Artist’s Choice: Marshall Crenshaw's "Jazz and Blues Records That I Acquired During High School"
A Detroit rock ’n’ roller on the ones that stuck
I still have the first issue of DownBeat that I ever saw, swiped from my junior high school band director's office, a "Special Guitar Issue" from 1965 with Jim Hall on the cover. Odd, because it was 1967 or ’68 when I grabbed it, but anyway, reading that magazine really took my mind on a trip. I looked at the list of the magazine's "correspondents" and saw that their Detroit guy was John Sinclair, locally infamous by that time as a marijuana advocate/anarchist. I never had the impulse to try to become a jazz musician, but I've loved the music since forever.
Tony Williams Lifetime
EMERGENCY (Verve, 1969)
I saw, a couple years ago, the Miles Davis at the Isle of Wight docu (Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue), where Stanley Crouch dismisses that period of Miles' music as purely an attempted cash grab. I disagree with Crouch about the music, but it's true that a lot of jazz artists made crossover moves after Hendrix and Cream made it big. This, of course, is Tony Williams with a pretty-looking English guitarist (John McLaughlin) with a Marshall stack, and Larry Young on organ, but I don't think there's one shred of compromise in this music. They didn't try to "take it to the kids," they tried to "take IT!!! to the kids." I love this record to death still, play it all the time, have the whole thing in my iPod. I saw Cream at Olympia Stadium (where the Beatles played) on their farewell tour, then saw Jack Bruce in some crappy little rock club about a year and a half later as a member of Tony Williams Lifetime. The music was an insane, fierce onslaught, face-melting, paint-stripping, indescribable… I thought the place was going to explode.
"MY FAVORITE THINGS" (Atlantic, 1961, single)
Around 10th grade I was over at a friend's house doing something I always did back then, looking through whatever records the family had. I saw this 45 and was really puzzled as to why A) This guy's family would have a John Coltrane record, or any interesting record, and B) Why was the Atlantic label blue and silver instead of red and black like all the other ones I'd ever seen? I asked my friend if I could "borrow" the record, took it home and immediately wrote my name all over it (on both sides--see photo); I'm embarrassed about this now. By this time WABX, the local Detroit FM hippy-rock station, was the soundtrack of my life, and they played tons of jazz (at least until about 1970 when it and all FM rock radio got fucking ruined, IMO), including the long, album version of "My Favorite Things." Tom Dowd was such a great editor, so I still don't know if the versions on this 45 were edited out of the long version or recorded separately.
THE BEST OF THE BIG BANDS—A COLUMBIA MUSICAL TREASURY (Columbia, 1968)
Here's another record that belonged to someone else but wound up permanently with me, but this time it was my brother Robert who initially "borrowed" it. If you read any rock history books, especially the early ones, they stress how insipid and white-bread the "mainstream" pop music of the early ’50s was, and that's largely true, at least for me. But a lot of kids of my generation lumped the big band era in with the postwar stuff. This album let me know for the first time how badly wrong that was. Highlights (for me) included "Celery Stalks at Midnight," by Will Bradley, "Snowfall," by Claude Thornhill, "Nightmare," by Artie Shaw, "Chickery Chick," by Gene Krupa w/ Anita O'Day. But I liked some of the cheesy stuff too, like "Billy," by Orrin Tucker w/ Wee Bonnie Baker. Anyway, this record really crystallized this idea in my mind that there's no such thing as "old" music: If I'm experiencing it Right Now, and it's affecting me Right Now, then to me it's contemporary. A lot of kids have that view nowadays, but not when I was a kid.
Gary Burton Quartet
DUSTER (RCA, 1967)
Like the Tony Williams album, I read about this one in DownBeat and thought, "Hmmm," and decided to check it out. I wore out my first copy, just recently re-bought it again on eBay. It seems like the album is out of print, which seems strange. There are a couple of sorta funny moments when Larry Coryell decides to get wild, leans toward his tiny Ampeg amp with his big Gibson jazz box and gets this feedback that goes "sqeeeeek." But really, it's a beautiful record by a brilliant group..
