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On the Bobby Charles album

by James Tappenden

This article on the album Bobby Charles was posted in the newsgroup in October 1995:

Hi all:
I am trying to piece together a review of Bobby Charles' album Bobby Charles, which is one of my favorites. Rick and John Simon co-produced with Charles, in Woodstock/Bearsville in 1972. I am hoping that this can flesh out the webpage entry on the album and also serve as encouragement to those readers of this newsgroup who haven't yet heard this gem to give it a listen. One thing I am hoping the readers of this group can help me with (I'm hoping that at least a few of you do know this album, or at least the players on it) is to help me in figuring out which musicians are playing what on which songs. The album cover just gives a list of names, with no indication of what or on what cuts they are playing.

One thing that the album is remarkable for is its playing, which is fabulous (it especially gives a clear picture of Rick's genius for loose bass lines - here he does what he normally does on the looser Band numbers, but Richard's left hand isn't there doing what the bass guitar does in most bands, so Rick's unique bass sense is more obvious here.) Also, the circumstances (Charles writing the songs, Rick doing some co-writing, and co-producing, Robbie out of town and not involved in any way) give a kind of Band sound, but with a feel much closer to the Basement Tapes than any of the Band's official releases. In particular, it seems to me that this album gives me a rich sense of what Rick's contribution to the Band mix was. (It is better in this regard than Rick's solo album IMHO. I really enjoy the solo album, but apart from some quirky harmonies, Rick's distinctive musical personality doesn't shine through as clearly as it does on the Bobby Charles album. Rather, the overall sound of the solo album strikes me as owing as much to co-producer Rob Fraboni, if the evidence of Fraboni's other productions, like Clapton's No Reason to Cry and Bonnie Raitt's Green Light are considered. I love these albums, but they all seem to me to have a certain studio sensibility in common, which I can only conjecture owes itself to the one unifying element.)

The piano and drums are fabulous throughout, but I am having trouble there identifying who is playing when. There are at least five pianists on the list of musicians (Richard, Garth, Mack Rebbennack/Dr. John and John Simon, plus Geoff Muldaur who has been known to play piano on occasion) and there are at least three drummers (Levon, Richard, Billy Mundi, who also plays on Moondog Matinee). On one cut it sounds to me like Richard is on drums and on several I am pretty sure that it is Levon, but I do not have much of an ear for identifying drum styles.

One bass guitarist on the list besides Rick is Jim Colegrove, but since he was (I believe) Ben Keith's bass player at the time, I am guessing that whenever the sound of Keith's pedal steel guitar is in evidence, that is Colgrove on bass. (Fortunately I'm pretty sure Keith is the only Pedal steel player on the list, so that one is easy.)

Also, of course, it is usually obvious when Garth is on the accordion or organ (the last cut on this album has one of the best accordian turns I have ever heard from Garth, playing in juxtaposition with a guitar that is unquestionably Amos Garrett's. Just lovely. Worth getting the album for this cut alone.)

Most of the time the guitar seems to be Amos Garrett, though I am pretty sure which cut it is John Till playing on.

I cannot figure out who is singing backup on "Before I Grow too Old". At first I thought it was Rick, then Richard, and now I am just not sure.

Anyway, if anyone has any information that can help me on this, please email or post it. (Also, if you have any impressions of the album or perspectives on the music you would like to contribute, please pass them on to me by email or post 'em.)

Or: if you know what instruments the following people play, please let me know by email: Joe Newman, Harry Lookofsky, Buggsy Maugh, Herman Shertzer, N.D. Smart II.


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