Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chuck Berry: The Fountainhead of 20th Century Rock by Peter Reum

Chuck Berry: The Fountainhead of 20th Century Rock by Peter Reum

Chuck Berry died today. His 90 years were lived on his terms. Almost any form of rock and roll, and later, rock music, owes a debt to him. Most rock groups, including such behemoths as The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones absorbed his music, and in a few cases directly, retitled it and said it was their own.

Mr. Berry absorbed all of the ugly drama of Jim Crow, responding to the pain with quiet dignity. His response to this most horrible experience was to fight it with a subtlety that undercut segregation.  Chuck Berry tunes brought White kids to listen to African-American music that helped many kids of all races and ethnicities to be more at ease with people from other races.

Songs like Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Promised Land, and others became the story of pride of being African-American and dignified over against White prejudice. As a child, Chuck Berry had been told to sit in the segregated theater balcony of the most beautiful theater in St. Louis, with the White kids sitting in the best seats on the main floor. He then reflected that he was asked to play a concert 50 years later in the same theater as an integrated show. He shook his head with a grimace, but also with a look of irony and a half smile.

Chuck Berry, like many African-Americans, was deeply scarred by his experiences with segregation.  It led to some time in prison right when rock and roll became Whiter. He saw that white men with similar convictions were being given probation without setting foot in prison. He traveled to gigs himself, without anyone else, with his electric guitar and perhaps a change of clothes. His list of demands in his standard contract specified that he must be paid in cash before he played a note. If things didn't look right to him, he would hop back in his rental car, and drive back to the airport post haste.

He did not pay a band to travel and play behind him. The concert promoter was responsible for that. If the band couldn't keep up, he would tell them to leave. He and his guitar would finish the show. He had an amusement park for a few years, and had detailed plans for it. For reasons that are often contradictory, the plans never got done.

As a family man, he was quietly protective. He adored his wife and treated her as a partner. They celebrated their 68th anniversary a few days before his death. There is so much to celebrate in Chuck Berry's life. His catalog of songs is the gold standard of rock.  His influence on other artists is unmatched. If Rock Music could be seen as a massive tree, Chuck Berry would be the roots.

Hail Hail Rock and Roll......Hail Hail Chuck Berry!

The reader is suggested to find The Great 28, a compilation of his hits.
For hard core Berry fans, Bear Family Records has a boxed set which includes his entire recorded output. I have it and love it!

Copyright 2017 by Peter Reum - All rights reserved

Friday, March 17, 2017

Lei'd In Hawaii: The Further Cooling Out of Brian Wilson by Peter Reum

Lei'd In Hawaii: The Further Cooling Out of Brian Wilson
by Peter Reum

Despite the avant-garde minimalist approach to recording Smiley Smile, sales of the album in the United States did not come close to the anticipated sales volume as projected by Capitol Records. The Smile period Brother Records employees had jumped ship throughout the first half of 1967, leaving a void that placed the business decisions for Brother Records with The Beach Boys themselves without being able to bounce ideas off Brother employees.

Contributing to the relative chaos that ensued after Smile was shelved, the legal discord between The Beach Boys and Capitol/EMI soured the company and The Beach Boys on trying to negotiate a new recording contract. The Heroes and Villains single rose to number 12 on the national music surveys, only to disappear much faster than previous Beach Boy hits. The disappointment of the group and Capitol in Smiley Smile led Capitol to suggest releasing Smile as an album with ten tracks following Smiley Smile.

Jon Hunt's Brilliant Art Workup for an Imagined Lei'd In Hawaii Front Cover

Brian Wilson's emotional stability was eroding. The rest of the Beach Boys group were witnesses to his mental health unraveling. It was evident that he had exhausted himself and had a nervous breakdown which continued to manifest itself symptomatically through the summer and fall of 1967, and winter of 1967/68. After the group submitted Smiley Smile to Capitol, the Heroes and Villains single did not make the top ten singles charts nationally. This was a severe disappointment to Brian, and his exhaustion and deteriorating emotional state gave the other Beach Boys some cause to take over the production duties faster than they anticipated. Also complicating the situation was the group's affection for mood altering chemicals, which at times clouded their judgement regarding song selection in live performance and in selection of newer tunes for future albums.

