I Feel Free 45 and picture sleeve
By July 1966, Eric Clapton had established himself as the premier blues guitarist in Britain as a result of his tenure in The Yardbirds (October 1963-January 1965) and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (April-August 1965, November 1965-July 1966). But by July 1966, Clapton found the environment of the Bluesbreakers too confining, and he sought to expand his playing in a new band. In 1966, Clapton met drummer Ginger Baker, a member of the Graham Bond Organisation, a band that at one point featured Jack Bruce on bass. Baker, like Clapton, felt stifled by his present band, and tired of the GBO and Bond’s drug addictions and bouts with mental instability. Baker and Clapton were impressed with each other’s abilities, and Baker invited Clapton to join his new, as-yet unnamed band. Clapton agreed on the condition that Baker hire Jack Bruce as his bass player. Clapton had met Bruce briefly when the bassist/vocalist played in the Bluesbreakers briefly in March 1966 and was impressed with Bruce’s vocals and technical prowess. But what Clapton did not know is that when Bruce and Baker had been in the GBO, they had been notorious for their quarreling. Their volatile relationship included on-stage fights and sabotage of each other’s instruments. After Baker fired Bruce from the band, Bruce continued to show up for gigs, and was only driven away when Bruce threatened him at knifepoint. Nevertheless, Bruce and Baker were able to put their differences aside for the good of Baker’s new trio. The band was envisioned as a collaborative, with each of the members contributing music and lyrics. The band was named “Cream”, as Clapton, Baker and Bruce were considered the cream of the crop of British blues and jazz musicians. The new band made their unofficial debut at the Twisted Wheel on July 29, 1966, and their official debut at the Sixth Annual Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival two days later. Signed to producer Robert Stigwood’s new “independent” label, Reaction Records (the parent company was Polydor), Cream released their debut single, “Wrapping Paper” b/w “Cat’s Squirrel” in October 1966. The single was a hit, leading to the release of a full length album “Fresh Cream”, in December 1966, and a second single that same month: “I Feel Free” b/w “N.S.U.” This is today’s featured single.
“I Feel Free” represented a watershed even in the history of Cream. Their first single, “Wrapping Paper”, was a slow jazz number that was supposedly released as a single against the wishes of Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, and in any case was unrepresentative of their later output. “I Feel Free”, written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, was an important song for the band. It marked the beginning of their merging blues-rock with pop and psychedelia, and in doing so they began to realize their potential. The song begins with a single, sustained chord which gives way to a cappella vocals. Ginger Baker’s drums 31 seconds into the track signals the transition to a hard rock sound, but with a pop-like sound to it, anchored by Jack Bruce’s airy vocals. About 1 minute and 15 seconds into the track, Eric Clapton’s guitar solo begins, a solo which is brief but which seems entirely appropriate in this song. The chord arrangement is relatively simple (B-D-E-E for most of the song, giving way to C-Bb-A-D during the “I could walk down the street…” bridge about 1 minute and 50 seconds into the song). Pete Brown’s lyrics reflect the optimism of the early psychedelic era: “Feel when I dance with you/We move like the sea/You, youre all I want to know/I feel free, I feel free, I feel free”. There’s a lot going on in the 2 minutes and 53 seconds that this track lasts. This song was their first major hit in the U.K., just missing the Top Ten (peak position: #11), and was their first chart hit in the U.S. (peak position: #88), as well as the highlight of the American release of “Fresh Cream”, on which “Spoonful” was deleted to make room for it.
The B-side of this single, “N.S.U.”, is not the signature tune that “I Feel Free” was, but it represents a piece of inventive psychedelic pop that is in a similar vein, this time written by Jack Bruce alone. “N.S.U.” is an acronym for non-specific urethritis as well as the make of a car. Once again, the lyrics are optimistic, even whimsical: “Driving in my car, smoking my cigar/The only time I’m happy’s when I play my guitar.” Bruce’s vocals are less airy on this track (he almost sounds constipated the way he sings the lyrics). Again we get a brief Eric Clapton guitar solo; the overall feel of the song is tense and colorful, with the chord progression of F-D#-C and F-D#-A being repeated quite a bit. The drumming of Ginger Baker is far more noticeable on this track than it was on “I Feel Free” and contributes quite a bit to the feel of the song. “N.S.U.”, like “I Feel Free”, stands out as an example of the force and mastery of Cream on even the shorter, pop tunes, even as they showed a bias towards longer, free-flowing jams. And the shorter songs showcased their creativity while curbing some of the band’s more indulgent tendencies.
