The Byrds Don't Sing Here Anymore
Interesting anecdote on Carlos: Some of you old Rocking Chair exponents may recall why Gram parson's never toured SAfrica in 1968? He didn't want to play in front of segregated audiences? So say the history books, rock encyclopedias & all the rest. While Dave Crosby & Gene Clarke were still with the band, they had recorded with Hugh Masekela in 1966 & Hugh would have made them aware of the situation in South Africa, no doubt. Infact, when 3rd Ear Music brought Crosby, Stills & Nash out to Africa in 1995, the Crosby / Masekela re-union at the Standard Bank Arena in Johannesburg, was quite an occasion - Hugh himself having been in exile for 35 years.
Parsons certainly seemed to have a political bent & was very aware of the racist & segregation problems in his own country; however his motives for not touring were not purely political. Gene Vincent's Blue Caps stayed behind in Capetown 10 years earlier (on their 1959 South African Tour with local act Mickey Most & The Playboys), clever PR & a few spin doctors who had to cover for the guys because they were having such a good time in Capetown - brought out the opportune racist bogey. Why go up to Jo'Burg anyway?
Well, according to a few of Gram's friends - they confided some years later to Rock music fanatic, researcher & friend Richard Haslop - there wasn't a political slant to his reasons for not touring. That came after a few differences & counter-decisions with the band. Being a Gram Parson's people - both Richard & I in noway wish to denigrate Gram, and the official version may be the only one - but it's not quite true. The Byrds were going through some changes & various members were committed to solo projects anyway; besides Gram was in London in July 1968 when the SA Tour was about to start & he didn't want to leave. He was having a good time. So Carlos, their Road manager - before joining the Turtles fulltime as Tour manager - took on the task of filling in on Guitar - & Bass too I think! However principled Gram & the Byrds may have been - and we don't doubt that - & however abhorrent the idea & application of segregated audiences were, the Byrds did undertake to do the tour as a band. Besides if they were that concerned, why did CBS (through Gallo Africa) promote & release their albums so vigorously? There were a number of suggestions - from 3rd Ear Music as well - that artists who were serious about the cultural boycott, should prevent their records from being play listed on National State Radio, the SABC - our segregated Public Broadcaster. This never happened. For every anti-racist announcement made through a press secretary of the record labels' PR, sales would increase. They were selling good quantities of records & that Byrd's tour was part of promoting those sales, no matter what the pious & the PC may claim today.
As the Turtles & 3 Dogs tour progressed I also got to learn just how controlled, seedy & manipulative the live music industry in the USA could be - having believed that seedy was the exclusive domain of the record industries around the world. The economics of the Turtles disbanding & 3 Dog Night blazing a trail for their future, was reasonably understood & that much accepted - but I couldn't believe how hysterical the management got after the Jackson concert. They insisted on Half Sound Half Lights for The Turtles - a practice I was going to get to know more about at future South African festivals & tours. Bullshit was the general sound & lighting crew response.
3 Dog Night were too big to be too friendly; they didn't speak to our crew, ever. The Turtles & Hoyt on the other hand were our friends & we rapt often. In Tampa Florida, while the Turtles were duly bringing the house down, one of the irate 3 Dog Night managers stormed over to our mixing console, wading through the frenzied dancing arena crowds, and demanded that the 1/2 sound 1/2 lights rule be applied - immediately!
I think Harold Cohen was mixing at the time; but I doubt whether he complied, one couldn't tell above the crowd. We heard that things got rough after the show when Harold was told that Hanley Sound would be taken off the tour if he didn't help sabotaged the Turtles set; apparently there was the lecture about the economics & investments at stake; that The Turtles were on the way out & the 3 Dogs were on the way in; that we had better comply, blah, blah, blah.
I'm not sure if Mark & the boys got to know what happened - and if they did I don't think it would have bothered them much. They were also a little tired & jaded & looking forward to the end of the tour - they'd been on the road for nearly 6 years by then. But their professional attitude, undying humour & polished if ad hoc performances continued to rule & we sustained a true mix until the end of the tour, without cheating. The bummer of the response together with the obvious rejection of their songs, were 3 Dog Nights problem - not The Turtles or Hanley sound.
