Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Jerry Leiber Connection

August 28- September 2, 1961

The Beatles are playing almost every day at the Cavern Club on Matthew Street in Liverpool, sometimes even twice a day there.  That must have made their lives a bit simpler, getting comfortable and friendly with the regulars.  This is the period when they are known to be eating sandwiches, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes on stage, taking a very casual attitude.  Their styles are becoming more casual, less stylised, too.  We see more tee shirts and "dungarees" (blue jeans, to you and me) and less leather.  And the hair is looking less piled high in the front.  One gets the sense they are preparing themselves for the next big change.  After all, the Beatles are all about following (or is it making?) change.

Among the songs the Beatles are covering regularly are at least nine penned by the American songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.  These are some of their best numbers.  (Many of them came to the Beatles attention by way of Elvis Presley or the Coasters.  The bright line between white and black music is really blurring.)
  Three Cool Cats
  Thumbin' a Ride
  Stand By Me
  Kansas City
  Hound Dog
  Loving You
  Baby I Don’t Care

Jerry Leiber died last week (August 22, 2011) at the age of 78. Rest in peace and heartfelt thanks, Jerry.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Rock Band and a Clarinettist

August 21-27, 1961
Reproduction from This Ebay Store

The Beatles continue the long Cavern Club run and are gathering other bookings where they can.  They make another small step up this week.  On August 25th, a Friday, they are given a spot on an evening cruise boat called the Royal Iris, known locally as the "Fish and Chip Boat".  For a bit of relaxation, folks would make their way in the evening down to the Liverpool Pier Head, board the boat and be treated to a leisurely cruise around the wide Mersey estuary for 3 and a half hours.

The organizer of this particular cruise is Ray McFall, owner of the Cavern Club, so the popular Beatles are a natural fit to bring on board the younger crowd.  They will play the cruise after their lunchtime gig at the Cavern, of course.  Mr McFall also books a popular English clarinettist called Acker Bilk.  (Acker is Welsh slang for something like "pal" or "buddy".)  Bilk is a part of the still flourishing Trad Jazz movement in Liverpool.  His signature sound is a laid back low register clarinet that can be heard on his "Stranger on the Shore".  Bilk is meant to bring on the parents and older siblings of the Beatle fans.  With a little luck, it will mean a handsome payday for impresario McFall.  I can just imagine what John Lennon thought of this kind of excursion.  "Next, they'll be asking me to wear a suit and tie onstage!"

This is the first of four "Riverboat Shuffles" organized by McFall at which the Beatles will perform.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

1961 One Off Covers

August 13-20, 1961

One has to wonder what were the Beatles attitudes toward their careers at this time.  On the one hand they are making pretty good money doing something they obviously love.  On the other, there is a lot of work involved in what they do and anyone who has been in a long term musical relationship with other people knows that conflicts are sure to arise.  Looked at from one perspective, they could seem to be stuck in a bit of a rut.

They are playing this week four times at the Cavern, where their teenage following is becoming a rabid Beatle army.  The other places they play are St John's Hall, the Aintree Institute and Hambleton Hall., where fighting, fueled by the high energy music, often breaks out.  They have played all these places many times before  and to the same audience of local kids.  They have to be wondering where all this will  eventually lead.  They won't be young and happening forever.

The list of songs they are doing at this time is heavy with the very popular Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard.  But there are lots of artists whos songs they cover rarely and they are of interest, too.  They cover some pure American country songs like All Over Again from Johnny Cash, road house barn burners like Watch Your Step by Bobby Parker and very treacly pop songs like A House With Love In It from (believe it or not) Vera Lynn.  This is the fundamental source of  their amazing talent for catchy arrangements.  They are learning how to give anything a "Beatle spin" and make it sound great .  Wonderful training, indeed.

The songwriting talent is still largely beneath the surface, but there can be no doubt, the diverse selection of material is developing that subconsciously, too.  As a young man, Hunter S Thompson typed out the entire text to The Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms, hoping to gain an insight into the process of creative writing.  Seems a somewhat absurd approach, until you really think about it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sound Reinforcement

August 5-12, 1961

Cavern Club, Cavern Club, Cavern Club!  The Beatles play here six days out of seven this week.  There is a special all night show at the Cavern on the 5th, where the Beatles share the bill with a popular dixieland jazz trumpeter named Kenny Ball.  (I couldn't keep from tapping my foot to that youtube.  Be sure to listen for that hollered "Yeah!" going into the last verse, which makes the song for me.)  Must have been quite a diverse audience at that one.  Obviously, the Liverpool Cavern hasn't let go of its jazz music past.

On Monday, the 7th, they also appear at Litherland Town Hall.

I haven't really said much about how the Beatles amplified their electric instruments, so here's some info on that topic.  They must have been spending some of their hard earned cash on equipment because they are using some relatively good stuff.  Of course by today's standards, it is pretty marginal, unless you are into the vintage sound, but at the time, I'm sure it was adequate to knock the socks off the kids at their shows.

John, as always in the lead, is using what has become a classic (like his famous Rickenbacker), a tube (there was no solid state yet) Fender Deluxe amp, also called a "Tweed".  George is using a Gibson GA-40  Both of these amps are rated at about 15 watts, but they can really make some noise when cranked up..  These amps were put out by their respective guitar makers who understood that they wouldn't sell many new-fangled electric guitars without something to play them through.  In 1961, there are no amplifiers designed for bass amplification so, McCartney is playing through a barely adequate (for bass) Selmer Truvoice Stadium amp, which had been previously owned and used by George Harrison.  It is also rated at 15 watts.

If you are interested in this kind of thing, all of the above links are worth exploring.  But highly recommended is, a very fine site where you can research the equipment the Beatles are using at any point in their entire career.  Really well done.