Monday, 9 November 2015

Jefferson Airplane/Starship: Solo/Live/Compilation/Hot Tuna/Great Society Albums Part One 1966-1978


















The Great Society featuring Grace Slick : Assorted Recordings

As a general rule, we've taken the 'extra' bits in this book to include merely what Jefferson Aiplane/Starshippers got up to in their spare time on their own, in addition to live albums and a few choice compilations. What they did in their own time with a whole other band is up to them and left there, otherwise this book would be another hundred or so pages long and by the time we wrote it there'd probably be another endless stream of Jefferson spin-off bands to write about anyway (Hmm, The Jefferson Bicycles has a ring to it doesn't it?!) However, The Great Society are our one big exception: unlike, say, Jorma's jazz trios or The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation this band had a major impact on the Jefferson Airplane sound and in starring both Grace Slick as lead singer and featuring the two most famous Jefferson Airplane songs in their repertory are essential hearing for Airplane fans.

This band's history is even more complicated and convoluted than the Airplane's and hard to condense to a paragraph, but here goes. Grace and her boyfriend Jerry Slick were keen music lovers and were there for the red letter day when Marty's club The Matrix opened with Jefferson Airplane's debut gig reportedly blowing everyone away and being raved about in the papers the next week. The pair instantly wanted to start their own band, with Grace replicating Signe's sassy stage presence but, typically, going a stage further in aggression. Jerry was the drummer, his brother and aspiring songwriter Derby was the guitarist and mutual friends David Miner became a co-vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Bard DuPont became a bassist and Peter Van Gelder played flute and saxophone. Naming themselves after a failed welfare reform in the States in the post-war 1940s led by Lynon B Johnson, the band made their debut at San Francisco's North Beach on October 15th 1965 and soon developed a following, not quite as big as the Airplane's but big enough to get a recording contract with Autumn Records (the small local label the Grateful Dead also signed with the same year). The future Sly and the Family Stone leader, still working under the name Sylvester Stewart, was the band's producer - but not for very long. While the Airplane could be loose at times, the Society were even looser than label-mates the Grateful Dead and it took multiple takes to record their material (allegedly 109 takes for Derby's song 'Someone To Love', which with a slight change to 'Somebody' will become the Airplane's biggest hit).

The fact that the band didn't last very long before breaking up (just over a year before Grace's departure to join the Airplane) coupled with the group's minor impact outside San Francisco and Autumn's smaller budget mean that the Great Society recordings were released in a very haphazard manner. Officially in their lifetime the band only ever released one single: the fun stomping Derby Slick song 'Free Advice' (which sounds like early Big Brother and the Holding Company' with Grace ooh-ing over a powerful, slightly psychedelic and rather silly beat as Derby sings) with 'Someone To Love' on the back (the song is played like a ballad with drums, slowed down to the tempo somewhere approximating 'Today' and with a slight sense of an Indian raga in the way Grace sings the words). However the band had recorded a full thirteen songs - easily enough for an album - that went unheard until as late as 1995. In the meantime, Grace's sudden success with the Airplane led to record label RCA to have a check through their vaults - and they found by chance that they'd taped a live album at Marty's own Matrix club in 1966 (possibly alongside a planned Airplane set although what happened to that goodness only knows). Released at the peak of Grace's fame in 1968, it sold rather well for an archive set and the record company released a second volume soon after out of odds and ends that wouldn't fit on to the running time of the first record.  Both sets were re-issued under the name 'Live At The Matrix' listed here. While clearly very raw, all these recordings are actually very listenable and share a lot of the same excitement and magic as the early improvisatory-heavy Airplane

. Although Grace isn't quite at full throat throttle yet she's already a very good singer and Derby Slick is clearly a talented writer who deserved much wider success than simply being known for his brother-in-law's ex. 'White Rabbit' is by the way not just only the most famous song in the band's setlists but easily the best, an extended instrumental 'Bolero' like jam opening the start of the song to hypnotic effect so that the listener is already 'spent' before Grace even starts singing her controversial, memorable lyrics. Annoyingly though, and typical of this band and their lost opportunities, they never recorded a 'proper' version of Grace's new tune - alas all that exists is a cracking live version from 1965. The Great Society sounded like a band to watch, much like the Airplane had been, but sadly not all great bands get the chance to make it; thankfully the existence of these rare great albums (especially the studio set) gives us the chance to compare and contrast the two bands, the archeological equivalent of finding a roman villa next to an Egyptian temple. The Airplane still win on points, thanks to their sheer power and the brilliance of the guitar, vocals, bass and drums, but it's closer than you might think.

1) "Conspicuous Only In Its Absence"

(Columbia, Recorded '1966', Released '1968')

Sally Go Round The Roses/Didn't Think So/Grimly Forming/Somebody To Love/Father Bruce/Outlaw Blues/Often As I May/Arbitration/White Rabbit 'The eyes are wide and black and acid clear'. The first volume of Matrix recordings, from either the end of June or early July 1966, packaged with a clever title and a nice portrait of Grace in green with the other band members behind her in yellow. The sound is remarkably good for such an early, primitive recording and at times sounds like a studio set, with only a smattering of applause in between each track from a very quiet crowd. Released more or less in the order the set was played, the band take a while to warm up but are stunning by the end of the second half. Grace Slick's star presence starts here. Three tracks to download: closer 'White Rabbit' is a stunner, a wild Big Brother style intense jamming session with the lead passing over between the guitar and the sax which lasts for a full intense four minutes before Grace hits the first note. Faster and more frenetic than the Airplane version, its closer to the 'new eave' style re-writes of the early 1980s but played on psychedelic instrumentation. It's easily the best thing on any of these albums and a real peak for American psychedelia as a whole, if not quite beating then possibly even drawing the compact two minute Airplane version. Elsewhere Grace's early song 'Don't Think So' points the way forward to the moody ballads of her solo career and seems to be an early damning portrait of her first husband and her worry of having to follow someone else. 'Often As I May' is a happier Slick song, more like the pop of 'Starship' that would have slotted in nicely on 'Takes Off!' 'Grimly Forming, by the band's flute player, is a great song too - very Airplaney in its paranoid angry twists and sudden 'falls' into some lovely musical moments.

2) "Volume Two - How It Was"

(Columbia, Recorded '1966', Released '1968')

That's How It Is/Darkly Smiling/Nature Boy/You Can't Cry/Daydream Nightmare/Everybody Knows/Born To Be Burned/Father
The second volume of the Matrix days  isn't quite as good - certainly it's not as original with Grace sounding like she's pretending to be Signe on these folky-Beatley pop numbers. There are also many more cover versions this time around Three tracks to download: The spacey 'Daydream Nightmare' is a hypnotic near-instrumental with an occasional gruff Derby lead and Grace playing lead on a recorder. The funky 'Born To Be Burned' is very in line with what Signe was singing on 'Takes Off' with its bluesy style although it's an original song. The pretty acoustic song 'Father' isn't that great as a song, another Big Brother style 'novelty' record, but it's key as the earliest example of Grace's lifelong attacks on religion and its gently rolling melody isn't in fact that far removed from 'The Ballad Of The Chrome Nun' in 1973.

3) "Collector's Item" aka "Live At The Matrix"

(Edsel, Recorded '1967', Released '1971' and again in '1989')

Sally Go Round The Roses/Didn't Think So/Grimly Forming/Someone To Love/Father Bruce/Outlaw Blues/Often As I May/Arbitration/White Rabbit/That's How It Is/Darkly Smiling/Nature Boy/You Can't Cry/Daydream Nightmare/Everybody Knows/Born To Be Burned/Father
A straightforward re-issue of the two above albums, first as a double vinyl LP and then as a single disc CD.

4) "Born To Be Burned"

(Sundazed, Recorded '1965', Released '1995')

Free Advice/Someone To Love/You Can't Cry/That's How It Is/Girl/Where?/Heads Up/Free Advice/Father Bruce/Born To Be Burned/Double Triptamine Superautomatic Everlovin' Man/Love You Girl/That's How It Is/Right To Me/Where? #2/Free Advice/Daydream Nightmare-Love Still the one Great Society set to have - as long as you download 'White Rabbit' as well. Yes the band are all too clearly nervous and are not a 'natural' studio band in the same sense the Grateful Dead never were. But in here somewhere is a cracking album that never was right on the cusp of folk-rock and psychedelia and alternately falling one way then the other.  Guitarist David Miner proves to be the band's hidden weapon, the writer of a majority of the material and while it's not 'White Rabbit' good it's so much better than what most bands were making even in this period. Key tracks to download: 'That's How It Is' is a pretty Beatley ballad with a nice melody and some cracking Grace harmony vocals even if the lyrics could do with a bit of a polish. David's pretty song 'I Love You Girl', with Grace's recorder accompaniment, is another gorgeous Beatley ballad. Grace's otherwise unavailable 'Heads Up' is an early go at 'Two Heads' with that Big Brother style stomp again, with Grace singing a retro fifties rocker with real aggression. Finally, who could speak against 'Someone To Love?' Yes this version of the song is much 'safer' than the Airplane, without any of the added power or menace Grace later brought to the song and the band are clearly struggling to keep it together even after 109 takes. But it's already a great song even without it's future coat of pretty colours and the band deserved to be big stars from this recording alone, senselessly released as the B side rather than the A side. It could have been all so different - and no doubt there'd be a 'Great Society' book in the AAA canon as well instead of a mere chapter. 

"Live At The Fillmore 1966"
(Document Records, Recorded November 1966, Released '2014' )
CD One: Plastic Fantastic Lover/High Flying Bird/Bringing Me Down/DCBA-25/Go To Her/My Best Friend/White Rabbit/It's No Secret/She Has Funny Cars/3-5ths Of A Mile In Ten Seconds/The Other Side Of This Life/Tobacco Road/JPP McStep B Blues/She Has Funny Cars/Fat Angel/Plastic Fantastic Lover/In The Morning
CD Two: 3-5ths Of A Mile In Ten Seconds/White Rabbit/Plastic Fantastic Lover/In The Morning/Let Me In/High Flyin' Bird/She Has Funny Cars/Today/It's No Secret/My Grandfather's Clock/The Other Side Of This Life
"Time goes on and I don't know just where you are or how I'm going to find you"
A surprise late entry to this book - which has led to rather a lot of hurried re-writing of both our unreleased article and our index! - revives the Jefferson archives series some seven years after we left off and goes back right to the very beginning.  Subtitled 'We Have Ignition', this double disc set covers the Airplane a couple of weeks on from Grace's debut with the band and captures the band at a particularly fascinating point in their history. 'Takes Off' and folk songs are still the backbone of the setlist but there are a total of six songs here that will be recorded the following year for the classic album 'Surrealistic Pillow'. All sound a lot more timid than the bedded in material the band have been playing with Signe and Grace is muted compared to her later strident vocal parts, but the band have already meshed in well with a heavier, powerful sound and a handful of great performances. Highlights include a surprisingly slow and still faithful-to-the-folk-original 'High Flyin' Bird', an early preview of 'DCBA_25' which by contrast sounds rocky and raw compared to the record, a slightly more woolly and wandering 'White Rabbit' more like the way the Great Society played it and an astonishing seven minute version of 'The Other Side Of This Life' - not as psychedelic and out-there as some performances to come, perhaps, but still way ahead of it's time for the Thanksgiving Weekend 1966. A fascinating set, both because of Grace finding her feet within the band and the fact that only about half of this setlist will last in the Jefferson's live show for much longer, this is a nice set for fans and recorded in gorgeous sound too, even if the band are a tad slow and down on sheer oomph throughout most of the gig. Why did it take so long to come out?

"Live At The Monterey Pop Festival"
(Document Records, Recorded June 1967, Released '1989' and '1991')
Somebody To Love/The Other Side Of This Life/White Rabbit/High Flying Bird/Today/She Has Funny Cars/Young Girl Sunday Blues/The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil
"My whole world is in an uproar, my whole world is upside down, I don't know where I'm going next but I'm always bumming around"
Unlike so many of the 'big success' stories of the Monterey Pop Festival (Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix) Jefferson Airplane were already a big name with two hit singles and two hit albums behind them by the time they the stage of the world's first real outdoors rock and roll festival. The headliners of Saturday June 17th 1967 - the middle of the three day event - the Airplane turned in one of their best shows (this band always seem to thrive on pressure and big crowds). Their set is an excellent one full of the past, ('High Flyin' Bird' - a rare performance with Grace rather than Signe) the present (the band were still riding high in the charts with 'Somebody To Love' and 'White Rabbit') and the future (the band take the brave move of playing two new songs that won't be out for six months yet - its interesting in fact that both 'Young Girl Sunday Blues' and 'Ballad Of Pooneil' have been written at all this early on in the band's career). Still young enough to be hungry for all the fame and applause before the cynicism begins to set in at the end of the year but old enough to be at their tight powerful peak, the Airplane but on a mesmerising show. Marty is at the end of his peak as the band's role model but Grace is at the start of hers(with Paul not far behind) and the vocal interplay across this show is mesmerising at times. The instrumental work isn't far behind either, with Jorma on particularly fine fettle to the point where his psychedelic solos sound other worldly (small personal aside - while I've bought the whole set since I first got to know half of this concert thanks to the excellent 20th anniversary re-broadcast of eight odd hours' worth of Monterey performances on radio one, about the last time they catered for 'my' tastes despite being within their demographic. Having dubbed the show to cassette I listened to it endlessly - to the point where the tape broke and started playing 'backwards' during 'The Other Side Of This Life' - so mesmerising and other-worldly (and long!) is the instrumental break in that song that I didn't notice for a full two minutes; it's that kind of a topsy-turvy show!)
 'The Other Side' is indeed the highlight of the set, played more aggressively than usual even by this band and snapping left and right like a car with understeer as the band hang on for all its worth to get to the end. 'High Flyin' Bird' too is hypnotically powerful - no wonder they used that track (and 'Today') to represent the Airplane in the D A Pennebaker film of the event as Marty and Paul out-stare and out-dare each other throughout the song (you wouldn't have caught poor Signe doing that!) However everything from this set is wonderful, the band switching from fierce rockers to singalong pop to pretty ballads to radical reinventions of rock and roll all under a running time of 40 minutes. Jefferson Airplane at perhaps their highest altitude with one of the world's most exciting band's most exciting concerts which even the slightly muddy sound (even compared to other Monterey acts) can't ruin. This show, last heard of back in the early days of the CD era, desperately needs re-issuing again sometime soon for younger fans, although it's worth mentioning that five of the songs appear on the various artists four CD Monterey box set originally from 1997 and re-issued with different packaging but the same tracks in 2013 and a two-CD various artists set from 2007 that includes 'Somebody To Love' and 'White Rabbit', both of which are far more common for collectors.

"Live At The Fillmore East"
(RCA Victor, Recorded May 1968, Released '1998')
Intro-The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil/She Has Funny Cars/It's No Secret/Won't You Try?-Saturday Afternoon/Greasy Heart/Star Track/Wild Tyme/White Rabbit/Thing/Today/The Other Side Of This Life/Fat Angel/Warch Her Ride/'Closing Comments'/Somebody To Love
"We got busted here last time we came, which might be why it's taken so long for us to come back. We were on the turnpike in New Jersey, looking worried..."
Released on near-enough the 30th anniversary of the local San Francisco gig taking place, this live album captures the Airplane somewhere in the middle of their transition from folk-psychedelia in 1967 to rock powerhouse in 1969. With 'Crown Of Creation' still four months away, the band's setlist is in transition with previews of Grace's 'Greasy Heart' and Jorma's 'Star Track' to go alongside most of the usual highlights heard from the Airplane's 1967 shows. As so often happens in Airplane gigs of this period, there's also an exclusive jam session which never turned into a 'proper' song and is here dubbed 'Thing' - it's one of the better examples around, although it's not quite good enough to warrant taking up a full eleven minutes of the concert. As usual with the band, it's hard to say how well they play - the Airplane go from being totally on top of everything, to six players all playing different things, to making mistakes to suddenly sparking off into some jaw-dropping solo within the space of the same song, never mind across the entire 75 minute concert. I can say though that this is a good gig for Jorma, Jack and Spencer in particular who have really meshed into a great rhythm section by now - it's Paul, Marty and Grace who struggle a little to keep up. Highlights include a nicely together 'Won't You Try?>', a rare if rather chaotic 'Wild Tyme' and a 'Greasy Heart' with a magnificently fat guitar sound even if Grace is uncharacteristically breathless. Everything else comes across sounding slightly half-cooked, but then that's half the fun of these Airplane shows - the band were so on the edge and every show was so different that it's an inevitable side effect of the band's setlists that there'll only be on it at full wattage a few times across the show. Not exactly essential then, but a nice souvenir, nicely matched with the Egyptian front cover (with a Cleopatra type clutching a guitar) which hints at the mystery and other-worldliness within.