It's funny how chance & coincidence work. Hoyt Axton was a great & gifted songwriter & 3 Dog Night were on their way to becoming a popular show band -all that had to be done between the two was the connection. Just because Hoyt played his songs solo with one guitar didn't make them exclusive or that he shouldn't be heard.
Hoyt's songs, that those raucous southern rock audiences didn't or couldn't hear, must have eventually impressed 3 Dog Night - because soon after returning to South Africa I heard, around 1971, that 3 Dog Night were topping the rock charts all over the world with Joy to The World - the biggest selling single in the USA, 1971; followed by Jeremiah Was Bull Frog, and a whole string of Hoyt Axton Compositions that he opened the show with on that 1969 Southern States Turtle & 3 Dog Night trucking tour.
Hoyt Axton, who went on to become a well known & much loved Hollywood & TV character actor throughout the 80's & 90's, with that unmistakable deep grainy musical voice & his grey hat, sadly died in 2000.
3 Dog, Turtles & Axton tour continued
Elvis Never Left This Building
Hoyt Axton, Memphis Tennessee, Nov 1969
(p)© David Marks / 3rd Ear Music 2001
The Load Out - Jackson Browne’s seminal roadie song that every musician who ever spent time loading in & out of a Rock festival, club, concert or gig, would connect with. How many songwriters today started writing about that phenomena? The motley sound crew - the first to arrive & the last to leave; even before & after the band, the lighting crew & the groupies.
Arriving in empty halls, stadiums, clubs or arenas - before the crew gets there - from Angola to Mozambique, from Toronto to El Paso & countless stops in between - is one of the great thrills of the gig for me. God Is Good sang the old Southern slave blues musicians on Sunday morning, after having received their rations for entertaining & playing what must have been the early forms of Rock ‘n Jazz for the white Southern Gentry on a Saturday night. They got paid in booze & eats and praise be The Lord in gratitude, they cried GIG! And it certainly works for me. At least we roadies got paid, sometimes even if it was just enough for booze ’n eats; but working the road, the GIG, was a wonderful way to see the world, listen to Rock ‘n Roll & meet a great many different people coming together to boogie. Getting some physical training, loading gear.
There is always something special about being on my own (with my daily diary for thought) in an empty hall or an arena before the gig. And 35 years on, even when I mix or record these days, the empty theatres & concert halls still hold a ghostly fascination. November 1969, Memphis, Tennessee, City of Sun Records Sam Phillips Elvis The Divine. Another set-up for the 5-week 3 Dog Night, Turtles & Hoyt Axton tour through the deep South. There was seldom a break between gigs; the sound crew would usually have to strike a concert, load the trucks & hit the highway to setup for another show, some hundreds of miles away, the next night. Memphis, November ‘69 was different.
My share of sleep would usually be in the cab behind the fired up pill-popping anti-Hippie driver, rocking ‘n rolling between gigs up or down Route 66 in the 22 Ton Peterbilt Horse ‘n Trailer; dozing off to the country music radio shows at 2 or 3 AM.
On this tour we were in Bill’s (Hanley Sound) Yellow Bird thundering up from Albuquerque, New Mexico after having off-loaded a few tons of Loud Speaker Bins & Mixer for Steppenwolf & Al Kooper at the University of Albuquerque. (The drivers would get their sleep at the Motels or in the Tractor’s Cab during the show.)
I'd passed through Memphis before - by thumb & Greyhound from El Paso, Texas through Arkansas on my way up to from Hickory Studios & Acuff-Rose Music Publishers in Nashville - trying to figure out the royalty status of Master Jack, Mr. Nico & Hey Mister (See Gerald McGrath & The Vermont Road / Bob Montana chapter).
Memphis is sort of next door to Nashville - musically speaking that is; with much more rock ‘n soul if not my kinda Country. Slipping down into the passenger seat as the sun broke out somewhere over the Mississippi, the strains of a tearful country song were just whining away into the distant West under the roar of the horses, when through my dozy demeanor a tune that I knew I’d heard before segued into the cab….close up shop Mr. Nico, that’s what the big man said…. It’s a strange, strange world we live in?
