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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Roy Buchanan - Sweet Dreams The Anthology (1969-78 us, outstanding classic blues rock, double disc set)

Roy Buchanan seemed to come out of nowhere in 1972 when a laudatory article in Rolling Stone was followed by his first album, but it quickly became obvious that he had, as they say, been around the block more than once. For well over a decade Roy and his Telecaster had been grinding out a living among the hillbillies, rockabillies and wannabillies that—then as now—make up the infrastructure of the musk business. For a change, though, the hype mill was onto something when it lit upon Roy Buchanan.

When the spotlight hit Roy's careworn Tele it was clear that one was in the presence of greatness that bordered on the spiritual. "God is in the house," a fellow musician once said when jazz giant Art Tatuffl stepped up to play, and Roy evinced the same respect from his peers and his audience. Roy Buchanan was born in Ozark, Arkansas on September 23, 1939, but he grew up in Pixley, California, about fifty miles north of Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley. His father preached to exiled southerners at the Pentecostal Church of God, and Roy always said his mother sang better than Billie Holiday. "Once a month," he told Bill Millar, "they'd get together with the black church for a revival meeting, and that's how I got into black music.

I've always been partial to black guitar players—Blind Boy Fuller, Jimmy Nolen, Pete Lewis...the old black cats won't ever be beat." Buchanan learned the steel guitar when he was nine, and left home when he was fifteen, heading first for Los Angeles and then San Francisco. It was a tortuous path from there to his first recordings for Polydor fifteen years later one that we hope to explore in more detail on a later volume. There were landmarks along the way that deserve mention, though. These include Elvis Presley's Sun records—the first white music Roy loved ("He sounded like he'd been to the same church as me," Roy used to say).

Then there was Dale Hawkins, a go-for-broke rockabilly from Louisiana. The first canard surrounding Roy that's worth dismissing is that he crafted the anthemic lick that introduces Hawkins's only major hit, Susie Q. In fact, the lick was originated by James Burton, but, after Buchanan took Burton's place in Dale Hawkins's band, it was his job to replicate K twice a night. And then there was a stint in Canada with Dale Hawkins's cousin, Ronnie Hawkins. As Ronnie's original band, with the exception of Levon Helm, drifted back to Arkansas, he drafted new recruits, tantalizing them with the promise of low pay but "more pussy than Frank Sinatra." Roy worked with the Hawks for a month or so imparting some of his technique to Robbie Robertson who was to be the group's permanent guitarist.

Talking to Musician magazine, Robertson remembered Buchanan in these terms: "He was really very, very good, the most remarkable guitarist I had seen. I can remember asking him how he developed his style, and he said with a straight face he was half wolf. He was always saying he wanted to settle down, but he needed to find a nun to marry." As far as we know, Roy's first solo recordings were made for the lilliputian Bomarc label in 1959. One side was After Hours, one of Roy's favorite vehicles for his slow blues explorations. Originally written and recorded by pianist Avery Parrish with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra in 1940, it was dubbed the national anthem of black America.

Roy would return to it endlessly, and the 1960 version shows that the elements of his style were in place very early. Already, he was experimenting with feedback, fuzztone and distortion, slicing his speaker cones to achieve some of his effects. By 1963, Roy was based in the Washington, D.C. area, his wife Judy's hometown. He played the local dubs, and worked as a barber in Bethesda, Maryland, when gigs were scarce. Hardy souls have tried to piece together his early recordings both as sessionman and featured player, but when he spoke to Bill Millar, Roy was typically dismissive of both, saying "Play 'em now, I feel like a good puke!" la judgment he later broadened to include most of Ms records).

One of Roy's early records, issued as The Jam by Bobby Gregg and Friends, actually cracked the Top 30 in 1962. The late '60s found Roy teaching guitar and playing regularly at the Crossroads club in Bladensburg, Maryland. The word about him gradually began filtering out, partly as a result of underground tapes. His arrival is usually dated to February 1971; it was during that month that Rolling Stone published an article by Tom Zito (reprinted from The Washington Post two months earlier) extolling Roy's virtues in unequivocal terms.

