The Woodstock Experience by Santana

August 24, 2009

Two things happened to Santana during the summer of 1969: they performed at The Woodstock Music & Art Fair and released their first self-titled album, which became an immediate commercial hit. These two events combined to make huge stars out of the group.

Legacy Recordings has issued a series of two CD releases that combine complete performances at Woodstock, plus the album issued closest to that performance. Such artists as Sly & The Family Stone, Janis Joplin, The Jefferson Airplane, Johnny Winter, and Santana themselves return in all their historic 1969 glory.

This recording features the original and classic Santana line-up: guitarist Carlos Santana, keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie, drummer Michael Shrieve, bassist Dave Brown, percussionist Jose Areas, and conga player Mike Carabello. While there have been a lot of incarnations of Santana over the years, this was the tightest, featuring them combining Latin rhythms with a fusion of rock and blues.

Santana’s original self-titled album has been remastered and cleaned up, giving it a clear and pristine sound. I have owned this album on vinyl since its release forty years ago, and many of the songs are still instantly recognizable. The rhythms just wash over you, and Carlos Santana proves that his early solo improvisations showed the genius that would flower over the course of his career.

Songs such as “Evil Ways,” “Persuasion,” “Jingo,” and “Soul Sacrifice” all combine heavy percussion and bass rhythms with Rolie’s organ. Santana responds with intermittent guitar solos. He is one of those rare guitarists that can wring impossible notes from his instrument.

Santana’s complete eight-song, forty-five minute Woodstock performance sees its official light of day for the first time here. Seven of the eight songs are taken from their debut, album which hints at their lack of material at the time. Even so, it is nice to hear early live versions of these tracks. The bass and the percussion dominate more than on the studio tracks. Carlos picks his places carefully and his solos do not overpower the music.

The Woodstock tracks are a prisoner of their time, however, as the recording techniques of 1969 do not match those of today, especially in such a huge outside venue. They are passable, though, and what they lack technically, they more than make up for historically.

The Woodstock Experience presents the best of both worlds. You receive a classic rock album, plus a treasure trove of unreleased material from the most historic festival of all time. It is essential listening for any rock fan.

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One Day At A Time by Joan Baez

August 18, 2009

When Joan Baez stepped out onto the stage at Woodstock before 400,000 people on August 15th, 1969, she was a star. She was at the height of her popularity and influence, and as a result, was given the festival’s first day headlining spot.

Possessing one of the best soprano voices in existence, Baez had been an important figure in the reemergence of American folk music during the early ‘60s. Her performances at the Newport Folk Festival had enabled her to rise above her contemporaries. She also formed a relationship with Bob Dylan during this period, which only served to increase her fame.

In addition, Baez was a tireless worker for social causes and an unyielding opponent of the Vietnam War, earning her the respect of the Woodstock generation. She is a rare ‘60s artist who has continued as a tireless advocate of peace and justice up to the present day.

Less than a month after her Woodstock performance, Baez returned to Nashville where in the fall of 1968, in an intensive two-week recording session, she produced two of the best albums of her career; even now, David’s Album and the two-disc set of Bob Dylan tunes, Any Day Now, remain important and respected releases in her vast catalogue.

(I Live) One Day At A Time is a versatile release and brought to a close the first decade of her recording career. It included her first two original compositions, two songs she performed at Woodstock, the usual country and folk covers, plus a Rolling Stones track.

The cream of country session musicians again provided support under the leadership of Grady Martin. Such artists as Pete Drake, Jerry Reed, Hargus Robbins, Ken Buttrey, and many others give the album a solid country foundation.

“Sweet Sir Galahad,” which she wrote for her sister, Mimi Farina, was in her set at Woodstock. This gentle ballad is still a part of her concert act. “A Song For David” was written for her husband who was serving three years in prison for evading the draft. It is also one of the most intimate performances of her career, since at twenty-eight she was pregnant and carrying on alone. Meanwhile, her classic live Woodstock performance of “Joe Hill” is returned now in its studio form.

The one thing Baez always has in her favor is the angelic purity of her voice, which allowed her to cover such diverse songs as “No Expectations” by Jagger and Richards, “Carry It On” by Pete Seeger, “I Live One Day At A Time” by Willie Nelson, and the traditional “Seven Bridges Road.”

(I Live) One Day At A Time remains a very representative album from Joan Baez. It was listenable yet remained true to her folk roots and political agenda.

