Concert Highlights–Eric Burdon and the Wild New Band of Animals at City Winery, 8/8/2016

I haven’t forgotten the first time I saw Chubby Checker.

It was around 1980 or so, and I was reviewing for Variety when he opened for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison. He had a young rock ‘n’ roll band that was full of energy, and he made Frankie look tired and boring in comparison. After his set I told him about my friends Dr. Bop & the Headliners who were playing at a campus club and sure enough, he went down there and sat in.

I thought of Chubby Monday night at City Winery, when Eric Burdon did the first of his two-night stand there. The last time I saw him he was with a band made up of guys in his age range, that is, middle and older, now that he’s 75. He was great, they were great, but I will note that he sat on a stool a lot of the time. Maybe he had to—but not now: His band now is made up of youngsters and there was no stool in sight. And when he sang “When I Was Young”—which smoothly segued into “Inside Looking Out”—well, he sounded none the worse for 50 years of wear as one of rock’s greatest vocalists.

He opened with his 1970 hit with War, “Spill the Wine,” his bass player Justin Andres laying out a funky bottom from which Burdon modified the lines “When I thought I’d lay myself down to rest/In a big field of tall grass” to a big field of “medical marijuana”—in Mexican accent. Ruben Salinas added a blazing sax answer to “I could feel hot flames of fire roaring at my back,” and on “See See Rider” trombonist Evan Mackey took a lead.

Other Animals classics performed included “Don’t Bring Me Down” (featuring another great sax part), the anthems “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “It’s My Life,” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” which Eric dedicated to “the spirit” of its originator, “Miss Nina Simone”–then related how he was introduced to her, upon which she said, “You’re the little white motherfucker who took my song and ruined it!”

He sang Lead Belly’s folk standard “In the Pines,” his “Bo Diddley Special” tribute from his latest album ‘Til Your River Runs Dry (opening with a tuneful dirge during which guitarist Johnzo West reverently placed his hat over his heart and Eric and the rest did the same with their hands), and of course, his Animals signature “The House of the Rising Sun,” really hitting those high notes solid.

“Hitting all the notes in all the original keys,” marveled the great guitarist and Conan bandleader Jimmy Vivino in a post-show tweet. “No small feat. Just wonderful to hear that voice and songs again.”

He even threw in “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” the Randy Newman song that he recorded before Three Dog Night hit big with it, and Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’.” But maybe the night’s big takeaway came in his self-penned 1967 hit “Monterey,” about the legendary California pop festival and in which he invoked the participants Ravi Shankar, The Who, The Dead, Hendrix, Hugh Masakela and Brian Jones. “You want to find the truth in life?” he asked/sang the lyric. “Don’t pass music by…and you know I would not lie!”

And then he shared the wonderful story about how a girl handed him a white rose while Otis Redding was performing, and in keeping with the overall vibe, he ate it.

Tales of Bessman: The first times I saw The Dead (and Siegel-Schwall)

Admittedly, it would have been more fitting to listen to Workingman’s Dead on Labor Day Weekend, but since I just acquired a copy of the recently released three-CD Grateful Dead: Dick’s Picks Vol. 18–Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI 2/3/78 Uni-Dome, University of N. Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA 2/5/78, and it’s a long weekend, I figured I’d give the whole thing a spin and see if it was as good as I remembered.

Yes, I was at the Madcity show. We at The Madcity Music Sheet—my first music writing gig—were big Deadheads.

Not sure how many times I’d seen them before—or after, for that matter, though I did see them many more times, most memorably with Dylan at Giants Stadium and at least once with Bruce Hornsby.

The first time was April 26, 1970, some 25 miles north of Madison at York Farm in Poynette, Wis., the last day of the three-day, post-Woodstock/Altamont Sound Storm rock festival. I remember the show being great, but that’s about it. What I can tell you about it now comes from various attendees’ online recollections and an excellent Lost Live Dead blog account I just discovered (along with great photos from the Wisconsin Historical Society website): They topped a bill of regional acts including Tongue, Crow, Illinois Speed Press, Rotary Connection and Baby Huey & the Babysitters, and played three sets (nearly six hours), including a 20-30 minute “Dancing in the Street,” with Jerry having shaved his beard, perhaps, an attendee surmised, because of the drug bust earlier that year in New Orleans later immortalized in “Truckin’.”

