Johnny Cash: Live at San Quentin returns and a 1975 interview

by admin  17th Feb 2021 Comments [0]

By Harvey Kubernik

 

Amazon Prime and the Coda Collection are launching a new company programming rare concerts and music documentaries, along with exclusive premieres for films and music documentaries. The Prime Video channel debuts February 18, 2021 and during 2021 Amazon Prime members will be able to access dozens of their library acquisitions exclusively streamed in the US. Some of their first titles announced for broadcast are the streaming premieres of The Rolling Stones On The Air, Music, Money, Madness…Jimi Hendrix in Maui, and Johnny Cash at San Quentin.

I thought it was appropriate to examine the Johnny Cash Live At San Quentin album that celebrates its 52nd retail anniversary on February 24. Johnny and I share a February 26 birthday.

In 1965 I saw a Cash Shindig! taping on Prospect Avenue in Los Angeles at ABC-TV studios, and in 1968 when he guested on The Summer Smothers Brothers Show at CBS Television City. I later caught Johnny and June Cash at The Anaheim Convention Center, The Troubadour and The House of Blues in Hollywood. I must have seen their act over a dozen times in 25 years.

“A Boy Named Sue,” written by humorist, poet, and singer/songwriter Shel Silverstein became a popular hit record during 1969 by Johnny Cash. On February 24, 1969, two days before he turned 37, Cash recorded the song live in concert at California’s San Quentin State Prison for his Johnny Cash At San Quentin album produced by Bob Johnston, issued on Columbia Records June 26, 1969.

Born Sheldon Allan “Shel” Silverstein in Chicago in 1930, Silverstein was known for his cartoons, songs, children’s books and contributions to Playboy magazine.

During 1969 Silverstein’s own recording of “Boy Named Sue,” a 45 RPM on the LP Boy Named Sue (And His other Country Songs), was produced by Chet Atkins and Felton Jarvis.

It has been said that Silverstein’s inspiration for the song’s title came from a man named Sue K. Hicks, who was a judge in the state of Tennessee. Silverstein heard Hicks speak at an event, and was intrigued by the name of Sue for a man. Apparently it was the father of Sue Hicks who named the boy after his mother, Susanna Hicks, who died during hospital birth.

Legend has it that Silverstein had penned the tune after a conversation with his friend Jean Shepherd, the writer, radio and television storyteller, who remarked about his own childhood dismay at being taunted for what many kids felt was a “girl’s name.”

Silverstein first introduced his copyright to Johnny and June Cash during a “Guitar Pull” at their Hendersonville, Tennessee home where local and visiting musicians would pass a guitar around and play their recent songs.

Mitch Myers, Silverstein’s nephew, biographer, and Director of the Silverstein archives, emailed me in 2018 verifying that it was June Carter Cash who encouraged Johnny to include it in their stage show.

Canadian-based writer and Cash scholar Gary Pig Gold, in the September 11, 2009 Rock and Roll Report also provides additional information on how “A Boy Named Sue” landed in the Cash repertoire: “It was quite common for JC to invite special televised Johnny Cash Show guests back to his grand new Hendersonville, TN homestead for post-taping song swaps. On any such evening the guitar would be passed round to, for example, Graham Nash (who offered ‘Marrakesh Express’), Kris Kristofferson (premiering ‘Me And Bobby McGee’), and of course Johnny’s ol’ pal the Zimmer Man (who, applying his grand new boudoir voice, crooned ‘Lay Lady Lay’).

“In fact one morning after, a young Rosanne Cash was flabbergasted to find none other than her teenage bedroom wall pin-up prince Davy Jones sitting at the breakfast table! (Yes, Johnny had hosted the Monkees on prime time just the night before).

“One most momentous evening however, the inimitable Shel Silverstein decided to test-drive a peculiar—even by Silverstein standards—new number he hadn’t even considered shopping across Music City just yet. Johnny wanted to hear it though:
“That’s the most cleverly written song I’ve ever heard” was the verdict minutes later, and luckily June thought enough to stuff Shel’s cheat sheet into her husband’s bag before they departed for the next day’s recording session over at San Quentin. “I didn’t even know the lyrics,” Johnny recalled of making his quickest, biggest hit. ‘I had to put the words on a music stand in front of me. I told ’em I wanted to sing a song called ‘A Boy Named Sue.’ Well they laughed, you know, and I said ‘No, it’s not what you think. Let me sing it to you.’ I read the lyrics off the paper in front of me, and that was the record.’

“And by late that summer, only those Rolling Stones and their honky tonk women could keep Sue off the very top of your local Top 40 Radio survey.”
Cash wrote in his autobiography Man In Black, that he had just received the song and only read over it a couple of times. It was incorporated in the prison concert just to try it out. On the filmed documentary of the event Johnny can be seen regularly referring to the paper lyric sheet.

Cash biographer, Robert Hilburn, JOHNNY CASH: The Life (Little, Brown and Company) confirmed as well that neither the British television crew filming the concert as well as his band knew he planned to include the song in his act while Carl Perkins and the musicians improvised backing on the spot.

The recording contained the lyric “I’m the son of a bitch that named you Sue!” It was subsequently edited out in the first product shipments on the single and the Johnny Cash At San Quentin album. On subsequent re-orders, compilations and reissues, “son of a bitch” was modified to “son of a gun” or even bleeped out completely on some configurations for AM and FM radio airplay.

The live San Quentin version of the song became Cash’s biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and his only top ten single there, spending three weeks at #2 in 1969.

“A Boy Named Sue” topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs on September 16, 1969 and radio station KHJ in the Los Angeles market on their August 6, 1969 radio station survey. Cash’s unplanned smash hit record was certified Gold by the RIAA on August 14, 1969. It also earned a Grammy for Silverstein in 1970 as best Country & Western Song.

Originally a single album, this century Johnny Cash At San Quentin is now a deluxe three-disc, Legacy Edition package: two CDs containing 31 selections, 13 of them previously unissued. The package also houses a DVD, Johnny Cash In San Quentin, the culture-shaping 1969 documentary produced and directed by Mike Darlow for England’s Granada television network. Journalist Geoffrey Cannon from The Guardian had pitched the idea to executives at Granada and eventually sold the concept to Cash’s manager, Saul Holiff.

The expanded Johnny Cash At San Quentin includes a full rendition of “A Boy Named Sue.” It’s a stirring portrait of Cash and band; the Statler brothers, lead guitarists Bob Wooten and Carl Perkins, bassist Marshall Grant, drummer WS Holland, June Carter and Carter family members. There are also interviews with the prisoners and guards who were in attendance when The Johnny Cash Show packed the big house.

Shel Silverstein’s tune and the fortuitous alignment with Johnny Cash has continued for half a century in magazines, movies and informed other songs by bands referencing it.

A 1970 issue of MAD magazine displayed a parody titled A Boy Named Lassie. A male character in the movie Swingers is named Sue, and another actor announced on screen, “His dad was a big Johnny Cash fan.”

It was in June 1967 when Columbia Records staff producer Bob Johnston replaced Don Law at the Nashville based company producing Cash. Johnston’s production acumen and label machinations on behalf of Cash in the 1968 and ’69 time period resulted in two California penitentiary location-created live recordings: Johnny Cash at San Quentin and Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison.

Johnston’s credits include Leonard Cohen’s Songs From a Room and Songs of Love and Hate, and Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde, John Wesley Harding, and Nashville Skyline. He worked on Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends.

Johnston was born in 1932 in Hillsboro, Texas. His career began as a songwriter eventually holding a staff writing position at Elvis Presley’s Hill & Range Music and often reviewed potential Presley demos and songs earmarked for his movies in 1964 and 1965. Bob co-wrote with Charlie Daniels “It Hurts Me,” the flipside of Presley’s hit “Kissin Cousins” before he joined Columbia Records in 1965.

I met Johnston and producer/label executive Jimmy Bowen in July 1978 at MCA Records on Lankershim Boulevard in Universal City when I was West Coast Director of A&R for the label. At the time Johnston was producing Joe Ely’s Down on the Drag. We went down the street to see Ely at the Palomino Club.

“When I took over Cash he didn’t hit the country charts,” declared Johnston in a 2007 interview with me. “Like I said on the back of the Folsom Prison album liner notes, no one for eight years would let him go there to record live until he got me, and I said, ‘let’s do it’ I picked up the phone and called Folsom and San Quentin,” Bob remembered.

“The reason the Folsom album was made first is because the Folsom warden answered first, simple as that. I got the warden, Duffy, and I handed Johnny the telephone and left. When we did Folsom there was a guy who was going to introduce Johnny on stage in front of the cons and everyone standing up.

