Eddie Floyd, Soul’s Alive (interview)

Recently I was lucky enough to score an interview with the great Eddie Floyd. As a major Soul fan interviewing Eddie Floyd is a big deal. Though when mentioning mister Floyd to friends I got a shocking amount of raised eye brows from people in their thirties, Floyd was at the cradle of what we see today as classic Soul music. Though his star never has been as big as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles or Otis Redding, you can argue that his influence comes close to matching those legendary performers. Even today, Knock on Wood and Raise Your Hand are standards any bar band worth its salt should know by heart. Even though not everybody remembers him as sharply, Eddie wrote and first popularized those tunes, they are a big part of our collective musical memory through later versions by the Blues Brothers, David Bowie, Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen. So picking up the phone to talk to Eddie, I suddenly felt my palms go sweaty and my hands shaking. I was nervous, I was going to talk to a hero of mine.

Eddie Floyd’s story is particularly interesting to tell, not just because he wrote some of those big hits, but because he was there from the beginning. Even though his recent performance on BBC’s Jools Holland shows a vital man seemingly in the prime of his life, make no mistake, Eddie is 71 years old, he’s been around long enough to tell us a story or two.

Floyd’s story seems to revolve around music, he lives and breathes it. Over the course of the interview his answers on the business or political side of things would be short, to Eddie they seem to be secondary to the process of making music. When I’d ask mister Floyd about that process his voice seemed to warm up through the crackling phone line, the chuckles and his voice would break in enthusiasm. His taste for music was spoon fed. “My momma would take me out to see everybody that had a record out,” mister Floyd remembers, “Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, I saw them when I was just a little kid and I sung all that!” His early musical influences didn’t stop at Jazz, “there was Country and Western as well, I hadn’t heard of Muddy Waters at the time, but Hank Williams was a local I guess. Franky Lymon and the teenagers was the first group I saw that I knew I wanted to be in a group.” Eddie picks Hank Ballard and the Midnighters as one of the biggest influences on the Falcons at the time, “we loved Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, they were the rough and tough sounding group!” Eddie Floyd incidentally is one of the many artists who mentions the Midnighters as an influence, a list that goes all the way up to James Brown. “They did the Twist,” Eddie adds exited, “everybody is giving it to Chubby Checker, but the Hank Ballard was the Twist ya’ll!!”

By 1956, when Franky Lymon hit big with “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” Floyd had already formed his first incarnation of the Falcons. Eddie had moved from his native Montgomery Alabama to Detroit with his uncle Robert West. Ahead of his time the first Falcons were an integrated group, half the group, Bob Monardo and Tom Shelter, was white at the time. “The original Falcons only lasted long enough to take a photo,” Eddie laughs today, “no recording was ever made because Bob and Tom were drafted.” From there on the group would quickly take on the shape that would make the Falcons legendary later. Sir Mack Rice and Joe Stubbs (brother to recently deceased Levi Stubbs from Four Tops fame) were added to the group. With the hit single “You’re so Fine” shooting up the Billboard charts in 1959, landing a whopping #17 in the pop charts, the Falcons were flying. Joe Stubbs soon left for the Contours, who were signed with Motown, and was replaced by the exiting Wilson Picket. The sound of the Falcons had begun to shift Floyd recalls today, “we saw a shift from the Detroit sound to the Memphis sound,” something Floyd credits sir Mac Rice for.

With Picket on board, the Falcons would score their last big R&B hit, 1962’s “I Found a Love” with the Wicked Picket on the scorching and wailing lead vocals. Though the song saw little action on the pop charts, peaking at #75, today it is considered as one of those tracks that is the watershed between R&B and Soul. Picket’s ambitions however would prevent the group from cashing in on the success of the single, soon after “I Found a Love” hit, Wilson went solo. Today mister Floyd looks back on the Flacons as the place where he could hone his skills, “the Falcons paid off eventually when we all could go solo,” he explains. It wouldn’t take long for Eddie Floyd to test his skills. Soon after the Falcons fell apart, he struck up acquaintance with future Stax president All Bell, who was a DJ in Washington at the time. “At the time I met All, [Stax recording artist] Carla Thomas was going to university in Washington. Al and I got together and wrote a few songs for her.” Those songs were the deep soul classic “Stop! Look What You’re Doing To Me” and “Comfort Me.” Those compositions would give Floyd a foot in the door at Sax when All Bell was landed at Stax in a promotion position. “I more or less just came along,” he laughs at it today.