 "Bless It's Little Pointed Head"
(RCA Victor, Recorded October 1968, Released February 1969)
Clergy/3-5ths Of A Mile In Ten Seconds/Somebody To Love/Fat Angel/Rock Me Baby///The Other Side Of This Life/It's No Secret/Plastic Fantastic Lover/Turn Out The Lights/Bear Melt
CD Bonus Tracks: Today/Watch Her Ride/Won't You Try?-Saturday Afternoon
"It wasn't the Airplanes, it was beauty killed the beast!" or "You can listen to a thousand different reasons why you can't go" or "We are flying at an altitude of 39,000 feet!"
Like many a San Franciscan band before them, the divide between the Jefferson Airplane on record and in concert was getting bigger all the time. By the band's tour in late 1968 they'd really turned into a fine fluid live band, driven by Jack's powerful bass, lifted on Jorma's flying guitar solos and with a three-way vocal soar that few other bands could match. While you could make claims that the gentler 1967 and the even heavier 1969 tours were better, 1968 was still a great period with the Airplane still enough of a band to tackle their trickier, most complex songs and with lots of 'exclusive' songs still in their setlist that never made it to record - not until this album anyway. Even more astonishingly, the Airplane are still full of such confidence and fizzing with such tremendous creativity that they are regularly making songs up on the spot: that's where this album's 'Turn Off The Lights' and 'Bear Melt' came about, although sadly a Marty improvised classic from the same era didn't make it to the album. All of which means 'Bless It's Little Pointed Head' is a great little live set, harder-edged and louder than the band ever were on record and in many ways it's a last hurrah for the Airplane as a fully functioning 'band' - from this point on both Marty and Spencer are preparing to leave and great as the post-'Volunteers' Airplane are they never again had quite the same telepathy as here.
Of course 'Pointed Head' will still be a shock for fans who only know 'Somebody To Love' and 'White Rabbit' and run straight here seeing as 'Pointed Head' is about the only Airplane release to receive glowing reviews right across the ole' board. It's a much more raucous and raw Airplane than the studio incarnation even at their most out-there, with the band's more ferocious no-holds-barred side left free to wander and roam around the stage. Only 'Blows Against The Empire' features more in terms of pure noise than this album and that came with melody as well - in true Airplane style the whole of this record is 'real', which means that on their journey you get a view not just of the pretty mountain peaks but the troughs and valleys as well. Few live albums fall apart quite as consistently as this record does and nay-sayers would no doubt complain that the band were under-rehearsed. There's also precious little Marty even here, though thankfully that's corrected to some extent on the CD bonus tracks with an exquisite 'Today'. But then that's not what 'Pointed Head' is trying to do: this is a record about seeing how adventurous and far-reaching the band can be and the mistakes and collapses in the journey are as much a part of this story as the destination. If you're new to the Airplane then the eleven-minute made up on the spot 'Bear Melt' may well be the most worst Airplane recording you've ever heard - but if you stuck with the Airplane journey long enough to get how brave and powerful this improvisation is, how unadulterated and unedited the act of creativity flooding through Grace, Jorma, Jack, Paul and Spencer is, how much this song represents everything that made the Airplane both ghastly and great, then it may yet become your favourite 'song' (although 'song' hardly seems the right word in context).
In many ways this is the most 'Airplane' of all the band's records. That quirky title, paraphrased by Grace from a piece by Roman poet Phillip Whalen, celebrating differences and sarcastically side-swiping prejudice with layers of irony, is the madcap anarchism of 'Baxters' run wild. That cover, with a massive banqueting table spread out of something posh, but then taken over by the sight of Jack hungover and out of it clutching a bottle of something strong, is  a very Airplane image (it also gives rare recognition to the fact that, particularly live, Jack was the heart and soul of this band, the shy and taciturn bassist musically turning into a bedeviled monster who chases everyone else round the stage waiting to pounce; it wasn't meant to be the cover, it was a jokey 'preliminary' shot at a launch party for 'Crown Of Creation' taking place at the band's mansion). The opening track 'Clergy' isn't really a new 'song' at all but audience noises heard beneath an audio clip of the film King Kong in which the band effectively tell the crowd that the 'real' change to be made in society is up to them not the people on stage ('It wasn't the Airplanes, it was beauty killed the beast!')  The track listing too reflects not just late 1968/early 1969 but all eras of the band: the folk-rock beginnings of 'It's No Secret' (but with a rock engine attached to the back), the psychedelic years with an astonishing 'The Other Side Of This Life', 'Somebody To Love' transformed from cute singalong pop single into a death-or-glory struggle between the light and the dark, 'Plastic Fantastic Lover' turned from quirky knees up into a boxing match, '3/5ths Of A Mile' turned from a snarky hippie put-down of capitalism into a howl of pain that can be heard way past the back row. As for the 'new' songs 'Rock Me Baby' is perhaps the lowest moment in the set, a Jorma blues song that doesn't really get anywhere and isn't up to his other songs of the period (it's great for the Hot Tuna audience who come to expect this sort of thing, but too slow for a boogie-ing Airplane audience who've just been driven to their feet). 'Fat Angel' is a Paul-led Donovan cover the band had been doing since their earliest days, mainly because of the name-check they got in the song ('Fly Jefferson Airplane, gets you there on time!') - about the only listenable Donovan song there is although even his original is rather embarrassingly twee without Airplane power. Jack plays rhythm guitar for once, Marty plays bass. 'Turn Out The Lights' is Grace going all music hall, improvising a song to get the lighting engineers to follow her instructions to put the band and audience into darkness so they can think. And finally 'Bear Melt' is a snaky, psychedelic improvisation with Grace's sub-conscious working on over-time as Jorma Jack and Spencer go from 0 to 60 in the space of seconds.
The result is an album that won't be for everyone: for detractors it's evidence that the Airplane are loud, unfocussed, undisciplined and sloppy. For fans it's evidence of the same thing, but with kudos for all the courage it takes to let yourself truly go into that 'other' place on stage and all the freedom that represents. There never was a band like the Airplane and even they couldn't keep it up, with the wheels gradually falling off the wagon (or the wing struts falling off the plane) as the years go on. However 'Pointed Head' is a worthy souvenir of a period when the band could no wrong, even when they were doing wrong if that makes sense. Exquisitely recorded, this is one of those rare albums that offers modern fans like me who never got the chance to see the band live an insight into what was happening on stage and which is an album to be treasured, quite unlike any other concert album ever made. 

 Skip Spence "Oar"
(Columbia, May 1969)
Little Hands/Cripple Creek/Diana/Margaret-Tiger Rug/Weighted Down (The Prison Song)/War In Peace/Broken Heart/All Come To Meet Her/Books Of Moses/Dixie Peach Promenade/Lawrence Of Euphoria/Grey-Afro
"I am in pain!"
Nothing about Skip Spence's career was straightforward and the same goes for this album. Ignored on release, laughed at for being 'weird' by the few people who bothered to listen to it and sinking like a stone (mainly because Skip couldn't promote it - he'd been committed to an insane asylum at the time) 'Oar' has now come to be seen as the work of a fragmented genius unappreciated in Skip's own lifetime. Much like the renaissance of the careers of Nick Drake and Syd Barrett in recent years, it's a tragedy that more fans didn't see the worth of these albums in their creator's own lifetime (when they could have done with the royalties). Can the same album really be this good and this bad all at the same time? Well, yes and no. Skip's deeper voice is tough to take without any harmonies from either the Airplane or Moby Grape to soften the blow and his Syd-like love of breaking all rules (even the ones that make music easier on the ear - such as sticking to the same key or only changing the tempo every few bars instead of every one) is wearing on the ears. You can see why so many fans would have 'missed' this album at the time. However Skip was always an under-rated writer and while his lyrics get more and more surreal, his melodies if anything get prettier. What's more this album isn't quite as far 'gone' as people think it is - unlike Syd who couldn't or wouldn't play by other rules the basic songs here could easily be covered by other artists and 'normalised'  in the way that so many Bob Dylan covers sound largely normal (indeed, a popular tribute album 'More Oar' does just that and is much easier to hear all round).
To be honest had this record been made in other circumstances it wouldn't have much of a splash at all - most of it is pretty but pointless folk-rock closer to the archness of 'My Best Friend' than the joy of 'J P P McStep B Blues' or 'Blues From An Airplane'. However as a listening experience the mixture of Skip's struggling hoarse vocals and the occasional lucid, emotional song can be a powerful listening experience. 'Saints' and 'Demons' are at war throughout the album's lyrics as Skip tries to take the side of the one before being over-ruled by the other, with the music taking on the resemblance of a fight. Just take album highlight 'Diana' where Skip can barely spit his words out: 'Oh Diana these tears fall like rain, oh Diana I am in pain!' This isn't mere descriptive singer-songwriter blocking either - Skip really does sound like he's in pain. Skip, who so folk legend has it recorded all of this album in his pyjamas, is a long way past the point of no return and unlike even Syd's sudden return to health in 1970 (when his two solo albums were made) you kind of know that there's no way back from Skip's drug-addled schizophrenic torture. This is a tough album to listen to, and a tougher album to make, and it isn't always as worthy of our time as some fans say it is ('Margaret-Tiger Rug' would be nonsense whoever recorded it, the ten minute 'Grey-Afro' might be interesting but the decision to treat Skip's voice with echo and overpower it with drumming means we'll never know and only Skip's influence gives it any weight, whilst 'Broken Heart' might well be the worst cowboy-style song in musical history; Lee Marvin without the irony). However there's much to love as well: as said 'Diana' is truly moving even without the baggage that comes with this record's background, the acoustic song 'Weighted Down' is stunningly beautiful as if all sorts of folk songs have been boiled down to their simple essence, and the eerie 'War In Peace' sounds like The Byrds having a meltdown. I'm still not quite sure what I think of 'Oar', but then I'm not quite sure really is anybody knows what 'Oar' is all about apart from it's creator and this is clearly one of those records best labelled 'not for everyone'. However there's clearly a talent in there, as unhinged and deranged as it might be and I weep for the lost opportunities that drugs and ill health took away from this kind and talented man. This book should be full of Skip's solo records, perhaps even an Airplane reunion or two and it's one of rock and roll's saddest ironies that Skip's fame only spread after he died so the hapless drummer, who spent the last few years of his life homeless and penniless, never got to hear just how talented he was. Unavailable and forgotten for so many years, Sundazed finally re-issued the album in 1991 and again in 1999 with ten more bonus tracks between them. ost of these unfinished bits and pieces aren't very interesting but a few are well worth hearing, such as the fun 'It's The Best Thing For You' (the most 'normal' song of the lot) and the soulful fragment 'I Think You and I'.

"At Golden Gate Park"
(Charly, Recorded May 1969, Released October 2006)
The Other Side Of This Life/Somebody To Love/The Farm/Greasy Heart/Good Shepherd/Plastic Fantastic Lover/Uncle Sam Blues/Volunteers/White Rabbit/Won't You Try?-Saturday Afternoon
Hidden Bonus Tracks: Jam/We Can Be Together/3-5ths  Of A Mile In Ten Seconds
"Now it's time to finish your dope!" "What do you mean finish? It's never finished!"
Jefferson Airplane's homecoming San Franciscan set on May 5th 1969 was always a bootleggers favourite for good reason - despite having been clearly recorded by a taper in the audience, complete with pops and crackles in the recording, this is vintage live Airplane. This version is in the grey area between what's still a bootleg and is 'official' - for the record this is a legitimate release on a legitimate label, although the Airplane themselves have had no say in releasing it (there's some tedious technical detail under the recorded rights under the copyright act, but all you need to know is that there was just enough of a loophole in the law for this set to come out which the band can't challenge; although by the same token you won't see this set listed on official discographies). Recorded three months before Woodstock, the band aren't quite as tight as there and are in fact their usual sloppy selves for long passages of the set. However the sheer joy of being able to hear a full 80 minute set from the less covered year of 1969 (including the earliest available live version of 'Volunteers' almost six months before release as well as previews of 'Good Shepherd' and seemingly the only live version of 'The Farm' to exist) is still a delight, flawed or not. Marty at the start of his last tour with the band is on especially good form, the effort he puts into his parts at odds with the usual story that he was fed up with the band at this time and them with him. A fascinating 'The Other Side Of This Life' starts things off in brilliant fashion, a tad faster and slightly more 'normal' than the psychedelic arrangement performed in 1967, with other highlights including a tasty version of 'Greasy Heart' and a 'Won't You Try?' that's less of a rollercoaster ride than the Woodstock version, with less falls but less peaks as well. Only a hideous version of 'Somebody To Love' slowed down to a blues crawl and a rather dull and actually unlisted ten minute jam that starts off too slow lets the side down.
Curiously the CD compilers have added three bonus tracks in total, unlisted on the sleeve, that are amongst the best things here: a blissful 'We Can Be Together' which is more about the brotherhood than the revenge and swearing and a snaky '3/5ths Of A Mile In ten Seconds' which is somehow faster yet more in control than usual. All in all a good set and a welcome one that should have been released officially whether the artists owned the rights or no (surely there should be an addition to the law whereby if a member of an audience recorded you the tapes should still belong to you even if you weren't the ones with the tape recorders - preferably with the addition that all these recordings become public property anyway after a set certain number of years; the Grateful Dead and fans can manage all that so I don't see why everyone else can't).However you can tell that this tape has been cruedly cut to get it to length: Grace baits Nixon ('Dick's in the White House!') and Paul announces 'Mexico' before the band instead swing into '3/5ths' and the CD also ends mid-sentence as Kantner promises 'another song' which sadly never comes.


"The Woodstock Experience"
(Sony/Legacy, Recorded August 1969, Released June 2009)
Note: this is a two-disc set with the CD Re-Issue of the album 'Volunteers' as the other disc complete with bonus tracks
'Introduction'/The Other Side Of This Life/Somebody To Love/3-5ths Of A Mile In Ten Seconds/Won't You Try?-Saturday Afternoon/Eskimo Blue Day/Plastic Fantastic Lover/Wooden Ships/Uncle Sam Blues/Volunteers/The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil/Come Back Baby/White Rabbit/The House At Pooneil Corners
"Now you have seen the heavy groups it's time for morning maniac music, yeah believe me, it's a new dawn...good morning people!"
'The Woodstock Experience' was a range of double disc CDs  featuring all the acts who performed at the August 1969 festival that Sony could get the rights to (others inclue Janis Joplin and Santana), with a release not only of the whole unedited concert by each band but the 'period' studio album as well. Sometimes in the series that principal comes unstuck (some bands only perform their 'new' release anyway) but in the Jeffersons case that actually works quite nicely as the tie-in album is 'Volunteers' released three months down the road which contains much of this stage set's spirit if not many of the actual songs  (there are in fact just two 'repeats' and as one of them is the highly charged 'Volunteers' itself made famous from the film of the event that's no bad thing). Performed at 'breakfast time' (actually 5 am!) on the Sunday morning after delays the night before meant they couldn't fit the second day's headlining act in anywhere! Not that the bleary-eyed crowd in the film seem to mind: the Jeffersons always did well at big events (they played better as the crowds got bigger - the opposite of rivals the Grateful Dead) they were generally agreed to have aced it at this festival and along with CSN, Hendrix and Joe Cocker vocally murdering The Beatles were much talked about as the 'big hit' of the festival. The band are on great form too, joined unusually by guest pianist Nicky Hoplins (who appears with practically every AAA band at one time or another, though his most famous Jefferson moment is the title track of 'Volunteers').
Grace is particularly on fire as she delights in her role as the nation's counter-culturalist icon and even though the visuals reveal just how wiped out of it on something the singer is, the audios don't agree; this is a spiky, aggressive, tremendously exciting performance. Only poor Marty, increasingly sidelined as the band's career does on, has any reason to feel aggrieved, relegated to just four lead vocals not shared with the others which only goes to show how marginalised the band's founder had become by 1969 (he'll only get two lead vocals on 'Volunteers').  At least he's in the film this time though, unlike 'Monterey' when the camera stared at Grace mouthing the words all the time he was singing! For almost the last time, though, the Airplane are still a 'band' firing on all cylinders when needed, highlighted  by the thrilling hippie anthem 'Won't You Try?' heard at its best as in true Airplane fashion it nearly falls over several times with the six players going their different ways before suddenly magically reuniting them all somewhere towards the end in a wonderful mesh of togetherness and brotherly love. It may well be the most 'Woodstock' moment actually performed at 'Woodstock'.
What's more the Jefferson set is one of the better value released in the series. Most bands were restricted to about an hour that August weekend but partly as a 'sorry' to being messed up the day before and the earlier-than-billed start the Jeffersons got to play for 90 minutes (sadly a bit of a pain as the concert is split between the two CDs but great value for money all the same). Whilst quite a lot of this set has come out before ('Volunteers' is on the various artists double set 'Woodstock', 'Eskimo Blue Day' and 'Won't You Try?' on 'Woodstock Two' and 'Volunteers' 'Won't You Try?' and 'Uncle Sam's Blues' are all featured in the director's cut of the film), fans have had to track down many different sources to hear it, so it's nice to have it all in one place. Two songs remain largely exclusive to this set as well: 'Come Back Baby' and 'Uncle Sam's Blues' are both Jorma songs unreleased in the band's lifetime, the former since released on the 'Surrealistic Pillow' CD but the witty draft-dodging second track was only ever played live across 1969 and only ever released here. All in all an excellent release even for those who already own 'Volunteers' and one of the better 1960s Jefferson live releases around. And just think - maybe if we chant really loud we can forget that the reunion album never happened. No reunion! No reunion! No reunion! No reunion!...

"Live At The Family Dog Ballroom"
(Charly/Snapper, Recorded September 1969, Released October 2007)
The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil/Good Shepherd/We Can Be Together/Somebody To Love/The Farm/Crown Of Creation/Come Back Baby/Wooden Ships/Volunteers/Jam
"We are obscene, hideous, dangerous, dirty, violent, lawless - and young"
Taped a month after Woodstock and two before 'Volunteers', this live recording features the Airplane at an important time in their career. While the show is perhaps not as tight as some and tends towards longer, sloppier jams overall its one of their better live sets, with an especially hard rock and roll adrenalin coursing through the band's veins throughout (especially Spencer whose on great form tonight driving the band ever onwards) and some of the band's more daring material. The opening 15 minute 'Pooneil' is the best live version of the song around, knocking spots off the woolly 1967 version intended to kick-start the 'Baxters' album and ending up into some lyrical fragments from what will become 'Blows Against The Empire' in a year's time, heard here long before that first Starship project ever got off the ground (and great to hear a s historical moment, never mind a musical one!) That's easily the highlight of the set, but there are other strong performances to enjoy: a rare performance of 'The Farm' played with good-natured bonhomie, a nicely tight 'Crown Of Creation' that doesn't get as out of hand as some live versions around and one of the better 'Wooden Ships', a fraction slower than even the 'Volunteers' version. Only the closing self-indulgent 26 minute jam is truly bad and even that isn't quite as bad as some - just a bit uninspired and a good twenty minutes too long. Poor Marty is clearly being sidelined in this period - he gets no actual lead vocals although he shares the spotlight a few times - but fans of the Grace 'n' Paul period will like this set a lot and it's ever so nearly the last hurrah for the 'classic' Airplane line-up. To date the last in the Airplane archive concert series released (the now ten year gap makes it unlikely there will be anymore) is easily the best, though still a shade behind both the Monterey performance and the 'Bless It's Pointed Head' set for sheer power and consistency.


"Sweeping Up The Spotlight: Live At The Filmore 1969"
(RCA/Legacy, Recorded November 1969, Released '2007')
Volunteers/Good Shepherd/Plastic Fantastic Lover/Uncle Sam's Blues/3-5ths Of A Mile In Ten Seconds/You Wear Your Dresses Too Short/Come Back Baby/Won't You Try?-Saturday Afternoon/The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil/White Rabbit/Crown Of Creation/The Other Side Of This Life
"I'm going out of my mind - baby!"
A live performance of the band on their 'Volunteers' tour, a few weeks after that album's release, this is the last available recordings featuring the 'classic' Marty 'n' Spencer line-up. Like many a Jefferson live release it has it's great and ghastly moments (often within the same track) but is perhaps on balance a little behind the other releases of 1969 and not all that different from them (if you combine 'The Woodstock Experience' and 'Family Dog' you virtually have this show anyway). Jorma seems on especially good form at this show, with an added bite and power into his guitar solos and the addition of two rarely heard songs at this gig (a much quicker and sharper 'Uncle Sam's Blues' than the one played at Woodstock and a nicely grooved-in 'Come Back Baby' without the speed or fireworks of some but intense and lengthy all the same. Marty gets 'his' improvisation to go alongside Grace's 'Bear Melt' in 'You Wear You Dresses Too Short' - previously released on the 'Jefferson Airplane Loves You' box set - but it's a nicer idea than it is a song, especially dragged out to nine torturous minutes. Marty sounds as if heart really isn't in this band any more, in fact, which makes it all the more understandable why he leaves so soon afterwards, although on the plus side at least he gets a few lead vocal this time unlike 'Family Dog'. Overall, however, despite several strong moments, this is clumsy by Airplane standards: even old war horses like 'Won't You Try?' and 'Pooneil' sound under-rehearsed and are at times a struggle to sit through even for an Airplane fan with a season ticket like me. Still, if the Grateful Dead can get away with releasing so many similar gigs from their career then we can surely forgive the Airplane this one and it's a shame that their 'archive' series seems to have ended after the release of this set - some more shows, especially from the 1966-68 period would be highly welcome.

