All posts by Folkrox

San Francisco resident Richie Unterberger is the author of numerous rock history books, including Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll and a two-part history of 1960s folk-rock, Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High. His book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film won a 2007 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research. His latest books are White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day and Won't Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia. Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High have now been revised/updated/expanded and combined into the ebook Jingle Jangle Morning, which adds a 75,000-word new bonus mini-book. He is also author of The Rough Guide To Music USA, a guidebook to the evolution of regional popular music styles throughout America in the 20th century; The Rough Guide To Jimi Hendrix; The Rough Guide to Seattle; and (as co-author) The Rough Guide to Shopping with a Conscience. He is a frequent contributor to MOJO and Record Collector, and has written hundreds of liner notes for CD reissues. Since 2011, he’s taught courses on rock music history at the College of Marin. He lives in San Francisco. He gives regular presentations on rock and soul history throughout the Bay Area incorporating rare vintage film clips and audio recordings, at public libraries and other venues. Since summer 2011, he has taught community education courses at the College of Marin on the Beatles, San Francisco rock of the 1960s and 1970s, and the history of rock from 1955 to 1980. For more info, go to

Hiking in the El Cerrito Hills, Part 2

Just a few weeks ago, I posted about a hike through the El Cerrito Hills – the first such walk I’ve taken, despite living in the Bay Area for about thirty years. Such are the riches of this area that I returned yesterday to sample more of its delights. Well, I guess I wouldn’t be coming back so soon had not friends recently moved to that neighborhood. But it’s certainly a good excuse to set off in a different direction from their home to Wildcat Canyon Park, which I’m again embarrassed to admit I had not entered until yesterday:

On the trail in Wildcat Canyon Park, near the entrance on Rifle Range Road.

On the trail in Wildcat Canyon Park, about half a mile down from  the entrance on Rifle Range Road.

Technically a part of Richmond, the park can be entered from the tippy-top of the El Cerrito Hills, near the end of Rifle Range Road. There’s no trail-specific parking, but then again, not many people are using the trail, so you won’t have a problem finding a space on the street within a block or so. We saw a couple walkers here and there, but usually the trail looked like this, even on a sunny spring Saturday afternoon:



We didn’t get too far into the hills of the park, which we’re planning to walk through for a longer and more ambitious trek this summer:


If you’re walking to the trail entrance through the El Cerrito neighborhood near Arlington Avenue, you’ll be bound to come across some sights worthy in their own right. My camera can’t do justice to some of the panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay, but here’s one sample, with the tried-and-true image of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distant background:


You can also take in some of the interesting architecture in the surrounding blocks, like this steep garden:


There’s more info about the park on the Wildcat Canyon Park website, as well as the Wildcat Canyon Park page on the San Francisco Bay Area Hiker site.

Near the trailhead for the Rifle Range Road entrance to Wildcat Canyon Park.

Near the trailhead for the Rifle Range Road entrance to Wildcat Canyon Park.

British Invasion LP Covers: The UK Vs. the US

In the past few years, I’ve taught a bunch of rock history courses at the College of Marin that use a lot of audiovisual material. Often I show PowerPoint slides of record sleeves, and often, as it happens, these are of 1960s British bands. This got me thinking, in the usual way of subjects of interest mostly to hardcore music geeks, of how often LP covers were different in the US and UK, at least until the late 1960s, when the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper helped establish a uniform worldwide format for bands of influence.

Until then, and sometimes even afterward, there was a lot of variation, from the Beatles and Rolling Stones down to British Invasion greats who never successfully invaded the US market. Somebody had to be making decisions resulting in such substantial differences as these:

The UK version of the Who's first album.

The UK version of the Who’s first album.

The US version of the Who's first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original "Circles" for their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man," though otherwise the tracks were the same.

The US version of the Who’s first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original “Circles” for their cover of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” though otherwise the tracks were the same.

That’s one of the most high-profile examples, though relatively few US listeners were even aware of the Who when their debut album came out, and fewer still aware that a UK version had a much different cover (and a very slightly different track listing).

The usual historical viewpoint, when these things are discussed at all (they are in my classes if nowhere else!), is that US record labels did a great disservice to UK acts in repackaging their albums for the American market. Not only did they diminish the quality of the presentation, goes this argument, but they altered the artist’s original intentions, though in the case of cover art (and even sometimes track selection), those decisions were sometimes made by people other than the artists.

In the case of the track selection, that’s often true. It’s well known that British rock groups’ LPs were often sliced and diced for the US audience so that more albums could be issued. Instead of the thirteen or fourteen songs usually found on UK albums, there would often be eleven or twelve (or even just ten). Tracks from UK LPs, 45s, and EPs would be slung together, sometimes haphazardly, without the groups’ input. There are many examples, the Beatles’ Yesterday…and Today being perhaps the most famous because it was first issued with a rare “butcher” cover. In some cases, American labels just cut out a few songs from the UK versions; you’d have to be out of your mind, for instance, to prefer the US Revolver (missing three songs, all of which featured John Lennon as lead singer and primary composer), or the US version of the Yardbirds’ 1966 album (which removed a couple songs, albeit a couple of the less impressive ones, from the UK edition). That thread could be a whole post in itself, and I won’t go it that at article-length here.

As for the album sleeves, though, I wonder if it was really such a dilution or desecration to have different covers in the US. This won’t be a universally popular opinion, but I really can’t think of a single instance where the US artwork was just incredibly, undeniably inferior to the UK counterpart. And sometimes, I think it was actually better.

Let’s start with a few A-B comparisons where I’d contend the US cover is markedly superior:

The UK cover of Fairport Convention's second album, titled What We Did On Our Holidays

The UK cover of Fairport Convention’s second album, titled What We Did On Our Holidays

The American cover of the same album, with an entirely different cover and simpler title.

The American cover of the same album, with an entirely different cover and simpler title.

It’s a little painful to put this forth, since the UK cover is definitely what Fairport Convention wanted. But I’d much rather look at a picture of the band – their best lineup, and on their best album – than a fairly crude blackboard sketch. That photo on the US version does seem to capture the personality of the band – friendly (never mind that they changed personnel more than almost any other major group of the time) and woodsy, though they were very much a London group. The title was different in the UK (What We Did on Our Holidays), too, with A&M opting for the bland Fairport Convention, though the debut LP that preceded this (unissued in the US at that time) also used that title, confusing discographers for many years to come. Maybe the original title wasn’t used Stateside since “holidays” mean something much different here, referring to the dozen or so official annual government holidays; in the UK, “holidays” are what Americans call “vacations.”

In 1966, the Yardbirds put out essentially the same album in the US and UK, though as noted the US version cut out a couple songs. Again, it was given both different covers and different titles:

Officially titled The Yardbirds, these days most people refer to this album as "Roger the Engineer," after the writing on the cover sketch.

Officially titled The Yardbirds, these days most people refer to this album as “Roger the Engineer,” after the writing on the cover sketch.

The US counterpart was titled after their then-current hit, "Over Under Sideways Down."

The US counterpart was titled after their then-current hit, “Over Under Sideways Down.”

And again, the UK version (officially titled The Yardbirds, but unofficially referred to as Roger the Engineer) is definitely what the band wanted, since rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja actually drew the cover. The US sleeve is kind of anodyne, but at least it pictures the group, with Jeff Beck as lead guitarist. The UK version’s kind of ugly, to be brutal. Here’s an uncommon example of the Canadian cover coming off best:


But note, as many would be quick to point out, this has a photo of the lineup during the brief mid-1966 period when Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were both in the band. Which is cool, but Jimmy Page doesn’t play on the LP, only joining shortly after it was recorded.

Donovan’s Sunshine Superman is a downright rare, maybe even unique, case where the US version is preferable from every angle, including but not limited to the cover:

In a reversal of the usual way these things worked, Donovan's best album, Sunshine Superman, came out in the US nine months before it appeared in the UK.

In a reversal of the usual way these things worked, Donovan’s best album, Sunshine Superman, came out in the US nine months before it appeared in the UK.

The UK version didn't even have a picture of Donovan.

The UK version didn’t even have a picture of Donovan.

As a result of a complicated contractual dispute, Sunshine Superman came out first in the US, in August 1966. When it came out in the UK nine months later, it was precisely the kind of bastardization American labels are often panned for, cobbling together seven of the twelve tracks from the American edition with five songs from his next LP, Mellow Yellow. You’d have to be out of your mind to prefer the UK version, and the inferior cover – a rather unmemorable fairytale-ish illustration, where the US original has a picture of Donovan surrounded by trippy if florid graphics – isn’t even the most important reason.

Let’s backtrack for a minute to the graphic that led off this post, comparing the two covers for the Who’s first album:

The UK version of the Who's first album.

The UK version of the Who’s first album.

The US version of the Who's first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original "Circles" for their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man," though otherwise the tracks were the same.

The US version of the Who’s first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original “Circles” for their cover of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” though otherwise the tracks were the same.

I think I’ve heard someone or some people knock the US image as cheap, exploiting the London connection during the height of the British Invasion by putting Big Ben in the background. The UK original does have a greater sense of their mod fashion. But I have to say I like the US variation better, with their moody expressions and, yes, that hovering Big Ben reminding us of their Englishness.

Before Rubber Soul, most of the Beatles’ US albums didn’t come close to replicating the contents of their UK counterparts. In the UK, A Hard Day’s Night and Help! were real, full LPs; in the US, they were tweaked as “soundtracks,” surrounding songs used in the actual movies with fairly crappy instrumental orchestral filler on which the Beatles didn’t play. The sleeves changed too, though not as obnoxiously as the music:

The UK version of A Hard Day's Night, with 14 Lennon-McCartney songs.