At first Floyd would be hired at Stax as a songwriter, coming in every month or so for some writing sessions. He fondly remembers those early Stax days, “everybody was having a ball, creating new songs daily.” Explaining further “most of those hit songs were accidents. We’d just go with the flow, we’d write a song but didn’t have tape recorders yet to put the idea down and go back to it.” As a result the recording process would often be a team effort, a more natural process. Stax studios at the time was equipped with a simple 4 track recorder, “we had to just pray it came together that particular instant.” The songs were often created on the spot, Floyd remembers, “everybody put a little bit in those songs, there was a great sense of togetherness.” Everybody would bring their own thing to the floor Floyd explains, “Steve Cropper would create all the Rhythm, he was great on playing those intros, when you hear his lick, you know what song it is. Booker T was great at absolutely everything” he recounts with still that sense of marvel in his voice.

Some of the biggest hits Floyd did for Stax were accidents, with a laugh Floyd entrusts how Knock on Wood is still a demo today. “When we’d go into the studio to record a demo, we’d play it together at that moment. No matter what the song was, it’s finished by the time you listen at it. Recording is much more technical today,” Floyd reflects. The songs signature lyrics came to Floyd when he was writing with Steve Cropper in the very Motel where Martin Luther King would be assassinated a few years down the line, a moment that would change Stax forever. Floyd and Cropper had hit writers block when a thunder storm hit, “It’s like thunder, lightings, the way you love me is frightening,” Floyd sings in the phone, still amused at how it all still clicked at that very moment. The song fleshed out further when “Al Jackson threw in that drum fill on the studio floor. It sounded funny at the time, we were enjoying what we were hearing, so it must have been right,” he laughs.

Springsteen’s signature encore song, Raise Your Hand, was written in much the same way during those sessions. In Floyd’s mind however, “We didn’t finish it, but when we came to London [for the Stax-Volt Tour] we heard both songs on the radio.” Mister Floyd is still thankful to Springsteen and others who helped his songs further along and collects all different versions today. “There’s so many artists that have done my songs. Eric Clapton is my favorite one [doing Knock on Wood],” adding with some amusement, “there was even one that was Disco, believe me, I wasn’t even thinking Disco!”

April 29th 1976 The E-Street Band featuring Eddie Floyd

During the Born to Run tour Springsteen introduced himself to Floyd when the tour hit Memphis. “Him and Southside Johnny were just regular guys I hadn’t met before and I basically hadn’t heard of him back then. When [Springsteen] called there were people in the studio who did realize who was calling, I just said,” chuckling “do you know him? One of the cats was actually a big fan and went down with me, I guess he’ll never forget that, he was still talking about it years later!” Floyd was pleasantly surprised by the Boss. “I play a lot of your songs Springsteen said. The ones were Knock on Wood and Raise Your Hand, plus two or three others I had never played before live.” Floyd still laughs at Springsteen’s reaction when he exclaimed, “You don’t do those songs!” Floyd had shrugged and admitted, “No, I just play the hits.” Later that night, Floyd joined the young upcoming star on stage to play a few of those.

The memories of Stax are fond and many, Floyd jumps through them throughout the interview. He still seems in awe about hitting Europe and being on the same stage as Sam and Dave or his good friend Otis Redding, “I was working with so many heavies, I mean being on the same stage, WOW!!” he exclaims, “We didn’t expect to be so big, we just went to play music,” he adds humbly. A few years after the Stax-Volt had hit Europe, Floyd was back in London when tragedy struck, Otis passed. Floyd had to hear the news from a reporter. The plane Floyd tried to take home to attend the funeral couldn’t take off because it mall functioned. Floyd´s homage to Redding was born out of that experience when he mumbled “get on up Big Bird” under his breath out of frustration.