I wasn’t dreaming. 4 Jacks & A Jill coming out to me in Memphis, City of Elvis the divine? I looked over at Dick the driver, his obligatory matchstick in mouth, with his usual vocab: The Yup Nope, type & I thought, should I tell him? Shouldn’t I. Naw….
In The City of Elvis The Divine The Ghost of Memphis
Memphis Auditorium - Photo by Harold Cohen or Rick - Nov 1969
(p)© David Marks / 3rd Ear Music 2001
We were in the city & headed for the Holiday Inn where I would spend the day catching up - writing & reading & sleeping in the chilly fall breeze next to an empty pool; getting ready to hit town for a rare open / free night & to take in the Spirit of Elvis The Divine. Elvis wasn’t a ghost in 1969. He was a disappointment. Unbeknown to me then, a lost & lonely soul gambling with his life & his new fat-cat middle class fans in Las Vegas.
I had left Nashville in May of ‘69 - as a failed prospective South African hit songwriter; a white city Folk singer who wouldn't become a bench songwriter. (I’d never written a crying love song at that stage of my life; didn’t feel I had the experience.) So I hit the road Jack. And the route had already taken me through 27 different United States & some 100 Folk ’n Rock ‘n Jazz concerts & festivals in 7 months. From Newport to Woodstock; from The Rolling Stones in Detroit to Live Peace in Toronto, where I proudly mixed for (not with) John Lennon & Eric Clapton’s Plastic Ono Band, Little Richard, Chuck Berry & many others & being mightily disappointed in The closing Doors.
And then from Toronto down through the Village in New York (again) to El Paso, Jackson, Tampa, Nashville & Memphis with the 3 Dog, Turtles & Hoyt road show.
I never saw Graceland had no desire to. I recall writing down how Elvis had been such a marked influence for me among the Chevy & Ford gangs at Hatfield Primary in Pretoria (1956 / 58); my absolute Rock hero. And then I saw GI Blues in 1961 at the Arista Bioscope in Witbank with The Boys Band & my rock & roll world fell apart.
Cliff Richard doing Summer Holiday was naff enough but even that was OK mainly because The Boys Band played on stage at interval & my girlfriend preferred Cliff & Pat Boone to Elvis. But our revolting Rock Rebel in a Uniform? What a sell out I thought.
Secretly, between me & my girl Lucille, I'd try to sneak the odd post GI Blues Elvis song into my head - especially for those Saturday night garage sessions at which The Boys Band didn’t have to play; it was part of my whispering dance floor repertoire that got me though quite a few bee-hived lacquered young Witbank or Springs Town ladies. But nothing post-US Army went as far as my heart. Elvis the voice & the tune may have often stuck & grooved 40 years on & I can still recall almost every mushy meaningless word & melody - but the beat was gone & the pop attitude sucked. I was a Gold Miner in leathers on a BMW, and I hadn’t been to Memphis yet. Elvis didn’t fit with me anymore!
From 1961 to 1963 I felt so low about where my passion for Rock was headed, that The Boys Band ended up covering Shadows & Cliff songs - pre-Beatles daze. The Boys Band were a wonderful Moth & Church Hall Rock session group; a compromise refuge steeped in tame-pop tunes & suitably lame thin neck-tied & railway dinner jacket Shadow’s steps. If it weren't for Jeremy Taylor & his wordy songs (Rand Easter Show 1962 - my Matric year) & the early Folk Scene in 1965, goodness knows how de-pressed I would've sank come 1969. It wasn't until many years later - after having been thoroughly whip lashed by goings on in our own SAfrican record industry, that I began to understand just how helpless, hopeless & manipulated Elvis the lonely must have been.
It's funny, tragic I suppose, that Elvis is remembered today in far out places like Africa & Europe, as the man in the white monkey jump suit with gold braids & a wing flap collar. I can't understand why he can't be honoured for the real rebel that he was - tight jeans, ducktail & truck-driving attitude. That voice was only half his story. What happened?
