Thursday, March 01, 2007

"Whipping Post"

Edgar Varese said "Everyone is born with genius, but most people only keep it a few minutes."

Musicians, more than most, have to make the fullest use of those minutes, to grab the tiger by the tail and refuse utterly to let go until they absolutely can't hold on any more. Look at the collective genius of Lennon and McCartney: together they rewrote the book on songwriting, but there won't be many who will argue that their post-Beatles output was the equal of their work together.

Similarly, what exactly happened to Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook? One moment they were lauded to the skies as brilliant, funny, clever writers of sharply-observed vignettes of everyday life; the next, forgotten.

There must be some kind of struggle, some kind of desperate fight, to hold onto whatever ethereal spell exists that makes songwriting such a simple affair for those lucky few. it must be hard to acknowledge the sense of helplessness in the face of an uncaring fate that exists just to give, and then to take away.

Now where did that come from? One minute I was all ready, prepped for a blog on the barbecue of greatness that is Southern rock, and then it's gone. Head empty.

I think maybe what started this off was the devil's brew that is "Whipping Post." There's the five-minute version from the Allman Brothers' first album, a frothy stew of blues rock from 1969 that sounds so far out of time and out of place that it could have been current a decade later.

And then there's the mighty, mighty 22-minute live version. It's not just a song; it's a jam, a spiritual revival, a heart-pumping chase scene from the movies and most of all, it's the very beginning of Edgar Varese's few minutes of genius. Here's a band just getting under way, confident, full of stamina and ready to stretch boundaries.

What sets this song apart from its time is the fierce grip that it keeps on its roots; the lyric is traditional blues, my-woman-done-me-wrong, combined with a hint of the cotton fields and a dash of old-time religion. There's a touch of jazz virtuosity too.

And all this at the height of the hippy era. While Country Joe MacDonald was fixin' to die, while Alvin Lee was tearing up his fretboard at 150 mph and while Jimi Hendrix was inventing feedback from outer space (and I mean that reverentially), Duane and Gregg Allman and Dickie Betts were going back to basics and doing more with less.

And one more thing.

Songs like this are why the Hammond organ was invented.


Anonymous said...

Great blog (just discovered). At last someone who thinks about music the way I do (and is of the same era!)
Welcome to my RSS feeds...

Natsthename said...

Yes, Yes, YES! Truly a great Allman effort and one fine touchpoint of blues-rock. Thank you for that.