The UK version of A Hard Day’s Night, with 14 Lennon-McCartney songs.

The US version had just eight of those songs, the LP filled out by George Martin-overseen easy listening versions of some of the songs from the film.

The US version had just eight of those songs, the LP filled out by George Martin-overseen easy listening versions of some of the songs from the film.

Both of these covers have their merits. The UK original gives you more frames and, in so doing, actually conveys a more cinematic quality, in keeping with an album based around a film. The US variation does give you larger images; the ones on the UK sleeve are pretty small. Moving to their second film:

The Beatles aren't exactly spelling out Help! on the cover, but, you know, close enough.

The Beatles aren’t exactly spelling out Help! on the cover, but, you know, close enough.

The US version had just seven Beatles tracks, surrounded by tedious instrumental soundtrack music.

The US version had just seven Beatles tracks, surrounded by tedious instrumental soundtrack music.

The UK original is less garish. But this time it’s the US spinoff that more clearly, even loudly, states the connection to the film. A gatefold sleeve, not common for rock LPs in those days, was a notable bonus. No points for the way the album took off six songs from the UK version, however, and sequenced it not so that the seven Beatles songs were on one side and the orchestral muzak on the other (as Yellow Submarine would), but alternated Beatles songs with the instrumentals. To this day, when you look at used copies, the Beatles tracks are often gray from overplay; the instrumentals, in contrast, are black, as a consequence of fans constantly taking the needle off to skip over them.

Moving to the Beatles’ closest rivals, the Rolling Stones’ first album, unusually for the time, was almost the same as their UK debut in both content and cover design. Note the not-so-subtle difference in one respect, however:

The Rolling Stones' first UK album did not contain their name or the LP title.

The Rolling Stones’ first UK album did not contain their name or the LP title.

But the US version sure did, and added a bit more text to boot.

But the US version sure did, and added a bit more text to boot.

The UK original – in perhaps an unprecedented move – did not put the band’s name (or album title, which was also The Rolling Stones) anywhere on the front cover, relying solely on the photo to make an impact (and a phenomenally successful one for a debut LP by a band with only one Top Ten British hit, as the album topped the UK charts). In the US – where the Stones were considerably slower to take off than in their native land, and were indeed virtually unknown in mid-1964 – London Records, the arm of the group’s UK Decca label, wasn’t going to take any such chances. The name of the band would go on the cover. And, the British Invasion being only a few months old, London Records was going to be damned sure to remind you these guys were English, adding the subtitle “England’s Newest Hit Makers.”

The difference in cover design got more substantial on their 1966 album Aftermath. This was an important record in the Rolling Stones’ career, as it was the first of their LPs to consist entirely of original material. It was kind of compromised in its US edition, which cut out a few songs, though it did add “Paint It Black” (just a single in the UK). And there were entirely different front sleeves:

The UK version of Aftermath, with little-noted hyphenation of the title.

The UK version of Aftermath, with little-noted hyphenation of the title.

The US version of Aftermath, shorter and with a different shot and design.

The US version of Aftermath, shorter and with a different shot and design.

It’s not an obvious call here, but I prefer the US image, whose slight blurriness adds a bit of mystery. I’m not big on the red tint on the UK release.

The same year, the Stones came out with their first greatest hits collection. Though the title was the same in both countries, the songs were different (with substantial overlap), and the covers entirely different:

The US version, which actually came out first.

The US version, which actually came out first.

The UK version.

The UK version.

I think this is a clear victory for the US version, with that memorable setting of the Stones by the water (actually taken in Hollywood’s Franklin Canyon Park, not England as many naturally assumed at the time). The UK cover isn’t bad, though, and was distinct enough to be used on the picture sleeve of the US “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow” 45, Brian Jones’s bandaged hand and all.

One of the more memorable, if gaudy, American British Invasion covers was Them’s debut LP. Compare it with its rough UK counterpart (which had a different track listing, though with substantial overlap):

Like the Rolling Stones' first UK album (also on Decca), Them's first album, The Angry Young Them, didn't put either the band name or the title on the front cover.

Like the Rolling Stones’ first UK album (also on Decca), Them’s first album, The Angry Young Them, didn’t put either the band name or the title on the front cover.

Make sure to stitch this onto your carrier bag the next time you go record-shopping on Halloween.

Make sure to stitch this onto your carrier bag the next time you go record-shopping on Halloween.

The US cover’s been criticized for its Halloween-ish lettering and layout, but I think it actually complements the oft-spooky tenor of Them’s music. And the photo of the band’s better. The guys don’t look all that angry on The Angry Young Them, either.

Not so much angry as Moody were the different covers designed for the Moody Blues’ UK and US debuts:

The Moody Blues' first UK album, The Magnificent Moodies.

The Moody Blues’ first UK album, The Magnificent Moodies.

The Moody Blues' first album made sure to feature their first (and, for quite a while, only) big US hit as part of the title.

The Moody Blues’ first album made sure to feature their first (and, for quite a while, only) big US hit as part of the title.

The images are similar enough that they may well have been from the same photo session. No clear winner here in my view, and why not have two covers rather than one, though the US design is more blatantly and gauchely commercial with its large blue borders and big-letter blare of the hit song it features, “Go Now.” As for the subtitle “featuring From the Bottom of My Heart,” that was their follow-up to “Go Now,” and not nearly as successful, stalling at #93 in the US charts, though it was a quite good original.

Digging so deep into the British Invasion that you come across bands who never had a hit here, there’s the Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow. The best ‘60s UK group never to make it into the States, the Pretty Things started out as a rawer version of the Rolling Stones; lead guitarist Dick Taylor had been in the Stones until late 1962. By the late ‘60s, they’d evolved into psychedelic rock, and S.F. Sorrow was one of rock’s first concept albums:

The UK edition of S.F. Sorrow, designed by Pretty Things singer Phil May.

The UK edition of S.F. Sorrow, designed by Pretty Things singer Phil May.

The UK edition came out on Rare Earth, as part of its parent label Motown's attempt to crack the white rock market.

The US edition came out on Rare Earth, as part of its parent label Motown’s attempt to crack the white rock market.

It’s a clear victory, in a change of pace, for the UK version. Which was certainly more in line with the band’s vision, as the cover was designed by Pretty Things singer Phil May. The US cover (on Motown’s Rare Earth subsidiary) had its curiosity value, though, for its tombstone shape if nothing else. The cover change wasn’t the biggest way Rare Earth fumbled the ball; though the album had come out at the end of 1968 in the UK, it wasn’t released until August 1969 in the US, which meant that some American listeners and critics accused it of being a rip-off of the Who’s Tommy (which it predated by months in the UK).

Jimi Hendrix was American, of course, but he rose to stardom in Britain as leader of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Their maiden outing Are You Experienced, for all its classic status, was substantially different in both track listing and cover design in its UK and US editions:

The UK version of Are You Experienced

The UK version of Are You Experienced.

The more psychedelic US version.

The more psychedelic US version.

The US cover’s been accused of being more gimmicky. Perhaps, but the distorted photo’s simply more memorable, and more in tune with the vinyl’s psychedelic contents, than the sober, rather so-so UK sleeve. The substitution of British hit singles “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” and “The Wind Cries Mary” for some tracks also struck some as crass, but also improved the LP. The CD gets around the problem by including all of the songs from both versions.

Going a little beyond the British Invasion into the beginning of the 1970s, no overview like this would be complete without presenting one of the most famous sleeve variants of all:

The US version of The Man Who Sold the World didn't even have a photo or image of Bowie on the cover.

The US version of The Man Who Sold the World didn’t even have a photo or image of Bowie on the cover.

But you certainly couldn't miss him on the UK version, which caused more controversy than sales upon its initial release.

But you certainly couldn’t miss him on the UK version, which caused more controversy than sales upon its initial release.

The UK cover of Bowie reclining in a dress is understandably the more famous of the pair, tying in as it did with his then-controversial androgynous image. The US cover is downright weird, and looks at first like it might be something cooked up without his consent, by someone who had no familiarity with Bowie’s music. Not so; it was designed by a friend of Bowie’s, Michael J. Weller. Equally strangely, it might be considered the original, as though Bowie was very much a British artist, the LP came out first in the US (in November 1970), not emerging in his native UK until about six months later.

These are just some of the most striking sleeve variations that come to mind. There were numerous others, some not interesting enough to merit much comment, some by artists not interesting enough to merit much comment. No doubt some of the decisions guiding these differences were arbitrary, made by labels, publicists, managers, or under assistant west coast promotion men with little knowledge of either the artist or rock music. But looking back from our time, when packaging is often standard the world over – and when there often isn’t any packaging (on download sites), or when the packaging is much smaller and less interesting to gaze at – these idiosyncratic blips and skips in international marketing are to be treasured.

The Dave Clark Five PBS Special…And Beyond

Dave Clark documentaries are not the usual things that PBS runs. But hey, better that than a broadcast featuring Pink Floyd tribute band Brit Floyd, right? (Which PBS has run recently — no joke.) Much better, in fact. But after it ran last week, the feeling almost people I got reactions from — and there were many, my Facebook post generating nearly 80 comments — was that it was rather unsatisfying, even flawed. The Dave Clark Five aren’t the usual subjects of analytical blog posts, but someone has to do it, and I thought I’d give it a shot.

For a while at least, you can watch the documentary that aired on PBS, The Dave Clark Five and Beyond, by clicking here.

The Dave Clark Five and Beyond documentary aired on PBS in early April 2014.

