The Spedding Tapes - Paul Shaffer
If you own a TV, or live within screaming distance of one, Paul Shaffer should need no introduction from me. He has been well introduced - "Ladies and gentlemen, Paul Shaffer!" - on network TV four nights a week for nigh on the past four years by his buddy David "Late Night With" Letterman.|
He is to Letterman what Ed McMahon and Doc severinsen combined are to Johnny carson.
And while Paul Shaffer may not yet be a household name, he most definitely is the prossessor of what I hope he will forgive me for calling a household face. What is not so well known about Paul, however, is that he has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the last three or four decades of popular music. And since, in our blindfold test, we ask our subject to comment on the music and to guess the identity of the performers (without, of course, being given any prior info), I knew it would be almost impossible, as well as pretty boring, to ferret out stuff of any quality by any artist or artists not already reliably field, catalogued and cross-indexed in the redoubtable Shaffer memory banks.
What to do?
Play obscure rubbish just to catch him out?
No, I wanted to play Paul good stuff! Stuff I thought he would like, anyway.
So I chose mostly pretty well-known troupers but went for the off-beat and unusual, things you normally wouldn't except from that particular direction, hoping for interesting comment as Paul was figuring out who it was. For instance, Jimmy McGriff is renowned as a major exponent of the Hammond organ (Paul's specialty, too), but "The Last Minute" (see below) features McGriff mostly on piano supported by unobtrusive yet highly effective punctuations from the Hammond. A bit of an oddity, but a great track.
Even so, it was not without some trepidation that I ventured forth, Walkman at the ready - pausing only to purchase a bottle of Jack Daniel's - to my session at Paul Shaffer's Gramercy Park appartment.
|1. Allen Toussaint, "Louie"|
|PS||This is so interesting but I've no idea who it is. But I'd say...|
|CS||Listen to some more and just talk about it. You might fall in.|
|PS||Well, it sounds like an attempt to cut an old-fashioned New Orleans kind of piano player in a muscle Shoals kind of bag. So Jerry Wexler would probably...|
|CS||Yeah, but who's the artist? You see, you got the New Orleans piano bit plus the fact it's an attempt to make it more contemporary. So put it together and...|
|CS||You got it.|
|PS||You gave me a good hint, though.|
|CS||I did not! I just told you when you were getting warm. To point you in the right direction. You found your own clues.|
|PS||Hm. Yeah, so Allen Toussaint is producing?|
|CS||Allen Toussaint is the artist on the label, must be producing, too. Real funky. I don't know why his piano is so down in the mix, though.|
|PS||It's 'cos he's funky! Boy, that's good stuff. Good piano playing.|
|2. Jimmy McGriff, "The Last Minute"|
|CS||How do you spell that, for publication, y'know?|
|PS||Double-u. Oh. Ay. "Woa." Yeah. Yes!|
Yes, perhaps I should expain why these seemingly incoherent ramblings have not been decently excised from the transcript. Well, it seems when musicians get together and recognize a master of their craft at work, conventional content of the music. And since this arcane lingo will never (let's hope) be illuminated, it remains our very own exclusive gibberish. You see, we know what we mean. I must, therefore, use whatever phonetic ingenuity I possess to represent it in readable form for the uninitiated. So there.
|PS||This sounds like an organ kind of a blues. You wouldn't normally play that kind of thing on a piano.|
Now, I wasn't prepared for this. I mean, fair enough, but the bloody organ hasn't come in yet!
|CS||Yeah, (flabbergasted) er, you're right.|
This feat of detection by Paul shaffer made me realize that Paul's erudition was nor achieved by rote, or any trick of memory. It is a much rarer thing. Pure intuitive perception coupled with a deep and profound understanding of his art. If I'd played him a tape of the opening band at one of CBGB's audition nights (their identity probably not know even by owner/booker in Brooklyn Hilly Crystal), Paul probably could have told us which block in Brooklyn they come from and what drugs they had tried, but failed, to score before they went on.
But let's resume our blindfold test.
|PS||Ah! I hear organ in there, too. What?...you're saying...is the piano player an organ player as well?|
|CS||Yes. The organ player...is...and the piano player...the organ...You got it!...You Got It. So come on then, which organ player is it?|
|PS||That's organ bass in there. He must be playing the piano with the one hand-the right hand. Oh man, I would just guess...Jimmy McGriff.|
|CS||Doin' pretty good, huh?|
|PS||I feel much better. But, you see, the theme of this blues is so obviously organ. Even though he plays it on piano...Wooo! There goes the organ. What a sound!|
|3. Howlin' Wolf, "Evil"|
|PS||Well this is an authentic blues artist who went electric. He went psychedelic.|
|CS||It was just around the time Jimi Hendrix made his first impact. You can see where they're coming from with those wah-wah guitars.|
|PS||I remember this era of music, some of these guys were cutting with English groups.|
|CS||Right. The London Session.|
|PS||This isn't that, though, is this Electric Mud?|
|CS||Almost. Almost there, Paul. It's the same label, Chess, the same pool of musicians, producers and arrangers. But the artist is not Muddy Waters. Who?|
|CS||Yes. (This hardly audible, being mumbled into what was left of my Jack Daniel's.)|
|PS||This is a lot of credibility in it.|
|CS||the ironic part about this record is it got such bad reviews when it came out. And then for Howlin' Wolf's next album they sent him over to do the embarrassing London Session, which, of course, got much more critical acclaim.|
|PS||It's like when Motown went psychedelic and at the time we thought, "What are they doing? These records are terrible compared to the classics." But you listen to Psychedelic Shack" now, it's a great record.|
|CS||yes, all that Norman Whitfield stuff. His arrangements for those Temptations records were plundered by disco producers-still are, in fact-for those extended dance-mix arrangements. Amazing.|
|PS||but at the time it threw us because we wanted to hear more of the classics. But in retrospect it was its own valid period. This is a great record, very credible, wah-war or no. That's great.|
|4. Duane Eddy, "Stretchin' Out"|
|PS||Oh, here you go again.|
This in response to Larry Knechtel's intro (which, admittedly, could be the intro to just about anything!) on prepared piano. That is, a piano "prepared" by sticking ordinary domestic thumb tacks into the felt-covered hammers to give it that beat up ol'honky tonk sound. Don't ever try it. When I was a kid I tried it on my father's piano so I know what I'm talking about.
