by Michael Goldberg
Monday, July 14, 2003
The Late Nite Mix
Songs from my past and present
The way it started was simple enough. My wife, Leslie, was planning a birthday party for me. It wasn't just any old birthday that I would he celebrating. I was about to turn 50. Fifty!!! For one who had once believed in the '60s concept that you "can't trust anyone over 30," this would be a time of reckoning.
"I hope you're not going to play a lot of moody jazz records," she said to me, when the conversation turned to the music that would be played. Lately, I've been listening to a lot more jazz than rock. "That 'film noir' music you were playing the other day is kind of depressing." Actually, she was referring to a classic Gil Evans album, Into the Hot, but no matter.
Hmm. This could be a problem. I had been planning to play a whole lot of "moody jazz." Some Miles, some Monk, perhaps a side of Bill Evans and some favorite early albums by Mingus and Cannonball Adderly. And for sure one or more Gil Evans albums his orchestral jazz seemed perfect. But now that plan needed to be jettisoned.
"What if I make a mix CD or two?" I suggested. "Kind of a party mix of some of my favorite songs. Most of 'em will be upbeat. That way I won't have to keep changing CDs during the party."
My wife had a better idea: "Give one to each guest as a party favor."
"Couldn't you burn a bunch of them and give them out as party favors?"
"Well, yeah, I could," I replied. "Everyone you're inviting is either a close friend or a relative, and it's OK to share music with friends. It's not like I'd be loading up a hard drive with music and making it available on one of the peer-to-peer services."
Now for many of you reading this, the idea of a "mix tape" or a "mix CD" or even a "mix" of MP3 tracks is likely quite passé. But mixes haven't been my thing. Years ago I vaguely recall making some mix tapes. But I tend to listen to albums. I don't "cherry pick."
So now, for the first time in much too long, I was going to put together a mix of songs that would meet two criteria. First, they had to be songs or pieces of music that I really dug; and second, the songs had to flow well from one to another.
Perhaps this is not as hard as, in the abstract, it might seem. I started poring over my CD shelves. Within 15 minutes I had several towering stacks of CDs on the floor next to my desk. The mix came together quite organically. One song would bring to mind another, and after a few hours I had burned a CD with nearly 80 minutes of choice music. After a few listens I decided some changes were in order, and the next day, I got rid of the Frank Zappa instrumental off Hot Rats, added a few songs, jiggered the order a bit and, voilà, "The Late Nite Mix."
All good mix CDs need a back story, and "The Late Nite Mix" would be no exception. So I came up with this bit of background, which I included with each CD:
Secrets Of "The Late Nite Mix" Tape Revealed
"Many years ago, an elderly blues man gave me a well-worn tape. 'This has served me well,' he said. 'Now I'm passing it on to you.' Little did I know the secrets that would be revealed on that funky old tape. Now, thanks to the miracle of technology, I can share the wonders of that tape with you. I hope you find many problems solved by the secrets that can now be known to you, and discover even more of the mystery that is life. Enjoy."
Now, let's get to the music! What follows is an annotated list of what I included on "The Late Nite Mix." (If Rhino wants a hit on their hands, they'll get the rights to these tunes and get this into the stores pronto!)
1) "She Walked Right In," Professor Longhair: Since I first heard this in the early '70s while a student at UC Santa Cruz, it's been one my favorite recordings by the late great New Orleans piano man. Longhair's rough bluesy vocal, the great honking sax solo, and Longhair's groovy piano are the perfect setup for this humorous sketch of a girl who can easily take or leave the man who is singing about her.
2) "Bodas de Oro," Ry Cooder/ Manuel Galban: A gem off Mambo Sinuendo, the 2003 guitar album that Cooder and Cuban guitarist Galban collaborated on. A moody Latin-flavored number that finds the two master guitarists trading exquisite melody lines. Instantly takes you back to a Southern Cali beach, circa 1962, even if you were never there the first time around.
3) "Dée Moo Wóor," Orchestra Baobab: This Jamaican dub-influenced number from the reformed Senegal legends is the perfect complement to "Bodas de Oro." The almost psychedelic solo at the song's conclusion only adds to the surreal mood this one conjures up.
4) "Cold Sweat," James Brown: There's a reason why we think of Mr. Brown as the "Godfather of Soul," and "Cold Sweat" (which I've been digging since the mid-'70s yeah, I came late to it) lays it all out: those funky screams and vocal inflections, Maceo Parker's riffing sax, and the relentless syncopated rhythm that is, well, quite impossible not to dance to. And how can you help but laugh as Brown launches into his "Wanna give the drummer some?" rap (and I'm not talkin' hip-hop).
5) "Babylon Thief Dub," Lee Perry: I first heard "Police and Thieves" as interpreted by The Clash in the later half of the '70s. It led me to Lee Perry's original production of the song, with Junior Murvin handling vocals on a song he co-wrote with Perry. This odd instrumental version of the song has a kind of '50s version of the future vibe.
6) "The Boss," Henry Mancini: Just a short jazzy mood piece from Mancini's score to one of my fave films of all time, Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil." No, he wasn't talkin' 'bout Springsteen. Ominous.