The single (catalog # in the U.S.: Atco 45-6462) was issued by Polydor Records in the U.K. and Europe, where it had the typical Polydor label of that time (red with the Polydor logo across the top, and the track listing and artist name across the bottom. In The U.S., the single was issue by Atlantic subsidiary Atco records, where it had a yellow and white label. Cream would move on to even bigger success, releasing “Disraeli Gears” in November 1967, an album which is considered by many to be their defining effort, containing “Strange Brew”, “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”, and “Sunshine Of Your Love”. Their third release, “Wheels Of Fire” (1968) was a double album (with the second disc recorded live at the Fillmore and the Winterland Ballroom). After the completion of this album in mid-1968, Cream decided to go their separate ways, with the band members now tiring of the project, and with Bruce and Baker’s combustible relationship strained even further by non-stop touring. They were persuaded to record one last album, the aptly titled “Goodbye” (1969).
Cream performing I Feel Free
at the Paris Pop Fest in 1967
I Feel Free video
Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album cover
John Mayall was born November 29, 1933 in Macclesfield, England. His father was a guitarist and jazz music enthusiast and John was drawn to the sounds of American blues players such as Leadbelly, Albert Ammons, Pinetop Smith and Eddie Lang, and taught himself to play the piano, guitars and harmonica. Mayall served three years of national service in Korea, where, during a period of leave, he bought his first electric guitar. Back in Manchester, he enrolled in the Manchester College of Art and started playing with semi-professional bands. After graduation, he obtained a job as an art designer but continued to play with local musicians. In 1956, he formed the Powerhouse Four with college mate Peter Ward, which consisted of them and other local musicians with whom they played at local dances. In 1962, Mayall became a member of the Blues Syndicate. The band was formed by trumpeter John Rowlands and alto saxophonist Jack Massarik, who wanted to try a blend of jazz and blues in a vein similar to Alexis Korner. It also included guitarist Ray Cummins and drummer Hughie Flint. It was Alexis Korner who encouraged Mayall to pursue music full time and move to London, which he did in 1963. It was in London that Mayall formed the Bluesbreakers, which started playing at the Marquee Club. The lineup was Mayall, Ward, John McVie on bass and guitarist Bernie Watson (formerly of Cyril Davies and the R&B All-Stars). In Spring 1964, the Bluesbreakers had their first recording session, and with Martin Hart on drums, they recorded two tracks: “Crawling Up a Hill” and “Mr. James”. Shortly afterwards, Hughie Flint replaced Hart, and Roger Dean replaced Watson. This lineup backed John Lee Hooker in his 1964 British tour. Mayall was offered a recording contract by Decca Records in December 1964, but a subsequent live album and a single were commercial failures and the contract was terminated. In April 1965, former Yardbirds guitarist Eric Clapton replaced Roger Dean. The band began to attract considerable attention with their new guitar player. The Bluesbreakers signed with Decca again and in April 1966 recorded an album with the Mayall-Clapton-McVie-Flint lineup. In the U.S., two tracks from the album “Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton” (1966) were released as a single: “All Your Love” b/w “Hideaway”. This is today’s featured single.
“All Your Love” is a cover version of a song written by Willie Dixon and Otis Rush; Rush’s recording of the song was released as a single on Cobra Records in 1958. This version is somewhat different than the original: the tempo is slowed, and there is no saxophone. The piano has been replaced by Mayall’s Hammond organ, which remains in the background, as Clapton’s guitar-playing is the driving force on this track. The song is a slow blues tune in A minor. The main rhythm goes Am-Dm-Em. There is a Clapton guitar solo that begins 1 minute and 21 seconds into the track. At 1 minute and 48 seconds in, the second part of the solo begins, and the song sounds like an up tempo shuffle. This continues until about 3 minutes into the track, when we get a reprise of the beginning part as the tempo slows down again, which lasts another thirty seconds before the song comes to a halt. Mayall’s velvety vocals complement this arrangement of the song quite well, especially on the mono mix of the song, where his vocals echo resoundingly. On the whole, this track is not a bad introduction to the Clapton era Bluesbreakers.
