Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Legendary music, & some tragic stories

Legendary late-'60s/early-'70s record-producer Joe Boyd got in2 producing British folk-rock acts almost by accident. He started out as a big jazz & blues fan.
"I got into folk against my own best interests," he says early in his memoir WHITE BICYCLES (2006). & after having a front-row seat at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, where Bob Dylan 1st "went electric" on stage, Boyd was convinced he'd been present 4 "the birth of Rock."
But as he sez, folk-rock came back 2 get him....
What follows is a recounting of what it was like 2 work with some of the biggest British folk-rock stars of the period -- Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, John and Beverly Martin, Mike Heron, old American college friends Geoff & Maria Muldaur, & many others.
Even more, Boyd writes about what it was like 2 work with these folks AS PEOPLE, with their own individual, idiosyncratic, often difficult ways of dealing with the music business & the world.
In some ways, the book could B viewed as the recollection of a whole series of missed opportunities. Boyd didn't get rich producing nearly 40 albums between 1966 & 1974, many of them now considered folk-rock classics: Fairport's LIEGE AND LIEF & the rest of their 1st 5, ISB's THE HANGMAN'S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER & 1/2 a dozen others, Nick Drake's BRYTER LAYTER & FIVE LEAVES LEFT, etc. + his artists didn't necessarily go on 2 massive success: Boyd's biggest hit was "Duelling Banjos" from the movie DELIVERANCE, & his name wasn't even on the single as producer. His 2nd-biggest hit was Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis."
Tho they stood the British folk world on its ear, Fairport's early career was full of tragedy & strife, & as Boyd points out they never got much of a chance 2 Njoy their acclaim. Sandy Denny made a series of bad career decisions -- in part, Boyd claims, 2 try 2 keep her late husband Trevor Lucas happy -- & died after a series of (possibly drunken?) falls. Nick Drake died after an overdose of pills & shortly after angrily demanding of Boyd why -- if Drake was such a great talent -- he wasn't rich & famous yet? The ISB, after creating their own mystical, witchy folk-other-world on their 1st 3 albums, got drafted in2 Scientology & their talents & music seemed 2 head immediately downhill....
The book ends in sadness. Boyd has 2 sell his Witchseason production company because his great productions just Rn't paying the bills. He leaves London & Bcomes head of movie music 4 Warner Bros. This move costs him years of 2nd-guessing. Denny begs him 2 stay in London & help guide her career -- she even breaks-up her band Fotheringay, which she had been financing out of her pocket, 2 try 2 hang on2 him.
Boyd wonders at the end of the book if things might have been diffrent if he hadn't taken the Warner Bros job. But clearly he needed a break -- he claims 2 have produced 16 albums in 1970 alone. At the end of the book there's a list of his productions thru 1974 -- I was suprised there weren't more. & he did a few things after that date as well, at least the 1st 2 albums by Kate & Anna McGarrigle (if I remember correctly), possibly 1 4 The Roches (?), & a few other things here & there (REM, 10,000 Maniacs, Natalie Merchant). But he doesn't talk about them, & I think he's left room 4 another book. I hope he writes it, or mayB he already has....
The whole book isn't sad. Boyd writes vividly of what it was like 2 B in London in the mid-'60s, of what it was like 2 B present 4 1 of his "happenings" at UFO, how he got squoze-out of producing the early Pink Floyd. & the 1st part of the book, about Boyd's earliest Xperiences in the business, helping jazz & blues legends tour Europe, includes some great stories & hilarious 1-liners.
Boyd got some great, legendary music out of people. The fact that it didn't make him or them rich, or that some of the folks he worked with came to some bad ends, certainly isn't Boyd's fault. Like he sez, many of the Xcesses of the time were lost on him. He never got TOO stoned 2 remember what happened.
You might like this book. But it clearly shows that music-making, even in the supposedly glorious free-thinking freewheeling '60s, wasn't all high times & good times.
I finished this book wishing there was MORE -- more depth, more stories about Sandy Denny & Nick Drake & Syd Barrett & Richard Thompson (who had his own adventures in the wilderness) & the ISB & Nico. Boyd gets all these stories, & many more Bsides, told in less than 275 pgs -- U can read the book inna coupla days.
But I think there's room 4 another book at least as long. & I hope Boyd writes it. 4 some of the folks listed directly above, he may B the only guy left who can tell these stories....

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