stars
Hillman and Parsons quit and McGuinn goes it alone with hired hands, including talented country guitarist, Clarence White.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/07/02/mcguinn-pushes-forward-with-hired-hands-including-a-very-talented-guitarist/

Ballad of Easy Rider (1969) 2-stars
McGuinn and the ersatz Byrds attempt to leverage their connection to the popular counter-culture film.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/08/01/the-byrds-and-the-ballad-of-easy-rider-resurgence-or-hype/

Untitled (1970) 3-stars
Might be the best of the five weak albums from the McGuinn-White ersatz Byrds.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/09/04/the-mcguinn-white-byrds-peak-with-untitled/

Byrdmaniax (1971) 1-star
Almost unlistenable. Producer Terry Melcher added keyboards and choirs post-production in an attempt to save the unsavable.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/byrdmaniax/

Farther Along (1971) 1.5-stars
The faux Byrds on life support. The forgettable swan song of the McGuinn-White ersatz Byrds.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/the-collapse-of-the-ersatz-mcguinn-white-byrds/

Byrds (1973) 3-stars
The disappointing reunion of the five original members didn’t come close to meeting expectations.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/12/04/the-byrds-disappointing-swan-song/

By the way, Roger McGuinn, the leader of the Byrds and the only member to appear on every album, accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1977. See here. His testimony was one of the many influences used by the Holy Spirit to eventually lead me to Christ as well.

“When the truth is found to be lies…”

 

I surely liked my rock-and-roll music way back in the day, but I generally stayed away from the raucous stuff. I was more into the breezy and melodic, LA/California folk-rock, country-rock sounds (Byrds, Burritos, Buffalo Springfield, CS&N, Poco, etc.). But there were a few exceptions. Clapton’s bluesy band, Cream, comes to mind along with Jefferson Airplane.

Jefferson Airplane! What a motley crew! The band hit it big in 1967 with the release of their second album, “Surrealistic Pillow.” Airplane was the biggest of the San Francisco, psychedelic hippie bands (Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Moby Grape). The band’s sound, paced by Jorma Kaukonen’s ragged lead guitar, wasn’t much better than a garage band, but they wrote some good tunes and co-lead singer, Grace Slick, was pretty good.

So why am I writing a post about the Airplane? Hang on. We’re almost there.

One of the two big hits from “Surrealistic Pillow” was “Somebody to Love” (see video above), which Slick brought over from her previous San Fran band, The Great Society. “Somebody to Love” was one of the great rock anthems of the late-60s. The song is actually about a person experiencing a romantic break-up and contemplating a rebound, but the opening verse can be interpreted several different ways:

“When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies.”

America’s youth heard Grace Slick angrily belt out those words in April 1967 and they weren’t thinking about a romantic breakup, they were thinking about how many of the country’s institutions – government, military, education, church, corporations, marriage, etc. – were being exposed as imperfect and even corrupt.

I enjoyed “Somebody to Love” over the years, but at one point I had a new, personal interpretation. I had been a Roman Catholic for twenty-seven years, ever since I was baptized as an infant, and believed in the church’s salvation system of sacramental grace and merit. But after reading God’s Word and encountering many passages that contradicted Catholic doctrine, I left the Catholic church. I had discovered that the “truth” I was taught in parochial grammar school and Catholic high school had been lies. My world was rocked. I was shaken. It was like the rug had been yanked out from under me. Talk about a crisis of conscience! However, after a few years, by God’s grace, I heard and understood the Gospel and I repented of my sin and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior by faith alone. Praise God!

So now, whenever I hear the opening verse of “Somebody to Love,” I think about that tumultuous and upsetting period in my life when I found out through God’s Word that the “truth” I was taught and had hung my hat on for so many years was all lies. Many Catholics must be experiencing something similar with their church currently being rocked to its foundation by the scandal tsunami and by pope Francis’ heterodox reforms. Where can they turn? To THE Truth, Jesus Christ, and God’s Word!

Postscript: Jefferson Airplane’s founding members Marty Balin, Paul Kantner, and Signe Toly Anderson are deceased. Singer, Grace Slick, is now 79-years-old and in poor health. The gospel of 1960s rock and roll, “peace, love, sex, and drugs,” definitely had its limits. We’re all looking for somebody to love and to be loved. Eternal and truly fulfilling love is only found in Jesus Christ. Repent of your sin and accept Jesus as your Savior by faith alone.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” – 1 John 4:9-11