The Rogue to nowhere: Rogue RA-090, Joshua Tree and the Legend of Gram Parsons

A scorching August afternoon at Joshua Tree National Park, California. The year was 2016 and I was celebrating a landmark birthday with a road trip to the West coast, with my girlfriend. Gazing up through the haze toward Cap Rock I was about to say goodbye to a loyal traveling companion and pay my respects to one of my all-time musical heroes ( Gram Parsons ). (You can check out my cover version of Gram Parsons’s – A Song for You)

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The last two-and-a-half weeks had been spent on the road; kicking off from LA and gliding up the meandering Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco, then on to Yosemite, Bakersfield, Las Vegas, Monument Valley and back through to Joshua Tree.

As soon as I arrived I was on the lookout for a guitar; something cheap I could put a pickup in and amplify. I had a couple of shows teed up before I arrived; The International Pop Overthrow Festival and …..I also knew that there was an open mic in Joshua Tree at the end of our trip.

We picked up the campervan (from Escape Campervans) and drove down Sunset Boulevard; LA was a pretty stressful place to get used to driving a big vehicle on the left. I checked out Sam Ash and then on to Guitar Centre.  We spent a good thirty minutes in the doorway just looking at the handprints of so many music legends, including James Burton; whom I had just supported a few weeks earlier.

The Guitar

I knew pretty much what I was looking for, so although I could have spent all afternoon looking at and playing on the jaw-dropping array of guitars, I located the cheapest guitar in the shop. I was pleasantly surprised when I picked it up for a strum. The price was just over fifty bucks. It was a Rogue RA-090 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar and it played and sounded great! The frets were a little round and seemed to scratch against the strings. It would need some ‘playing-in’ before you could noodle further up the neck but, for open chords, it was perfect.

I’d brought a Dean Markely Promag with me on the trip so I could amplify the guitar through an amp or PA system. The gig at the Hotel Utah went off fine got a good sound from the guitar and it held its tuning throughout the 3o-minute performance. The International Pop Overthrow Festival IPO is run by its founder David Bash and is held in Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Phoenix, Detroit, Atlanta, Portland, Nashville, Austin, Vancouver, and Toronto, as well as in Liverpool (at the world famous Cavern Club), and London. I had played the Liverpool Festival only a month earlier. David and his colleagues work extremely hard all year round to put on quality live shows all over and what’s more…it’s free for music lovers to attend. At the time of writing the festival has been running for 21 years! For more information check out the website

Mark Pountney Hotel Utah, San Francisco

We paid our respects to Merle Haggard, who had just passed away in April 2016. I played a version of Sing Me Back Home outside his childhood, boxcar home , which had just been installed at the Kern County Museum.

One of my favorite versions of the song is by Gram with the Flying Burrito Brothers. Sneaky Pete’s pedal steel solo on it is amazing.

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A shout out to Elmer Long who kindly let us shoot some video at his amazing Bottle Tree Ranch. An interesting guy who has no interest in technology whatsoever and lives a simple life. Californian-based photographer and travel enthusiast, Josh, has done a nice feature on the ranch check it out here.

While we were in Bakersfield, we also dropped into Trouts; an iconic honky-tonk in Oildale, where Merle Haggard used to perform. When we pulled up the parking lot was more or less empty, yet, when we stepped inside, a band was playing and a few old-timers waltzed around the floor.  The atmosphere was warm and welcoming. We talked with the bar manager and some of the musicians who were all very friendly. Before long, I was invited up on the stage to sing with the band. We did Sing Me Back Home. One of the musicians was local legend Pat (Banny) Bannister.  I recently heard that Trouts is now for sale, but the famous sign, and the original owner, have disappeared.

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Later on the trip, we took the guitar to meet, what John Wayne affectionately referred to as “the Teapot, Coffee pot and the Sugar Bowl”, Monument Valley.

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The last stop before heading back was Joshua Tree. As part of my Birthday treat we were booked into the Gram Parsons legendary Room 8 in the Joshua Tree Inn. I wasn’t sure how we’d feel about being in the room where Gram Parsons spent his final hours, but it was quite an amazing experience, very homely, spiritual, difficult to describe. We spent a long while singing Gram Parsons songs and soaking up the peaceful vibe that was everywhere.

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The day before we’d been back to the Guitar Centre to see how much it would cost to ship the guitar back home to the UK. The guy at the desk looked puzzled and laughingly told us that it would cost much more than the guitar was worth. So on the final day, I decided to leave the guitar at Cap Rock for someone to find along with a Mark One CD. For anyone who doesn’t know, the story goes that Gram made a pact with his road manager, Phil Kaufman, whoever died first, the survior woul take the other’s body to Joshua Tree and burn it out in the desert. Well, Gram went first and Phil honored the promise. He borrowed a hearse, intercepted the body at the airport, stole it and set fire to the body near Cap Rock. There’s plenty of articles on this and one film, starring Johnny Knoxville, called Grand Theft Parsons .  I left a note inside the guitar with email/web address. As yet no one has been in touch. Maybe Gram decided to keep it for a while.