The B-side, “Hideaway”, is a cover version of the Freddy King/Sonny Thompson composition. The late Freddy King recorded the song, and it was released as a single in 1961, peaking at #29 on the Billboard singles chart and #5 on the R&B chart. It is an instrumental song in which the rhythm changes quite often. The main chords are the E blues chords (E7/A7/B7). Again this song provides a good showcase for Clapton’s guitar talents, but at 41 seconds in, we also get a bass solo by McVie (and another one at 1 minute and 45 seconds into the track). Mayall’s Hammond plays a more prominent role on this track. Freddy King was a fairly substantial influence on Clapton – he covered all of King’s major hits – and he works his way through this song with a considerable flourish.
This single was released on Deram in 1966. No picture sleeve was issued with the single. The single and album would eventually become a critical success (Rolling Stone ranked it 195 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time), but soon after it was recorded, Clapton left to form Cream, and Mayall was left scrambling for a replacement guitarist. He eventually settled on Peter Green. Mick Fleetwood and Aynsley Dunbar replaced Flint on drums, and this lineup recorded “A Hard Road” (1967), another album that is considered a classic. Afterwards, Green left to form Fleetwood Mac, and Mayall replaced him with Terry Edmonds and Mick Taylor. By mid-1967, the Bluesbreakers became a six-piece band, with Mayall, Taylor, McVie, Hughie Flint or Keef Hartley on drums, and Rip Kant and Chris Mercer on saxes. By 1968, John McVie had left, and Taylor left in 1969 to join the Rolling Stones. By the time “Diary of a Band Vol. 1 and Vol. 2” (1968) was released, Mayall had retired the “Bluesbreakers” name, releasing albums in his name, although he would remain a prolific artist, averaging a studio album a year throughout the 1970’s. In 1984, Mayall revived the Bluesbreakers name for a lineup featuring guitarists Walter Trout and Coco Montoya. In November 2008, Mayall announced on his website that he was disbanding the Bluesbreakers to cut back on his heavy workload and to give him the freedom to work with other musicians.
John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers performing All Your Love live in 1987
Ronnie Lane (from Kuschty Rye CD cover)
Today is the anniversary of the death of Ronnie Lane, a founding member of the Small Faces, the Faces, and a moderately successful solo artist in the 1970’s. Ronnie Lane was born on April 1, 1946 in the East End of London. After quitting school at the age of 16, he met Kenney Jones at a local pub and they formed a group called The Outcasts. Initially playing lead guitar, it was soon decided that Lane would switch to bass. When visiting the J60 Music Bar in Manor Park, London with his father in early 1965, Lane met Steve Marriott, who was working there. Lane bought the bass and went back to Marriott’s house after work to listen to records, where Marriott introduced Lane to his Motown and Stax collection. Lane and Marriott set out to put together a band with Lane on bass and Marriott on lead guitar and lead vocals. Kenney Jones was recruited as drummer, and Jimmy Winston, a guitarist, was added to the lineup, switching to keyboards. The band soon became known as the Small Faces, and began finding work in London and beyond.
The band signed a contract with management impresario Don Arden, who had the band signed to Decca Records. Their debut single, “Whatcha Gonna Do About It”, was released in August 1965, and peaked at #14 in the U.K. Their second single, “I’ve Got Mine”, released in November 1965, did not chart. Shortly afterwards, Jimmy Winston was dismissed and was replaced by Ian McLagan. By August 1966, the Small Faces’ fifth single, “All or Nothing”, reached the top of the U.K. singles chart. In spite of this massive success, the band was making relatively little money. The Small Faces were not convinced that Arden had paid them everything he owed them, and soon a rift developed between Arden and the band. In 1967, Arden sold his contract to Andrew Loog Oldham for 25,000 pounds, and Oldham signed the band to his brand-new label, Immediate Records. There the band continued its successful run, releasing “Itchycoo Park” (#3 U.K., #16 U.S.) in mid-1967, and “Tin Soldier” (#9 U.K., #73 U.S.) later that year. Given the relatively poor performance of “Tin Soldier” in the United States, Immediate ended its efforts to establish the Small Faces in America. But their success in the U.K. continued: their next hit was “Lazy Sunday” (#2 U.K.) in April 1968, which was followed by the release of the LP “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” the following month, a psychedelic masterpiece which topped the U.K. album chart for six consecutive weeks. Their next single, the non-album track “The Universal”, reached #16 in the U.K.
