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Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again. Was he right?
One of the quiet gems of 2009 was an album originally produced by Bob Dylan in 1973. Other than his work under the pseudonymous Jack Frost, it’s the only album Dylan ever produced. It’s not, however, a Dylan record, it’s a Barry Goldberg record. Even if you’ve never heard of Barry Goldberg, you’ve heard Barry Goldberg. Keyboardist/songwriter/producer, he wrote a #1 hit (“I’ve Got To Use My Imagination” by Gladys Knight & The Pips) and played on another (“Devil With A Blue Dress” by Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels). As part of the Chicago blues mafia of the 1960s, he ran with the late string king Mike Bloomfield. They co-founded Electric Flag (with Buddy Miles, among others), and Barry later played on the proto-jam Super Session with Mike and Al Kooper and another Bloomers collab, infamously titled Two Jew’s Blues. And then there were the Phil Spector productions from Leonard Cohen to the Ramones.
The cat’s been around, he’s still playing, he’s still cookin’.
Anyway, this rock ‘n’ roll Zelig also pounded the ivories behind Bob at Newport ’65 when Zimmy stuck his middle finger in an electric socket and his hair frizzed out, after which every one else began letting their hair frizz out (or something like that). When you’ve shared a stage with someone in front of a hostile audience, it’s like sharing a trench. They stayed in touch and jammed together with the Band and Sir Doug Sahm and, of course, Bloomfield. In ’73, Goldberg had a heap of good songs and was gonna record a single at RCA Records. His pal Bob sez “No no Barry, let me take ’em to Jerry Wexler,” the legendary R&B producer at Atlantic Records. Wex agrees to sign him and take Goldberg into the studio but says Bob’s gotta co-produce the sessions with him.
When Bob Dylan is handed to you on a silver platter as producer (co or udderwise), you say yes. With relish. Especially when you’re the only artist he’s ever offered his services to in this role (and ever will).
So everybody descends on Muscle Shoals, Alabama — Barry and wife/co-writer Gail and Dylan and Wex. Waiting for them are the hotshot Southern studio cats with whom one Duane Allman had paid his dues before the Brothers and who’d grooved on Two Jew’s Blues. Eddie Hinton, Jimmy Johnson, Pete Carr, David Hood, Roger Hawkins and friends. If you’ve ever dug an Aretha Franklin tune from the late ’60s, you’ve heard these aces of soulfulness. They tracked Barry’s Gladys Knight tune and one Rod Stewart covered called “It’s Not the Spotlight” and a bunch of others. “…Spotlight” and “Minstrel Show” were damn good songs about being a working musician. “Orange County Bus” is about the kind of legal trouble hippie musicians experienced all too frequently in them days. It’s a song of its time, as is “Dusty Country,” a paean to the earthy rural ideal sporting a lovely dobro. Even the strings on “She Was Such A Lady” and “…Spotlight” sound natural — no cold synthesizers that were beginning to be popular in that period. A solid album. Comfortable. Real. What they now call Americana.
Dylan and Wexler’s production is fine. They might’ve said “do this” or “do that” but it sounds like they let a bunch of killer players render tasteful chops to support Goldberg’s first-rate songs. (Bob also sings back-up and supplies percussion.) Like I said, it’s comfortable and real and damn it, if those aren’t two qualities we couldn’t use here now in the dystopian present. But there was a problem. Wexler had the magic touch in the studio, but he futzed with Barry’s original vocals and made him re-cut ’em in Miami. For 35 years this ate away at Goldberg. He hated his re-cut vocals. “Man, the vocals. The vocals,” little voices would repeat to him in his dreams.
So this past year of aught-nine saw Barry back in the studio, restoring his original vocals to the album, adding a couple of unreleased tunes and a ghost track at the end. Goldberg’s no Pavarotti or Aretha, but his singing is direct and simple and, most importantly, he gets his top shelf songs across. Appropriately titled Barry Goldberg, it’s a slice of funky country soul guaranteed to make you smile and sway. What’s more, Barry Goldberg proved that you can indeed go home again. That you can correct a decades-old mistake. That — to quote philosopher Yogi Berra — it ain’t over ’til it’s over.
SPEAKIN’ OF SOULFUL
For the past seven years, my wall has been graced by the same calendar. I’m aware that I can find a calendar on my computer, but it’s a pleasure to have one or two items that have no connection to microchips. John Tefteller is a great American who finds, collects, safekeeps, treasures, respects old 78 recordings, particularly of the early 20th Century country blues giants. His company Blues Images offers a calendar that graces each month with the soulful (there’s that word again) retro advertisements for these 78s from back in their day. In addition, with each calendar, you get a CD of some of Tefteller’s rare finds. 2010’s disc includes Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Robert Wilkins, Skip James, Ramblin’ Thomas, the Mississippi Sheiks, Irene Scruggs with Blind Blake, Papa Charlie Jackson, plus two Henry Townsend songs that are remastered from the only surviving disc!
For a lot of us, except for, say, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (more on robber barons from me soon), times is tough and for many, calendars are an extravagance, even with the cool art and hoppin’ blues. Tefteller says he may have to discontinue this annual treat. As another great American, artist Robert Crumb, says of these musical calendars and the New Depression: “It’s worse now than in the ’30s ’cause we don’t have music and graphics like this anymore to get us through it!” So if you’re fortunate enough to have a double on ya, or even better, a few doubles for friends and family, go to www.BluesImages.com (OK…a connection to a microchip) and order as many 2010 blues calendars as you can afford so we can have one in 2011 too. They — quite literally — don’t make ’em like this anymore.
MICHAEL SIMMONS is an award-winning journalist and currently filming a documentary on the Yippies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.