“I said ‘bullshit!’ And told Johnny to go walk out there now! They are not even sitting down good. Walk out there and jerk your head around and say, ‘Hello. I’m Johnny Cash’ and it don’t matter what the fuck you record. And he said ‘Get outta my goddamn way!’ And he didn’t usually cuss. But he pushed people away went out there and the goddamn place became unglued!

“I had the engineer Neil Wilburn, did the Cash Live At Folsom Prison album with him. And he was a genius behind all that shit. I had a great thing with anybody who was a genius!

“Leonard was the best I’d ever heard. And Dylan was the best I’d ever heard. Simon was the best I’d ever heard and Cash was the best I’d ever heard. And all those fuckin’ people were the best I’d ever heard.

“I’ll tell you something else I did recording Dylan, Cash and Cohen,” emphasized Johnston. “Everybody else (at the time) was using one microphone. What I did was put a bunch of microphones all over the room and up on the ceiling. I would use the echo. I could do that as much as I wanted. I wanted it to sound better than anything else sounded ever, and I wanted it to be where everybody could hear it. And that’s the way that we did it. I always had four or eight speakers all over the room and I had ‘em going. The louder I played it the better it sounded to me.

“I had Cash in the Columbia Music Row studio [February 1969] and thought it would be nice to get Dylan in there, too and I didn’t say anything to them. Cash was in the studio and Dylan came in. ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Gonna record.’ ‘Well, I’m recording too.’

“So, they invited me to dinner, but I said ‘no thanks.’ And when they returned I had a café set up outside with microphones and their guitars, and they came in for two hours, like a nightclub, looked at the lights, sorta smiled at each other. June Carter Cash was there. We did like 18 tracks.”

The session yielded the duet “Girl from the North Country,” only heard on Nashville Skyline.

“I spent a lot of time with Bob Johnston and I believe he deserves an enormous amount of credit for the Folsom Prison album and some of the other albums he did with John,” Robert Hilburn pointed out to me in our 2016 interview. “He not only helped John believe in himself at a time when the drugs and other problems had left him vulnerable, but he organized the Folsom tracks and San Quentin tracks in a way that maximized their impact.”

These live Cash albums each reached triple platinum awards in the United States. Johnny Cash At San Quentin was his only # 1 LP in his lifetime.

Working with Columbia producers Don Law (1958-67), Frank Jones (1960-67), Bob Johnston (1968-70), Larry Butler (1972-78), Charlie Bragg (1972-77), Brian Ahern, Billy Sherrill, Chips Moman, and others, Johnny Cash was always in command of his direction, whether it was country and western, gospel, blues, rockabilly, traditional balladry and folk, or any other style he chose to pursue.

Bob Dylan’s relocation to Nashville to record Blonde On Blonde in 1966 with Johnston, along with the established presence of Johnny Cash on the Columbia label created an impulsive career decision for the soon-to-be-turned songwriter, Kris Kristofferson, who studied creative writing at Pomona College in Southern California and earned a Rhodes scholarship to study literature at Oxford.

I discussed this with Kristofferson in 2010 when I worked as the Consulting Producer on director Morgan Neville’s Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriters.

Around the Dylan/Johnston Blonde On Blonde sessions, Kristofferson was working as a janitor sweeping up floors and cleaning up ash trays at the Nashville CBS studios and forbidden to pitch songs to company clients. Although when he met June Carter on the premises he asked her to give Johnny Cash a tape of his. June did, but Johnny tossed it on a large pile of other submissions.

Kristofferson briefly served in the Tennessee National Guard and still had his commercial pilot’s license from his previous job in Lafayette Louisiana at a company Petroleum Helicopters International.

Kris then spoke of a strategic maneuver of his flying a helicopter over the Cash residence and dropping a demonstration tape on Johnny and June’s house lawn in Tennessee. “I flew in to John and June’s property and almost landed on their roof. Looking back, when I think about it now, I could have been arrested or court-martialed,” he sighed to me one afternoon around a taping inside the empty Doug Weston Troubadour club in West Hollywood.

In 1966, Johnny Cash was just concluding his own geographical relationship to the Southern California area and Los Angeles.

Before he became a living tradition, Johnny Cash spent large portions of a decade of his life near planet Hollywood after leaving Sun Records and Memphis, doing his first gospel LP when he signed to Columbia Records.

On August 13, 1957 at a party in California, Cash first met British-born record producer Don Law after a local television date who first touted Johnny about joining Columbia Records after Cash’s contract with Sam Phillips and Sun ended on August 1, 1958. That same month Cash and clan moved to California and he rented an apartment on Coldwater Canyon Avenue in North Hollywood.

Cash and his family later bought a ranch house from comedian/TV host Johnny Carson on Havenhurst Avenue in Encino in the San Fernando Valley. Johnny Cash Enterprises was located on Sunset Boulevard at the Crossroads of the World complex in Hollywood.

He did a slew of television appearances in the Southern California area in the sixties including the Compton-based and Hadley’s Furniture sponsored Town Hall Party program in 1960 that was broadcast on KTTV-TV. In 1961 Johnny came to Pal Records on Sherman Way in Canoga Park for an autograph party.

Cash, and his pal, actor, singer and radio host, Johnny Western, along with Pat Shields, a PR guy doing promotions for Liberty Records, had a company together called Great Western Enterprises on Western Avenue in Hollywood.

In 1964 Cash recorded Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, his history of Native Americans concept album. He toured Wounded Knee, South Dakota with descendants of the survivors of the 1890 massacre, played songs from the LP at a benefit performance at Cemetery Hill for the tribe and helped the Sioux raise money for schools. This is four years before AIM, the American Indian Movement civil rights organization was founded in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Cash sent out personal letters and copies of his 45RPM recording of folksinger Peter La Farge’s “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” on that album, after Johnny purchased a thousand of them from Columbia Records and mailed the entire batch to every radio station in the country. It eventually landed at number three on the Billboard Country Singles chart in 1964.

In February 1965, Cash performed “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” on a Los Angeles television program, The Les Crane Show.

When Johnny Cash died in 2003, writer Todd Everett informed me about a 1964 Ventura College Gymnasium benefit Cash did for the police department, “‘cause Johnny was always getting in trouble in an area between Ventura County and Ojai California, his young girls with his first wife Vivian (Liberto) grew up there. And Johnny purchased his father a trailer home. And if that ain’t country you can kiss my ass.”

“John had some happy years in Encino, but gradually things started going bad,” Hilburn detailed in our 2016 interview. “His film debut—in a low budget crime story called Five Minutes to Live—was embarrassing, a real disaster. And tensions developed between John and his wife, Vivian, over the career demands that took him away from home so often. Then, the drugs took hold.

“Looking for a new start, he moved to a small town in Ventura County to escape the glare and pressure of Hollywood. But the tensions and drugs continued. He pretty much stopped coming home. By early 1966, he had pretty much left California and the family behind. He moved to Nashville and spent most of his time with June Carter.

“One of the big reasons John left Sam Phillips for Columbia was he wanted artistic freedom, which is something Columbia promised—and it eventually came back to haunt the label because they wanted hits and that wasn’t the primary thing on John’s mind.

“Again, he wanted to make music that lifted people up—music that reflected his fascination with people and their struggles; hence so many songs about the Old West and the working man and Native Americans. John wanted to make music that mattered to him; Columbia wanted hits. The issue came to a head in 1963 when his Columbia contract was due to expire. Columbia was going to drop him, but Don Law, who signed John and produced his records, talked them into one more session. They came up with ‘Ring of Fire’ and Columbia did renew the contract. If he hadn’t come up with a hit in that session, Columbia, in fact, would have dropped Johnny Cash.

“At the time Cash was making concept albums like Ride This Train and Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian in the 1960s, the country music world (chiefly radio) was focused on hits. They weren’t looking for ‘art’ from their singers. But rock ‘n’ roll changed that. Thanks to people like Dylan and the Beatles, fans began to look for ‘art’ as well as ‘hits’ and they began buying albums rather than just singles. Cash tapped into that with the Folsom Prison album, and he found an audience that didn’t just listen to country radio. He was embraced by the rock culture, and I think it’s that audience finally discovered Cash’s ‘art’/concept albums.”

On August 16, 1975 forty miles from Los Angeles, California, I interviewed Johnny Cash for the now defunct Melody Maker inside the Royal Inn Hotel in Anaheim. At the time of our interview Johnny was in town in 1975 to promote his autobiography, Man In Black, and to perform a special concert for the Christian Booksellers convention.

“It covers the ups and downs of my life and music career and my problem with drugs,” stressed Cash. “The book also contains 20 song lyrics which provide a musical guideline. The lyrics help tell the story. It was time to do the book and set the record straight. About a year ago I was approached by the publisher to write it. I spent nine months writing it and shaping it. I wrote it by hand and worked with an editor.