According to Mojo (Magazine) Charlie Feathers, the 1950’s Memphis Country Rock Singer at Sun Records, said it best: It wasn't drugs that killed Elvis, it was Breakfast. Personally I think he died from the broken & lonely hotel hearts he sang about he just slipped into depression on the hog-fat bacon, greasy grits & corn-bread diet.
As a highly pressured product & a public commodity, a talented rebellious musician in the commercial record industry is worth far more dead than alive! More especially when the Icon is a rebel or a threat & running out of songs to sing. Or worse still - getting involved with the new rebels & even recording a Bob Dylan tune. Heaven forbid. And heaven did! There were many ways for Tom Parker & the industry to skin a cool cat.
In 1969 I naively assumed that Elvis was big & powerful enough to rule his own kingdom; that Vegas was not his choice but the Colonel's. Nothing could have helped save my admiration. He was tough & talented enough I thought, to jump right out of that ridiculous monkey suit & the GI braids they squeezed him into, & punch them all on the nose; just like in Jailhouse Rock.
Elvis had started his long downward slide into mainstream oblivion by opening in a gambling joint in Las Vegas in July of 1969 - his first live gig since 1961. He was now a member of the elite Hollywood brotherhoods; his Memphis Mafia Hillbilly connections were just an embarrassing piece of a puzzle that Colonel Tom Parker (illegal Dutch alien, Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk) could not hide. Why didn’t Elvis ever leave the US & perform in Britain or Europe? How could a natural rocker, a Memphis truck-driving rebel be so caged, so used & abused? And the best we can do is buy more records?
In 1969 Elvis was still alive - theatrically speaking - and I was glad to be in Memphis, if for no other reason than to say, one day, that I'd been there; a few times. However, there were more coincidences & synchronicities about to unfurl.
The Memphis Auditorium & The Sweat Band Caretaker
The night before the 3 Dog Night, Turtles & Hoyt Axton Memphis concert, I went out alone in search of a ghostly / spiritual Elvis experience & had a few lousy watery American Beers. Played some new fashioned 5 Iron Pin Ball - not like the old clanging bumper shooters we had in Turfontein or Rosettnville Johannesburg - & dropped a dime in the duke-box to hear The Band do The Weight again while I searched for pre-Army Elvis Rock ‘n Roll. Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free, take a load off Fanny. Aaannnd...you put your load right on me! The juke was packed with post-GI Blues Elvis tunes so I wasn't going to waist another Memphis dime. I dragged myself back to the Inn without either the Ghost or the Spirit of Memphis intact. But I was determined.
Each US Rock & Jazz tour was designed to fit into a particular chain of Motels; they didn’t only all look alike, they also smelt & felt the same. From the franchised Green & Gold of the Holiday Inn to the sweet ‘n stale bedroom sweat of the Orange & Blue Howard Johnson; franchised air fresheners, menus & bar-room lounge muzac as well. Often, after a late night gig, you’d wake up & wouldn't know where you were or what State you were in.
I woke up early & eagerly in Memphis to the green 'n gold Holiday Inn sameness, but this time I knew exactly what state I was in. Chuck Berry's Memphis Tennessee wouldn't leave my head & the body moved accordingly. I grabbed my daily diary & rocked straight on down to the fabulous Memphis Auditorium; before Dick had time to manipulate the Yellow Bird into the loading bay; where the crew & I would get our daily exercise routine - moving sound gear across the floor.
A cute half deaf old non-Union lined caretaker with a crumpled dirty brown hat & a sweaty band let me in. It didn't take too much convincing - I had the regulation hair, blue denim, tool bag & masking tape. I could prove I was no groupie I was one of them Hippies who'd been booked to invade his sacred city of Elvis The Divine.
(Photo: David Marks Empty & Ghostly Memphis Auditorium by Rick 1969)
So sad he said how times were changing so fast; things aren't like they were in Elvis' day. He sang here you know? Used to come by here before he got famous you know. (I wandered if the auditorium had even been built in those days.) I believed him!