As was  the group's habit in the mid-Sixties, the group understood that the hype regarding Smile and the incredible success of Good Vibrations worldwide, had made their situation post-Smile-being -canned period seem like a broken wagon wheel on Donner Pass in a snow storm.

Given the numerous circumstances and the group's disaffection with Capitol, it is quite possible that The Beach Boys began to see that their remaining time on the contract with Capitol Records was best completed quickly, perhaps giving the group a chance to seek a new beginning with another record label. The decision to record Lei'd In Hawaii was  one way to partially fulfill the frequency of single and albums submissions to Capitol Records more quickly,  and also to conserve possible songs for a post Capitol album.

The history of Beach Boy live concerts in Honolulu, Hawaii was excellent historically for them, and the opportunity to perform two shows on successive nights to promote Smiley Smile was also attractive to the group.  The shows would inject needed income to Brother Records, at a time when the group's overall Stateside concert revenue had not met the success of the group in Asia, Australia, and Europe.

Lei'd In Hawaii Front and Back Covers-Spank Label Boot

The concert venue, Honolulu's International Center, was sold out for both nights-August 25 and 26, 1967. The five original Beach Boys made the trip, sans Bruce Johnston. Bruce's reason for not coming was later quoted that "it all got a little weird" with the Beach Boys. (Bellagio 10542-Andrew Doe, Given the recreational pharmaceuticals the group used during the Smiley Smile sessions, perhaps Bruce didn't want to imbibe, and bowed out gracefully. The Beach Boys had previously headlined a KPOI show at the Center in 1964. As in Europe, The Beach Boys were universally adored in Honolulu, having made reference to Hawaii in a number of their recordings.

The group had a rehearsal before the August 25th show, and it was taped. It was clear that Brian was enchanted by the Baldwin Organ that had been given to him as a gift by Murry Wilson.  They began with a stunning version of Their Hearts Were Full of Spring in a rehearsal for the first night of the 1967 Honolulu shows displays Carl, Dennis, Mike, Al, and Brian playing together in a manner that suggests that the group had not played the material they were presenting enough to be their usual seamless selves playing live. The group played a few tunes for the first time live, such as Heroes and Villains, Gettin' Hungry, and the Box Tops huge hit, The Letter. They also resurrected their first single 'A' side-Surfin', which they indicated they wanted to play to observe their fifth anniversary as a band. Brian's vocal presence was somewhat scattered during the first show, as the Beach Boys had not had him along for a show in roughly two and a half years. The screams of the doting audience seemed to mess with his being able to hear the rest of the group. He had brought his new Baldwin organ with him, electing not to play bass as was his wont. Thus, Carl and Alan were shifted at times to bass guitar, which was not their usual instrument. The shift in assignments for the Hawaiian shows seems to have impacted the effectiveness of the group playing live.

An Example of the "Tiki" Craze in the Sixties
Note the Name of the Club

After the opening group for the first show, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Beach Boys took the stage.The group's first show had some unusual tunes included. The vocals recorded for this show were muffled and at times asynchronous. The audience was extremely enthusiastic, and did not care whether the group was playing well or not on certain tunes. Girls would scream loudly, as if The Beatles were playing instead of The Beach Boys. It was very evident that the Hawaiian crowd was partial to The Beach Boys. There were times when it sounded as if the Beach Boys were not hearing each other well over the monitors. The concert opener, The Letter, seemed to surprise the crowd, and the group played and sang it well. The song "Hawaii" seemed to fire up the crowd, and they were incredibly loud for the rest of the first show. The group did a nice, if somewhat ragged version of You're So Good to Me next, with Brian's lead vocal coming through clearly for part of the song and almost off mike for other parts.

The crowd's enthusiasm was undoubtedly energizing for The Beach Boys, with the screams from girls in the audience being so loud that it distorted the group's mix coming live from the monitors. There were mistakes made by the group, but crowd enthusiasm was a needed and important factor in the group's ability to calm nervous feelings and deliver a solid concert. A pair of songs that were so-called "surf music" tunes followed. Surfer Girl was beautifully sung by Brian despite the loudness of the crowd. The Beach Boys' first single followed, which was pre-Capitol Records material. The first 'A' side by the Beach Boys, Surfin', was rendered respectfully and loved by the Hawaiian audience. The first live performance of the last tune cut for Smiley Smile, Gettin' Hungry, was well performed by a nervous group who wanted to sing the tune, but were not sure how well they would be received playing it. The group's worries  were allayed by the audience's reception, which was very enthusiastic.