Most of the acts at Woodstock quickly moved on with their careers. Joan Baez, however, remained a shining voice for the Woodstock philosophy that all too quickly disappeared. Forty years after Woodstock, she is still on the road preaching the gospel and keeping the faith.


Woodstock: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition (DVD) by Various Artists

August 14, 2009

Four decades have passed since Woodstock and the festival has now taken on an almost mythic status. It was one of the defining events of a generation. That generation has grown old, and since I was nineteen years old in 1969, I have grown old along with it.

And so it was with a great deal of anticipation that I purchased Woodstock: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition. While you can never truly go back, I thought it would be nice to visit for a few hours.

This three-disc box set comes with a number of extras. There is a reprint of the 1969 Life magazine special edition, which is filled with photos and commentary about the festival. There is an acrylic paperweight (which I am not sure what to do with, to tell you the truth.) There is a pamphlet that presents just about every statistic you could imagine. There were 600 portable toilets, the stage was 80 feet wide, 400,000 attendees and marijuana was $16.00 an ounce. Anyway, you get the picture.

The foundation of the collection, however, remains the music and the resulting experience. The original movie returns in a director’s cut format. It is significantly longer, which is good news and bad news. The good news is that a number of performances have been added, which allows some of the artists to present a better example of their concert style at the time. It is also historically interesting, as some of these performances have not seen the light of day for forty years. On the negative side, the original movie tried to present the Woodstock experience and the music was interwoven with interviews and scenes from the festival. It all worked well on the original release, but here, the extra music lengthens the film so much that it ultimately has more of a concert feel than an overview of the entire festival.

There is an entire disc of never before seen performances. They include songs by The Grateful Dead, with an incredibly young Jerry Garcia, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Both groups did not appear in the film or on any of the original vinyl releases. Some highlights from this disc include “My Generation” by The Who, “3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds” by The Jefferson Airplane,” “I’m Her Man” by Canned Heat, and “Turn On Your Love Light” by The Grateful Dead. I was a tad disappointed that there is still no released footage of The Band, The Incredible String Band, Tim Hardin, or Blood, Sweat & Tears, but maybe they are saving it for the 50th anniversary.

The Woodstock generation and experience is now a pleasant memory. A hundred days after Woodstock, the Altamont festival would bring a quick halt to the Summer Of Love concept. Jerry Garcia, Jimi, Janis, Keith Moon and many other performers have passed away, cutting ties to this era. Today, all we are left with is the memories.

Woodstock: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition is a long and sprawling affair that examines the culture of a generation of youth through music. This collection can be explored either from a historical perspective or just for the music itself.


Woodstock Two by Various Artists

August 14, 2009

If at first you succeed, then issue another album quickly.

The Woodstock movie and resulting number one-selling soundtrack had both been commercially successful. The festival itself had attained mythological proportions. The summer of 1971 found the release of Woodstock Two, which gathered more music from the festival onto a double-disc release.

It was a far different affair than its predecessor, however. While the first release came across as a concert experience complete with announcements and stage patter, this second issue only presents a number of live performances alone (plus, the Mountain tracks were not even from
Woodstock).

All is not lost, though. There is still some worthwhile music to be explored – and honestly, some to be avoided as well.

The first side of the original LP release is all live Hendrix, which is always a good thing. At six and eight minutes, “Jam Back At The House” and “Get My Heart Back Together” give him room to stretch and improvise. On the other hand, “Isabella” clocks in at three and a half minutes and is an interesting counterpoint to the other two tracks, showing Hendrix keeping himself in check and within the set structures of the song.

Side two keeps the momentum going, with The Jefferson Airplane checking in with two tracks. Live Airplane is also a very good thing. They were the last act of the day (or early morning, I should say) and their performance is loose and excellent. I have since heard their entire set and the tracks contained here, “Saturday Afternoon/Won’t You Try” and “Eskimo Blue Day,” present them at the top of their game.

Side three is where things begin to drag. Joan Baez, CSN&Y, and Melanie just cannot measure up to Hendrix and The Airplane. It is like ordering a milkshake in a bar; it’s pleasant, but missing an edge.

Never play side four of the original vinyl release. As I mentioned earlier, the Mountain tracks are not from Woodstock. “Woodstock Boogie” by Canned Heat is basically filler, and the album limps to a close with the audience singing “Let The Sunshine In” during the rainstorm. They may have just run out of available material, but it does not do justice to the festival’s memory.

The music of Woodstock Two is now available elsewhere, as many complete performances by artists have been released. This album is now a historical artifact and should be treated as such.