Now all we have, pined the old Southern Union gentleman, buckling under the strain of his oral memoirs & the elastic power of his braces, laden with keys, are these long-haired Hippies with loud electric guitars 'n things making all sorts o' noises that cause the young people to jump up ‘n down & dance all over the place - on the chairs & in the isles. In Elvis' day the girls used to scream, but that's all. They stayed in their place.
And I wandered if he wasn't one of those parents who at the time would have forbidden his children to ever mention the name of Elvis, let alone buy his records or allow them to see him move those hips a-screamin’. Elvis was banned from the waist down on American TV in the 60's.
The Fall in August - In the Wake of Rock ’69 & The Death of Elvis The Divine.
Those Were The Days - please save us from them today. The old caretaker story reminded me of going back to the town of Woodstock 28 years after the 1969 Festival (1997 Hidden Years Band from SAfrica) & being told what a wonderful time & what great days those were; by some of the very same people who did their level best to try & stop the festival? For me, the fact that Elvis just happened to pass away on the Woodstock anniversary (16 August 1977) is significant in that the annual Woodstock / Yasgur Farm gathering (15, 16, 17 August) is totally over-shadowed by the media's memorabilia remembrance of Elvis - in White Monkey Jump Suit or GI Blues, of course.
We had first hand experience of this phenomena at the 1997 Woodstock re-union. Farmer Roy Howard & his wife Jeryl who own Max Yasgur's farm, arrange an annual Woodstock re-union; a gathering for the various Hippie Nations & Gypsy Tribes of troubadours & minstrels & the thousands of Woodstock devotees from around the world who flock to the site in August. And what a sight! A range of people gathered that you wouldn't see anywhere but in a church; every culture, class & age imaginable times a 1000. Difference is, those religious gatherings tend to dress funny! All the same. Come Woodstock time & people dress how they feel, rather than how they think they should look. And the music reflects that, right down to the Rock on the ground.
(The South African Woodstock connection - 1969 & 1997 - is covered in some breadth & depth in Part 2 of The Hidden Years Story; how Sheila Sisulu & her diplomats & the SAfrican Hidden Years Band saved the '97 festival - despite the New generation of old farts trying to stop it happening. The more things change.....?)
Elvis the dead is still King. Not just in Memphis Tennessee. So he still rules the media waves at around this Fall time. Woodstock the living is far too full of freaks & rebels for the mainstream media to accept. And other than the 'alternative' press & the odd pirate radio station, the Woodstock phenomena can't get a word in edge ways.
It's not that serious - it's only the myth & mystique of Rock 'n Roll - but I suppose if we are going to have to wait until we're all dead 'n decomposing to find out just how important Woodstock '69 was, then taking it seriously, while we are alive & kicking, should be important. And besides, roots ‘n history can be a lot of fun. Rock music is not about pre-packaged catalogued nostalgia. Roots are about growing up in a new world. Perhaps the bottom line should be - without traditions & roots, we grow nowhere.
Woodstock is not just an event or a place, explained the tie-dyed & grey-bearded off-duty New Jersey attorney, standing over the Tomb on Yasgur's farm in 1997: it's a state of mind he smiled! Taking a deep breath of fresh Sullivan County Catskill Mountain air, he wondered off into Max's woods with a large pale-blue tie-dyed Woodstock flag draped over his 60 something shoulders. (Photo: The Lawyer in tie-dyes with Flag)
In hindsight, while the ex-King of rock was being framed & tamed in Las Vegas 1969 - bowing & scraping to Nixon, opening in a Casino & featured in Playboy - that remarkable week that I was so fortunate enough to experience at The Aquarian Exposition, Woodstock '69, became for me, the final Wake of Rock 'n Roll. The end!
As a Folk ‘n Rock junkie the Isle of White festival in Britain 1970 simply endorsed the demise of Rock as a universal music-force for social change. (Maybe because I wasn’t there to get my shot?) From then on in, Rock 'n Roll became a manipulated lyrical corporate product. And for the most part - despite some of the wonderful music & amazing talent that the 70's seemed to spawn - Rock 'n Roll was indeed dead.
