A Blog to Keep the Lizards Away. It's about posting and sharing the things I'm into. Hope you enjoy the show!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Jimi Hendrix - Power, Passion, Fragile Genius

James Marshall Hendrix [1942 - 1970]

Jimi Hendrix was born November 27th, 1942, in Seattle, Washington, USA. The first of five children to James "Al" Hendrix. He was part Cherokee Indian and part Afro American. From humble beginnings and a $5 acoustic guitar when he was 15, Jimi Hendrix went on to become the greatest electric guitarist in musical history.

He grew up listening to BB King, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Albert King and Elmore James. His real rock influences came from listening to and playing behind Little Richard. Jimi always said he wanted to, "do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice."

" His official biography says: "Jimi Hendrix was one of the most creative and influential musicians of the 20th century. Innovative style of combining  fuzz, feedback and distortion top create a new musical style."

I believe this description sells Jimi short for it does not take into account his genius as a record producer and his use of the recording studio as an extension of his creative abilities. It does not acknowledge his engineering and manipulating of new sounds, that influenced musicians across a broad genre of music. Jimi was the only musician to be top of the Billboard Chart listings in Jazz, Rock and Blues, all at the same time.

I've been trying to think of another instance where one person completely mastered his instrument or excelled in displaying his talent to the degree Hendrix did. Superlatives do not do justice to the natural ease at which he seemed to demonstrate his art.

After a stint in the Army in 1961, he came back to play in the line-up for Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, the Isley Bros and Little Richard. In 1965, he moved to be part of the developing scene in Greenwich Village and whilst all the bands wanted Jimi behind them, he decided to take his trip to London to get noticed as a solo artist.

He formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding. By 1966 he was the talk of the U.K. Every venue he appeared, night after night, some of the biggest rock stars in Britain would pack the Clubs to see what all the fuss was about.

One of the most iconic images in Rock and Roll. Jimi finishes his set at Monterey in 1967.

By the time Jimi went back to the States he was welcomed as a superstar. His first L.P. Are You Experienced was a huge successes but it was not until his incendiary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival that he became of the biggest acts in the world - overnight.

At the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, the Who were booked to close the show, until Pete Townsend realised they had to follow Jimi. Townsend refused and after a stand-off, the promoters insisted Jimi go on last. The Who pulled out all stops, Townsend smashed his guitar, the band wrecked the stage set and the urban myth has it that when Townsend left the stage he said to Jimi, "Beat that ni**er!"

The rest his history. Jimi closed the show playing Wild Thing, poured lighter fluid on his Strat and set it alight. Still vibrating and screaming feedback, Jimi picked up the burning guitar, smashed it and stormed off.

Jimi's signature guitar was a right-handed, white Fender Stratocaster. He played left-handed so he turned the guitar upside down and re-arranged the strings. He also moved the tone and volume controls to the top of the guitar so he could access them easily. Later when he could have what he wanted he chose a black maple-neck and a blonde maple neck Strat.

And strangely for someone with such a good voice, Jimi was always very nervous about his singing. In the studio he recorded his vocals behind a screen

Jimi followed Are you Experienced with Axis Bold as Love in 1968. By 1969 the pressures of touring took their toll and the Experience disbanded.

After experimenting with a new line-up he changed the group's name to Band of Gypsy's. A self-titled compile album followed. And then the double album Electric Ladyland which he recorded in his own Electric Ladyland studios he built in New York.

Jimi plays the Woodstock 3 Day Festival in 1969

The Woodstock Music Festival was staged on a farm at Woodstock, Bethel, NY on August 17th, 1969. It was a fitting climax to the peace, love, dove era of the Sixties.

[After Woodstock, the peace came to a shuddering halt at Altamont, the next big outdoor festival. The headline act was the Rolling Stones who on stage when a fan was stabbed to death by Hells Angels security]

At Woodstock the best bands of the Sixties appeared, including Janis Joplin, Ten Years After, Ritchie Havens, Ravi Shankar, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Country Joe, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jerrerson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Ten Years After, Crosby Stills Nash & Young. 40 years later Woodstock still belongs to Jimi Hendrix.

Hendrix assembled a group called Gypsy Suns and Rainbows including the original drummer Mitch Mitchell playing with bassist Billy Cox and guitarist Larry Lee, plus two other percussionists, Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan.

Jimi was booked to close the show but they ran so late that he ended up on stage at 7am on the Monday morning, playing to only a few thousand mud-soaked, die hard fans. Most had already left the night before to get home for the working week. They missed the performance of the decade. A performance that defined the Sixties.

