A tale of 2 albums

In the September of 1986 I was working for two weeks in Rotterdam and although the first week was quite busy the second week afforded me more time to wander the city and I even managed to go to Amsterdam for a day.  While walking round the city centre I discovered a record shop in one of the side streets, a small independent record shop with a display of record sleeves in the window.

Among all the well known record sleeves were two which caught my eye even though I had not heard of either artist. That was the thing about LP covers they were big enough to put on display and the artwork looked good when it was 12″ square – something that never did translate to the CD but I digress.

I think I must have walked past the shop everyday and stopped and looked at these covers – maybe the shop wasn’t open when I went past or maybe there didn’t seem much point in going in, after all it’s not as though I would have had anything to play them on. There was also the decision to be made about which, if any, I should buy.

Eventually I made a decision to buy one and the one I had found myself drawn to most was this one:

I’d never heard of Peter Case but there was just something about the cover that reached out to me. The image of the guy in the suit with a hat plonked on his head at a jaunty angle idly strumming a guitar looked cool as did the desk covered in books and a discarded pair of glasses. I don’t think I asked to hear it before I bought it but buy it I did and stored it safely in my hotel room.

I bought other things while I was out there. In a bookshop I found a book of Bob Dylan’s lyrics called Bob Dylan Compleet Lyrics Alle Songteksten which covered the lyrics from1962-1985 (Up to Empire Burlesque) and was an updated version of Writings and drawings which I had bought at Blackbushe in 1979 and was now showing distinct signs of wear from over use!

I also went to see Rod Stewart who it turned out was playing at the Ahoy centre which is where I was was working. As the gig was literally next door I thought it would be rude not to go! So I bought a ticket one lunch time and when asked if I wanted standing or seated I went for a seat. This turned out to be a mistake as the venue was actually a cycling venue and the sides were very steep and high. I think Rod was onto his third song before I let go of the arms of the chair!

Anyway back to the story! Even though I had bought one of the two albums I still couldn’t get the other one out of my mind. So on the morning I left I dashed down to the shop, which thankfully was open, and bought the other one:

Like the first one it featured a picture of the artist sitting playing a guitar but where as the first guy looked sharp and cool this guy was the direct opposite. He was sitting on a beer crate with a bottle of drink in a bag at his feet, rocking back and playing his guitar like he meant it. Shabbily dressed with his hat square on his head, you could tell this guy had seen some hard times. I took the album back to the hotel, stashed it in the van with the other one and set off to drive to the Hook of  Holland and catch a ferry home.

When I got home and played the albums both of them were brilliant but in very different ways. Peter Case‘s album was more uptempo than the cover would have suggested. The harmonica driven electric Americana with Peter’s laconic vocals contrasted sharply with the laid back image on the cover. The songs were mostly self written but there was a cover of the Pogues song A Pair of Brown Eyes.

The Ted Hawkins album, by contrast, was much more laid back with Ted’s sweet voice with it’s rasping undertones backed only by his simple straightforward guitar style. Most of the album was comprised of cover versions such as The Green Green Grass of Home and Take me Home, Country Roads. Once again the cover image portrayed a different image to what was contained within the grooves of the lp. The voice didn’t seem to fit the rough down and out image that graced the cover and which as it turned out was close to the truth.

Ted Hawkins  has spent most of his life busking on the streets and boardwalks of Venice Beach California where he claimed the sand and spray had given him that gravel tinge to his voice. He had been in and out of trouble with the law and in and out of various correctional institutions for much of his life. He wore a glove on his left hand while playing guitar due to an injury,  he played in an open tuning which allowed him to play mostly barre chords.

It was in 1986 that he moved to the UK forsaking California for the delights of Bridlington prompting comments that most people move to California when fame knocks rather than the other way round. He played his debut UK gig at the 100 club a month after I got back from Rotterdam but I didn’t get to see him till November when he undertook his first UK tour. I saw him at the Kings Head in Fulham on the first of November with Howlin’ Wilf & the Vee Jays as the support. The princely sum of £5 was the entrance cost.

