Story Behind The Song: “Fire & Rain” by James Taylor

•February 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment


James Taylor

“Fire and Rain”

 

"Sweet Baby James," the famous cover by Henry Diltz.

“Sweet Baby James,” the famous cover by Henry Diltz.


As told to Paul Zollo

 

My friend Suzanne, from New York, had committed suicide a couple of months before my friends let me know. I was in the middle of recording my (debut album for Apple Records) in London, and they didn’t know how the news would hit me, and kept it from me for a couple of months until we were well into mixing that album. Then they told me about it, so that’s why the song starts with that first verse. I started it in London.

I had known Suzanne the year before I started writing the song. When I finished making the Apple album, I was institutionalized at Austen Riggs in Massachusetts. I wrote the second two verses there. They put me in a little room and I wrote a lot of songs there. It was very productive. I was getting my strength back, I was getting my nervous system back. Writing a lot of stuff.

“Fire and Rain” came very fast. You’d almost say it all happened all at the same time.

I played it for Joel O’Brien, who was my drummer at the time, in London. I had a small basement room. I lived in a succession of basement rooms. This one was fairly spacious. Silver foil on the wall. He said, “Oh, man, that’s going to be an important song for you.”

[The song] is very personal, confrontational. And candid. It really a kind of blues. Not a 12-bar blues, but it has the same intent, in that it’s getting out something hard. It details three different episodes of hard times. The first one learning of Suzanne’s death, the second one coming back to the United States sick and strung out, trying to get back on my feet, physically exhausted, undernourished and addicted. And then the third one is much more general, not as specific as the first few verses. It talks about remembering one’s life, thinking back to my band The Flying Machine. Like a postcard from the loony bin. The third verse, I think, is hopeful. It is looking at going back out into the world and reengaging.

[The ending] was not written. It was the ad lib that happened at the end of that take. It was so much of a piece, that I kept it.

On that song, I capo [the guitar] on the third fret. The song is in C, but I play it in A. [The intro] is identifiable and easy. And back in the day it seemed sufficient.

We recorded it at Sunset Sound [in Hollywood]. That album [Sweet Baby James] was recorded in two weeks. For a cost of about $8000. On two-inch 16-track tape. Bill Lazarus was the staff engineer who recorded us. I was living at Peter [Asher]’s house on Olympic, down in the flats. We’d just go to work every day, and push our way through the material. It was, at that point, just about getting the songs down.

Carole came over to Peter’s house and we went through a lot of these songs together, and I played it for her then. At Peter’s piano. I taught her the song.

Different producers have different tasks with different artists. Peter didn’t do much arranging as a producer for me, because at that point I was very selfish to keep that to myself as much as possible. Sometimes Danny Kortchmar or Carole would suggest things. But really the way these songs were recorded is that I have a community of musicians I work with. I give them the chords and play them my arrangement of it, then they find things that play that work with it. I never write out whole arrangements.

Russell Kunkel played drums, Carole King played piano, Bobby West played stand-up bass. I was in a booth, playing [guitar] and singing.

Russ Kunkel is a remarkably versatile and powerful drummer. I hadn’t heard anybody play like that. He really invented a lot of stuff. His tom fills, playing that song on brushes but as lively as he played it, and with as much passion. Bobby was just nailing down the bass, and he bowed the last verse, which built a lot of tension, that arco bass. Looking back on it, it was a very nice session.

Carole has this energy about how she plays. She plays very energetically. She’s a lively player. She and I share a common language. We were definitely on the same page musically. She is so good at getting the feel of what I was doing.

“Fire and Rain” was my first hit. That really changed everything for me in 1971, when that came out and I started working behind that album. I was at the right place and the right time.. It’s a wonderful experience to create something , particularly as personal and self-expressive, that takes off, and that resonates with people over a number of years. It is deeply gratifying. And validating and confirming what I say. And I love to play it. I love playing it for people. And almost always, when I play that song , I get back to the place, to the feeling I had when I wrote it. That’s rare, after playing something maybe 1500 times.

bluerailroad-header9

 

On Henry Diltz & Sweet Baby James

•February 10, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Henry Diltz & Sweet Baby James.

Inside an Icon 

By PAUL ZOLLO

"Sweet Baby James," the famous cover by Henry Diltz.

There comes a time in your teenage years when image is everything. You’re searching for someone to emulate – you’re looking for a hero. Your parents aren’t heroic anymore – quite the contrary —  so you’re spending a lot of time alone in your bedroom. When I was a teenager, in the early 70s, there was no computer in the bedroom, no cell phone, no Internet, no TV, no video games. What you had were your records. LPs. And those LPs came with big pictures on the cover, pictures you could scrutinize and obsess over for hours, while reading the lyrics and absorbing the music.