It’s curious that a Dave Clark doc got on PBS in the first place. There’s speculation — much about Dave Clark is speculation, as there’s still some mystery about some aspects of his career — that perhaps he used his economic muscle to open doors that worthy British Invasion bands like the Zombies, say, could not. The Beatles’ Anthology documentary ran nearly ten hours in its home video version; The Dave Clark Five and Beyond, lasting just under two hours, nonetheless felt considerably padded to even reach that length. It had its pluses, but even those need to be offered with qualifications:

There was plenty of interview material with Dave Clark. Some of this, however, does not exactly look recent, or even that well-shot. Often his voice was heard as off-camera narration. I don’t know why exactly he’d be reluctant to be on camera, but it seemed curious.

There was also some interview material with DC5 singer Mike Smith, credited as (with Clark) co-songwriter of many of the band’s biggest hits. Presumably this was shot some years ago, as he died in 2008. There wasn’t enough of Smith’s observations, however, and it was curious that his songwriting contributions to the DC5 were not discussed. Or maybe not so curious — more on that later.

There were plenty of archive clips, even if these tended to be snippets that didn’t even last through the bulk of a song, let alone entire numbers. Even as the owner of three unofficial DVRs of vintage DC5 footage, some of this was new to me, and perhaps new to everyone, since some home movies were unearthed. I don’t remember seeing the blurry bit of the group being interviewed on an early US visit, for instance. But barely any of this showed the band actually playing live — more on this, too, in a bit. And this didn’t, as far as I could tell, have excerpts from a mid-‘60s short (also covering the Supremes) in which Clark was interviewed – which, unbelievably, I saw when it was shown in my fifth-grade music class in the early 1970s, but haven’t been able to see since.

Believe it or not, for about six months or so in 1964, the Dave Clark Five were the most popular British Invasion band besides the Beatles.

Believe it or not, for about six months or so in 1964, the Dave Clark Five were the most popular British Invasion band besides the Beatles.

Sentimental chap that I am, I found the memories of their war-deprived childhoods (which don’t, oddly, enter the picture until some way into the film) moving. Also it was moving to see DC5 bassist Rick Huxley tear up at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. These honors do mean something to some musicians, especially ones whose names have been forgotten by most fans.

I liked some of the comments by other interviewees, though they often fell well short of substantial observations. Nice to see Stevie Wonder, for instance, acknowledge a Dave Clark influence, though he didn’t get specific as to what it was. Also nice to see Paul McCartney, who was as expected diplomatically kind without acknowledging any influence or interchange between the DC5 and the Beatles. It’s certainly a surprise to see Whoopi Goldberg in a documentary like this, but her affection for the band was sincere, and an illustration of how, for all British bands were accused of stealing the thunder of black Americans who influenced them, some black teenagers were fans of those same UK groups. I don’t like Gene Simmons or Kiss, but he actually came up with astute praise for the ascending melody of the Dave Clark Five smash “Because” — something I’ve pointed out in one of the rock history classes I’ve taught, albeit as an example of how the Beatles influenced their contemporaries.

So those are the pluses. Here are the minuses, some of which go hand-in-hand with the pluses:

Not only were the interviews with Clark and Smith not all they could have been — no other DC5 members were interviewed. True, saxophonist Denis Payton died in 2006, but considering Huxley died just a year ago and there is late-life interview footage of Smith, presumably Huxley could have been fit in during production. Lead guitarist Len Davidson is not only still alive, but did at least one good interview about the group (in the spring 2009 issue of the top ’60s rock mag Ugly Things), and would no doubt have made an articulate participant. On top of all this, not only were there no interview clips with Adrian Kerridge — an engineer/producer who was a crucial architect of the DC5 sound (and the “Adrian” in the “Adrian Clark” credited as producer on their hits, “Clark” being Dave Clark) — he wasn’t even mentioned, once.

Almost none of the clips, and there were many, were performed live. Virtually all of them were lip-synced (including some from promo films, as well as their many TV appearances). Which leads to another “more about this later” item — was this a deliberate decision, perhaps because of their instrumental shortcomings, especially those of their leader…

There were way too many soundbites from celebrities with little or no direct connection to the DC5. What is Sharon Osbourne, husband of Ozzy, doing in a film like this? What’s Ozzy doing here, for that matter? Or Elton John, or Gene Simmons (praise of “Because” notwithstanding)? Their comments seem to amount to, yeah, we liked the band and were influenced by them, sentiments repeated and rephrased too often (perhaps to help flesh out that nearly two-hour running time) without much in the way of tangible examples. As balance, there are comments from ordinary Dave Clark fans who saw them back in the day – even if they don’t offer much in the way of revelation, though unsurprisingly they do offer much general praise.

Speaking of celebrities, the most obnoxious is Tom Hanks, whose histrionic R&R Hall of Fame induction speech is liberally excerpted. Yes, I know this wasn’t shot specifically for this documentary. But I like the Dave Clark Five. Honestly. I don’t need somebody yelling at me to convince me that they were good, or at least were good when they were at their best, which wasn’t always the case on their records. Whoopi Goldberg’s low-key humility was a welcome contrast, as was Clark’s own understated acceptance speech.

Also, a few minutes are devoted to Dave Clark’s acquisition of vintage Ready Steady Go episodes, which he did not obtain as an investment, of course, but for the love of it, and to preserve a vital piece of music history and popular culture. Great going, Dave. So why haven’t you made any of them available on DVD? And why haven’t you made the bulk of the DC5 catalog available on CD, while we’re at it? (Though it has recently gone up on iTunes, along with some actual previously unreleased DC5 tracks.)

Some of the Ready Steady Go episodes Dave Clark owns were issued on VHS, but none have been issued on DVD.

Some of the Ready Steady Go episodes Dave Clark owns were issued on VHS, but none have been issued on DVD.

So there’s your mixed assessment. Now for some deeper delving into behind-the-scenes issues that some of the documentary’s flaws raise:

That absence of live clips, for instance. They’re not just absent from this documentary. There are virtually no non-mimed DC5 clips in circulation, even unofficially. That’s not just curious, that’s strange. Yes, every British Invasion band mimed a lot on TV, in movies, and in promo films. Yet there are also wholly live clips of virtually every British Invasion band of note. And not just by the obvious mega-icons like the Beatles, Stones, Who, Animals, Yardbirds, and Kinks. Even the much-derided Herman’s Hermits did a good number of live appearances for broadcast — and acquitted themselves quite respectably, I have to admit. Why so little DC5? What did they have to hide?

One clue might lie in a live clip from an early Ed Sullivan appearance (perhaps the first one) on which they bang out “Glad All Over.” Most of the band sound okay, though not great. The drummer, Dave Clark, sounds like he’s playing a trash can. Yes, the sound on TV in those days could be problematic. Did he get wind of how subpar they/he came off, however, and determine to only play to backing tracks from that point onward?

Another "Dave Clark 5 vs. the Beatles" fanzine. Guess who won?

Another “Dave Clark 5 vs. the Beatles” fanzine. Guess who won?

There’s been some speculation that Clark did not play on the DC5 records. In his interview in the spring 2009 Ugly Things, Adrian Kerridge says that top British session drummer Bobby Graham and Clark played on some sides to create an especially thick drum sound, though he doesn’t go as far as to intimate that Clark didn’t play, period. Here’s a telling remark from an interview with Mike Smith in the February 1991 issue of the UK monthly Record Collector:

Q: There was a story that a session drummer was used on the Five’s records.

Smith: I don’t wish to speak about that.

As to why their songwriting wasn’t discussed all that much, it’s also been speculated that Clark’s role in this was not as great as one might assume, given that his name’s on the credits of many DC5 hits. Another telling exchange from the February 1991 Record Collector:

Q: Dave Clark always got a credit on your songs. Would you like to elaborate?

Smith: I don’t wish to speak about that either.

 More damningly, Ron Ryan — who was in several ’60s British groups who made records without landing hits, including the Riot Squad (with a pre-Jimi Hendrix Experience Mitch Mitchell on drums) and the Blue Aces — said in an interview in the winter 2009 Ugly Things that he wrote or co-wrote some DC5 songs without receiving credit, including the hits “Bits and Pieces,” “Because,” and “Any Way You Want It.” “When I sang a new song to Dave and Mike, Dave used to leave Mike and I to map out an arrangement and find a key suitable for Mike to sing in,” he told John Briggs. “Dave did not stay around as he was not musical, and he had no idea what Mike and I were talking about and found it all boring. However, to make it look as if the band were penning their own material (as with Lennon/McCartney), I agreed that Dave Clark would receive a songwriting credit. A deal was struck on a handshake between myself and Clark that, as soon as the money started rolling in, the songwriter would get a percentage of whatever his songs made. Soon after, the money was indeed rolling in for Dave Clark but I wasn’t seeing any of it.”

Explosive stuff, at least in the world of British Invasion fanatics. Ryan also says a solicitor even advised him to get an injunction to stop the release of “Any Way You Want It.” Ryan’s explanation of why he failed to do so is as odd as some other aspects of the DC5 story: “However, as I knew the boys in the band were on a weekly wage set by Clark, I felt that any bad publicity might hurt their weekly earnings, and so I waived my right to stop the record being released.”

Ryan does state in this article that “the issue of royalties was eventually settled out of court and some money did change hands, albeit far from the full sum I expected.” He thinks, however, that “Clark ripped me off for many hundreds of thousands.” This relatively little known controversy was not mentioned in the documentary.

Ron Ryan was singer in the Riot Squad, whose drummer was a young Mitch Mitchell (center); Ryan is on Mitchell's left.