“It was a whole new project for me. More discipline was involved. It was my main activity for months when I got up in the morning. It was hard lookin’ back through my life and trying to remember conversations and details. Remembering some of the nightmares that I had especially gettin’ off drugs. I went through a total soul-searching experience lookin’ back. I went through all the pain again to a certain degree,” Johnny confessed.

The book eventually sold over a million copies.

“In concert I sing ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down,’ the Kris Kristofferson tune. That’s so much of me that sometimes I feel like I wrote it. There are some songs that I must write for self-expression. If a song comes along I must acknowledge it. I’ve recently recorded a song ‘Strawberry Shortcake.’ It’s about a guy who went into the Plaza hotel in New York and stole a cake. It’s a novelty song. But there are some songs that I had to write like ‘I Walk the Line’.”

In the late ‘60s Cash was selling concert tickets and guesting on TV. The success of his Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison long player gave him new visibility on the pop and rock charts.

Then an American television documentary Johnny Cash! The Man, His World, His Music, directed by filmmaker Robert Elfstrom had a US TV premier in March 1969. Johnny and June Cash, the entire Carter family, Bob Dylan, Bob Johnston, Marshall Grant, Merle Kilgore, and Bob Wooton received vital US TV exposure.

This landmark screen gem, coupled with the ’69 UK-shown Granada-TV Johnny Cash At San Quentin documentary, resulted in ABC-TV offering manager Saul Holiff on behalf of Johnny, an hour-long pilot as a 13-week summer replacement for their Saturday night variety show, The Hollywood Palace.

In June 1969, Columbia Records issued Johnny Cash at San Quentin that hit the sales charts, aided by the LP’s smash country and pop hit single “A Boy Named Sue.” It convinced the ABC network, who then picked up his option for a full season which was conceived, developed, directed and executive produced by William Carruthers. Stan Jacobson was the producer and associate producer was Joel Stein.

Bill Carruthers had previously directed The Soupy Sales Show on station WXYZ-TV in Detroit and had directed the Ernie Kovacs game show Take a Good Look, for ABC-TV. Carruthers subsequently directed The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game.

“Dylan called my dad before he and the staff left for Nashville,” recounted Byl Carruthers, then Billy, the son of William Carruthers. “I had gone to work with my dad that day. He had an overall deal with Screen Gems at the time, and had an office on their lot. He had said we were going to get lunch, and then his assistant beckoned him back to the office, saying it was important!

“Two full hours went by, and I had to wait. When he got off the phone, he came out and said that he had just gotten off the phone with Bob Dylan. I asked him what he was calling about, and he said that Johnny wanted Dylan to do the show. Johnny really wanted Bob to do the first episode, and told Bob that he would be in good hands with my dad, and he wouldn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to. My dad said Bob was ‘feeling him out’ on the phone.

“My dad was very cool about letting me hang when the musicians were there, and yes, I got to fetch coffee and stuff for Bob Dylan, in the hour or so before the taping…

“I distinctly remember Dylan having two very sedate western-style two-piece suits laid out, and he saying to my dad, ‘Bill, which one of these do you think would be best?’ A few minutes later, my dad said to the assistant director, ‘I can’t believe Bob asked me what he should wear!’

“The first show was a mindblower, as we all know, and the first season surprised ABC enough to pick it up. The sets were cheap, ‘cause they had no money. The production issues they faced retro-fitting the Ryman Auditorium were immense,” recollected guitarist/songwriter Carruthers, now in the roots music duo, Café R&B.

“For that year of pre-production and production, my dad and John were close. He showered my dad with gifts (among them a 1932 Martin Guitar, and a Civil War Colt Pistol—John had a pair of them with consecutive numbers. He gave my father one, and he kept one, so they’d each have one as symbol of their relationship). My dad was the executive producer and director for the first year. It was his show.”

During 1970-1971 the prime time Cash slot was then helmed by Jacobson. A veteran of The Wayne and Shuster Show for several seasons, Jacobson had been a writer for Country Hoedown and writer/producer of the program Music Hop. In 1966 he wrote and directed the Battle of Britain documentary for the Canadian Broadcasting Company series Telescope, and in 1967, The Legend of Johnny Cash.

“I would say there were many things that likely would not have happened were it not for [manager] Saul Holiff’s influence on Johnny’s career, but the San Quentin show and Johnny’s television show are both ones that undoubtedly can be credited to Saul’s vision for Johnny,” observed author Julie Chadwick who wrote The Man Who Carried Cash: Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash and the Making of an American Icon.

“On the television front, there are dozens of letters that go back more than a decade in which he continually pitched the idea of getting Johnny on TV, which finally bore fruit when a Canadian named Stan Jacobson decided to do a CBC special on Johnny in 1967, which many regard as the predecessor to his television series.”

The Johnny Cash Show debuted in June 1969. Programs were done at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, which back then was home to the Grand Ole Opry 1943-1974. Bill Walker was the musical director and arranger. June Carter Cash and the Carter Family, Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers, and The Tennessee Three were screen regulars. Fifty-eight episodes were originally broadcast from June 7, 1969 to March 31, 1971.

Among the Cash-invited performers: Louis Armstrong, Bill Monroe, Dusty Springfield, Judy Collins, the Monkees, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Stevie Wonder, Tony Joe White, Homer & Jethro, the Everly Brothers, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Derek & the Dominos, Roger Miller, Faron Young, Charley Pride, Loretta Lynn, Marty Robbins, Mickey Newbury, Neil Diamond, Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette, Bob Dylan, Waylon Jennings, George Jones and Doug Kershaw.

In 1975, Johnny and I chatted in Melody Maker about his groundbreaking 1969-1971 The Johnny Cash Show. In 1970 it reached #17 in the Nielsen ratings. That year, Columbia Records shipped The Johnny Cash Show, a live album, coinciding with the TV series, which was not promoted to retailers as a soundtrack. The LP is an unusual product as the Columbia label was not affiliated with the competing CBS-TV network. I am the proud owner of a white label Columbia Records Radio Station Service Not For Sale promotional copy.

Cash’s variety show TV program, along with his successful Folsom Prison and San Quentin albums ushered in today’s acceptance of country music artists on national and cable television.

“One reason country music has expanded the way it has is that we haven’t let ourselves become locked into any category. We do what we feel,” ventured Cash.

“I like to go into the studio with my own musicians and record my own songs,” Johnny reminded me in our encounter. “I’m open to other songwriters. I like to do things differently all my career.”

However, Johnny said that TV obligations hampered his creativity. “It cut down on my touring, it became too confining. We stayed in Nashville for two-thirds of the time. I really didn’t enjoy it all that much. If it was kept loose and spontaneous it could have been great. But we had to do the same song every eight or ten times before they would accept it. The show lost its feel and honesty. Consequently I lost a lot of interest in it.”

“Though he was often frustrated by some compromises forced on the show by the network,” Hilburn affirmed. “Cash used the show to express his core values. He brought on musical guests he believed in—not just Bob Dylan, but also Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings. He used the show as his pulpit, if you will, to once again lift people’s spirits.

“People didn’t just like John’s music; they believed in him. The timing was crucial. If he had gotten a TV show just two years earlier, it would have been a disaster. America would have seen a desperate drug addict. Instead, they saw a national icon.”

The weekly ABC-TV slot also featured Cash’s road band with Carl Perkins, who was a welcome addition to the musical cast. Perkins wrote “Daddy Sang Bass,” the Cash recording that spotlights the Statler Brothers and Carter Family on background vocals.

“Carl Perkins is not given enough credit,” Bob Johnston exclaimed. “But Cash got him on that TV show and Carl was part of ‘A Boy Named Sue.’”

In Julie Chadwick’s The Man Who Carried Cash: Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash and the Making of an American Icon, we learn the reasons why Cash cut “A Boy Named Sue” and are now celebrating the 52nd anniversary of Johnny Cash At San Quentin.

The entire book is filled with so many remarkable scenes,” emailed Chadwick to me in 2019. “Many of which have never before been revealed, such as how Johnny came to record ‘A Boy Named Sue’ after bumping into Shel Silverstein in an airport with Saul, to the time he hit rock bottom in 1967 and penned a tearful handwritten ten-page letter to his manager confessing his fear that he had lost June forever because of his out-of-control addiction.

“I feel like overall, I have done the two men’s relationship justice and brought a relatively hidden story to light. Saul also was the one who fought tooth and nail to convince Columbia Records to go along with the idea of a live album recorded at San Quentin, as they thought the concept had already been done with his Folsom concert.”