Double Exposure-Brian Wilson First Show Honolulu Hawaii
The Beach Boys at The Lagoon Salt Lake City Utah 1968

After debuting Gettin' Hungry live, the group explained that the single's performers on the Brother Records label were Brian Wilson and Mike Love. A version of California Girls followed, with the introduction to the song being a bit ragged, with the group relaxing into the tune's middle and end, but being done more cleanly harmonically. Wouldn't It Be Nice was the first of two Pet Sounds tunes done in this show. The tune requires an almost athletic form of singing from the lead vocalist. Brian had some hiccups in the tune, which was workmanlike, but not as spectacular as the group's later performances through the years. Heroes and Villains was next, with Brian performing a demanding lead vocal clearly and in tune. The background vocals were still being worked out as of this first Hawaiian Show, and there were a few glitches therein. God Only Knows followed, with Carl delivering the lead vocal  in a manner that made this tune become a show stopper for him in later years. Despite ridiculous crowd noise, the song kept its stately feeling and was a highlight of this August 25th first show. Good Vibrations proved to be the concert's finale, and with the group having had several months to polish the performance of this intricate tune, Vibrations proved to be a show stopper.

The encore, which was Barbara Ann, was done in a light and faithful manner to the tune on the Capitol single version, and this tune continues to be a concert closer fifty years later. The concert MC informed the patrons of this show about the next show on the 26th of August, and thanked the Beach Boys and the crowd for a great show.

Native Pacific Islanders
Surfing Began With Them

On August 26, Dino, Desi, and Billy opened for The Beach Boys. There is some documentation extant that Bobbie Gentry also performed. The details of her appearance, if any, are missing in historical accounts of the shows. When the Beach Boys took the stage, crowd reaction was almost worshipful, with attentive, rapt listening, and the occasional tween screams. The song selections were fairly close to the previous night's show, with a few songs that the group didn't play showing up in the set list.

As in the August 25th first show, there were songs a fan would not hear stateside.  The instrumental tune called Hawthorne Boulevard made its first and only appearance in a concert by The Beach Boys. The Letter was moved into the next to last song in the set. Hawaii was performed second in this concert. Another tune that got a great audience reaction was when Alan Jardine did "Help You Rhonda" reversing the lead for a woman who just broke up with her long term boyfriend. Gettin' Hungry and Surfin' got positive crowd reactions. Barbara Ann was added as an encore tune. The rest of the songs in this show were identical to the August 25th first show.

One of the most interesting accounts of these shows was by a Wally Heider engineer who was retained by the Beach Boys for recording the two shows. His name is Dale Manquen, and he was in his second year of sound engineering when The Beach Boys flew him to Honolulu to be one of the engineers for the two Beach Boys concerts. While some professional engineers report having trouble getting paid for their recording work, Mr. Manquen reports in his blog at the Wally Heider blog site that "at least The Beach Boys knew how to treat a guy!"

Mr. Manquen in his blog notes that Wally Heider Studio-Los Angeles brought two eight track machines which were to be connected together to gain maximum flexibility. There were technical problems, and Bill Halverson, the chief engineer, asked Mr. Manquen to get things fixed, which happened to finally get finished just as Paul Revere and the Raiders finished their opening set.

In his conclusion to this blog entry, Mr. Manquen makes some observations about The Beach Boys performances. Regarding the quality of the tapes of the two shows he says:" The Beach Boys were so stoned during their performances that I don' t think any of the tracks we recorded were ever used."

Where the Boys Are-Waikiki Beach Mid Sixties

For the Beach Boys, their time in Hawaii was again an opportunity to help Brian's recovery from a major nervous collapse after shelving Smile. Brian's trip to Hawaii was the last live performance until he filled in for Mike Love until a trip with the Beach Boys in 1970 through the United States Northwest. The same year he performed a show at the Roxy in Los Angeles. He suffered terrible ear pain due to the loudness of the band in that small venue. Film was shot of the Hawaiian trip after the shows were done. Footage has appeared in several films through the years, most notably Beach Boys-An American Band and Endless Harmony.