After the second Dead song (it’s one of those relatively few Dead shows where the set list doesn’t exist) the band sought an I Ching, “the grey book,” Bob Weir said after a different one was passed forward (according to one Jerry Klein in The SetList Program website). The band then knelt down together in the center of the stage, tossed coins, read results, and then arose “laughing and hollering” and launched into “Other One,” with Wavy Gravy sitting ecstatically on top of a bank of speakers on the far left.

I digress. The second Wisconsin rock festival came exactly two months later, in Iola Township, some 140 miles North of Madison and 80 miles West of Green Bay, on June 26-28. I was there for the whole thing—whatever that means—and now must rely on an excellent two-part blog account The People’s Fair—which the festival was called–and The Battle of Iola, which is what it became.

According to a Saturday report in Madison’s Capital Times referenced in the blog, the festival, at the beginning, resembled “one of those medieval fairs that preceded the urbanization of Europe and its subsequent Renaissance [with] bubbles [that] were very much in style and they floated through the frisbee-laced air.” Despite the lack of toilets and telephones and “an abundance of mosquitoes,” thousands had gathered together “to reaffirm their own culture far from the boarded-up windows of State Street”—this an allusion to the era’s antiwar protests-turned-riots that frequently left many shops on Madison’s main campus street with shattered glass.

But the “carnival atmosphere,” one correspondent noted, substituted LSD for cotton candy. I distinctly remember gobbling down acid, psilocybin, mescaline and speed and wandering around complaining that I couldn’t get off.

Friday’s schedule, it says, included Melanie, Paul Butterfield, Taj Mahal, and Buddy Rich. Of these I vividly remember seeing Butterfield, though I can’t remember if they were right before or after Siegel-Schwall. I think it was before, and I’m pretty sure both acts were on sometime between 1 and 5 a.m. Saturday morning. Butterfield was great, but Siegel-Schwall was lifechanging: To this day, I’ve never seen a better band. Corky Siegel remains one of my biggest influences and closest friends. I was with Jim Schwall two months ago back in Madison. Everything else about Iola may be a purple haze, but I remember Siegel-Schwall, whom I would see countless times after, like it was last night.

Looking at the blog, I see the Amboy Dukes—Ted Nugent’s early band—played Saturday along with Brownsville Sation, Crow and Buffy Sainte-Marie, and no, I wasn’t one of the group of guys near the stage who affectionately yelled in unison, “Buffy. We want to fuck you!”—nor did I remind her of it years later at a press dinner in New York. Local bands who played included The Tayles, Oz, Tongue, Fuse (featuring future Cheap Tricksters Rick Nielsen and Tom Peterson), Soup (Appleton rock trio led by late guitar legend Doug Yankus) and Short Stuff—the wonderful Milwauke blues-rock band starring the great harp player Jim Liban and keyboardist Junior Brantley that I also became close to.

I’d forgotten about Iggy and the Stooges, who played just before sunrise Sunday morning. I remember them now, but I can’t remember if I heard the gunfire.

The blog recounts rumors of “shakedowns, beatings and rapes by bikers in attendance.” Just before 7 a.m., people began throwing bottles at the bikers at their campsite at the bottom of a hill to the left of the stage. A few bikers mounted up and charged, guns blazing. Three people were wounded, none seriously. People in the crowd estimated between 40,000 and 60,000 started leaveing, though I stayed to see Chuck Berry and Ravi Shankar. But after Iola, “the brief era of mass, multi-day festivals in Wisconsin was over.”

But back to Dick’s Picks Vol. 18, specifically February 3, 1978. Pigpen had died in 1973, and now the band had Keith Godchaux on keyboards and wife Donna Jean Godchaux on vocals. Before I even took out CD1, I studied the box to see if they did any of my faves, and sure enough, from the first Dead album came “Cold Rain and Snow,” though it was slowed down from the LP version, with a pretty guitar solo, but not as intense. Also from The Grateful Dead was a good job on “New Minglewood Blues,” from the Cedar Falls show.

The Madison gig also yielded a great “Good Lovin’,” and “Looks Like Rain,” which flowed from the first disc’s opening “Bertha.” This disc also had a couple tracks from the band’s in-between show Feb. 4 at the Milwaukee Auditorium, including an excellent take of “Dupree’s Diamond Blues.”

