Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ten Years After as faux bluesmen

I’d read that Alvin Lee of named Ten Years After that way because he started the band ten years after Elvis Presley’s breakthrough in the mid-Fifties. I had also read that Lee was known as a particularly fast fingered guitarist of great technical dexterity. The fist proper exposure I had to the band’s music was the nine minute plus performance of “I’m Going Home” in die Woodstock movie, that ended with someone flinging a watermelon on stage for Alvin Lee to pick up and caraway off on his shoulder. In this clip it was quite clear that Lee could play licks at a blistering speed and it was kind of impressive.

This performance made me think of Ten Years After as blues boogie purveyors with a fleet fingered lead guitarist.

A couple of years later a mate lent me a copy of Cricklewood Green (1970), which gave me a better idea of the kind of blues based rock and roll the band was playing at the time. In due course I bought a cassette tape of TYA’s greatest hits, with more of the same. TYA had some good tunes, fiery playing and were kind of alright though I never quite fell in love with the band. In a manner of speaking I thought of them as the British answer to Grand Funk Railroad though the latter were arguably dumber, at least at the start of their career, than the Brits ever were.

As far as I understand, after the Woodstock movie in particular, TYA, like Humble Pie (who was not in the movie or at Woodstock) and Foghat, concentrated on the US Midwestern market where there was an endless hunger for boogie. TYA broke up in 1974 and Alvin Lee formed Ten Years Later, which was more of a jazz-rock fusion band, emphasizing one of the parts that had made up the TYA sound, and tried to forge a new, progressive direction. This project failed to set the world alight. TYA reformed in 1983 and continued performing until Lee’s death.

At tome point in either the early Eighties or perhaps the mid-Eighties, I acquired Ten Years After (1967), the eponymous debut album with the band members lined up on the front cover in best psychedelic gear, like Pink Floyd at the time, with an also appropriately psychedelic album cover though the music inside was the mix of blues, jazz influences and rock that the band later expanded on and solidified into the mature TYA boogie.

Apart from a low price, the persuading factors that made me buy the record were the presence of versions of “I Can’t Keep Crying Sometimes,” “Spoonful” and “Help Me,” all of which I knew in different versions by respectively The Blues Project, Cream and Sonny Boy Williamson. For the rest TYA threw in their own compositions.

The immediate impression was that TYA was not exactly a standard blues group of the era in the vein of John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac or Chicken Shack, and nothing like Cream. TYA was clearly more ambitious musically and interested in making the blues standards their own without slavishly copying other artists or even the originators. Secondly, Alvin Lee’s faux American accent on some of the tunes was quite grating, since he sounded fake. Neither John Mayall, Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer nor Stan Webb made a serious effort to sound Black, as if they hailed form Mississippi or Chicago. Alvin Lee, and the name even sounded American, must have thought that authenticity in the blues meant sounding like the guys het was trying to emulate.

The third noticeable thing was that the band, although seemingly rooted in a jazz tradition, seemed a lot less subtle as bluesmen than their peers and that Lee’s guitar was a lot more abrasive and rockified than the likes of Peter Green or Eric Clapton. The roots of boogie are already well established on this album. Having said that, the jazz stylings of Lee’s guitar playing were also prominent. This made TYA more sophisticated than some of their contemporaries but also somewhat more irritating.

The original songs were technically good and ably performed but come across as parodies, mostly because of Lee’s faux plantation accent and carefully spontaneous shouts and asides. They are admirable as exercises in style rather than as viscerally enjoyable blues. The sophistication on display here does not do it for me. Even Lee’s obvious technical ability tends to be a bore over the length of the record because it seems to lack any sense of gutbucket life force.   Ten Years After is probably me least favourite Britblues album of all time.  In contrast, I also bought the 1969 debut album of a much less successful and called Killing Floor and these guys seem to be more alive in the blues moment, even if the music consists of a hotpot of blues tropes, and the songs and performances are for that reason much more engaging and agreeable than that of TYA.

The boogie of later period TYA is not a bad thing at all and this is where I can get off on the band, when I expect to have boogie and I get boogie with tunes. Just don’t sell me blues mutton as blues lamb even if the mutton wears a psychedelic shirt.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Cold Blood

I was watching Fillmore: The Last Days, the documentary about the last concerts at the Fillmore auditorium, and one of the acts on sage, a soul rock review, featured a female vocalist that for all the world sounded like Janis Joplin who had been dead for about 2 years by then and, with the few flashes of her face appeared to be more attractive than Joplin ever was. The eerie things was, when this woman shrieked her passion, she sounded uncannily like the gravel-voiced Joplin of legend and if I closed my eyes I could swear it was Janis giving it her all fronting the Kozmic Blues Band of soul and jazz guys. I had to google the line up of these shows to find that the band in question was Cold Blood and that the vocalist was Lydia Pense, who is still very much alive.

