Saturday, November 30, 2013

Good Ol’ Freda DVD Review

I was six years old when I got my first Beatles album, and I was hooked. Since then I’ve gone through periods when I’ve read everything I could find on The Beatles. And even when I’m not doing that, I always keep an eye out for anything new on the band. It’s kind of crazy that after all this time there is still new information, new angles, new stories. The new documentary film, Good Ol’ Freda, tells a tale I had not heard before. This is the story of Freda Kelly, the woman who worked as Brian Epstein’s secretary, and therefore as The Beatles’ secretary. She worked with the band for eleven years.

The film opens with The Beatles Christmas recording from 1963, with that famous bit from John Lennon: “Hi, this is John speaking with his voice.” And then after Paul and Ringo speak (also with their voices), George actually mentions Freda: “Nobody else has said anything yet about our secretary, Freda Kelly, in Liverpool.” The others yell, “Good ol’ Freda!

And then we meet Freda. Freda Kelly is an instantly likeable and believable subject. She comes across as sweet, honest, loyal and endearing, and you immediately trust her as well as like her. She says she was just a secretary, and asks, “And who wants to hear a secretary’s story?” Come on, Freda! You know we want to hear everything that’s even remotely connected to this band.

There, of course, is old footage of hysterical girls. But then Freda says, “A lot of people didn’t take these girls seriously. But I did, because, you know, I was one of them. I was a fan myself, so I knew where they were coming from.” You never really hear that perspective elsewhere on those screaming girls.

The film then goes basically in chronological order. Freda was taken to the Cavern on her lunch break (and she describes the place in terms I hadn’t heard before). The Beatles were playing when she first walked in.

The film focuses on interviews with Freda Kelly, but there are several other interviews as well, with folks such as Billy Kinsley (of The Merseybeats), who says that Freda was always at the Cavern, always in the same seat. And yes, the film shows us a photo of her there. She tells delightful and very specific anecdotes about those Cavern days (and there are lots of photos, some of which I hadn’t seen before). She also says, “I got to know them personally through just talking to them, going in the band room.”

At the time she was working in a typing pool (she’d left school at age 16 and started working). Another girl started The Beatles fan club, and Freda helped out. But the other girl lost interest, so Freda took over. She recounts getting the job with The Beatles, with Brian Epstein saying he needed a secretary. In addition to working as a secretary, she was still doing the fan club. And she had used her own address, leading to a wonderful anecdote about receiving thousands of letters at her home (with her father none too pleased).

Freda goes through her Beatles scrapbooks and fan club letters on camera, which is a delight to watch. She gave away a lot of stuff in 1974, but still has a good amount of memorabilia. Late in the film she reads some of the old newsletters that she wrote.

Early on she says, “I was 17, so naturally I had crushes on them.” I love her description of how she had various crushes. But she doesn’t dish out any dirt, and never did; she never betrayed the band, never abandoned her loyalty, which is admirable. By the way, she mentions Pete Best, but there is nothing about him leaving the group. (There is some more about Pete Best on the DVD’s commentary track.)

She has tales about Brien Epstein in the work environment, which are interesting. She also got to know the guys’ families. George Harrison’s dad taught her some ballroom dances. She talks a bit about being on Magical Mystery Tour. And she does talk about the end of The Beatles, how George talked to her about ending the fan club.

Other people interviewed include Rachel Norris (Freda’s daughter), June Underwood (a fan club assistant), Tony Barrow (Beatles’ press officer), Billy Hutton and Joey Bower (both of The Fourmost). There are no interviews with the two surviving Beatles, though Ringo does give a message during the film’s closing credits. And toward the end of the commentary track, director Ryan White mentions that Ringo’s people and Paul’s people were very supportive of the project.

By the way, I've seen several Beatles documentaries that are completely devoid of Beatles music, as it's difficult to secure the rights. But this documentary actually has a few Beatles tunes.

Special Features

Documentaries don’t often have commentary tracks because basically the whole film itself offers some sort of commentary, and so a commentary track would be somewhat redundant. However, with Good Ol’ Freda, it’s quite a good thing that the track is included, as it’s done by both Freda Kelly and director Ryan White, and it offers a lot more information and memories. Freda talks about how she learned she was mentioned on the first Beatles Christmas message. Interestingly, they shot the footage of Freda’s present job on the weekend because she didn’t want anyone there knowing about her work with The Beatles. Of course, she must have known that with the documentary being shot it was only a matter of time. Ryan White also mentions his connection to the whole Beatle scene (Billy Kinsley is his uncle). They do talk a bit about the whole Paul-is-dead thing, and there is more about Freda’s time on Magical Mystery Tour.