And then there was JT. James Taylor. Sweet Baby James. And there was the blue-green hue of that iconic portrait taken by Henry Diltz. And inside the album, the lyrics were printed on a big double-spread, on the back of which was another beautiful portrait taken by Mr. Diltz. A portrait, like the cover shot, that showed James gazing gently at the photographer, not in some cold studio, but outside, in the natural splendor of nature, as natural as his earthy, captivating voice.

At that time, the image of James, to me, was everything. He was a hero, and that picture captured all his shining heroic greatness. He was the essence of cool; cooler than any big brother, cooler than the coolest teacher or pro athlete. He was, like they said about Clark Gable in his day, the kind of man women swoon over, and men want to be. Not only was he tall and movie-star handsome, but he had a voice like the earth itself, a voice resplendent in its resonance. And he wrote songs that sounded like heaven. Songs of sadness – like “Fire and Rain,” songs of that natural splendor, like “Blossom” and “Anywhere Like Heaven,” songs that rocked with the blues, like “Steamroller Blues,” and songs that told mythic cowboy tales, like “Sweet Baby James.” To be a kid in the suburbs of Chicago and hear him sing about a “young cowboy who lives on the plains,” and whose “horse and cattle are his only companions,” was more beautiful and thrilling and soul-nourishing that anything we had before; it was more thrilling than “Twilight Zone,” than Ed Sullivan,  than baseball, than the Marx Brothers, than Superman, Batman and the Green Lantern all combined.

And it was all represented by those photos, taken by a guy whose name I knew well from all those years of scrutinizing album covers. Henry Diltz. The name to me became as mythic as the music it accompanied. A name I saw on the LPs of so many of the great heroes of that time. But this one – Sweet Baby James – will always resound in my life, because it intersected with my soul at that exact moment – that incredibly impressionable moment of awakening youth – when the whole world is just starting to unfold in all its beautiful, romantic and mysterious glory. It was a world in which, instead of becoming a businessman like most of our fathers, one could become a man like JT. A man who strode like Lincoln with a guitar. A man who hung out and romanced genuine goddesses, like Joni Mitchell and Carole King.

Like so many people my age, I took that middle-spread Diltzian portrait of JT out of the album, and taped it up in my bedroom. Over my desk. So I could look into his eyes every day – in the morning when I got up, in the long after-school afternoon when I would make that happy leap directly into the heart of his music, and in the night, when I’d go to sleep. I’d look into those eyes that were smiling – a confident, knowing smile –smiling precisely because they were looking into the lens of Henry Diltz. There was Henry, behind the photo, behind his camera, this magical and mysterious man of the famous name and even more famous photos, whose own face was always hidden, never revealed, only reflected in the beamish repose of those he photographed.

This photo was cropped perfectly, so that all the emphasis of was on the face itself – that face of ambition, of preternatural wisdom – that face of romance, of possibility, of promise. It was all captured by the gifted Mr. Diltz, whose own face I imagined – way back then, many decades ago now – to be even older than it is now. I reasoned that anyone taking photos of that caliber, and hanging out with all these artists – these artists from California of all fantastic places, the exotic Golden State – these artists who painted our very lives with their powerfully intimate voices and songs and guitars – anyone who could do all that had to have been doing it a long time to reach this plateau of greatness.

I assumed, wrongly, that Henry was an old guy. I figured he must be a very seasoned pro who had been around the music world for decades so as to be granted access to my heroes. For some reason I pictured him then not unlike the way he looks now – an old hippie. Not a young one, but still with a sparkle in his eyes and a pony-tail.

But little did I know at the time that Henry was actually one of their peers. A musician himself. A denizen of that same Laurel Canyon from which so much of this special magic emanated. But, as I later discovered, it was because Henry himself possessed that very magic – he played music, he hung with goddesses, he laughed and partied alongside JT and Cros and all the coolest of the cool heroes – that he and he alone could translate that magic at this unique juncture in human history, at this farthest western edge of the continent, and he could embody in his photographs this unique, unprecedented fusion of Americana with poetry, myth, folk music, rock and roll, art, literature, drugs, electricity, budding awareness, blossoming enlightenment, audacious aspiration, rebellion, revolution, book smarts, street wisdom, spirituality, real romance, sexual fire, beauty, and euphoria,  and he could do it in a way that was elegant, imbued with grace, and as timeless as those songs are timeless.