 "The Worst Of Jefferson Airplane"
(RCA Victor, November 1970)
It's No Secret/Blues From An Airplane/Somebody To Love/Today/White Rabbit/Embryonic Journey/Martha/The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil//Crown Of Creation/Cushingura/Lather/Plastic Fantastic Lover/Good Shepherd/We Can Be Together/Volunteers
"It's no secret how strong my love is for you, it's no secret - because I love you yeah I love you!"
Only Jefferson Airplane could nickname their first best-of 'the worst of' but they are joking through - I think. Apart from sheer cheek and the usual ruffling of feathers the title probably came about because this is basically a 'singles collection', including every A side (and most B sides) the band released during their first four years together. In one sense it's a 'worst of' because as every fan knows you can't find all the magic of a band as eclectic as the Airplane into one three-minute single and in another it's the 'worst of' because only two of these releases ('Somebody To Love' and 'White Rabbit') ever charted, which might make this one of the lowest hit ratiod compilation record of the 1960s (well, technically 1970 but you know what I mean). However forget all that - the music is almost all wonderful whether it sky-rocketed up to the top of the charts or sank like a led zeppelin to the bottom and stayed there. All the songs that every decent Airplane set need are here  along with some of their better known rarer songs from the wonderfully dramatic 'Blues From An Airplane' to the sheer out-there ness of 'Pooneil' to the prettyness of 'Good Shepherd'. Only the instrumental 'Cushingura' (perhaps added to give drummer Spencer Dryden some royalties on a par with the others) seems out of place, while having these songs in the order they came out would have been nice.
Still, this is an impressive compilation with a full 46 minute running time (long in the days of vinyl) and at the time seemed an ominous one: with Marty and Spencer both gone, Paul and Grace expecting a baby together and Jorma and Jack spending more time speed-skating than making music it seemed as if the end was nigh. It wasn't, not quite, but this seemed as good a time to look backwards as any and the compilers seemed to realise it too with some witty Airplane-themed artwork fully in keeping with the ethos of the band (RCA dusted off the old 1920s 'His Master's Voice' logo for the set, whilst the billboard logo for the album featured an early 20th century jet planted into the ground like a 'family tree'!) The compilation ended up doing what all good compilations do - introducing the band to a whole new audience who'd either missed or been too young for the psychedelic years and became a firm favourite with the 'second wave' of Airplaners. AS a result the compilation is one of the few Jefferson best-ofs to make its way to CD - twice in fact, in 1997 and again in 2006 with the bonus tracks 'Greasy Heart' and 'Watch Her Ride'.

"Hot Tuna"
(**,  *** 1970)
Hesitation Blues/How Long Blues/Uncle Sam Blues/Don't You Leave Me Here/Death Don't Have No Mercy/I Know You Rider/Oh Lord Search Your Heart/Winnin' Boy Blues/New Song For The Morning/Mann's Fate
"Cracks in the sand pulled me into the sea, washed my cares away"
While Paul and Grace were trying to save humanity in the future via a sci-fi epic, Jorma and Jack were being much more grounded with a live LP no less from a band who didn't yet have an audience. Created as a spin-off that could give Jorma and Jack the chance to play 'blues songs' closer to their natural interests, the band was given an opening slot in many Airplane gigs and were an obvious signing to the Airplane's new record label 'Grunt' (designed to show off as many factors of the band's sound as possible, though in the end only Paul, Grace and Papa John ever used the label down the years for the purposes it was built). At the time it very much wasn't an attempt to 'split' the band  - in fact it was one way the Airplane though they could dodge what had happened to so many other bands and allow them to reunite every year having got various 'distractions' out of the way first. At the time Jorma and Jack making an album away from the band was as natural as Paul making one with Grace.
In many ways this 'Hot Tuna' record is unlucky in having come out hot on the heels of such a well-regarded classic as Paul's 'Blows Against The Empire'. The fact that two such records could be released as the spin-off of the same band in the same year says much for how the Airplane were splintering in this time: half of California appeared on 'Blows', a record with two pull-out booklets packed with squiggles and unused ideas that's something ofg a musical banquet; 'Hot Tuna' was recorded with just Jorma and Jack with harmonica player Will Scarlett the only addition to their band of merry men, a tuna sandwich best taken between more substantial meals. Those who saw Hot Tuna play as the 'warm-up' band for the Jeffersons will have known what to expect but to anyone else this record must have been a shock: while Jorma's contributions to the band often verged on the bluesy, they'd never been quite this full-on before. Interestingly this first Hot Tuna record is an all-acoustic affair: virtually all later Tuna albums will be 'plugged-in'.
To be honest this self-titled debut record lacks later album's 'electricity' in all meanings of the word: it's not that this album is boring, but having only two, sometimes three musicians playing very similar blues songs with very similar dynamics and arrangements does make this one heavier going than later records. Having so many cover songs (Jorma only writes ** on this first LP) also means that there's less of a 'vision' here; less of a sense of what Hot Tuna can offer outside the band other than old blues standards warmed up for the present day. For the moment Hot Tuna are very much the younger, jealous brother of the Airplane not getting the attention it craves: the fact that Jorma and Jack chose to make a 'live' album their first release says much about how this record was done on the 'cheap' and to take up as little time (and as few songs) as it could. Jorma is in fact on a creative roll, with his songs for 1971's Airplane LP 'Bark' some of his best, but you wouldn't necessarily know that from hearing this record. In the end the biggest difference between this record and 'Blows' is commitment: Kantner had never sounded more alive than he did imagining the future: Jorma just sounds like he's having a bit of fun before a more interesting project comes along. Jack, meanwhile, barely gets a chance to be heard: his powerful bass rumble sounds less 'right' here than it does here rooted to the ground than it did propelling the Airplane to the stars and in addition it's mixed far too low (a lot of the Airplane records are built around the bass, which is why they sound so good, for the most part, compared to their contemporaries).
That said there are at least three things that make this record worthwhile. The first is how much of the spotlight it sheds on Jorma, a vastly under-rated talent who really shines now that he's been given the chance to effectively have a full album to himself. We always knew he was a sensational, groundbreaking electric player - the surprise is that he's a sensational, groundbreaking acoustic player too (the two don't always necessarily go together). Considering that this album is life, it's impressive that he doesn't put a foot wrong throughout. The second plus point is the presence of Will Scarlett who is more than just a funny name: his blues harmonica is excellent throughout this record, in actual fact the closest thing on this record to 'pure' blues (at times Jorma sounds too excited to be a true blues player). The third plus point is the semi-regular traditional song 'I Know You Rider'. A regular in the set-lists of many AAA bands (including The Grateful Dead and The Byrds), this driving folk tune has never sounded better than it does as a simple acoustic blues pared back to the bones as a trio for guitar, bass and harmonica. While a lot of the other material sounds more ordinary, this song is worth the price of the album alone. Whether by coincidence or several weeks of fevered thought, you can also tell a difference between the two sides: the down-trodden sadder bluesy first side (where most song titles end in 'blues') and the more hopeful second side, the album gradually passing from blackest night to brightest day if you listen to it in order, something that if deliberate is rather clever (and if not is simply very lucky!)
The traditional ** 'Hesitation Blues' sets the tone for most of the album: a tricky acoustic blues that Jorma handles with aplomb about a man who keeps hesitating when he's on the verge of a good thing. The audience seem to like it, with quite a few cheers, and there's a terrific middle instrumental section when Jorma and Jack suddenly speed up to double time, but by Jorma's Airplane standards this is decidedly ordinary stuff.
After a brief question about whether the monitors are really working - how typical of Hot Tuna that they should keep this bit on the record! - Jorma and Jack combine on the slow 'How Long Blues'. A blues of the 'how long since the sun went down?' bad luck type, this song gives Jack more to do than usual but isn't the greatest thing either of them have ever put on record. Jorma seems to have stepped away from the microphone too (or is it that pesky monitor confusing him about how loud he's singing?) making this one of the less appealing moments on the record.
'Uncle Sam Blues' is a Jorma original well known to fans who'd seen the Airplane live over the past year (you can see the full band playing an electric version on the director's cut of the Woodstock' film, although it sounds rather better here). An angry put-down of the Vietnam Draft, this song was originally something of a blues parody with lines like 'Uncle Sam ain't no woman, but he sure can take your man!' but is sung straight here. Scarlett's harmonica playing is the highlight of the recording, even breaking out into the sound of a police siren at one stage while Jorma, on the run, tries to stay one step ahead of him. Jorma's written better songs than this, though and this track is conspicuous by its absence from the Airplane's 'Volunteers' album suggesting they didn't rate it all that highly.
'Don't You Leave Me Here' is a more reflective folkier song that sounds like something Pentangle would have done rather well. The narrator wants to make an old lover jealous:  'I never had one woman at a time' he admits to us, 'but if you see her tell how I had eight or nine'. That seems to have done the trick - by the end of the song he's been invited over 'to taste my fricassee'. A clever song with a nice riff and lyrics a cut above the album average.
The horrifying 'Death Don't Have No Mercy' is one of the bleakest songs in the entire AAA catalogue, telling how death can strike at any time, rich or poor, man woman or child, often without warning. In The Grateful Dead's hands it was the sombre warning snuck into the band's late setlists in between the rockier songs; Hot Tuna is slightly more upbeat, turning the song into a light jazz-folk-blues fusion that's almost jolly. Casady's bass purrs like a kitten throughout, but his death rumbles go unheeded by Kaukonen's guitar-work, which sounds like he's having a Sunday stroll.
The glorious 'Know You Rider' (usually titled 'I Know You Rider') is head and shoulders the best song here. Jorma's fast-flying acoustic guitar is perfect for this breezy traditional folk song and Scarlett's harmonica is eerily telepathic in guessing where his acoustic runs are going to be. Slower and more reflective than cover versions by The Byrds and the Dead, it's a pretty little arrangement of a great song about never being denied and looking forward to better times in the future, when 'the sun gonna shine in my back door some day'.
'Oh Lord, Search My Heart' is a spiritual that runs for a full 45 seconds before Jorma sings. Telling us that he usually knows right from wrong, Jorma's narrator admits that for once in his life he's confused and that his head and heart are pulling in two very different directions. The bass and guitar do seem to pull in two different ways across this song, which is another of the album's better tracks.
Winnin' Boy Blues' is a slightly irritating song about a smug bloke whose good at everything in life - one of the 'David Watts'es of the world if you're a Kinks fan. The melody is nice, though, with some more excellent ensemble playing.
'New Song (For The Morning)' is another of the album's better songs. The narrator is torn between two lives with two different women and is forever looking to spending time away from one or other of them. Given Jorma's immediate future writing about the Airplane as if it were a 'couple' breaking up, it's tempting to view this song as being about the two different pulls of the Airplane and Tuna. 'Looks like you're here to stay' Jorma sings to his 'first' girlfriend, happily at first but then with annoyance, while the chorus says that he can't decide between them: 'What am I gonna do?' However there's hope by the end of the song as new love blossoms from sad beginnings: 'like flowers from under rain'. The result may well be Jorma's best song of 1970, Airplane or Tuna** is it his song?**
The curiously titled instrumental 'Mann's Fate' comes not only with an extra 'n' but also with a more urgent, explosive sound which makes this song the closest here to the traditional Airplane power and drive. Jack especially sounds much happier on 'home' territory and turns in his best playing on the album, while Jorma is as fast and capable as ever - the two truly showing off a telepathic bond. Like many instrumentals, though, this one would have sounded better still with words.
'Hot Tuna' is far from an essential purchase if you're a Hot Tuna fan, never mind an Airplane one, with much better yet to come from the duo. However there's much to be said for a debut that's bravely taped live in front of an audience and while most concert recordings are never recorded in the order re-created on vinyl, this one sounds as if it is, in which case it speaks volumes that the second half is infinitely better than the first. Hot Tuna's just taking a little time to heat up, that's all, and much more is to come.

"Papa John Creach"
(Grunt/RCA, December 1971)
The Janitor Drives A Cadillac/St Louis Blues/Papa John Down Home Blues/Plunk A Little Funk/Over The Rainbow//String Jet Rock/Danny Boy/Human Spring/Soul Fever/Every Time I Hear Her Name
"I really don't fear a whole stormy day, and then again I never run from sun to shade"
Welcome to our story Papa John. Guest with Hot Tuna, honorary Airplaner on 'Bark' and now the first 'guest' artists on the band's 'Grunt' label, the by now 54-year-old Creach must be the oldest rock and roll musician ever to start their solo career - certainly amongst fiddle players! Papa John will be a recording regular up to the end of his life in 1994 and almost all his records will feature the same template featured here: funky violin-driven instrumentals, bluesy originals featuring Papa John's rather effective weather-worn voice, the occasional curio cover just to remind us that Papa John's influential teenage years were spent with the Tin Pan Alley songbook and the occasional guest star just to keep us on our toes. This time round that element is filled by none other than Grace Slick, who duets with papa John on the fiery opening track 'The Janitor Drives A Cadillac', a clever song about class and social structure written by the Airplane's old drummer Joey Covington (who was his first contact within the band). Even though Papa John released eight solo records in all and played with many great bands, it's arguably this opening track on this first album for which he's best remembered - it became his only chart single peaking at #14 in the Billboard charts. Joey naturally guests on his own track alongside another two songs on the album, while other guests on the album include Paul, Jorma, Jack, future Hot Tuna drummer Sammy Piazza and playing bass on the 'Janitor' sessions is future Jefferson Starship member Pete Sears - Grace and Papa John got on with him so well that he remembered his name when putting the band together in 1974. Other album highlights include the funky if slightly moany 'Papa John's Down Home Blues' (co-written, like many of the album songs, with Roger Spotts who'll go on to co-write 'Milk Train' with Grace and Papa John), the Hot Tuna style instrumental 'Plunk A Little Funk' (which is way better than 'Wild Turkey, with lots of great Jorma guitar) and Spotts' traditional sounding crooner ballad 'Human Spring', which sounds like more of a standard than the album's true 'standards'. Talking of which all of the songs pre-dating 1960 are sadly horrendous: the instrumental version of 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' sounds like a bad night at a school talent show and is a cover only a munchkin could love, and a most peculiar 'Danny Boy'. Still, if Papa John's 'on the fiddle' for some of this album and takes the easy way out, who could blame him after waiting so long to make the record he wanted to make? Overall, this is one of the better Papa John records, though not the best like so many say (mainly because it's the only Creach album they know), featuring a typically eclectic and variable quality set that's great and ghastly with every throw of the dice.
(HT): First Pull Up, Then Pull Down (1971).................................
Hot Tuna "First Pull Up, Then Pull Down"
(**,  *** 1971)
John's Other/Candy Man/Been So Long/Want You To Know/Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning/Never Happen No More/Come Back Baby
"The way we've been doing things, babe we can't do that no more"
Hot Tuna album number two is a much more serious attempt at a 'standalone' career away from the Airplane. As that year's album 'Bark' and the song 'Third Week In The Chelsea' will show, Jorma for one was fed up of the mind games being played and the way the band seemed to be on permanent hold. Hot Tuna, once a hobby made to keep things fresh and interesting with the parent band, now seems like an alternative career. While both Jack and Jorma will stay with the Airplane until the end of the next year, you can tell that they're putting at least as much effort into this record as they did to that year's 'Bark'. Jorma and Jack and Will have plugged in and gone electric as well as hiring the services of the Airplane's new friend violinist Papa John Creach as well as new drummer Sammy Piazza. The result is a much heavier, tougher sound which isn't quite so reliant on Jorma and gives different members of the band a chance to shine. The material is still very much based around old blues songs but thanks to the 'heavier' playing these now sound like they have more bite to them and sound very different to the originals as opposed to slightly. For now the band are still playing live rather than in the studio, but by now the band have such a 'full' sound they can get away with things they couldn't on the first album (although there's even less audience noise this time). The result is a much more entertaining album all round, one which sounds like Hot Tuna have a proper date with destiny rather than \a spot of flirting.
Many fans have commented that 'Bark' would have been a far better album had Paul and Grace not been saving all their best songs for 'Sunfighter'. The same applies here: while only two songs are original compositions that's still higher odds than on the first album** (if only because this album has just seven tracks!) 'Been So Long' is better than all of Jorma's compositions for the Airplane that year bar 'Chelsea' while Papa John's instrumental 'John's Other' - presumably titled because it was John's 'other' song aside after 'Wild Turkey' included on 'Bark' - is a much more interesting number than his first. Even the cover is more interesting, a dotted sequence of dots gradually extending to crosses and kisses designed by Jack which is very like the doodles the Airplane used to do circa 'Baxters'. The one thing that isn't quite there yet is the running times: each of the seven songs have a tendency to ramble compared to the first album's pounce and whole all seven songs are in themselves rather long the album as a whole is rather short. With only seven songs for an album each one has to be first-class for an album to be truly special: 'First Pull Up' is only half there, with one too many instrumentals and the rather bland 'Want You To Know', which is the sort of thing you fritter away with on a B-side rather than dedicate a precious seventh of your all-important second album to. Jack's bas is still mixed awfully low too, drowned out now by Papa John's violin and Sammy's drums as well as Jorma's guitar even if he does now get top billing on the record (which isn't just alphabetical or Creach would be next not Jorma).  Still, you can see why the band would want to stretch out compared to the restrictions of the Airplane (who only ever got this carried away with running times on live albums) and the fact that the band are playing more or less live (something the Airplane were doing less and less) does give this record a frisson of excitement that the quirky, inventive, under-rated 'Bark' can't match.  The result isn't perfect but is one of Hot Tuna's better albums, with a soul and energy that belies the ancient age of many of the songs (and indeed the players: Papa John was in his 60s here).
John's Other' is the finest of the three songs Creach gets sole credit for in this book, an eight minute instrumental that's a cross between a fiddle jig and a 12 bar blues. Jorma is a whole new player now that he has another 'lead' musician he can bounce off rather than a rhythm section and his distortion-drenched leads are a delight. Like many instrumentals, though, this one goes on far too long and would have been better still with some words attached.
'Candyman' is one of five songs by the Reverend Gary Davis that Hot Tuna recorded and a rather more obscure choice than 'Death Don't Have No Mercy'. Like many AAA songs about a dealer offering up sweets, the candy is probably made of stronger stuff than sugar (and yes he was a real vicar before you ask!) This isn't the best version of the song around: everything seems to be a bit chaotic to be honest with the band not quite up to speed with the material (it's a hard song to play with an irregular time metre and lots of stops and starts).
'Been So Long' is the album highlight, a mournful Jorma original about his current career crossroads. He's feeling 'lost' and has for years, having once had 'something special to give'. All he wants is to see his loved one 'smile' like they used to and be asked to 'stay' but everyone seems to be lost in their own problems. The song must surely be written about the Airplane, given the similarities with 'Third Week In The Chelsea' and the references to 'losing direction' (which make more sense when in the context of a band named after a mode of transport). The music, however, is much tougher than 'Chelsea', sounding more like 'Feel So Good' though not quite as tight (and with a heavily rambling instrumental section). It's a good song well played, though, with Creach getting something to do other than screech.
Bo Carter's 'Want You To Know' is a lesser song, a simple gutbucket blues livened a little by some heavy drumming and some bouncy violin work. With barely any lines, this is the kind of song you learn early while trying to master an instrument - and then never play again once you've got the hang of it.
Rev Davis is back again for 'Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning', extended by Hot Tuna into an eight minute showstopper. A more overtly Christian song than the others, it's loosely about the importance of faith and how it can never be taken for granted. An unusual song which isn't quite heavy enough to rock or melancholy enough to be 'pure' blues, it does suffer from Hot Tuna's worst excesses of dragging out a good idea to double its natural length but the guitar-drum interplay in particular is rather good.
Never Happen No More' is the shortest track on the record at 3:42 and sounds more like the first album, an acoustic blues by a blues guitarist named 'Blind Blake'** that takes a full 90 seconds for the vocals to kick in and doesn't even go anywhere interesting then. Jack's bass is at last the rumble of old, though, and this song is the sort of thing he can really get his teeth into.
The album ends with the whopping ten minute 'Come Back Baby', a favourite of Jorma's that he'd been playing with the Airplane throughout most of their career and once recorded with them for 'Surrealistic Pillow'. You can see why Lightnin' Hopkins' song should have fascinated Jorma so: it's hypnotic riff and relentless urgent lyrics are very much rock and roll ** years early and the template is loose enough that the song can be performed in a variety of ways. This is the 'slow' version, stretched out past breaking point, compared to the short and snappy fast-paced Airplane one. The song will be heavy going for any Airplane not deeply steeped in the blues but is one of the best things on the album, with a nicely tough gritty feel to it.
Overall, then, 'First Pull Up, Then Pull Down' is an interesting album - not exactly essential but with more of a 'flavour' of Hot Tuna than the first LP and clearly released as a more 'serious' career trajectory. Jorma shines as brightly as ever and Papa John is at his best and anyone who enjoys Jorma's bluesier material in the Airplane could do a lot worse than give this album a listen. 

