What If…? The story behind the album:
When it came time to make a new record my imagination cooked up what you could call a work of “audio historical fiction.” But really it’s just a continuation of all the music I loved as a teenager in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s.
At the end of that decade, a summit meeting occurs, involving many great San Francisco and British rock acts, along with Motown, Stax, and New Orleans rhythm and blues and soul artists. After the ‘Summer Of Love’ in 1967 (if you’d actually been there you’d say the love really happened in1966) and Altamont 1969, music in this dimension got a little more separated between white and black, Eastern and Western. Locally, San Francisco, Marin, the South Bay, Oakland grew walls between them. Everything got polarized. The early 60’s promise of connectedness in fact got disconnected. So let’s re-connect: the British Invasion and Psychedelic rock and soul like Sly And The Family Stone make a lovely combination.
“What if…” there were no agents, no managers, no record company suits controlling (more like throttling) the musical alliances? I could imagine Hendrix, Beatles and The Memphis Horns cutting a track together with some Indian musicians. Smokey Robinson writing with John Lennon about the “we are more popular than Jesus” controversy? That would be interesting…
There are precedents to the fantasy in (this) reality, too. The Beatles used Billy Preston ( who’d played with Ray Charles, Aretha Frankin), on the “Let It Be” album and later on “Abbey Road” (standout tracks She’s So Heavy, Get Back, Come Together). The Fabs also wisely tapped into playing with contemporaries like Eric Clapton and Nicky Hopkins doing great but un-credited solos on tracks like While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and Revolution (the single). Hendrix would often be on tour, get paid, book a studio and then invite whoever was in town—Steve Winwood, Buddy Miles, Jack Cassidy, Brian Jones—to just jam, have fun, and make records while they were at it.
I loved the communal, light-on-the-ego approach to all of this as it serves the music rather than exploiting it.
Before Revolver few people know that The Beatles had actually had booked Stax in Memphis and Motown (then, Hitsville USA) in Detroit to do such an album themselves, in 1966. They asking for Booker T And The MGs to be present for the Memphis sessions, and they even asked Holland Dozier Holland to write songs for them for the detroit potion. The Beatles loved American soul music, from Ray Charles to Sam Cooke to Smokey Robinson to Wilson Pickett- and they wanted to drink from the samewell.
The aforementioned John Lennon “more popular than Jesus” misunderstanding threw a cosmic wrench in all these US recording plans, prompting Southern State Beatle LP burnings, death threats from the KKK, condemnation from churches and others. Not a good time to record in the nation’s hot spots. Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis in 1968. Detroit had riots. Booker T and the MG’s—the Stax house band who backed Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding—did their own version of Abbey Road themselves later, calling it ‘McElmore Avenue,’ the name of the street the Stax studio was on. A handful of Psychedelic groups like Traffic, Moby Grape, Vanilla Fudge, Sons Of Champlin, Procol Harum and The Rascals were very competent soul and rock players with deep blues roots, they were on the same path, never quite reached the level of pop success as others like Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, or the Motown label as a whole, but made some amazing records.
When the lyrics started coming to me for these songs that seemed to fit this “movie”, they took on a new form: beyond trippy 60s lyrics ( which I loved, one pill makes you smaller… ) which had already been done so well, what if these artists were concerned about the problems of the future, like global warming, racism, corporate corruption, big brother mindlessness? I remember things like Spirit’s Fresh Garbage , “It’s Natures Way”, or Jimi’s “1983, a merman I shall be”, “2525” by Zager and Evans, if that could be considered psychedelic- were examples of that line of thinking.
The 60s were generally sort of naive, innocent, but awkward about politics and the environment. The ‘freedom’ thing was there; the ‘get high’ was there, but not a lot of ‘save the planet’- yet. That came more from the soul acts—Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Me (The Ecology)/What’s Goin On, Sly’ Stone’s Everyday People and Stand really stood out. As well as Bob Dylan, of course, but that’s another movie. What’s in a name? Retro Psychedelic Rock Funk Gospel Soul Swampy American Roots music with Cosmic Consciousness Considered doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. Trip? Maybe. I saw an opportunity to continue exploring that cave.
I just let the ideas flow and let the songs write themselves and had a lot of fun. Most lyrics were written in the wee hours during bouts with insomnia when I was worried about our fates. It was both good therapy and I like nonsense/ common sense of stuff written when you aren’t quite all there. Once I turned on the tap it didn’t stop: 71 new tunes popped up, fully formed as if they were just waiting patiently to be realized. Not having the time or resources to make six albums like this I narrowed it down to twelve tunes plus a cover of the one Beatles song I sing with the White Album Ensemble, Harrison’s lament for Los Angeles, Blue Jay Way, for the CD’s final lucky 13.
I started the project by sending a few bare guitar tracks to my former bandmate in the Doobie Brothers: Chet McCracken for drum overdubs in LA back in 2009. When I heard what he sent back, I knew it was going to work. Chet’s grooves never failed to make me smile even though two of those songs never got completed and will grace the next CD. I called in as many favors as possible, asking for and getting extraordinary performances… on a laptop in a room somewhere. Then there were the lucky breaks, like doing a gig with Jerry Martini, Sly’s sax player for 40 years in the Family Stone. Next afternoon we had breakfast and played some tunes while he was still in town and he wanted to play on the stuff, along with Mic Gillette, the amazing trumpeter from the original Tower of Power and my old high school buddy. Heaven’s Horn Section for this LP. He met John Lennon in Italy, and said Sly loved listening to Sgt Pepper’s. It’s always a teen dream come true to play with Jerry Miller of Moby Grape. As a little blues snob, Miller was the only white guitarist I liked. I met him when he gave me a ride hitchiking in the Santa cruz mountains when I was 16 and we’ve played together off and on ever since. When he came to Santa Cruz 2012 for a gig I got him in for a couple of guitar solos and backing vocals. Sweet!
