Lost Treasures – Viv Albertine’s “The Vermillion Border” (Revisited)

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Viv Albertine – “The Vermillion Border”

Cadiz Music (2012)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Viv Albertine should be anointed patron saint of the domestically dispossessed. After leaving her band The Slits and the music business some three decades ago, she reestablished dominion over her own life after a lengthy submission to the mundane identity of Hastings housewife and mother. When Albertine finally decided to cast off the invisible shackles of marriage, Albertine had no golden parachute of prior chart hits to help zip line her escape from a financially responsible but existentially impoverished husband; a man who possessed no appreciation for the musical visionary he lived with for 17 years.

After releasing an excellent 4 song EP “Flesh” in 2010, Albertine’s formal declaration of independence took the form of her 2012 debut solo album “The Vermillion Border” and it’s a revelation. Albertine is present and in charge throughout the 11 tracks that comprise the album. Each song features her feathery, labyrinthine guitar style and her honey-sweet monotone vocals. And, of further interest is the guest line-up, that features a different bass player on each track – those include; Jack Bruce, Tina Weymouth, Glen Matlock, Danny Thompson and a host of others. If suffering is the compost of good art, “The Vermillion Border” is an art piece 25 years in the making. Stylistically, the album is clearly informed by the artist’s eclectic and inclusive listening habits as well as her life experiences with sexism, cancer, marriage, motherhood and divorce. You would not expect such a catholic variance in style, tone and color from an ex-punker. However, when you factor in that her favorite guitar player is Progressive Guitar icon, Steve Howe from Yes, it all starts to make sense. As a guitarist she conjures an impressive range of sounds and rhythms using muted strings, drone strings, note clusters, capos and chord embellishments.

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“The Vermillion Border” is a rich banquet of mood and tone. As a songwriter, Viv keeps it simple and sticks to verse/chorus song structure with the odd bridge or transition.  Her voice is an unpretentious instrument of persuasion that – when layered and doubled – can add up to significantly more than its component parts.

What follows is a track by track overview of “The Vermillion Border”

1. “I Want More” If any song serves as a manifesto to Albertine’s third act heroics it’s this track. It’s snarly, provocative and cacophonic in equal and proper measure. Lyrically, it works on many levels; as an existential plea to the cosmic referee to put up a few more minutes on the clock, or as an ultimatum to an underachieving partner to raise their game a notch. “I Want More” charges out of the gate hard.

2.“Confessions of a MILF” – The catchiest track on the album is probably the deepest. The artist has alluded to that fact that nursery rhymes are probably the closest thing young girls have to a collective folk music tradition. The song starts off dead simple with a hooky little Telecaster riff as the bedrock to Albertine’s screed against domestic mundanity. As the music builds and gets angrier, so do the lyrics. The volume and dissonance increases unabated as Albertine chants her repetitive mantras of domestic servitude. It all builds to a raucous crescendo with Albertine howling, “SHOES OFF!” before she crumples to the floor breathless while still gasping her desperate incantations through to the end of the track. A fascinating record by any measure. However, the involvement of Albertine’s ex-paramour Mick Jones (The Clash) turns “..Milf” into an epic.

3. “In Vitro” – Here, Albertine alludes to the travails of In Vitro fertilization, in addition to her regime of chemotherapy; the woman has suffered. The In Vitro regime included daily self-administered stomach injections. But, one wonders if the needles she coos so benignly about could also belong to absent friends who ultimately succumbed to the ravages of Heroin. Arguably the most sophisticated and detailed composition on the album.

4. When it was Nice – One imagines this song was written during that transitional period where  rose tinted denial gradually gives way to the realization that that you’ve grown to dislike the person you’re in love with.

5. Hook-up Girl – On this tune Albertine mixes a sappy girl-pop verse with a bouncy malt-shop refrain: all describing the dark melancholy that accompanies a dour, loveless relationship based only on sexual convenience. Clearly, the narrator is not happy with the proffered arrangement, which she describes as… “Blowjobs no kisses”.

