Born To Rerun
Wings For Wheels, Thom Zimmy’s “making of” documentary DVD bundled with Columbia’s 30th anniversary boxed edition of Springsteen’s Born To Run, has its moments: Bruce and the original LP’s producer, Jon Landau, taking brand new listens to forgotten takes buried in the months of session audiotapes and finding both “What were we thinking?” and “Why didn’t we use that?” surprises, live on camera; Barry Rebo’s black and white really early camcorder footage of those sessions. There’s probably a bit much of that public musical self-analysis Springsteen’s been indulging in lately for a lot of tastes.
The second DVD in that box, on the other hand, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75, is an essential and remarkable live-show capture, never available before, of 25-year-old Bruce and band trying to win over England in one show, and succeeding. The band has, at the time, only recently learned what the final version of their breakthrough LP even sounds like, and it’s all fresh and electrically of-the-moment. This is the sort of show from the day that became legendary, with all of the key songs from the first three LPs assaulted — plus such encore showstoppers as “Quarter To Three” and the Mitch Ryder “Detroit Medley”. It won’t be surprising if this film is eventually let loose as a separate DVD, though there are no announced plans for it yet. Now that this show footage has been rediscovered and folks can see what the fuss was about, it certainly deserves a life of its own.
A second sweet “extra” is the Live Sessions DVD available in two-disc versions of Neil Young’s fine new Prairie Wind CD (Reprise). Not to be confused with Jonathan Demme’s as-yet unreleased film of the same project built on concerts at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, this is video that was shot as the CD recording sessions were in progress. There’s footage of the whole album, made visually grabby with split screens giving the session musicians and backup singers (which include Emmylou Harris) their due. It’s not as simple as it looks, since the selected video and finished CD versions all meld well now — and it works.
While we’re in woots wock world, Charlie Daniels’ CDB DVD LIVE (Koch/Blue Hat) is a nicely-put-together mix of a practiced but energetic Daniels show from last July 4th in Nashville, and adds in some Volunteer Jam footage from 1975 — nicely counterpointing what rock was like in Tennessee that year, as opposed to New Jersey!
You might say that John Hiatt: Live From Austin TX (New West), an extended version of a 1993 “Austin City Limits” telecast, almost splits that Bruce/Charlie difference — with rasp rock southern style. This is fine-form Perfectly Good Guitar era Hiatt, and includes “Tennessee Plates” and “Memphis In The Meantime”; it’s a representative show, and a good one. Dwight Yoakam Live, from the same ACL series, is a bit of a mixed bag; maybe my expectations for a full 1988 Dwight show are too high, but some of his most central rocking honky-tonk numbers seem less spot-on in rhythm and attack than since, or on the records. (This may be the downside of seeing the “additional” numbers the producers chose not to show originally; in some cases, they may have had their reasons!) There is, however, a wonderful live, surprise version of the “Sreets Of Bakersfield” duet with Buck Owens.
The new Texas Tornados: Live From Austin TX DVD just out in the same series is a laid-back pleasure. It’s good that this not terribly long-lived but much-loved outfit was captured; this is the Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers, Freddy Fender, Flaco Jimenez and Louis Ortega lineup, from October 1990. The easy give-and-take between the band members, the turn-taking at individual hits, is what this was all about — and it’s on here.
Freddy is not in particularly great form, seeming a bit tired and remote from the proceedings, on Freddy Fender Live At The Rennaissance Center (Music Video Distributors), one in a generally good new series of shows of quite varying lengths captured at the multimedia center in Dickson, Tennessee (apparently in the ’90s, for the most part).
The most striking and memorable volume musically is Ray Price Live At The Renaissance Center — though that’s a rather peculiar title and series addition, since it turns out to be a late-’80s show taped at Doc Severinsen’s club in Oklahoma! It’s far from great in visual quality, but it’s a really good example of the incomparable Mr. Price doing his latter-day sort of performance combining honky-tonk and crooning. It’s worth seeing just for the version of “Night Life” alone — unless, it should be noted, you happen already have a Ray Price DVD entitled Cherokee Cowboy; owners of that one report that it’s of the same show! (There are also full-show offerings from Pam Tillis and Lynn Anderson in the same Renaissance Center series.)
Another classic Texan is featured in quite good current-day musical form on Tanya Tucker Live At Billy Bob’s Texas (Smith Music Group). Some may find it slightly disconcerting to see a now middle-aged and filled-out Tanya, as seen on that current cable series of hers, up there still shaking booty on more numbers than not, but hey, that’s life and time at work, and the voice is strong, and “What’s Your Mama’s Name Child?” and “Two Sparrows In A Hurricane” still kill.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver: Through The Years (Mountain Home Music/crossroadsmusic.com) is one unusual and excellent concert DVD. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the strongest vocal outfit in bluegrass of this generation, Doyle assembled all thirteen configurations of the band that have existed (many of them spinning off other star bluegrass acts along the way) to present the music in order, in an epic show at Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium. (I was there; the live show taping took some five memorable hours!) As edited, the 32 songs here roll out without a hitch and absolutely no waiting for the next band version to get set up. They exhibit the full range of vocal pyrotechnics, in music both sacred and secular, for which the outfit’s reputation was made. (You’ll notice also that Doyle himself has incredible stamina; he’s the one singer and mando player in all of the configurations, and just keeps going.)
The bountiful Johnny Bond At Town Hall Party (Bear Family) puts together 46 numbers performed by the versatile Oklahoman from the lively ’50s California show. Bond, seemingly born to be a sidekick — for Gene Autry, Jimmy Wakely, or whomever walked onto to this live telecast, of which he was a longtime cast member — gets his due here. Included are honky-tonk, old-time country, much western swing, his occasional hits such as “Cimarron”, and some very good pairings with Joe & Rose Lee Maphis or Merle Travis on everything from “My Blue Ridge Mountain Home” to “Blue Hawaii”, as Bond, in his workmanlike way, grabs hold of this bit of hard country and that.
The new Merle Travis At Town Hall Party is recommended mainly for the many fans of Travis’ groundbreaking electric and acoustic guitar work, which seemed to be his role and focus on this show. There’s only a bit of his singing and few of his best-known country hits (“Nine Pound Hammer”), but those have been available on other DVDs in any case, and there’s much ace guitar for Travis pickers to try to figure out on this one.
A last thought: I couldn’t call the Johnny Cash Austin City Limits shows just out the best you’ll have seen, or the best available. This 1987 show largely replicates the familiar hits lineup, in the form seen already on the 1994 Montreux disc, for instance, and not in Johnny’s best form — although in its second half, there’s a strong version of John Prine’s “Sam Stone” and a duet with June on “Were Did We Go Right?”