I also assumed, wrongly, that the photo was taken in James’ native Massachusetts. I never thought about this aspect much, it’s just something I figured neatly into the equation. It was a bit of a revelation when, years later, Henry told me he actually shot it in Burbank! Over at what is now the Oakwood Apartments, where Zevon and others came to sometimes reside. Back then it was a farm with an old weathered barn that Henry loved to use for shoots.

Henry Diltz, in his visual expedition into the heart of the music,  preserved for all of us the magical genius of that time, the inspirational glory that was expressed in those classic songs, in the words and music of James Taylor and the rest. And though JT himself, and all of us, have aged, the music is untouched by time, the spirit perseveres, and those great photos by Henry Diltz remain; their power is undiminished by the crass commercialism of modern times. Those great photos remain great because it was a great time, and great artists were connected directly to the electric bloodstream of the people, and their music was our music, and their visionary hopes for a better world were our hopes, and their romance was our romance. And one man captured it all. And it turns out, remarkably, that he’s one of the sweetest humans ever. His name is Henry Diltz.

STORY BEHIND THE SONG: Loretta Lynn, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

•January 21, 2015 • Leave a Comment

STORY BEHIND THE SONG

lorettalynn3_h
Loretta Lynn
The Truth about “Coal Miner’s Daughter”

By PAUL ZOLLO

“You can call me anytime,” she said over the phone from her ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. It’s the second time I’ve been lucky enough to talk to Miss Loretta, which is how everyone refers to her, and each time it’s a joy. Unlike other living legends, she goes out of her way to find out about the guy asking the questions, and ends our conversations with promises of more to come.

Born in 1932 in Butcher’s Holler, Kentucky, she wrote about the real facts of her life, and turned it into classic song. Songwriters struggle everyday with the old quandary of wanting to write about specifics, but maybe not so specific as to lose your audience. And so some choose to write intentionally vague songs, so as not to exclude or alienate any listener.

But time and time again we learn the same lesson. Which is that the most universal songs are the most specific ones. The beauty and undying strength of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” lies in the truth. Every line is true. And there was more, as she related in this story behind the classic song.

Yet even those of us who have never been to Butcher’s Holler – or any holler for that matter – can experience the world of her childhood. It’s all there. That is, except the parts she cut out, as related during our talk on the origins of this remarkable song.

LORETTA LYNN: “I wrote it on a little $17 guitar.  It didn’t stay in tune. And $17 was a lot of money, cause at the time we didn’t have any money. But then Gibson gave me a guitar, and I wrote all the others on that one.

Every word is true. My daddy would work all night in the coal mine. During the day he would work in the cornfields. There were ten of us. He had to make a living for us. Eight kids. I was second, so I would take care of the kids while Mommy did the sewing and the cleaning and everything else. I think that’s why I sing. I’d rock the babies to sleep and sing to them.

The song says Mommy’s fingers were bleeding. I’d seen them bleed many times. In the wintertime we had these old clothes-lines made out of wire. It would be so cold that her fingers would stick to that wire. She’d pull them loose and I’d see the hide come off of those fingers. I would hide and cry. Monday was wash day. She’d scrub on those washboards all day and her fingers would bleed. But she didn’t complain.

My Mommy, to me, was beautiful. I’d see everything she’d do, whether it was crying or laughing. She would rock the babies by the coal oil light, like in the song. That was our light. We didn’t have much light. Butcher Holler, Kentucky was dark at night. You go up a long holler, and there’s trees everywhere and it’s very dark.

We had a well. I would help my daddy a lot and bring the water in at night when I wasn’t being lazy.

[The song] says we’d go without shoes in the summer. We would wear our shoes out before it would be warm enough to be without shoes. We’d have holes in our shoes, and put paste-board in our shoes. But halfway to school the paste-board would come out. One time my daddy found me by the creek with my shoes off, just crying, cause it was so cold from those shoes with holes. And Daddy picked me up and carried me home. And Daddy only weighed 117 pounds. I don’t know how he did it, but he did.

You know, you hear about poor people in other countries. There are a lot of poor people in our country if you go to the right places. There are a lot of hollers, not just Butcher Holler. I’ve seen them. I guarantee you there’s kids right to this day in the Kentucky hills that don’t have shoes.

There’s the line “Daddy always managed to get the money somewhere.” Parents do what they have to do. Daddy would usually try to get two hogs, one to raise and one to sell. So the other hog would pay for itself. We had a rough life. It was a hard life. Mommy would raise a garden in the summer, and we’d help her. She would can, and I would pick wild blackberries. I would go and pick from morning till night. And Mommy would pack up 100 quarts of blackberries.