Soon after that Martin Luther King passed as well, an event that changed the face of Black music. All Bell, who had introduced Floyd at Stax, would go on to transform the company, as vice-president, to a mixture between a record label and a socially conscious movement, working closely together with various civil rights movements and releasing increasingly assertive music. Though Floyd admits, “it was great to be part of the times, it changed overnight everywhere, it didn’t stop [with King’s passing], we had to move on,” Floyd’s interest isn’t really in politics. His main motivation is Soul music and how that brings people together. “Soul music gotta be in there somewhere, it’s the main ingredient, it is the people putting it all together,” he elaborates, “Everybody’s got to be on that same number.” That is what politics and brotherhood seems to be to Floyd, regardless of race, creed or colour, Soul music unifies.

In recent years, Floyd is enjoying a something of a renaissance in his career. The Soul sound he helped create is everywhere again in the sound of new and upcoming talents such as Amy Winehouse, Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed and Duffy. Floyd himself is still finding new avenues for his Soul sound, working with Latin legend Poncho Sanchez, amongst others. “Poncho told me he used to do Raise Your Hand as a kid in school. The funny thing is Steve [Cropper] originally had a little Spanish type feeling to the beginning of the song that you don’t here on the record no more, but it was on the original one, so we always felt that it had a Spanish flavour to it. So now Poncho comes up, many, many years later, playing it how we used to do it.” So Floyd decided to re-cut the song with Poncho with the help of his old buddies Steve Cropper and Booker T Jones. “We sung it live!” Floyd proudly relates, “all my songs have always been one or two cuts, not ten or fifteen!”

These days Floyd is a semi-regular with Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings live band, but he still cuts records on his own. His most recent, Eddie Loves You So, revisits that classic Stax sounds and found its release on the recently rejuvenated label. Floyd’s voice sounds surprisingly young and hungry for a man in his seventies. “A band from Boston put the backing tracks together,” Floyd relates, “They did a great job sounding just like those Stax records. That’s just my state of mind, my mind is still there in ’67.” The recording process was swiftly Floyd admits, “I sang them out, bang, bang, bang! They had me scheduled for two days, I was probably up there for two hours,” he laughs, “I wouldn’t know how to sing them any other way than I did. It just fell into place, kind of amazing really, at least the MGs would hear me sing them, but these guys didn’t, but they just kind of locked in and kept it together. I was able to sing everything and feel comfortable.” What helped the process of course was how producer Mike Dinallo went back through Floyd’s song book, spot lighting some rarities to re-record. “Since You’ve Been Gone was a song he didn’t think I’d remember.” Floyd elaborates, “It was one of the first songs I did with the Falcons, I hadn’t heard it since. Mike send me a tape, I heard it once and it just kind of locked in my head, they all came back.” Eddie Loves You So came out as a great album, a Soul legend going full cycle.

Since You’ve Been Gone

This interview has been published over at Boss Tracks as well.

Find out more on the Falcons here
A big thanks to In the Basement Magazine for help on getting this together.

Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs

John Leland once called Dylan a trickster in his book Hip: The History. He saw Dylan as one of those enigmatic people who we are unable to capture, unable to get a real grasp of. A sense of understanding of Dylan, according to Leland, bestows us with a sense of hipness, even though in silence we must shamefully admit to ourselves that the man totally eludes us. Ironically Dylan’s trickster image that made him an icon of hip, wasn’t something that Zimnmerman seemed to be striving for at the time. Zimmerman has always appeared to be uncomfortable with the iconic status of Dylan, or at least for a large part of his career. I think Robert Zimmerman might have felt he wasn’t all that hot, or at least no better than the Woody Guthries or the Blind Willie McTells who inspired him. So Zimmerman spend his career trying to escape Bob Dylan. Not so much a chameleon, who adapts to his surroundings to gain invisibility, Dylan developed to be a lizard, trying to slither out of his status by alienating his fans. He went electric, he went Country, got religion, but to no avail. Ironically every time Dylan tried to slither his way out, it added to his enigmatic status. Dylan radiated an arrogance that only added to his hipness. By the eighties Zimmerman was sick of being Dylan and threatened to become sick of music all together.

Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series Vol. 8, chronicles Zimmerman regaining a sense of himself and shows how Zimmerman grew truly comfortable with being Dylan for maybe the first time in his career. These days Dylan could rest comfortable on his past achievements, but that doesn’t seem to be in his character. With the audience that once was hip, now settled and mundane, Dylan could spend the fall of his year blowing in the wind. To an extent he’s doing just that. The post eighties Dylan sounds relaxed, at ease with who he his. His voice has grown both harsher and calmer. The wheezing has gone, replaced by a soulfulness that the early Dylan lacked. The current Dylan appears to allow you to get closer, or at least radiates a stronger sense of intimacy. This is a Dylan that allowed Scorsese to make a documentary on him, wrote volume one of his Chronicles and appears on the radio. But who thinks that we are slowly starting to get to know Dylan might be missing the point of what Dylan has been doing in this second phase of his career.

What Theme Time Radio Hour and Tell Tale Signs make clear is that this Dylan isn’t as much opening up himself, but is opening his passion. Dylan is spending his career opening up a door to music that is threatened to be forgotten. Dylan is taking us along the houses of the great Blues and Folk legends that gave him his career. As Larry ‘Ratso’ Sloman writes in the liner notes, Dylan is creating his own archaic music. This Dylan realizes that he has finally lost his hip status, that the status of hip belongs to the rappers and the DJs. Yet it is also a Dylan that uses his iconic status to bear open the soul he thinks music is threatening to lose. As such Tell Tale Signs is a fascinating study of a man, not trying to escape, but pursuing something himself, trying to capture the magic that inspired him, trying to unravel what makes music tick. Though many of the tracks eventually found their way to earlier albums, in one form or another, Tell Tale Signs is still a great compilation to own in itself. Not just because most of the arrangements here are strikingly different from what they wound up to be, but because Tell Tale Signs tells a story in itself.

Listen to Tell Tale Signs on NPR

Tell Tale Signs will also be available in an deluxe three disc edition.

Southside Johnny, Hearts of Stone under a Grapefruit Moon

Some 30 years ago, when Springsteen released his seminal Darkness on the Edge of Town, John Lyon, better known as Southside Johnny did the same with his Hearts of Stone. Though the album didn’t sell all that well at the time years later Rolling Stone magazine would vote it as one of the best albums recorded at that period of time and it has since achieved some kind of cult status. Those in the know recognize Hearts of Stone as one of the best Rock and Soul albums of the late seventies. I sought out Southside Johnny to talk to him about that unrecognized master piece and was thrilled to find the man is as much a fan-boy like his audience. Throughout the interview Southside remained charmingly humble about his achievements and his talent, coming across as a man who is simply thrilled that he’s still able to perform in the shadows of his heroes on stage.

Southside Johnny first started to make his mark at the Upstage, a club down the Jersey Shore. Which according to Southside was more or less a musicians bar, “after all the clubs had closed, we used to just come there and jam into the night,” he recalls some 40 years down the road. Because of its loose atmosphere the Upstage was a draw for musicians from all over the garden state. Southside lived not to far from the club so he would walk up there nightly. Pretty soon he was the constant factor on stage, “because I knew how to sing all those songs,” he explains today. Southside Johnny had been spoon fed Jazz and R&B by his parents. “There wasn’t any Monteverdi or anything like that in our house,” he remembers “they would come home from work and open a beer, have a great time listening to Big Joe Turner or Ray Charles.” His love for R&B made him a perfect match first for Garry Tallent, Springsteen’s future base player, and later for Miami Steve, whom he met at the Upstage club. Southside knew Tallent and Vini Lopez, the first drummer from the E-Street Band, through school, but Miami lived in a whole different area. So if it hadn’t been for the draw the Upstage had, Lyon and Van Zandt might never have met. With a similar sensibility to music his friendship with Miami would later prove key to Southside’s early career as van Zandt became his producer and manager.

