David Gans (tnf) Wed 17 Sep 03 12:53
The inkwell is happy to welcome RICHIE UNTERBERGER back for the sequel to last year's visit. Richie's new book, EIGHT MILES HIGH: Folk Rock's Flight from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock, is the sequel to last year's "Turn! Turn! Turn!" Richie Unterberger is the author of "Eight Miles High: Folk-Rock's Flight from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock," published by Backbeat Books in summer 2003. The book documents the growth of folk-rock rock from mid-1966 to 1970, examining its diversification into folk-rock-psychedelia, country-rock, the birth of the singer-songwriting movement, and the origination of a new strain of idiosyncratically British folk-rock, as well as its key influence on the explosion of rock festivals. It's the sequel to "Turn! Turn! Turn!: The Folk-Rock Revolution," published by Backbeat in 2002 (and discussed last year in inkwell.vue topic 160). That book covered folk-rock from its roots in the folk revival through the birth of electric folk-rock in the mid- 1960s at the hands of the Byrds and Bob Dylan and the rise to stardom of the Lovin' Spoonful, the Mamas & the Papas, Donovan, and Simon & Garfunkel. Both volumes draw on well over 100 first-hand interviews with the era's per- formers, producers, session musicians, record executives, and journalists. Richie's other books include "Unknown Legends of Rock 'n' roll" (Backbeat, 1998), which profiles 60 underappreciated cult rock artists of all styles and eras. His "Urban Spacemen & Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators & Eccentric Visionaries of '60s Rock" (Backbeat, 2000) contains more in-depth surveys of 20 underrated greats of the era, again drawing on dozens of first- hand interviews. Unterberger is also author of "The Rough Guide to Music USA," a guidebook to the evolution of regional popular music styles throughout America in the twentieth century, and the travel guidebook "The Rough Guide to Seattle." A senior editor for the All Music Guide, con- tributor to MOJO magazine, and liner note author for several dozen reissue compilations, he lives in San Francisco. More information about Richie Un- terberger and his books can be found on his Web site at www.richieunterberger.com. Ed Ward has been the "rock historian" on NPR's Fresh Air for the past 18 years, a job he got after co-authoring Rock of Ages, the Rolling Stone His- tory of Rock and Roll. He started listening to the stuff in 1957 and hasn't stopped yet, although he went on hiatus as a folkie until he realized Another Side of Bob Dylan was a rock record that lacked a band, a mistake Jim McGuinn didn't make. He has written for countless magazines and newspapers since making his debut in Broadside in 1965, and is currently at work on a Secret Book Project. He lives in Berlin, but hopes not to for much longer.
Berliner (captward) Thu 18 Sep 03 10:54
Richie! Glad to have you back! It's like you never left. Eight Miles High was, as I understand it, split off from a huge manuscript you turned in covering folk-rock from its inception until 1970, your more-or-less arbitrary cutoff date. Can you tell us why Turn! Turn! Turn! ended where it did and/or Eight Miles High started where it did? Was there a watershed in the history of this stuff that made it easy to divide the book?
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 18 Sep 03 13:55
Originally, what ended up spread across two books was intended to be published in one book. When I came up with such a huge amount of material, the publisher decided to split it into two volumes. My task was then to chooose an appropriate dividing line that would manage to split the story about halfway, so that each book was about the same length. (As it turned out, "Eight Miles High" was a little longer" than "Turn! Turn! Turn!") The juncture I chose for ending "Turn! Turn! Turn!," both because it came about halfway through my story of 1960s folk-rock and because it was dramatic, was Bob Dylan's famous and mysterious motorcycle accident in July 1966. After that, he withdrew from the public eye for about 18 months, leaving folk-rock without its leading songwriter. As it happens, this took place about a year or so after folk-rock became a huge commercial success, and about a year and a half or so after Dylan and the Byrds, in my view the most important folk-rock originators, had recorded their first truly important folk-rock records. If only in hindsight, it was the end of folk-rock's first phase. It was the one that saw folk and rock blend for the first time with exciting, important artistic results and commercial/social impact. It was also one that saw many key performers (mostly, though not all, from the acoustic folk world) go into folk-rock in the Byrds and Dylan's wake: the Lovin' Spoonful, the Mamas & the Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, Donovan, and others. The Byrds' single "Eight Miles High" was actually covered in "Turn! Turn! Turn!" But I choose it as the jumping off point for the second volume (in which I cover the single in considerably more depth than in "Turn!") because it was a signpost to the eclecticism and experimentation that would make folk-rock yet richer and more innovative for the rest of the 1960s. It was important in and of itself that the Byrds now showed themselves capable of coming up with original material on par with the Dylan and Pete Seeger songs they had electrified for their earlier hits. But also, they were now bringing in the influence of John Coltrane's free jazz and Ravi Shankar's ragas to pioneer psychedelic music. Although, as the Byrds' Roger McGuinn told me, at heart he views "Eight Miles High" as a folk song -- one that tells a story, in this case of the Byrds' first trip to England, "Eight Miles High" being the height of the airplane that took them over. (Though many interpreted it as a reference to taking drugs and getting high that way.) In a broader sense, this paved a way for the diversification of folk-rock into several unexpected areas throughout the rest of the 1960s, as explored by the Byrds and others. There was folk-rock's move into psychedelia; many, perhaps most, of the best Californian psychedelic bands boasted musicians who'd come from folk backgrounds, and had played a purer form of folk-rock before heading into acid rock. In a rootsier but also unexpected direction, many folk-rock musicians -- again, many from California, the Byrds being an example -- headed into back-to-basics country-rock at the end of the 1960s. Folk-rock also paved the way for the birth of the singer-songwriter movement, with the beginning of the careers of Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and more cultish talents like Tim Buckley and Fred Neil -- artists who (at least at their outset) kept guitar-oriented folky songs at the core of their music, but embellished these with adventurous arrangements that weren't purely acoustic, and with literary, poetic lyrics of a different nature than those heard in songs in the earlier '60s folk revival. There was also a new strain of British folk-rock that looked to British Isles traditional folk sources as well as American folk and folk-rock influences, as heard in the work of Fairport Convention, Pentangle, the Incredible String Band, and many others. While all this was going on, of course, Dylan made a dramatic re-entry into the record business with "John Wesley Harding" and "Nashville Skyline," also recording the Basement Tapes with the Band, although these wouldn't be commercially available for a long time (with many of those recordings still remaining unreleased). In his absence, folk-rock had continued to flower; with his return, he again exerted a strong influence, though in a much more crowded field than the one he had left in mid-1966. I did have "Eight Miles High" cut off chronologically at 1970, allowing room for discussion of a few especially important recordings and events at the very beginning of the 1970s. I had to do this so that the books' length didn't become overwhelming. But also, it's my feeling that the era 1965-69 was folk-rock's golden age, and that's the one I wanted to focus on in the two books.