Even though the band was worn out and wired, they played for nearly two hours, one of the longest sets of Jimi's career. The first time he ever played in the morning.

Jimi greeted them with, "You can leave if you want to ... we're just jammin', that's all."

Message to Love, Hear My Train A Comin', Red House, Mastermind, Lover Man, Foxy Lady, Jam Back at the House, Izabella, Gypsy Woman, Fire, Voodoo Chile, Star-Spangled Banner, Purple Haze, Improvised Villanova Junction and Hey Joe as an encore. The only time Jimi played an encore. [During Redhouse he broke a high E-string and played the rest of the song with 5 strings.]

His inspired, improvised performance of the Star-Spangled Banner anthem is the sound of Woodstock.

Watch the vision and the total control with which he creates his wall of sound. Sure there have been master technicians that can play the notes, but still nobody can match the exact sound, let alone create it from scratch.

Great photo - wrong album!

Despite the hundreds of bootleg, live and "lost tapes" versions that are available, during his lifetime, Jimi only ever released three studio albums, The Experience, Axis Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland. There were also two live albums and two compilations and twelve singles from those albums.

Since his death the "official" album releases were Cry of Love, War Heroes, Rainbow Bridge, Crash Landing, Midnight and the latest, Valley of Neptune. Whilst any Hendrix is better than none, I would not waste my time with the others. [If you need a fix just go back and listen to the long version of Voodoo Chile!]

Jimi with Buddy Miles

Jimi Hendrix died in his sleep, in his London flat, September 18, 1970. He was 29 years old.

The autopsy said he died of asphyxiation, choking on his own vomit, which had filled his airways. Earlier that night he attended a party with his friend Monica Dannemann. Getting home at about 3 am he reportedly took up to nine sleeping pills - the recommended dose was one and a half.

Apart from the pills there was not much else in his system, certainly no cocktail of drugs as was commonly thought at the time.

Unless you were there its hard to explain to people the impact his music, his sound, his easy, relaxed style of playing had on the scene as it was back then.

Even now it totally stands the test of time. Nobody has come close.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Downton Abbey - The Real Story Is Much Stranger Than Fiction

Almina, Countess of Carnarvon and Chaterlaine of Highclere Castle

Like many millions of others around the world, I was recently swept up in the Downton Abbey television series, although I must admit I was more interested in the setting than the storyline. The real star of the series is surely the magnificent Highclere Castle and the wonderful protocol that was strictly followed by the resident family and their guests of that early 1900's era. Namely George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and his wife Almina, the Countess of Carnarvon. And it is their true life story that is fascinatingly colourful, if not scandalous - much more so than the story portrayed in the television series on which these characters lives are based.

Highclere Castle in Hampshire, setting for the Downton Abbey TV Series

Even Almina's parentage is a source of controversy. When she was born in London in 1876, her French mother, Marie, was already separated from her husband, Fredrick Wombwell and Almina was thought to be the result of a liasion with Alfred de Rothschild - of the Rothschild banking dynasty and one of the world's richest men. Whatever was the truth, Alfred took a fatherly interest in Almina and thanks to his financial support, when Almina was presented at Court at age 17, it was not only her looks but also her wealth that made her an attractive proposition to aristocratic young men looking to prop up their family fortunes.

Lord Carnarvon, no doubt, had the upkeep of Highclere Castle in mind when he proposed to Almina, as well as his massive gambling debts.

George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon

Together with his Eton schoolfriend and Indian prince Victor Suleep Singh, a notorious playboy, George toured the fleshpots and gambling dens of Cairo, Hong Kong and Paris. By the time he met Almina at a Buckingham Palace state ball, George was suffering from the ravages of his exploits, looking very much the dissolute aristocrat.

Prince Victor Duleep Singh, Lord Carnarvon's Eton schoolfriend.

Alfred de Rothschild was keen for Almina to marry into peerage so he agreed to pay off the Earl's gambling debts, which amounted to an incredible 150,000 pounds, in return for her hand. Sensing a money stream, George also asked for a staggering 500,000 pound dowry, about 50 million dollars in today's money!

The unlikely pair were married in June 1895, the Earl towering above Almina who was only 5 feet tall. After an expensive honeymoon, Almina soon settled into Highclere Castle, spending millions on refurbishing the run-down state rooms and hosting lavish parties for up to 500 guests.