The Asbury Jukes, as Southside’s band is called, didn’t form over night however. Southside recalls today that most of the time, whenever somebody scored a gig at the Jersey shore club scene, bands were just formed then and there for the occasion. Lyon was the logical choice to do the vocals, again because of his encyclopedic knowledge of the R&B classics. “It was all less formal than having a band just trying to make it, we were all just musicians learning,” Lyon explains “Nobody was really ambitious, we just wanted to make music and do things.” Things changed when Little Steven started to work in construction, “he was working on the New Jersey turnpike, working a jackhammer, he had been working the guitar for years and years, except there was no money and he had to do something.” Steven had no place to stay, so he was staying at Lyon’s, “one day he walked in, he was covered in asphalt,” Southside remembers “I looked at him and said, Stevie you can’t do this.” Realizing that day jobs wasn’t what was going to make them happy Steven and Johnny started to get serious about music again.

Right around that time Springsteen finally got his big break with Born to Run. Southside got offered a record contract in the slipstream of that success. Something he still is baffled by today. Lyon remembers he was convinced that “they are never going to give us a record contract, they must be crazy! But they did!” Adding with a laugh, “up to this day I don’t know why!!” Steven and Southside went into the studio before all the formalities were taken care of, convinced the record company would change their minds. “We kind of sneaked into this recording studio, the Record Plant, and we didn’t have any money,” he confides today. Jimi Iovine, who had engineered Springsteen’s Born to Run, aided and abetted. “There really was a lot of pressure on us to go out there and make this happen right away,” Lyon explains “Once Born to Run hit, Bruce was swimming in a sea of sharks, he really needed somebody close who he could rely on and relate to, and that was Steven.” So it was also a matter of the Jukes signature guitar player being swooped up in the circus that Springsteen’s career would soon become.

By lucky coincidence Ronnie Spector made a cameo on that very first album. “Jimmy Iovine was engineering that first album, sneaking us into the studio” Southside elaborates, “He had just come of from working with John Lennon on that roots album. Phil Spector produced that, and Jimmy met Ronnie Spector.” While in the studio working with Johnny, Jimmy got a call from Ronnie. Jimmy seized the opportunity and asked Ronnie if she would be interested in recording a duet with Southside. Much to the latter’s excitement, she accepted, “for us she was just a Goddess from our youth!” That fan mentality, the sheer love of the music translated well unto the album and, for that time, it sold very respectable, some 250.000 copies, “so the record company looked at us with some favor” Southside laughs. Yet ’75 proved to be a watershed in the music business, just before the mega million sales started to dominate the market. Southside’s debut was released at the same time as Boston’s first album, “they broke right out of the box office!” Lyon recalls. “We did some shows with them,” he elaborates, “and we were the better band. But they sold 12 million copies, so now the record company is looking at us……”

With the company aiming to repeat Boston’s success, Southside Johnny’s relationship with them would soon sour. Always convinced the record company wouldn’t allow him to do another album, by the time Lyon started working with Steven on Hearts of Stone, this fear was rapidly starting to become reality. To top it off the recording sessions for Hearts of Stone didn’t exactly go as smooth as planned, “we already recorded eight songs, but then decided that they just weren’t what we wanted. It didn’t sound right, it didn’t feel right, so we decided we had to start all over again. The record company by this time was fed up.” Complicating matters was the fact that Miami and Southside had already ran over budget even before they started working on the new batch of songs. “The record company was very, very unhappy with us. They didn’t like the music, they didn’t understand the music, they didn’t really like us. A regime change had happened, people we didn’t know, people who had no history with us. So I told Steven, it’s over”

Hearts of Stone was recorded Southside’s and Steven’s back against the wall, literally on their way out. It was possible that this was their last shot at ever making an album together. “We were under such pressure to make this record that it came out as an intense emotional experience” Lyon reflects on it now “it was one of those moments where you realize that making music is more important than anything else in your life, it made me dig deeper inside myself”. The difference between Hearts of Stone and its predecessor is indeed striking. Where This Time it’s For Real was still laden with stylistic exercises (complete with a Leiber and Stoller pastiche featuring the Coasters), strings and sugar sweet blue eyed soul, Hearts of Stone became a whole different ball of wax. In little under 35 minutes all the anxiety and frustration from dealing with the record company, combined with the sheer love of the music, just comes poring out. Hearts of Stone is at the same time jubilant as it is uneasy, brimming with mixed emotions. Steven’s stiletto like guitar slashes though the Motown Soul with raging love. Lyon delivers a vocal performance of a man who is trying to cling on to the love of his live as she’s walking out of the door. In what sounds like a clash between the Four Tops and the King’s Men, Miami and Lyon delivered an album that is a text book case of how a Rock album should sound, a feverish exorcism, a raging celebration. But without the support of the record company, the album sank like a rock.