The song doesn’t tell half of it. If I told the whole story nobody would believe it now anyway.

[Producer] Owen Bradley heard me writing it. It had about ten verses, and he said it was too long. He said, “There’s already been an ‘El Paso,’ there didn’t need to be another one.” He knew it was about my life, and he didn’t care about my life and figured nobody else would. So I cut out, I think, four verses. And I cried the whole time. And I have lost those verses, I do not remember them. I wish I did.

We cut it in Owen’s studio in his barn. It was my arrangement. I told him exactly how I wanted it, whether I wanted the steel to start it, or the fiddle. Then I sang the song to the band, and said, “This is what we’re gonna do now.” And I sang it live with the band. Just sang, I didn’t play guitar. Just a couple takes at the most. I never did many takes of anything. The more I sing, the worse I get. I like to make it fresh.

It was my husband Doo’s idea to put a banjo on it after. He was right. It added so much to the song. None of us could believe it.

It was a fun session. I stopped at the store before going to the barn. I’d get a half a roll of bologna cut up, and cheese, bread, onion, potato chips. We made everything fun. I didn’t have a drink but whoever had a drink had a drink. A hillbilly party. I didn’t want my sessions not to be fun. Because if you go into a recording studio and you think you’re a better singer than the boys that’s gonna play behind you, then you better not go.  It’s a thing you are feeling and you can sense, and I know the musicians can sense it.

 

Miss Loretta in Nashville, photo by Stephanie Chernikowski/Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Miss Loretta in Nashville, photo by Stephanie Chernikowski/Morrison Hotel Gallery.

REVIEW: Paul Zollo & The Zollo Band at the Fremont

•January 6, 2015 • 2 Comments

Paul Zollo and The Zollo Band

Fremont Centre Theatre
Pasadena, California
November 22, 2014.

 1111 Universal Cure concert 1 DONE

 The Universal Cure for Happiness 

1111 Universal Cure concert back of stage stars CLOSE UP BLACK AND WHITE DONE

Words & Photos by K.K. Ryder

“People are sleeping and you have to wake them up.” So said Madonna in words my heart remembered when I read cover to cover Paul Zollo’s book Songwriters on Songwriting.

This is the guy that has woken a lot of sleepers in his time, in his songs and all the amazing books he’s written. He’s interviewed Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Carlos Santana, Joan Baez, Carole King and Gerry Goffin and so many more. Songwriters On Songwriting is considered the songwriter’s bible.  I became friends with him through Facebook, and told him the reason why I started writing had to do with him. From there a great mentorship and friendship blossomed.

So I felt blessed to be invited to the CD release concert with Zollo and his band at the beautiful and historic Fremont Centre Theater in Pasadena.

It was a fantastic night. Zollo and his talented friends were amazing.  I was blown away with the talent on the stage. It was an evening of pure fun. And even complete with clowns too. Who doesn’t love clowns? Well, I know they scare some people but I loved them all. The “Clown Jam” that closed the night was filled with laughter and joy.

When I arrived Paul was already on stage and he had already been introduced by the one and only Robert Miles aka Count Smokula, a popular accordion playing musician and personality-plus entertainer in Southern California.

1111 Universal Cure concert back of stage stars DONE

I opened the door and boom, there was the dressing room so I went in and here’s all these clowns getting ready and sitting down and so I took this opportunity to grab some shots of these very colorful entertainers. Being backstage especially when a show is going on is exciting because entertainers are in the whisper mode. So very quietly I got some great poses with personality plus coming through. Zollo’s son and “beamish boy” Joshie was backstage and I saw a handsome young man with the most wild haired 70’s style afro just nonchalantly standing in the midst of the backstage flurry.  I snapped away, and then quietly excused myself from the backstage to the actual stage where Zollo and his full band were in full force.

 1111 Universal Cure concert 2 cool band angle by KK RYDER DONEEarl Grey, Aaron Wolfson and Paul Zollo.

I wore all road dog black like a roadie so I could creep around behind the stage and the audience would not be distracted. I came upon a chance in a lifetime opportunity to watch Paul Zollo onstage doing what he does best. With the rhythm of the horn section and the beat of the drum and the bass guitar in my heart,  I crept around so I could capture a little video and a few stills.. Paul in a midnight black tweed suit, electric blue tie, showing his love and care for humanity. Paul proudly wearing his father’s dog tags, rocking on this eccentrically exciting performer’s feet, were tennis shoes. Aahhh, comfort and style! Looking a little like Bob Dylan and sounding so Paul Zollo with a 70’s flair in his vocal style with a tinge of Dr. Hook, which first captured my soul upon hearing him the first time.