In his review of The Johnny Cash Show in the June 12, 1969 issue of Great Speckled Bird, the counterculture underground newspaper in Atlanta, Georgia, Gene Guerrero reviewed the ABC-TV/Screen Gems initial broadcast.

“With the inauguration of the Johnny Cash Show, country music has finally made it to network television. One can only hope and pray that it will take a couple of seasons before these corrupting influences set in.

“Dylan sang a couple of songs off his new album including ‘Girl From the North Country’ which he sings with Cash. In a non-contrived way Dylan and Cash singing together remind you of two kids practicing for their first recital. In this time of super-slick entertainers, that’s very refreshing.”

In our 1975 Melody Maker interview, Cash cited Dylan.

“I became aware of Bob Dylan when the Freewheelin’ album came out in 1963,” mused Johnny. “I thought he was one of the best country singers I had ever heard. I always felt a lot in common with him. I knew a lot about him before we had ever met. I knew he had heard and listened to country music. I heard a lot of inflections from country artists I was familiar with. I was in Las Vegas in ’63 and ’64 and wrote him a letter telling him how much I liked his work. I got a letter back and we developed a correspondence.

“We finally met at Newport in 1964. It was like we were two old friends. There was none of this standing back, trying to figure each other out. He’s unique and original.

“I keep lookin’ around as we pass the middle of the 70s and I don’t see anybody come close to Bob Dylan. I respect him. Dylan is a few years younger than I am but we share a bond that hasn’t diminished. I get inspiration from him.”

As a teenager, in the very late fifties, Dylan, birth name Robert Allen Zimmerman, hitchhiked from Hibbing, Minnesota, to Duluth to see Cash and the Tennessee Two (Marshall Grant bass and Luther Perkins guitar) play at the Duluth amphitheater.

In the 2009 book A Heartbeat And A Guitar Johnny Cash and the Making of Bitter Tears by author Antonino D’Ambrosio, Johnny Western disclosed to D’Ambrosio in an interview witnessing a Dylan and Cash exchange where Dylan admitted, “Man, I didn’t just dig you; I breathed you.”

In November 1961, Cash had stuck his head inside the Columbia Records studio when talent scout/A&R man John Hammond was producing Dylan’s debut long player, Bob Dylan.

“Dylan was also grateful that Cash would constantly endorse his talents to skeptical Columbia Records executives,” Antonino expressed to me in a 2009 interview, “after the initial weak sales of his first platter, some calling it ‘Hammond’s folly,’ a jab at Hammond who signed Dylan to the label.”

Drummer and friend Jim Keltner on November 19, 1979 invited Knack drummer Bruce Gary and I to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to attend Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming tour. Jimmy arranged our tickets and backstage passes. I was reviewing the concert for Melody Maker, too.

I had a very brief chat with Dylan. We had met earlier at Gold Star studios when he was producing a session with Clydie King and I was on a few May ’79 dates as a percussionist with Keltner on the Phil Spector-produced Ramones’ album End of the Century.

Bob inquired about Phil. I told him I had recently done an interview with Spector for Melody Maker. Phil talked about R&B vocalists, also listing Dion, John, Paul, Elvis, Johnny Cash and Bobby Darin as great singers. Dylan then removed his sunglasses. He has blue eyes like Eva Marie Saint, Charles Bukowski, and Kris Kristofferson. Bob offered a firm handshake, and sternly said, “Johnny Cash is a friend of mine.”

“Bob has told me time and again how much he loved John’s music and his failure to compromise,” reinforced Hilburn. “The bond was so great between them, even though they didn’t spend a lot of time together. Their relationship was more one of mutual inspiration and respect than time spent in each other’s company.

“Johnny Cash wasn’t about simply entertainment. Like Bob Dylan, he belongs with the great American artists, whether they are from the worlds of art, film or music. He told about his life and times with a strong, personal vision.”

 

© 2021 Harvey Kubernik

 

 

HARVEY KUBERNIK is the author of 19 books, including Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon and Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972. Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. For late summer 2021 the duo has written a multi-narrative volume on Jimi Hendrix for Sterling/Barnes and Noble.

Otherworld Cottage Industries in 2020 published Harvey’s book, Docs That Rock, Music That Matters, featuring interviews with D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, Albert Maysles, Murray Lerner, Morgan Neville, Dr. James Cushing, Curtis Hanson, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Andrew Loog Oldham, Dick Clark, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Travis Pike, Allan Arkush, and David Leaf, among others.

This century Kubernik wrote the liner note booklets to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special and The Ramones’ End of the Century). Harvey and Andrew Loog Oldham wrote the liner essays to The Essential Carole King.

In November 2006, Harvey Kubernik was a speaker discussing audiotape preservation and archiving at special hearings called by The Library of Congress and held in Hollywood, California.

Kubernik’s writings are in several book anthologies, most notably The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski. Harvey penned a back cover endorsement for author Michael Posner’s book on Leonard Cohen that Simon & Schuster, Canada published in October 2020, Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years.

His 1995 interview, Berry Gordy: A Conversation With Mr. Motown appears in The Pop, Rock & Soul Reader edited by David Brackett published in 2019 by Oxford University Press. Brackett is a Professor of Musicology in the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Canada. The lineup includes LeRoi Jones, Johnny Otis, Ellen Willis, Nat Hentoff, Jerry Wexler, Jim Delehant, Ralph J. Gleason, Greil Marcus, and Cameron Crowe.

During 2020 he served as a Consultant on the two-part documentary Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time directed by Alison Ellwood. Kubernik is currently working on a documentary about Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member singer/songwriter Del Shannon.

Harvey is also spotlighted for the 2013 BBC-TV documentary Bobby Womack Across 110th Street, directed by James Meycock. Womack, Bill Withers, Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, Damon Albarn of Blur, the Gorillaz and Antonio Vargas are featured.

In 2020 Harvey Kubernik was an interview subject in the Chris Sibley & David Tourje-directed short documentary entitled John Van Hamersveld: Crazy World Ain’t It. Van Hamersveld designed the iconic Endless Summer visual image and album covers for the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, the Beach Boys, the Kaleidoscope, and Blondie.

During 2019 Harvey was filmed for director Matt O’Casey on his BBC4-TV digital arts channel Christine McVie, Fleetwood Mac’s Songbird. The premiere broadcast was in September 2020. He was also interviewed by director/producer Neil Norman for his GNP Crescendo documentary, The Seeds: Pushin’ Too Hard. Debut broadcast on television will be in 2021.

This decade Harvey was filmed for the currently in-production documentary about former Hollywood landmark Gold Star Recording Studio and co-owner/engineer Stan Ross produced and directed by Brad Ross and Jonathan Rosenberg. Brian Wilson, Herb Alpert, Richie Furay, Darlene Love, Mike Curb, Chris Montez, Bill Medley, Don Randi, Hal Blaine, Shel Talmy, Richard Sherman, Don Peake, Kim Fowley, Johnny Echols, Gloria Jones, Carol Kaye, Marky Ramone, David Kessel and Steven Van Zandt have been lensed.

 

 


Allen Ginsberg At Reed College: The First Recorded Reading Of Howl

by admin  14th Jan 2021 Comments [0]

By Harvey Kubernik

 

On April 2, 2021, Omnivore Records will be issuing Allen Ginsberg At Reed College: The First Recorded Reading Of Howl & Other Poems.

A description of the product appears on the Omnivore website.

“Allen Ginsberg’s first public reading of his epic poem ‘Howl’ took place at San Francisco’s famous Six Gallery in October of 1955. Along with Ginsberg, the evening included readings by Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Philip Lamantia, and Michael McClure. Poet and anthologist Kenneth Rexroth was the emcee, and Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Neal Cassady were in attendance.

“Unfortunately for literary history, no one recorded the Six Gallery reading, and it was long-thought that the first recording of ‘Howl’ was from a reading at Berkeley in March 1956. Before visiting Berkeley, however, Ginsberg had traveled to Reed College in Portland, Oregon, with Gary Snyder to give a series of readings. Snyder and Philip Whalen had been students at Reed and had studied under the legendary calligrapher Lloyd Reynolds.

“On February 13 and 14, 1956, Snyder and Ginsberg read at Reed, with the Valentine’s Day performance recorded then forgotten about until author John Suiter, researching Snyder at Reed’s Hauser Memorial Library, found the tape in a box in 2007.

“To reflect the distinctive culture of Reed College, Reed Professor of English and Humanities, Dr. Pancho Savery, wrote the liner notes and Gregory MacNaughton of the Calligraphy Initiative in Honor of Lloyd J. Reynolds created the cover in the style of what a poster for the event might have looked like hanging on the Reed campus in 1956. Savery’s notes trace the poem’s history and inspiration and highlight differences in this early, work-in-progress version to the final published text.