Berliner (captward) Fri 19 Sep 03 03:34
True. It morphed into "singer-songwriter" after that, or "country-rock," or whatever. One thing that makes me insane about these two books, something that's come up again since I began re-reading Eight Miles High, is the vast amount of stuff that's not easily found in the stores these days, stuff I want to hear. A lot of this is the also-rans, the lost obscurities of the period like Blackburn and Snow and the Blue Things. Your writing about this stuff makes me want to hear it immediately, and no can do. What -- if any -- were your big discoveries of recordings made during the period covered by this book? Were there any acknowledged "classics" you found out you'd missed somehow? Any you felt overrated?
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 19 Sep 03 08:16
Here's a short list of the best records I discovered during, or shortly before, writing the book: Blackburn & Snow: Something for Your Head. This Bay Area male-female duo (Jeff Blackburn and Sherry Snow) released just two singles while they were together, but now those and many unreleased tracks are available on a Big Beat CD in the UK. It's in the early Jefferson Airplane style, perhaps slightly more country-folk-oriented. The Dillards, Copperfields. Their prior album (1968's "Wheatstaw Suite") gets more accolades as a country-rock-bluegrass landmark of sorts, but this 1970 follow-up is almost as good and similarly eclectic. Dion, Sit Down Old Friend. Dion goes unplugged? Yes, and it's quite good. From 1970. Eclection, Eclection. Sole 1968 album from UK group sounds like mixture of early Airplane, Seekers, Bee Gees, and Mamas & Papas. The Gentle Soul, The Gentle Soul. Sole 1968 album from female-male duo of Pamela Polland and Rick Stanley, like a rootsier version of the Stone Poneys (Linda Ronstadt's first group). The Gosdin Brothers, Sounds of Goodbye. 1968 album by Vern Gosdin and his brother Rex an extremely obscure quality early country-rock album, very much like Gene Clark's early solo work in spots. Guilbeau & Parsons, Louisiana Rain. Almost wholly overlooked early country-rock from Gib Guilbeau and the pre-Byrds Gene Parsons. Dan Hicks, Early Muses. Very amusing and wistful previously unreleased 1967-68 demos, like a link between the Charlatans (Hicks's first band) and Hicks's much more western-swingy solo work. The Incredible String Band, U. Overlooked 1970 double-album is about as eclectic as *anything* released back then. The Johnstons, Give a Damn/Bitter Green. Late-'60s Irish group did very light folk-pop-rock like an enjoyably light slant on Faiport Convention. Melanie, Melanie. Liking Melanie is not going to win you hip points at any critics' convention, but this 1969 album is surprisingly strong, and much more serious than her more childish well-known hits. Linda Perhacs, Parallelograms. The "acid folk" Joni Mitchell, on a 1970 album that sold virtually nothing. Satya Sai Maitreya Kali, Apache/Inca. Half extremely capable Buffalo Springfield-Monkees hybrids (produced by Mike Nesmith), half spooky Skip Spence-like acoustic "acid folk" tunes. John Stewart & Buffy Ford, Signals Through the Glass. This was Stewart's first 1968 album. It's routinely dismissed by his fans (at least the ones I've come across), and I don't understand why. It's a very unusual mix of early singer-songwriter, troubadour folk, and orchestrated California pop. The Strawbs, The Strawbs. Haunting British folk-rock on the band's first album, from 1969. Dino Valenti, Dino Valente [sic]. Weird, spectral, self-absorbed hippie folk-rock from the guy who wrote "Get Together." Steve Young, Rock, Salt & Nails. Very good moody country-rock singer-songwriter; this has the original version of "Seven Bridges Road," later done by the Eagles. These records are all very good, but I should note that I wouldn't say they're quite "classics" on the order of, say, "Buffalo Springfield Again," Jefferson Airplane's "Surrealistic Pillow," or the Byrds' "Younger Than Yesterday." But not many people know about them, and they're worth hearing. Incidentally, many of them are available on CD, with a few exceptions (like the Gosdin Brothers LP, which is very hard to find). I'll cover Ed's question about any acknowledged classics I'd missed or ones I felt overrated in the next response.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 19 Sep 03 08:36
Maybe it's a function of my close familiarity with the subject before starting the book, but it seems like my opinions about acknowledged classics in the genre didn't shift one way or the other in the course of writing it. Having heard the albums for 20-30 years or so, they were pretty firmly embedded in my consciousness. As for albums that I might have appreciated more after re-scrutinizing them, they might include Leonard Cohen's first album "Songs of Leonard Cohen," which sounds yet stranger and more unique when you're putting it up against the many other early singer-songwriting efforts of the era. I don't know if Judy Collins's "Wildflowers" and "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" albums are considered "classic," but I think they're kind of