Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Soul of Peter Greenberg

The Secret Museum
by Jim Webb

It’s not often that you meet a solar company executive who is also one of the most underrated guitarists in America. Many in the Taos Valley can now make that claim since Peter Greenberg and his wife Milissa moved to Arroyo Seco in 2008. Music aficionados of the local rock scene have seen him playing with Manby’s Head in a garage rock style, and a recent show at the KTAO Center had Peter on stage with his old Rock n’ Soul group Barrence Whitfield & The Savages. Throw in his previous membership with Boston punk group DMZ and the ‘60’s influenced Lyres and you have someone who has attacked his fret board with a passion in a variety of styles these last thirty-five years, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

He is a music fan, as well as a writer and performer of songs, but his music collection isn’t like mine or yours. First of all he doesn’t buy cds, only old style vinyl 45s and LPs are allowed into his home. He has turned his back on any mainstream release through the years, and concentrates with a gold miner’s intensity in looking for lost nuggets in a variety of styles that others have missed. Listening to forgotten swing / jump blues artists from the 1940’s like Louis Jordan and Bullmoose Jackson, along with old time country singers from the 1950’s including Floyd Tillman, Webb Pierce and Moon Mullican is his idea (and mine) of a fun evening. Obscure blues artists and rockabilly bands form another core of his library that pretty much ends by the late 60’s. His real passion though falls under the category of Soul music. There has been a lot of Soul Music sub -genres through the years including Memphis Soul, Philly Soul, Detroit Soul, Chicago Soul, and the broader, overlapping Northern Soul. Detroit Soul, more popularly known as Motown, had the most mass commercial appeal, while Philly Soul generally had more of a “sweeter” sound than the grittier Stax/Volt label artists who recorded in Memphis. Chicago Soul had at times a harder blues edge, and Northern Soul is a general catchall phrase for a lot of obscure artists from the North who never had hit records but released a lot of quality music. Northern Soul also caught on big in certain U.K. clubs during the 60’s and 70’s that were specializing in playing these lesser known Soul musicians. No matter how you classify Soul records, it always has a lot of feeling inside the grooves.

I spent an evening with Peter recently, and he kept pulling out rare and unknown Soul 45s while we discussed the various artists on the small Chicago labels of Onederful and Mar - V- Lus. He recorded the songs he played onto a cdr; here are a few of what we listened to:

1.) Carl O. Jones / Betty Everett – “Days Gone By” (Chicago / Northern Soul). Betty had a hit with the “Shoop Shoop Song”, this was less commercial, but just as satisfying.

2.) Johnny Sayles – “You Told a Lie” (Chicago Soul). Deep, wrenching tale of loss and betrayal.

3.) Soul Brothers Six – “Your Love is Such a Wonderful Love” (Rochester, N.Y.) Five brothers and a friend, uptempo group who recorded on the Atlantic label

4.) Otis Clay – “I Got to Find a Way” (Chicago Soul). Powerful vocalist still
performing live.

5.) Alvin Cash – “Twine Time” (Chicago Soul) Big instrumental hit in 1965

6.) McKinley Mitchell – “A Bit of Soul” (Chicago Soul). One-derful label, he epitomizes the talented, unknown mid – sixties Soul artist.

7.) Bobby Moore & the Rhythm Aces – “Go Ahead and Burn” (Alabama). The Deep South never sounded so good.

8.) Freddie Scott – “I’ll Be Gone” (Rhode Island). Knock out lost single on the Shout label.

9.) Eddie Floyd – “Big Bird” (Memphis Soul). Lesser known song than his big hit “Knock on Wood”

10.) Johnnie Taylor – “Love Bones” (Memphis Soul). Stax / Volt label magic.

In one evening of playing music we didn’t even scratch the surface of his massive collection of hard to find records. Singers like O.V.Wright and Harold Burrage will have to be saved for another day. After repeated listening to the cd he made for me, I learned more than a few things. Johnny Sayles has Soul. Bobby Moore has Soul. Freddie Scott has Soul. Peter Greenberg has Soul.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The F – Word

The Secret Museum
By Jim Webb

It has a deep impact on most people when heard, no matter what the circumstances might be. It’s also an adjective that can be used to describe a whole range of feelings and emotions when calmer vocabulary seemingly just won’t do. A lot of people refuse to even utter the letters that comprise its meaning, because by even saying it you have accepted a certain responsibility for choosing such a descriptive word. There are some who freely accept it as an expressive term, while others have run away from it for as long as they’ve heard its sound. Yes, I am talking about the musical category known as Fusion.

A recent concert appearance in Santa Fe by Fusion pioneer John McLaughlin has reopened this long running debate on the merits of this style of music. He is the pre-eminent Fusion musician on the planet, still releasing new cds and touring all over the world at sixty-eight years of age. He has played the guitar for the last sixty years and has been at the forefront of this highly technical brand of music since its creation in the late 1960’s. No one that has ever seen or heard John McLaughlin play would doubt that he has a tremendous command of the guitar. Not only does he play at times with a blazing pace on the fret board, but he is also a master improviser in the great Jazz tradition. What has made McLaughlin such an imposing figure is that he does have more than just technical virtuosity plugged into his amp. There is a lyricism to the guitar lines that he endlessly weaves, and he has also proven himself to be one of the original innovators in creating a true World Music style. He has played with both Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, and that high octane mixture of jazz and rock is what Fusion is all about. His 70’s electric band Mahavishnu Orchestra had some of the best musicians around (Cobham, Goodman, and Hammer), while he later created Shakti as a vehicle to explore his interest in Indian music. Guitarists Jeff Beck and Pat Metheny have both called John the best guitarist in the world, lofty praise from two highly respected musicians. His performance with The Fourth Dimension band was a microcosm of all things good and bad that have been debated about Fusion since its creation. Excessive soloing might be a downer for some, but how do you argue with such mind blowing technical virtuosity? Others might cry about a lack of “songs” (a la Burt Bacharach), but these four musicians exhibited a cohesion rarely seen that trumped any mundane need for familiar tunes. If someone said it sounded like a guitar / drum clinic at times I wouldn’t argue, but what a sound they threw at us! Etienne M’bappe was a revelation with his unique bass lines, while Mark Mondesir kept the drum seat red hot all night long. Keyboardist Gary Husband added a lot of tasteful licks with McLaughlin the whole evening smiling as if he had finally found that lost chord he’d been searching for all these years. John called himself just an aging hippie at one point during the concert, and that humility rang as true as any note from his guitar. Like a Zen master patiently waiting for his future students to find him, McLaughlin has explored the fret board in a variety of styles throughout his life, and has stayed open to its possibilities. Many people aspire to be the best at what they do, but hard work and skill will only get you so far. After many years he came to the realization that a true master doesn’t just play the guitar, you also have to let the guitar play you.

Immediately after the final notes ended a concert goer one row away from me leaned over to his friend and said - “what do you think”? After forty years people still don’t know what to make of it. If you have any doubts buy John’s latest cd entitled “To The One”, after listening to it then you’ll know exactly what side of the fence you’re on. When it comes to the F-Word, I don’t give a f**k what anyone else says. McLaughlin’s Fusion. I love it.

Jim Webb
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