Music Routes Blog

Chet Baker to The Clancy Brothers (SMLP #14: Special All-Anu Edition)

09 December 2009

I skipped the Saturday Morning Listening Party this last weekend. Things got busy. I may skip it again this weekend. So, here's a midweek SMLP post.

I was over at Anu's last week and he asked me what record I wanted to listen to. I picked a 1977 comeback attempt by trumpeter Chet Baker that Anu had never actually put on before: You Can't Go Home Again. It turned out to have a sound neither of us associated with Baker: slick 1970s studio jazz/rock. Anu was unimpressed with the record and told me that I could have it.

The record does have a few interesting bits of trivia associated with it. For example, the title track with Paul Desmond is from the last recording session Desmond would ever have. Desmond is mostly known as the long-time saxophonist in the Dave Brubeck Quartet and the composer of their best-known song, "Take Five". Desmond and Baker were both popular jazz musicians in their day but were also both denigrated as being musically uninteresting and lacking in passion. Baker's reputation has been largely rehabilitated since his death; Desmond, not as much.

The pianist on the title track is Kenny Barron.  He is among the most respected of living jazz pianists, but I know him best for being the guy who taught jazz piano at Rutgers when I was a student there.  I never took lessons with him, which is a little weird because I was for practical purposes a jazz piano major, but that's what happens sometimes when you're in the liberal arts college rather than the performing arts college.

One final note on Chet Baker: His estate is suing the record labels for billions of Canadian dollars.

On Monday, Anu blogged about the Clancy Brothers album Christmas. I suppose I should write a little something about the album, but Anu already did it for me.

The route from the Chet Baker album You Can't Go Home Again to the Clancy Brothers album Christmas is four steps long. Here we go!

"El Morro" (which is not the track with Paul Desmond) features unusual instrumentation for a jazz number: bass flute by Hubert Laws and bassoon by John Campo.

The person we're actually interested in (for purposes of Music Routery) on "El Morro" is percussionist Ralph MacDonald.  He's one of those guys who has played with everyone.  In 1977, the same year that the Chet Baker record was released, MacDonald also appeared on the album Right On Time by the Brothers JohnsonRight On Time has an amazing time capsule of a cover photo.  Here's the Shuggie Otis-penned hit "Strawberry Letter 23".

By the way, at least at the current time, if you try to Google search for track-by-track credits (not merely album credits) for the Right On Time album, you may have a difficult time. Fortunately, a kind soul uploaded images of the liner notes, and that is how the information made its way into the Music Routes database.

Jim Gilstrap was one of the many background singers on "Strawberry Letter 23".  Gilstrap has done a lot of session work for other artists, although he had a hit of his own in 1974 with "Swing Your Daddy".  He's also on "Occapella" from the 1974 Ringo Starr solo effort Goodnight Vienna.  (Another weird awesome cover image, this time with the 1970s hearkening back to 1950s B-movie science fiction!)

"Occapella" was penned by New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint.  Another New Orleans legend, Dr. John, plays piano on the recording.  The drum duties are handled by studio ace Jim Keltner.

Like Ralph MacDonald, Jim Keltner has played with everyone.  He even got to play with everyone during one single song: "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration.  (Keltner played on the original studio version too; he has been quoted as saying that he was so moved by the song that the session was the first time he cried while playing.)

You may have noticed that there were two drummers in that video. Anton Fig, best known for his stint with Paul Shaffer on David Letterman but who also has extensive studio credits, is the drummer you see the most. He's the one you see sitting behind Dylan and Eric Clapton near the start of the video.  You finally get a good clear shot of Keltner at 3:05.

Speaking of Clapton, the burden of trying to make a somewhat extended version of the song interesting seems to fall to him.  The whole thing is the same three chords over and over and a simple melody.  It's all about the words and the mood.  Stretching it to almost seven minutes without drastic changes in dynamics or the like is a challenge, even with Clapton's effortless-sounding melodic leads.  Neil Young heroically tries to inject some grit with his brief leads, but as great as Neil Young is, he's not up to trading melodies with Clapton.  The track may have worked better (for me, anyway) if they had traded roles with Young taking most of the leads in his usual noisy, somewhat sloppy and strained yet highly energetic way, and with Clapton swooping in to save the day with brief melodicism.

I'm pretty sure that at least some of the guys standing behind Dylan through much of the video (e.g., 2:42 through around 2:50) who look like they would be the Clancy Brothers are, in fact, Clancy Brothers.  Earlier in the evening, they sang Dylan's "When The Ship Comes In".  Of course, since they're singing and clapping on "Knockin' On Heaven's Door", we can go right from there to their Christmas album.

"Holly Tree" by The Clancy Brothers