underrated and little-discussed these days, although they sold well at the time. To my generation (under-45) at least, she's sometimes dismissed as a soft-rock/adult contemporary singer if she's mentioned at all, but her '60s work was pretty innovative. Joni Mitchell's first album is usually not considered among her best in the critiques I've read, but it's actually my favorite, with a very sparse and haunted atmosphere that her subsequent records didn't have. Poco's "Pickin' Up the Pieces" is one of my favorite country-rock records, but doesn't seem to get its due, critics giving a lot more attention to the Flying Burrito Brothers and Byrds' late-'60s country-rock records. For overrated records, this is bound to step on some toes, but here goes: With the exception of the classic "Lay Lady Lay," I really find Bob Dylan's "Nashville Skyline" lightweight and dull. It split opinion at the time it was released too, but I've come across vociferous defenders of the record. Gene Clark's solo work is coming in for a lot of revisionist accolades these days, but I just don't hear it. It sounds to me far inferior to what he did as a member of the Byrds. Crosby, Stills, Nash (& Young)'s albums I always found pretty uneven and not as great as their massive sales figures would suggest. Fairport Convention's "Liege & Lief" is often singled out as the greatest British folk-rock album, and it did undeniably mark an important achievement inasfar as it went back to British traditional folk music and rocked it up. But I don't think the album's as good as what Fairport did when they were blending a pretty even balance of original material, covers of American folk-rock singer-songwriters, and folk-rock arrangements of traditional folk songs. The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Gram Parsons, to me aren't as exciting and innovative as they're often built up to be. The Incredible String Band's early records are worshiped by some, but I find their dissonance and drone jarring in large doses. James Taylor's "Sweet Baby James" was a huge seller and hugely influential, but not so great to my ears, and it also opened the doors for some of the more indolent soft rock of the 1970s.
Berliner (captward) Fri 19 Sep 03 09:02
That first list is incredibly tantalizing: you've made me *really* interested in hearing Blackburn & Snow, and I guess you know that all of a sudden all the trendy young Brit stars are talking about how they've just discovered U by the ISB. I got the Gentle Soul reissue, too, and was very pleased that it wasn't as mushy as I'd remembered; some good stuff there. And Judy Collins' sort of chamber-folk approach might be hard to "hear" in retrospect, although she, I think, kicked Sandy Denny's ass with her version of "Who Knows Where The Time Goes." That said, though, I gotta take issue with you on Liege & Lief. That has always been one of my favorite records, mostly due to Sandy's ferocious version of "Tam Lin," which, even after a decade of listening to the stuff, sort of got my "I didn't know you could do that with folk music" award. The album's version of "Matty Groves" isn't bad, either, and the band at this point was strong enough that when she left they went on to produce yet another of my favorite all-time records, Full House, where the emotional freight her voice had been carrying was taken up by Richard Thompson's snaky, weird, and definitely *not* folkie guitar. I'm pretty much with you on the rest of the overrated stuff: I remember just before the first CSN album came out, Ahmet Ertegun (head of their label) was saying "I've never heard singing like this," and then it came out, all full of static harmonies, and I thought, Hey, I should buy Ahmet a Stanley Brothers album. The Burritos and Gram both fall into my "Huh?" category (and Emmylou "Ice Queen" Harris by association -- wow! look at everybody throwing things at me!) and as for the ISB's first couple, that reminds me of a story. I was working at the Princeton University Store (I wasn't a student; it was a job) selling hi-fis and this nice lady down in the camera department saw me heading to the record department one lunch-break. "My son has just produced an album," she said, all proud. "Really, Mrs. Boyd?" I said, and she showed me the ISB's first album. I didn't have the money to buy it right then, and I'm glad I didn't because someone else in the house where I was living did and I hated it -- still do. Some day I'm going to have to ask Joe about how he got over there (I've already told him the doting Mom story), but there were several Americans buzzing around the English scene around then, weren't there? Joe from Princeton, Shel Talmy from, I think, Nashville, and Paul Simon (I once stood at the railroad station where he wrote "Homeward Bound") stealing "Parsley Sage etc" from Martin Carthy... What were all the Yanks doing over there, anyway? Did they make a big difference, do you think?
Berliner (captward) Fri 19 Sep 03 09:48
(And, dammit, in the process of writing that last one, I managed to get "Tam Lin" stuck in my head, where it's now living happily. That's the damn thing about folk music: it does that!)
