Friday, November 7, 2008

Jimmy Carl Black, 1938-2008

I only today learned that Jimmy Carl Black (pictured at the far left on the back cover of the Mothers’ album Freak Out!) the former drummer and sometime singer for Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, died last Saturday, November 1, after a battle with cancer. He was 70 years old. Like most anyone who’s seriously listened to the Mothers’ music, I remember Black primarily because of his amusing soundbite on the Mothers of Invention album We’re Only In It For the Money (1968), “Hi Boys and Girls, I’m Jimmy Carl Black, and I’m the Indian of the group.” (Black had Cheyenne Indian ancestry through both parents.) Black would later appear as one of the more interesting characters in Zappa’s largely uninteresting art-house movie 200 Motels (1971), singing “Lonesome Cowboy Burt.” After Frank Zappa disbanded the Mothers of Invention in 1969, Black formed a band named Geronimo Black that released an eponymously titled LP on MCA/Universal in 1972. I purchased a vinyl copy that year and have returned to it many times over the years, and while critically highly regarded, apparently the album did poorly in terms of sales. According to his obituary in the L. A. Times, after the failure of the Geronimo Black album, Black quit playing music, at one time “earning a living working in a doughnut shop” and later “as a house painter and decorator.” Some years later, in 1980, he joined ex-Mothers Bunk Gardner and Don Preston in The Grandmothers, a band that split and reunited many times over the next twenty years. For reasons I do not know, Black moved to Italy in 1992, and then to Germany in 1995. He appeared as a singer with The Muffin Men, a Liverpool band that specialized in the music of Zappa and Captain Beefheart. He is survived by his wife, Monika, whom he married in 1995 following the death of his second wife; three sons and three daughters.

Jimmy Carl Black was a member of the Mothers of Invention in their most musically adventurous and hence interesting period, which is why I’m aware of him at all, and why I bought some of his later records. Later incarnations of the Mothers never captured my imagination the way the band did during the period from Freak Out! (1966) through Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970). As a figure who loomed large in my early musical explorations while I was a teenager, I will always fondly remember Jimmy Carl Black. Additional information can be found on his website.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Election Day: Whichever candidate you support, today America is on the verge of history, as this article from the L. A. Times online points out. I won't blog much today, as most eyes will be on election results--here and elsewhere in the world. So enjoy this historic day, everybody!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Brush Arbor Style

I’d fully intended to post the following entry on the brush arbor style this weekend, in connection with the Western Christian holidays of “All Saints Day” (November 1) and “All Souls’ Day” (November 2), the religious holidays that follow Halloween. It is therefore a little late, but the spirit was willing. According to Michael Jarrett, brush arbor is “a variety of sacred country music, similar to bluegrass, characterized by the collision of string-band delicacy and Pentecostal zeal” (p. 205). The brush arbor style takes its name from the Southern practice of making crude shelters that could be used as places of worship. According to Brush Arbor Quarterly:

The Brush Arbor meetings got their name from the crude structures under which these meetings took place. Brush arbors were roughed-in shelters made of upright poles driven into the ground over which long poles were laid across the top and tied together in lattice fashion to serve as support for a primitive roof of brush or hay that served to protect the worshippers [sic] and seekers from the elements.

In many rural areas during those years, no formal church existed. Small congregations were often unable to afford a full-time pastor or shepherd for the believing flock in their little community.

According to Jerry Sullivan (pictured, with Tammy Sullivan), the brush arbor style “is more like families sitting down with a guitar, maybe a mandolin, and playing. They followed the Carter Family sound a little bit. It’s a mixture between the country sound and bluegrass” (qtd. in Jarrett, p. 205). Michael Jarrett relates an anecdote that when Marty Stuart sent Bob Dylan a copy of Jerry and Tammy Sullivan’s brush arbor-inspired album, At the Feet of God (pictured, 1995), “he enclosed a note that read, ‘I hope you enjoy this backwoods, Southern, rock ‘n’ roll, gospel record’” (pp. 205-06).

The fictitious group, The Soggy Bottom Boys, featured in the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), are an homage (of sorts) to the Stanley Brothers. Some of the “roots music” featured on that film’s soundtrack is inspired by the brush arbor style.