Despite all that was going on, Southside Johnny remembers that working with Steven on the album, the latter being notorious for his headstrong views on how music should sound and be recorded, was easy. “Because we had faced the adversity of the record company, it gave us the inner strength to say; we know what we’re doing, so we’re going to go out and do it and come hell or high water we’re going to go do it the way we know it should be done,” he reflects on it now, “and of course Steven and I had the same view point on how recording should be done, that it should be a visceral experience, that it should be honest music. So that part was pretty easy, except it was late nights and I’d come of the road, the tour bus would drop me off at the studio and I would sleep on the studio couch.” Despite Hearts of Stone turning out to be one of the best Soul albums recorded after ’75, Lyon doesn’t feel he trumped his heroes, “we paid the best tribute we could” he humbly says today.

When Hearts of Stones was released, Lyon was swimming against the current with his music. “It was actually a time when music had become a little bloated,” he explains “and I think we were part of the reaction against that.” Southside explains that “all the records that I love are moments caught in time, they are not as produced and structured.” From that perspective Lyon was able to relate to the punk movement as well, even though his brand of music (and the Asbury Park scene) was quite a bit more sophisticated. Lyon acknowledges they had different roots, “but we certainly understood each other. Steven and I used to go and see the Ramones in CBGB’s and they were great! Holy shit! The punk scene to me was kind of a breath of fresh air too, for some reason we managed to get along with them. I think there’s a real bond between people who are not part of the system and don’t want to be part of that system.”

With Hearts of Stone sinking, the Jukes were threatened with a life in the bar scene again. Southside Johnny admits that he resented it at the time, “I felt we were better than that.” Lyon was determined not to give up and continued to keep touring while his career hang on a thread. “We just kept going and that’s 30 years ago” he laughs at it now. Lyon elaborating on how he “just want to have a chance to be me and be honest about what I feel,” might just be the key to why he continued to struggle with record companies. Lyon is not the type of artist to compromise his music in favor of current trends. He is first and foremost a fan of music like his audience. Lyon is capable of recounting is first James Brown concert in the early sixties in a fashion that makes it sound like he just stepped out of the venue, still brimming with excitement. Record executives concerned with sales figures, big sales figures, have a hard time following that train of thought. “Most of the people in the business have nothing to do with music,” Southside claims, “and that’s an immediate alienation for most of us.”

It is the same fan boy like admiration that seeps through on his latest project, Grapefruit Moon, a big band take on the songs of Tom Waits. On the surface Waits’ music might seem like a big leap from the R&B records by the Drifters Lyon loves to collect, but as Southside explains, “I think there a real connection between that, there’s a little Howlin’ Wolf in Tom, there’s certainly a lot of cool Jazz like Charles Brown. There’s a real R&B background in Tom, you can really feel it,” adding with a laugh, “he sounds like he’s down on the street, where he belongs.” The big band project first came into fruition when Johnny met Tom after an Amsterdam show Waits just gave. Lyon sprang his idea on Tom and Waits immediately warmed up to it, “so I said ok, if he can understand it, than I’m alright.” Lyon admits that covering Waits was a challenge, “it had been done but it had not done very well. Not to be cool or anything, but I knew if we did it the way I wanted to do it, it would be different” Eventually Lyon got up the courage to ask Tom if he wanted to sing on the album, Tom agreed. “It was a great moment, I was standing in this funky little hippie studio in California, and it was one of these little moments in your life where you just say I’m grateful to have this opportunity.” Southside Johnny’s drive to approach music open and honest, maybe surprisingly, makes Grapefruit Moon an artistic success. The album is as much about the love of music as the music of Tom Waits.

