To casual listeners, it may seem like the Way Back Studio is a lawless backwater where chaos reigns but in fact we’re guided by a set of rules. First, we refuse to leave well enough alone. Second, if we find a hole in a song, we stick something in it. And third, given any opportunity, we toy with your musical expectations. Another rule that offers guidance says that you can’t make two songs segue if they don’t want to. Doesn’t matter how hard you try, you can’t make a smooth transition from, say, Janis Ian to Black Sabbath. In other words, the segues determine the songs we play, not the other way around. Now, today’s batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl started out as an amusing deconstruction of the big hit track from Paul Simon’s Graceland. The one about that guy with the short attention span and the nights that are so long. The song breaks neatly into three sections and has two elements that begged for segue, first the big horn parts and second, that great bass line break by Bakithi Kumalo that’s played forward first, and then flipped around and played backwards. The horn part sent me to Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life and his tribute to the giants of jazz.
And speaking of jazz, Kumalo’s bass line sent me to Joni Mitchell’s collaboration with the great Charles Mingus and a song we’ve played before about a dry cleaner from somewhere in Iowa which features Jaco Pastorius on bass. As for playing with your expectations, we return to Songs In The Key of Life. It was released long before the CD era and with albums, you’re locked into the song sequence. Turntables lacking, as they do, a ‘random’ button. So halfway through side one, as you listened to the great jazz fusion of “Contusion” you knew that when it reached its sudden end, it would be followed immediately and inevitably by the opening horns of the next track. But not today, so much for your expectations. Elsewhere in the set, we’ll hear an instrumental from Sea Level. But first, from the album To the Heart, here’s a nice bit of jazz rock from Mark-Almond.
|Busy On The Line
|You Can Call Me Al (part 1)
|You Can Call Me Al (part 2)
|Dry Cleaner From Des Moines
|You Can Call Me Al (part 3)
Paul Simon wrapping up the set with the final third of “You Can Call Me Al.” After putting that set together I realized that, with the exception of the two instrumentals, the set told four different stories. And even the titles to the instrumentals suggest narratives. First, Sea Level’s “Storm Warning” and then “Contusion.” But the main story and the starting point for building that set was the one about a guy named Al. A guy like a lot of us, with a lot more questions than answers. Like, why am I soft in the middle when the rest of my life is so hard? Where’s my wife and family? And what if I die here? Then there was Mark-Almond at the top of the set, telling the tale of the guy waiting for a call from that girl who says she’s never home, even when there’s a busy signal on her line. Sounds an awful lot like a girl I dated once.
After Stevie Wonder gave us that “Contusion” earlier, he told us a less bruising story about the greats of jazz: Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Glen Miller, Ella Fitzgerald, and the king of all, Sir Duke, also known as Edward Kennedy Ellington. Now, Charles Mingus was a jazz great too but Stevie didn’t have time to mention everybody. So instead, we had Joni Mitchell working with Mingus and Jaco Pastorious to create the tale of “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines,” a guy who could put a coin in the door of a john and get twenty for one, like Midas in a polyester suit who went looking for the set lists and the show commentaries and found them, along with several stories I wrote in the form of novels at billfitzhugh.com. I’m Bill Fitzhugh. Thanks for listening. And remember, if you’re looking for a photo opportunity or a shot at redemption and you don’t want to end up in a cartoon graveyard, join us next time right here in the comfort of the Way Back Studios for a fresh batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl satellite delivered from the dusty fringes of Los Angeles to the Deep Tracks.