6. The False Heart – A druggy mood piece that shuffles sleepily into the twilight zone of despondency. On this piece more than any other, Albertine’s guitar work conveys more than words. Albertine’s voice sounds fragile and emotionally spent, beyond caring. The refrain is a faint schoolyard taunt, wearily repeating the word….liar, liar, liar…

7. Don’t Believe – In her book, Albertine professed her admiration and obsession with John Lennon and his art. “Don’t Believe” is the female riposte to Lennon’s neo-nihilist purge “God”. His influence (lyrically) is clearly present on this track. Written the day her father died, “Don’t Believe” stands as one of the greatest atheist anthems in the Rock pantheon, a slow boil screed where Albertine sneeringly declares belief only in things that she can see, touch and feel. The harmonic structure is a deceptively nuanced, circular guitar riff that brings to mind early XTC.

8. Becalmed (I Should Have Known) – Gorgeous, atmospheric track. Imagine a sober, transgendered Syd Barrett baring his soul after jumping into the existential void without a safety line. Indeed, Albertine’s slithery slide work sounds like it could have been sampled directly from Pink Floyd’s “Relics”.

9. Little Girl In A Box – Having read Albertine’s amazing book “Boys.., Clothes.., Music..”, the lyrics on “The Vermillion Border” scan like a ‘cliff notes’ version of that work. Albertine whispers the lyrics in the manner of a mother reading her daughter to sleep. However, instead of a benign fairy tale, this is a cautionary one for a girl taking her first tentative steps into womanhood. Probably meant for the ears of Albertine’s own daughter. However, the standard mommy speech is clearly extrapolated from personal experience and (possibly) from similar advice given by Albertine’s own mother.

10. Madness of Clouds – Floating, meandering mood piece. The only track on “The Vermillion Border” that courts dispensability.

11. Still England –Clearly, Albertine’s work is informed by that particular love/hate relationship with Britain that other British artists (Kinks, XTC, The Beatles) have mined to great artistic effect. On this tune she gives us a laundry list of the most British of British institutions and celebrities. She somehow combines cultural pride with a healthy distain for bullshit iconography. The song marches along – ticking off such disparate people and entities as The Royal Mail, Kate Bush, David Bowie, Tea, The Roxy, etc…. The final word uttered is ‘cunt’; the most inflammatory, gender specific epithet in the English language. The word is both bracing and startling, while at the same time, it’s uttered casually and unapologetically. Albertine (a stealthy anti-hero in the feminist movement) somehow denudes the word’s power to hurt or shock. “Still England” is the perfect end to a near perfect album.

This writer stubbornly maintains that Rock and Roll as a living, breathing art is dead. However, once in a while a maverick bolt of lightning strikes the corpse and animates the monster to life (however briefly) and thus, forces us to question our pronouncement. “The Vermillion Border” is just such an album.

 

Glenn Cornick (1947-2014) – Postscript

Author: Dale Nickey

Jethro Tull w/Glenn Cornick played The Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970 to an audience of between 600 and 700 hundred thousand people (Guinness book estimate). It was Britain’s answer to Woodstock only bigger; however, feel good vibes were definitely in short supply. A large mob who had not paid for admittance to the event took exception to being fenced out. They set about tearing the large corrugated steel fence down. Police and fans squared off. It was the music that calmed nerves and avoided a riot.

Tull played the fifth and last day of a very long festival. And similar to Woodstock, they faced a large, cranky and sleep deprived throng. Tough crowd. Woodstock looked like the beginning of something. Unfortunately it was the beginning of the end. The bitter end was Altamont and finally the Isle of Wight Festival. The Isle of Wight was the last festival of its kind for decades.

Tull took the stage with a tough brief and blew the doors out of the place with an electrifying performance. Glenn Cornick was throwing flames in particular. He gets some bass/face time in the second half of this performance. It’s worth the wait.

Missed By ‘That’ Much…..Progressive Rock’s Greatest B-Listers

Authored by Dale Nickey:

The Beatles (among many other things) are the Godfathers of Prog. They dragged Rock and Roll kicking and screaming into its adulthood. They introduced all the basic components of the genre we would later call Progressive Rock: the mellotron, odd time signatures, the symphony orchestra, synthesizers, sampling and looping, cut and paste methodology, new-age philosophizing……..A whole new generation of musicians were watching, listening, and incorporating. Then they took it all a step further. Some took it too far. But they all aimed high. For a brief time in the 1970’s, Progressive Rock scaled the mountaintop and ruled the world.