The Library at Highclere Castle

In 1895 alone the Countess spent $360,000, in today's currency, on chefs, wine and flowers to prove to her new husband she could "run the house."

Highclere Castle's Salon

Almina was nicknamed "the pocket rocket" such was the vigour and energy she displayed in playing the society hostess at Highclere, interspersed with her regular appearances in London wearing fabulous "royal" gowns, dripping with precious diamonds and pearls.

Countess Almina's diamond Carnarvon Tiara

Whilst Almina was entertaining, her husband, the Earl soon tired of this scene and took up reckless, high-speed motoring which ended in a spectacular crash whilst racing in Gemany. The Earl was trapped under his overturned car with a broken jaw and punctured lungs. Almina nursed him back to health at Highclere but the Earl was now a semi-invalid, relying on a stick to walk and suffering from debilitating migranes. They had two children together, a son and heir to Highclere, Henry, the 6th Earl of Carnarvon and a daughter Evelyn.

Countess Almina and Lord Carnarvon - A Day at the Ascot Races

The Earl developed another passion - aviation. So did Almina. Hurt and frustrated, in true Lady Chatterley style, she required the regular services of one of Highclere's gardeners. Fortunately the Earl's doctor recommended he spend the damp winter months in a drier climate, so he decided to exercise his interest in egyptology. Travelling to Luxor he soon sponsored local egyptologist Howard Carter's digging exploits, a famous partnership that resulted in the historic discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb.

Lord Carnarvon and his daughter Lady Evelyn are greeted by Howard Carter at Luxor Railway Station

During this time World War 1 had started and Britain's young men were coming home maimed and incapacitated. Almina converted Highclere Castle into a luxurious military hospital, recruiting teams of pretty nurses. The 200-room castle housed operating theatres, exquisite salons became casualty wards and the grounds saw teams of nurses pushing wheelchairs around. She established another hospital in London for the officers who needed to be near specialist doctors. During their long recuperations they were waited on by butlers and footmen.

Almina's generosity drained even her resources. On the edge of financial collapse and very conveniently, her benefactor Alfred de Rothschild died, his huge legacy saving her from bankruptcy. Temporarily.

The discovery of the boy pharaoh's tomb brought the Earl fame and recognition. He also died as a result. In 1923, whilst staying at the Winter Palace hotel in Luxor, the Earl was bitten by a mosquito. The bite became infected and he was rushed to Cairo. Almina hired a de Havilland biplane and flew to Cairo with one of Britain's best doctors but they could not save him. His death started the "curse of the pharaohs" cult.

Almina's mourning did not last long. That same year she married Colonel Ian Dennistoun, an army officer permanently wounded in the war. He died in 1938 and Almina took a lover 20 years her junior.
Her conduct was such that she was no longer welcome in high society and royal circles.

Her son Henry, the 6th Earl, inherited Highclere, but she ensured he did not receive any of the Rothschild money keeping it all to maintain her lifestyle. Henry was a renowned "womaniser" and with very little interest and income, the grand house soon succumbed to a lack of maintenance, with whole wings being closed and abandoned.

Almina continued to spend her fortune until in 1951 it was all but exhausted. Shunned from society she was forced to move to a modest terrace house in Bristol with only her housekeeper. After a full life of triumphs and scandals that makes the Downton Abbey scripts look very tame, she died in 1969, aged 93.

Its interesting to note that the famous composer/stage producer Andrew Lloyd Webber currently lives on an adjoining estate to Highclere Castle and he is reportedly upset about the increased traffic and fuss created by the Downton Abbey production. On the upside some of the funds generated as location fees will help to restore this magnificent castle for future generations.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

57 Chevy Dreams

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

Like most people I have always admired Hot Rods and Custom Cars from afar but never really had the chance to get in one. That all changed when a friend of mine introduced me to his new toy. Now I'm really hooked. I guess I was expecting a beast that shaked, rattled and rolled. Lot's of excitement but very unpredictable to drive. I could not have been more wrong.

 Big Bore Block. 600hp. A slight improvement from the 283hp factory original.

Sure this beauty is incredibly powerful. It's also tight, stops on a dime and sits flat going around corners. I don't recommend you try this at home but there are an incredible array of kit parts available ex U.S. to turn the most meek and mild sedan into Mr Hyde. That is if you have the $$$ to spend. I can't tell you what happened when we let this Chevy out, but I promise it was worth every cent!

