In a twist on the usual, Richard Lutz picks the live music he’ll never forget.
The reverie of being isolated on a desert island summons up a wide range of images. The first is a perfect South Pacific paradise, complete with clean water, fresh fruit off the trees and a pair of coconut shells I can use for headphones. But the horrorshow is an austere and dour and sodden Hebridean rock where my only food is seaweed and broken shellfish… all the while being pummelled by an Atlantic storm.
I’ll stick to the first and, with that in mind, I’ll cast away and keep my best moments of live music I’ve seen over the last fifty (yikes!!!) years. A warning: Dates are getting a bit foggy. It’s all fading mirrors these days and sometimes it all rolls into one single note. So, in no specific order, here goes:
I saw him first in 1967 when I was in the back row in Lewiston, Maine and there was this manic howling music crashing out from the stage. It was only three or four months after his famous Monterey Pop blast-off and he did all those great first album tunes: Hey Joe, Third Rock from the Sun, Are You Experienced. Wow.
Way back in Greenwich Village inside one of those famous jazz joints. Monk was monumental, a massive presence sitting behind a piano on a raised dias, wreathed in cigarette smoke, sporting a blue fez as he grunted and moaned through his work in an hypnotic session. His middle name is Sphere, by the way.
A bit of a mixed bag. I’ve seen the boy five or six times, usually at mega-events. He’s either sloppy and indifferent or top of the tree with his classics, all re-invented by a superb backing band. Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat as a polka? Well, yes. A legend, on the right night
An extremely poignant night at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. It was his last tour and he admitted that he was losing his memory through Alzeimer’s. His daughter was at his side to help him. Wichita Lineman never sounded so lonely, so lost as Campbell said goodbye (footnote: He played guitar with the Beach Boys in the late sixties when Bruce Wilson faded out).
This is a superb Birmingham-based Appalachian country duo; two Kings Heath sisters who do Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline, Bob Wills and Dolly Parton all with Nashville eclat. Plus they also write their own stuff. The girls play guitar, mandolin and have gorgeous voices, their dad helps out on dulcimer. I’ve seen them many times at the Hare & Hounds, always rammed to the ceiling as they glide through the old time music.
At Warwick Arts Centre about two years ago. This was absolutely entrancing. The elderly jazz pianist – aka Dollar Brand – got so lost in his ethereal compositions that the stage manager had to come out and ask the maestro to take an interval. He slowly rose, apologised and in a trance departed for the mandatory twenty minute break. Then, more dreamlike unbroken music.
These New York guys make The Mothers sound like The Kingston Trio. They were really whacko, spaced out, riotous, scurrilous and clearly broke the rules; underground acid doo wop with x-rated tunes such as Slum Goddess from the Lower East Side, I Couldn’t Get High, Kill for Peace and Dirty Old Man. It was rough and funny and clearly never surfaced on commercial radio. I saw them with my old school buddy Steve F in 1966 in the East Village and half the audience was, well, somewhere else. Their lead guitarist played lying on his back on the stage floor. Hey, why not?
There were loads of Kings out there – Freddie, BB, Ben E. But Albert to me is the king of Kings. I saw him in a little club in Colorado and he was huge, a mountain of a man with a big big grin and a flaming luminescent lime green electric guitar shaped like an arrow. He had a voice like a foghorn and a backing band as tight as barbed wire. He owned that stage for three hours of great blues.
Of course, I’ll need a luxury item and a book as per the real Desert Island Disc radio slot. For luxury, it has to be my migraine pills. I can’t leave home without them. For the book, a complete collection of Elmore Leonard stories.
Well, that’s it. As a footnote, here’s a list of musicians I’ll never get to see: Miles Davis, Ethel Merman, Yusef Lateef, Bob Wills, John Coltrane, Cream, Amy Winehouse, Little Richard and, finally, the original Young Rascals – greaser rock at its best