By then, though, the recording contract with Polydor, always supposed to have been a direct consequence of the Rolling Stone piece, was already in place. Polydor had been in business in the United States less than a year when they signed Roy Buchanan. The deal appears to have been negotiated by Bob Johnston, who, as Columbia Records' Nashville boss, had been responsible for Bob Dylan's Nashville sessions, and Leonard Cohen's Songs From A Room. Late in 1969, Johnston, now operating on his own, appears to have placed Buchanan with Polydor and assigned him to Charlie Daniels. Daniels too had a long and checkered career in the music business that had bisected Buchanan's at various points.

Originally from North Carolina, Daniels had covered all the bases from bluegrass to psychedelia by the time he fetched up in Nashville. Johnston had encouraged him to move there, giving him session work on albums by Dylan, Cohen and others. "I'd met Roy when he was Dale Hawkins's guitar player," says Charlie. "There had always been an underground buzz thing with him. All the guitar players knew who he was—the inside people. Nobody had done anything with him, though." It appears that Roy's stature among fellow pickers was such that even Les Paul had come to Maryland to hear him play. In some ways it was typical of Buchanan's career that his first album wasn't released.

He and Daniels worked at it onand- off for several months, beginning with Baltimore (originally titled Big Bad Bach] in October 1969. tt was a track that featured Daniels playing the Claptonesque lead part with Buchanan as his foil. The other songs included Leonard Cohen's Tfce Story of Isaac and, more interestingly, Black Autumn Vat contained the lick that later became the centerpiece of Hie Messiah mil Come Again. There was general dissatisfaction with the album (tentatively titled The Prophet), but it probably reached test pressing stage before it was canned.

The way that Daniels remembers it is that "some critic from Baltimore heard the tapes and said it was shit, and that scared everyone at Polydor to death. I just stopped working on it, and then it got so I couldn't get in touch with Roy so I thought, piss on this." Between the time The Prophet was recorded and the time it was scheduled for release, Roy had sold out Carnegie Hall (probably the only act to do so without a record on the market), and both Roy and his new manager, Jay Reich, as well as Polydor's A&R staff agreed that The Prophet was unrepresentative of his music. Tom Ztto produced another set of tapes around March 1971, but a second projected a\bum, featuring part of Roy's Gaston Hall concert, was also canned.

The first album to appear, modestly titled Roy Buchanan, was recorded (Roy said in five hours) in July 1972 and released that September. More than anything else, its curious mix of songs reflected Roy's live sets. A year later, it had sold a respectable 200,000 copies. As he would with most of his albums, Roy professed himself disappointed with Roy Buchanan. For those of us who didn't know what else he was capable of, though, it was an astonishing calling card. Roy clearly knew the value of playing few notes with frightening precision, but could also spit out notes like bullets from a machine-gun at double or even quadruple time without sacrificing a sense of order.

He had refined his touch so that he could isolate overtones by playing one string with a pick, simultaneously brushing that, or another, string with his fingernail. His trademark, though, was the searing note that spun up out of the silence as he hit the string, bent it and cranked up the volume. The Second Album was cut in November and December 1972 and released the following February. Most of the originals had been composed on the way to New York by Roy and his pianist Dick Heinbe.

Production was handled by Polydor's A&R director, Peter Siegel, who paired Roy and Heintze with some sessionmen. The result was perhaps Roy's most cohesive and consistently satisfying album. The focus was on the blues, and it became his most successful album too, eventually selling over haff-a-million copies. By this point, the invitations were tempting Buchanan far from Maryland. Back in 1969, the Rolling Stones had offered him the job of replacing Brian Jones, and John Lennon had asked him to sit in on a Plastic Ono Band session, a chance Roy blew by OD'ing on downers and passing out on the console.