Lyon’s career has been rough and bumpy, and as he admits not without regrets. “I’ve regretted it many times. I hate to be blunt about it, but its true. You know, pulling up four o’ clock in the morning at a gass station where they have a little lunch counter and you know you’re gonna eat a chili cheese dog at four in the morning and be sick, and you’ve got a gig to do that night and the next night, with ten hours of driving in between and you just think, What the fuck am I doing.” Still he is quick to add, “once you get on stage, it all clears up, you understand what you do.” With charming humbleness Southside admits that his aspirations were modest, “I just wanted a chance to tour, a chance to see the world, it may not see like much to most people, but that’s what I wanted.” The audiences all over the world still respond with a fervor to the Jukes on stage. Southside explains “mostly what I wanted to do is have fun. I know that seems like a small ambition but I never wanted to be a R&R hero. I wanted people to come to the shows and have a good time, just enjoy themselves.” Southside in that sense is R&R’s foremost anti-hero. Standing on stage in a plain jeans shirt and small sun glasses, he looks like he just stepped out of an auto parts shop or the construction site Little Steven escaped all those years ago. As such Southside Johnny is easier to connect to than most of R&R’s super stars, maybe even easier to connect to than Springsteen, in whose slip steam he got his first break. “I didn’t think my fans had to worship to any throne or anything like that,” Lyon says about it himself, “I wanted it to be like the music I used to see, where you would go and see the Drifters and just enjoy yourself, I never wanted anything more than that.” Going by that standard you might just say that Lyon’s career has been a great success, a success in honesty and love of music.

“Gotta Find a Better Way Home”

From Hearts of Stone

Grapefruit Moon is available on line through the Southside Johnny store and Amazon

Tom Morello, The Fabled City

“The Fabled City” is Tom Morello’s second solo outing as the Nightwatchman. Though Morello admittedly performed a lot of these songs “amidst the tear gas attacks at the G8 protest,” there is, again, little common ground between this solo album and his work with Rage Against the Machine. Though in both projects Morello presents himself as a socially and politically engaged artist, the methods are strikingly different. Morello has called the Nightwatchman as his antidote against arena rock. In tone and approach of the complex social issues Morello likes to address it is exactly that, the opposite of Rage Against the Machine vicious guitar riffs and raging vocals. Morello’s album is more reminiscent of a Rubin produced Johnny Cash album, his voice strikes a resemblance to Iggy Pop, sans the irony, the content closer to a Steve Earle record. On the surface there’s little what links the two projects.

Morello’s inspiration for the Nightwatchman came from a rather unexpected corner for most Rage Against the Machine fans, I can imagine. Explaining the project today Tom claims that “the clear model for me was seeing Bruce Springsteen on his Ghost of Tom Joad tour. I was stunned at how powerful and heavy a concert could be without any Marshall amps in the room.” For Morello fans who view Springsteen through Reagan’s patriotic shades this link might be somewhat of a shocker. But fans who paid attention to Rage Against the Machine’s cover of the “Ghost of Tom Joad” and managed to look beyond the synthesizer layered sound of the “Born in the USA” album, might have found quite a bit of common ground between the two artists. From Springsteen Tom went back and explored the extensive catalogs of Dylan and Woody Guthrie, from where the Nightwatchman started to take shape. Though the two artists shared the stage for a fiercely rocking version of the “Ghost of Tom Joad”, their approach to songwriting bares little resemblance to each other’s work.

Where Springsteen constructs his songs as miniature novel or films, Morello’s songs are decidedly more abstract. Using quite a bit of biblical imagery, Tom paints a rather apocalyptic picture of American society. Though the protagonists Springsteen likes to use, you know, the working class and disenfranchised, Morello chooses to take snap shots of them rather than chronicle the events that mark their lives. Morello’s songs are more like the murals from Diego Riviera, images of working class heroes and victims of capitalism’s shadow populate his songs. Though explicit criticism of the current Bush administration drifts in and out of the songs, the songs keep a certain abstract quality. Where the songwriting at Rage Against the Machine was littered with the same catchy, though strikingly more vicious and rebellious, one-liners politicians like to use, Morello’s albums leave more room for your own reflections.