7) "Hey Bartender," Floyd Dixon and his Band: He dropped the needle into the groove. Then he stood up and, right there in his dorm room in 1972, pantomimed the roles of the piano player, the sax player who took a rip-roaring solo midway through the tune, the lead vocalist, and the backup vocalists. "Hey bartender! Hey bartender! One more bottle of beer!" When the song ended he let out an immense "Yow!" He grinned at me like an idiot. "Gotta hear that one more time." I guess he could see that I dug the song, 'cause this time his performance was even more exaggerated. His fingers flew along an imaginary upright piano keyboard. When it came time for the sax solo, he was ready, rockin' back, hands gripping the invisible instrument, his face puffed, as if he'd taken a huge gulp of air in preparation. "Hey bartender!" I jumped in, "Hey bartender!" he sang. "Hey bartender!" I replied. We both were there for the finale: "One more bottle of beer." We looked at each other; exploded in laughter. "I've never heard anything like that before," I said. And I still feel that way.
8) "One Red Rose That I Mean," Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Beefheart is best known for his loud, Howlin' Wolf-inspired vocals, for howlin' about "beans from Venus" and "blather and smoke," but he also "composed" a number of beautiful instrumentals performed by his band that made it onto record. The off-kilter rhythm and gorgeous guitar work on this one and of course the melody make it one of my favorites.
9) "I Asked for Water," Howlin' Wolf: The greatest blues singer? In my book anyway. Here Wolf sings of a lover who, when he asks for water, brings him gasoline. Ain't love like that.
10)"Blue Train," John Coltrane: There is a wonderful song on Robbie Robertson's first solo album titled "Somewhere Down the Crazy River," in which he sings, "Catch the blue train." Naturally, when I saw that Coltrane had an album called Blue Train, I had to get it, and it turned out to be a jazz classic recorded in 1957. While the entire album is outstanding, the title track is quite a mindblower. The stately intro, which sets a low-key mood before Coltrane rips into his first solo of the set, never fails to slay me.
11) "Once Was a Gambler," Lightning Hopkins: There are hundreds of Lightnin' (usually spelt without the 'g,' but not on this album) Hopkins songs, but this one, which kicks off a wonderful Arhoolie collection, finds one of the great blues legends singing about his money and woman troubles. Sin leads to nothing but heartache, Hopkins seems to be telling us. But it feels so good. The playing including subtle, wiry guitar work and lo-fi, simple drumming just right for the occasion is as perfect as it could be.
12) "Christo Redemptor," Charley Musselwhite's South Side Band: Late at night, when I was a teenager, they would play this song on San Francisco-based KMPX, the first "underground" FM radio station. This instrumental's simple chord progression belies its power. Barry Goldberg's organ, Charlie (that's how he spelt it except for this album) Musselwhite's harp and Harvey Mandel's guitar create a melancholy soundtrack for those times, past the midnight hour, when all seems hopeless. Yet, somehow, whenever I hear this I smile and feel good.
13) "Duet Solo Dancers," Charlie Mingus: I know this piece of music from Mingus' landmark 1963 album, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, has nothing to do with the '50s/'60s TV show "Perry Mason." Yet when I listen to "Duet Solo Dancers" and other music from this album, it brings back those great black-and-white episodes. More generally, this album found Mingus working in a clearly "noir" area. Deep stuff.
14) "Peon," Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Another much-loved Beefheart instrumental. This is a guitar tour de force unlike anything any other "rock" band was up to in the late '60s.
15) "Slim Slow Slider," Van Morrison: There may be other songs that touch me more than this one, but right now I can't think of any of them. The jazz cats backing Morrison at the session in 1968 when this was recorded create the most ethereal, melancholy mood. But it's Morrison's voice, as he delivers those words ("I know you're dyin'/ And I know you know it too/ Every time I see you/ I just don't know what to do"), that chills me. I was gonna end the "mix" with this one, but then I decided it could be the false ending.
16) "Autumn Sequence," Charles Lloyd: Charles Lloyd was a huge force of goodwill for jazz in the late '60s. Before Miles took his Bitches Brew to the Fillmore stage, Lloyd was there. For some '60s teens, Lloyd was their first exposure to jazz. This 12-minute "suite" that opens Lloyd's classic 1966 album, Dream Weaver, captures the feel of autumn. It also finds the Charles Lloyd Quartet (Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee, Jack DeJohnette and Lloyd) incorporating an Eastern vibe into their playing. Quite a trip.
17) "Song of the Siren," Tim Buckley: Like "Slim Slow Slider," this is a song about death. But it's also one of Buckley's most beautiful recordings. This version appears on Manifesto's 2001 release, The Dream Belongs to Me. It's from a 1968 demo session. Buckley's voice sounds so pure, as he sings this sad tale. "I'm as troubled as the tide/ Should I stand/ Amid the breakers/ Or should I lie with/ Death my bride/ Hear me sing, 'Swim to me, swim to me, let me enfold you'/ Oh my heart, oh my heart/ Is waiting to hold you."