When he brought Robert Plant and John Bonham on board to complete the formation of Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page had himself as potent a live force as had existed in rock ‘n’ roll by then, and that includes the Beatles.
That he and John Paul Jones joined two cats who would become archetypes of the form (Page as Rock’s Golden God lead singer, Bonham as God of Thunder on drums) was not only “checkmate,” as Nate so aptly put it in this week’s episode of Let It Roll, but game, set, match, championship, and let’s retire the bleeping trophy (and on the redesign, put a little Zeppelin on top and cast it in lead).
In other words, rock ‘n’ roll had a new brand standard, and its name was Led Zeppelin.
No wonder, then, that by 1975 when they both were preparing to take their bands on tour into that Brave New (Rock) World fully dominated by Led Zep (see: “Physical Graffiti”), Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney would allude to Mr. Page in song (and ultimately in concert) — Jagger in a new verse he wrote for “Star Star,” Macca in “Rock Show.”
No wonder, too, that Jeff Beck moved on to jazz-rock fusion, and Rod Stewart, well, I’m not even going there . . . God bless the Faces.
When Led Zeppelin kicked off their infamous 1973 North American tour with a highly anticipated concert at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, I was ensconced in a musty pup tent with three of my best Boy Scout buds, at a campground 50 miles away.
Though my posse and I were about to spend the next two days engaged in various Scouting activities amongst hundreds of fellow Scouts from around the Atlanta area — this was a yearly spring gathering at a Scout camp east of the metropolis — I cannot remember much of that weekend beyond that Friday night in the tent with my pals Freddy, Harry and Spencer, as we anticipated the arrival of Page, Plant, JPJ and Bonzo — the men of Led Zeppelin, by then the biggest and baddest band on Earth.
We had a radio tuned to an Atlanta rock station as we huddled in the tent, and when our heroes took the stage, the DJ reported that the Zeppelin had landed.
My Scouting days were numbered by then, but my immersion in rock ‘n’ roll as it was presented, sold and experienced by me and my buds during the first half of the 1970s was just beginning.
How much of that experience was shaped by Jimmy Page and his fellows did not occur to me until this week when I listened to this week’s episode of Let It Roll.
The table from which I would feast on all of rock ‘n’ roll’s delights — absurdly and sublimely, I’d argue — was set by one Mr. Page, whose artistry and influence oftimes got obscured by the bombast and hype that accompanied his band.
Case in point was Zep’s kickoff concert that early-May night in Atlanta, an event hyped beyond anything I’d ever seen at the ripe old age of 12. On the other hand, when I did finally join a band less than three years later — with Fred on guitar and Harry and Spencer working security and tour support—guess whose song we learned first?
—Ed Legge, aka The Freebird Yeller
I did not know how much I did not know about Austin, until this week when I heard author and long-time Austin scene-maker Joe Nick Patoski talking about his book about Austin, with Nate on Let It Roll.
Judging from the two-hour chat, about the book “Austin to ATX: The Hippies, Pickers, Slackers, and Geeks Who Transformed the Capital of Texas," Joe Nick may know more about Austin than I know about anything.
Listening to him fire off anecdote after anecdote about Austin’s growth from a medium-sized college town and seat of state government to the fastest-growing metro area in the U.S. for eight years running, I realized my understanding of Austin was foggy at best.
Out of that fog came the image of a lone figure, walking into town in 1970 with his trusty guitar “Trigger” in one hand, his stash of Colombian Primo in the other and his long red hair flowing behind him in the direction of Nashville, from which he’d departed after his house burned down.
The artistic soil in which this Red-Headed Stranger planted himself was so fertile and friendly that he stayed, grew into the entertainment megastar he still is 50 years hence, and scores of other great musicians followed.
That longhaired, twangy dude was and is Willie Hugh Nelson, and he and Austin are still going strong, Willie a megastar who I predict will soon become the world’s most famous longhaired 90-year-old and Austin so universally hip that only people like Robert Plant can afford to live there.
Rock on, Joe Nick!