Question is of course which approach is more the more successful. Graduated from Harvard university with honors as a Political Science master, Morello has always been more of a political activist than he was a rock star, even though his current appearance in the Guitar Hero video came might have you suspect otherwise. Like Woody Guthrie, Morello is a songwriter with a mission. Though lacking the depth Morello’s Nightwatchman has, Rage Against the Machines hard rocking one-liners might just be more effective in getting the attention of a large audience. On the other hand, Rage Against the Machine’s albums have never been as thought provoking as “the Fabled City.” One-liners can be rather off putting in their uncompromising insistence. Morello’s acoustic albums may never reach such a large audience as Rage Against the Machine has, but for who is willing to listen, there is quite a bit more room for developing your own opinion on the issues Tom addresses.

In all, while the record breathes a sense of resilience and rebellion, its atmosphere is dark and dreary. Another vital point where Morello differs from Springsteen, who’s records are always balanced with songs that breathe an enormous amount of hope (though less so in his acoustic albums). Morello’s more skeptical outlook on the elections is no surprise after listening to “the Fabled City”. Where Springsteen is an open supporter of Barack Obama, Morello’s opinion of the man is steeped in criticism. While he concedes that an Obama presidency would be a major step forward symbolically, he also adds :”I firmly believe that it’s the system that’s the problem, rather than one party or the other. When a candidate steps forward who will end poverty and end the war and save the environment and be unbending to capital, we’ll see. Racism is as American as apple pie and baseball. A black president would definitely be a step in the right direction for civilizing the nation. But at the same time there’s Obama’s vow to continue a war in Afghanistan and saber-rattling in Iran. Whatever the voice is in his soul that whispers the good things, there are political demands. That’s why I’m a guitar player and a singer. I answer to no one”

“Whatever it Takes”

Morello will tour behind “the Fabled City” this fall.

The Legend of Sir Lattimore Brown

It’s Such A Sad, Sad World

Who you might say? That’s what I thought when I first saw this name pop up over at the “B” Side, Red Kelly’s excellent blog. These days the net is swarming with Internet publications, blogging is so easily accessible that anybody with a half functioning computer can work it out. People like me who just like to write, but people like Red as well, who actually can write! For the past few years Red has been calling himself the Soul Detective, digging up all kinds of half forgotten Soul platters while digging deep into the fabric of what made them tick. But it wasn’t until Red started his Lattimore Brown chronicle last June that he really earned his self-given moniker. It is impressive enough that Red knows who Lattimore is. Though a stellar Soul shouter, sir Lattimore never had much of a career in the spot lights. It is even more impressive though that Red found Lattimore when he was thought dead since the eighties. Each of Red’s entries is dressed up with a mind blowing music download that makes you wonder how it is possible that he was even forgotten or passed by.

The whole story started with a nurse, treating a delirious patient, after the patient had been stabbed with a rusty screwdriver. The patient claimed he was a singer. Going beyond her duty, she googled Lattimore and word eventually got to Red. It turned out that Lattimore had been living in Biloxi all these years. Though New Orleans got all the publicity, it was Biloxi that got the direct hits from Katrina. The town was devastated by the storm, Lattimore lost damn near all he had in it. Red decided to look him up and caught up with sir Lattimore after losing track of him a couple of times. In a series of lengthy posts Red chronicled his times with Lattimore. The story that enfolded is without a doubt one of the most impressive I’ve ever read in the blog sphere. Through Lattimore’s story Red traveled an alternate route through the history of Soul music. Lattimore may not have made much of a name himself, it appears he was lurking behind the scene at quite a few key moments. From Isaac Hayes, to Wilson Pickett, they all pass by. Slowly his story gives you a deeper understanding of how music works and the significance it has in the lives of people who create it and the lives of people who are captured by it. In almost a Hollywood like script we bare witness to Lattimore getting back on his feet while the musical landscape of America passes by.

That is, until Gustav hit. For the second time Lattimore lost all his earthly belongings. When Red finally caught up with him this 77 year old soul surviver was unsure where he would sleep that night, with only the clothes on his back to comfort him. Red opened up a fund to help Lattimore get back on his feet. I like to take this opportunity to ask you to support Lattimore anyway you can. If you want to know why, just take a few and read all about the Legend of Sir Lattimore Brown