The special features also include several deleted scenes, including scenes about the receptionist, Kelly’s appearance on Juke Box Jury with The Beatles, the premiere of How I Won The War, Kelly’s wedding, and about John Lennon’s death and the way the press approached her about it.

There is also footage of a Q&A after a screening of the film, with Ryan White and Freda Kelly. The first question from the audience is about John Lennon’s death. Someone else asks Freda how she was capable of not spilling the beans over the years. One of the most interesting questions, actually, was about tearing off the international stamps from correspondence. Ryan White talks about one letter in particular that Freda answered from a Beatles fan. And Freda says that Ringo was the best dancer among The Beatles. This feature is approximately 23 minutes.

The special features include an interview with director Ryan White, in which he talks about how he’s known Freda Kelly since he was a young boy, but didn’t know she had been The Beatles’ secretary until a few years ago. He also talks about how Freda is now able to interact with Beatles fans, and how that has affected her. He says one of the highlights for him in making the film was being able to go into Freda’s attic and look at the old letters and whatnot.

There is also a photo gallery, which includes not only old photos of Freda with members of The Beatles, but also such things as Freda’s ticket to the premiere of How I Won The War. The film’s trailer is also included in the special features.

Good Ol’ Freda is scheduled to be released on DVD on December 3, 2013 through Magnolia Home Entertainment.

(Note: I also posted this review on Pop Culture Beast.)

Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs: “All Her Fault” (2014) CD Review

It’s a treat whenever a new Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs CD arrives. I always set aside everything else, ignore the phone, open a beer, and turn the stereo up. Because I want them to take over completely. I just surrender to whatever it is they’re putting out there, and I haven’t been disappointed yet. Their newest album, All Her Fault, is everything I’ve come to expect, and then some. There are moments when I’m laughing and cheering (yes, honestly), other moments when I’m singing along to a song I’d never heard before. Is this their best album? I don’t know. It might be. But I’ve felt that way about the last two releases (No Help Coming and Sunday Run Me Over) also, so who knows? It really doesn’t matter. Everything they do is excellent, with a great fun, raw edge and sense of humor. The world is a better and more interesting place for this band being in it.

All Her Fault opens with “SLC.” This song made me burst out laughing the first time I heard it, asking as it does right at the start why someone would want to go into Salt Lake City. They then sing, “Don’t get your hopes up in Salt Lake City/Because you ain’t gonna have a good time.” Then: “Why you want go into Salt Lake City/Where you can’t get fucked up, can’t get shitty?” I love the kick-ass, fun, raw power and delivery of the tune. Part of the joy in the song is the repetition, the insistence that you are not going to have a good time in that town. So why would you want to go there? It makes me feel foolish for even considering the trip. I absolutely love this song.

“For All That Ails You” has a cool, more laid back vibe. It’s like some twisted old dance hall band passed through a time machine run by a mad man with undead servants and showed up at your party. It sounds like that, you know? Very cool.  There will be no question, the answer we both know/When nothing can be done, and there’s no end in sight/The only thing to do is call it time/For all that ails you.”

“Pistol Pete” is a weird sort of waltz brought to you by gypsies, but with a country-western tale. It’s a delightful mix, done only the way Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs can. It opens, “They thought that they could break him, but he broke them all instead/And anyone who tried him wound up crippled, blind or dead.”  I love the piano on this track.

And then “Can’t Pretend” is some good roadhouse rock and roll with a sort of country rhythm on bass. It’s got a toe-tapping, beer mug-slapping kind of groove. There is more great piano work on the wonderful country rock tune “Bless Your Heart” which has the line “No, you ain’t country, bless your heart.”

The album’s only cover song is the great bluesy “Trouble In Mind,” written by Richard M. Jones. These guys do an excellent job with it. It’s kind of a perfect song for them. “But I won’t be blue always/Because that sun’s gonna shine in my back door someday.”

“The Best” has a sweet, simple and beautiful sound, which is juxtaposed with lines like “I am empty, I’m broken/That’s what you said” and “All you need I never can be/I just don’t care enough.”  Her vocals sound absolutely beautiful, as she sings, “When you need me most of all, that’s when I won’t be there.” On an album full of strong material, this is one of my favorites.

“Don’t Shed Your Light” is a bizarre and wonderful sort of anti-gospel gospel song with that great, slow approach, and the title line repeated often like in any good gospel folk tune.