He starred in two NET specials centered around his music, though; the first, The Best Unknown Guitarist in the World', aired in November 1971, and helped to create an advance buzz for his Polydor debut. "This star business," he said at the time, "scares the hell out of me." As a matter of preference, Roy would play small bars close to home, but if he had to go out on the road, he would play big venues for the maximum return so that he could head back to Maryland as quickly as possible. Success seemed to both attract and repel him. In May 1973, Roy went to Europe for the first time.

His version of Street Dream (that he (earned from Tommy McLain's swamp-pop record—not Patsy Cline or Don Gibson) was on the charts in England, and the local branch of Polydor recorded a live set at the Marquee club from which the previously unissued C.C. Ryder is drawn. The problem Roy never convincingly licked was that of finding a singer to front his band. Someone had told him that instrumental albums didn't sell, so for his third album. That's What I Am Here For, he used Billy Price who sometimes gave the impression that he and Roy were at cross purposes. Price and the rest of the band {with the exception of Heintze) came from Jay Reich's hometown, Pittsburgh. Reich also produced the album which was, as he says, "a blatant attempt to sell some 45s"; as such, it was trashed by Rolling Stone.

Producer Ed Freeman, who had worked on Gregg Allman's successful solo album, brought in another singer, Bill Sheffield, for Roy's final Polydor studio album, In The Beginning (issued in Europe as Rescue Me). Cut at the Record Plant in Sausaltto, R had a mellower flavor, and Roy's versions of the 1970 Cannonball Adderiey hit Country Preacher and the old folk tune Wayfaring Stranger showed the delicate touch that branded him as unique among what were termed the Heavy Axes of the day. Roy's swansong on American Polydor was Live Stock, mostly cut in New York in November 1974. Roy wanted to be free from Polydor so that he could take up Ahmet Ertegun's offer to join Atlantic. Polydor agreed to release him provided that they could get a live album and retain worldwide rights to his records outside North America.

Unusually for a parting shot, Live Stock was on the money, highlighting the fact that Roy was never entirely comfortable watching the studio clock tick away. He stepped up to the mike to sing I'm Evil, a song based loosely on Elvis Presley's Trouble. Billy Price sang a version of Al Green's I'm A Ram and a lengthy unreleased version of Neil Young's Down By The River, containing what was surely one of Roy's most expressive solos. Trivia buffs may care to note that I'm Evil had actually been recorded in Chicago on the same tour—not in New York as the jacket stated. In March 1976, Roy signed wttti Atlantic Records.

Ahmet Ertegun had assigned him to Arif Mardin who had produced the mega-selling Average White Band albums. H was the AWB feel that Roy and his new company were striving for on his first Atlantic album, titled with grim irony A Street Called Straight. When the breakthrough didn't happen, Ertegun persuaded Roy to let Stanley Clarke produce him. Clarke was a jazz fusion bassist who had starred in Return To Forever; unfortunately, Clarke didn't understand blues—a fact that grew increasingly apparent as the sessions wore on. Some cuts were made at Clover Studios in Los Angeles, owned by Steve Cropper.

Clarke didn't know who Cropper was, but Roy and his management insisted that the Stax veteran come out of the office to play a duet on Green Onions. In June 1977 Roy cut a live album for Polydor Japan that featured Hey Joe, a song he had long used in concert as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. When asked, Roy usually cited Live In Japan as the album that contained his best work, although few were able to test that assertion. The final Atlantic album, You're Not Alone, appeared the following year, rounding out Roy's first decade as a solo album performer. It was a decade he followed with a two-year lay-off from recording, which was in turn followed by a solitary and undistinguished album for Waterhouse Records, and then a five-year lay off.

In 1985, Roy began an affiliation with the Chicago-based Alligator Records. In interviews toward the end of his life, Roy seemed at pains to emphasize that he was free of the drug and alcohol abuse that had plagued him for years. Those assertions made his death in August 1988 inexplicable to those who weren't privy to the fact that Buchanan's "street called straight" never ran for more than a few blocks. The official verdict was that he had been thrown into the drunk tank after being arrested close to his Reston, Virginia home, and had hanged himself there. Judy Buchanan challenged that conclusion, but others indicated that the nature of his deathwhile tragic—was consistent with another suicide attempt and a history of self-destructive behavior.