The first song I captured as a backstage creeper was “Mississippi Sheiks,” almost Blues Brothers sounding. So I crept behind a very tall speaker stage right and began filming and capturing some shots of the crowd enjoying the show from the performers point of view. On stage right were Zollo’s longtime friends Earl Grey and Aaron Wolfson playing guitar, and on horns were Chad Watson, Jeff Gold and Sarah Kramer. Lisa Johnson sang glorious harmonies all night long, many with Earl Grey (to whom she’s married) and also covered the keys.

To catch the next song as the crowd was applauding, I went around to where I could get a good seat, so I sat in the front row stage left. Paul was funny and engaging with the standing room only venue and he chided with the crowd while wiping his brow with a scarf: “This is Steven Tyler’s scarf,” he said. “I stole it from him, I saw him at a party and I grabbed it… He came running after me and I turned around and I kicked him right in his chest and knocked him down and I was out of there!” The crowd absolutely loved his story laughing with applause.

He also talked about this stylish African style of music that Paul Simon does and he said he feels better because he’s taller than him. This led to a song he wrote for his son Joshua called “God Gave Me Something To Keep,” with a Calypso feel- also real Latin but yet African. It was great. Paul said Josh is also his manager, and at one point in the show Josh brought out a life-size doll replica of Joe Frisco which he placed center stage as the band played the ever popular song “Joe Frisco on a Ferris Wheel.”

Paul explained that Joe Frisco was the “King of Vaudeville” and that he had always had a thing for vaudeville and that classic sort of entertainment. Paul has since adopted the “King’s” grave at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. And Mr. Frisco probably dances like “Mr. Bojangles” when Paul and his son Josh come to visit him.

He also talked about how Lucy Liu used to be his next-door neighbor and she was talking about how he had been working out “`Yeah, sure I do,’ I said to impress her. She said, ‘I’ve got a garage that needs to be cleaned,’ and though it was his wife’s birthday, he said sure. He is such a card and I’ll bet a bit of a prankster that he leaves you scratching your head wondering what this genius is going to come up with next!

Zollo loves his friends and a few lucky musicians shared the stage with him.  Darryl Purpose, his co-writer on many songs, sang a few and performed solo as well. Danny Shorago of the Fuxedos sang the Elvis song “Little Sister” with Zollo and the band, and did a spaceman routine on the song “Tallahassee UFO.” which was so much fun to listen to, and to watch.

1111 Universal Cure concert from BACK OF STAGE DONE by kk ryder

The Zollo Band has changed a lot over the years, but on this night consisted of Paul’s “brother” and long-time partner Earl Grey on guitar and vocals, Lisa Johnson on keyboards and vocals, Neil Rosengarden on bass and trumpet, and Edoardo Tancredi on drums. The great Chad Watson filled in on mandolin and trombone; Sarah Kramer played trumpet and Jeff Gold was on sax and clarinet.

Aaron Wolfson, a wonderful guitarist Zollo dubbed “the electric wolf,” added amazing jazz and rock guitar leads to many of the songs, and is “one of the shining stars” of the album.

1111 Universal Cure concert with JILLY  DONE by kk ryderZollo with Jill Freeman

Jill Freeman, the singer-songwriter who Zollo said was one “of his oldest and best friends ever,” a former member of his band The Ghosters, came out to sing solo with Zollo on the song “Being In This World” from his previous album, which he said was a duet with him and Jill until Art Garfunkel chose it to duet on and, Zollo said, “we had to get rid of Jill.” With the band they did a greatly spirited rendition of a song Zollo dedicated to his late father, “Thanksgiving.”

Props to Karen Young on sound and lights, who was very sweet. At one point when I ventured upstairs to capture a little birds-eye view  video, we danced upstairs in her fun crow’s nest of sound and lighting domination!! Then I stepped outside to where Lois Tedrow was grooving to the music and serving goodies for the evening and we had a short but sweet conversation. Lois has worked with the Fremont for many years, and arranged for Zollo to do his show in her venue.  “Lois told me many years ago, that when I finished this album, we would do a concert here at this beautiful theatre,” said Zollo. “And those who know Lois know – she keeps her promises.”

It all wrapped up with the most epic clown jam on the song “Clown Jam” with all the backstage clowns taking the stage and the whole house, as the band jammed away and the night was filled with bright happy sounds and color that filled the room with love and music as the band jammed and shone. Jeff Gold’s klezmer clarinet playing, a Jewish sound “deep in our roots,” as Zollo explained, was delightful.