I had already been to see Peter Case by the time I got to see Ted Hawkins – in fact almost the first two gigs I saw after getting back from Rotterdam were the two people who’s albums I had seen in that shop window. I saw Peter at the Shaw Theatre on Euston Road, an odd venue at the time as I seem to recall that it had very plush velvet seats not like a rock venue at all. The theatre is still there but is now part of the Novotel Hotel and I have been there and worked on a number of occasions since.

After 1986 I lost touch with both artistes and sadly Ted Hawkins died from a stroke in 1995, a few months after the album which brought him the most commercial success, Next Hundred years, was released. I caught up again with Peter Case at the Borderline in Charing Cross Road in 2003 when he appeared solo acoustic and in my mind was exactly like he should have sounded when I first saw the album in that shop window.

Solomon Burke and other New York Stories

The death of Solomon Burke last week at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport was widely reported but at first the news didn’t really resonate with me but after a while I started to think about it. I became sure that I had seen him at some point in the past and I started to wonder if it was him that I had seen at Summerstage in Central Park, New York back in 1995.

I’d gone to America for work to organise two events for a client, the first in Boston, the second in New York. I had flown into Boston on the Tuesday evening and did the Boston show the following day. Then I flew to New York and checked into my hotel and the following day I did the show again at the Four Seasons Hotel. After that I was free for a couple of days before I had to fly home on the Sunday. I was determined to make the best use of the time I had in the Big Apple!

I had a list of things I wanted to do and was armed with a copy of a New York on a budget book and a copy of a paper which had listings of events in New York. I had a couple of CD’s I wanted to find and I’d also arranged to meet up with a guy I had met on Compuserve and become friends with due to a shared grief over the death of Viv Stanshall earlier that year. The internet was still in it’s infancy in those days and I had only been on there for a few months, the www as we know it today was only just starting and browsers were still being developed. If it had been more developed I would have known that the Grateful Dead were playing in NJ on the Sunday (supported by Bob Dylan) and wouldn’t have arranged to fly home before the gig!! Never mind, I thought, I’ll see them next time – little did I know this would be their final tour as Jerry Garcia died later that year.

Still there were plenty of other things to do and I set about doing them. One of the CD’s I found straight away – it was Todd Snider‘s debut album Songs for the Daily Planet. The other CD’s proved a little more tricky and I must have gone into every record shop in Manhattan looking  for albums by Tom Ovans without success. In fact on one day I ended up walking from my hotel on 42nd street all the way down the island till I got to the Statten Island ferry terminal looking in every record store I passed. Once there I did the classic tourist thing of catching the ferry and then getting off at the other end and running round to catch it back again. The trip was wonderful giving wonderful views of the Statue of Liberty and the bottom end of Manhattan and the classic skyline with the two World Trade towers that would be attacked and destroyed just over 6 years later.

Music coloured almost every move I made in the city, if it wasn’t things triggering off songs in my head like “Walking down Madison” or “Fairy Tale of New York ” every time I saw NYPD on a Police car it was going to visit places from songs and one such place was the Chelsea Hotel. The Chelsea Hotel has long been (in)famous for it’s literary and musical residents. Dylan Thomas was staying there when he drank himself to death and Bob Dylan wrote Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands there. Leonard Cohen wrote about having sex with Janis Joplin there and Sid Vicious allegedly stabbed his girlfriend to death in the hotel in 1978.  I went in to the beautifully ornate reception area but it was deathly quiet so I left again – I’m not sure what I expected to find but it wasn’t there. If I’d thought about it I could have booked myself in there instead of the dreadfully sterile Central Hotel that I was staying in.

The night out with my friend from Compuserve turned out to be in Greenwich Village, itself an abvious destination on my musical odyssey because of the Bob Dylan connection. I met him in an underground bar where we drank and played darts with his friends – they were labouring under the misapprehension that being English I’d be good at darts! It wasn’t quite the night out in Greenwich Village I’d hoped for but enjoyable non the less and the group of people I met up with were intelligent and witty (they would later be responsible for an underground literary magazine called Lurch) and were eager to suggest things I should do while in town.