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 19 Sep 03 10:05
Cool story about Joe Boyd's mom, Ed. As Joe Boyd told it to me, he went over to England in 1964 as the tour manager with a gospel tour. He didn't move there then (as some know, he was working the sound at Dylan's famous 1965 Newport Folk Festival electric concert). But then he went to London in November 1965 to work for Elektra Records over there. Although his work as a UK-based Elektra employee actually didn't last long, I think that gave him a big springboard into doing production work in the UK (with major folk-rockers Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band, Nick Drake, and others). Joe should really do a book of his own about his music business experiences. He's worked with an incredible variety of important artists (not just in the '60s), and unlike some such figures that write autobiographies, he can actually write well, based on some pieces of his I've read. Shel Talmy was a Los Angeles recording engineer before moving to England in 1962. Briefly, the story was he was in England on vacation, thought he'd see if he could do some work while he was over there, and took some acetates over that Nik Venet (a producer of some note who'd worked with the Beach Boys and others) had done. With Venet's permission, he went to Dick Rowe of Decca Records (famous both for turning down the Beatles and signing up the Rolling Stones) and played a couple of them -- the Beach Boys' "Surfin' Safari" and Lou Rawls's "Music in the Air" -- to Rowe and passed them off as his own productions. In Shel's words, "Nobody picked up the phones those days to find out if you were bullshitting or not. They wrote letters, a couple of which went to people [in the U.S.] that knew me. And so they wrote back, saying, yes, of course he had done all these things. By the time they found out it was all bullshit, I'd already had my first hit, and they were very gentlemanly. Never mentioned that they knew that I knew that they knew." Anyway, Talmy went on to produce a lot of British records in the 1960s, most notably the early hits by the Kinks and the Who. He wasn't an especially folk- or folk-rock-oriented producer, but he did like the music, so he was happy to work with Pentangle and Roy Harper in the late 1960s. He hooked up with Pentangle as the result of knowing yet another expatriate American, Jo Lustig, who was managing Pentangle and numerous other folk or folk-rock acts in the UK, like Ralph McTell. Another of Lustig's clients was yet another expatriate American, folksinger Julie Felix, who though not an impressive singer was an important figure in the UK media as a television show host for music programs, on which she'd introduce not only British artists, but visiting American ones like Leonard Cohen. As far other American musicians based in the UK for a time, as Ed notes Paul Simon's the outstanding example. He lived there in 1965 and put out his first solo album (the rare "Paul Simon Songbook") on CBS UK in 1965, with solo versions of some songs (including "The Sound of Silence" and "I Am a Rock") much better known via the hit Simon & Garfunkel renditions. He produced an album around the same time for another American expatriate, Jackson C. Frank, an early boyfriend of Sandy Denny, who covered several of Frank's songs; Al Stewart played second guitar on the Frank album. Shawn Phillips was an important sideman to Donovan during the "Sunshine Superman" period. Also, James Taylor started his solo career as a UK-based artist for the Beatles' Apple label, though his UK stint didn't last long and he soon returned to America. Also, Joni Mitchell had an extended visit in the UK in 1967 when Joe Boyd brought her over to play support on a British Incredible String Band tour in autumn 1967 before she had a recording contract, helped her get a British publishing deal, and introduced some of her songs into Fairport Convention?s repertoire. As to what the Yanks were doing over there and whether they made a big difference, it's important to note that there weren't *huge* numbers of Americans over there, and they didn't make a *huge* difference. But they made a notable one, one which isn't noted too much in rock histories. I think for the important business/production figures (Boyd, Talmy, and Lustig), by chance and opportunism, they'd found more opportunities to make quick headways into the music business in the UK than they had at home. But in part I think this was because being American gave them some advantages. I hesitate to make blanket generalizations because they might come across as unfair stereotypes, but I do think that, generally speaking, the British folk scene was staider and more conservative than the American one, or for that matter than the British Invasion rock scene. (Which is one reason that, with the exception of Donovan, there wasn't the same deluge of folkies going electric in 1965-66 that there was in the US, though that's a large issue that might be better to address in a separate question.) Some Americans boasted an adventurous can-do attitude that was relatively rare on the UK folk and folk-rock scene, and I think made it easier for people of limited experience such as Joe Boyd to quickly make an impact than it would have been for them back home. As for why people like Simon, Taylor, and Phillips were over there, I think the novelty of their being American might have helped them stand out from the crowd more in the UK than at home, and again given them some recording and concert opportunities not as easily available to them back in the States. I think Simon and Bob Dylan (who made extremely successful and controversial tours of the UK in the mid-1960s) helped give some courage to folk-rooted performers in the UK to start writing their own contemporary material, in a scene where deviation from traditional forms wasn't as encouraged as it was in the US (and was often seen, inappropriately in my view, as something of a commercial sellout). Al Stewart was certainly substantially influenced by Paul Simon. Not that I would put Stewart on the same level as Simon by any means, but he did do some worthwhile things in his early career.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 19 Sep 03 10:19
As a shameless plug, I should add that for those interested in finding out more about Shel Talmy, I did a whole chapter on him in my book "Urban Spacemen & Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators & Eccentric Visionaries of '60s Rock" (Backbeat Books, 2000). There's also a transcript of a long interview I did with Talmy on my website, at www.richieunterberger.com/talmy.html. My website also has the transcript of an interview I did with Joe Boyd, at www.richieunterberger.com/boydfolk.html. Ed's high opinion of "Liege & Lief" comes as no surprise since I came across his Rolling Stone review of the album during my research, and quoted part of it in the book. As he wrote, "England has finally gotten herself her very own equivalent to the Band...By calling Fairport an English equivalent to the Band, I mean that they have soaked up enough of the tradition of their countryfolk that it begins to show all over, while they still maintain their roots in rock." And speaking of American influence on the British folk-rock scene, it's interesting that although "Liege & Lief" is thought of as an extremely English take on folk-rock, it was in fact heavily influenced by the Band, who were thought of as an extremely American group. As Joe Boyd told me, "Music from Big Pink came out, that was a big influence on them. They were very stunned by that record. It was so rooted in American traditions that they felt that if they could come up with a kind of music which was as English as that record was American, that it would justify reforming as a group. They also wanted to get the same snare drum sound." Dave Pegg, who would join Fairport on bass, told me that "when we lived at the Angel [the converted pub in which the band dwelled in the early ?70s], it was like all you heard was the Band, every room you went into, either Big Pink or The Band. It was more or less the petrol." Also, the Band?s influence on British artists was not limited to Fairport; as Ian Anderson (editor of the UK's leading folk magazine, fRoots) tells it, "I remember John Martyn coming down [London folk club] the Cousins one night with a copy of Music from Big Pink, insisting that it was put on the record player immediately. That was like bringing the Band right into the center of the den of folk-rock."