You got your A-list Prog Bands…..Yes, ELP, Genesis, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd. They made an impact on pop culture and headlined stadiums. You also have the Moody Blues, a Progressive Rock group in ‘hit-makers’ clothing. However, go past that honor roll, and you’ll find a rogues gallery of musically ambitious bands who never quite grabbed the brass ring of mega-stardom. Here is my Top 10 underachievers in the Progressive Rock genre. A genre where you really ‘had to be there’……

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UK 

From the ashes of King Crimson and Roxy Music rose UK. Bassist/Vocalist John Wetton made his acquaintance with keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson in Roxy Music. Likewise, Wetton and (ex-Yes drummer) Bill Bruford shook the earth together in Crimson. Guitar virtuoso Alan Holdsworth rounded out the lineup.  UK was at the right place at the wrong time. In the mid-70’s Punk was in the process of scorching the earth, and mid-life Proggers were definitely not invited to the party.

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Flash

Original Yes guitarist Peter Banks built this group from the ground up after his brusque dismissal. Ex-Yesser Tony Kaye signed on for the first album and insured the band was 40% Yes alumni. Comparisons were inevitable. Banks, Kaye and Co. couldn’t hope to match the musical or commercial heights of their former band, but they gave it a decent college try. Their first single “Small Beginnings” actually crawled to number 28 on the Billboard chart in America. They toured incessantly and made three idiosyncratic albums. However, an oddball lead singer, Kaye’s departure and Banks’ alcohol fueled megalomania put paid to any further commercial inroads.

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801

Great players, good material and art-rock cache’ (courtesy of Brian Eno). This band should have been bigger than they were. Their  live album “801-Live” is one of the great buried treasures of the 70’s. It contains their monumental version of The Fab’s, “Tomorrow Never Knows”; a track that stands as one of the greatest Beatles covers in history. Moreover, it (arguably) holds the distinction of being the only cover version that betters the original.

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Camel

Keyboard wizard Peter Barden’s baby after his tenure with Them and Van Morrison. Camel was a fine ensemble made up of capable (albeit unknown) musicians. Their greatest shortfall was a scarcity of hooks and vocals. Prog’s popularity was on the wane, and Camel’s protracted instrumentals never really stood a chance in the mainstream.

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Of all the bands on this list, the Italian Prog group seemed most likely to achieve breakout success. Their electrifying single “Celebration” (from their first American album) made significant inroads on FM radio during Prog’s early 70’s heyday. They were a monster live act. Their musicianship was top tier. However, the absence of a proper lead singer blunted their crossover potential. And, for the all important American audience, an Italian Rock band was perhaps a bridge too far.

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Gentle Giant

Insanely syncopated arrangements, conservatory trained members, and eclecticism run riot. Gentle Giant was the archetype for all that was good and excessive about Progressive Rock. A crossover hit was never in the cards. The band was (ultimately) too adventurous for it’s own good. However, their work ethic and creativity were beyond reproach.

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Focus

Big in Europe. In America, not so much. They did join the ranks of memorable “one hit wonders” with their manic instrumental “Hocus Pocus”. However, guitarist Jan Akkerman’s commitment to Rock was tenuous at best, and their yodeling leader Thijs Van Leer was a bug-eyed Rock flautist in a world already occupied by Jethro Tull. Holland’s greatest musical export will forever remain on the B-list in Prog-Rock history. Perhaps unjustly.

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Ambrosia

Kansas and Styx notwithstanding, Ambrosia started out in the early 70’s as a credible American riposte to English Prog kings Yes. And, they could write tunes. Ultimately, the call of the Billboard charts was impossible to resist. they abandoned their Progressive mission and became AOR hit makers until Punk and New Wave herded them to the margins.

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Barclay James Harvest 

Far too effete and lightweight to break big in America; the band put out a slew of mellotron rich records in the 70’s that charted respectably in Britain. They were persistent and aimed high. However, in a genre where virtuosity was the standard and not the exception, BJH was never quite ready for prime time.

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Procol Harum 

A borderline call. Procol Harum was a great band who had their moments in the sun. Specifically, the summer of love evergreen, “Whiter Shade of Pale” and the (1972) single “Conquistador”. However, without a proper bum wiggling front man, their mass appeal was limited. They also occupy a permanent footnote in Rock history as the band who gave the world Robin Trower. They became an “album band” and now tread the nostalgia circuit. Their (1973) album, “Grand Hotel” is a masterpiece ripe for rediscovery.