Ron Ryan was singer in the Riot Squad, whose drummer was a young Mitch Mitchell (center); Ryan is on Mitchell’s left.

A somewhat more well known controversy unmentioned in the film is the failure of much of the DC5 catalog to get reissued on CD. Even the two major Dave Clark best-of compilations, the generally well done two-CD The History of the Dave Clark Five (1993, even if has some wrong dates in the track listings) and the inferior, less extensive The Hits (2008), are now out of print and expensive if you can even locate copies. Clark, as is well known, had the foresight to own the group’s masters, at a time when few artists did so. Why is he keeping such tight rein on their legacy?

There’s speculation, on Facebook if nowhere else, that he got this documentary out there in the first place to help get a better deal for DC5 reissues (and the Ready Steady Go episodes he owns). That’s impossible to say, but let’s be real about this, too. Having the DC5 catalog out of print is not nearly as grievous a tragedy as, say, much of the Kinks and Yardbirds ‘60s recordings being unavailable (as they were, believe it or not, when I started collecting their records as a teenager in the late 1970s). Their albums might not quite have been “uniformly bad,” as Lester Bangs proclaimed in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. But they weren’t very good, either, in part because they rushed out a dozen US LPs (not counting a couple greatest hits collections) between early 1964 and early 1968. There are some overlooked quality B-sides and LP-only tracks — see the section below for my favorites — but there were also a lot of generic stompers, some weak ballads, and even some easy listening instrumentals, along with songs that just weren’t too memorable or creative from any angle. And they didn’t grow musically, or with the times, nearly as much as the better British Invasion bands, let alone their one-time rivals the Beatles.

One Facebook poster said Clark’s writing an autobiography that, one would hope, might shed light on some of these murky areas. Given what little was divulged — controversial or otherwise — in the documentary, however, I wouldn’t count on that. The music does remain if you can find it (and as noted it’s on iTunes now if you must), and here’s a guide to 20 or so of the more obscure cuts you might have missed.

Chaquita (released April 1963): Even if it’s in the main a ripoff of the Champs’ huge late-‘50s instrumental smash “Tequila,” this is a ferocious wordless (save for menacing interjections of “Chaquita!”) rocker with spy-movie snaky sax and a jungle/exotica flavor. Issued as a UK B-side in April 1963, it’s most familiar in the US as the B-side of “Do You Love Me,” as well as a track on their maiden American LP, Glad All Over. Beware of the earlier, far inferior version they issued on their debut single in August 1962, which crops up on some compilations to this day, as Clark doesn’t own the right to those masters.

I Know You (released December 1963): Not much subtlety behind this grinder, just an out-and-out infectious rocker that, like many early British Invasion tunes from the Beatles on down, has a joyous abandon totally at odds with the downcast rejection lamented in the lyrics. Most known as the B-side to “Glad All Over,” it’s also heard on the soundtrack of the Pathe newsreel short done on the group (the same company did similar newsreels on the Beatles in late 1963, and the Rolling Stones in late 1964).

"I Know You" was the B-side of "Glad All Over," the Dave Clark Five's first and still most famous US hit.

“I Know You” was the B-side of “Glad All Over,” the Dave Clark Five’s first and still most famous US hit.

Any Time You Want Love (released July 1964): One of the DC5 songs that switches adeptly between catchy near-ballad love song and more forceful midtempo rocker. Almost good enough to be a single, but not quite, ending up on their American Tour LP.

Whenever You’re Around (released July 1964): A harmony ballad with shimmering organ somewhat in the mold of “Because,” but slower and more wistful. Also from the American Tour LP.

Crying Over You (released October 1964): A nice Beatlesque ballad with close harmonies, heard on the B-side of “Any Way You Want It.” It’s not as good as the Beatles’ early ballads, mind you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. For what ballads are as good as the early ones by the Beatles?

When (released December 1964): A dramatic, haunting ballad with classical piano flourishes and more of their underrated close harmonies. The song was heard several times in their movie Catch Us If You Can (aka Having a Wild Weekend), suiting the film’s unexpectedly downbeat tone. It had already appeared on their Coast to Coast album, however, by the time the movie came out.

Don’t You Know (released December 1964): Also from Coast to Coast, this bash-it-out, get-it-over-with (one minute, 36 seconds) rocker has a little of a DC5-by-numbers feel. But as such filler on Dave Clark Five LPs goes, it’s one of the very best in that style, done with as much shake-it-on-out energy as if they’re doing one of their big hits, especially when the harmonies leap an octave at the very end.

Mighty Good Loving (released March 1965): Another tune that shifts from languid, moody verses to emphatic choruses, making good use of their underrated facility for minor-keyed melodies. From their Weekend in London album, not to be confused with their next LP just a few months down the line, Having a Wild Weekend.

‘Til The Right One Comes Along (released, March 1965): Also from Weekend in London, a real departure for the DC5, as it’s a folky ballad, acoustic guitar supplying the only accompaniment, save for a spot of piano at the end. The DC5 unplugged, perhaps. It sounds a bit like a demo that somehow didn’t progress into a full rock arrangement, which it could have easily been given, but it doesn’t suffer for that.

I’ll Never Know (released March 1965): An uncommonly moody, jagged rocker by the DC5’s upbeat standards, with some equally unusual double-tracked harmonica, from their Weekend in London album.

Remember It’s Me (released March 1965): A final highlight from their Weekend in London album has weird, even spookily echoing piano; another fetching minor-keyed melody, this time perhaps the DC5’s gloomiest; and more of their underrated back-and-forth tempo shifts. It’s their most haunting track, and had they come up with more creative items like “I’ll Never Know,” “Remember It’s Me,” “Don’t Be Taken In,” and “When” on their albums that departed from the usual formula they used on their singles, the DC5 would undoubtedly have more critical respect today.

Hurting Inside (released June 1965): The DC5 had more Beatlesque light rockers than many people remember, other than the oft-cited example of the one big hit they had in that vein, “Because.” Here’s one from the B-side of “I Like It Like That,” featuring a rare (for the DC5) extended guitar solo.

Don’t Be Taken In (released June 1965): Of all the Five’s Beatlesque songs, this is the one that would have come closest to sneaking on an actual Beatles album without raising too many suspicions. The piano-oriented arrangement slightly recalls the approach used on lower-key Beatles for Sale-era tracks like “No Reply,” and the high “no no”s at the end carry a whiff of those heard at the end of “Not a Second Time.” From their Having a Wild Weekend LP.

The Dave Clark: not so wild and crazy guys.

The Dave Clark Five: not so wild and crazy guys.

No Stopping (released June 1965): Like “Chaquita,” another instrumental with a devious surf-cum-spy guitar lick, this one filling out the Having a Wild Weekend LP. It’s not as good as “Chaquita,” but still has some good atmospheric sax bleating and frantic organ.

On the Move (released June 1965): Some of the Dave Clark Five’s instrumentals were throwaways of little value. This might be a throwaway too, but it’s much better than most of the band’s such efforts, sounding something like a collision between Link Wray, Johnny & the Hurricanes, and the surf instrumental hit “Pipeline.” Heard on the B-side of “Catch Us If You Can.”

Also known as Catch Us If You Can, the 1965 film Having a Wild Weekend was no A Hard Day's Night, although it had its good points.

Also known as Catch Us If You Can, the 1965 film Having a Wild Weekend was no A Hard Day’s Night, although it had its good points.

I’ll Be Yours My Love (B-side of “Over and Over,” October 1965): A piano-based ballad with a rolling beat that would verge on the dainty if not for Mike Smith’s customary throaty, earthy vocals, nicely counterpointed by soft backup vocals.

I Need Love (released November 1965): A storming, almost garage-ish workout with one of Smith’s most leather-lunged vocals, ebullient shouts, and a dense blend of keyboards, bass, and Denis Payton’s trademark honking sax. From their I Like It Like That album.

I’m On My Own (released November 1965): The DC5’s periodic ventures into country were about as successful as their other outings into styles other than the straightforward rock they knew best — which is to say, not very. Here’s an exception, also from I Like It Like That, on this nice ballad with some twangy guitar and a brief, more British Invasion-friendly bridge.

All Night Long (released March 1966): Buried on the B-side of the early ’66 hit “Try Too Hard,” as filler B-side instrumental jams go, this is one of the best, with a heavier blues/R&B feel than anything else they cut. This could almost pass as a track by a genuine London R&B-rock British Invasion band, though the DC5 were never considered part of that scene.

Plus honorable mentions for these two hits which, although they reached the Top 20, are seldom if ever heard on oldies radio these days:

Everybody Knows (I Still Love You) (released October 1964): A fine, rather complex midtempo harmony rocker veering between wistful verses and more hard-hitting choruses. Not to be confused with their dissimilar, but similarly titled, 1967 single “Everybody Knows,” a far less notable ballad.

Try Too Hard (released March 1966): One of the band’s hardest rockers, with a curling guitar riff, pounding piano, and an insistent chorus. As a footnote, one of the first records I remember hearing, as my oldest brother was a DC5 fan.

The picture sleeve of "Try Too Hard," which my oldest brother taped to his bedroom wall.

The picture sleeve of “Try Too Hard,” which my oldest brother taped to his bedroom wall.

Imported Produce: How Far Is Too Far?