LURCHlogo

As I left the bar that night I noticed that there was a second hand record shop a few doors down so in a slightly drunken state I went in and started looking through the racks of CD’s. To my surprise I found a CD by Tom Ovans which I didn’t even know existed so I bought it and set off back to the hotel. In 2003 I finally got to see Tom at the 12 Bar Club in London and I took the CD cover along and got Tom to sign it after I told him the story.

The listings newspaper I had been recommended had lots of shows advertised that I would have loved to gone too but in true Sod’s Law fashion none of them were on while I was there. I remember there was a full page ad for a band I had vaguely heard of called Phish who were playing at Jones Beach but it was two weeks later. So with nothing I fancied doing I turned to the New York book to suggest things. After thumbing through it I set off to go and eat at a Lebanese restaurant that it recommended. However in order to get there I had to go through Times Square and while I was doing that I noticed the half price ticket booth like the one they have in Leicester Square in London. I toyed with the idea of seeing a Broadway show so I looked up and down the listings and then one caught my eye. It was called the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) – I’d heard about this when it was in London  performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company so I asked the guy if it was the same one but he didn’t know. I thought “what the hell, how often will I get to see an Off-Broadway show” so I bought a ticket and headed off to the theater. It was indeed the same show where they cover all 37 plays in 97 minutes and it was hilariously funny and I even got an extra laugh at the pronunciation of War-Wick-Shire!!

After the show I continued my journey to the restaurant which was, thankfully, still open. After eating I walked up to 88th Street to go to Manny’s Car Wash Blues Club which I think had been recommended to me by a friend. The journey I took snaked across town from west to east  and from south to north but I managed to make the route pass the corner of 53rd and Third which was the scene of the Killing of Georgie in the Rod Stewart Song! Arriving at the club the doorman told us it was something like five bucks to come in. This made me wonder if it was about to close so I asked him and he said it was open till 4am so in I went. I don’t remember who was playing that night but I’m sure if I found my diary I could but I stayed until about 2am enjoying good music and good beer (If I recall correctly I drank the first dark beer of my stay in this club).  As I left the club I decided that 46 blocks was too far to walk at this time of night so I hailed a cab that was coming up Third Avenue. The driver hung a left and then turned left again into Second Avenue and the road being empty at that time of night reached incredible speeds for my journey back to the hotel.

The weather was incredible that week, it was hot and humid and walking anywhere was a major task so it was incredible that I managed to avoid going on the Subway for most of the time I was there. In fact the only time I did venture underground was after my walk down to the Statten Island ferry that afternoon. It was either walk all the way back in the searing heat or take the plunge and catch the Subway. I went down the steps and paid at the ticket booth and was given a token by the man. I think it was obvious that I didn’t know what to do so the man from the ticket booth came over and showed me where to put the token.

On the Saturday afternoon I headed off to Central Park to go to a Summerstage concert in Rumsey Playfield making a detour to visit the spot where John Lennon had been shot and the monument in Strawberry Fields. I then went on to the concert which was free but I recall they were collecting for charity and I threw some money into their collection box. The reason I was there was to see the support band G Love and Special Sauce who I had heard on the Saturday afternoon show on Radio 1 back home. Once inside the stage was set along one side of the arena and people were spread out all around enjoying the sunshine. Around the area there were a number of stalls some selling tickets and some selling beer. You had to queue up to buy tickets before taking them to the bar to get a drink. There was also a Sony stall showing the new Minidisc system which I had a listen to but declined to buy a raffle ticket to try and win one!

G Love was really good, it was the first time I’d seen them but I did get to see them again about a week later at Glastonbury and they remain the only act that I have seen on both sides of the Atlantic! I may have left after their set if it hadn’t been for what happened on my way to get a beer. I was walking across the arena when I heard someone shout my name. I paused for a second but then realised that I was in New York and who would be calling me! So I started to walk again and then sure enough I heard them shout again, so this time I turned round and found two or three of the guys I’d met at the bar in Greenwich Village waving at me.