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 19 Sep 03 10:26
And by the way, I think "Tam Lin" from "Liege & Lief" is definitely the best song on Fairport's "Liege & Lief" album, too. I'm not as big on the rest. To backtrack a sec, Ed, who are the trendy young Brit stars talking about how they've just discovered U by the ISB? That's such an obscure album, much less well known than their "5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion" or "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter," though it's just come out on CD again. (Another website plug: my liner notes to the "U" reissue can be read at www.richieunterberger.com/isb.html.)
Berliner (captward) Fri 19 Sep 03 10:57
I'm not sure who they are; you can check recent issues of Mojo or fRoots (which I'm boycotting because Anderson is a bigot and a fool) and wade through the interviews. It all smazes together when the interviewees don't have much to say and I don't have the musical cues to hitch onto the names. Also, when all the records get four stars or better, which they pretty much do in Mojo these days, that doesn't help stuff stand out, either. But trust me, if you're 21, acoustic, and British, you can't go wrong quoting U and Nick Drake (another one I never got) as influences when the Mojo man comes around. Interesting you should mention the Band. Are they folk-rock? At least when they're not backing Dylan -- is Big Pink folk-rock? I don't think I'd call it that, but what do you say? It's weird, though, that it would be a deciding factor with the Brits rather than the Byrds. Why do you think that is?
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 19 Sep 03 11:48
The Band, I would say, is more folk-rock-influenced than they are folk-rock, in the Dylan/Byrds or some other sense. Of course a lot of that influence came from backing Dylan, first on tour in the mid-1960s when they were still called the Hawks, then on the Basement Tapes (bear in mind that a *lot* more Basement Tapes were recorded than were eventually released on the mid-1970s; enough to fill up five bootleg CDs, with about 100 songs). I think there's no question Dylan heavily influenced the Band's songwriting; in fact, he was instrumental in getting them to lean heavily on original material on the first place, as they'd been an R&B-heavy bar band, albeit a good one, before hooking up with Dylan. What you hear on Big Pink, though, is more the sound of a band being influenced by folk-rock than a band combining elements of folk and rock. And the Band brought more into it than the broad categories we call folk and rock: also a good amount of gospel, blues, and country music. To continue with categories that weren't in place at the time and often offend the actual musicians when they're applied, in retrospect the Band are one of the definitive Americana rock bands, putting pre-rock American indigenous music forms into a contemporary rock context. And yes, I know that four-fifths of the Band were Canadian, not American. But they were based in the US when they began recording, and their musical roots were very based in the United States, via their love of early rock'n'roll, blues, and country, as well as their years of work as the backing group for Ronnie Hawkins (a southern American rockabilly singer who moved to Canada). The Band's debt to folk-rock, and their influence on the folk-rock of the late 1960s, is undeniable. In instances where it might be a close call as to whether an artist was folk-rock or not, but their music was exceptional and/or very influential, I decided to move more on the side of including such artists in my book rather than excluding them. As to why it was more influential on the British scene than the Byrds, I think that has to do with the factors Joe Boyd cited: it had the sense of reaching back to a national tradition but sounding contemporary, which the likes of Fairport could extend to finding and updating roots in England's music. (I do wonder if they knew at the time that the Band were mostly Canadian!) The Byrds' influence on the British scene wasn't negligible, though. If you listen to Fairport's early records, there's an influence from not only the Byrds, but also California harmony folk-rock in general. Fairport were even dubbed the British Jefferson Airplane in early press reports. Also they did actually record the Byrds' "The Ballad of Easy Rider" (written by Roger McGuinn with a little help from Dylan) during their "Liege & Lief" sessions, though it didn't make the album. (It's now available as a bonus track on the CD reissue of Fairport's "Unhalfbricking" album.)