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have access to a wider selection of produce, I would guess, than not only almost anyone from other parts in the US, but than almost anyone in the world. The long-established Berkeley Bowl, which now has two branches (one big enough to have a huge Bowl-ing alley-sized underground parking garage), might have more rows and rows of produce than any non-chain food store. The food comes not only from California, but from all over the globe:


On a typical visit, you can see grapefruit, melons, berries, and whatnot from as far-flung regions as Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, especially when they’re out of season in the US. I’ve seen mangoes from Mexico, Guatemala, and even Peru at the Bowl, along with other Central and South American regions. You want it, odds are they have it, though the quality and availability will vary according to the time of year.

Yes, it’s great to live in the early-twenty-first century, when you can eat almost whatever you want almost whenever you want. If you have the money, that is—an increasing problem if you’re paying Bay Area housing costs. But what of the other costs, especially to the environment?

Think about the transportation distances involved. If you buy a mango from Peru instead of some tangerines from Northern California, you’re adding more than 4000 “food miles,” as the term goes in sustainable agriculture studies. Edom tomatoes from Israel are flown from 7000 miles distant. That grapefruit from Western Australia came from more than 9000 miles away.

That’s a lot of fuel to get from “farm to fork,” to use another term bandied about in these discussions. According to the EPA, the 2,800 “food miles” a California tomato travels to be sold in Washington, DC adds 165,256 lbs. of carbon dioxide emissions. You can do the math, more or less, to figure out how much more CO2 is unleashed at greater distances.

I don’t mean to pick on Berkeley Bowl too hard here. I don’t live close enough to the stores to go to them regularly, but I shop there myself when I go to the East Bay. According to its website, “the majority of our fruits and vegetables are grown locally”; “we buy from local farmers, the two wholesale markets in San Francisco and one in Oakland, and individuals who travel the agricultural areas of California looking for ripe, delicious fruits and vegetables,”; they have a large organic section, if not as large as the one for conventionally grown produce; and they do clearly mark the areas in which the food originates, as plainly seen here:


This did get me thinking of an issue I haven’t seen addressed in anything I’ve read, however. If you’re concerned about all those food miles adding up, should you not buy any of those Western Australian grapefruit at all? If it comes down to buying a mango from Mexico or Peru, should you go for the Mexican one, even if it’s not as juicy? Is it enough just to feel passing pangs of liberal guilt when you buy that tender-to-the-touch Guatemalan melon, instead of the hard-as-rock one that hasn’t logged as much mileage? Should you patronize stores that import produce from distant corners of the Earth, and should they institute some sort of policies or limits on how far they’ll go in search of that perfect persimmon?

I don’t know of any stores in the Bay Area or elsewhere that place such limits on transportation distances. A start, or at least a mitigation, is being sure to at least also offer a wide selection of locally grown goods, as Berkeley Bowl does. So does Rainbow Grocery, a large worker-owned San Francisco cooperative, which might have a far smaller produce department, but also puts far more emphasis on organic goods. Rainbow also labels the states and countries of origin, even listing the towns for produce grown in California.

Rainbow Grocery labels the state or country of origin of all of its produce, and the town if it's from California. These grapefruit are from Oasis, a small town in Southern California.

Rainbow Grocery labels the state or country of origin of all of its produce, and the town if it’s from California. These grapefruit are from Oasis, a small town in Southern California.

“I don’t know that other stores place strict limits on how far their products travel,” says a member of Rainbow’s produce department. “We don’t. Preference is always given to nearby growers, and we buy farm-direct as often as possible. There are a few farmers who are given very high priority over other suppliers. Often, they’re people who run small operations, whose produce we love, and who have been supplying us for many years or decades. We’re really lucky to be in a region where we’re able to have close relationships with farms that grow an amazing range of produce, while they’re also deeply committed to growing it organically.”

Locally grown produce, it should be stressed, does drastically cut down on the “food miles.” According to a study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, “locally grown produce traveled an average of 56 miles from farm to point of sale, compared to an average of 1,494 miles for 30 types of produce from conventional sources.” The page on its site with a PDF of the whole breakdown’s available here, and also by clicking on the nifty graphic below:

That study was done in 2003, by the way, and it’s a sad comment on the state of left-wing think tanks that there doesn’t seem to have been a similar one done since, as surely things might changed in the last decade. Even Green America, the leading organization for advocating responsible consumerism in the US, still cites the 56-mile figure from the study on its website. Internet searches for more updated studies generated just-mildly-less-outdated scholarly papers of the kind that take a frighteningly long time to download, or even display as a web page. The Leopold Center or someone should pick up the ball on this, though one would guess it’s hardly the study first in line for government or university funding, which might be part of the problem.

It should be added that part of the reason Rainbow, Berkeley Bowl, and other stores outside of the chain mainstream carry produce from far away because of consumer demand. That’s even true in the Bay Area, where much of Rainbow’s clientele is certainly much more socially conscious and politically progressive than the average shopper. “We do carry produce that was grown far away,” notes Rainbow’s produce department member. “Tropical fruits have to travel long distances, so our mangoes and pineapples are usually from Central or South America. Occasionally, we’re able to buy California mangoes. They’re expensive, but we carry them whenever they’re available. Our papayas are flown in from Hawaii. We have Mexican tomatoes when California can’t provide the types we want to carry.

“There is a huge demand from customers to make certain items available,” adds the worker I queried. “We buy imported pears and apples when domestic supplies are exhausted. (By this time of the year, if you want an organic pear, the Southern Hemisphere is kind of the only game in town.) We also buy imported blueberries. It’s a fact of modern life that we defy the seasons to satisfy our culinary and commercial wants or needs. There is disagreement within our department as to whether or when it’s appropriate to sell certain things, but we do our best to make responsible decisions.”

A key difference between Rainbow and Berkeley Bowl (among many other stores that could be compared to Rainbow) is, as stated earlier, that organic produce is far more prominent at the San Francisco cooperative. “For the Produce Department at Rainbow, it’s most important that our products are organically grown. For this reason, everything we carry is certified organic, wildcrafted (foraged produce, like wild mushrooms or fiddlehead ferns), or (in extremely rare instances) ecologically grown (grown and harvested according to organic guidelines, but lacking official certification). We carry NOTHING that was grown conventionally.”

If the organic produce isn’t locally grown, does that outweigh the effects of transportation over longer (sometimes much longer) distances? Should socially responsible buyers favor produce, even of the organic kind, whose journeys from farm to fork are shorter? Should they even decline to buy produce from far-off regions altogether—and if so, how far is too far? Mexico, Guatemala, or some other cutoff point (if measured from California)? Should there even be a carbon tax of some sort on produce, depending on how many “food miles” it’s traveled?

These are all questions I can’t answer—and, more importantly, that don’t seem to have been answered or discussed too much, either in academia or the socially responsible community that supports sustainable food consumption. One step toward finding those answers is bringing up the questions, and just this blog query has ignited some discussions at Rainbow. Watch this space for a follow-up, if more discussion at the cooperative’s meetings, formal or informal, result in any more info on how we should keep an eye on the fuel our food is burning up—even the produce is purchased with a social conscience.

UPDATE: Since I put up this post, I’ve found out that at least one health food store in the Bay Area not only posts signs with the place of origin of their produce, but also actually lists the distance it travels to the store.  Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax, on one of Marin County’s main drags (Sir Francis Drake Boulevard), has signs such as the one below. Apologies for the blurriness, but you should be able to make out that this dill in its produce section was grown 201 miles from the store:




Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile

Due for publication on Da Capo Press on May 15, Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile is the third book Robert Greenfield’s written on the Stones in the early 1970s. It’s also the slimmest, built around the band’s fairly brief March 1971 “farewell” tour of the UK before leaving England to take up residence in France as tax exiles. Greenfield was along for the tour, and fleshes out the one-or-two-sitting read with after-the-fact inside stories he learned later (sometimes years later); an amusing account of extracting a lengthy interview out of Keith Richards over the course of many days in France in 1971; and a few accounts of hanging with the Stones the following year (particularly while Exile on Main Street was mixed in LA in early 1972). At least some of the stories and quotes also appeared in Greenfield’s Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones; since neither book is indexed, it’s hard to make an exact count.


Still, I kind of like Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye. It’s more humbly and humorously written than his other two Stones volumes. If you want some he-was-there insights into the band’s quirky and changing dynamic, you’ll get those in the observations of tension Mick Jagger’s then-new relationship with bride-to-be Bianca was causing; the struggles of Keith Richards and his then-common-law wife Anita Pallenberg to kick drug dependency; and the stranglehold Mick and Keith already had over the group, the other three often waiting around for the two figureheads to deign to show up before they could get going onstage or in the studio, granted neither explanations nor apologies. Richards in particular seems like a pill to be around, flaunting his nobody-tells-me-what-to-do power whether insisting his dog be allowed to travel with him on a plane (eventually Charlie Watts comes up with a bag for “Boogie”’s ride in the hold) or prying the door off a locked dressing room rather than wait for the promoter and his keys.

If you’re one of those nerds who actually cares about the music as much as the sideshows, there are some bits that have survived only because Greenfield happened to be around. There’s Marshall Chess of Rolling Stones Records, for instance, bugging Jagger at the dinner party after the first gig in Newcastle. Sticky Fingers was about to be issued—contradicting all post-1970s marketing wisdom, the Stones were touring right before its release—and Chess had to coax the track sequence out of the band. Or, rather, out of Jagger, the chief decision maker when you came down to it. “More than twenty minutes on a side and you lose level,” Marshall told Mick. “You know that. It’s how they cut the grooves. So we have to work out the running order.”

Failing to make much progress as the evening wears on, Chess even asks Jagger to cut a verse out of “Moonlight Mile,” all in the name of getting Sticky Fingers into the shops with maximum fidelity. Mick’s response after a few minutes of Marshall’s spiel: “What, Marshall?”