So I stayed and we watched Soloman Burke who arrived on stage being carried on a throne while being dressed in a Gold lame suit.  He played some hot soul music on a hot afternoon. It was so hot that they turned the fire hoses on the audience to cool them down.  The audience drank the bars dry and in the end we had to buy beer off illegal vendors who were skulking around with cool boxes and bags. When the gig finished we went off to a restaurant nearby where we sat and ate out on the street, talking about stuff and once again I had an enjoyable conversation with these guys. They invited me to join them in Brooklyn that evening to continue the party, initially I thought I would but then declined as I had an early flight the next morning. They gave me a lift back to my hotel and we said our goodbyes.

So I was right about having seen Soloman Burke and my quest to find this out has raised a lot of good memories and turned up one or two interesting links. The first, and the site which confirmed it had been Solomon Burke that day, was a recording of the G Love set that I found posted on archive.org. the second was a collection of Solomon Burke pictures from that afternoon which I found on Getty Images, obviously I can’t post one here without breaching copyright so I will just publish a link so you can check out that suit!!

Just for the record

One of the problems of having a lot of CD’s is finding the one you want, another problem is remembering what you own! Ever since I saw Sid Griffin’s Coal Porters at SoL I have been meaning to did out his CD Los London because I’ve been singing Splitting at the Seams and wanted to hear it. This however meant looking through the CD racks which is never an easy job. I mean for a start I have to put my glasses on to be able to read some of the covers and I also have to move Ben’s pile of DVD’s to get to one of the racks!

So last night I decided to do it while Sarah was washing her hair so I put the big light on, donned the specs and started looking. I thought I would start with the easy rack first. I say easy I still had to squeeze between the sofa and the radiator to read the spines of the CD’s at the bottom. Despite lots of thoughts like “ooh I’d forgotten about that one” I didn’t find the one I was looking for. So now I had to move all of Ben’s DVD’s and try the other rack.

I started to move the DVD’s and create smaller piles around me. The first thing I found was the remote control for the TV which had been missing for months (luckily most of the control is from the virgin remote). I then started to scan the rack of CD’s starting at the top and working my way down. When I reached the bottom I pulled out the CD’s which were stored under the rack but still couldn’t find it. I started to doubt I had a copy but I was sure I did – I was given it by the bands management after I helped a friend record the band for a digital BBC Radio channel at the Borderline in London.

So I started to scan the racks again. I slowly worked my way down looking through each section slowly reading the titles as I went. As I neared the bottom I had a bit of luck I found a CD, not the Coal Porters one I was looking for but a compilation CD called The Songs of Bob Dylan. A week or two earlier I was listening to Robin Williamson’s set at SoL 2009 when he covered the Dylan song Absolutely Sweet Marie and I got to thinking about my favourite cover version of that song (and possibly my favourite Dylan cover ever) by Jason and the Scorchers. I knew I had it on vinyl (somewhere) but wondered if I had it on CD. I had a feeling I did and I was glad to find this CD included it.

So feeling pleased with myself I returned to the first rack and once again started to look for the Coal Porters and about half way down I did actually find it this time (meaning of course I didn’t have to look in the other rack and move all of Ben’s DVD’s but I’m glad I did or I wouldn’t have found the other disc).

Rainy Day Women

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=13874461&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=1&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

Rainy Day Women are a Dylan covers band and played on Saturday at SoL 2010. Here are two tracks that I shot that afternoon – Tangled up in Blue and Senor (Tales of Yankee Power).

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

dylan

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll has long been one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs every since I heard it on a scholarly program on BBC Radio called Bob Dylan and the language that he used. Where a self-ordained professor’s tongue, too serious to fool, spouted out about the poetic values in several of Bob Dylan’s songs. The song has stayed with me ever since and I ever memorised it while at university and used to close my eyes and recite it in my head when revision got all too much to take my mind somewhere else. I even got to see Dylan sing it, up close and personal at the Brixton Academy last time I saw him.

Well the story was based on an event that happened in February 1963 when Baltimore socialite and Tobacco farm owner William Zantzinger, drunk and rowdy at a party shouted racial abuse at Hattie Carroll who he thought was taking too long and struck her with a cane that he had been hitting people with since he arrived. She died later that night and Zantzinger was arrested and charged with murder.