If Roy Buchanan's psyche was hard to penetrate, his work was a glorious stew of what has become known as American roots music. It ran the gamut from the wordless vocalized screams of the Pentecostal church to the sustained trailing notes of the hilbilly steel guitar, all filtered through a brilliant, unfettered imagination. During the sessions for Roy Buchanan in 1972, Roy gave the engineer and producer a twelve minute primer on his music that closes this set. Lacking the climactic fury of some of his greatest solos, the stilling moments of Dual Sottloqtty are a fitting epitaph for the man who spoke most eloquently through his instrument. Was there ever a more soulful guitarist?
by Colin Escott, Toronto, March 1992
With special acknowledgments to David Booth, Bill Millar, Jay Reich and Alan Scheflin.

Disc 1
1. Baltimore (Charlie Daniels) - 3:31
2. Black Autumn (Charlie Daniels) - 4:25
3. The Story of Isaac (Leonard Cohen) - 5:48
4. There'll Always Be (Charlie Daniels) - 4:50
5. Sweet Dreams (Don Gibson) - 3:32
6. Pete's Blue (Buchanan) - 7:15
7. The Messiah Will Come Again (Buchanan) - 5:53
8. Tribute to Elmore James (Buchanan) - 3:25
9. After Hours (Mark Gordon, Erskine Hawkins, Avery Parrish) - 6:14
10.Five String Blues (Buchanan) - 6:24
11.C.C. Ryder (Live) (Traditional) - 6:49
12.My Baby Says She's Gonna Leave Me (Buchanan, John Harrison, Billy Price) - 3:21
13.Please Don't Turn Me Away (Buchanan, Billy Price) - 4:47
14.Country Preacher (Joe Zawinul) - 3:28
15.Wayfaring Pilgrim (Buchanan, Ed Freeman) - 5:07

Disc 2
1. Down By The River (Live) (Neil Young) - 9:17
2. I'm A Ram (Live) (Al Green, Mabon Teenie Hodges) - 4:24
3. I'm Evil (Live) (Buchanan) - 6:15
4. Good God Have Mercy (Billy Roberts) - 4:05
5. If Six Was Nine (Jimi Hendrix) - 3:46
6. Green Onions (Steve Cropper, Al Jackson, Jr., Booker T. Jones, Lewis Steinberg) - 8:09
7. Soul Dressing (Live) (Booker T. Jones) - 7:00
8. Hey Joe (Live) (Billy Cox) - 8:19
9. Fly...Night Bird (Buchanan, Andy Newmark, Jean Roussel, Raymond Silva, Willie Weeks) - 7:42
10.Turn To Stone (Terry Trebanth, Joe Walsh) - 5:46
11.Dual Soliloquy (Buchanan) - 12:06

*Roy Buchanan - Guitar, Vocals
*Steve Cropper - Guitar
*Charlie Daniels - Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
*Ned Davis - Drums
*Tim Drummond - Bass
*Donald "Duck" Dunn - Bass
*Byrd Foster - Drums
*Ray Gomez - Guitars
*John Harrison - Bass, Vocals
*Dick Heintze - Keyboards
*Karl Himmel - Drums
*Teddy Irwin - Rhythm Guitar
*Neil Larsen - Keyboards
*Malcolm Lukens - Keyboards
*Robbie Magruder - Drums
*Gerry Mercer - Drums
*Andy Newmark - Drums
*Don Payne - Bass
*Billy Price Keystone Rhythm Band - Vocals,
*Jean Roussel - Keyboards
*Gonzalo Sifre - Drums
*Bill Stewart - Drums
*Kenny Tibbetts - Bass
*Peter VanAllen - Bass
*Willie Weeks - Bass
*Bob Wilson - Keyboards
*Ernie Winfrey - Percussion, Tympani

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