Sunday, September 16, 2018

Second Try | Lefsetz Letter

The Savoy Brown Anthology

I knew the Savoy Brown Blues Band but never heard them. They were always billed at the Fillmore, but New York radio did not play them. It was the opposite of today’s situation, my inbox is filled with people who’ve never heard of Twenty One Pilots, but their music is just a click away, whereas back then we knew all the acts, but if radio didn’t play it and you didn’t buy it you never heard it.

I always thought of Savoy Brown as a second-rate band, their albums were in the bins, but if they were that big they would have broken through, I would have heard them, right?

But Tuesday night, after leaving the Greek, I was listening to SiriusXM’s “DeepTracks,” hell, I’ve been listening to that channel since Lee Abrams programmed XM, and I was going about 75 on the 101, L.A.’s funny, most times you’re crawling along, but when it gets to the late night, or early in the morning as Harry Nilsson sang, there are still vehicles on the road, but you can fly, and it was then that I heard Savoy Brown’s “Second Try.”

I’d be lying if I said it sounds as good to me right now listening on headphones at home, but…

Remember when you had your collection and you played what fit your mood? “Second Try” is perfect when you’re alone and it’s dark or you’re high on a lazy afternoon and especially when you’re driving.

It really reached me Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

The sound was familiar to me. It’s familiar to anybody who lived through the era. A driving, blues-based boogie with wailing guitars, it’s this sound that will presage the rock renaissance, that’s right, we’ve got to get back to the garden if we want to rebuild rock, rock music has become so self-referential as to be incomprehensible to most of the audience. I remember when Led Zeppelin was heavy metal and Black Sabbath was on the edge, now we’re many generations down the rabbit hole and if you haven’t followed the curve, ain’t got your decoder ring, you just pass it by.

The blues. Can’t say I’m an expert. But everybody from Jimmy Page to Bonnie Raitt was infected by them. They started with the classics, amplifying them, stretching them, that’s what drove the FM revolution.

Now “Second Try” sounds nothing like what’s on the hit parade. But that does not mean you won’t get it instantly. It was made for listening, not to be a hit. When you couldn’t just press a button and be done with it, you had to get up and lift the tonearm on the turntable and… Listening was a different experience, there was a lot of repetition and you couldn’t afford much, so you went deep. Not that I’m lamenting today’s world, we just haven’t figure it out yet, how to separate the wheat from the chaff, it’s great that we’ve got the history of recorded music at our fingertips.

Sure, it’s all sound. But styles are different. “Second Try” is music too.

It’s they way it swings, gets right into the groove, there were no long intros, the song began and you were swept away, and when the verse begins the keyboard keeps you jumping. And sure, the lyrics are not revolutionary, but they are personal. And then during the second verse we get some picking, some of that lead stuff so popular in the era of the guitar hero. And then they put the pedal to the medal, switch into overdrive as the guitar wails and you’re just holding on tight, riding the tiger into uncharted territory, meanwhile the track starts to twist and turn some more, until they pull back a bit and the vocals return, however with more emphasis. Now the band is in the groove, unconscious of the audience, locked in and unstoppable like a freight train. That’s right, the whole edifice is rolling down the tracks, you’ve got the piano and the organ and the riff and the wailing and it sounds so different from today’s music, but so right, and still fresh, undated like the AM pop tunes of that era.

Now if rock comes back it will start with a walk into the wilderness. None of today’s trappings will work. Won’t be about clothing, won’t be about sponsorship, won’t be about hype, it’ll be all about the work. First you’ve got to have the skills, you’ve got to practice, off the grid, when no one is paying attention. Social networking, posting YouTube videos and spamming won’t work. When you’re good enough, you’ll form a band and start to play live, for bupkes. But you’ll be so basic and good that you will draw an audience. It’s a great big world, there’s room for you. Everything new and great starts from outside the system, and builds slowly. Today labels consider a one album wonder artist development, used to take three or four, but you got a record deal after you’d developed your chops, when you were finally ready.

Music when done right is an intoxicant. You start to sip, still feeling the same, and then something changes. I’m about the fifth time through “Second Try” and now I’ll have a hard time clicking it off, it’s taken over not only my ears, but my whole body, my head started nodding involuntarily and then it spread to my torso and then my arms. Doesn’t matter if anybody else is listening, where the track is on the chart, it’s a personal experience, like it used to be and still can be again. AM was for everybody, FM was for somebodies. And when acts stopped trying to be in-your-face their music penetrated and took over. This is the feeling, the sound the baby boomers lament the loss of. It was killed by MTV, when it became about how you looked. But now the internet has blown that paradigm apart, now, more than ever, it’s about the music. It’s time for the younger generation to give their take on the blues, which like classical and jazz never die, they just wax and wane. Didn’t Muddy Waters put out an LP entitled “Electric Mud”? I’m waiting for “Electrical Millennial”!


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