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
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/.
In spite of the options offered by commercial radio – including terrestrial and satellite options – I often find myself listening to non-commercial Internet radio. One of my personal favorites is Radio Free Dishnuts, a 24-hour Internet radio station that also simulcasts the Skyscanner satellite radio network. Last night I was listening to Electric Cafe when I noticed that Bill Allen, the longtime host of the show, was back in the saddle after taking a six month leave of absence from hosting the show. When I realized this, I logged into the IRC chat room for RFD/Skyscanner. Bill is a self-described fan of analog technology, and supposedly, the only computer involved in the production of the show is the one that does the streaming. The rest is done with analog equipment – cart machines, turntables, and so on. My mentioning of this in the IRC sparked an interesting discussion of analog versus digital technology, with several people in the IRC coming down on the site of analog.
Skepticism of new recording technologies is probably not something that started with the transition from analog to digital. The late Gary Bourgois put together an interesting radio serial called “Floating Flash Frisbone, Radio Ace,” which tells of the amusing and ongoing saga of a radio DJ who cannot hold down a job. In one episode, he finds himself working for a station in Florida called Edison 78, a station that has not changed its format since 1922, and their disdain for anything new extends to their broadcasting facilities. All of the station’s spots are recorded on wax cylinders (“[t]hey tried to get us to use one of those newfangled wire recorders, you know,” muses morning man Victor Windup, “ehh, they’re nothing but trouble; always breaking down.”). But the early technology was so limiting in many respects that the need for improvement was obvious. 10-inch 78 RPM records, for example, were limited to about 3 minutes per side, and were rather fragile. 12-inch records allowed for a slightly longer track length, and some artists took advantage of this, releasing songs that were over four minutes long. The introduction of 33 RPM and 45 RPM records in the late 1940’s brought records with lower surface noise and longer playing time to the masses. 78 RPM records were still issued alongside their 33 and 45 RPM brethren for a number of years, but the 78 was a dying format and was more or less gone by 1960, although some children’s records continued to be issued on 78 until the 1970’s. The introduction of high-fidelity LPs, however, helped extend the hegemony of analog music, which would go largely unchallenged until the introduction of the compact disc in 1982, which brings us to the present debate over analog versus digital.
Indeed there are several factors working in favor of analog technology, at least as far as audiophiles are concerned. One is the lack of aliasing in analog technology – the tendency of different continuous signals to become indistinguishable from each other when sampled, as well as the distortion that results when a signal is sampled and reconstructed as an alias of the original signal. Another is the lack of quantization error – the error that results when analog input voltages are converted to digital (since digital signals are ultimately binary, a voltage that is smaller than the least significant bit will be rounded to either 0 or 1, while in the analog world, the original value would be preserved). Fans of digital technology, of course, will note the high quality of digital sound reproduction, along with the sensitivity of analog media to physical degradation (digital media is not immune to physical degradation, as anyone who has old CDs and DVDs can attest to, but overall they seem to have held up pretty well – I have CDs that are 20 years old that still play).
I straddle the line somewhat on this issue. On the one hand, I realize that the dynamic range of digital media is limited and that analog, under ideal conditions, can be better. [I remember hearing Neil Young’s “After The Gold Rush” on a linear-tracking turntable about 15 years ago and thinking how much better it sounded than a CD.] On the other hand, I don’t share the enthusiasm that some analog aficionados have for clicks and pops, wow and flutter and tape hiss – in other words, the defects of analog media. I was listening to the Stiff Records Box Set recently, and it pained me that the version of “Yankee Wheels” by Jane Aire and the Belvederes contained surface noise (actually, it pained me more to think that the master tape of the song might be lost and that they apparently used a vinyl record as the source).
Still, to some technophiles, I’m probably considered a dinosaur. After all, I still use my fourth-generation iPod even though I have a fifth-generation iPod; I swoon over my still-functioning Sparcstation LX. And the VT-100 manual that I rescued from the garbage at work is something I’ll be hanging onto for awhile. And updating this blog is hard to do on my VIC-20, so I guess I’d better wrap up this article.