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Jimmy Campbell Michelangelo (cover)

This version of  Michelangelo by Jimmy Campbell was recorded for submission to BBC Radio Merseyside to celebrate their 50th Birthday. Billy Butler, a former Cavern DJ who has been with the station for over four decades, invited members of the music community to submit covers of songs released in 1967.

Jimmy Campbell tribute – 50 years since the release of Michelangelo.

 

Young Jimmy Campbell
Jimmy Campbell

In his lifetime, Jimmy Campbell received very little recognition, despite being an excellent songwriter. Born in Liverpool, he was a member of the Merseybeat group the Kirbys. Apparently, they adopted this name following a mix-up by the Cavern Club Compare, Bob Wooler, who announced the area that they originated from instead of the band name, which was the Panthers (previously the Tuxedos). After becoming professional The Kirbys recorded for RCA under the management of Brian Epstein’s former secretary Beryl Adams. His songs were recorded by his contemporaries; the Escorts, the Merseys and the Swinging Blue Jeans.

 

Moving with the times and steering toward a more psychedelic flavoured sound the band changed their name to the 23rd Turn Off (an exit off the M6). The group’s first single was Michelangelo and was released on Decca’s Deram label in 1967. Very few of the Merseybeat artists, such as the Beatles, were able to successfully make the artistic transition from exciting beat music to credible psychedelia, but Jimmy did. There is a collection of tracks from this period called The Dream of Michelangelo it features recording by the Kirbys and some 23rd Turn Off demos.

He went on the record three albums as a solo artist for the Fontana label: Son of Anastasia (1969), Half-Baked (1970) and The Jimmy Campbell Album (1972). During this time he also worked with Billy Kinsley, of the Merseybeats, and recorded an album called Yes it is (1971) as Rockin’ Horse.

The Liverpool-based label, Viper, which is run by Mike Badger and Paul Hemmings, both formerly of the La’s, have also released a couple of albums containing a collection of Live and unreleased material: Jimmy Campbell ‘Troubadour’ Lost Recordings and Jimmy Campbell ‘Live 1977’.

Rockin' Horse band
Rockin’ Horse: Billy Kinsley – Bass Guitar, Vocals; Jimmy Campbell – Guitar, Vocals; Stan Gorman – Drums; Bobby Falloon – Lead guitar; Mike Snow – Organ, Piano Source : Liverpool Echo

I’m not going to say too much about Jimmy’s music here as it is something I’d like to write more about in future.

In this recording I played the guitar and vocals live, that’s how I came to get the lyrics muddled in the last verse. I later doubled the vocal and added a shaker, tambo and a cymbal. The vocals were recorded using an Audio Technica AT4033 and the classical guitar was miked with a Rode NT3.

For more information about Jimmy Campbell check out.
http://www.triumphpc.com/mersey-beat/a-z/jcampbell.shtml

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/jimmy-campbell-436273.html

Happy 2018 – Teardrop Trail Video

Happy 2018!
Here’s a new video for a track from my third solo album, Teardrop trail. The video was filmed during a road-trip through the West Coast in 2016..somewhere in the Mojave National Preserve.

Teardrop Trail on Youtube

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The guitar I used in this clip was purchased from Guitar Centre on Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood. It was a Rogue Rogue RA-090 Dreadnought, a great guitar for under $60.  Incidentally, I left this guitar in Joshua Tree, Cap Rock, where Gram Parsons was cremated by his road manager Phil Kaufman.

This song was written at a time when there was some discussions among family and friends about teardrop trailers, and how cool it would be to own one. The words teardrop trail found it’s was into a melody I was playing one day and eventually became this song. It was influenced, no doubt, by the sentiment of Leon Payne‘s Lost Highway, which was made famous by Hank Williams Sr. in the late 1940s.

I played the drums, bass and guitar over the track. The lead was played on an Eko Ranger. Ali Roberts sings from the final verse. The last thing I added to the track was some piano. I was going for a kind of Floyde Cramer thing, playing by ear. I’ve never had any formal music lessons and so the piano remains a fascinating mystery to me.

I was interested to learn that there is a real Teardrop trail; a hiking route in Vermont.

The song is available to stream on Spotify and download in iTunes, Amazon and other digital music distribution services.

For old school people (like me), who still enjoys buying CDs, they are available from this website also.

Happy new year! If you enjoy this music please follow me on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter.

Alan Price at Bulls Head, Barnes, London. 10th August 2017

Alan Price has steadily become one of my favourite song writers. For too long I was only aware of his arranging skills on the classic Animals recordings, such as, House of the Rising Sun. His natural charisma and sense of humour are apparent in the short screen time he got in the Bob Dylan documentary, Don’t Look Back. As far as songwriting goes, I’m ashamed to admit, I had him written off as a kind of, Randy Newman, cabaret, cover artist. Sometimes it’s great to be wrong!