“Reading ‘Howl’ out loud in front of an audience is an exhausting and emotional experience, so Ginsberg warmed up by reading several shorter poems first. The Reed recording includes these shorter selections and most of Part I of ‘Howl.’

“The restored recording is crystal clear; you can not only hear Ginsberg turning the pages, but taking breaths after each long line. The audience is pin-drop quiet except for a few places in the reading, for instance, one moment when someone in the audience says something that can’t be heard that elicits laughter, to which Ginsberg responds, ‘I don’t want to corrupt the youth.’ Other lines generate laughter, but the audience is attentive and respectful, allowing for a present-day fly-on-the-wall listening experience. In testimony to how emotionally draining it was to read the poem two nights in a row, as Ginsberg launches into Part II, he stops after four lines saying, ‘I don’t really feel like reading any more, I haven’t got any kind of steam. So I’d like to cut, do you mind?’ Thus ends the first known recording of ‘Howl’… and now begins its 21st century access for all to hear.”

 

I KNEW ALLEN GINSBERG and interviewed him at length three times. I also co-promoted several of his Southern California readings in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, and produced a live recording of him in 1982 at the Unitarian Church.

My first Ginsberg interview initially appeared in 1996 in HITS Magazine and a very short edited version appeared in The Los Angeles Times Calendar section on April 7, 1997 when the daily newspaper asked me to pen one of the tribute stories on Ginsberg when he died. During 1999 a portion of one of my interviews was published in The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats. In 2007 I wrote the liner notes to the first-ever CD release of Ginsberg’s Kaddish for Water Records.

I provided handclaps on two tracks with Rodney Bingenheimer on the Leonard Cohen album Death of a Ladies’ Man produced by Phil Spector at Gold Star Recording Studio in 1977. On one cut Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan join Leonard on “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On.” Stan Ross and Larry Levine engineered these sessions. Leonard and I went to see Ginsberg read at The Troubadour club in West Hollywood. At the time I was doing a series of interviews with Phil and Leonard before and after they did that LP.

In December of 2005 I spoke with legendary record producer and author Jerry Wexler, then a partner in Atlantic Records with Ahmet and Neshui Ertegun. In January 1965, Ginsberg had signed a record contract with Wexler’s landmark Atlantic Records label to distribute his live performance of Kaddish on an album.

“For me it all began with ‘Howl,’ and then when I read ‘Kaddish,’ it stirred the dark Yiddish currents in my own blood. I experienced the joy and anguish, the exaltation that great poetry will bring on,” Wexler reminisced. “I don’t recall when or how I met Allen, but I telephoned him to see whether he’d be interested in recording ‘Kaddish’ for our record company. Better than that: he had taped a public reading at Brandeis, and it would remain only for us to do the manufacturing: the album design, the cover photo, the mastering.”

Wexler later went on to produce (with Barry Beckett) Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming and Saved albums, and saw a relationship between Ginsberg and Dylan.

“Absolutely, they both were geniuses, top of the line. Allen Ginsberg may not have influenced the generation as such but he sure influenced a hell of a lot of writers. And Bob Dylan, of course, changed the culture. So there is a correspondence between the two guys,” reinforced Wexler.

In 1975-1976, Ginsberg toured with fellow Gemini Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue and appears in Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara movie. The soundtrack of the film includes excerpts from Ginsberg reading “Kaddish.”

When Allen Ginsberg died at age 70 of liver cancer and hepatitis on April 5, 1997 at his East Village loft in New York City. That evening Bob Dylan was playing a concert at the Moncton Coliseum in Moncton, New Brunswick, and dedicated “Desolation Row” to him. Dylan had not been including the song in recent shows.

 

Allen Ginsberg and Harvey Kubernik. (Photo by Suzan Carson)

Harvey Kubernik and Allen Ginsberg 1994 and 1996 Interviews

 

Q: What kind of impact did FM Radio actually have on you as a writer and reader/ performer?

A: By the time I got around to getting on the radio, it was actually an AM station in Chicago with Studs Terkel; recorded the complete reading of “Howl” in Chicago, later used for the Fantasy record. It was broadcast censored. ‘59. KPFA in the Bay Area then started broadcasting my stuff in San Francisco, a Pacifica station. Fantasy put out “Howl” and that got around. Then, Jerry Wexler at Atlantic, put out “Kaddish.” It was radio broadcast from Brandeis University.

 

Q: What do you want from FM radio?

A: I’d like for some FM station to play all four CDs of my Holy Soul Jelly Roll: Poems And Songs 1949-1993 one night, announced in advance so everybody could listen to it, and I think it would change not only heads, but expand people’s emotional range. “All the time in eternity in the warm light of this poem’s radio.” That was 1953. So I was aware. I was laying out treasures in heaven, basically. I knew that after I was dead my stuff would slowly seep up, so I’m really glad I’m alive to put this (box set) recording together.

 

Q: Was there ever a conflict of written page origin then into audio land?

A: We wrote, and we were in the tradition of William Carlos Williams’ spoken vernacular, comprehensible common language that anyone could understand, coming from Whitman through William Carlos Williams through be-bop. We were built for it. I can talk. I’m an old ham.

 

Q: Does the vision change once it leaves the paper?

 

A: No. It doesn’t make much difference. The method of my writing to begin with is that I’m not writing to write something, is that I catch myself thinking; I suddenly notice something I have thought of when I wasn’t thinking of writing, and then I write it down if it is vivid enough. And as far as the choice of what to write down or not, the slogan is vividness, is self-selecting. So in a sense, the method is impervious to influence by the audience because I’m just thinking to myself in the bathtub.

 

Q: What about poetry readings and performances? Is it different reading with a musician next to you or now a bunch of people sharing the stage?

A: I have to focus on my text. I’m still pointing toward the tornado.

 

Q: You still read from text on stage, from a book or typewritten. Do you ever read from memory?

A: I rarely read from memory. I sing from “Father Death Blues,” and can sing “Amazing Grace” from memory, but I don’t know what lines are coming, so I have to refresh myself. I’m not particularly interested in memorizing perfectly ‘cause I think it’s distracting from interpreting the text differently each time. I think you have to have all the dimensions at once, the book thing, the poetry thing, plus the performance, plus the musical accompaniment, and if you have all of them, and they’re all in a good place, that’s fine.

But the reason I don’t try to memorize, I guess I could, but I’m too busy, and I like to re-interpret the poem each time. Certain cadences are recurrent and certain intonations are recurrent, but on the other hand, if I don’t memorize it, there’s always the chance that somebody noticing something, and empathizing puts it a little differently, and bringing out meaning that I didn’t realize before. So I prefer to have the score in front of me and interpret it new each time.

 

Q: Artists from new generations, alternative rock bands, still keep discovering your work and acknowledging your influence.

A: It’s fun. You always learn from younger people. I learned a lot from William Carlos Williams, and the elders of my generation. People who were much older than me when I was young. And that inter-generational amity is really important because it spreads myths from one generation to another of what you know, and all the techniques and the history. At the same time, Williams learned connection with Corso and myself and (Peter) Orlovsky. Renewed his lease, so to speak. And the advent of The Black Mountain Beat Generation Poetry Renaissance, San Francisco, really renewed his poetic life, in a sense, brought him out to the public and his mood of poetry. . .as the mainstream, rather than as the eccentric jerk from New Jersey.

All of a sudden, with the phalanx of younger people following his lead, he became the sage that he was. And I think it gave him a lot of gratification to realize he had been on the right track, and that it wasn’t in vein. And I get the same thing whenever I get to work with younger people. And I learn from them. I don’t think I would have been singing if it wasn’t for younger Dylan. I mean he turned me on to actually singing. I remember the moment it was. It was a concert with Happy Traum that I went to and saw in Greenwich Village. I suddenly started to write my own lyrics, instead of Blake. Dylan’s words were so beautiful. The first time I heard them I wept.

I had come back from India, and Charlie Plymell, a poet I liked a lot in Bolinas, at a “Welcome Home Party” played me Dylan singing “Masters Of War” from Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and I actually burst into tears. It was a sense that the torch had been passed to another generation. And somebody had the self-empowerment of saying, “I’ll know my song well before i start singing it.”

 

Q: Can we talk about talent scout and record music executive, John Hammond, Sr., perhaps the A&R man of the century? I met him once. Wonderful man.

A: I visited him in the hospital, on his deathbed, years ago, and our final conversation was about Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan. Well, I think I ran into him in the early ‘60s. He knew my poetry quite well. But it was around the Rolling Thunder Review with Dylan that we got more intimate. I had already made one recording, William Blake’s Songs Of Innocence And Experience, in 1969, with some very good musicians, including Julius Watkins on French horn, Don Cherry, Elvin Jones used them. And also Herman Wright, a bassist that was suggested by Charles Mingus. Mingus encouraged me to do the Blake. So I had something to play.