|PS||Is the guitar player the artist on this?|
|PS||Well, of course it's the Duane Eddy style...is it Duane Eddy?|
|CS||Yep. (I can't believe I twice said, "Yep." Was this a freudian slip? You see, one of Duane's early hits is entitled "Yep.")|
|PS||We're gonna have him on the Letterman show soon, I think.|
|CS||Oh, great! A lot of people forget him when they come to talk of great guitarists. But he had a fantastic band and Duane himself is...|
|PS||Yeah, Duane gets down! Who's the saxophone player, Steve Douglas?|
|CS||Not sure. Isn't the keyboard player Larry Knechtel? The guy who played on the...|
|PS||"Bridge Over Troubled Water," Simon and Garfunkel. Yes, that's him, so it's the "L.A. Cats!" That'll probably be Steve Douglas, then on sax.|
|CS||Dig this break coming up...|
|PS||Yeah! Oh, boy!|
|5. Jeff Beck, "Get Working"|
|PS||Is this a group?|
|CS||No, it's a solo act.|
|PS||Okay, so I'm oh-for-one so far. but he's so heavily double-tracked - is the artist the singer?|
|CS||Not...normally. He's an instrumentalist. But I picked this track 'cos he's singing, too. Plus, I like it.|
|PS||Not normally a singer. Ah, then that would explain the heavy double-tracking in there. That's why I first thought it was a group like the Swinging Medallions who...that's him playing there, eh? Well he certainly made a nice track for himself to play over. That's him there, again.|
|CS||(As the track goes into fade) Any idea who it is?|
|PS||(After a long pause and equally long exhalation of breath) No.|
|CS||Produced by Nile Rodgers, with Jeff singing.|
Heartfelt moan of exasperation and frustration from Paul, which defies transcription. Suffive it to say if this were a comic strip, it would be in one of those speech-bubbles with the jagged edges.
|CS||Probably the style of the production threw you off. It's pretty atypical of Jeff.|
|PS||I was far away from it. I was still trying to figure out if it was a contemporary guy or an older guy.|
|CS||Well, he's sort of both, Jeff. Isn't he?|
|CS||He's probably been going as long as you or I, longer even.|
|PS||A little longer than I, but boy, it was good!|
|CS||This is the album where he does "People Get Ready."|
|PS||With Rod Stewart...|
|CS||That's right. But I wish Jeff would do more singing. He only sings on a couple of tracks. He'll be a lot more confident next time. Next album he won't need to sublimate the vocal with double-tracking so much. I ran into Nile Rodgers at Limelight when he was in the middle of this project.|
|PS||It's Nile-singular. Not Niles.|
|CS||Did I say "Niles?" Oh, well, you know I knew him when he was just plain ol'Rodger Niles...|
|PS||(Laughing) You what?!?|
|CS||Just joking, Paul, just joking. Anyway, Nile was saying how he enjoyed the challenge of getting a good vocal performance out of someone not used to singing, working with the artist to help him discover new things about himself. If I'm going to listen to a Back album, I'd much rather hear him singing, however good the other guy they got in is.|
|PS||Sure. He did a good record.|
|6. Bryan Ferry, "Valentine"|
|PS||This is hard stuff...is this another guitar player?|
|CS||No. That's just to throw you! It sounds like a guitar player's track, though, doesn't it?...'Costhere's such tasty...|
|PS||...such great guitar in there.|
|CS||Yeah, and fortunately the credits don't tell you who played on what.|
I lately identified the mystery mas as Mark Knopfler, who just happened to have guested on the Letterman show and played with Paul the previous night!
|PS||Is it an English singer? I have that voice somewhere in my memory...|
|Art Tatum, "Tatum-Pole Boogie"|
|PS||very sophisticated boogie playing. Male or female?|
Paul's question was more perceptive than it may seem. Tatum's dazzling keyboard technique and lightness of touch is in such contrast to the traditional heavy-handeness of the boogie-woogie idiom as to give this performance an almost "femenine" character.
|PS||I've got no idea.|
|CS||Stick with it a minute, you'll get it.|
|PS||Yeah, that lick right there should give it away...Art Tatum.|
|"Ladies and gentlemen...Paul Shafer!"|
|Chris Spedding - the journalist|