Alan Price and Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan with Alan Price

My curiosity was raised when I caught a clip from O Lucky Man! on YouTube. The song was Sell Sell Sell. From there I picked up hi 1974 LP Between Today and Yesterday, which I personally think is a masterpiece. Savaloy Dip, which was due for release in 1974, got pulled and was finally released in 2016. Had this been released fully at the time, I think Alan’s career would have received a welcome, and not insignificant, lift. So, while still enthused by the release of Savaloy Dip, I decided I wanted to see Alan perform live. A quick internet search revealed that he plays a regular spot, once a month, at the Bulls Head.

The Bulls Head is a riverside pub, built in 1684; it is one of the oldest pubs in the area. It has a rich history as a Jazz and Swing venue. The bar itself had a traditional, yet modern feel and served real ales and food. Although the food looked great, it was pricey (probably cheap for the Richmond area) and we were there to see music, not eat. Fortunately, right next door, was a little chippy which did a great curry and chips for just over a fiver. While we ate, we could see the band loading in.  We noticed that they were loading in to the building behind the pub. Apparently, that used to be stables and got converted into a venue.

We began to queue and as we did you could hear the band sound checking. The night was a sell-out, as it is every month. For this event, a sell-out equated to about 100 people. We got a seat on the second row just to the side of Alan’s keyboard. The average age of the folks in the audience was about 65, which is great, because that meant I could still feel like a kid.

 After not too much time, Alan took to the stage on his own and began playing. It was at this point I wish I’d brought some pen and paper, because I’m not entirely sure about the set list which followed. I thought he’d be using a Fender Rhodes sound, but instead, he had the most cheesy of all sounds; electric piano with string pads, combined. Nevertheless, it really works for him. His voice was powerful and bang in tune. After the first song he challenged an member of the audience who was standing up, filming, with his mobile phone. Alan said, “Right and you’re going to stop now aren’t you? Because it’s really bad manners.” With that business taken care of the rest of the band made their way on to the stage. The band consisted of Zoot Money on keys and vocals, Bobby Trench on Guitar and vocal, Peter Grant on Bass and Darby Todd on Drums.

Despite appearing to be rather grumpy, Alan does enjoy a natter on stage. Before he began he said that there is a point in most sets where the women will want to go to the bathroom. He continued, that he’d only won a BAFTA for this next section and they might get bored, so now was the time to go. “There’s no accounting for public taste is there?” he concluded. Fortunately no one moved; everyone was riveted. I didn’t expect to hear anything off that album, let alone a a handful. Alan lead the band the whole way with actions to control the tempo and volume. The sound was tight and funky where it needed to be and the musicians blended seamlessly.

Zoot Money
Zoot Money

Sometime Alan’s his dialogue was longer than some of the songs, which isn’t a bad thing since he has a strong stage presence and a good sense of humour. He made up a story about Zoot Money‘s childhood and there was plenty of banter relating to Zoot being well-off and spending his days at leisure and Alan being skint, and really having to work for a living. They did a jam of Nothin’ Shakin’ But The Bacon. Alan would grimace every time Zoot played a solo. He later moaned that everyone was was too loud (in good humour) and said now he wears ear plugs.

In another money themed anecdote, he talked about what it was like when his contract suddenly ended with the Animals and he had to return home, with no future plans and very little money. He couldn’t get the best seat in the restaurant, prestige cars and women. His career wasn’t down for long as he had a hit with his version of, I put a spell on you. He did a solo version of Who’s gonna drive you home, which was interesting. He followed it up with The Letter and Jarrow Song.

Jackson Browne got a mention as the unhappiest man in the business. Alan told a tale (fictional I think) about how his lawyers told him to get married because he had too much money and so set up a series of interviews to help him select a wife. Then the layers told him to get a divorce and that was the inspiration for Say it isn’t so. Alan followed it up by doing a version of the song. Bobby Trench did a great solo on it too. Alan joked that no one gives him credit for performing that track, instead people praise Bobby for his guitar work.

Other songs in the set included Dole song and Savaloy Dip. Towards the end of the set Alan played a few Animals hits; We gotta get out of this place, Please don’t let me be misunderstood and House of the rising sun.

Towards the end of the night Peter Grant on Bass and Darby Todd on Drums got to do solo spots.

I was really impressed by the performance. Considering Alan is 75 (at the time of writing) he’s incredibly mobile and his voice is untarnished; strong and operatic at times. He admitted, that because he can only play in the key of G, F and C he’s had to keep the songs in the same keys as he played them in the early days.

I was hoping to have a chat with him on the night. I offered to buy him a drink during the break, but he was getting a drink for someone else. He didn’t seem much in the mood to stand around and chat after the show so I didn’t get any photos or get him to sign my LP sleeve of Between Today and Yesterday. He  didn’t play Simon Smith and his amazing dancing bear, House that Jack built or Between Today and Yesterday. Nevermind, it was a great show and I was completely blow away at times, one of the best gigs I’ve been to in a long time. I would highly recommend you to go and see him.

He plays the Bulls Head every month check the website for details.