Video Fridays: The Search For “Presence of the Lord”

blind-faith
Blind Faith

The strangest thing happened to me last night.

A fragment of a song that I hadn’t listened to in years popped into my head in the early evening, a very small fragment, a simple descending chord progression…

C  F/C  Em/B  Dm/A  C

…that opens the song and repeats as a kind of theme throughout.

The strange thing: I knew exactly what song this fragment was from — Presence of the Lord, by Blind Faith — I’d heard it many, many times and have loved it, I’d known all of the lyrics, all of the particulars of the arrangement — the gorgeous, pining vocals and Hammond B-3 organ of Steve Winwood, the swirling guitar work of Eric Clapton, the expressive drums of Ginger Baker that threatened to deliver thunder like Thor at any moment, and the steady bass of Ric Grech — but as this fragment popped into my head, inexplicably, I could not conjure up anything else from the song, and…

…it nearly drove me crazy!!!

Part of the problem stems from the fact that this fragment — these few descending chords — is a common musical element used in many songs, and every time I tried to pry the rest of Presence of the Lord from some mysterious, dimly-lit place in my brain, I stumbled upon other songs, but not the one I was looking for.

Despite my best efforts, I could not find the opening lyrics — “I have finally found a way to live, just like I never could before…” — perhaps because the lyric describes the finding of something, the exact opposite of what was happening to me.

I did have a memory that there was a dramatic instrumental bridge in the song, with a corresponding tempo change, but I couldn’t quite make it out.

I thought if I could only recall one other fragment — a slice of that bridge, a snippet of melody from a verse or chorus, some riff or phrase from Clapton’s epic solo — then I could follow it like a breadcrumb left behind by Hansel and find my way back home (Blind Faith fans will know that the pun here is intended) to the rest of the song.

But no, I could find nothing, and it tortured me.

At 2:00 AM, I awoke for some reason and immediately heard the presence of the Presence of the Lord, and my brain set to work straight away, continuing the search for the rest of the song, consequently preventing me from falling back to sleep for nearly two hours … on a work night!

Finally, over breakfast, I gave up, opened YouTube on my iPhone, searched for the song, found it, played it, and put myself out of my misery.

And, oh what a song to relieve misery!

I chose to listen to the version of Presence from the 1969 Concert in Hyde Park (video below), because, though I am by no means a religious man, if the Lord does happen to be real, his/hers/its presence is most certainly revealed in the tone of Eric Clapton’s Fender Telecaster guitar in that performance.

Interestingly, Presence of the Lord, and this experience I had with it, are symbolic — in a number of ways — of the meteoric history of Blind Faith, centered around the theme of brevity:

  • I could only remember a simple 5-chord instrumental sequence from a 4:5o-long song.
  • Trying to remember the song left me with too little sleep.
  • The song only has, essentially, one verse and one chorus, repeated three times respectively.
  • Blind Faith formed, recorded their one and only album which went to the top of the charts, toured Europe and the U.S., and disbanded … ALL between January and October of 1969.
  • The eponymous album contained only 6 songs, for a total running time of 42:12, average in those days, but all you have to do is subtract one song, the 15:20-long cut titled Do What You Like, and what remains would be an EP by today’s standards.
  • The very fact that Blind Faith had so few songs on their album was a contributing factor to their demise. Eric Clapton had quit his previous band, Cream, because he was tired of playing their songs and the baggage that came with being in that band, and yet, when Blind Faith toured, since there were so few Blind Faith songs, the band filled out their concerts with songs by Cream and Steve Winwood’s former band, Traffic. By the end of their U.S. tour, Clapton had had enough and moved on.
  • The first rehearsals of what would become Blind Faith, with Winwood, and Clapton & Ginger Baker, both from Cream, occurred just 9 weeks after Cream disbanded, despite Clapton’s promise to Cream bassist Jack Bruce that if any of the three members played again together all three would be involved.
  • The version of Presence in the video below, was performed before their album was even released, and Clapton was very unhappy with the concert, feeling that the band had not had enough time to rehearse.

So, ironically, all this talk of brevity and it’s taken me this long to get to what put the “video” in this installment of Video Fridays.

Enjoy the music, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Comes A Time. Not THAT Comes A Time. So Beautiful It Aches.

Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
Says, “Don’t you see?
Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe
Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup
That only love can fill, only love can fill”

Been walkin’ all mornin’, went walkin’ all night
I can’t see much difference between the dark and light
And I feel the wind and I taste the rain
Never in my mind to cause so much pain

Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
Says, “Don’t you see?
Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe
Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup
Only love can fill, only love can fill”

From day to day just letting it ride
You get so far away from how it feels inside
You can’t let go ’cause you’re afraid to fall
But the day may come when you can’t feel at all

Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
Says, “Don’t you see?
Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe
Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup
That only love can fill, only love can fill, only love can fill”

–Robert Hunter, Grateful Dead, “Comes A Time”

Punk’s Legacy?

Punk-27947The conventional wisdom amongst many musicologists, music journalists, and music fans is that Punk Rock was a seachange, a musical and cultural revolt against highly-produced and highly popular Glam Rock, Prog Rock, Disco, and the music of aging 1960s rockers who didn’t heed The Who’s call to die before they got old.