Cloning may become a scientific fact & social media manner soon, but the new-age army of pierced manufactured pop idols makes me as mad as Moses. Paying tribute to rock music, as young rockers do these days, is one thing. There are some dexterous rockers around who push all the right high-tech power buttons & hit all the good notes & they are often seriously entertaining & enjoyable. This is no disrespect to them.
The 60’s youth inhabited a very different world & I shouldn’t get so hung up on it all. On the face of it, the pre-Woodstock world of contemporary words & music belonged to the naïve youth of that time; our expressions confused & baffled the older material corporate world. The good intentions of the sister & brotherhood of One-Love, One-World Utopian pipe dream, has now become a corporate reality & a major marketing ploy.
Elvis & The Beatles may have been the thin edge of the business wedge & the grand-slam of fashion we still copy the drag & attitude to this day - by the time the media had done with Woodstock '69, corporate America had it sussed & all under control. One just has to look & listen around & check out the dumb-down state of entertainment in a violent Hollywood set & TV reality driven CNN world at war with itself, to note that we are more of a strange & divided selfish species today than we have ever been!
Dave Crosby put the drug-culture, young concerns & rock music into perspective when 3rd Ear brought CSN to SAfrica in 1995: We were right about the music; we were right about the war; about racism & the environment. But we were wrong about the drugs!
Almost every young rebel, post-Woodstock & GI-blues who picked up a guitar, was under some form of strict industrial surveillance, sponsored sanitization & media control. Talent, like children, is still being abused, not because it never happened before, but because of technology in the Global Village, we know, or are exposed too, a lot more. It is not as if we were too ashamed to say so; we didn’t know what was happening to us in Memphis 1954 or at Woodstock of 1969. (Edited Out*)
Elvis, like 4 Jacks & a Jill, Never Left This Building?
Ducking from the old caretaker with the sweaty brown hat band & braces & leaving him creaking in the foyer & rambling on to himself about Elvis, I went & got lost in the empty Memphis Auditorium. Sat there & sucked in the scene & the stage that had been set; waiting for the rig to roll in & go up. It felt special. Like Madison Square it was neat & clean - not nearly as big - just as impressive. Ready for the music gladiators to swallow the hysteria of the arena. The rest of the crew usually got to the venues mid morning - so that we could be setup in time for the sound-check at around 4 to 5 pm.
Sitting there in the hollow Auditorium I started writing down much of what I related above in my daily diary, with my Load In song. Something about '69 being a good finale for Rock 'n Roll & the strange co-incidences that led me to the Woodstock Wake. Thinking about Elvis The Crucified in faded blue denim; about being the first to arrive & the last to leave. I never got that song finished. Perhaps I just knew that somewhere someone else would finish it... writing the classic Load Out....Doctor my eyes...
The guys arrived & we duly started setting up the gear. They joked & jibed me about my anti-social behavior from the night before. Why didn’t you come out & razzle with us Marks? Drinking & smoking with the bands & setting Memphis alight? Especially after we’d had some real boyish rock & roll fun at the Holiday Inn. (We weren't quite up to the level of throwing TV sets out the window - you have to be in the 5 star Hilton Hotel International Rock bracket to make that sort of an impact...and be able to pay for it!) We did silly things; some of which I had learnt at boarding school in Witbank & passed on as a sort of cultural exchange to my new American roadie friends; white hostel dweller wisdom; like hiding mattresses on the rugby field & how to apple-pie a bed & so on.
On this particular Memphis evening before I hit Memphis City - Carlos Bernal, the Turtles Road Manager (he who stood in for Gram Parsons on the controversial boycott busting South African tour of The Byrds the year before, 1968) had got the keys for one of the Turtle's rooms. I'm not sure if it was Al Nichol or Jim Tucker. Anyway, we wheeled their beds out of the room & hid them in some conference hall down the passage way. That was great fun in itself - darting down the outside corridors on the Holiday Inn in hospital type beds, 2 or 3 up. After the pre-gig party who knows what happened to their beauty sleep or the groupies in an empty room? The show goes on.