 Papa John Creach "Filthy!"
(Grunt/RCA, October 1972)
Filthy Funky/No More Country Girls/Don't Tell It To No One/Mother's Day/Walking The Tou Tou//Everyone Wants My Good Thing/Far Out/Give Me An Hour In My Garden (And I'll Show You How To Plant A Rose)/Time Out For Sex/Up In The Valley
"There ain[t no country girl no more - think they all done got hip!"
Papa John's second is a typically wide-ranging mix of blues, rock, funk, folk, blues and jazz that will either thrill or confuse Airplane fans. Though nowhere near the fiddle player's best work, it is perhaps the best introduction for curious Airplane fans, without as many throwbacks to Papa John's roaring twenties youth and with the bonus of a Hot Tuna guest appearance on the track 'Walking The Tou Tou' (also played by the Airplane in concert in 1972). The songs are also slightly more 'complete' than usual, thanks to the presence of lyricist Roger Spotts, who collaborated with Papa John and Grace on the Airplane's 'Milk Train' the same year. Many of these songs are in a similar vein, which is really odd to be honest with the by now fifty-five-year-old milking the euphemisms of 'Rose Garden' and the not-even-that-covered-up 'Time Out For Sex' for all they're worth. Neither are quite as convincing or as memorable as 'Milk Train' but both are OK. Instead the album highlight is the most retro song on the album, the charming 'No More Country Girls', a wistful Hot Tuna-style blues with jazz overtones which really suits Papa John's world-weary vocal and with guest harmonica by the nearest to a contemporary to ever appear on a Creach album: Harmonica Fats aka Harvey Blackston (a mere decade younger - but till twenty-odd years older than the Airplane at the time). Yes there's plenty to love on this album, but also more trying fiddle instrumentals or near-instrumentals than normal which will try even the patience of an Airplane fan. Also, as hard and as funky as the band try to be they don't quite achieve it as well as on later Papa John albums: this is one of those albums that just isn't quite 'filthy' enough.
(HT): Burgers (1972)............................................................................
Hot Tuna "Burgers"
(**,  *** 1972)
True Religion/Highway Song/99 Year Blues/Sea Child/Keep On Truckin'/Water Song/Ode For Billy Dean/Let Us Get Together Right Down Here/Sunny Day Strut (H)
"We see each other in confusion, wonder why we came today"
Released hot on the heels of the Airplane's last long player, 'Burgers' - the third Hot Tuna album but their first studio set - is very much intended as the release of a band going places and there's a lot less rambling and a lot more musicianship packed into these nine songs. The line-up is much the same for once, although sadly Will Scarlett on harmonica has bailed out (perhaps only four could fit into the car depicted on the front cover?!) Recording in the more forgiving, finessed constraints of the studio Hot Tuna don't have to play quite so loud so much of the time and at times sound like a completely different band to the first two albums, more concerned with the lyrics than the instrumental jams around it. For all the softer sounds, however, 'Burgers' still comes with the same heavy undisciplined roar of most of 'Silver', even the ballads. Part of this is the presence of Papa John who plays on everything - whether suitable or not - partly it's the presence of so many songs based around riffs compared to before and partly because someone in the mixing desk has finally discovered that, yes, the Airplane were right and Jack really does sound better when his bass is up LOUD!!!
This is Jorma's album, though, the greatest showcase yet for his talents and he shows off all sorts of skills we didn't know he had before - he doesn't warble these songs, he sings them cleanly; his guitar doesn't just fly in fast sparks like the days of old, his more careful acoustic picking is every bit as good; best of all his songs reveal a major development in his songwriting. Jorma puts a lot more energy and passion into this record than he did on 'Long John', with a full six songs to his name. Most of these are variations on the bluesy-rocky hybrids Jorma's best known for but some of these tracks represent a real development in his songwriting: 'Highway Song' and 'Water Song' are the start of an interest in folk-rock that will for a time rival blues as the lynchpin of the band. 'Sea Child' however is the album's best moment, a song that manages to make peace with the 'old' Jefferson sound and takes it a whole new prog rock level, the equal of anything the Starship will go on to do. This being the Tuna there are several bits of gristle in this burger again - blues covers that don't really go anywhere and a closing instrumental that once again would have been all the better with words . For the most part, though, 'Burgers' is a more than decent meal and while 'Tuna' and 'Burgers' might not seem like the most obvious bedfellows (why does this album have such an odd name?!) they result in one of the band's most successful and consistent LPs, one with more character and flavour than anything the Airplane could offer at the very end.
The album starts with 'True Religion', a Jorma original that sounds like it could easily be an old blues song. Starting with a neat 30 seconds of his lone acoustic playing, it's immediately clear that this album has a very different sound to the last one. The repetitive lyrics about waiting to die aren't the song's best feature ('I take the pill from under my head, Jesus gonna take up my dying bed'), but the musical stomp - not that far removed from Jack's title track for 'Long John Silver' - is very good. The lyrics suggests that it wasn't only Grace and Paul who were doing a bit of bible-bashing in this period either.
'Highway Song' is one of the last productions to benefit from the Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra, the 'San Francisco Supergroup' made up of various members of the Airplane, Dead and CSNY families. This time it's David Crosby guesting on a folk-rock song that's dressed up with a fierce beat from the rhythm section and a fight between Papa John and two screeching Jormas. For all that, this is a sweet little song that's musically similar to 'Trial By Fire' but with much more hopeful lyrics about having new destinations to travel to and enjoying the moment 'not worrying about tomorrow'.
'99 Year Blues' is one of the album's lesser moments, an acoustic hop by Julius David that rather plods compared to the better material elsewhere on this record. Once again this sounds like the 'twinkly bits' from 'Trial By Fire' and has Jorma mis-cast as a murderer, 'shooting at everyone I don't like at all'. Perhaps they should have murdered the violinist as well: this isn't one of Papa John's better moments.
'Sea Child', however, is tremendous, a classy song that really makes the most of the studio. Jorma's familiar jagged Airplane style is matched by Jack's glorious resounding bass and Piazza's best drumming (he's clearly more of a rock drummer than a blues one) and suddenly the 'old' sound doesn't seem so bad after all. The lyrics deal, naturally enough, with the last days of the Airplane 'everyone sat in their prisons'. Jorma's surprisingly mystical lyrics really capture Paul Kantner's spirit, although the song is more obsessed with the deep ocean than outer space. A terrific jamming session raises the song to new heights, though, until Jorma finally crashes in with a much delayed final verse that along with the Airplaney backing seems to offer some pleasing reconciliation with Jorma's past: 'Through your hair, across my eyes, the twilight shatters song' surprise, reminds me once again how nice it is to be with you'. The result is either one of Hot Tuna's greatest songs or the Airplane classics that got away.
Bob Carleton's 'Keep On Truckin' is a fun but inconsequential number about a 'mama' who 'rocks my blues away'. The band presumably chose it because of their own blues-rock hybrid roots and Papa John in particular is away on this song's tight ensemble groove playing. This is a minor rather than major work, though, with an odd second verse about the narrator's girl 'smelling of fish' - perhaps she'd bought the Jefferson Airplane record 'Bark'?!
'Water Song' sounds more like the calmer Hot Tuna of the first record, a lovely flowing folk-rock number from Jorma that's really pretty. However, like many instrumentals this one would have been better still with some words attached and sounds like its crying out for them what with the often repeated song structure. Casady's bass is great to hear, though, booming across the speakers the way it should always have been.
'Ode For Billy Dean' is the bluesiest moment on the record, not unlike the sound of Big Brother and the Holding Company, although its another Jorma original. I can't find any reference to who Billy Dean is** but he sounds like a friend Jorma knew from way back, encouraged to sign up to a war he died in (given the period probably Vietnam). Jorma seems to be suffering from 'survivor's guilt', asking him departed friend to effectively keep him honest and make sure that he has a purpose in life rather than merely surviving. Hot Tuna play out of their skins on another album highlight, enjoying the paranoid atmosphere - especially Piazza who relishes another chance to sound like a member of the Airplane and Jorma who turns in some exhilarating extended guitar solos.
If you've been wondering where the Reverend Gary Davies has gone, do not despair for the old blues writer pops up on his fourth song covered by the band, the slight but nicely hippie-ish 'Let Us Do Our Living Right Down Here'. With little more than the chorus repeated over and over this two minute dance doesn't have much time to get going but is clearly a message that resonates with a band that did more than most others to fight against petty human systems.
The album then ends on a rather down note with 'Sunny Day Strut'. While this Kaukonen instrumental starts off quite happy, it gets more and more tense as more musicians join in (especially an outrageous Casady bass line that nearly splits the song in two with every change of note). Again this song seems to be crying out for words (just imagine a vocal part where Jorma's electric part goes), with some very interesting chord changes that would have been the basis for a very interesting song.
Still, even if 'Burgers' needs flipping from time to time it does show off something of a well balanced meal of an album: instead of concentrating on blues to the exclusion of all else there's a good equilibrium between the three basic food groups: rock, folk and blues and Airplane fans who loved Jorma's guitar rattle and Jack's teeth-shaking bass will find much more to their taste across this album. I'd have liked a couple more excellent songs to turn this album into a first class gourmet meal, but 'Burgers' is still an excellent release that's loved by quite a handful of the faithful who bought it at the time (or on its first much belated CD release in 2012) and deserves to be loved by many more.

"Thirty Seconds Over Winterland"
(Grunt/RCA Victor, April 1973)
Have You Seen The Saucers?/Feel So Good/Crown Of Creation//When The Earth Moves Again/Milk Train/Trial By Fire/Twilight Double Leader
"So now I go to where I come from, now I go home to the sun"
And so it ends, the final Jefferson Airplane release of new material until 1989, not with a bang but with a toaster. What's that? Why yes I did say toaster - for this under-rated live album's biggest claim to fame is surely it's very Jeffersony front cover full of flying toasters with angel wings soaring past a cloudy sky. I have no idea why the cover fits, but it does and it's not the sort of thing any other right minded company would do is it? Well, actually, that's what computer firm Berkley argued when they invented a very popular screensaver of a toaster with wings in 1989 and they said in court when the Airplane sued in 1994 that they had no idea that this obscure album with the weird cover art existed. Understandably the judge agreed with Berkley and also ticked the Airplane off for not copyright registering their cover - their official response understandably said that they didn't think anybody else would ever think of using the same idea but them!
Despite the title, a good proportion of this second live Airplane hails from a gig taped in August 1972 at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre a month before the Winterland show (the band's last gig ever until the 1980s). It features the Airplane in disarray, on their last tour before taking off for goodness knows what and with David Freiberg and Johnny Barbata added to the line-up in place of Marty and Spencer/Joey, plus a guest spot from Papa John Creach and his flying fiddle. The band sound a little sluggish at times and group clearly lack the spirit and brotherhood of 'Bless It's Little Pointed Head' (not to mention the sheer power and oompah) and you do wonder why the band decided to record such a sad and less than perfect moment of their history for prosperity. The sound too is terrible, the band playing echoey arenas that make them sound as if they're playing down a tunnel (or possibly an aircraft hangar?!) The fact that all the best Airplane favourites appeared on that earlier album also put many fans off owning this forgotten LP. However, it is worth having despite all that, with Jorma on especially good form as he grooves out on an extended eleven minute 'Feel So Good' that's less tight but just as intense as the 'Bark' version and a great 'Trial By Fire' where the rough live edges really suit the song. Paul, though, sounds like he's having an off day, struggling through his recent sci-fi material and Grace gets barely anything to do, with just a fiery 'Milk Train' featuring her lead vocal. I understand that the band struggled to re-create the songs that used to use the Marty-Grace-Paul dynamic so well, but it seems a shame that only one song here ('Crown Of Creation') dates back further than the last couple of years back when so many interesting older songs were still in the set-list. The full concert was later released in 2007 as 'Last Flight' ('Thirty Seconds' having only ever been released on CD once, briefly, at the start of the 1990s) and arguably the wrong songs were dropped from the set: the folk song 'Blind John', an early version of 'Diana' from 'Sunfighter' and any of the fiery Papa John improvisations would all have been more interesting than what made the album, if only because they are exclusive to these run of shows. Also, 'Eat Starch Mom' ought to be here, if only for the amount of toaster-puns reviewers like me could have had. A rather insipid version of  'Twilight Double Leader' seems a particularly anti-climatic place for the Airplane's career to end after so many ups and downs along the way. Over all, then, slightly overcooked and occasionally burnt, but if you use your loaf and realise the Airplane mainly did this album to make bread/dough, adjusting your expectations in the process, you'll soon realise that this record needs to be part of your staple diet and isn't actually anything like as crusty as crusty reviewers claim it is.

"Last Flight"
(Charly, Recorded September 1972, Mixed April 1973, 000042Released February 2007)
Introduction/Somebody To Love/Twilight Double Leader/Wooden Ships/Milk Train/Blind John/Come Back Baby/Son Of Jesus/Long John Silver/When The Earth Moves Again/Papa John's Down Home Blues/Eat Starch Mom/John's Other/Trial By Fire/Law Man/Have You Seen The Saucers?/Aerie (Gang Of Eagles)/Feel So Good/Crown Of Creation/Walking The Tou Tou/Diana > Volunteers
"Gotta move out on the highway, make this moment last, till it closes with the future and evens out the past"
And so the Airplane flies off into the sunset, with a complete gig from the same final tour sampled on the 'Thirty Seconds Over Winterland' tour. The set is a useful means of hearing more of the band from one of their lesser known moments when they had David Freiberg doing Marty's parts, Johnny Barbata filling in for Spencer/Joey and Papa John Creach on occasional fiddle. This line-up of the band clearly aren't as tight or as well drilled as the Jeffersons just gone but they're still on generally good form, especially on the noisy rockers which thrash wildly away without any need for subtlety. This may be a noise, in contrast to the glorious shades and hues of the previous years, but it's an enjoyable infectious noise at least with everyone sounding pleased to be there (unlike some shows from 1969). The ballads suffer a little more, Grace attacking 'Wooden Ships' as if it's another rock epic and a brave stab at a harder-edged 'Crown Of Creation' doesn't quite come off. Three performances by Papa John is perhaps two too many (maybe even three) and we soon hear why 'Long John Silver' is such a rarely heard album live, with a rather generous helping of six songs from the record, of which only three made the original album ('Aerie' is the best of the 'new' songs, with an unfocussed 'Eat Starch Mom' and a ramshackle 'Son Of Jesus' the worst of the set). There's also not much Jorma - well, not much 'new' Jorma as so much was heard on the original LP, with only a rather clunky 'Come Back Baby' in addition to what are still the album highlights 'Trial By Fire' and an epic 'Feel So Good'. By contrast this song's semi-exclusive (or at least rarity) 'Blind John' is fabulous, Paul and Grace reprising the now rather apt traditional folk tune they first played on Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart's 'Rolling Thunder' album, with Papa John the fiddle player on tow (though for the record his eyesight is just fine). There's also a preview of 'Diana', a song later to be split in two for Paul and Grace's 'Sunfighter' album, although it's  a fragment rather than anything to get too excited about. Overall I certainly wouldn't recommend this set as your first Jefferson live experience - with the thought that if it is it will probably be your last. However the long goodbye suits the Airplane, with the band half-returning to their beginnings at the end when they played hard and fast and simple and got by on sheer charisma as opposed to daring or brilliance. With a track listing far more varied than any other Airplane live album, this is a treat for long term fans and anyone who liked 'Winterland' should love this longer extension of the album.