A Selection Of Country Gospel:

E. C. and Orna Ball, E. C. Ball with Orna Ball (Rounder)
The Chestnut Grove Quartet, The Legendary Chestnut Grove Quartet (County)
Alison Krauss and the Cox Family, I Know Who Holds Tomorrow (Rounder)
Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Rock My Soul (Sugar Hill)
The Louvin Brothers, When I Stop Dreaming: The Best of the Louvin Brothers (Razor & Tie)
Jerry and Tammy Sullivan, At the Feet of God (New Haven)
The Whitstein Brothers, Sweet Harmony (Rounder)
Stanley Brothers, The Complete Columbia Stanley Brothers (Columbia/Legacy) [contains "Man of Constant Sorrow," covered by Bob Dylan on his first album]
Various, Something Got a Hold of Me: A Treasury of Sacred Music (RCA)
Various, Southern Journey Vol. 4: Brethren, We Meet Again (Rounder)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Book Writer?

David Barker, editor of Continuum’s “33 & 1/3” series of books on classic rock albums, announced yesterday on his blog that Continuum is now accepting proposals for future 33 & 1/3 books, to be published in 2010 and 2011. A significant change in this year’s submissions policy is that the “one book per band/artist” rule no longer exists. Therefore, the review board will consider proposals for books about any album that hasn’t already been covered in the series, or isn’t already under contract.

For those interested, one can find a list of titles already published in the series here, which also lists those titles “Coming 2008” and “Titles Announced for 2008 and 2009.” Apparently the “Unknown Status” list consists of proposed titles that are no longer under contract (with the exception of the books about Kate Bush, Lucinda Williams, and the Clash). The deadline for submission of proposals this go-round is midnight, December 31st, 2008.

Last year I proposed a book on Wall of Voodoo’s classic album Call of the West (1982) for which I had the full support of Stan Ridgway. Not only did he provide me some great material for the proposal, but he also enthusiastically endorsed the proposal, saying he would be happy to sell the books at his concerts. Foolishly believing the proposal would be accepted, I began writing it, only to learn about halfway through the manuscript that my proposal had been rejected. That incomplete manuscript now resides in my file cabinet. The same thing happened to my friend Tim Lucas, who in fact completed his manuscript on Jefferson Airplane’s Crown of Creation (1968). His proposal was also rejected, but he’s announced on his blog that he intends to re-submit his proposal—which he may, in fact, already have done. I have been strongly considering submitting a proposal on The Zombies’ 1968 album Odessey and Oracle—an album specifically mentioned by David Barker as one he would like to have in the series—but there is another title I’m also considering, more outré and avant-garde, that I think should be in the series also. If I don’t do it, who will? (No, it’s not for Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music—that’s been proposed already.)

I own roughly half the titles in the 33 & 1/3 series, primarily those on albums that strongly interest me. It is a splendid concept for a series, of course, and while I think the series appears to have at this point given up too quickly on classic albums, that may change now that the “one book per band/artist” rule is no longer in effect, opening up proposals for other Beatles albums, for instance, or different albums by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, and others. I for one would sure like to see a book on Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night (1975), as well as a book on the Brian Jones era of The Rolling Stones—Aftermath, for instance (hint, hint). And no book on Elvis Presley in a series on rock albums? That's shameful. Someone should write up a proposal on From Elvis in Memphis (1969), one of the great albums of all time.

Good luck to everyone submitting this time! Wish me luck as well.

Van The Man

Last month I posted a blog on Van Morrison’s upcoming shows at the Hollywood Bowl—happening at the end of this week, Friday and Saturday, November 7 and 8—during which he will perform live his masterpiece Astral Weeks (1968). In conjunction with his upcoming performances, the L. A. Times posted both an article and a rare interview with Van the Man that anyone even remotely interested in his music must read: he discusses his life, his career, his music, poetry, and art all with remarkable candor. I am very disappointed that I cannot attend his concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, although information in the Times article as well as his website indicates that the concerts will be recorded and released on both vinyl and CD by the end of the year. When the actual dates are announced I will post them here.