The murder charge was later reduced to manslaughter and he was sentenced to six months in prison on the day Martin Luther King made his “I have a dream” speech in Washington DC – an event that Dylan attended. It’s believed that he read about the story on his way back home. The 6 month sentence was delayed so that Mr Zantzinger could get his tobacco crop in first. It was also served in what we would probably know as an open prison.

There has been a great deal of discussion about the accuracy of Dylan’s version of events, for example he got Zantzinger’s name wrong and wrongly claimed that he he was charged with first degree murder (it was second) and people claim he got the number of Hattie Carroll’s children wrong. However most of these inaccuracies could be explained by poetic licence and shouldn’t take away from the fact that this protest song was one of the most powerful statements put to music.

The one thing that is never stated in the song is that Carroll was black and that Zanzinger is white but every one who hears the song instinctively knows that. The power of the song springs from the understatement throughout. The chorus runs

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears

until the final injustice is mentioned that six month sentance which Dylan delivers in a unemotional voice and then it chages to:

Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears

The verse structure is interesting too. The first verse is only six lines long and states the fact that William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll. The second verse is 8 lines long and tells of Zanzinger, how he owns a tobacco farm, with wealthy parents and high office relations.

The third verse is 11 lines long and starts off about Hattie Carroll and outlines the differences between them

Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn’t even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level

The word table is repeated as if to emphasise the monotony of her existence. The verse then turns to the actual murder and at that point the rhymes change, all the rest of the song the words at the end of each line have feminine sounds but at the moment of murder the sounds change to hard masculine sounds:

Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room

The verse then returns to Zanzinger and reminds us that “she never done nothing to William Zanzinger”

The song then moves into a harmonica break which had it signalled the end of the song could have left it as a song about the injustices done by whites on blacks, men on women or rich on poor which in itself would have been a powerful statement but Dylan then returns with a final verse which again is 11 lines long so as not to overshadow the verse about Hattie Carroll and the song then deals with the injustice done by failing to punish Zanzinger.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence

The song became a powerful message in the fight for equality but there are those who say that Dylan distorted the truth and that has been the subject of a BBC radio 4 program about the song presented by Dylan biographer Howard Sounes. Howard once called the real William Zantzinger to ask about the song but as soon as he told him who he was Zantzinger launched a tirade of abuse about Dylan calling him a son of a bitch and saying he should have sued for deformation.

Having listened to the program and read some internet discussions I can’t see what the problem is. The main thrust of the argument seems to be the inaccuracies in Dylan’s song but as I have already said they could be explained by poetical licence – Zanzinger flows better than Zantzinger, first degree scans whereas second degree is more clunky etc.  the other discussion was whether the blow was what called her death. She had a history of illness but the court decided that either the blow or the stress from the racial torments metered out by Zantzinger that caused her to suffer a brain haemorrhage and die. Zantzinger was arrested that night but not for the murder, he was arrested because he had already assulted other members of staff and guests, including a pregnant woman, with the cane that he bought in a fairground. It was only later, after Carroll died that he was charged with murder.

It also turns out that the six months weren’t the only time that Zantzinger spent in prison! After he sold his farm he went into real estate and got into financial trouble and some of his properties taken off him by the county due to unpaid taxes. Mr Zantzinger however continued to collect rents on the properties even though he no longer owned them, in fact he even took some of the tenants to court for unpaid rent. Eventually it came to light and he was sentanced to 18 months on work-release in the county jail, 2,400 hours of community service and about $62,000 in penalties and fines for fraud.

There were mixed feelings about him because some argued that he gave homes to people who couldn’t otherwise afford somewhere to live but given that this was in 1991 and many properties were run down without even basic essentials like running water other people feel differently about him. One guy interviewed during the program, who kept referring to him as Mr Zingzanger, said he should have been strung up! It was also revealed in the program that some of Hattie Carroll’s children aren’t happy about Dylan either believing that he got rich off their mother’s death while they have and continue to live in poverty.

In any case William Zantzinger died in January 2009 aged 69, almost 45 years after the incident. The song he protested about would probably have worked even if Dylan had changed the names but the fact that it was based on a true story lent more weight at a time when there was such a strong Civil Rights movement in the US and like Blowing in the Wind before it gave strength to those who were fighting for equal rights in the USA.