That Chess Records existed at all is a testament to the people who came together to make it happen, at the 20th Century’s midpoint on Chicago’s South Side.
That Chess Records made world-changing music that continues to reverberate across the airwaves and in millions of earbuds, well, I don’t know what to say beyond quoting those two sages of long hair and banging heads, whose first response to greatness in their midst was to yell, “WE’RE NOT WORTHY! WE’RE NOT WORTHY!”
The pair (Wayne and Garth, from “Wayne’s World”) bowed when they yelled it, and I’m inclined to do same whenever I think of the unlikely pairing of Leonard and Phil Chess, two Jewish immigrants from imperial Russia’s Pale of Settlement, and the handful of immensely talented artists — including Muddy Waters, Etta James, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley — some of whom arrived in Chicago displaced from what was for them the most hostile region on Earth (see: Mississippi Delta).
I ain't ashamed to admit that I did fall to my my knees the first time I visited 2120 South Michigan Avenue, where the humble two-story building there once housed the groundbreaking record label.
I knew the backstory already by then — and I learned more about it during the day I spent there, at what is now Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven, a museum run by the family of Chess Records’ legendary producer, songwriter and bass player.
But Chess Records’ singular importance to the popular music that followed really popped for me this week when I listened to Let It Roll, in which Nate interviews author Nadine Cohodas about her book “Spinning Blues Into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records."
I listened to the episode twice, and by the second time through I had remembered how unworthy I truly am.
I knew Gram Parsons hung out with The Rolling Stones for an extended period during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
I also knew that Gram taught Keith Richards the difference between the “Bakersfield” style of country music and the “Nashville” style.
But that ain’t all Gram did for Keith, his pardner Mick and their motley-yet-seductively-cool gang, especially when, in early 1971, all those cats convened down yonder in the south of France, in a villa called Nellcote overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean beyond.
I came to this realization this week whilst listening to Nate interview author David N. Meyer about his book, “Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music,” in the newest episode of Let It Roll, an episode that kicked off the podcast’s 10th season this week.
Next time I listen to Exile on Main Street, I’ll think about that longhaired boy from Waycross who survived the ravages of his parents’ alcoholism only to succumb to a drug overdose himself, but only after imparting his monumental synthesis of various American musical forms to all who would listen.
Mick and Keith were listening, you better believe, and you can hear what they did with wot they heard on the one and only double album they ever produced in the studio, “Exile on Main Street.”
And then the Rollin’ Stones never produced anything that sounded like that record, ever again.
Nor did he have to put his pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. A guy like him probably had someone set up that part of his wardrobe the way firemen do with their gear, just jump in them britches and your feet will go right in the boots.
Maybe he even had his own Batpole.
The dude sure as hell deserved one, at least in his late teens and early 20s when he made hit records the way Superman leaps tall buildings.
You can hear about all of Spector’s musical heroics if you listen to the re-cast Let It Roll episode in which Nate interviews Spector biographer Mick Brown about his book “Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector.”
‘Tis a two-hour episode, and I recommend taking it an hour at a time, with a break in between in order to fully contemplate the musical greatness that was Spector’s. Heck, spend five minutes in the middle listening to “Instant Karma” or “To Know Him Is To Love Him.”)
That’s how I’m blogging about it, so stay tuned for my take on the fall of the man who built the wall (of sound).
Before she met John Lennon, Yoko Ono belonged to an international modern art collective known as Fluxus.
Before he met Yoko Ono, John Lennon belonged to an international music collective known as the Beatles.
I was reminded of these parallel facts whilst listening to Nate’s interview with Peter Doggett about his book “You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup.”
I also was reminded that, upon their commitment to one another, Ono became such a fixture in Lennon’s life that she also became a fixture, quite literally and figuratively, within the workings of the greatest popular musical act in human history.
Whatever one may believe or feel about Ono, this much is true: That the greatest popular musical act in human history allowed her so deeply into its fold — to the extent that she sat amongst them in the studio as if fused to Lennon, and her bed was moved right onto the premises — indicates something seriously fucked up with the greatest popular musical act in human history.