On “No Business,” in her sweetest country voice Holly sings these wonderfully harsh lyrics: “Just you try and tell me/I’ll rip out your tongue/Won’t be whispering sweet nothing in my ear.” And then: “Just you try and touch me/I’ll chop off your hands.” The results are delicious and beautiful and fun. This is a gorgeous fuck-you of a song, and I love it.

CD Track List

  1. SLC
  2. For All That Ails You
  3. Pistol Pete
  4. Can’t Pretend
  5. Bless Your Heart
  6. Trouble In Mind
  7. The Best
  8. 1234
  9. Don’t Shed Your Light
  10. No Business
  11. Perfect Mess
  12. King Lee

All Her Fault is scheduled to be released on March 4, 2014 on Transdreamer Records. And here’s another bit of good news. Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs are planning a tour to support the new album. I’m very excited about getting a chance to see these guys perform.

The Alabama State Troupers: “Road Show” (1972/2013 re-issue) CD Review

The only live album by The Alabama State Troupers, Road Show, has now been officially released on CD. Originally released on Elektra in 1972, this two-disc album was recorded in October of 1971 at the Long Beach Civic Auditorium and the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. These two discs feature some really good blues and country rock, with great gospel elements.

The album starts with some great acoustic blues by Furry Lewis, who was 78 years old at the time of the recording. The first track includes his introduction – “He’s the greatest blues man, I think, to us, that ever lived.” And then Furry speaks a bit himself (“It’s a great pleasure to be at your beautiful city”) before launching into his first tune. His segue into the first tune, “Furry’s Blues,” is great. He begins playing guitar, but keeps talking for a moment (“I got a letter yesterday here in California say I lose my wife”). It’s a joke, and I wondered if it was part of the song, or just a thought he had at the time. I love that seamless transition from introduction to music, making it all part of the same thing.

His performance has a mesmerizing quality to it. There are some interesting pauses where I found myself holding my breath. And then there is a great intensity in the section where he lists the women for each day of the week. He owns that audience. You can hear it in this recording.

He tells the audience, “I’m going to take you all to Brownsville,” saying his girlfriend quit him and moved, and he jokes that there are signs saying Furry’s not allowed there. And then he goes into “Brownsville,” one of my favorite tracks. I love the guitar part. And it has this line: “She put strychnine in my tea.”

I also dig his “I’m Black” and the delightful “A Chicken Ain’t Nothing But A Bird.” Furry Lewis has a great way of using the guitar as a percussion instrument, adding funny little accents with a tap or smack here and there. I’ve heard several people do that over the years, of course, but Furry has a way of doing it that makes it feel original.

The full band then gives a great, rousing rendition of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” complete with some excellent gospel backing vocals. I’m also fond of Clayton Ivey’s work on piano on this track. This song leads right into “Amos Burke,” keeping the energy level high. Things turn more glorious with “Mighty Time.” This is really just a whole hell of a lot of fun. That tune is followed by a powerful, slow version of “Jesus On The Mainline,” featuring the Mt. Zion Choir.

The second disc opens with some stage banter, including reactions to shouts from audience members. The band then does a pretty, mostly acoustic tune titled “Opening,” which is driven by the vocals. “I need time to find out where I’m going/I need people to show me where I’ve been.”

Jeanie Greene gets a chance to stretch her vocal chops on “Joa-Bim,” accompanied by piano, and then on “Dixie,” backed by some beautiful backing vocals. “Dixie” is a strong track, one of my favorites on the second disc.

They pick things up significantly with “Heavy Makes You Happy,” a fast-paced rock and boogie tune. Things get even wilder with “Iuka.” It takes a little time to get going, but when it kicks in, watch out. Put away anything breakable, and cut loose.

“Asphalt Outlaw Here” includes a cool drum solo, with some excellent touches on piano. And this two-disc set ends with a couple of really good tunes – “My Father’s House” (I particularly like the vocals on this one) and “Going Down,” a driving rock tune featuring some nice work on lead guitar. It does have an odd section where the song stops momentarily and Furry is mentioned (“he ain’t ever goin’ down”), and the line “A chicken ain’t nothin’ but a bird” is said again.

CD Track List

Disc One

  1. Furry’s Blues
  2. Brownsville
  3. I’m Black
  4. A Chicken Ain’t Nothin’ But A Bird
  5. Will The Circle Be Unbroken
  6. Amos Burke
  7. Mighty Time
  8. Jesus On The Mainline
  9. Mary Louise
  10. Yes, I Do Understand

Disc Two

  1. Opening
  2. Living In The Country
  3. Joa-Bim
  4. Dixie
  5. Heavy Makes You Happy
  6. Iuka
  7. Furry’s Rap
  8. Ashpalt Outlaw Hero
  9. Olena
  10. My Father’s House
  11. Going Down

Road Show was released on November 25, 2013 through Real Gone Music.