Berliner (captward) Fri 19 Sep 03 12:33
Be careful: when you're in Canada and say "Well, the way we do it in America..." they look at you and say "You're IN America. North. America." So I guess that makes the Band proto-Americana, too. (For the record, I hate that label, and I'm even more pissed at Liza Carthy for calling her album Anglicana, but at least that never took off -- or hasn't yet). But speaking of Dylan, he's the guy who made it okay not to make sense with your lyrics. That, I gather, was beginning to happen with the artists in Eight Miles High, even the ones who appear in the first book, Turn! Turn! Turn! There had always been pot around the folk scene, but now the harder psychedelics were coming in. I've always wondered what it was about acid that made people want to plug their guitars in. (I do, however, understand what made them write lyrics that defied common understanding.) But it seems that there was a moment when all sorts of folkies were "going electric," and many of them used folk-rock as sort of a waystation. Was this only Dylan's influence?
Andrew Alden (alden) Fri 19 Sep 03 12:52
Whew, I'm glad the second shoe (this book) is dropping. And I think you're right to focus on The Band as an important part of folk rock. But I gotta say, this is the first time in thirty years I've ever seen anyone other than me mention Linda Perhacs and "Parallelograms." I never saw such an interesting artist and record drop out of sight so fast. Is her music available at all? And for a somewhat less obscure but still wonderful female folk/rocker, how about Ellen McIlwaine? She in the book?
Berliner (captward) Fri 19 Sep 03 12:56
Did you used to hear "Parallelograms" on Rosko's show on WOR-FM back in ancient times? That's the only place I've ever heard it, including friends' dorm-rooms.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 19 Sep 03 13:07
If you mean was Dylan the only or main influence on all sorts of folkies going electric, in my opinion he wasn't. He was a *big* influence, but not the only one. One of the things that surprised me in researching the books was that when the people I interviewed spoke of going electric or at least starting to think about going electric in the mid-1960s, the Beatles were cited as the main inspiration far, far more than Dylan, particularly for those who played in groups rather than as solo acts. And the Beatles were influenced people in this manner before Dylan had gone electric, the Byrds being the most prominent example (they had started recording demos with electric instruments in 1964, well before "Mr. Tambourine Man" became a hit for them in mid-1965). One of the things I wanted to demonstrate with the books was that the move from folk to folk-rock wasn't single-handedly led by one or two main figures, but was more an almost unconscious large, collective generational movement toward blending the forms. But once Dylan had gone electric, I think it did make many of the more folk-rooted and singer-songwriter types far less reluctant to go electric than they had before. And I *would* say that Dylan was probably the main influence on making it okay not to make sense with your lyrics. You might be able to cite some obscure early Holy Modal Rounders tune or something along those lines as an example of someone else doing that, but really there were very, very few if any such songs to my knowledge in rock, folk, or pop music prior to Dylan's mid-1960s endeavors. And once he had done that, it gave license to *lots* of people to do that. Some of them didn't do it well, granted, but some of them did. And it happened very very fast. It also gave license to people with less wildly surrealistic, but still poetic and oblique, lyrics to write rock songs. I'm thinking of people like Leonard Cohen, to cite an obvious example, but also less obvious ones, perhaps, like Jim Morrison, and Larry Beckett (Tim Buckley's lyrical collaborator on his early records). It also influenced people who were already writing songs in a more normal fashion to get further out, like Neil Young, Donovan, and even some of the Beatles' work, particularly when John Lennon was the dominant composer. Peter Yarrow had this comment about Bob Dylan's songwriting: "What began to evolve, particularly in Bob's writing and singing, was something that of course incorporated music and influences from the past, but became uniquely his own poetry. And [he] introduced the kind of lyric and intent that was unprecedented. Because it was never difficult to understand the intent of, let's say, Pete Seeger's songs, or Woody Guthrie's songs. But Bobby brought it to a different place." In writing the books, it became clearer to me that folk-rock was indeed often more a "waystation" for performers finding their identity than a final stylistic destination. Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell, to use two obvious examples, went into music utilizing much different influences than folk and rock, though they first emerged as recording artists using folk and then folk-rock (discounting Simon's pre-Simon & Garfunkel rock'n'roll records, which were barely known prior to the first S&G hit). The stop at the waystation seemed to get briefer after the initial 1965-66 folk-rock rush. San Francisco Bay Area psychedelic bands, for instance, seemed to have relatively brief basic folk-rock phases before moving into harder acid rock, almost as if it was training in electric rock playing and arranging prior to finding their true metier.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 19 Sep 03 13:18
Andrew, you're in luck. "Parallelograms" has been reissued on CD by the small independent label The Wild Places, and now with six bonus tracks of previously unreleased demos and outtakes! Granted, it might not be the easiest thing to find in stores, but you should be able to find it in the better independent/specialty outlets in urban areas, or through on-line/mail-order means. If all else fails, email The Wild Places at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm real interested to hear that both Ed and Andrew were already familiar with Linda Perhacs. Apparently the album circulated a little more than I realized. I'd never heard her until the first CD reissue of the album came out, about three or four years ago I think. I was able to interview her for the book, and I think that might have been the first time she's been interviewed by anyone. Ellen McIlwaine's not in the book, as she missed the 1970 cutoff date; her first album was in 1972.
Noah Weiner (noahbw) Fri 19 Sep 03 13:22
> I've always wondered what it was about acid that made people want to plug their guitars in. The feedback, man! :-) Ritchie, it's wonderful to have you here to discuss the topics in and around your books. I'm curious about the influence (symbiotic?) that the folk-rock scene had on the commercial music of the time. Granted, I think it would be safe to say that many of the artists we are talking about were doing music that felt true to them at the time, and they happened to get swept into commercial success. But, was there a swing where things started to "sell out" overall? And can we fix the blame on the music business? Was this after 1970? I'm thinking about the James Taylor and/or Bread leanings of folk-y music that wasn't really part of the scene before 1970 so much, but certainly grew into what we find on any town's radio version of Lite-FM or Soft Rock music.