I was on the Rolling Thunder tour, doing a little singing, and I had a whole bunch of new material I had done with Dylan in 1971. In 1971 Dylan and I went into a studio and improvised. I had 40 minutes of music with him. So I brought that to Hammond in 1975, after the tour. I had a bunch of new songs and he said, “Let’s go in the studio and make an album.” I had some musicians who had been with me since 1968 or 1969 since the Blake. David Mansfield from the Rolling Thunder tour, and a wonderful musician, Arthur Russell, who Philip Glass has just put out posthumously on Point Records. Arthur Russell lived in my apartment building, upstairs, and had accompanied me across country on tours, and managed The Kitchen in New York. We had a good little group of musicians.

Dylan made a record in the Columbia Studios. It was the first time I didn’t have to pay! Then, Columbia wouldn’t put it out because of dirty words they said in those days. The anti-smoking, “Don’t Smoke” poem. So things were in a stasis, but I continued recording myself in 1981, did a whole series of recordings with David Amram, by this time I was working with Steven Taylor, now the lead guitarist of the Fugs. He’s also the lead guitarist for the False Prophets, a punk garage band.

So we got together at CBS Studios and did another 40 minutes of music, and later, John Hammond put the two together. He had left Columbia and started his own label, John Hammond Records, to be distributed by Columbia. So he not only put out what he did with me, he put out a double album, and he got Robert Frank, who had done the (Rolling Stones) Exile On Main Street album cover, whose an old friend, to make a composite for our cover, and there was a really good play list inside, and the text was a good deduction.

However, the record didn’t sell. Before I had a chance to rescue the further 10,000 copies they (Columbia) had, they shredded them, so they were gone, and a rarity now.

Holy Soul Jelly Roll: Poems And Songs 1949-1993 is a summary of all the studio recordings I did, plus a lot of other stuff that was never done in a studio, but done in readings, plus another album with Blake, including Dylan on Blake, and a duet with Elvin Jones, including some work with Dylan out in Santa Monica in 1982 in his studio, the live Clash cut, and an excerpt from the opera I did with Philip Glass. So the range runs from a cappella up through folk, punk, dirty blues, classical, collaborations with Dylan, some rap, percussion and vocal with Jones. David Amram was on it as well.

 

Ticket for a 1967 reading. (Courtesy Roger Steffens)

Q: With the release of your box set, Holy Soul Jelly Roll: Poems And Songs 1949-1993, the vinyl-to-CD reissues, new audio recordings, is this further proof of the literature living and breathing?

A: The actual texts however, have not been re-written, and are now coming up to more public notice like Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, and Kerouac’s new, unpublished poems, and for the first time, my actual voice available on a bunch of CDs, going all the way back to 1949 and stretching up to 1993, with the very first original reading of ‘‘Howl,” which is sort of a standard anthology piece, that has never been heard, or a poem like “Sunflower Sutra” or “America,” which was standard in the Norton anthologies in high school.

 

Q: I know that Burroughs introduced you to some key books in the mid–‘40s that were influential to your thoughts and writing, and Kerouac, around the same time, when you were attending Columbia University, maybe around 1950, had been into some form of Buddhism and spontaneous prose, but an older generation of writers had an impact on your eventual voice.

I joked when we were recording live and setting up the equipment “as far as New Jersey goes, it’s you, Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra,” but you immediately added, “William Carlos Williams,” whom you met around age 20.

 

A: I knew him from my home town of Patterson, New Jersey. I’d seen him in 1948. He actually innovated the idea of listening to the way people talked and writing in that way. . . Using the tones of their voice and using the rhythmical sequences of actual talk instead of dat dat dat dot dot dot. “This is the forest…” Instead of a straight square metronomic arithmetic beat, there’s the infinitely more musical and varied rhythmic sequences of conversation as well as the tones. “‘Cause if you notice, most academic poetry is spoken in a single solitary moan tone that maybe doesn’t have the variety of when you are talking to your grandmother or baby.

It happens every 100 or 150 years. It did in the days of Wordsworth, who in his preface to lyrical ballads, suggested that poets begin writing in the words and diction of men of intelligence, or talk to each other intelligently, instead of imitating another century’s literary style. So, I think what happened is that we followed an older tradition, a lineage, of the modernists of the turn of the century continued their work into idiomatic talk and musical cadences and returned poetry back to its original sources and actual communication between people. That was picked up generation after generation up to people like U2, who are very much influenced by Burroughs in their presentation of visual material, or Sonic Youth, or poets, like Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo are interested in poetry.

 

Q: You worked with the Clash on Combat Rock. How did “Capitol Air” come together, incorporated in this box set? I spun it on KLOS-FM when I did a radio interview two years ago on deejay Frank Sontag’s Impact shift and the phone lines lit up as if somebody won the lotto.

A: Well, it’s an accident. I wondered into a place called Bonds, which at that time was a big (couple of thousand people) club in New York. The Clash at the time had a 17 night run, and I knew the sound engineer, who brought me backstage to introduce me and Joe Strummer took one look at me and said, “Ginsberg, when are you going to run for President?” And then he said there was some guy that we’ve had trying to talk to the kids about Sandanistas and about Latin American policy and politics, but they’re not listening. They are throwing eggs or tomatoes at him. “Can you go out and talk?” I said, “Speech, no, but I have a little punk song that I wrote that begins, ‘I don’t like the government where I live. . .’

So, we rehearsed it for about five minutes during their intermission break and then they took me out on stage. “Allen Ginsberg is going to sing.” And so we improvised it. I gave them the chord changes. It gets kind of Clash-like good anthem, like music about the middle, but they trail off again. The guy who was my friend in the soundboard, mixed my voice real loud so the kids could hear, and so there was a nice reaction, because they could hear common sense being said in the song. You can hear the cheers on the record.

I wrote “Capitol Air” in 1980, recorded with the Clash live, in 1981 or ‘82. “Capitol Air” was written coming back from Yugoslavia, oddly enough from a tour of Eastern Europe, realizing that the police bureaucracies in America and in Eastern Europe were the same, mirror images of each other finally. The climatic stanza “No Hope Communism, No Hope capitalism”. Yea, “Everybody is lying on both sides.” We didn’t play the whole cut because we didn’t have enough time, but they built up to a kind of crescendo, which was nice when the whole band came in.

 

Q: You did a poetry reading in England with Paul McCartney recently.

A: I had a gig at Albert Hall in London. A reading. I had been talking quite a bit to McCartney, visiting him and bringing him poetry and haiku, and looking at Linda McCartney’s photographs and giving him some photos I’d taken of them. So, McCartney liked it and filmed me doing “Skeletons” in a little eight-millimeter home thing. And then I had this reading at Albert Hall, and I asked McCartney if he could recommend a young guitarist who was a quick study. So he gave me a few names, but he said, “If you’re not fixed up with a guitarist, why don’t you try me? I love the poem.” So I said, “It’s a date.”

We went to Paul’s house and spent an afternoon rehearsing. He came to one sound check, and we did a little rehearsal there, again. And then he went up to his box with his family. It was a benefit for literary things. There were 15 other poets. We didn’t tell anybody that McCartney was going to play. And we developed that riff really nicely. In fact, Linda made a little tape of our rehearsal. So, then, we went onstage and knocked it out. There’s a photo of us on the CD. It was very lively, and he was into it.

Allen Ginsberg and Paul McCartney, 1995.

Q: Didn’t you see the Beatles play, and there’s some poem you wrote about the event?

A: Yes! I saw them in Portland, Maine. I was up there with Gary Snyder, probably 1965, 1966. I was with a couple of little children. I had gotten tickets and was sitting way out in the bleachers, and John Lennon came out and said, “We understand that Allen Ginsberg is in the audience. So three cheers. So now we’ll have our show.” He saluted me from the stage, which amazed me and made me feel very proud with all these young kids at my side. Then I knew Lennon and Yoko Ono lived in New York and visited on and off. I was involved in some political things with them occasionally.

 

Q: You know, I originally felt when you first started writing in the ‘40s there really wasn’t any musical influence or instrumentation behind or around your words. Yet the first track on this box set recorded in the late ‘40s in Neal Cassady’s pad, actually has the radio playing in the background on the tape.

A: The first cut has a jazz background, because the whole atmosphere from 1940 and on was permeated with be-bop and (DJ), Symphony Sid.

 

Q: What does music and beat do when it’s added to voice and text?