Grace Slick "Manhole"
(Grunt/RCA, 1973)
Jay/Theme From The Movie 'Manhole'//??Come Again Toucan??/It's Only Music/Better Lying Down/ Epic (#38)
"Seemed like it might be the right thing to say at the time, and I'd probably say it again if you give me just a taste more wine..."
Not so much a 'solo' album as the fourth in the run of Grace/Paul/sometimes David Freiberg solo projects, 'Manhole' is also the last of the 'Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra' various artists projects with appearances from David Crosby and a few names from the Jefferson past. ** Celebrated at the time as the flowering of one of the 60s greatest talents, the record's strong response seems to have caught Grace by surprise (she was already in the middle of Jefferson Starship's debut LP by the time of release). I've always been surprised by the high affection felt by fans for this album over the years too: in many ways its the heaviest going Jefferson-LP of the lot, with one near-enough side-long song that doesn't go anywhere and one song (the Kantner-Freiberg co-write ** 'It's Only Music') that doesn't even feature Grace on the song at all (even on backup vocals). None of the songs here are anywhere close to the heights Grace had so far reached with the Airplane or on the other three LPs the trio had worked on together (although 'Epic #38', another Kantner-led song, comes closest). While I've yet to hear a recording of Grace's singing being anything less than special, this album isn't the specialist. While I'm all in favour of fans liking it because they get a whole LP (nearly) of Grace, the truth she doesn't sing for long periods of the record and the long-delayed follow-up 'Dreams' (her masterpiece from 1980) reveals much more of the 'real' Grace. Compared to her usual high standards, whoever she sings and writes with, there's about as much 'art' in this album as a 'manhole' cover.
That said, there are certain things 'Manhole' offers fans that you can't get to hear anywhere else. Who else but Grace would be as daring as to release a film score to a movie that doesn't exist? (The 15-minute title track). Who else but Grace would sing part of said movie soundtrack in Spanish? (remember, it was only two years earlier Grace was singing a n entire song in German!) Who else but Grace would use an album title so overlaid with meanings ('Manhole' is actually 'about' a manhole cover, as much as its about anything, and mankind's ability to pull himself out of a darkened hole and point towards the stars but I'm sure I'm not the first fan to assume that the ever-provocative Slick was making a feminist/sexual point). Nowhere else can you hear Grace wordlessly soaring across a delightful acoustic guitar backing, David Crosby-style, as she does on 'Jay'. Nowhere else can you hear the raucous hi-fi-shredding laugh she gives at the start of 'Come Again Toucan' (which still has the power to make me jump, even when I know it's coming). 'Better Lying Down' - which is a song about sex, via dancing - isn't the only place where you can hear Grace singing about one of her favourite themes but does make good on the sketchy promise of her earlier 'Fishman', portraying her as some of saloon-bar singer. And nowhere else can you be fooled by  the many false endings of 'Epic #38', a finale which delights in making you get up to turn the record off only to have to sit down again when it bleeding begins up again (and nowhere else do you get to hear bagpipes as part of the Jefferson sound). 'Manhole' is a fun album, which bends the ideas of what the world was expecting from a first Grace Slick solo album (not least because she only sings lead on 5/7s of the record!) It's meant to be a 'second division' number - the sort of LP you take to parties to say 'have you heard this?' (not that I did at any of my parties - my friend's record players were too clogged up with Take That and Spice Girls; needless to say I didn't stay very long at any of them). It's not meant to be a fully fledged artistic statement, or the launch of a solo career, or anything but fun. Inevitably 'Manhole' is less fulfilling than the Grace-involved albums either side of it, but sometimes a snack is as good as a dessert...
The record begins with 'Jay', a lovely lilting peaceful, tranquil, blissful little instrumental where Grace rolls her voice around like an instrument over some nice sparring acoustic guitars. Presumably the song was inspired by someone of that name (or perhaps the bird) but as an instrumental we don't have enough clues: it clearly wasn't written about the Jay that I knew, or it would loud and disruptive. While evidence of what a fine singer Grace can be, this sounds more like the beginning to a nice song than a nice song itself and ultimately seems like a waste of 2:45 on a short 37 minute album that can't afford to give precious minutes away.
The title track, the 'Theme From Manhole' is a really odd song: not because of the 15 minute length (Grace's songs had been getting longer and longer during her time with the Airplane), but because it uses that time so oddly. The song doesn't slide us into the track, it gets heavy from the opening second and only later flowers into a prettier orchestral piece. Grace sounds terrific singing in Spanish (rolling her 'rrs') but, really, even the words in English don't make much sense. David Crosby and Paul Kantner pop up on the chorus ('Give her the sun, she wants to run!') which appear to make this song a feminist statement, but mere seconds ago we were talking about love and how 'the more your heart sings the more it will show you freedom'. An oddball song that fades to a full-stop several times before going again, this piece of music has some lovely moments (generally when the orchestra cuts in, particularly 9:45 to 10:45) but really doesn't tie together and really shouldn't have lasted a full 15 minutes (the longest studio song in this book).
'Come Again Toucan' may start with that blood-curdling laugh ('rrrRRRRRRRRRRRRIBA!'), designed to jolt the listener at the start of the second side, but otherwise is the most audience-pleasing song on the album. Grace is all things to all men and is already having second thoughts about her relationship with Paul, but she stays out of loyalty, the distractions of a 'taste of wine' in the high life and the mood-swings that find her 'crawling like a baby' back to where she knows is familiar. This story is inevitably going to end in tears and this is the one song on the album with the tension that Grace uses so well so often, with a turbulent backing track that keeps trying to stop to take a rest, only to be urgently pushed along when Grace has another change of heart. Future writing partner Craig Chaquico** is excellent here on his third extra-curricular Jefferson performance before joining Starship and is already a great foil for Grace's soaring vocals. All in all, one of the two songs you need to own this album for.
'It's Only Music' is a David Frieberg tribute to the healing power of music, with vocal 'assistance' from Paul Kantner. The second of the only three vocals he'll have during his time as a 'Jefferson', it must have surprised him greatly to learn that it wouldn't be appearing on a 'trio' album this time but Grace's first solo record. In fact, you wonder where Grace is - this song badly needs her higher harmonies (both David and Paul are basses who try to out-lower each other) and she's suit it well. Musically this is non-descript stuff which only really gets going on the fiery guitar solo, but lyrically this is a nice nod towards the best art form there is, with the lovely self-deprecating thought 'Even though we know we'll never get the song quite right, still we sing it just to hear it'.
'Better Lying Down' is another oddball song, although at least Grace bothers to show for this one. A Billie Holiday spoof of the sort Janis Joplin revelled in doing, Grace's vocal isn't quite right for it: she barks out the song where Janis would purr (and for the record that's not a put down: I adore both voices equally, in all their multi-shaded glory and find Janis similar 'Turtle Blues' another song hard to love, but she does suit the genre better). It's also hard to follow, what with the pianist always one step behind her and a lyric about sex healing all ills that keeps stepping outside its main drift to offer the listener an 'aside'. Give this one a miss.
The record then ends with the grand finale 'Epic #38'. This Kantner-led track starts well enough, with a crowd-rousing anthem about how the hippie dream is still on track despite the small returns ('Remember where we were just ten years ago!' he pleads). The song reaches a natural conclusion on the triumphant lines 'the world will be ready for love!' And then an odd thing happens. A swirling organ keeps the song going after a natural pause and Paul and Grace chime back in for a lovely imaginative folky passage about what the future could look like: unpressurised children 'lazing on a hazy afternoon' that sports one of Paul's better utopia lyrics. 'Do you feel they sometimes run you crazy?' he sighs for the umpteenth time, building to another peak of hope and joy. The song really ought to end here at the five minute mark, but they're still not done. A sudden flurry of strings cuts in through the silence and a quick guitar battle takes us through another 90 seconds before the song, clumsily, fades out rather than take up one of its many natural 'endings'. Strange, but the main part of the song is sound, being almost the last time we hear Kantner so sure in the hippie ethos (the next time we hear sing about it directly, he's angrily sighing that the moment has passed on 'I Want To See Another World' from 'Red Octopus').
Overall, then, 'Manhole' is a real oddity. Many fans seem to have fallen for it for its sheer quirkiness and the fact that no other album has ever been released that sounds anything like it. I'm not always convinced that this is a good thing: the Jeffersons always skirted with being self-indulgent but this is one of the few cases where one of them (or a few of them in this case, whatever the credits say) falls into so many traps at once. However, 'Manhole' isn't a worthless record either: its frequently beautiful, usually inventive and in 'Come Again Toucan' contains one of Grace's better loosely autobiographical songs. Come to this album expecting a laugh and a bit of fun, rather than the long lost missing piece of your Jefferson jigsaw, and you might find you like it; however 'Manhole' is an aperitif to the main course. A very interesting aperitif it has to be said, but an aperitif nonetheless, marking a step backwards from even 'Baron Von Tollbooth'.

 Hot Tuna "The Phosphorescent Rat"
(Grunt/RCA, 1973)
I See The Light/Letter To The North Star/Easy Now/Corners Without Exits/Day To Day Out The Window Blues//In The Kingdom/Seaweed Strut/Living Just For You/Soliloquy For Two/Sally Where'd You Get Your Liquor From?
"Paradise I'm living for each and every day, about the crossroads of the past nothing more to say, there's good times now but we can't see our way"
Like the luminous rodent of the title, Hot Tuna were never stable for very long and their lab-rat organisation was dealt a severe blow when Papa John Creach decided to bed in with the Jefferson Starship full-time. Rather than replace him, Hot Tuna decided to carry on as a power trio of Jorma, Jack and Sammy. Like many bands reduced to power trios (Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, The Who) Hot Tuna decided to plug the gap in their sound by sounding louder and heavier. 'Phosphorescent Rat' is the most straightforwardly rock of the Hot Tunas albums and is probably the most accessible for curious Airplane fans looking to see what Jorma and Jack got up to, with just the one token blues cover added right at the end. There are two re-actions to this approach: on the plus side 'Phosphorescent Rat' has a nice consistency of sound, Sammy sounds a more natural fit as a rock drummer than a blues one and Jack of course was always one of the rock scene's greatest bass players. Jorma, able to fit many styles, comes up with several of his better songs which alternate between gentle jaunts and killer songs that yet again return to the dissolution of the Airplane. The negative side is that Hot Tuna have lost their identity a bit - the things that made them both weird and weirdly special. While the band perform their own brand of rock and roll very well they're no longer the quirky band they once were and their brand of Tuna-rock is now one that's competing with the big boys rather than the only fish swimming in a very selective pond. Both approaches have their merits by the way - 'Phosphorescent Rat' isn't necessary the best Hot Tuna album because it doesn't break down so many barriers but it's easy the Tuna album I keep returning to the most, full of some excellent accessible songwriting and a palatable mix of the raw and produced, with the funky backing tracks often embedded into an orchestral accompaniment.
The best thing to say about this album is that Jorma's on a creative roll. Having proved that he can fill up two-thirds of an album on his own for the first time he comes close to getting the complete set here with just 90 seconds of this album not his. Taking his cue from his best songs of the decade so far for different bands ('Third Week In The Chelsea' and 'Sea Child'), Jorma pours out even more of his soul here instead of returning to his usual style of writing about 'other' people (he may have been influenced by Paul and Grace's recent batch of songs which they too are having their biggest successes for a long time with). Throighout the record the theme of uncertainty crops up again and again. The opening song 'I See The Light' is a turbulent powerful number about this period being a 'good time' but Jorma is so hit by worry about his band and his past that 'I can't see the light'. 'In The Kingdom' has Jorma 'living blind in one-eyed land, amongst those kings I thought were grand' - possibly about his doubts over his own material before finding that, yes, he does indeed have what it takes to write songs of the equal of Paul, Grace and Marty. 'Corners From Exits' is the sound of a man hemmed into a corner, 'when the time you doubt to wonder is slipping by your side'. 'Day To Day By The Window Blues' tries to spoof this bad mood ('Your favourite horse has turned to glue!') but is only partly successful. Not until the near-closing pretty ballad 'Soliloquy For Two' does the album find some sort of peace and serenity. The other key theme of the record - taken straight from 'Sea Child' - is water, apt for a band named after a fish and perhaps here to differentiate them with all that 'high flying' malarkey of the Airplane (the 'old' band tried to reach new druggy heights but this one is literally an 'underground' band - underground in the sense that it's set in the sea). 'Almost drowned at sea without a trace of living that's to be' Jorma wails on 'Soliloquy', while the album's token guitar instrumental is named after seaweed, the opening song has a life journey as not a long and winding road but 'an endless sea' and another song looks for direction from the North Star (the traditional navigation point for sailors that are lost). Once again the record seems to be deliberately programmed into an 'unhappy' side (the first) and a 'happy' side (the second), with the differences between the two even more extreme than on 'Burgers'. There is, by the way, no mention of rats - just as the last record had no mention of fast food!
'I See The Light' features two Jorma's wailing thanks to the wonders of double tracking and they make for a most delightful noise, while Piazza plays some of his finest drumming here. Jorma's bitter lyric is a 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone?' for another age, Jorma's narrator turning his back on the past now that he's made his decision to split from the Airplane, so caught up in his quest for paradise that he's overlooked how great things are in the present. The result is one of the finest Hot Tuna songs, heavy and loud but with a deftness of touch about the lyrics and featuring one of the band's all-time jammathons.
'Letter To The North Star' is prettier, Jorma's narrator content that a right decision has been made and that 'summertime is here'. A folkier, lighter song than normal, 'North Star' lacks a catchy chorus to make it truly memorable and unlike the narrator whose finally found his way rather drifts past aimlessly. Still it comes as welcome reprieve between two of Hot Tuna's heaviest songs and proves that the band can do more than just play loud.
'Easy Now' is the most Airplaney song on the album, based around a heavy relentless riff played en masse by Jack and Jorma. The guitarist is back writing about his life in terms of the ocean again, moved by each and every current: 'This time tomorrow who knows where I'll be - writing by the sea?' he asks, before the song turns into something of an American travelogue. Kaukonen's guitar solo really flies on this one, loud even by Airplane standards, and there's a catchy riff but somehow this song doesn't stand out quite as much as 'I See The Light'.
'Corners Without Exits' is another album highlight, with an orchestra added to  embellish the band's sound. Jorma's narrator is trying to offer words of advice to those, like him recently, in trouble: 'When the way is busy and the way is hard to see will you remember?' he asks, reminding his listeners that they've been in impossible situations many times in their lives and have always found a way through - and so you will again eventually, by the last verse in fact (where 'The broad horizon's ready and your world has opened wide'). There's even a dreamy middle eight that sits at a counterpart to the rest of the song, just the way we at the AAA like them. The result is another charming song about uncertainty written and performed by a man at the peak of his powers, with a confidence like never before. Superb.
'Day To Day Out Of The Window Blues' isn't so much a blues song as a novelty rock song with blues-spoofing lyrics. When hemmed in with nowhere left to go, try jumping out the window is Jorma's rather odd solution to the world's problems (not recommended unless you live on the ground floor!) The chorus comes after a comic list of errors: Santa comes and leaves nothing except a 'stocking that covers your head', with Jorma's, umm, not AAA-endorsed solution to poverty being to rob a bank! The result is an oddball song that isn't meant for repeated listening but is very funny.
'In The Kingdom' is another of Jorma's prettiest songs. After so many years wrapped up inside his own worries someone new has come into his world and opened his eyes to the way human life should be lived: 'it's made for having fun!' He's also discovered that he really can be a success even though he's left the 'valley of the kings', no longer a 'blind man in one-eyed land' and vows that 'with you by my wide the tears that dried have all died away'. Sweet!
'Seaweed Strut' is one of Jorma's better solo instrumentals. Dare I say it, it's rather more interesting than his better known and widely loved 'Embryonic Journey', whilst sharing a similar flowing chord structure and showing off Jorma's talents as an acoustic guitar player. This song really does cry out to be an instrumental too: it's not just that the band are too lazy to put words to it.
'Living Just For You' is a unique experiment: Hot Tuna's now typical full throttle sound accompanied by some steel drums! This rock-calypso hybrid is something of an acquired taste although the lyrics are rather good once again, another song about how life is so much better when it's shared.
Soliloquy For Two' is a final blast of optimism. The fog that had once buried the beach has now lifted and the narrator, once nearly drowned at sea on life's treacherous waves, has been rescued. This song isn't quite as pretty or memorable as 'Corners Without Exits' or 'In The Kingdom' and the second dose of orchestra is less successful than the first, but it's still lovely to hear the often-troubled blues singer so happy, pleased to assume that 'we'll be together all our lives'.
Just to remind us that Hot Tuna are a blues band first and foremost, the albums end with the final of five covers of songs by the Reverend Gary Davies. 'Sally Where's You Hide Your Liquor?' is a brief folk dance accompanied by Sammy playing the spoons!
It's an odd end to what's actually the most accessible and immediately likeable of all the Hot Tuna albums. While others have strong moments and might even be better from a pure you-can't-get-thus-anywhere-else point of view, 'Phosphorescent Rat' is a pretty neat compromise between a record that needs to be commercial (this was a comparatively strong seller too) and a record that still has heart and character. Had this record come out in any other year we'd be busy recommending you buy this instead of whatever varied mess the Starship had come up with - but as it happens their debut 'Dragonfly' is about the only record of theirs that's arguably better. What a fab year for the Jeffersons - and what a shame that inevitably, it couldn't last, with the next album heavily delayed and featuring yet another line-up change...
"Seemed like it might be the right thing to say at the time, and I'd probably say it again if you
Marty Balin in Bodacious DF  "Bodacious DF"
(RCA Victor, October 1973)
Drifting/Good Folks/The Witcher*//Roberta*/Second Hand Information/Drivin' Me Crazy/Twixt Two Worlds*
* = Marty Balin writing credit
"It's a nightmare story on a late night show"
Given that Marty was such a star in his day, it surprised many that it took a full three years from 'Volunteers' in 1970 for the singer to bounce back with another record. It surprised many more that with Marty usually more comfortable working on his own he made a group record, forming a new band out of the ashes of Grootna, a promising San Franciscan band who never quite got round to making a record before splitting up despite being heralded as the next new thing. Alongside Marty singing were bassist Mark Ryan (once a member of Quicksilver Messenger Service alongside the Starship's David Freiberg), Guitarist Vic Smith and Keyboard player Charlie Hickox (who'll stay in touc with Marty long enough to get a co-writing credit on 'St Charles' from 'Spitfire'), who co-write most of the rest of the songs between them. Marty clearly enjoyed being the most famous member of the band and the focal point of all the attention again, but considering that he was by far the most famous member he seems to have little to do with the nuts and bolts of the band. Bodacious DF only ever made one album, which while promising and undeniably pleasant is more than a little short - on songs, on running time, some might say ideas. Marty only co-writes three of the album's seven songs despite being by far the biggest name in the band and doesn't sing on every song either - which seems an odd thing to do on a debut album launched to much fuss and after such a long gap. Marty really needed to get this album right to regain his career following; alas this is one of those albums that only get things half right.
Nothing here is bad. All the songs are pleasant and easy on the ear and Marty is on great voice throughout. Fans of Jefferson Starship's most mainstream album 'Red Octopus' will find much to admire (this is very like that album in fact, heavy on some excellent ballads and some rather rockers, but with the Grace and Paul cameos and the instrumentals removed). That automatically puts this much overlooked album ahead of certain better known Jefferson LPs like 'Earth' and 'Winds Of Change' and this album is arguably on a par with 'Octopus' and 'Long John Silver' in the great Jefferson pantheon of collected works. Easy listening it may be, but there's nothing as horrendously misguided or as dated as most of Starship's recordings. Then again, this isn't exactly a record that lives long in the memory with few songs standing out (the non-Marty 'You're Drivin' Me Crazy', later played on stage with Jefferson Starship, is the closest to a great song here but it's still a poor man's 'Miracles' with a funkier beat). Marty's always had the talent to deliver a great LP and in this period - with three years of finding his head and gathering material - this could have been the one. Certainly Marty's vocals are great, way above most other pop singers of his era. Unfortunately this is only a 'good' one - but, hey, at least it isn't a ghastly one either. The most groundbreaking thing about this record, in fact, is the cover, which features a shot of the band and friends surrounded by a fully-dressed frog on a surfboard (no, I don't know why either...)
Jesse Osbourne's 'Drifting' has been played, briefly, by Jefferson Airplane during 1970 but Marty left before the band could put it on record. It's a fair rock-pop song with a cherry tune and some nice lyrics about being lost but finding your way again which suits Marty's life story in this period well. I defy anyone to remember how this song goes after it finished playing, though.
Lonnie Talbot's 'Good Folks' is probably the weakest song on the album. It's very early 70s soft-rock, complete with gospel choir and reggae overtones and nobody here sounds as if they have anything terribly urgent to say.
Marty and Vic collaborated on 'The Witcher', a noisy soul song that Marty obviously liked because he'll return to it many times over the years (it's the title track of one of his website-only download albums). Marty's full of magic and wants to lay it on his missus - but by the time he's used all that energy up shouting he won't have any left for lovin'.
'Roberta', a collaboration between the whole band and Jesse Robbins, is a clever blues pastiche of the sort Hot Tuna were recording in this period. 'Roberta' is a name used on many a blues songs although the lyrics themselves seem nicked from Sonny Boy Williamson's  'Eyesight To The Blind', as used by The Who in their work 'Tommy' ('Got something here can make a dead man see!')
Hickox's 'Second Hand Information' is one of the better songs, with Marty's humble narrator trying to work out how the world works but learning that all the people he used to trust to know what's happening don't know what's going on either. The most Airplane of the Bodacious DF songs, this could have slotted in nicely on 'Volunteers'.
The lovely 'Drivin' Me Crazy' is a lovely pop ballad by Vic Smith, perfect for Marty's voice. 'How can I love you if I can't love myself?' asks Marty as he's rescued from depression by falling in love. This version of the song is much slower than the live version Jefferson Starship will play in concert and much more suited to Marty's voice.
The album ends with Marty and Vic's 'Twixt Two Worlds', which sounds like the heavier Hot Tuna of the end of the decade. A powerful throbbing cod-heavy metal track with a very Starship style philosophical lyric, it's an odd mix but is played with gusto and a lot more power than the rest of the album.
Overall, then, 'Bodacious DF' isn't quite the acclaimed comeback Marty was hoping for, but the band have promise and in many ways this is the 'Takes Off' of the Jefferson solo oeuvre, important not solely for what's there but for the promise you can hear of what's to come. Unfortunately this time this was all there was: the band split the following year when Marty got the invite to record 'Caroline' with Jefferson Starship and was enthusiastic enough to rejoin the band full-time. Given the strong songs Marty would go on to make over the next four years that was probabloy a good move, but Bodacious DF could have been up there too. In many ways it's the confidence Marty regains on this record, after six years of not being in charge of his destiny, that enabled to make that move in the first place. Not exactly an essential purchase, but Marty's fans will find much to enjoy.


