Randy Holden – Population II (1969)

Randy Holden - Front
A few weeks back when I spoke to Ty Segall about his new band Fuzz, he told me one of the major influences for the project was Randy Holden’s 1969 proto-metal LP Population II. Being unfamiliar with the album, I immediately sought it out and wound up coming across countless stories and tales of what is largely considered to be one of the finest albums from the early days of heavy psychedelic music.

After performing in a slew of bands like the Fender IV, Sons of Adam, Ugly Things and The Other Half, as well as a stint on Blue Cheer’s 1969 LP New! Improved! Blue Cheer, Holden formed the aptly titled Population II along with drummer Chris Lockheed, who uniquely played both drums and keyboard simultaneously. “Population II” also refers to the special kind of Star Group cluster type, which includes Heavy Metal in its composition.

It was also at this point that Holden obtained a sponsorship deal with Sunn amplifiers, from whom he received his legendary sixteen 200 Watt amplifiers that make up the deep caterwauling guitar tone heard throughout the record. With the amps wired in parallel, Holden and Lockheed recorded the album in an old opera house, bridging the gap between psychedelia and heavy metal in a display of sludgy stoner rock that sounds like Jimi Hendrix high on booze and quaaludes (more so than usual).

What happened next is a bit of a sad story. Due to some financial difficulties, the album never saw an official release and led to Holden’s management company selling his beloved Sunn amplifiers and Gibson SG Deluxe. Population II eventually made its way into the hands of collectors in various bootleg forms over the years, with a limited issue LP released in 2005 and a remastered CD in 2008. After this nightmare, Holden retreated from the world of music and relocated to Hawaii where he became a boat salesman. However, at the urging requests of a loyal fan, he recorded Guitar God in 1994 and released Guitar God 2001 in 2001, followed in 2008 with the release of Raptor.

Randy Holden – “Guitar Song”

Larry Coryell – “Foreplay” (1972)

“Foreplay” is included on fusion guitarist Larry Coryell’s 1972 album, titled Offering. What’s special about this album is that it was released right before the debut of his band Eleventh House, and saw Coryell delivering some of his most inspired, unrestricted playing, ever. The all-star lineup of players features Coryell on guitar, the Great Steve Marcus on soprano sax, Mike Mandel on keys, Mervin Bronson on bass and Harry Wilkerson on drums. Coryell’s scorching solo knots and ties itself through distorted, cacophonous licks and sweet, buttermilk melodies. Worthy of a thousand listens.

Ambient Alarm Clock: Acoustic Monday

This week, Ambient Alarm Clock returns to the radio show format with a short playlist to get your week started. In this edition, the focus is ‘Acoustic Music.’ I hope you enjoy and have a great week.

1. Doc Watson – Matty Groves
2. Bert Jansch – Black Waterside (written by Anne Briggs)
3. The Barr Brothers – Old Mythologies
4. The Allman Brothers – Little Martha
5. Tony Rice – Freeborn Man
6. Neil Young – Goin’ Back
7. Oysterhead – Birthday Boys
8. Django Reinhardt – Crazy Rhythm
9. Andres Segovia – Rondo
10. Big Bill Broonzy – Somebody’s Got to Go
11. Jerry Garcia (solo) – Gomorrah

Miles Davis – A Tribute to Jack Johnson

A Tribute To Jack Johnson (album cover)

A Tribute To Jack Johnson (album cover)

After writing yesterday’s article, The Evolution of Trey’s Tone – Part II, I began thinking further about the factors that have influenced Trey’s most recent tonal change.  It is clear that at certain points in Phish’s career they have been influenced by certain musicians more than others.  However, there are certain influences that have constantly remained present in Phish’s playing.  A Tribute to Jack Johnson by Miles Davis is one of those influences.  Completely improvisational, and featuring only two songs, both over 20 minutes, this album  is one of the finest pieces of music ever recorded.

In 1971 Miles released A Tribute to Jack Johnson as the soundtrack to a documentary about the boxer Jack Johnson. The album defines jam music in the realest sense.  Miles’ band at the time featured Steve Grossman on soprano sax, Michael Henderson on bass, Herbie Hancock on the organ, Billy Cobham on drums, and the legendary John “Mahavishnu” McLaughlin on guitar. A stellar lineup to say the least.

The story goes like this: McLaughlin, Cobham, Grossman and Davis had scheduled a recording session at Columbia studio in New York. As per usual, Miles was late, and so the band began improvising without him. Herbie Hancock, who happened to be in the building at the time, was brought in at the last minute to play organ. The producers began recording, and when Miles showed up late, he liked what he heard. He stepped in the studio, and at 2:19 on the first track “Right Off” Miles begins his solo.  The album includes the recordings that occurred at Columbia studio on April 7, 1970 mixed with some of Miles’ solo recordings from 1969.