Punk was raw, unpolished, occasionally violent, and yet strangely intimate, a stark contrast to the aloof prettiness and preciousness of its predecessors. And most importantly, Punk endured and spawned many variations, and its attitude and Lo-Fi sensibilities inspired musicians working in other genres to get back to basics, to shed excess, and to speak with courageous abandon.

The Noisey article I tweeted today puts forth the argument that Punk was, musically speaking, not very good, and that it did not ultimately change anything. It’s a flimsy-if-earnest attempt to make a point, spurious in its use of two lazy rhetorical tricks:

  1. The vast majority of the article is phrased in general terms, referring throughout to all Punk music, but with a buried qualification at one point stating that it’s really referring to only the first wave of British Punk.
  2. On the question of whether or not Punk actually changed anything, the article criticized Punk for not having spurred a wider and lasting political revolution, as if Punks ever really claimed that they were out to change the world — as opposed to venting their disdain for the state it was in — and ignoring the fact that the conventional wisdom narrative about the Punk seachange is almost entirely limited to the impact it had, not on politics, but on music, art, fashion, etc.

Anyway, its worth reading for the very fact that it so miserably failed to convince, and rather, ironically, strengthened my belief in Punk’s lasting, powerful legacy.

R.I.P., #GeorgeMartin

#TooManyChefs

Video Fridays: Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real, Keeping It Real

lukas-nelsonWillie Nelson‘s son, Lukas, and his band, Promise Of The Real, have been popping up on my music radar off and on for a few years.

As a longtime admirer of his dad, admittedly his pedigree is a considerable draw for me, but what has stood out every time I’ve come across some news and video clips of Lukas in action is that he is an outstanding artist in his own right, not simply going Country and following in his father’s footsteps, but embracing the electric guitar and heyday Rock & Roll of the late 1960s through the 1970s, and carving out his own path and sound.

Also, if you take some time to browse YouTube, you’ll find that he has impeccable taste in terms of the covers of other artists that he has done over time, paying respect and homage to his elders, to those who blazed the heyday Rock & Roll trail. (Another way Lukas honored his Rock & Roll forebears: this past year he took an extended break from working on his own music to record an album with Neil Young, called The Monsanto Years, and then toured as Neil’s backing band to support the album.)

Regrettably, due to the holidays and all that, it’s been nearly a month since my last Video Fridays installment, so let’s get 2016 started with two from Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real.

The first is his latest, the lead single and title track, Something Real, from what will be his 3rd studio LP, due out March 11th. It is a FANTASTIC early-to-mid 1970s-esque romp, a true promise that real Rock & Roll music is alive and well.

The second, a very tasteful and well-done cover of the Neil Young (mentioned above) classic Cowgirl In The Sand.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Springsteen, The River, And The Mixed Legacy Of Pop Music

bruce_springsteen_tiesSo, I’ve been listening, on Spotify, to the just-released box set of Bruce Springsteen‘s 1980 double studio album The River, titled The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, which includes the remastered original album, the shorter single album version that was almost released instead of the double album, a bunch of outtakes, and…

…it’s really a mixed bag.

There is undeniable explosive energy in many of these songs, some of the lyrics are as good as anything Springsteen wrote before or since, and the musicianship is solid, the product of indisputable talent.

And yet…

The most persistent impression I got as I listened was that Springsteen was reaching for a sound reminiscent of early Rock & Roll from the 1950s, with a touch of Phil Spector’s early 1960s Wall of Sound studio approach, and I think it’s important to note that Rock & Roll, during that period, still had one foot in the often cheesy pop music that it grew out of.

There are two elements, in particular, that stand out to me, one related to the studio production, and the other to specific instruments.

First, the studio production, the most pervasive element, affecting every single song on the record. The best way I can describe it is that the album sounds incredibly thin, even on a good sound system or using good headphones, as if it was playing on those cheap metal speakers they had at old drive-in movies.

And while it may have seemed like a clever homage at the time, it gets old real fast, and it feels inexcusable, given that Springsteen had the very best studios and engineers at his disposal. I found myself wanting less reverb and a lusher mix, with the mids and trebles tamed and the low-mids and bass enhanced.

Second, the single most-noticeable instrumental element that stands out is the way keyboards are used on this album. Not THAT they are used, but HOW they are used, which is to say that they, unfortunately most of the time, DOMINATE and therefore detract.

This is also a tragedy of the studio process, as it turns out, because if you check out on YouTube some of the awesome footage from The River tour, you can hear that, onstage, the keyboards are WAY less forward in the mix, and the guitars and the bass, fortunately, stand out, giving the songs more bottom end and an edgier power, as opposed to the bubble gum sheen that the keyboards gave to the same songs on the album.

There’s no better example of this than the song Ramrod.

Here’s the cheesy studio version:

And here’s a live version from the tour:

If Springsteen released a live album from The River tour that had all of the songs from The River on it … well … I’m not saying it would be as great as his first four albums, but it would sound like it belonged in their ranks.

SO many of my favorite rock musicians were inspired by early Rock & Roll and give credit where credit is due, to artists who blazed a new trail.

But, there is a reason why that early Rock & Roll music sounded SO much better, to me at least, when played by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and other British Invasion bands, and it’s because they either reduced or left out entirely the cheesy pop elements and they rocked the shit out of the songs.