As this is my last entry for 2020, I had planned to make it somewhat more, well, positive than many of the things I’ve written of late. Seems that for the past several months I’ve been writing about the consequences of COVID-19 on our music and our lives, and very little of that has had a proverbial silver lining. Then in the months before that it appeared that I had become the official Glorious Noise obituary writer, a dubious distinction at most.
But then I learned that Leslie West had died. I will confess that I am not a fan of Mountain, that I never found “Mississippi Queen” to be particularly engaging. It sounds to me like a variant on something that Lynyrd Skynyrd might have done. Or perhaps Def Leppard. Whereas the former are from Jacksonville, Florida, and the latter from Sheffield, England, West was born in New York City and was raised in Hackensack, New Jersey. Go figure.
The little interest that I had in Mountain was a result of the participation of Felix Pappalardi, whose name was familiar to me from his production work on Cream’s Disraeli Gears, as I was—and continue to be, albeit with a different fervor—a big fan of Cream. So if Pappalardi worked with West, it had to be worthwhile. But that didn’t really work in my estimation, even though I was arguably predisposed to like the band.
Of the members of Cream it was—and continues to be—Jack Bruce for me. He was one of the most innovative and accomplished bass players of the 20th century, and if you do an eye roll and think of “Sunshine of Your Love,” I suggest you give a listen to “You Burned the Tables on Me” from his third solo album, Harmony Row, or the work that he did with Kip Hanrahan. Then your eyes may open wide.
One of Mountain’s minor hits (or I guess for it the adjective can be removed) is “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” a cover of a song written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, which originally appears on Songs for a Tailor, Bruce’s first post-Cream solo album—produced by Pappalardi.
Pappalardi left Mountain and was replaced on bass and vocals by. . .Jack Bruce. Or at least a newly named band was created in 1972, West, Bruce and Laing. (Corky Laing played drums in Mountain, so the band wasn’t too far away from the original.)
In my estimation this was one of the bad choices that Bruce had made in his career, but presumably he was looking for a revenue stream. What is odd is if you listen to the solo album that Jack Bruce released after leaving West, Bruce and Laing, Out of the Storm, you’ll undoubtedly conclude that Bruce’s talent was wasted playing with West. (When Bruce went out on tour in support of that solo album, he enlisted Mick Taylor to play guitar: that is more of a balance of talent.)
Bruce formed the Jack Bruce Band and Jack Bruce & Friends during the 70s and 80s, but ended up collaborating with Robin Trower on two albums, B.L.T. (presumably that would be for Bruce, Bill Lordan (drums) and Trower; it is interesting to note that on the cover of the album, the font size for Trower’s name is significantly bigger than the other two) and Truce (in this case, Lordan was gone and just Bruce’s and Trower’s names appear on the sleeve, in the same font size). As for these two records, even though Trower, a remarkably capable guitar player, is a good foil for Bruce, they strike me as being somewhat mediocre.
Bruce became something of an itinerate musician, playing with all manner of musicians, some good, some questionable. He died of liver disease in 2014.
Pappalardi? He died of a gunshot wound in 1983. His wife was convicted of negligent homicide.
Of the two more famous musicians that he played with: Ginger Baker died in 2019 (Bruce and Baker collaborated in a band with guitar player Gary Moore—BBM—which released an album, Around the Next Dream, which for some odd reason features a picture of Baker smoking a cigarette (naturally) and wearing angel’s wings: Clapton is god but Baker is a seraph?); Clapton is still with us.
Which brings me to the positive subject that I’d planned to write about, the Save Our Stages Act, which is a $15-billion part of the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress. One of the main sponsors of the bipartisan bill is Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota—she worked with Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a stalwart Republican and evident music fan. On December 21 she took to the Senate floor and stated, “And this was about — yes, Nashville and New York, but it was just as much about the Fargo Theatre or a small small country music venue in Texas. And while we see the light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines, we know that it will be quite a while before these businesses which operate on such thin margins as it is can keep going.”