The Band: High on The Hog
Notes by Peter Viney, three years after releaseCopyright ©, Peter Viney, 1999.
Looking back to the time of release turned up these:
Andy Gill (The Independent, 1 March 1996)
Andy Gill (Mojo, March 1996)
Mark Cooper (Q, May 1996)
I'm not sure whether Cooper means 'mystery' or 'mastery'. The latter seems more likely, though they've mystified me enough over the years. I also thought the review was pretty positive till I saw those two stars at the end.
Of the eleven tracks, Danko plays bass on only five tracks, and acoustic guitar on one. He doesn't appear at all on Ramble Jungle and merely adds a harmony to She Knows (which in any case was ten years old). He is replaced by Levon Helm on bass on two tracks, Jim Weider on bass on one track, and Richard Bell on keyboard bass on two tracks. The reason for keyboard bass on Free Your Mind is apparent - it's the style of the music. They carry this over to Stand Up too. The funky style throughout makes you think of Levon Helm first and foremost, and Danko's folky / country oriented live shows seem to ring few bells here. On the 1996 tour Danko seemed almost a peripheral figure, doing his vocal spots superbly then relapsing into boredom when he simply plucked the bass and chanted choruses on stuff like Willie & The Hand Jive.
As with Jericho, three dead pianists get credits - Richard Manuel, Champion Jack Dupree (as performers) and Stan Szeleste (as composer). Blondie Chaplin helps out twice, as well as writing a further song. Colin Linden also sits in.
Randy Ciarlante has mentioned thirteen or fourteen unused songs from this and Jericho (see Jericho above). First press releases (Ice magazine 1996) mention Sam Cooke's Workin' On The Chain Gang, normally known as Chain Gang, but it disappeared before release. Other sources say that the eventual album was the remains of a twenty song recording schedule. It's not a long album, and they could have added at least five songs. The length must indicate that they felt that only these songs were of sufficent quality. The tale of the Jericho out-takes makes you wonder. Great stuff was rejected, better stuff than made the final selection, such as Nobody Sings 'em Like Ray, The Tide Will Rise, Circle of Time.
Whenever questioned about material, The Band tend to cite the huge numbers of compositions submitted to them by songwriters. I think this is misleading. A few years back, my wife had a radio spot reading stories for the under-fives. After a while the station tired of paying copyright fees for the stories (as radio stations tend to do), and had the brilliant idea of having a story competition for listeners, in which the best ones would be read on air. She went through nearly 400 submissions. Two were dull but readable. the rest ranged from poor to alarming. We still wonder where the writer of "The Rape of Robin Redbreast" lives and hope that it's nowhere near us. So quantity of submissions is not indicative of quality.
Comments on Jericho universally pick out the Dylan and Springsteen songs as the best tracks, and that figures because both are among the very best rock writers (as was … and is …Robbie Robertson). For me, this elite group includes Van Morrison, Paul Simon, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Brian Wilson, Neil Young, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Lowell George, Bob Marley, Roger McGuinn and a select few others. Although Richard Manuel songs would feature in my personal top 30, Richard wasn't in the top bracket overall because tragically he didn't produce a full album's worth of compositions. I enjoy Jules Shear, J.J. Cale and Blondie Chaplin, but like Tom Pachecho and Colin Linden they're in the next division down. That is they'll come up with top division songs, but not consistently. I always feel Rick Danko is an under-exploited resource. In spite of his fine contributions to both Danko, Fjeld, Anderson albums he contributed no songs here. Danko is anything but prolific, but somewhere there's got to be another Small Town Talk, This Wheel's On Fire, All Creation or Driftin' Away waiting to come out. And I wish it would.
My usual role is discussing the lyrics, and that doesn't seem appropriate here. We're not discussing lyrics of any degree of complexity. Free Your Mind is the most interesting. Forever Young is unusually transparent for Dylan. But both Blind Willie McTell and Atlantic City provided far richer pickings for lyric discussions.
While I doubt the quality of some of the songs, there's no doubt that the interpretations are of the very highest quality. The most overwhelming impression is that Garth Hudson did a great job on arranging and playing. He leaves his multi-instrumental mark firmly on almost every track.