The old non-union looking caretaker man followed the crew into the auditorium & repeated much of what he had told me earlier that morning. About how great Elvis really was & that we & our long hair were not doing the country or the (Vietnam) war-effort any good & that the bands who played here these days were too loud. It's not always like that you know, creaked the old man in the sweat band as we finished setting up & sat down to take a breather in the first few rows, to wait for the sound-check. Not wanting to appear rude, we listened to the old-caretaker. (There was still some respect for the aged in 1969 - despite our own attitudes & disposition toward anybody over 30.)
Last year, he went on, we had a band here that was all dressed neatly in pastel blue suites. They had long hair too, but it was neat & tidy like. They had this pretty country singing girl with them. She just sang so sweetly & the Memphis Auditorium was packed - sold out like it is tonight. And these sweet kids sang these wonderful tuneful songs & the well-dressed (white) audience just sat there & listened (politely). Why can't you lot be like that? pleaded the old caretaker. That’s the sort of music Elvis would love.
Who was this great good-looking neat pop band pops? one of the crew enquired. Four Jacks & a Jill, they were called son.
What could I say? Hey, you're not going to believe me old man - but I wrote some of those songs that you say Elvis would have liked? They were still play-listed in Memphis.
I never even told the crew about things like that either, and we'd been on the road for some time. Especially not after that sad story. Although I did eventually break down & told Dick the driver - between a particularly long stretch of boring highway. Dick had said he didn't care for Rock & Roll; he liked soft country type melodious rock & he always had the Truck radio tuned in. He knew about the hit parades & stuff. Master Jack was one of his favourites in 1968; we heard it almost every day somewhere in the South, mainly on the truck radio & in the Truck-Stop Juke joints. So I couldn’t contain myself as 4 Jack’s Master Jack went crackling out over the country truck radio somewhere near Oklahoma.
And after me telling him that I wrote that song - & his favourite, Mr. Nico - he must have thought I was nuts. Really? he said, almost swallowing his matchstick glancing sideways & looking bemused at this long-haired SAfrican roadie. Then silence under another bunch of Tennessee state country railway songs. We didn't talk for many miles after that.
(P)© 2004 - The Hidden Years Story Part 1 (Penguin Books)
Edited Out - Given this scenario (the manipulation of young post-Woodstock rockers) & my pious opinions, I admire the talent of the 70's rock musicians often more for their resilience than the music. Many managed to cut through the technology & the bullshit of sponsored TV & Radio Controlled station masters & drug Lords. Just as with our naïve Do Wop hip era Do Wop unto others as you would have them Do Wop unto you? a lot of 70’s Rock music has been good enough to survive into the new millennium, despite the battles with the New-Age Intellectual Property Squatters in Suits. That deserves some sort of praise, even if the music wasn’t always to my liking & taste.
In South Africa, the best that the post-Woodstock Folk 'n Rock & a smattering of Jazz Ous could do in the face of this material & foreign imported product onslaught, was to help bring a divided, traumatized & split people together. More often than not, to party, rather than listen. Although our Free Peoples Concerts & later Splashy Fen Mountain Festivals were unique; they broke the mould & people mixed & listened, despite music & musician pressured under commercial control; not only through foreign corporations, as they were in Europe & the US, but by politicians & His Master's Voice (SABC) as well.
The irony in SAfrica today, is that those very same suits still call the tune & are sadly even credited as having been part of the struggle. That's how far, or how low the mainstream record, broadcast & music industries have sunk. And they seemed to have dragged the media & our brand new revolutionary government down with them. And why? Because they can afford to buy mass media time & space & re-invent history? Without traditions & roots, we grow nowhere?
For many young music people, the myth & the mystique, the vision & the victory of the 60's Woodstock generation, will remain forever powerful. And in this brave new world whatever the kids want the parents will provide. It’s all there - reflected in the fashions of the 60’s that are very much alive today; ringing the tills, if not the changes.
And because most of the dedicated older Rock Music & Folk ‘n Jazz followers have been there heard that & got the all-access passes, contemporary music only looks mean; pierced & tattooed. And sometimes it even sounds amazing. In reality though, it has, more often than not, become just plain boring. The designer drugs are not working either. Nice to jorl & dance too sometimes, but in general the music of today is soulless predictable shallow mainstream mediocrity. And it needn’t be like that. These are exciting times….& the only way out is up, I say! Just don’t look down.