Apparently Joplin knew the band wand had been so impressed with Pense’s vocal style en intensity of soul that she recommended her to Bill Graham the impresario of the Fillmore auditoriums.

I had to buy Cold Blood’s eponymous debut album from 1968.  The music is probably derived from the Kozmic Blues of Joplin’s first solo album when she ditched the blues-psych rock sound of Big Brother and the Holding Company for big band soul music and R & B to showcase her roots in Black American music rather than the San Francisco style rock of her first band. Cold Blood gives it some; it is a powerhouse of soul power and Pense has a formidable set of pipes on her.  She does not sound like Joplin and is in fact more restrained yet also more soulful at the same time. The tunes are a mixture of covers and more original songs and each of them is performed at a height of sustained intensity that is quite awesome.

Joplin’s version of “Work Me, Lord” is by far the best thing on I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again, Mama and this entire Cold Blood album is on par with that Joplin performance.

I guess Cold Blood is pretty much a rock album based on soul and jazz rather than an authentic soul record of the time, as the musicians play much harder and with much more of a rock edge than the typical soul of the period or even the new funk of the Isley Brothers, James Brown or Funkadelic. Even so it is a refreshing change from the heavy blues or nascent heavy metal of the time, with proper songs, strong vocals and passion that is often lacking in rock music whether the contemporaries of Cold Blood or even now. The band did not conquer the world or become known much outside of the San Francisco Bay area and I guess Lydia Pense was too sensible and not much of an outlaw, hence her survival where the legendary Joplin burnt out.  I would not make much of an effort to buy more of Cold Blood’s albums. My guess is that the debut pretty much sets out the stall and that the next bunch or records more or less repeated the strengths of the debut without adding much of interest or progressive development.

This record, though, is a delight. I love soul, I love funk and I love a gritty, gutsy soul powered blow-out by a vocalist who can sing as strongly as Lydia Pense, especially If backed by a band as powerful as this one is.  

Sunday, April 19, 2015


From Wikipedia:
Aguaturbia Is a Chilean rock band formed in 1969, featuring Carlos Corales on guitar and his wife Denise on vocals. The band is known for pioneering heavy psychedelic rock in Chile, eventually enjoying international acclaim. In addition to psychedelic sounds, wah-wah guitar effects and heavy blues rock chord patterns, Aguaturbia also incorporated elements of Latin American folk music into their work. The band is noted for causing controversy in the Chilean press at the time for stepping outside of prevailing social norms.

·       Aguaturbia (1969, Arena)
·       Aguaturbia Vol. 2 (1970, Arena)
·       Aguaturbia acoustic version (2010, Milodon)
·       Aguaturbia Vol. 2 (2010, Lion records USA)

·       1996 - Psychedelic Drugstore
·       Aguaturbia Complete Tracks (2000, Runner Records)
·       2010 - Aguaturbia acoustic version

·       Denise Corales - vocals
·       Carlos Corales - electric guitar
·       Willy Cavada - drums
·       Ricardo Briones - bass
Original drummer Willy Cavada died on October 1, 2013.

YouTube is a wonderful, magical repository of all kinds of music (videos and audio albums) from the most contemporary releases to the most obscure old music. I often randomly stumble across amazing music hitherto unknown to me while I was looking for something else. It is astonishing how much music from, say, the late Sixties and early Seventies one can find from acts that by no means set the world alight at the time yet managed to release one or more records.  Some citizens continuously find the time and the enthusiasm to download these albums to YouTube.

So far the richest treasure trove has been psychedelic and hard rock bands from the late Sixties or very early Seventies, whether from the UK, the USA or other corners of the world.

Probably my best, most entrancing discovery has been the 1996 compilation album Psychedelic Drugstore showcasing the Chilean band Aguaturbia. It is one of a slew of similar albums from the era (roughly 1968 to 1971) that I was idly looking at. My attention was drawn to the album cover and name. When I saw the track listing, with “Somebody to Love” and “Crimson and Clover” in particular, I decided to listen to the record. There was no indication, on the YouTube site, of the release date of the record or of the band’s origin, but I thought, what the hell, if it did not move me within a song or two, I could always look for something else. I go through a lot of YouTube music by  listeingin to only the opening two or three cuts of a record;  if my attention is not being engaged and held, I change albums.

With Aguatrubia I was hooked from the first notes. I listened to the entire album with a sense of rising delight and euphoria in making the acquaintance of a hitherto unknown psychedelic gem.  The band may not be of the same calibre as I am used to in Sixties psychedelia, such as Jefferson Airplane, for example, but  the basic three piece of guitar, bass and drums could play and brought a completely original, slightly off-kilter perspective to the  table that the more established an accomplished bands on the big labels cojuld never do. At first, given the oddness of the female vocalist’s inflections and accent, I thought that Aguaturbia, despite the Spanish name, must be Japanese  and it was only because I googled the band that I found out where the originated from. Who even knew that Chile had a rock scene much less a psychehdelic one! My ignorance I guess.