A: Well, a whole mish mosh. First of all, I grew up on all blues, Ma Rainey and Leadbelly. I listened to them live on radio station WNYC, back in the late ‘30s or early ‘40s. So I have a blues background. There’s some sort of Hebrewic cantalation relation to the blues that I’ve always had. So the first thing on the collection is “When The Saints Go Marching In” that I made up a cappella when I was hitchhiking, and recorded in Neil Cassady’s house a year later. Then things like my mother taught me. “The Green Valentine Blues.” Just coming from everyone who likes to sing in the shower.

Then there was the poetry and music, King Pleasure, and the people who were putting together be-bop, syllable by syllable, like Lambert Ross and Hendricks. I knew them in 1948. We used to smoke pot together in the ‘40s, when I knew Neal Cassady, around Columbia when I was living on 92nd Street.

Q: Hey, I met drummer Freddy Gruber last week. Buddy Rich’s main man. Freddy told me you tried to hit him on once.

A: (laughs). I had a crush on Freddy. I saw him recently. Around 1944, ‘45, Kerouac and I were listening to Symphony Sid, and I heard the whole repertoire of Thelonious Monk, “Round Midnight,” “Orinthology” and all that. I actually saw Charlie Parker, weekend after weekend a few years later at The Open Door. And in the ‘60s, went night after night to The Five Spot to hear Thelonious Monk, and actually gave Thelonious Monk, “Howl”, and got his critique on it two weeks later when I saw him again. “What did you think of it?’ He said, “Makes sense.”

In 1960 I delivered some psilocybin from Timothy Leary to both Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. And Monk said later on, “Got anything stronger?” Later on I spent an evening with him on what is now Charlie Parker Place around 1960. Also in San Francisco, in the mid-’50’s, there was a music and poetry scene. Mingus was involved with Kenneth Rexroth and Kenneth Patchen. And Fantasy records documented some of that. The Cellar in San Francisco. By that time, I didn’t know how to handle it, so I never did much of that myself ‘cause I was more funky, old fashioned blues. I couldn’t cut the mustard with free jazz. So then in the 1970s, I began turning on to Dylan. I knew him in the ‘60s. He taught me the three chord blues pattern. So he was my instructor.

 

Q: What happens when the beat or the music collides with your words and voice?

A: Elvin has a very interesting attitude. He feels that he’s not there to beat out the vocalist. He’s there to put a floor under them. He’s there to support and encourage, and give a place for the vocal to come in, not to compete with the vocal, but to provide a ground for it. He’s very intelligent as a musician. We did it once together in 1969 on the Blake album; there was military type drum, and then this recent rap song. I’ve got some other stuff we haven’t put out with Elvin. I’ve rarely found opposition to the music because the musicians were very sensitive, and built their music around the dynamics of my voice.

 

Q: Subject specific answer required: You write something on a piece of paper. Other people, musicians, come invited to participate and collaborate. Does the original intention become a different trip once there is music and other elements involved?

A: Well, it widens it into a slightly different trip, but the words are pretty stable, and they mean what they mean, so there is no problem. The interesting thing is adjusting the rhythmic pattern and the intonation to the musician’s idea of what there is there. That’s pretty good, because I’m good as an improviser, I can fit in, as you can hear on “Birdbrain.” Where I can take a long line or a short line and fit in sixteen bars without worrying about spaces and closed places.

 

Q: As far as performance and poetry readings, when you read in recital, aren’t you trying to keep the same original birthplace word vision and not expand or bring in theatrical elements?

A: I like to stick to something that is grounded in anything I could say to somebody, that they wouldn’t notice I was really saying it as poetry. Intense fragments of spoken idiom, with all the different tones of the spoken idiom, which is more musical than most poetry. Most poetry by amateur poets is limited to a couple of tones, a couple of pitches, instead of an entire range, so that the poetry we do fits with the music because it has its pitch consciousness. The tone reading the vowels up and down.

 

Q: Explain the use of chronology in the ‘90s, reading original work written and created decades earlier?

A: My background was William Butler Yeats. Seeing the sequence of his development, maturation and growth over the years was really interesting as a novel. How he began as a vague, misty eyed young 1890s devotee of Irish Mythology, and how he wound up, this tough old guy who put a skin on everything he said. So I like the idea of seeing the development of the mind, or of the voice, or of the thought, or of the poetic capacity, and I want to leave that trail behind for other poets so they could see where I was at one point, or where I was at another. My oration, my pronunciation or my singing, my vocalization differs, and it builds.

As I get older it gets more interesting with more and more tones, and more and more breath, and deeper and deeper voice and higher and higher voice. But still the original rhythms and the original ideas are from the original text, so you’ve still got a chronology going. So people could see the development of the mind. I’m not writing about the external world. I’m writing about what goes through my mind. So, at a certain period I’m interested in this kind of sex, another period, this kind of politics, another period, this kind of meditation, and I like people to be able to dig there’s a development, and not a static process.

 

Q: I’m still amazed at your readings, not just the impact you have on the audience, but your paper trail, book catalogues, albums, vinyl, first edition printings, out of print classics people want signed. It’s like “This Is Your Life” on parade.

A: Not quite. It’s my mind on parade. That’s what the mind is for, to show other people.

 

Q: It’s obvious that people want to be writers again. I feel that.

A: They want to express themselves. Not just to be a writer to be a writer, but they want to be able to say what they really think.

 

 

© 2021 Harvey Kubernik

 

 

Harvey Kubernik is the author of 19 books, including Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows, published in 2014 and now available in six foreign language editions. Kubernik also authored Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon and Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972. Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. For summer 2021 the duo has written a multi-narrative volume on Jimi Hendrix for Sterling/Barnes and Noble.

Otherworld Cottage Industries in 2020 published Harvey’s book, Docs That Rock, Music That Matters, featuring interviews with D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, Albert Maysles, Murray Lerner, Morgan Neville, Dr. James Cushing, Curtis Hanson, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Andrew Loog Oldham, Dick Clark, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Travis Pike, Allan Arkush, and David Leaf, among others.

Kubernik’s writings are in several book anthologies, most notably The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski. Harvey penned a back cover endorsement for author Michael Posner’s book on Leonard Cohen that Simon & Schuster, Canada published in October 2020, Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years)

This century Kubernik wrote the liner note booklets to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special and The Ramones’ End of the Century). Harvey is the Project Coordinator of The Jack Kerouac Collection, a box set of recordings.

In November 2006, Harvey Kubernik was a speaker discussing audiotape preservation and archiving at special hearings called by The Library of Congress and held in Hollywood, California.

In summer of 2019, Harvey was interviewed for director Matt O’Casey on his BBC4-TV digital arts channel Christine McVie, Fleetwood Mac’s Songbird. The cast includes Christine McVie, Stan Webb of Chicken Shack, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, John McVie, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, Mike Campbell, Neil Finn, and producer Richard Dashut. Premiere broadcast was in 2020.

During 2020 he served as a Consultant on the 2-part documentary Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time directed by Alison Ellwood. Kubernik is currently working on a documentary about Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member singer/songwriter Del Shannon.

Kubernik also appears as a screen interview subject for director/producer Neil Norman’s GNP Crescendo documentary, The Seeds: Pushin’ Too Hard. Jan Savage and Daryl Hooper original members of the Seeds participated along with Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys, Iggy Pop, Kim Fowley, Jim Salzer, the Bangles, photographer Ed Caraeff, Mark Weitz of the Strawberry Alarm Clock and Johnny Echols of Love. Miss Pamela Des Barres supplied the narration. Norman’s documentary is scheduled for a debut broadcast on television during 2021 and then other retail platforms.

This decade Harvey was filmed for the currently in-production documentary about former Hollywood landmark Gold Star Recording Studio and co-owner/engineer Stan Ross produced and directed by Brad Ross and Jonathan Rosenberg. Brian Wilson, Herb Alpert, Richie Furay, Darlene Love, Mike Curb, Chris Montez, Bill Medley, Don Randi, Hal Blaine, Shel Talmy, Don Peake, Kim Fowley, Johnny Echols, Gloria Jones, Carol Kaye, Marky Ramone, David Kessel and Steven Van Zandt have been lensed.

 


Jan Savage 1942-2020

by admin  11th Aug 2020 Comments [0]

By Harvey Kubernik

 

Guitarist Jan Savage, who was born Buck Jan Reeder, of the American rock band the Seeds died in early August, according to a report in The Ada News and a subsequent Facebook posting that announced his passing.

Formed in 1965 in Los Angeles, the Seeds, guitarist Savage, keyboardist Daryl Hooper, drummer Rick Andridge and singer Sky Saxon were an influential pioneering psychedelic and garage rock outfit who offered a whole lot more for pop culture than their hit single “Pushin’ Too Hard.”