The second disc was all Madison, with a fabulous “Estimated Prophet” blending into “Eyes of the World” (the extended groove clearly showing the band’s avowed Coltrane influence), then merging into “Playing In the Band,” “The Wheel,” and back to “Playing In the Band.”

From the Iowa show came another favorite, “Deal,” also a terrific “Scarlet Begonias,” which fused into “Fire On the Mountain.”

So was it as good as I remembered? I can’t remember. But it’s really good. And when I finally looked at the booklet, I saw it had pictures from Keith Wessel, whom I worked with at The Madcity Music Sheet, and a review by the late Michael St. John, whom I also worked with at The Sheet as well as The Emerald City Chronicle.

So Dick’s Picks Vol. 18 essentially took me back to my beginnings as a writer. Onwards, now, to Siegel-Schwall ’70, which, by the way, is available thanks to my talking pal Tom Vickers into reissuing it and the entire Siegel-Schwall Vanguard catalog in a 2001 box set.

Here’s a fave track from Siegel-Schwall ’70:

The Bessman Sideshow: ‘Billboard.’ How Could You?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all averse to bad-mouthing Billboard. Not only for the way they unceremoniously dumped me after over 22 years of being on the masthead as a contributor, editor and Special Correspondent, but for the changes since my time there in the way they cover the business.

But except for a few angry tweets—my protest for their disgusting, belittling, inconsequential headline for the monumental world music pioneer Ravi Shankar’s obit, “Ravi Shankar–Idol of George Harrison, Estranged Father of Norah Jones–Dead at 92,” comes to mind—I haven’t said much in writing about my experiences there and feelings about it, except hinting at it in the first entry in this series.

So now another headline causes me to castigate the magazine I devoted most of my career to. From yesterday’s billboard.biz: “Dorothy Carvello Shares: Ahmet Ertegun ‘Felt Me Up,’ Wu-Tang Scares Germans and More”—this followed by a link to a Billboard story with the same title.

I don’t want to further dignify this other than to say I’d never heard of the person making the accusation, who’s doing so in an effort to “shop around” a memoir. I will say it should be no business of Billboard’s to help shop it, and especially to help smear the memory of one of the most important—and I can’t think of anyone more important—people in the history of the music business, who is no longer living and can’t defend himself, not that he should have to defend himself, to Billboard or any other magazine, for that matter.

I can’t say I knew Ahmet well, but I did know him, and for a long time. In addition to his talent, in public he was always the classiest of men, and I always felt humbled to be in his presence, as well I should have.

I’ll never forget—how could I?– sitting at a banquet table in between Ahmet and Tony Bennett. Ahmet was presenting the New York Recording Academy chapter’s “Hero Award” to Tom Silverman, sitting on his other side, Tony was presenting to the late music publishing legend Frank Military, on his other side.

During the dinner, Tony was glancing frequently at Ahmet, then looking down and drawing in his sketchbook. After dinner he tore out the page, handed it to me and asked me to pass it to Ahmet. It was a pencil drawing of Ahmet, who was thrilled, of course. Such are giants.

Tim White, then Billboard’s editor, was given a “Hero’s Award,” too, that night, and deservedly so. No one was closer to Tim at Billboard than me.

But Tim made mistakes. One of his biggest was his decision to axe “Inside Tracks,” the back-page column written forever by John Sippel. It reported rumors and gossip concerning music business executives—nothing ever personal or really damaging, mainly who was said or thought to be going wherever. It was easily the most popular editorial feature of the book, the back page that everyone turned to first.

Billboard is not about rumors and gossip!” I remember Tim barking to me, as he was prone to do in explaining something that he deeply believed in. At such times there was no reasoning with him. I’m sure it cost the magazine dearly, and they brought it back after he died, but by then it was too late: The Internet had taken hold, and readers had learned that they could get the inside track elsewhere.

But Tim would never have stood for “Ahmet Ertegun ‘Felt Me Up,’” which is a sleazy Page Six New York Post item at best. I don’t know that it’s slander, but it’s a most ugly smear on the memory of the type of man without whom there would be no music industry, let alone trade magazine to report and support it.