Record Store Day, Jr. 2013

Yesterday was Black Friday (or, for those who care to be politically correct, African-American Friday), and that meant insane people stomping each other to save a few dollars at Walmart and other arenas. Every year I try to avoid leaving my apartment on this day. Black Friday signifies the beginning of the worst part of the year, when we’re assaulted by horrible music everywhere we go, when everything suddenly turns red and green and gold (hey, aren’t those Karma Chameleon’s dream colors?), when the same old crap is given sparkly new packaging, when trees are sacrificed for the good of seasonal d├ęcor, when just going out to buy some batteries becomes an ordeal, and when you’re miraculously supposed to be filled with good cheer. Ugh.

A few years ago, Record Store Day expanded, getting in on the Black Friday mayhem. I skipped it until this year when I learned a special Grateful Dead album was going to be released. While 1973 is my favorite year for Grateful Dead concert tapes, I’ve always had a soft spot for the acoustic sets of 1970 (and, to a lesser extent, those of 1980). Some of the first tapes I acquired were from 1970. And this year, as part of Record Store Day’s Black Friday fun, the Grateful Dead released Family Dog At The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA 4/18/70. I had to have it.

As soon as I’d made the decision to brave leaving the apartment and being out among the lunatics, I took a look at the full list of record (and CD) releases. And there was a second record I had to have: the double LP expanded edition of the Zabriskie Point soundtrack. The second album includes three tracks by Jerry Garcia that I’d never heard (all of which, by the way, were recorded in 1970). And on the first record is a snippet of the Grateful Dead doing “Dark Star” (also from 1970). In addition to that, this soundtrack includes a tune from John Fahey, which excites me as I just saw the documentary on him, In Search Of Blind Joe Death, and as a result am interested in hearing as much of his material as possible.

Beyond that, there was a special 7-inch by Uncle Tupelo and a live album by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds that I was quite interested in. So, certainly enough worth waiting in line for.

Freakbeat opens at 11 a.m., so I got up at 8 a.m., and was on the road by 8:35 am. There was a very light rain, which sucks for those who are going to be standing in line. Plus, I didn’t want my purchases to get wet, so I packed a giant plastic bag into my backpack. Fortunately, Freakbeat is not that far away. Parking is an issue, because all the spots in the immediate area are two-hour spots, and I was going to need more time than that. On Record Store Day in April I found a spot on Moorpark, but this time that side of the street was closed for street cleaning. I wasn’t sure whether street cleaning happened the day after Thanksgiving, but I certainly wasn’t taking any chances (California will take money from you any way it can). I drove around for ten or fifteen minutes, and then a spot opened up on the other side of Moorpark. By then, it was raining steadily.

I got to the store just after 9 a.m., and there were only like eight or nine people there, all huddled in the doorway, where it was dry. There was enough room for me there as well, which was great. I introduced myself to a few of the other folks, and we ended up getting into a great conversation about music and about baseball (two of my chief passions). The time flew by.

As on the April Record Store Day, one of the Freakbeat’s employees came out a half hour or so before the store opened, and wrote down our number one choices. That way, everyone in line was certain to get at least one item he or she really wants. It’s a very cool way of doing it. I wasn’t sure which of my top two choices I should request. So I asked, “How many of the Grateful Dead record did you get in?” “A lot.” “And what about the Zabriskie Point soundtrack?” “We got five.” “Okay, I’ll take the Zabriskie Point soundtrack.” My new friends were getting the Bob Dylan 3-LP set and the Nirvana album as their number one choices. I, of course, also wanted the Dylan records, but as usual just didn’t have all that much money.

I then wrote on a scrap of paper: “Zabriskie Point, Grateful Dead, Uncle Tupelo 7-inch, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds CD.” This time I was able to get all four things on my list, the total being $82.36. Holy shit! The Grateful Dead record was $37, a little more than I’d guessed it would be. But no matter – it’s an acoustic set from 1970 and includes a couple of songs I’ve never heard the Grateful Dead do. Totally worth it.

I slipped the store bag into the larger bag I’d brought for a little extra protection from the rain (which had become lighter but was still coming down). In my car, I took a look in the bag. The only free item this time around was a special poster – no CDs or records. Anyway, the whole thing was a relatively stress-free endeavor, thanks mainly to Freakbeat being such a cool store. These new records will help get me through the rest of this insane season. And come April, I’ll be ready for the next Record Store Day as well as baseball season. Go Red Sox!