The Union Gap USA - An Injury to one is an Injury
I never knew much about unions until I got to the USA. The only Unions that South Africa had, that I knew of, was the white Railway & Mine-workers - but the real workers never had any such thing. It was against the law back then. How else could South Africa have been the richest country in the Southern Hemisphere without slave & migrant labour? My One Rand bought me almost $3 Dollars USA back then. Dr Jannie Smuts put paid to Unions & strikes way back in the 30's, with the army. So I don't think that working to rule or taking to the streets for better wages & working conditions was part of the non-organized work force's agenda or even the organized white unions' - who simply did their bargaining over beer & braaivleis on weekends.
England was the Union capital of the world - according to Asterix & Obilex anyway. The British armies would break at teatime while the Vikings were trying to plunder, rape & kill them. But I came to full blows with how the USA unions worked at my very first official Madison Square Gardens sound gig, in New York, for Bill Hanley -the legendary Joan Baez-Harris June Concert in the Gardens - sold out - 22 000 seats.
Bill & the Hanley Sound technicians - Harold Cohen & Sam (?) had designed this sound rig for a revolving stage, in the center of the massive arena. The stage would rotate - driven by a small motor - slowly 45 degrees, every 15 minutes, so that the entire arena could get to see this tiny distant speck of a lady somewhere down there from where the impressive sound would emanate. The sound rig was quite ingenious; the Altec 4-10 bins were hauled up into the Madison Square ceilings by cranes, pulleys & straps; the high-end sectoral & multi-cell horns were strapped around a huge metal ring that was set and pulled up over pulleys from the stage. All the cabling would be dutifully twisted so that when the stage turned they would untwist & not get tangled up with the artists & stage monitors far below. I was back living in New York after my Nashville & Newport adventures, at Ed Bastian's place on 64 Jane Street in the Village when I got the call to meet up with the Yellow Bird & the rest of the crew at Madison Square Gardens for the set-up.
At certain times of the day, the subways of New York were not the ideal way to travel alone. The underground from the East Village to Madison Square Gardens was literally door-to-door. I suppose my tight checked British looking pants, worn-out leather jacket & big brown semi-high healed boots, coupled with my up-tight attitude, made me less of a target than some of the people I saw getting hassled. Years later, in 1997 when I returned to New York with our Hidden Years Band to play the Max Yasgur Farm Woodstock re-union gig, I spent a lot of time on the flight over laying my '69 Harlem, Village & Bowery experiences on the tender young things in our band - the 6 young Alexander Township Church Choir kids - our backing group who'd never been in an airplane before. As well as for the benefit of Fran, who'd never been out of South Africa? New York is dirty folks, I preached! If you think Alex, Hillbrow & Soweto are tough Chinas, wait 'till you hit the streets of the Village & Harlem, then you'll know all about it. Talk about dirty street & bums & hustlers? Well, when we landed in New York - which I loved when I lived there, despite the warnings I'd been liberally dishing out - I was, to say the least, embarrassed. What could I say?
Not only was it the cleanest & neatest city I had ever been to in my 25 odd subsequent years on the road, but you could just feel it was safe - any time of the day & night. Even the bums & the bottle ladies were polite & well dressed in their rags. It looked as if all the hustlers & drug peddlers were either miming statues painted silver on the side of the road or playing saxophones in the Night Clubs; maybe they were absorbed into off & off-off Broadway theatres, but they certainly weren't hassling innocent looking Johannesburg township tourists in the streets. The order in New York even got so ridiculous, that I hardly heard a hooter or saw a person jay-walk, other than our band & crew. Every American & European tourist seemed to dutifully cross at the lights - waiting patiently for the little green man to change before moving. Our guys were conspicuous by their colour, trying to dodge the well-kept shinny Yellow / Orange cabs on 75th Street, as if this was Eloff Street. The first time I heard a horn honk was at one of us.