One of many bootlegs of the Rolling Stones' concert at Leeds University on March 13, 1971.

One of many bootlegs of the Rolling Stones’ concert at Leeds University on March 13, 1971.

Even with Sticky Fingers due for release in a month’s time, there was still a chance, according to Chess, that Jagger would go back to the studio to re-record some vocals. He never did, in part because the Stones really had to be out of the country at the end of the month to start their tax exiledom. In fact, that’s the reason the band were touring in advance of Sticky Fingers’ release in the first place, even playing some songs (“Dead Flowers,” “Bitch,” “Brown Sugar”) from the LP in concert that had yet to be available. Imagining that happening today, when everyone from label heads to lowly copyright lawyers would be predicting instant death if original songs were aired before commercial availability, or worse.

I’m not sure whether this has previously appeared anywhere, but there’s also a quote from Mick Taylor’s wife of the time, Rose, that gives you more insight into the younger Mick’s frustrations with the Rolling Stones than anything I remember reading in an actual Mick Taylor interview:

“The tour wasn’t really fun because even at that point I think Mick Taylor realized he had made a mistake by joining them. Even then. Because he could have done other things. He could have gone and joined Paul Butterfield. He could have done music he was more interested in than rock’n’roll. He could have played the blues. And jazz. He was also taking classical guitar lessons. His music interests were very wide and if he had done something that he had been the boss of, it would have been better for him than taking this job which of course everyone said, ‘Oh, you have to do this. It’s so wonderful.’ 

“In all the time he did it, he never ever thought it was wonderful. Ever. If he played well, it was okay except that Keith would turn his amp down. Or he would only have the time of his solo to play well and that was that. If he played badly, they applauded anyway so he felt there was no discernment on the part of the audience. He didn’t feel he was making any contribution that was really important. He was so sensitive. And he was never satisfied with what he did with them, really.”

In the UK, one track from the March 13, 1971 concert at Leeds University, "Let It Rock," was released on a three-track single.

In the UK, one track from the March 13, 1971 concert at Leeds University, “Let It Rock,” was released on a three-track single.

Even some of the more marginal hangers-on come up with a story or two worth hearing. Jerry Pompili, in charge of the tour’s security, somehow got tasked with transcribing lyrics for “Bitch,” “Brown Sugar,” “Moonlight Miles,” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” so they could be copyrighted (quite possibly to guard against infringement after the Rolling Stones played Sticky Fingers material on this very tour). He actually went to Jagger’s house to

“drop a needle on them and try to figure out what the hell he was singing. Which was not really all that easy. I played the acetates over and over and wrote down all the lyrics I could understand by hand. Then I took the pages back…and Mick came into the office and looked at them and that got his memory going so he was able to fill in most of the blanks. We had one disagreement and it was on ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.’ There was one line that sounded to me and everybody else like ‘Yeah, I’ve got flatted feet now, now, now,’ but Mick swore that was not what he had sung. He couldn’t remember what it was, so we just went with ‘Yeah, I’ve got flatted feet now, now, now.’”

Decision-making at the highest level really wasn’t as corporate those days.

Nor was landing an audience with one of the biggest rock stars in the world. Assigned to interview Keith Richards by Rolling Stone, Greenfield simply drove to his legendary base in Nellcôte, walked in the unlocked door, and got a hearty hug from the man, though the pair had barely interacted during the farewell tour. On his next visit, things weren’t going quite as well, Anita Pallenberg asking Greenfield, “Did you bring us something to smoke so we can all get high, yes?” It so happened Greenfield had just been given some hash by a PR guy in Cannes, and after it was passed around and given Keith’s blessing, “I was now most definitely persona grata at Villa Nellcôte.”

And when Greenfield was having trouble pinning Keith down for a finale to the interview, he did what anyone would have done in those circumstances, back in 1971, at any rate. He called Marshall Chess, who immediately flew over from London. After a closed-door Chess/Richards meeting, Greenfield got everything he needed the next morning. Now that’s corporate efficiency, even if the author had to wait around Nellcôte as endlessly as Watts, Wyman, and Taylor for Keith to get his act together.

Of course, there were plenty of drugs, women, and whatnot to while away the days in the meantime. If that wasn’t enough of a distraction, cartons of albums yet to be released on either side of the Atlantic were delivered to the villa daily. Keith, Greenfield reports, was particularly enamored of a reggae tune called “Funky Jamaica” by the JA Horns, playing it over and over—though Internet searches do not yield details of any record by that title by that artist. Can anyone out there help?

Maybe the record Keith Richards heard was actually "Funky Nassau," a hit for the Bahamas band the Beginning of the End in 1971.

Maybe the record Keith Richards heard was actually “Funky Nassau,” a hit for the Bahamas band the Beginning of the End in 1971.

Knowing Richards’s role as lord of the manor extended even to control of the turntable, Greenfield had to wait until everyone else had turned in to “put James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon on the stereo without being laughed at.” Richards barged in nonetheless to pick up his young son’s toys, “shooting me a cynical look that left no doubt as to what he thought of my current musical selection.”

And now a final Keith story, actually from 1973, in the book’s last section: in mid-1973, he got in trouble with the British authorities on drug charges and over possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. He and Pallenberg got off with a £250 fine, but on the day of the trial Mick Jagger told engineer Andy Johns, “I think Keith’s going down. But it’s all right. I’ve got Jesse Ed Davis with his bags packed in L.A. He can be on the next plane.” We all know some of the near-misses of guitarists who almost got to be in the Rolling Stones, like Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel; here’s another one, even if it might have only been a temporary replacement to fulfill tour obligations.

For all his bumbling, Greenfield did get a lot out of his time with the Stones. Not just three books, but also one of the longest, best interviews with a classic rocker ever conducted. That’s the one he did with Richards in 1971, which was so mammoth it takes up no less than 75 pages in the 1973 anthology The Rolling Stone Interviews Vol. 2. (Read it online here.) For that, Greenfield should be grateful, as it built much of the foundation for his career as an author. And for that interview, we should be grateful, as it provides the deepest first-hand insight by any of the Stones on their first and best decade.

Robert Greenfield's massive 1971 interview with Keith Richards in his French villa was a cover story for Rolling Stone.

Robert Greenfield’s massive 1971 interview with Keith Richards in his French villa was a cover story for Rolling Stone.

The End of a Land’s End Era

Just like it seems almost too easy—cheap, even—to post photos of the Golden Gate Bridge when you’re blogging about great San Francisco outdoors sites, so it is to post photos taken from the trail at Land’s End. Like this one:

The Golden Gate Bridge, seen from the eastern end of Land's End trail.

The Golden Gate Bridge, seen from the eastern end of Land’s End trail.

There you get Land’s End and the bridge in one shot. A key difference between this and most bridge pics is that most tourists don’t even know about Land’s End. In fact, some San Francisco residents haven’t even been to Land’s End. That’s unbelievable considering both its spectacular cliffside trail—running by the water between the bridge and Golden Gate Park—and its lack of much pedestrian traffic, even on near-ideal sunny Sunday mornings like this one. I guess I’m blowing the secret by blogging about it, but I’ll take my chances.

I much prefer entering Land’s End at its eastern end, which is much quieter than the large parking lot (including a Golden Gate National Recreation Area visitor center) at the western entrance near the famed Cliff House restaurant.  The trail as a whole, but especially this part—with its inconspicuous entrance, between a tony residential area and a golf course—has undergone some recent renovations. Here’s the best one, finally adding a few bike racks where previously there were none, forcing you to use a Stop sign pole down the street:

Bike Rack

Be sure to take the scenic Lake Street bike path if you’re coming from points east, rather than the more traffic-heavy alternate routes:

The Lake Street bike path, halfway between Land's End and its start (at Arguello & Lake in the Inner Richmond)

The Lake Street bike path, halfway between Land’s End and its start (at Arguello & Lake in the Inner Richmond)

I have mixed feelings, though, about the renovations just a few yards past the bike racks at the trail’s entrance:


There used to be an elevated platform there. Yes, it obstructed part of the view, at least from some angles. But it was also where I saw a good friend get married a dozen years ago—possibly the best such outdoors location in San Francisco for such an occasion. It was one of those typically Mark Twain-nightmare socked-in foggy mid-summer days here, and as I drove out to the site, I had little hope it would lift. Magically, it did, only minutes before the ceremony, brilliant blue sunny skies bordering gray clouds just over the highest tips of the Golden Gate Bridge. Hollywood couldn’t have planned a better shot. And no, I don’t have a photo, unfortunately. In a happier footnote, the couple’s still married, with a son just a few years away from entering his teens.

Other modifications on the trail are more moderate, the most visible being a few graded steps in a couple sections and some unobtrusive small chained-together poles guarding some cliffside sections. You still get great views like these:

The Sutro Baths -- the most spectacular view from Land's End trail, near the western entrance.

The Sutro Baths — the most spectacular view from Land’s End trail, near the western entrance.

That's the Marin Headlands from another point on the trail.

That’s the Marin Headlands from another point on the trail.

Yet another bridge view, though not from the ex-platform space near the eastern entrance.

Yet another bridge view, though not from the ex-platform space near the eastern entrance.

From the top of the steep stairs about halfway along the trail.

From the top of the steep stairs about halfway along the trail.

And you can still get great views from where that platform used to be (it seems like they’re putting in plants in the leveled space it formerly occupied). It’s sad, though, knowing I’ll never see a wedding there again.

You can't see weddings-on-a-platform anymore at the eastern end of Land's End, but at least you can sit down while you enjoy the view.