After returning to California, The Beach Boys listened to the shows recorded in Hawaii. They wisely determined that both shows were not of the quality needed for release. Having spent a small fortune recording the shows, the band decided to try rerecording the shows at Wally Heider Studios in Los Angeles September 11, 1967, and in two dates at Brian's home studio. They spent several hours recording a number of songs performed at the Hawaiian shows.  These included rehearsals for Surfin', Surfer Girl, California Girls, Good Vibrations. There were new versions of The Letter, Surfer Girl, You're So Good to Me, California Girls, Help Me Rhonda, 6 takes of God Only Knows, and Heroes and Villains (with Brian's send up on himself and Mike Love narrated by Mike over the track to Heroes and Villains.

Image result for The Beach Boys Lei'd In Hawaii

Full Group Photo August 25, 1967 First Rehearsal for Hawaiian Concert

What is left of these shows is probably what many Beach Boys concerts taped in the early and mid Sixties sounded like. Even before Lei'd In Hawaii, Brian had to remix, and occasionally replay tunes done in concert due to crowd noise, vocal and instrument mistakes, and remote sound system failures. Even today, the act of playing live is a huge task for many rock and jazz bands. Is there enough material from Hawaii to issue a live cd or digital recording of what is a very unusual time in live Beach Boys Music? That Brian played both of these shows, despite his mental health concerns, and sounded great on many tunes at a time when touring was not something he usually did, is somewhat of a minor miracle. The concerts were the only performance of a few of the songs live, and the material is deserving of release for historical purposes, as well as being the only live Brian shows between 1965 and 1970.

Regarding the results of the taping of the two shows, the finishing of a final product of the numerous efforts to assemble a record that satisfied The Beach Boys and Capitol Records was not to be. There were sessions in Wally Heider Studio-Los Angeles that were targeted to be used for completing a record quickly that would start to get The Beach Boys moving toward the timelines in their Capitol contract.

The tape of the proposed album was roughly 90% complete, and had been mixed to mono. Apparently, only crowd noises were needed to have a final product. The unfinished tape was a 1/2 inch 4 track reel labeled "Hawaii Concert." The mono tracks were left open to accommodate the addition of crowd noise. The reel included You've Got to Hide Your Love Away and Barbara Ann from the October 1966 concert tape from Ann Arbor. The remaining tracks were from 1967. Most of the tracks used were from studio work.  The only song that proved to be from Hawaii was the lovely Their Hearts Were Full of Spring from the September 25th rehearsal. For some of the October 11th and undated Brian's Home Studio sessions, there were two mixes of sessions tracks. It is unclear as to whether the group was planning to select the best whole song take, or to merge the best of two versions into one.

One unknown but interesting fact is that the version of With a Little Help From My Friends most likely cut at Brian's home studio was set for release on Lei'd in Hawaii. It appears in the song list on the nearly completed master tape. The full track lineup, as listed on the nearly finished Lei'd In Hawaii album tape from the Brother Records Library is as follows:

The Letter
You're So Good to Me
Help Me (You) Rhonda
California Girls
God Only Knows
Surfer Girl
Sloop John B
With a Little Help From My Friends
Barbara Ann
You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
Their Hearts Were Full of Spring
Good Vibrations

The amount of recorded material post Smiley Smile and pre-Wild Honey was unusual in that Brian used his new organ on 11 of the tunes cut for Lei'd In Hawaii songs on the nearly completed master tape. The reasons for the canning of the album can only be guessed about. Perhaps the group felt they needed a new studio album. Maybe the new Baldwin organ sounded too strange. could be that costs were driving the album too high at a time when the cash flow was tight.

There was one other track recorded during this period, a studio version of Game of Love, a hit for Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. Released on the superb Sunshine Tomorrow (1967) double archival set, the version is probably more experimental than intended to be released. As was wont for the Beach Boys to do, their dalliance with this hit remains somewhat of a mystery that only a Beach Boy present at the session could answer.

The group chose to can the material from the Lei'd in Hawaii period. Brian Wilson and Mike Love wrote instead a group of songs with a funky feel...and along came Wild Honey. Songs from the Hawaiian Shows were released on the Sunshine Tomorrow double cd, and offer some perspective on the two concerts.

Text copyright 2017 by Peter Reum-All rights reserved