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Before And After Vol. 4 (YES) – Music Makeovers That Made Sense AND Dollars

Authored by Dale Nickey

More YES? click >>>Live OaklandLive Vegas/Live LA/Lost Years/ HOF

YES

Before (1968-1981)

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Yes is one of the music industry’s longest running soap operas. Yes started out as a covers band with an edge, they offered the world their off-the-wall versions of songs by The Beatles, The Byrds, Richie Havens, and Paul Simon. These, along with their own musically athletic compositions helped design the template for what we now consider the Progressive Rock genre. Steve Howe replaced free-radical guitarist Peter Banks and Rick Wakeman also signed on in 1971. These upgrades resulted in world stardom and classic rock hits that will live on in perpetuity.

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Yes could have consolidated their gains and joined mega-bands (Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd) into the Hall of Fame. However, at their 70’s commercial peak they went experimental and released two of their most difficult and adventurous albums. “Tales Of Topographic Oceans” and “Relayer” (respectively). Marquee member Rick Wakeman left in disgust and the franchise started to lose momentum. They remained a reliable concert draw but record sales declined significantly. Though their core audience remained, Yes were now unfashionable underdogs slugging it out in a Punk/New Wave world. 1977 saw Wakeman’s return and the LP “Going For The One” revived the band’s fortunes temporarily; but the crucial follow-up “Tormato” was a stinker that found the band tired, the formula tired and their fans frustrated. Founder and visionary Jon Anderson bailed and took super-star keyboardist Wakeman with him. All that remained was the Yes rhythm section and a sold out tour with the money already spent. Remaining members Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White hastily assembled a line up by merging with the pop duo The Buggles and limped through one album and tour that met the band’s contractual obligations, but alienated half of their remaining fan base. Steve Howe and Geoff Downes left to form super-group ASIA and that, (apparently) was that.

AFTER (1982-20??)

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Chris Squire and Alan White crawled from the smoking wreckage of Yes and tried forming a  supergroup with Jimmy Page. That project (XYZ) never saw the light of day and things were looking bleak. Squire then stumbled upon some demos by South African rock star Trevor Rabin. Rabin was a young, guitar slinging hotshot with leading man looks and the ability to sing, write, play keyboards, produce and arrange. The band Cinema was born and when original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye was drafted into the group, corporate wheels started turning. Soon Upon hearing the Cinema demos, Jon Anderson gave his seal of approval and signed on. With Anderson onboard, the band was now 80 percent Yes alumni and there was no turning back. Rabin’s protests be damned, there was now a New Yes for the 1980’s with corporate juice fueling the vehicle.

In brief, the remodeled Yes released the (1983) album “90125” and went stratospheric. A number one single, “Owner Of a Lonely Heart” ruled radio and the song’s video was ubiquitous on MTV for most of the year. Likewise the album “90125” went Top Five on Billboard charts and went triple platinum in the US.  The 80’s Yes had eclipsed the previous incarnation’s commercial achievements and caused a rift in the fan base that remains to this day.

What happened next?

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In 1987, the new Yes  followed up “90125” with “Big Generator”.  It spawned two Top 40 singles but the album was clearly a commercial step back after the break out success of “90125”. Jon Anderson saw the vessel taking on water and  began to split his time between the band and the newly formed Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe. Now we had another band of Yes alumni with a viable claim to the brand. Moreover, the new ensemble’s modest commercial success saw record company CEO’s and lawyers scrambling.  Chris Squire and record label ATCO now owned the Yes name, but without enough legit band members to field a team, the Yes name was a frozen asset. From this legal quagmire, the next Yes album was born, “UNION”. All eight yes alumni participated on the album and support tour. The album was a cut-and-paste mess that sold barely half a million copies. The tour was a commercial success but disillusioned band members left before the tour’s completion and the whole enterprise unraveled at the speed of light. Yes would reform in various configurations culminating in their reunion of the classic lineup in 2002. However, since that time, Yes has chosen to dilute its brand with a cavalcade of tribute-band singers; and in the process, soiled the band’s legacy for all except the most die-hard, Johnny-come-lately fans.

