Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Not Fade Away: A Backstage Pass to 20 Years of Rock & Roll

By Ben Fong-Torres

In 1969, young rock reporter Ben Fong-Torres was hired by Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner to "come in and do what you think needs to be done." Now Fong-Torres revisits his most intriguing pieces and - for the first time - reveals the stories behind the stories, the stars, and life at Rolling Stone.

"As a lifelong fan of Ben's insightful, wry takes on my fellow rock and rollers, I'm honored to be included in this collection. Ben got a lot of us before the rest of the world did. What a great window on those times..."
-Bonnie Raitt

Not Fade Away is a compelling view of the world of rock and pop culture from the late '60s through the '80s, as seen by one of its first and most well-known journalists. Reflecting on these selected stories, and on his life in those days, Fong-Torres takes you backstage with:

* Bob Dylan
* Janis Joplin
* Ray Charles
* The Jefferson Airplane
* Jim Morrison
* The Rolling Stones
* Santana
* The Grateful Dead
* Hunter S. Thompson
* And many more

Evocative photos by Annie Leibovitz and other photographers help capture this unforgettable era.

Ben Fong-Torres first wrote for Rolling Stone in 1968, when the publication was just five months old. He was on staff at the now-legendary magazine for the next 11 years. His books include The Hits Just Keep on Coming: The History of Top 40 Radio, Hickory Wind: The Life and Times of Gram Parsons, and his memoirs, The Rice Room: Growing Up Chinese-American from Number Two Son to Rock 'n' Roll.


Phil Ochs was in Philadelphia the day Dylan arrived. Ochs had a gig at the Main Point, a small club in suburban Bryn Mawr. Ochs used to hang out with Dylan, wanted to be as big as Dylan, admired Dylan's successful switch to rock, and served as a target for Dylan's celebrated personal attacks on Village friends. The most popular of the incidents had Ochs getting thrown out of Dylan's limousine one day, for not thinking "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window" would be a smash.

Phil Ochs Covers: Curt Boettcher - That's the Way It's Gonna Be

Friday, 25 September 2009

Music USA: The Rough Guide

A Coast-to-Coast Tour of American Music: The Artists, the Venues, the Stories, and the Essential Recordings
By Richie Unterberger

The Rough Guide to Music USA is a tour through the best of the country's popular music, giving you the story behind the sounds of more than twenty regions. Features of this unique handbook include:

* Critical overviews of the crucial performers and styles, from Appalachian bluegrass to New Orleans jazz, from New York klezmer to San Francisco psychedelia.
* Concise reviews of the essential recordings in every genre.
* Entertaining features on the key festivals and sights, plus behind-the-scenes accounts from key figures.
* Practical tips on the best music venues, radio stations, record stores, and publications in each locale.
* More than 150 pictures, including some rarely seen photos.


Phil Ochs, the "singing journalist," was for a time the leading protest folk singer after Dylan went into different areas, and wrote compassionate leftist commentaries with a serious attention to detail and a sometimes savage, sardonic wit. By 1967 he was in California doing rock and expanding his topics to the personal, although he didn't leave protest behind for good. Unfortunately he sank into mental illness in the 1970s, exacerbated by writer's block and a damaged voice, and committed suicide in 1976.

Phil Ochs Covers: Jim & Jean - Crucifixion

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Music and Social Movements: Mobilizing Traditions in the Twentieth Century

By Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamison

Music and song are central to modern culture, social movements to cultural change. Building on their studies of sixties culture and theory of cognitive praxis, Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamison examine the mobilization of cultural traditions and the formation of new collective identities through the music of activism. They combine a sophisticated theoretical argument with historical-empirical studies of nineteenth-century populists and twentieth-century labor and ethnic movements, focusing on the interrelations between music and social movements in the United States and the transfer of those experiences to Europe. Specific chapters examine folk and country music, black music, music of the 1960s movements, and music of the Swedish progressive movement. This highly readable book is among the first to link the political sociology of social movements to cultural theory.