The well-received Seeds long form 110+ minute movie documentary THE SEEDS Pushin’ Too Hard, directed and produced by Neil Norman for GNP Crescendo was initially released in 2015. Norman conducted extensive new interviews about the Seeds. Subjects lensed by Norman include Iggy Pop, Mark Weitz of the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Johnny Echols from Love, Kim Fowley, photographer Ed Caraeff, deejay Rodney Bingenheimer, Richard France, a roadie from their heyday, the Bangles, concert promoter Jim Salzer, Bruce Johnson of the Beach Boys, and myself. Humble Harve (Miller), the onetime KHJ and KBLA DJ who supported and introduced the Seeds at Los Angeles area shows in their heyday is also featured in a voice over capacity.

A handful of years ago Ace Records in the UK reissued the domestic GNP Seeds’ expanded edition Future and Raw & Alive albums were re-released in 2014 as double disc sets on the 60 year old independent GNP Crescendo label, following 2013 reissues The Seeds and Web of Sound. Earlier this decade Ace distributed a new vintage Seeds’ collection, Singles A-sides and B-sides 1965-1970. The original single versions of the Seeds’ celebrated run of 45s. Includes the garage classics “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine” and “Pushin’ Too Hard” along with many non-LP items, including the bands swansong 45s on MGM.

“Of all the Nuggetarian bands that came to psychedelic light in the Gar Age, the Seeds brought rock back to its most hypnotic elementals,” proclaimed writer, musician, Patti Smith group member, and Nuggets box compiler/producer, Lenny Kaye who emailed me in March 2015. “This docu-drama provides a heartfelt insight into the band’s inner universe, their time and place, a behind-the-scenarios look at a group whose impact would resonate throughout the coming of punk and beyond. We are truly up in their room, and it feels so good…”

In the June 15, 2009 LA Record website, Nels Cline, current Wilco guitarist, posted a comment when having learned about the death of Saxon. In My First Rock Idol, Cline wrote, “I am truly saddened to learn of the death of Sky Saxon. As a boy growing up in Los Angeles, Sky Saxon was my first rock idol. The Seeds’ music was important to me, sure, but Sky’s amazing charisma—as he appeared rather ubiquitously on TV shows like Boss City and The Groovy Show and American Bandstand in 1966—67 was galvanizing. I would stare in disbelief as he—clad in shiny satin Nehru shirts bedazzled with some gaudy brooch—would gyrate around lasciviously, holding the microphone in every cool way imaginable. He seemed from another planet. I thought he was amazing. I feel lucky to have ever even seen him on TV, yet alone to have played some wild, extemporaneous psychedelia with him. They say Mick Jagger copped tons of his moves and style, and I believe it. But there was so much more to this man that remains to be revealed.”

Future Star Wars director/producer, George Lucas, in his 1967 student film at the University of Southern California, The Emperor, profiling KRLA DJ, Bob ‘Emperor’ Hudson, used the Seeds’ “Rollin’ Machine” in the soundtrack at the top of his movie.

I interviewed Jan Savage and Daryl Hooper in 2014. Portions of our conversation were published in my book Turn Up The Radio Rock, Pop and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972.

“When we recorded with a bass player on our recordings, Harvey Sharpe, he brought a new perspective to the low end and that freed up Daryl from playing piano bass to be more creative,” explained Savage, who was always proud of his Native American Indian heritage.

“In 1965, before I met Rick, Daryl and Sky and before we first did any recording, I lived in South Hollywood, near the Melrose and Vine area. Many of the starving musicians lived in that neighborhood. The Byrds, Sonny & Cher, when they were Caesar & Cleo… Everybody within one year had a hit. In 1966 the Doors were our opening act at college concerts up and down the California coast. We had the same booking agency.”

The Hooper and Savage team also commented on a few recordings by the Seeds, including their urgent care plea, “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” selection. Jan Savage sheds some light on their infectious and enduring recording.

“Compared to the other things we were doing in clubs at that time, like ‘Pushin’ Too Hard’ and ‘No Escape,’ that song was a change of pace. And we needed something like that to show development and a little bit of originality.”

“In the early material,” reinforced Hooper, “Sky would have different relationships with ladies, some good some bad and a lot of the music of that era it was a good time. Love was portrayed or perhaps a not-so-good love happening story that occurred. ‘Can’t Seem to Make You Mine’ was about a girl again. Longing for and trying to make things right, and couldn’t quite do it. They were simple stories. But they were good stories.”

“As far as ‘Pushin’ Too Hard,’ Sky wrote the lyrics to the song and we kind of came up with the beat and the rhythm to it,” remembered Hooper.

“It was written about a girlfriend, who literally was raggin’ on Sky all the time. It was sort of that intense driving song we would perform in clubs. We found that everyone got up and danced. We were on tour with Buffalo Springfield, the Shadows of Knight and our record was just starting to be played. And we would hear it riding on a bus. ‘Listen. There’s our song. This is cool.’ And by the time we got back to Los Angeles we had a huge record. Behold, the next gig in LA there were hundreds of screaming fans. We were a little bit in awe of the situation. Any recording artist has that dream but you can’t predict it or know when it might happen.

“’Mr Farmer,’ Hooper recalled, “I can tell you I literally wrote the music to that song. I woke up at three in the morning with the tune going through my head. I got up, I put it on a little recorder and in a few days I presented it to Sky. ‘What do you think? Wanna write some lyrics?’ And he immediately did and it produced that song.”

Daryl Hooper and Jan Savage both provided fond memories of their drummer Rick Andridge.

“Rick was the basic foundation,” stressed Savage. “He was on the beat all the time. We could depend on Rick whether we were on stage or in the studio. He counted it off and was on the beat. He didn’t have to worry about speeding up in the middle of the song, or slowing down somewhere else. You knew he was right on it.”

“I think the Seeds as a whole played off of one another,” Hooper underscored. “It took four people to make the Seeds. Sky couldn’t have done it without us and we couldn’t have done it without Sky. He was the lyricist and the front man and we were the foundation behind him that came up with the melodies, chord patterns and rhythms. We all had out own little job. We worked together. Put it in here or there. It was a team. Basically, in a nutshell, you had four people that clicked together as musicians.

“The audience could not tell that we hadn’t been playing together for years. “Sky started writing some lyrics,” mused Hooper, “and would come to us. I’d play a few chords. Jan would play a little lick on the guitar. All of a sudden, sometimes within ten minutes a song would materialize.

“We started at Bido Lido’s. In two months we were adding originals into our set and we found that the audience was responding more to our songs than the cover songs. One night we looked at each other and said, ‘The audience is responding to our songs. No more cover versions.’ From that day on we did no more covers.

“On the television shows we did they were mostly lip sync. You got used to it. That was the technology of the time. You had no choice whatsoever. Most shows did not have the technology to have you come out sounding decent live. That was the way it was. Some of the times Sky’s vocals were live. We got used to it OK. They were playing your music in the background. Your instrument may not have been plugged in but you’re still playing right along with it, and singing along with it.”

“The best songs come from personal emotion,” concluded Savage. “There were a lot of complimentary things we did together.”

“We did an album A Full Spoon Of Seedy Blues,” emphasized Hooper. “Muddy Waters wrote one of the songs and played harmonica on the session. It was at RCA. It was a very fun time. Sky had met Muddy and they clicked. Sky played some of his songs, sang them. He talked Muddy into coming to the session with his guitar player, Luther Johnson.”

“That was the first time we met him. And talk about a down to earth guy,” beamed Savage. “He was fantastic. He really liked us. It was an amazing experience. One of the most memorable sessions. The greatest compliment he ever gave us,” marveled Savage, “was, ‘You have a lot of soul for white boys.’”

 

© Harvey Kubernik 2020

 

 

Music historian Harvey Kubernik saw the Seeds at the 18,000 seat Hollywood Bowl in 1967, and venues all around Southern California 1966-1968.

Kubernik is the author of 19 books, including Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon and Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972. Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. For 2021 they are writing a multi-narrative book on Jimi Hendrix for the same publisher.

Otherworld Cottage Industries in July 2020 has just published Harvey’s 508-page book, Docs That Rock, Music That Matters, featuring Kubernik interviews with D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, Murray Lerner, Morgan Neville, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Andrew Loog Oldham, John Ridley, Curtis Hanson, Dick Clark, Travis Pike, Allan Arkush, and David Leaf, among others. In 2020 Harvey served as Consultant on Laurel Canyon: A Place In Time documentary directed by Alison Ellwood which debuted on May 2020 on the EPIX/MGM television channel. It just received three Emmy nominations.

Kubernik’s writings are in several book anthologies, most notably The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski. He was the project coordinator of the recording set The Jack Kerouac Collection. He has just penned a back cover book jacket endorsement for author Michael Posner’s book on Leonard Cohen that Simon & Schuster, Canada, will be publishing this fall 2020, Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years).