The title of the album is intriguing. Jimmy McCracklin's High on the Blues produced songs that Levon has shown a penchant for in live performance, like I Finally Got You (Levon Helm & The Crowmatix), Think (aka Just in Case We Both Were Wrong ), Stay Away From That Monkey, and I Got Somebody. (The last two are gleaned from set lists - I haven't heard them). Every Night & Every Day is another McCracklin song the Band have performed live. High on the Blues was a 1992 reissue of Yesterday Is Gone (1971) with extra tracks. The Band played with McCracklin at the King Biscuit Festival.
Though "living high on the hog" is an old expression, it seems possible that High on the Blues reminded them of the expression. Webster's gives the meaning I'd always assumed:
RICHLY, LUXURIOUSLY: The New America is eating too high on the hog for its own good (Newsweek)but under "hog" it adds:
on the hog: slang. having no funds; BROKEI suspect both meanings might have been in mind, but the cover only illustrates the first.
The song was co-written for Mel McDaniel by Bruce Channel, who had a #2 hit in 1962 with Hey, Baby!, a fine song which influenced John Lennon's harmonica on Love Me Do. Stand Up was the title track of Mel McDaniel's 1985 album.
The negative comments from the Band site Guestbook are what started me off on this retrospective, and while disagreeing, I'll quote them:
Jarvis (From Silicon Valley)
As raunchy songs go, it's not Jemima Surrender or Up on Cripple Creek, and as Jon Lyness points out it's a deliberate reference to the glorious past, like the Jericho sleeve picture. I enjoy it as a taster of what's to come. It puts me in the mood for the album, and I've never had any criticism for it.
You know those old warnings about hi-fi shops? They demonstrate equipment loud and impress you. Then you get home and play it at two / tenths volume and it sounds crap. Some records have sussed this too and print PLAY LOUD on the inner label. This is one that should have done so. Play this track quiet and it's dullish. Crank up the volume and the whole thing makes sense. The keyboard bass, the Jew's Harp effect, it all comes together. Start it really, really loud, and wait for that electric snap of Randy Ciarlante's drums. Then go back to the start and repeat the exercise. Brilliant drumming. As time goes on it becomes easy to tell Randy from Levon and the crackle and muscular snap of this contrasts to Levon's languid bluesy shuffle on the next track. Then comes that low gurgling horn underpinning everything. Played loud, this is a wonderful piece of music. It fits stylistically with Free Your Mind. 1980s country and 1990s dance are put into the same frame. Played soft it's boring. At volume, it's a great track. So there's the answer to the dissenters. It's even got a quotable lyric:
Smilin' Mona Lisa, loaded up your VisaOn the Westwood One 1996 radio show from Las Vegas, this followed The Weight.
Back to Memphis is NOT the Chuck Berry song which appeared on two compilations and on the Watkins Glen album just a few months earlier, nor the David Sanbourn-Marcus Miller jazz piece. It was a song done in 1993 by Berry pianist Johnny Johnson in association with The Kentucky Headhunters. The Kentucky Headhunters have been described as 'heavy metal meets country.' Johnnie Johnson is the man who played piano on nearly every classic Chuck Berry single. Johnson & The Kentucky Headhunters got together for a 1993 album That'll Work.
This is the track that The Band performed most memorably in 1996, tending to start ragged then find the sleazy groove. Garth Hudson's brilliant horn work and the steady, loping groove make it the best track on the album.
Andy Gill (The Independent, 1 March 1996)
I know I couldn't get enough of this on release. It was played over and over again, lasting an entire fifty mile car journey on repeat once. Live it became a find the groove opener, always seeming ragged as it started then everything came together as soon as Garth's horn started soaring.
Ex-Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin toured as a member of The Band following the death of Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko had appeared on his solo album. Chaplin was a member of the Beach Boys when they recorded Holland. He had been recruited with Ricky Fataar from the South-African band The Flame. His live version of Sail on Sailor with The Band was a fascinating meeting.
Judging by the exceptional melody, you'd imagine that Chaplin would be a more prolific songwriter than he's turned out to be. You know it's supposed to remind you of It Makes No Difference, and if you forget the arrangement pushes the point home. It tries to fill a similar role just a little too hard to be perfect, but it's a song that sticks firmly in the brain, and it surprises me that it hasn't become a Danko solo feature. But of course it would need three or four songs separation from It Makes No Difference.