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DIY?… Because they could – Rock’s Greatest “One Man Band” Albums

Authored by Dale Nickey:

The “One Man Band” is the lone wolf in the ecosystem of music. Not only are they multi-instrumentalists, they have upped the ante by declaring, “we don’t need no stinkin’ band”. Whereas Brian Jones was the ultimate “jack of all trades” when it came to the band dynamic, he would have fallen short trying to make a coherent album all by his lonesome. Here then is my list of the greatest “One Man Band” albums of all time.

“McCartney” (Paul McCartney)

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The Beatles were in the process of a very messy divorce. Paul was depressed, drinking, bearded and smelly. Linda was fed up and demanded he get up off his arse and do something. Macca’s first solo album was result. Paul puttered around his home studio, played all the instruments, and knocked out this home baked little gem. Beatlesque’ genius rears its head on “Maybe I’m Amazed”, and lightweight Wings-Pop is presaged in the humble ditty “Lovely Linda”.  Not the magisterial mission statement one might have expected from Paul’s first solo long player; but maybe that’s part of this album’s charm and longevity.

“Emitt Rhodes” (Emitt Rhodes)

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Emitt Rhodes should’ve been a contender. He had the looks, talent and work ethic. During the swinging sixties he honed his multi-instrumentalist chops as leader of the chamber pop group The Merry-Go-Round which had a modest hit with “You’re A Very Lovely Woman”. At the dawn of the 70’s he signed a solo deal with ABC Dunhill and repaired to his parent’s garage to build his own studio with his $5,000 advance money. There he produced the McCartneyesque’ DIY masterpiece “Emitt Rhodes”. The album charted well (#29 on Billboard) and the critics swooned. All systems were go for a productive career to rival that of Todd Rundgren or perhaps even Macca himself.  ABC Dunhill had other ideas, all of them bad. First they rigidly held him hostage to a contract that required one album every 6 months. Being an artist, who wrote, produced, performed and engineered his work in its entirety, this blueprint was untenable and illogical.  Rhodes reasonably lobbied for a more sane release schedule. After all, his debut effort was a commercial and critical success. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it, right? No deal. ABC Dunhill not only refused to nurture their budding solo star, they sued him for $250,000 for breach of contract and withheld his royalties for failure to deliver his albums in a timely manner. Through clenched jaw and gritted teeth Rhodes recorded two more solo albums before calling it quits.  Rhodes then walked out of the machinery and refused to make anymore solo records. Instead, he sustained himself as a recording engineer and studio owner. ABC Dunhill’s handling of Emitt Rhodes was one of the most colossal corporate blunders since the Boston Red Sox sale of Babe Ruth.

“Olias of Sunhillow” (Jon Anderson)

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By 1976, Yes had pretty much conquered every mountain that poked out of the sky. They’d had hit singles. Their double LP concept album “Tales Of Topographic Oceans” shot to number one on both sides of the Atlantic. They were headlining stadiums. Their (then current) album “Relayer” saw them at the peak of their musical powers. What next?….Solo albums of course. For Jon Anderson, this meant spending his Yes lucre on lots of cool instruments and recording gear and building both a studio and album from scratch. Normally a lead singing specialist, Anderson pushed himself and played all the instruments and sang all the vocals on “Olias….”. The album was a dense and eclectic affair even by Yes standards. However, it charted surprisingly well, and was arguably one of the forerunners of the “New Age” genre. Echos of “Olias Of Sunhillow” can be found reverberating through much of his subsequent work, most notably his ethereal collaborations with synthesizer master Vangelis.

Arc Of A Diver – Stevie Winwood

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The 1980’s separated the men from the boys literally and musically. You were either a groovy young thing or you adapted to sound like a groovy young thing.  ZZ Top added buzzing synth washes to their roadhouse musings and struck pay dirt. Yes cut the length of their songs and their hair and scored a worldwide numero Uno with “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”. Bruce Springsteen ditched his beard, buffed up, and sang zippy ditties about “Dancin’ in the Dark” and “Hungry Hearts”. Stevie Winwood had to fashion a similar re-calibration. Previously a band musician (Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith), he ushered in the new decade by entering the studio alone and shutting the door behind him. When he emerged, it was with the DIY masterpiece “Arc Of A Diver”. Previously a piano/Hammond man, Winwood now discovered the joys of synths, midi and beat boxes. “….Diver” was an unqualified smash and set the table for more of the same. Winwood’s solo success during the 80’s and the revenue it generated probably had as much to do with Traffic’s induction into the Rock And Roll HOF as anything the band accomplished during it’s brief heyday.