Berliner (captward) Fri 19 Sep 03 13:29
I'm not going to cite the Rounders for obscure lyrics: they were too grounded in traditional music. They'd warp the lyrics lots, but in ways that made sense. And of course, the Beatles famously said "Dylan showed us the way" when it came to songwriting. I think there may be something of a chicken-and-egg thing happening with that, or an invention-of-television thing, something that was in the air and Just Happened. Rubber Soul: folk-rock album or not? I'd say so. I'd also like to remind off-the-Well types (I know you're out there) that you can submit questions to us via email@example.com, right?
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 19 Sep 03 13:49
Generally, I think folk-rock's influence on commercial music in the 1960s was extremely positive. It was crucial in elevating the lyrical intelligence of pop music, and more subtly, it demonstrated that musical forms considered by many to be at opposite poles from each other could blend into something greater, without compromising artistic integrity. But even when folk-rock shot into the public consciousness in mid-1965, there were moves to commercialize and assimilate it into a more mainstream form. An obvious example is Sonny & Cher, who, it can be hard to imagine to some these days, were classified as "folk-rock" when "I Got You Babe" became a hit (and Cher covered Dylan's "All I Really Want to Do" for a hit, charting higher than the Byrds' immeasurably superior version). Sonny & Cher were mainstream entertainers who happened to find folk-rock as an entry into stardom, quickly moving on to the all-around entertainment field. (Having just watched a DVD of Cher's "farewell tour," it's hard to conceive that she could have once been designed as part of folk-rock, so bombastic was the presentation, whose cost likely exceeded the annual GNP of several small third world nations.) There were also acts like the Turtles and the Association who found their true calling as more mainstream pop-rock bands, but who actually started with Dylan covers (the Turtles with "It Ain't Me Babe," and the Association with the much less well-remembered "One Too Many Mornings"). I think it's a tribute to folk-rock's quality and artistic integrity that it did largely survive attempts to dilute or co-opt it throughout the 1960s, in part also because it kept evolving into different things instead of being a static form that got stale relatively quickly. I can't really pinpoint a part where things started to "sell out." I think it was more a matter of folk-rock gradually becoming such an entrenched part of rock music that it became less and less distinctive. In part this was due to acts like James Taylor and the Eagles (there were many others, I don't want to sound like I'm picking on them especially) adding large dollops of pop to folk-rock and country-rock, so that the specifically folk-rock elements became more submerged. In part it was due to non-folk-rock singer-songwriters like Carole King (who, I hasten to add, did some excellent work both as a Brill Building songwriter and a recording artist) absorbing some of folk-rock's musical ideas and lyrical expressiveness into a more crafted pop-rock setting. This all led to a lot of 1970s "soft rock," which had some superficial resemblances or roots in folk-rock, but was in my view far less challenging and interesting than 1960s folk-rock. And also, the music business became more corporate and consolidated in the years after folk-rock, which I think cut down on some of the less predictable innovations that had come through in the mid-to-late 1960s. Warner Brothers in particular cornered the singer-songwriter market with a large roster, and many of those singer-songwriters recorded in Los Angeles with highly proficient studio musicians that gave the sound a more homogenous veneer. Smaller labels had a hard time competing, with some that had made stellar contributions to folk-rock largely retreating from the field (Vanguard), going out of business (Verve/Folkways, which did benefit from MGM distribution, and Joe Boyd's Witchseason Productions company), or merging with bigger labels and becoming less idiosyncratic (Elektra). I go into this in my book, but I don't want to paint this as a black-and-white situation of the evil big majors versus the smaller good guys. Columbia was a huge record company, yet they managed to release an enormous amount of great folk-rock that didn't seem compromised by commercial considerations: the Byrds, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Donovan, even cult oddballs like Skip Spence and Dino Valenti. Warner Brothers released a lot of good records, and have often been praised for allowing singer-songwriters artistic freedom and time to develop without undue pressure. And Vanguard, Elektra, and Verve/Folkways all put out some turkey records, and made some poor business decisions. But in general, I think folk-rock music would have stayed fresher if the business climate wasn't moving as much toward the commercial/corporate. Yet that's something that happens to virtually all genres of music after they ascend to commercial viability, isn't it?