I’m gifted with a musical DNA pool to tap into that includes people known for their work with Moby Grape, Sons Of Champlin, The Doobie Brothers, Ravi Shankar, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Starship, Maria Muldaur, Todd Rundgren, The Tubes, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and more. My son, Kalen, (MEAR ONE) again contributes his art in Surrender on the back cover. The front cover is a collage of a Mandala by Vicki Boyle, Kalen’s mother (RIP), with a picture of me playing at the Monterey Blues Festival by Marilyn Stringer. My partner, Connie Troupe, who is a talented artist and singer helped me with graphics, CD packaging design and harmonies. It’s all ‘interrelated’ on many levels. My cousin, Shannon said at Thanksgiving dinner once that “We are free (these days), free to fall in line.” I took that line and ran with it for a Moby Grape-flavored, rockin protest song Free To Fall in Line. Thanks, Shannon Ockerman! The drums are by Fuzzy John Oxindine, who’d played and recorded with Moby Grape, and the high vocal is by Omar Spence, son of Skip, who founded and wrote much of the Grape. Omar is now singing the “John ” parts in the WAE.
Going to the Fillmore, Avalon, Golden Gate Park, or The Polo Fields at Stanford often as I could turned me into a rabid and lifelong fan of most of the music coming out in late 1960s and early 1970s. Seeing Hendrix, Butterfield, Ravi Shankar and all the great acts of the day was a blessed musical training. This was a time when Santana, Sons of Champlin and Elvin Bishop would play regularly at my High School dances. My first pro gig was with Quicksilver Messenger Service (Fresh Air, What You Gonna Do About Me?) at the Fillmore West / Carousel back in 1971 and I’ve been playing around internationally ever since. The Sons Of Champlin, who opened that show, was the first band I ever saw with a Hammond organ (I played for Bill later, during his pre-Chicago days in LA) and I’ve been playing with guys from Moby Grape since 1969. These bands make up most of my “bandwidth” in the San Francisco scene (and Sly killed me every show) so these are my strongest obvious local influences.
My favorite band out of the UK was the Yardbirds with their rebellious guitars, philosophical lyrics, blues base and hints of musical Eastern Intrigue, which set the stage for the mighty Led Zeppelin who refined, defined and in many ways dominated the rest of the 1970s. I also loved the Kaleidoscope (along with Moby Grape—a big influence on Zeppelin) who were possibly the most eclectic band ever. In a set they would go from mind-numbingly complex Turkish Oud 7/8 suites, to Leiber and Stoller rock and roll, Duke Ellington compositions… they were virtuosos, effortlessly turning on musical dimes.
For the past ten years I’ve been playing in the White Album Ensemble, who cover Beatles music that they never performed live between 1966 and 1970. I thought a version of Blue Jay Way (a number I sing with WAE when we perform Magical Mystery Tour) would be appropriate- but with the James Brown “Funky Drummer” beat (drummer David Tucker wisely advised me not to try the even funkier “Cold Sweat” beat- a bridge too far. )
Barry Phillips’ cello and dilrhuba complete the circle. Barry was featured playing on Concert for George on cello and works with the WAE often- but I first heard his name on a PBS radio interview, he was talking about playing with Ravi Shankar and of his love for Blue Jay Way. I called Barry- and we’ve worked together ever since; a prime example of some of the emerging coincidences surrounding this little fantasy project. His sound greatly enhances the integrity—sonically and geographically—along with the amazing Carnatic (southern Indian style) vocals of the lovely KResmi of India, now Maryland, on Standing in the Light. I emailed an MP3 to her, she liked it, she went into a studio, sang on the track and emailed it back, wow! Barry also added to the string section of Love, You Can Take It With You and on the more Motown-like track What If…. Not being able to afford a symphony, I’d have Barry lay down a few cello tracks, then I’d put down a bunch of Ebow guitars doing the same notes on various Gibsons and Fenders and amps. An Ebow was first used on 1969’s Ramble On, by Led Zeppelin, a magnetic force field that vibrates guitar stings making it sound violin- like, thus “electric bow”. Though it is an illusion, it is all real instruments, I avoided synthesizers on this record, sticking with Hammond Organ, Clavinet, Wurlitzer, Rhodes, acoustic piano, electric sitar, trumpet, mandolin, many acoustic and electric guitars.
My friend and fellow B3 player, Paul Carrubba, showed me his beautiful red “James Bond” 1965 Aston Martin DB5 and I think wouldn’t it be cool for this 60’s, UK-themed record to pose in something so iconic for the inside cover shots? Then Carruba tells me that Paul and George both drove and owned the same year and model DB5. And no, of course its not a real shot of a Hammond in the trunk. For one thing, it would displace the machine gun turrets and oil dispensers. “What If” George had Photoshop?
I got and modified an electric sitar extensively. These things are fun but complete garbage as a musical instrument. I later read that George got the first Danelectro Coral sitar but Spencer Davis borrowed it for years so he never did any Beatles tracks with it. But, he would have. Virtual authenticity! He would have if he could have but he couldn’t so he didnt!
The song Really Want To Thank You describes ultimately what this is about: a teenage dream, revisited, with grown up 2012 problems to deal with. I honestly feel the same way now, it was real. I hope you enjoy it! This is organic homemade artisan farmers market music. It is ripe with influences, but made from scratch. I could not have made it without the help of my friends and family, on both sides of the curtain. Peace—Dale O 12/12/12