In March 1969, the Small Faces released their last single, “Afterglow (of Your Love)”, and the band announced their break-up, with Steve Marriott leaving to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton. The remaining three members (Lane, McLagan and Jones) joined forces with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood and became the Faces, dropping the “Small” from their name. The Faces would release four solid studio albums (and one live album) between 1970 and 1974.
Ronnie Lane left the Faces soon after the release of their fourth studio album, “Ooh La La”, in 1973. He recorded the hit singles “How Come” (#11 U.K.) and “The Poacher” (#36 U.K.) with a backing band he dubbed Slim Chance. The earliest incarnation of Slim Chance featured, among others, the Scottish singer-songwriters Graham Lyle and Benny Gallagher. These singles were more folk-oriented than the bluesy hard rock that had been the Faces’ stock in trade. In July 1974, he released his debut album, “Anymore for Anymore”, on GM Records. After these initial successes, Lane commenced a tour called “The Passing Show”, touring the U.K. as a carnival, complete with tents, barkers, and Viv Stanshall (formerly of the Bonzo Dog Doh Dah Band) as a short-lived ringmaster. The Passing Show was an interesting concept but was largely a financial failure.
Lane had the distinction of releasing four solo albums on four different record labels. He moved to A&M Records of his next album, “Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance” (1974), another album of easy-going folk rock, which was also produced by Lane. “One For The Road” (1976) was released on Island Records and was recorded at Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio, a studio housed within an Airstream trailer that was rented out to several bands during the mid and late 1970’s, including Led Zeppelin and the Who. “Mahoney’s Last Stand”, a collaboration with Ron Wood, was released the same year, and was the soundtrack to a Canadian movie released in 1972. Lane’s fourth studio album, “See Me” (1979), was released on Gem Records, and featured several guest musicians, including Eric Clapton, Mel Collins, and Ian Stewart.
In between the release of Lane’s third and fourth studio albums, Lane joined a short-lived reformation of the Small Faces. They filmed two music videos, miming to “Itchycoo Park” and “Lazy Sunday”, which had both re-entered the U.K. singles chart. The band decided to record new material, but Lane left after two rehearsals and was replaced by Rick Wills. He had already signed a contract with Atlantic Records, however, and Atlantic informed him that Lane owed them an album. In order to fulfill his obligation, he collaborated with Pete Townsend on the album “Rough Mix” (1977), which was a modest hit (#45 U.S.) although it was not promoted much by Atlantic, and was lauded as a contender for album of the year by many critics.
During the recording of “Rough Mix”, Lane was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease which had already claimed the life of his mother. He seemed to derive some benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy, an expensive form of treatment that not everyone suffering from multiple sclerosis can afford. Lane began working with Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS), a London-based organization devoted to funding treatment for multiple sclerosis. In 1983, his girlfriend, Boo Oldfield, contacted record producer Glyn Johns in the hopes of getting a concert together to fund ARMS. Johns was already arranging Clapton’s Command Performance for Prince Charles, so they decided to book the Royal Albert Hall for two more nights to hold a benefit concert. The resulting ARMS concert featured Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, among others. With the addition of Joe Cocker and Paul Rodgers, they toured the U.S. It was during this time that Rodgers and Page formed The Firm.
Lane moved to Texas in 1984, where the climate was more beneficial to his health. He formed an American incarnation of Slim Chance, which was, as always, a loose-knit conglomeration of available musicians. This version usually included Alejandro Escovedo. For the next decade or so, Lane enjoyed his rock royalty status in the Austin area, and even toured Japan in 1990. Still, his health continued to decline. His last public performance was at a Ron Wood gig in 1992. In 1994, Lane and his last wife, Susan, moved to the small town of Trinidad, Colorado. At this point the Small Faces were not receiving royalty payments, and Jimmy Page and Rod Stewart generously contributed money for his medical care. Through the efforts of Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan, the Small Faces were eventually able to secure ongoing royalty payments. By this time, however, Steve Marriott had died in a house fire, and on June 4, 1997, Lane had succumbed to pneumonia.
On tomorrow’s show, we will be paying tribute to Ronnie Lane. The show will be streamed live here starting at 11:00 PM Eastern time on Friday (3:00 AM Saturday UTC). You will also by able to download the show at http://sixappeal.podbean.com/.