Field Reportings from Issue #72
A DAY THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMOUS: Sugar Hill Records band the INFAMOUS STRINGDUSTERS were big winners at the eighteenth annual International Bluegrass Music Awards Show held October 4 at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee. The Stringdusters — from left, Andy Falco, Travis Book, Jesse Cobb, Jeremy Garrett, Andy Hall, and Chris Pandolfi — also performed at the show and were named Emerging Artist of the Year as well as receiving Song of the Year honors for “Fork In The Road” and sharing the Album of the Year award (for their CD of the same name) with J.D. Crowe & the New South (for their Rounder disc Lefty’s Old Guitar). Other big winners included Tony Trischka, voted top banjo player and also winning the Recorded Event and Instrumental Album categories for his Rounder release Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular. Entertainer of the Year went to the Grascals for the second straight year. Other honorees included Doyle Watson & Quicksilver (vocal group, gospel recorded performance), Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper Featuring Audie Blaylock (instrumental group), Bradley Walker (male vocalist), Dale Ann Bradley (female vocalist), Missy Raines (bass), Michael Cleveland (fiddle), Rob Ickes (dobro), Tony Rice (guitar) and Sam Bush (mandolin).
B.B. TO THE BONE: In the twilight of his illustrious career, 82-year-old B.B. KING has hooked up with producer T BONE BURNETT to make an album for the Geffen label due out in early 2008. It recalls the records King made when he was coming of age in Los Angeles in the mid-to-late 1950s and early ’60s, working with the great but now largely forgotten Maxwell Davis. As King’s music director, Davis put together his bands and wrote the sublime arrangements, which reflected Davis’ background in big-band swing.
“Maxwell was a kind of tutor to me,” King once told critic Peter Watrous of The New York Times. “He always gave advice. I was like a sponge, and I didn’t know much and I wanted to learn….I learned about being a band leader from him. He was, to me, the best blues arranger — he was a great arranger, period.”
“I loved those records, their size and freedom and beautiful, beautiful arrangements,” says Burnett. “During his first several years there, B.B. was trying to do the same thing everyone else was. But with Maxwell Davis’ help, he found his own distinctive identity. That Central Avenue scene in Los Angeles rivaled any scene, anywhere.”
For the new King album sessions at the Village Recorder in Los Angeles, Burnett brought in his own expansive cast of regulars. To build up the sound, he doubled up players, with Jim Keltner and Jay Bellerose sharing drum duties and Nathan East and Mike Alizondo the bass parts. Other players included organist Neil Larson and guitarist Stephen Bruton. “We all sat in a circle, close to each other,” says Burnett. “It was very much a live thing.”
The tunes they recorded include 1920s gems by Blind Lemon Jefferson (including “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”) and Lonnie Johnson. The horn arrangements are by another Burnett crony, Los Angeles producer and musician Darrell Leonard, and by veteran folk-blues musician/producer Geoff Muldaur.
“There was a club in Dallas called the Forest Ballroom,” recalls Burnett, who grew up in Texas. “Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, B.B. King — they all played there, and also at a place called the Green Parrot. That music always had a certain sound to me — a big, dreamy, ethereal sound. That’s what we tried to get on the album.
“You know, I don’t know how many more albums B.B. is going to make. He’s nearing the end of his working life. Going back to the beginning had a lot of meaning, not just for him, but for everyone involved.”
FRESH BURRITO PLATTERS: Dave Prinz, co-founder of the west coast music store mini-chain Amoeba Music, is a die-hard GRAM PARSONS fan who actually saw Parsons perform several times in the early ’70s. So it’s not surprising that his spinoff label Amoeba Records is releasing Gram Parsons Archives Vol. 1: The Flying Burrito Brothers Live At The Avalon 1969. This long-anticipated double-disc set, due out November 6, contains two vintage FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS concerts from San Francisco’s fabled Avalon Ballroom: the never-before-distributed April 4 show, and the April 6 performance which previously has been bootlegged.
This project has been a personal mission for Prinz, but it almost became a mission impossible. In 2005, Prinz was able to visit the now-closed Grateful Dead vaults to check out rumors that there were live tapes of the Parsons-era Burritos. Dead archivist David Lemieux had a wonderful surprise — these exquisitely recorded April ’69 shows from when the band opened for the Dead. “Whoa, this is the best undiscovered Gram ever,” Prinz thought upon hearing it.
Releasing the recordings — made by notorious Bay Area soundman Owley “Bear” Stanley — was easier said than done. The sound quality was excellent (the April 6 show is a different source tape than the bootleg that has made the rounds), but Prinz says Stanley was “very intensely protective of his stuff.” A chance conversation Prinz had with David Grisman led Grisman’s manager, Craig Miller, to help broker a deal between Prinz and Stanley.
These live sets contain many of the classic tunes from the Burrito’s legendary debut album Gilded Palace Of Sin, including “Sin City”, “Do Right Woman”, “Dark End Of The Street”, and both “Hot Burrito” tracks. Parsons is in particularly good voice, and his vocals are nicely up-front in the mix.
Prinz says there will more volumes of the Gram Parsons Archives series. He has been in talks with former Burritos/Byrds manager Jimmi Seiter about putting out material that Seiter possesses. In fact, the two bonus tracks on the first disc of the Avalon release (“Thousand Dollar Wedding” and “When Will I Be Loved”) are home recordings from Seiter’s collection.
Prinz, who says he’s been disappointed by the lack of new material included on the numerous posthumous Parsons discs, disputes the notion that the Parsons well is dry. “The well is wet,” he insists. He noted how this collection contains rare renditions of songs such as “Sweet Mental Revenge”, “Lucille” and “You Win Again”, just a few of the countless covers the Parsons-era Burritos performed.
Prinz is determined to discover more. “What drives me is wanting to hear all the covers,” he says. “I’m driven like a crazy person to find this stuff. At least now I can do it through my business.”
HOLIDAY BONUSES: Topping the inevitable onslaught of Christmas-themed releases in the last quarter of 2007 is a pair of JOHNNY CASH DVDs taken from prime-time television three decades ago. The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1976, plus a second disc featuring the 1977 show, are due out November 13 on Shout! Factory, through an archival agreement with the Country Music Hall of Fame. The ’76 disc features appearances by Tony Orlando, Merle Travis and Barbara Mandrell; ’77 guests included the Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. June Carter Cash and Roy Clark are on both shows….
Other yuletide releases available this season include My Holiday from MINDY SMITH (on Vanguard); Just In Time For Christmas from PAM TILLIS (on Stellar Cat); Oh Santa! New And Used Holiday Classics on Yep Roc featuring Jason Ringenberg, Marah, Los Straitjackets, Chatham County Line, the Minus 5 and others; and Home For Christmas: Voices From The Heartland on Rounder with Rhonda Vincent, Deana Carter, Wilson Pickett, Irma Thomas, Sam Moore and others.