Unexpected choice of a cover of all-female quartet En Vogue, criticized by some for Levon singing I like rap music and hip-hop clothes, presumably with his fingers crossed. But surely the real pleasure was in the curious juxtaposition of Levon, singing in his most country tones, on a rap/dance number.
It had been a dance hit in 1992. En Vogue's albums were produced and written by Thomas McElroy and Denzil Foster. The original was from the award-winning Funky Divas album (US #8 April 1992, UK #26 June 1992, UK #4, 1993). The single charted (US #8, October 1992, UK #16 November 1992).
This was a high-profile, highly ambitious cover, and all credit to them for trying it out. It was akin to knocking off a cover of Like A Virgin. Richard Bell's keyboard bass works. The vocal works. The horns cook. I'm glad they took the risk.
It proved to be less than convincing live, as theWestwood One Radio Show recorded on 16 May 1996 (the Joint, Las Vegas) indicates.
The Band weigh in with a six minute version of Forever Young. It's dedicated to the memory of Jerry Garcia, Neil Young did the same song - ironically with the Grateful Dead - as a Tribute to Bill Graham in November 1991 (European CD - Grateful Dead The Bill Graham Benefit Concert ).
It's an interesting choice in that they had backed Dylan for his versions on Planet Waves and The Last Waltz. A widely circulated collectors' tape has yet another Dylan + Band version, from Chicago on the 1974 tour. The Band's new version has sublime backing, particularly from Garth Hudson on keyboards and accordion, as well as the Band trademark of switching lead vocals between Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Randy Ciarlante. The vocal needs maturity coupled with weariness and wisdom, and Levon Helm provides the voice for it, contrasting with Danko's sweeter line that doesn't sound nearly as weary as it probably deserves to. After The Band's definitive version of Blind Willie McTell on 1994's Jericho, some of us were hoping for something from Dylan where the lyrics had equal bite on their new offering (Suggestions on a postcard …). Throughout this album, in spite of great sound and great feel, the lyrics are the obvious weakness. A more lyrically exciting Dylan song would have changed the balance. After all, if anyone else could approach the lyrical and melodic intensity of most of the Street Legal period, it's The Band.
Forever Young is the most enduring number from Planet Waves, because of the melody. But Planet Waves was a disappointing album.
This was a major disappointment, as my mind had transposed early press releases with the title of The Everly Brothers The Price of Love, which is a better song. An earlier version had appeared on 1990 Jules Shears & Band demos, probably including co-composer Stan Szeleste. It was demo-ed with Too Soon Gone from Jericho. Lyrics have subsequently been updated to include reference to the Persian Gulf.
It appeared on a few 1996 live shows, and on the Garth Hudson solo show in London in 1999. A live version appeared on the Westwood One Radio Show CD, live from The Joint in Las Vegas (recorded May 16th 1996).
The J.J. Cale original version was a single (US #22, March 1972) and on the albumNaturally 1972. (US #51, January 1972, Recorded 1970). I used to have a J.J. Cale T-shirt dating from the original 1972 promotions. The album contained J.J. Cale's best-known song, After Midnight, which Clapton had previously brought to public attention. My favourite track is Magnolia by a mile.
Crazy Mama had been done so much live, that they needed to record it somewhere. This dullish song had been a stage number for every possible combination of ex-Band members for years - since at least 1979, and was a standard live number in the 1993-95 tours. The Danko / Butterfield Band featured this on live shows in 1979. Richard Manuel was playing this number on solo gigs in 1985, including those with Danko, and it featured at The Revols reunion gig at Stratford, Ontario the same year. Danko has featured it solo at various times, notably with Jorma Kaukonen in 1987 as well as solo. It appears on Rick Danko In Concert and Live on Breeze Hill. A Band version had already appeared on the laser disc The Band: New Orleans Jazz Festival a few months earlier (later re-released in 1996 as The Band ). As on live versions, Levon Helm moves to bass. The song becomes hypnotic in long, loose live versions, but like so many similar songs is simply repetitive on record. At 4 minutes 48 seconds on this CD it's said more than it has to say. The J.J. Cale version is shorter. Tellingly, it's the only song on the album where the lyrics are not printed. What would be the point?
