Sunday, April 21, 2013

Electric Flag -- "She Should Have Just" (1968)

I knew she thought she was 
Doing me a big favor
By loving me just once
And then being a good neighbor

Ladies, that is NOT doing a man a big favor.  No, no, NO -- it's just the opposite.  It's about the worst thing you can possibly do.  Trust me on this one.)

When I started writing this blog, I said that it was more about the music than it was about me.  Obviously, that was a big-ass lie.  

On occasion, 2 or 3 lines does focus much more on the featured song than on the usual autobiographical tales told by this idiot, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.  (Paraphrasing the "Bard of Avon" is always a good way to give a blog a certain intellectual aura despite the steady diet of profane rap lyrics and Kim Kardashian pics that constitute the daily bread of 2 or 3 lines readers.)

But before we get down to the Electric Flag and "She Should Have Just," let's get my family back to our home base in San Francisco after our recent excursion to Marin County.  

We'll pick up where we left off -- enjoying a delightful lunch on the waterside deck of Sam's Anchor Cafe in Tiburon:

Next, we took a very twisty-turny drive on the aptly-named Panoramic Highway until we reached the Muir Woods National Monument, which preserves 240 acres of old-growth coastal redwood forest.  (California once had an estimated 2 million acres of coastal redwood forest.)

Here's an example of the dozens of videos taken along the road to Muir Woods that have been posted to Youtube.  Every driver who is depicted in these videos is thinking just what I was thinking as I drove: PLEASE GOD DON'T LET ME PLUNGE TO MY DEATH BEFORE I GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS TERRIFYING ROAD.

Coastal redwoods can reach heights of 380 feet, and can be as large as 26 feet in diameter.  (Talk about a big-ass tree.)

The tallest tree in Muir Woods is 258 feet tall.  The big redwoods there are generally 500 to 800 years old, but some are estimated to be 1200 years old.

The Muir Woods is a very popular destination, and the most popular trails in the park can be fairly crowded -- you don't go to Muir Woods to get away from your fellow man (and your fellow woman and your fellow kids and baby strollers).

But walking through the redwoods at Muir Woods is an entirely magical experience.  It's quiet, the air is cool and still, and the sheer magnificence of the trees creates an atmosphere of awe and reverence.  It's oddly like walking through a medieval cathedral, except the environment is entirely natural.

Be sure you're holding on to something when you look up -- it can give you a serious case of vertigo:

After a harrowing drive down the narrow and very foggy Muir Woods Road, we eventually reached U.S. 101 and headed for the Golden Gate Bridge.  It's remarkable to see the evening fog roll in from the Pacific through the valleys of Marin County and the Golden Gate:

Edna St. Vincent Millay's most famous poem, "First Fig" -- which was published in 1920 -- is only four lines long:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night; 
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

The Electric Flag -- the first rock "supergroup" to truly deserve the name -- stayed together for less than a year.  But although the Flag didn't stay together for many nights, they gave a very lovely musical light while they lasted.     

The group's first album was a mostly instrumental LP consisting of the soundtrack they did for the 1967 movie, The Trip, a cult film about an LSD trip that was directed by famed low-budget filmmaker Roger Corman, written by Jack Nicholson, and starred Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, and Susan Strasberg.

Here's the trailer for The Trip, which appears to have been a completely unwatchable mess:

The second album, which was released in 1968, was titled A Long Time Comin', and it is a soul-blues-rock masterpiece that is almost forgotten today.

A law-school friend of mine gave me a copy of A Long Time Comin' in 1975 or 1976.  (I had a stereo in my dormitory room, and he didn't, so he gave me the album so he could drop by and listen to it on occasion.)  I had never heard of it, but it quickly became one of my favorites despite the fact that most would have found its musical style a bit dated by then.

The Electric Flag was a groundbreaking group.  It may have been the first rock band to include a horn section.  It was a racially mixed band, which was very unusual in that era.  It pioneered the use of electronic keyboards and sampling.  

Founder Mike Bloomfield, who had previously been with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was a famed blues guitarist who had played on Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and later joined up with Al Kooper and Stephen Stills on the legendary Super Session album.  He wanted to put together a band with a horn section like the great soul bands of that era and play music that combined different American musical genres -- including Chicago-style electric blues, Memphis-style soul, and rock.

The original Electric Flag lineup
Bloomfield quickly recruited his friend Barry Goldberg -- a songwriter and keyboard player who played with everyone from Bob Dylan to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels to Leonard Cohen to the Ramones.  

Bassist Harvey Brooks, another one of Dylan's band members who eventually became one of busiest studio musicians in the United States, also agreed to join.  Brooks recommended that Bloomfield recruit Wilson Pickett's 19-year-old drummer, Buddy Miles, who later formed his own band and also played with Jimi Hendrix.  

When Mitch Ryder turned down an invitation to be the group's lead singer, Bloomfield called his old  friend, Nick Gravenites (who became the lead vocalist for Big Brother and the Holding Company after Janis Joplin's departure).

The Electric Flag headlined
this classic Fillmore show
With the addition of a trumpeter, a couple of sax players, and an auxiliary keyboard player, the band was ready to get down to business.  Bloomfield's wife and Gravenites found a house for the band in Mill Valley just a few miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, near Mount Tamalpais and the Muir Woods, and the boys got to work.

Shortly thereafter, Peter Fonda unexpectedly asked Bloomfield to do the soundtrack for The Trip, which put a halt to their rehearsing the music that would eventually appear on A Long Time Comin'.  An appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival was another distraction -- the band (which then called itself The American Music Band) had to hurry to prepare a mere four-song set for the live appearance.

The audience loved them, but Bloomfield knew that his band's performance had been overshadowed by Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding, and the footage of the Electric Flag ended up on the cutting-room floor when D. A Pennebaker edited his famous documentary about Monterey Pop.

Mike Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites
But what really slowed down the release of A Long Time Comin' was the Electric Flag's drug issues.  In September 1967, Bloomfield, Goldberg, Brooks, and Gravenites were caught smoking marijuana at an Orange County motel and arrested.  

But the band's real problem wasn't marijuana -- it was heroin.  Trumpet player Marcus Doubleday was a heroin addict when he joined the group.  (He reportedly used to hide his stuff in his horn.)  Sax player Peter Strazza also got hooked on heroin.  Goldberg and Bloomfield became users as well.  

The album was finally released in March 1968.  It contained a couple of covers and original songs by several band members.  But the lion's share of the songwriting was done by Nick Gravenites.  

For some reason, several of the songs Gravenites apparently wrote -- including "She Should Have Just" -- are credited on the album to Ron Polte, who managed the Quicksilver Messenger Service.  (It seems that a song that Gravenites wrote for Quicksilver's eponymous debut album also was credited to Polte -- I've been unable to find out why this was.)

I had a hard time deciding which song from A Long Time Comin' to feature on 2 or 3 lines.  Bloomfield and his pals did create music that was a combination of a lot of American genres, and I don't think there's ever been a record quite like it. 

I invite you to listen to "Groovin' Is Easy," "Sitting in Circles," "You Don't Realize," and the very complicated, ahead-of-its-time, nine-minute epic, "Another Country" -- all are great cuts.  But I picked "She Should Have Just" because I can't resist a song that combines a great horn section and a singer who just opens a vein and bleeds to death right through the speakers.

Here's "She Should Have Just":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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