"Eyerman and Jamison have produced a pioneering work on the role of music in social change. Insightfully interweaving theory and story, they recount the ways in which songs have sustained the collective identities and helped to mobilize the energies for protest movements. Their emphasis on the cultural significance of social movements refocuses sociologists' interpretations of their sources and meanings."
-Richard Flacks, University of California, Santa Barbara


The careers of Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton followed a different kind of trajectory, as both singers continued to mix their songwriting with political activism even after the excitement of the sixties had passed. And while they still managed to sell some records, they had largely lost their mass audience, which followed Dylan and Creedence Clearwater Revival back to the country, when it wasn't "flipping out" on drugs. Ochs' was an especially tragic story, ending in suicide in 1976 after a number of failed attempts to recreate the unique combination of culture and politics that he had done so much to articulate in the early 1960s. He traveled and performed in Africa, even recording a song in Swahili with a local band in Kenya before he was attacked and robbed in Tanzania; in the words of Robin Denselow, "he was discovering a whole new world of international music, way ahead of the rock field" (1989: 118). A benefit concert for Chile, which he organized after the military coup in 1973, prefigured the rock benefits of the 1980s, but musically it was apparently a fiasco, as a drunken and overweight Ochs tried to bring back the spirit of a different era, even getting his old friend Bob Dylan to put in an appearance (Eliot 1990).

Perhaps more than any other single individual, Phil Ochs epitomized the message of the sixties in both his personal and his musical life. Like Dylan, he started out by trying to reinvent the tradition of the political songwriter, which Joe Hill had played before the First World War and Woody Guthrie had played in the 1930s and 1940s (Ochs wrote songs about both Joe Hill and Woody Guthrie). When Pete Seeger introduced him at the Newport Festival in 1963, he said that Phil Ochs wrote topical songs rather than folk songs; and it became Ochs' particular identity to mix his songwriting with all of the political movements, from civil rights through the student revolts of the mid-1960s ("Oh, I am just a student, sir, and I only want to learn, but it's hard to read through the rising smoke from the books that you like to burn. So I'd like to make a promise, and I'd like to make a vow: that when I've got something to say, sir, I'm gonna say it now") on through to the antiwar movement of the late 1960s. In the early days of the civil rights movement, he sang his "The Ballad of Medger Evers," "Too Many Martyrs," "Here's to the State of Mississippi," and "In the Heat of the Summer," both in the South and at the large demonstrations in the North. But it was the Vietnam war that became his special topic, from the satirical "Draft Dodger Rag" to the later and more significant "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore," "We're the Cops of the World," "Canons of Christianity," "White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land," and "The War is Over." In these and several other songs, written during the second half of the 1960s, Ochs provided an understanding of American imperialism that brought the experience of the war home and into at least a certain segment of the popular consciousness. His songs offered another kind of social theory, providing political analysis mixed with his characteristic ironic observations of the inherent absurdity of the war:
Silent soldiers on a silver screen;
Framed in fantasies and drugged in dreams;
Unpaid actors of the mystery.
The mad director knows that freedom will not make you free,
And what's this got to do with me?
I declare the war is over,
It's over, it's over.
(Phil Ochs, "The War Is Over")
As with his more reflective and poetic songs, which questioned the values of American society, and perhaps especially the values of his fellow progressives - "Changes," "Flower Lady," "Outside a Small Circle of Friends," "Jim Dean of Indiana," "Pleasures of the Harbor" -- the political messages that Ochs sought to infuse into popular culture largely failed to reach a mass audience. Ochs was one of the few who criticized the drug culture -- the "smoke dreams of escaping soul . . . [that] dull the pain of living as they slowly die" -- but he himself slowly died in the late 1960s as the political movements grew more radical and extremist, and many of the musicians with whom he had shared so much in the early 1960s put politics behind them. As he reflected on the violence that he had witnessed first-hand at the Democratic Party convention in Chicago in 1968, he recorded a moving, largely forgotten testament in the form of an album, "Rehearsals for Retirement." On the cover was a gravestone, showing that Phil Ochs had died in Chicago, and the record was filled with powerful songs bemoaning the demise of the political folk song era.

At an appearance in Vancouver in late 1968, recently released as a compact disc after being discovered in an archive, he said how hard it was to keep going. The country was captured by the "media syndrome, when they fill everyone's mind by use of fairly mindless, mind-distorting distortions of the facts . . . which led all of us into the Vietnam war." He still sang protest songs, which could be defined as "a song they don't play on the radio." By 1970, however, even Phil Ochs could see that the political and cultural movements had gone separate ways:
Hello, hello, hello,
Is there anybody home?
I only called to say I'm sorry
The drums are in the dawn
And all the voices gone
And it seems that there are no more songs.
(Phil Ochs, "No More Songs")
Joan Baez, who earlier in the decade had had one of her few commercial successes by recording an Ochs songs ("There But For Fortune"), performed at the famous Woodstock Festival in 1969, but by then the political movement had largely parted company with the so-called counterculture that had taken on such prominence. Along with Ochs and Baez, it was Pete Seeger and Tom Paxton - and, with "Alice's Restaurant," his immortal tale of draft-dodging and garbage collection, Woody Guthrie's son Arlo - who tried to keep alive some of the earlier ambitions, but the music industry was moving on: into psychedelic, drug-dominated hard rock music for some, sexually suggestive soul music for others, and soothing country rural music for still others. Rather than inspiring political change, popular music seemed to be trying to provide the satisfaction that Mick Jagger couldn't get in the early, more political days.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Music of the Counterculture Era: American History through Music