I won’t spoil the ending — and even though I know how it ends, I’ve decided to read Doggett’s book after re-listening to this LItR episode — but the craft known as the Beatles already was taking on water when Yoko showed up. That said craft not only continued to float but also continued to produce music worthy of its overall contribution to the form provides just one more indication of how astonishingly superior the Beatles truly were.
You may wonder, after listening to Nate’s interview with author Elijah Wald about his book “How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘N’ Roll”, what a father and son listening to Neil Young’s “Harvest” while driving to the son’s first year of college has to do with the Beatles destroying rock ‘n’ roll.
I wondered that myself this week after my second listen to this episode of Let It Roll. And, in spite of taking umbrage with Wald’s seemingly pejorative characterization of the father and son/Neil Young car ride to college as a “white middle-class” exercise — everything I did with my dad till 1980 qualifies as “white middle class,” including Pops driving me to my tryout for the marching band drum section, during which we probably listened to 96 Rock because he was tolerant that way — I came up with a connection between a father-son “Harvest” listening session and the Beatles’ positively atomic effect on rock und roll.
In the interest of brevity and of enticing you, reader of this blog, to listen to the episode, I’m keeping that insight to myself. But if anyone asks me in the “comment” section, I’ll say what I believe it is.
And here’s another reason to listen to this LItR episode, all the way to the end: If you listened to Nate’s initial interview with Wald, about his book “Escaping the Delta,” you know that Elijah Wald does not yield an insight — or yield to anyone else’s insights — without a tussle.
And, to our host’s significant credit, Wald lets rip a whopper of an insight at the very end of the interview, one that could be the subject of one or several books about the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
Listen all the way through, and ye shall hear it, too.
I had a sneaking suspicion I might stumble across the limits of my Hip-Hop knowledge before the end of this Let It Roll miniseries, and, to quote one of America’s most enduringly beloved television dads, Today’s the Day for Homer J.!
One tick of the cultural-historical clock, and suddenly I’m on the outside looking in as Nate, Alexei and Eugene dig the penultimate episode of Netflix’s “Hip-Hop Evolution" season 2.
I do, however, recognize the artists’ names and the era that produced them, and because I’m super hip I visited New York City on numerous occasions during those years and, at the very least, hung out with buds who really were dialed in. (One of them pals around with Killer Mike in Atlanta these days, but I realize declaring that “I know someone who hangs out with Killer Mike” is sad compared to Eugene’s A-List capacities across numerous musical genres, cultural eras and demographic spheres of influence).
All that writ, I do have one last Hip-Hop card to play, one bit of Southern Hip-Hop cred to cite. Stay tuned for next week’s blog as it accompanies the stunning conclusion of Nate, Alexei and Eugene digging “Hip-Hip Evolution,” when my Old School cred and pre-Jordan, ‘Nique-style game will be on display.
And know this, friends. I already nabbed one pair of $50 Superstars, my favorite shoe since Isiah took it to the house with the Hoosiers in the spring of ‘81. There’s more deals out there in this post-holiday rush.
If the world’s greatest bluesman performed his most inventive guitar lick ever while sitting at the crossroads at midnight but no one — not even Mr. D — heard it, would it be any less inventive?
And if no one read this blog post, would that make me any less of a smartass?
These are the kinds of philosophical questions I ask myself when I contemplate Elijah Wald’s book “Escaping the Delta,” a book I’ve actually read and which Nate features this week in a Let It Roll replay interview with Wald.
Whether Robert Johnson was a blues magician whose devilish tunes spread Beelzebubba’s message far and wide, or he was an ambitious and peregrinating professional musician who just kept getting better as he incorporated a variety of popular styles, his songs and his recordings have endured and influenced generations of musicians, among them Keith Richards and Eric Clapton.
That Johnson persisted and survived his demons long enough to record his songs but not quite long enough to take his star turn at Carnegie Hall — which was planned before organizer John Hammond knew he had died, by misadventure of course — his bedevilments are in the details.
And, for that matter, so are everyone else’s. ‘Cause the crossroads ain’t just an intersection in Clarksdale, baby.