Get your hands dirty or get your ass kicked. (stdale) Fri 19 Sep 03 13:52
Seems to me like folk-rock *was* the commercial music of the time, or a big part of it, anyway. There were certainly plenty of voices around to call them all sell outs. A scan of some vintage copies of Sing Out! will confirm that.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 19 Sep 03 14:06
While the Beatles were already extremely accomplished (well, great) songwriters by the time they first heard Bob Dylan in early 1964, I think Ed's absolutely right that Dylan was a huge influence on their songwriting, particularly on making their lyrics more sophisticated and multi-dimensional. This was something I covered in "Turn! Turn! Turn!" rather than "Eight Miles High," but the Beatles' admiration of Dylan was actually public record even before Dylan went electric in 1965. In 1965, John Lennon told the New Musical Express, "We began admiring him during our visit to Paris in January of last year  when we cadged a Dylan LP off a DJ who came to interview us. Paul had heard of him before but until we played that record his name did not really mean anything to us. We went potty over the LP -- I think it was Freewheelin' -- and tried to get more of his records." Then Dylan and the Beatles actually met in a New York hotel room in 1964, where Dylan introduced them to high-grade marijuana. And Dylan was hugely influenced by the Beatles too, again even before 1965. Here's his famous quote on the matter (in 1971, to biographer Anthony Scaduto): "I had heard the Beatles in New York when they first hit. Then, when we were driving through Colorado we had the radio on and eight of the ten top songs were Beatles songs. In Colorado! 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand,' all those early ones. "They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid. You could only do that with other musicians. Even if you're playing your own chords you had to have other people playing with you. That was obvious. And it started me thinking about other people. "But I just kept it to myself that I really dug them. Everybody else thought they were for the teenyboppers, that they were gonna pass right away. But it was obvious to me that they had staying power. I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go. I was not about to put up with other musicians, but in my head the Beatles were it. In Colorado, I started thinking it was so far out that I couldn't deal with it?eight in the top ten. It seemed to me a definite line was being drawn. This was something that never happened before. It was outrageous, and I kept it in my mind. You see, there was a lot of hypocrisy all around, people saying it had to be either folk or rock. But I knew it didn't have to be like that. I dug what the Beatles were doing, and I always kept it in mind from back then." Also, I'd say that Rubber Soul was in the main a folk-rock album, not explicitly on every track perhaps, but on most of it. The Dylan influence had affected the sound and lyrics of a few previous Beatles tunes ("I'm a Loser," "Help!," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"), but here folk-rock's influence was all over: "Norwegian Wood," "I've Just Seen a Face" [which was on the US version of Rubber Soul, though it had appeared earlier on the UK version of Help!], "Girl," "I'm Looking Through You." And it wasn't just Dylan influencing the Byrds in a folk-rock direction: George Harrison's "If I Needed Someone" is very Byrds-influenced, as he made clear in a note to publicist Derek Taylor: "Tell Jim [McGuinn] and David [Crosby] that 'If I Needed Someone' is the riff from 'The Bells of Rhymney' and the drumming from [the Byrds B-side] 'She Don't Care About Time,' or my impression of it." Just last night I ran across an unexpected quote from Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys about Rubber Soul's folk-ness, which might also interest Noah re: his previous query about how folk-rock might have affected other parts of commercial music. Wilson said, "Rubber Soul was like a folk album by the Beatles that somehow went together like no album ever made before, and I was very impressed. I had to go in there [the studio] and experiment with sounds. I really felt challenged to do it -- and I followed through with it [with the Beach Boys' 1966 classic album Pet Sounds]."
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Fri 19 Sep 03 14:21
I think that's a good point in post 21: folk-rock *was* a big part of commercial music of the time. In some ways, whether perceived as such at the time or in hindsight, it's been thought of as extremely counter-cultural. In some ways, I think it was: it's amazing to think of songs with lyrics like those in "Positively Fourth Street" and "Eight Miles High" as being particularly commercial, even though they were both hits. And folk-rock, even some of what we think of as indisputably classic folk-rock today, was often dismissed as the worst kind of commercial sellout by folk purists. It wasn't just the like of Sonny & Cher accused of doing this; more often, in fact, the heavy criticism went the way of Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and the like. The impression I got from my research was that this sort of purist outrage wasn't nearly as widespread at the time as some accounts have had it. Sing Out! and some other folk magazines were the main forums for backlash against folk-rockers as sellouts, they really didn't have such wide circulations, and not all of their readers agreed with them (as lively letters defending the electric Dylan, the Beatles, and folk-rock in their own letters section helped prove). And virtually every young folk performer of note doing original or contemporary material went electric to some degree by the end of the 1960s. By about 1967, whether because they'd given up the battle of defending purism, because they were resigned to having lost the battle against folk-rock, because they'd actually started to like folk-rock anyway, or they were tired of the whole thing, rants against folk-rock seemed to virtually disappear from the pages of Sing Out, Broadside, and the like. On the other side of the coin, if you look at mainstream coverage of folk-rock in magazines like Newsweek and Time in 1965 and 1966, they seem to treat folk-rock as a freakish oddity, a commercial fad, barely or not disguising their condescension toward the music and its listeners. They didn't seem to see the folk-rockers as commercial sellouts so much as commericial novelties, and not terribly talented ones. Interestingly, by 1968 that had changed too, with the magazines running very complimentary articles about singer-songwriters (and rock in general) that treated the lyrics as poetry, and were written by writers who actually seemed to be fans of the music, rather than beat reporters assigned the pieces against their will.
Andrew Alden (alden) Fri 19 Sep 03 14:30
(I heard "Parallellograms" once on WABC-FM, then found the record at my station, WUNH, where I played it a lot. Never saw the record in the stores, though.)
Get your hands dirty or get your ass kicked. (stdale) Fri 19 Sep 03 15:11
Of course, everyone in the rock lineage was written off as a commercial novelty at some point - Elvis, the Beatles, whoever - but I was a teenage kid when the music the book covers was coming out and they were deliberately making music that would get on the radio so I'd go buy it. That's commercial, but I think much of the music of the period also proves that the tendency to write off commercial as somehow inferior just ain't always so. I think it's notable that Dylan, in the story related above, was as impressed by the Beatles having 8 singles in the top ten as he was by the music itself. He wanted to be a rock star as bad as anyone, more than he wanted to be a poet or 'spokesman for a generation' I think.
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