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the flourishing of an American counterculture that affected many walks of society. The movement's music provided the soundtrack for this bellwether time in American cultural history. Such performers as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Arlo Guthrie, The Doors, John Lennon, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and The Grateful Dead ushered in new sounds, as well as new attitudes and philosophies for an emerging generation. With vibrant narrative chapters on the role of music in the anti-war movement, the Black Power movement, the women's movement, political radicalism, drug use, and the counterculture lifestyle, this book details the emerging issues explored by performers in the Sixties and Seventies. A chapter of biographical sketches provides an easily accessible resource on significant performers, recordings, and terminology. Also included are chapter bibliographies, a timeline, and a subject index.

The American History through Music series examines the many different styles of music that have played a significant part in our nation's history. While volumes in this series show the multifaceted roles of music in culture, they also use music as a lens through which readers may study American social history. The authors present in-depth analyses of American musical genres, significant musicians, technological innovations, and the many connections between music and the realms of art, politics, and daily life.

* Chapters present accessible narratives on music and its cultural resonations
* Music theory and technique is broken down for the lay reader
* And each volume presents a chapter of alphabetically arranged entries on significant people and terms.


With Bob Dylan's retreat from the protest music scene, Phil Ochs became the most successful of the male protest singer-songwriters in the 1964-1965 era. Although Ochs wrote, frequently performed, published, and recorded numerous anti-war songs, his "Draft Dodger Rag" and "I Ain't Marching Anymore" were the most notable. Historian Ray Pratt describes the two songs as quickly having achieved "anthem status" in the peace movement. Pratt also writes that Och's albums All the News That's Fit to Sing, containing "One More Parade," and I Ain't Marching Anymore, containing both "Draft Dodger Rag" and the title song, became "essentials of the record libraries of activist students and early opponents of the war" (Pratt 1998, 176).


Ochs, Phil

One of the leading leftist folk revival singer-songwriters to take up the anti-war cause during the counterculture era, Phil Ochs (1941-1975 [sic]) never achieved the popular commercial success of Joan Baez, Judy Collins, or Bob Dylan. While he touched relatively few people through his recordings, Ochs performed at countless peace rallies and folk festivals, often rallying the crowds with his best-known anti-war songs, "I Ain't Marching Anymore" and "Draft Dodger Rag." He also wrote influential and effective songs protesting the mistreatment of Blacks ("The Ballad of Medgar Evers" and "Here's to the State of Mississippi") and in support of workers' rights. Apparently convinced that the movement had been all for naught and fighting depression, brought on in part by a mugging in Africa that left his voice permanently damaged, and by an addiction to alcohol, Ochs took his own life. Interestingly, Ochs's recordings from the 1960s and 1970s are virtually all available on compact disc reissues, as well as in elaborate boxed sets. Interest in Phil Ochs as a topical singer-songwriter is perhaps stronger today than it was during his lifetime.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The Movement and the Sixties

By Terry H. Anderson

It began in 1960 with the Greensboro sit-ins. By 1973, when a few Native Americans rebelled at Wounded Knee and the U.S. Army came home from Vietnam, it was over. In between came Freedom Rides, Port Huron, the Mississippi Summer, Berkeley, Selma, Vietnam, the Summer of Love, Black Power, the Chicago Convention, hippies, Brown Power, and Women's Liberation--The Movement--in an era that became known as The Sixties. Why did millions of Americans become activists; why did they take to the streets? These are questions Terry Anderson explores in The Movement and The Sixties, a searching history of the social activism that defined a generation of young Americans and that called into question the very nature of "America." Drawing on interviews, "underground" manuscripts collected at campuses and archives throughout the nation, and many popular accounts, Anderson begins with Greensboro and reveals how one event built upon another and exploded into the kaleidoscope of activism by the early 1970s. Civil rights, student power, and the crusade against the Vietnam War composed the first wave of the movement, and during and after the rip tides of 1968, the movement changed and expanded, flowing into new currents of counterculture, minority empowerment, and women's liberation. The parades of protesters, along with shocking events--from the Kennedy assassination to My Lai--encouraged other citizens to question their nation. Was America racist, imperialist, sexist? Unlike other books on this tumultuous decade, The Movement and The Sixties is neither a personal memoir, nor a treatise on New Left ideology, nor a chronicle of the so-called leaders of the movement. Instead, it is a national history, a compelling and fascinating account of a defining era that remains a significant part of our lives today.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir

By Dave Van Ronk with Elijah Wald

My attitude is essentially that of a craftsman, and I thought a lot of times the politics got in the way of the craft. Also, there is a built-in flaw to topical songs, which is that if you live by the newspaper, you die by the newspaper. You may expend your greatest efforts and do some of your best writing about an incident that will be forgotten in six weeks. I mean, Phil Ochs was one of my best friends and I love a good many of his songs, but it always struck me as a tragedy that so much of Phil's material became dated so quickly. I remember when I heard him sing his song about William Worthy, I thought, "That's not one of Phil's best, but it doesn't matter, because two years down the line he won't be able to sing it anymore." And sure enough, he couldn't, because nobody remembered who William Worthy was. But unfortunately that was also true of some of his other material that I liked a lot more. Paxton dealt with that kind of planned obsolescence by disciplining himself to the point that if you give him a topic, he can give you a song, just like that. Len Chandler did the same thing; for a while he had a radio show in LA where he would improvise songs over the air from the daily newspaper. And if you have that kind of skill, I suppose you can keep going indefinitely as a topical songwriter. But nothing less than that will do, and very few people can do that or would want to, year in and year out. I think that was one of the things that destroyed Phil, in the end: he had painted himself into a corner, and he tried to work his way out of it by doing things like "Pleasures of the Harbor," but they never had the immediacy of his topical material, and he knew it.

When I first met Phil, he was working at a place on 3rd Street called the Third Side. It was the same story as with Dylan: Somebody was making the rounds of the clubs, happened to hear him, and came barging into the Kettle of Fish and said, "There's a guy over at the Third Side who's really fantastic. You've gotta check him out." I don't think he had been in town for more than a week or so, and as I remember, the owner of the club was letting him crash there as well, sleeping on the pool table.

Phil was very much his own man, right from the beginning. For one thing, although he was never going to be nominated to any best-dressed lists, he was one of the last of the jacket-and-tie holdouts. He used to wear this thing that had once been a blue suit, but he had worn it so long that, if you had got him to stand still, you could have shaved in your reflection in the back of the jacket. He had a way with neckties, though. I remember one that looked like it was made out of crepe paper, which he carried around in his back pocket to use for formal occasions.

Musically, what struck me first about Phil's work was that he was a very interesting extension of Bob Gibson. He had Bob's approach to chords and melodic lines, and also a lot of Bob's guitar style, but he had harnessed all of this for political commentary, which Bob was not all that interested in doing. Later on, when he and Bob were collaborating on some songs, it was perfect, because it was like Bob collaborating with his political self and Phil collaborating with his nonpolitical self.

Phil's chord sense was quite advanced, and he was the only person around aside from Gibson who used the relative minor and secondary keys. He was also one of the few songwriters on that scene who knew how to write a bridge. He was no Jerome Kern, but considering the limitations almost everybody else was struggling with, his work stood out. That may in part explain why he was not a very influential songwriter. There were a few Ochs clones, but not many, and that was probably because most of the people who wanted to sound like him couldn't do it. He was also a surprisingly effective guitarist - not a virtuoso by any means, but he filled in all the spaces and never lost the impetus. And man, he pounded the shit out of his instruments. He borrowed a guitar from me once at a festival, and you can still see where his flat-pick gouged into the top.

As a lyricist, there was nobody like Phil before and there has not been anybody since. That is not to say that I liked everything he wrote, but he had a touch that was so distinctive that it just could not be anybody else. He had been a journalism student before he became a singer, and he would never sacrifice what he felt to be the truth for a good line. In a way that was a shame, because he would have come up with more good lines if he had been willing to compromise now and then. But at its best, there was a deftness to his writing that went beyond straight journalism. He wrote a song about the conservatism of big labor in that period called "Links on the Chain," and its last line was, "It's only fair to ask you boys, now which side are you on?" That is goddamn good. There is a dialectic to that line; it has a history, and all of that is right there. A lot of people I knew on the working-class left were upset by that song - they felt he was using "Which Side Are You On?" to attack the people it was written for - but as far as I was concerned, he was laying it on the line to those guys, and that was just what the situation called for. And he not only called 'em the way he saw 'em but made the call a work of art. Phil was very prolific for a while, and he committed as much hackwork as almost any other songwriter of the period, but when that boy cooked, he really cooked.