You can’t see weddings-on-a-platform anymore at the eastern end of Land’s End, but at least you can sit down while you enjoy the view.

The Velvet Underground & Nico: The April Fool’s Version

Not long ago, an amusing fake album cover was making the rounds on Facebook. Back in April 1966, the Velvet Underground and Nico had recorded at least nine songs at Scepter Studios in New York, hoping to place the result as an album with Columbia Records. At least, that seems to have been the thinking—Columbia might have asked them to add some material and re-record some tracks, as they did when Verve Records signed them. Had Columbia signed the VU and issued those nine tracks as an album, the LP sleeve might have looked like this:


That’s not bad, and of course some of the same imagery from their Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia stage shows would show up on the back cover of their actual debut LP, released in early 1967:


But wouldn’t you agree that the cover of The Velvet Underground and Nico, as released on Verve Records, was much better? For one thing, it was designed by Andy Warhol:


This is iconic, not just another above-average-for-the-time LP cover, in the manner of what Columbia was putting out on the Byrds and Simon & Garfunkel.

Also note that the fake LP has just nine songs, which would have made for rather short running time, even by 1966 standards. Presumably Columbia would have added “There She Goes Again,” a song the Velvets were already doing onstage in late 1965. Indeed, I’m not convinced the VU didn’t do that at Scepter, the song somehow not making it onto the legendary nine-song acetate (including versions and mixes that were different from the ones used on Verve’s Velvet Underground & Nico, and now officially available) made from those sessions.

Norman Dolph, who helped finance the Scepter sessions, remembers Columbia reacting more or less as follows: “There’s no way in the world any sane person would buy or want to listen or put anything behind this record. You’re out of your mind with this.” In the short term, their failure to get a deal with Columbia definitely hurt. Although they quickly signed with MGM subsidiary Verve, that label didn’t put out their debut album for almost a year, by which time some crucial momentum was lost. Verve never promoted the VU too effectively either, though it remains unknown whether Columbia or indeed any company could have promoted such an unusual and daringly experimental band with much success at the time.

Yet Columbia’s rejection ultimately did quite possibly make the album better. For one thing, maybe Columbia wouldn’t have used Warhol’s design. More importantly, the VU were able to add “There She Goes Again” to the Verve release. Even more crucially, at the insistence of Verve producer Tom Wilson, one more song was recorded for the LP about half a year later, in late 1966, in the hopes of coming up with a commercial track for Nico to sing. That was the classic “Sunday Morning,” though Lou Reed ended up taking the lead vocal, Nico only adding some faint backup vocals. That made a great LP even greater, though the delays were enormously frustrating to a band eager to make their imprint. The full story—time out for a commercial here—is in my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day.


For more information about this book, click here.

Seeing the fake album sleeve did make me think of other interesting fakes, or at least facsimiles of what might have been, that have circulated over the years. Here’s another, also on Columbia Records:


This is a legitimate vinyl LP release on Sundazed. In the mid-1960s, however, the Rising Sons—a supergroup before their time, with Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, and (at different points) future Spirit drummer Ed Cassidy and future Byrds drummer Kevin Kelley—only managed to release one single, despite recording more than 20 tracks. This collector-oriented release creams off a dozen of them to simulate the album that might have come out at the time, had Columbia had its act together. Issued decades after the Rising Sons broke up, it used previously unpublished color photos to, in the words of Sundazed’s website, “present the Rising Sons’ self-titled debut LP as it might have looked and sounded had it appeared in 1966.”

There are numerous other examples of albums that could have come out, didn’t, and have had what-if covers constructed by bootleggers and official record labels. We’ll stop, however, with just this famous one:


That’s what the Beatles’ Let It Be album might have looked like, had it come out around spring 1969 as originally planned, using the title Get Back instead. They never really agreed on how and when to issue the record, or even what to put on it, which played its own large part in breaking up the group by spring 1970. But in playing around with ideas for the cover, at least they got a great photo out of it, deliberately staged at the same location (a stairwell at EMI Records’ headquarters) where they posed for the cover of their first album in early 1963. What a difference six years made:


A Tale of Two Ballparks

About a month ago, it was reported that the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s might share the Giants’ stadium, AT&T Park, for a while in the future. That might happen if the A’s build a new stadium in Oakland (not at all certain since ownership has looked at relocating to San Jose, the East Bay suburb of Fremont, and other options over the last few years) and need a temporary home in the meantime. Why not just keep playing at their current home (the Coliseum, now officially Coliseum) in Oakland, you ask? Well, would you want to play in a ballpark where sewage backs up in the clubhouse, as it did yesterday during a rainstorm canceling the A’s’ last exhibition game?

As a San Francisco resident, I’d kind of like having both teams in AT&T Park, at least for a year or two. That wouldn’t make my East Bay friends happy, as they’d have a lot farther to travel for games, and likely have to pay higher prices. But it would be convenient for me, and the tickets would likely be at least a little less expensive and more obtainable for the A’s games than the Giants contests, if unlikely to be a bargain. And I could wear my Giants/A’s hat, a giveaway years ago at one of their interleague series.


Though odd, two teams in the same city (or at least metropolitan area) sharing the same stadium isn’t unprecedented. The Giants and Yankees shared New York’s Polo Grounds from 1913-1922; the Yanks played in the Mets’ (now-extinct) Shea Stadium in 1974 and 1975 while Yankee Stadium was being redone; the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns were both in Sportsman’s Park from 1920-53. The Braves (when they were in Boston) and Red Sox shared Fenway Park for part of 1914 and 1915. There may well be other instances of which I’m unaware.

As you’d expect, this has led to some unusual situations, even though games were scheduled, naturally, so that one of the teams was playing at home while the other was on the road. My favorite happened in 1944, when the St. Louis Browns, to the shock of everyone, won their only American League pennant. They were a legendarily inept team during most of their approximately half-century instance, but with World War II on, they had their window of opportunity to grab a flag, as many of the best major league players were in the military. In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals won their third straight pennant, and suddenly the city would host the entire world series, all to be played in Sportsman’s Park.

Even the Browns, the best account of baseball during World War II.

Even the Browns, the best account of baseball during World War II.

As William B. Mead’s 1978 book Even the Browns: The Zany, True Story of Baseball in the Early Forties reports:

The first clash between managers Luke Sewell [of the Browns] and Billy Southworth [of the Cardinals] was over a place to sleep. With housing short in wartime, the Sewells and Southworths had shared an apartment all season. The closet was for men, with Sewell’s clothes at one end and Southworth’s at the other. The Browns and Cardinals were never in St. Louis at the same time. As Sewell would be leaving with the Browns, Mrs. Sewell would entrain for the family home in Akron, and into the Lindell Towers apartment would come the Southworths.

However admirable this display of interleague cooperation might have appeared during the season, it would never do for the opposing managers to sit in the same living room after a World Series game, sipping bourbon and chatting politely with their wives. Besides, Sewell wanted to invite his mother, and Mrs. Southworth could hardly be expected to put up with a mother-in-law from the wrong family and, indeed, the wrong league. To the relief of both couples, another resident of the building was out of town in October and graciously let the Southworths use his apartment.

The Giants and Yankees ended up playing not just one but two World Series against each other in the same ballpark in 1921 and 1922, the final years they were sharing the Polo Grounds. Yankee Stadium opened in 1923, or else they would have staged the entire series there a third straight year, as both teams won pennants again. Babe Ruth likely would have hit even more home runs than he did if the Yanks had stayed in the Polo Grounds, though as it was he didn’t do too badly, totaling 714 homers in his career.

Neither the Yankees nor the Mets made the postseason when they were sharing Shea, though the Yanks came close in 1974. I was only twelve then, but the one issue I remember flaring up as a result of the co-tenancy was with star Yankees outfielder Bobby Murcer. The dimensions at Shea Stadium were different than Yankee Stadium, of course, and Murcer suddenly had a lot more trouble hitting balls in the seats. After averaging about 25 homers in 1969-73, his power plummeted, and he hit just ten—only two of them at Shea. As we would say now, the park probably “got into his head,” and I remember some national broadcasters making a big deal out of the power outage. Uncoincidentally, the following year he was traded to the Giants (now in San Francisco) for another superstar deemed to be underachieving, Bobby Bonds.

Bobby Murcer, thrilled to be out of Shea Stadium and playing in that other noted hitter's paradise, San Francisco's Candlestick Park.

Bobby Murcer, thrilled to be out of Shea Stadium and playing in that other noted hitter’s paradise, San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.

As one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors, AT&T will likely be as hard a place for Oakland hitters as the Coliseum—also one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors, in large part due to its sizable foul territory. As to whether we’ll see them calling AT&T home for a while, that remains as indefinite a proposition as the A’s even staying in Oakland, their ballpark situation having dragged on for years with no resolution in sight.

Hiking in the El Cerrito Hills

Just a few miles north of Berkeley, El Cerrito is not known as a destination point, even to San Francisco Bay Area residents. If it’s known for anything, it’s for being the hometown of Creedence Clearwater Revival, as well as the location of Down Home Music, for many years one of the primary retailers and distributors of “roots” music.

Much of El Cerrito is indeed flat, suburban, and unremarkable. But go up the steep hills to the east, and if you know where to walk, there’s some good hiking and views, like this:

Motorycycle Hill

That’s Motorcycle Hill, where riders would indeed try to ascend the peak back in the 1920s. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture of Dudley Perkins winning the 1928 National Hill Climb there:


Photo on the Motorcycle Hill page of the El Cerrito Trail Trekkers site, at

Nowadays it’s a lot more peaceful, though on the other hand, back then, you didn’t have as much noise from the nearby highway and public transit trains. You can still hear some of it on the modest hike I took today, but it’s pretty peaceful for the most part. In part that’s because the community’s making a concerted effort to prevent development on this stretch of land, Madera Hillside Open Space:


Should it remain undeveloped, there will be uninterrupted parkland from here to Motorcycle Hill, save for one main artery (Potrero Avenue) running between them.