I’ll bet the whole world could be a happier place on earth with one dose — one shot of sunshine —  upon listening to Paul Zollo’s CD Universal Cure.

http://kkryder.wix.com/kkryderentertainer

 1111 Universal Cure concert 2 DONE BACKSTAGEBackstage after the show, front row: Marilyn Shenkman, Joshie Zollo, Penny Folger.
Back row: Earl Grey, Chickster Shenkman, Zollo, April Hava Shenkman and Sarah Kramer. 

Review: FIELD REPORT

•December 30, 2014 • 2 Comments

REVIEW:

Field Report

The Satellite, Hollywood California

November 13, 2014

field-report-rockmill-brewery

 

By JEFF GOLD

Rarely do I get too excited about music anymore that I hear on the radio, as I hear little that doesn’t sound disposable. But heading home one night, I tuned into L.A. college station KCSN, and heard a song so great it got my attention. It was “Home ( Leave The Lights On ),”  by a band from Milwaukee called Field Report. It sounded like a hit song that hadn’t received the audience that it deserved. I wanted more.

So I got the album from which it came, Marigolden. It blew me away. Every song is a gem. It’s fresh sounding throughout, with intelligent lyrics and captivating melodies, all framed in beautiful arrangements. The only other artists that I have gotten this excited about in the past few years are Kathleen Edwards and Laura Marling, two great songwriters.

Besides the sheer power of the songwriting on Marigolden, it’s impeccably produced. Robbie Lackritz, best known for his work with Feist, beautifully co-produced it with the band. Recorded during a particularly icy December last year in Ontario, it was a project which forever changed the band, as they shifted from a septet down to the current quartet.

The driving force behind the band is Chris Porterfield [the band name an anagram of his surname]. Formerly a member of Justin Vernon’s first band, DeYarmond Edison, he’s a songwriter of rare and genuine power; rarely do you hear lyrics this good anymore. His music is real and meaningful, and rendered with an honest and emotional voice.

So when they came to town, I wanted to be there. I knew they’d been touring around America for a long time, playing both big amphitheaters and tiny, intimate venues, and opening for the likes of Emmylou Harris, Aimee Mann and Counting Crows. Here in town they opted for intimate: the Satellite in Hollywood.

I got there early. A disco light was spinning, the drinks were watery and overpriced, but the sound system was excellent. I had to sit through two opening acts, but it was well worth the wait.

From Field Report’s first song “Decision Day,” I was transfixed . This is band of exceptional musicians, and with ideal arrangements for Porterfield’s powerful songs. Along with his unpretentious and heartfelt lead vocals, there’s Thomas Winsek, an all-around musical master who moved easily from bass to keyboards, sang harmony, and created amazing sonic atmospheres with graceful computer programs. Shane Leonard supported well with tasteful drumming and nice banjo playing, adding the third of the three-part harmonies to complete the picture.

With a Midwest sensibility throughout, Porterfield’s songs were beautifully and powerfully realized. Standouts included “Michelle,” as well as “Cups and Cups,” which harkens back to Peter Gabriel’s So, the haunting piano ballad “Ambrosia,” and from their first album, “Fergus Falls.”

If you’re yearning to hear a new band as great as the old ones we have loved for so long, listen to Field Report. If they come to your town, go. It will be a night of music that you won’t soon forget.

Marigolden, the new album.

“Sweet Baby James,” the Album Cover, by Henry Diltz

•December 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Henry Diltz & Sweet Baby James.

Inside an Icon 

By PAUL ZOLLO

"Sweet Baby James," the famous cover by Henry Diltz.

There comes a time in your teenage years when image is everything. You’re searching for someone to emulate – you’re looking for a hero. Your parents aren’t heroic anymore – quite the contrary —  so you’re spending a lot of time alone in your bedroom. When I was a teenager, in the early 70s, there was no computer in the bedroom, no cell phone, no Internet, no TV, no video games. What you had were your records. LPs. And those LPs came with big pictures on the cover, pictures you could scrutinize and obsess over for hours, while reading the lyrics and absorbing the music.

And then there was JT. James Taylor. Sweet Baby James. And there was the blue-green hue of that iconic portrait taken by Henry Diltz. And inside the album, the lyrics were printed on a big double-spread, on the back of which was another beautiful portrait taken by Mr. Diltz. A portrait, like the cover shot, that showed James gazing gently at the photographer, not in some cold studio, but outside, in the natural splendor of nature, as natural as his earthy, captivating voice.