Joey Covington "Fat Fandango"
(**, '1973')
Your Heart Is My Heart/Country Girl/Moonbeam/Mama Neptune//Miss Unaverse/Hideout (A Crook's Best Friend)/Vapor Lady
"I didn't know angels had wings until I was twenty-one and I didn't know they could read until I asked them where I could find a book, she told me via an invisible pass to the Vatican Library and I said to her 'darling, show me your scripture!"
Who'd have guessed that third Airplane drummer Joey Covington would have gone on to make a solo album, after just one record and two songs with the band? Who'd have guessed, too, that the memorably named 'Fat Fandango' would go on to out-sell efforts by Marty the same year and very nearly Grace? As quirky as the songs on 'Bark' would suggest, whilst being surprisingly listenable, this album is perfect for the times being caught perfectly on the edge between pop and prog. The productions are elaborate and lush, not something you could say about any other Jefferson-related release, but throughout it al Joey seems to be treating the whole thing as a joke with tongue firmly in cheek, which makes the mammoth choirs and massive orchestras seem like a bit of a laugh rather than the just-plain-wrongness they should be. Joey's eccentric singing, which never sticks to the same key two verses running (what is it with Airplane drummers and singing? Skip does the same) is tough to take at first, but then this is a record that doesn't conform to any of the usual rules about making records - and if that doesn't make this the single most Jeffersony solo album then I don't know what does! Murder to play (every song is really a 'suite' of several sections, which suddenly change tempo or key mid-song) and difficult to listen to, 'Fat Fandango' wins mainly by charm alone but charm it does, sounding like fellow AAA band 10cc at times, but even more eccentric than that! 'Mama Neptune' is an appalling blues song and 'Vapor Lady' is an odd overdone prog rock moment with a synthesiser near- instrumental blasting off into space (still more interesting than 'Sandalphon' mind...) - unfortunately these two songs are by far the longest on the album and take up a full quarter of an hour between them. The other five are rather good though I have to say, with the opening song 'Your Heart Is My Heart' (though not quite as heartfelt as the title makes it sound) the very best of a really good bunch. They don't make record like this anymore, which is just as well because my brain probably couldn't keep up with much more of this anyhow.

 Jefferson Airplane "Early Flight"
(Grunt/RCA Victor, February 1974)
High Flyin' Bird/Runnin' Round This World/It's Alright/In The Morning/JPP McStep B Blues//Go To Her/Up Or Down/Mexico/Have You Seen The Saucers?
"I understand what I understood before, but loving you has made me understand much more...The times I've spent with you have been fantastic trips!"
'Early Flight' is an above-average collection of songs jettisoned during the band's first five years released as a contract-filler for Grunt while Jefferson Starship prepared for lift-off. Appearing during the year when such sets were in vogue (The Who's 'Odds and Ends' was out the same year), 'Early Flight' features several tracks that the Airplane's contemporaries would have killed for - it seems amazing to think that such fan favourites as 'High Flyin' Bird' (a permanent fixture in the band's setlists until their split in 1973), 'Go To Her' (a Kantner song that sounds like a Balin one, fast-paced and aggressive) and 'JPP McStep B Blues' (easily the best song of Skip's the band recorded - it was probably only left in the vaults as he'd already left the band at the time they made it!) never came out in the Airplane's lifetime. These two songs plus the Jefferson's only ever non-album single (combining 'Saucers' and 'Mexico') are all must-haves for Jefferson collectors even though you can find them easier and more cheaply on various other sets nowadays (most of the songs here are on the 'Loves You' box set and almost all are on the relevant era CD re-issues; only the lengthy-jam-with-lyrics 'Up Or Down' is exclusive to this set and you don't really need it). In fact you really don't need to hear quite a lot from this album: Jorma, the quiet star of many a Jefferson LP, was probably right to drop both of his lengthy six-minute songs from this set from official releases- the afore-mentioned 'Up Or Down' from the band's dying days was co-written with his brother Peter but isn't much of a song and 'Come Back Baby' is the only less than brilliant song the Airplane recorded in the magical year of 1967. Even Hot Tuna would have struggled to make this cod-blues songs work - the Airplane have no hope, even with Marty doing his best on the former song. Paul and Marty, though, come out of this album particularly well with several key early songs that deserved their place on 'Takes Off' and 'Pillow'. The packaging is excellent too, adding to the self-deflating vibe of 'The Worst Of Jefferson Airplane' by using pictures of 'dinosaurs' - the band's joke that they were 'past it' now that they were old enough to have a history to look back on! Part fan pleasing, part contract fulfilling, it's a shame that some of the better then-still-unreleased tracks (like 'Things Are Better In The East'  and 'Drifting') weren't used instead of the filler to make a very good album greater - but then outtakes sets don't usually come with as much quality as this as it is, more proof of what a great little band the Airplane were that enhances rather than damages their reputation.
(JA) Early Flight (1974)...............................................................................
Jorma Kaukonen: Quah (1974)...........................................................
Jorma Kaukonen "Quah"
 (Grunt/RCA Victor, 'Mid' 1974)
Genesis/I'll Be Alright/Song For The North Star/I'll Let You Know Before I Leave/Flying Clouds/Another Man Done Gone//I Am The Light If This World/Police Dog Blues/Blue Prelude/Sweet Hawaiian Sunshine/Hamar Promenade
CD Re-Issue Bonus Tracks: Lord Have Mercy/No Mail Today/Midnight In Milpatas/Barrier
"If trouble come I don't mind no pain"
The online urban dictionary lists 'quah' as being 'a mass quantity of all things amazing concentrated in one place, person or thing'. I can't really argue with that then - 'Quah' is Jorma at his best, freed at last from the responsibilities of being an Airplaner and even, for the moment, of Hot Tuna. Instead Kaukonen is free to indulge in whatever takes his fancy - which for the most part is sweet acoustic guitar ballads, plus the inevitable Rev Gary Davis covers. However, whilst mainly solo, there's a sense of 'family' about this sweet album: Jack Casady is along to produce the record (the only production credit the bassist ever gets as far as I know), Jorma's then-wife Margarita drew the distinctive Hot Tuna-esque bright-yellow-background-with-a-primitive-face staring at you from the front and Jorma's close friend Tom Hobson guests on vocals. Actually the original intention was for Tom to do more than just guest: when first planned in 1973 Jorma didn't have enough material for a full LP and wanted to promote his friend so he made plans with RCA to make this a 'joint' album with half a side each. They refused late in the day, delaying the album for another year and a hurried extra batch of Jorma recordings in April 1974, with some of the Hobson vocals included on the CD as bonus tracks.
'Quah' is a pretty album without the intensity of Jorma's past records with his various bands and shows off a new side to the guitarist who has fun returning to his folk roots. On an impressively consistent album nearly every track is excellent (with only the odd blues covers sounding out of place), but particular highlights include fan favourite 'Song For The North Star', blues cover 'Another Good Man Done Gone' and 'Blue Prelude' - one of the surviving Hobson vocals - all amongst Jorma's best work. The record sold well, with Jorma no doubt benefitting from the extra publicity fuss over the launch of Jefferson Starship, but while this record is probably just as good as 'Dragonfly' it's a very different beast: understated, rootsy, tethered to the Earth. 'Quah' also has a footnote of sorts in musical history: it was chosen for re-release by the Grateful Dead label Relix early on in the CD age and came out to great acclaim at the very beginning of 1987 as near-enough-as-makes-no-difference the first ever CD released on an independent label as opposed to one of the major companies who could afford to waste money on what was then a brand new technology (to put this in context you couldn't buy any Beatles product until that year's Christmas, which was the moment when lots of fans gave in and splashed out on expensive players and no Airplane CDs were out as yet). This gave 'Quah' a whole new lease of life amongst hip young things and was a particularly good move as the un-produced low-fi 'Quah' is the sort of timeless album that could have been recorded in any era without any real connections to 1974. The record would no doubt do as well again but sadly copyright issues mean that nobody is quite sure who owns what of this album anymore and it's incredibly hard to find (although it was back out on CD briefly in 2003 and even more briefly in 2013 - good as the CD bonus tracks are, by the way, none quite match the original album so I'd stick with the vinyl if you're lucky enough to own it). 'Quah' badly needs releasing again so that more fans can enjoy it.
'Genesis' is a natural place to start with Jorma's folk accompaniment sounding millennia old and suitably biblical. However it sounds like an early song about difficulties in Jorma's first marriage and like many a Hot Tuna song has the narrator paused at a crossroads wondering which way to turn - this time though he rather humbly asks 'I'd like to go with you'.
The traditional folk song 'I'll Be Alright' might not have any lyrics but then it doesn't need them - you know instantly that the narrator protesting he's fine might be now but hasn't been for a long time, while Jorma turns in one of his greatest multi-layered performances here.
'Song For The North Star' is a song Jorma will return to often and for good reason - it's a pretty semi-autobiographical song about suddenly having it all at a young age unexpectedly and not being quite sure what to make of it all. Jorma clearly has the Airplane in mind for his sort-of-sequel to 'Third Week In The Chelsea' and speaks about how odd it is for him to take the 'lead role' in a band after 'so long in the shadow' , before adding at his excitement now 'the beckon of the highway has seen through all our useless games'. This is one of my favourite Jorma songs, later followed by an equally worthy Hot Tuna sequel 'Letter From The North Star' which too started life at this album's sessions (it's the instrumental 'Lord Have Mercy' featured on the CD bonus tracks).
'I'll Let You Know Before You Leave' is a bluesy folk instrumental that might not match 'Embryonic Journey' but features some fine guitar-picking from two multi-tracked Jormas.
'Flying Clouds' is the first of the songs to feature Tom Hobson and is the most ambitious song on the album. While the backing sounds much like usual, there's a lush orchestra and some gorgeous French Horn parts overdubbed on top which adds a real other-worldly epic feel to the song. The lyrics concern a giant 'wave' coming that will rock the world to its foundations, but the narrator is ready for it and secretly can't wait for the wild ride, 'heading for sunshine country as life comes rolling in'.
Vera Hall's powerful blues song 'Another Man Done Gone' is one of Jorma's best blues covers, performed more seriously than some with an excellent couple of guitar parts fighting each other throughout the song (one played with what sounds like nylon strings). The lyrics sound as if they're referring to a slave on the run, someone the narrator secretly admires but is unable to help: 'He had a long chain on, they set the dogs on him, they killed another one' is the long-wrought out story, again referring back to the album theme of freedom (perhaps Jorma's referring to the Starship selling their soul all over again for RCA?)
'I Am The Light Of This World' is one of the album's lesser moments, a surprisingly boastful Rev Gary Davis cover, although the song is more in keeping with gospel songs about how everybody is a 'light' for someone. This is about as religious as Jorma ever gets: 'I know I got religion I know I ain't ashamed, for the holy ghost is my witness and the angels done signed my name!'
Blind Arthur Blake's 'Police Dog Blues' is another traditional cover that doesn't really fit this album's style of uplift and hope. Instead it's a rather odd tale of the narrator being shooed away from an ex-lover so he gets a police dog instead - no I don't quite follow that logic either. Some of these lyrics are very odd ('His name is Rambler and when he gets the chance he's gonna leave his mark on everyone's pants!')
'Blue Prelude' appears to split fans. It's a Gordon Jenkins blues cover that sounds as if it ought to fit Jorma to a tee, but that isn't him singing but Tom Hobson. Personally I rather like Tom's strident vocals, so different to Jorma's, who recall Gene Parsons' in the Byrds with the same rich, lazy tone. It's a good song whoever's singing, most famous from Nina Simone's cover and sits in contrast to most of this album, sobbing over the end of a good thing and declaring that the narrator has the blues real bad.
Hobson's own 'Sweet Hawaiian Sunshine' is the only one of the singer's songs RCA allowed onto this record and if the others are like this they probably had a point: 'See that wicky wacky ooh!' is the less than intelligent chorus, whilst Jorma's blues playing simply sounds like he's on auto-pilot. Still given the outrageous comments I used to read about how terrible the song is and how it's the one blot on an otherwise perfect album, it's not actually that bad - just less inspired than the rest.
The album finished with one last great Kaukonen original in 'Hamar Promenade'. Another tale about how exciting this new unexplored world is for the guitarist, the song's chorus 'we keep spinning and we can't wait...pushing on faster till we can't push no more' says it all. This is the folk world's equivalent of 'Wild Tyme' with Jorma busy ';doing things that haven't got a name yet' which he never thought he'd get the opportunity to do.
Overall, then, 'Quah' isn't perfect. The record must have been a shock at the time when fans had only really hear Jorma play electric or at the very most play blues covers on acoustic and the fact that this record is so sparse and empty in direct contrast to everything the chaotic Airplane held dear takes some getting used to even if you got to know these records out of order. However, 'Quah' is easily the best of Jorma's work outside the Airplane, full of the same exquisite playing and daring rulebreaking but on a smaller, prettier more intimate scale. Jorma's lyrics are rarely better than here as he demonstrates a new knack for philosophical, wordy songs quite unlike his earthier  Airplane entries and he's in great voice throughout to boot. All things amazing indeed: 'Quah' is one of the better Jefferson spin-offs around and one of the few essential LPs in this book not to come with the word 'Jefferson attached.