John Fogerty – “Centerfield”

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In the late 60’s and early 70’s, Creedence Clearwater Revival broke the bank with an impressive string of top selling albums and singles. However, when Fogerty wanted to leave the band and Fantasy Records to go solo, he had to give up all future royalty rights to his Creedence songs. The deal cost Fogerty millions. Fogerty refused to perform his most popular hits for several years rather than line the pockets of his enemies. Due in part to the psychological stress, his first two solo excursions were shaky and marginal affairs. However, the third time was the charm with “Centerfield”. Fogerty sang all the vocals and played all the instruments and fashioned a sound that was. well….identical to CCR (see “The Old Man Down The Road”).  Baseball metaphors abounded as John Fogerty got back in the game, hit a grand slam with a #1 chart topper and took Comeback Player of The Year Award. “Centerfield”  replenished the Fogerty coffers. Eventually, Concord Records bought up Fantasy and Fogerty was able to renegotiate a deal that provided closure.  However, Fogerty’s image will forever be tarnished by his decision to exclude his Creedence band mates from the Hall Of Fame Induction performance honoring the band’s admittance to the hall. Fogerty may have occupied Centerfield, but he was never a team player.

Rare Birds – Top Five Pioneers of “Rock Violin”….# 1

Eddie Jobson

(Jethro Tull, Roxy Music, Frank Zappa, YES, UK, King Crimson, Curved Air)

Click here for #’s   2 3 4 5

If  Mozart were reincarnated as a rock musician he would most likely come back as Eddie Jobson. Like Mozart, Jobson was precociously talented on both keyboards and violin from an early age. He was the featured soloist at the age of seventeen for B-list proggers Curved Air before Roxy Music snapped him up and made him a star member ( at age eighteen) of their studio and touring band for the next three albums. Due in part to Jobson, Roxy became one of the biggest bands in Europe.  His trademarks were a decidedly androgynous sex appeal and a custom made see-through Plexiglas violin.  Onstage, Jobson brought a glammy, confident swagger that enhanced the appeal of the electric violin as a Rock instrument.  After Roxy Music, Jobson said thanks (but no thanks) to an offer from Procol Harum  and joined the finishing school that was Frank Zappa’s road band in 1976.  After Zappa, he then established his own brand as both electric violinist and world class multi-keyboardist in the progressive all star unit UK.  After three albums, UK folded.  Jobson remained in the Prog elite-league as a member of Jethro Tull and was breifly a member of the 1983 platinum version of YES; going as far as to appear in the video for “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” before ultimately turning down the gig. King Crimson fans can also enjoy his work on the live album “USA”, where he surrepetitiously replaced much of the violin work of previous bowsman David Cross.

Jobson’s first legendary burst of genius was his epic electric violin solo on Roxy’s “Out Of The Blue”. After all that had gone on before, this 1975 electric violin solo finally demonstrated -once and for all- the boner inducing potential of the instrument in a Rock context. Eddie’s solo comes at the end of this video and is worth the wait.

 

Founding YES guitarist Peter Banks (Obituary)

Word has just come in that founding Yes guitarist Peter Banks died on March 7. He was 65.

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Peter Banks was an eclectic and acrobatic guitarist who holds the distinction of being a founding member of the Progressive Rock band Yes.  Banks appeared on the first two albums before he was replaced by virtuoso Rock guitarist Steve Howe. The band achieved world renown while Banks continued to work in various bands and as a solo artist until his death.  Peter Banks was haunted by the success of Yes after his departure. He was proud of his legacy, but at the same time harbored feelings of being cheated from the rewards of the band’s success. A success that was built largely on the template he helped design. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has been tardy and negligent in failing to induct Yes into The Hall. A timely induction would have given Peter Banks the recognition and closure he deserved as a founding member of (arguably) the greatest Progressive Rock band in history.