At that time, the image of James, to me, was everything. He was a hero, and that picture captured all his shining heroic greatness. He was the essence of cool; cooler than any big brother, cooler than the coolest teacher or pro athlete. He was, like they said about Clark Gable in his day, the kind of man women swoon over, and men want to be. Not only was he tall and movie-star handsome, but he had a voice like the earth itself, a voice resplendent in its resonance. And he wrote songs that sounded like heaven. Songs of sadness – like “Fire and Rain,” songs of that natural splendor, like “Blossom” and “Anywhere Like Heaven,” songs that rocked with the blues, like “Steamroller Blues,” and songs that told mythic cowboy tales, like “Sweet Baby James.” To be a kid in the suburbs of Chicago and hear him sing about a “young cowboy who lives on the plains,” and whose “horse and cattle are his only companions,” was more beautiful and thrilling and soul-nourishing that anything we had before; it was more thrilling than “Twilight Zone,” than Ed Sullivan,  than baseball, than the Marx Brothers, than Superman, Batman and the Green Lantern all combined.

And it was all represented by those photos, taken by a guy whose name I knew well from all those years of scrutinizing album covers. Henry Diltz. The name to me became as mythic as the music it accompanied. A name I saw on the LPs of so many of the great heroes of that time. But this one – Sweet Baby James – will always resound in my life, because it intersected with my soul at that exact moment – that incredibly impressionable moment of awakening youth – when the whole world is just starting to unfold in all its beautiful, romantic and mysterious glory. It was a world in which, instead of becoming a businessman like most of our fathers, one could become a man like JT. A man who strode like Lincoln with a guitar. A man who hung out and romanced genuine goddesses, like Joni Mitchell and Carole King.

Like so many people my age, I took that middle-spread Diltzian portrait of JT out of the album, and taped it up in my bedroom. Over my desk. So I could look into his eyes every day – in the morning when I got up, in the long after-school afternoon when I would make that happy leap directly into the heart of his music, and in the night, when I’d go to sleep. I’d look into those eyes that were smiling – a confident, knowing smile –smiling precisely because they were looking into the lens of Henry Diltz. There was Henry, behind the photo, behind his camera, this magical and mysterious man of the famous name and even more famous photos, whose own face was always hidden, never revealed, only reflected in the beamish repose of those he photographed.

This photo was cropped perfectly, so that all the emphasis of was on the face itself – that face of ambition, of preternatural wisdom – that face of romance, of possibility, of promise. It was all captured by the gifted Mr. Diltz, whose own face I imagined – way back then, many decades ago now – to be even older than it is now. I reasoned that anyone taking photos of that caliber, and hanging out with all these artists – these artists from California of all fantastic places, the exotic Golden State – these artists who painted our very lives with their powerfully intimate voices and songs and guitars – anyone who could do all that had to have been doing it a long time to reach this plateau of greatness.

I assumed, wrongly, that Henry was an old guy. I figured he must be a very seasoned pro who had been around the music world for decades so as to be granted access to my heroes. For some reason I pictured him then not unlike the way he looks now – an old hippie. Not a young one, but still with a sparkle in his eyes and a pony-tail.

But little did I know at the time that Henry was actually one of their peers. A musician himself. A denizen of that same Laurel Canyon from which so much of this special magic emanated. But, as I later discovered, it was because Henry himself possessed that very magic – he played music, he hung with goddesses, he laughed and partied alongside JT and Cros and all the coolest of the cool heroes – that he and he alone could translate that magic at this unique juncture in human history, at this farthest western edge of the continent, and he could embody in his photographs this unique, unprecedented fusion of Americana with poetry, myth, folk music, rock and roll, art, literature, drugs, electricity, budding awareness, blossoming enlightenment, audacious aspiration, rebellion, revolution, book smarts, street wisdom, spirituality, real romance, sexual fire, beauty, and euphoria,  and he could do it in a way that was elegant, imbued with grace, and as timeless as those songs are timeless.

I also assumed, wrongly, that the photo was taken in James’ native Massachusetts. I never thought about this aspect much, it’s just something I figured neatly into the equation. It was a bit of a revelation when, years later, Henry told me he actually shot it in Burbank! Over at what is now the Oakwood Apartments, where Zevon and others came to sometimes reside. Back then it was a farm with an old weathered barn that Henry loved to use for shoots.

Henry Diltz, in his visual expedition into the heart of the music,  preserved for all of us the magical genius of that time, the inspirational glory that was expressed in those classic songs, in the words and music of James Taylor and the rest. And though JT himself, and all of us, have aged, the music is untouched by time, the spirit perseveres, and those great photos by Henry Diltz remain; their power is undiminished by the crass commercialism of modern times. Those great photos remain great because it was a great time, and great artists were connected directly to the electric bloodstream of the people, and their music was our music, and their visionary hopes for a better world were our hopes, and their romance was our romance. And one man captured it all. And it turns out, remarkably, that he’s one of the sweetest humans ever. His name is Henry Diltz.