 Hot Tuna "America's Choice"
(Grunt/RCA, 1975)
Sleep Song/Funky #7/Walkin' Blues/Invitation/Hit Single #1/Serpent Of Dreams/I Don't Wanna Go/Great Divide - Revisited
"With such a promising future ain't no way to go wrong - but the line we were taking was just taking too long, there'll be a rainbow on a morning one day, but how we're going to find it I just can't say at all"
After a quiet 1974, during which Hot Tuna lost drummer Sammy Piazza and replaced him with Bob Steeler and still hadn't received the sales or plaudits they'd hoped for, Hot Tuna clearly had something of a 'stained' character within the record business. Their response was to re-model their 'brand' as a laundry detergent titled 'America's Choice', with cover designer Frank Mulvey poking fun at the band's hopes of becoming mainstream. The side of the box reveals everything you need to know about Hot Tuna's uncompromisingly heavy sound during their latest LP: 'Pure unadulterated sounds with amplified additives and the necessary polytonal ingredients to handle heavy loads!' Not seen Henry Purcell had music had the opportunity for so many jokes about music and dirty laundry. The band may be poking fun at their predicament, but they're clearly feeling the strain too as their record contract with RCA (well, technically Tuna were with the Airplane's own label Grunt, but RCA were paying) comes to a close without any real signs of headway.  One of Jorma's songs for this album - an archetypal heavy Hot Tuna rocker with twinges of blues - is sarcastically titled 'Hit Single #1' and it's far from the only non-commercial recording here. The fact that Jorma and Jack's old buddies in Jefferson Starship had just released the all-singing all-dancing 'Red Octopus' (a record that outsold anything the Airplane had ever done) only made the situation seem ever more desperate.
Once again Jorma writes practically everything, with one jam session credited to him and Jack and one lone blues cover. This time there are no great half-album concepts divided between the two sides, no great theme about underwater exploration, no anything really. Of the eight songs here only the moody and oddly Starship like 'Serpent Of Dreams' (a dead ringer for the songs from their 1976 LP 'Spitfire') is up to Jorma's best. The mood, though, is practically all-down (as opposed to 'half down' on 'Rat'), with only 'Invitation' offering any poptimism. Throughout Jorma's guitar solos no longer full of beauty or even melancholy but at times burning with righteous indignation and anger, while Jack's cut his usual exploratory heavy bass playing down to the point where he rarely moves off the same bone-crunching riff. Had grunge been around in 1975 'America's Choice' would have been classified as a grunge album: it's a moody set about lowered expectations delivered by a power trio headed by a singer-songwriter-guitarist going through something of a bad spell in his life. However I'd take Jorma's work over Kurt Cobain any day: rather than recycled teenage angst these are yet again grown-up and pleasingly lyrical songs from a songwriter continuing to grow. It's just a shame that, for once, Tuna aren't the best band to deliver these songs for him - they're too heavy and rock solid as he is Bob Steeler doesn't have the variety of percussion shots in his locker that Sammy Piazza had. In other words 'America's Choice' is a very soggy kind of album all round, one of those cheap detergents where the powder gets so stuck together you end up with one block of mess rather than separate powders. After a year away 1975 was a double year for Hot Tuna - a 'buy one get one free' so to speak - and if you combine the best of this record with the next ('Yellow Record') you have one half of a good double record set.
'Sleep Song' is - believe it or not - the quietest moment on the album. A reflective song about  the changing of the seasons, it skirts dangerously close to travelogue ('Branches piled up past the Winter snow') but sports a pretty tune. There's also one last reference to the sea: Jorma having been 'blown across the water like a ship without a sail - and that ain't the way to be'. Whether the 'plan behind this album offers any better alternative is, of course, another matter altogether.
'Funky #7' is a rare Jack/Jorma collaboration that promises solidarity, that the band will 'be there in the chosen few' for a few years to come. In truth, though, the fact that this song is based around popular blues chords suggests a darker story. The lyrics add that to last something has to change - that there are rainbows to find but for the life of him the narrator isn't quite sure what destination will take him there. Considering the confusion, though, this song is oddly confident, almost brutal in its attack, stretching out into a two-and-a-half minute instrumental finale that depending on your tastes is either one hell of a lot of noise or the best thing on the album.
'Walkin' Blues' is a Robert Johnson cover - the band seem to have dispensed with their Rev Davies ones by now - which reverts back to the idea of the first album, dressing old standards up to the nines so that they sound contemporary. A lot of bands have covered this song down the years (though oddly no other AAA ones), which is one of the legendary guitarist's (who famously died young after allegedly signing a pact with the devil and taking up the guitar quickly after showing no aptitude whatsoever) most famous compositions. Jorma's take on it is reverential but noisy, keeping the original's swagger but losing much of its atmosphere. Jorma's slide playing is excellent, though.
'Invitation' ends the first side on the closest thing in the Hot Tuna arsenal to 'pop'. 'Come along with me my baby, we'll ride this road together' sigs Jorma on this song that sounds at one with the happier second side of 'Phosphorescent Rat'). However a tenser, tougher middle eight - that's virtually punk - suggests an extra edge and although the invitation for spending some happy times is given out we still don't know if it's received by the end of the song.
The wryly titled 'Hit Single #1' is a slow churning blues chug with a heavy backbeat, a hookline not far removed from 'Feel So Good' and nonsensical lyrics about not wanting a career to end just yet and 'needing time enough to play'. The narrator is on to a good thing, he can 'feel it in my shoes' but can't express it in words except that - in sea terminology again - he 'feels the ocean roll'. What should be a short song is extended way beyond breaking point by several fiery guitar solos that stretch the song out to five minutes.
The nearly seven minute 'Serpent Of Dreams' on the otherhand doesn't last a second too long. More atmospheric and dramatic than most Hot Tuna songs, with several criss-crossing Jorma guitar parts overlapping each other, this song features a classy Jorma sideways hypnotic riff and some excellent lyrics. The world has been 'living in the shadows, trying to be the master of tomorrow's slave' in a world where 'nobody is what they seem'. One character leaves the herd and discovers a diamond, creating a whole new structure built round commerce and money. 'We cannot stay by the crystal mountain' Jorma implores, urging mankind onto the 'next 'adventure, with the serpents ready to take off to the next destination.
'I Don't Wanna Go' is less poetic, a swampy curious sounding song which shows Hot Tuna have been having a fair bit of fun with studio sound effects. Another song about not wanting a career to end, this is a parody blues song about encroaching death (Jorma's feats with a guitar are ridiculous - given the presence of Robert Johnson on this album is he loosely comparing himself here, afraid the devil will get him too? If so the good news is Jorma is still with us today, in his 70s now). Jorma all but shouts 'Lots of things I've got to do - living's much too slow', telling us that 'when the demon arrives I'll be looking the other way'.
The album ends with 'The Great Divide Revisited'. Jorma's latest metaphor: 'It seems to me that living is like being on the run'. Weary and longing for a rest, all Jorma sees are more mountains to climb, summed up by another relentless ever-restless riff that gnaws and gnaws away at this song until it finally peals off in a scream of noise.
Overall, then, 'America's Choice' wouldn't be my choice of Hot Tuna LP. Despite the running theme of needing to do better and change, there isn't as much invention here as on the past four LPs and there's very little that approaches the best that Jorma can offer. However while this album doesn't yet have the cure it is searching for one - which is more than you can say for the next album...

Papa John Creach "Playing My Fiddle For You"
(Grunt/RCA, 1974)
Friendly Possibilities/Milk Train/I Miss You So/String Jet Continues//Playing My Music/Git It Up!/Gretchen/One Sweet Song/Golden Dreams
"Been playing my fiddle for 47 years, it's brought a lot of happiness it's brought a lot of tears, I've got to admit there were times a little rough, but I didn't let that stop me from playing my stuff"
Despite the traditional 1920s-style portrait on the front cover, Papa John's third is his most forward looking yet and arguably the solo album that will appeal best to curious Jefferson Airplane fans. Released right in the middle of Papa John's years with the Jeffersons, more or less parallel with 'Dragonfly', 'Fiddle' features a much more straight-forward rock attack than the slight bluesy feel of its two predecessors. Papa John also has a lot more input into the music, with co-credits on four of the album tracks, usually with co-credits to his new six-piece backing band Zulu (later re-named Midnight Sun) who are on particularly good form throughout. There are far more actual 'songs' here as opposed to jolly instrumentals, although that's not actually as automatically good a thing as that would have been on the two previous LPs. Creach's music is still an acquired taste, with a couple of songs (most notably 'I Miss You So' and 'Gretchen' ) that give away Papa John's age, leaving him sounding like a breathless crooner. However the rest of the album is impressively youthful - you wouldn't guess from most of this record that Creach was 57 when he made it with some serious funky recordings with the instrumentals particularly strong on this record, particularly the Santana-style 'String Jet Continues' and the fierce electric hoe-down 'Git It Up', with the purred sexual innuendo of the title supplied by some un-credited singer clearly pretending to be Grace. Talking of Grace, this record also sees an instrumental re-recording of the pair's collaboration 'Milk Train' a couple of years on from 'Long John Silver' and this glossier, longer, even more uncontrolled train wreck of a version isn't quite first class but does give way to some excellent extended jamming. In terms of songs the title track is easily the best, a semi-autobiographical piece actually written by Zulu as a whole but very much sounding like a personal confession, where John tell us how badly he's always wanted to play music and how lucky he is to be doing what he loves. The result is perhaps the best Papa John album of them all, still eccentric but a lot more accessible than usual and with a sound much more naturally like the Airplane's, although it's still an excellent accessory to the Jefferson catalogue rather than a must-have.

 Hot Tuna "Yellow Fever"
(Grunt/RCA, **1975)
Baby What You Want Me To Do?/Hot Jelly Roll Blues/Free Rein/Sunrise Dance With The Devil/Song For The Fire Maiden/Bar Room Crystal Ball/Half-Time Saturation/Surphase Tension
"You got me doing what you want - but baby what do you want me to do?"
Unusually for me, I both bought and got to know these Hot Tuna albums in order. That usually never happens - Pink Floyd for instance I got to know back to front while for years before the CD re-issues my Kinks kollection was restricted to whatever I could get hold of without having to melt down gold records to cover up for it. 'Yellow Fever', the second Hot Tuna record of 1975, isn't what I was expecting. While 'America's Choice' is far from perfect there are several moments that are promising, the new line-up of the band - while ragged - is bedding in nicely and all of Jorma's lyrics about looking for a purpose and a drive I thought must surely result in at least some of that sense of hunger coming through on the album. Not a bit of it. 'Yellow Fever' is the laziest Hot Tuna album since the first one, starting with two rather obvious blues covers each stretched beyond breaking point and then following it with six Jorma writes or co-writes which all sound like variants of the same song. While you can't fault Jorma's searing guitar work (generally heard twice over thanks to the wonders of double-tracking, which must have been a pain for Jack and Bob to play to on the backing track), Jack's bass is again mixed to inaudible levels and Bob's drumming is getting simpler and simpler as the tracks wear on (perhaps the band's jamming session have worn him out?) Once again a fine bit of packaging comes to the rescue of a leaden LP, making the outside more interesting than what's inside: titled 'Yellow Fever' for reasons that are never fully explained (that phrase never crops up on album titles or lyrics) it features everything that could possibly be coloured yellow crammed into one room (paint, bananas, cheese, corn, an eight ball, even teeth - a shame about the casual racism on the album sleeve but it was 1975, unfortunately) while a man is on the verge of a breakdown, his eyes out on stalks. Had a little of this 'madness' and fire ended up in the music then this album might have fared ok.
The problem is, as with all these Hot Tuna LPs, Jorma is a fine songwriter. While Hot Tuna seem to have made a pact to keep things simple across this LP, he's always going that extra mile - dropping in poetic lyrics that show how much deep thinking is going on. 'Song For The Fire Maiden' is this album's epic rock poem set to music, debating on time running backwards, love and, well, everything really that's working well until the (gulp) two minute guitar solo comes in to spoil the fun. He deserves a better background for his music than a band that often sounds tired and uninspired, happy just to play through the same old grooves over and over. The band seem to think that playing loud and repetitively is what their fans want - but did they really want a whole album of this without a break? It seems more likley that, unwilling to go back to the blues for any length of time, the band no longer quite know what they want. The trend of working with outside writers is worrying though: neither Paul Ziegler nor Gary Douglas seem to offer anything Jorma couldn't have written on his own and none of the tracks here move out of Jorma's comfy spot halfway between heavy metal with a hint of blues backing songs that deal with metaphysics and love. Reaching the end of the LP, which doesn't drop the decibel levels till track six and then only slightly, feels like you've made it to the end of a siege. A little of the Airplane's playfulness, eclecticism, heck even their songs about flying saucers and Pooneil corners wouldn't have gone amiss. Thankfully the band seem to realise this too and next and last studio album 'Hoppkorv' will put most of these problems right, finally making good on the promise shown by Hot Tuna across six albums now but only really fulfilled on one. That's in the future though; for now it's ear protectors on and back to  'Yellow Fever'...
One of these days, when I'm feeling strong enough, I'm going to back through every single AAA book and work out once and for all what the most covered songs across the 30 bandsa are. I'm willing to bet that Jimmy Reed's 'Baby What Do You Want Me To Do' will end up somewhere near the top; Hot Tuna's take is heavier than The Byrds and clearer than Crazy Horse's, neither of which are necessarily good things. Hot Tuna settle on a nice groove but at nearly seven minutes, with several segues into guitar jams, what worked so charmingly over three minutes is driving you up the wall by the end.
Bo Carter's 'Hot Jellyroll Blues' is more suitable Hot Tuna material and for a change one of the many guitars on this track is an acoustic one. The double entendres that work so charmingly in a blues song, though, don't really work when heard loud and clear on a rock song and Jorma sings this song like a shopping list, rather than the twinkle in his voice he needs. At least this song is restricted to a more sensible four minutes, but at times even that seems like a slog.
'Free Reign' by Jorma and Paul Ziegler is a powerful driving rocker that at least features some very Airplane-like lyrics. The song's narrator longs to be free and vows to very soon, just let go and 'jump and shout', egged on by an 'angel' whose a reminder of brighter days that lie ahead. However there's so much aggression on this bass-heavy track that it doesn't sound so much like carefree excitement as a boxing match made with guitars.
'Sunrise Dance With The Devil' is one of the better songs on the album, with a fun cod-blues riff and lines about the devil luring another over to his realm ('...and the devil's got a new pair of shoes!') that would sounded great in the hands of the Rolling Stones. Jorma doesn't quite have the strut right, although the unusual and long main hook is rather good and the band have fun navigating it's tricky structure. The band decide to get loud again in the middle with a capital everything, which is actually a shame when it makes one of the better album songs sound like everything else. Jorma might have done better performing this one as an acoustic blues.
'Song For The Fire Maiden' co-written with Greg Douglas sounds like Kiss - and I'm not quite sure if that's an insult or compliment just yet. The slightly different feel of the song - hard to describe but featuring more interaction between the players rather than each just banging away throughout, a sort of heavier 70s version of 50s rock and roll - does break up the album sound nicely, although the song itself is rather a dull one, with barely any lyrics. That's not much of a problem as you can't hear them too well anyway; Jorma's vocal being drowned out by guitars.
'Bar Room Crystal Ball' is my favourite song on the album. The closest thing here to a ballad, it even includes some delightful flute work and a delightful lyric which again returns to the album theme (heard on 'America's Choice' too) about wasting time. The title seems to unite a day of melancholic boozing with wondering about the future which suits this quietly reflective song where a worried narrator obsesses about 'how far I've fallen'. Not one of Hot Tuna's very best but an excellent song all the same.
'Half-Time Saturation' is a fiery jamming session credited to all three band members with some lyrics later overdubbed by Jorma. A rallying call to the band. Jorma yells that 'we've got it made', but again the general mood of the song is downbeat, bordering on paranoid. 'I can't let the moment slide' is again the motto of this song, but by Hot Tuna standards this song isn't even that urgent; if anything it's the more laidback of the rockers on this album which even a typically fiery Jorma solo can't disrupt.
The album ends with the unusual 'Surphase Tension', an electric instrumental credited to Jorma alone who plays with a great deal of electronic distortion on his guitar, which makes the sound quite psychedelic. A second Jorma guitar part plays just slightly deeper than the first during the last half of the song, giving the effect of movement, space and quite probably a headache as well., like one of those 'magic eye' pictures that always end up being pictures of cats.
Overall, then, 'Yellow Fever' is an odd record. You can tell that it was recorded in something of a hurry, but the question was why: it's not as if this album has anything burning to say or that the last LP was crying out for another so similar record so soon. Only one song of the eight really adds anything to the Hot Tuna legacy; the rest will most likely only appeal to people who like having their ears blown off by loud fiery rock. Had Hot Tuna been an entirely new band that might have been enough - but two-thirds of this band came from one of the greatest, most distinctive rock bands on the planet; how did we wind up at an album that's all about the riffs and noodling solos so soon? Even compared to the Starship's over-rated record that year ('Red Octopus') this is an empty mess without anything much to say, albeit one that sold better than normal thanks to a distinctive cover (also like 'Octopus'). Thankfully much better will come along very soon - for both bands...
   Papa John Creach "I'm The Fiddle Man!"
(Buddha Records, '1975')
I'm The Fiddle Man/Stardust/Enjoy/The Rocker/Jim Dandy//Joyce/I Know Where I'm Going/Solitude/You Left Your Happiness/Fiddlin' Around
"You  wander down the lane and far away, leaving me a song that will not die"
Papa John album number four was the record Creach left Jefferson Starship to record and hopes were high that this album would re-launch Papa John's career in a major way. That never quite happened and actually Papa John sounds slightly more distracted here than on his previous trio - it's not that this record is bad so much as that it simply sounds like watered down versions of what he's already done, without the enervation or re-invention of the records to come. Now working with a whole host of collaborators after splitting with Roger Spotts (most of them members of his backing band Midnight Sun, basically still the same band as Zulu), Papa John only gets two co-credits himself - a long way from the near completely original albums at the start of his career. There seems to be rather a high quota of instrumentals too, although when Papa John does sing the album comes alive - he's learnt the act of letting his unusual but groovy voice tell the story rather than leaving it to the music and it's full of subtleties and emotion that greater technical vocalists just can't match. Highlights include the big band-with-sixties-overtones cover of Gary St Clair's 'Jim Dandy' and the funky strut of 'I Know Where I'm Going', with lowlights coming from odd additions from the Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington songbooks (as fiddle instrumentals?!) One of the weaker Papa John records then, it seems as if Papa John made the wrong move leaving the Starship at the peak of their fame and success - but this album is not without merits and if nothing else this set proves that Papa John is indeed the fiddle man; there wasn't no one like him.

Papa John Creach "Rock Father"
(Grunt/RCA, 1976)
Travellin' On/High Gear/Ol' Man River/Slow Groove/J V and Me//Straight Ahead/I Like All Kinds Of Music/Brand New Day/Jump Up, Gimme Some Dancin'!/Orange Blossom Special
"Jefferson  Airplane fans have a little joke - that the world is so hard a man must have two fathers to look after him and that's why they have Rockfathers" (Slightly Altered Speech From 'The Godfather')
Papa John may have made better, deeper albums but 'Rock Father' sure is his grooviest. The hardest, heaviest rock of the now 59-year-old's career, this album finds Papa John spending more time looking back over his past than usual - but with the twist of the most modern setting for his music yet. Many of these songs are centred around the great depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s and feature struggling young hungry wannabe musicians shrugging their shoulders at the setbacks life gives them and just getting on with making a living as best they can. Opener 'Travellin' On' is one of Papa John's most memorable songs and would have gone down great on a Hot Tuna stage, with its tale of years of hardship and toil being worth it in the end. Elsewhere Papa John proves his musical credibilities by competently re-arranging the standard 'Ol' Man River' for a modern rock audience, which has to be heard to be believed, whilst 'Brand New Day' is a strangely convincing pop single about leaving the past behind when a rosy future beckons. Had the rest of the album continued in the same vein then I'd have no hesitation in marking 'Rock Father' as the best of Papa John's career. However James Brown-style cover 'Jump Up' is just horrid (Papa John may have 'got' 70s rock but he patently doesn't understand 70s funk and this leering sexy song is woefully misread, especially the fiddle solo which doesn't belong in this sort of a song) and five similar-sounding instrumentals is way too many even if they are Papa John's stock in trade. Stuffing all the good songs into the front, this starts by raising our hopes but just ends up dashing them again on a typically Creach-style uneven LP. At least the cover artwork is worth a laugh though, Papa John dressed as an angelic priest, trusty fiddle in his hand. 

Hot Tuna "Hoppkorv"
(Grunt/RCA, 1976)
Santa Claus Retreat/Watch The North Wind Rise/It's So Easy/Bow Legged Woman, Knock Kneed Man/Drivin' Around//I Wish You Would/I Can't Be Satisfied/Talkin' Bout You/Extrication Love Song/Song From The Stainless Cymbal
"Night-time falls like the crack of doom, but it fills the skies with a shining moon..."
Hot Tuna's curiously titled final studio LP ('hop' what? Was the car on the front of 'Burgers' a 'Korv'-ette?!) finds the band cruising towards a natural conclusion. In one way it's a shame the axe fell just at the point where the band were beginning to reach a happier union between their own fiery hard rocking originals and the blues covers they formed to cover (this record features four of the former and six of the latter, although some of the covers are closer to rock this time around). In another it's probably a good thing: Hot Tuna were in danger of 'going off'; they had nothing really much to do except repeat themselves from here until the end and could conceivably have ended up like the Starship, becoming more and more of a caricature of their earlier selves (thank goodness that didn't happen!) 'Hoppkorv' is a more fitting end to the band than either of their two records from 1976 would have been too: while not as interesting as 'Burgers' or as consistent as 'Phosphorescent Rat' there are some excellent new songs and some intriguing covers that change the songs around a lot more than before. The band's been stable for three albums now, too - the longest by far of any line-up - and Jorma, Jack and Bob know each other really well by now, with the mixing finally putting them all more or less equal the way they need to be. Best of all everyone's topped overplaying - while sections of this album are as tough as either of the last two records the band's foot isn't on the accelerator button all the time now. This is still very much Jorma's show, though, featuring some of his finest ballads, fieriest guitar playing and sweetest vocals. It's a tragedy that from this point on one of the 1960s most daring, brilliant and inventive guitarists is left effectively to disappear, with a loyal following live but absent on record until as late in this book as 1989. One last chance to show off Jorma's eclecticism, 'Hoppkorv' is an entertaining LP and a much better place to say goodbye than the last few records have been.
One thing 'Hoppkorv' lacks, however, is the sense of unity of the past. You can't have it both ways I guess - this record's eclecticism is it's greatest strength so we can't really complain about the splintering too much. But featuring so many cover songs from different areas is inevitably going to make this a les 'together' album and none of Jorma's songs seem to touch on the themes of sea and hope that Hot Tuna have been busy cooking since 1970. In fact some of his last batch of songs are downright odd - I've heard 'Santa Claus Retreat' and 'Extrication Love Song' quite a few times over the years and still can't work them out; it could be that Jorma's work would have gradually got more and more surreal as the decade progressed had Hot Tuna continued rather than leaning more towards pop in his resurrected solo career. However 'Watch The North Wind Rise' is his last great song, a composition that harks back to the earlier 'Letter To The North Star', signing Hot Tuna off in style with a song that looks back on the band's earlier confusion about their direction and effectively says that it all turned out right in the end. Jack gets slightly more to do on this album too; against all the odds he'll be almost as active in future years than Jorma, rejoining his old colleagues in the KBC ('Kantner Balin Casady') Band in the 1980s and - in a move that took fans by surprise - releases his first solo album in 2003, full of self-penned songs and guest vocalists (despite having only three co-credits to his name during his entire previous career!), with his old sparring partner Jorma popping up on a couple of tracks. Bob Steeler, sadly, seems to have disappeared**, despite having finally nailed the art of rock drumming with dynamics across this album.  Overall, then, 'Hoppkorv' might look odd, read odd and at times sound odd but it's one of Hot Tuna's more accessible LPs, with just enough inventiveness and courage left over from the old days too.
'Santa Claus Retreat' is the heaviest and most 'old style' song on the album, a chugging 12 bar blues sped up a bit with twin guitar attacks. The lyrics are truly peculiar but seem to be, at least loosely, about wrapping things up and starting anew ('The finger of fate can't seem to give me a break, the highway is calling - had all I can take this time, tomorrow I'll be gone'). Compared to Jorma's 'goodbye' songs to the Airplane, though (who didn't make that many more records than Tuna did remember) this is happier stuff, with the band not falling apart in a sea of arguments and squabbles but calling it a day because it seems like a natural end: 'There's no point digging if there's nothing to mine'. Goodness only knows where Santa Claus comes in though - if you get any tuna stuffed in your stockings next yuletide you'll know who to blame!
The gorgeous 'Watch The North Wind Rise' bides us goodbye too, with some beautiful 'Embryonic Journey' style acoustic playing and a lovely bouncy melody that sounds like 'Trial By Fire' with all the aggression removed. Jorma's narrator has been on an adventure - surely the one started during 'Letter To The North Star' when no one was sure of the destination - it's been a lovely experience but he knows it's time to go home now. He's decided to 'taker the time for just one more', though and I'm awfully glad he did: 'Rise' is one of Jorma's very greatest compositions, tender and sweet and exquisitely played by the whole band who've now learnt to let most of the anger and attack come from Jack's big fat bass lines.
The unusual cover of Buddy Holly's 'It's So Easy' is up next. Of all of Holly's songs this is one of his frothiest and least likely for adapting as a full-on rock and roll song (the under-rated 'It's Alright', which practically invented the Merseybeat 'cowbell' 4/4 style, seems like a much more obviously Hot Tuna song). However the band cope well, keeping the playfulness of the original whilst speeding it up and adding a heavier beat to it. Jorma is joined by an un-credited female singer whose voice goes rather well with Jorma's and all in all this is one of Hot Tuna's better cover versions.
Bobby Rush's hilariously titled 'Bowlegged Woman, Knock-Kneed Man' is closer to the bluesy shuffle of the early Hot Tuna releases, albeit played with all the power of the more recent incarnation of the band. Jorma sings to a girl that their love must be fate because they go together so well - their bow legs even fit together neatly! There's a neat circling guitar riff that pounces around the song in duplicate and with a three minute running time and less extended jamming than usual this is much more palatable than most Hot Tuna covers too.
Nick Buck's 'Driving Round' - he's a piano player who'll join Hot Tuna on stage as heard on 1978's 'Double Dose' concert - is a fierce cover of a car song that knocks spots off that year's attempt by the Starship ('Cruisin'). Jack gets to play his bass like an old 50s rocker with some great octave dives, while Bob's thunderous round-the-set drumming is some of his best work too. Which is just as well because Jorma sounds slightly less in control here, on an unusually structured song that doesn't give his guitar work much room for navigation.
Billy Boy Arnold's 'I Wish You Would' takes us straight back to the blues. A song very similar to Jorma's old standard cover 'Come Back Baby' (recorded with both the Airplane and Tuna), you can see why this song appeals to the band with its defiant lyrics, repetitive riff and murky bass-heavy mood. However, the whole thing seems awfully over-dramatic and loud compared to the less formulaic tone of the rest of the album and is probably about the weakest thing here even if Jorma's final wah-wah style solo is fantastic.
McKinley Morgenfield's unusual 'I Can't Be Satisfied' is up next with what's almost a new wave sound to it (how apt - after all but inventing punk a few years early Hot Tuna bow out by predicting it's successor): twinkly synth keyboards, electronic effects and a stomping beat. This blues song about barely contained aggression isn't one of the best but does feature an intriguing riff and really suits the new setting it's been given.
Chuck Berry's 'Talkin' Bout You' has been covered in a variety of ways by a variety of different bands (including fellow AAA members The Stones and The Hollies). However I've never heard it done quite like this: a slow building crunch that 'gets my message through' not by charm or sheer chutzpah but by wearing the girl down. Jorma plays three times over on this track, two of him alone just playing one of Berry's all-time great riffs throughout the entire song while his third self breaks away for a typically busy guitar solo in the middle. I'm not sure it's my favourite version of this adaptable song, but it does at least offer something new.
The charmingly titled 'Extrication Love Song' is an unusual Jorma song this time, based around a typically searing bluesy guitar part and a series of parables about how things always have a certain set time and people need to move on. Jorma's narrator has climbed so high he can't touch the ground and wants to get back to earth, 'with no good intentions left to pave the way'. It's not one of his best songs but it's certainly one of his noisiest, seemingly determined to give his fanbase a heavy rocker to get their teeth into one last time.
The band's studio career then ends with another curiously titled Jorma piece, 'Song From The Stainless Cymbal'. Fittingly, it sounds like a combination of everything from Jorma's past: that soaring lead guitar, a big fat bass line, a slight blues feel about the melody and some nicely mystical lyrics. Jorma once again looks to the future, warning himself to stop hanging around musical alleyways and looking forward to tomorrow 'so I can shape what I had in mind today'. It's a powerful conclusion and another of the better songs on the album, although it strikes rather a sombre note, with a gloomy riff and three Jorma's all going off in completely different directions over the fade.
Overall, then, 'Hoppkorv' has successfully reversed the downward trend of the last couple of albums and returned Hot Tuna to what they did best: a smattering of excellent Kaukonen originals with deep-thinking originals combined with a handful of cover songs both rock and blues revisited in a much harder style than they'd ever been heard before. Hot Tuna could have quite happily gone on doing this for their small but loyal following for many years, but there's a feeling across the album that the time is right to say goodbye and that there's nothing else really left to say. Hot Tuna will be back in this book one last time, though, for a live album that features several recent favourites and many songs from this album.

Jefferson Airplane (Except Where Credited) "Flight Log"
(Grunt/RCA Victor, January 1977)
Come Up The Years/White Rabbit/Comin' Back To Me/Won't You Try?-Saturday Afternoon/Greasy Heart/If You Feel//Somebody To Love/Wooden Ships/Volunteers/Hesitation Blues (Hot Tuna)/Have You Seen The Stars Tonite? (Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra)//Silver Spoon (Slick/Kantner)/Feel So Good/Pretty As You Feel/Milk Train/Ja Da (Keep On Truckin') (Hot Tuna)//Come Again Toucan? (Slick)/Sketches Of China (Slick/Kantner/Frieberg)/Genesis (Kaukonen)/Ride The Tiger (Jefferson Starship)/Please Come Back (Jefferson Starship)
"Sharpen your teeth for the 'family feast'"
'Flight Log' is an excellent manual for the Jefferson fans who already know the basics and want to dig a bit deeper - especially into the Jefferson spin-off albums by Grace, Paul, Jorma and Hot Tuna. With the tracks generally included in chronological order, it's a welcome chance to hear just how much the band's signature sound changed over the years and to see just how much fine-tuning went on underneath the bonnet with lots of excellent band songs that don't always make compilations ('Won't You Try' 'Greasy Heart' 'Feel So Good') as well as the usual quartet of 'It's No Secret' 'Somebody To Love' 'White Rabbit' and 'Volunteers'. While the 'other' selections aren't always as good as they should be ('Stars Tonite' is the 'safe' choice from 'Blows Against The Empire', while 'Come Again Toucan' is one of the worst songs from 'Manhole' while most Hot Tuna fans would take 'Sea Child' 'I Think I See The Light' and 'Letter To The North Star' over anything featured here (though 'Sketches Of China' and 'Silver Spoon' are both good choices). Jefferson Starship are also badly unrepresented, even notwithstanding the fact that they've only released three albums by this point - although on the plus side the two songs here are the terrific 'Ride The Tiger' and an exclusive live song, the Marty rocker 'Please Come Back'. However, flawed as it is, 'Flight Log' gives you a much better overview of the history of a band across a much longer time period than any other compilation and as such can be judged a success. Long missing on CD, the set was finally re-issued on compact disc in 2011, although sadly RCA chose not to extend the track listing; had, say, 'Today' 'Wild Tyme' 'ReJoyce' 'Hi*Jack' 'Across The Board' 'When I Was A Boy I Watched The Wolves' 'I Think I See The Light' 'Devil's Den' and 'St Charles' all been added to this set it would be the single best purchase in this book. Maybe next time...

Papa John Creach "The Cat and the Fiddle"
(DJM Records, August 1977)
Country Boy City Man/Keep On Rockin'/Livin' For Myself/Keep On Movin'/Right Down//Let's Get Dancin'/Foxy Lady/Rock and Roll Music/Give Me Another Chance/Pop Stop
"Hey diddle diddle!"
Papa John's sixth album is for a new label and he's smartened himself up slightly - both from the more polished production on this album (which must be one of the very last prog rock sounding albums released in an era of punk) and the look of the jacket where Papa John is in a white tuxedo and top hat! Against all odds the actual 'songs' still tend to be the best things here, with John's unusual but distinctive growly vocals well suited to this collection of blues covers. Once again Papa John doesn't get a single writing credit on the album but the songs are all suited to his distinctive style, albeit with slightly fewer violin 'squeals' this time around. Highlights include the pretty 'Keep On Movin' that could have been a hit single, the funky almost reggae 'Right Down', the country 'Pop Stop' and the pretty 'Foxy Lady' (no not the Hendrix tune but a track by John's keyboardist Steve Haberman; bassist Brian Tilford is the other main album contributor). You're really not missing much if you don't have this album but as oxogenerian fiddle players' solo albums go this is, erm, one of the best!

Hot Tuna "Double Dose
(Grunt/RCA, 1978)
Disc One:  Winnin' Boy Blues/Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning/Embryonic Journey/Killing Time In The Crystal City//I Wish You Would/Genesis/Extrication Love Song/Talkin' Bout You
Disc Two: Funky #7/Serpent Of Dreams/Bowlegged Woman Knock Kneed Man/I See The Light/Watch The North Wind Rise/Sunrise Dance With The Devil/I Can't Be Satisfied
"We're gonna do a few old timey numbers, acoustic stuff and then we're gonna get the band on!"
Like the Airplane, Hot Tuna's true final goodbye -for a whole at least - came in the form of a live album and like '30 Seconds Over Winterland' was basically a taster from the last studio record with a few highlights from other records that hadn't appeared on a live album yet. Also like 'Winterland' the songs aren't all that different, with just a bit of jamming here and there extending the songs even further past their natural length. As the inner sleeve wittily remarks, this record is an 'affliction' - and after a 'double dose' of no-holds-barred Hot Tuna, with most songs doubled in length, you may well need a double dose of something else to get you through it. Like many a concert recording, it's not that essential unless you passionately want to own everything and unlike the Airplane, Hot Tuna aren't necessarily a band where every release is so different that you kinda need to own it all. However this is a superior live album: the improvement in sound confidence and ability compared to the first two Tuna records is striking and the band are on top form for most of the night. The main reason for buying this album is to hear how cleverly Jorma re-arranges each track to get away without being able to overdub solos (even so there's a fair bit of overdubbing in the studio afterwards I suspect, as even Jorma isn't clever enough to play two guitar lines at the same time as on 'Funky #7'). New keyboard player Nick Buck also adds a nice new dimension to the second set, filling out the sound and clearly there to cover the fact that Jorma can't always be in two places at once, even with overdubbing.
As the title implies, 'Double Dose' is made up of two very different halves (well quarter and three quarters really), a clever way of getting round the band's perennial problem of whether they're a hard-rock outfit playing straightforward songs or a blues cover act. Jorma plays what was in the days of vinyl the first side of the first record himself, with nothing more to accompany him than his acoustic guitar. Effectively Jorma is planning his next move away from the band as a solo star - and taking the opportunity of getting some practice by effectively making his 'new' self the opening act for his 'current' self - exactly what Hot Tuna did opening for the Airplane. Most of this first set is made up of blues standards, sung more subtly and quietly than on the album, with the highlight a note-perfect 'cover' of his Airplane favourite 'Embryonic Journey' (now over a decade old but still getting the biggest screams of the night) and an epic seven minute time of 'Killing Time In Crystal City' which sounds quite different without all those guitars flying all over the place.
Hot Tuna arrive for the remaining eleven songs and a more mixed bag. A lot of these songs, especially the blues covers, sound much like before only not recorded as sharply and whole it's impressive how close the band can get live to their studio feel songs like 'I Wish You Would' and 'I Can't Be Satisfied' weren't that interesting the first time round, never mind the near repeats here (although the latter now has a keyboard solo instead of a guitar one!) As ever with Hot Tuna it isn't all thrash and noise, however and there are three standout moments, all of them quieter than everything else here. 'Watch The North Wind Rise' is a lovely version of one of Jorma's most under-rated songs and even though there's a muddy aural hiss throughout (which I don't think is just on my copy by the way because I've owned it twice and they both do that) shines through the murk nicely. 'Serpent of Dreams' is another excellent song played well, with the wailing epic feel of the original pared back to the bare-bones, with more emphasis on Jorma's metaphysical lyrics and some intriguing sound effects that sound like a dragon puffing on a cigarette. The other album highlight is the album's only exclusive song, a sweet new ballad entitled 'Genesis' which would have made a fine addition to 'Hoppkorv'. A tender love song that once again could be about either girlfriend or band, it's not really about beginnings but endings and opens with the line 'the time has come for us to part' and asks both the lady and the listener for permission 'to go with you'.  It may well be the single best thing on the first disc, simpler than most Hot Tuna songs and more heartfelt than average too, with a nice rounded melody that's one of Jorma's best.
Overall, then, 'Double Dose' is certainly atmospheric and well-played, but it's one of those live albums that makes the good material shine like never before and makes the weaker material seem worse. Unfortunately the band' setlist is way too heavy on songs taken from 'Hoppkorv' (six out of ten of that album's songs) and one of these songs ('Winnin' Boy Blues') had already been heard in a near-identical version on the eponymous first live record. Had Hot Tuna been as bit braver in their setlist and recorded some of their better earlier songs then this record might have been quite something; as it is, like most Hot Tuna release, the promise is there in spades but something never quite gels, with twice the space of usual filled up with twice as many mistakes. As the last song on the last Hot Tuna album for twelve years, 'I Can't Be Satisfied' is perhaps their epitaph, a complaint about not quite getting things perfect that brings the band's career to a noisy end. Well, it wasn't going to end any other way really was it?!

Papa John Creach "Inphasion"
(DJM Records, November 1978)
Inphasion/Night Fire/To Fill The Need/Hezakiah/Montuno Grande//All The World Loves A Winner/Somehow She Knows/Silver Bird/Flow With The Feeling/Southern Strut
"Hanging out walking home from school, playing my radio and being cool, watching the girls as they walked by, I'd turn it up just to catch their eye, rock and roll made it fun!"
Papa John's seventh album is much like his other six, although with a slight rockier feel than some of his earlier LPs. Sadly the formula that's been serving him so well up till now is beginning to sound a little bit stale - but this time around whenever Papa John reaches outside his comfort zone it all falls a bit flat. There are you see far less fiddle-led instrumentals this time around, which should really be a good thing, but replacing them with synth-led instrumentals that merely sound like bad Santana is not really much of an alternative. Similarly while there are more actual 'songs' here, which should be a good thing, you kind of know where each of them is going from the opening line. A couple of the selections here are particularly weird: 'To Fill The Need' is surely where the Grange Hill production team got both the melody and the weird noises on their theme tune from, whilst 'All The World Loves A Winner' is a curious big band funk disco hybrid complete where everybody is mixed lower than the irritating guiro percussion and 'Hezekiah' is reggae - but the streamlined clean-cut Boney M idea of reggae rather than the true funk Papa John could have given the album. After so much recording and touring Papa John also sounds as if his voice is giving way badly - though to be fair my copy of this LP has clearly lived through at least two wars and a revolution judging by the state of it and nobody sounds very good, so perhaps it's just that (for love or money I can't find a better copy anywhere - this is easily Papa John's rarest LP from what I can tell). There are, thank goodness, a few highlights here: 'Montuno Grande' is perhaps the funkiest of all of Papa John's attempts at being funky, coming on like the theme song from 'Shaft',  'Somebody She Knows' is a rare Papa John ballad, his most romantic song by some margin. The record also contains one of my all-time favourite Papa John songs in 'Silverbird' , a superior prog rock song about Papa John's childhood memories  which would have sounded right at home on 'Spitfire' all about how rock and roll 'made it fun'. An up and down LP then, with some real highlights in there somewhere but you can't shake off the feeling that Papa John might have done better hanging on until he had a full album's worth of material to record. Papa John's last record for some fourteen years, you can tell that the 61-year-old fiddle player's sound is becoming ever more anachronistic in the age of punk and that his solo career is rapidly running out of steam. However considering that this about as bad as it gets, it's still pretty good. 





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