The trail going through Madera Hillside Open Space is accessible by public stairway near Madera Circle. Other nice spots on the walk include spots like these:


And this view of the bay. That’s little-known, seldom visited Brooks Island, with larger Angel Island behind it, the Marin Headlands in the distance, and the Golden Gate Bridge at the left:

Brooks Island

This being not-too-far-from Berkeley, it wasn’t a total surprise to come across this public artwork near the end of the walk:


On your drive down (you can bike here, but it’s almost as steep as it comes in the Bay Area, which is saying something), you might come across wildlife like this turkey, spotted on Portrero Avenue:


Cap off the day with lunch at fine eateries such as this, on El Cerrito’s main drag, San Pablo Avenue:


For more information about hikes in the El Cerrito hills, go to the El Cerrito Trail Trekkers site.

Inside Inside Llewyn Davis

I’m not a great guy to see music biopics with, as it’s kind of like seeing a courtroom drama with a lawyer. I’m always finding all the things they’re getting wrong about a musician or band’s career, much like real lawyers can tell you why a certain defense would never fly. So when I heard the Coen Brothers were doing a movie based on Dave Van Ronk’s memoir (The Mayor of MacDougal Street, which is very good, though he didn’t finish it before his death), I was dubious. Would they really be either faithful to his story, or capture something of his spirit even if he was more a prototype for a fictional movie?


Well, I’m glad to report two surprises. One was that I liked the movie a lot, though it wasn’t perfect. The second is that, though the pre-release hype I came across (which went on for quite some time) did play up the Van Ronk connection, there really isn’t too much of Van Ronk in the movie’s story or main character. The Van Ronk book (co-written by Elijah Wald) continues to be cited as a source for the film in some media reports, which I find misleading.

Not a rival movie or biopic, but a 1964 album by Dave Van Ronk.

Not a rival movie or biopic, but a 1964 album by Dave Van Ronk.

Not that I’m too annoyed; the film probably wouldn’t have been as good if it had tried to re-create the story of Van Ronk, or another early-‘60s Greenwich Village folkie. But as far as much resemblance between Van Ronk and the movie’s protagonist, let’s be serious here. Van Ronk had a gravelly, bluesy voice that marked him as one of the earthiest and best performers in the scene. Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) sings rather unremarkable material that’s neither as bland as the most whitebread folk revival-ish stuff nor as cutting and keening as Van Ronk (or early Bob Dylan, who’s portrayed with a cameo near the very end). Some people like his tunes in the film; I found them neither here nor there, though they were close enough to the early-‘60s folk revival sound that they fit into the storyline okay. Van Ronk (along with his wife of the time, Terri Thal) was a respected part of the scene who did his part to help other musicians, including Dylan (who took his arrangement of “House of the Rising Sun” from Van Ronk’s). Davis is on the margins, on the verge of dropping out of the profession altogether, and alienating everybody, from girlfriends and managers to family and folkies.

Inside Llewyn Davis is more a solid story of a troubled young man than it is a reflection of Van Ronk’s musical and personal life. I didn’t observe the Greenwich Village scene firsthand (I wasn’t even born yet, actually), but the settings in the film do seem reasonably accurate from what a fan like me can glean from the available history. And the film does use some archetypes that have at least some basis in real-life early-‘60s folkies, managers, clubowners, promoters, and well-meaning if unhip liberal academic benefactors. Here are a few that might escape viewers with a casual-to-nonexistent knowledge of the folk revival (which, I emphasize, is no impediment to appreciating the movie):

The wholesome fellow from the military who sleeps on “Jim & Jean”’s floor near the beginning seems to me based on Tom Paxton. Paxton, despite his rabid anti-war views, did serve in the military before his career took off, and has steered entirely clear of controversy since he rose to prominence as a singer-songwriter in the mid-1960s, though the “Troy Nelson” figure in the movie seems more All-American and whitebread.


You don’t have to be a genius to know that “Bud Grossman,” the Chicago clubowner/manager who tells Davis he doesn’t hear enough money in Llewyn’s music, is based in part on Albert Grossman. Grossman also ran a club in Chicago, the Gate of Horn. It was one of the most popular folk clubs in the US, in fact, and was instrumental to the career of early (if largely forgotten) folk revival performer Bob Gibson, as well as a teenaged Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, who learned a lot of his folk chops there before going on to accompany folk stars and co-found the Byrds. Grossman soon became the most powerful folk manager with Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Ian & Sylvia, and others on his client roster. (Later he’d become a big force in rock too, managing Janis Joplin, the Band, and others.)

Getting back to “Bud Grossman,” his suggestion in the movie that Davis sing as part of a trio Grossman’s forming also has some grounding in real-life events. It took some time for Peter, Paul & Mary to solidify their personnel. Van Ronk was considered for one of the two male slots, though it’s hard to imagine him fitting into the smooth harmonies in which they specialized. So was Bob Gibson.

Though Davis is a solo act in the film, it’s clear he’s recorded and performed earlier as part of a duo with another guy, now dead. There were a good if not overwhelming number of male folk duos, like Bud & Travis, Barry & Barry (one of whom was Barry McGuire of later “Eve of Destruction” fame), and (for a while) Bob Gibson and Bob Camp. Gibson and Camp recorded a live album at the Gate of Horn, and Grossman had considered teaming them with a woman singer before Peter, Paul & Mary were finalized. “Bob Camp” later became Hamilton Camp, most known for writing and recording the original version of “Pride of Man,” later made famous in a rock version by Quicksilver Messenger Service.


The smooth, urbane Columbia Records executive in the scene where Davis stumbles into a part as a session musician for the novelty “Please Mr. Kennedy” is obviously based on John Hammond. The legendary producer had played a big role in the careers of jazz giants like Billie Holiday, Charlie Christian, and Benny Goodman. He’d be the force behind signing Bob Dylan to a recording contract in late 1961, also producing Dylan’s earliest Columbia sessions. He became aware of Dylan through Bob’s participation (as harmonica player) in a session by another Columbia folk artist he was producing, Carolyn Hester. It’s not clear from the film whether Davis’s role in “Please Mr. Kennedy” will lead to a similar break, however.

The Carolyn Hester album, with Bob Dylan on harmonica, that was produced by Columbia Records' John Hammond, who'd soon sign Dylan.

The Carolyn Hester album, with Bob Dylan on harmonica, that was produced by Columbia Records’ John Hammond, who’d soon sign Dylan.

The ineffectual, elderly manager whom Davis accuses of failing to promote his career in an early scene rings true, as there were (and are) many such figures who don’t make their clients rich. One possible model is Harold Leventhal, who handled the career of Pete Seeger and the Weavers (and, later, Judy Collins and Arlo Guthrie). But he was respected, efficent, and successful, not the bumbler with the antiquated office portrayed in Inside Llewyn Davis. I’ve heard Folkways boss Moe Asch suggested as a model for this character too, but while Asch might have scraped at the financial margins of the record industry, I’d think he was much tougher and sharper.

The hapless, frumpy Appalachian-type folk singer Davis heckles at a club performance could be based in part on any number of musicians who started their career before the 1960s; played a particularly reverent, striving-to-be-authentic strain of folk music; and who are rarely noted today, in part because the over-reverence of their approach has made them more dated than early Dylan (or, for that matter, Van Ronk). Probably the highest-profile such musician, however, was Jean Ritchie, the dulcimer player from Kentucky who made her first records in the early 1950s, and is still alive at the age of 91. Ritchie’s music might strike some as prim, but it was livelier and more dignified than what little we hear of the woman in this scene.


The Irish singers are, naturally, based on the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, very popular Greenwich Village folk performers, and good friends of Bob Dylan.


Finally, we come to two of the highest-ranking supporting roles in the film, those of “Jim” and “Jean.” There was indeed a duo named Jim & Jean on the ‘60s New York folk scene, and their first album is indeed of the kind of innocuous, traditional-based folk they played in the movie:


But Jim & Jean were more musically interesting than the movie, or that LP, might have you believe. Jim Glover was a close early friend of Phil Ochs, with whom he was part of a folk duo, the Sundowners, before hooking up with Jean Ray. In 1966, Jim & Jean did a good early folk-rock album, Changes, with off-the-beaten-track compositions (some yet to be recorded by their authors) by Ochs, Dylan, David Blue, and Eric Andersen. After a poppier, more elaborately produced third album, they ended their career, though Jean Ray helped inspire two famous songs by Neil Young, “Cinammon Girl” and “Cowgirl in the Sand.” Full disclosure: I did the liner notes for a CD reissue combining their second and third LPs (for which I interviewed Jean Ray, who died in 2007), which can be read here.


Does Inside Llewyn Davis accurately capture these characters, even in caricature? I wouldn’t say so, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s a story set in the early-‘60s Greenwich Village folk scene, not a biopic, though some of the movie’s publicity seemed to be prepping viewers for one. It’s got gallows humor and tragedy that doesn’t descend into pathos, and is recommended whether you’re a folk fan or not. And if you are a folk fan and want to hear the real deal, here’s some more shameless self-promotion. Check out the new two-CD compilation Greenwich Village in the ‘60s on Warner Brothers Australia, which collects several dozen vintage recordings from the folk revival, for which I also did the liner notes: