Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Steve Van Zandt’

Revisiting Eric Burdon

Eric Burdon 1

The memory of hearing Eric Burdon sing “House of the Rising Sun” with the Animals at the Odeon, Nottingham one summer night in 1964 — a week or two before it was released as a single — is as clear as yesterday. In some ways it was the precursor of a new kind of rock music. But to Burdon, as he explains in a new biographical documentary shown on BBC4 this weekend, it meant something different. When Alan Price, the group’s organist, took credit for the words (traditional) and the arrangement (borrowed by Bob Dylan from Dave Van Ronk), it damaged the singer’s faith in music as a collective endeavour: all for one and one for all.

Luckily, although the animosity towards Price is still burning fiercely more than half a century later, it didn’t cause Burdon to end his career. As Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt testify in the programme, post-Price Animals hits like “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “It’s My Life” were nothing short of inspirational to the next generation. But as the decades went by, there was always a sense that Burdon, one of the great English R&B voices of the ’60s, never quite recaptured the same level of fulfilment.

The hour-long Eric Burdon: Rock and Roll Animal, directed by Hannes Rossacher, is a co-production by the BBC with ZDF and Arte. There are interesting passages on his apprenticeship at the Club A Go Go in Newcastle, his relationship with Jimi Hendrix, his time in San Francisco and his collaboration with War — who dumped him, he claims, because he was the white guy in the band (there was actually another, the harmonica-player Lee Oskar). There’s quite a lot of stuff about his 50-odd years of living in California, and we see him cruising through the desert in some ’70s gas-guzzler or other.

We leave him, weathered but unbowed, with his new American band — new in 2018, anyway, when the film was made — preparing to record an album. He sings “Across the Borderline”, the great song written in 1981 by Ry Cooder with Jim Dickinson and John Hiatt for the soundtrack of Tony Richardson’s The Border, a film about immigrants. Originally sung by Freddie Fender, it subsequently found its way into the repertoires of Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne and Willie Nelson. It suits Eric Burdon just fine.

* The screen-grab is from Eric Burdon: Rock and Roll Animal, which can be watched on BBC iPlayer until the end of March.

Greetings from Asbury Park

ASBURY PARK_QUAD ARTWORK

There are many heroes in Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock & Roll, a documentary film in which the writer/director Tom Jones explores the musical history of the New Jersey beach resort. Bruce Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt and Southside Johnny Lyon top the bill, but the list also includes David Sancious and Ernest “Boom” Carter, respectively the organist and drummer with early editions of the E Street Band, who provide eloquent accounts of the music to be heard in the clubs and bars of the town’s West Side, where the black population lived.

Springwood Avenue was the West Side’s main stem, and the Orchid Lounge was where great music was heard (Carter mentions Grant Green, Jimmy McGriff, and many others). The cross-community synergy between West and East was important in the development of the music for which, in the wake of Springsteen’s success, Asbury Park eventually became internationally famous, but it had come to an end in 1970, when a riot over the Fourth of July weekend saw 75 per cent of the businesses on Springwood Avenue burned to the ground, never to be rebuilt.

The riot — eventually suppressed by the arrival of state troopers — expressed the desperation of people who felt they had nothing. Tragically, and as is so often the way, the principal victim of their demonstration was their own community. The film ends on an upbeat note, looking at the current activities of the Lakehouse music academy and studio, where very young musicians are given a chance to learn, to play and to perform, but it cannot pretend that the grievances which erupted almost 50 years ago have been properly addressed.

Springsteen, Van Zandt and Lyon speak with great fondness about what the place gave them, by enabling them to immerse themselves in the world of music. Unlike Dylan and the Beatles, Springsteen says, those who learnt their trade in the Asbury Park bar bands were not musical revolutionaries: they were alchemists, he says, taking bits from all over the place — soul, R&B, Elvis and Little Richard, the British Invasion — and turning it into something of their own. He and his old friends speak with a warmth that is as powerful a defining characteristic of their music as any stylistic element.

The film shows us important venues including the Convention Hall (where the Who shared a bill with Herman’s Hermits and the Blues Magoos), the Upstage Club (where, because it lacked a liquor licence, teenagers could congregate to play and listen) and the Stone Pony (made famous by Southside Johnny and Miami Steve). At the screening I went to, it finished with 20 minutes of a recent fund-raising concert at which practically everybody who ever played in an Asbury Park bar band gathered on stage to run through cheerfully chaotic versions of “Johnny B. Goode”, “Bye Bye Johnny”, and — at Springsteen’s behest — “Lucille”, in the great Everly Brothers arrangement.

The director both excavates the Asbury Park legend and polishes it up a bit. And why not? As Springsteen remarks: “Everything’s broken. We are the fixers of broken dreams.”

* The film was shown on Wednesday of this week at various cinemas in London. There seems to be a screening on May 25 in Liverpool, and there may be others.

The return of Little Steven

Little Steven

Need cheering up in these dark times? Look no further. Little Steven’s Soulfire — in which Steve Van Zandt returns to his true vocation after his adventures with The Sopranos and Lilyhammer — is a record that could start a party in an empty house.

This October it’ll be 35 years since Van Zandt brought his Disciples of Soul to London, promoting his first solo album, Men Without Women. Their appearance at the Marquee was not just one of the best gigs of a very good year but one of the most exhilarating nights I can remember in the old Wardour Street premises. A 10-piece band, with Dino Danelli, the former Young Rascal, on drums, they kicked through great songs like “Forever”, “Until the Good is Gone” and “Angel Eyes”, with an encore of “Can I Get a Witness”. Van Zandt’s singing reminded me then, as it does now, of Keith Richards and Pete Townshend: he might not possess the power or technique of a real lead singer, but there’s an honesty and a directness in his delivery that has its own special value.

Soulfire is the first album under his own name in 18 years, and mostly it sticks to the horns-and-Hammond template of the E Street Band. Some of the dozen songs are familiar: they include “I Don’t Want to Go Home” and “Love on the Wrong Side of Town” from the repertoire of Southside Johnny, and “Standing in the Line of Fire”, written with Bruce Springsteen for Gary U. S. Bonds, now with a great spaghetti-western intro. Others are new, like “The City Weeps Tonight”, a meticulous evocation of East Coast doowop with the Persuasions providing support. “Down and Out in New York City” is a surprise cover of a song written by Bodie Chandler and Barry De Vorzon in 1973 for James Brown’s Black Caesar soundtrack album, riding a laconic street-funk rhythm with wah-wah and chicken-scratch rhythm guitars, a Rhodes with its mirror shades on, and violins voiced in octaves: the full blaxploitation menu, in fact, and very well executed. Steve also gives us a howling Dylanesque version of “Saint Valentine’s Day”, first recorded by a Norwegian band called the Cocktail Slippers in 2009 and more recently heard in David Chase’s film Not Fade Away.

I started loving this album as soon as I put it on. It’s not bursting with originality, to say the least, but sometimes that’s not what you need. It’s good-time music with a heart and a human voice, made by a man with a profound love and understanding of rock and soul, and what could possibly be wrong with that?