Phil and I fought like cats and dogs, about politics and everything else. I was a socialist; he was a left liberal. I was a materialist and he was a mystic. So we could argue about everything from the meaning of life to yesterday's headlines. I thought a lot of his stances were too simplistic, which was typical of that whole crowd. His positions would make sense in a limited way, but he had not really thought them through. Like when he wrote "Here's to the State of Mississippi," I understood that he had just been down there and had been horrified by what he was seeing, but I thought that singling out Mississippi as a racist hellhole was unfair to the other forty-nine states. As Malcolm X used to say, "There's down south, and there's up south." Without all the activists who were from there, none of that movement would have happened, and having some northerner come down and shit all over Mississippi was unfair to the people who were living there and trying to fix up their state. And it was also too damn easy.

Like a lot of people on that scene, Phil was essentially a Jeffersonian democrat who had been pushed to the left by what was happening around him. Two consecutive Democratic presidents had turned out to be such disappointments that it forced a lot of liberals into a sort of artificial left-wing stance, and Phil was of that stripe. That may seem a surprising thing to say about the man who wrote "Love Me, I'm a Liberal," but I think it is accurate. He had believed in the liberal tradition, and it had betrayed him, and naturally he had a special contempt for the people who espoused lukewarm liberal views but were supporting the Cold War, the war in Vietnam, the crackdown on the student movement. Someone like John Wayne - an out-and-out conservative, prowar patriot - could earn Phil's admiration in a way. As a matter of fact, Wayne was one of his heroes, and he always believed that if he had somehow gotten a chance to talk with him, he could have won Wayne over to the revolution.

I must add that, along with our honest disagreements, Phil and I also had a lot of very good dishonest disagreements. We both loved to argue, and quite often he would take a position just to be ornery and annoy me. (Me, I was utterly sincere all the time, of course . . .) In an argument, Phil's weapon of choice was the rapier. He would lead you down a primrose path to the place where he had an ambush set, and then he would skewer you...

Friday, 4 September 2009

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Rare Bob Dylan Recordings from 1963: A Collaboration with Gil Turner

Bob Dylan & Gil Turner – “Farewell”

Gil Turner – “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

Broadside holds the honor of being the first magazine to publish Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 1962. It was standard practice of Broadside for editors Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen to invite local songwriters to Broadside’s “office” (really their small apartment in New York City) and capture their songs on tape, so that Sis could transcribe them both lyrically and musically for the magazine.

Folk singer Gil Turner (M.C. of Gerde’s Folk City) was responsible for bringing Phil Ochs, among others, to the magazine. Ochs became, along with Malvina Reynolds (of “Little Boxes” fame), the most prolific contributor to Broadside. In a rarely heard Broadside tape, Turner provides backing harmony for Dylan’s “Farewell,” a song based on the traditional ballad “Leaving of Liverpool.”

Dylan sometimes shied away from recording his songs directly for Broadside (perhaps since he had already recorded most of them for Witmark, his music publisher at the time). Instead of singing them into a tape recorder, he would often get his girlfriend Suze Rotolo to hand in lyric transcription sheets. Gil Turner performed Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” in January 1963 to give Sis and Gordon an idea of what the song sounded like. The track would not be released until that May on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Turner at one point sings the wrong lyrics, but quickly recovers by re-singing the second verse.

As good as these songs are, they would have meant little to the Broadside editors sitting across the room. Sis and Gordon were serious proponents of topical songs with social messages and using the magazine to promote exclusively this form of songwriting. When it came time to release songs on Broadside compilations, more topical selections from Dylan such as “Ballad of Donald White,” “Only a Hobo,” and “Talking Devil” were used. Rather than risk the ire from his record company, Dylan was listed under the pseudonym “Blind Boy Grunt.” As it stood, the songs “Farewell” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” were left on the cutting room floor. The latter was destined to become an American classic but at the time was simply another great song from the 22-year-old songwriter. Of Dylan’s songwriting, Turner said: “I feel about Bob Dylan's songs very often that Bob is actually a kind of folk mind that he represents to all the people around. And all the ideas current are just filtered down and come out in poetry.”