Feb 272013

Any time I think of British jazz guitarist John McLaughlin I’m reminded of his skunk-ass playing on Miles DavisA Tribute to Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew and then quickly regret that fact that he not only stayed in the jazz realm but mostly put down his skunky electric guitar for tasteful, seated acoustic performances.

I must say, the person who posted the following clip on YouTube added probably the unintentionally funniest set up I will read all day:

As well as being a great musician Katia is hell of a sexy looking here. If ever I saw two people making love on a stage before…..

I know jazz is thought of as a more skilled, “classy” genre of music than the skunk-ass rock ‘n roll I tend to prefer, but come on, jazz on a classical acoustic guitar is a real waste of John McLaughlin’s skills in moving hearts and asses. McLaughlin coulda been a rocker!

I feel the same way about Charles Mingus. As much as I love his jazz albums, I wish he’d put his big band and arranging talents to use behind a wild rock ‘n roll singer like Little Richard or Sly Stone. For all the fusion efforts jazz and rock have attempted to make through the years, I always feel like the rock gets the short end of the stick. The energetic, concise rhythms and spirited vocals of rock ‘n roll go down the toilet once jazzbos are involved. Tom Waits is an exception to this rule. His albums still manage to sound like rock ‘n roll records even when he’s mixing in jazzbos, avant-garde musicians, and junkyard percussionists.

I wish I could go back in time and draft a few musicians from other genres into rock ‘n roll. They’d have to use their skills to suit rock ‘n roll’s needs, not merely co-opt the trappings of rock ‘n roll to broaden their audience. Terry Riley made that great Church of Anthrax album with John Cale. I want to put Riley on a Talking Heads album. Get me Steve Reich on XTC’s English Settlement. Let Jimi live long enough to make that planned record with Miles and Gil Evans!

Do you see what I’m getting at? What artists from other genres coulda been great rockers?


  7 Responses to “Coulda Been a Rocker”

  1. jeangray

    That’s funny, because I’ve always felt that Jazz got the short end of the stick in Fusion. Ima sure this comes as no surprise, but I believe that your idea of what constitues Rock, and mine, contain some vast differences.

  2. jeangray, I’ve gotten no sense that your idea of what constitutes Rock is so out there or removed from mine. Really. Please explain.

    I’m curious to know how you think jazz gets the short end of the stick in fusion. There are still no or few vocals. The drummer still gets to dick around and play beats that anyone but trained interpretive dancers can dance to. The bass parts owe nothing to Duck Dunn, Paul McCartney, or most other titans of rock bass playing. And too many guys on stage are wearing floral shirts and ponytails for rock.

  3. As a 15 year old the only regular live music I saw was at the local folk club. One of the star acts of the circuit was Noel Murphy, a rough-hewn Irish singer & his 16 year old sidekick Shaggis, a prodigious banjo/mandolin player. Shaggis joined Magna Carta, a prog-folk band, before becoming Davey Johnstone & playing lead in Elton John’s band from 1971 until now.
    It seemed a good idea, he was some player. I was at the folk club because the guy I sat next to at school would play an open mic spot each week. Martin Simpson has gone on to have a long & respected career on both sides of the Atlantic. When I see him I often think that if I had talked him into getting an amp & rocking out I would now be farting through silk.

  4. diskojoe

    I heard that Miles Davis was also going to do something w/Prince, but that fell through. It would have been something to hear Mles w/either Hendrix or Prince.

    One thing I always think about is what would happen if Mozart & Brian Wilson would trade places.

    Finally, I recently re-read a biography of George Frazier, who was a columinst for the Boston Globe in the 70s, who was a big jazz fan & was one of the 1st jazz critics. From reading about his passion about music, I think that if he grew up in the 60s instead of the 30s, he would have made a great rock critic, as well as a Mod, given his sense of style.

  5. jeangray

    I suppose that it was your use of “concise rhythms” that jumped out at me, as somethang that I would never use describe the qualities that I enjoy most about Rock. I tend to favor sloppy/loose rhythms — drummers that aren’t technically the most proficient, bass players that play lead & ham-fisted guitar solos. Overblown, over-the-top, sometimes ridiculously excessive — those are terms that describe a lot of what I enjoy about Rock.

    Come to thank of it, I guess that I could be describing Fusion right there, huh? (minus the drummers part). That’s really funny. 🙂

  6. I hear you – I didn’t mean to suggest “tight-ass” rhythms, like Steve Gadd stuff or whatever. I meant “concise” as in simple, energetic, and predictable – something you might be able to dance or bob your head to without looking like you belong in an interpretive dance troup. Rock ‘n roll should be “animalistic,” as our old friend E. Pluribus Gergely would put it. I think we’re in more agreement on this than you think.

  7. jeangray

    I thank you’re right. Animalistic is great description for some of my favorite aspects of R’n’R. Too bad, you canna coax E. Plurib back to the hall. That dude is hilarious & more spot on than he has a right to be.

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