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
THE PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND (Elektra, 1965)
Back in 8th or 9th grade my best friend was a guy named Mike McMasters (and we're still friends, I'm glad to say). We were in some bands together, playing strictly garage rock-type stuff ca. 1966-67. But then one day he came back from a trip to Chicago to visit a half-brother named Dan. Dan was a bass player, played with a guy called Chicago Slim, if I'm not mistaken, and during Mike's visit he got schooled, evangelized, converted, etc., by Dan: All Mike could talk about when he got home was the Butterfield band, Mike Bloomfield, the Siegel-Schwall Band, et al. We got together to play one day and he told me that fuzzboxes were for pussies, you had to do it like Bloomfield and turn the amp up all the way, etc. This band still sounds killer to me. These guys turned a lot of white kids on to the blues, but they weren't Pretty Boys and Rock Stars like the English guys who came along later, plus Butterfield's was an integrated band. I still love this one.
THE BEST OF MUDDY WATERS (Chess, 1958)
I grew up in the Detroit area hearing plenty of R&B on the radio, and everywhere, but didn't learn the name Muddy Waters until reading it on the back of the first album by the Animals, where the guys name some of their favorite singers. A little while after getting the word from Mike about the Butterfield Band I bought this album. It has the beautiful Don Bronstein portrait on the cover, and a sticker that I tried to peel off that says "Electronically Altered For Stereo" (and sure enough it was, with tons of reverb on all the tracks, etc.). I admit that as a 14-yr.-old kid I was puzzled as to why they played "I Just Want to Make Love to You" REALLY SLOW (I knew the Stones' version); the line in "Long Distance Call" about "another mule kicking in your stall," I didn't know what that meant, etc. But I fell in love with the record, with Little Walter's harmonica playing, the moment when he chimes in on "Louisiana Blues" with, "Aww, take me with you, man...," on and on. Now my 15-yr.-old son loves this record..
Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross
THE HOTTEST NEW GROUP IN JAZZ (Columbia, 1960)
One night during 11th grade I was wandering around with my friend Ron S. and we decided to stay out all night (unlike me, Ron had legitimately good reasons to not want to go home). We went to a house that a friend's family had recently moved out of, still unsold, found an unlocked window and went inside. There was a radio on the mantle so we plugged it in, turned it on (Eureka, the electricity was still on!), put on WABX, which, again, during that time in my life was Always On somewhere, like the radio in American Graffiti. I don't know about Ron but I just stayed up all night listening and at some point heard "Gimme That Wine," by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. I just flipped over that tune and bought the album as soon as I saw a copy somewhere. Songs like that one, and "Twisted," etc., are like benchmarks of greatness in lyric writing. Everything else about this record is stunning too.
FOUND LOVE (Vee-Jay, 1960)
GO BO DIDDLEY (Checker, 1959)
BO DIDDLEY (Chess, 1958)
Three more "borrowed" records that I still have, but again, this time it wasn't me who did the initial borrowing. I had a conversation at school one day about music with my friend Gary H. and then a couple of days later he gave me three albums and said, "These are my sister's records but she doesn't live at home anymore; you can have 'em." It was a maroon label Vee-Jay Jimmy Reed album (Found Love), and the first two Bo Diddley albums (with the cover of the first one missing). Wow!! Thanks, Gary! Bo Diddley remains my all-time favorite recording artist; I just like everything about his records and his music. And again, I'm not a jazz musician, or a blues musician, but this Jimmy Reed record, or any Jimmy Reed record, can just teach you what great music is supposed to feel like, what a groove actually is.
The Grammy- and Golden Globe-nominated Marshall Crenshaw is a Detroit-born rock ’n’ roll singer-songwriter-guitarist. He appeared in the touring company of Beatlemania in the late ’70s, scored a Top 40 single in 1982 with “Someday, Someway” and played Buddy Holly in the film La Bamba. Still actively recording and performing, Crenshaw’s most recent release is Jaggedland (2009). He also regularly releases 10-inch vinyl EPs via his website and all digital platforms, as well as wherever vinyl records are sold. The latest EP (4th in a series of 6) is called Red Wine. Since 2011 Crenshaw has hosted the radio show The Bottomless Pit on New York’s WFUV.