Woodstock: Music From The Original Soundtrack and More by Various Artists

August 14, 2009

This was the IT album to buy when it was released in May of 1970. The Woodstock Music And Art Fair had quickly gained an almost mythological status, and while 400,000 people had been present, millions more wished they had been there. The movie and this album were as close as they were going to get to the actual event.

Woodstock: Music From The Original Soundtrack And More was a huge hit during the summer of 1970, and it would spend nearly a month on top of the Billboard album charts.

It was a brilliantly conceived album, going beyond just the music. It provided speeches, crowd noises, and generated a feeling that you were actually present at the show. The tracks, while only providing a snippet of the hours of music that was presented, make sense within the context of the album. While it helps if you have seen the movie, it does stand upon its own as a vivid and overall excellent presentation of this historic event.

I am a part of the Woodstock generation and many of these songs and performances are still instantly recognizable four decades later.

The album begins with “I Had A Dream” by John Sebastian, “Going Up The Country” by Canned Heat, and “Freedom” by Richie Havens. In a little over ten minutes, the philosophy of the event, the call to the faithful, and a statement of belief are presented through the music.

There are three outstanding tracks that help to convey the excitement of the festival. The “Crowd Rain Chant,” which morphs into “Soul Sacrifice” by Santana, almost allow you to visualize the famous mud slide. “I’m Going Home” by Ten Years After blasts from the speakers and features some of the most frenetic guitar playing on record. The thirteen minute medley by Sly & The Family Stone find this Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame group at the height of their powers. You can feel the energy build as the group romps through “Dance To The Music,” “Music Lover,” and finally “I Want To Take You Higher.”

The set ends with three tracks by Jimi Hendrix, including his famous performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Thirty nine years after its release and forty years after its recording, Woodstock: Music From The Original Soundtrack And More remains a wonderful relic of the era and festival. An exploration of the Woodstock myth and music passes through this album.


The Woodstock Experience by Janis Joplin

August 13, 2009

When Janis Joplin took the stage on August 17, 1969 at The Woodstock Music and Art Fair she was already a star of the first magnitude. Her work as the lead singer of Big Brother and The Holding Company had brought her acclaim as one of the leading female rock vocalists in the world. The 1967 Monterey Pop Festival had been her coming out party.

1969 found her having left Big Brother and performing with her new back-up group, The Kozmic Blues Band. This was a funky-style outfit complete with a brass section whose playing was similar to the Stax rhythm and blues sound coming out of Memphis.

The Woodstock Experience has gathered her complete ten-song Woodstock set and combined it with her I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Mama album which was released shortly after her performance.

Her live performance here is the gem. She did not appear in the original Woodstock movie or soundtrack and only one of her songs was included on the 25th and 40th anniversary editions. This is the third album I have heard from this series and it has the best sound by far. In fact I think it is one of the better sounding performances to have been recorded at the festival. It is crisp and clear which is amazing given the recording equipment of the time and the vastness of the outside arena which tended to wash out the sound.

All was not well with Janis, however, as drugs and alcohol had begun to affect her health. She also had to wait over ten hours to take the stage. Her monologues between songs are sometimes rambling and she has trouble with some of the notes on “Work Me Lord.” She just manages to keep it together and get through the song. Even forty years after the fact I found myself rooting for her to make it.

Her Kozmic Blues Band period was not my favorite. Sometimes she lets the band do too much which takes the focus away from her. She is almost a supporting player on the first two songs, “Raise Your Hand” and “As Good As You’ve Been To This World.” I’m more comfortable with a rock ‘n’ roll Joplin than a funky Joplin.

She finally hits her stride with a cover of the Bee Gees tune, “To Love Somebody,” proving why she was one of the best vocalists in the world. Other highlights include “Summertime,” “Piece Of My Heart,” and “Ball and Chain.” All in all it it’s a somewhat uneven performance though on a number of the tracks her brilliance shines through.

I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama would be her only studio album with the group as they would part ways in 1969. While no Janis Joplin album can ever be considered average, she does struggle in places trying to re-create herself as a rhythm and blues singer. I much prefer her Cheap Thrills album with Big Brother and The Holding Company or her posthumous Pearl. Still, this album fits the time period and is a good companion to her performance.

Close to fourteen months after her Woodstock performance Janis Joplin would be dead. Rolling Stone ultimately ranked her as the 46th greatest artist of all time and 28th greatest singer.

The Woodstock Experience resurrects a historic performance by one of the queens of American rock music.