Dia de los Muertos; The Day of the Dead

•November 10, 2014 • 1 Comment
Words & Photos by PAUL ZOLLO

 

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, the annual celebration of life and death, is poignantly and joyfully celebrated each year at Hollywood Forever, the old cemetery in the heart of Hollywood.

Each year, people construct beautiful and colorful altars to the dead, and paint their faces in the beautiful and traditional designs, and wear the chromatic costumes, that have been used for ages. Altars are constructed for family members, as well as for beloved departed, such as the great Robin Williams, who was the recipent of a beautiful altar featuring massive paintings of him throughout his life, pictured below.

Hollywood Forever is the final resting place of many of Hollywood’s greatest luminaries, such as Cecil B. DeMille, Rudolph Valentino, Tyrone Powers, Peter Lorre, John Huston, Mickey Rooney, Joe Frisco and countless others. This annual event is one of Hollywood’s greatest and most poignant new tradition, as thousands don costumes and paint their faces in honor of this sacred day, and its precise balance of joy and sorrow.

What follows are some poems which focus on that balance and that tradition, and my collection of photos. Without a doubt, it’s my favorite event to photograph.
3 couple in orange
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on the snow.
I am the sunlight on the ripened grain.
I am the gentle Autumn’s rain. When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there, I did not die.–Native American Poem on Death & Life

4 cheremoya children 5 Two Ladies 6 mother & daughter 7 makeup 8 couple 9 Trio 10 Mom and Daughter 11 Frisco's Grave 12 Makeup 13 lil Boy 14 Self portrait in Altar

Day After Day of the DeadBy Nathaniel Mackey“While we’re alive,” we kept

    repeating. Tongues, throats,
roofs of our mouths bone dry,
      skeletons we’d someday
                                                    be…
   Panicky masks we wore for
       effect more than effect,
     more real than we’d admit…
 
 No longer wanting to know
   what soul was, happy to
                                               see
      shadow, know touch…
 Happy to have sun at our
   backs, way led by shadow,
 happy to have bodies, block
                                                     light…
Afternoon sun lighting leaf,
       glint of glass, no matter what,
           about to be out of body it
                                                           seemed…
   Soon to be shadowless we thought,
     said we thought, not to be offguard,
 caught out. Gray morning we            
                                                        meant
          to be done with, requiem so
      sweet we forgot what it lamented,
                                                                    teeth
    turning to sugar, we
  grinned
 
                       •
 
  Day after day of the dead we were
    desperate. Dark what the night
 before we saw lit, bones we’d
       eventually be… At day’s end a
                                                             new
  tally but there it was, barely
                                                     begun,
   rock the clock tower let go of,
     iridescent headstone, moment’s
    rebuff… Soul, we saw, said we
                                                           saw,
invisible imprint. No one wanted to
                                                                  know
   what soul was… Day after day of
       the dead we were deaf, numb to
     what the night before we said moved
                                                                         us,
   fey light’s coded locale… I fell away,
 we momentarily gone, deaf but to
      brass’s obsequy, low brass’s
   croon begun. I fell away, not fast,
                                                                floated,
        momentary mention an accord
  with the wind, day after day of the dead
    the same as day before day of
 
the dead… “No surprise,” I fell away
      muttering, knew no one would
                                                               hear,
    not even
      me
                       •
   We wore capes under which we
were in sweaters out at the elbow.
 Arms on the table, we chewed our
                                                                spoons…
      Mouthing the blues, moaned an
 abstract truth, kept eating. The
  dead’s morning-after buffet
someone said it was. Feast of 
                                                      the
unfed said someone else… What
  were we doing there the exegete
 kept asking, adamant, uninvited,
                                                              morose…
     Elbows in the air like wings, we
         kept eating, rolled our eyes,
                                                            kept
      shoveling it in… Day after day
of the dead we were them. We
  ate inexhaustibly, ate what wasn’t
                                                                there,
        dead no longer dying of thirst,
      hung over, turned our noses up
                                                                to
    what
   was


17 little girl with big skellyton 18 couple 19 Bela 20 Leopard skin coupleda 21 Dolores 22 Lady with Lady with 23 Bride 24 Lil Girl

Tombstone of Joe Frisco, the king of vaudeville, and originator of the "Jewish Charleston."

Tombstone of Joe Frisco, the king of vaudeville, and originator of the “Jewish Charleston.”

26 Shirley

29 couple bi

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 73 other followers