In addition to the two albums he recorded with Yes, he also appeared on several Yes compilations and anthologies after his departure. His post-Yes band, Flash recorded three albums  during the early 70’s. He also recorded several fine solo albums that showcased his evolution and invention as a guitar player. He also authored a fascinating auto-biography titled “Beyond And Before”. I reviewed the book several years ago for the international Yes fanzine, “Notes From The Edge”. I am republishing this review as a tribute to a musician who greatly influenced my approach to guitar early on in my musical career.

Reviewed by:   Dale Nickey

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A long search for this book guaranteed this review would be Yesterday’s (sic) news.

Peter Banks was a founding member of Yes. He was a hell of a guitar player. He certainly influenced Steve Howe’s approach as a guitar stylist. Banks didn’t miss the boat of rock super-stardom so much as he was pushed overboard from the vessel of his own construct. He was then handed an anchor on the way down. His “Bestian” misfortune insures this book’s edge and gives a unique angle that other Yestomes sorely lack.

The first two chapters of his auto-bio “tell most” are standard rock auto-bio fare. Banks describes the youthful blush of radio magic; the cheap, difficult first guitar and the long march from undistinguished cover bands to psychedelic tomfoolery. Then, on to the fool’s gold of Yes’ first recording contract. Mr. Banks’ role as Greek chorus in the Yes saga ultimately gives the group’s mythology much needed ballast and counterpoint. As much as we love Jon Anderson and his Hippy, New Age philosophies, the palate craves the acidic PH balance of Banks’ memoirs.

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The early years of YES are described in vivid and grimy detail. The book reveals Yes (Mark I) to be a fairly typical concern of hard-drinking, loud, untidy, entry-level rock stars looking for that first break. However, their work ethic, ambition (and talent) was any thing but typical of the times and reveals the beating heart of a group that would not fold its cards. We are privy to Chris Squire’s plainly obnoxious penchant for tardiness, Jon Anderson’s dictatorial tendencies and the general messiness in the communal squalor of the first Yes crash pad.   Mr. Banks obvious love and devotion to Yes and its music beyond and before thankfully tempers his grievances. This reviewer is old enough to remember the rancor evident in early interviews with Banks regarding the break up. Now, with the passage of time, Mr. Banks observations ring of hard won credibility. Indeed, much of the dramatic arc of this book comes from Peter Banks covert obsession with the brilliance of his replacement Steve Howe and his performance on the “The Yes Album” (strongly argued to be the group’s best album). This part of the book has Banks playing Salieri to Howe’s Mozart and is, by far, the most engrossing part of the book.

The evidence of record strongly suggests that Bank’s was a chief architect of the Yes template and moreover, did quite a bit of writing that should have been credited. Banks claims credit for coming up with the name of the group “Yes“. Banks was a Who fan and lobbied for a name with the same simplicity and impact.  He also claims credit for writing the signature riff for “Roundabout”. Clearly the first two Yes albums bare his stamp. Similar accusations of riff pilfering were lodged by Patric Moraz some years later and lend credibility to Mr. Banks claims.

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The tragedy and conflict of the story stems from Banks unwillingness to bend with the winds of change and ride out the “artistic differences” gracefully. He candidly portrays himself as an obstinate handful who over-estimated his value to the group.  His behavior during the “Time and A Word” sessions insured his dismissal. Hindsight tells us he should have made his contributions to “Time and A Word” and kept his yap shut. Later he grudgingly agreed with the mix of the record anyway.

However, life “Post Yes” started promisingly for Banks. An enjoyable lost weekend with Bloodwin Pig and the initial success and professionalism of Flash must have given Peter Banks a feeling of place in the rock firmament. After all, Pete Townsend was a fan of his playing. Robert Fripp was a flat mate and he got a thumbs up from guitar’s chairman of the board Jimi Hendrix. For a fleeting time in the summer of his life, he was one of “the cats”.

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The chapters devoted to Flash are a fascinating peek into the margins of the progressive rock world shortly before the nuclear winter of punk. A group just this side of great doomed to repeat history rather than create it.

The later chapters are gloomy and essential to the tale though difficult to read. There is no happy ending and closure is still pending.

“Beyond and Before” is a single evening of ravenous reading for the YESophile and a necessary hole plugger for slightly less committed. The sad irony is that this book has already fallen off the radar screen and will ultimately be as undervalued as Banks’ contributions to Yes music in particular and Progressive rock in general. He deserved better.

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