The 1957 Chev Bel Air is among the most recognisable American cars of all time.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Native Americans the Only Heroes at Little Big Horn Battle

Graveyard on Last Stand Hill above Little Big Horn Flats

The battle of Little Big Horn, also known as Custer's Last Stand, was the most famous action of the Great Sioux War. On June 25th and 26th, 1876, the forces of the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples decimated the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army, near the Little Big Horn River in Eastern Montana.

Led by Chief Crazy Horse, 1,800 Native American tribesmen surrounded General Custer and his 5 divisions of troops and gradually annihilated 268 of the soldiers, leaving another 55 wounded. Some deserted and escaped. 136 braves were killed.

Oglala Chief Crazy Horse

The confrontation came after a series of systematic, murderous raids on the native tribes by the U.S. Army and in particular General Custer, who boasted he would drive the "red devils" from their land and slaughter any that resisted. Finally, humiliated and degraded, Crazy Horse and the other Native American Chiefs consulted the wise chief Sitting Bull [Thathanka Iyotanka], who predicted "the soldiers would fall into their camps like grasshoppers from the sky."

Crazy Horse Thasunke Witko [Lakota translation: "his horse is spirited"]

The Chiefs acknowledged their survival was under threat. Grazing lands were being over-run with white settlers and buffalo were being butchered by profiteering white hunters, who skinned the herds they killed for their hides and left the meat to rot on the plains. Their very existence was being threatened and it was time to come together in an all-out assault for survival against the U.S. Army.

Inspired by Sitting Bull's prediction, The Cheyenne, Lakota, Arapaho and Sioux all gathered at Little Big Horn to plan their next move. Army scouts, tracking their movements, reported the gathering of tribes and the Generals ordered a three-pronged attack on the camp. Custer's Calvary divisions arrived on the scene before dawn, but rather than wait for his re-inforcements as planned, he decided to attack and seize the glorious victory for himself.

Modern battle strategists now say Custer's cowardly assault was ill-conceived. He totally under-estimated the strength of the Indians, thinking they would panic, turn and run. And Custer had refused to take the new, deadly Gatling guns with him, a weapon that would have turned the tide of battle.

At dawn, Custer sent a small party of his best men to a culvert at the back of the camp, where hundreds of horses were being tendered by young Indian boys. The soldiers cut the boy's throats and stampeded the horses into the teepees.

The surprised braves leapt from their beds, gathered their horses and mounted a counter attack driving Custer's retreating soldiers up onto Last Stand Hill. The brutal battle lasted all day and it was here that most of the casualties were incurred - on both sides, until Chief Crazy Horse personally led a charge surrounding the soldiers.

Fanciful images of popular culture: General Custer - the "last man standing"

White historians propagate this myth of "red savages descending on the innocent soldiers who fought bravely until on General Custer stood alone, his golden locks flowing in the setting sun." Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Lakota survivors reported Custer's soldiers threw down their weapons and scattered when they realised they were surrounded. The Cheyenne and Sioux warriors ran them down and despatched them routinely with their lances, coup sticks and quits. The warriors fittingly described it as a "buffalo run." Custer was shot in the head and chest and died on the field with the rest.

Arrogant, self-absorbed and egotistical. "Yellow Hair" General George Armstrong Custer

Unfortunately the U.S. Army reprisals that followed Little Big Horn were severe. The American native revolt led directly to the Wounded Knee Massacre, where the white Cavalry stormed into a native village and killed 146 men, women and children, bringing the Indian wars to an end. Sick of the slaughter and starvation, and nearing extinction the Chiefs decided to surrender and settle their remaining peoples on the white government's Indian reservations.

Crazy Horse and other Oglala chiefs, including He Dog Little Big Man and Iron Crow, arrived at the Red Cloud Agency in Nebraska, May 5th, 1877, They met with First Lieutenant William P. Clark to formally surrender. Crazy Horse lived on the Red Cloud reservation for four months until he was falsely accused of a plot to escape and wreak revenge on the U.S. Cavalry.

Under house arrest, for his own protection, and after being transferred from Red Cloud to the Spotted Tail camp, Crazy Horse and his party finally ended up in Camp Robinson Divisional Headquarters. Chief Crazy Horse and Little Big Man were involved in a scuffle with a post guard who stabbed Crazy Horse with his bayonet. 

The old Chief died later that night and it is thought that his body was sent to Fort Sheridan to be put on public display, but Crazy Horse was secreted away by his parents to be buried at an undisclosed location at Wounded Knee.