A somewhat rinky-dink, amateurish-sounding version of “Somebody to Love” is the opening cut. I love Jefferson Airplane and this is one of their signature tunes. Aguaturbia do not do a note for note copy of the Airplane tune and to a degree it is not a very successful version either.  On this evidence Aguaturbia would have been  no  more than a mediocre bar band covering the big US or UK hits of the time. The shrill female vocalist sounds as if she is phonetically repeating the lyrics she learnt from listening to the Airplane record without ever seeing the lyrics in print and without  understanding what she is singing.  This imporession is true of every cover song on the album.

This primitive interpretation of “Somebody To Love” song is rescued by the thunderous drumming and powerful, agile bass guitarist who is definitely a co-lead instrument along with the fuzzfreak guitar fireworks. The band is a classic power trio with vocalist but even in Cream Jack Bruce’s bass is not always as prominent as on Aguaturbia.

 The second track is “Erotica;” basically a psychedelic freakout with the vocalist moaning orgasmically. It was probably intended to be risqué and daring at the time of free love in the Haight,  which must have pretty much only rumours in the much more conservative Chile. Today the faux orgasmic vocalisation simply comes across as quaintly naive. The psych rock backdrop rescues the track from utter ridiculousness. One can visualise a youth movie scene from the era, featuring a crowd of hippies frugging in a nightclub while this music is the soundtrack.

This period odditiy is followed by a storming version of “Rollin and Tumblin,” which sounds like the Cream arrangement played by Blue Cheer fronted by a thirteen year old female singer with a small voice. Blue Cheer was kind of part of the San Francisco psychedelic scene, though at the heavier end of the spectrum. The Aguaturbia guitarist turns up the fuzztone on his guitar and rocks out plenty.

“Ah Ah Ah Ay,” which follows, is an instrumental jam that fades out much too soon and before a truly tance-like state can be achieved.

“Crimson and Clover,” at over 10 minutes, is the awesome and  masterful centrepiece of the album In its original form, by Tommy James and The Shondells, the sound and performance suggested that it could be a druggy, psychedelic trip if played live. In Aguaturbia’s hands we are entertained by the absolute highlight of the album with a long, grooving guitar rave up that keeps on building and building and delights all the way. The instrumentalists are not amateurs but there is a refreshingly different attitude to the music, as one would not expect from an American band doing the same thing, yet also with enough familiarity to suggest that the musicians were aware of what was going on in the USA but possibly only from the records they were listening to and not from personal experience.

“Heartbreaker,” the surprisingly melodic song by Grand Funk Railroad, is made over into a pop anthem with less of the stodgy heaviness of the American band’s version and more of a soulful ambience where the female vocals aid the melody and feel of the tune.  Possibly one of the best Grand Funk covers one is likely to hear. The unintelligible phonetic vocals are disarmingly cute.

The psychedelic bands often had a strong blues background and influence and Aguaturbia seems to be no exception. It’s nod to the blues is the long blues workout of “Blues from the Westside” with a solo section where one realises that the guitarist is a truly original visionary who sounds like some of his Northern American peers but always finds a new way to express blues tropes in exceptional and unexpected ways that turns the tune into an enthralling blues rather than the clichéd rehash as would have been the case with so many other bands. The freaky vocal style is the only aspect that makes this tune not so much a blues as a novelty.

“Waterfall” follows, another psychpop experience where the lyrics are little more than another sound in the mix because they are so unintelligible. Even the chorus sounds like “wider fall.”

Third last track is yet another, mostly instrumental, erotic freakout called “Evol” and this is a fraction louder and more frenetic than “Erotica,” which makes one wonder about the type of sex South Americans like. On this evidence it is fast, furious and with shrieking.

“I Wonder Who” is the penultimate number, a sweet pop song with the psychedelic heaviness that underpins the album. The last track is “Aguaturbia,” sung in Spanish, which  gives it another dimension altogether, as straightrforward a piece of Hispanic pop fluff as one could hope to find.

This collection, then, is presumably the best of Aguaturbia and if some of it is quaint, most of it is loud, pounding psychedelic rock with some of the most agile, inventive freak bass playing I’ve heard and with accomplished fuzztone guitar and the busy drumming that charaterizes so much of that style of music; all is movement and flux, like the light shows behind the bands on stage. Perhaps the band members were deadly serious; perhaps they were imitating music that semed impossibly far away in space and time and could not quite get right even if they gave it a damn good thrashing.

Whatever. I love this album.