The album features two Dylan songs, one of which was previously unreleased. Forever Young was the good news, this track was the bad news. The unreleased I Must Love You Too Much was written by Dylan and Helena Spring. It dates from September 1978, the period between Street Legal and Slow Train Coming, and, like several other unreleased songs from the same period, was performed during various 1978 concerts. It's been listed as just I Love You Too Much. According to Pyramid president Allen Jacobi (quoted in Jawbone, The Band newsletter):
True enough. But lyrically this would be a poor relation to All The Tired Horses. At least that had the question, is it How am I supposed to get any riding done? or … writing done? The Band's backing is tight (of course) and funky. But this is an unworthy fragment. When Dylan and Danko first did it live, I reckon the (very few) words were improvised on the spot on an off-day. I also didn't know anything about Danko working with Dylan during 1978 - which was the year of Danko's first solo album and subsequent concerts. In the end, I Must Love You Too Much must rate among Dylan's most undistinguished throw-aways of all time. Fifth-rate. And on my British CD at least, the index point is halfway through the song.
Ah. It just does not fit this album, just as Country Boy doesn't fit Jericho. I'm delighted to have it. It's wonderful, and I can see that they wanted to keep Richard in mind, and hopefully put some royalties his family's way (especially if this had been a mega album). But it's got nothing to do with the groove of the album. It breaks the mood totally. They should have collected some Richard live stuff and put out a Richard album. As I say, I love hearing that voice again. But it's not contextualized. Having the song here is a bit like doing this: your friend calls you and asks you to tape that Nirvana show you recorded off radio. You put it on a C60, but find there's ten minutes left at the end. Then you remember, your friend was looking for a copy of Nat King Cole's Ramblin' Rose, so you stick it on the end of the tape. Then you remember that the same friend loved Bobby Boris Pickett's Monster Mash (interesting friends you have, Peter --JH,) so you stick that on afterwards. It fills the tape, and it's all individual stuff of merit. But does it flow?
The song was written by Griffin and Royer of Bread, and the original was on the LP Breaking Up is Easy, 1974. It was also a single by James Griffin & Co. There's a version by Bread on the Bread Retrospective 2CD set which says it's an unreleased song. Richard Manuel also performed it on the Byrds Tribute Band tour.
Ramble Jungle is bizarre, funny, and has nothing whatsoever to do with anything else on there. Champion Jack Dupree appears on Blind Willie McTell on Jericho, and Jim Weider's website mentions work on a Champion Jack Dupree album, produced by Garth Hudson, which has never been released. Presumably this is a remnant of the session.
Geoffrey Himes lists some associations:
Geoffrey Himes (New Country Magazine, June 1996)
Interestingly, Garth Hudson featured a version of Caravan in the 1999 London concert.
Comment from the Guestbook:
The writing credits conform to the way it should be, according to Levon's biography. Everyone gets name-checked. But Bob Dylan doesn't do that (and why should he?) Sorry, not quite everyone - Tom Malone, Ron Finck and Kenn Lending don't get a shout. I'd assume the difference is between the original session and an overdub. So everyone's equal, but some are less equal than others.
Young Blood is a bonus track on Japanese and British version of High on the Hog, lifted from the Doc Pomus tribute Till the Night is Gone: A Tribute to Doc Pomus (1995). The original version was by the Coasters (Single US #8, May 1957), and is on a myriad of Coasters compilation albums. The tribute album is a gem, and The Band's take on Young Blood shares the role of best track with Shawn Colvin's languid take on Viva Las Vegas. The bonus track thing was at its height in 1996. Japanese companies insisted on bonus tracks, which supposedly prevented US imported copies from taking any market share. Why buy the inferior version? This is part of the wing mirror syndrome. For years, wing mirrors were obligatory on cars sold in Japan. Of course, all European cars were built with door mirrors, not wing mirrors. So they had to retool and redesign the body to eliminate door mirrors at great expense. One suspects that the Japanese record companies were more interested in export sales to deprived Westerners than afraid of parallel imports.
It's annoying for fans in the USA who end up shortchanged by one track, or buying a second Japanese import copy. The track eventually appeared on Best of The Band Vol II with a yellow cover sticker claiming wrongly that it's an unreleased song. The best answer is to buy the US version of the original album plus the tribute album, which is a treat in itself with Dion, Dylan, Dr John and Brian Wilson also contributing.
It's a rollicking version. Perhaps the greatest joy of Young Blood for fans was hearing Garth Hudson sing. He performed it in 1996 shows and on the Garth Hudson and the Crowmatix gig in London in 1999.