Miles Davis 1971 (J. Perrson)

Miles Davis 1971 (J. Perrson)

The music is a raw sounding improvisational form of fusion jazz.  Characterized by Miles’ outside modal playing and McLaughlin’s gritty guitar sound, Jack Johnson borders on funk-rock.  This album has always been one of my favorites, as it takes the listener on a transcendent musical journey. The chaotic highpoints blended together with the melodic plateaus provide contour to the musical landscapes.  The playing is tight yet highly exploratory. 

Jack Johnson, above all, is a timeless piece of music.  Even though it was released in 1970, the music sounds as though it is brand new.    The playing on the album was extremely groundbreaking, as it brought the spirit of both rock and funk music to jazz.  Using electric instruments in this fashion was nearly unheard of  at the time.  Very few, if any, jazz musicians were using distortion effects such as the one used by McLaughlin on the album.

The first song “Right Off” begins with an edgy, funky groove.  The groove never quite leaves the song, as it delves into ambiance, before returning back to finish the song off. The second song “Yesternow” lifts the bass line from James Brown’s “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”, and features some alternate musicians, such as Dave Holland and Chick Corea, in parts.  Miles’ playing on both tracks features some of his most complex and tightest music ever recorded.  This piece of music is loaded with energy blurring all lines between musical genres.

John McLaughlin

John McLaughlin

Beginning with Silent Way in 1969, and then Bitches Brew in 1970, Miles introduced a highly innovative sound to jazz music.  Using electric instruments and accompanied by a guitar, Miles’ bands were a cross between jazz, rock and funk.  Although not as commercially successful as the prior album Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson exhibits what many feel is the finest playing of all three. In a 1995 interview with Addicted to Noise, Trey said the following with regard to the album:

“Right now I think Miles is probably the cutting edge in every stage along his career. I’ve been really heavily influenced by this Miles Davis album, A Tribute to Jack Johnson. John McLaughlin plays on it, and he plays really differently from how he normally plays, he’s in a great space on that album, and I think that’s really affected me a lot, that whole kind of style. And Miles influenced a lot of these rock bands, like the Dead or something.”

Interesting little factoid: The intro music to disc 2 of A Live One is part of “Right Off”.

Listen to “Right Off”, the first track off Jack Johnson. Pay close attention at 2:19 as Miles comes in with his soaring modal solo (if you are unfamiliar with the modes check out our article on them: Modal Exploration). Give this one a bit of time to load, its quite long, but well worth it.

Also, in 2004 Trey recorded a session with Herbie Hancock at the farmhouse. Below is one of the recordings from that session showing some of the same type of improvisational playing as is heard on Jack Johnson.

Something Old for Something New

Because this blog is new, I wanted to start with something old. In 1958, in some barn, a slick young country picker was performing. That picker would later become known as one of the greatest guitar players ever, with a famous line of guitars named after him. Chet Atkins truly was a master of his craft and his nimble finger work makes his playing look effortless.

Chet Atkins marks the type of musician that existed in the early days of recorded music. Musicians had fully honed their crafts, and seeing them live was an exhibition of remarkable talent. People approached music like a blue collar job—they worked hard at them, and were humble about it. Chet always wore a suit, and he never flaunts his incredible talent. His playing, and especially his picking, is considered to be some of the finest in the business.

Chet was born in 1924 in rural Luttrell, TN to a very poor family. He has said that because his area was so rural, there was no one else to play with. As a result, he compensated by developing a unique style of picking that allowed him to play the rhythm and melody at the same time. He bought his first guitar from Les Paul for $25 and would practice in a bathroom at his local school.

Chet had no electricity in his house, and so he would have to go out and find a plug in order to play electric. He has received 14 grammy awards, and is known as Mr. Guitar. He pioneered the famous “Nashville sound” on guitar, which has inspired countless guitarists. Willie Nelson says that he is the single most influencial musiciain in Nashville, ever. Cheers Chet, to a true country gentleman.

Watch this video of Chet playing Black Mountain Rag, a classic fiddle tune.


Today’s Phish note:Today marks the “less than a week” until Phish are back on tour point, and it is safe to say emotions are in high gear awaiting this next run of shows. As Phish returns to some of the finest venues in the nation, we wait, anxiously, for what is to come. Today is also the anniversary of the show from Nectar’s from 7-25-88. Two songs from that show, “Sanity” and “Icculus” would later make it onto the studio release of Junta.